The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: German Expositors Parallel British Positions

I. Few Advances Among Post-Reformation German Expositors

In Germany the force of the Reformation seemed to have spent itself. With some notable exceptions there were few expositors of importance in the first half of the seventeenth century, 1 and virtually no advance in prophetic exposition. In fact, in various cases there was less clarity than in the platform of the Reformation founders, and even retrenchment. Because these expositors clung to the idea that the writings of Luther and his immediate associates were almost canonical, their commentaries more and more lost the vigor of new light and life. PFF2 598.1

The Reformation had lost itself, regrettably, in a maze of theological contentions. Every important center had its own formula, built about its party creed. Thus the Post-Reformation period became conspicuously an age of creeds, symbols, confessions, and rigid theological systems. Note them: The Articles of Marburg (1529); the Confession of Augsburg (1530); the Wittenberg Concord (1536); the Articles of Schmalkald (1537); the Second Helvetian Confession (1566); the Lutheran Formula Concordiae(1580); the Thirty-Nine Articles (1562); the canons of the Synod of Dort (Reformed) (1619); and the Westminster Confession (1647). As a consequence of this bondage to formulas, it was also the age of huge books of theology, which were issued in astonishing numbers—their dogmatic inflexibility leading to sharp contention. Papal infallibility had been set aside, but in their perplexity of opinion men yearned for some arbitrary authority. PFF2 598.2


In Ger many the war of pens over the prophecies concerning Antichrist had given way to one of the most destructive religious wars the world had ever witnessed—the Thirty Years’ War, from 1618 to 1648. It changed Germany into a desert and was interspersed by decimating pestilences. In this armed conflict between the Evangelical Union and the Catholic League, the former succumbed. Finally, in October, 1648, the Peace of Westphalia was signed, despite the fulminations of the papal nuncio. The pope denounced it in a bull, and declared it null and void. But in it Catholic, Calvinistic, and Lutheran princes agreed to tolerate each other—within carefully defined limits. Suppressed evangelical truth had at last emerged from papal dominance. PFF2 599.1


In the Lutheran and Reformed groups the question of the future millennium, rather than a millennium already in the past, was a delicate and divisive issue. The abbot Joachim of the twelfth century, returning to the view of the early fathers, had given the cue. The Anabaptists and later Protestants followed him. CELLARIUS (Borrhaus) of Basel (1551) had emphasized that the faithful martyrs were chiliasts, and COLLADON of Lausanne (1581) had interpreted Revelation 20 in the same way. In the seventeenth century this position became slowly but increasingly general, though not without opposition, among the Protestants of Continental Europe. It was the last of the abandoned factors emphasized in the early church to be restored. PFF2 599.2

As in England, the proximity of the end became a matter of common belief and expression. The nearer the ominous year A.D. 1666 approached, or other similar years of expectation—when some were looking for the ruin of Rome—the more did calendars and prognostications affirm that the great catastrophe impended. But regardless of the differences in time the destruction of Antichrist at the advent was clear and sure. 2 PFF2 599.3