The Gathering of Israel


Chapter 10—Age-To-Come Controversy

Indeed, the winds of doctrine developed hurricane force in 1850 among the Adventists—especially the majority group—over “the age to come.” This was a new name for the old Literalism that the Millerites had denounced as “Judaism.” The result was the emergence of an unorganized but distinct age-to-come party, comprising those who adopted the Literalist view of the millennium. 1 The leading exponents described it in slightly varying forms, but they all saw it as a period of continuing probation, with mortal Jews in literal Jerusalem. Some adherents of the age-to-come teaching came, eventually, to be organized in denominations bearing the name Church of God: one (observing Sunday) was the Church of God of Abrahamic Faith (Oregon, Ill.), and another group (Sabbatarian)—via two Seventh-day Adventist offshoots—became the Church of God (Denver, Colo.) and other bodies related thereto, including what later became known as the Worldwide Church of God. 2 GI 7.8

Where did the age-to-come doctrine of the 1850s come from? Possibly it stemmed chiefly from the British Literalist publications that had been circulated among the Millerites. However, the name seems to have come from the title of the 1850 editorials and the 1851 book by Joseph Marsh. Certainly his paper, The Advent Harbinger (Rochester, N.Y.), became the sounding board for the doctrine, although other individuals had taught it before him. GI 8.1

The phrase “age to come,” and what was possibly a slight foreshadowing of Marsh’s millennial scheme, can be found as early as 1846 in an obscure portion of O. R. L. Crosier’s article on the sanctuary in a Day-Star Extra. However, any influence on Marsh is not evident; Crosier, though on the Advent Harbinger staff from 1847, wrote nothing therein on the age to come until 1850, after Marsh wrote on it. GI 8.2

Crosier’s Day-Star article had contained the original full statement of the sanctuary doctrine based on Hiram Edson’s October 23 explanation of the Millerite disappointment. It was reprinted in part by James White in September, 1850, 3 but the section headed “The Age to Come” is little known because it was omitted in the reprint. (The omission was logical, not only because it was irrelevant to the major theme, but also because by that time “age to come” had become the label for the “Judaistic” millennium.) GI 8.3

In this section Crosier describes the millennium as a time of restitution, a gradual transition preceding the new earth. He calls it “an age of repairs, in which immortal saints will engage,” an age when “the captives of Zion” (undefined) shall be cleansed from sin and “possess their ‘own land,’ and the wastes shall be builded.” Then Satan will gather “the heathen” against the beloved city. 4 Its wording is too indefinite to indicate its source or its possible effect on later developments. GI 8.4

Other possible sources of influence on Marsh’s age-to-come doctrine of 1850 might be two others who set forth Literalist views in 1846 and 1848: J. B. Cook, of New England (who, like Crosier, kept the Sabbath for a while, wrote in favor of it, and then abandoned it), and Henry Grew, of Philadelphia (whose tract had introduced Storrs to the doctrine of conditional immortality). 5 GI 8.5

As late as November, 1849, Marsh had restated essentially the standard Millerite position on the millennium, except for the omission of the renovation of the earth at the Advent. Yet he declared that he had never been settled on the nature of the millennium. In December, in introducing extracts from a Literalist author, he still professed disagreement with him on the literal return of the Jews to Palestine and on probation after the Second Advent 6 GI 8.6

Then came, beginning in January, 1850, his “Age to Come” editorials, which introduced one Literalist view after another. Either his “disagreement” was limited to minute details, or he was shifting his position. Beginning early in 1850, articles appeared in the Harbinger from Grew, Cook, and others who had held Literalist views before Marsh. GI 8.7

The Advent Herald rose to the defense of the “original Advent faith.” In the conference held at New York early in May, Himes took the floor: GI 8.8

We speak of defections from the Advent views. Yes, there are,—and serious ones too. Judaism is being taught. If brethren do not mean to teach it, let them tell us so, and not teach this under the cloak of Adventism. Judaism and Adventism are two different things. The former we have been battling from the beginning; and whenever our brethren have embraced it it has perfectly bewitched them. 7

Marsh replied, objecting that his articles had been misunderstood, but the conference appointed a committee to write an “address” dealing with the present “defections.” This address, reaffirming the Albany statement of 1845 and attacking the age-to-come doctrine, was presented to and adopted by a second conference, held at Boston later in May. 8 GI 8.9

Marsh retorted editorially that his doctrine had “been branded by the Herald and the Boston Conference with the odious epithet, ‘Judaism,’” even though the Herald had published the writings of the British Literalists, who “hold to the literal return of the Jews to Palestine, and probation after the advent.” 9 GI 8.10

His attempted disclaimer on these two points was based on a hair-splitting difference in word meaning. 10 Probably continual opposition drove him to take a harder stand in his 1851 book, The Age to Come, which stated his Literalist views more fully. 11 GI 8.11

Marsh taught the principal Literalist doctrines of the millennium: probation continuing for mortals left on earth; believing descendants of Israel in a special position in a Davidic kingdom; Ezekiel’s temple and commemorative sacrifices; “Old Jerusalem” rebuilt, cleansed, and glorified as the capital of the millennial empire (not the New Jerusalem and the new earth). 12 However, neither he nor his associate Crozier (as the name was spelled by this time) held a pre-Advent return of literal Jews to Palestine, as held by Grew and Cook. 13 GI 9.1

Marsh reprinted in the Advent Harbinger selections from Literalist works. He opened his columns to Storrs, who promoted therein a book on British Israelism, teaching the inheritance of Palestine by the supposed British descendants of the ten tribes along with a Jewish Judah. 14 But that doctrine does not appear to have been a major issue in the age-to-come controversy. GI 9.2

Prominent among the statements cited as errors in the Boston conference “address” of 1850 were the following from Marsh’s age-to-come editorials, mostly on the restored Jerusalem and forgiveness after the Advent: GI 9.3

Jerusalem will be rescued from the gentiles, and fitted for the place of the throne of his glory. 15

Numerous prophecies as clearly and positively predict the building up again of Jerusalem as they do of its fall. And as they make Jerusalem rebuilt, the glorious city of the Lord during his millennial reign, it is evident that the new Jerusalem, which is not to be re-built, cannot be that city ....

It [Isaiah 54] does not speak of the new Jerusalem which is to be located on the new earth, but of literal Jerusalem in its redeemed, cleansed, beautified, and glorified state, in the Age to come, under the millennial reign of Christ ....

After the close of this gospel age, Christ would “return” and build again the tabernacle of David, which was thrown down .... This cannot be the new Jerusalem or “tabernacle of God,” (Revelation 21:3) for it was never thrown down ....

We are forced to the conclusion that there are three Jerusalems named in the Bible.

1. Jerusalem, that is trodden down, and now in bondage.

2. Jerusalem, redeemed, rebuilt, ... the beloved city during his millennial reign on the earth. And

3. The new Jerusalem which will come down from God out of heaven, after the close of the thousand years reign of Christ. 16

This prophecy [Isaiah 66:15-24] first clearly predicts the coming of the Lord; then informs us that “the slain of the Lord shall be many” in that day, but gives us to understand that “some will escape” that destruction, who, we think, will not then be changed to immortality, but will be sent to declare the fame and glory of the Lord unto the Gentiles, and the isles which have not heard his fame nor seen his glory ....

The remnants of the nations that will escape the great destruction, at or near the time of the coming of the Lord, will be favored with the gracious privilege of submitting to his universal law; but in case of noncompliance with his offer of mercy, instead of expostulation and entreaty being made to the offenders, as in this probationary age, judgments will be speedily executed. 17

In various editorials and articles in the Harbinger in 1850 and 1851, the phrases “Jerusalem rebuilt” or “built up” and “build up the tabernacle of David” occur repeatedly in connection with the millennial kingdom. 18 GI 9.4