The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


III. Historical Setting for Nineteenth-Century Impetus

All through the Old World, at the turn of the century following the French Revolution, there developed a widespread conviction that mankind had entered a new epoch—the era of the “last things,” the “last days,” or “time of the end,” as variantly expressed in Bible terms. This was freely stated on both sides of the Atlantic. As noted, the French Revolution had burst forth like the explosion of the pent-up forces of a volcano. And as a result the Papal Church was shaken to its very foundations. The very suddenness and violence of the shock sent various Protestant scholars back to a restudy of the Word, especially the eschatological prophecies, in order to determine the significance of those tremendous times. A spirit of intense inquiry was abroad in the very air. 1 CFF2 250.2

As a result there was a definite return to the old Historical School positions on prophecy, with its premillennial Second Advent postulate, and belief in the accompanying literal resurrection, and cataclysmic end-of-the-age positions. There was likewise a repudiation of the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation counterinterpretation positions of Futurism and Preterism, adroitly put forth to parry the incriminating force of Protestant interpretation, which had exposed her own diverting views on Antichrist and the millennium, as well as on the nature and destiny of man. There was a marked revival of Bible study, centering on eschatology and its involvements. CFF2 250.3


Such works as George S. Faber’s A Dissertation on the Prophecies (1807), William Cunninghame’s Dissertations on the Seals and Trumpets (1813), James H. Frere’s A Combined View (1815), Lewis Way’s A Letter (1818), and John Bayford’s Messiah’s Kingdom (1820) spearheaded the reaction against the desolating flood of postmillennialism that had swept over the Protestant churches, along with the devastating pestilence of infidelity springing from the French Revolution. From it all came a rebirth of the Advent hope and its attendant resurrection of the righteous, with the new earth following, and related truths. More than a hundred important books on eschatology appeared during the first four decades of the new century. 2 CFF2 251.1

From prominent pulpits powerful preachers in the Old World and in the New proclaimed the imminence of the Second Advent, warning that the coming of the “day of the Lord” was drawing near. Even in the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church premillennialist voices were heard denouncing the Augustinian theory of the millennium—Pere Lambert, Dominican, of France, and Manuel Lacunza, Spanish Jesuit, of Chile and Italy, were prominent examples. 3 CFF2 251.2


In all this the Old World Advent Awakening only slightly antedated the New World Advent Movement. There was a close tie-in. One common bond was the magazine Christian Observer, of London. Launched in 1802, it had a Boston edition, running article for article, beginning with the first issue—a remarkable arrangement for the time. It was said to be the most widely read Anglican journal in America. And various Old World societies formed to promote the study of eschatological prophecy had New World branches, or counterparts. Numerous conferences on the prophecies concerning the last things were held to promote these views. It was a period of revolutionary study and action. And this inevitably involved the question of the destiny of man. CFF2 251.3

In both Old and New World Protestantism there had now come a basic clash over millennial views. The issue was evangelical premillennialism versus Whitbyan 4 postmillennialism—a major battle developing in England over this questin. Soon a revival of premillennialism swept over Britain. And, added to the issues that already confronted and confused, came the Oxford Tractarian Movement, beginning in 1833. The chief object of the Tract series, and their conspicuous writers, was to de-Protestantize the Church of England, to instill and establish the Futurist view of prophecy, and to contend for a still future Antichrist. In Continental Germany there was the paralleling “neology,” or Rationalism, with its Preterist scheme of eschatological prophecy, likewise adopted from Catholicism. The picture was highly complex and confusing. CFF2 252.1


But in Germany, paralleling the British resurgence of premillennialism, were such men as Lindl (1826), Sander (1829), Kelber (1817), and Richter (1834). And in Holland there was Heintzpeter (1819), and in Switzerland Nicole and Gaussen (1829). And there were such roving characters as Joseph Wolff, converted Jewish world traveler, and Bishop Wilson in India, and Gobat in Abyssinia—all stressing the approaching end of the age and the premillennial second advent of Christ as drawing near. CFF2 252.2

And as noted, from the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church came Lacunza, who moved Catholics and Protestants alike in South America, Inter-America, Britain, and on the Continent, and stirred scholarly groups to restudy the eschatological prophecies. He strongly revived the Early Church teaching on the millennium, and heralded the “new earth,” foretold both by Old and New Testament prophets, as impending. Such was the historical setting for the independent but paralleling breaking forth of the principles and involvements of Conditionalism, with new impetus in both the Old World and the New. To this we now address ourselves. CFF2 252.3