Prophetic and Revivalist Premillennial Adventism

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It is not coincidental that Christian Zionist and millennialist speculation have converged toward the end of each century, especially since the 1590's when the first printed literature dealing with millenarian speculations and the restoration of the Jews first appeared.61 The predominance of military and apocalyptic terminology in the titles of popular books written by Christian Zionists since the 1980's would suggest a similar connection in this century also.62 Andrew Walker has described this as 'PMT' or 'Premillennial Tension'. 'We're counting up to the year 2000 and there's a strong apocalyptical anxiety.'63

The revival during the 1790-1800 period was a direct result of the turmoil Europeans felt in the wake of the French and American revolutions coupled with the approach of a new century. The British, like Europeans on the continent, began to feel that their world was falling apart. People turned away from new secular philosophy and political answers and embraced a more fundamentalist form of Christian teachings that included a revived form of prophetic interpretations of the Bible. In this troubled and uncertain climate, Christian Zionism began to take root.64

Edward Irving (1792-1834)

The rise in popularity of premillennialism in the nineteenth century, and the revolution in prophetic and apocalyptic thought can be largely attributed to Edward Irving.65 In 1825 he preached at the annual gathering of the Continental Society. His address was entitled, 'Babylon and Infidelity Foredoomed', it Irving advanced the assertion that the Church, far from being on the threshold of a new era of blessing, was about to enter a 'series of thick-coming judgments and fearful perplexities' preparatory to Christ's advent and reign.66

A year later in 1826 Irving was introduced to the views of Manuel Lacunza a Spanish Jesuit who wrote a book under the pseudonym of Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, allegedly a converted Jew, entitled, 'The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty'. Lacunza interpreted all but the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation as describing apocalyptic events about to happen. Irving was so excited by Lacunza's speculations, he mastered Spanish in order to translate and publish the work in English.67 Irving added a 203 page preface to the translation in which he presented with great conviction his own prophetic speculations about the end of the world, predicting, the apostasy of Christendom, then subsequently the restoration of the Jews and finally the imminent return of Christ.

When the Lord shall have finished the taking of witness against the Gentiles... he will begin to prepare another ark of testimony... and to that end will turn his Holy Spirit unto his ancient people, the Jews, and bring them unto those days of refreshing... This outpouring of the Spirit is known in Scripture by 'the latter rain'.68

Irving came to have a profound influence over Henry Drummond, a politician, banker and writer who opened his home at Albury Park, Surrey, to Irving, M'Neile, Way, and those of like mind, keen to study prophecy.

The first decades of the nineteenth century saw an increasing dissatisfaction with the oversimplified Gospel of the earlier evangelical movement. The quest for a more experimental faith and a fuller biblical exegesis led to greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology , and prophecy. These subjects were of major interest to such orthodox churchmen as Haldane Stewart, Hugh MacNeil, and William Marsh, who together with Edward Irving and many others attended at Henry Drummond's invitation the Conferences for Biblical Study at Albury Park, Surrey, in 1826.69

With a growing interest in millennial speculations other writers published similar treaties. McNeile, looking back in 1866, in the preface to his new edition, acknowledged how, a generation earlier, such views were something of a novelty by what he terms 'anti-restorationists'.70

When these lectures were first published in 1830, the subject was comparatively new to the Church in this country. It had no place in the battle-field of the Reformation. It had not been discussed by any of the theological lights of the last century. It was just beginning to be ventilated in consequence of the labours of Mr. Louis Way and Mr. Hawtrey; and more especially in consequence of the writings of Mr. Faber, and the zealous advocacy of Mr. Simeon.71

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