By Jonathan Edwards*
This article is a condensed extract from The History of Redemption. A much fuller version may be found in the useful Westminster Standard booklet The Millennium, which is available from Palmerston Villa, 4 Millburn Road, Inverness, or from the F. P. Bookroom, Glasgow.
*Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) became the pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts in 1727. He was opposed on account of his Scriptural view that conversion was a necessary qualification for partaking of the Lords Supper, and consequently he was dismissed from his pastorate in 1750. He became the pastor of a congregation at Stockbridge, and a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. At Stockbridge he wrote his treatises on The Will, Original Sin, and others. He was installed as President of the College of New Jersey, at Princeton, in 1758, but died of smallpox three months later.
I NOW come to show how the success of Christs redemption will be carried on from the present time till Antichrist is fallen, Satans visible kingdom on earth is destroyed, and the kingdom of Christ set up throughout the world. We have nothing to guide us but the prophecies of Scripture. I shall pass by those things that are only conjectured, or that are surmised by some from those prophecies which are doubtful in their interpretation, and shall insist only on those things which are more evident. First, I would observe some things in general concerning that glorious work of Gods Spirit.
We have every reason to conclude from the Scriptures, that just before this glorious work of God begins, it will be a very dark time with respect to the Christian religion in the world. So it was before preceding glorious revivals of religion. When Christ came, it was an exceedingly degenerate time among the Jews; and also it was a very dark time before the Reformation.
It is now a very dark time with respect to the interests of religion, a time wherein there is but little faith and great prevailing of infidelity on the earth. Whether the times shall be any darker still, or how much darker, before the beginning of this glorious work of God, we cannot tell.
There is no reason from the Word of God to think any other than that this great work of God will be wrought, though swiftly, yet gradually. The children of Israel were gradually brought out of the Babylonish captivity, first one company, and then another, and gradually rebuilt their city and temple. So, though there are many things which seem to hold forth that the work of God will be swift, yet it will not be accomplished all at once as by some great miracle, like the resurrection of the dead. This work will be accomplished by the use of the ordinary means of grace and so shall be brought to pass gradually. By the representation in Daniel 2:34, the stone cut out of the mountain without hands gradually grows. So Christ teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven hid in three measures of meal, Matthew 13:33. The Scriptures hold forth that there shall be several successive great and glorious events by which this glorious work shall be accomplished.
I now proceed to show how this glorious work shall be accomplished. The Spirit of God shall be gloriously poured out for the wonderful revival and propagation of religion. This great work shall be accomplished, not by the authority of princes, nor by the wisdom of learned men, but by Gods Holy Spirit: Zechariah 4:6, 7, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain, and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.” We know not where this pouring out of the Spirit shall begin, or whether in many places at once.
This pouring out of the Spirit of God, when it is begun, shall soon bring great multitudes to forsake the vice and wickedness which now so generally prevails; and shall cause that vital religion, which is now so despised and laughed at in the world, to revive. The work of conversion shall break forth, and go on in such a manner as never has been hitherto; agreeable to Isaiah 44:3-5, “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the LORDS; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”
God, by pouring out His Holy Spirit, will equip men to be glorious instruments of carrying on this work; will fill them with knowledge, wisdom and fervent zeal for the promoting of the kingdom of Christ, the salvation of souls and propagating the gospel in the world. The gospel shall begin to be preached with abundantly greater clearness and power than heretofore.
This great work of God shall be brought to pass by the preaching of the gospel, as is represented in Revelation 14:6-8, which holds forth that before Babylon falls, the gospel shall be powerfully preached and propagated in the world. This was typified of old by the sounding of the silver trumpets in Israel in the beginning of their jubilee. The glorious times which are approaching will be the Churchs jubilee, which shall be introduced by the sounding of the silver trumpet of the gospel, as is foretold in Isaiah 27:13, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts of the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” The glorious pouring out of the Spirit will make this clear and powerful preaching of the gospel to be successful for reviving those holy doctrines of religion which are now chiefly ridiculed in the world, and for turning vast multitudes from sin, and bringing them savingly home to Christ.
The work of conversion shall go on in a wonderful manner and spread more and more. Many shall flock to the Lord, one multitude after another, as in Isaiah 60:4, 5, “Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see and flow together.” And as the gospel shall be preached to every nation before the fall of Antichrist; so we may suppose that it will gloriously bring in multitudes from every nation, and shall spread more and more with wonderful swiftness (see Isaiah 66:7-9).
The pouring out of the Spirit of God will not effect the overthrow of Satans visible kingdom until there has first been a violent and mighty opposition made. When Christ is thus gloriously coming forth, and when the destruction of Antichrist is at hand, the powers of darkness will rise up and mightily exert themselves. Thus, after the pouring out of the sixth vial which was to precede the destruction of spiritual Babylon (Revelation 16), the powers of hell will be mightily alarmed and will stir up themselves to oppose the kingdom of Christ before the seventh vial shall be poured out, which shall give them a final and complete overthrow. “Three unclean spirits like frogs shall go forth unto the kings of the earth, to gather them together to the battle of the great day of God Almighty,” (verses 13, 14). This seems to be the last and greatest effort of Satan to save his kingdom from being overthrown; though perhaps he may make as great an effort towards the end of the world to regain it.
We know not particularly in what manner this opposition shall be made. It is called “the battle of the great day of God Almighty.” There will be a mighty struggle between Satans kingdom and the Church and probably in all ways of opposition that can be; and doubtless great opposition by external force. The princes of the world who are on the devils side shall join hand in hand, for it is said: “The kings of the earth are gathered together to battle,” Revelation 19:19. And probably there will be great opposition by subtle disputers and carnal reasoning, persecution, virulent reproaches, craft and subtlety. The devil will ply his skill as well as his strength to the utmost; and those who belong to his kingdom will everywhere be stirred up to make a united violent opposition against this holy religion, which they see prevailing so mightily in the world.
Christ and His Church in this battle shall obtain a complete victory. Their enemies shall be totally routed in this their last effort. In this victory there will be a most glorious display of divine power Christ shall therein appear in the character of King of kings, as in Revelation 19:16. Now Christ shall dash His enemies, even the strongest and proudest of them in pieces; as a potters vessel shall they be broken to shivers. Then shall strength be shown out of weakness and Christ shall cause His Church to thresh the mountains (Isaiah 41:15).
Consequent on this victory Satans visible kingdom on earth shall be destroyed. When Satan is conquered in this last battle, the Word of God shall have a speedy and swift progress through the earth; as it is said, that on the pouring out of the seventh vial, “the cities of the nations fell, and every island fled away, and the mountains were not found”, Revelation 16:19, 20. When once the stone cut out of the mountain without hands had broken the image in pieces, it was easy to abolish all the remains of it. The very wind will carry it away as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor (Daniel 2:34, 35).
Concerning this overthrow of Satans visible kingdom on earth, I would show the particular things in which it will consist, without pretending to determine in what order they shall come to pass, or which shall be accomplished first, or whether they shall be accomplished together.
Heresies, infidelity and superstition among those who have been brought up under the light of the gospel, will then be abolished. All shall agree in the same great and important doctrines of the gospel (Zechariah 14:9). Then shall be abolished all superstitious modes of worship, and everyone shall cordially agree in worshipping God in His own appointed way (Jeremiah 37:39).
The kingdom of Antichrist shall be utterly overthrown. His dominion has been much brought down already by the vial poured out on his throne in the Reformation; but then it shall be utterly destroyed. Then shall be proclaimed, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen.” Then shall be accomplished concerning Antichrist the things which are written in Revelation, chapter 18, of the spiritual Babylon, the idolatrous Roman government, that has for so many ages been the great enemy of the Christian Church, first under heathenism, then under popery.
Satans Mahometan kingdom shall be utterly overthrown. The locusts and horsemen in the 9th chapter of Revelation have their appointed time set them, and the false prophet shall be destroyed. And then though Mahometanism has been so vastly propagated in the world and is upheld by such a great empire this smoke shall be utterly scattered before the light of that glorious day.
Jewish infidelity shall then be overthrown. However obstinate they have been now for above seventeen hundred years in their rejection of Christ, and however rare have been the instances of individual conversions since the destruction of Jerusalem, and though they have continued to approve of the cruelty of their forefathers in crucifying Christ yet, when this day comes, the thick veil that blinds their eyes shall be removed (2 Cor. 3:16) and divine grace shall melt and renew their hard hearts, “and they shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born,” Zechariah 12:10. They shall flock together to the blessed Jesus, penitently, humbly and joyfully owning Him as their glorious King and only Saviour, and shall with all their hearts, as with one heart and voice, declare His praises unto other nations.
Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews, as in Romans 11. There are also many passages of the Old Testament which cannot be interpreted in any other sense. The prophecies of Hosea especially seem to hold this forth: that in the future glorious times of the Church, the twelve tribes shall be united as one people, as they formerly were under David and Solomon (Hos. 1:11). Though we do not know the time in which this conversion of Israel will come to pass, yet this much we may determine by Scripture: that it will be before the glory of the Gentile part of the Church shall be fully accomplished, because it is said that their coming in shall be life from the dead to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:2).
Then shall also Satans heathenish kingdom be overthrown. Gross heathenism now possesses a great part of the earth, but then the heathen nations shall be enlightened with the glorious gospel. There will be a wonderful spirit of pity towards them; and zeal for their instruction and conversion put into multitudes; and many shall go forth and carry the gospel unto them. Then shall the joyful sound be heard among them and the Sun of righteousness shall arise with His glorious light shining on those vast regions of the earth that have been covered with heathenish darkness for many thousand years.
God has said that the gods that have not made these heavens and this earth, shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens, Jeremiah 10:11, and that He will utterly abolish idols, Isaiah 2:18. Then shall the many nations of Africa be visited with glorious light and delivered from all their darkness and shall become a Christian, understanding and holy people. Thus will be gloriously fulfilled Isaiah 35:1, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose,” (see also verses 6 and 7).
Having thus shown wherein this overthrow of Satans kingdom will consist, I come now to observe that the kingdom of Christ shall then be set up everywhere throughout the whole habitable globe. Then shall the promise made to Abraham be fulfilled, that in him and in his seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Christ now shall become the desire of all nations, agreeable to Haggai 2:7. Now the kingdom of Christ shall in the most strict and literal sense be extended to all nations and the whole earth. There are many passages of Scripture that can be understood in no other sense. What can be more universal than Isaiah 11:9, “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;” as much as to say, As there is no part of the channels of the sea but is covered with water, so there shall be no part of the world of mankind but what shall be covered with the knowledge of God. So it is foretold in Isaiah 45:22 that all the ends of the earth shall look to Christ and be saved. And to show that the words are to be understood in the most universal sense, it is said in the next verse, “I have sworn myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”
Terrible judgments and fearful destruction shall now be executed on Gods enemies, more especially on Antichrist. The cruel persecutors who belong to the Church of Rome, shall in a most awful manner be destroyed, which is compared to a casting of Antichrist into the burning flame, Daniel 7:11.
This shall put an end to the Churchs suffering state, and shall be attended with their glorious and joyful praises. The Churchs afflicted state has been continued, excepting some short intermissions, from the resurrection of Christ to this time; but now shall a final end be put to her suffering state. So Zephaniah 3:15, “The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.” The time before this had been the Churchs sowing-time, wherein she sowed in tears and in blood; but now is her harvest, wherein she will come again rejoicing, bringing her sheaves with her. Her praises shall then go up to God from all parts of the earth (as Isaiah 42:10-12); and praise shall not only fill the earth, but also heaven. The Church on earth and the Church in heaven shall both gloriously rejoice and praise God as with one heart on that occasion. Without doubt it will be a time of very distinguished joy and praise among the holy prophets and apostles and the other saints in heaven, Revelation 18:20. “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her.”
I would speak of the prosperous state of the Church through the greater part of this period, and in general I would observe two things. First, this prosperous state is most properly the time of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. Though the kingdom of heaven was in a degree set up soon after Christs resurrection and in a further degree in the time of Constantine; and though the Christian Church in all ages of it is called the kingdom of heaven, yet this prosperous state is the principal time of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. This prosperous state is also the principal fulfilment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament which speak of the glorious times of the gospel in the latter days. Though there has been a glorious fulfilment of those prophecies already, in the times of the apostles and later, yet the expressions are too high to suit any other time entirely but that which is to succeed the fall of Antichrist. This is most properly the glorious day of the gospel.
But more particularly, it will be a time of great light and knowledge. The present are days of darkness in comparison of those days. The light of that glorious time shall be so great that it is represented as though there should then be no night, but only day; no evening nor darkness. So Zechariah 14:6, 7, “And it shall come to pass in that day that the light shall not be clear, nor dark. But it shall be one day, which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but it shall come to pass that at evening-time it shall be light.” There is a kind of veil now cast over the greater part of the world, which keeps them in darkness; but then this veil shall be destroyed, Isaiah 25:7, “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.” There shall then be a wonderful unravelling of the difficulties in the doctrines of religion and clearing up of seeming inconsistencies; crooked things shall be made straight, and rough places shall be made plain, and darkness shall become light before Gods people. Difficulties in Scripture shall then be cleared up and wonderful things shall be discovered in the Word of God which were never discovered before.
It shall be a time of great holiness. Then vital religion shall everywhere prevail and reign. Religion shall not be an empty profession as it now mostly is, but holiness of heart and life shall abundantly prevail. Those times shall be an exception from what Christ says of the ordinary state of the Church, namely, that there shall be but few saved; for now holiness shall become general, Isaiah 9:21, “Thy people also shall be all righteous.” Not that there will be none remaining in a Christless condition; but visible wickedness shall be suppressed everywhere and true holiness shall become general, though not universal. It shall be a wonderful time, not only for the multitude of godly men, but for eminency of grace in the godly.
It shall be a time wherein religion shall in every respect be uppermost in the world it shall be had in great esteem and honour. The saints have hitherto, for the most part, been kept under, and wicked men have governed. But now they will be uppermost. The kingdom shall be given into the hands of the saints of the “most high God”, Daniel 7:27. And “they shall reign on the earth”, Revelation 5:10. They shall live and “reign with Christ a thousand years”, Revelation 20:4. In that day, such persons as are eminent for true piety and religion shall be chiefly promoted to places of trust and authority. Vital religion shall then take possession of kings palaces and thrones; and those who are in highest advancement shall be holy men, Isaiah 49:23. “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.”
Those will be times of great peace and love. There shall then be universal peace and a good understanding among the nations of the world, instead of confusion, wars and bloodshed, Isaiah 2:4, “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It is represented as if all instruments of war should be destroyed, having become useless (Psalm 46:9). Then shall malice, and envy, and wrath, and revenge be suppressed everywhere; and peace and love shall prevail between one man and another (Isa 9:6-10). Then shall there be peace and love between rulers and ruled. Rulers shall love their people and with all their might seek their best good; and the people shall love their rulers, shall joyfully submit to them and give them that honour which is their due. There shall be happy love between ministers and their people, Malachi 4:6, “And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Then shall flourish in an eminent manner those Christian virtues of meekness, forgiveness, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness and brotherly-kindness, those excellent fruits of the Spirit. Men, in their temper and disposition shall then be like the Lamb of God, the lovely Jesus. The body shall be conformed to the head. Then shall all the world be united in one amiable society. All nations, in all parts of the world, on every side of the globe, shall then be knit together in sweet harmony. All parts of Gods Church shall promote the spiritual good of one another. A communication shall then be upheld between all parts of the world to that end.
It will be a time of excellent order in the Church of Christ. The true government and discipline of the Church will then be settled and put into practice. All the world shall then be as one Church, one orderly, regular, beautiful society. And as the body shall be one, so the members shall be in beautiful proportion to each other. Then shall that be verified in Psalm 122:3, “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together.”
The Church of God shall then be beautiful and glorious; yea, it will appear in the perfection of beauty, Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” And Isaiah 61:10, “He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” On these accounts, the Church will then be the greatest image of heaven itself.
That will be a time of the greatest temporal prosperity. Such a spiritual state as we have just described has a natural tendency to health and long life; and that this will actually be the case, is evident by Zechariah 8:4, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; there shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.” It has also a natural tendency to procure ease, quietness, pleasantness and cheerfulness of mind; also wealth, and a great increase of children, as is intimated in Zechariah 8:5, “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.” But further, the temporal prosperity of the people of God will also be promoted by a remarkable blessing from heaven, Isaiah 65:21, “They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.” And in Micah 4:4, “But they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid.”
It will also be a time of great rejoicing: Isaiah 55:12, “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” That will be the glorious wedding-day upon earth of the church with Christ, Revelation 19:7, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come and his wife hath made herself ready.”
The Scriptures represent this prosperity to be of long continuance. The former intervals of rest and prosperity are represented to be but short; but the representations of this state are quite different: Revelation 20:4, “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” And Isaiah 60:15, “Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.”