Postmillennialism: The Vastness of the Redeemed Multitude

 

Loraine Boettner

 


The writer of the Apocalypse says: 'I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all the tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cried with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb' (Rev. 7:9,10). God has chosen to redeem untold millions of the human race. Just what proportion of the race has been included in His purposes of mercy, we have not been informed; but in view of the future days of prosperity which are promised to the Church, it may be inferred that much the greater part eventually will be found among that number. Assuming that those who die in infancy are saved, as most churches have taught and as most theologians have believed, already much the larger proportion of the human race has been saved.

In Revelation 19:11-21 we have a vision setting forth in figurative language the age-long struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the world, with its promise of complete victory. There we read:

'And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but himself. And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and be treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

'And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with I a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid heaven, Come and be gathered together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses and of them that sit' thereon, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, and small and great.

'And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs in his sight, : wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshipped his image: they two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone: and the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, even the sword which came forth out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh.'

The best explanation of this passage we believe is that given by Dr. Warfield. He says:
'The section opens with a vision of the victory of the Word of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all His enemies. We see Him come forth from heaven girt for war, followed by the armies of heaven; the birds of the air are summoned to the feast of corpses that shall be prepared for them; the armies of the enemy-the beasts and the kings of the earth-are gathered against him and are totally destroyed; and all the birds are filled with their flesh. It is a vivid picture of a complete victory, an entire conquest, that we have here; and all the imagery of war and battle is employed to give it life. This is the symbol. The thing symbolized is obviously the complete victory of the Son of God over all the hosts of wickedness. Only a single hint of this signification is afforded by the language of the description, but that is enough. On two occasions we are carefully told that the sword by which the victory is won proceeds out of the mouth the conqueror (verses 15 and 21). We are not to think, as we read, of any literal war or manual fighting, therefore; the conquest is wrought by the spoken word-in short, by the preaching of the Gospel. In fine, we have before us here a picture of the victorious career of the Gospel of Christ in the world. All the imagery of the dread battle and its hideous details are but to give us the impression of the completeness of the victory. Christ's Gospel is to conquer the earth; He is to overcome all His enemies . . .

'What we have here, in effect, is a picture of the whole period between the first and the second advents, seen from the point of view of heaven. It is the period of advancing victory of the Son of God over the world, emphasizing, in harmony with its place at the end of the book, the completeness of the victory. It is the eleventh chapter of Romans and the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians in symbolical form: and there is nothing in it that was not already in them-except that, perhaps the completeness of the triumph of the Gospel is possibly somewhat more emphasized
here...

'As emphatically as Paul, John teaches that the earthly history of the Church is not a history merely of conflict with evil, but of conquest over evil: and even more richly than Paul, John teaches that this conquest will be decisive and complete. The whole meaning of the vision of Revelation 19:11-21 is that Christ Jesus comes forth not to war merely but to victory; and every detail of the picture is laid in with a view precisely to emphasizing the thoroughness of this victory. The Gospel of Christ is, John being witness, completely to conquer the world. He says nothing, any more than Paul does, of the period of the endurance of this conquered world. Whether the last judgment and the consummated kingdom are to follow immediately upon its conquest-- his visions are as silent as Paul's teaching. But just on that account the possibility of an extended duration for the conquered earth lies open: and in any event a progressively advancing conquest of the earth by Christ's Gospel implies a coming age deserving at least the relative name of golden' ' (Article, The Millennium and the Apocalypse; reprinted in Biblical Doctrines, pp. 647, 648, 662).

To us who live between the first and the second coming of Christ it is given to see that conquest taking place. Revelation 19:11-21, we believe, is a description of the spiritual warfare which rages through the centuries, in which as followers of our great Captain it is our privilege to have a part. In verse 14 we are Ăștold that those who follow the Rider on the white horse are 'clothed in fine linen, white and pure.' Surely Christ's elect are His soldiers. Earlier in this same chapter, verse 8, we were told that the Church, as the bride of the Lamb, has arrayed herself 'in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.' Hence the righteous acts of the saints who through the centuries constitute the Church evidently play an important part in this great conquest. Paul gives an insight into the nature of this battle when he says: 'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places' (Eph. 6:11,12). Here we learn who the real enemies of Christ's kingdom are. Our conflict is revealed as not primarily against evil human beings, but rather against spiritual hosts of wickedness. Here, too, we learn that in this holy war Christians are Christ's soldiers, and that it is through their victory that His victory is won.

How long the conquest continues before it is crowned with victory--we purposely use the word 'conquest,' rather than 'conflict, for Christ is not merely striving against evil, but progressively overcoming it--or how long the converted world is to await her coming Lord, we are not told. Today we are living in an era that is relatively golden as compared with the first century of the Christian era. This progress is to go on until on this earth we shall see a practical fulfillment of the prayer, 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven'--and the mere fact that Christ Himself taught His disciples thus to pray certainly indicates that it is a petition that God desires and wills to answer. As we get the broader view of God's gracious dealings with the sinful world, we see that He has not distributed His saving grace with a miserly hand, but that His purpose has been the restoration to Himself of the whole world.

We have quoted Warfield's view regarding a future golden age. Another of America's most brilliant theologians, Jonathan Edwards, gives the following exposition of the postmillennial position:

'The visible kingdom of Satan shall be overthrown, and the kingdom of Christ set up on the ruins of it, everywhere throughout the whole inhabitable globe. Now shall the promise made to Abraham be fulfilled, that 'in him and in his seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed'; and Christ now shall become the desire of all nations, agreeable to Hagai 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 that in Isaiah 1l: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 channel or cavity of the sea anywhere, but what 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. 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 by 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.' So the most universal expression is used (Dan. 7:27), 'And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High God.' You see the expression includes all under the whole heaven.'

Early in the Old Testament the promise was given to Abraham that his posterity should be a vast multitude,-- 'In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore' (Gen. 22:17); 'I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then may thy seed also be numbered' (Gen. 13:16). And in the New Testament we discover that this promise refers not merely to the Jews as a separate people, but that those who are Christians are in the highest sense the true 'sons of Abraham.' 'Know therefore,' says Paul, 'that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham'; and again, 'lf ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise' (Gal. 3:7, 29).

Isaiah declared that the pleasure of Jehovah should prosper in the hand of the Messiah, that He should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied (53:10,11). And in view of what He suffered on Calvary we know that He will not be easily satisfied.

The idea that the saved shall far outnumber the lost is also carried out in the contrasts drawn in Scripture. Heaven is uniformly pictured as the next world, as a great kingdom, a country, a city; while on the other hand hell is uniformly represented as a comparatively small place, a prison, a lake (of fire and brimstone), a pit (perhaps deep, but narrow): (Luke 20:35; Rev. 21.1; Matt. 5:3; Heb. 11:16; I Peter 3:19; Rev. 19:20; 21:8-16). When the angels and saints are mentioned in Scripture they are said to be hosts, myriads, an innumerable multitude, ten thousand Ăștimes ten thousand and many more thousands of thousands; but no such language is ever used in regard to the lost, and by contrast their number appears to be relatively insignificant (Luke 2:1313; Is. 6:3; Rev. 5:11), The description of the great white throne judgment as found in Revelation 20:11-15 closes with the statement: 'And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire' --language which indicates that in the judgment the normal thing will be that the names of the great majority of earth's population are written in the book of life. Such language implies that those whose names are not written there are the exceptional-- we may even say, rare--cases.

'The circle of God's election,' says Dr. W. G. T. Shedd, is a great circle of the heavens and not that of a treadmill. The kingdom of Satan is insignificant in contrast with the kingdom of Christ. In the immense range of God's dominion, good is the rule, and evil is the exception. Sin is a speck upon the azure of eternity; a spot upon the sun. Hell is only a corner of the universe.'

Judging from these considerations it appears, if we may hazard a guess, that the number of those who are saved may eventually bear some such proportion to those who are lost as the number of free citizens in our commonwealth today bears to those who are in the prisons and penitentiaries; or that the company of the saved may be likened to the main stalk of the tree which grows and flourishes, while the lost are but as the small limbs and prunings which are cut off and which are destroyed in the fires. This is the prospect that Postmillennialism is able to offer. Who even among those holding other systems would not wish that it were true?

But, it may be asked, do not the verses, 'Narrow is the gate, and straightened the way, that leadeth to life, and few are they that find it,' and 'Many are called, but few chosen' (Matt, 7:14; 22:14), teach that many more are lost than saved? We believe that these verses are meant to be understood in a temporal sense, as describing the conditions which Jesus and the disciples saw existing in Palestine in their day. The great majority of the people about them were not walking in the way of righteousness, and the words were spoken from the standpoint of the moment rather than from the standpoint of the distant Judgment Day. In these words we have presented to us a picture that was true to life as they saw it about them, and which in general has been true even up to the present time. But we may ask, in view of the future prosperity promised to the Church, are we not entitled to believe that as the years and the centuries and ages flow on the proportion following 'the two ways' shall be reversed?

These verses are also designed to teach that the way of salvation is a way of difficulty and sacrifice, and that it is our duty to address ourselves to it with diligence and persistence. No one is to take his salvation for granted. Those who enter into the kingdom of heaven do so through many tribulations; hence the command. 'Strive to enter in by the narrow door' (Luke 13:24). The choice in life is represented as a choice between two roads, --one is broad, smooth, and easy to travel, but leads to destruction. The other is narrow and difficult, but leads to life. 'There is no more reason,' says Dr. Warfield, 'to assume that this similitude teaches that the saved shall be fewer than the lost than there is to suppose that the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1ff) teaches that they shall be precisely equal in number; and there is far less reason to suppose that this similitude teaches that the saved shall be few comparatively to the lost than there is to suppose that the parable of the Tares in the Wheat (Matt. 13:2lff) teaches that the lost shall be inconsiderable in number in comparison with the saved-for that, indeed, is an important part of the teaching of that parable' (Article, Are They Few That Be Saved?). And we may add that there is no more reason to suppose that this reference to the two ways teaches that the number of the saved shall be fewer than the number of the lost than there is to suppose that the parable of the Lost Sheep teaches that only one out of a hundred goes astray and that even that one eventually will be brought back-which indeed would be absolute restorationism.