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Originally published in "The Lord's Coming Herald & Wesleyan Bible Prophecy Advocate," Winter Edition 1992

Was John Wesley Really A Premillennialist?

    Thousands of professed committed Wesleyan-Arminians have accepted "dispensational" Bible prophecy truth claims over the past fifty or more years whom we are confident would never have believed such teachings if they had understood the origin of dispensational ideas, and  the implications those ideas have for all of Christian life and thought. Dispensational ideas were too eagerly swallowed because they sounded impressive on the surface, and thus were popular among a large segment of British/American evangelicalism that was increasingly turning toward antinomianism. Sadly, there was little or no historical perspective in the holiness movement at the time to discern the nature and effects of this system of antinomian theology that, by virtue of their buying into dispensational theory, they, too, were so naively accepting.

Now it is extremely urgent for modern Wesleyan-Arminians to be informed of the basic historical facts about John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren movement of the last century, out of which modern dispensational premillennial theory arose. Fortunately, considerable research in this area of religious history has been done. Unfortunately, for whatever strange reasons, most of this knowledge has never filtered clown to the consciousness of the grassroots ministry and laity of the contemporary Wesleyan Holiness movement.

    The history and doctrines of J. N. Darby and the British Plymouth Brethren, founders of modern dispensational Bible prophecy theory, have been well documented in a number of books that everyone who is interested in learning where popular dispensational ideas have come from should read.  Among them are Ernest Sandeen's,  The Roots of Fundamentalism, Norman Kraus' Dispensationalism in America, and Clarence Bass' Backgrounds to Dispensationalism. As historical information, all of these works will prove very enlightening.

Most of the anti-dispensational polemic today comes from Calvinistic writers. This is interesting, since traditional Methodism had never accepted Darbyism in the first place. Perceptive holiness theologians, like Daniel Steele in A Substitute for Holiness or Antinomianism Revived; the Theology of the So-Called Plymouth Brethren Examined and Refuted, consistently spoke out against it. Steele wrote his book in 1887. We quote from pages 125-126 of that book in the following paragraphs:

"'It has been said that John Wesley was a premillennialist; that he contended for that faith, none more earnestly; that Methodism once grasped and utilized it with power; yea, that its 'foundations were laid deep in the premillennial faith of the pure apostolic and primitive church.' In support of these assertions the writer Nathaniel West, in John Wesley; Premillennialist, appeals to Tyerman. Tyreman does say that Wesley endorsed the doctrine 'that at Christ's second coming the martyrs will be raised, and for a thousand years will reign with Christ in Jerusalem,' and that that reign will be visible. But he also says in the same place: 'This is a matter which none of Wesley's biographers have noticed.'

"There were six biographers of Wesley before Tyreman. And as he makes no claim to the discovery of any new facts touching this matter, the presumption is as six to one that Tyreman was wrong just then, for if the facts were as above related, they were of very great importance, and it is not supposable that six men should ignore them. The writer above quoted [i.e., Nathaniel West], and also Tyreman, appeal to a certain letter as proof of Wesley's premillennial faith. Does that letter contain what they say it does? Here is what they report of it: 'The doctrine which Justin deduced from the prophets and apostles, and in which he was undoubtedly followed by the Fathers of the second and third centuries, is this: the souls of them who have been martyred for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and of those who have not worshipped the beast, neither received his mark, shall live and reign with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years are finished. Now to say that they (the fathers) believed this is neither more nor less than to say they believed the Bible [cited form Wesley's Works, X:31]'

"Does this letter say a word about Christ's second coming, or His visible reign, or the reign of the saints in Jerusalem? Not a word of it said or implied. On Revelation xx. 4, Wesley says: 'They reigned with Christ not on earth, but in heaven.' How does their reign with Christ in heaven prove either His or their reign in Jerusalem or on earth? Were not these ingenious men [i.e., Tyreman and West] 'dreaming' when they thought they had found premillennialism in that letter?

    "The writer above quoted
[i.e., Nathaniel West] appeals to Wesley's commendation of a book in which premillennialism is taught, and also to Tyreman's declaration that Wesley held 'in substance' the opinions of its author. Tyreman names four of the author's 'chief points,' three of which any post-millennialist may hold, and so 'in substance' may agree with him though differing at the point at issue in this discussion. Wesley, in his 'Notes on the New Testament,' followed Bengel largely but definitely on the nearness of the binding of Satan and the millennium; also in the opinion that Rev. xx. 1-11 included two thousand years, in the first of which Satan will be bound and the church and world will have 'immunity from all evils and an affluence of all blessings' -- the millennium. During the second thousand years Satan will be be loosed, and 'while the saints reign with Christ in heaven, men on earth will be careless and secure.' After this second thousand years, according to Wesley, the second advent will occur, His words are unequivocal and decisive: 'quickly he [Satan] will be bound; when he is loosed the martyrs will live and reign with Christ. Then follows His coming in glory' (Notes on Rev. xx. 1-11).

  "So, in his sermon on 'The Great Assize,' Wesley distinctly places the second advent at the judgment (Rev. xx. 1-1-15), which the apostle says and all admit is after the millennium. These facts show conclusively that Wesley placed the second advent after the millennium.  And in this he parted from Bengel, if, as alleged, he placed the advent before the millennium.

    "Partisan criticism has torn some of Wesley's expressions from their connections and twisted them from their intent, to give the impression he was a Universalist. So on this subject, expressions may be found in his popular addresses which, literally interpreted, would make him appear to teach what he never intended. Sober criticism tests such expression by his uniform and expositional teaching. Premillennialists think they find their peculiarities in certain texts. But in almost every text Wesley negates their expositions.
[Specific examples follow in the original source.]" End quote from Daniel Steele.

    That millernarian West and others MISREPRESENTED the positions of earlier Bible exegetes in favor of premillennial theory is noted by Sandeen in Roots of Fundamentalism, p, 151. Modern Wesleyans could better look to Methodist Daniel Steele, than to the Presbyterian  Nathaniel West, as the most authentic and sympathetic interpreter of Wesley's thought. Amen?

Our humble opinion is that Nathaniel West should have paid more attention to the Presbyterian mentor of His own theology, John Calvin, who was not even a premillennialist, but an amillennnialist, himself, as were nearly all of the early Protestant Reformers, and as was also John Wesley. How ironic that the Presbyterian follower of John Calvin, Nathaniel West, was so inconsistent in his theology that he did not even know the historical fact that John Calvin was an amillennialist, not a premillennialist at all, and that neither was premillennialism authentic reformed Calvinistic theology, either!

It just shows how ignorant of church history modern antinomian promoters of premillennial ideology really are, friends; they are motivated by ulterior preconceptions, and so, for those of us who really want to know the truth, there is no good reason to take them seriously.

If we are willing to be honest with Biblical exegesis and with the history of Christian thought, dear friends, then the fact of the matter is that John Wesley certainly was not a premillennialists in any modern sense of the term. Modern premillennial so-called "Wesleyans" do not follow in the footsteps of their founder. They have "another gospel" than the gospel of the kingdom that John Wesley preached and taught.

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John Wesley: Amillennialist
Toward A Wesleyan-Consistent Expression Of Eschatology