6. Born In Scotland, Reared In England
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth .... Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty?"
Patrick Henry, 1775
A large portion of the Bible consists of prophecy, the foretelling, by writers inspired by God, of things which at the time of writing were still in the future. Much of this prophecy has been fulfilled, as in the case of the multitude of prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling not only the coming of Christ but also many details of His life on earth. Some Biblical prophecies remain unfulfilled, and a portion of these are concerned with Christ's return.
The Bible states clearly that Christ will return, and all Bible-believing Christians are agreed upon this fact. But a wide variety of opinion exists among Christians concerning the details of His Second Coming. Broadly, there are in this regard three main categories of Christian thought. One group believes that Christ will return to earth to establish a literal political reign for one thousand years (the "millennium"). Since they believe that Christ will return before the "millennium" begins, they are known as "pre-millennialists." A second group believes that the return of Christ will occur at the conclusion of the "millennium," which they foresee as a thousand-year period of peace and prosperity on the earth, brought about by the eventual acceptance of Christianity by most of the earth's inhabitants. These are known as "post-millennialists." A third group believes that the "millennium" is a figurative symbol only, since the one chapter in the Bible in which it is mentioned is replete with symbolic language. Since they believe there will not be a literal "millennium", they are known as "a-millennialists." Within each of the three broad categories of thought are many subdivisions, and many differences of opinion concerning details.*
Most pre-millennialists believe that the future "millennium" will be preceded by a "tribulation", a time of great trouble and punishment for those who then inhabit the earth. Most post-millennialists and a-millennialists believe that this "tribulation" period already has occurred, most of them placing it during the very early centuries of Christianity when the Christians suffered severe persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the Roman Empire. Regarding their future "tribulation" the pre-millennialists are divided, some believing that Christians will remain upon the earth during the "tribulation" while others believe that the Christians will be taken from the earth prior to the "tribulation." Since this removal of Christians from the earth commonly is referred to as the "rapture of the saints", those who believe the "rapture" will occur after the "tribulation" are called "post-tribulation rapturists", while those who believe the "rapture" will occur before the "tribulation" are called "pre-tribulation rapturists."
Sound confusing? It is. But please hang on, and hopefully it will become less so. And it is important to the problem at hand.
In the history of Christianity, all of the above lines of thought have had their proponents for many centuries except for the "pre-tribulation rapturist" branch of the pre-millennialists. The idea of a pre-tribulation "rapture" can be traced back in history only to the year 1830. It is also important to note that the pre-tribulation "rapture" theory is the only one which foresees the Second Coming of Christ occurring in two stages, a secret first stage to take away ("rapture") the Christians, and a second stage which everyone will recognize. Observed over the long view of all Christian history, the pre-tribulation "rapture" theory is both a latecomer and a maverick. Nevertheless today, even though the doctrine is held by a minority of all those who profess Christ as their Saviour, it is the one theory out of all those in existence which a newly-awakened American patriot is most likely to encounter. It is also the one theory out of all those extant which, if adopted by a Christian as his religious philosophy, all too often has a crippling effect upon his will to resist the Conspiracy. This crippling effect is brought about by three salient features of the theory: (a) the evils of our present day are held to be inevitable events leading up to the imminent "tribulation"; (b) the Christian is promised escape ("rapture") from the "tribulation" by virtue of his being a Christian; and (c) the "rapture" must occur soon and may occur at any moment.
Since the pre-tribulation "rapture" theory is of such relatively recent origin, and is so different from all other doctrines held by Christians over a period of eighteen centuries, how and where did it originate, and how has it gained such apparent ascendancy in such a relatively short time?
To answer the first part of that question we need to go back in time to the year 1830 and in space to Scotland and a town in western Scotland known as Port Glasgow. There, in the spring of 1830, a religious furore developed about the Macdonald family, who were said to have worked miracles of healing and to be both speaking in "tongues" and interpreting the "tongues." The occurrences at the Macdonald home are recorded in a very interesting and readable book by Dave MacPherson entitled "The Incredible Cover-up", subtitled "The True Story on the Pre-Trib Rapture."1 MacPherson quotes at length from a book written in 1861 by the Rev. Robert Norton (1807-1883), a British physician and clergyman, entitled "The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets: In the Catholic Apostolic Church." Norton, a member of the Catholic Apostolic Church and in full sympathy with the events he recorded, related how Margaret Macdonald, in the spring of 1830, had expressed her belief, which resulted from her study of the scriptures, that Christians would be "raptured" or "translated" from the earth prior to the "tribulation." Norton emphasized that Margaret's pronouncement was the first time anyone had distinguished two stages in the Second Coming of Christ "for here we first see the distinction between that final stage of the Lord's coming, when every eye shall see Him, and his prior appearing in glory to them that look for him."2
Two religious sects in the British Isles took up Margaret Macdonald's new idea immediately, and with great enthusiasm. One was the Catholic Apostolic Church, headed by Edward Irving (1792-1834), a close associate and admirer of Samuel T. Coleridge, the eccentric poet. The first known promotion of the new doctrine in print was in the September, 1830 issue of Irving's periodical "The Morning Watch." Irving, a Presbyterian minister at the time, was subsequently expelled from the Presbyterian Church, at which time he formed the Catholic Apostolic Church. The services of this church were characterized by frequent interruptions by members "prophesying" or "speaking in tongues." It was their belief that, because of the imminent Second Coming of Christ, they had been empowered in the same manner as had been the very early Christians of the first century, as described in the Book of Acts and other places in the New Testament.
An early convert to Irving's new church was Robert Baxter of Doncaster, England. Of Baxter, MacPherson writes: "Baxter had gone down to London in the fall of 1831, visited some of the prayer meetings which preceded the manifestations in Irving's church, and soon was a regular attendant at Irving's services. He then became endowed with the prophetic utterances and had a number of personal revelations. Later, when certain prophecies made by him and others simply were not fulfilled, he became disillusioned and felt that he had been deceived and had in turn deceived others."3 Baxter, in 1833, wrote a book about the Irvingites in which he said: "There are some general characteristics in the work, which, apart from doctrines or instances of failure of predictions, cast suspicion upon it. One is the extreme secrecy enjoined by the spirit, and the manifest shrinking from public examination. The spirit has, both in England and Scotland, forbidden the writing down of utterances, and even the attempt to repeat them verbatim. Thus errors and contradictions are more easily concealed and explained away." 4
The chief financial supporter of Irving's movement was banker and politician Henry Drummond (1786-1860), the eldest son of a prominent London banker. Of Drummond the Encyclopedia Britannica says, "Meetings of those who sympathized with the views of Edward Irving were held for the study of prophecy at Drummond's seat, Albury Park, in Surrey; he contributed very liberally to the funds of the new church; and he became one of its leading office-bearers, visiting Scotland as an 'apostle' and being ordained as an 'angel' for that Kingdom."5
The other group to adopt Margaret Macdonald's new idea was the sect known as the Brethren or Plymouth Brethren, organized in the British Isles by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby was educated as a lawyer but became an Anglican priest in 1826, then left the Anglican Church to form his Brethren movement in 1830. The term "Plymouth" was applied to the Brethren by outsiders from the fact that the movement had its first significant growth in the town of Plymouth, England. Darby visited the Macdonald home in about the middle of the year 1830,6 and first presented the new pre-tribulation "rapture" doctrine to the Brethren in late 1830 or early 1831. The new doctrine did not by any means receive unanimous acceptance. In fact it contributed, some years later, to the splitting off of a faction led by Benjamin Newton.
In his "The Roots of Fundamentalism", Ernest R. Sandeen, discussing the history of the Brethren, says: "Darby introduced into discussion at Powerscourt the ideas of a secret rapture of the church and of a parenthesis in prophetic fulfillment between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel. These two concepts constituted the basic tenets of the system of theology since referred to as dispensationalism .... Newton remembered, years later, opposing both positions. Commenting upon Darby's interpretations of the seventy weeks of Daniel, Newton remarked, 'The secret rapture was bad enough, but this was worse.' "7
Darby, however, evidently was a dynamic leader, and his views ultimately prevailed among his followers. Sandeen describes Darby as "a man with magnetic, electric personal qualities combined with a tyrant's will to lead and intolerance of criticism."8 His following became quite numerous in Great Britain and spread both to the continent of Europe and to the United States. To quote MacPherson, "The two-stage coming view of the Brethren spread to America and other parts of the world in the latter part of the century. Darby visited the U.S. at least five times. His dispensationalism became part of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909). Darby died on April 29, 1882, at 81 years of age."9
What were the means by which Darby's doctrines were spread in the United States, and how did they become incorporated into the extremely influential Scofield Reference Bible?
REFERENCES, CHAPTER 6
* Those who preach and promote the so-called "Social Gospel" claim to look forward to a "millennium" also. On closer examination, their "millennium" turns out to be a socialist world dictatorship.
1 MacPherson, Dave "The Incredible Cover-Up", subtitled "The True Story On The Pre-Trib Rapture" Logos International, Plainfield, N.J. 07061, 1975 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 75-25171.
2 Norton, Robert, M. D. "The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets; In the Catholic Apostolic Church" 1861 p. 15, as quoted by MacPherson (Ref. 1), p. 37.
3 MacPherson, Op Cit., p. 86.
4 Baxter, Robert "Narrative of Facts, Characterizing the Supernatural Manifestations in Members of Mr. Irving's Congregation, and Other Individuals, In England and Scotland, and Formerly in the Writer Himself" Doncaster, England, 1833, p. 126, as quoted by MacPherson (Op. Cit.), p. 89.
5 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, New York, 1910, Volume VIII, p. 600.
6 MacPherson, Op. Cit., p. 83.
7 Sandeen, Ernest R. "The Roots of Fundamentalism" The University of Chicago Press, 1970, p. 38.
8 Ibid., p. 31.
9 MacPherson, Op. Cit., p. 32.
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