Bengel and the revival of Chiliasm
Karl August Auberlen credited Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752) with reviving Chiliasm. He said “Bengel laid the foundation for a dogmatic development of eschatology” and “The world-chronology of Bengel is the mother of a fundamental idea of modern theology, the idea of an organic historical development of the kingdom of God.” He quoted Franz Delitzsch, who wrote of Bengel: “To whom else do we owe it, that the orthodox Church of the present time does not brand the Chiliastic view of the last times as a heterodoxy, as is done in almost all old manuals of dogmatics; but, on the contrary, has allowed it to enter into her innermost life, so that there is scarcely a believing Christian now, who does not take this view?”
Bengel is remembered for his failed predictions, his strange assumptions, and for very curious time calculations involving partial years. The influence of his work upon his contemporaries now seems quite remarkable.
Bengel’s role in the revival of chiliasm is outlined in the following account by Auberlen. 
I. THE CHURCH-HISTORICAL VIEW.
Luther has strikingly expressed the characteristic peculiarity of the church-historical view in the following words:—
“Since the book is to be a revelation of future events, and specially of great tribulations and distress of Christendom, we think that the simplest and surest way of finding the interpretation would be to put together, from the annals of history, the past history and troubles of Christendom, and to put them beside the symbols of the Revelations, and compare them with the words. Then, wherever it would nicely fit and coincide, there we might depend on obtaining a sure and inconvertible interpretation.”
This principle of interpretation appears at first sight very correct and natural, and yet it is erroneous. It goes against a fundamental principle, on which the Protestant Church justly lays great stress, viz., that Scripture interprets itself. This general principle is applicable also to our book. Though, as a prophetic book, it points to the future, yet it directs us first to its past, in order to obtain the key to its interpretation. Herein lies the great importance and significance of its thoroughly Old Testament language and mode of representation. By this circumstance itself the reader is directed to the ancient Scriptures, and called upon to seek, in the more ancient prophets of God, the interpretation of the obscure and enigmatic images of the Apocalypse. If we do this, everything gains in a simple manner light, order, system, connection; you are altogether relieved from arbitrary guessing, because everywhere you perceive that a plan and a law are followed out. Thus whole series’ of interpretations can be put aside, by looking to the principle and idea of the book. For example, it is clear from Daniel, that the beast cannot possibly represent a spiritual power, as it is evident on the other hand, that the Babylonian harlot cannot mean simply a city, but symbolizes a spiritual power. If we neglect to look out for the biblical definition of fundamental ideas and fundamental symbols, it throws the gates open to arbitrariness of every kind. And hence, there are innumerable systems of church-historical interpretations; and as ecclesiastical and worldly events progress, many more may be and will be advanced. The fundamental error committed by this school is, that interpretation and fulfilment are confused, and that the former is made to depend on the latter. But this renders the word of God dependent upon human history, while it is perfect in itself, and while its object is to be itself a lamp in the darkness of the world-times to them who seek enlightenment from on high, that they may behold the light which Scripture bears. The Revelation is to teach us to understand the times, not the times to interpret to us the Apocalypse—although it is in the nature of the case, that there is a reflex influence exerted here, and understood by those that are prudent. In this manner the book is much more earnest and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, than it would be, if it contained predictions of individual events.
This mode of interpreting the Apocalypse had become the prevalent one before the reformation; and this in proportion as the Church departed from the original exposition which the primitive church had given to the book, and as commentators lost the original apostolic Chiliasm. In the course of the church-historical era, the temptation became always greater to look on the Apocalypse as a prophecy of church history, and to use especially the apocalyptic numbers for chronological calculation; and when a thousand years of the Christian era had nearly elapsed, then it was imagined that the millennium was being fulfilled in the church-historical period. Christendom and the Church was then so great a power in the world, and a clear spiritual insight into biblical prophecy had become so rare, that we need not be astonished to find that even Augustine imagined the millennium had commenced in his day. The thousand years were reckoned by some, as beginning with the birth of Christ, and, for this reason, all Christendom expected the coming of the last day in the eleventh century; whereas, others commenced its calculation with the time of Constantino, afterwards, also, of Charlemagne, as is done in modern times by Hengstenberg. They confused times and periods in the most extraordinary way, as Luther’s own view shows (comp. Bengel, erklärte Offenb. Joh. (Stuttgart 1834), p. 669). Luther thought the thousand years began with the birth of Christ and reached down to Gregory VII; the sevenheaded beast he referred to the papacy founded by Hildebrand, and interpreted the number 666 to indicate its duration. This view gained a twofold importance in the Protestant church. For, in the first place, it was thought orthodox not to expect a millennial kingdom in the future, but to believe that it belonged to the past, chiefly on account of the celebrated seventeenth article of the Augsburg Confession, where, as Bengel says, p. 672, a right and good protest is lifted up against the Anabaptist, premature, raving, Chiliasm. In the second place (to use Lücke’s words, loc. cit., p. 1015), “it belonged to the churchly character of Protestant exegesis to view the Apocalypse as a prophetic compendium of church-history, and the reference of antichristianity, prophesied by John, to papal Rome, was looked upon as an axiom.”
Bengel followed, in the last respect, the general Protestant interpretation; but, as regards the first point, he became a successful champion for the primitive Christian Chiliasm. It is only in this respect that his interpretation is original and important; as far as history and chronology are concerned, he is only a consistent representative of the view current before and in his time. A great number of church-historical interpretations, and apocalyptic chronologies, which were always connected in some way, existed before his time. There was a tendency in his age, as appears, for example, from the writings of the English commentator, Whiston, who died likewise in 1752, to draw up chronological calculations. Whiston calculated that the second coming of Christ would take place in the year 1715; afterwards, he fixed upon the year 1766 (Lücke, p. 1036). We may trace a connection between this chronological tendency and the general taste for history which awoke at that time, and which is mirrored forth in the attention devoted to the Apocalypse. Bengel himself was struck by this characteristic of his time, and says, on one occasion, “Old people like Personalia; thus the world is growing old, and likes to hear of its history; for this reason history is so much studied” (Burk, Bengel’s Leben und Werken, p. 297). The only new feature in Bengel’s Commentary was his definite chronological system, as he himself says, “I have nothing new except the definite durations of prophetic times,” p. 676.
But he attaches uncommonly strong weight to this chronological system, and it is intimately connected with his whole mode of conception, and became to him the real clue to his understanding of the Apocalypse. We must, for this reason, enter into a more minute examination of it. We find it developed in his Ordo Temporum, 1741, in his introduction to his Commentary on the Apocalypse; and Burk (loc. cit.) gives good extracts from both works, and also from his later polemical writings.
Bengel supposes the entire duration of the world from the creation to the final judgment, according to a frequently-recurring analogy of Scripture, to consist of the number seven, viz., 7777 years (or, more accurately, 7777 7⁄9 years). The millennium begins, consequently, with the year 1836, at which date he arrives first by calculating backwards from the end. For he puts the commencement of our Dionysian era in the year 3943 after the creation of the world, supposing the birth of Christ to have taken place three years before this date. Now, if this number, or rather, as we have not 3943 years fully, the number 3942 is subtracted from 7777, or, more accurately, 7778, we have, as the sum total of the New Testament time, 3836 years. Subtract the two last millennia, and you get, as the date of the commencement of the millennial kingdom, 1836. Bengel supposes that the thousand years during which Satan is bound, Rev. xx. 1-3, precede the thousand years during which the saints reign, ver. 4-6, so that, according to him, the millennial kingdom embraces two thousand years, and the short time that Satan is loosed again (ver. 3, 7-10) falls into the beginning of the second millennium. His chief argument for this assertion is, that in some important manuscripts the article is wanting before … …, from which he draws the inference, that the millennium mentioned in the second and third verses, is not here referred to.
Let us pause here, and examine this portion of his system. We miss the necessary biblical foundation for these fundamental positions of Bengel. He himself says, “Should the year 1836 pass without bringing remarkable changes, then there must be some great error in my system,” Burk, p. 300. The result has proved the existence of the error; but we must trace its existence in the principle of his interpretation. We can understand why the disciples of Bengel thought his system inspired, for there is so little sure foundation for it in the Apocalypse, and in Scripture, in general, that believing the system to be correct, it is almost necessary to attribute it to a new revelation. To begin at the beginning, the supposition upon which the whole is based, that the world is to stand 7777 years, is only a beautiful and thoughtful imagination. The extension of the millennial kingdom to a period of two thousand years, is obviously opposed to the simple and natural meaning of the text. The absence of the article in ver. 4 is not quite certain, and we cannot rely on it; but, besides, it is also wanting in ver. 6. And it is very forced and impossible to refer the thousand years of ver. 7 (excluding the thousand years mentioned in ver. 4-6) to those of ver. 3. The whole context shows, on the contrary, and especially the clear reference in ver. 1 to ver. 3, since the … … occur likewise, ver. 4-6, that all the six times the same thousand years are spoken of. One can hardly help thinking that Bengel was chiefly induced to adopt this supposition of two thousand years in order to preserve the harmony of his system; for if the beginning of the millennium falls into the year 2836, it would disturb all his other views.
But he arrives at the date 1836 by a second calculation. He starts from the number of the beast 666, which he interprets to mean common years, and to denote the duration of the power of the beast, i.e. the Hildebrandian papacy. He rejoices that he can agree here with Luther. The duration of the power of the beast is, according to xiii. 5, forty-two months, and Bengel makes use of the identity of the two chronological intimations for the calculation of a prophetic month, which is, consequently, equal to 156⁄7 (common) years. Hence a prophetic day is about half a year, and it is easy to calculate from this the duration of prophetic hours and years. A second series of chronological intimations, viz., the three intimations, …, …, …, time, period, and eternity (which he likewise views chronologically), is obtained by Bengel from a comparison of the number 666 with the number 1000, occurring in Rev. xx. These two numbers are related to each other (roughly) as 2 to 3; it is easy to obtain the more accurate equation:
3 : 2 = 999 999⁄999 : 666 666⁄999
according to this, a millennium may be divided instead of ten into nine centuries, each of which is equal to 1111⁄9 common years. This, Bengel says, is half a time; the whole … is therefore 2222⁄9 years, a period (…) 11111⁄9 years, an … aevum 22222⁄9 years. Annexed to … is a short time … …, xii. 12, which is to last 8888⁄9 years; annexed to the period is the no-period, non-chronus, ver. 6, which is to be less than 11111⁄9, viz , 1036 years.
It is clear, that these chronological dates are likewise only suppositions, and do not rest on sufficient arguments derived from the text. We shall only mention a few cardinal points. The whole proceeds from the supposition, that the number of the beast, 666, is a chronological number, and signifies common years; but this supposition is not justified and proved by exegesis, nor can this be done. This of itself overthrows the two series of chronological intimations, the one of which is obtained by a combination with the forty-two months, and the other by a combination with the thousand years. The latter series, moreover, contains three arbitrary assumptions. Bengel adds two-thirds to 666; secondly, he takes the general ideas, time, period, and aeon, in a chronological sense; and, thirdly, he fixes that chronology in an arbitrary manner. In Rev. vi. 11, it is said unto the martyrs, who cry for vengeance, that they should rest yet for a little season (…)—but why is this to mean, that they are here referred to a period of 11111⁄6 years, that is, from 98-1209 A.D.; in which period their number was increased by the persecutions of the Waldenses? In Rev. x. 6, the angel swears that there should be no time, that is, no further delay of the completion of the mysteries of God; but in what relation does this stand to a non-chronus of 1036 years (800-1836, A.D.)? And when (Rev. xii. 12) it is said of the devil, “he knoweth that he hath but a short time, ‘… …,'” who would think here of a time of 8888⁄9 years (947-1836 B.C.); especially as the short time would be four times as long as the time itself (…)? And, lastly, who would interpret the expression (xiv. 6) the everlasting gospel (…), to mean an aeon of 22222⁄9 years, which are to last from Arndt, whom Bengel supposes to be meant by the angel flying in the midst of heaven to the last day (1614-3836)?
With such an exegesis, it is no wonder that one can arrive at the year 1836 or 3836 by a great variety of ways.
It is very remarkable, that the fundamental number of Revelations is explained by Bengel in so many different ways. The intimations, three times and a half time, forty-two months; twelve hundred and sixty days, which occur five times in chapters xi.xiii., are evidently and unmistakeably indentical. Bengel explains the forty-two months in chap. xi. 2, and the 1260 days (ver. 3) to be chronological dates in the ordinary sense of the word, and refers them to the last Antichristian period, the years between 1830 and 1836. Whereas, the intimations given concerning the woman and the beast (xii. 6-14; xiii. 5), are interpreted by him according to his prophetic chronology. The forty-two months of the beast signify, consequently, six hundred and six years, during which it is said the papacy of Hildebrand lasted, viz. from 1073-1740, or rather from Coelestius II., the first pope who was appointed without the consent of the people, 1163-1809. And, moreover, the 1260 days of the flight of the woman into the wilderness are not quite identical with this, but last 677 years, from the completion of the preparations for the introduction of Christianity into Bohemia, to the persecution of believers in that country, 940-1617. From this flight of the woman he distinguishes again the flight with eagle wings (Rev. xii. 14); and its duration, the three times and a half, are calculated according to a different principle, viz. by a comparison of 666 with 1000. Accordingly, the three times and a half are equal to 7777⁄9 years, during which the church nourishes herself in the northern countries of Europe, 1050-1836. We are struck, at a first glance, by the strange circumstance, that the Reformation is, in this calculation, obscured by less important events.
We have touched on some important points of Bengel’s historical views in our remarks on his chronological suppositions; we can, therefore, be more brief in our criticism of the former.
Bengel had not yet attained to a correct insight into the structure of the Apocalypse, for, instead of seeing in that book a series of parallel groups, he regards it as a historical picture, in which events are represented in their chronological succession. He supposes the sequence to be interrupted by the eleventh chapter, which he takes out of its place and puts it at the end of the book. In the twelfth chapter, according to this view, the history has progressed to the ninth century. This portion of his exposition bears more directly on our task.
The woman, according to Bengel, is the congregation of God and of Christ. Her being with child is an indication, that under Charlemagne, it began to be probable that all nations should become her heritage. The male son is a symbol of Christ, viewed in his royal capacity, ruling over the nations; but this rule is as yet invisible, and hence it is said He is caught up to God’s throne. The flight into the wilderness refers to the passing of Christianity from Asia into Europe, especially the northern part of it, there Ansgarius, Cyrillus, Methodius, prepared its spread during the ninth and tenth centuries, so that, in 940, Boleslaus of Bohemia, in consequence of the order of Otto the Great, caused his princes to be educated in the Christian religion. Soon after this, 947, the devil is cast out of heaven, where, up to that time, he had accused the Christians, because they had enjoyed rest after the persecutions of the heathen emperors and Arian kings, but especially after the second Saracenic plague, which ended 847. Satan begins now (ver. 13) his persecutions in Prussia, Hungary, etc. The floods of water, which he casts out of his mouth after the woman, is the Turkish power, which is, however, curbed in Asia (“the earth”) by the crusades.
The beast represents the papacy on the summit of its worldly power, which it attained under Gregory VII. Its seven heads are a long successive series of popes. The deadly wound is the struggle between empire and papacy; the healing of the wound refers to the revival of the papacy, which manifests itself in councils, crusades, etc. The false prophet, or the second beast. came at the end of the 666 years. It may be either Jesuitism or Freemasonry, as in the last days the Papacy and Socinianism are to go hand in hand. The seventh head of the first beast is Antichrist, who, as such, is at the same time, the eighth head; Antichrist is an individual, or person, and by him the papacy adds to its former blasphemous and Antichristian power new malice drawn from the abyss, the bottomless pit, and thus attains again importance after its temporary decay. The harlot is meant to represent the city of Rome, which, headed by its patricians, endeavours to curb the power of the papacy, but it is for this reason destroyed by Antichrist and the ten worldly kings who are subject to him (the ten horns). After these events Antichrist and his false prophet are judged (the false prophet likewise shall be in the last day an individual person) and then commences the millennial kingdom.
The chief points from which we may form an estimate of this interpretation, are easily selected. The exposition of the twelfth chapter is the most startling part of the whole. How is it possible to refer the birth of Christ and the casting out of the devil, to such unimportant events? With regard to the beast, we saw previously, that according to the symbolic language of the prophetic, and more especially of the apocalyptic books, it cannot be referred to any thing else except the political worldly power. But supposing it represents the papacy, would it not be strange, that the existence of the papacy before the time of Gregory VII., when many ungodly and Antichristian elements had already penetrated the Church, should be altogether passed over in silence? But besides this, this interpretation falls with the chronology connected with it. Bengel is, moreover, incapable of giving a satisfactory exposition of the seven heads, and the statements connected therewith. If the Babylonian harlot means the city of Bome, it is difficult to understand why such extraordinary importance is attached to her destruction in the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of Revelation, not to mention other difficulties. Roos has slightly improved, in this respect, the system of Bengel, by referring the harlot to the Roman Church.
From all these remarks, it is clear, that Bengel’s interpretation, with its chronological historical details, is untenable. Notwithstanding this, we may learn, from the history of this holy and devout student of Scripture, that even individual errors and mistakes are not allowed to do essential harm, when proceeding from a man, whose fundamental views are sound, and in accordance with God’s word; whereas when this foundation is wanting, even many a truth, understood and advanced, is of no avail, but rather serves to render error more powerful and seductive. Even Bengel’s mistakes were overruled by God to serve them who loved Him. The “Chronology” contributed, in an extraordinary manner, to turn the attention of believers to the long-neglected word of prophecy, and directed them to view contemporary events in the light of the prophetic word. And besides, how many truths were clearly distinguished by this great man. It is well known, that he cast many prophetic glances into the future; and Burk has collected (p. 295) a wonderful series of his “apocalyptic presentiments and inferences.” The period in which he expected great decisive phenomena, is indeed important, on account of its many spiritual and external developments; and it is a sacred duty of the Church of Christ, living in this period, to take heed to “the signs of the times.”
The chief importance, however, of Bengel’s system, consists in this, that he brought to light again a truth of Scripture, which had been misapprehended for nearly fifteen centuries, viz., the doctrine of the millennial kingdom. Bengel himself, in his “History of Interpretations,” which he has added to his Commentary of the Revelations, represents as the chief excellence of his apocalyptic system, that, availing himself of the labours of Vitringa, he had “restored again the old, true order, Antichrist, millennium, end of the world” (p. 661-675). On another occasion he expresses his opinion, that the time will come, when a pure Chiliasm will be thought an integral part of orthodoxy; and Ötinger considers it the chief task, which was allotted to Bengel, “to make Chiliasm orthodox,” as he expresses it; for it is only by this doctrine, he says, that religion attains its perfection, fulness, and beauty. In this way Bengel laid the foundation for a dogmatic development of eschatology, which was such a great desideratum; but he has done more than this; he has opened up a new way for the historical view of the plan of the divine kingdom, as a whole, and hence for the interpretation of all prophetical books. This is the great spiritual blessing, which has accrued from his grandly conceived world-chronology; the shell may be faulty, but the kernel is sound and good. The world-chronology of Bengel is the mother of a fundamental idea of modern theology, the idea of an organic historical development of the kingdom of God. To work out this idea, especially in regard to the Old Testament, will require our diligence and energy for a long time yet. “If we see more clearly into the connection of the Old Testament,” Delitzsch remarks, in his “Biblisch-Prophetische Theologie,” p. 6, “it is in consequence of the light which Bengel’s views on the Apocalypse have shed upon the Old Testament. To whom else do we owe it, that the orthodox Church of the present time does not brand the Chiliastic view of the last times as a heterodoxy, as is done in almost all old manuals of dogmatics; but, on the contrary, has allowed it to enter into her innermost life, so that there is scarcely a believing Christian now, who does not take this view? To whom else do we owe it, that the Church of our days believes in a glorious future of the people of Israel, and recognises, consequently, in the Old Testament history of that nation, a prognostic of its final history—in the Old Testament prophecy, a foreseeing not only of the glory of the Gentile Church, but of Israel in the literal sense? To whom else do we owe it, that the Church recognises the truth, that spiritual salvation shall finally embody itself in outward visible reality, and that the Church is able to appreciate aright the reality of the visible character of Old Testament history, and to view the spiritual and the visible in its organic relation and mutual limitation? To none else but to Bengel. It was he who had to pour away the sediment of a theology, which, under the semblance of orthodoxy, opposed Chiliasm, even as to brand it a heresy, who had to overcome the last supporters of such a theology; and it was he who led the Brüdorgemeinde (Moravian Brethren), who imagined that they themselves realised the glorious future of the Church, the so-called Philadelphian period, to more correct and Scriptural views. He it was who burst through the fetters of an exegetical tradition, which up to his time was thought to be almost infallible, who vindicated the rights of exegesis in relation to dogmatics, as the rights of a mother, and who pointed the Church to the Castalian fount, where she can renew her youth. The Church has not yet exhausted the writings of this theologian.”
This last remark applies especially to one point. Bengel, in his Chiliasm, is a follower of Spener, whose hints he carried out in a satisfactory way; in general, we may view the school of Bengel as the theological point and complement of the spiritual movement, in which Spener had been instrumental. Bengel himself looks upon his predecessor as the second of the three angels mentioned (Rev. xiv. 6, etc.), and speaks of him in his history of interpretations in the following words:—”A wide door was opened by the beloved Spener, who brought again to light what he and others called “The Hope of Better Times,” who avoided all details in the most prudent manner, as was fit in such a new beginning, but who defended the chief, important point, with great earnestness, stedfastness, and assurance, even to his death. From this time the truth on this subject forces its way with ever-increasing strength, and, notwithstanding many aberrations.” In the case of Spener, the Chiliastic hope was intimately connected with his entire view of’ Church and Christianity, and this connection not merely theoretical, but also practical, of the locus de ecclesia and the locus de novissimis, is extremely important and instructive. We can see, in his example, that the understanding of prophecy gives a truly spiritual insight into the eternal essence of the Church, and into the temporal, unessential, and corrupt elements of the Church. In this respect Spener only developed consistently the principle of the Reformation.
Chiliasm disappeared in the Church in proportion as Roman Papal Catholicism advanced. For, as we remarked above, the papacy, with its fundamental tendency to seek power and external glory, is, in its inmost essence, a false anticipation of the millennial kingdom. Bengel says, p. 664, “When Christianity became a worldly power by Constantine, the hope of the future was weakened by the joy over the present success.” Romanism is nothing else but an ecclesiastical system of this tendency; the papacy took to itself, as a robbery, that glory, which is an object of hope, and can only be reached by obedience and humility of the cross. When the Church became a harlot, she ceased to be a bride who goes to meet her bridegroom; and thus Chiliasm necessarily disappeared. This is the deep truth, which lies at the bottom of the Protestant, antipapistic interpretation of the Apocalypse.
The Reformation protested successfully against the harlot, by opposing to it the original Christian principle of faith, which is opposed not only to the works of the law, but to living by sight, and to a false externalization of the Church. The Reformers expressed this by their Scriptural and important distinction, so rich in practical consequences, of visible and invisible Church. What is visible is temporal, what is invisible is eternal, is destined to an eternal and exceedingly abundant glory. We cannot, however, take this glory to ourselves; but the Lord will give it to us at His coming. At present our life is invisible, it is hid with Christ in God; but when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory (2 Cor. iv. 17, 18; Col. iii. 3, 4). This is the necessary connection between faith and hope (comp. Heb. xi. 1; Rom. iv. 18). The fundamental principle of apostolic Christianity, viz., faith, is inseparable from apostolic Chiliasm. This connection of faith and the future glory is repeatedly pointed out in the Epistle to the Romans, the grand charter of the Reformation (Rom. v. 2, 17, viii. 17-25, 30, chap. xi.); and we find this connection throughout the whole New Testament; and in the two first centuries, the Church had a living understanding of it.
The Reformers did not carry out their principle far enough to attain a biblical Chiliasm. Their work lay in a different direction. We know what retarded such a development of the fundamental principle, and how much of the old abuses insinuated themselves into the Church. Scholasticism, priestly tyranny, Cesareopapism, which Bengel called the Apap, besides the Papa, brought Antichiliasm. The orthodox State-church thought itself infallible, even as the papal Church-state did; and, again, the harlot did not desire or want a millennial kingdom. The conscience of the Reformation protested against this new corruption of the Church, in the person of Spener. He carried out the principle of the Reformation in a twofold manner. In the first place, he showed the practical bearings of the distinction between visible and invisible church. This faithful witness of Christ knew how to combine filial reverence for the existing Church, as the bearer of the pure word and sacraments, with a holy zeal for the house of God, which impelled him to lay open the abuses and sins of which she was guilty. He avoided, with great wisdom and prudence, the false expedient of secession; and yet he was able to satisfy the deeper wants of believing people, by cherishing the Church within the communion of saints, as a communion of the word, and he founded in this free and brotherly manner, little churches within the Church. He was humble and wise enough to see, that it is impossible to have a perfectly pure Church during the present dispensation, during the present world-power; but he had, on the other side, strong faith, and did not relinquish the hope of the times of a perfect Church. And herein consists the connection of his active labours with his second development of the principle of the Reformation, viz.: “the hope of better times,” which times we cannot bring about by our activity, but which the Lord will send, after the destruction of the Antichristian power and the conversion of Israel. In this manner, the Protestant principle began to appropriate to itself Chiliasm, and to become more like Primitive Christianity; and these beginnings of Spener were farther developed by Bengel. He followed also Spener in the first of the two points, just now mentioned, and belongs to the fathers of Würtemberg Pietism.
From these remarks, it will appear, that notwithstanding all their defects, the apocalyptic and chronological systems of Bengel were of very great importance for the development of the Protestant, and consequently in general of the Christian Church. Let us form our estimates, not according to the opinion of the market-place of church history, but according to real value, manifest from the fruits of eternal life, produced in them who are true members of the Church.
In concluding our remarks on Bengel, we may fitly deduce, from the foregoing, some general ideas on the world historical mission character of Protestantism, Bengel himself uttered the memorable saying: “The present Protestant Church is only an intermistic church, between the Church, hidden during the papacy, and the glorious Church of the millennial kingdom.”— Burk, p. 296. This remark harmonises with the comparison, which we instituted in a previous part, between the Protestant times in the New, and the post-exilian period in the Old Covenant. It is not the task of Protestantism to oppose to the papal church another of corresponding external perfection; the outward form is only of secondary importance, and, comparatively speaking, a matter of indifference; the object of Protestantism is, under whatever form it be, to preach the gospel, to gain souls—and as for the rest, to wait for the coming of the Lord. Only such a view gives true light for our times, and affords us divine comfort, to support us in the victories which the harlot and the beast are achieving, and which we cannot hinder, while it will give us true soberness of spirit to resist every false kind of Protestant churchianity and church constructing, and give us, at the same time, strength and vigour to concentrate ourselves on what is essential, instead of wasting our energies on non-essentials. It seems as if the Reformation had not had the destiny of being the morning dawn of a new world-historical day, but that its importance can be understood only in connection with eschatology. Soon after the sun of the gospel had risen, dark thick clouds gathered, and veiled it, more or less, for a long dreary millennium; in the evening, however, the light was once more to break victoriously through the veil of clouds. For the Lord cannot come to judge Christendom till He has given again an opportunity of hearing His gospel proclaimed faithfully and purely. It was, in like manner, that the prophets came before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, and that our Lord and the apostles preached to Israel before the Roman destruction of the holy city. The three Protestant centuries have brought us nearer the end; the wound of the beast is being healed—the times are becoming daily more similar to the primitive apostolic period. Apocalyptic prophecy is approaching its fulfilment. For this reason, the Lord adds to the light of faith also the light of hope. He leads us ever deeper into the understanding of the Apocalypse, and will give us apostolic knowledge for apostolic times and struggles. It is the indisputable merit of Bengel, that he prepared the way for such a knowledge.
1. Karl August Auberlen, Magnus Friedrich Roos: The prophecies of Daniel and the revelations of St John: viewed in their mutual relation, with an exposition of the principal passages. T. & T. Clark, 1856. pp. 362-379.
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