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David Brown: The Blessed Hope 1

November 10, 2011

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Rev. David Brown, D.D. (1803-1897), was Professor of Theology at Free Church College, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1857-1887, and was elected principal in 1876. He served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church in 1885. He is remembered as one of three editors of the popular Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments (6 vols., Glasgow, 1864-70); the other editors were R. Jamieson and A. R. Fausset. Brown contributed the sections on the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistle to the Romans.

In 1870, Brown authored a series of articles for The Christian, a weekly newspaper published in London, on The Blessed Hope, in which he presented his defense of the Post-millennial view of prophecy. The Historical or Protestant view had been previously explained in a series of articles written by P. H. Gosse, and Futurist view was supported by Rev. Richard Chester. Below is the first article by Brown.

THE BLESSED HOPE.—I

BY REV. DAVID BROWN, D.D.

From The Christian, 10 Nov. 1870.

It is not without reluctance that I have agreed to contribute a few short papers on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and on Prophecy, so far as it bears on this subject. I am growingly averse to controversy with those to whom I am more closely united by the “love of His Appearing,” than separated by diversity of judgment as to what that great event will involve. And though it has been most properly stipulated that the papers on this subject which appear here “shall not assume a controversial character,” I can scarcely hope to state the views which I hold, and the grounds on which they rest, without at least seeming to be, what I would fain not be— controversial.

In the papers of both the preceding writers, a good deal of advocacy, in addition to the bare statement of their views, has been deemed, I observe, admissible, and I hardly see how it can be avoided. If, then, I follow to some extent the same example, and in as good a spirit, I hope I may not be thought treading on forbidden ground.

On the events which are to precede the Second Advent, there is no necessary difference between the two preceding writers and myself. In point of fact, I suppose I agree in the main principles of what in these papers is called the “Presentist” or more usually the “Historical” scheme, as opposed to “Futurism”—which, as a scheme of prophetic interpretation, I believe to be untenable, and to cut deep into sound principles of Biblical interpretation. But however this may be, while the esteemed writers who have preceded me differ from each other only about the events which lie on this side of the Second Advent, my difference from both of them has to do exclusively with the events which lie on the other side of “that Blessed Hope.” At the same time, that I might not be thought indifferent to the questions to which the preceding papers relate, and perhaps disappoint some who might expect me to give my mind upon them, I had intended to throw into a longish footnote the substance of what I had been led to gather from prophetic Scripture of the predicted fortunes of the Church of Christ up to the Millennial period. But after proceeding so far with this as to convince myself that no justice could be done to it in a mere note without inconveniently lengthening it, besides drawing off the attention, at the very outset, from the great subject which was to form the burden of these papers, I resolved to leave all that I have to say on premillennial prophecy to a closing paper, if that shall seem the most suitable form in which to state what, in my judgment, is merely subordinate.

Need I premise that I believe in a Second Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, as personal and as palpable as the first? I fear I must. For premillenial writers and platform speakers are continually claiming exclusively the faith of the Second Advent, and not a few of them would be astonished to be told that we believe it as well as they. Why will such not do us the justice to believe that we hold the Church to be “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife,” awaiting at His Second Appearing the consummation of the nuptials? —and that, just as no bride worthy of the name would let herself be for ever put off with messages, or letters, or presents—assuring her how constantly she was thought of, and howmuch she was loved—in the absence of her beloved, so neither can the Church, nor any believer worthy of the name, be contented, in the personal absence of Christ, with even the most blissful seals of His love, and the richest experience of His spiritual presence; nay, rather, that it is just at those too rare seasons of spiritual nearness that she longs most ardently to be personally “presented as a chaste virgin to Christ.” At the same time, I cannot deny that the Church’s attitude for many an age has given too much plausibility to the supposition that she is not looking for Christ in Person at all. Our going to Christ has been practically substituted for His coming to us; and some good people are heard occasionally asking, “Isn’t it all one?” To whatever cause this may be traceable, should the groundless charge that those who cannot take in the premillennial view are not expecting Christ in Person at all, rouse them to look better into their faith and hope, I for one will rejoice more in this misrepresentation or misapprehension than complain of its injustice. It is not enough to believe what the New Testament teaches: we must hold it in its revealed relations, its revealed proportions, its revealed forms. Nor is it the truth regarding the Second Advent only which suffers from the substitution of traditional for scriptural modes of viewing and expressing it. All those truths which circle around the Second Advent are thereby more or less distorted. “Risen with Christ,” the life of believers is now “hid with Christ in God”—within the veil; “but when Christ, who is their life, shall appear,” they are cheered with the assurance that “they also shall appear with Him in glory.” “Having the firstfruits of the Spirit,” they groan within themselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of their body.” Thus all their present exercises and expectations take shape—according to New Testament teaehing—from “that blessed hope” of their Lord’s appearing.

Yet even this may be over-driven, and not unfrequently is so, by those who are so carried away with one view of this great truth as to refuse to look at any other. There are those who condemn all “desire to depart and to be with Christ,” insisting “that the only legitimate “desire” is for Christ to come to us. But we have not so learned Christ, nor had the great apostle—if it was he who wrote Phil. i. 23, and if it was he who wrote 2 Cor. v. 8.

One word more at present. Though my purpose in these papers is to state why I believe that the Second Advent will not be premillennial, it is not the date of “that Blessed Hope” which has chief interest for me: it is the character and issues of it. It is no interest of mine, nor of any who “love His appearing,” to throw the date of it a day further back than Scripture demands. “With the great Augustine (in a letter bearing on this subject), I can say to those who think His Personal Coming nearer than I do, “If I am wrong, I am transportingly wrong; but if you are wrong, you are woefully wrong. If you win, ’tis my gain: if I win, I won’t say you lose; but we have high authority for saying that “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”

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