The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

John MacArthur, Israel, Calvinism, and Postmillennialism -- Part 3

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The place of Israel in Bible prophecy has a long history among non-dispensational theologians going back at least to John Calvin. “By virtue of this, [Paul] teaches, the Jews are the first and natural heirs of the gospel, except to the extent that by their ungratefulness they were forsaken as unworthy—yet forsaken in such a way that the heavenly blessing has not departed utterly from their nation. For this reason, despite their stubbornness and covenant-breaking, Paul still calls them holy [Rom. 11:16]. . . . Yet, despite the great obstinacy with which they continue to wage war against the gospel, we must not despise them, while we consider that, for the sake of the promise, God’s blessing still rests among them. For the apostle indeed testifies that it will never be completely taken away.”[1] Certainly Calvin qualifies as someone who believes in election. Again, I am surprised that John MacArthur fails to make note of these pre-dispenstional authors and their comments regarding the place of Israel in prophecy.

Robert Haldane, an early nineteenth-century Swiss Reformed preacher, preached through the book of Romans in Geneva in 1816. On Romans 11:26, he made this comment:

The rejection of the Jews has been general, but at no period universal. This rejection is to continue till the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in. Then the people of Israel, as a body, shall be brought to the faith of the Gospel.[2]

The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge found in Romans 11 a prophecy that “the Gentiles, as a body, the mass of the Gentile world, will be converted before the restoration of the Jews, as a nation.” After the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, the Jewish people will be saved: “The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew.” This will not be the end of history, however; rather, “much will remain to be accomplished after that event; and in the accomplishment of what shall then remain to be done, the Jews are to have a prominent agency.”[3]

John Brown, a nineteenth-century Scottish theologian, wrote in a similar way in his comments on Romans 11:

The apostle [Paul] contrasts the former state of the Gentiles with their present state, and the present state of the Jews with their future state. The past state of the Gentiles was a state of disobedience—their present state, is a state of gracious salvation. The present state of the Jews is a state of disobedience—their future state is to be a state of gracious salvation.[4]

The reason for God’s rejection of the Jews and for their future restoration is to display both the total depravity of men—both Jew and Gentile—and the pure and sovereign grace of salvation, the very thing that MacArthur claims is an inconsistency among non-dispensationalists regarding Israel.[5]

Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert L. Dabney included under the category of “unfulfilled prophecy” the “general and national return of the Jews to the Christian Church. (Rom. ix: 25, 26).”[6]

This same view was taught in the present century by some of the leading Reformed theologians. John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary, for example, wrote this comment on Romans 11:26:

If we keep in mind the theme of this chapter and the sustained emphasis on the restoration of Israel, there is no alternative than to conclude that the proposition, “all Israel shall be saved”, is to be interpreted in terms of the fulness, the receiving, the ingrafting of Israel as a people, the restoration of Israel to gospel favour and blessing and the correlative turning of Israel from unbelief to faith and repentance. . . . The salvation of Israel must be conceived of on a scale that is commensurate with their trespass, their loss, their casting away, their breaking off, and their hardening, commensurate, of course, in the opposite direction.[7]

Postmillennialist Gary North comments that it was a series of lectures by John Murray on Romans 11 and his own reading of “Revelation 12 in the light of his concept of genetic Israel” that converted him from hyper-ultradispensationalism to postmillennialism.[8]
Many more examples of the postmillennial concern for the conversion of Israel could be cited, but enough evidence has been supplied to refute John MacArthur’s claim that only dispensational premillennialism has the theological system that can account for the fulfillment of these promises. Even preterist postmillennialists like John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, both of whom argued that the Olivet Discourse refers to the destruction of Israel’s Temple in A.D. 70, also believed in a future conversion of national Israel.

A study of J. A. DeJong’s As the Waters Cover the Sea (now back in print) and Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope (never out of print since 1971) give ample evidence that any dispensationalist needs to know that John MacArthur is misinformed on the subject of Bible prophecy as it relates to postmillennialism and the future of the Jews. What MacArthur and his fellow dispensationalists have to explain is how their regard for the future of Israel means that two-thirds of the Jews will be slaughtered before the promises are fulfilled.

Footnotes:
[1]
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), (IV.XVI.14) 2:1336–1337.
[2]Robert Haldane, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958), 541.
[3]Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (London: Banner of Truth Trust, [1864] 1972), 374.
[4]
John Brown, Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1883), 417.
[5]
Brown, Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, 418–419.
[6]
Robert L. Dabney, Lectures on Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, [1878] 1972), 838.
[7]
John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 2:98.
[8]Gary North, “Editor’s Introduction,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on the Millennium (Winter, 1976–1977), 4.
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