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John MacArthur laid down the gauntlet on the issue of prophecy in his opening talk at the 2007 “Shepherds’ Conference.” He was emphatic that only dispensationalism takes the prophecies concerning the future of Israel seriously. Contrary to MacArthur, the historical record demonstrates that postmillennial Calvinists had developed a prophetic role for the Jews hundreds of years before Scofield. The books and articles that make this case are not obscure or difficult to find. They are certainly available (or they should be) in the library at MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary. If students at The Master’s Seminary are not being taught these things in their classes dealing with prophecy, then they are being shortchanged, misinformed, and, dare I say, led astray.
So what did MacArthur fail to tell the attendees at the Shepherds’ Conference? In the mid-seventeenth century, the Westminster Larger Catechism, in the answer to Question 191, displayed the hope for a future conversion of the Jews. Part of what we pray for in the second petition, “Thy kingdom come,” is that “the gospel [be] propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in.” In his commentary on the Larger Catechism, Thomas Ridgeley (1667–1734) wrote, “Hence, we cannot but suppose that those prophecies which respect [to the conversion of the Jews], in the latter day, together with the fullness of the Gentiles being brought in, shall be more eminently accomplished than they have hitherto been.” Ridgeley spends a number of pages refuting “ancient and modern Chiliasts, or Millennarians” and defending what can only be described as postmillennialism over against premillennialism.
We freely own, as what we think agreeable to scripture, that as Christ has, in all ages, displayed his glory as King of the Church, so we have ground to conclude, from scripture, that the administration of his government in this world, before his coming to judgment, will be attended with greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory, and various occurrences of providence, which shall tend to the welfare and happiness of his church, in a greater degree than has been beheld or experienced by it, since it was planted by the ministry of the apostles after his ascension into heaven. This we think to be the sense, in general, of those scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament, which speak of the latter-day glory.
We have, hence, sufficient ground to conclude, that, when these prophecies shall have their accomplishment, the interest of Christ shall be the prevailing interest in the world, which it has never yet been in all respects; so that godliness shall be as much and as universally valued and esteemed, as it has hitherto been decried, and it shall be reckoned as great an honour to be a Christian, as it has, in the most degenerate age of the church, been matter of reproach. . . . In short, there shall be, as it were, a universal spread of religion and holiness to the Lord, throughout the world.
This is postmillennialism at its best. Ridgeley knew his history well enough to know that the majority of theologians in the seventeenth century held to an advancing kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel which includes the future conversion of the Jews.
Similarly, the Westminster Directory for Public Worship directed ministers to pray “for the Propagation of the Gospel and Kingdom of Christ to all nations, for the conversion of the Jews, the fullness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist, and the hastening of the second coming of the Lord.” In 1652, a group of eighteen Puritan ministers and theologians, including both Presbyterians and Independents, affirmed that “the Scripture speaks of a double conversion of the Gentiles, the first before the conversion of the Jews, they being Branches wild by nature grafted into the True Olive Tree instead of the natural Branches which are broken off. . . . The second, after the conversion of the Jews.”
The Savoy Declaration, drawn up in October 1658 by English Congregationalists meeting at the Savoy Palace, London, included the conversion of the Jews in its summary of the Church’s future hope:
We expect that in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceful, and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.
Because they believed that the Jews would be converted, Puritan and Presbyterian churches earnestly prayed that Paul’s prophecies would be fulfilled. Murray notes that “A number of years before [the Larger Catechism and Westminster Directory for Public Worship] were drawn up, the call for prayer for the conversion of the Jews and for the success of the gospel throughout the world was already a feature of Puritan congregations.” Also, among Scottish Presbyterian churches during this period, special days of prayer were set aside partly in order that “the promised conversion of [God’s] ancient people of the Jews may be hastened.” In 1679, Scottish minister Walter Smith drew up some guidelines for prayer meetings:
As it is the undoubted duty of all to pray for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, so all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and know what it is to bow a knee in good earnest, will long and pray for the out-making of the gospel-promises to his Church in the latter days, that King Christ would go out upon the white horse of the gospel, conquering and to conquer, and make a conquest of the travail of his soul, that it may be sounded that the kingdoms of the world are become his, and his name called upon from the rising of the sun to its going down. (1) That the old offcasten Israel for unbelief would never be forgotten, especially in these meetings, that the promised day of their ingrafting again by faith may be hastened; and that the dead weight of blood removed off them, that their fathers took upon them and upon their children, that have sunk them down to hell upwards of seventeen hundred years.
Puritan Independent Thomas Goodwin, in his book, The Return of Prayers, encouraged people to pray for “the calling of the Jews, the utter downfall of God’s enemies, the flourishing of the gospel.” Goodwin assured his readers that all these prayers “will have answers.” Jonathan Edwards, a noted postmillennialist and someone MacArthur quotes unfavorably in his Shepherds’ talk, outlined the future of the Christian Church in his 1774 History of Redemption. Edwards believed that the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom involved several elements: the abolition of heresies and infidelity, the overthrow of the kingdom of the Antichrist (the Pope), the overthrow of the Muslim nations, and the overthrow of “Jewish infidelity”:
However obstinate [the Jews] have been now for above seventeen hundred years in their rejection of Christ, and however rare have been the instances of individual conversions, ever since the destruction of Jerusalem . . . yet, when this day comes, the thick vail that blinds their eyes shall be removed, 2 Cor. iii.16. and divine grace shall melt and renew their hard hearts . . . And then shall the house of Israel be saved: the Jews in all their dispersions shall cast away their old infidelity, and shall have their hearts wonderfully changed, and abhor themselves for their past unbelief and obstinacy.
He concluded that “Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.”