John Nelson Darby, one of the founders of dispensational premillennialism and the pre-tribulational “rapture” of the church doctrine, the basis of The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and the multi-volume Left Behind series, taught that “the imminent return of Christ ‘totally forbids all working for earthly objects distant in time.’”
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths takes a closer look at God's Word and applies it to erroneous misinterpretations of the Bible that have resulted in a virtual shut-down of the church's full-orbed mission in the world (Acts 20:27). Due to these mistaken interpretations and applications of popular Bible texts to contemporary issues, the Christian faith is being thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matt. 5:13).Buy Now
The section below is from Francis William Newman’s Phases of Faith; or, Passages From the History of My Creed (1850). Newman was an early disciple of Darby who showed that the Bible predicts a near eschatological event. Because of this, Darby discounted any endeavor that did not have “immediate spiritual results.” This would have included the study of mathematics, medicine, art, music, and the sciences. Newman eventually abandoned the Christian faith but remained a theist because of some Christian doctrines including the teaching of the soon return of Jesus 1800 years after the fact and the impact of such teaching on life and culture:
My study of the New Testament at this time had made it impossible for me to overlook that the apostles held it to be a duty of all disciples to expect a near and sudden destruction of the earth by fire, and constantly to be expecting the return of the Lord from heaven. It was easy to reply, that “experience disproved” this expectation; but to this an answer was ready provided in Peter’s 2nd Epistle [chap. 3], which forewarns us that we shall be taunted by the unbelieving with thin objection, but bids us, nevertheless, continue to look out for the speedy fulfillment of this great event. In short, the case stood thus: If it was not too soon 1800 years ago to stand in daily expectation of it, it is not too soon now: to say that it is too late, is not merely to impute error to the apostles, on a matter which they made of first-rate moral importance, but is to say, that those whom Peter calls “ungodly scoffers, walking after their own lusts”—were right, and he was wrong, on the very point for which he thus vituperated them.
The importance of this doctrine is, that it totally forbids all working for earthly objects distant in time: and here the Irish clergyman [Darby] threw into the same scale the entire weight of his character. For instance, if a youth had a natural aptitude for mathematics, and he asked, ought he to give himself to the study, in hope that he might diffuse a serviceable knowledge of it, or possibly even enlarge the boundaries of the science? my friend would have replied, that such a purpose was very proper, if entertained by a worldly man. Let the dead bury their dead; and let the world study the things of the world: they know no better, and they are of use to the Church, who may borrow and use the jewels of the Egyptians. But such studies cannot be eagerly followed by the Christian, except when he yields to unbelief.
In fact, what would it avail even to become a second La Place**** after thirty years’ study, if in five and thirty years the Lord descended from heaven, snatched up all his saints to meet him, and burned to ashes all the works of the earth? Then all the mathematician’s work would have perished, and he would grieve over his unwisdom, in laying up store which could not stand the fire of the Lord. Clearly, if we are bound to act as though the end of all earthly concerns may come, “at cockcrowing or at midday,” then to work for distant earthly objects is the part of a fool or of an unbeliever.
I found a wonderful dullness in many persons on this important subject.
Wholly careless to ask what was the true apostolic doctrine, they insisted that “Death is to us practically the coming of the Lord,” and were amazed at my seeing so much emphasis in the other view. This comes of the abominable selfishness preached as religion. If I were to labour at some useful work for ten years, — say, at clearing forest land, laying out a farm, and building a house — and were then to die, I should leave my work to my successors, and it would not be lost.
Some men work for higher, some for lower, earthly ends; (“in a great house there are many vessels, &c.;”) but all the results are valuable, if there is a chance of transmitting them to those who follow us.
But if all is to be very shortly burnt up, it is then folly to exert ourselves for such objects. To the dead man, (it is said,) the cases are but one. This is to the purpose, if [the] self absorbs all our heart; away from the purpose, if we are to work for unselfish ends.
Nothing can be clearer, than that the New Testament is entirely pervaded by the doctrine, sometimes explicitly stated, sometimes unceremoniously assumed — that earthly things are very speedily to come to an end, and therefore are not worthy of our high affections and deep interest. Hence, when thoroughly imbued with this persuasion, I looked with mournful pity on a great mind wasting its energies on any distant aim of this earth. For a statesman to talk about providing for future generations, sounded to me as a melancholy avowal of unbelief. To devote good talents to write history or investigate nature, was simple waste: for at the Lord’s coming, history and science would no longer be learned by these feeble appliances of ours.
Thus, an inevitable deduction from the doctrine of the apostles, was, that “we must work for speedy results only.” Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam [The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long]. I then accepted the doctrine, in profound obedience to the absolutely infallible system of precepts. I now see that the falsity and mischief of the doctrine is one of the very many disproofs of the assumed, but unverified infallibility. However, the hold which the apostolic belief then took of me, subjected my conscience to the exhortations of the Irish clergyman, whenever he inculcated that the highest Christian must necessarily decline the pursuit of science, knowledge, art, history — except so far as any of these things might be made useful tools for immediate spiritual results.
Restoring the Foundation of Civilization
There are many Christians who will not participate in civilization-building efforts that include economics, journalism, politics, education, and science because they believe (or have been taught to believe) these areas of thought are outside the realm of what constitutes a Christian worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth.Buy Now
Francis William Newman, Phases of Faith; or, Passages From the History of My Creed (London: George Woodfall and Son, 1850), 35.
Newman, Phases of Faith, 37.
Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (1749–1827) was a French scholar and polymath whose work was important to the development of engineering, mathematics, statistics, physics, astronomy, and philosophy.