And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.—Acts 4.32.

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The Millennium.

By Matthew Murray, D.D.,

Professor of Theology &

Pastor of Main Street Congregation, Glasgow.


“At evening time it shall be light.”—Zechariah 14.7.

THE passage where our text lies has a direct reference to New Testament times and is a prophetical description of the whole of that period from its commencement to its close.  In the context, reference is made to the character of the period between the morning and the evening of the Gospel day, or between the Apostolic age and the Millennium, or latter-day glory of the church.  It would, says the prophet, be neither clear nor dark, not day nor yet night; implying that there would, during this long intervening period, be a great mixture of truth and error, holiness and sin, happiness and misery, in the world and in the church.  Nevertheless, it would be known unto the Lord.  He would clearly distinguish, however unable men might be to do so, between the light and the darkness, between all that was really good and all the evil with which it was mingled.  He would likewise, during every part of the period in question, exercise a watchful care over his church, never losing sight of her and always providing in the most effectual manner for her safety and welfare.  In the latter part of the verse, where our text lies, the prophet adds, “but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.”  “It shall come to pass,” intimating that the change which should then take place {56} would be as sudden and unexpected as it would be great and glorious.  “At evening time,” when the Gospel day seemed drawing to a close, and the Sun of Righteousness about to set and leave the world in darkness, would that blessed luminary—to the joyful surprise of the friends of religion and the disappointment and terror of its enemies—burst forth, and then and thereafter for a lengthened period, shine with meridian splendour in the Gospel heavens.  “But it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.”

All that we intend in the present discourse is to offer A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON THE APPROACHING MILLENNIAL PERIOD.  It is not our purpose to discuss any of the controverted points, but simply to endeavour to set before you the distinguishing characteristics of that period, as these are plainly taught in Scripture.  The descriptive epithet here applied to it is LIGHT.  In its strict and absolute sense, this epithet is applied only to the heavenly state.  That shall be a state of pure, unmixed light.  In heaven there shall be truth without any mixture of error, holiness without any mixture of sin, and happiness without any mixture of sorrow or misery.  The present state, however, is, and always shall be, to some extent, even during the millennial age, a state of sin and imperfection.  When our text, then, says, “that at evening time it shall be light,” the meaning is that it shall be so in a high degree, and as compared with all former periods in the history of the church, both before and since the advent of Christ.  In other words, the light shall so greatly preponderate in those days, that it shall seem as if all contrary elements—all the elements of evil were destroyed, and as if earth were changed into heaven. {57}

I. More particularly, we observe in the first place, that THE WHOLE WORLD SHALL THEN BE EVANGELISED, AND THE CHURCH ENCLOSE ALL NATIONS WITHIN HER VISIBLE PALE.  Large portions of the earth are still overspread with Pagan, Mahometan, and Popish darkness.  The Jews also, as a people, are still persevering in their unbelief, while vast multitudes in our own and other professedly Christian countries are unconnected with any part of the church, being either avowed infidels, or sunk in moral heathenism.

Ere long an end shall be put to this state of things.  As the church is fitted by her constitution and principles for universal extension, so in due time she shall be extended to earth’s farthest limits.  Though all mankind shall not be Christians, in the spiritual sense of the expression, yet the profession of Christianity and the observance of its ordinances shall be universal.  Every land shall be illuminated by the light of the Gospel, and every people and tribe enjoy the means of grace, and be professed subjects of Zion’s King.  Hence we are told that in Abraham’s seed shall all nations be blessed; “that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it,” [Isa. 2.1]; and that “from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same,” Christ’s “name shall be great among the Gentiles.” [Mal. 1.11.]  The same thing may be inferred from the metaphors employed in Scripture to describe the progress and triumph of the Gospel kingdom.  It is compared to a little leaven, hid in three measures of meal, which gradually diffuses itself till it leavens the whole lump; and to a small stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which became itself a great mountain filling the {58} whole earth.  This also appears from what is said about the future conversion of the Jews, and the blessed consequences of that event to the rest of mankind.  Its effect shall be felt all the world over; not only reviving the backslidden Gentile churches, but contributing in a remarkable manner to the evangelising and conversion of the heathen nations.  Thus it is foretold in the 30th chapter of Isaiah, that in the day when God shall bind up the breach of his ancient people, “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days;” that is, when the Jews are nationally converted, there shall be as great a change in the religious and moral state of the world, as there would be were the moon in the night season to shine with all the brightness of the meridian sun, and as if the sun in the day time was to shine with sevenfold brightness, thereby concentrating into one day the light and splendour of seven.  In the 11th chapter of Romans also, we find Paul making use of the following most striking language: “If the fall of them,” meaning the Jews, “be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them be the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?”

The church’s universal extension may further be inferred from the predicted abolition of Satan’s kingdom in all the visible forms in which it now subsists upon earth.  Every mountain is to be levelled and every plant which the Father hath not planted is to be rooted up. [Isa. 40.4; Matt. 15.13.]  The beast and false prophet are to be taken and destroyed, and the remnant of the anti-christian party {59} slain with the sword of him that sitteth on the white horse.  Yea, Satan himself is to be bound and cast into the pit and effectually restrained for a long period from going forth as he now does to deceive the nations.

II. We remark in the second place, that THE CHURCH DURING THE PERIOD WHICH IS DRAWING NIGH SHALL BE IN A STATE OF REMARKABLE PURITY.  Since the days of the Apostles she has been, for the most part, in a corrupt state, and at the present period innumerable are the evils which exist within her pale.  False doctrine is extensively taught and tolerated among her ministers.  Unscriptural and superstitious rites are mingled with her worship, and much that is defective and sinful attaches to her constitution and administration.  Multitudes of her visible members also, instead of letting their light shine before others, are either leavened with heresy and error, or by their inconsistency of practice are walking with defiled garments.  At the evening time, however, a great work of reformation shall be accomplished in Zion.  By the destruction of Antichrist, God will not only abolish the Papal system, but he will likewise sweep away all the anti-christian errors and corruptions which have crept into, and long defiled the Protestant churches.  By the faithful preaching of the Word, accompanied with the power of the Holy Spirit, a signal triumph shall be obtained over the ignorance, prejudice, and wickedness of mankind.  Immense numbers shall everywhere be turned to the Lord, and a great religious and moral reformation produced on the world.  Nor is it improbable that by judicial visitations of his providential hand, such as war, and famine, and pestilence, he will cut off and remove multitudes of unfruitful professors and obstinate sinners.  Thus the church, purified by moral and providential {60} means shall emerge at the Millennium in a renovated state, and by her scriptural profession, by her pure worship, by the faithful administration of her judicatories, and by the holy and consistent lives of her members, she shall exhibit a striking conformity to the divinely inspired rule of faith and practice.  Hence, in the 4th chapter of Isaiah we are told that “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, . . . by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning,” then “he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy.”  And in the 14th chapter of Zechariah it is foretold, that in that day holiness shall be inscribed on the very bells of the horses; yea, that “every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts;” and that “in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.”

III. We remark in the third place, that THE CHURCH DURING THE MILLENNIAL AGE SHALL BE IN A STATE OF VISIBLE UNITY.  At the present, as in former times, she is rent by divisions.  Essentially, and so far as regards her scriptural constitution and principles, the church is one.  As there is “one Lord,” so there is “one faith, one baptism.” [Eph. 4.5.]  This union, however, has seldom been visibly maintained.  Divisions soon began to break out among the primitive Christians.  They have prevailed more or less in every subsequent age, and never certainly was the church in a more lamentably divided state than at the present period.  Instead of appearing as one army under one leader, her ministers and members are ranged together in separate conflicting parties.  A great middle wall of partition stands between the Protestant established churches, and from these an immense body of professed believers are in a state of secession or dissent.  {61} The latter, also, are divided among themselves, and ranged under hostile banners; yea, so great are their mutual differences and animosities, that they have frequently manifested a stronger aversion to each other than to the common enemy.  The present condition of the church in our own land, and indeed in other parts of the Christian world, thus presents a striking resemblance to that of God’s ancient people, when Manasseh was against Ephraim and Ephraim against Manasseh, and they two against Judah.

Attempts have no doubt been made to heal the divisions of the church by incorporating unions, by the free communion scheme and by evangelical alliances.  The chief objection to all these coalitions, is the latitudinarian principle on which they are based.  So far as incorporating unions are concerned, many of them are brought about, not in the way of the uniting parties effecting a scriptural adjustment of their differences, but in the way of making all points of difference matters of forbearance.  As to free communion, this is just a practical ignoring by the parties who indulge in it, of the differences that exist between them.  And with regard to evangelical alliances, though we readily acknowledge [there is sin at the root of things when Christians are either unable or unwilling to cooperate together in the common duties of the Christian life and calling; yet there is also sin in not striving for and securing real unity in doctrine as the basis of Christian union; and there is sin in compromising any of the truths of our Protestant testimony.  And, to be sure, there is sin when these alliances, professing so much charity, yet do violence to the conscientious convictions of their own members.  So, in these respects] we think it would not be difficult to prove that the Evangelical Alliance of our time is defective and unscriptural.  It deprecates all attempts at a strict {62} union between the different sections of the church.  It condemns Popery, but not as the Antichrist denounced in the Word of God; and by the use of human hymns in its devotional services, it does violence to the conscience of at least some of its members.  Thus the divisions of the church are an evil to which, as yet, no remedy has been applied.  At the evening time, however, this mournful state of things shall cease to exist.  Professing Christians all over the world shall then be united in one profession of the truth, in one way of religious worship, and in one visible fellowship.  This re-union of a divided church shall be the happy consequence of the removal of her corruptions, which are the chief cause of her divisions.  When the causes are taken away the divisions shall terminate.  Besides, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in an abundant manner, and the revival of a scriptural profession, and of vital godliness, which shall everywhere take place, will have a strong tendency to re-unite Christians.  Animated by one and the self-same spirit, and drawn together by the powerful and irresistible attraction of common principles and kindred feelings, they shall then become what the primitive Christians were, “of one heart and of one soul.” [Acts 4.32.]  Hence, it is foretold that in that day the “watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing, for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion;” that “Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim;” that the “Lord shall be one, and his name one in all the earth;” and that as there is one Shepherd, so there shall be one fold. [Isa. 52.8; 11.13; Zech. 14.9; John 10.16.]

IV. We may observe in the fourth place, that THE CHURCH DURING THE MILLENNIUM SHALL ENJOY THE PROTECTION AND COUNTENANCE OF THE NATIONS AND {63} CIVIL RULERS OF THE EARTH.  As the nations shall all be enclosed within the church’s own pale and constitute her membership, so they will, we may suppose, exercise their political influence for her advantage.  They will make choice of, and set up none but professedly Christian rulers, and these they will authorise to conduct their whole administration on Christian principles, and for the maintenance and advancement of the true religion.  The church shall thus be cherished and supported by her own members in their civil capacity; and though she shall possess distinct ecclesiastical judicatories, with whose superintendence of her spiritual affairs there shall be no interference, yet from the friendly countenance and aid of temporal rulers, without encroaching on her own sphere, she shall derive great external advantages, and be enabled all the more effectually to preserve her privileges, maintain her authority, and secure the ends of her existence as a visible society on earth.  Hence, in the 49th chapter of Isaiah, it is foretold that kings shall be nursing fathers, and their queens nursing mothers of the church; and in the 72nd Psalm it is predicted that all kings shall fall down before Christ, and “all nations shall serve him.”

V. We remark in the fifth place that THE NUMBER OF TRUE BELIEVERS DURING THE LATTER DAY GLORY OF THE CHURCH SHALL BE EXCEEDING GREAT, AND THEIR RELIGIOUS EXERCISES AND ENJOYMENTS OF THE MOST EXALTED KIND.  That there shall be in every country of the then evangelised world some merely nominal Christians, it is reasonable to suppose, and the fact appears to be implied in various declarations of Scripture.  Thus while we are given to understand that there always shall be, till the second coming of Christ, tares {64} as well as wheat in the Gospel field, and bad as well as good fish in the Gospel net, it is distinctly asserted in one passage which has a direct reference to those times, that “the sinner being an hundred years old, shall be accursed.” [Isa. 65.20.]

But though all professing Christians shall not be real Christians, there is ground for believing that the great majority of them shall be so.  Besides a universal dispensation of the Gospel, there shall be a very general effusion of the Spirit.  Jeremiah’s prophecy shall then receive its full accomplishment, and thus Divine power going along with Divine ordinances, how extensively shall they be blessed for the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints!  “I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts,” says God, “and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.” [Jer. 31.33,34.]

And as the number of true believers shall then be incalculably great, so they shall be eminently distinguished for their spiritual attainments.  Their knowledge of Divine things shall, we must suppose, be much greater than we now possess; for since the Sun of Righteousness shall be shining in meridian splendour, those living at that period shall have clear manifestations of truth, and bright displays of the Divine glory.  Contemplating, too, in their fulfilment, the whole chain of prophecies concerning the rise and fall of Antichrist, the rejection and reconciliation of the Jews, and the inbringing of the Gentile nations, how satisfactory a view shall they obtain of many parts of Scripture which to us are dark and inexplicable!  How distinctly shall they perceive the {65} meaning and consistency of those dispensations which now appear so perplexing and mysterious, and what a full and satisfying view shall they have of the wisdom and rectitude, faithfulness and love of God, as displayed in making all things work together for the good of the church, and the destruction of her enemies.  Nor shall their attainments in holiness be less eminent than their attainments in knowledge.  Though subject to the working of indwelling sin, they shall be free from the temptations of Satan, and in a great degree from the world’s temptations. They shall possess likewise the best external means of religious prosperity, and enjoy at the same time, large communications of Divine grace.  They shall in the strength of their faith, in the fervour of their love, in the liveliness and vigour of all their inward graces, in their devotedness to the service of God, and in the shining purity of their lives, bear a wonderful resemblance to, and seem as if animated by the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the Word of God.  Thus distinguished in point of sanctity, they shall be equally distinguished in point of privilege.  They shall be blessed as well as holy, who shall have part in this first resurrection.  Walking in the fear of the Lord, they shall walk in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.

VI. We may observe in the sixth place, that THE MILLENNIAL ERA SHALL BE A PERIOD OF GREAT TEMPORAL PROSPERITY AND FELICITY TO THE WORLD’S INHABITANTS.  As the kingdoms of this world shall then be the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ, the whole administration of their political affairs shall be conducted on Bible principles, and in subserviency to the interests of religion.  Peace, we may presume, shall be maintained among the nations, and hence we are assured that men shall then {66} beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, that nation shall not lift up the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  When we consider, too, how universally religion and righteousness shall prevail, it must be obvious, that all the diseases, and other temporal evils which are traceable to intemperance and other forms of vice, shall then be entirely removed.  For the same reason, it seems probable that human beings, instead of being prematurely cut off, as many of them now are, shall for the most part live out the whole term of human life, and enjoy a much greater abundance of temporal comforts and blessings than have ever yet been enjoyed upon earth.  “And the voice of weeping,” says the prophet, “shall be no more heard, nor the voice of crying.  There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days.  They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.  For as the days of a tree, are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” [Isa. 65.19-22.]

VII. We observe in the seventh place, that THIS FUTURE HAPPY PERIOD SHALL BE A PERIOD OF LONG CONTINUANCE.  The saints, we are elsewhere told, shall reign with Christ a thousand years.  This number has been variously explained.  Some understand it literally, as just so many years; others understand it prophetically, taking each day for a year, and so producing a sum total of 365,000 years; while others understand it indefinitely, as merely signifying a very long time.  Which of these interpretations is the true one, we have no means of determining with absolute certainty.  As, however, the above-mentioned number is six times repeated in {67} the 20th chapter of the Apocalypse, as it is always used without any alteration in its form, and as it is the only number employed in Scripture to represent the duration of Satan’s restraint and the church’s triumph in the latter day, it seems probable that it is intended to be literally understood.  But whether this be the case or no, the circumstance of so large a number being used evidently implies that the reign of the saints on earth, or the triumph of their cause, shall continue, not for a brief season, as all former times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord have done, but for a long period; and that will exceedingly enhance the blessedness and glory of their millennial rest.

In improving this subject, you may see from it, first, that THE MILLENNIUM, THOUGH A VERY GLORIOUS STATE OF THINGS, SHALL NOT BE A NEW DISPENSATION, as the Millenarians, or advocates of Christ’s pre-millennial advent, suppose.  On the contrary, it shall just be a continuance of the present dispensation—the evening time of the Gospel day.  It will differ from the dispensation under which we are now living, not essentially, but only in degree.  It will be nothing more than a wider diffusion, and the enjoyment in a more abundant measure, of those blessings and privileges which Gospel believers have always enjoyed.  The same Bible which is in our hands shall then be the rule of faith and practice; nor will there be then vouchsafed to the church any revelation of the Divine will besides that which it contains.  The same ordinances, likewise, to which we have access, shall then continue to be administered; and by the same human instrumentality, though the administration will be more clear and full, more powerful and efficacious than it now is, will the edification of the saints be advanced.  {68} The same form of church government, moreover, which at present exists, according to Divine institution, shall then remain, though its principles shall be better understood, and carried more successfully into practical operation.  Nor shall the connection then subsisting between civil and ecclesiastical society differ essentially from the connection which once subsisted between Church and State in our own and other lands during the reforming periods, though the nature and extent of that connection shall be more accurately defined and more perfectly exemplified.  We may add that the spiritual exercises and enjoyments of the saints, though far higher in degree, shall be of the same essential nature as the spiritual exercises and enjoyments of believers in present and in all former times.  In a word, the abundance of outward temporal blessings shall just, under Providence, be the natural result of a more thorough cultivation of the earth, and a more complete civilization as well as reformation of its inhabitants.  Those then who are expecting a personal advent of our Saviour at the evening time, and a literal resurrection of the dead saints, and a visible reign of Christ and his people on earth during the millennium, are indulging anticipations which the Word of God does not warrant, and which the event when it comes shall disappoint.

2. Again, you may see that, COMPARED WITH THE LATTER DAY GLORY, THE PRESENT, LIKE EVERY FORMER PERIOD OF THE GOSPEL AGE, IS BUT A DAY OF SMALL THINGS.  Christ is still merely gathering in the first fruits of his work; and though the regenerate, were they all collected into one company, would no doubt appear an exceeding great multitude—yet, contrasted with the numbers who shall hereafter be converted and saved, {69} they are but as the first fruits to the general harvest.  They constitute, indeed, there is reason to fear, only a small proportion of visible church members, and until the evening time, at which there shall be light, the saying of the Redeemer shall hold true, that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” [Matt. 7.13,14.] [Note 1]  In every country where Christianity is professed, and in every church and congregation where its truths are preached, and its ordinances dispensed, those who abide in unbelief and go on in sin, and finally perish, are vastly more numerous than those who believe to the saving of their souls.  This is a solemn consideration, my brethren, and well fitted to awaken in all our breasts serious concern about our eternal interests.  Hereafter the trophies of grace shall everywhere abound.  Nations shall be born at once, and thus it shall then be the majority who embrace the Gospel, and only a minority who reject it.  In our day, however, the reverse is the case.  Now it is the few who are saved and the many who perish.  How perilous the times in which our lot is cast!  How very possible is it that a considerable proportion of our own members may belong, not to the believing few, but to the unbelieving multitude!  With what fear and trembling, then, should we all be working out our own salvation, and giving all diligence to make our calling and election sure!

3. In conclusion, you may see from this subject HOW WE OUGHT TO BE EXERCISED WITH A VIEW TO THE MILLENNIUM ITSELF.  An event so certain and so important should evidently be the object of our believing and joyful anticipation.  We should also be praying for its arrival, {70} and this is just one of the ways in which, at any distance of time from the event, we may be instrumentally helpful in bringing it to pass.  Prayer is a divinely prescribed means for promoting the Redeemer’s cause.  All former interpositions on its behalf have been attained by prayer, and it shall doubtless, in its own proper place, have a mighty influence in hastening on the approach of the latter-day glory.  To that blessed and glorious period, then, ought our supplications to have a frequent reference; and hence, while we are enjoined to give Jehovah no rest till he establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth, [Isa. 62.7,] our Lord has directed us in particular to pray that God’s name may be hallowed, that his kingdom may come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Nor is it less evident that our practical efforts as well as our prayers should be directed to that object.  We should strive to promote it by adhering to all Bible truths, by an open, courageous, steadfast profession of them, by daily exemplifying in our own character and lives their sanctifying influence, by defending them from the assaults of enemies, and doing what in us lies both to spread them abroad, and hand them down pure and entire to the generations to come.  The triumph of truth shall be the reign of the saints, and we shall become instrumental in hastening on that blessed consummation, just according to the zeal and wisdom and steadfastness and perseverance of our contendings and endeavours on truth’s behalf.

And while our views and hopes and prayers and labours should all have a certain respect to the coming millennial glory of the church, the confident anticipation of it is well fitted, amid all present difficulties and trials, to encourage our hearts and strengthen our hands in the {71} way and work of the Lord.  It assures us that the cause of Jesus shall be ultimately victorious, and that though its friends may now sow in tears, yet ere long they shall reap a joyful harvest. [Psalm 126.5.]  There is thus set before them not only a heavenly crown, but the animating prospect of eventual success to Christ’s kingdom and cause on earth; and therefore in the midst of surrounding opposition, and when the enemy cometh in as a flood, they can look forward to an approaching era when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” [Isa. 40.4,5.]


Footnotes:

1. See Three Sermons on this passage by Robert Traill: One, Two, and Three.—JTKer.