Postmillennialism was first clearly articulated in America by a man many consider the greatest theologian in American history, New England Congregational pastor Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).
Edwards was a devoted student of Scripture, including the Book of Revelation. He also entertained fervent hopes that God might do something special among the people of New England. He was circumspect when revival broke out in his own congregation in the 1730s, but when all of New England was convulsed by spiritual awakening in the early 1740s, he could not hold back: ” ‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture. … And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.”
After the Great Awakening, Edwards became more cautious and dated the Millennium (a term he used rarely) somewhere around the year 2000. He believed, with many others, that this date would mark the beginning of the seventh and final millennium of world history. In the interim, much remained to be done: the fall of Satan’s kingdoms (that is, the papacy and the Ottoman Turkish empire), the conversion of the Jews, and the spread of true Christianity “through the vast regions of the earth.”
Edwards envisioned the Millennium as the church’s “triumphant state,” a time of Sabbath rest and peace. He expected it to be a time of great advance in knowledge “when neither divine nor human learning shall be confined and imprisoned within only two or three nations of Europe, but shall be diffused all over the world.” He looked forward to a time of great holiness when “visible wickedness shall be suppressed everywhere, and true holiness shall become general, though not universal,” and a time of great prosperity. He regarded Constantine’s era a type of the greater reality to come, so he also expected the Millennium to be a time when true religion would be held in great esteem and saints would rule on all fronts.
How will this all come to be? Here was Edwards’s greatest contribution: “This is a work that will be accomplished by means, by the preaching of the gospel, and the use of the ordinary means of grace, and so shall be gradually brought to pass.” Yet Edwards also expected that God’s Spirit “shall be gloriously poured out for the wonderful revival and propagation of religion.”