J. A. Alexander was a prominent Reformed, OT scholar of the nineteenth century. As a postmillennialist he had to deal with dispensationalism just as we do today. In this article he is responding to dispensational calls for the end. This article analyzes Matthew 24:6:
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but thatis not yet the end.
This is the second in a three-part series on his important and insightful article. So without further adieu, let’s continue our hearing of Alexander’s analysis. (This article has been slightly edited by Ken Gentry.)
Reasonable Propositions regarding Matt 24:6
However improbable the actual recurrence of such scenes may now appear, the principle from which they sprung has been too often manifested to be looked upon as temporary or accidental. It continues to exist and to exert its power, not always with the same effect or to the same extent, but so far constantly and uniformly, as to make it an interesting subject of inquiry what we ought to think, and how we ought to feel and act in reference to it, as connected with our own times and circumstances. What I believe to be the true solution of this question may be reduced to these two propositions:—
1. So far as we have any means of judging, the end is not yet
2. So far as it remains a matter of doubt, it is better to assume that the end is not yet, than to assume the contrary.
So far as we have any means of judging, the end is not yet. This may be argued negatively and positively. The negative argument is this, that there are no conclusive indications of a speedy end afforded either by the Word of God or the condition of the world. Such indications are indeed alleged, and that with confidence, but they have no conclusive force; because, in the first place, they rest upon gratuitous assumptions. It is assumed, for instance, that a certain form or pitch of moral depravation is incompatible with the continued existence of society. That there is or may be a degree of wickedness irreconcilable with any social organization, is too clear to be disputed. But it does not follow that the present condition of the world is such. Such a conclusion is not warranted by the mere degree of actual corruption, however great, because we do not know how
much is necessary to the end in question, and any attempt to determine it must rest on a gratuitous assumption.
The same thing is true as to the real or supposed predictions of the final consummation in the Word of God. That these were meant, not merely to assert the general fact, and in some cases to describe the attendant circumstances, but to afford specific indications of the very time of its occurrence, so that it may be distinctly known beforehand: all this is assumed in the usual reasoning on the subject, but assumed without proof. It is not more easy to affirm than to deny it. Whatever plausibility there may be in the sense thus put upon the passage in question, there can be no certainty. It is not necessary to maintain that this cannot be the meaning. It is enough to know that it may not be. The position taken is not that the proofs alleged are manifestly false, but that they are inconclusive; they prove nothing, because they rest upon gratuitous assumptions. This, by itself, would be enough to justify the negative position, that we have no sufficient reason to believe that the end is at hand.
But the same thing is still clearer from experience. These signs have all been misapplied before. There is perhaps not a single indication now made use of for this purpose, that has not been so employed in former ages. Every striking coincidence, every verbal allusion, has been weighed
already in this balance and found wanting. Nay, arithmetic itself, of which it has been said the figures cannot lie, has here misled its thousands. The most positive numerical specifications may be varied indefinitely by the variation of the term from which they are to be computed. The millennium of the Book of Revelation has by turns been proved to be present, past, and future. All this argues no defect or error in the Scriptures, but only something wrong in the interpretation. When anything can thus be made to mean anything. we have reason to believe that it was not intended to reveal so much as we imagine.
We may reason in the same way, from experience, with respect to the condition of society and the degree of actual corruption. The extraordinary abounding of iniquity at any one time, in itself considered, might well lead us to believe that such depravation must be preparatory to the final dissolution of society. But when we find analogous appearances insisted on, from age to age, with equal confidence, in proof of the same thing, and the proof as constantly annulled by the event, we may not unreasonably hesitate to rest upon such evidence in this case, and conclude that tests which have always led to false results before must be at least defective, and their testimony inconclusive. Whether we look, then, at the word of God or at the world around us, or compare the condition of the one with the predictions of the other, we have no satisfactory or adequate ground for the conclusion that “the end of all things is at hand” in this sense.
Let us now look for a moment at the positive argument in favour of the same position, which may be conveniently reduced to this form, that the fulfilment of the Scriptures is still incomplete, and will require a long time for its completion.
In support of this, we may appeal in general to the grand and comprehensive scale on which the divine purposes are projected in the Scriptures. The natural impression made, perhaps, on all unbiassed readers is, that in the Bible there are vast beginnings, which require proportionate conclusions even in the present life. There are germs which were never meant to be developed in the stunted shrub, but in the spreading oak. There are springs, in tracing which we cannot stop short at the brook or even at the river, but are hurried on, as if against our will, to the lake, the estuary, and the ocean. Every such reader of the Bible feels that it conducts him to the threshold of a mighty pile, and opens many doors, through which he gets a distant glimpse of long-drawn aisles, vast halls, and endless passages; and how can he believe that this glimpse is the last that he shall see, and that the edifice itself is to be razed before he steps across the threshold?
(To be continued)