Is a Pre-Millennialist a Pessimist?

by Rev. W. S. Hooton

It has sometimes been objected that it is very pessimistic to point to the growth of evil and error of various kinds, in the church and in the world, as indicating that there is every probability that such a state of things will in these days grow worse rather than better. Nor do those who make this charge appear to be moved from their view by the reminder that the predictions of Scripture support such an expectation. “Do you really think the world is growing worse? Why, that is a confession of unbelief in the transforming power of Christianity itself! What benefit does the religion of Christ confer upon mankind, if we have to confess that things are getting worse and worse, and the world is wandering ever farther from God?”

Such questions are probably often asked still, in spite of accumulated evidence as the years go by. And they are asked, not only by people who would desire to turn such a condition of affairs to the discredit of the gospel, but by sincere believers who are anxious not to discredit the gospel by what appears to them a compromising confession.

It is not difficult to show where their mistake lies. Clearly as Scripture does indicate a riot of apostasy and ungodliness in the latter days, and plain as the facts are which confirm such predictions under our very eyes, this is less than half the story. The Word of God never points to such a state of things as final, or even of too long continuance. That would indeed be a stumbling-block to faith. The truth is that, when these things come to pass, we are already within sight of a glorious reversal. The prophecies of degeneracy, both in the church and in the world, which occupy so formidable a place in Scripture, are for a limited period. Equally plain are those which foretell that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and which show that His sway shalt be owned from pole to pole till all His foes are made His footstool. And, moreover, this glorious triumph of the kingdom of Christ is much more extensive and prolonged than any apparent preliminary set-back. In one way or another, that kingdom will become universal, and it will never end. We are passing through the period of degeneracy and decay. But that—though naturally depressing while it lasts—is actually in itself the greatest ground for optimistic expectation! The very fact that God’s warnings are being so obviously fulfilled is a powerful assurance to faith that His promises also will not fail. And while there is every reason to avoid the fixing of exact dates, yet it is right to observe the indications of Scripture that the culminating riot of sin and false teaching will not be too greatly prolonged and that when it comes to pass (as at least it seems probable it is already coming to pass), the day of deliverance and victory is not far away.

But we must not think alone of the answer to be given to the objectors. There is a special reason why all of us should ponder these things. It is to be feared we sometimes give them ground for saying we are pessimistic. Too often we ourselves tell less than half the story! Perhaps we meet somebody who maintains, in spite of the portentous rebellion against the laws of God and man which is developing all around us, that the world is getting better, and adduces reasons—connected with the action of nations or with individual heroism and self-sacrifice—to support the view. And we feel it is our duty to point out that this is not the expectation which is encouraged by biblical prophecies, and moreover that it is not really supported by a survey of current facts and events, viewed in the mass and explored below the surface. And perhaps we think that we are very faithful in our testimony when we do so. But as a matter of fact, we are not, if that is all we say. The truth is, we too often stop short of giving a true testimony at all. If we stop at that, the result may be to alienate thoughtful minds from the plan of God and to make them rebel against His purposes and even resist His revelation, while they stiffen themselves the more obstinately in plans and ideals of purely human devising and execution which can never check the rising flood. Or, perhaps, they may be shaken in faith through a superficial and incomplete presentation on our part of all that is implied in the scriptural aspect of affairs because by imperfect testimony or gloomy manner we have given real cause for the supposition that we are pessimistic—a thing that the Bible certainly is not, and the last thing a Christian ought to be.

Let us not forever be harping upon the dark and gloomy outlook of the fleeting present! “Look up, and lift up your heads” to catch the first glowing of the rising dawn, to welcome the shining of the Morning Star! Be enthusiastic about the great and mighty transformation which will be ushered in by the coming of the King of kings; and let the perplexed, the unbalanced and the thoughtless see that this is the hope of the church; and that such things as are now developing in our presence, while it is folly to ignore or underrate them, are by no means occasions for unmingled apprehension, still less indications of the failure of the gospel, but are positively harbingers of the day of complete and final triumph. And, moreover, that there is every ground for hope that the darkness will not last long.

Do we give a full testimony? Or do we convey the impression of gloating over the darkness because we never tell of the Blessed Hope?

One or two other considerations are worthy of a place in any thoughts mitigating the danger of pessimism. In spite of the unparalleled extensiveness and audacity of current manifestations of the principle of lawlessness, it is probably true also that there never were so many people really anxious to find out the will of God and to do it, never such a grasp of deep spiritual truth on the part of so many believers, never a more widespread devotion to missionary effort or truer sacrifice in its prosecution on the part of so wide a circle of supporters. Along with the unmistakable development of lawlessness in affairs both secular and religious which seems so characteristic a feature of the latter days as foretold in Scripture, there is a parallel movement of intensified spiritual depth among a great body of devoted Christian people. If there has never been so much open evil in the world, barefaced and unashamed, there has also probably never been so large a circle of true disciples of the Master.

While there is nothing in this to diminish the force of earlier conclusions, there is everything to encourage the believer as he recognizes that God has not left His people without this further evidence of His care for His own cause and His own unshakable truth. This, too, is a consideration which may well find its place in our answer to the charge of pessimism—even if it be but a subsidiary place—for the main consolation must ever be the certainty of a glorious future that depends on more solid ground for confidence than anything connected with the service, however faithful, of imperfect human beings.

—This timely article was written in the early 20th century and published in The London Christian. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Issue 2, 2008.