The concern over eschatological systems is not merely academic but deeply spiritual and practical: “When ignorance and confusion prevail regarding the optimistic hope of scripture, we witness a consequent ebbing of the power and vitality from the Christian faith itself” (Gentry, p. 59).
While premillennial, dispensational, and amillennial systems have distinct characteristics and features that set them apart, they have one unifying feature: an overall pessimism concerning the hope of the gospel and its Christian transformation of civilisation in history before Christ returns. In this way, postmillennialism stands in contrast to these other systems as optimistic.
It is distinguished by the belief that Scripture teaches the success of the Great Commission before Christ returns, bringing the overwhelming majority of men and nations under the sway of Christ’s sceptre. To clarify, in view of it’s critics, it does not assert: 1) universalism (not all will be saved at any point in history); 2) perfectionism (the saved are never perfect on earth); or 3) satisfactionism (adherents do not prefer earthly dominion over consummational glory).
In his extensive theological and historical work on postmillennialism “He Shall Have Dominion” – a must read – Gentry defines postmillennialism as follows:
Postmillennialism holds that the Lord Jesus Christ established his kingdom on earth through the preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his Church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows (pp. 81-82).
He goes on to say that “the widespread confusion regarding postmillennialism’s nature, origins, and advocates is lamentable. The modern church, sapped of the power of hope, largely through poor exegesis and a lack of an understanding of church history, is the weaker for it” (p. 109).
Let us, therefore, heed the witness of history to regain the hope and strength that powers the Church: the scriptural vision of Christ’s victorious rule in history, for
The kingdom of the world has become [in the first century through Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and session] the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.
Though our persons fall, our cause shall be as truly, certainly, and infallibly victorious, as that Christ sits at the right hand of God. The gospel shall be victorious. This greatly comforts and refreshes me.
John Owen, 1616-1683, The Works of John Owen Volume 9
We also rejoice in hope. We have many and express assurances in the Scriptures, which cannot be broken, of the general, the universal spread and reign of Christianity, which are not yet accomplished. Nothing has yet taken place in the history of Divine grace, wide enough in extent, durable enough in continuance, powerful enough in energy, blessed enough in enjoyment, magnificent enough in glory, to do anything like justice to these predictions and promises. Better days, therefore, are before us, notwithstanding the forebodings of many.
William Jay, 1769-1855, Nonconformist leader, The Autobiography and Reminiscences of the Rev. William Jay.
Micah proclaims how all the world will be brought to God at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This reunification has already begun, is taking place now, and will continue until the end of the world. … Jesus Christ has been designated the Lord, not simply of one corner of the world, but of all nations. … Since our Lord Jesus Christ’s kingdom has hardly begun, it is necessary for it to be implemented little by little, until it achieves its full perfection.
John Calvin, AD 1509-1564, Sermons on the Book of Micah
Commenting on Psalm 2 regarding the Lord laughing at the nations (v.4):
It is to be understood of that power which he giveth to His saints, that they seeing the things to come, namely, that the Name and rule of Christ is to pervade posterity and possess all nations. … ‘Ask of Me’ (v.7), may be referred to all this temporal dispensation, which has been instituted for mankind, namely, that the ‘nations’ should be joined to the Name of Christ, and so be redeemed from death, and possessed by God. ‘I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance,’ which so possess them for their salvation, and bear unto Thee spiritual fruit.
Augustine, AD 354-430
It is right for you to realise, and to take as the sum of what we have already stated, and to marvel at exceedingly; namely, that since the Saviour has come among us, idolatry not only has no longer increased, but what there was is diminishing and gradually coming to an end: and not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer advance , but what there was is fading away. … And to sum the matter up: behold how the Saviour’s doctrine is everywhere increasing, while all idolatry and everything opposed to the faith of Christ is daily dwindling, and losing power, and falling. … For as, when the sun is come, darkness no longer prevails, but if any be still left anywhere it is driven away; so, now that the divine Appearing of the Word of God is come, the darkness of the idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are illumined by His teaching.
Athanasius, AD 296-372, Incarnation
David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth’s sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for the day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Saviour, shall worship thee alone, O God, ‘and shall glorify thy name.’ The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause fo God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honours God, nor inspires the church with ardour. Far hence be it driven.
C. H. Spurgeon, From an exposition of Psalm 86:9, ‘All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify they name’. The Treasury of David, 1874.