What is Historicism?

On our little Historicists FaceBook group, people occasionally post things that aren’t really in line with traditional Historicist teaching. So I wrote this little article (mostly just by copying and pasting) in order to protect the focus and purpose of the group. In case you’re interested in joining the group, you can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/117589194924802/doc/?id=261635517186835#!/groups/117589194924802/

Before you ask to join this Facebook group, please read this introduction to the interpretation of Bible prophecy we call, "Historicism". The purpose of this FaceBook group is to draw together and encourage people who hold these views, and to introduce others to these views. Any posts or documents on this page that promote other views, or ideas contradicting the main points of premillennial Historicism (as seen below) will be removed. It’s not hard to find other groups and pages on Facebook where experimental ideas about Bible prophecy are welcome. This is not one of those groups.

One of the most respected writers on the subject of the Historicist interpretation of prophecy in the last half of the 19th century was Henry Grattan Guinness–a famous missionary, and an acquaintance of Hudson Taylor’s, Charles Spurgeon’s, and A. J. Gordon’s. The following two excerpts are taken from two chapters in his groundbreaking book, The Approaching End of the Age (1879):


The [Historicist] or PRESENTIST interpretation, is that historic Protestant view of these prophecies, which considers them to predict the great events to happen in the world and in the church, from St. John s time to the coming of the Lord; which sees in the Church of Rome, and in the Papacy, the fulfilment of the prophecies of Babylon and of the Beast, and which interprets the times of the Apocalypse on the year-day system.

This view originated about the eleventh century, with those who even then began to protest, against the growing corruptions of the Church of Rome. It grew among the Waldenses, Wickliffites, and Hussites, into, a consistent scheme of interpretation, and was embraced with enthusiasm and held with intense conviction of its truth, by the Reformers of the sixteenth century. In their hands it became a powerful and formidable weapon, to attack and expose the mighty apostasy, with which they were called to do battle. From this time it spread with a rapidity that was astonishing, so that ere long it was received as a self evident and fundamental truth, among Protestant churches everywhere. It nerved the Reformers of England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden, and animated the martyrs of Italy and Spain; it decided the conscientious and timid adherents of the Papacy to cross the Rubicon, and separate from the so called Catholic Church; and it has kept all the Reformed churches since, from attempting reunion with Rome.

It was held and taught by Joachim Abbas, Walter Brute, Luther, Zwingle, Melanchthon, Calvin, and all the rest of the Reformers; by Bullinger, Bale, and Foxe; by Brightman and Mede, Sir Isaac and Bishop Newton, Vitringa, Daubuz and Whiston, as well as by Faber, Cunningham, Frere, Birks and Elliott; no two of these may agree on all questions of minor detail, but they agree on the grand outline, and each one has added more or less to the strength and solidity of the system, by his researches. During the last seven centuries this system has been deepening its hold on the convictions of the Christian church, and has been embraced by some of her wisest and best guides and teachers. It originated with martyrs and confessors, exerted a sanctifying and strengthening influence over those who received it; it tended to revive the hope of the premillennial coming of the Lord, which had long lain in abeyance, leading naturally to many false anticipations of that event, which have been disproved by time, as well as to many very remarkable approximations to the truth, as to the time of other events. It met of course with intense and bitter opposition from the church it branded as Babylon, and the power it denounced as Antichrist, and to this day is rejected by all who in any way maintain or defend these, as well as by some who do neither.

SOURCE: http://www.historicism.com/Guinness/Approaching/aeota4.htm

Nor are the claims of this principle of historical interpretation in the least invalidated by the fact, that interpreters differ among themselves as to the precise application of some of the visions. Nearly all the writers of the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era, entertained the view that the Apocalypse was a comprehensive prophecy, reaching from the date of its publication to the end of all things, and endeavoured consequently to find its historical solution. It can be no wonder that, as the page of history has unrolled itself, greater accuracy should have been attained, than it was possible for early students to possess. At the time of the Reformation, and subsequently, the great body of commentators still interpreted the Apocalypse on the same principle, but naturally with a far closer approximation to the truth, though they were by no means unanimous in their expositions of detail; and many are the points of controversy which still exist. But the essential agreement, more than counterbalances the minor differences, and it would be strange indeed if such differences did not exist.*

We extract the following note from an admirable little pamphlet by P. H. Gosse, F.R.S., entitled, "The Revelation How is it to be Interpreted?" (London: Morgan and Chase, 23, Warwick Lane, Paternoster Row) which we earnestly commend to the consideration of those who hold Futurist views.

"The following list of Presentist expositors of the Apocalypse includes, so fay as I have been able to ascertain, all of any note from the era of the Reformation to the publication of the Hore of Mr. Elliott: Luther, Bullinger, Bale, Chytrnus, Marlorat, Foxe, Brigbtman, Pareus, Mede, Vitringa, Daubuz, Sir Isaac Newton, Whiston, Bengel, Bishop Newton, Bicheno, Faber, Frere, Irving, Cunningham, Habershon, Bickersteth, Birks, Woodhouse, Keith, Elliott, twenty-six in all. Out of these there are agreed as follows:

1.That seals I. to IV. are the decline of the pagan empire .
2.That seal VI. is the fall of paganism under Constantine .
3. That trumpets I. to IV. are the Gothic invasions
4. That trumpet V. is the Saracens.
5. That trumpet VI. is the Turks
6. That the little opened book refers to the Reformation.
7. That chapter xi. is the papal persecution of saints as heretics
8. That chapter xii. is the depression and recession from view of the true church during the papal ages
9. That the beasts are aspects of the Papacy
10.That the vials are the great French revolution and its results
11.That chapter xvii. is Rome
12.That chapter xviii. is the Papacy
13.That a day is the symbol of a year

It is right to observe that, the first four seals and first four trumpets referring each to several things, the agreement must be understood as admitting some diversity in details. Also that the application to the French revolution of the vials, could not possibly be made by expositors who wrote before the close of the last century. that is more than half of the whole number. Sir Isaac Newton and Whiston, however, shrewdly foresaw the great infidel revolution, as the e
arthquake of the seventh trumpet, "that infidelity was to break in pieces the Antichristian party which had so long corrupted Christianity." (Whiston, p. 46.)

SOURCE: http://www.historicism.com/Guinness/Approaching/aeota6.htm