The issue of the Arminian Magazine is devoted to articles relating to Christ's second advent.
It is interesting to not how differently some believe in the days of early Methodism to what is generally taught today, even among those who claim to be "Wesleyan."
Adam Clarke, in his Christian Theology says on the subject of the "millennium" the following:
What disappointment and confusion have been brought into the minds of many, by calculations relative to the termination of certain empires, Papal and Turkish; the beast and the false prophet; Christ's second coming to establish a universal empire, the laws of which are to be administered by his presence, corporeally manifested on earth; and also concerning the time of the final judgment and the end of the world! When a fancy is pursued, the line of pursuit is only directed by a sort of telegraphic phantoms, unreal landmarks to unreal objects; and when the last ignis fatuus has terminated its uncertain dance by absorption in some other vapor by which it has been neutralized, we are left in sudden darkness, in the quagmire where all such mental aberrations must necessarily end; and thus prophecy is prostituted; faith and hope (improperly employed) are disappointed; and religion itself discredited.
It is truly an astonishing thing that men will prefer hope to enjoyment; and rather content themselves with blessings in prospect than in possession!
Thousands, in their affections, conversation, and conduct, are wandering after an undefined and indefinable period, commonly called a millennial glory, while expectation is paralyzed, and prayer and faith restrained in reference to present salvation: and yet none of these can tell what even a day may bring forth; for we now stand on the verge of eternity, and, because it is so, "now is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation" [pp. 425-6].
One phrase would bear some serious consideration: "Faith and hope (improperly employed) are disappointed; and religion itself discredited." Faith is relative to truth, and because it is, our works reflect the nature of our faith. Belief of the truth produces good works; belief of a lie produces bad works. Herein lies the seriousness of what we believe, even relative to Christ's second advent. If truth is mixed with error, faith is hindered in proportion to the error and our works likewise are affected accordingly.
An example may be found in the popular theory of a "secret rapture" with those left behind to suffer untold torments during "the tribulation." Those who hold to this theory usually are heard to say; "What we do, we must do quickly" and the message to sinners is that they ought to seek the Lord so they won't be left behind. Of course, others would have us believe that some will be saved during this "tribulation," especially the Jews. But, is this the impelling force for us to desire the salvation of the lost? Rather is not the Bible clear on the fact that our reason for preaching the gospel is to prepare souls for the judgment; that is "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (2 Corinthians 5:10-15; Colossians 1:27-28). And is not the same gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to Gentiles, equally effective for Jews (Romans 1:16), or does it take something different?
Along with this "theory" of course, is that the saints who have been away for a period of time with Christ, are coming back to this present world with all its marks and traces of sin and rule with a rod or iron, as mayors, governors, etc, and "make the people quit their sinning and serve the Lord." In a word, force is to be used where the gospel was a failure.
Let's examine the Scripture to see if it really says all this. First of all, here are some established facts regarding the "last days." The only true method of determining what is meant by the "last days," is to see what the apostles had to say in their writings.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in the time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath is these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds [Hebrews 1:1-2].
This clearly indicates that Christ was here during a part of what is known as the "last days."
When did they begin? When shall they end? What is to be done between these two points? Galatians 4:4-5 gives a beginning: "When the fullness of time was come." The time which was foretold by Daniel as to being 490 years from a fixed time, and which by at least two fixed historical facts, ended at the crucifixion of Christ (see Clarke's notes and also Fletcher'sWorks relating to this).
Hebrews 9:27-28 gives the time when these last days shall end. Ephesians 1:10 and also Acts 3:19-21 tell us what will be going on during the time in between the beginning and the end.
It is interesting to note Peter's message in Acts 3; especially verse 21: "Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things." Undoubtedly, Peter must have believed that the preaching of the gospel would be sufficient to convert a world of sinners, at least to the point that it could be said that all nations were Christian nations, operating on Christian principles. And he also believed that Christ was not coming back until this was accomplished.
Has this happened yet? If not, surely the Church must have somehow gotten it's faith improperly employed, possibly through the belief of error mixed with truth.
Peter's message would not be welcome among those who are looking for things to get worse and worse and say that the days of revival are over; that all we can expect is just one now and then getting saved.
Does it not appear that faith and hope have been improperly employed while the Church is out chasing phantoms? Would it not be more in line with the power of the gospel to be employed with believing and hoping for revival and expecting God to do great and mighty things, instead of looking for beasts, anti-christs, and the like and expecting Christ to come and get us out of the awful mess we are in. It really is not a mark of much grace to want to get out of the mess, but rather that God would help us to stay with it until things are restored to their proper order, sinners converted, and our nations operating on Christian principles.
It is recommended that 2 Peter 3 be read, as well as 2 Thessalonians 1, in their entirety as they relate to what has been said above.