Ecce Venit: Behold He Cometh by A. J. Gordon. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1889. 311 pp., hardback.
A. J. Gordon (1836-1895), college- and seminary-trained New Hampshire native and for a quarter century pastor of Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston, was unusual among his peers in that he, in large part under the influence of Plymouth Brethren writers (“Darbyites”) embraced pre-millennialism and dispensationalism (post-millennialism and a-millennialism were both widely and commonly held).
He participated in the famous Niagara conferences which were mostly focused on promoting the pre-millennial coming of Christ. Gordon strongly affirms the literal, personal and physical pre-millennial coming of Christ followed by a literal 1,000 year earthly reign of the King of Kings, and points out the errors of interpretation of other views, especially post-millennialism, with its Pollyannaish hyper-optimism about the progressive conversion of the whole world to Christ, with a concurrent improvement of all earthly conditions, including man’s fallen nature.
Among the many problems of post-millennialism is that it makes any idea of an imminent (anytime) coming of Christ impossible. Gordon also affirms separate resurrections for the righteous (in three stages) and the wicked, separated by a full 1,000 years, as well as two separate and distinct judgments.
Gordon’s presentation in this, one of his most famous books, is not without some sizeable “warts”—he understands the seven parables of Matthew 13, the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3, and Revelation 4-18 as all three prophetic of events in the present church age. While all three are implausible, the latter is the most out of harmony with standard pre-mil, dispensational interpretation of Revelation, which understands Revelation 4-18 as referring to events in the 7-years-long, yet-future “Great Tribulation,” which begins with the resurrection and rapture described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff and concluding with the coming of Christ to reign, as described in Revelation 19.
What Gordon espouses is commonly called “historic pre-millennialism.” He sees a restoration and conversion of Israel in conjunction with the Second Coming, but denies a literal rebuilt temple, claiming that the temple where anti-christ sits in 2 Thessalonians 2 is “the church,” which is now “the temple of the Holy Spirit”; however, a literal rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem seems absolutely required by Daniel 9, Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2.
Likewise, as with Luther, Gordon views the institutional papacy as the “antichrist”; many pre-millennialists see the antichrist rather as specific person, a political leader of immense power, and the then-current pope as the false prophet who directs all men to worship the beast as God. He also puts a “one day = one year” interpretation on the “1,260” days of Revelation 12 (an interpretation that the equivalent designations ”three and half years” and “forty two months” should have led him to recognize as literal days, all referring to the latter half of the time of Great Trouble at the end of the age.
Gordon recognizes that an unspecified period of time must pass between the coming of Christ for the saints, and His coming to judge the world, though he does not espouse the pre-tribulational rapture view. He also understands the Babylons of Revelation 17 and 18 to be one and the same, rather than religious Babylon (ch. 17) and political Babylon (ch. 18).
All in all, Gordon’s book would not make my list of recommended books for understanding end-times prophecy, and is of greater interest as a source for compiling “the history of pre-millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy,” or a source for seeing how “historic pre-millennialism (mis)-interprets prophetic Scripture.”
Note: For the non-linguistically inclined, the title “ecce venit” is Latin for “Behold (or, look) he is coming!” taken from the Latin Vulgate version of Revelation 1:7
Some notable quotes from Ecce Venit
“The concession of church historians, led by such masters as Neander and Harnack, is that pre-millennialism was the orthodox and accepted faith of the Church in the primitive and purest ages; …” p. vi
“Sacramentarianism would take the world into the Church by instituting a baptized paganism instead of taking the Church out of the world by preaching spiritual regeneration; and behold the result of a half-heathenized Christendom. Latitudinarianism would make the Church coextensive with the world by preaching the gospel of universal salvation,—all men by nature the sons of God,—and thus, by crowding the Lord’s house with ‘the children of the Wicked One,’ turn it into ‘the synagogue of Satan.’” p. 49
“… an epitaph … which Dean [Henry] Alford [19th century Anglican NT scholar, and a pre-millennialist] composed for his own tomb: ‘The inn of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem.’” p. 89
“… let us ask what it was that gave the Christianity of the first two centuries such extraordinary vigor in its conflict with heathenism … . [I]t was this quality of absolute unworldliness which constituted the secret of its power … . The help of the world, the patronage of its rulers, the loan of its resources, the use of its methods they utterly refused, lest by employing these they might compromise their King … . There can be no reasonable doubt that that age in which the Church was most completely separated from the world was the age in which Christianity was most victorious in the world.” pp. 89, 90, 91
“[W]hile the hope of Christ’s imminent return remained universal, ‘it was productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of Christian’s, who lived in the awful expectation of that moment when the globe itself and all the various races of mankind should tremble at the appearance of their divine Judge.’” p. 99, quoting historian Edward Gibbon
“The mystery of godliness [1 Tim. 3:16] is God humbling Himself to become man; the mystery of iniquity [2 Thess. 2:7] is man exalting himself to become God.” p. 116
“The seduction of the Church from its primitive simplicity was accomplished mainly by these two influences: pagan philosophy corrupting her doctrine, and pagan ceremonies corrupting her worship.” p. 167
“Nothing is more common than to hear it assumed that the soul is the whole self. Yet nothing can be more clear upon reflection than that the only self of which we are conscious is made up of soul and body.” p. 246, quoting B. F. Westcott.
“A literal fulfillment of threatenings upon Israel argues a literal fulfillment of promises.” p. 274
Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.