American Postmillennialism: Seeing the Glory
During most of the nineteenth century, American Protestants believed they were living in special times, that current events were hastening the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. Hymns like the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" became popular because they so well expressed this hope: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword, / His truth is marching on."
Undergirding this optimism was the doctrine of postmillennialism—the belief that the Second Coming will take place after the millennium of blissful peace and prosperity for the church, which will be ushered in by the divinely aided efforts of the church.
It comes as a surprise to many that for most of the nineteenth century, postmillennialism was "the commonly received doctrine" among American Protestants, as one minister put it in 1859. Postmillennialism dominated the religious press, the leading seminaries, and most of the Protestant clergy, and it was ingrained in the popular mind.
Postmillennialism was first clearly articulated in America by a man many consider the greatest theologian in American history, New England Congregational pastor Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).
Edwards was a devoted student of Scripture, including the Book of Revelation. He also entertained fervent hopes that God might do something special among the people of New England. He was circumspect when revival broke out in his own congregation in the 1730s, but when all of New England was convulsed by spiritual awakening in the early 1740s, he could not hold back: " 'Tis not unlikely that this work of God's Spirit, that is so extraordinary ...