Counter Currents To Chiliasm At The Westminster Assembly: Cornelius Burges And The Second Coming Of Christ -- By: Andrew J. Young

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 73:1 (Spring 2011)
Article: Counter Currents To Chiliasm At The Westminster Assembly: Cornelius Burges And The Second Coming Of Christ
Author: Andrew J. Young


Counter Currents To Chiliasm At The Westminster Assembly:
Cornelius Burges And The Second Coming Of Christ

Andrew J. Young

Andrew J. Young is the minister of Cheltenham Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales.

I. Introduction

On June 14, 1619, Cornelius Burges (c. 1589-1665) began writing a manuscript entitled “The Grounds of Divinity handled according to the method of the Vulgar Catechisme.”1 Cramming nearly one thousand words to a page in an A6 size, leather-bound notebook, Burges, in his microscopic yet uniform hand, began his own commentary on the Apostles Creed. Whether intended for publication or simply as notes for a series of sermons to the Watford parish he had been appointed to only six months previously,2 Burges outlined a simple catechism, and continued with a line by line explanation of the Creed.

As is to be expected from a commentary on the Creed, Burges devoted one of the chapters to the De judicio extremo. Writing approximately thirty-two hundred words over the space of four pages, he delineates his views on eschatology and the second coming of Christ, both topics that had enjoyed increasing attention during the sixteenth century. This attention would continue well into the seventeenth century culminating in the return of an allegedly condemned view, namely, chiliasm.3 Within one hundred years chiliasm changed from being

confessionally repudiated to becoming a widely held and popular view. All three of the mainstream Protestant movements in the sixteenth century articulated creedal condemnation of millenarianism: the Lutherans in the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the English in the Forty-Two Articles of Religion in 1552, and the Reformed in the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566.4 Yet despite this seemingly authoritative renouncement, by the mid seventeenth century millenarianism was “the most popular eschatological position in England.”5

Whilst the inception of this millenarian Protestant movement has been located in the year 1627 through the publication of two influential books on the subject by Joseph Mede and Johann Heinrich Alsted,6 this by no means identifies the origins of this “reintroduction of a controversial eschatology.”7 As Howard B. Hotson...

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