In Search Of The Origins Of The Pretrib Doctrine:
Part 6: Discerning The False Spirit That Delivered The Secret Coming Doctrine
The Pieces To The Puzzle: Ribera, Lacunza, Macdonald
I thnk it important to state at the beginning of this section that there is much debate over who first taught a pretribulation rapture, for example, Ribera, Lacunza, Macdonald, Irving or Darby. What is obvious after much research is that Ribera, Lacunza and Macdonald all contributed THE PIECES which were then pushed and pulled by Irving and then by Darby to fit the final doctrine together.
Ribera's Contributions To The Pretrib Rapture
For instance, Ribera pointed to a future time near the end of the age of three and a half years when the books of Daniel and Revelation would be fulfilled. The Antichrist would be a person to rise in the future. He also brought forth the idea of a rapture, but not at the beginning or end of Daniel's 70th week. He wrote that the Church would be taken to heaven 45 days before the end of the three and a half years. He did NOT teach a pretrib rapture.
Lacunza's Contributions To The Pretrib Rapture
Lacunza wrote in his book that the Church would be raptured in order to escape the reign of Antichrist in the last 3-1/2 years of the age. Building on what Ribera wrote, he, too, wrote that the Church would be taken to heaven 45 days before the end of the three and a half years. He also did NOT teach a Pretrib rapture.
Macdonald's Contributions To The Pretrib Rapture
Another would be the part contributed by Macdonald, that when Jesus came, He WOULD COME SECRETLY for the Church. All of these pieces influenced Irving and ended up in Irving's and Darby's final doctrine, but only after they were beat into an acceptable form, including the timing of the added rapture. Macdonald's vision, I don't believe, depicted a Pretrib rapture. Her secret coming, Ribera's and Lacunza's splitting the coming into two parts, though, were ideas Irving used to form his doctrine.
Of this, too, there can be no doubt: Macdonald, a member of Irving's Catholic Apostolic Church, had her vision in the Spring of 1830. She had apparently written these to Irving because in a letter he wrote to a Mr. Chalmers on June 2nd, 1830, he said,
"The substance of Mary Campbell's and Margaret Macdonald's visions or revelations, given in their papers, carry to me a spiritual conviction and a spiritual reproof which I cannot express."
Nowhere else is a secret coming mentioned by anyone before this time, but it seems almost too obvious that Irving would have received such ideas from Macdonald. She was a VITAL PART of the decisions Irving made concerning his doctrines, including a restoration of the gifts and the offices of the apostles and prophets. What must be realized is that Macdonald's vision
1. HAD COME FROM AND WAS ACCEPTED AS FROM THE SPIRITUAL REALM, purportedly by the Holy Ghost
2. IF WHAT SHE SAID WAS NOT BIBLICAL, it was from a spirit not of God
3. If the BIBLICAL TEST SHOWS it WAS of another spirit, then Irving's adjusting Macdonald's "secret coming" to what would become the Pretribulation doctrine had an unbiblical "second coming" slyly added to the Scriptures and brought into the Church by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit
It was against things such as this that Paul warned about:
2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
Though many write of Irving and Macdonald with the emphasis on the secret coming, there was much more Irving was interested in beside what her vision said about that. I will describe these things in the next chapter.
The First Public Mention Of A Secret Rapture
Dr. Samuel Tregelles (1813-1875), one of finest scholars of his time, was a member of the Brethren until he left them because of the secret coming doctrine. He once stated,
"I am not aware that there was any definite teaching that there should be a Secret Rapture of the Church at a secret coming until this was given forth as an `utterance' in Mr. Irving's church from what was then received as being the voice of the Spirit. But whether anyone ever asserted such a thing or not it was from that supposed revelation that the modern doctrine and the modern phraseology respecting it arose. It came, not from the Holy Scriptures, but from that which falsely pretended to be the Spirit of God."(1)
Tregelles statement was made concerning a time when signs and wonders and the prophetic spirit were active in Irving's church, of which Margaret Macdonald and Mary Campbell had a large part to play. It's apparent from the quote that Tregelles knew nothing of Macdonald's influence on Irving through what she sent him in private communication concerning her vision. It's also apparent that one of the greatest Greek scholars of that period had never heard in the teachings of the church a secret rapture seven years before the end of the age!
Another Plymouth Brethren who, after a few years of his joining the group, left over controversy concerning the secret coming and the spiritual manifestations being shared in Irving's church was Robert Baxter:
"An opinion had been advanced in some of Mr. Irving's writings, that before the second coming of Christ, and before the setting in upon the world of the day of vengeance, emphatically so called in the Scriptures, the saints would be caught up to heaven like Enoch and Elijah and would be thus saved from the destruction of this world, as Noah was saved in the ark, and as Lot was saved from Sodom. This was an opinion I never could entertain; conceiving, as I did, that our refuge in and through the days of vengeance, would be some earthly sanctuary, until the Lord should come, the dead be raised, and those remaining alive should be caught up (I Thess. iv. 17)"(2)
The Secret Coming: Discerning The False Spirit Tregelles Discerned
For 1830 years no one had ever used the word SECRET in connection with the coming of Christ. Then Margaret Macdonald, a member of Irving's church, suddenly has this vision, apparently sends it to Irving and two months later he is beginning to associate the word SECRET with Christ's coming. Lastly, someone in Irving's church gives forth an utterance, witnessed by Tregelles, of the SECRET coming and he and others left because of it. Did Tregelles correctly discern the spirit that inspired the utterance of the secret coming? I believe he did because Margaret Macdonald's vision, under careful scrutiny, was the result of a spirit not of God.
Margaret Macdonald's Spirit of Revelation
Margaret Macdonald was a teenage girl who lived in Port Glasgow, Scotland. In 1830, she received a private prophetic vision while in a dreamlike state. It was revealed in this vision that when Christ returns, believers will need to "spiritually discern" Him by the Holy Spirit. According to the vision, the world will not see Him when He comes for the Church. This was a new concept, unheard of until then. The Church had always believed that the Christ's returning will be seen by all, believer and unbeliever alike. Dave MacPherson discovered the account of Margaret's long-lost vision, and he details that search in The Incredible Cover-up. He includes an account of the actual vision which I quote in another part of this series. But, here are the sentences that contain the first mention ever of a secret coming for the Church:
EXCERPT FROM MACDONALD'S VISION: " . . . now look out for the sign of the Son of man. Here I was made to stop and cry out, 0 it is not known what the sign of the Son of man is; the people of God think they are waiting, but they know not what it is. I felt this needed to be revealed, and that there was great darkness and error about it; but suddenly what it was burst upon me with a glorious light I saw it was just the Lord himself descending from Heaven with a shout, just the glorified man. even Jesus; but that all must, as Stephen was, be filled with the Holy Ghost, that they might look up, and see the brightness of the Father's glory. I saw the error to be, that men think that it will be something seen by the natural eye; but 'tis spiritual discernment that is needed, the eye of God in his people. . . . be filled with the Spirit.'"
Notice that Scripture says the world sees Him as He comes. There is no scripture that says the world does not see Him when He returns. Margaret's next statement completely changes Jesus' description of the coming of the Son of man, replacing it with Stephen's vision in Acts when he was martyred:
". . . but that all must, as Stephen was, be filled with the Holy Ghost, that they might look up, and see the brightness of the Father's glory. I saw the error to be, that men think that it will be something seen by the natural eye; but 'tis spiritual discernment that is needed, the eye of God in his people."
The "glorious light" that suddenly burst upon Margaret led her to believe that the returning Jesus will not be seen with the natural eye, but with "the eye of God in his people." But only "another spirit", masquerading as an angel of light, would change the meaning of the words of the Word of God Himself, and she did so by pointing to the martyr Stephen, WHICH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SECOND COMING. Macdonald spoke of a "Jesus" who, when he came, WOULD HAVE TO BE SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED. This was a blatant denial of Jesus come in the flesh, a sign of the antichrist spirit. Yet, Macdonald said this was through the revelation of the Scriptures:
"Many passages were revealed, in a light in which I had not before seen them."
This spirit directly confronted and changed the word of God by giving forth a prophecy through Macdonald that denied Jesus coming in the flesh:
1 John 4:4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
In his book, "Demons In The World Today,"(4) Merrill F. Unger describes how deception enters the Church and what it means that Jesus has come in the flesh:
The Apostle John presents the revelation that demonism is the impelling power that propagates false doctrine. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). A spirit may be believed, rightly or wrongly, when the "prophet" brings a message from the invisible spirit. The real speaker behind the prophet is either the Spirit of God, the omniscient Teacher, or a demon spirit or spirits. "The Spirit of truth" leads into "all truth," and speaks through the true man of God and teacher of sound doctrine (John 16:13). Demonic spirits under Satan, "the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6), speak through the cultist or false religionist to disseminate erroneous doctrine and foster heresy.
God's "beloved" are often extremely naive about satanic guile, and the Apostle John singles them out for warning, since all such children of God are the special targets of Satan. They are those whom Satan would like to trap in some error, snare in some cult, and saddle with some fanatical view or flagrant heresy, all in the name of alleged truth and spirituality.
The acid test to differentiate true religion from false religion. The Apostle John urges God's "beloved" not to believe "every spirit," but to "try the spirits" in the sense of putting them to the acid test of the Word of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 12: 10). Unless this caution is strictly followed, God's people stand in peril of being taken in by demon-energized false prophets who have "gone out into the world" to start Christ-denying cults.
In the dearest terms, John centers the test in the glorious Person and finished redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God" -- this is the intent of the doctrinal test, to recognize the Holy Spirit as the omniscient, sole, and all-sufficient Revealer of truth, and to recognize his truth amid the clamor of alien voices energized by "spirits not of God." These demon spirits speaking through false teachers pervert or distort to whatever degree they are able the full truth of who Jesus Christ is and what he accomplished by his death and resurrection. Only the Holy Spirit can confirm the reality of Christ's Person and finished redemptive work to a person and save him from the god of this world.
"Every spirit," that is, every witness who speaks by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "confesseth" (freely and readily recognizes the fact) that "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." This involves the confessing of a twofold truth: (1) that Jesus is the Redeemer of men; (2) "he is come in the flesh"; this means he was "the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16; John 6:69; Hebrews 1:2, 5; 1 John 4:15), the predicted virgin-born "seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15), the preincarnate Word, who was "with God and was God" (John 1:1), who became man (John 1:14) -- God and man in one Person, Emmanuel, or God with us (Matthew 1:18-25).
The confession that "Jesus Christ is come" (eleluthota, a perfect "having come," not a mere past historical fact but present and continuing in its blessed effects) to earth in the "flesh" also asserts our Lord's real humanity, both his sinless, unglorified human body before his death and his resurrected and glorified human body presently at the right hand of the Father. This is the pledge and guarantee that the body of every believer will be glorified as his is (1 John 3:1-3).
Our Lord's "flesh" (true humanity) implies his death for us, for only by God's becoming man could he die (Hebrews 2:9, 16). Moreover, his death implies his love for us (John 15: 13). To deny the reality of Christ's humanity, therefore, is to deny his love. This is what every spirit does who does not acknowledge Jesus in the flesh. Such a spirit "is not from God; it is the spirit of Antichrist of whose coming you have heard. Right now he is in the world" (1 John 3:3, Berkeley).
In this unambiguous manner the Apostle John gives us the acid test for differentiating false religions from the true and the Holy Spirit from demon spirits. Together with the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 3:16-4:2), the Apostle John gives God's criterion for judging between the true and the false in the complex realm of religions. Deception will surely engulf people who follow man's voice instead of God's and who ride with ecumenical trends that depreciate God's Word and approve false shepherds within the professing church.
Needless to say, Jesus spoke the truth, so we must conclude that Macdonald, not Jesus, was wrong (could we do otherwise?). Yet this vision appears to be the seed that Irving watered, bent and hammered to bring the Pretribulation doctrine to the point Darby finalized it as a doctrine.
Testing The Spirits
David Breese's book, Know the Marks of Cults, certainly would have aided the 19th century Church's discernment concerning this "new revelation":
"Nevertheless, the almost universal base of each cult religion is the purported revelation that one person received. These persons claimed divine authority for a private, unauthenticated religious event. They claim to have seen a vision of a woman on a mountain, heard a voice in a prayer tower, or been visited by an angel who came with golden tablets and giant spectacles. The unsubstantiated and largely preposterous stories are endless.
"What is the proper response to the claim of an individual to a new, divine discovery? His claim should be subjected to the biblical rules of evidence, as we will explain shortly. The discovery may have been an hallucination, an outright lie, or even the result of indigestion or a sleepless night. We cannot know. We are without corroborative evidence.
"How different is the truth of Christianity! It is not dependent upon claims by private individuals to special discoveries. The fundamental characteristic of the faith of Christ is that it is based on historical fact."(5)
Breese closes this chapter with this advice:
"No Christian is required to believe that Jesus Christ has appeared to anyone since the day of the completion of Holy Scripture. God rests His case on the Bible. This Book should be plainly preached by those who stand in pulpits. It should be clearly taught by those who would expound truth. It should be carefully read by all who would discover the nature of reality. Then there will be no need for special discoveries on the part of anyone. The greatest discovery an individual can make is to experience the joy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which comes by faith in His person and His work as revealed in Holy Scripture."(6)
Thus began a following for the new doctrine of Irving's pretribulation rapture, which has continued to expand to this very day. But the lack of full discernment during Macdonald's time does not mean we, today, cannot discern it for ourselves. Jesus told of the events of His second coming to the disciples, who passed it on to the early Church as described in the Bible. It was then passed on to the post-Apostolic Church, who continued to pass it on. Then, after One Thousand Eight Hundred years, this doctrine was changed by a teenage girl. The resulting pretribulation doctrine then became the "good news" that was shared by those in the Church who desired new and exciting "revelations," until it became the prevailing belief among evangelicals.
It is not enough to look at what others believe and believe it too. Each of us must take what others have said and verify it by a study of the word of God. We should ask ourselves what we would have done if we'd lived in the nineteenth century and been presented with Macdonald's vision and Matthew 24:30. Hopefully, we would have opposed what we were hearing, as many of the period did, and as many are doing today as spirits not of God are once again invading the Church; there were many in Irving's time who stood on the foundations of old and protested against the "secret coming" theory and the "new" revelaitons of the time. But others did lay a new foundation over the old and many accepted the "new" revelation of the Pretribulation doctrine Irving and then Darby put together.
According to the account of Margaret Macdonald's vision, there is little doubt that a spirit of some sort was involved; she had a real spiritual experience during which she was oblivious to her surroundings. If one argues she simply prophesied in the flesh and its origins were not the spiritual realm, it must be rememberd that through her "gifts" that she manifested, she began a spiritual revival in her time that engulfed Irving and his beliefs. What that spirit revealed completely contradicted the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and inspired Irving to invent a "new" revelation of Christ's return. In all of my reading of pretribulation teaching, I have been unable to find one instance of pure Scripture supporting Jesus' coming in a secret, unseen way for the Church. Many in Irving's church had the same problem and denounced the doctrine as unbiblical, some sayingit was of a demonic origin. Each verse quoted by these writers is joined to unscriptural assumptions which seem to give validity to their interpretations. Yet there are many verses that clearly state a visible return and pointing all of the endtime Scriptures to one single coming at the end of Daniel's 70th week yields no contradictions. Scripture contains more than the necessary two or three witnesses to the one-time, visible return of Christ. The "Jesus come in the Spirit" in Macdonald's vision was the first time in prophetic history that it was said that Christ would not return once in His total, visible humanity.
(1) The Hope of Christ's Second Coming, Pgs. 34-37, Tregelles.
(2) Robert Baxter, Narrative of Facts, 1833, page 17.
(3) Dave MacPherson, The Incredible Cover-up, Foreward by Jim McKeever ([n.p.]: Logos International, 1975). All rights transferred to (Medford, OR: Omega Publications, [n.d.]), p. 37 citing R. N., [Robert Norton, M. D.], The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets; In the Catholic And Apostolic Church (London: Bosworth & Harrison, 1861).
(4) Chapter 8: Demons and False Religions/155-157.
(5) Dave Breese, Know The Marks of Cults (Wheaton: SP Publications Inc., Victor Books, 1975), p. 72.
(6) Breese, p.75.