Reformed theology and Reformed churches have never had a unified position on eschatology (Greek for the doctrine of future things). The Reformed churches of the continent have traditionally favored amillennialism. Presbyterian churches have for the most part historically favored postmillennialism. All three positions were represented at the Westminster assembly and such noted personages as Dr. Twisse, the moderator, and Goodwin, the Independent, were premillennialists. The Westminster standards therefore allow for all three and basically take a position of eschatological liberty.
For those uninitiated in eschatological matters a few definitions may be in order. The millennium is the future period of peace and prosperity foretold by the prophets. It represents a future Messianic age when all these promises will be fulfilled. Amillennial means no millennium. This position basically states that there will be no literal millennium on earth. It spiritualizes the millennium and sees the Lord’s people spending a future eternity in heaven in an exalted spiritual state. Postmillennial means after the millennium. They believe that Christ will return after the millennium. This position does believe that the ancient promises and prophesies of the Old Testament prophets will be literally fulfilled on this earth. But they believe in a postmillennial return of Jesus Christ. They believe that, by the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit, the nations will be progressively converted to Christianity. And they believe this will usher in the promised golden age of peace and prosperity. They have a Messianic age but without the Messiah present. Premillennial means before the millennium. It refers to a belief in the premillennial return of Jesus Christ. It believes that Christ will return and lift the curse and bring in everlasting righteousness. It believes in a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness. It believes this will happen at the return of Jesus Christ in power and glory to establish his kingdom, to deliver his saints, and to rule the wicked with a rod of iron as the Judge of all the earth.
Unlike the bulk of their Presbyterian brethren, the American Presbyterian Church confesses historic premillennialism as its creed. The Church therefore made a conscious decision not to adopt a position of eschatological liberty. It was felt that we require a lot of things in our standards such as infant baptism by pouring or sprinkling. However for every scripture verse that deals with baptism there are literally dozens of verses that deal with eschatological matters. If God attaches such importance to these doctrines how can we as a church say that it doesn’t matter and that men are free to believe and interpret, to teach and to preach, as they please in this critical area. The Church believed that it had to maintain a clear testimony to what the scriptures taught in this area and to clearly set forth for the people the exact nature of their future hope in the coming and kingdom of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Christ. If, as Paul says, the return of Christ is the “blessed hope” of the church we ought to know exactly what that means. The faithful ought to be specifically instructed in the great inheritance that they have in Jesus Christ.
It is important to point out that the American Presbyterian Church rejects dispensationalism and dispensationalist premillennialism. We are covenant theologians. We take our eschatology from the scriptures and especially from the divine covenants wherein God’s promises for the future are revealed. We believe that all that the first Adam lost by his failure to keep the Covenant of Works will be restored by the atoning work of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant. We believe that the future, glorious kingdom of God is a covenanted kingdom and is the very heart of all things eschatological. We believe that this kingdom is the fulfillment of all the covenants and especially of the Trinitarian Covenant that planned all this. And also of the Abrahamic Covenant with its promises of a king, of a land as an everlasting possession, and of a people, justified by faith, as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sand of the seashore. And particularly of the Davidic Covenant, with its promise of an eternal king that will come from David’s seed and rule over God’s people forever in a future eternity. These are the precious covenant promises upon which we, as did the Old testament saints, the Apostolic Church, and the Early Christian Church, have built our eschatology. These covenant promises form our hope for the future, a future in which we will by God’s grace inherit the most glorious kingdom imaginable at the triumphal return of Jesus Christ.