By: LAZARUS CONLEY
As you all are aware, I often in my spare time am studying or reading books that have to do with or are related to eschatology. I jokingly tell people that I am the true president of Preterist Research Institute since no actual study or scholarship gets done by Don K Preston and it is basically true. I do at times go out of my way to study and read about full preterists and learn the actual history and not the revisionist garbage that many in their cult often try to do where they attempt to do things like erase Sam Frost from having been in their ranks or myself as well in that vein. With that, I have had a book on my shelf for a couple months that I was able to find by Robert Townley, a preacher in 1845 who was a full preterist. I may not be a full preterist anymore but I do find the history of it pretty interesting. Roderick Edwards has done a pretty decent job documenting the history of full preterism as best he could and I highly recommend people go get his book which covers that topic if it interests you. As Roderick Edwards rightfully notes: “The history of preterism is a difficult thing to nail down since we really can’t point to an individual person that is [solely] responsible for this perspective. To be sure, many claim they are ‘founders’ of views, including forms of Preterism, but the reality is often a different story... What makes our effort even more difficult is the historical revisionism that I know first-hand has happened… It might serve the reader best to go somewhat in reverse when explaining the history of Preterism or more specifically the movement called Preterism since Preterism is less a developed theological position and more of a laymen-led shift.”
For a brief timeline of full preterism, it seems almost definitively, until shown otherwise, that the first documentation of full preterism was penned by Robert Townley in his “The 2nd Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Past Event”. Robert Townley lived from 1816-1894. He is the first documented full preterist as far as anyone knows and was also a Universalist about a year later after he wrote his work, but ultimately ended up recanting both. He wrote his full preterist book in 1845. In his 1852 sermon in the Universalist Church of Charlestown, Massachusetts, on a Sunday morning on September 26th, he said, “We, on the contrary, fulfill everything by that magic phrase, ‘the destruction of Jerusalem’. But can we really and seriously refer these passages which I have quoted from Paul to the destruction of Jerusalem? Can we truly say that the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, let that mean what it may, exhausted all their meaning – the meaning which was the thought in Paul’s mind when he wrote them? I must confess that I cannot”. Here we have the first documented full preterist to have also seemingly been the first documented full preterist to have recanted his position in the future.
Some argue Firmin Abauzit (1679-1767), author of Essai sur I’Apocalypse, in 1730 was one and the first but this is false because in his work he sought to discredit Revelation entirely as a part of the New Testament and ultimately ended up recanting his position after Dr. Leonard Twells, a man he respected, replied to him. “[Upon] reading Dr. Twells’ reply, Abauzit was so well satisfied, and honorably wrote (though in vain) to stop the reprinting of his work in Holland. Of mentionable notice we do have James Stuart Russell (1816-1895), a man who was almost a full preterist. He wrote The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s 2nd Coming in 1878. He does believe that there are things yet to be fulfilled in some sense though so he can’t be counted as the first full preterist. Ernest Hampden-Cook, writer of The Christ Has Come (1891) shared similar concepts to Russell but also does similar where he doesn’t believe all prophecy fulfilled. John Humphrey Noyes (1811-1886), author of The Greatest Secret in the World and The Berean was essentially a full preterist as well as sharing similar views to Russell and Cook. He was the founder of the Putney commune in 1836, (was formalized in 1844) and also after a brush with the law for adultery founded the Oneida Community founded in 1848 which lasted until 1881 and had a membership of 300 people with various branch communities. Now disbanded, only the buildings and their silverware company live on. The Oneida Community was known for being a perfectionist sex cult under Noyes and practiced things such as what Noyes referred to as Male Continence and Complex Marriage. The children in the commune were raised non-traditionally by the community; not raised by their biological and individual family members. The children upon reaching adolescence at the age of 14 were made to have sex with the older men and women in the commune. It is safe to say Noyes was a seriously disturbing cult leader.
For more information on this topic, if it interests you, you may find some key starter information on Wikipedia and Preterist Archive website with a quick Google search. That said, the men listed under notables are not traditionally to be seen as full preterists. Townley, unless shown otherwise, is likely the first documented full preterist. This leaves full preterism to be started in 1845, recanted in 1852 after 7 years, and then various sects of people in the United States primarily that continued diving into this vein of thought that Christ came back in 70AD.
With that, let us begin the review of Robert Townley’s book here. He writes in 1845 in his preface that he has decided, along with his congregation he serves under, to quit communing with the Church of England. This “work” was, he states “delivered in a course of lectures to the congregations which lately assembled at St. Matthew’s, in this town”. He contends “most strenuously that there is not a shadow of a shade of error in the conclusion at which I have arrived” and his preface shows us that he was convinced he was right and that he knows what he is saying is anti-creedal and he knows that people will call him a heretic for this but he doesn’t care because he claims that he says he rejects everything but Scripture as a Protestant. He also makes a declaration that there will not be a single person in or outside the Church of England that will be capable of refuting him when he states that “the Bible promises no future coming of Christ, and, consequently, no resurrection of the body, nor any end of the world, neither a day of judgment…”
Upon reading his preface, I am personally struck by how cock-sure this guy is of himself. He writes this when he is 29… Now I am not saying that a 29 year old cannot be right about stuff or teach the bible (I’m 30 writing this – LOL) but I will say that when I read this guy I read someone who is overconfident and arrogant and the more I did read this book the worse his arrogance got and the more I found him to be quite confident for an ignorant person.
During this read, he declares how he hates apostolic succession and claims that his church congregation has concluded that they must secede from the Church of England because they have concluded under him that the 2nd Coming is past by searching the Scripture. He claims “we were persuaded that the New Testament teaches the above as past events, and being so persuaded, there was no alternative but that of acting as we have acted, in seceding from the Establishment, or laying ourselves open to the charge of ‘dishonesty and duplicity’”.
I see he rejects Calvinism and I can get behind him on that one. He gives something I commonly hear from full preterists claiming that he didn’t come to his view by reading any publications or hearing from others but rather this all came from him reading the Scriptures. I think he likely is protesting too much here. Throughout his book here, he quotes publications and scholars like a Dr. David Thom, who is the minister who ordained him actually as a minister of his sect. I don’t know and we probably can’t know where he actually got his position from but I suspect he did not just get this position from reading scripture in a vacuum (I jest as this is impossible for all of us; none of us in fact read scripture this way).
I found it interesting that he thinks that “the end of the world” in scripture means the end of the Jewish economy. I wonder if I would read Unitarian works if I would find this being talked about by more people. This same thing is often discussed and used as an interpretation by full preterists like Max King, Don Preston, and more so I would be interested to find out if there are more theological trains of thoughts like this that could be traced in this time period.
“I’m not insensible to the fact that the great doctrine of the past 2nd Coming of Christ, is a complete revolution in religion – it scatters to the four winds of heaven, doctrines which have been imbibed from earliest infancy”. I am struck by this statement. He apparently thought that full preterism would bring about a revolution. If you have read Max King or Don Preston this is all too familiar to hear and read. Where did this end up? With Townley recanting this position he once strongly believed in. His defense he claims will be “drawn from the Bible and the Bible alone”. I see full preterist do this all the time as well and I like to call this view solo scriptura (not to be confused with sola scriptura) where they only read the bible and claim they only get their ideas from the bible alone by itself… an idea that is easily refutable.
He sees Matthew 24 as every single full preterist does. I found this odd though. He claims that some will object to him and say that we still experience tribulation as Christians today so therefore not all can be fulfilled. He argues oddly that the Bible’s New Testament term for tribulation is actually what he calls “Apostolic Tribulation” so basically this boils down to him redefining what tribulation is and claiming it is “biblical”. This is common full preterist practice to take a term in the bible and redefine it to fit and cram everything into 70 AD when it doesn’t work or causes issues with the Bible and its natural frameworks when interpreting it.
He shows his biases pretty quickly when he states that the “Society of Friends” (Quakers) are wise as they reject the Sacraments like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper which he references in NOTE B. I am actually surprised that he didn’t reject his being a priest/minister since Quakers reject being ministers but I guess Townley didn’t want to be out of a job so he just overlooked that part of their belief.
He very clearly believes that to believe in a physical resurrection of the dead is a stupid belief. His NOTE C has him quoting The Biblical Inquirer where he denies 1 Cor. 15 is a biological resurrection and I’ll be honest… he makes very little sense when he tries to defend his position and he is extremely easy to refute. I actually would argue Max King does a better job at defending his position than Townley attempts to do and that is not saying much since King also is easy to refute. Townley declares that the resurrection of the dead must be a past event and I noted when reading it that he misinterprets Paul’s mention of “flesh and blood” in 1 Cor. 15 and interprets it like a Gnostic who hates material matter would.
So much of Townley’s arguments are that words and terms like “sin, Satan, death, and hell” are all terms that people use but then claims that all these terms the people use are wrong and then tells us that his, and his definition alone, is the correct way to define these terms and declares his definitions alone are the true and “biblical” ones. He even goes as far as to claim that “religious systems have fixed their own meanings to these terms, which is a meaning independent of the Bible”. When I read this from him I found it awfully convenient that everyone got everything wrong, even the ability to read and define terms in the bible until Townley graced us with the “truth” that only he managed to find out.
In NOTE G we find Townley deny Satan is a supernatural being and a fallen angel and says that “angels” also are actually just people… He states that he has “no difficulty in considering Satan, in this temptation (of Christ), to signify Christ’s own countrymen, the Jews, or, in one word, human nature, just as I look upon Satan, in Job, to be no less or more than Job’s three miserable comforters, and his own self-righteous principle…” Remember that Robert Townley is a Unitarian so he does not believe Jesus is God Incarnate. Many Unitarian “Christians” are also Christadelphians and those people deny Satan is an independent being nor a fallen angel. I think that he may be one of these as this became super popular at his time period he lived in, also in his area in London when the Restoration Movement was heating up. I do however have to say it seems completely bizarre to me to read this stuff because I find it completely absurd to believe that Satan is Christ’s human nature… I’ve heard full preterist like Michael Miano however say this exact same stupid drivel as well as people like Don Preston try to claim that Satan is Old Covenant Judaism among other stupid things. Instead of believing what 2nd Temple Judaism actually believed and taking the Hebraic mindset that the NT writers would have taken, they take these retarded modernist interpretations instead.
I found consistently that Robert Townley mocks the Judgment Day and calls it often “imaginary”. He mocks it a lot which I find concerning since Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is a Final Day and a Judgment Day for all people one day when Christ returns. I personally find Townley is simply narcissistic, full of himself, and a delusional fool. I realize he lives in 1800s and probably does not and did not have all the vast amounts of resources we do now but I’ve also read people in the 1800’s who were educated enough to know the things he says are ignorant. I find the majority of the time that he just doesn’t seem to be aware of what Judaism taught or even what the Early Church taught, and I suspect even if he does know it he intentionally rejects them as they are probably too Judaic or Papist for his Protestant liking (I have kept having to remember this man is a Unitarian and rejects the Trinity and even common Protestant beliefs at the time). I find that he often divorces the New Testament writers from Judaism. We all know that the New Testament is a product of 2nd Temple Judaism and written by Jews and Gentiles who accept Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, is God Incarnate. Meanwhile Townley rejects all of this and reads the New Testament like a lot of postmodernists do today divorced from all of that and trying to make Scripture mean whatever you want it to mean. In the end, he is what he says he is… a dude with a bible who reads it all alone without any context taken into account. It’s just he and his bible and his private interpretation and that is that. He cannot be wrong because he is the sole arbiter of “truth”.
On the Resurrection of the dead, I said earlier he denies it is biological and says Jesus rose bodily but that no one else will rise this way. He speaks highly of Mr. Bush, a Professor of Hebrew in the NYC University and says that his stuff is valuable… I think this has to be George Bush, who in 1844 wrote on the resurrection opposing the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the body. Around 1845, Bush ended up embracing Swedenborgianism, a strange sect of “Christians” that deny the Trinity and other doctrines. Either way, Townley likes him and says that Jesus did not rise in the same body he died in. He is very confused it seems as well when he tries to defend this position. In the end, if we put Robert Townley under scrutiny and believe what he says and compare it to Jesus and Paul’s words then we have to conclude Jesus and Paul are liars. I think Townley is the one in error here.
Townley also makes a case for Revelation 20 being a past event and just as all full preterists attempt to do, he fails to make a coherent or strong position for himself and it just isn’t credible saying “we don’t find Scripture to teach the 1000 years to be yet future”. His hatred for the resurrection of the dead is ridiculous. He goes so far as to reject and protest the Burial Service of the Church of England because it speaks of a biological resurrection in the future. He has problems with time-texts he finds problematic in the Bible. This is all too familiar with full preterists but if they would actually research and think more and do more critical research and read the scriptures they would find the time text issues full preterists always have aren’t actually issues and can very easily be dealt with and make sense.
Of note, to finish this off, Townley tries to claim that in the Revelation where it says “all will see his face” in Rev 22 that this refers to the Jews. He thinks the New Covenant was ushered in 70 AD not by the Cross. King does this too and it makes me strongly wonder now, as I have not studied Unitarians too strongly, if this is actually more of a common Unitarian theological thought than I know. King clearly wasn’t the first to come up with this heretical idea. Most bizarrely I found Townley says that Christ is no longer mediating as High Priest after 70 AD and says there is no need for sacraments like Baptism nor the Eucharist and also tells the reader that prayer as well is no longer necessary. He actually goes on to say that since the gifts ceased in 70 AD that there is no need to pray to God. He even goes out of his way to mock those that pray and mocks every church that still prays to God.
I conclude with this. Pardon my language but this moron actually argues that prayer to God is meaningless. He argues that there is no need for sacraments. No one needs to evangelize. No one needs to baptize. No one needs to take the Eucharist. No one needs to bother apparently. What point is there to this “faith” of his? All he has done is reduce the faith to an ideology that has nothing to it. It is just the idea of Christ coming in 70 AD and that is literally it. Why would this cause a revolution? All this would cause is people to reject it because it is nothing but a meaningless and depraved idea. This god of his is just an idea and a stupid idea. This guy needlessly rejected the Church of England to further bastardize the Christian faith for his private and lacking interpretations and was left with nothing but a worthless ideology. I am glad he ultimately rejected this years later. We can read Robert Townley and see where this stupidity led him. Now King has just repeated the same mistake and left his faith entirely for New Age garbage beliefs. His protégés Preston, Bell, etc. all do the same and are with nothing left but a retarded ideology that only a delusional and demon-possessed person would even bother continue to believe in. I end this review with a prayer that all who are in this heresy would leave it behind. It is just an idea. It is not God. It is easily refuted and has been countless times refuted. May these heretics see the light and come to the True God.
 Roderick Edwards. About Preterism. 2019. Loc. 182, 193.
 Townley. Sermon in the Universalist Church of Charlestown, Mass. Sept. 26, 1852.
 Firmin Abauzit. A Discourse Historical & Critical on the Revelations Ascribed to St. John’s. London. 1730.
 Robert Townley. The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. London. 1845. Preface.
 Ibid. Preface. Iv, v.
 Ibid. Preface. Vi.
 Ibid. 2.
 Ibid. 2.
 Ibid. 3.
 Ibid. 3-4.
 Ibid. 4.
 Ibid. 4.
 Ibid. 5.
 Ibid. 6.
 Ibid. 14.
 Ibid. 15. 158.
 Ibid. 17. 158. 160-161.
 Ibid. 16. 18.
 Ibid. 25. 164-165.
 Ibid. 34.
 Ibid. 67.
 Ibid. 98-100. 104.
 Ibid. 110.
 Ibid. 132-133.
 Ibid. 142.
 Ibid. 144.
 Ibid. 144. 150-151.