The present age has witnessed the uprising of a numerous company of prophets of despair. They go about teaching the dismal doctrine that the world is growing worse and worse, that it is like a ship so badly wrecked that there is no hope of saving her under the management of her present captain and crew, and the best thing to be done is to rescue as many passengers as possible before she goes entirely to pieces. This is Mr. Moody's favorite illustration. In fact it is openly declared that the efforts of our Missionary Boards to save the world are a waste of time and treasure which might be spent more profitably in "preaching the gospel to all nations for a witness" and thus hasten the end of this ineffective dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and the inauguration of the personal reign of Christ on David's throne in Jerusalem. Then Jews and Gentiles will be converted in a wholesale way, and the gospel will speedily dominate the whole world. Nearly all modern millenarians are pessimists.
Many millenarians of former times were not of this type, but rather thorough believers in the possibility of the conquest of the world by the church vitalized and energized by the Divine Paraclete. The difference between these two types of religious teachers arises from the fact that the one believes that the kingdom of Christ will begin after he comes, and the other that it will be completed before he comes. The latter will naturally bend all their energies to the glorious work of converting the world, believing that no sinners will be saved after Christ descends on his throne of judgment. Both John Wesley and John Fletcher had sympathy with this view. It presents nothing specially repugnant to Methodism, nothing to discourage, to paralyze and to cut the sinews of effort. It does not dishonor the Holy Spirit and discredit the church, as the other view is constantly doing.
From the very beginning Methodism has magnified the Holy Ghost in his various offices. It is his immediate contact with the soul of the penitent believer which is the distinguishing doctrine of Wesley. It is "the spirit of adoption" crying in the heart, "Abba, Father," which is the key-note of Methodism. Her doctrine of entire sanctification magnifies the Pentecostal dispensation. The universality of the atonement demands the parallel doctrine of the universal effusion of the Spirit in the conviction and conditional regeneration of the world of mankind. Wesley would set no limits to the work of the Spirit. Were he living now his voice would be loud and vehement against the teaching that the mission of the Spirit was not designed to reach and conditionally save all men, but only a very few to constitute Christ's elect bride, and that after the failure of the Spirit to sway the mass of men Christward, he would, himself awe them into submission by the majesty of his visible presence. No true followers of Wesley can have patience with such an utterance as gospel truth.
These are some of our reflections as we read these disheartening words of a celebrated living evangelist, "that one reason for discouragement in missions was that we were sometimes working on the basis of an expectation of converting the world in this dispensation, whereas the true Biblical hope authorized in the Word is only an outgathering from all nations of a people for God. If we expect the conversion of the world under this dispensation we have no authority for it in the Word, and the facts after 1900 years are utterly disappointing, whereas if we accept the other basis it is not only scriptural, but historical, for the facts bear us out, for that is exactly what God is doing." This means that he is not trying to save the whole world at present, but only a few to enjoy his favor as his bride, or to constitute his kingly cabinet, when his visible kingdom shall be established by his coronation at Jerusalem.
If there is no authority in the Word for the conversion of the world now, it is remarkable that scores of missionary societies in Europe and America, after a diligent study of the Bible, should undertake this impossible enterprise on the basis of the command in the great commission, "Go ye and disciple all nations," and the promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," or till I come again at the end of "the age" (R. V., margin)
— From Jesus Exultant Chapter 2.