I’m going to briefly discuss the relationship between Reformed historicism and Reformed cessationism. I’m not going to assess the truth or falsity of these positions. Rather, I’m simply interested in their mutual consistency, or lack thereof.
Right now I’m using “cessationist” in the narrow sense of Calvinists who deny the occurrence of postapostolic miracles. Not all cessationists are that extreme. But I’m confining myself to the extreme version.
(I don’t use “extreme” as a pejorative adjective. Sometimes the true position represents a logical extreme.)
Reformed historicism applies various NT prophecies to various events and institutions throughout the course of church history.
I don’t use the adjective “Reformed” to suggest that cessationism or historicism are Reformed distinctives. Rather, I’m referring to a subset of cessationists or historicists who happen to be Reformed.
Calvinists who take this position tend to pride themselves on their strict subscription to the Reformed confessions, catechisms, and creeds, &c.
Let’s begin with a summary of the evidence by Francis Nigel Lee, who is, in his own right, a very traditional, confessional Calvinist:
14. Calvin indicated that though the AD 600 Gregory the Great was the first bishop at Rome to be called sole pope, Gregory himself had regarded that new title as a mark of antichrist! Yet Calvin saw especially the AD 1415 papal burning of Huss as a clear evidence of the antichristian nature of the papacy. On Daniel 12:4ff, Calvin commented in 1561: "At the present time, in the papacy . . . impiety prevails."
15. Calvin especially insisted that both II Thessalonians 2:3ff and I John 2:18 & 4:4ff clearly brand the pope as antichrist. Romanists, said Calvin, were wrong to regard antichrist as a yet-future tyrant who would harass the church for but three and a half years. Even a ten-year-old, stated Calvin, can see that the centuries-long papacy is itself indeed antichrist! Yet the papal "antichrist will be annihilated by the Word of the Lord . . . Paul does not think the Christ will accomplish this in a moment . . . Christ will scatter the darkness . . . before His coming" by "the preaching of this doctrine." For "we fight by Christ’s power, and are armed with God’s weapons . . . We are victorious . . . We can no more be conquered, than can God Himself . . . Victory is certain!"
16. Calvin’s views were expounded in Britain especially by his student John Knox together with the rest of the "six John’s" in the 1560 First Scots Confession. There, the Protestants’ "True Kirk is distinguished from the filthy synagogues" of Romanism. Especially against the latter, the Confession sounds the trumpet blast: "Arise, O Lord, and let Thy enemies be confounded . . . Give Thy servants strength to speak Thy Word in boldness, and let all nations cleave to Thy true knowledge!"
17. The Calvinistic Second Scots Confession of AD 1580 also known as the Scottish National Covenant denounces "all kinds of papistry in general. We detest and refuse the usurped authority of that Roman antichrist. Many are stirred up by Satan and that Roman antichrist to subvert secretly God’s true religion . . . We therefore . . . protest!" Indeed, this Protestant ‘protest’ was effective. For the Preamble to the 1618ff international Calvinistic Decrees of Dordt declared that also in Holland "the Church was delivered by the mighty hand of God from the tyranny of the Romish antichrist and the terrible idolatry of the papacy." Christians were leaving Romanism, Revelation 18:2-4!
18. The 1646 Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith denounces "popish monastical vows." It denies "the pope any power or jurisdiction" over magistrates, citing here not only II Thessalonians 2:4 but also the ‘666’ passage of Revelation 13:15-17. It calls "papists . . . idolaters." It describes "the popish sacrifice of the ‘mass’ . . . [as] most abominably injurious to Christ’s one sacrifice." Indeed, it terms "transubstantiation . . . repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason" and indeed "the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries."
19. More specifically, the Westminster Confession further insists about deformed churches, that "some have so degenerated as to become synagogues of Satan. Revelation 18:2; Romans 11:18-22 . . . The pope of Rome . . . is that antichrist . . . that exalteth himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. Matthew 23:8-10; II Thessalonians 2:3-4, 8-9; Revelation 13:6."
20. Finally, the Calvinistic Westminster Larger Catechism insists that, in the Lord’s Prayer, the petition ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ is a plea for the destruction also of the ecclesiastical antichrist and indeed precisely through the good works of the Spirit-empowered Church as Christ’s own spiritual weapon! "We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in, [and] the Church furnished with all gospel-officers and . . . purged from corruption." Further, "we pray that God would so over-rule the world and all in it that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected [and] Satan trodden under our feet. Romans 16:20!"
Before proceeding any further, we should also spell out what some of the NT texts on the Antichrist have to say:
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24).
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thes 2:9-11).
“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (Rev 13:13).
These passages, and other suchlike, are clearly describing the same general phenomenon. It’s a Scriptural motif.
Several consequences follow from this hermeneutical position:
i) If, a la historicism, we apply these prophecies to the church age, then historicism entails a belief in postapostolic miracles. These are not divine miracles, to be sure. They are demonic or diabolical miracles. But they are still miraculous.
They differ in their source of origin. And the devil, as a finite agent, can’t do whatever God does. But he does enjoy superhuman powers. And he can transfer those powers to demoniacs.
ii) Not only is that true in general, but if we identify the papacy in particular with the Antichrist, then–ironically enough–a Reformed historicist is committed to the occurrence of Catholic miracles. For the pope and his minions would have the same preternatural powers as the Bible ascribes to the Antichrist and his functionaries.
On this view, Catholic miracles would be demonic or diabolical. But they’d be miraculous all the same.
iii) This, in turn generates a dilemma for the confessional Calvinist. You can relieve the contradiction by either ditching confessional historicism, or by ditching confessional cessationism, but I don’t see how you can logically maintain both positions at once.