« AnteriorContinuar »
I need give but a brief reply to this objection; for being privileged also to know, that the work of Dr. N. Homes will commence the series ofrepublications in the Investigator* ; and aware likewise, that in the outset that Writer adduces several authorities from antiquity; I gladly leave it in better hands.
In regard then to the christians of the two first centuries, there is not a solitary instance of any one of them contradicting the doctrine: all of those, whose works are extant, (unless they be some small fragments to be found quoted in other authors,) explicitly teach it. And it should also be observed, that the doctrine does not rest upon the judgement or discernment of those men, but upon their veracity; for some of them profess to have received these things direct from the apostles. Justyn Martyr lived before John the apostle died; and Irenæus was the hearer of Polycarp, the disciple of John. This Irenæus, in his second book against heresies, clearly maintains the doctrine; and the reason of his noticing the subject in his work on heresies was, that none denied the doctrine but heretics, who altogether denied the resurrection, and held that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I have less need to insist upon this point, because the chief of the modern opponents of these views has himself admitted,
though indirectly, that all the fathers of the two first centuries maintained them.t
In the third century Nepos wrote a book against the Allegorical Expositors, or those who explained the promises relating to the millennium figuratively.b For Origen had now introduced that vicious system of spiritualizing the Scriptures, by which he drew over many to his views, who were perhaps disgusted at the preposterous things, which some carnal men had added to this doctrine. Dionysius, a disciple of Origen, perceiving that the views of Nepos overthrew the principle of his master's expositions, endeavoured to refute them; in doing which he was led openly to deny the canonical authority of the Apocalypse, because the testimony of that book stood in his way. Mosheim in his History of the Church' admits, "that
long before this controversy an o
pinion had prevailed, that Christ
was to come and reign a thousand years among men, before the entire and final dissolution of this world;" "that this opinion had hitherto" (i.e. up to the middle of the third century) "met with no opposition;”—and that now its 'credit began to decline, principally through the influence and authority of Origen, who opposed it ' with the greatest warmth, because 'it was incompatible with some of his 'favourite sentiments.c”
* The admirable work of Dr. Homes, called "The Resurrection Revealed" is now printed separately in 8vo. price 7s, 6d. and is to be had of any Bookseller through the publishers of this work, Messrs. Simpkin and Marshall.-ED.
+ See Dr. Hamilton's work against the Millennarians, page 308. The Doctor says indeed, that the principles of Millennarianism were opposed and rejected by almost every Father of the church with the exception of Barnabas, Clement, Papias, Justyn Martyr, Irenæus, Nepos, Apollinarius, Lactantius, and Tertullian !-That is, with the exception of all the Fathers whom he knows of before Origen, and some who were contemporary and subsequent to Origen! He prefers the Fathers of later date, because “their learning and talents far surpassed any in the first centuries of the church.”
b Eusebii Hist, lib. vii, c. 24. c Vol. i, p. 284.
One might conclude, from the remainder of Mosheim's account, that Dionysius was completely successful in overthrowing this doctrine; but we have unquestionable proof that the Millennarians still formed the greater part of the church till the latter end of the fourth century. For in the year 325 sat the Nicene council, attended by all the bishops of Christendom, and drew up the form which is now used in the communion service of the established church, called the Nicene creed. The last clause of this creed is as follows: "I look for the resurrec'tion of the dead and the life of the world to come;" which the council thus expounds. "The world was made inferior (μкроτερоç) because of foreknowledge: for God foreknew that man would sin. Therefore we expect new heavens and a new earth according to the Holy Scriptures; the Ephiphany and Kingdom of the great God and our Sa'viour Jesus Christ then appearing. And as Daniel says (chap. vii, 18) 'the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom. And there shall be a pure and holy land, the land of the living and not of the 'dead which David foreseeing with the eye of faith, exclaims, I believe to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living— 'the land of the meek and humble. • Blessed, saith Christ, (Matt. v, 5,) are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And the prophet saith (Isa. xxvi, 6) The feet of the meek and humble shall tread upon it."* Later even than this period Jerome (who was no friend to the doctrine, but the contrary) admits, “that many christians and martyrs had affirmed the things which he denied; and
that a great multitude of christians agreed in them in his own day : so that though he did not follow them, he could not condemn them." The conversion of Constantine, and the protection which he gave to christianity, appears to have tended the most to render this doctrine unpopular. Rome had been considered by christians as the seat of antichrist and destined to destruction. Lactantius, who lived in the time of Constantine, in his Book on the Divine Institutes, says: "The Roman au
thority, by which now the world is governed, (my soul dreads to
speak it—but it will speak it, be
cause it shall come to pass,) shall 'be taken from the earth, and the
empire shall return into Asia, and again the East shall rule and the • West obey."'d This opinion was now therefore by timid and temporising persons suppressed, or explained away after Origen's manner. Eusebius (who also questions the Apocalypse) proceeds so far as to make Rome the New Jerusalem, because Constantine turned the heathen temples into christian churches !e And the popes in after ages discountenanced the doctrine, as militating against their usurpation and dogma, that the millennium commenced with Romish domination in the church.
Thus the doctrine was thrown into the back-ground until the time of the Reformation; when it was again revived; but owing to the fanatical turbulence of the anabaptists on the continent, and the fifth-monarchy men in this country, it again fell so much into disrepute, that many timidly kept it out of view, until succeeding generations lost sight of it. In the meanwhile however the doctrine was by no means generally denied: many
* See the forms of the Ecclesiastical Doctrines in the Hist. Act. Con, Nic. Gelasii
d Book vii, c, 15, e Eccl. Hist. Vol. iii, p. 24.
eminent men were raised up from time to time who advocated these truths in the established church; and the dissenters still continued to hold it so generally, that at last to broach these opinions exposed a man to the imputation of being a dissenter.
And to shew that these opinions were entertained by chief persons in the church, and generally taught at the time of the Reformation, I shall finally bring forward two extracts from the CATECHISM drawn up by the prelates in the time of Edward VI, and authorised by that king in the last year of his reign.f
"Q. How is that petition, Thy kingdom come, to be understood?
Ans. We ask that his kingdom may come, for that as yet we see
'not all things subject to Christ:
we see not yet how the stone is 'cut out of the mountain without hu
man help, which breaks into pieces
' and reduceth to nothing the image described by Daniel; or how the only rock, which is Christ, doth possess and obtain the empire of the whole world given him of the Father. As yet Antichrist is not slain: whence it is that we desire and pray, that at length it may come to pass and be fulfilled; and that Christ alone may reign with his saints according to the divine promises; and that he may live and have dominion in the world, according to the decrees of the holy Gospel, and not according to the traditions and laws of men and the wills of the tyrants of the ' world."
"Q. God grant that his kingdom may come most speedily, &c.
* * * * *
is subject, should at last cease.
Now by what means, or ways of circumstances, those things shall be brought to pass, I desire to 'know of thee?
Ans. I will declare as well as I can, the same apostle attesting.
The heavens in the manner of a stormy tempest shall pass away, and the elements estuating shall
be dissolved, and the earth and
the works therein shall he burnt.
As if the apostle should say, the
world, like as we see in the refining
of gold, shall be wholly purged
with fire, and shall be brought to
its utmost perfection; which the little world, man, imitating, it 'shall likewise be freed from corruption and change. And so, for man's sake, for whose use the great world was created, being at
length renovated or made new, it shall put on a face that shall be 'far more pleasant and beautiful."
II. The last objection to which I shall reply is, that, although it may be admitted, that the doctrine is scriptural, it is not of a practical character, and therefore not profitable or to edification.
The first point to be determined, in order to refute the objection, isIn what does a satisfactory proof of the practical tendency of the doctrine. consist? If I appeal to my own personal experience of its salutary inQ. The sacred Scripture calls fluence, or to its stirring and edifythe end of the world the con- ing effects upon others, (either of summation and perfection of the which I can most conscientiously mystery of Christ, and the renova- declare,) there would not I fear be tion of all things: for thus the that confidence in the minds of maf 20th May, 1553.
ny, as regards the integrity of the proof, which is essential to conviction. The most proper and unexceptionable mode is, to turn to the Scriptures and to notice, what practical use the writers of the Bible, and of the New Testament especially, make of the subject. This it is my intention to perform, if God will, as I proceed to bring forward and support from Scripture the doctrine itself: until which, even this mode would not be satisfactory; because some of the testimonies, which I shall hereafter adduce, might not at present be considered to the point. As regards therefore this one particular mode of considering the objection, I shall only premise, that I fearlessly challenge the production of a greater number of independent passages, practically applying any other scripture doctrine, or connected series of doctrines, than I can bring forward in behalf of those in question; and that if we are to judge of them by the frequency with which they are made the ground of exhortation, or by the variety of duties or graces which they specially call into exercise, they must be deemed among the most practical and highly important truths contained in the Bible.
In the mean while I do not think the objection,—that a doctrine, admitted to be scriptural, is not profitable,—a legitimate or consistent objection; nor fit to be advanced by persons professing to receive the Scriptures as divinely inspired: and I must here therefore beg to submit four short observations, for the candid consideration of the Reader.
1. First, it is plainly written, that ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, &c." It is affronting to the Deity to suppose, that he would reveal any thing to his Church, which is not calculated to edify it; or which individual members of it may wilfully neglect, without great damage to their souls. Some doctrines are indeed more prominent than others; and there are some also, which we may justly call first principles of the doctrine of Christ:"h but because I acknowledge the foundation stone to be that on which a building rests, can I therefore safely wrench a principal stone or timber from the breast-work of that building. The doctrines of Scripture are so essential to each other, that, if one be removed, some other loses its utility also. For example; John the Baptist preaches the necessity of repentance, that we may flee from the wrath to come.i No one will deny "repentance" to be a fundamental: but make men indifferent in regard to the wrath to come," (which is prophetic, and on which John grounds his call to repentance,) and you remove from multitudes the most powerful motive to it.* Another class of persons is perhaps led to repentance by a view of the goodness of God:k so that it is impossible for any man to say, what may be profitable or not, or what most profitable to others; nor indeed how far the cordial reception of a truth may conduce to the salvation of his own soul.
2. Secondly, I observe, that, presuming the millennarian doctrines to
* I call repentance here fundamental in reference to Heb. vi, 1, 2, where it is applied, together with the resurrection and eternal judgment, as among the incipient essentials of christianity: but as far as its relative importance when compared with the wrath to come is considered, if we keep strictly to figurative propriety, that on which the call to repentance is grounded is rather of the two the fundamental doctrine; and, according therefore to metaphorical consistency, the revelation, that there is a wrath to come, supersedes in importance the call to repentance and fruits meet for it.
g 2 Tim. iii, 16. h Heb. vi, 1. i Luke iii, ", 8. k Rom. ii, 4.
be scriptural, that system which deprives them of the degree of importance, (whatsoever it may be,) which the Word of God hath assigned to them, must be so far wrong: and whatsoever is wrong in doctrine must be to that extent mischievous in practice, however plausible. It may be that individuals are notwithstanding saved: but its pernicious effects upon the generality of hearers, and to a great degree upon real believers, are nevertheless incalculable.
3. Thirdly, I notice, that men cannot, from the very nature of the thing, judge of the practical tendency of a doctrine, until they have first embraced it, and experienced its power. Till then, they either regard it with indifference, or they decidedly oppose it as dangerous and liable to abuse. Many, for example, conceive the doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law, to be unfavourable to holiness; and that the preferable course is, to keep it in the back ground and to insist on the moral duties. And many imagine again, that to preach the need of the Spirit's aid for every good thought and word and work, is calculated to paralyze the exertions of men, and to deaden the motives to personal diligence. And how much greater a number of professors cannot conceive of the doctrine of election, "that it is "that it is full of sweet comfort to godly persons ;"—" that it doth greatly establish and confirm the faith of eternal salvation;" and "that it doth fer
vently kindle their love towards God." Yet many, I am persuaded, of those who object to the doctrines of the millennium, because they cannot see their practical use, would deny to the last the reasonableness of objecting to these other doctrines on the same ground.
4. Lastly, I would earnestly caution my christian brethren to pause before they take up this objection: for I cannot but consider it to be among the symptoms of that leaven of infidelity, which pervades the great majority of professors in these awful days, that the practical use of a scripture doctrine is by many demanded, before they will seriously entertain it. It is thus that the authority of Scripture is first degraded and then undermined. Men do not recognise that chief and all important feature of the Bible,—that it is not the word of men, but THE WORD OF GOD. I am sure, that all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity would be horrified at the thought of turning away from his personal instruction, and telling him to his face that his sayings were hard or unprofitable: and yet, when men deliberately make light of portions of his acknowledged word, or consider themselves entitled to neglect it, they do in effect" turn away from him that speaketh from heaven;" and they betray that their minds are not really brought into that implicit subjection to divine truth, which they profess.