« AnteriorContinuar »
who were present rejoiced for the conference, and their mutual reconciliation and agreement.""*
In connexion with this we shall append, as a curious relic of antiquity, the judgment of this same Dionysius respecting the book of Revelation. After observing that many had rejected the book as a forgery of Cerinthus, and consequently not entitled to a place in the sacred canon, he adds :— For this (they say) was one of his particular notions, that the kingdom of Christ should be earthly ; consisting of those things which he himself, a carnal and sensual man, most admired, the pleasures of the belly, and of concupiscence ; that is, eating, and drinking, and marriage ; and for the more decent procurement of these, feastings, and sacrifices, and slaughters of victims. But, for my part, I dare not reject the book, since many of the brethren have it in high esteem: but allowing it to be above my understanding, I suppose it to contain throughout some latent and wonderful meaning; for though I do not understand it, I suspect there must be some profound sense in the words ; not measuring and judging these things by my own reason, but ascribing more to faith. I esteem them too sublime to be comprehended by me. Nor do I condemn what I have not been able to understand: but I admire the more, because they are above my reach.”+
This is probably a very correct account of the light in which the great mass of the Christian world at the present day view the disclosures (to them, mysteries) of this amazing book, notwithstanding that the Holy Ghost,
* Lardner's Works, vol. ii. p. 691.
from a foresight of the disesteem into which it would be likely, in after ages, to fall, has, as a prophylactic guarantee against neglect, emblazoned in characters of light · upon the very portals of this temple of prophecy the inscription — BLESSED IS HE THAT READETH,'-a declaration equivalent to an asterisk of heaven pointing to the vast importance and inestimable value of this portion of the sacred oracles.* This importance, as per
* “ If that portion of the Bible which has been denominated the Revelation of St. John the Divine, and which as such has been regarded and acknowledged for seventeen hundred years, can be proved to the satisfaction of the public to be a spurious composition, let it be separated from the Book of God. Or, if any person can satisfy himself that the whole production is an invention of man, let him place it on a level with the Fables of Æsop, and regard them with similar indifference. But on the contrary, if the Revelation of St. John has come from the archives of heaven, if it has been issued from the throne of God, if our Lord Jesus Christ, out of his tender regard for the interests of his people, and his concern for their instruction and encouragement, has condescended to unseal the volume containing the destinies of the Church and the world, is there any Christian who can suppose that indifference to the Rovólation of Jesus Christ himself can be unattended with criminality? Especially can it be supposed, that the indifference of a minister of religion can be free from a charge of guilt? Is ho not constituted a steward of the mysteries of God? And ought he not to endeavour to explain those mysteries to the people under his care? If it be said, that the predictions of the Revelation are obscuro, and that the difficulties and uncertainties which present themselves render every attempt at explanation an unprofitable occupation: the difficulty experienced ought to operate as a reason for paying more attention to scriptural expressions, revealing divine purposes relative to the future, and for making a more diligent investigation to ascertain the import of the words of God. Besides, he that taining to the Apocalypse in itself considered, good men, who venerate the word of God, are generally willing to concede, but this concession is in effect vacated by the secret prevailing belief that its contents are unintelligible. Alas!
“Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.”
From the copious citations adduced above from the records of ecclesiastical antiquity, it is clear that the Millennarian hypothesis, in its literal and less refined features, did obtain an early prevalence in the church. As little, we think, is to be doubted, that the opinion owes its origin to a Jewish source. To what extent it actually prevailed among the primitive Christians, it is not possible, perhaps, from the conflicting testimonies of opposite schools, to determine with any degree of
reads and those that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep them, are pronounced blessed ; and should not this assurance be an encouragement and incentive to study that portion of Scripture which unfolds to us the future fortunes of the Church? Have we no ambition, no desire, no inclination to aim at and attain the promised blessedness! Need I remind the reader of the awful denunciation, with which the Redeemer himself closes the revelation he had made to his servant John? If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book ; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.'” New Illustrations of Prophecy, by W. Vint, p. 273, 274. Lond. 1831.
accuracy. The probability is, that during the three first centuries it was very extensively embraced. We recollect that Chillingworth prefers it as a very serious charge against the church of Rome, which lays such lofty claims to the perpetuation within her own bosom of the pure unadulterated doctrines of the apostolic and primitive ages, that in this matter if in no other she has grossly falsified the creed of antiquity, inasmuch as there is ample evidence that the doctrine of the chiliasts was actually the catholic faith of more than one century. And certainly there are few judges more competent to pronounce upon the fact. At the same time we do not regard the extent of its prevalence, or the period of its duration, as any measure of the abstract truth of the tenet. For ourselves we can easily conceive that, although the doctrine were really unsupported by Scripture, there were circumstances in the case of the primitive believers which may have contributed powerfully to the spread and influence of Millennarianism among them. The early days of the church, it is well known, were the days of persecution. The first converts to Christianity were compassed about by a great fight of afflictions.' The espousal of the religion of the cross, which waged an exterminating war against the standing superstitions of the empire, exposed them, as a matter of course, to all the terrors of popular frenzy and of imperial indignation. Being for the most part men of uncultivated minds, but of ardent zeal, unequal to the task of a sublimated conception of the spiritual mysteries of revelation, but laying firm hold of its literal and palpable representations, and deeply imbued with its divine spirit, the grosser forms of prophetic truth were precisely such as they would naturally be most prone to imbibe, and such too as were best suited to their exigencies. Even though we suppose their views erroneous, yet the error was in itself an innocent one, and with the fires of martyrdom kindling around them, and every species of torture devised to aggravate their sufferings, what could buoy up the spirits of such a class of men in the hour of mortal agony, but the promises and prospects of a glorious reward such as their rude and simple but honest minds saw disclosed in the letter of their Scriptures? And is it any disparagement to the wisdom of the Most High that he should so have framed the word of truth that certain portions of it might be susceptible of an interpretation which, though natural, was not necessary, though fallacious, was yet feasible, and adapted to minister at particular seasons and under peculiar circumstances, the most solid support and consolation to its disciples ? For ourselves we have no difficulty in supposing that the Millennarian error was in a peculiar manner winked at in the early ages of Christianity, and that the belief of it was calculated to produce and did produce results of a most auspicious character, which under the circumstances a different and even a more correct construction of the sacred oracles would have failed to effect. On the same principle, in all probability, we may account for the general prevalence at that early period of the sentiment respecting the speedy disa solution of the world and the consummation of all things. “In the primitive church," says Gibbon, " the