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influence of truth was very powerfully strengthened by an opinion, which, however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity, has not been found agreeable to experience. It was universally believed that the end of the world, and the kingdom of heaven, were at hand. The near approach of this wonderful event had been predicted by the apostles; the tradition of it was preserved by their earliest disciples, and those who understood in their literal sense the discourses of Christ himself, were obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of the Son of man in the clouds, before that generation was totally extinguished, which had beheld his humble condition, and which might still be witness of the calamities of the Jews under Vespasian or Hadrian. The revolution of seventeen centuries has instructed us not to press too closely the mysterious language of prophecy and revelation ; but as long as, for wise purposes, this error was permitted to subsist in the church it was productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of Christians, who lived in the awful expectation of that moment when the globe itself, and all the various race of mankind, should tremble at the appearance of their divine Judge."* Can it be doubted that the language of the sacred writers is so constructed, as that it should, before the event proved the contrary, tend to countenance and cherish the belief here stated? When we hear the apostles saying, “The end of all things is at hand—we which are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air'
* Decl. and Fall, p. 185. Ed, in one vol.
- lo, I come quickly'— the time is at hand'— things which must shortly come to pass'—it is obvious that such expressions, to say nothing of our Lord's prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, which might be thought to include the destruction of the world, are capable of being construed in a sense to warrant the most sanguine expectations that were built upon them. And who shall say that this end might not have been expressly designed under God to be answered by the peculiar phraseology in which the announcements were couched ? For aught we know, in fact, the apostles themselves might have been of the prevailing belief, aš we have met with no reasoning which convinces us that they always understood the full reach and import of their own writings.
Here it may be objected, that it is not altogether consistent to attribute to the primitive Christians the belief in the speedy catastrophe of the world, when at the same time their millennarian notions required them to hold that six thousand years must first elapse before that blissful period would dawn upon the earth. But the truth is, that, owing to a radical error in their chronological calculus, they conceived themselves as actually having arrived at the eve of the world's seventh millennary, or, in other words, as having their lot cast on the Saturday of the great antypical Week of the creation. “ The primitive church of Antioch,” says the historian above cited, “computed almost 6000 years from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ. Africanus, Lactantius, and the Greek church, have reduced that number to 5,500, and Eusebius has con
tented himself with 5,200 years. These calculations were formed on the Septuagint, which was universally received during the first six centuries."*
Before leaving the subject of ancient testimonies, the reader will tolerate another extract from the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, couched in the usual flowing and eloquent vein of the author. “ The ancient and popular doctrine of the millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred, that this long period of labour and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful sabbath of a thousand years ; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection. So pleasing was this hope to the mind of believers, that the New Jerusalem, the seat of this blissful kingdom, was quickly adorned with all the gayest colours of the imagination. A felicity consisting only of pure and spiritual pleasure would have appeared too refined for its inhabitants, who were still supposed to possess their human nature and senses. A garden of Eden, with the amusements of the pastoral life, was no longer suited to the advanced state of society which prevailed
* Decl. and Fall, p. 185.
under the Roman empire. A city was therefore erected of gold and precious stones, and a supernatural plenty of corn and wine was bestowed on the adjacent territory; in the free enjoyment of whose spontaneous productions, the happy and benevolent people was never to be restrained by any jealous laws of exclusive property. The assurance of such a millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenæus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. Though it might not be universally received, it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers; and it seems so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind, that it must have contributed in a very essential degree to the progress of the Christian faith. But when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism."*
* Decl. and Fall, p. 185, 186,
MODERN OPINIONS RESPECTING THE APOCALYPTIC
Historical Sketch of the Decline of tho Millennarian theory,
and of its Revival at the Reformation—The modern Advocates of a future Millennium divided into two Classes—The first hold to the personal Reign of Christ on earth during the thousand years—Mede, Caryll, Gill, Noel, Irving, Anderson, quoted-Claim to found their Expectation upon a passage in the second Epistle of Peter-Remarks upon this Interpretation—The second Class deny the Personal, but maintain
the Spiritual Reign of Christ-Confirmed by Extracts from • Whitby, Bogue, Johnston.
The Millennarian hypothesis, as it respects the patronage which it has at different periods received, has been remarkable for a series of waxings and wanings. During the first ages of the church, when the style of Christianity was to believe, to love, and to suffer,' this sentiment seems to have obtained a prevalence so general as to be properly entitled all but absolutely catholic. After the lapse of the three first centuries, a gradual change was wrought in public opinion in regard to this doctrine; a change effected by the combined influence of secular prosperity in the church, and of the controversial opposition of great names against the tenet itself. Origen, Augustine, and Jerome successively arrayed themselves against a Judaizing dogma discountenanced,