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After Cyrus had permitted the exiled nation to return into the promised land, and after Ezra had restored the ancient records of their religion, two celebrated sects, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, insenfibly arose at Jerusalem 59. The former selected fromsi the more opulent and distinguished ranks os society, were strictly attached to the literal sense of the Mosaic law, and they pioufiy rejected the immortality of the soul, as an opinion that received no countenance from the divine book, which they revered as the only rule of their faith. To the authority of scripture the Pharisees added that of tradition, and' they accepted, under the name of traditions, several speculative tenets from the philosophy or religion of the eastern nations. The doctrines of fate or predestination, of angels and spirits, and of a future state of rewards and punishments, were in the number of these new articles of belief; and as the Pharisees, by the austerity of their manners, had drawn into their party the body of the Jewish people, the immortality of the soul became the prevailing sentiment of the syna
C 12? P- gogue, under the reign of the Asmonaean prince' Lwsiz and pontiffs. The temper of the Jews was incapable of contenting itself with such a cold and languid assent as might satisfy the mind of a Polytheist; and, assoon as they admitted the idea of a future state, they embraced it with the zea'l'which has always formed thercharacteristic of the nation. Their zeal, however, added nothing to its evidence, or even probability: and it was still necessary, that the doctrine of life and immortality, which had been dictated by nature, approved by reason, and received by superstition, should obtain the sanction of divine
truth from the authority and example of Christ. imongthe When the promise of eternal happiness was Gumms' proposed to mankind, on condition of adopting the saith, and of observing the precepts of the gospel, it is no wonder that so advantageous an offer should have been accepted by great numbers of every religion, of every rank, and of every Province in the Roman empire. The aneient Christians were animated by a contempt for their present existence, and by a just confidence of immortality, of which the doubtful and imperfect faith of modern ages cannot give us any adequate notion. In the primitive church, the. thcworld. 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 os Heaven, Were at hand. The near approach of this wonderful event had been predicted by the apostles; the tradition of IO it
5= This expectation was countenanced by the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew, and by the first epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. ' Erasmus removes the difficulty by the help of allegory and metaphor; and the learned Crotius ventures to in
siuuate, that, for wise purposes, the pious deception was permitted.
to take place.
61 See Burnefs Sacred Theory, part iii. c. 5. This tradition may be traced as high as the author of the Epistle ofBarnabas, who wrote in the first century, and who seems to have been half a Jew.
C gins,- P- same analogy it was inferred, that this long peW riod of labour and contention, which was now
Was no longer suited to the advanced state of society which prevailed 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 spoutaneous productions, the happy and benevolent
51 The primitive church ofAntioch computed almost 6000 ch from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ. Africanus
lactantius, and the Greek church, have reduced that number to
5500, and Eusebius has contented himself with 5200 years. These calculations were formed on the Septuagint,which was universally received during the fix first centuries. The authority of the Vulgate and of the Hebrew text has determined the moderns, Protesiants as well as Catholics, to prefer a period of about 4ooo years; though, in the study of profane antiquity, they often find them' [elves streightened by those narrow limits.
People 6! Most of these pictures were borrowed from a misinterpretation of Isaiah,Dzmiel, and the Apocalypse. One of the grossest images may be found in Irenaeus (1. v. p. 455.), the disciple of Papias, who had seen the apostle St. John.
64- See the second dialogue of Justin with Tryphon, and the sc-l
venth book of Lactantius. It is unnecessary to allege all the intermediate sathers,as the fact is not disputed. Yet the curious reader may consult DaillF: de Usu Patrum, l. ii. e. 4.
55 The testimony of Justin, of his own faith and that of his orthodox brethren, in the doctrine of a Millennium, is delivered in the clearest and most solemn manner (Dialog. cum Tryphonte Jud. p. 177, r78.siEdit. Benedictin.). If in the beginning of this important passage there is any thing like an inconfisteney, we may impute it, as we think proper, either to the author or to his transcribers.v '