« ForrigeFortsett »
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 as soon as they admitted the idea of a future state, they embraced it with the zeal which has always formed the characteristic of the nation. Their zeal, however, added nothing to its evidence, or even probability: and it was stiil 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.
When the promise of eternal happiness was proposed to mankind on condition of adopting the faith, and of observing the precepts, of the gospel, it is no wonder that so advantageous an offer should have been accepted by great nnmbers of every religion, of every rank, and of every province in the Roman empire. The ancient 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 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 upon earth, 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 thai moment, when the globe itself, and all the various race of
• This was, in fact, an integral part of the Jewish notion of the Messiah, from which the minds of the apostles themselves were hut gradually detached See Bertholdt, Christologia Judseorum, concluding chapters
mankind, should tremble at the appearance of their divine Judge.*0
The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. An the works of the creation had been finished in six days, theii duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years.61 By the same analogy it was inferred, that this long period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed,6*
60 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 Grotius ventures to insinuate, that, foi wise purposes, the pious deception was permitted to take place.*
"See Burnet's Sacred Theory, part iii. c. 5. This tradition may oe traced as high as the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, who wrote in thefirst century, and who seems to have been half a Jew.f
"The primitive church of Antioch 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 5500, and Eusebius has contented himself with 5200 years. These calculations were formed on the Septuagint, which was universally re
* Some modern theologians explain it without discovering either allegory or deception. They say, that Jesus Christ, after having proclaimed the ruin of Jerusalem and of the Temple, speaks of his second coming, and the signs which were to precede it; but those who believed that the moment was near deceived themselves as to the sense of two words, an error which still subsists in our versions of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, xxiv. 29, 34. In verse 29, we read, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened," &e. The Greek word tbQiws signifies all at once, suddenly, not immediately; so that it signifies only the sudden appearance of the signs which Jesus Christ announces, not the shortness of the interval which was to separate them from the "days of tribulation," of which he was speaking. The verse 34 is this: "Verily I say unto you, This generation snail not pass till all these things shall be fulfilled." Jesus, speaking to his disciples, uses these words, >M ymu, which the translators have rendered by this generation, but which means the race, the filiation of ray disciples; that is, he speaks of a class of men, not of a generation. Tne true sense then, according to these learned men, is, In truth I tell you that this race of men, of which you are the commencement, shall not pass away till this shall take place; that is to say, the succession of Christians shall not cease till his coming. See Commentary of M. Paulus on the New Test., edit. 1802, torn. iii. p. 445, 446. — G.
Others, as Rosenmuller and Kuinoel, in loc., confine this passage to a Highly figurative description of the ruins of the Jewish city and polity. — M.
t In fact it is purely Jewish. See Moshcim, De Reb. Christ. ii. 8 uightfoot's Works, Bvo. edit. vol. iii. p. 37. Bertholdt, Christologia Juda e oram, ch 38. — M.
would bo succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand yean; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and tbo 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 colors 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 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.63 The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr,*4 and Irenacus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who. was preceptor to the son of Constuntine.65 Though it might not be universally
ceived during the six first centuries. The authority of the vulgate and of the Hebrew text has determined the moderns, Protestants as well as Catholies, to profer a period of about 4000 years; though, in the study of profane antiquity, they often find themselves straitened by those narrow limits.*
83 Most of these pictures were borrowed from a misrepresentation of Isaiah, Daniel, 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.
*4 Sec the second dialogue of Justin with Triphon, and the seventh book of Lactantius. It is unnecessary to allege all the intermediate fathers, as the fact is not disputed. Yet the curious reader may consult Daillc dc Usu Patrum, 1. ii. c. 4.
** The testimony of Justin of his own faith and that of his orthodox brethren, in the doctrine of a Millennium, is delivered in the
* Most of the more learned modern English Protestants, Dr. Hales, Mr. Faber, Dr. Russel, as well as the Continental writers. adopt the larger chronology. There is little doubt that the narrower system was framed by the Jews of Tiberias; it was clearly neither that of St. Paul, nor of Josephus, nor of the Samaritan Text. It is greatly to be regretted that th« chronology of the earlier Scriptures should ever have been rrade a religious question. — M.
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 considerable 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.66 A mysterious prophecy, which still form? a part of the sacred canon, but which was thought to favor the exploded sentiment, has very narrowly escaped the proscription of the church.67
clearest and most solemn manner, (Dialog. cum Tryphonte Jud. p. 177, 178, edit. Benedictin.) If in the beginning of this important passage there is any thing like an inconsistency, we may impute it, as we think proper, either to tho author or to his transcribers.*
w Dupin, Bibliotheque Ecclesiastiquo, torn. i. p. 223, torn. ii. p. 366 and Mosheim, p. 720; though the latter of these learned divines is not altogether candid on this occasion.
67 In tho council of Laodicea, (about the year 360,) the Apocalypse was tacitly excluded from the sacred canon, by the same churches of Asia to which it is addressed; and we may learn from the complaint of Sulpicius Sevcrus, that their sentence had been ratified by tho greater number of Christians of his time. From what causes then Is the Apocalypse at present so generally received by the Greek, the Rowan, and the Protestant churches f The following ones may bo assigned. 1. The Greeks were subdued by the authority of an impostor, who, in the sixth century, assumed the character of Dionysius the Arcopagite. 2. A just apprehension, that the grammarians might become more important than the theologians, engaged the council of Trent to fix the seal of their infallibility on all the books of Scripture contained in the Latin Vulgate, in the number of which the Apocalypse was fortunately included. (Fr. Paolo, Istoria del Concilio Tridentino, 1. ii.) 3. The advantage of turning those mysterious prophecies against the See of Rome, inspired the Protestants with uncommon veneration for so useful an ally. See the ingenious and elegant discourses of the present bishop of Litchfield on that unpromising subject. t
* The Millennium is described in what once stood as the XLIst Article of the English Church (see Collier, Eccles. Hist., for Articles of Edw. VI.) as " a fable of Jewish dotage." The whole of these gross and earthly images may be traced in the works which treat on the Jewish traditions, in •jghtfoot, Schoetgen, and Eisenmenger; "Das entdeckte Judenthum," t ii. 809; and briefly in Bertholdt, i. c. 38, 39. — M.
t The exclusion of the Apocalypse is not improbably assigned to its obvious unfitness to be read in churches. It is to be feared that a histor)
Whilst the happiness and glory of a temporal reign were promised to the disciples of Christ, the most dreadful calamines were denounced against an unbelieving world. The edification of the new Jerusalem was to advance by equal steps with the destruction of the mystic Babylon; and as long as the emperors who reigned before Constantine persisted in the profession of idolatry, the epithet of Babylon was applied to the city and to the empire of Rome. A regular series was prepared of all the fniral and physical evils which can afflict a flourishing nation; intestine discord, and the invasion of the fiercest barbarians from the unknown regions of the North; pestilence and famine, comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inundations.68 All these were only so many preparatory and alarming signs of the great catastrophe of Rome, when the country of the Scipios and Cuesars should be consumed by <t flame from Heaven, and the city of the seven hills, with hei palaces, her temples, and her triumphal arches, should be buried in a vast lake of fire and brimstone. It might, however, afford some consolation to Roman vanity, that the period of their empire would be that of the world itself; which, as it had once perished by the clement of water, was destined to experience a second and a speedy destruction from the element of fire. In the opinion of a general conflagration, the faith of the Christian very happily coincided, with the tradition of the East, the philosophy of the Stoics, and the analogy of Nature; and even the country, which, from religious motives, had been chosen for the origin and principal scene of the conflagration, was the best adapted for that purpose by natural and physical causes; bv its deep caverns, beds of sulphur, and numerous volcanoes, of which those of jEtna, of Vesuvius, and of Lipari, exhibit a very imperfect representation. The calmest and most intrepid sceptic could not refuse to acknowledge that the destruction of the present system of the world by fire,
"Lactantius (Institut. Divin. vii. 15, &o.) relates the dismal tale ot futurity with great spirit and eloquence.*
of the interpretation of the Apocalypse would not give a very favornbli view either of the wisdom or the charity of the successive ages of Christianity. Wetstein's interpretation. differently modified, is adopted by most Continental scholars. — M.
* Lactantius had a notion of a great Asiatic empire, which was previously to rise on the ruins of the Roman: quod Romanum nomen (horret animus dicere, sed dicam, quia f iturum est) tolletur de terra, et unperium bi Asiam revertetur. — M.