The sence and testimony of the Primitive Church concerning the Millennium, or future kingdom of Christ: from the times of the Apostles to the Nicene Council. The second Proposition laid down. When, by what means, and for what reasons, that doctrine was afterwards neglected or discountenanc’d.
YOU have heard the voice of the Prophets and Apostles, declaring the future kingdom of Christ. Next to these, the Primitive Fathers are accounted of good authority; Let us therefore now enquire into their Sence concerning this Doctrine, that we may give satisfaction to all parties; And both those that are guided by Scripture alone, and those that have a Veneration for Antiquity, may find proofs suitable to their inclinations and judgment.
And to make few words of it, we will lay down this Conclusion, That the Millennial kingdom of Christ was the general doctrine of the Primitive Church, from the times of the Apostles to the Nicene Council; inclusively. St. John out-liv’d all the rest of the Apostles,Iren. and towards the latter end of his life, being banish’d into the Isle of Pathmos, he writ his Apocalypse; wherein he hath given us a more full and distinct account of the Millennial kingdom of Christ, than any of the Prophets or Apostles before him. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, and Martyr; one of
[paragraph continues] St. John's Auditors, as Irenæus testifies; taught the same doctrine after St. John.lib. 5, c. 33. He was the familiar friend of Polycarp, another of St. John's Disciples; and either from him, or immediately from St. John's mouth, he might receive this doctrine. That he taught it in the Church, is agreed on by all hands; both by those that are his followers, as Irenæus; and those that are not well-wishers to this doctrine, as Eusebius and Jerome.
There is also another chanel wherein this doctrine is traditionally deriv’d from St. John, namely by the Clergy of Asia; as Irenæus tells us in the same Chapter. For, arguing the point, he shows that the Blessing promis’d to Jacob from his Father Isaac, was not made good to him in this life, and therefore he says, without doubt those words had a further aim and prospect upon the times of the kingdom: (so they us’d to call the Millennial state) when the Just rising from the dead, shall reign: and when Nature renew’d and set at liberty, shall yield plenty and abundance of all things; being blest with the dew of Heaven, and a great fertility of the Earth. According as has been related by those Ecclesiasticks or Clergy, who see St. John, the Disciple of Christ: and heard of him WHAT OUR LORD HAD TAUGHT CONCERNING THOSE TIMES. This, you see, goes to the Fountain-head. The Christian Clergy receive it from St. John, and St. John relates it from the mouth of our Saviour.
So much for the Original authority of this doctrine, as a Tradition: that it was from St. John, and by him from Christ. And as to the propagation and prevailing of it in the primitive Church, we can bring a witness beyond all exception, Justin Martyr, contemporary with Irenæus, and his Senior. He says,Dial. with Tryphon the Jew. that himself, and all the Orthodox Christians of his time, did acknowledge the Resurrection of the flesh (suppose the first resurrection) and a thousand years reign in Jerusalem restor’d, or in the new Jerusalem. According as the Prophets, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, and Others, attest with common consent. As St. Peter had said before, Act. 3. 21. That all the Prophets had spoken of it. Then he quotes the 65th. Chapter of Isaiah, which is a bulwork for this doctrine, that never can be broken. And to shew the Jew, with whom he had this discourse, that it was the sence of our Prophets, as well as of theirs, He tells him, that a certain Man amongst us Christians, by name John, one of the Apostles of Christ, in a Revelation made to him did prophesie, that the faithful believers in Christ should live a thousand years in the new Jerusalem; and after that should be the general Resurrection and day of Judgment. Thus you have the thoughts and sentiment of Justin Martyr, as to himself: as to all the reputed Orthodox of his time; As to the sence of the Prophets in the old Testament, and as to the sence of St. John in the Apocalypse. All conspiring in confirmation of the Millenary doctrine.
To these three witnesses, Papias, Irenæus, and Justin Martyr, we may add two more within the second age of the Church: Melito, Bishop of Sardis, and St. Barnabas, or whosoever was the Author of the Epistle under his name. This Melito, by some is thought to be the Angel of the Church of Sardis, to whom St. John directs the Epistle to that Church: Apoc. 3. 1. But I do not take him to be so ancient; However he was Bishop of that place, at least in the second Century, and a Person of great Sanctity and Learning. He writ many Books, as you may
see in St. Jerome:de Script. Eccles. and, as He notes out of Tertullian, was by most Christians reputed a Prophet. He was also a declar’d Millenary, and is recorded as such, both by Jerome and Gennadius. As to the Epistle of Barnabas,Dogm. Eccl. c. 55. which we mention’d, it must be very ancient, whosoever is the Author of it, and before the third Century; seeing it is often cited by Clemens Alexandrinus, who was himself within the second Century. The genius of it is very much Millenarian, in the interpretation of the Sabbath, the promis’d Land, a Day for a thousand years, and concerning the Renovation of the World. In all which, He follows the foot-steps of the Orthodox of those times: that is, of the Millenarians.
So much for the first and second Centuries of the Church. By which short account it appears, that the Millenary doctrine was Orthodox and Catholick in those early days. For these Authors do not set it down as a private opinion of their own, but as a Christian doctrine, or an Apostolical Tradition. ’Tis remarkable what Papias says of himself, and his way of learning, In his Book call’d, The Explanation of the Words of the Lord, as St. Jerome gives us an account of it:De Scrip. Eccles. He says in his Preface, He did not follow various opinions, but had the Apostles for his Authors. And that he consider’d what Andrew, what Peter said; what Philip, what Thomas, and other Disciples of the Lord. As also what Aristion, and John the Senior, Disciples of the Lord, what they spoke. And that he did not profit so much by reading Books, as by the living voice of these persons which resounded from them to that day. This hath very much the air of truth and sincerity, and of a Man that, in good earnest, sought after the Christian doctrine, from those that were the most authentick Teachers of it. I know Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History,Vide Hieron.
Epist. 28. ad Lucinium. gives a double Character of this Papias; In one place, he calls him, A very eloquent Man in all things, and skilful in Scripture; and in another, he makes him a man of a small understanding. But what reason there is to suspect Eusebius of partiality in this point of the Millennium; we shall make appear hereafter. However, we do not depend upon the learning of Papias, or the depth of his understanding: allow him but to be an honest man, and a fair witness, and ’tis all we desire. And we have little reason to question his testimony in this point, seeing it is backt by others of good credit; and also because there is no counter-evidence, nor any witness that appears against him. For there is not extant, either the Writing, Name, or Memory, of any Person, that contested this doctrine in the first or second Century. I say, that call’d in question this Millenary doctrine, propos’d after a Christian manner; unless such Hereticks as deny’d the Resurrection wholly: or such Christians as deny’d the divine authority of the Apocalypse.
We proceed now to the third Century. Where you find Tertullian, Origen, Victorinus, Bishop and Martyr: Nepos, Ægyptius, Cyprian, and, at the end of it, Lactantius: All openly professing, or implicitly favouring the Millenary doctrine. We do not mention Clemens Alexandrinus, contemporary with Tertullian, because he hath not any thing, that I know of, expresly either for, or against the Millennium. But he takes notice that the Seventh Day hath been accounted Sacred, both by the Hebrews and Greeks, because of the Revolution of the World, and the Renovation of all things. And giving this as a reason why they kept that day
[paragraph continues] Holy, seeing there is not a Revolution of the World every seven days, it can be in no other sence than as the Seventh Day represents the seventh Millenary, in which the Renovation of the World and the kingdom of Christ, is to be. As to Tertullian, St. Jerome reckons him, in the first place, amongst the Latin Millenaries. And tho’ his Book, about the Hope of the Faithful, as also that about Paradise, which should have given us the greatest light in this affair, be both lost or suppress’d; yet there are sufficient indications of his Millenary opinion in his Tracts against Marcion, and against Hermogenes. St. Cyprian was Tertullian's admirer, and inclines to the same opinion, so far as one can judge, in this particular; for his period of Six thousand years, and making the Seventh Millenary the Consummation of all, is wholly according to the Analogy of the Millenary doctrine. As to the two Bishops, Victorinus and Nepos, St. Jerome vouches for them. The writings of the one are lost, and of the other so chang’d, that the sence of the Author does not appear there now. But Lactantius, whom we nam’d in the last place, does openly and profusely teach this doctrine, in his Divine Institutions:Book 7. and with the same assurance that he does other parts of the Christian Doctrine. For he concludes thus, speaking of the Millennium, This is the Doctrine of the Holy Prophets, which we Christians follow. This is our wisdom, &c. Yet he acknowledges there that it was kept as a mystery or secret amongst the Christians, lest the Heathens should make any perverse or odious interpretation of it. And for the same or like reason, I believe, The Book of the Apocalypse was kept out of the hands of the Vulgar for some time, and not read publickly, lest it should be found to have spoken too openly of the fate of the Roman Empire, or of this Millennial State.
So much for the first, second, and third Century of the Church. But, by our conclusion, we engag’d to make out this proof as far as the Nicene Council, Inclusively. The Nicene Council was about the year of Christ 325. and we may reasonably suppose Lactantius was then living; at least he came within the time of Constantine's Empire. But however the Fathers of that Council are themselves our witnesses in this point. For, in their Ecclesiastical Forms or Constitutions, in the chapter about the Providence of God, and about the World, they speak thus; The World was made meaner or less perfect, providentially; for God foresee that man would sin. Wherefore we expect New Heavens and a New Earth, according to the holy Scriptures: at the appearance and kingdom of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ. And then, as Daniel says (ch. 7. 18.) The Saints of the most High shall take the kingdom. And the Earth shall be pure, holy, the land of the living, not of the dead. Which David foreseeing by the eye of Faith, cryes out (Ps. 27. 13.) I believe to see the good things of the Lord, in the land of the living. Our Saviour says, Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth, Matt. 5. 5. and the Prophet Isaiah says, (chap. 26. 6.) the feet of the meek and lowly shall tread upon it. So you see, according to the judgment of these Fathers, there will be a kingdom of Christ upon Earth; and moreover, that it will be in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And, in both these points, they cite the Prophets and our Saviour in confirmation of them.
Thus we have discharg’d our promise and given you an account of the doctrine of the Millennium, or future kingdom of Christ, throughout the three first Ages
of the Church: before any considerable corruptions were crept into the Christian Religion. And those Authorities of single and successive Fathers, we have seal’d up all together, with the declaration of the Nicene Fathers, in a Body. Those that think Tradition a rule of Faith, or a considerable motive to it, will find it hard to turn off the force of these Testimonies. And those that do not go so far, but yet have a reverence for Antiquity and the Primitive Church, will not easily produce better authorities, more early, more numerous, or more uncontradicted, for any article that is not fundamental. Yet these are but Seconds to the Prophets and Apostles, who are truly the Principals in this cause. I will leave them altogether, to be examin’d and weigh’d by the impartial Reader. And because they seem to me to make a full and undeniable proof, I will now at the foot of the account set down our second Proposition, Propos. 2. which is this, That there is a Millennial State, or a Future Kingdom of Christ and his Saints, Prophesied of and Promised, in the Old and New Testament; and receiv’d by the Primitive Church as a Christian and Catholick Doctrine.
HAVING dispatch’d this main point, To conclude the Chapter and this head of our discourse, It will be some satisfaction possibly to see, How a Doctrine so generally receiv’d and approv’d, came to decay and almost wear out of the Church, in following Ages. The Christian Millenary doctrine was not call’d into question, so far as appears from History, before the middle of the third Century; when Dionysius Alexandrinus writ against Nepos, an Ægyptian Bishop, who had declar’d himself upon that subject. But we do not find that this Book had any great effect; for the declaration or constitution of the Nicene Fathers was after: and in St. Jerome's time, who writ towards the end of the fourth Century, this doctrine had so much Credit, that, He, who was its greatest adversary, yet durst not condemn it, as he says himself. Quæ licet non sequamur, tamen damnare non possumus; quià multi Ecclesiasticorum virorum & Martyres ista dixerunt. Which things, or doctrines, speaking of the Millennium, tho’ we do not follow, yet we cannot condemn. Because many of our Church-men, and Martyrs, have affirmed these things. And when Apollinarius replyed to that Book of Dionysius, St. Jerome says, that, not only those of his own Sect, but a great multitude of other Christians did agree with Apollinarius in that particular. Ut præsagâ mente jam cernam, quantorum in me rabies concitanda sit. That I now foresee, how many will be enrag’d against me, for what I have spoken against the Millenary doctrine.
We may therefore conclude that in St. Jerome's time the Millenaries made the greater party in the Church; for a little matter would not have frighted him from censuring their opinion. St. Jerome was a rough and rugged Saint, and an unfair adversary, that usually run down, with heat and violence, what stood in his way. As to his unfairness, he shews it sufficiently in this very cause, for he generally represents the Millenary doctrine after a Judaical rather than a Christian manner.
[paragraph continues] And in reckoning up the chief Patrons of it, he always skips Justin Martyr. Who was not a man so obscure as to be overlook’d: and he was a man that had declar’d himself sufficiently upon this point, for he says, both himself and all the Orthodox of his time, were of that judgment, and applyes both the Apocalypse of St. John, and the 65th chap. of Isaiah, for the proof of it. As we noted before.
As St. Jerome was an open enemy to this doctrine, so Eusebius was a back friend to it; and represented every thing to its disadvantage, so far as was tolerably consistent with the fairness of an Historian. He gives a slight character of Papias, without any authority for it;Eccles. Hist. 3. 22. 1 and brings in one Gaius that makes Cerinthus to be the author of the Apocalypse and of the Millennium: and calls the Visions there monstrous stories. He himself is willing to shuffle off that Book from John the Evangelist to another John a Presbyter: and to shew his skill in the interpretation of it, he makes the New Jerusalem in the 21st chap. to be Constantine's Jerusalem,l. 3. 32. de vit. Constan. when he turn’d the Heathen Temples there into Christian. A wonderful invention. As St. Jerome by his flouts, so Eusebius by sinister insinuations, endeavour’d to lessen the reputation of this doctrine; and the art they both us’d, was, to misrepresent it as Judaical. But we must not cast off every doctrine which the Jews believ’d, only for that reason; for we have the same Oracles which they had, and the same Prophets: and they have collected from them the same general doctrine that we have, namely, that there will be an happy and pacifick state of the Church, in future times. But as to the circumstances of this state we differ very much; They suppose the Mosaical Law will be restor’d, with all its pomp, rites, and ceremonies; whereas we suppose the Christian Worship, or something more perfect, will then take place. Yet St. Jerome has the confidence, even there where he speaks of the many Christian Clergy and Martyrs that held this doctrine: has the confidence, I say, to represent it, as if they held that Circumcision, Sacrifices, and all the Judaical rites, should then be restor’d. Which seems to me to be a great slander, and a great instance how far mens passions will carry them, in misrepresenting an opinion which they have a mind to disgrace.
But as we have reason to blame the partiality of those that opposed this doctrine, so, on the other hand, we cannot excuse the Patrons of it from all indiscretions. I believe they might partly themselves make it obnoxious; by mixing some things with it, from pretended traditions, or the Books of the Sibylls, or other private authorities, that had so sufficient warrant from Scripture; and things, sometimes, that Nature would not easily bear. Besides, in later ages, they seem to have dropt one half of the doctrine, namely, the Renovation of Nature, which Irenæus, Justin Martyr, and the Ancients, joyn inseparably with the Millennium. And by this omission, the doctrine hath been made less intelligible, and one part of it inconsistent with another. And when their pretensions were to reign upon this present Earth, and in this present state of Nature, it gave a jealousie to Temporal Princes, and gave occasion likewise to many of fanatical Spirits, under the notion of Saints, to aspire to dominion, after a violent and tumultuary manner. This I reckon as one great cause that brought the doctrine into discredit. But I hope by reducing of it to the true state, we shall cure this and other abuses, for the future.
Lastly, It never pleas’d the Church of Rome; and so far as the influence and authority of that would go, you may be sure it would be deprest and discountenanc’d. I never yet met with a Popish Doctor that held the Millennium; and Baronius would have it pass for an Heresie, and Papias for the Inventor of it; whereas, if Irenæus may be credited, it was receiv’d from St. John, and by him from the mouth of our Saviour. And neither St. Jerome, nor his friend Pope Damasus, durst ever condemn it for an heresie. It was always indeed uneasie, and gave offence, to the Church of Rome, because it does not suite to that Scheme of Christianity, which they have drawn. They suppose Christ reigns already, by his Vicar, the Pope: and treads upon the Necks of Emperours and Kings. And if they could but suppress the Northern Heresie, as they call it, they do not know what a Millennium would signifie, or how the Church could be in an happier condition than she is. The Apocalypse of St. John does suppose the true Church under hardship and persecution, more or less, for the greatest part of the Christian Ages: namely for 1260 years, while the witnesses are in Sack-cloth. But the Church of Rome hath been in prosperity and greatness, and the commanding Church in Christendom, for so long or longer, and hath rul’d the Nations with a Rod of Iron; so as that mark of the true Church, does not favour her at all. And the Millennium being properly a reward and triumph for those that come out of Persecution, such as have liv’d always in pomp and prosperity can pretend to no share in it, or benefit by it. This has made the Church of Rome have always an ill eye upon this doctrine, because it seem’d to have an ill eye upon her. And as she grew in splendor and greatness, she eclips’d and obscur’d it more and more: so that it would have been lost out of the World as an obsolete errour, if it had not been reviv’d by some of the Reformation.