The doctrine of the Kingdom was changed under the Gnostic and Alexandrian influence.
PROPOSITION 76. The doctrine of the Kingdom was changed under the Gnostic and Alexandrian influence.
What the doctrine was in the first churches, viz.: a belief that in the millennial age, still future, Christ would personally come and reign, restoring the Davidic throne and Kingdom and fulfilling the covenant promises, has been shown; now to prove the defection indicated in our Proposition, in order to strengthen our argument, we shall rely upon the testimony of writers who are not in doctrinal sympathy with us. It would be an easy matter to bring a large number of witnesses to testify, but a few, prominent for learning and ability, will suffice to show the truthfulness and force of the same.
Obs. 1. The student will carefully notice that with the view the early church had of “the Christship,” of the Kingdom as expressly covenanted and predicted, of the postponement of the Kingdom to the Sec. Advent, of the speedy Coming of the Messiah to inaugurate the Kingdom, of the period of trial intervening, etc., it was simply impossible for the early believers to identify the church as, in any sense, the Kingdom of God as covenanted and prophesied. It was only when the Scriptures and the promises were spiritualized, when, under the influence of release from persecution and incoming churchly prosperity, the church itself was exalted through civil patronage, that the Primitive doctrine was gradually but surely set aside, and the church itself was made (as by Origen) “the mystic Kingdom of heaven,” or (as by Eusebius) “the very image of the Kingdom of Christ,” or (as by Augustine) “the City of God.”[*]
Note. Brookes (Maranatha, p. 536) quotes Bengel as saying: “When Christianity became a worldly power by Constantine, the hope of the future was weakened by the joy over the present success.” Auberlen (Daniel, p. 375) remarks: “Chiliasm disappeared in proportion as Roman Papal Catholicism advanced. The Papacy took to itself, as a robbery, that glory which is an object of hope, and can only be reached by obedience and humility of the cross. When the Church became a harlot, she ceased to be a bride who goes out to meet her bridegroom; and thus Chiliasm disappeared. This is the deep truth that lies at the bottom of the Protestant, anti-papistic interpretation of the Apocalypse” (see next Prop.—this allusion is made here, because the principles of interpretation flowing from Gnosticism and Alexandrianism led to such a development and application). Andreas (Lardner’s Credibility, vol. 5, p. 79) fully admits (A.D. 550–600) the primitive view as still entertained by some, as follows (On Rev.): “Others think that after the completion of 6000 years shall be the first resurrection from the dead, which is to be peculiar to the saints alone; who are to be raised up that they may dwell again on this earth, where they had given proofs of patience and fortitude; and that they may live here a thousand years in honor and plenty, after which will be the general resurrection of good and bad.” He says that the Church (his portion of it) does not receive it, holding to a reign in the third heaven, etc., and advocating this interpretation: “By the thousand years we understand the preaching of the Gospel, or the time of the Gospel dispensation.”
Obs. 2. The Ency. Amer., Art. “Mill.,” briefly states the case: “The Gnostics, despising matter, were adversaries to the dogma of the Millennium.… And ultimately the philosophical school of Alexandria.” Mosheim (Eccles. His., Cent. 3d, sec. 12), after declaring: “that the Saviour is to reign a thousand years among men, before the end of the world, had been believed by many in the preceding century, without offence to any,” adds, “in this century the Millenarian doctrine fell into disrepute, through the influence especially of Origen, who strenuously opposed it, because it contravened some of his opinions.” In his Com. of the First Three Cen. (vol. 2, sec. 38), he observes: “Among the Jewish opinions to which in this age philosophy proved detrimental, the most distinguished was that of the reign of Christ a thousand years, with the saints restored to their bodies. This opinion, I believe, was introduced into the church near the commencement of the Christian commonwealth. And down to the times of Origen, all the teachers who were so disposed openly professed and taught it, although there were some who either denied it, or at least called it into question. But Origen assailed it fiercely; for it was repugnant to his philosophy; and by the system of biblical interpretation which he discovered, he gave a different turn to those texts of Scripture on which the patrons of this doctrine most relied.” “It is certain that in the second century, the opinion that Christ would reign a thousand years on the earth, was diffused over a great part of Christendom, and that the most eminent doctors favored it; and no controversy with them was moved by those who thought otherwise. Tertullian speaks of it as the common doctrine of the whole church.” “It is certain, from Justin Martyr and others, that very many, and they men of great influence, thought as he did (i.e. were Millenarians), nor were they on that account taxed with corrupt doctrine.” “But in the third century the reputation of this doctrine declined; and first in Egypt, through the influence especially of Origen.… And yet it could not be exterminated in a moment; it still had respectable advocates.” Mosheim proceeds in various places to show how, by a philosophizing, most violent, system of interpretation, which began “most wretchedly to pervert and twist every part of those Divine oracles which opposed itself to their philosophical tenets or notions,” the literal interpretation was finally crushed. He thus contrasts the interpretation adopted by the two systems: “He (Origen) wished to have the literal and obvious sense of the words disregarded, and an arcane sense, lying concealed in the envelope of the words, to be sought for. But the advocates of an earthly Kingdom of Christ rested their cause solely on the natural and proper sense of certain expressions in the Bible.”
Note 1. The student will notice the evident reluctance manifested by the qualifying word “near,” and that while some (Gnostics, etc.) may have denied it, it is utterly impossible for Mosheim to produce, or quote, a single orthodox writer who did this at that period. Such softening expressions are to be found in respectable works, of various writers, but not one has yet produced his authority for such assertions; and, therefore, we are forced to conclude that the wish is father to the statements. The concessions, partially given in frankness, are all that our position requires, and we feel under obligations to Mosheim, and others, for presenting them, although in direct opposition to their own doctrinal tenets.
Note 2. Neander follows in the main Mosheim enlarging on many points, and is equally decisive in tracing the gradual overthrow of the once prevailing doctrine to Gnostic and Alexandrian influence. Quotations from him will follow. Kurtz (Ch. His., p. 146) remarks: “Since the time of Papias the expectation of a Millennial reign of glory at the close of the present dispensation had been fondly cherished by the Christians, who, under their continued persecutions, looked for the speedy return of the Lord. Only the spiritualists of Alexandria (Clement, Origen, etc.) opposed these views, and, by allegorical interpretations, explained away the Biblical arguments in favor of them.” Gibbon (Decl. and Fall, vol. 1, p. 535), with his usual sarcasm, after alluding to the doctrine that “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,” remarks: “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.” Beaven (Account of Irenĉus, p. 255), after reviewing the ground, says: “There is no writer of any importance down to the time of Origen, who impugned the doctrine of the personal reign of Christ on earth.” Olshausen (favorable to Millenarianism, but somewhat disposed to spiritualize the Kingdom in its application to the church) remarks (Com. on Matt. 3:2): “Even in the apostolic times sprung up the germs of the Gnostic idealism, which, in its doctrine of the Kingdom, denied any future real and outward manifestation of the divine dominion.” He also shows how the Alexandrian school developed this ideal feature.
Obs. 3. Gnosticism, with its varied forms and subtle modifications, was early prevailing, and whilst nearly all the doctrines of Christianity suffered, more or less, under its moulding influence, that of the Kingdom especially became, under its plastic manipulations, one widely different from the Scriptural and early church doctrine. In its dualistic theories, its intermediary existences, its evolutions of the Divine, etc., it struck a heavy blow at the promised kingship of the Son of Man as David’s Son; it changed the royal title of “the Messiah,” “the Christ” into a mere name equivalent to that of Jesus; it discarded as foolish, or received as containing a hidden meaning, the prophecies relating to this future Kingdom; and with its peculiar tenets of making man rise to God Himself—a becoming identified with Deity—it rejected altogether the notion of such a Kingdom contained in the letter of Holy Writ, and believed in by contemporary Christians. Emanation then, as now in its Pantheistic form, has no sympathy for the early Patristic Kingdom. Asceticism, the belief in the inherent corruption of matter, and its kindred brood, then, just as now, was antagonistic to it. While Docetism, the outgrowth (so some writers) of one form of Gnosticism, denying as it did the reality of the human body of Jesus, the Christ, effectually closed all access to an understanding of the Kingdom, spiritualizing not only the body, but everything else relating to Him as Messiah. One party, impelled by their principles, not only ignored Judaism as antagonistic to Christianity, but insisted that the Old Test. contained error and should be rejected as a true exponent of the will of the Supreme God. (The Old Test., while true in itself, was only a history drawn up under the guidance of the Demiurge—hence inferior and liable to deceive;—comp. Neander Ch. His., vol. 1, p. 383). The Chiliasts maintained the contrary, largely quoting from the Jewish Scriptures. To reconcile these opposite tendencies, another and succeeding party arose, who assumed that reason occupied the position of umpire, and from the deductions of reason instituted a medium between the two, retaining something from both Gnosticism and Chiliasm, so far as interpretation was concerned, but also spiritualizing the Kingdom, applying it to the church, etc. From this arose the rejection of the peculiar and distinguishing characteristics belonging to both Chiliasm and Gnosticism. Hence, it was the relationship that error sustained to Christianity—adopting the phraseology of the latter but with other meanings attached, wearing the garb of friendship and even of piety—that gradually undermined the formerly received doctrine of the covenanted Kingdom.[*]
Note. Precisely the same tactics were exhibited in that period, that we find to-day in the writings of Free-Religionists, etc. Gnosticism, in some of its phases and workings, is far from being extinct, as evidenced in a refined Pantheism that finds its advocates even among the professed orthodox.
Obs. 4. It is well to keep in view the direct means employed to get rid of the Chiliastic idea of the Kingdom. (1) Caius (or Gaius) and Dionysius first cast doubt upon the genuineness and inspiration of the Apocalypse, it evidently being supposed that the appeals made to it—in view of its correspondence with preceding Jewish ideas—could not otherwise be set aside. (2) By rejecting the literal sense, and substituting a figurative or allegorical; this effectually modified covenant and prophecy. (3) Such portions of the Old Test. as literally taught the doctrine, had their prophetic inspiration discredited, as in the Clementines (comp. Neander on them). (4) Accepting all the prophetical portions, and what could not be conveniently allegorized and applied to the church, was attributed to heaven for fulfilment (as seen in Origen and his followers). (5) Making promises directly given to the Jewish nation as such, either conditional in their nature or else merely typical of the blessings accruing to Gentiles. These, after what has been written, need no comment.[*]
Note. The student will also observe another cause mentioned by Gibbon, Mosheim, Neander, etc. It appears from the testimony of history that Chiliasts—under the pressure of persecution from which they earnestly sought deliverance, and under the misapprehension that Antichrist was already exhibited in the Roman power, hoped for the speedy Advent of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom. Now, this view of the Roman Empire, and this hope of a speedy anticipated deliverance caused them to feel unwilling to engage in wars of conquest, or even to enter into the civil service of the Empire. This feeling and resultant conduct, based, rightly or wrongly, upon their view of the Empire and its expected destruction under the coming Messiah and Kingdom, was naturally most offensive to the Roman Emperors and their adherents, and also to that portion of the clergy who were for conciliating the existing temporal power. This became the more so, when the church began to realize the protection of the State preparatory to a union of the two, and the reaction without due discrimination, made Chiliasm itself offensive.
Obs. 5. Another deadly, most effective weapon was the philosophy of that period. At first it was only represented as “the wall and the hedge of the vineyard,” but it was—notwithstanding apostolic warnings—very soon assiduously cultivated as part of the vineyard itself. The first insidious approach was, that this “wall and hedge” was so run as to exclude from the vineyard of truth whatever human reason regarded as objectionable; the second followed as a necessary (through human infirmity and shortsightedness) result, error itself was graciously accepted, diligently planted, cultivated, and grown. The crop was abundant.[*]
Note. It is only necessary, in confirmation, to direct the student to the able histories of Neander, Mosheim, Kurtz, Geissler, etc., for abundant proof in reference to the fatai influence of philosophy as then taught, “which” (as Mosheim) “struck at the very vitals of religion, and tended, in no small degree, to affect the credit of those sacred writings on which the entire system of Christian discipline relies for support.” It is a sad commentary on human frailty that no important doctrine existed which did not suffer, more or less, from this spirit of Rationalism and Apostatizing. It is only fair to say that the tendencies and teaching of some are far more destructive than that of others; but viewed as a whole, injury to the truth resulted both from the extremists and from those who sought to diminish the extravagances of the former. The same still holds true to-day, for the most determined opponents that we have are those who endeavor to bend religious doctrine to some favorite system of philosophy.
Obs. 6. Eccl. History informs us that Philosophy obtained the victory in this struggle between the ancient and later system of interpretation and resultant doctrine of the Kingdom. This mainly arose from two causes: 1. It has been truly observed, in tracing the rise and progress of ideas, that “ideas obtain authority and dominion, not altogether from their intrinsic truth, but rather from their constant asseveration, especially when they fall in with the common hopes and fears, the wants and necessities of human nature. The mass of mankind have neither leisure nor ability to examine them; they fatigue and so compel the world to acceptance” (Milman’s Latin Chris., vol. 3, p. 437). Thus repetition alone is often the parent of faith, and then of authority, especially if the continued rehearsal is done (a) by the learned, whom the vulgar regard with great respect; (b) by those in civil or ecclesiastical authority, whom the common people reverence; (c) by persons who are in a condition to enforce the same by the extension or withdrawal of patronage and emoluments; (d) by individuals and communities in order to accord with popular views and prejudices (which may be seen by contrasting the Alexandrian notion of the Kingdom, heaven, etc., with the heathen ideas of the same) in Eschatology—being thus more in sympathy with preconceived notions, popularly entertained, than with that of the doctrine of the covenanted Kingdom. 2. The Origenistic system of interpretation, being, more or less, under the patronage of the learned and great, the ambitious for civil and ecclesiastical preferments, the flatterers of the Emperors and of the Empire, became intrenched in the church, because of its adulation of the church, turning it into the covenanted Kingdom, it paved the way for increased power and riches. With its pliant aid, it was easy to get rid of the prophetical denunciations which seemed derogatory to the Emperors and Empire—to remove the belief of a Kingdom to come which involved the supposed dignity and perpetuation of the Roman power, to emasculate the prophecies pertaining to the future, which now could be applied—even the New Jerusalem state (as by Eusebius)—to the then present period. The Alexandrian substitution of the Kingdom, surrounded by talent, wealth, power, influence, and catering to the wishes, hopes, and ambition of humanity, prospered and extended itself. As time progressed, it was fostered and cherished by mystical and scholastic tendencies, and finally strengthened and confirmed by various philosophical systems.[*]
Note. Admitting the valuable results that may have flowed from some of these systems thus connected, in resisting Rationalistic influences running to an extreme and in counteracting the subtle arguments of infidelity, yet so far as the doctrine of the Kingdom (which is the point constantly aimed at in our argument) has been concerned, their constant aim has been to apologize for, or to ridicule, or to crush, the apostolic view of the Kingdom. Their influence in this direction (with but few exceptions, as e.g. in later systems, as Rothe’s, etc.) has only been disastrous. In league with the spirit of Alexandrian interpretation, in sympathy with the old monkish notions of the Kingdom, in fraternization with mystical and scholastic ideas, they have endeavored to make out the existence of a Kingdom in unison with these; and churchly men, pious and talented, believing that they could be moulded into effective instruments to elevate and defend the church as the divine Kingdom of promise, have seized, used, and perpetuated them, not realizing their destructive nature. Human wisdom has been substituted for the divine, and even dared to become the measure of, or the standard for, the divine. Philosophy, with its boasted standing, leavened with Origenistic ideas, imbued with a refined Gnosticism, sympathizing with the Ideal or the Pantheistic, has mistaken either the Sovereignty of God or the Church for the covenanted Kingdom; others, not seeing the blunder, accept of its teachings until, at present, this teaching seems to be imbedded in the churches as a fundamental truth. This could be the more readily effected seeing that philosophy takes into its train men of intelligence and deep thinking, of leadership in literature and religion, while the mass of mankind, unaccustomed to laborious thought and relying upon such men for guidance, blindly follow their lead. But the days even of such a fettering philosophy are fast numbered, because there is abroad an independent mode of thinking (alas, too often running into unbelief and the wildest extremes) that receives the declaration of no one without weighing or testing. Two modes of thinking can only now largely affect and control the masses: one is dealing with truth and proving it to be such by the most reliable testimony—either from Scripture (for those who believe in it), or from history (for the student), or from nature (for the naturalist), or from science, art, etc. (for the scientist). The other is to cater in some form to the corrupt nature of man (and this even may be brought into an unnatural alliance with the other), and the more this is done under the garb of order, love, liberty, etc., the better it will be received. The love for the truth and the love for self-indulgence are the two leading motives to be appealed to; and we are assured from Scripture that, so far as this dispensation is concerned, the latter will constantly gain the victory as to numbers. We should, therefore, cautiously receive the utterances of man, unless they come to us with the imprint of truth, fortified by ample scriptural proof. Especially so when they come to us under the philosopher’s cloak, for then if a fallacy exists, it is much more difficult to detect it, being enshrouded in a garb to unclasp which requires skilful hands. What Luther, and many others said respecting the influence of philosophy in the Church can be truthfully repeated to-day, at least in reference to the subject of the Kingdom philosophy, whatever its mission may be intellectually and morally, is not necessary to an understanding of this Kingdom (Prop. 9). The Kingdom is founded on covenant and prophecy, and not on human speculations. We find this Kingdom only in the Scriptures and not in human systems (Prop. 10). We do not even require its aid in ascertaining the sense or meaning of Scripture (Prop. 4). Philosophy, if she is (as some claim, and justly too) a handmaiden to Christianity, is a very humble one, that has too often, under the desire to serve, injured her mistress. Her true position is not the one assigned to her by many, as a kind of guardian (often changing, as seen in successive phases and stages) of the inner shrine, but that of a mere servitor sweeping the outer court. She has, through her friends, arrogated to herself the chief seat; in a discussion of this kind, when the appeal doctrinally must be to the Scriptures, she, if a true and valuable servitor, must descend from the same, acknowledging the supremacy of Holy Writ, and submitting to its authority.
Obs. 7. Another cause which operated largely to diminish the belief in the doctrine of the Kingdom was the coldness and enmity which arose between the Jewish and Gentile Christians, when they separated into parties antagonistic to each other. History conclusively shows that the peace formerly maintained between them through the wise, prudent, and conciliating conduct of the early leaders, was ultimately removed. Nothing contributed so largely to this as the removal (through Gnostic and Alexandrian influence) of the distinctive Jewish idea of the Messiahship and resultant Kingdom, the bond of faith that had united Jew and Gentile into fraternal believers. We need not enter into the saddening controversy—a mournful commentary on human frailty and passion—but one of the results arrests attention, viz.: that the Gentile Christians in their animosity to Judaism, which sought to impose its legality and ritualism, finally were carried to such an extreme that, without discriminating between what was abrogated and the things of God that remained in force, everything that savored in their estimation of Judaism was cast aside, including of course the long-entertained Jewish notion of the Kingdom.[*]
Note. As already intimated, a mystical, transcendant philosophy, a spiritual system of interpretation, aided them in getting rid of the hated Jewish forms, traditions, and beliefs. Epithets, a fruitful source from whence moderns still draw an ample supply, were heaped on the doctrine of the Kingdom as once entertained, including such as “gross,” “carnal,” “material,” “degrading,” “fleshly,” “sensual,” “earthly,” etc., which still flow so readily from the pens of a certain class—“heresy-hunters.”
Obs. 8. Notably, the conversion of Constantine, the deliverance and exaltation of the church, and finally the union of State and church under Imperial supervision and protection, served to make Millenarianism unpalatable. This has been remarked by numerous writers, and the fact is incontrovertible. We leave others, who have no sympathy for our doctrine, testify. Thus e.g. Smith (New Test. His., p. 723), after stating that “the interval between the apostolic age and that of Constantine has been called the Chiliastic period of Apocalyptic interpretation,” proceeds: “Immediately after the triumph of Constantine, the Christians, emancipated from oppression and persecution, and dominant and prosperous in their turn, began to lose their vivid expectation of our Lord’s speedy Advent and their spiritual conception of His Kingdom, and to look upon the temporal supremacy of Christianity as a fulfilment of the promised reign of Christ on earth. The Roman Empire, become Christian, was regarded no longer an object of prophetic denunciation, but as the scene of a Millennial development. This view, however, was soon met by the figurative interpretation of the Millennium, as the reign of Christ in the hearts of all true believers.” Kurtz (Ch. His., vol. 1, sec. 40, par. 8), after referring to the opposition of Clement, Origen, Dionysius, adds: “But as the aspect of outward affairs changed under the reign of Constantine the Great, these views (Chiliastic) lose their hold on men’s minds. The church now prepared for a long-continued period of temporal prosperity, and the State church of that time forgot the Millennial glory of the future.”[*]
Note. The remodelling of the Church by Constantine, to conform it to the government of the State (compare Mosheim and Neander); the endowment of it with wealth and worldly honors; the constituting it the easy road to preferment, rank, power, and riches for the aspiring; the making it through imperial favor the popular channel of religion, so completely intoxicated men—not apprehending the serious calamities to result from the same—that instead of looking for the Messianic Kingdom to come, they now supposed and taught that the prophecies relating to the Kingdom were fullfilling—that the Kingdom itself was already established under Constantinian splendor, and that some, like Eusebius, dared even to apply the predictions relating to the new heavens and new earth to this era. An amazing change took place in the minds of men, when, forsaking the plain teaching of the Word and the early faith, they permitted themselves to be blinded by the outward popularity, the State-union and the imperial friendship conferred upon the Church. The reader will find in Brooks’s El. Proph. Interp., Elliott’s Horœ Apoc., and numerous Millenarian works, abundant references to this cause of decline in our doctrine. We can only briefly notice the remarkable change of opinion resulting from the change in the Church’s external condition. Before Constantine, the Church, under Chiliastic leading, had always associated the idea of Antichrist with Rome, and that the Roman power would certainly be destroyed at the expected Advent of the Messiah. This was taught down even to Lactantius (De Instit., ch. 15), and was so imbedded in the minds of many that Jerome himself (Com. on Dan. 9), giving the testimony of the Fathers on this point, could not contradict it as false. All this was humiliating to a professed Christian emperor, to the subservient followers of imperial honors, and to the hierarchical seekers of office, and “the convenient explication was discovered and adopted by many that Antichrist was pagan Rome, and that from the date of Constantine’s conversion the millennium commenced.” (A view that has been revived by Grotius, Bush, etc., thus caricaturing the magnificent prophecies of the Millennium by applying them to a period disastrous to the Church, full of bitter discussions and persecutions, pregnant with deceit, violence, and entailed evils.) Shimeall (Eschatalogy, p. 49) says: “The policy of Constantine, while it tended to eradicate the last remaining vestiges of the primitive landmarks of Christianity and the Church, contributed also to pander to the ambition of an aspiring clergy after ‘the pre-eminence.’ Hence the gradual suppression of that (Millenarian) doctrine, which the open hostility of some, and the timid, temporizing policy of others, succeeded to effect. This was brought about by their adoption of the Origenic rule of interpreting the teachings of Isaiah and St. John on the one hand, and the explaining of them in accordance with the theory of Eusebius, which made Rome the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse on the ground that Constantine turned the heathen temples into Christian churches, etc., on the other.” Dr. Schaff (His. Ch. Church, vol. 1, pp. 299–301) presents the same testimony as Neander, Mosheim, Kurtz, etc., respecting the extent of Millenarianism in the Prim. Church, saying, for example: “The most striking point in the Eschatology of the ancient Church is the widely current and very prominent Chiliasm, or the doctrine of the visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years,” etc. After referring to the Fathers who taught it, he then remarks: “In the age of Constantine, however, a radical change took place in this belief. After Christianity, contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman Empire, and was embraced by the Cĉsars themselves, the Millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearance of Christ, or from the conversion of Constantine, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial State Church.” Certainly it was not in the selfish nature of “Patriarchs,” “Metropolitans or Archbishops,” “Bishops,” and others, who received princely endowments, to desire the Coming and Reign of the Christ—they rather wished their stations, honors, and emoluments to remain in perpetuity.
Obs. 9. Another method, pointed out by Brooks, Mede, etc., which materially aided in removing our doctrine, was the suppressing of Millenarian works. Thus e.g. the works of Papias, several from the pen of Irenĉus, the Treatise of Nepos against the Allegorizers, Tertullian’s on Paradise, and others, were successfully removed. Indeed the writings of some of the Fathers were so totally obliterated that it is only by intimations in the writings of opposers that we know that they were Chiliastic in sentiment. While the ravages and changes of time, the destructiveness incident to age, may account for the removal of some, yet the extent of the suppression (together with corruptions, omissions, substitutions of other writings) clearly indicates the animus of aversion and hostility.[*]
Note. Then it was also customary to speak of Chiliastic adherents as if they taught a most gross doctrine, well knowing that the means of refutation were not at hand. At times, however, they contradict themselves, speaking in one place well of the men whom they in another stigmatize. This is true of Papias and others. We give another illustration referred to by Mede and others. Eusebius says of Nepos that he taught “a Mill. of sensual luxury on earth.” But in the same chapter he makes Dionysius, who wrote against Nepos, to say: “I greatly reverence the man,” and “greatly love Nepos both on account of his faith and industry, and his great study of the Scriptures”—which he scarcely would have said if Nepos was as “sensual” as Eusebius reports. The complacency with which Neander and others relate Eusebius’ story of Dionysius converting Coracion and a large number of Chiliastic clergy at a conference held for a disputation at Arsinoe is remarkable—a story which bears on its very face the evidence of being a concocted one, having no substantial basis. Observe (1) that Eusebius was exceedingly bitter against the Chiliasts, and untruthful (as Mede and others have shown) in other statements respecting them. (2) Such a unanimous yielding of an entire conference of opponents is a result opposed to human nature and experience. (3) This story was concocted some time after the alleged occurrence took place, and we have none of the marvellous argumentation which produced such a result given. (4) The statement is utterly inconsistent with the principles of interpretation mutually held, and with the Scriptures held by Chiliasts, which are not so readily set aside. (5) The story very flippantly takes it for granted that Millenarians have but little Scriptural foundation for their belief, and that the spiritualistic interpretation is all powerful. (6) We have no statement of Coracion or of any of the alleged converts, of such a result. (7) We know that, notwithstanding the stated conversions, many in Egypt and other places remained Chiliasts. (8) If Dionysius had such extraordinary success and was really so powerful in argument, it is presumable—as Chiliasm was extensive—that this line of reasoning and arguments would have reached beyond Arsinoe. Now absolutely nothing that has reached us from him has any Anti-Chiliastic force, which a tyro could not meet.
Obs. 10. While it may justly be regarded invidious to attempt to lower the character or position of opponents in defence of a doctrine (which has been largely done against us), yet in self-justification—seeing that many writers (as Jones, Shedd, etc.) unduly exalt the first opponents of Chiliasm to the prejudice of the Millenarian Fathers—it may be well, briefly, to allow impartial (because in no doctrinal sympathy with us) testimony demonstrate to whom we are indebted for the decline of our doctrine. Respecting Origen (comp. Luther’s view of, Prop. 4, Obs. 1, note 1; Michelet’s Life of Luther, p. 273, and Ap. p. 419, etc.; and Milner’s, Mosheim’s, Pressense’s, Prop. 4, Obs. 6), notwithstanding his learning and ability, the ablest writers coincide in saying that his mode of handling the Scriptures resulted most disastrously to the church. In reference to Clement of Alexandria, Dionysius, and all of the Alexandrian school, it is sufficient to refer the reader to the temperate remarks of Neander, and other historians, on the entire tendency of the Alexandrian school, which was unfavorable to a correct interpretation of Scripture. Regarding Jerome and Eusebius, it will suffice to say, that the same historians, admitting the value of their labors in some directions, also state their unreliability in controversy, their devotion to asceticism (Jerome’s), and their gross misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture.[*]
Note. It is not our desire to detract from the honor due to Origen (as e.g. in his labors on the Hexapla, Treatise against Celsus, etc.), Jerome (as e.g. in his Latin version of the Old Test., etc.), and others. But the tendencies of their Scriptural interpretations and expositions being simple matter of history, and liberally animadverted on by our opponents, form a legitimate subject to be thus introduced. (Such animadversions are freely given on our side in Brooks’s El. of Proph. Inter., Shimeall’s Eschatology, Seiss’ Last Times, etc., and need not be repeated.) When Shedd (His. Ch. Doc.) and others shield themselves under the bare statement that our doctrine was crushed under the influence of the Alexandrian school (but carefully avoiding to tell us the practical and evil tendency of this school in Biblical interpretation), it is but just to direct the reader’s attention to the same (comp. Prop. 4). Prof. Briggs in his series of articles decries all that are admitted to be Chiliasts, and eulogizes all that followed the lead of the Alexandrian school. In view of his extravagant praise, we append a few additional testimonies. First, as to Clement of Alexandria, Killen (The Old. Cath. Ch., p. 10) says of him: “His spiritual taste was sadly vitiated by his study of the heathen philosophy, and his tendency to indulge in allegorical interpretations renders him an unsafe guide as an expositor of the Scriptures.” On p. 374 he says of him that he “allegorized Scripture in a way as dangerous as it was absurd,” and gives some specimens (with which compare those presented by Fairbairn, Typology, who gives Luther’s and Calvin’s opinion on such performances). This estimate of Clement is substantially presented by every Church historian of eminence—some even being more severe in their strictures. And we direct attention to the fact that whatever retention of Chiliastic ideas he maintained, he was the one who introduced this allegorizing system at Alexandria, which proved so fatal not only to Chiliasm but other doctrines. In view, therefore, of his disastrous influence in adopting Philo’s method and introducing it into the Church, we present the following estimate of his system of interpretation in the Art. “Alexandrian Christianity” (The North Brit. Rev., Aug. 1855): “If we are asked how Clement understood his Bible, we must answer, pace tanti viri, very badly indeed. In interpretation he is a mere disciple of Philo; as that writer had dealt with Moses, so he deals with the prophets and the writers of the New Test.; and he applies his principle apparently without any fixed rules at all. He imagined that every passage of Scripture undoubtedly contained a hidden meaning, or rather any number of hidden meanings: the same passage might mean this, that, and the other thing, all at the same time; and so he set to work at it, as children do at a charade, and expected a discovery of hidden truth from God’s blessing upon piously intended guesses.” His fame rests not in exegesis; his admirers (Kingsley, etc.) praise him for his philosophy and earnestness. As to Origen, Killen (above, p. 374) says of his using this system and departing from the literal sense: “In this way the divine record may be made to support any crochet which happens to please the fancy of the commentator.” The writer in the North Brit. Review (above) remarks: “His (Origen’s) principles of Scriptural interpretation are Philo’s, reduced to a still completer system; and the most remarkable feature in it is his bold avowal of his belief that the simple literal meaning is often not only untrue but impossible. On the strength of this expression Strauss claims him as an ally. But the views of the two men are totally different. Origen believed in the complete inspiration of every word of Scripture, and he thought that the allegorical sense, which was the most precious, was always strictly true; but that God inserted untruths and impossibilities in the literal text in order that the reader might not be content with it, but look beneath it for the deeper and more precious truth. Indeed, in order to recommend this allegorical theory he even immensely exaggerates the discrepancies of the literal text, and find sdifficulties where no one else would have thought of finding them.” (“For example, he pronounces the text, ‘If any man smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,’ to be very absurd in its literal meaning; not because, as some have thought, it exaggerates the duty of submissiveness, but because, since a man naturally uses his right hand, he could not possibly strike his adversary on the right but on the left cheek. We wish one of his pupils had been saucy enough to give him a practical proof of the superiority, in such cases, of experiment over theory.”) The Ency. Brit. says of Origen (De Princip., 211, s. 2) that he described those who refused his views as such, who “refusing the labor of intelligence, followed the superficial mode of literal interpretation.” Hase (His. Ch. Church, p. 94), after having referred to the characteristics of the Alexandrian theology in bringing out “a hidden sense” by means of “allegorical interpretation,” which should develop a “signification worthy of God,” adds: “It was through his (Origen’s) influence that the expectation which then prevailed with respect to a near approach of Christ’s Second Advent, and a Millennial Kingdom, began to be regarded as heretical, or at least fanatical.” Rees’ Cyclop., art. “Mill.,” admits that the ancient belief of the doctrine “touching the new Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth, after the resurrection, was held for near three centuries before it was charged as erroneous, as appears from Eccles. History” (quoting M. Launoy as authority), speaking of it as taught” by several of the greatest men among the Primitive Fathers,” and then thus refers to the decline brought about, “principally through the influence and authority of Origen, who opposed it with the greatest warmth, because it was incompatible with some of his favorite sentiments.” (Comp. arts, on “Origen” in Herzog’s Real Encyclop., M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclop., etc.) The disciples of Origen, such as Dionysius, Hieracus, and others, carried out his system, and, of course, assisted in the decline. Among these later on may be especially enumerated Gregory Thaumaturgus, who (Panegyric in Orig., ch. 15, quoted by Neander in Genl. Ch. His., vol. 2, p. 491) most extravagantly eulogizes Origen as specially favored “by communion with the divine Spirit,” “so that this man had received from God that greatest of gifts, the call to be to men an interpreter of the words of God; to understand God’s Word as God speaks it, and to announce it to men as man can understand it.” Men now imitate Gregory, and profess to go into ecstasies over Origen’s astounding interpretations. Prof. Briggs (N. Y. Evangelist, 1879) writes in the highest terms of the Alexandrian school and its followers, simply because they are Anti-Chiliastic. To such we commend the rebuke given by a writer (in the North Brit. Review, May, 1858, p. 273) to D’Aubigné (in Christianity in the First Three Cents.) as follows: “We are sorry to see Dr. Merle D’Aubigné eulogizing Origen as ‘the greatest luminary of ecclesiastical antiquity.’ Concede to Origen learning, fervor, and a self-sacrificing life; but do not canonize as a luminary one who did more to darken Scripture and to obscure some of its fundamental truths than any Father of the first five centuries.”
Obs. 11. The opposition to our doctrine, when once inaugurated, was greatly aided by the talent and ability of a few great names. Conspicuously among these is that of Augustine. Probably no work has appeared that had such a powerful influence in overwhelming the more ancient doctrine, as Augustine’s leading one, The City of God. This was specially designed to teach the existence of the Kingdom of God in the church beside or contemporaneous with the earthly or human Kingdom. The proof for this is remarkably weak; the supposed fact being largely taken for granted, and a superstructure erected upon a hypothetical foundation.[*]
Note. Let the student carefully read “The City of God,” and he will find that Augustine to make out his theory (vol. 1, p. 436) arbitrarily quotes Ps. 87:3; 48:1, and 46:4, which do not apply (as we shall show hereafter) to the church in this dispensation; and (vol. 2, p. 202) in his eagerness he actually has the marriage of the Church with Christ already consummated, thus violating the order laid down in the Bible. Indeed, the proof alleged by him is so slightly inferential, and so loosely applied, that it is scarcely worthy of even a serious refutation. The book never could have exerted so wide an influence, if it had not accorded so fully with the already favorite Church-Kingdom theory. We give an example of his exegetical proof: thus (b. 18, ch. 31) he adduces Obad. 21, which he renders, “And those who are saved again shall come up out of Mt. Sion that they may defend Esau, and it shall be a kingdom to the Lord.” His comment is: that Mt. Sion is Judea where Christ was and is; Mt. Esau is the church of the Gentiles, and that the latter, being defended, becomes a kingdom. Similar far-fetched and puerile inferences are scattered over his pages, while (Eusebius-like) the Millennial predictions, the utterances of Habakkuk’s prayer, etc., are all indiscriminately assigned to the church in this dispensation, and as now existing. Having a Kingdom on hand to portray, it must be eulogized at the expense of the Scriptures and stern facts. The truth is, when looking over the writings of Augustine, Origen, Jerome, and others, who so largely contributed to bring our doctrine into disrepute, we are forced to the conclusion that, however valuable they may be in other respects, the line of reasoning (for surely argument it cannot be called) and inferential proof adopted to sustain their own views of the church being the then constituted Messianic Kingdom of covenant and prophecy, is entirely and purely of human origin, finding no support in Scripture, but being actually in open antagonism to the oath-bound covenant of God. It is a fact, also, that neither Origen or Augustine could entirely give up all the characteristics of Chiliasm, but still received some of its features, as will be seen from the quotations, hereafter given, from them. It is in consequence of the retention of some features belonging to Chiliasm, that Bh. Taylor (Lib. of Proph., sec. 5) ranks Origen, notwithstanding his decided opposition, a Millenarian, and this it is supposed (by Brooks) “because Origen lets drop his expectation of the renovation of all things in the seventh millenary of the world.” How largely Augustine moulded the Church can be seen in our Church histories, the recent works of Mozley, Dorner, etc., on Augustine.
Obs. 12. The cessation, in almost a total manner, of the conversion of the Jews, also materially aided in extinguishing the doctrine of the Kingdom. Spiritualizing and allegorizing both the covenants and prophecies, changing the significant title of “The Christ” into a mere doctrinal name, heaping upon Gentiles the promises belonging to the Jews, substituting the church for the Messianic Kingdom in its true covenanted Theocratic form, the conversion of Jews was arrested, and, as a result, the advocates (for the Jewish mind posted in the promises of the Old Test.) of Chiliasm were proportionately lessened.[*]
Note. After the Gnostic ideas and the Alexandrian school obtained the ascendency, the preaching of the Kingdom, so widely different from that previously proclaimed by the Fathers, was no longer effective with the Jews, for the simple reason that it was opposed to the Kingdom presented in covenant and prophecy. The “Gospel of the Kingdom” as given e.g. by Barnabas, Irenĉus, or Justin, was widely different from “the Gospel of the Kingdom” as presented e.g. by an Augustine, Jerome, or Eusebius. The former corresponded with the Old Test. delineations; the latter could only be engrafted upon the Old Test. by the most extravagant spiritualizing and perversion of Holy Writ—by a flat denial of the plain grammatical sense and the substitution of a sense which the words do not properly and primarily bear. This, of course, repelled the Jewish mind and bore its fruit in a continually diminished number of Jewish conversions until they almost entirely ceased. The great link which united Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as “the Messiah” (which embraced the hope of the same kingdom at the Sec. Advent) was rudely severed when the Chiliastic doctrine was discarded. So long as the hope was held out to the Jews in “the Gospel of the Kingdom” that Jesus would come again to fulfil the Abrahamic-Davidic covenant, to rebuild the very tabernacle of David fallen down and in ruins, to restore all things, to verify the prophetic promises based on the covenants just as their obvious sense conveyed—so long were many of the Jews accessible, and joyfully received Jesus of Nazareth as “the Messiah,” and looked for His Coming the second time unto the predicted salvation. But when this hope was taken away and denounced as “carnal”; when it was ridiculed, and, as Baronius informs us, was “hissed from the stage” under a pretentious Gnosis; when in place of the restored Davidic throne and Kingdom, a real Theocratic rule on the earth under the Messiah, men palmed off the Church, which in no respect bore any resemblance to the promised Kingdom, as this predicted Kingdom—then the only bond of union and of sympathy, through which the Jews could be easily reached, was also removed. The sad and calamitous results naturally followed, from which the lover of mercy, justice, and humanity sorrowfully turns.
Obs. 13. This enables us to dispose of the historical inaccuracy of those who, overlooking the causes of decline mentioned, tell us that the decrease of Chiliasm is due to the influence of the Pauline Theology superseding the Petrine or Johannine. Learned disquisitions, abounding with mere assertion, are given on this point; but to sustain this philosophical conceit, it is requisite to close the eyes to well-known facts that utterly disprove the theory. It is a cleverly contrived plan to throw, if possible, an apostolic mantle over a later broached theory of the Kingdom.[*]
Note. This cannot be true, since (as has already been shown) both Paul and Peter taught the same covenants and promises, the basis of Chiliasm, and confirmed the same hope by numerous utterances; since such a position takes it for granted (there being no proof) that there is a conflict doctrinally between Paul and Peter, the one bringing forth doctrine more suited to Grecian culture, and the other doctrine more adapted to Jewish; since the Fathers, East and West, taught Chiliasm and were utterly unaware of the modern notion of such a conflict or contemplated substitution. Neander, himself too strongly attached to this theory and often pressing it to an extreme to favor his pet development theory, comes nearer to the truth and the facts as they existed, when he traces the causes of this decline to the allegorical spirit of the Alexandrian school, and hostility to Montanism. No writer can do justice either to the early Fathers who were Chiliasts, or to the real causes which affected Millenarian doctrine, who ignores how the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were comprehended and embraced in the faith of the Church, and by what means they were eliminated or spiritualized.
Obs. 14. The abuse that this doctrine received undoubtedly alienated the minds of some who were not able to discriminate between the true and the false, or who associated doctrine with the personal character of its advocates instead of determining its truthfulness by Holy Writ. Bh. Newton (On Proph., Dis. 25) observes: “This doctrine grew into disrepute for various reasons. Some, both Jewish and Christian, writers have debased it with a mixture of fables; they have described the Kingdom more like a sensual than a spiritual kingdom, and thereby they have not only exposed themselves, but (what is infinitely worse) the doctrine itself to contempt and ridicule. It hath suffered by the misrepresentations of its enemies, as well as by the indiscretion of its friends; many, like Jerome, have charged the Millenarians with absurd and impious opinions which they never held; and rather than they would admit the truth of the doctrine, they have not scrupled to call into question the genuineness of the book of Revelation,” etc. There is no doubt but that the fact that Chiliasts also belonged to various already arising, and antagonistic, parties had a decided influence with many in rejecting the doctrine, as e.g. the Montanists, the Apollinarians, etc.[*]
Note. The candid student, however, well knowing both how true doctrine may become allied with error and how men may be charged with error when innocent of the same, will carefully consider such a point in all its bearings before deciding. To do this properly respecting the charge of Montanism, preferred against Tertullian, it would be well not only to notice what enemies have said on the subject but also friends. The excellent remarks of Neander, Lee’s His. of Montanism, Brooks’s statement, and others, are worthy of attention. It must not be forgotten, that if men, under the influence of personal feeling and passion, allied this doctrine with that which is erroneous, others, through whom the orthodox church is properly traced by every Church historian, held to this Kingdom in its strictly covenanted form, excluding the idea of sensualism or corruption, and teaching the enjoyment of spiritual blessings in it. Dr. Seiss, Ap. Note E., p. 335, etc., of Last Times gives an interesting detail of “Millenarian views of the spirituality of Christ’s Kingdom,” quoting from Irenĉus, Justin, Melito, and Tertullian, to show that they did advocate “spiritual good as a leading characteristic of the Kingdom to come,” and then gives Dr. Greswell’s testimony, directing attention also to the spiritually-minded men who have hitherto received it, and concluding by exposing the art which, as Hartley says, some men have of bringing truth into disrepute, as follows: “Among the many arts practised in order to bring any truth into discredit, none is more popular than that of exhibiting it to public view joined with the absurd tenets of some that have espoused it, and which is not improperly called dressing up truth in a fool’s coat on purpose to make it ridiculous; and this often succeeds with the undiscerning vulgar, who judge only by the outward appearance of things.,” These tactics were practised in old times by Origen, Jerome, Eusebius, and others, and they are repeated in modern times by a Corrodi, Stuart, Sanborn, Seyffarth, Briggs, and a host of others. It has prejudiced thousands against us then and now, who failed to see the lack of candor, honesty, and justice in the unscholarly procedure. No doctrine, however precious, but can be thus caricatured.
Obs. 15. The prophetical teaching, in explanation of certain prophecies, engrafted upon the apostolic and quite early Chiliasm, had its weight in detaching many from the doctrine, forgetting that the elucidation of details or the opinions of fallible men respecting the manner of fulfilment, could not possibly affect the grand outlines or the heart of the doctrine, because the former proceed from men liable to mistake, but the latter is fixed, irrevocably in the oath-bound covenant and the predictions resulting from the same. Thus, to illustrate: many writers have shown that the Chiliasts, more or less, down to Constantine’s conversion thought that Rome would be the seat of the Antichrist and the Roman power would be destroyed. This was widely circulated, and finally became a part of the Chiliastic creed, impressed by persecution and the hope of deliverance, and was so regarded by its opponents. Now the prophecy as believed, instead of being verified, seemed to be utterly vain and idle when the Empire became professedly Christian. The result was, that the failure of a portion of the Chiliastic scheme, as then entertained, was deemed, without examination, to be sufficient proof of the unsoundness of every other part, and the whole was rejected.[*]
Note. Precisely as men do to-day. Because Bengel, Cumming, or Baxter, or some others in the explication of some prophecies, have made prophetic statements which time has proved to be mistaken; because Flemming, Pareus, Wood, and others misapprehended dates and events, the whole doctrine is rejected with ridicule and laughter, just as if the doctrine depended upon the interpretation of the precise time of the Advent or the course of certain events, and not upon the solemnly covenanted Word given with preciseness and unmistakable distinctness. Good men may indeed be mistaken in details or in the exact order of events, or in the application of prophetical time and announcements, owing to our limited knowledge of the future, and yet all this does not affect the foundation of our doctrine, which stands imbedded in “the everlasting covenant,” “the sure mercies of David.”
Obs. 16. The opposition that Chiliasts maintained against various errors and the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, excited hostility against them, and contributed to aid in the suppression of the doctrine.[*]
Note. In this discussion it is important for the student, in order to form a correct estimate of the early Chiliasts, of their doctrine, and of the opposition excited, to notice whom they doctrinally opposed. This has been candidly done by the researches of Neander (who clears them from unjust charges imposed by later enemies) and others, but a succinct statement is still needed. In addition to what has been said, a passing remark on a number may be illustrative of our meaning. The Chiliasts opposed the Ebionists, the ultra, extreme Jewish sects, mainly on the ground because the latter denied the peculiar, distinctive person of Christ demanded to fulfil the Abrahamic-Davidic Kingdom. They combated all who were tenacious of the observance of the Mosaic ceremonial, abrogated through the founding of the Christian Church. They opposed the Oriental Theosophists because they spiritualized the letter entirely away, thus, among other things, rendering the fulfilment of the covenants, as they read, impracticable. They resisted what is called by some, “The Aristocratic element,” as manifested in various Gnostic systems, the incorporation of Platonic and Oriental ideas, the combinations of false reasoning and a subtle philosophy in so far as they denied a literal, grammatical interpretation of Scripture (especially of the covenants), and a divine and supreme authority of Holy Writ. They materially aided in rooting out Cerinthianism, not only on account of its Christology contradicted by the covenants, but by reason of its unbiblical (if correctly reported, being dependent on later and hostile testimony) Chiliasm, seeing that none of the Fathers favored such a sensual system. They contradicted various forms of doctrine having its advocates as e.g. the denial of the resurrection of the body, the disbelief in the future glorification of the body, the rejection of the final removal of the curse and of evil, the inherent eternal evil of nature, the unbelief in the restitution of all things, etc. They withstood the Basilideans owing to its Christology and to its giving to the ultimate deliverance of man, the race, and creation, a form different from that specified in the prophetical. They resisted the Saturninians with their denial of a real body to Christ, their notions of the Kingdom and way of life. They combated the Maroionites, the Bardesenites, Tatianites, Valentinians, Carpocratians, Origenists, besides others who were regarded as heretics. They resisted, on the one hand, a gross materialism, and, on the other, an encroaching Idealism. It appears, from these contests and the faithful devotion to the essential truths of Christianity, that the Chiliasts were esteemed as strictly orthodox. This honorable feature is given to them both by enemies and friends—even their most violent opponents, as Origen, Dionysius, Jerome, and others, do not deny their orthodoxy. Indeed, after the declarations of Irenĉus and Justin, that those who were exactly orthodox held to our doctrine; after the continuous line of Fathers through whom the Christian Church is traced, it would be both unsafe and unjust to give them any other position. But all this necessarily created opposition against them, and as this resistance finally accorded with the prevailing adopted Alexandrian influence, various parties united in decrying them and in treating their doctrine with contempt. The manner in which the primitive doctrine was gradually crushed reminds us of the parasite in Cuba or India, which enfolds and strangles the life out of the lofty tree. The tiny, silken threads grew into strong compressive cables and trunks encompassing the hapless victim, until he yielded to the long accumulating pressure.