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MANY people have a veneration for antiquity, and have strong prejudices against doctrines which are new, which should seem favorable to truth; for perhaps it is not without reason that, next to the inspired writers, the sense and testimony of the primitive fathers have been accounted of good authority. But, unfortunately, it has often happened, that an old, venerable doctrine, having for a while been rejected, has to encounter all the same prejudices as if it were really new.
It may therefore be proper, and a satisfaction to some, to show briefly the sense and testimony of the primitive Christian church concerning the millennium, or future kingdom of Christ.
Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, and martyr, taught the doctrine of the millennium, and "that Jesus Christ was to appear on earth, and there to reign with his saints in great glory, for the space of a thousand years." ."*
* Nisbet's Church History, page 46.
Papias was "one of St. John's auditors, as Ireneus testifies, Iren. lib. 5. c. 33. And 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."
Papias says of himself, in his book called The Explanation of the Words of the Lord, as St. Jerome gives us an account of it, (De Script. Eccles.) that "he did not follow various opinions, but had the apostles for his authors; and that he considered 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."
Ireneus, bishop of Lyons, and martyr, was by birth a Greek, and had the happiness to be from his infancy a disciple of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna; and by him, also, this doctrine is traditionally derived from St. John. "For, arguing the point, in the chapter quoted above, he shows that the blessing promised 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 farther aim and prospect upon the times of the kingdom; (so they used to call the millennial state;) when the just, rising from the dead, shall reign; and when nature, renewed and set at liberty, shall yield plenty and abundance of all things, being blessed with the dew of heaven and a great fertility of the earth, according as has been related by those ecclesiastics or clergy
who saw St. John, the disciple of Christ, and heard of him WHAT OUR LORD TAUGHT CONCERNING THOSE TIMES." This, you see, goes to the fountain-head." Ireneus received it from the elders of the churches in Asia, who received it from the mouth of St. John, and St. John related it from the mouth of our Savior.
Justin Martyr, cotemporary with Ireneus, and his senior, witnesses himself to this doctrine, and also that it was the catholic doctrine in the pri mitive church. • He says, 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 restored, or in the new JerusalemDial. with Tryphon the Jew-according as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, and others, attest with common consent; as St. Peter had said before, Acts iii. 21, that all the prophets had spoken of it. Then he quotes the 65th chapter of Isaiah, which is a bulwark for this doctrine that can never be broken. And to show the Jew, with whom he had this discourse, that it was the sense 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 prophesy that the faithful believers in Christ should live a thousand years in the new Jerusalem, and after that should be the general resurrection and judgment. Thus you have the thoughts and sentiments of Justin Martyr, as to himself, as to all the reputed orthodox of his time, as to the sense of the prophets in the Old Testament, and as to the
sense of St. John in the Revelation; all conspiring in confirmation of the millenarian doctrine."
Some would have Papias to be the inventor of this doctrine; but if Ireneus and Justin Martyr may be credited, it was received from St. John, and by him from the mouth of our Savior, and was the orthodox sentiment in the age immediately following the apostles. Ireneus, the youngest of these three witnesses, was acquainted with the age immediately succeeding the apostles; John is thought to have lived till the beginning of the second century; Polycarp, his disciple, lived till the middle of the second century, and died a martyr; and Ireneus, who was the disciple of Polycarp, suffered martyrdom about the year of Christ 203.
We might add more authority from this age of the church; but perhaps it will be sufficient to say, that there is not extant, either the writing, name or memory of any person in the first or second century, that called in question the millenary doctrine, or that held to it in a sense different from those we have quoted; unless such as denied the resurrection wholly, or the divine authority of the Revelation.
In the third century, there is a cloud of witnesses to this doctrine, several of whom, as Tertullian and Lactantius, are particular in speaking of the millennium as being after the renovation of the world. And though we find some who did not hold to any millennium, yet, among the millenaries, (who were by far the most numerous, and in other respects most orthodox,) we do not find any that materially differed from Papias, Ireneus, and Justin Martyr.