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Reference: Millenarians


MILLENARIANS are those who believe, according to an ancient tradition in the church, grounded on some doubtful texts in the book of Revelation and other scriptures, that our Saviour shall reign a thousand years with the faithful upon earth after the first resurrection, before the full completion of final happiness; and their name, taken from the Latin word mille, "a thousand," has a direct allusion to the duration of this spiritual empire, which is styled the millennium. A millennium, or a future paradisaical state of the earth, is viewed by some as a doctrine not of Christian, but of Jewish, origin. The tradition which fixes the duration of the world, in its present imperfect state, to six thousand years, and announces the approach of a Sabbath of one thousand years of universal peace and plenty, to be ushered in by the glorious advent of the Messiah, has been traced up to Elias, a rabbinical writer, who flourished about two centuries before the birth of Christ. It certainly obtained among the Chaldeans from the earliest times; and it is countenanced by Barnabas, Irenaeus, and other primitive writers, and also by the Jews at the present day. But though the theory may not be very improbable, yet, as it has not the sanction of Scripture to support it, we are not bound to respect it any farther than as a doubtful tradition. The Jews understood several passages of the prophets, as Zec 14:16, &c, of the millennium; in which, according to their carnal apprehensions, the Messiah is to reign on earth, and to bring all nations within the pale, and under subjection to the ordinances, of the Jewish church.

Justin Martyr, the most ancient of the fathers, was a great supporter of the doctrine of the millennium, or that our Saviour shall reign with the faithful upon earth, after the resurrection, for a thousand years; which he declares was the belief of all orthodox Christians. But this opinion is not generally followed; for, though there has been, perhaps, no age of the church in which this doctrine was not admitted by one or more divines of the first eminence, it yet appears, from the writings of Eusebius, Irenaeus, and others among the ancients, as well as from the histories of Dupin, Mosheim, and other moderns, that it was never adopted by the whole church, nor formed an article in the established creed in any nation. Origen, the most learned of the fathers, and Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, usually, for his immense erudition, surnamed the Great, both opposed the doctrine that prevailed on the subject in their day; and Dr. Whitby, in his learned treatise on the subject, proves, first, that the millennium was never generally received in the church of Christ; and, secondly, that there is no just ground to think it was derived from the Apostles.

On the other hand, Dr. T. Burner and others maintain that it was very generally admitted till the Nicene council, in 325, or till the fourth century. The doctor supposes Dionysius of Alexandria, who wrote against Nepos, an Egyptian bishop, before the middle of the third century, to have been the first that attacked this doctrine; but Origen had previously assailed it in many of his fictitious additions. The truth seems to be, as one well remarks, "that a spiritual reign of Christ was believed by all who carefully examined the Scriptures, though the popular notions of the millennium were often rejected; and ancient as well as modern writers assailed the extravagant superstructure, not the Scriptural foundation or the doctrine." During the interregnum in England, in the time of Cromwell, there arose a set of enthusiasts sometimes called Millenarians, but more frequently Fifth Monarchy Men, who expected the sudden appearance of Christ, to establish on earth a new monarchy or kingdom. In consequence of this, some of them aimed at the subversion of all human government. In ancient history we read of four great monarchies; the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, and the Roman; and these men, believing that this new spiritual kingdom of Christ was to be the fifth, obtained the name by which they were called. They claimed to be the saints of God, and to have the dominion of saints, Da 7:27; expecting that, when Christ was come into this kingdom, to begin his reign on earth, they, as his deputies, were to govern all things under him. They went so far as to give up their own Christian names, and assume others from Scripture, like the Manicheans of old.

The opinions of the moderns on this subject may be reduced to two: 1. Some believe that Christ will reign personally on the earth, and that the prophecies of the millennium point to a resurrection of martyrs and other just men, to reign with him a thousand years in a visible kingdom. 2. Others are inclined to believe that, by the reign of Christ and the saints for a thousand years on earth, "nothing more is meant than that, before the general judgment, the Jews shall be converted, genuine Christianity be diffused through all nations, and mankind enjoy that peace and happiness which the faith and precepts of the Gospel are calculated to confer on all by whom they are sincerely embraced." The state of the Christian church, say they, will be, for a thousand years before the general judgment, so pure and so widely extended, that, when compared with the state of the world in the ages preceding, it may, in the language of Scripture, be called a resurrection from the dead. In support of this interpretation, they quote two passages from St. Paul, in which a conversion from Paganism to Christianity, and a reformation of life is called a "resurrection from the dead," Ro 6:13; Eph 5:14. There is, indeed, an order in the resurrection, 1Co 15:24; but we no where observe mention made of a first and second resurrection at the distance of a thousand years from each other: yet, were the millenarian hypothesis well founded, the words should rather have run thus: "Christ, the first-fruits, then the martyrs at his coming, and a thousand years afterward the residue of mankind,

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