MILLENNARIANISM AND ERROR
By HORATIUS BONAR, D.D.
Let us inquire into the connection said to subsist between millenarianism and false doctrine. Can it be proved by facts? Or is it the mere inference of those who, having a very bad opinion of the system, think that it must be, and ought to be, connected with all forms of error?
I state then, and am willing to prove, that those who have not only endangered, but subverted the whole fabric of Christianity, have not been millenarians, but their opponents.
The gnosticism of the early ages was openly as well as essentially anti-millenarian. It was allegorical and antiliteral, a patch-work of Christianity and pagan philosophy. It not only allegorized into a spiritual shadow the first resurrection, but all resurrection whatsoever, condemning as carnal all who believed in any resurrection, just as our opposers condemn us for believing in the first resurrection. And who upheld the truth against these anti‑millennarian and allegorizing gnostics? Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, two noted millenarians. The connection between anti‑millenarianism and heresy, in the first ages, can be clearly established by fact. The antagonism between millenarianism and heresy can be as clearly proved. The heretic gnostics were the only opposers of millenarianism in these days; the thoroughly orthodox fathers were its unanimous supporters. Gnosticism and anti-chiliasm were friends; Gnosticism and chiliasm* were open enemies. Yet our system is said to be all along linked with heresy.
[* The dopctrine of the Personal Reign of Christ on earth during the millennium.]
The carnal follies of Cerinthus are sometimes exhibited as specimens of millenarianism. But Cerinthianism and chiliasm were thoroughly and openly opposed to each other. The millenarian fathers were the strongest condemners and confuters of Cerinthus and his abominations. There was antagonism, not alliance between them; and it would be as correct to identify Calvinism and Socinianism, because Priestley happened to be a predestinarian, as to identify chiliasm and Cerinthianism, because Cerinthus spoke of the saints reigning on earth.
In the second century the state of matters was the same; millenarianism and orthodoxy still went hand in hand. Whencesoever the danger to the fabric of Christianity might come, it did not come from millenarians. “Chiliasm constituted (says a German writer), in the second century, so decidedly an article of faith, that Justin held it up as a criterion of perfect orthodoxy.”
Then Origen came into the field, - no friend to chiliasm, and as little to orthodoxy. He turned the whole Bible into a riddle; he denied the doctrine of eternal punishments. He seems to have been thoroughly unsound even upon fundamental points. In his case, surely heresy and anti-chiliasm were the allies. The chiliasts in these days, instead of “endangering the whole fabric of Christianity,” were its steadfast supporters against anti-chiliastic heretics, who were introducing “not only a new dispensation, but a new Christianity.”*
[* Dionysius of Alexandria, who is considered to have given the finishing stroke to chiliasm in the Eastern Church, was a denier of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit.]
Then came Jerome, one of the keenest and most unswerving opponents that millenarianism ever had; one who never loses an opportunity of assailing it. Was Jerome sound in the faith? Alas! he seems to have no idea of free justification at all. All with him is works;- superstition and self-righteousness darken the pages both of his Epistles and his Commentaries. Perhaps Popery owes more to Jerome than to any of the fathers. Even in his day, the great mass of the godly, as he tells us more than once, were millenarians. Are chiliasm, and heresy then inseparable? or is not the reverse the truth? I know that Augustine was against us, and he was much sounder in the faith; but his case is only a confirmation of our statements, for he is almost the only example in that age, of orthodoxy and anti-millenarianism being in union.
Anti-chiliasm was now spreading. And how did its abettors defend it? By denying the inspiration of the Apocalypse! “It is worthy of remark," says Bishop Russell - no chiliast, - “that so long as the prophecies regarding the millennium were interpreted literally, the Apocalypse was received as an inspired production, and as the work of the apostle John; but no sooner did theologians find themselves compelled to view its annunciations through the medium of allegory and metaphorical description, than they ventured to call in question its heavenly origin, its genuineness, and its authority.
Dead churches have been pre-eminently anti-chiliastic, and
from the pens of some of our coldest divines have come the strongest
condemnations of our system. In the days
of the Westminister Assembly there were many
chiliasts to be found: Twisse,
the prolocutor, and many members were such.
A century after, hardly a supporter of the system was
to be found in
[It must, however, be admitted that during the last hundred years, in Irvingism, Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism in its origins, and various Tongues sects, the Powers of Darkness have repeated their strategy in Montanism – studiedly linking their manifestations with Advent truth, they have sought to besmirch it hopelessly in the eyes of the sober and the Scriptural. The Advent and the miraculous gifts are most counterfeited the nearer they draw. But feather-brained fanaticisms have no remotest resemblance to Millennial truth as it is presented in the Prophets; and the true antidote to perverted Millenarianism is not scepticism but Scripture.
Some ancient Chiliasm was superstitious and grotesque; but where it was merely gross or carnal, the error probably arose from ignorance of the two compartments of the Kingdom – a heavenly, for ‘the bodies celestial’ (1 Cor. 15: 40) of the risen, in the Holy City overhanging earth; and an earthly, for ‘bodies terrestrial’ on the earth itself, where men are still in the flesh. Paul prayed to be preserved unto thev heavenly Kingdom (2 Tim. 4: 18)* - D. M. Panton.
*Mr. Mauro is right in protesting, as we ourselves have done, against an extreme dispensationalism which, while justly repudiating the Law of Moses in the day of grace, stretches that Law so as to cover all the New Testament except four short Letters, thus robbing the Church of all but the entire Book of Grace; on the other hand, the man clever enough to make the Bible coherent without dispensational truth (the four epochs