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No doubt some more ancient voluminous Church-Historians, as well as Motheim in his Compendium, have given us much useful information, and if one can look on them as civil historians altogether, they are not to be blamed. Had they incorporated into their secular narratives an account of the
progress of godliness itself, I should not have dared to reprehend them as Ecclesiastical Historians. But they evidently give a much larger proportion to the history of wickedness, than to that of piety in general. Hence the evils which have been practised in Christian countries seem'even greater than they really were; and the disagreeable effect which the reading of Mosheim had on my own mind is probably no singular case, that real religion seems scarce to have had any existence. Infidel malice has triumphed, though very unreason- . ably, on account of these things; the vices of Christians, so called, have certainly been exaggerated on the whole; and Deifts and Sceptics have taken advantage, partly from hence, and partly from the poverty of our information concerning Mahometans and Pagans, to represent them as more virtuous than Chriftians,
What account can be given of this unhappily partial view of Church-History? Genuine godliness is fond of secrecy; humility is of its effence. She seeks not the praise of men, but the praise of God, and hides even the good she does from the world more studiously
than wickedness conceals its evils; her sincerest votaries have likewise been chiefly private persons, such as have seldom moved in the public and noisy scenes of life. The most celebrated historians, who hitherto have appeared, seem not to have had so much relish for godliness, as to be induced to take any pains to draw her out of her modest obscurity*. The prevalence of wickednets in all ages has heightened the difficulty I. From
these * Fox's Book of Martyrs is however one striking exception to this remark. The Magdeburgensian Centuriators, whom I did not meet with, till I had finished this Volume, are likewise in part exempted from the charge of writing Ecclefiaftical history, in the secular manner which I have reprehended. Yet while they omit, or very lamely recount some most important Christian facts, they relate with ted ous exactness many uninteresting particulars. They seem however to have been men of real piety, industry, and learning, and may be of real use to me in subsequent parts of the history, should I continue it.
The volume of Mr. Newton is well known, and its merit has been acknowledged by men of piety and judgment. I once thought of beginning only where he ended. But as there is an unity of manner and style which belongs to every author who plans and executes for himself, and as in some points I really found myself to differ in fentiment from this very respectable writer, I altered my opinio", contcated in this place to acknowledge, that so far as I can recolleet, the perusal of his instructive volume of Ecclefiaftical history first suggested to me the idea of this work.
I An hiftory of the perversions and abuses of religion is not properly an history of the Church ; as absurd were it to suppose an history of the highway-men that have in. felted this country to be an history of England.
these causes the scarcity of materials for what properly deserves the name of Church-Hiftory is much greater than any person, who has not examined the subject, can even conceive. I have all along however, to the best of my ability and opportunity, consulted original records, and have never contented myself with copying the sentiments of modern historians.
I hope I shall be allowed to call the plan, I propose, a proper one. Certainly, the terms“ Church and Christian" do in their most natural and primary sense respect only good men. The Divine Founder of our religion has promised, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
against it. Such a succesfion of pious men in all ages must therefore have existed ; and it will be no contemptible use of such an history as this, if it prove, that, in every age, there have been real followers of Christ. Other uses cannot fail to offer themselves. To see and trace the goodness of God by his Providence and Grace, in every age, taking care of his Church, will be, to the devout mind, a refreshment of the most grateful nature.
The honour of Christianity will be supported, the value of its . effential doctrines ascertained, and we shall have frequent occasion to state what the Gofpel is, and what it is not. Hence the triumphs of the Sceptic will appear to be unfounded in truth, when it shall be evident on the whole, that Christ's religion has ever
existed and brought forth its proper fruits, to which no other system can make any just pretension; finally, that the evils of which Christians, so called, have been guilty, arose not from the Gospel itself, but from the hypocrisy of those who assumed that worthy Name, to which neither their faith nor their practice gave them any right.
. These, and other obvious advantages of such an history, have determined me to attempt it. I feel oppressed with the greatness of the subject. Nevertheless, with God's help, I must proceed. In magnis voluisse fat eft.
I have two things further to premise, ist, To assure the Reader that I shall think it my indispensable duty to give him real facts ; and if I be rather more copious in reflections than the severe laws of history allow, he will do well to observe, that the fashionable milrepresentations of ancient story require fome attention.
And, 2dly, I fairly warn the Reader not to expect from me any indulgence in the modern taste of Scepticism. I shall not affect to doubt the credibility of ancient respectable historians. And as it is hardly porfible to avoid altogether the infection of the age in which one lives, I seem to myself sufficiently secured, by the torrent of prevailing opinions, from the other extreme of superftitious belief. Both ought to be avoided;
but that which supports itself by the appearance of solid sense, by the authority of great names, and by the love of applause, must of course be the more ensnaring. The present age in matters of religion may justly be called the age of self-sufficiency; we condemn the ancients by wholesale; we suspect their historical accounts without judgment; malevolence and profaneness are both supported by these things; we seem to imagine, that we are without any parallels in understanding; we are amazed, that our ancestors should so long be deluded by absurdities, little suspecting how much some future age will pity or blame us for follies of which we imagine ourselves perfectly clear.