« PreviousContinue »
7. Finally, to make it evident that the spiritual worshippers of God have al. ways been a sect every where spoken against, I shall enumerate some of the reproachful names that have been successively fixed on them, as the mark of general contempt and abhorrence, such as Patarienes, Lollards, Huguenots, Gospellers, Puritans, Pietists, &c.
These particulars will be illustrated in the course of our history, not exactly in the order here laid down, but as the series of the narration shall require or suggest. I shall not confine myself to a nice uniformity of method, or a dry detail of facts, but shall endeavour to illustrate and apply the several incidents to the use and edification of common readers, and with a view to my primary design, which is, (as I have already said) to vindicate the doctrines of the Reformation, or in other words, the main doctrines taught in the Articles and Homilies of the Church of England, from those unjust and disingenuous invectives, which are every day cast upon them, by not a few who owe all their distinction and authority to their having solemnly engaged to defend them.
Whoever considers the intricacy and variety of ecclesiastical history, and that the best collections of that sort have swelled to a number of folios, will not expect to find every thing that might have deserved a place. The life of man would hardly suffice to furnish a work of this sort in its just extent.
I must content myself with selecting a competent number of the most authentic and interesting topics, from the voluminous materials already published, but which, either from the size or scarceness of the books, or the languages in which they are written, are little more known to the generality of readers, than if they had never appeared in print.
I shall avoid, as far as possible, interfering in the controversies on churchgovernment; reserving to myself, and willingly leaving to others, the rights of private judgment, the just privilege of Christians, Protestants, and Britons.
It must be confessed, that the bulk of ecclesiastical history, as it is generally understood, is little more than a history of what the passions, prejudices, and interested views of men, have prompted them to perpetrate, under the pretext and sanction of religion. Enough has been written in this way; curiosity, nay, malice itself, need desire no more. I propose to open a more pleasing prospect; to point out, by a long succession of witnesses, the native tendency, and proper
influence of the religion of Jesus; to produce the concurring suffrage of different ages, people, and languages, in favour of what the wisdom of the world rejects and reviles; to bring unanswerable proofs, that the doctrine of grace is a doctrine according to godliness; that the constraining love of Christ is the most powerful motive to obedience; that it is the property of true faith to overcome the world; and that the true church and people of Christ have endured his cross in every age. The enemy has thrust sore at them that they might fall, but the Lord has been their refuge and support; they are placed upon a rock that cannot be shaken; they are kept (Decupouusvos,) guarded and garrisoned by the power of God; and therefore the gates of hell have not, cannot, shall not, prevail against them.
Per damna, per cædes, ab ipso
Ducit opes animumque ferro. Olney, November, 1769.
A Review of Ecclesiastical History, upon the plan proposed in this Introduction, was a subject the Author had very much at heart; so much so, that he had begun to prepare materials, and entered some little way upon it, several years before his admission into
the ministry. From the extent, however, and unforeseen difficulties of the undertaking, as well as from the many interruptions he met with in the discharge of his professional duties, and the occasional occurrences of every day, he had proceeded only the length of the two first Books, when he relinquished his design, and afterwards laid it entirely aside. However much the prosecution of this subject might have been wished, either by his friends or the public at large, it is presumed the omission will be the more readily excused, when it is considered, that the observations made with respect to the first century, seem to have been originally intended, and with very little variation will be found, to apply to every succeeding period.
ON THE FIRST PERIOD OF CHRISTIANITY.
Noah, Abraham, and Moses, to illustrate this
very point. The Wisdom and Goodness of God conspi At length, in the fulness of time, as the cuous in the Period assigned for Christ's apostle speaks, (Gal. iv. 4,) the time marked Appearance. Illustrated by a Summary out by the ancient prophecies, the time to View of the State of Mankind, before and which all the previous dispensations of Divine at the time of his birth,
Providence had an express reference and sub
ordination, and which was peculiarly suited When the first man had fallen from the to place the manifold wisdom of God, and the happiness and perfection of his creation, had truths of divine revelation, in the clearest rendered himself corrupt and miserable, and light; the long-expected Messiah appeared was only capable of transmitting depravity as the surety and Saviour of sinners, to acand misery to his posterity, the goodness of complish the great work of redemption. For God immediately revealed a remedy adequate these purposes, he was born of a virgin of to his distressed situation. The Lord Jesus the family of David, at the town of Bethlewas promised under the character of the seed hem, as the prophets had foretold. This great of the woman, as the great deliverer, who event took place in the twenty-seventh year should repair the breach of sin, and retrieve of the reign of Augustus Cæsar, computing the ruin of human nature. From that hour from the battle of Actium ; and, according to he became the object of faith, and the author the most received authorities,* almost 1920 of salvation, to every soul that aspired to years from the calling of Abraham, and about communion with God, and earnestly sought 4000 from the creation. deliverance from guilt and wrath. This dis The pride and vanity of man, which prompt covery of a Saviour was, in the first ages, him to cavil with his Maker, and to dispute veiled under types and shadows; and, like when he ought to obey, have often objected the advancing day, became brighter and to the expedience and propriety of this apbrighter
, as the time of his manifestation pointment. It has been asked, If Christ's drew near: but it was always sufficient to appearance was so absolutely necessary, why sustain the hopes, and to purify the hearts of was it so long deferred? Or, if mankind could the true worshippers of God. That the patri- do without him for so many thousand years, archs and prophets of old were, in this sense, why not longer, or for ever? In attempting Christians, that is to say, that their joy and a solution of this difficulty, some well-meantrust centred in the promised Messiah, and ing persons, from a too earnest desire to that the faith, whereby they overcame the render the counsels of God more acceptable world, was the same faith in the same Lord to the narrow apprehensions of unsanctified with ours, is unanswerably proved by St. Paul reason, have given up the ground they ought in several passages (Rom. iv.; Gal. iii. 16, to have maintained, and made such conces17;) particularly in Heb. xi., where he at large insists on the characters of Abel, Enoch, * Bossuet, Univ. Hist. Prideaux, Connect. Vol. II. с
sions, as (if extended to their just conse- out of the world; and when his fear was set quence) would amount to all that the most aside, the restraints, dictated by the interests hardened infidel can desire. The most direct of civil society, were always too weak to preand proper answer is suggested by St. Paul vent the most horrid evils. In a word, the (Rom. ix. 20,) on a similar occasion, Who character of all ages and countries before the art thou, O man, that repliest against God ?* coming of Christ (a few excepted, where the That the will and wisdom of the Creator light of revelation was afforded) is strongly, should direct and limit the inquiries of his though briefly, drawn by St. Paul:-Foolish rational creatures, is a principle highly con- and infatuated to the highest degree, disobesonant to right reason itself
. And there can dient to the plainest dictates of nature, reahardly be a stronger proof of human depra- son, and conscience, enslaved* to divers disvity, than that this argument is so generally honourable lusts and pleasures, living in esteemed inconclusive. But waving this, a malice and envy, hateful and abominable in sufficient answer may be made from the pre- themselves, and incessantly hating and wormises already advanced.
rying one another, Titus iii. 3. God was not a debtor to sinful men. He It would be more easy than pleasant to might have left them all to perish, as he left make out this charge by a long induction of the sinning angels, without the least im- particulars; and, without having recourse to peachment of his goodness; but his mercy the most savage and uncultivated, the proof interposed, and he spared not his own Son, might be rested on the character of the two that sinners might be saved in a way con- most celebrated and civilized nations, and at sistent with his perfections. But though, in the time of their greatest refinement, the compassion to us, he provided the means of Greeks and the Romans. St. Paul (Rom. i. salvation, we cannot wonder that, in justice 21–32,) has given us the result of their to himself, he laid the plan in such a manner boasted improvements in arts and sciences, as might most clearly illustrate the riches of in war and commerce, in philosophy and litehis own grace, and most effectually humble rature; and he says no more than is abundantand silence the pardoned offenders, to prevent ly confirmed by their own poets and historitheir boasting and trusting in themselves, ans. Notwithstanding the marks and fruits and to give them the most affecting views of fine taste and exalted genius which were of his unmerited goodness. We may there found amongst them, they were habitually fore humbly conceive one reason why Christ abandoned to the grossest vices. Devoted to was no sooner manifested in the flesh, to have the most stupid idolatry, they worshipped the been, that the nature, effects, and inveteracy works of their own hands, nay, erected altars of sin, might be more evidently known, and to their follies and passions. Their moral the insufficiency of every other means of characters were answerable to their princirelief demonstrated by the universal expe- ples. Without natural affection, they frerience of many ages.
quently exposed their helpless infants to What is the history of mankind but a dif- perish. They burned with lusts, not to be fusive exemplification of the scripture-doc- named without horror, and this not the trines concerning the dreadful nature and meaner sort only, or in secret, but some of effects of sin, and the desperate wickedness their finest spirits and most admired writersi of the heart of man? We are accustomed were sunk so low as to glory in their shame, from our infancy to call evil good and good and openly avow themselves the disgrace of evil. We acquire an early prejudice in favour humanity. In their public concerns, notof heroes, conquerors, and philosophers. But withstanding their specious pretences, they if we consider the facts recorded in the annals were covenant-breakers, implucable, unmer. of antiquity, divested from the false glare and ciful, and unjust. Guilty of the severest studied ornaments with which the vanity of oppression, while they boasted highly of writers has disguised them, they will attord equity and moderation, as was particularly but a dark and melancholy review. The spi- manifested on the destruction of Carthage rit of the first-born Cain appears to have inAnenced the whole human race. The peace
* Enslared. So the nriginal term may be emphati of nations, cities, and families has been con-cally rendered - At the control of various and opposite tinually disturbed by the bitter effects of am- passions, hurried about by them all in their turns, and bition, avarice, revenge, cruelty, and Just. incapable of resisting or refusing the motions of any. The general knowledge of God was soon lost lected from Horace, Juvenal, Sallust, anu Suetonius.
1 Sre Virgil, Eclog 2.
See Acts xxvij. 42. 'The soldiers would have killed * It is observable in this passage, that the apostle fore. all the prisoners, right or wrong, rather than one of rees and states the great objection which woull be made them should have a possibility of escaping; and in this, to his doctrine, but does not attempt to answer it any without doubt, they consulted their own sitily, and the farther, than by referring all to the will of him who spirit of their laws. Why, then, were the Romans so formed the whole mass, and has a right to dispose of it. much admired? Could i here be a greater proof of Had succeeding writers and teachers imitated his exam. cruelty and injustice found amongst the most barbarous ple, declared the plain truth in plain words, and avoid nations, than to leave prisoners, who might possibly be ed vain and endless reasonings, how many offences innocent, expused to the wantou caprice of their keepwould have been prevented !
and Corinth; two memorable instances of selves; he freed them from their captivity by the spirit of a government so undeservedly a series of illustrious miracles; he led them admired in after times. And as the Roman through the sea and the desert; he honoured power, so the Grecian eloquence, was per- them with the symbols of his immediate verted to the worst purposes,--to palliate presence; was a wall of fire round about crimes, to consecrate folly, and to recom- them, and a glory in the midst of them; he mend falsehood under the guise and sem-spoke to them with an audible voice, and fed blance of truth.
them with manna from heaven; he put them Such was the character of the people re- in possession of a good land, and fought puted the wisest and the best of the heathens, against all their enemies. Might it not have and particularly so at the birth of Christ, been expected that a people so highly favourwhen the Roman empire was at the summited and honoured, should have been obedient of authority and splendour. A long expe- and thankful? Some of them were so; his rience had shown the general depravity to be grace always preserved a spiritual people not only inveterate, but incurable. For amongst them, whose faith in the Messiah during several preceding ages, a reformation taught then the true meaning of the Levihad been desired and attempted. The prin-tical law, and inspired them with zeal and cipal leaders in this commendable design sincerity in the service of God. But the bulk were called philosophers, and many of their of the nation was always refractory and diswritings are still extant. It must be ac-obedient. While in the wilderness they knowledged that some of them had a faint murmured against the Lord upon every new view of several important truths; but as they difficulty. Within a few days after the law neither knew the cause and extent of the had been delivered in flames and thunder disorder, nor the only effectual remedy, they from the top of Sinai, they formed a molten met with little success. Their schemes were calf to worship, and would have made a various, inconsistent, and even opposite, and captain who might lead them back to Egypt. each party more successful in opposing the They despised the good land, therefore their fallacy of other sects than in maintaining carcases tell* in the wilderness, 1 Cor. x. 5. their own. Those who came nearest the Their posterity retained the same spirit; truth, and were in earnest to promote it, were they learned the ways of the Heathen, whom very few. Even these were ignorant of some the Lord cast out before them; they adopted things absolutely necessary to the attainment every idolatrous practice; they transgressed of the desired end. The best of them were every divine command. During a long sucrestrained by the fear of men and a regard cession of warnings, chastisements, and deto established customs. What they could liverances, they became worse and worse, so and did propound, they had no sufficient that, in Jeremiah's time, they equalled or authority or influence to impress upon the exceeded the Heathens around them in ignoconsciences of men. And if, in a few instan- rance and wickedness. They mocked the ces, they seemed to succeed, the advantage messengers of God, despised his words, and was only imaginary. Where they prevailed misused his prophets, till his wrath rose on any to relinquish intemperance, they made against them, and there was no remedy. At them full amends by gratifying their pride. length their land was laid waste, Jerusalem The business passed from hand to hand, from burnt, the greater part of the people dessect to sect, but all to no purpose. After troyed, and the remainder carried captives innumerable disputations, and volumes con- into Chaldea. cerning the supreme good, the beauty of Upon their return from captivity, they virtue, the fitness of things, and other high- seemed for a little while to retain a sense of sounding topics, they left matters as bad or their duty and of the judgments they had worse than they found them. They could suffered. But all was soon forgot. Their not effectually inculcate their doctrine upon wickedness now put on a new form, and disa single village or family. Nay, they were covered the evil of the heart of man in a new but half persuaded themselves, and could point of view. They were no longer prone not act up to their own principles, * when to idolatry. They avoided the most distant they most needed their support.
appearance of it with scrupulous exactness, A still more affecting view of the degene- and professed the highest attachment to God. racy of human nature we have in the history They boasted themselves in his law; and, of the Israelites, whom God was pleased to set apart from the rest of mankind, for several * They were overthrown (x2T16TpW6Woxv,) they fell in important purposes. He revealed himself to and this, after all the great things they had seen and
heaps, like grass before the scythe, in the wilderness; this people when they were groaning under been partakers of. Or the many hundred thousands a heavy bondage in Égypt, from which they who were above twenty years old when they were delihad neither spirit nor power to deliver them- ter the promised land; a striking admonition 10 us not
to rest in the participation of external privileges of any
kind, for these people had seen the Lord's wunders at • Witness the prevarication of Socrates, and the ir the Red-Sea, had rejoiced in the destruction of the Egyp. resolution of Cicero, towards the close of their lives. tians, and been fed with manpa from heaven.