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The reading with an eye to any one particular subject can rarely be conducted, without its inçidentally throwing a light upon other subjects also. This, at least in Theology, has certainly happened to be my own experience.
I. During a term of several
circumstances, which it is needless to specify, led me to peruse pretty extensively the Works of the early Antenicene Fathers, with the object of ascertaining, through the medium of my own eye-sight: Whether the doctrine of the Trinity and the allied doctrine of Christ's Essential Godhead could be clearly traced, as the received and inculcated doctrines of the Catholic Church, up to the very age of the Apostles. For it struck me: that those doctrines,
if exhibiting the real mind of Scripture, must have been held by Catholic Christians from the very beginning; and, conversely, that those doctrines, if not held by Catholic Christians from the very beginning, could not be reasonably viewed as exhibiting the real mind of Scripture.
II. My reading for this purpose incidentally made me better qualified, than I should otherwise have been, for an historical examination of the Doctrinal Claims of Popery: and, when, by a respectable Anglican Laic, I was called upon to perform that task with a special reference to the garbled plausibilities of the Bishop of Strasburg, I felt the less inclination to a refusal, because it had been impossible for me not to observe; that the peculiarities of the Romish Church were mere comparatively modern innovations, and that they could not only not be traced up to the apostolic age and the apostolic sanction, but that in numerous instances they were even directly contradicted by the ancient documents of the Church Catholic.
III. The examination, here specified, led to the production of two Works, severally entitled The Difficulties of Romanism and The Apostolicity of Trinitarianism.
1. Yet, while an examination of the early Fathers, for the purpose of tracing the doctrines of Christ's Godhead and the Holy Trinity up to the time and authority of the Apostles, thus led me to perceive the utter futility of the claims of Popery: the same examination could not fail also to shew me the insecure foundation, so far as historical testimony is concerned, upon which the three most commonly received Systems of interpreting the language of Scripture, respecting the doctrine of Election, have been by their several votaries constructed.
(1.) As I advanced in my researches, though for quite a different purpose, I was struck with perceiving: that, in the early writings of the Church, neither Calvinism nor Arminianism nor Nationalism (if, for want of a better name, I may so designate the System of Mr. Locke) could, as Systems combining severally a well-defined Scheme of CAUSATION with a well-defined Scheme of IDEALITY, be any where discovered.
We find, indeed, the Scheme of CAUSATION, which is common alike to Calvinism and to Nationalism, occurring in the oldest ecclesiastical documents that have come down to us : and we also find the Scheme of CAUSATION, which specially characterises Arminianism, prominent in various writings subsequent to the time of Clement of Alexandria with whom that Scheme appears to have originated.
But, for the Scheme of IDEALITY which is common alike to Calvinism and to Arminianism, and for the Scheme of IDEALITY which is peculiar to Nationalism, we shall vainly search the records of proper Antiquity: they were equally unknown to that Church, which, either in a more or in a less restricted
sense, may justly be denominated Primitive.
Hence, I believe, it may be truly said : that, as Systems, the three Systems in question were altogether unknown to the Ancients.
(2.) Such, in brief, is the negative evidence afforded by Ecclesiastical History.