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What is here offered to the Public is not a regular treatise, but only a collection of detached Remarks on Ecclesiastical History and antient Writers, in which the order of time is neither strictly observed nor greatly neglected, and no anxious accuracy is bestowed upon the dates of years. This is a necessary premonition to the reader, who else would seek what he will not find.
Yet was it designed, slight and imperfect as it is, for the service of Truth, by one who would be glad to attend and grace her triumphs ; as her soldier, if he has had the honour to serve successfully under her banner; or as a captive tied to her chariot-wheels, if he has, though undesignedly, committed any offence against her.
Greater undertakings on these subjects are a task fit for those who are blessed with conveniencies, spirits, and abilities, and a task sufficient to exercise all their talents; for Ecclesiastical History is a sort of enchanted land, where it is hard to distinguish truth from false appearances, and a maze which requires more than Ariadne's clue.
Whilst exalted geniuses discern with a kind of intuitive knowledge, they who have less penetration may be permitted, now and then, where reason and religion are not injured by it, to pause and doubt. Not that doubting is desirable and pleasant; but it is rather better than affirming strongly upon slender proofs, or taking opinions upon trust.
And yet there are instances, in ecclesiastical antiquities, of spurious authors, forged records, and frivolous reports, where hesitation at this time would be improper, and where a man is not to remain for ever in suspense, and to hear what every patron has to say who starts up, and pleads the exploded cause of his ragged clients.
The intention of this work is to produce such evidence as may support and confirm the truth of Christianity, and show that the providence of God has appeared in its establishment and in its preservation; to avoid peremptory decisions on some lately controverted questions, and seek out a way between the extremes ; not to pronounce those things false which may perhaps be true, nor those things certain which are only probable, nor those things probable which are ambiguous ; and to try the experiment, whether by this method a reader may not be gently led to grant all that is required of him, and rather more than less; to set before men some of the virtues, as well as failings, of the antient Christians, whence they may draw practical inferences; to excite in their hearts a love for Christianity, that best gift of Heaven to mankind, and a respect, though not a superstitious veneration, for those good men, who, if they could not dispute for it altogether so well as the present generation, yet, which is more, could die for it; to reject those trifles which persons of greater zeal than discernment would obtrude upon the world as golden reliques of primitive Christianity; and to add several things of a
miscellaneous and philological kind, which will serve, at least, to diversify the subject. Such is the intention of the Work: may it atone for its defects !
There is some comfort arising from a candid observation of the younger Pliny: 'Historia quoquo modo scripta delectat.' A homely collection of remarkable transactions and revolutions has ever something to recommend it to favour: and if this be true of history, it is likewise true of thoughts and observations on history, if they be not quite impertinent. They who represent it as a perfect loss of time to peruse such authors as the Historie Augusta Scriptores (though they are illustrated by excellent commentators) and the Byzantine
riters, have a taste too polite and fastidious; since, where better historians are not to be had, those of an inferior class must supply their place, and become necessary and valuable on many accounts. A French writer is on our side, who says, "Tout livre est bon,'—Every book is good : for thus he translates the Latin title of a treatise of Philo Judæus, Omnis bonus liber est,'-Every good man is a free man. It was well for him that he did not live within the reach of the Inquisition, which might have taken this as a reflection on the • Index Expurgatorius.'
The author would willingly escape the dislike of some of those persons with whom perhaps he will be found not entirely to agree. He and they are engaged in the same common cause; and he hopes that, for the sake of many remarks contained in this work, they will excuse the rest ; as on his side, a diversity of sentiments, in some points, lessens not the regard and value which he has for them, and which they so justly deserve. In one respect he pretends to be extremely like Joseph Mede. I have a conceit,' says that excellent person, that some opinions are in some sort fatal to some men, and therefore I can with much patience endure a man to be contrary-minded, and have no inclination to contend with him.-There is more goes to persuasion than reasons and demonstrations, and that is not in my power.-There are few men living who are less troubled to s others differ from them in opinion than I am; whether it be a virtue or a vice, I know not.'
One of the noblest uses which can be made of Christian antiquities would be, to learn wisdom, and union, and moderation, from the faults, indiscretions, and follies, and from the prudence, charity, and piety, of our predecessors; to observe carefully what was good and what was blameable in remoter ages, and thence to improve ourselves, as we are a Christian nation, by removing the blemishes and defects, from which perhaps we are not free, and by adopting every thing commendable which we may have neglected.
A Christian society, formed upon such a plan, would not altogether answer the fair and bright idea which the imagination represents, because perfection dwells not here below, and some bad materials must of necessity enter into the structure; but it would be more than a faint copy and image of that church which the beloved disciple had the pleasure to see coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, who had no need of the sun neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb was the light thereof.' Rev. xxi.