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In the execution of my task, fars he, I can affirm with truth, that I have not been wanting in perfeverance, industry, or attention; and yet with all there, it is extremely difficult to avoid mistakes of every kind, as those who are acquainted with the nature of historical researches abundantly know. How far I have approached to that inaccessible degree of exactness, which is chargeable with no error, must be left to the decision of those whose extenfive knowlege of the Chriftian history entitles them to pronounce judgment in this matter.
That such may judge with the more facility, I have mentioned the authors who have been my guides; and, if I have in any respect misrepresented their accounts or their fentiments, I must confess that I am much more inexcusable than fome other historiar.s, who have met with and deserved the same reproach, fince I have perused with attention, and compared with each other, the various authors to whose teftimony I appeal, having formed a resolution of trusting to no authority inferior to that of the original sources of hiftorical truth.'
The Doctor divides the hiftory of the church into two general branches, which he calls its external and internal history. The external history comprehends all those prosperous and calamitous events that have diverfified the external state and condition of the church ; the internal comprehends the changes and viciffitudes that have happened in its inward conftitution, in that system of discipline and doctrine by which it stands distinguished from all other religious societies.
He adopts the usual division into centuries preferably to all others, because most generally liked; though it be attended with difficulties and inconveniencies. In order to remove a confiderable part of these inconveniencies, however, besides this smaller divifion into centuries, he adopts a larger one, and divides the space of time that has elapfed between the birth of Christ and the present times into four periods, diftinguished by signal revolutions or remarkable events. Accordingly, he comprehends the whole of his history in four books: the first is employed in exhibiting the state and vicillitudes of the Christian church, from its commencement, to the time of Constantine the Great. The second comprehends the period, that extends from the reign of Conftantine to that of Charlemagne, which produced such a remarkable change in the face of Europe; the third contains the history of the church, from the time of Charle. magne to the memorable period when Luther arose in Germany, to oppose the tyranny of Rome, and to deliver divine truth from the darkness that covered it; and the fourth carries down the history from the rise of Luther to the present times.
- The history of each century is divided into two parts, viz. the external and internal bistory of the church. The inter
nal history comprehends the state of letters and philosophy,- the doctors and ministers of the church, and the form of its go vernment,--together with its doctrines, ceremonies, and herefies.
Such is the method pursued in this valuable work; in our ac. count of which we must confine ourselves to some of the most interesting parts, as it is impoflible to give a regular abftract of the whole. --The Author introduces his history of the first century with a short view of the civil and religious state of the world at the birth of Christ, in order to thew that mankind, in that period of darkness and corruption, stood highly in need of fome divine teacher to convey to the mind true and certain prin-, ciples of religion and wisdom, and to recall wandering mortals to the sublime paths of piety and virtue. The confideration of this wretched condition of mankind, he observes, will be singularly useful to those who are not sufficiently acquainted with the advantages, the comforts, and the support, which the fublime doctrines of Christianity are so proper to administer in every ftate, relation, and circumstance of life.- A set of miserable and unthinking creatures, says he very justly, treat with negligence, nay, sometimes with contempt, the religion of Jesus, not considering that they are indebted to it for all the good things which they fo ungratefully enjoy.'
He now proceeds to give an account of the civil and religious state of the Jewish nation at the birth of Christ. After mentioning some of the principal matters that were debated among the three famous Jewish sects, he tells us, that none of them seemed to have the interests of real and truc picty at heart, and that their principles and discipline were not at all adapted to the advancement of pure and substantial virtue.
The Pharisees, he says, courted popular applause by a vain oftentation of pretended fanctity, and an auftere method of living, while, in reality, they were strangers to true holiness, and were inwardly defied with the most criminal dispositions, with which our Saviour frequently reproaches them. They also treated the commandments and traditions of men with more. veneration, than the sacred precepts and laws of God. The Sadducces, by, denying a future state of rewards and punishments, removed, at once, the most powerful incentives to virtue, and the most effectual reltraints upon vice, and thus gave new vigour to every sinful paflion, and a full encouragement to the indulgence of every irregular desire. As to the Ellenes, they were a fanatical and superstitious tribe, who placed religion in a certain fort of scraphic indolence, and, looking upon piety to God as incompatible with any social attachment to men, dirfolved, by this pernicious doctrine, all the great bonds of huvan society.
The multitude, we are told, were totally corrupt in their religion and morals; funk in the most deplorable ignorance of God, and of divine things, and had no notion of any other way of rendering themselves acceptable to the Supreme Being, than by sacrifices, waflings, and the other external rites and ceremonies of the Mofaic law.
Various causes, he fays, may be affigned for such enormous degrees of corruption in that very nation which God had, in a peculiar manner, separated from an idolatrous world to be the depository of divine truth. First, It is certain, that the ancestors of those. Jews, who lived in the time of our Saviour, had brought from Chaldæa, and the neighbouring countries, many extravagant and idle fancies, which were utterly unknown to the original founders of the nation. The conquest of Asia, by Alexander the Great, was, also, an event from which we may date a new accession of errors to the Jewish system ; fince, in confequence of that revolution, the manners and opinions of the Greeks began to spread themselves among the Persians, Syrians, Arabians, and likewise among the Jews, who, before that period, were entirely unacquainted with letters and philofophy. We may, farther, our Author says, rank among the causes, that contributed to corrupt the religion and manners of the Jews, their voyages into the adjacent countries, especially Egypt and Phænicia, in pursuit of wealth. For, with the treasures of these corrupt and superstitious nations, they brought home also their pernicious errors, and their idle fictions, which were imperceptibly blended with their religious systems. Nor ought we to omit, he says, in this enumeration, the peftilential influence of the wicked reigns of Herod and his fons, and the enormous instances of idolatry, error, and licentiousness, which this unhappy people had constantly before th-ir eyes in the religion and manners of the Roman governors and soldiers, which, no doubt, contributed much to the progress of their national fuperftition, and corruption of manners.
Dr. Mosheim concludes what he says on this subject with telling us, that the Jews multiplied to prodigiously, that the narrow bounds of Palestine were no longer sufficient to contain them. They poured, therefore, their increasing numbers into the neighbouring countries, and that with such rapidity, that, at the time of Christ's birth, there was scarcely a pr vince in the empire, where they were not found carrying on commerce, and exercising their lucrative arts.
• All this, says our Author, appears to have been moft fingularly and wisely directed by the adorable hand of an interposing Providence, to the end that the people, which was the folc dc. pository of the true religion, and of the knowlege of one Supreme God, being spread abroad through the whole earth,
might be every where, by their example, a reproach to fuperftition, contribute in some measure to check it, and thus prepare the way for that yet fuller discovery of divine truth, which was to shine upon the world from the minift:y and gospel of the Son of God.'
After a Mort view of the life and actions of our Saviour, Dr. Mofheim proceeds to the external history of the church in the first century: and here he enquires, how it happened, that the Romans, who were troublesome to no nation on account of their religion, and who suffered even the Jews to live under their own laws, and follow their own method of worship, treated the Chriftians with such feveriiy. One of the principal reasons of this severity, he says, seems to have been the abhorrence and contempt, with which the Christians regarded the religion of the empire, which was so intimately connected with the form, and indeed with the very essence of its political constitution, For though the Romans gave an unlimited toleration to all reJigions, which had nothing in their tenets dangerous to the commonwealth, yet they would not permit that of their ancertors, which was established by the laws of the state, to be turned into derision, nor the people to be drawn away from their attachment to it. These, bowever, were the two things which the Christians were charged with, and that justlý, though to their honour. They dared to ridicule the absurdities of the pagan superstition, and they were ardent and alsiduous in gaining profclytes to the truth. Nor did they only attack the religion of Rome, but also all the different shapes and forms under which fuperftition appeared in the various countries where they exercised their ministry. From hence the Romans concluded, that the Christian sect' was not only insupportably daring and arro, gant, but, moreover, an eneny to the public tranquillity, and every way proper to excite civil wars and commotions in the empire. It is, probably, on this account, our Author imagines, that Tacitus reproaches them with the odious character of baters
mankind, and styles the religion of Jesus a destructive superTition ; and that Suetonius speaks of the Christians, and their dcetrinc, in terms of the same kind,
Another circumitance, that irritated the Romans against the Christians, we are told, was the fimplicity of their worship, which resembled, in nothing, the sacred rites of any other people. The Christians had neither facrifices, nor temples, nor images, nor oracles, nor facerdotal orders; and this was sufficient to bring upon them the reproaches of an ignorant multitude, who imagined that there could be no religion without these. Thus they were looked upon as a sort of atheists; and, by the Roman laws, those who were chargeable with atheism were ucclared the pests of human society. But this was not all:
the fordid interest of a multitude of Jazy and felhíh priests were immediately connected with the ruin and opprefion of the Chriftian cause. The public worship of such an immenfe num·ber of deities was a source of subfiftence, and even of riches, to the whole rabble of priests and augurs, and also to a multitude of merchants and artists. And as the progress of the gospel threatened the ruin of this religious traffic, and the profits it produced, this raised up new enemies to the Christians, and armed the rage of mercenary superstition against their lives and their cause.
Our Author introduces his account of the state of learning and philofophy in the first century with obferving, that if we had any certain or satisfactory account of the doctrines, which -were received among the wiser of the eastern nations, when the light of the gospel first rose-upon the world, this would contribute to illustrate many important points in the ancient history of the church But the case, he says, is quite otherwise: the fragments of the ancient oriental philosophy that are come down to us, are few in number ; and such as they are, they yet require the diligence, erudition, and fagacity of fomé Scarned man, to collect them into a body, to arrange them with method, and to explain them with perspicuity.
• Of all the different systems of philosophy, continues he, that were received in Asia and Africa about the time of our Saviour, none was so detrimental to the Christian religion, as that which was styled gnosis, or science, i. e, the way to the true knowledge of the deity, and which we have above called the oriental doctrinc, in order to distinguish it from the Grecian philosophy. It was from the volom of this pretended oriental wiidom, that the chiefs of those fects, which in the three first centuries perplexed and afflicted the Christian church, originally issued forth. These fupercilious doctors, endeavouring to accommodate to the tenets of their fantastic philosophy, the pure, the simple, and sublime doctrines of the son of God, brought forth, as the result of this jarring composition, a multitude of idle dreams and fictions, and imposed upon their followers a system of opinions, which were partly ludicrous, and partly perplexed with intricate subtleties, and covered over with impenetrable obscurity. The ancient doctors, both Greek and Latin, who opposed these feets, considered them as so many branches that derived their origin from the platonic philosophy. But this was pure illusion: an apparent retemblance between certain opinions of Plato, and some of the tenets of the eastern schools, deceived these good men, who had no knowledge but of the Grecian philosophy, and were absolutely ignorant of the oriental doctrines. Whoever compares the platonic and gnostic philofophy together, will easily perceive the wide difference that there is between them.