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express and frequent declarations of the antient Fathers; it is neceffary that this affair fhould be enquired into and examined, Whether it is matter of fact or no. And this will be the fubject of the following Treatife. But, before we enter upon it, let the following things be observed.
1. That the writings of the best of men, of the most early antiquity, and of the greatest learning and piety, can't be admitted by us as the rule and standard of our faith. These with us are only the fcriptures of the Old and New Teltament: To thefe we appeal, and by there only can we be determined. If therefore the oracles of God are on our fde if we have the concurrent fuffrage, and the frequent and express declarations of the holy prophets, of Chrift and his Apostles, we have the best and earliest antiquity for us, and are free and far enough from the charge of novelty. It is of no great moment with us, what fuch who lived nearest to the times of the Apoftles fay, unless what they fay agrees with their words and doctrines. It would indeed be matter of concern to us, hould no footsteps, no traces of the doErines we contend for, appear in the works of the first Christian writers, and would oblige us to lament their early departure from
• Whitby's Discourse, &c. p. 96, 198, 345, 489. Ed. 2. 95, 193, 336, 468.35
the faith once delivered to the faints. And, indeed,
2. It is eafy to obferve, and he must be a stranger to antiquity and church-history that does not know, how very early after the Apostles days, corruptions, both in doctrine and practice, were brought into the Chriftian church. For not to take notice of the Hereticks of thofe times, and the herefies broached by them, than which, never were more abfurd notions, or more horrid and blafphemous doctrines maintained, which made * Polycarp, a difciple of the Apostle John, frequently fay, "Good God, to what times haft thou referved me!" the purest writers of the first ages were not free from confiderable mistakes and blemishes, and deviations from the word of God, and doctrines of the Apostles; which having been taken notice of by many learned men, I forbear to repeat. Indeed we have fcarce any thing remaining of what was written in the first century, and very little of what was written. in the fecond. And befides, the writings of these and after-times have been fo interpolated, and fo many fpurious pieces have been afcribed to the writers of thofe ages, that it has been difficult to know their true and real fentiments. Since the Reformation learned men have taken much pains to fepa
*Irenaei epift. ad Florin. apud Eufeb. Eccl. Hift. 1. 5. €. 20. p. 188.
rate the spurious and interpolated, from their genuine works.
3. Though it will be readily owned, that the firft Chriftian writers were men of great fobriety and fimplicity, of exemplary lives and converfations, and who fuffered much and bravely for the fake of the Chriftian religion, the verity of which they were throughly perfuaded of; yet they don't appear to have very clear and diftinct notions of the doctrines of it, at least are not very happy in expreffing their fentiments of them; for, as many of them were men of confiderable erudition in Gentile philofophy, they had a better faculty at demolishing the Pagan scheme, than in ftating, explaining, and defending the Chriftian faith.
4. Whereas the times in which these men lived may be truly called the infancy or youth of the Chriftian church, and which as it grows older may be thought to grow in fpiritual light and knowledge, as it certainly will more fo before the end of the world; so these writers with more propriety may be called the young men, than the fathers of the church: And, without any detraction from their real worth and value, they were but children, in comparison of fome of our European divines, fince the Reformation. And indeed there is a good deal of reafon why these should have a better understanding of the fcriptures, and be more acquainted
with the doctrines of the gofpel; fince, befides the advantage of the writings before them, they also had better helps of underftanding the Bible in its original languages: For most of the Latin writers knew nothing of the Greek tongue, and neither Greek nor Latin writers understood the Hebrew; but a very few indeed. And above all, they had a larger measure of the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Chrift: For, fetting afide the Apoftolic age it self, which was favoured with an extraordinary measure of the gifts and graces of the Spirit, for the bringing forth and establishing the Christian religion in the world; there has been no age fince, that has been bleffed with fo much spiritual and evangelical light as the times fince the Reformation; and it is to be hoped that it will increase yet more and more; though it must be owned, that of late a vail has been drawing over it, which 3 God in his own time will remove.
5. It may be further observed, that the pens of the first Christian writers were chiefly employed against Jews and Pagans, and fuch Hereticks who oppofed the doctrine of the Trinity, and who either denied the proper Deity or real Humanity of Chrift; and therefore it is not to be expected that they fhould treat of the doctrines now in debate among us, any otherwife than per tranfitum, or by the bye. Befides, the doctrines of A 4
grace had never been difputed, or made the fubject of controversy: Satan as yet had not done playing his first game, which was to depreciate fome one or other of the divine perfons in the Trinity, which lafted three or four hundred years; and then he brought on a fecond, and that was to cry up the power of man, in oppofition to the grace of God. Now fince nothing of this kind was moved in the times of thofe early writers, it is not to be wondred at that they should write fparingly on fuch fubjects; or, as Auftin fays, fhould speak fecurius, more fecurely; or fhould fpeak as ferom obferves of the writers before Arrius, innocenter & minus caute, innocently and lefs cautiously. His words are thefe; "You will fay, writing to Ruffinus, how is it that there are some things faulty in their books? If I should answer, that I don't know the reafons of thofe faults, I will not immediately judge them to be Hereticks; for it may be that they have fimply erred, or wrote with another meaning; or their writings have been corrupted by little and little, by unskilful librarians; or verily before Arrius, as a fouthern devil, was born in Alexandria, they fpoke fome things innocently, and less cautiously, which could not avoid the calumny of perverfe men." And, for the fame reason, Adv. Ruffin. apol. 1.
Contr. Julian. 1. 1. c. z. fol. 73, N. tom. 2.