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express and frequent declarations of the antient Fathers ^; it is necessary that this affair should be enquired into and examined, Whether it is matter of fact or no. And this will be the subject of the following Treatise. 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 antiquicy, and of the greatest learning and piety, can't be admitted by us
as the rule and standard of our faith. These ::: With us:aje, only the scriptures of the Old
and New Testament: To these we appeal, and:by.these only can we be determined If therefore the oracles of God are on our Gde
je. have the concurrent suffrage, and the frequent and express declarations of the holy prophets, of Christ 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 such who lived nearest to the times of the Apostles fay, unless what they say agrees with their words and doctrines. It would indeed be matcer of concern to us, ihould no footsteps, no traces of the do Etrines 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...!!!
che faich once delivered to the saints. And, indeed,
2. It is eafy to observe, and he must be a stranger to antiquity and church-history that does not know, how very early after the Apostles days, corruptions, boch in doctrine and practice, were brought into the Chriftian church.' For not to take notice of the Herecicks of chose times, and the heresies broached by them, than which, never were more absurd notions, or more horrid and blasphemous doctrines maintained, which made * Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, frequently say, “ Good God, to what . times baft tbou reserved me!” the purest writers of the first ages were not free from con. fiderable mistakes and blemishes, and devia, tions 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 scarce any thing remaining of whac was written in the first century, and very little of what was written in the
second. And besides, the writings of these and after-cimes have been so interpolated, and so many spurious pieces have been ascribed to the writers of those ages, that it has been difficult to know their true and real sentiments. Since the Reformation learned men have taken much pains to sepa
* Irenaei epist. ad Florin. apud Eufeb. Eccl. Hift. 1. 5. 6. 20. P. 188.
rate the spurious and interpolated, from their genuine works.
3. Though it will be readily owned, that the first Christian writers were men of great fobriety and fimplicity, of exemplary lives and conversations, and who suffered much and bravely for the fake of the Christian religion, the verity of which they were throughly persuaded of; yet they don't appear to have very clear and distinct notions of the doctrines of it, at least are not very happy in expreffing their sentiments 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 cimes in which these men lived may be truly called the infancy or youth of the Christian church, and which as it grows older may be thought to grow in spiritual 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 some of our European divines, since the Reformation. And indeed there is a good deal of reason why these should have a better understanding of che scriptures, and be more acquainted
with the doctrines of the gospel ; since, befides the advantage of the writings before them, they also had better helps of understanding the Bible in its original languages: For most of the Latin writers knew noching of the Greek tongue, and neither Greek nor Latin writers understood the Hebrew; buc a very few indeed. And above all, they had a larger measure of the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ : For, seuing aside the Apostolic 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 blessed with so much fpiritual and evangelical light as the times since 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 13 God in his own time will remove.
5. Ic may be further observed, that the pens of the first Christian writers were chiefly employed against Yews and Pagans, and such Hereticks who opposed the doctrine of the Trinity, and who eicher denied the proper Deity or real Humanity of Christ; and cherefore it is not to be expected that they should treat of the doctrines now in debate among us, any otherwise than per tranfitum, or by the bye. Besides, the doctrines of
grace had never been disputed, or made the
• Contr. Julian. l. 1. c. 2. c Adv. Ruffin. apol. 1 .