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To BE USEFUL has been their principal aim; they have therefore sedulously endeavoured to give the earliest account of every book which on its appearance was calculated to excite the immediate curiosity of the Public; and they have noticed all other books, agrecably to their first design, with a systematic celerity unequalled by other periodical critics,
They cannot adequately describe the difficulties which in the outset of a work of this nature they have had to encounter in a printing establishment unaccustomed to the regular dispatch of a periodical publication. To this cause they must assign several typographical inaccuracies, of which some correspondents have justly complained. These difficulties have progressively decreased, and there now exists no doubt but this Review will hereafter be printed at Oxford with the same facility and precision as it would be in the best offices of the Mctropolis.
May 20, 1807.
It may be proper to restate, that THE OXFORD REVIEW is not presented to the Public as the authorised production of this University; but as the well meant attempt of several of its Members to shield Literature from the attacks of interested, partial, and venal Critics; and to furnish the public with a fair, ample, and perspicuous estimate of the pretensions of Authors.
An Historical View of the Rise and Progress of Infidelity, with a Refutation of its Principles and Reasonings, in a Series of Ser mons preached for the Lecture founded by the Hon. Mr. Boyle, in the Parish Church of St. Mary le Bow, from the Year 1802 to 1805. By the Rev. William Van Mildert, M.A. Rector of St. Mary le Bow, London. 2 vols. 8vo. 16s. Rivingtons. To the institution of Boyle's Lecture, which commenced in the year 1692, we are indebted for many valuable Sermons, in which the principles and doctrines of Christianity have been explained and defended by the united powers of learning, judgment, and eloquence. Institutions of this nature must, indeed, be reckoned among those of the highest utility. They form a strong tower of defence, whence the soldiers of the Church Militant, "girt about with truth, and having on the breast plate of righteousness," are enabled not only to defend their own territory from invasion, but to march forth, assail that of the enemy, and put to flight the legions of infidelity. Among the names of those champions who have signalized themselves in this warfare, must be numbered that of the author of the work now before us, whose well-tempered weapons are furbished with skill, and wielded with no common strength and dexterity.
With respect to the manner in which the defence of Christianity may be conducted, there is room for much diversity of proceeding.
Mr. V. M. observes, that "the object which the founder of this lecture had in view may be attained, either by a general vindication of the Christian Religion against Infidels of every description, or a defence of it against some particular class of unbelievers; or by a specific answer to such detached objections, as either from their weight or novelty, may appear to deserve consideration. Accordingly, among those who have hitherto laboured in this department, we find a great variety in the distribution of the subject, and in so many different points of view has it been considered, the probably no one argument, tending either directly or indirectly to prove the truth of Christianity, has been left untouched. But although by the writers thus engaged in the cause of Revealed Re
VOL. I. NO. L
ligion, opportunities have continually been taken to expose the futility of the objections raised against it, and to develope the insidious artifices of its opponents, yet it does not appear that infidelity itself has ever been systematically treated, in order to exhibit it in its true and proper light, as the work of that Evil Spirit, who, according to our Lord's declaration, was a murderer from the beginning,' and who has never ceased to manifest the enmity precheted of him in the text, [Gen. iii. 15.] against the sons of men, by leading them to forsake God, and to despise the means provided for their salvation."
The author then proceeds, in his first Sermon, to develope his plan, and arrange his materials under two heads, forming two distinct objects of inquiry; the first of which is historical, the second argumentative, and he states it to be his intention, under the former head, to produce facts to prove that such a systematic opposition to Revealed Religion has really taken place, and under the latter, to shew by arguments its pernicious tendency, and its indefensibility on any just and reasonable grounds.
In the second Sermon we have a short but distinct view of Infidelity in general, but more particularly of the state of Heathen Idolatry before the coming of our Saviour, with an account of the rites and ceremonies then prevalent, and which with the consequent depravation of morals among all ranks, and "the prodigious increase of demoniacal possessions, affecting the bodies as well as the souls of men, prove the malice of the Evil Spirit, raging more and more fiercely, as the time drew near when the promised Deliverer of Mankind was to rescue them from this their relentless enemy.
In the third Sermon, which treats of the opposition which the Gospel met with from the Jews, we meet with nothing new or particularly interesting.
The 4th and 5th Sermons treat of the opposition of the Heathens to the Gospel, from its first promulgation to the reign of Constantine, and subsequently to the end of the 6th century, in which we have an account of the ten grievous persecutions to which the Christians were exposed under the Heathen Emperors, within the space of two hundred and twenty years. The first, our readers will recollect, commenced in the reign of Nero, and continued with little abatement nearly three years, at the expiration of which the Christians enjoyed an interval of rest under the mild and equitable government of Vespasian and Titts. The horrors of persecution were again renewed by the fierce and implacable Domitian. The third Began in the reign of Trajan, and was continued in that of Adrian. The fourth prevailed under Antoninus and Marcus Aurehus.
"These two persecutions," says Mr. V. M. « are remarkable on
account of the reputed characters of the Emperors, in whose reigns they took place, all of whom are represented as distinguished for the mildness of their dispositions, and the excellence of their moral conduct. Indeed, the instructions of Trajan to Pliny, the rescript of Adrian, and the edicts of both the Antonini, evidently betray a consciousness of the extreme injustice of the proceedings which had been instituted against the Christians. But it should seem, that from a bigotted attachment to Heathenism, or from apprehensions for the safety of the State, they were induced to lend a ready ear to the foul and slanderous imputations continually urged against these innocent victims, and to sanction such outrages as were disgraceful to a civilized people. Hence, notwithstanding the panegyrics of their historians, we find the reigns of these Emperors marked with a spirit of sanguinary rage and fury, scarcely inferior to those of Nero and Domitian, and perhaps even more extensive in its effects. The venerable names of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin, stand foremost in the numerous lists of Martyrs during this persecution.
"In the third century the storm raged with greater frequency, at least, if not with greater violence, six several persecutions being recorded in the space of less than one hundred years. The persecution under Severus, in which Irenæus is supposed to have suf fered, called forth the elegant apology of Tertullian, and the admi rable labours of Clemens Alexandrinus and Minucius Felix, in defence of the Christian Faith, which none can read without horror and indignation against its atrocious enemies: That under Maximin appears to have arisen from motives of personal resentment or of personal dread, but was soon terminated by the death of the tyrant himself. The Emperor Decius not only set on foot another dreadful persecution, but carried his enmity so far as to threaten with death every subordinate officer in his Empire who should presume to resist its terrors. Valerian, after deluding the Christians by an extraordinary shew of benignity, renewed, at the instigation of one of his courtiers, a furious and bigotted heathen, all the horrors which had marked the reign of his predecessor Decius, and rendered his name infamous by the martyrdom of Cyprian, and other illustrious witnesses to the Truth. The saine disposition disCovered itself in the Emperor Aurelian, whose sudden and violent death prevented, however, the execution of his cruel purpose. But the climax of persecution was carried to its utmost height in the reign of Dioclesian, when the fury of the Pagan world, instigated by Galerius, and other inveterate enemies of Christianity, was poured forth with unparalleled violence, and with a determined resolution (as it should seem) to extirpate, if possible, the whole race of Believers. In this persecution, the utmost pains were taken to compel Christians to deliver up to the magistrates all their copies of the Holy Scriptures, that they might be publicly burnt, and every vestige of their religion destroyed. But although this part of the Imperial Edict, together with that which respected the demolition
of the Christian Churches, was executed with extreme rigour, yet such were the firmness and fidelity of the Christians, and such their profound reverence for the Sacred Writings, that many of them suffered the severest tortures rather than comply with this Decree. Dark and disastrous, indeed, as this period of Ecclesiastical history appears, it is made illustrious by the writings of many zealous and successful defenders of the Truth, (Arnobius, Lactantius, and others) who shrunk not from maintaining it against every effort to work its destruction."
The sixth Sermon presents us with a view of the rise and progress of Mahometanism. Having examined at some length the internal evidence of the falshood of Mahometanism, Mr. Van Mildert observes, that
"It differs essentially from both Judaism and Christianity, in that it is wholly unsupported by facts of such a nature, as indicate a divine origin. It has no foundation of this kind. It arises out of nothing that can give it stability or coherence. Its author produced no evidence to attest his pretensions; did nothing, to give his followers any ground of trust in him, as a messenger sent from God. Here were neither signs, nor tokens, that could inspire hope and confidence. None could say of him that he went about doing good.' None could say, that either his life or his death gave credibility to his doctrines. He bore record of himself;' and brought no testimony to corroborate his record. The unsupported assertion of a bold, licentious, and profligate adventurer, was all that so many millions of dupes have since relied upon, in the most momentous of all concerns, their everlasting welfare."
The seventh Sermon treats of the progress of Infidelity during the middle ages of the Eastern and Western Antichrists; of Papal Usurpation; of Scholastic Theology; Jewish Cabbalistic Theology; and of Atheistic Philosophers. Among the Schoolmen, our author justly observes, that
"Arguments of a solid and convincing kind were discarded, in order to shew the ingenuity of the disputant, in framing defences of more subtle and exquisite contrivance. Thus the mind lost its relish for plain unadulterated truth, and could only be gratified by such delusive and sophisticated reasonings, as pampered the imagination, without improving the understanding."
In the eighth Sermon, on the Progress of Infidelity under the Protestant Reformation, we find a just and merited panegyric on those characters who distinguished themselves as its leaders, and who are designated as men eminently entitled to the praise of splendid talents, sound learning, and genuine piety.
As to any failings in temper or discretion, which appear to Aare sullied these excellent qualities, when we consider the per