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to a prudent discreet Determination, and avoid thofe Errors which would naturally be attended with unhappy Consequences. But
every Man has a more important Concern in the Affairs of a Life to come; and therefore it is a Matter of the highest Moment for every one to understand, to reason, and to determine justly about the Things of Religion: 'Tis in vain for Perfons in general to say, We have no Leisure or Time; when the daily Intervals and Vacancies from necefsary Labour, together with the One Day in Seven, in the Christian World, allow a sufficient Time for such Pursuits : And if Men would but apply themselves hereto, with half as much Zeal and Diligence as they do to the Trifles and Amusements of this Life, it would turn to infinitely better Account.
But, besides the right Knowledge of those Principles and Duties which are of the greatest Concernment, there are some Branches of Study, which have a most apparent Tendency to entertain as well as to improve ; and, of this Kind, fome. Subjects of History will claim the Preference; and, perhaps, there is no Part of History better received than the Account of great Changes' and Revolutions in States and Governments.
Of all Changes, thofe in Religion which have been sudden and signal, are enquired into with the moft
eager Curiosity; and, where the Salvation of Souls has been chiefly aimed at, and the Credit, Honour and Interest of Churches promoted and established, the more Pious and Judicious will find their Satisfaction much more than compensate the seeming Trouble of their Search into the Reality and Circumstances thereof.
A C E. V The Alteration that has been made in the established Religion of this Nation for little more than the two last Centuries, has produced such Effects every where, that it is no Wonder if all Persons desire to see a clear Account of the several Steps by which it advanced; of the Councils that directed it, and the Motives, both religious and political, that inclined Men of all Conditions to concur in it.
- To lay before the Public à particular and im| partial Account of the Constitution and Doctrine
of the several Denominations of Christians, is the principal Intent of this Undertaking; and, upon the most mature Enquiry I have been able to make, I find the Doctrines and Tenets of all Denominations to have varied greatly from their original Constitution, and distinguishing Character,
This Observation will appear to be true, even with respect to the Roman Catholic Church, which has been moft of all solicitous to preserve the Catholic Faith, as they call it, pure and uncorrupt. The wiser Part disclaim fome of their most absurd Doctrines, and discard and despise many of their ridiculous Ceremonies : Some Reformation has been made in these Respects by Churches of that Persuasion in different Natiɔns of Europe; and it is more than probable that many of the most serious and judicious Papists would be glad to see a greater Reformation even in the Fundamentals of their Religion.
Picart, under the Article of adoring the Cross, says, “ This Ceremony gives great Scandal to Heretics, who look upon this solemn Adoration on Good Friday as manifest Idolatry-would it not be better to decline fome Ceremonies which Catholics are reduced to Shifts, Disguises, and Evasions
to defend, and which are looked on as Folly to the Libertine, and a Scandal to the Protestant ?"*
In the Church of England it is well known great Alterations have taken place since the Reformation : At that Time the generality of the Englis Divines, especially the Majority of the Committee for Compiling the Articles of this Church, were ftrict or rigid Calvinists, who, in Spite of all the Opposition they met with, modelled several of the Articles in favour of Cal. vinism, which now the greatest Part of the English Divines would fain explain contrary to their literal Sense and Meaning; represent them as, at best, ambiguous and capable of a Sense more consistent with the general Tenour of the Scriptures, and the Reason and common Sense of Mankind.--In like Manner Athanahus's Creed was then, by Authority, inserted in the Book of Common Prayer, and, with all the incomprehensible Mysteries and exceptionable Clauses, cordially received by fome, and imposed on others, as the true Catholic Faith ; whereas now, to say no more to explode it, the Church in general “ would be glad to be well rid of it.”. If the Question were asked, What are the genuine Sentiments of the Church of England ? it would be a very, vague, indeterminate and falle Answer, to say they are contained in the XXXIX Articles; when it is well known that the Majority of our most eminent Prelates and Divines of the established Church, have embraced and professed, and in their public Preaching and Writings endeavour to inculcate, Principles more consistent with the Nature of genuine Christianity.
The fame Observation is equally true, with respect to many other Denominations, namely the
* Picari's Edition of the Religious Ceremonies, Vol. II. P. 25.
Kirk or Church of Scotland, the Englis Prefbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, &c. as would be no difficult Matter to particularize in many Instances, were it not unnecessary, as will evidently appear in the Course of this work. This
may be one Reason why all the Histories extant, of the several Sectaries of Christians, differ so widely from each other, and are so very
imperfect and erroneous : I wish this was the only Reason, and that there did not appear some evident Marks of a malevolent Design to misrepreient Sectaries, in order to expose them to Censure and Contempt. This I hint with particular Regard to Ross's View of all Religions, being, of all
; voluminous Edition of the Religious Ceremonies of all Nations, in which the Author appears greatly mistaken in the Constitution and Principles of several Societies of English Protestant Disenters; and also to Bossuet's History of the Variation of Protestant Churches in the Low Countries.
But this Crime of Misrepresentation is not applicable only to a few Histories of our own or foreign Nations, and those for the most part obsolete : Certain modern Writers seem to have taken a secret Pleasure in blackening the Characters of some Societies of Christians, and exposing and censuring such Doctrines or Rites as they learned not in their Infancy to believe or practise ; forgetting, though ashamed to deny, the Right of private Judgment, and Liberty of Conscience; and too often ignorant of the genuine Principles of those Societies they censure, and of the Arguments upon which they are founded. Indeed I have been often surprized to find Persons
of Credit, and otherwise of good Understanding, fo extremely ignorant, not only with respect to the genuine Sentiments of other. Denominations of Christians ; but in a very high Degree, of the distinguishing Tenets or Principles of that Religion they themselves profess; and consequently of the Arguments on which they rest. This was one Motive to the Profecution of the present Work ; and another was to suppress Bigotry, Prejudice, and Cenforiousness, too apt to take Poffeffion of narrow Minds; and, in their Place, to, inculcate and improve that mutual Love and Charity, even for Persons of differing Opinions, which is so agreeable to the Dignity and Honour of Men and of Christians.
'I write fór no Party; my Aim is to recommend a free and impartial Enquiry into the genuine Principles of Christianity, which is the just Foundation of Truth and Virtue, Liberty and Charity.
That generally-received Maxim, Rome was not built in a Day, is as undoubtedly true with respect to the Constitution, Doctrine and Ceremonies of the Romish Church, as of its external Form and stately Edifices; for this Reason I have judged a brief Account of the principal Revolutions and Variations in the Government, Worship, &c. of that Church for seventeen Centuries, a proper Preliminary to the History of its present State.
The Account I have given of the Principles, &c. of the Romish Church, I have first expressed in the · Words of Pope Pius's Creed, which was established by the Council of Trent, and has been ever since 3