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theology.-Criticism, especially biblical criticism; and the skill and habit of exactly weighing the true import of every expression, and the grammatical meaning of every sentence; and deducing conclusions from it, by logical rules, were comparatively little known among them: so that, (except as they learned any thing from the uncertain source of tradition, or unless they were divinely inspired ;) they had fewer helps, by far, for understanding the Scriptures, than moderns have; to whom the multiplication of books by printing, and the ease and readiness, with which any man communicates his sentiments to great numbers; and with which they may be examined, confirmed, or refuted, is to the sincere enquirer after truth an inestimable advantage, to which the fathers were strangers. Most of them had been brought up in heathen notions, or had imbibed the principles of the philosophers; of which they retained a considerable proportion, after their conversion; and with which some of them, as we shall see, exceedingly corrupted christianity. They did not observe the apostle's caution : “Let no man spoil you, through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of
after the rudiments of the world, and not « after Christ.”! They were in general men of great earnestness, and piety: some of them had much learning of various kinds, (for that time,) and brilliant talents : but few of them possessed that stock of theological knowledge; and that quick and accurate judgment, on disputable points; by which the least shade of difference is promptly and exactly perceived ; and by which men, through exercise and habit, discern good and evil, as “ the ear distinguishes sounds, and the mouth tastes meats.”
: Col. ij. &.
Indeed, it seems highly probable, that the Lord, foreknowing how prone men, in subsequent times, would be to over venerate the uninspired writers of the primitive church; and to make them even the rivals of his holy oracles, a kind of authoritative expositors of them; was pleased to counteract this tendency, by permitting it so to come to pass; that we no sooner leave the apostolical writings, to open the books of these ancient fathers ; than we seem, as it were, at once got into another climate: and the inferiority of their productions strikes our minds, in proportion as we enter into the spirit and views of the divine word, and relish and delight in it. Thus, while the Scriptures contain the best writing almost of every kind, which can be found in ancient or modern books; and nearly all of it was written by Israelites: it is remarkable, that this same nation cannot be said to have produced one good writer, besides the penmen of the Scriptures. Even Josephus is not entitled to this character: but the value of his information, in some parts of his writings, makes us overlook the defects of his composition. There are indeed detached passages, in the apocryphal books, which are well written : some of which are evidently borrowed from Scripture ; but not one book is free from puerilities, tautologies, ambiguities, and obscurities, and other things incon. sistent with good writing. So that the transition from the Scripture, even to the least exceptionable parts of the apocrypha, is similar to that, before mentioned; from the ardent, (yet argumentative,) and persuasive language of St. Paul; or the affectionate simplicity of St. John, both full of Christ, his love, his salvation, and his example, to that of the fathers; the sentiments of whom we are about in some measure to consider.
The difficulty also of distinguishing the genuine writings of the fathers, from the works falsely ascribed to them; and from the interpolations, which have been made in them, is allowed even by the most zealous assertors of their claim to our almost implicit evidence. If then we would know, what primitive christianity was; we must go to earlier times, than even those of the most ancient fathers of the christian church; even to the times of the apostles, and the writings contained in the New Testament.--I would, however, in no wise be understood to mean, that the aggregate testimony of the ancient fathers of the christian church is against our tenets; but disclaiming human authority, I decline attempting any evidence from them, on the other side; and indeed, the nature of this publication does not allow time for it: but, should my life be spared, and a proper call be made for it, I shall not decline it, and by no means shrink from the attempt of adducing an evidence from them, on the more essential part of our system.
IGNATIUS, A CONTEMPORARY OF THE APOSTLES.
Cotelerius's Edition, 1724.
P.cclxxxvii. ' Of all, &c. What there is in this quotation, in direct opposition to the peculiar tenets of Calvinism,' I cannot discover. Some awkward and perhaps inaccurate, expressions might be noticed. *These two formed into one;' instead of “ faith " which worketh by love." No one professing ' faith is guilty of sin.' This, if criticized strictly would mean, that nominal christians commit no sin : but profession is supposed to be sincere; “ With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, " and with the mouth confession is made unto sal“vation :"3 and the clause implies, that every true believer is delivered both from the guilt and power of sin. " Whosoever is born of God doth not com “ mit sin: for his seed remaineth in him, and he
cannot sin, because he is born of God." ;* If a man 'be found unto the end.' Believing, that God
''Of all which, nothing is hidden from you,
you have faith perfectly towards Jesus Christ, and charity which are the beginning
and the end of life. Faith is the beginning, charity the end. 'These two formed into one are of God. But all other things which relate to a holy life are constquences of these things. No one professing (sruyendowessos) faith is guilty of sin; and no one who possesses love is guilty of hatred. The tree is made ' manifest by its fruit : so those who profess themselves christians shall be discerned by their actions. For it is not now a work
of profession, but in the power of faith, if a man be found unto 'the end. (suv tos süzewa: bis troc.) Vol. ii. p. 15.'
2 Επαγγελλομενος. 1 Τim, vi. 21. Tit, i. 2. * Rom. X. 10.
will keep all his true children to the end, (“ I “ will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall
not depart from me;)” we also believe, that “he “ who continueth unto the end, the same shall be "saved :"1 and that none else will be saved. In 'the power of faith.' “ Who are kept by the
power of God, through faith unto salvation." “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."} ·
P. cclxxxviii. 1. 4. . He is a man of the devil, being made so, not by nature, but by his own . will.' If Ignatius meant, that men are not by
nature born in sin, and children of wrath ;' he certainly spoke unscripturally: but I suppose, that he meant, not merely by nature, but by his own voluntary choice; by imitating the apostacy and rebellion of Adam. I can hardly conceive, that this holy martyr intended, expressly, to deny original sin: but if he did, his sentiments are nearly in as direct opposition to his Lordship's avowed doctrine,“ as they are to that of the Calvinists.-From this most ancient of the fathers little, or nothing, has been adduced against us; and some of his expressions better suit our views, than those of our opponents.Ignatius seems to have been a man of eminent piety, and zeal, and holy fortitude; but not a very judicious divine: and his epistles were hastily written, while he was hurried away, by fierce and savage Roman soldiers, to Rome, to be devoured by wild beasts, not much more ferocious than they. Pious
Jer. xxxii. 39–41. Matt. xxiv. 13. 1 Pet. i. 5.