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For this excellent end and purpose the Divine Providence seems to have preserved ecclesiastical records, and has commanded devouring Time to respect them, that posterity might receive instruction from those venerable and silent monitors, and not want examples to shun and to follow.
Christianity, reduced to its principles, is more plain and simple than is commonly imagined, and is calculated for general utility.
When the first teachers of the Gospel, the apostles of Jesus, died, their authority, in a great measure, died with them, and devolved not upon their disciples--but it still lives in their writings.
Christianity, though so much of it ever subsisted as to distinguish it advantageously from Paganism, Judaism, Mohammedism, Deism, yaried considerably, and adopted several disagreeing non-essentials, according to the times and the people who entertained it.
A clear and unpolluted fountain, fed by secret channels with the dew of heaven, when it grows a large river, and takes a long and winding course, receives a tincture from the various soils through which it passes.
When Christianity became a bulky system, one may trace in it the genius of the loquacious and ever-wrangling Greeks; of the enthusiastic Africans, whose imagination was sublimed by the heat of the sun; of the superstitious Ægyptians, whose fertile soil and warm climate produced monks and hermits, swarming like animals sprung from the impregnated mud of the Nile ; and of the ambitious and political Romans, who were resolved to rule over the world in one shape or other. To this we may add the Jewish zeal for
trifles, arising from a contracted illiberal mind; the learned subtilty of the Gentile philosophers ; and the
pomp and ceremony of Paganism. As soon as Christian societies began, debates began; and as soon as Christianity was by law established, debates grew more violent. It is not in the wit or in the power of man, or rather it is an impossibility, to prevent diversity of opinions, since this is the unavoidable result of human imperfection and human liberty, and is not to be removed, unless we had more light, or less agency.
It is related of a grave Roman magistrate, that when he came to Greece as proconsul, he assembled together the philosophers at Athens, the head-quarters of wit and logic, and told them that he was much concerned at their dissensions, and advised them to agree at last in their opinions, and offered them his authority and assistance to reunite and reconcile them ; upon which they all agreed, in laughing at him for his pains. Cicero de Leg. i. 20.
Councils after councils convened to settle the differences amongst Christians; and sometimes they met so frequently, that they might be called Quarter-Sessions as well as Councils. But Gregory Nazianzen, a man of learning, a Christian, a bishop, and a father of the church, has told us, that for his part he chose to avoid all such assemblies, because he never saw any that had good success, and that did not rather increase thaii lessen dissensions and quarrels.
Epist. lv. and in many other places, where he repeats the same complaints, in verse and in prose.
The Christians had never agreed concerning the time of hecping Easter; but when Victor was
bishop of Rome, about A. D. 196, the contest grew warm, and Victor excommunicated, or attempted to excommunicate, the Asiatic churches which would not comply with his infallibility; for which Irenæus reproved him, as he well deserved. Thus the domineering spirit began to exert itself betimes. The council of Nice afterwards settled the affair, and then the few Quartodecimans who stood out were called heretics, according to the custom of calling every thing heresy that offends the majority. But they must have been a stubborn and refractory set of people, to wrangle on about such a trifle, and not to yield to the far greater number in a thing of no consequence to faith or morals. They should have agreed to break the egg at the same end with their neighbours.
If the upper side has been sometimes imperious and over-ruling, the lower has been as perverse and unpersuasible.
When the fathers assembled at Ephesus, and, headed by Cyril of Alexandria, had decreed that Nestorius should be deposed, and that the VirginMother of our Saviour should be called “Mother of God,' the people of Ephesus, who had been in miserable fears and anxieties, with transports of joy embraced the knees and kissed the hands of the bishops; a people, as we may suppose, warm, and sprightly, and very much in earnest. Their Pagan ancestors had signalized themselves by their zeal for Diana.
If general councils have dogmatically decreed strange things, little, national, protestant synods have often acted in a manner full as arbitrary. One that was held in France, A. D. 1612, offended at something that Piscutor had taught concerning Justification, compelled all who should go into
orders to take this oath: 'I receive and approve all that is contained in the confession of faith of the reformed churches of this nation, and promise to persevere therein to my life's end, and never to believe or teach any thing not conformable to it: and because some have contested about the sense of the eighteenth article, which is concerning justification, I declare and protest before God, that I understand it according to the sense received in our churches, approved by national synods, and conformable to the word of God, which is, that our Saviour was obedient to the moral and ceremonial law, not only for our good, but in our stead ; that all the obedience which he paid to the law is imputed to us; and that our justification consists, not only in the remission of sins, but also in the imputation of his active righteousness.--And I promise never to depart from the doctrine received in our churches, and to submit to the regulations of national synods on this subject.' Synodes Nationaux, &c. par Aymon. These men would no more have parted with an inch of their theological system, than the Muscovites once would with an inch of their beards.
Here follows another Decree, made in France A. D. 1620.
• I swear and promise before God and this holy assembly, that I receive, approve, and embrace all the doctrine taught and decided by the national synod of Dort.--I swear and promise that I will persevere in it all my life long, and defend it with all my power, and never depart from it in my sermons, college-lectures, writings, or conversation, or in any other manner, public or private. I declare also and protest, that I reject and con
demn the doctrine of the Arminians, because &c.So help me God as I swear all this without equivocation or mental reservation.'
They should have thus prefaced the Ordinance : It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things which follow,' &c.
To compel any one to swear that he will never alter his opinions about controversial divinity, is a grievous imposition. It might have made some unstable men go over to popery out of resentment, and say,
If I must surrender body, soul, sense, and understanding, the church of Rome shall have them, and not you.' Thus,
• Iliacos intra muros peccatur et extra :' whilst Christianity bļushes and grieves that she can say so little in behalf of her children.
I pass over the synod of Dort, in which the prevailing party oppressed, as they often do, the wise and the learned, and entailed an irrational and uncharitable system on their posterity.
It is said that pope Innocent, the tenth (I think), when the Jansenian controversy was so warmly agitated, told his learned librarian, Lucas Holstenius, that he was very uneasy about it, and unwilling to decide it, because it was a point which he understood not, and had never studied. Holstenius replied, that it seemed not necessary for his holiness, at that time of life, to begin to study it, and much less to decide it, since it was an intricate subject, which had divided not only the Christian world, but the greatest philosophers of antiquity; that if the contending parties were left to themselves, after they had reasoned, and