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When an author appears before the bar of the public, he puts himself in a situation of great responsibility, which is increased in proportiop as his facts or opinions are liable to be disputed. A writer of history should be, above all other people, an attentive observer of human nature. Facts derive their principal value from their application to character. Revolutions in empires may become important by an exhibition of the baser passions ; but they are only valuable in as much as they conduce to the welfare of the people, So, in the history of individuals, those traits of character are to be pointed out, and chiefly insisted upon, which are calculated to subserve the benefit of society. Perhaps no subject requires to be treated with so much judgment as ecclesiastical history; and yet there is no branch of knowledge that has been more shamefully perverted to the baleful purposes of priestcraft and superstition. The history of the Church is any thing rather than a history of Christianity, Clothed in the venerable garb of antiquity, the
grossest delusions have been imposed upon the a understanding; and the greatest crimes have
been sheltered behind the presumed sacredness
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of the clerical character. It is only of late years that the veil has been drawn aside, and that pretended saints have been shown in their true colours. In the hands of a skilful writer, endowed with judgment, and acquainted with the spirituality of religion, ecclesiastical history is a topic that might be treated upon with much interest, as affording a variety of incidents that are calcuJated both for amusement and instruction. Much has been done towards clearing away the rubbish of former writers by Mr. Milner ; but a church-history of our own couvtry, written upon really Christian principles, is still a desideratum.
It is quite natural that popish writers should bend the facts of ecclesiastical history to support the vast fabric of clerical dominion, so essential to the existence of their church; but that Protestant writers should have fallen into the same error is not a little extraordinary. Unfortunately, the subject has been handled principally by persons who have been more concerned to exalt the dignity of the priesthood than to promote the kingdom of Christ. Hence the insufferable pride, the sectarian bigotry, and the malicious representations of churchmen, when they are writing concerning those who do not belong to their communion, In support of these charges, we need only refer to the writings of Heylin, Collier, Wood, Echard, Kennett, and a thousand more that might be named, who, whatever may be their merits as valiant cham
pions for the hierarchy, failed in the principal requisites as historians. It is the record of christian principles, not the prosperity of a sect, that constitutes the beauty of ecclesiastical history.
The attainment of truth is the only legitimate end of history. If destitute of this ingredient, it may delude mankind, but cannot instruct them; it may serve the interests of a party, but strikes at the foundation of religion and virtue. To arrive at truth, we must divest ourselves of sectarian prejudices, weigh well the opinions of others, and be diffident of our own judgment, True wisdom is always allied to modesty; and whilst it becomes us to be decided in our own opinions, a recollection of human fallibility will teach us a lesson of candour to others. As there is hardly any thing more destructive to the peace of society, so there is nothing more contemptible than bigotry. History is full of its evil consequences, and we heartily despise those narrow minds in which it was an inhabitant. In denouncing this disturber of the christian world, truth makes no distinction of sects. The mind of an Edwards was no less deformed than that of a Wood, and whilst we use their facts, we reject their opinions, and pity their bigotry.
A difference of opinion as to rites and cere. monies, and forms of worship, has been the source of endless divisions amongst Christians, But all the schisms that have taken place in the church would have been as harmless as the picture drawn of them by the frightful mind of a non-juror, if Christians had cultivated the spirit of their religion, and aimed at a greater likeness to the temper of its founder. Unfortunately, every sect has seated itself by turns in the chair of infallibility, and imposed its peculiar dogmas with as much confidence as if they had descended from heaven with a strict commission to persecute all who would not embrace them. Uniformity has been the grand idol of ecclesiastics in all ages, and the civil power has assisted them to proclaim its worship. Till the period of the Reformation men bent their necks to the yoke in submissive silence; but the progress of know: ledge, consequent upon that event, has burst the fetters; and, in spite of the most cruel persecutions, the mind has continued to assert its liberty.
The failure of every attempt to force opinion ought to be a sufficient lesson of its absurdity. Upon this point enlightened men of all sects are now pretty well agreed; but there is still a difference of opinion as to the propriety of exalting one sect, by civil distinctions, at the expence of another. If the sentiments advanced in the en, suing work be correct, civil establishments of religion are utterly incompatible with the nature of a christian church. How injurious they bave been to the interests of religion and liberty is abundantly illustrated in the history of our own country. In the present day they may be deemed