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IT has often excited surprise, and it is surely a circumstance much to be lamented, that so many Christians should seem to be ignorant of the grounds of their belief, and of the history of their religion. That a Christ came upon earth, who had been darkly foretold by several prophecies delivered to the Jewish nation; and that he taught mankind a pure and holy system of moral conduct, sanctioned by the awful assurance of future rewards and punishments, is believed by all who are called after his name. Yet there are but few of them who appear to consider
the Bible as a whole; as being, what it is in reality, the history of the Christian religion *; and there are still fewer who know how that religion has descended from its divine Author to the present times. Ecclesiastical histories are filled, for the most part, with the melancholy accounts of heresies, corruptions, and persecutions. And amidst these, the origin and spreading of the religion itself, and its progress through the darkness and tumults of its first ages, is alınost lost t. So that to many persons there may seem to be a complete blank in the history of the church of Christ, from the end of the
* “ Vetus testamentum rectè sentientibus prophetia est novi testamenti.” Augustin. cont. Faustum, as quoted in Hurd's “ Introduction to the study of Prophecy.”
+ The luminous arrangement of Mosheim's excellent work upon this subject, and the great information it contains, especially in Maclaine's edition, must make it an exception to this general observation.
scriptural scriptural record of the Acts of the Apostles, till it appeared again in renovated, and almost primitive, beauty and simplicity, at the memorable æra of the reformation.
Indeed most works of ecclesiastical history, though generally the fruit of laborious research, and containing much learning and information, are written in so dry a style, and so overloaded with superfluous and uninteresting matter, as to require no small share of resolution, no trifling desire of knowledge, to induce the reader to wade through them. And therefore the task is seldom' undertaken, but by those whose sacred profession in some measure obliges, or whose particular inclination leads them, to studies of this nature.
It is not therefore to the clergy, or to the learned, that the following pages are intended to supply information ; but to others, to those who are not possessed of means, talents, or leisure to study themselves, it is humbly presumed that they may possibly, by the blessing of God, be of some use, and assist them in giving a reason of the hope that is in them. Indeed it was originally designed that this should be chiefly an elementary treatise; but the necessity of frequent references to works of learning, and sometimes to translations of the Bible in different languages, has in some measure altered this plan. Such references however, are for the most part thrown into notes, that they may not be an interruption to the text; and perhaps they may be found useful in pointing out some of the Authors who have treated of the subjects here endeavoured to be explained, in a manner more diffuse and more learned, than would be consistent with the nature of this attempt.
The chief object then of the present work, is to shew that Christianity is in
reality reality as old as the fall of man, and therefore, probably, almost as the creation itself* ; that the plan and design of the mission of Christ was at that time formed by God; and that it was carried on through all the intervening ages, and by frequent revelations strongly impressed upon
the minds of that chosen people, to whom were committed the oracles of God, till the Redeemer himself actually appeared. It is then proposed to add a short and summary account of the manner in which the scriptures were delivered
* Though not in Tindal's sense. He endeavoured to prove that Christianity was no new religion, but only a republication of the law of nature, as originally appointed by God. He was ably and completely refuted by Leland and by other writers since his time. Tindal's idea was pot unlike that of certain heretics in the fourth century, who contended that Christianity and Paganism were only different modifications of the game religion.