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Concerning the DURATION of
The TEXTS of the New Testament, relating
Occasion'd by some late WRITINGS,
By MATTHEW HORBERY, B.D.
Knowing therefore the Terror of the Lord, we persuade
For our God is a Consuming Fire.
Printed for JAMES FLETCHER, Bookseller in Oxford;
HERE will be so much occasion for the Reader's Candour throughout the following Performance, that it would be imprudent to offend him, by omitting any usual Instance of Civility. It is however of little Consequence to the Publick, to be told how I came to be ingaged in this Dispute; only it may be said, that this Enquiry should either have been published sooner, or not at all: Sooner, that it might have obviated the ill Effects of Mr. Whiston's Book; or not at all now, since he has been answered by others, and particularly by Mr. Dodwell, in two excellent Discourses before the University of Oxford.
I love no Disguise in any Case, in this I need none; The plain Truth is this:-Mr. Whiston's Book had been published a considerable time before I was desired to write against it; when I had undertaken this Task, I finished it as soon as I was able, and as fast as other Business and Avocations would give me leave. And tho' this Treatise comes late, yet if I have in any measure compass'd my Design, and confirmed the Point I defend, I flatter myself that it may still be useful. While Opinions are confined
to Books, they are of little Consequence to the World in general; and it is to little purpose to raise or continue Disputes about them. But the Doctrine here opposed is of another kind. It is so agreeable to the Wishes and Inclinations of some People, that they are ready to believe it, not only independently of Mr. Whiston's Book, but perhaps without any Reasoning, or Reading, upon the Subject at all. It is enough for them to hear, that a learned Man has writ something, against the Eternity of Hell-Torments. The rest they take for granted; they question not but it must be so as he says; for the Doctrine of a miserable Eternity always seemed to them absurd and incredible.
There is little hope of prevailing upon such Persons as these, to read any Thing on the other side. But then they may hear, as they did in the other Case, that the Point is far from being so clear and certain, as they seem to imagine ;- -that it still appears to be the Doctrine of the New Testament, that there will be no Alteration of the State of wicked Men after the Day of Judgment;--that Annihilation is a Dream, and the Hypothesis of a Re-establishment more visionary and extravagant than that;—that therefore they should not so hastily take for granted, what has never yet been proved; nor talk and act as if Hell-Torments were not perpetual, till they are very sure that they are in the Right. In a word, if the following Enquiry can contribute to make Men a little more cautious upon this Article, and to reflect on what they are doing before it be too late, it will do good service to the World; and then the Affair
of its appearing so long after the Book that occasion'd it, will be merely an Incident not worth regarding.
As to the other Question,-What need of this after Mr. Dodwell's Discourses? I answer, that it was finished before his Discourses were publish'd; and as it likewise takes in a larger Compass than the Nature of that Gentleman's Design would admit of, it was judged proper not to suppress it. I mention this, lest I should be suspected of Vanity, as if I thought myself capable of improving an Argument, which had been handled by so good a Writer: An Imagination of all others the farthest from my Thoughts.
As to the Work itself, I can only say this, that however imperfect the Performance may be, I have taken the right Method to find out the Truth. I have endeavoured to collect the Doctrine of the New Testament, I think from all the Texts in it relating to the Argument I am upon; and I have attempted to clear this Doctrine from the Difficulties objected to it, in point of Reason: With what Success, the Publick only must judge. But surely if our Doctrine must be rejected, it will not be in Consequence of what Mr. Whiston has said against it. There is little Reasoning in that Gentleman's Book ;-some Scripture explain'd as he pleases, and sometimes inconsistently enough;-a good deal of Conjecture and Invention ;- -and a numerous Collection of Testimonies from ancient Writers, tho' of different Value, in which his Strength principally lies. But any one may see that this Strength is Weakness, depending,