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only, which, like the sun, was intended to enlighten the whole world ; and if without using those means of coming to the knowledge of the truth, which God has put into our hands, men, after a slight inspection of particular texts, select from them opposite creeds, (as fancy or caprice may dictate,) there will be little prospect of arriving at a reasonable certainty with regard to the correct interpretation of scripture.
The only mode, of determining differences, is by, a recurrence to first principles, to trace the stream to the fountain head, or to appeal to that primitive, church, which was nearest to the times of the apostles. To this test the author confidently refers, relying on the indulgence and candour of the public, for a serious and patient perusal.
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and
vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ; for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead, bodily." Col. ii. 8, 9.
CHRISTIANITY, in its infant state, was attacked by two formidable adversaries ; the Jew and the Gentile, both well qualified and not less disposed to give it a severe examination.
It was first proposed to the Jews (warmly attached to the Mosaic institution ill understood), and its pretentions were to be tried by the correspondence of its principles and history, to the doctrine and predictions of their sacred books. The writings of the Jews to which the appeal lay, are in all hands; and with what triumphant superiority the followers of our Saviour reasoned from them, we see in their numerous publi
cations still extant, and especially in those of the great apostle St. Paul ;-80 that if all the scriptural learning, and all the bigotry of Judaism could not obstruct the rise of Christianity, as we know it did not, it may fairly be presumed that truth and reason were on its side.
From the Jews, we turn to the Gentiles, flourishing in arts and letters, and at that time devoted to an idolatry, grown venerable by its antiquity, and calculated to captivate the many, by the pomp of its rites, the magnificence of its temples, and the gaity of its festivals. The pride of Gentile wisdom, at first kept its professors from taking more than a superficial view of the new religion. But its rapid progress among the people, added to its declared purpose, of prescribing the faith and regulating the manners of mankind, broke through this real or affected indifference, roused at length the attention of the great and wise; and provoked the zeal of both, to shew itself in every species of hostility. The great persecuted, the learned reasoned ; yet the disciples of Jesus made such a luminous defence of the doctrines of the gospel, as enabled them to silence the wisdom of philosophers, and to triumph over the jealousies of prejudice, and the menaces of power.
The principal advantage, which the first teachers of the christian faith exclusively enjoyed, was the preternatural illumination of their understandings by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost. This gave the apostles a complete insight into all the
peculiarities of the christian dispensation, and produced that transcendent superiority which they uniformly displayed over the theology of the Jew, and the erudition of the Gentile. Hence we find them possessed of an accurate acquaintance with the ecclesiastical history of their own nation, and a knowledge of what was closely connected with it, the universal antiquities of religion. We find that the striking events of ancient story, which were the most directly adapted to the purpose of the argument in which they were engaged, were always so presented to their minds, that they formed the most accurate and interesting conceptions of them. We find them happy in the interpretation of the prophesies, able expositors of those types, and symbolical representations of the Messiah, which were contained in the ceremonial rites of the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations. We find them learned in the jurisprudence of their country, and in their reasonings upon the most abstruse subjects, we find a self-evidence of the principles assumed, a coherence of the arguments pursued, a solidity of the conclusion deduced, and a perspicuity of language not surpassed by the most celebrated writers of Greece and Rome. Thus by the ministry of those chosen instruments of heaven, the face of empires was changed, Jews were converted into christians, and ido laters to saints.
So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed, notwithstanding the severity with which its credentials were tried. The christian religion, says a fine writer, made its way through Paganism, with an amazing progress and activity. Its victories were the victories of reason, unassisted by the force of human power, and as gentle as the triumphs of light over darkness. And though the powers of hell had been succes