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love which they discovered, often made lasting impressions upon the people, sometimes upon their tormentors and judges; and, by the blessing of God upon their doctrine, thus powerfully recommended by their conduct, and sealed by their blood, new converts were continually added to the church,

5. When it was thus determined to extirpate, if possible, these odious and dangerous people, pretexts and occasions were always ready; slanderous reports concerning their tenets and assemblies were industriously promoted and willingly believed.

Some of these took their rise from misapprehension; some were probably invented by those who apostatized from the church, who, to justify themselves, as well as to evince their sincerity, pretended to make discoveries of horrid evils that prevailed amongst then, under the disguise of religion. Many, who would not have invented such stories themselves, were, however, well pleased to circulate what they had heard, and took it for granted that every thing was true which confirmed the opinion they had before entertained of this pestilential and despicable sect. But neither violence nor calumny could prevail against the cause and people of God and his Christ : they were supported by an almighty arm ; and though many had the honour to lay down their lives in this glorious canse, many more were preserved by his providence in the most dangerous circumstances.

The Gospel of Christ, though contradictory to the received opinions, laws, customs, and pursuits of every place where it appeared, though unsurported either by arts or arins, though opposed by power and policy on every side, in a space of about sixty-six years from our Lord's ascension (according to the promise he gave his disciples),

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had spread successively from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth. Christians were to be found in every province where the Roman power ruled, and in most of their principal cities; and though not many noble, mighty, or wise were called, yet some there were, and the power of the grace of Jesus was displayed in every rank of life. Courtiers, senators, and commanders, notwithstanding the difficulty of their situation, were not ashamed of his cross ; and some of the learned obtained that peace and happiness, by embracing his Gospel, which they had sought to no purpose in the vain intricacies of a false philosophy. Nor was the success of the Gospel confined within the limits of the Roman empire, but extended eastward to Parthia and Babylon, where the Roman eagles were not acknowledged. We are not sure, however, that there were many collected societies of Christians in every province, or that those societies were in general very numerous. Those parts of Asia and Greece which had been the scene of St. Paul's labours, seem to have had the greatest number of settled churches in proportion to their extent;. and their largest assemblies were probably in their principal cities, such as Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. But we have reason to believe, from our Lord's own declarations, that real Christians, in the most flourishing times m of the church, have been very few, in comparison with the many who chose the broad and beaten road which leads to destruction : but these few are under his conduct and blessing, as the salt of the earth, and are therefore scattered far and wide, according to the disposal of bis wise providence, who appoints the time of their birth and the bounds of their habitation.

m Matt. vii. 13, 14.

If, by the epithet primitive, we mean that period during which the professed churches of Christ preserved their faith and practice remarkably pure, and uninfluenced by the spirit and maxims of the world, we cannot extend it far beyond the first century. We are sure that a mournful declension prevailed very early, and quickly spread, like a contagion, far and wide; and, indeed, the seeds of those evils, which after wards produced such a plentiful harvest of scandals and mischiefs, were already sown, and began to spring up, while the apostles were yet living. And we shall show hereafter, that the first and purest age of the church was not free from such blemishes as have been observable in all succeeding revivals of true religion. These things are to be guarded against with the utmost attention; but they will more or less appear while human nature continues in its present state of infirmity. While the professors of Christianity were few in comparison of their opponents, while they were chiefly poor and obscure persons, and had sharp persecutions to grapple with, so long they preserved the integrity and purity of their profession in general, and the disorders which appearedamong them were faithfully and successfully opposed and corrected; afflictions and sufferings kept them firmly united in a love to the truth and to each other : but when they were favoured with intervals of peace, and the increase of numbers and riches seemed to give them a more fixed establishment in the world, they were soon corrupted, and that beautiful simplicity, which is the characteristic of genuine Christianity, was obscured by will-worship and vain reasonings. Amongst the multitudes who abandoned idolatry, and embraced the Christian faith, there were, several who had borne the specious name of phi

losophers. Some of these, on the one hand, laboured to retain as many of their favourite sentiments as they could, by any means, reconcile to the views they had formed of the Gospel; and, on the other hand, they endeavoured, if possible, to acconimodate the Christian scheme to the taste and prejudices of the times, in hopes thereby to make it more generally acceptable. Thus the doctrines of the Scripture were adulterated by those within the church, and misrepresented to those without. Perhaps the first alterations of this kind were not attempted with a bad intention, or extended to the most important points; but the precedent was dangerous ; for the progress of error, like that of sin, is from small beginnings to awful and unthought-of consequences. Gospel truth, like a bank opposed to a torrent, must be preserved entire, to be useful: if a breach is once made, though it may seem at first to be small, none but He who says to the sea, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther," can set bounds to the threatening inundation that will quickly follow. In effect, a very considerable deviation from the plan of the apostles had taken place in the churches, before the decease of some who had personally conversed with them.

We have no ecclesiastical book of this age extant worthy of notice, except that called the First of the Two Epistles to the Corinthians, which are ascribed to Clement, bishop of Rome, who is supposed to be the Clement mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. This epistle is not unsuitable to the character of the time when it was written, and contains many useful things; yet it is not (as we have it) free from fault, and at the best, deserves no higher commendation than as a pious well-meant performance. It stands first, both in point of time

and merit, in the list of those writings which bear the name of the apostolical fathers; for the rest of them, if the genuine productions of the persons whose names they bear, were composed in the second century. For as to the epistle ascribed to Barnabas, St. Paul's companion, those who are strangers to the arguments by which many learned men have demonstrated it to be spurious, may be convinced only by reading it, if they are in any measure acquainted with the true spirit of the apostles' writings. We are, indeed, assured, that both the epistles of Clement, this which bears the name of Barnabas, several said to have been written by Ignatius (the authenticity of which has likewise been disputed), one by Polycarp, and the book called the Shepherd of Hermas, which is filled with visionary fables, were all in high esteem in the first ages of the church, were read in their public assemblies, and considered as little inferior to the canonical writmgs; which may be pleaded as one proof of what I have advanced concerning that declension of spiritual taste and discernment which soon prevailed; for I think I may venture to say there are few, if any, of the Protestant churches but have furnished authors whose writings (I mean the writings of some one author) have far surpassed all the apostolical fathers taken together, and that not only in point of method and accuracy, but in scriptural knowledge, solid judgment, and a just application of evangelical doctrine to the purposes of edification and obedience.

But though the first Christians were men subject to passion and infirmities, like ourselves, and were far from deserving or desiring that undistinguishing admiration and implicit submission to all their sentiments, which were paid. them by the ignorance and superstition of aster

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