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  • PART 4.


    SINCE those doctrines which are commonly called, Calvinistical are charged with novelty, and are represented as running directly contrary to the whole stream of antiquity, and the sentiments of the ancient fathers, and as entirely unknown to the Christian church before the time of Austin; when, on the other hand, the doctrines of the universal scheme are said to be confirmed by the concurrent suffrage of all antiquity, and the express and frequent declarations of the ancient fathers; f809 it is necessary that this affair should be inquired into and examined, whether it is matter of fact or no. And this will be the subject of this Fourth Part. But, before we enter upon it, let the following things be observed: 1. That the writings of the best of men, of the most early antiquity, and of the greatest learning and piety, cannot be admitted by us as the rule and standard of our faith. These, with us, are only the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament: to these we appeal, and by these only can we be determined. If therefore the oracles of God are on our side; if we have the concurrent suffrage and the frequent and express declarations of the holy prophets, of Christ and his apostles, we have the best and earliest antiquity for us, and are free, and far enough from the charge of novelty. It is of no great, moment with us, what such who lived nearest to the times of the apostles say, unless what they say agrees with their words and doctrines. It would indeed be matter of concern to us, should no footsteps, no traces of the doctrines we contend for, appear in the works of the first Christian writers, and would oblige us to lament their early departure from the faith once delivered to the saints. And, indeed, 2. It is easy to observe, and he must be a stranger to antiquity and church history that does not know, how very early after the apostles’ days, corruptions, both in doctrine and practice, were brought into the Christian church. For not to take notice of the heretics of those times, and the heresies broached by them, than which, never were more absurd notions, or more horrid and blasphemous doctrines maintained, which made Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, frequently say, “Good God, to what times hast thou reserved me!” The purest writers of the first ages were not free from considerable mistakes and blemishes, and deviations from the word of God, and doctrines of the apostles; which having been taken notice of by many learned men, I forbear to repeat. Indeed we have scarce any thing remaining of what was written in the first century, and very little of what was written in the second. And besides, the writings of these and after-times have been so interpolated, and so many spurious pieces have been ascribed to the writers of those ages, that it has been difficult to know their true and real sentiments. Since the reformation, learned men have taken much pains to separate the spurious and interpolated, from their genuine works. 3. Though it will be readily owned, that the first Christian writers were men of great sobriety and simplicity, of exemplary lives and conversations, and who suffered much and bravely for the sake of the Christian religion, the verity of which they were thoroughly persuaded of; yet they do not appear to have very clear and distinct notions of the doctrines of it, at least are not very happy in expressing their sentiments of them; for as many of them were men of considerable erudition in Gentile philosophy, they had a better faculty at demolishing the Pagan scheme, than in stating, explaining, and defending the Christian faith. 4. Whereas the times in which these men lived, may be truly called the infancy or youth of the Christian church, and which, as it grows older, may be thought to grow in spiritual light and knowledge, as it certainly will more so before the end of the world; so these writers with more propriety may be called the young men, than the fathers of the church: and, without any detraction from their real worth and value, they were but children, in comparison of some of our European divines, since the reformation. And indeed there is a good deal of reason why these should have a better understanding of the Scriptures, and be more acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel; since, besides the advantage of the writings before them, they also had better helps of understanding the Bible in its original languages: for most of the Latin writers knew nothing of the Greek tongue, neither Greek nor Latin writers understood the Hebrew; but a very few indeed. And above all, they had a larger measure of the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ: for, setting aside the apostolic age itself, which was favored with an extraordinary measure of the gifts and graces of the Spirit, or the bringing forth and establishing the Christian religion in the world; there has been no age since, that has been blessed with so much spiritual and evangelical light as the times since the reformation; and it is to be hoped that it will increase yet more and more; though it must be owned, that of late a veil has been drawing over it, which God in his own time will remove. 5. It may be further observed, that the pens of the first Christian writers were chiefly employed against Jews and Pagans, and such heretics who opposed the doctrine of the Trinity; and who either denied the proper deity or real humanity of Christ; and therefore it is not to be expected that they should treat of the doctrines now in debate among us, any otherwise than per transitum, or by the bye. Besides, the doctrines of grace had never been disputed, or made the subject of controversy: Satan as yet had not done playing his first game, which was to depreciate some one or other of the divine persons in the Trinity, which lasted three or four hundred years; and then he brought on a second, and that was to cry up the power of man, in opposition to the grace of God. Now since nothing of this kind was moved in the times of those early writers, it is not to be wondered at that they should write sparingly on such subjects; or, as Austin says, should speak securius, “more securely,” or should speak as Jerom observes of the writers before Arius, innocenter et minus cante, “innocently and less cautiously.” His words are these; “You will say,” writing to Ruffinus, “how is it that there are some things faulty in their books? If I should answer, that I do not know the reasons of those faults, I will not immediately judge them to be heretics; for it may be that they have simply erred, or wrote with another meaning; or their writings have been corrupted by little and little, by unskillful librarians; or verily before Arius, as a meridian devil, was born in Alexandria; they spoke some things ‘innocently, and less cautiously,’ which could not avoid the calumny of perverse men.” And, for the same reason, it is no marvel, if, before the Pelagian controversy was moved, they dropped some things which were not so agreeable to the doctrines of special grace, or even to their own sentiments concerning them; since they had never been put upon the more strict examination and defense of these things, and so wrote without guard. This made Austin say, in answer to Prosper and Hilary, who moved to have the sense of former writers concerning predestination and grace, in order to stop the mouths of some cavillers; “What need is there to search into their works, who before this heresy arose, were under no necessity of troubling themselves to solve this difficult question; which without doubt they would have done, had they been obliged to answer to such things. Hence it is, that what they thought of the grace of God, they have briefly and transiently touched upon in some places of their writings, but dwelt on those things in which they disputed against other enemies of the church.” 6. It is worthy of notice, and what serves greatly to show the general sense of the Christian church concerning these doctrines, that when Pelagius first broached his notions concerning grace and free will, they were looked upon as new and unheard of, and were condemned by several councils; by one at Diospolis in Palestine, at which were fourteen bishops; by two at Carthage in the last of which were sixty-seven bishops; and by another at Milevis in Africa, which consisted of sixty bishops. And in the first of these Pelagius recanted, and was obliged to subscribe the condemnation of his tenets, or else he had been anathematized. So that Austin was far from being the only person that rose up and opposed him. And indeed Pelagius for some time had very few, that either did or dared openly to espouse his notions. And as for Austin, he was so far from being alone in his sentiments, that it was well “known that not only the Roman and African churches, but all the sons of promise in all parts of the world, agreed with his doctrine, as in the whole of faith, so in the confession of grace;” as Prosper observes. I have only further to observe, that the testimonies produced in the following work, are taken from the writers before Austin. I have made no use of him, nor of Prosper and Fulgentius, his two boatswains, as Dr. Whitby very wittily, no doubt, as he thought, calls them: nor have I taken any citations upon trust from others; but what is here presented to the reader, is the fruit of my own reading, care, and diligence. I say not this in an ostentatious way, but that the reader may more safely depend upon them. To all which I only add, that I have not attempted an elegant translation of these testimonies, but have as much as possible pursued a literal one, lest I should be thought to impose my own sense upon an author. Great allowance must be made those writers, on account of the age in which they lived, and the style in which they wrote: nor can it be expected they should write with exactness and accuracy, or express themselves as moderns do, upon points which had never been the subject of controversy. I do not pretend to reconcile all their different expressions, which may seem contradictions to themselves and to truth: what I propose, and have in view, is to make it appear that the Arminians have no great reason to boast of antiquity on their side; and I hope, on the perusal of the following sheet, sit will be allowed that this point is gained.


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