Imágenes de páginas

not upon a superficial view, but upon a persevering investigation of the three forms of government. To prove this, it is sufficient to mention the names of Owen, Watts, Doddridge, Cotton, and Bradbury. The late Dr. Campbell, though a Minister of the Church of Scotland, threw the weight of his labours into the same scale, and Mr. Ewing, and Mr. Carson have supported the cause with considerable address and eloquence. In England the Independents are a highly respectable body of Protestant Dissenters.

The discordancy which appears in the sentiments of those great and good men, though it ought not to abate the eagerness of our researches for truth, ought surely to impress our minds with capdour to such as differ from us, and to impose modesty and caution, when we review the steps by which we proceeded in our investigation of these subjects. When names of the first respectability stand opposed to us, arrogance in asserting our own opin. ions, acrimony, virulence, and invective against others, are highly indecorous. The most excellent persons, who adopted opposite systems, have lived in unity of affection, and in the cordiality of Christian friendship, mutually confessing when their sentiments differed, that they saw but in part, and that difficulties were to be encountered in every stage of the controversy. Thus several of the most exalted characters of the Episcopal Divines of the Church of England, loved and respected Calvin, and were in their turn loved and respected by him. Thus Usher, Leighton, and many other venerable men, made great concessions to conciliate the Presbyterians, and to form an union with them. Thus Baxter, Henry, and other Presbyterians of the same sentiments, showed a disposition to coalesce with the Church of England, by every sacrifice which they thought they could make, consistently with their duty. Thus Rutherford, though a Presbyterian, admitted to his pulpit Archbishop Usher ; and thus too, Dr. Owen, when Chancellor of the University of Oxford, gave most of the livings he had at his disposal to Presbyterians, and declared that he could readily join with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; though he himself had adopted the doctrines of the Independents. Thus Bishop Secker, and Bishop Gibson, cultivated the friendship of Dr. Watts, and well knew how to appreciate the excellent talents and dispositions of that eminent divine. And thus, even Warburton, as well as the two dignitaries just mentioned, paid the willing tribute of respect to the piety and virtues of Dr. Dod. dridge.



By whom, or at what time, Christianity was first plant. ed in Britain, is a point far from being settled by the investigations of those, who, with the greatest learning and iabour have endeavoured to explore the truth of history. The only certain lights by which we can be conducted in tracing the progress of the Gospel, in its first dissemination, are indeed those with which the inspired writers supply us. When these leave us, we enter the regions of uncertainty and conjecture, and as on the present questions they cannot be brought to bear, we must despair of obtaining satisfactory information. Our SaviVOL. II.


our prophesied that the triumphs of his religion should spread with the effulgence and rapidity of lightning; and the Apostle Paul recording his own exertions, and those of his fellow labourers, tells us, that their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” Whether this Apostle was the first preacher of Christianity in this Island, as Bishops Jewel and Stillingfleet contend; or whether Simon Zelotes and Joseph of Arimathea, according to the opinion of Baronius, were the first heralds of salvation to the inhabitants of Britain ; or whether the blessings of true religion were first received, in this country, at a period posterior to the lives of those venerable men, are questions which do not admit of an easy, or even of a certain solution. The accounts of King Lucius, who is said to have reigned in Britain, about the middle of the second century, and to have been the first Christian monarch in Europe, have been gathered from the apocryphal writings of some of the Fathers, and have derived their principal authority from their being adopted by the respectable names of Bede and Usher.

If Christianity was introduced into this Island, at an earlier period of its history, than nearly the end of the sixth century, its success must have been either extremely limited, or of very short duration. When Augustine, who was sent by the Roman Pontiff, Gregory the Great, to convert the British Saxons, arrived in Kent in -597, he found Ethelbert and his subjects Pagans, though Bertha, that Prince's Queen, who had been educated in the principles of the Gospel, resolutely adhered to that holy doctrine.* The labours of Augustine, which were

• Bede, Lib. I, Cap. 25.

animated by fervent zeal, were attended with great success, and he was consecrated the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and invested by Gregory with authority over all the British churches. The establishment of Christianity in England having taken place in an age, in which the power and splendor of the Church were growing with a rapidity, equal to her retrograde motion from the purity and simplicity of better times, it was necessarily contaminated with much folly and superstition. The decline of pure religion was attended with an equal decline of literature, and within a century or two, an universal torpor seems to have seized the minds of men. Even in the dismal gloom of that night which, for a thousand years, sat deep over the nations of Europe, some gleams of true piety and science darted through the thick shades, to relume the British horizon. Alfred the Great, not only cultivated religion and learning himself, but was their generous patron, and by the influence of his example and encouragement, who shone in a dark age as a star of the first magnitude, their empire was considerably extended.

Wickliff was the next in our Island who burst those fetters, which ignorance had thrown round the minds of men, and which superstition had rivetted. He roused considerable numbers from the sleep which had so powerfully seized, and so long chained the active powers of the human mind. He first awakened them to think, and then that they might think justly, he let in upon their astonished eyes the light of Revelation, by translating the Scriptures into the English language. Though all the terrors of persecution were called in to repress the inroads of truth, the Popish clergy were only able to retard, not to stop her progress. Wickliff died in peace, at Lutterworth, in 1384; but the doctrines he taught outlived him, and though their current was forcibly opposed, they found a secret vent; and were, by a silent course, watering and fertilizing the channel which received them. From this time to the Reformation, they may be said rather to have found a covered passage than to have become stagnant, and when the external impediments were removed, they rose with healing virtue ipto open day.

After the translation of the Scriptures, the darkness of our midnight was past, and though the difficulty of obtaining, and the danger of being known to consult the sacred oracles, by confining, impaired their light, the former darkness, as well as the truths of Christianity, was now become visible to the eyes of men.

When the heaven-taught eye of Luther had penetrated the mystery of iniquity which had so long bewildered Europe, and when the beams of truth had dissipated the illusion from his own mind, he set the trumpet to his mouth to proclaim the spiritual jubilee to the nations. At its sound, the doctrines taught by Wickliff, re-echoed in murmurs distinct and loud, and shook to its centre, the empire of superstition in Britain. Among the first. that ran to prop her tottering throne, was Henry the Eighth. This prince, whose character affords a striking proof of the little value that crowns and sceptres, riches and honours, bear in the sight of God, though not destitute either of natural or of acquired abilities, was a compound of pride, sensuality, jealousy, bigotry, caprice, and cruelty, of rapacity and profusion, of tyranny and sullenness, of the most violent resentments, and of the blackest ingratitude, and, in short, of almost every vice that is found to debase and brutalize the human heart. In the confidence of juvenile ardor, he wrote a book

« AnteriorContinuar »