Imatges de pÓgina

great mass of the people, who were exceedingly igno rant. This state of things had been steadily augmenting for several hundred years, which constituted the long and both mentally and morally benighted period appropriately termed the "dark ages."

5. We pause next, and finally, in our retrospective journeying, in the latter half of the second century,-between one and two hundred years before the amalgamation of Church and State, under Constantine, and the consequent rise of the Romish hierarchy,—at which time the majority of the books of the New Testament, as well as many other writings, were in existence. and regarded with more or less veneration.

What was the character of those who composed the Church at that early period? Were they men of veracity? Were they candid, measurably impartial, and generally free from superstitious tendencies? These are questions of some importance: for through the hands of these ancient Christians have passed the writings of the Bible, particularly the books of the New Testament. If the most learned and prominent among them were not men of probity and ingenuousness, we cannot feel entirely assured that they did not corrupt the writings which they held in their possession, and which they handed down to the Church in after time, whence we have received them.

If learned testimony be reliable, they were ignorant, superstitious and dishonest. Such is represented to have been the character of even the best of them,-not simply

of the "heretics," of whom there were several different parties, and who were freely charged with dishonesty and ignorance by their opponents; but also of the highest and most respectable class, the "orthodox," so termed. On this point, I ask your very particular attention to some historical statements concerning them, from the pen of an individual who is considered the most erudite scholar in the Universalist denomination, and who received from Harvard College, about a year since, the title of Doctor of Divinity. I refer to Rev. Hosea Ballou, 2d., of Medford, Mass. The following is an extract from an elaborate work of his, first published in 1829, a second edition of which was issued in 1842. The assertions it contains were not therefore made in haste and without due consideration, but deliberately. Speaking of that period of the history of the church included between A. D. 150 and A. D. 190, he says:

"From the heretics, of all kinds, we return to a view of the doctrine and character of the orthodox. Many of the vulgar superstitions of the Gentiles began to prevail among them, concerning magic, the demons, and the poetical regions of the infernal world; and the Greek philosophy, which had begun to mingle with the doctrine of Christ, was rapidly modifying his religion to its own perverse genius. The CREDULITY of this age was rank, and the learning of the day, at least that of the fathers, was too superficial to prove either a preventive or remedy. Apostolical tradition also began to be urged as proof, when it was so far lost or corrupted, that even

they who had been DISCIPLES of the APOSTLES, adduced contrary traditions on one and the same point; and yet upon this very precarious authority some whimsical notions prevailed. To these shades in the picture we must add a still darker: the christians, orthodox as well as heretics, appear to have employed, in some cases, KNOWN FALSEHOOD in support of their cause. This pernicious artifice they are said to have derived from the Platonic paradox, that it is lawful to lie for the truth; but one would suppose it suggested by their own intemperate zeal, rather than by any maxims of philosophy. They had already begun to FORGE BOOKS in support of their religion, a practice which, it is thought, they borrowed from the heretics; and they now proceeded to propagate accounts of FREQUENT MIRACLES, concerning which, all the earlier writers, after the apostles, had been entirely silent."*

This emphatic testimony, which is based upon the authority of some of the most reputable ecclesiastical historians, is introduced here, not for the purpose of invali dating the entire credibility of the Christian believers in the second century, but merely to show that we must exercise some discrimination in regard to what they tes tify concerning the writings of the New Testament; and that, in view of their character, as delineated by those who profess to believe in supernaturalism, we certainly have not sufficient historical reasons for concluding that

* Ancient History of Universalism, chap. ii. section 1.

they have not corrupted the original writings of the apostles by additions or omissions, or both.

Some may regard this admission as fatal to a reasonable confidence in the truthfulness of any part whatever of the evangelical record. And such may perhaps be the fact, if we cast aside all internal evidence of its truth; but not otherwise. We must discriminate, in regard to the history of every remote period; especially if it be fragmentary, immethodical, and sometimes contradictory.

Of all men, the historian should be governed by the pirit of unbiassed eclecticism,—which, alas! is too seldom the case. It is not unreasonable to suppose that prejudice and surrounding influences may sometimes have blinded the judgment, and perhaps warped the integrity of purpose, of the conscientious historian. A somewhat voluminous modern writer,* whose recent work upon the Lutheran Reformation has attracted considerable notice and won deserved approbation, informs us that shortly after it became known that he was engaged in the preparation of said work, he received letters from several High and Low Churchmen, each writer desiring him to give such a turn to certain portions of the history as to favor the views of his particular church-party. We may, I think, rationally conceive that under such or similar circumstances, to say nothing of the prejudices arising from early education, the judgment of an individual might (half-unconsciously to himself) become biassed, un

* D'Aubignè.

less he were assiduous in his endeavors to maintain the most rigid impartiality.

Therefore, we often find it necessary to sift pretty thoroughly the statements of different writers, before we can attain to a correct estimate of the characters of some prominent men of past time. This eclectic process does not, however, entirely dissipate the elements of the history which is analyzed and sought to be tested. It serves rather to re-assure us of the most vitally essential facts in the case-we feel renewedly convinced of the reality, when we catch glimpses of its substance through the vistas opened by rifting the smoky clouds that have surrounded it, and which have arisen from the altar of Superstition.

But there are those who contend that if the Gospels have been materially corrupted, as respects the narratives they contain, or if their original authors were ever mistaken in regard to matters of fact, then they are entirely unworthy of the least credence. If a history is proved to be in some respects exaggerated, and interlarded, to some extent, with fictitious narrative, (oftimes the fantastic and delusive shadow of solid fact) does it necessarily follow that it is all false, or, in respect to its hero, wholly unreliable? If we are inclined to answer this question in the affirmative when considering the history of the Bible, we do not conclude thus in regard to other historical departments.

Not long since, a preacher, in this vicinity, argued

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