« PreviousContinue »
personal goodness. There is no reason why a name or an opinion, the narrowness of bigotry or the tide of popular prejudice, should exclude such writings from the publicity to which their merits give them a claim, or from the good influence, which they are eminently qualified to exercise.
It is intended not only to draw from the best English authors, but also to translate occasionally from divines, who have written in Latin, German, or French. Several valuable articles may, it is thought, be obtained from these sources, which have never been presented to the English reader. Something, no doubt, may be gleaned from the first Reformers sufficiently free from the spirit, and violence, and jargon of those times, to be read with interest and profit at the present day. Whenever christians have been attacked as avowing an erro-, neous faith, they have defended themselves in nearly the same way. Equally indignant at oppression, they have asserted the right of inquiry, judgment, and belief, with equal earnestness and sound reasoning. They have usually maintained the true principles of scriptural christianity.
Even Calvin, in bis expostulation with the king of France, was moved to plead the cause of liberty and toleration most eļoquently, while he was suffering in exile under the odium of being a heretic. So it was with Luther, Melancthon, and their associates. When defending themselves against the common
adversary, they took rational grounds. It was only on things of doubtful import, that they became enthusiasts, bigots, dogmatists, and persecutors. They deserted reason, and then reason deserted them. When they attempted to enforce what they could neither explain nor understand, they quarrelled, became furious, called names, excommunicated, anathematized. With the voluminous repositories of these feuds, we have no occasion to be acquainted ; yet we may still listen with pleasure and advantage to the eloquence and arguments of the first Reformers, in support of the common principles of religious truth and liberty.
Some good articles in theology are moreover contained in the writings of the Polish Brethren. For ability and learning they have never been surpassed; but it is to be regretted, that so large a portion of their works is taken up in discussing the abstruser points of controversy, and that they were so much addicted to the school dialectics in use at the time in which they wrote. This objection, however, does not apply to their commentaries, which are perspicuous and natural, and manifest great critical acumen and sound judgment. They have served as a storehouse from which all sects and parties have drawn with more freedom, than they have found it convenient to acknowledge. Few commentaries on the Scriptures have appeared during the last century, which have not profited either directly or indirectly
from these sources.
Orthodox and heterodox have been equally dependant, and equally cautious how they gave credit, where credit was due. Archbishop Tillotson was more ingenuous; but he paid dearly for his honesty and frankness, by being branded as a heretic and a Socinian. Many were ready to inflict this censure, who were not ashamed to be plagiarists and pilferers. But the time has happily come, when names have lost their terror, and a man may confess without fear through what channels he receives knowledge and truth.
The celebrated theologians among the early Arminians, such as Grotius, Episcopius, Wetstein, Le Clerc, and Limborch, were the authors of valuable works, founded on the broad principles of a liberal and rational faith. Of these writers, perhaps, a few pieces may be published, which will afford light and assistance to inquirers at the present day. Le Clerc, especially, among other works of formidable magnitude, has left several short treatises, which bear testimony to his piety, learning, and genius, as well as to his enlargement of mind and charitable spirit. The Arminians, like the first Reformers, wrote in self defence. They maintained the liberty of conscience, and used the weapons furnished by reason and the Scriptures. The Calvinists had combated the Catholics with the same weapons, but they were now grown strong, and came down upon
the defenceless Remonstrants with the artillery of creeds and
confessions, synods and councils, imprisonment and civil penalties. Having no means of physical resistance, the Remonstrants relied on their intellectual strength and the justice of their cause.
In this respect they gained a conquest as complete and honourable, as it was on the other part ignoble and unchristian. Their works written on this occasion, and afterwards, contain excellent specimens of theological discussion and criticism, which are in strict conformity with the spirit and original simplicity of the Gospel.
In drawing from so large a number of writers, whose opinions were various, it cannot be expected, that a perfect consistency will be preserved in the religious sentiments advanced in different parts of this work. Much less can it be supposed, that the Editor's opinions accord with all that may be published. It will be a general rule to give the articles entire, nor will an alteration or abridgment of them ever be made in consequence of the sentiments, which they express. Sometimes such parts may be omitted, as are local, and have no immediate bearing on the subject at large; but this will seldom happen, and never unless it be notified to the reader. It is deemed highly important that the language of the authors should be faithfully and exactly retained.
The Editor will endeavour to comprise, in the biographical and critical notices, such incidents and facts, as may add to the interest and value of the work. Suitable remarks will be annexed for explaining the object of each article, and for making its purport and meaning clearly understood. If any topic should be introduced, which, in the progress of theological science, has received new light since the article was written, an attempt may perhaps be made to bring the subject down to the present state of knowledge. In short, if proper discretion be exercised in selecting articles, and the plan here proposed be judiciously executed, it is confidently believed, that the work will be an acceptable and useful acquisition to the libraries not only of theologians and biblical students, but of every class of readers.