THE publication of the fourth volume of the History of the Church of Christ has been delayed so long, and so much beyond the period at which the editor had hoped the manuscripts might have been reviewed and printed, that he now feels himself called upon to state briefly the reasons, which have retarded the execution of this work.
1. The principal reason, no doubt, is the decease of the learned and industrious author; which melancholy event took place soon after the third volume was completed. While he was alive, no time was lost, no pains were spared, in forwarding an ecclesiastical history, in which the writer conceived the honour of God and the benefit of mankind were materially concerned. But the progress of an undertaking, which was deprived of its main operative spring, unavoidably became slow and difficult. Add to this, what the editor has already mentioned in his preface to the second edition of the first volume; how extremely difficult it now is to prepare and fit for the press such of the manuscripts as were intended to make a fourth volume. While recourse could be had to the author, many doubts and obscurities might be cleared up in a few minutes, which, in the present circumstances, cost the editor hours and days; and, frequently, he is at last compelled to desist from further investigation without success, from want of knowing the meaning of some character of shorthand, or the proper edition to be made use of in consulting the authorities.
2. The little leisure, which the editor could spare from indispensable duties, was employed, for a con
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siderable time in correcting and Reprinting the First volume of this work. The booksellers pressed so earnestly for a second edition of that volume, that the editor, in having complied with their requests, trusts he has gratified the wishes of the public.
3. It was understood, likewise, that the public were very desirous of seeing some of the rev. Mr. Milner's sermons in print. An able and judicious friend, with great diligence and kindness, selected and revised a proper number of the manuscripts, and superintended the publication of them at York; but the affecting task of writing the life of their author devolved upon the editor of this history. Moreover, a second edition of the sermons was soon called for. This and the life of the author, with large additions to both, Were also reprinted by the editor at Cambridge and published in 1801. The time and care required for these several purposes necessarily diverted his attention from the ecclesiastical history.
4. Further: As the editor proceeded in reviewing the materials designed for the fourth volume, he found them more imperfect in many ways, than he had at first expected. They were composed with several interruptions, caused by the author's increasing weakness and infirmities; and there is reason to believe, that a considerable portion of them was not even once read over by himself. It has been the object of the editor to supply defects of every kind in the best manner he was able.
5. During the greater part of the year 1802, he entertained hopes that it might be in his power to complete the fourth volume by the midsummer of the present year at the furthest. And for this purpose, almost every moment, in which he had any option of employment, has been most scrupulously appropriated to the forwarding of this work. But it so happened, that in the late spring, he was many weeks incapacitated for business by a disorder, which is well known to have, been prevalent and severe in the southern parts of this island. This cause alone has rendered it
impossible for him, by any exertions, to be ready with all the materials of this volume at the time above mentioned: but besides this, it now appears that the contents of it will so much exceed what was foreseen that they cannot be conveniently bound together in a single octavo; particularly as many readers of this history have signified their desire that the fourth volume might contain a full and complete index to the whole work. The increase of its size, distinct from the addition which it will receive from the index, arises, partly from a more than ordinary closeness in the writing of the author's manuscripts; and partly, from a great number of insertions by. the editor; who feels assured that most of them would have been made by the author himself, if he had lived to revise the work, and review the authorities to which he has actually appealed by numerous references.
These circumstances, it is hoped, may furnish a reasonable apology for the delay of this portion of the History of the Church of Christ.
It has been judged proper to divide the fourth volume into two parts; and as soon as that point was determined, it became a question, whether the patience of the public should not be tried a little longer, by deferring the publication of the first part till the second was finished. Such an arrangement, in which a most important and interesting portion of ecclesiastical history would have been placed at once before the reader, without any suspension or Interruption of the narrative, it was clearly seen, would have been favourable to the reputation of the work; but, the consideration of the great indulgence already granted by the public, their frequent calls through the medium of the booksellers, and lastly the opportunity, which the separate publication of this first part of the volume affords the editor, of explaining the real causes of the delay; these reasons have induced him to gratify the readers of this history with a first part of vol. iv. before the whole could be finished.
The second part of the volume will still require
much labour and perseverance: but, should the editor live, he engages with the public to bestow his leisure hours upon that till it be printed. He dares not presume to say the same respecting a fifth volume. Experience has taught him to be extremely reserved in making promises, the performance of which depends upon the continuance of a certain degree of health, and therefore, though he certainly indulges some hopes even of completing the History of the Church of Christ, he must not entangle himself by giving inconsiderate assurances. He freely admits, however, that any vacant moments he may have, could scarce be more usefully employed than in carrying forward and finishing the plan of his near relative, and he is sure that no other object of study and application can be nearer his heart.
The editor has no doubt but the subject matter of the fourth volume will afford abundant satisfaction to the christian reader. Almost every page of the Pirst Part of it, which is now laid before the public, is replete both with instruction and entertainment; and what certainly distinguishes this history throughout, a very large portion of it, that portion, which peculiarly entitles it to the name of the History of the Church of Christ, is of such a nature as not to have found its way into our ordinary ecclesiastical histories. The learned reader, when he has perused this book, can scarcely fail to exclaim, How little notice, in general, has been taken of the genuine religious principles and practice of the bishops Grosseteste and Bradwardine! How are the very best parts of the character of Wickliff almost consigned to oblivion! What defective and erroneous notions of John Huss, and Jerom of Prague, are inculcated by authors who have attempted to abstract and condense the proceedings of the council of Constance; and lastly, how little acquainted are even many studious and wellinformed persons with the religious part of the character of Martin Luther!
Perhaps few men have been more exposed than this celebrated German to the extremes of calumny and panegyric. Ecclesiastical histories are full, not only of discordant sentiments relative to his proceedings, but also of contradictory statements of the facts. His bold and enterprising genius, his firm and intrepid temper, and above all, his persevering spirit of inquiry, continue to be the admiration of every true protestant; while those of the papal persuasion have endeavoured to load his memory with charges, which at first originated in chagrin and hatred, and have been kept alive by bigotry and superstition. The infidel writers, who usually affect extraordinary moderation in every thing but religious concerns, have rashly followed the papists in questioning the purity of the reformer's motiyes. Nobody is surprised at this; but it may well seem a wonderful, as it is truly an affecting circumstance, that, in our enlightened times, many should be found, who though they have not only never renounced christianity, but even profess themselves sincere friends of the reformation, yet appear to understand very little of the real dispositions of Luther. Some of his natural qualities have been the subject of much observation, but the ruling principles of the man, those principles which were eminently spiritual and christian, are almost buried in silence.
There would be little room left for controversy respecting this extraordinary personage, if men would turn their attention to the investigation of his private conduct and secret motives, and would accustom themselves to estimate characters by scriptural rules. Happily, the authentic documents for this purpose, though by no means so plentiful, in some of the earlier years of his life, as might be wished, are yet, in the main, sufficiently clear and numerous. They establish, beyond dispute, the singular purity and disinterested integrity of Luther; and one may venture to affirm, that if the refined, philosophical taste of our historians, as well as of the age in which they live,
would have allowed them to produce and digest the unexceptionable evidence which actually exists, much juster notions, concerning the Saxon reformer and his proceedings would have been entertained by students of history than they can now possibly deduce from reading several of our best writers. The defects of their performances have not arisen from the want of ability, or of industry, or of learning. Such an insinuation would argue the highest degree of presumption in the editor. It is his sincere belief that several historical productions of modern times might challenge, almost in any point of comparison, the most celebrated pieces of antiquity. It is to the neglect of observing, investigating, and illustrating the operations of the genuine principles of the Gospel, that the deficiencies here spoken of are perhaps intirely to be ascribed. The editor deprecates the charge of censorious criticism, and submits to the judgment of impartial and intelligent readers for a candid construction of his meaning, while, with much grief, he suggests to their consideration, Whether some of our ablest historians have not discovered much more anxiety to enumerate the various political and subordinate causes of the reformation, than to trace diligently, and mark distinctly, the powerful energy of the essential doctrines of christianity, as, through the gracious assistance of the holy Spirit of God, they efficaciously influenced the conduct of the first reformers? Should this question be answered in the affirmative, it may then be worth while to inquire further, Whether this Unphilosophical, as well as unchristian neglect of the operation of gospel principles on the minds of men who have been distinguished as the chief instruments of providence in bringing about important ecclesiastical revolutions, does not arise from an acquiescence at least in the irreligious taste of the times, if not from the actual contagion of modern scepticism and infidelity. For, in seasons of great departure from sound doctrine, when men are apt to be ashamed of the " Son of man and his words,"
it requires much courage and piety to be an open and faithful defender of the truth. Also, when the gospel itself is perpetually assailed under the specious pretence of modest doubt and inquiry, the very best disposed persons have need to be constantly watchful, lest their own minds should imperceptibly be infected with the hostile insinuations of artful enemies of revelation. It should seem that no writers are in this respect more dangerous than those learned and able historians of a philosophical stamp, with whom Fame is avowedly the motive and the re ward of their labours.*
But it will be said, that the niceties of controversial divinity, are not the proper province either of the polite or of the profound historian. Be it so: Yet surely it must be granted, that the investigation of men's General principles of conduct, must be of singular service towards discovering their real motives in particular transactions. If, for example, in the case of Martin Luther, it be an undoubted fact, that during all the important scenes in which he was so providentially called to be a principal actor, the peculiar truths of the gospel were powerfully, and practically influential on his mind, then it will follow, that the Motives of that great reformer cannot be explained or comprehended without specially adverting to those truths, and diligently weighing their effects in the production of human actions, according to the direction of the holy scriptures, " By their fruits ye shall know them." A clue attention to these things surely ought not to be confounded with an improper or an objectionable regard to theological niceties.
Indeed if the writers of ecclesiastical histories have not themselves also some practical, experimental knowledge of the nature of pure christianity, as well as theoretical and speculative notions concerning it, they must forever be embarrassed in contemplating the conduct of good men; and the more they aspire to what is called the philosophy of history, that is, the more they affect to develop general principles, to form abstract systems, and to unfold the secret motives of men's hearts, the worse guides will they become to their unbiassed, unsuspecting readers, and the more likely to mislead and prejudice their minds.
* Fame is the motive, it ra the reward of our labouri Gjbbon. Mlscell. vol. ii.
The histories of Luther and of lutheranism are so intimately mixed with secular politics, and so pregnant with revolutions of the greatest consequence to kingdoms and empires, that however little disposed the modern historians may have been to trace the existence of the true church of Christ, or record the effects of the operation of pure christian principles, they have found it impossible not to give considerable attention to the transactions of the Saxon reformer and his associates. In fact, the civil and religious liberties of mankind have been found to be closely connected together in practice; and it is this circumstance, which, in a great measure, has contributed to the celebrity of Luther and other German theologians.
No person could have a greater esteem for Luther than the author of this history. The present volume will show how well versed he was in his writings, and with how much care he had studied his character. He loved him as a man of plain dealing and unfeigned piety: he admired him as a champion of truth: he revered him as an instrument of God, highly honoured, and expressly chosen for the purpose of defending and propagating the christian faith; and he contemplated his success with delight and astonishment. But the more thoroughly he had penetrated the secret thoughts of the reformer, the more deeply was our author's spirit affected on account of the Manner in which he saw the righteous views and motives of this excellent man were transmitted to posterity by the ablest modern historians. That manner, to say the best of it, he considered as extremely imperfect in general, and frequently dangerous and illusory. Most of these writers appeared to him to employ their chief strength concerning Secondary causes, and some of them evidently with an evil design against christianity: whereas the devout mind of the author of this history of the church of Christ, saw the Finger Of God in every step of the reformation. With his favourite Luther, he altogether agreed, that the real distemper of the church, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, was Corruption Of Evangelical DocTrine. It was but gradually that the Saxon reformer saw this melancholy truth; but when his eyes were once fairly opened to the nature of the evil, he never more lost sight of it; and he exerted every nerve in administering the specific medicine. It grieved Mr. Milner, not a little, to see how this very important matter is almost intirely overlooked by historians. He considered the thing not merely as an injury done to the memory of an eminent servant of God, but as an infallible symptom of the decay, at least among the learned, of religious knowledge and religious taste.
Unbelievers and sceptics do their utmost in every way to exclude God and his Christ from being supposed to exercise any superintending influence over those great events which prove favourable to the propagation and establishment of pure religion; and when for private reasons, they do not choose to speak plainly, they usually shelter themselves under equivocal and ironical expressions; and try to wound the gospel of Jesus by depreciating his most distinguished servants. Thus pride, opposition, singularity, selfinterest, ambition, enthusiasm, have been insinuated to the unsuspecting minds of many readers, as the ruling motives of the Saxon reformer.
The writer, in the management of this part of his history of the church, has endeavoured to rescue the memory of Luther from Unjust aspersions of every kind; and he does this, not by Indecisive effusions of praise and censure, or of affected candor and concession, but by a scriptural display of the nature of the new creature in Christ Jesus, as exemplified in the conduct of this eminent theologian. The former method might have insured to him the commendation of modern critics, but the latter only could be
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admitted into a history which has for its single object the celebration of the honour of the divine government, as made manifest in the conversion of sinners and the extension of the kingdom of Christ.
The reader will however observe, that his historian is not blind either to the excellencies or to the faults of Luther, considered as a natural* man. But he must keep in mind, that the writer's Chief business with the reformer consisted in exhibiting the operation of his genuine christian principles. The German theologian, in the author's views, was a distinguished subject of almighty grace, which, by enlightening his understanding, changing his affections, and animatinghis hopes, prepared him in a most wonderful manner, for the extraordinary part he was appointed to sustain. When the intelligent reader shall have perused this portion of the sixteenth century, he will be a better judge of the author's penetration and of the soundness and impartiality of his conclusions.
Mr. Milner, in his introduction to the first volume of this history, complains of the ecclesiastical historians, " that they had developed, with a studious particularity, the intricacies and intrigues of popery; that the connexion between the church and state had afforded very ample materials of what is commonly called church history; but that learning and philosophy had been much more respected than godliness and virtue." A treatment of this sort was to be expected from deistical historians; but that the same lamentable truth should be exemplified in the writings of those who believe christianity, and are bound to support its cause, is discouraging and vexatious in thehighest degree. The fact, however, is not to be denied: it is not to be denied, for example, that Luther's practical interpretation of the scriptural doctrines of the salvation of mankind, as well as his arguments against the reigning corruptions of the same doctrines, scarcely appear at all in modern descriptions
* l Cor. ii. 14.
of the reformation of the church. The editor is at a loss to assign any other causes for the omission than those already mentioned in this preface ; namely, the contagion of the times, and the actual decay of a religious taste. Men learn not only to undervalue, but absolutely to overlook the very existence and operation of the most precious evangelical principles.
A short quotation from an elegant, and in general, a very accurate historian, will serve to illustrate the preceding reflections. He informs us, that " there was scarce any opinion or practice of the Romish church, which Luther endeavoured to reform, but 'what had been previously animadverted upon by Erasmus, and had afforded him subject either of censure or raillery."*
To this assertion of the incomparable historian, it would not be difficult to produce very considerable exceptions, were we disposed to examine separately those opinions and practices of the papal system which the rulers of that establishment considered as essential to the maintenance of the existing domination; but it is by no means the design of the editor, in quoting this passage, to cavil at a general assertion, which in substance has often been made before, and which is true in the main, when taken in the sense the writer intended it to be understood. Dr. Robertson had his eye chiefly on the scandalous vices of the monks; the intrigues, avarice, and encroachments of the dignified clergy, and many abominable impieties and superstitions of the Romish church. And these, most certainly, had often afforded to Erasmus matter for satirical animadversion or sarcastical stricture, before they became the objec,t of Luther's grief, indignation, and remonstrance. So far, therefore, the sentiment of the quotation is supported by fact. But neither before, nor after the commencement of Luther's attack on the Roman catholic opinions and practices, did Erasmus ever concur with him in the grand article of con
* Robertson's Charles V. b. ii. p. 118.
tention. It may be admitted that he skirmished as it were, and with great success, against many of the auxiliaries of popery; but never once in his life did he look in the face, what, according to Luther's judgment, was the real efficient enemy of Christ andhis religion; never did he lay siege to the Strongholds of SelfRighteousness. To pull down These with all his might, was both the object and the practice of the Saxon reformer. Erasmus said many excellent things, in an elegant way, concerning Christ and the gospel, concerning piety, purity of life, christian charity, meekness, and peaceable tempers. He exposed, with great ability and with exquisite humour, and it may truly be added, with much advantage to the reformation, the ambition, covetousness, and luxurious excesses of the clergy. Luther, who cordially agreed with him in all these just animadversions, went to the Root both of the evil and of the good. The depraved nature of man he taught as the root of the evil; contrition and humility, with a lively faith in the Redeemer, as the only cure of the reigning evil, and the only source of Future Good. While the former courted popes and cardinals, and temporized with them, Fancying that reformation of ecclesiastical abuses might be brought about by mild and prudential Management, the latter refused to make Any Sinful Compromises, boldly opposed all antichr istian notions of the Merit Of Works, defended the important doctrine of justification by faith, and committed his cause to God. The doctrine of justification by faith was the article which, of all others, this great man had most at heart. If that were preserved, he conceived nothing could go materially wrong; if that were lost, nothing would go right; and in no great length of time he was convinced, that this fundamental doctrine could be established Only on the Ruins of popery.
The opinions of Erasmus and Luther on this subject were substantially different, and in some important views the reverse of each other. Erasmus, however, was so dexterous and wary a disputant, that it is no easy matter to say precisely what his sentiments were on this leading article of faith: and to enlarge further in this place, either on the comparative excellencies or defects of these two great men, so celebrated in ecclesiastical history, would be to anticipate a considerable portion of the contents of the fourth volume. These brief observations may be sufficient to show how inconsiderately our very best writers have sometimes expressed themselves concerning religious matters. Whether Martin Luther was or was not sound and rational in his expositions of the leading doctrines of christianity, makes no part of the present question. The existing records demonstrate two things; first, the real nature of his theological creed; and secondly, that his religious sentiments in essential points, constituted the mainspring both of his private and his public conduct: and therefore the" omission of so important a part of ecclesiastical information, especially by a learned and philosophical historian, from whatever cause it may have proceeded, is not to be defended.
The quotation above mentioned, from Dr. Robertson, is but a single specimen of that sort of defective and erroneous representation of religious characters, which is to be found in numerous pages of modern histories, in other respects of deservedly great reputation. However, as it was the plan of the author of this history of the church to illustrate the nature and efficacy of christian principles, throughout different ages, by the conduct of good men, those eminent servants of God, whose memories have most materially suffered from the treatment here alluded to, are regarded by him as having a strict claim to peculiar attention.
The editor, in concluding, cannot but sincerely lament that the author of this history had no opportunity of rendering his own performance more perfect, by revising the manuscripts himself in a more finished state, exercisinghis judgment again upon the arrangement of the materials, and applying his last corrections to the composition. In that case, this volume might have been presented to the public with greater confidence; and the editor would most certainly have been freed, in various instances, from much trouble, doubt, and uncertainty. In supplying deficiencies, he has constantly endeavoured to adhere as closely as possible to the general plan of the deceased historian; and he requests the candid reader, if he should be disposed to censure the fourth volume as inferior in execution to the three former, to recollect that the deprivation of the finishing hand of the author is an irreparable loss.
The editor had once designed to distinguish the original manuscripts from every addition that has been made to them; and this, no doubt, would have been the most effectual way to secure the reputation of their author. But he found it almost impossible to proceed upon that system: In many instances, the ' sentences of Mr. Milner were left so abrupt and unfinished; and the references to the authorities so general, ambiguous, and indecisive, that he has often been compelled to mix, according to the best of his judgment, both his own matter and expression with the original materials of the historian.
In these memoirs uncommon pains are taken with the affairs of Luther, especially during the first years of the wonderful exertions of this great reformer. To furnish the reader with solid and luminous information, concerning the interesting transactions of that memorable period; and at the same time to compress the narrative into a moderate compass, was no easy task. Those, who are best acquainted with the original documents of the times will be the most competent judges of the execution of this part of the work.
Such as it is, the author, in composing it, certainly believed himself to be employed in the service of his heavenly Master: and in the humble hope of His blessing and protection, it is now committed to the judgment of candid and impartial readers.
The second part of the volume will be crowded, still more than the first, with surprising and important matter. Great events rapidly succeed one another during all the former part of the sixteenth century; and great actors appear on the stage. Erasmus lived till the year 1536; and it pleased a kind providence to continue the inestimable lives of Luther and Melancthon some years longer; and also to raise up many other worthies, who should contend for christian truth and christian liberty with wisdom and courage. On the contrary, the powers of darkness summoned all their forces in determined opposition. Our historian studiously exerts himself to mark the growth of infant protestantism. It was his opinion " that no scenes, since the apostles' days, were more instructive."
N. B. To many readers no part of the book will, probably, be more interesting than the matters contained in the appendix. Several things are placed there, which, it was thought, might too much interrupt the thread of the narrative; and some additions are made by the editor from sources which the author had no opportunity of examining. It will, however, be very easy for any one, as he goes through the several chapters of the history, always to peruse, if he chooses, the corresponding part of the appendix.