A Full conviction, that in our times the principles and motives of L u I H E it are not well understood, induced me to bring forward, in the preceding Volume, a number of authentic documents, which have been either entirely omitted, or imperfectly stated, by Historians. The approbation with which my endeavours to elucidate this part of Ecclesiastical history have been received, has encouraged me to spare no pains in attempting to place in its true light the character of the Saxon Reformer; and though the Reader may at first be surprised that a Volume of so many pages should bring down this History of the Church of Christ only to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, I have no fear that, when he has perused the work, he will think either the writer prolix, or the matter unimportant. r '
A mere cursory inspection of the Volume will convince him, that every Chapter contains materials which distinguish this History from all others.
Vol. v. A 2
In order to communicate a full and faithful exhibition of facts, the Author has availed himself of all the means of information within his reach ; and particularly of the curious and instructive contents of three quarto volumes of the Private Letters of Luther; two of which he in vain sought after, for several years, both in these Dominions and on the Continent.
The learned Dr. Mosheim, in his Compendium, refers to a long list of eminent Authors, who, he says, are to be consulted, in confirmation of his brief statements *. Now such an intimation appears to me, to have the effect of at once overwhelming the courage and resolution of any ordinary student of Ecclesiastical history.
The Historian of the Church of Christ, in several instances of difficult and important inquiry, cannot exactly follow any one of the numerous Authors who have handled the points in question ; and to have always detailed his reasons for dissent, would have swelled the Volume too much. He constantly, however, refers to the very pages where the best opinions and the original records are to be found ; and then leaves it to his Reader to judge how far he has made legitimate use of the collective evidence. And though this may not be the best way of sheltering himself from the detection of erroneous judgment, or of mis-statement * Laur. Mosli. Historia Reform, Jj. 64ft.
of facts, it certainly contributes to the discovery of truth, by rendering future examination and criticism more easy and agreeable.
Add, that a strict and continued attention to the opinions of contemporary writers, and, whenever they can be procured, to original documents, requires great labour and perseverance ; as any one may soon convince himself, who will take the trouble, only in one or two cases, to turn to the numerous passages referred to in this Volume. The writer has no scruple to affirm that he could have finished the Volume in one-fourth of the time, had he contented himself with less accurate investigations ; had he ventured to give general and bold representations of things, and guarded these afterwards (as is often done) by sceptical concessions and plausible conjectures, which, while they save the time and trouble of patient research; serve rather to perplex than to unfold the truth; and all this under great appearances of candour and impartiality.
Tuu E candour consists in forming just decisions upon evidences collected with diligence and judgment. It never tempts a man to descant, with specious parade, on liberality and moderation, to depress or dilute virtues, to lessen or palliate vices, and to say and unsay, till all manly and worthy sentiments are utterly lost in a confusion of opposite or incongruous assertions.
The modern taste, I fear, too much encourages a tendency to False candour.
Some Authors of eminence, make No mention of their authorities; and much may be said for this practice. Perhaps it is preferable to a vague and general reference. My experience entirely agrees with that of the late Mr. C. J. Fox, who says, he found it one of his greatest difficulties to discover the authorities upon which Historians advance their facts *. To this day, notwithstanding the general reference of Dr. Mosheim, I search in vain for the grounds of several of his most positive assertions.
The Preface to the Fourth Volume might supersede the necessity of further remark. But as the times are awful, and as questions concerning the nature of the Roman Catholic Religion are revived, it may be useful to observe, that they who wish to acquire a thorough knowledge of what Popery Was, will do well to study carefully the history of the first twelve or thirteen years of the Lutheran opposition to the established hierarchy. By this Practical method, they will find the mysteries of the papacy more effectually unveiled, than by any formal or Theoretical description of that Antichristian system. It is by a view of our Romish Adversary's conflicts with the Founders of Protestantism, that we become * Preface, p. xviii, / best acquainted with his cruel and despotic designs, his contemptible artifices, and his ridiculous superstitions.
Several persons, and even some of our leading Senators, suppose that Popery has long since been abundantly meliorated. But I wish they may not be nearer the truth, who think that the spirit of Protestantism has sadly degenerated. Both these points may receive much illustration from that part of this History which is yet unfinished. In the mean time, the true nature and character of Protestantism, as well as of Popery, ought to be carefully examined, and ascertained with all possible accuracy. And for this purpose, the diligent study of the same memorable period, and especially of the first eight years of it, namely, from 1517 to 1525> will be found peculiarly useful. During these years, Luther stood almost alone; and the documents contained in this and the preceding Volume will leave no doubt on the mind of the inquisitive Reader as to the real motives by which he was actuated. Then the doctrines of Luther are well known to be, in the main, the doctrines of every branch of the Protestant Reformation. These, with the rapidity of lightning, penetrated almost every part of Europe ; became the fruitful source of various Christian institutions and establishments; and, as hitherto they were supported rather by the blood of the martyrs, than the power of princes and prelates, they beautifully exhibit the native vigour of the reviving Church of Christ *.
Doubtless, in describing thus at length the interesting scenes which immediately led to our blessed deliverance from papal darkness and iniquity, the Historians progress through the sixteenth century is inevitably retarded ; but it should be remembered, that he is in no degree deviating from the original plan of the work; and that he is hereby laying a good foundation for brevity, precision and perspicuity, in the continuation of the History.
* Com. de. Luth. Praeloq.