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TESTIMONY OF HISTORY,
POSITIVE ANTIQUITY, AND TO THE APOSTOLICAL INCULCATION,
Opto, cum Melancthone et Ecclesia Anglieana, per canalem Antiquitatis deduci ad nos
IN TWO VOLUMES.
ST. PAUL'S CHURCH YARD,
WILLIAM VAN MILDERT, D.D.
LORD BISHOP OP DURHAM.
You will perhaps agree with me in thinking, that one of the most satisfactory and least objectionable modes of ascertaining and establishing theological truth is by the careful adduction of concurrent historical testimony.
However clear in themselves may be the declarations of Holy Scripture respecting all the great leading articles of our faith : yet it cannot be dissembled, that, as very widely different interpretations have been put upon various passages in the Bible, so likewise we have sometimes been even required to admit sundry doctrines or opinions not a vestige of which can be discovered in the inspired word of God.
Under such circumstances, it seems obvious to institute an historical inquiry into the nature of those tenets, which the primitive Church, under the distinct aspect of their exhibiting the real mind of Scripture because they were known and acknowledged to have been delivered by the express teaching of the Apostles to all the various ecclesiastical successions, unanimously professed to hold from the very beginning.
This inquiry, if honestly conducted, must, I think, instinctively approve itself to every upright reasoner. For the principle, upon which it goes, is so plain, that it can scarcely be misapprehended even by the meanest understanding: while yet, at the same time, it is so forcible, as to command the assent of the highest intellect.
Unless all moral certainty be banished from the world, what the primitive Church, with one consent, professed to have received from the Apostles, could not but have been taught to the primitive Church by the Apostles : and, what was taught to the primitive Church by the Apostles, could not but have set forth the real mind of that inspired volume, the whole second portion of which was written either by the Apostles themselves or by individuals under their immediate inspection and superintendence.
In like manner, on the other hand, if, in the primitive Church, we find no traces, either of certain expositions of Holy Scripture itself, or of certain doctrines and opinions which assuredly can be no where found in the Bible; we may be morally sure, that no such expositions or doctrines were ever delivered by the Apostles: and, if no such expositions or doctrines were ever delivered by the Apostles or were ever received by the primitive Church; we may be morally sure, that they were the mere human inventions of a later age, and consequently that they carry with them not a shadow of binding authority.
On this basis, I need not remind your lordship, is built the luminous and incontrovertible canon of Tertullian: WHATEVER IS FIRST, IS TRUE ; WHATEVER IS LATER, IS ADULTERATE. · And almost little, even to any person, need I point out the application of this canon, when once it has been thus laid down.
If a man calls upon me to receive a particular exposition of Scripture, which, by the exercise of what is denominated Private Judgment, he has