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PART I. DOCTRINAL DEVELOPMENTS VIEWED IN THEMSELVES. IN T R O D U C T I O N. C1mtsT1ANITY has been long enough in the world to justify us in dealing with it as a fact in the world's history. Its genius and character, its doctrines, precepts, and objects cannot be treated as matters of private opinion or deduction, unless we may reasonably so regard the Spartan institutions or the religion of Mahomet. It may indeed legitimately be made the subject-matter of theories ; what is its moral and political excellence, what its due location in the range of ideas or of facts which we possess, whether it be divine or human, whether original or eclectic, or both at once, how far favourable to civilization or to literature, whether a religion for all ages or for a particular state of society, these are questions upon the fact, or professed solutions of the fact, and belong to the province of opinion ; but to a fact do they relate, on an admitted fact do they turn, which must be ascertained as other facts, and surely has on the whole been so ascertained, unless the testimony of so many centuries is to go for nothing. Christianity is no theory of the study or the cloister. It has long since passed beyond the letter of documents and t.he reasonings of individual minds, and has become public property. Its'' sound has gone out into all lands," and its " words unto the ends of the world." It has from the first had an objective existence, 4 INTRODUCTION, and has thrown itself upon the great concourse of men, Its home is in the world ; and to know what it is, we must seek it in the world, and hear the world's witness of it. 2. The hypothesis, indeed, has met with wide reception in these latter times, that Christianity does not fall within the province ofhistory,-that it is to each man what each man thinks it to be, and nothing else ; and thus in fact is a mere name for a cluster or family of rival religions all together, religions at variance one with another, and claiming the same appellation, not because there can be assigned any one and the same doctrine as the common foundation of all, but because certain points of agreement may be found here and there of some sort or other, by which each in its turn is connected with one or other of the rest. Or again, it has been maintained, or implied, that all existing denominations of Christianity are wrong, none representing it as taught by Christ and His Apostles ; that the original religion has gradually decayed or become hopelessly corrupt ; nay that it died out ofthe world at its birth, and was forthwith succeeded by a counterfeit or counterfeits which assumed its name, though they inherited at best but some fragments of its teaching ; or rather that it cannot even be said either to have decaved or to have died, because historically it has no substa"nce of its own, but from the first and onwards it has, on the stage of the world, been nothing more than a mere assemblage of doctrines and practices derived from without, from, Platonic, Polytheistic sources, from Buddhism, Essenism, Manicheeism; or that, allowing true Christianity still to exist, it has but a bidden and isolated life, in the hearts of the elect, or ugain as a literature or philosophy, not certified in any way, much less guaranteed, to come from above, but one out of the various separate informa- INTRODUCTION, 5 tions about the Supreme Being and human duty, with which an unknown Providence has furnished us, whether in nature or in the world. 3. All such views of Christianity imply that there is no sufficient body of historical proof to interfere with, or at least to prevail against, any number whatever of free and independent hypotheses concerning it. But this surely is not self-evident, and has itself to be proved. Till positive reasons grounded on facts are adduced to the contrary, the most natural hypotheses, the most agreeable to our mode of proceeding in parallel cases, and that which takes pre­ cedence of all others, is to consider that the society of Christians, which the Apostles left on earth, were of that religion to which the Apostles had converted them ; that the external continuity of name, profession, and com­ munion, argues a real continuity of doctrine...


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