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RIGHT REVEREND THE LORD BISHOP OF
BATH AND WELLS,
THIS NEW EDITION
IS AGAIN RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED,
IN TOKEN OF
THE AUTHOR'S UNDIMINISHED SENSE
OF THE KINDNESS
AND SINCERE RESPECT FOR THE
Talents and Virtues
HIS VENERABLE DIOCESAN:
The great master* of Roman eloquence informs us, that once on a time the Athenians were under great difficulty and distraction on the choice of their religion, inasmuch as the law directed that the people should worship according to the best forms of their country's rites; in their perplexity they consulted the Pythian Oracle, and demanded what religious rites they should specially follow. The Oracle replied, “Those which were after the more ancient form of their forefathers.” This answer not sufficiently satisfying their doubts, they sent a second time to the Oracle, saying, that as for the form of their forefathers it was frequently changed, that they were anxious therefore to know what form, out of the many, they ought principally to follow. The Oracle answered—The best.'
From this reply the Roman orator concluded, that that must be ever reckoned the best which is the most ancient, and the nearest to God himself.
The Oracle answered correctly, and the heathen moralist was right in his conclusion; for assuredly truth must be as much older than error, as God is older than the author of evil. This is a maxim that holds good in all things, especially in religion, which, if it be true, must proceed from the God of truth, and therefore be acceptable to Him; and then by how much it is the more ancient, by so much must it be the nearer to the fountain of truth.
* Cicero de Legibus, lib. ii. c. 16.
But the God whom the Scriptures have revealed to us, placed this matter beyond doubt, when He counselled the sons of men, in the unerring oracles of divine truth, to “ stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old path, where is the good way, and to walk therein, and they should find rest for their souls."* Where it is evident that the old way, and the good way, are convertible terms, and are one and the same with that wherein God's people may “find rest for their souls."
On this command of God the Church of England may well take her stand, and claim the love and veneration of her children on the very ground of her antiquity, drawing her doctrine from the fountain of divine revelation, as expounded by the first four General Councils, and the most ancient of the Fathers, deriving her rituals from the practice of the purest churches in the oldest times, and framing her government on the models of those churches which were
* Jerem. vi, 16.
planted and watered by the Apostles themselves.* So that nothing is wanting to complete the evidence of antiquity, or to satisfy the most scrupulous of her children, that she is verily a true branch of that pure and apostolical Church, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.
It is true that time, and the wickedness of man, combined to rob her of her purity, and to spoil her of her privileges, and she sank for a while under the accumulated weight of gross superstition and foreign oppression. For centuries she lay buried beneath her cruel burden, during which season of her humiliation she exhibited scarcely a token of a visible existence. This temporary obscurity has been made an argument against her by her opponents, but it is most unreasonable ; for as, according to the maxim of philosophers, " the objects of sight remain still discernible, even when they are not discerned ”-so it is with the Church ; in her obscurest condition a degree of visibility is still apparent, and it is only adding mockery to pillage to ask the question, where our Church was
* Tertullian, in his treatise against Marcion the heretic, adopts the same argument. “If it be certain,” he says, " that this is most genuine which is most ancient, that most ancient which is from the beginning, and that from the beginning which is from the Apostles: in like manner it will also be certain, that has been delivered from the Apostles which is held sacred in the Churches of the Apostles.”