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HISTORY, it has been said, is philosophy, teaching by facts, and is, therefore, a most important branch of general science. No history ought to be so interesting to us, none is so momentous or instructive as that of our country, and of our church; the one appertaining to us as citizens, and the other as Christians. The general principles of the constitution under which we hold our property, liberty, and life, should be known to us; how else can we give it our intelligent support, or aid in carrying forward those repairs and improvements which the corroding influence of time, the corruptions of man, and the progress of events, render so necessary to adapt it to the circumstances of the age. The principles of the constitution are best understood by studying its history, in which they are so clearly, and have been so gradually, developed. These remarks are as true when applied to ecclesiastical history as they are in reference to that which is secular. The truth, the beauty, and the power of our church principles, will ever be felt more impressively, if not seen more clearly, in the struggles of heroes that have contended for them, and in the sufferings of martyrs that have died for them, than in the creeds of theologians who have recorded them. It is, therefore, to the shrine of
history that the followers of any and every system of government should repair, at once to express their zeal and to have it both enlightened and stimulated.
It is, however, to be recollected by all parties that the best and only infallible and authoritative standard of ecclesiastical polity and rule is the inspired one contained in the New Testament, and he who does not find his own opinions and practices tally with that, may be quite sure, that with whatever devotion he may have defended or propagated them, they are but the inventions of men, and not the institutes of God. What is it but a forgetfulness of this which has so complicated one of the simplest questions in religion, “ What is the Church of Christ ?" and raised a controversy which in its progress has so bewildered the judgments and envenomed the passions of the combatants, that in contending for their church, they have almost sacrificed their religion. And yet, what is the church but a mansion of which religion is the occupant; or a body of which it is the animating and impulsive soul ? Alas, that this should have been so generally forgotten, and that the pages of ecclesias tical history from the time the apostles fell asleep, should have been either so crimsoned with the blood, or so blackened with the crimes of men contending about the form of church government, and persecuting even to death those who conscientiously differed from them, as to compel many a spectator of the conflict to exclaim—“These men seem far more intent upon the structure of the temple and the form of the altar, than upon the nature, the claims, and the homage of the deity who is there to be worshipped.” It is a melancholy proof of the lapsed condition of humanity, that the first practical lesson which the believer is taught in the school of Christ as contained in the song of the angels who heralded him into the world, and as enforced more fully in his own beautiful sermon on the mount, is the last which Christians are willing to learn, and which they have not thoroughly learned yet—to love one another, and to live in peace and good-will with all.
The following pages contain a fearful and instructive exhibition of human weakness and wickedness, in the way of persecution. “Then why," it may be asked, “revive and perpetuate the recollection of events, over which it would be better to draw the veil of oblivion ?” Because these are facts of history, and if bad men and their actions, and the imperfections of good men, are to be buried in forgetfulness, a great part of universal history, and even of that which is inspired, must be consigned to the same tomb. In all the annals of man, virtue and vice are strangely blended together, and the record of both must be preserved, that by the power of contrast they may magnify each other, and serve the one for example, and the other for warning. The character of the persecutor and that of the oppressed, must stand side by side upon the same page, the one enshrined in honour, and the other gibbeted in infamy. Besides, it will make the dark back ground of the past, throw out in bolder and brighter relief, the improvement of the present, for the admiration and imitation of the future.
The origin of this work is as follows. On Christmas day last, the author celebrated with his flock the centenary of the foundation of their church, on which occasion he gave them a history of their own body. In preparing this account for publication, the horizon of the subject gradually widened upon his view, till it comprehended, not only the history of other denominations in the town, but of Nonconformity in general. In giving an account of each congregation, and of each class of congregations, he thought it would be interesting if he prefixed a short narrative of the denominations to which they belonged. This has its disadvantages, inasmuch as it will necessarily lead to some repetitions and some anachronisms.
This little work makes no pretensions beyond that of a compilation, of which the facts are often expressed in the very words of the authors from whose volumes they are derived. The author, therefore, advances no claim to originality, and as little to elegance of language, or the graces of composition. Simplicity, truthfulness, and candour, have been his aim; how far he has been successful in this, must be left to others to determine.
The works from which the facts of this history have been taken, and on whose authority they are given, are “ Neal's History of the Puritans,” “ Calamy's Nonconformists' Memorial, by Palmer," " Bogue and Bennet's History of Dissenters,” “Brook's Lives of the Puritans, and History of Religious Liberty," “ Price's History of Nonconformists,” “Hanbury's Memorials of the Independents,” and “ Fletcher's History of Independency.