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I. THE order and method, that have been followed Change of in the former part of this work, cannot be continued, without the greatest inconvenience, in this fourth book, which relates to the modern history of the church. From the commencement of the sixteenth century, the face of religion was remarkably changed; the divisions, that had formerly perplexed the church, increased considerably; and the Christian societies, that relinquished the established forms of divine worship, and erected themselves into separate assemblies, upon principles different from those of the Roman hierarchy, rapidly multiplied. This circumstance renders it impossible to present in one connected series, or, as it were, in one continued tablature, the events, vicissitudes, and revolutions, which happened in the church, divided its members, and enfeebled the dominion of its tyrants. From the period on which we now enter, the bond of union among Christians, that had been formed by a blind obedience to the Roman pontiff, was in almost every country, either dissolved, or at least relaxed; and consequently this period of our history must be divided into a multitude of branches, into as many parts, as there were famous sects that arose in this century.
II. It is however proper to observe here, that The history many of the events, which distinguish this century, church in had a manifest relation to the church in general, and this century not to any Christian society in particular; and, as divided into these events deserve to be mentioned separately, on two general account of their remarkable tendency to throw a light upon the state of Christianity in general, as well as upon the history of each Christian society, we shall divide this fourth book into two main and
The general history of
principal parts, of which the one will contain the General and the other the Particular History of the Christian Religion.
III. To the General History belong all those events the church- which relate to the state of Christianity, considered its extent. in itself and in its utmost extent, to the Christian church viewed in the general, and abstracted from the miserable and multiplied divisions into which it was rent by the passions of men. Under this head we shall take notice of the advancement and progress of Christianity in general, without any regard to the particular sects that were thus instrumental in promoting its interests; nor shall we omit the consideration of certain doctrines, rites, and institutions, which appeared worthy of admission to all, or at least to the greatest part of the Christian sects, and which consequently produced, in various countries, improvements or changes of greater or less import
IV. In the Particular History of this century, we propose reviewing, in their proper order, the various sects into which the church was divided. This part of our work, for the sake of method and precision, we shall subdivide into two. In the first we shall comprehend what relates to the more ancient Christian sects, both in the eastern and western hemispheres; while the second will be confined to the history of those more modern societies, the date of whose origin is posterior to the Reformation in Germany. In the accounts that are here to be given of the circumstances, fate, and doctrines of each sect, the method laid down in the introduction to this work shall be rigorously observed, as far as is possible, since it seems best calculated to lead us to an accurate knowlege of the nature, progress, and tenets of every Christian society, that arose in those times of discord.
V. The most momentous event that distinguished the Refor the church after the fifteenth century, and we may add, the most glorious of all the revolutions that happened in the state of Christianity since the time