As I appear before the public with a new edition of my Church History, I feel more than ever the difficulty and responsibility of a task which is well worthy to occupy the whole time and strength of a long life, and which carries in it its own rich reward. The true historian of Christianity is yet to come. But short as I have fallen of my own ideal, I have done my best, and shall rejoice if my efforts stimulate others to better and more enduring work.
History should be written from the original sources of friend and foe, in the spirit of truth and love, |sine ira et studio,| |with malice towards none, and charity for all,| in clear, fresh, vigorous style, under the guidance of the twin parables of the mustard seed and leaven, as a book of life for instruction, correction, encouragement, as the best exposition and vindication of Christianity. The great and good Neander, |the father of Church History| -- first an Israelite without guile hoping for the Messiah, then a Platonist longing for the realization of his ideal of righteousness, last a Christian in head and heart -- made such a history his life-work, but before reaching the Reformation he was interrupted by sickness, and said to his faithful sister: |Hannchen, I am weary; let us go home; good night!| And thus he fell gently asleep, like a child, to awake in the land where all problems of history are solved.
When, after a long interruption caused by a change of professional duties and literary labors, I returned to the favorite studies of my youth, I felt the necessity, before continuing the History to more recent times, of subjecting the first volume to a thorough revision, in order to bring it up to the present state of investigation. We live in a restless and stirring age of discovery, criticism, and reconstruction. During the thirty years which have elapsed since the publication of my separate |History of the Apostolic Church,| there has been an incessant activity in this field, not only in Germany, the great workshop of critical research, but in all other Protestant countries. Almost every inch of ground has been disputed and defended with a degree of learning, acumen, and skill such as were never spent before on the solution of historical problems.
In this process of reconstruction the first volume has been more than doubled in size and grown into two volumes. The first embraces Apostolic, the second post-Apostolic or ante-Nicene Christianity. The first volume is larger than my separate |History of the Apostolic Church,| but differs from it in that it is chiefly devoted to the theology and literature, the other to the mission work and spiritual life of that period. I have studiously avoided repetition and seldom looked into the older book. On two points I have changed my opinion -- the second Roman captivity of Paul (which I am disposed to admit in the interest of the Pastoral Epistles), and the date of the Apocalypse (which I now assign, with the majority of modern critics, to the year 68 or 69 instead of 95, as before).
I express my deep obligation to my friend, Dr. Ezra Abbot, a scholar of rare learning and microscopic accuracy, for his kind and valuable assistance in reading the proof and suggesting improvements.
The second volume, likewise thoroughly revised and partly rewritten, is in the hands of the printer; the third requires a few changes. Two new volumes, one on the History of Mediaeval Christianity, and one on the Reformation (to the Westphalian Treaty and the Westminster Assembly, 1648), are in an advanced stage of preparation.
May the work in this remodelled shape find as kind and indulgent readers as when it first appeared. My highest ambition in this sceptical age is to strengthen the immovable historical foundations of Christianity and its victory over the world.
Union Theological Seminary, New York,