Thus, here we present the table of contents based on the first American edition (1842)(available in full at archive.org).
BOOK THE FIRST,
- On the Difficulty of ascertaining the Opinions of the Fathers in reference to the present Controversies in Religion, deduced from the fact that there is very little of their Writings extant of the first three Centuries. (link)
- Those Writings which we have of the Fathers of the first Centuries, treat of matters far different from the present Controversies in Religion. (link)
- Those Writings which bear the names of the ancient Fathers, are not all really such; but a great portion of them supposititious and forged, either long since or at later periods. (link)
- The Writings of the Fathers, which are considered legitimate, have been in many places corrupted by time, ignorance and fraud, pious and malicious, both in the early and later Ages. (link)
- The Writings of the Fathers are difficult to be understood, on account of the Languages and Idioms in which they wrote, and the manner of their Writing, which is encumbered with rhetorical flourishes, and logical subtleties, and with terms used in a sense far different from what they now bear.
- The Fathers frequently conceal their own private Opinions, and say what they did not believe; either in reporting the Opinion of others, without naming them, as in their Commentaries; or disputing against an Adversary, where they make use of whatever they are able; or accommodating themselves to their Auditory, as may be observed in their Homilies.
- The Fathers have not always held the same Doctrine; but have changed some of their Opinions, according as their judgment has become matured by study or age.
- It is necessary, but nevertheless difficult, to discover how the Fathers held all their several Opinions; whether as necessary, or as probable only; and in what degree of necessity or probability.
- We ought to know what were the Opinions, not of one or more of the Fathers, but of the whole ancient Church: which is a very difficult matter to discover.
- It is very difficult to ascertain whether the Opinions of the Fathers, as to the Controversies of the present day, were received by the Church Universal, or only by some portion of it; this being necessary to be known, before their sentiments can be adopted.
- It is impossible to know exactly what was the belief of the ancient Church, either Universal or Particular, as to any of those points which are at this day controverted amongst us.
BOOK THE SECOND. THE FATHERS ARE NOT OF SUFFICIENT AUTHORITY FOR DECIDING CONTROVERSIES IN RELIGION.
- The Testimonies given by the Fathers, on the Doctrines of the Church, are not always true and certain.
- The Fathers testify themselves, that they are not to be believed absolutely, and upon their own bare Assertion, in what they declare in matters of Religion.
- The Fathers have written in such a manner, as to make it clear that when they wrote they had no intention of being our authorities in matters of Religion; as evinced by examples of their mistakes and oversights.
- The Fathers have erred in divers points of Religion; not only singly, but also many of them together.
- The Fathers have strongly Contradicted one another, and have maintained different Opinions in matters of very great importance.
- Neither the Church of Rome nor the Protestants acknowledge the Fathers for their Judges in points of Religion; both of them rejecting such of their Opinions and Practices as are not suited to their taste; being an answer to two Objections that may be made against what is delivered in this Discourse.
I hope that if you at least read the above, you will have some idea of what it is you don't know about the fathers, to avoid falling into the pitfalls associated with many (particularly Roman Catholic) appeals to the fathers.