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THE preparing of these volumes for the press hath generally taken up a little of my time, in the intervals of other business, daily for several months; but I am far from repenting the labor I have bestowed upon it. The delight and edification which I have found in the writings of this wonderful man, for such I must deliberately call him, would have been a full equivalent for my pains, separate from all prospect of that effect which they might have upon others; for truly I know not that I have ever spent a quarter of an hour in reviewing any of them, but, even amidst that interruption which a critical examination of the copy would naturally give, I have felt some impressions which I could wish always to retain. I can hardly forbear saying, as a considerable philosopher and eminent divine said to me long ago, "There is a spirit in Archbishop Leighton I never met with in any other human writings, nor can I read many lines in them without being moved."
Indeed it would be difficult for me to say where, but in the sacred oracles, I have ever found such heart-affecting lessons of simplicity and humility, candor and benevolence, exalted piety, without the least tincture of enthusiasm, and an entire mortification to every earthly interest, without any mixture of splenetic resentment. Nor can I ever sufficiently admire that artless manner in which he lays open, as it were, his whole breast to the reader, and shows, without seeming to be at all conscious of it himself, all the various graces that can adorn and ennoble the Christian, running like so many veins of precious ore in the rich mine where they grew. And hence, if I mistake not, is that wonderful energy of his discour ses, obvious as they seem, unadorned as they really are, which I have observed to be owned by persons of eminent piety in the most different ranks, and amidst all the variety of education and capacity that can be imagined. As every eye is struck by consummate beauty, though in the plainest dress, and the sight of such an object impresses much more than any labored description of complexion, features, or air, or any harangue on the nicest rules of proportion which could come into consideration; so, in the works of this great adept in true Christianity, we do not so much hear of goodness as see it in its most genuine traces; see him a living image of his divine Master, for such indeed his writings show, I had almost said demonstrate, him to have been, by such internal characters as surely a bad man could not counterfeit, and no good man can so much as suspect.
Where the matter is so remarkably excellent, a wise
and pious reader will not be over solicitous about the style; yet I think he will find it in these compositions far above any reasonable contempt or censure. When I consider what the prevailing taste was a century ago in this respect, I have often wondered at the many true beauties of expression that occur in these pieces, and the general freedom from those false and fanciful ornaments, if they are to be called ornaments, which occur in contemporary authors. On the whole, the style wonderfully suits the sentiments; and however destitute of the flights of oratory, has such a dignity and force mingled with that simplicity, which is to be sure its chief characteristic; so that on the whole, it has often reminded me of that soft and sweet eloquence of Ulysses, which Homer describes as falling like flakes of snow; and if I might be allowed to pursue the similitude, I could add, like that, it penetrates deeply into the mind too, and tends to enrich and fructify it.
It is chiefly the practical preacher that shines in these lectures, yet it seems to me, that the judicious expositor will also appear, and appear most to the most competent judges. There is a sort of criticism on the sacred writings, which none but an eminently good man can attain; and if I am at all capable of judging concerning it, it remarkably reigns here. We find indeed little of that laborious sifting of words and syllables, in which some have worn out so much time and pains, if not to no purpose at all, for I will not assert that, at least to purposes very low and inconsiderable, when compared with those which our Author pursues and attains. The reader will, I think, find great light poured
on many very difficult passages, in a very masterly manner, and often by a few weighty words. But these hints are generally very short; for the good Author appears to have lopped off every thing as superfluous, which did not immediately tend to make his readers better, or rather to have had a heart so entirely possessed with this desire, that nothing else ever offered itself to his view. Whatever of an ornamental kind is to be found in these practical parts of the work, which certainly constitute more than six-sevenths of the whole, appears to have been quite unlabored and unsought; but it conduces, much to our entertainment, and I hope in its consequence to our improvement, that the Author had naturally a very fine imagination; the consequence of which is, that his works abound with a charming variety of beautiful figures, springing up most naturally from his subjects, and so add. ing some graces of novelty to thoughts in themselves. most obvious and common.
On the whole, I cannot but hope that God will be pleased to bless the publication of these pieces, in these circumstances, as an occasion of reviving a sense of religion, and promoting the interest of true Christianity. It has appeared to me a memorable event, that when the extreme modesty of Archbishop Leighton had been inexorable to all the entreaties of his many friends, to print something during his life, so many of his precious remains should with such solicitude be gleaned up after death, and some of them more than threescore years after it; and that they should be read with such high esteem and delight, as it is plain many of them have been, by persons of the most different denominations throughout Great Britain. I am
very sensible of it as an honor done to me in the course of Divine Providence, that the task I have here executed, should so very unexpectedly be devolved upon me. I have no property at all in the work, nor the least secular interest in its success: what I have done was entirely the result of love to the Author's memory, and concern for the public good but I shall be gloriously rewarded, if the labor I have bestowed upon it, be the occasion of promoting those great ends which animated the discourses and actions of the holy man, who has now dwelt so long among the blessed inhabitants of that world after which he so ardently aspired, while yet amongst mortals.