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Amidst the multitude of books with which the religious public are now furnished, there are very few constructed on the principle of giving to the ignorant and serious inquirer, a connected or systematic view of his whole circumstances as a sinner, favoured with a dispensation of the gospel of the grace of God. We have systems of divinity not a few, which are easily accessible to the Christian minister: these, however, for the most part, are ponderous and recondite, requiring a leisure and a scholarship to unlock their treasures, which the multitude can never command; and, if we except the catechisms of our several churches—which are necessarily the organs of party peculiarities, and therefore limited in circulation—it may be said with truth, that of all the writers on Christian godliness, there is but one here and there who takes the bewildered child of trespass familiarly by the hand, and, descending to the level of his untutored capacity, gives him a clear and consecutive view of the innocence from which he has fallen; the misery in which he is involved; the economy of restoration under which he is situated; and the hope
which, by submitting to that economy, he may warrantably entertain. One cause of this deficiency, in our times at least, may be a concern on the part
of authors to meet the public taste; for our systems in general are so old, and partake so much of science and controversy, or descend to details so minute and perplexing, that the general reader has contracted a dislike, not only to their subtleties and supposed redundancies, but to the very form in which they are set forth.
If he opens a book which calls itself a system, and looks at its size and number of pages, he seldom has courage to proceed with it farther. Thus the writer is strongly tempted to meet the taste as he finds it, instead of attempting the arduous task of making it what it ought to be. He thinks it better to write a book which is likely to be read, than put himself to the useless trouble of writing what will not be read; and thus he holds himself completely vindicated in humouring the current of popular propensity.
This would be a proper decision if that propensity were right, or if the bias given to it were absolutely incurable ; for it is better to do some good on a bad system, than remain inactive altogether. religious authorship should bear in mind, that, so far as the manner of instruction is concerned, they are dictators to the popular taste; and that it can be nothing, at any one time, but what they have made it, or allowed it to become. This is the post of high responsibility, which as a body they necessarily occupy; and we fearlessly say to them, that at this very day, in several important points of view, they are not judiciously true to their trust. One class of them,
we rejoice to think, are giving out treatises on every variety of Christian topic, which are clear, and solid, and rigidly thought; but not to speak of those who are beated even to madness in extravagant allegorizings, which make religion ridiculous in the eyes of the profane another class of them are straining every nerve to keep the public continually occupied with shallow and fugitive periodicals, or showy and frivolous separate productions, which depend for acceptance on scarcely any thing but tales, and anecdotes, and fits of feeling, with semi-fictitious biography, and wildly-written religious romance.
We admit that there is a time of life, and there are states of mind at any time of life, when the flowers of popular literature, or the vivacity of sober fiction, may be rendered an excellent auxiliary, if suitably applied, to the communication of saving instruction. We admit also, that a portion of fugitive reading, when judiciously got up, and skilfully connected with the current of passing events, is not only allowable, but absolutely necessary to a proper acquaintance with the present state of the religious world. For. so interesting are the times in which we live, that a man cannot conduct himself as the spirit of his age requires without a constant communication, not only with his own neighbourhood, but with the regions of religious enterprise, which are so diversified and full of incident throughout the world at large.
But if the time shall ever come and we fear it is coming rapidly, if not already arrived—when such compositions as are sketched above shall be the staple commodity in the market of printed instruction; if the Christian, especially in his youth, shall be trained,
or permitted to depend on them, as the sum total of his daily reading; if, just because they are popular, and promise applause to the author, they shall be furnished to the reader in teeming abundance and attractive variety, till his taste for them has become exclusive, and his dislike to the solid and healthful
aggravated and confirmed, the result will speedily show itself in a woful deterioration of religious character, and a certain exposure to dangers, which may soon turn our present goodliness into utter desolation.
This conclusion is summary; but we mean to keep sight of it in the few following pages : and what we have to say in its support, may be naturally enough connected with a brief detail of the advantages of systematic reading, as a means of strengthening Christian belief, and consolidating Christian character. By systematic reading, however, we do not mean those ponderous accumulations of miscellaneous lore, whether crude or digested, which are gathered indiscriminately from the field of general theology; nor those treasures of sacred philology, which confirm the faith of the learned, by clearing and settling the true import of the language of inspiration; nor the productions of that sagacious metaphysic, which is disciplined to the nicest discrimination, and has elaborated the distinction between truth and error out to the very uttermost; nor yet those massive structures of systematized principle, which, although skilfully compacted and justly proportioned, exhibit little else than the dry light of science, or the unadorned mechanism of ratiocination. No, certainly. These are things which we venerate in the departments to which they belong; and the names appended to many of them
are symbols of durable renown. But we will not frighten the common reader, by so much as seeming to insinuate that his enlightened acquaintance with the Christian economy is necessarily dependent on inquiries so intricate.
What we mean by system, in relation to him, is to be found in those books, or that selection of books, which, instead of simply stirring his feelings, or aiming at mere impression, by a desultory eloquence or showy declamation on the one extreme, or teazing him with subtleties on the other, embraces the subject in its entireness, and . carries him regularly through it with simplicity and
clearness; explaining the nature of the Christian economy, and the moral condition of the human family, on which it is superinduced; forming it into instructive arrangement, under the guidance of the sacred record; unfolding its peculiar, genius, and the dependence of its parts on each other; tracing up its doctrines and remedial provisions, to that stupendous moral achievement which gives to every one of them its life and efficiency: and thus enabling him to judge of its character from its own intrinsic illuminationsgiving him, in short, a system in every thing but bulk and forbidding technicality, but investing the whole with that majesty of scriptural illustration, and imbuing it with that intensity of holy practical interest, which awes him into submission as he proceeds, and invites him to imbibe the spirit of the
economy, while he is led to contemplate its concentrated glories.
This is what we mean by system, in the use we at present make of the word; and we should like the reader to go along with us, in devout concern for his Christian well-being, while we proceed in detailing a