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TO THE FIRST
EDITION OF THE THIRD VOLUME.
THREE times have I taken pen in hand to account to my subscribers in a preface for my choice of the sermons, that compose this volume: but one thought hath as often confused me at the outset, and obliged me to lay it aside. I am struck with an idea of the different degrees of labour necessary to two men, one of whom should conceive the project of disuniting Christians, and the other that of cementing them together in mutual love. The first need not trouble bimself with study, examination, and argument; be would not be obliged either to divest himself of his own prepossessions, or to expose those of others; he need not sit whole nights and days either to examine coolly his own theses, or impartially to weigh those of his opponents; let him only take popular prejudices, cover them with the sacred style of scripture, or conceal them under the impenetrable jargon of the schools; let him animate them with party spirit, call it religious zeal, and denounce judgment on all who do not believe the whole to be essential to salvation; and the work will be done. Such a man, methinks, resembles a light-heeled enemy tripping over a spacious field, and scattering, as he goes, the seeds of an endless number of weeds: while the man, who adopts a contrary plan, must be forced, like the patient prying weeder, to stop and toil step by step, day after day, feeling inany a pain, and fetching many a sigh, to pull the noxious produce up:
According to my first proposal, this volume ought to consist of sermons on the doctrines of Christianity. My intimate friends, who first encouraged, and subscribed for this translation, thoroughly understood me: but I might have foreseen, that their partiality would procure other purchasers, unacquainted with my notions of men and things, and who probably might expect to find each his own system of religion in a volume of serinons on the doctrines of our common Lord. I am necessitated therefore to explain myself, and to bespeak a candid attention, while I endeavour to do so.
Very early in life I was prepossessed in favour of the following positions.-Christianity is a religion of divine original—a religion of divine original inust needs be a perfect religion, and answer all the ends, for which it was revealed, without human additions.
-The Christian religion hath undergone considerable alterations since the tiines of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and yet, Jesus Christ was then accounted the finisher, as well as the author of faith, Heb. xii. 2.-The doctrines of revelation, as they lie in the inspired writings, differ very much from the same doctrines, as they lie in creeds of human composi
tion.—The moral precepts, the positive institutes, and the religious affections, which constitute the devotion of most modern Christians, form a melancholy contrast to those, which are described by the guides, whom they profess to follow.—The light of nature, and that of revelation; the operations of right reason, the spirit of the first, and the influence of the Holy Ghost, the soul of the last; both proceeding from the same uniform Supreme Being, cannot be supposed to be destructive of each other, or, even in the least degree, to clash together.—The finest idea, that can be formed of the Supreme Being, is that of an infinite intelligence always in harmony with itself; and, accordingly, the best way of proving the truth of revelation is that of shewing the analogy of the plan of redemption to that of creation and providence.-Simplicity and majesty characterize both nature and scripture : simplicity reduces those benefits, which are essential to the real happiness of man, to the size of all mankind; majesty makes a rich provision for the employment and super-added felicity of a few superior geniusses, who first improve themselves, and then felicitate their inferior brethren by simplifying their own ideas, by refining and elevating those of their fellow-creatures, by so establishing a social intercourse, consolidating fraternal love, and along with it all the reciprocal ties, that unite mankind.-Men's ideas of objects essential to their happiness are neither so dissimilar, nor so numerous, as inattentive spectators are apt to suppose.—Variety of sentiment, which is the life of society, cannot be destructive of real religion.
Mere mental errors, if they be not entirely innocent in the account of the supreme Governor of mankind, capnot be, however, objects of blame and punishment among men. Christianity could never be intended to destroy the just natural rights, or even to diminish the natural privileges of mankind. That religion, which allows the just claims, and secures the social happiness of all mankind, must needs be a better religion tharr that, which provides for only a part at the expence of the rest.-God is more glorified by the good actions of his creatures expressive of homage to him, and productive of universal, social good, than he is by uncertain conjectures, or even accurate notions, which originate in self-possession and terminate in social disunion.—How clear soever all these maxims may be, a certain degree of ambition or avarice, ignorance or malice, presumption or diffidence, or any other irregular passion, will render a man blind to the clearest demonstration, and insensible to the most rational and affecting persuasion. These positions, mere opinions and prepossessions before examination, became demonstrative truths after a course of diligent search; and these general principles have operated in the choice of the sermons, which compose this volume of the principal doctrines of Christianity.
But, previous to all inquiries concerning the doctrines of Christianity, it is absolutely necessary to establish that of CHRISTIAN LIBERTY; for, say we what we will, if this preliminary doctrine of right be disallowed, voluntary piety is the dream of an enthusiast; the oracles of God in the Christian world, like