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PREFACE.

Very little modesty is to be attributed to an Author, who can present himself before the public without feeling, that, whatever may be his supposed talents for the elucidation of the subject on which he has been induced to write, he has still great occasion for diffidence with regard to the result. Very little wisdom is to be ascribed to him, who is not sensible of the risk he runs in laying himself open to the scrutiny of every one that may choose to sit in judgment on him, who sees not the hazard of making known the extent of his ability to those who are perhaps better qualified than himself to perform the work which he , has undertaken, and are prepared to decide on the merit or demerit of his performance according to a standard of excellence of which he may have no conception, or to which he has fruitlessly endeavoured to attain. But there is a conviction excited in the bosom of the Christian who bas to

treat of sacred matters, which is infinitely more powerful than any ordinary emotion of humility and diffidence,-one which cannot but produce sincere self-abasement, and entire reliance for the success of his best efforts on the blessing of God alone.

He who writes on common topics, has at stake his character for literary attainment or scientific research,-he has to dread the lash of criticism, which may justly, perhaps, inflict a severe punisha ment for ignorance, or for folly and presumption in attempting to teach to others that with which he himself is ill-acquainted, he has to apprehend the mortification of observing, that his volumes mildew on the shelf, unheeded or thrown aside by those for whose improvement they were designed. Such retribution as this will always be regarded as a probable lot by every Author who does not think too highly of himself; for so long as he is aware of his own fallibility, and is willing to admit, that he may be wrong in his estimate of the comparative value of the object to which his studies are directed, he cannot but perceive the probability, at least, of his meeting with censure for want of discrimination, and of altogether losing the time and trouble he has bestowed upon his work.

In addition, however, to all these causes for anxiety, to which the literary or scientific man is liable, a heavy burthen is laid on him who trusts himself to handle religious subjects: he has a much more arduous course before him, in proportion as the weight of his responsibility is incomparably greater; as his freedom is more fettered; as the path is often intricate and dark; and as the danger of deviating from the one right but narrow way is rendered much more formidable, by the chance of drawing others with him into perplexity and peril. He writes not for the entertainment, but for the instruction of his fellowcreatures: and assumes, therefore, in the very act, that he has ability to teach them. He awaits the sentence not only of man, but of God; not only of those who are his superiors in human learning, but of the Supreme Being; whose interests and glory it is, or ought to be, his main object to advance. If he lightly take in hand to explain the sacred text of the word of God; to exhort his brethren ; to lay down the principles of sound doctrine and good conduct; or to diffuse any kind of religious knowledge beyond the boundaries of his own appointed sphere: if he pursue any of these designs without having, as far as his talents will permit, thoroughly informed

himself of all that is necessary to the success of his undertaking,-he is not only indiscreet and blameable, in thus pretending to communicate what he does not understand, but he incurs no small risk of being accounted sinfully presumptuous in venturing to touch high and holy things without becoming preparation, - in- daring to sully their purity and brightness with unconsecrated hands. But more than this,- he makes himself answerable for any injury to the present or eternal peace of his fellow-creatures, which, through want of information that he ought to have acquired, and of caution that he ought to have exercised, he may be instrumental in producing.

Under the influence of feelings arising natua rally out of such reflections,--deeply and solemnly impressed with the responsibility which he incurs, -painfully sensible of his own many deficiencies, and of his inability to perform, even to his own satisfaction, the task which he has imposed upon himself, the Author of the present work is at the same time perfectly aware, that the one in which he is engaged is of no small importance and extent, --for it embraces the entire scheme of human redemption, and the whole circle of Christian obligations; of no inconsiderable difficulty,--for its province is categorically to affirm the truth with

respect to questions on which the wisest and the best of men have differed in opinion ; of more than common peril with regard to its effects,-for, if it be deemed in any measure worthy of attention, it is scarcely possible that it should not tend to more good or evil in the direction of the mind on religious subjects, than any less systematic and compendious representation of the divine dealings with mankind. Here, indeed, to be a blind leader of the blind is not only extremely perilous, but it subjects the imprudent guide to the reproaches of those whom he may mislead, to remorse of conscience, and above all to the displeasure of his God, whose ways he may have carelessly forsaken, and whose word he may bave negligently perverted.

It may reasonably be asked, Why then should a person, not satisfied of his ability, undertake a work thus doubtful as to its effects, at his own peril, and under the dread of misleading others ? Why should the Author of the following sheets have chosen to add his name to the long list of theological writers, if he be persuaded that many of his contemporaries could have executed it better than himself? These questions can only be answered by stating explicitly the occasion which gave rise to the design,—the end which has been

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