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has fallen into disuse or been superseded by what is inferior, to make the labors of the past contribute to the improvement of the present and the future, and thus, as successive generations pass away and their works follow them, endeavor to “hold fast that which is good,” to gather and treasure up the choicest “fruits of the spirit.” We cannot however suppose, that all christians would agree in their judgment of the merits of different works, or would be guided by the same taste in making a selection of this kind, and it may be proper to state more definitely the views, by which I have been determined in the choice of materials for these volumes, and the general character of the treatises which they will contain.
In examining the practical and devotional works, which have been published and most generally circulated during the last century, there has seemed to me and to many others, in whose judgment I confide, to be a great deficiency of depth and spirituality. Instead of aiding reflection and meditation, and guiding the humble christian to a spiritual acquaintance with the things of the spirit, to a knowledge of “the deep things of God,” and thus carrying him in his contemplations among those appropriate objects of faith and spiritual discernment, “which eye hath not seen nor ear heard,” they too often tend rather to produce low and narrow conceptions of those objects themselves, and to limit the aspirations of the mind to attainments far short of our duty and our happiness. Many of them, too, are designed with refererence to the peculiarities of this or that scheme of theology, and have more influence to awaken a speculative and controversial disposition of mind, than to cherish a contemplative spirit, and fix the thoughts on those great and undisputed truths, which are, alter all, most effectual in promoting spiritual growth.
Again, in contemplating the religious character of the present age, and of our own churches, with much to admire and to be thanksul for in the spirit of active benevolence, which pervades them, we find not a little to regret in the superficial and inadequate views, which prevail, with regard to the nature of the Christian system, and in the want of ihat profound love of truth for the truth's sake, which ought to characterize the enlightened christian. We need more of that intense and sustained interest in the truths and aims of religion, of that earnest seeking after knowledge and personal holiness, which, during the 17th century not only secured the attention, but lent a fascination, to sermons and other religious exercises of such length and in such style, as could not now be hazarded even by the most able and popular preacher. It is in a word the clear conviction of many, who are well qualified to judge in matters of this sort, that while we are carrying into effect some of the benevolent principles and external duties of Christianity with a degree of enterprise and success, for which the age immediately succeeding the Reforma
tion was unprepared, we at the same time fall far" below christians of that period in their sublime views of religious truth, the extent and intimacy of their habitual intercourse with the great objects of spiritual contemplation, and in the consistent elevation and dignity of their christian character. If these views have any foundation in truth, it is an object worthy of the attention and the serious efforts of those who labor for the interests of true religion, to put again in circulation among us such works of that age, as are best calculated to exhibit and to reproduce the characteristics, in which it so much excelled.
The treatises contained in these volumes, though they may not in all cases be the best, that it would be possible under more favorable circumstances to select, it is hoped may prove a valuable contribution to the object in view, and prepare the way among those, who have the means of obtaining them, for a more extensive acquaintance with the writers of a period prolific in works of this class. I have endeavored, as far as it could be done, to confine the selection to what is purely practical and spiritual, and to avoid the introduction of any thing, that could be suspected of a design to favor the peculiarities of a party. In saying this, however, I would not be understood to mean, that no sentiments or views of religious truth will be expressed or implied, but those in which the advocates of all our various systems are agreed. It would probably be impossible to find a single treatise in the language of any value, of which this would be true. But, although in a work of a practical nature, a writer may introduce, and almost unavoidably will betray, more or less clearly the speculative system which he holds, he may not introduce it for speculative and controversial purposes, or make such use of it, as essentially to injure the practical utility of his work for those, who hold a dilferent system.
The most general criterion of the class of works, from which the selection is made is, that they are designed not to investigate or defend the truth, but to excite and elevate the mind to the contemplation of truths, which both the writer and reader are supposed to admit, or which commend themselves at once to the reason of all men. It is the great excellence, if I mistake not, of the writers from whom I have selected, that their minds were raised above the narrow peculiarities of a speculative system by a more habitual contemplation of the great fundamental truths of reason and revelation. They had formed themselves, and aimed to form others, to the habit of intense and earnest reflection upon their own inoral and spiritual being. They retired inward in order to ascend upward. They sought, not so much to gratify the pride of the understanding, by attempts to comprehend what is placed beyond its reach, as to make a direct and practical application of the acknowledged law and will of God to their own inward being, that they might experience their assimilating and
transforming influence. In their works designed for the aid of others in their spiritual improvement, although theological views of questionable authority are sometimes introduced and language employed, as it is indeed in some of the treatises in these volumes, which few if any writers of the present day would adopt, they need not, and, for a serious christian of candid and tolerant disposition, I should presume would not, much affect the influence of the more general and admitted truths with which they are associated.
In general I believe it will be felt, and acknowledged by all, who become acquainted with these writers, that they possess a depth and spirituality, which does not belong to the writers who have succeeded them, and that such a selection from their writings, as is here offered to the public, cannot fail, if generally circulated, to be a great and lasting benefit to our Churches. Could these and similar treatises gain such acceptance and such influence, as they would seem calculated to secure in a community like ours, they might be hoped to introduce along with them a more truly rational, a more elevated, and manly style of thinking and writing on subjects both of religion and philosophy.
In preparing them for the press I have made no alterations in the works selected, which in any way affects the views of the writer. The orthography, where it was obsolete, is modernized, and occasionally a note omitted, when unnecessary to explain the text of the work. My design has been in every case to publish entire treatises, and this will not probably be varied from. If in any instance in the subsequent volumes it should be thought best to vary from it, the reasons for doing so will be explained.
The biographical notices inserted will in general be brief, as they are not expected to possess any other value, than merely to gratisy the general curiosity, that is felt to know something of the authors, whose works we read and admire. 1 hardly need to say, that in judging of the men of that age and of their works, no regard will be had to the party distinctions, which then prerailed with so much animosity, and which even to our own times too often influence our judgment respecting them. The individuals indeed, whether churchmen or dissenters, of whom I shall have occasion to speak, are for the most part such, as amidst all the violence of the ti ves stood aloof, as far as possible. from the interests of party, and aimed at those great objects, ir which all good men might unite. No candid descendant and fol. lower of the Puritans will at this day less cordially admire Leigh. ton, or be less benefited by his writings, because he was an Arch bishop, nor will any rational and temperate churchman allow himself to indulge a prejudice against the character and the works of such a man as John Howe, because he was the chap lain of the Cromwells, and could not take the oath of conformity Men of this stamp were even then, however divided by party
in their public relations, not unfrequently personal, and sometimes intimate friends, mutually lamenting the causes, that prevented their christian fellowship. The great characteristic principles, the sublime philosophical views, the true spirituality and aloofness from all narrow and secular views, which belong in common to many of the writings of men belonging to each of the two parties, show in a striking manner, how far the essential spirit of religion is elevated above the interests and opinions, with which it is too often associated. That these volumes may be instrumental in cherishing the same spirit among the churches of our land, enlarging their views of divine truth, building them up in the most holy faith, and imparting to them abundantly, the riches of spiritual understanding, is the earnest wish and