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THE history of this volume is quickly told. On the death of its lamented author, an extensive and urgent desire was expressed for the publication of some of those pulpit addresses, the delivery of which had been so greatly blessed. This desire, though perfectly natural and reasonable, would have been unavailing, but for the confident belief, that the publication would subserve the cause of religion. The thought, that his labours should be lost to the rest of the world, was so irreconcileable with the feelings of some of Dr. Payson's most judicious hearers, that, long before his last sickness, they solicited him to prepare a selection of his Sermons for the press; but his strong and uniform aversion to printing his own productions, prevented his compliance, till a few days before his decease. He then, from his general recollection of their contents, directed a number to be separated from the mass, out of which he was willing a selection should be made, and to which it must be confined. It is not known, that his restriction has been violated; though, from causes which need not be mentioned, it became impossible to identify every one, thus separated, with absolute certainty.
Should any glance at the volume, and inquire, Are these the Sermons, which procured for their author such astonishing popularity, and wrought with such power upon his numerous audience?—it must be conceded, that many things accompanied their delivery, and contributed to their effect, which do not appear in print. There was an unaffected earnestness, a glowing intensity of feeling, a peculiarity of expression and utterance, a manner wholly original and indescribable, which will not attend their perusal, except in the minds of those, who were accustomed to hear him. The reader will not feel the immediate influence of those prayers, which disarmed criticism, which awed the most thoughtless, which brought them directly before Infinite Majesty, and made them feel that they had business of greater importance, than to criticise or cavil.
It should also be stated, that, in several instances, the manuscripts ended in the midst of a sentence, or near the commencement of a paragraph ;— leaving the editor this only alternative, either to pause, before coming to the defective portion, or else to supply the defect himself,-the latter he has rarely had the presumption to attempt. These absent portions, as supplied by the preacher, were probably the most impressive parts of these discourses.
It was Dr. Payson's practice to preach, at least, half the time without writing. His unwritten Sermons were as regularly planned, and as faithfully studied, as those which he penned; and his quick perception, ready memory, power of illustration, and the fervour excited by the very exercise of
addressing an assembly of immortals, to whom his message was to be a savour of eternal life, or death,-gave an impressiveness to his unwritten discourses, perhaps, even beyond what attended his written Sermons. His great reason for writing at all, was, the exhausting effect, upon his physical powers, of preaching constantly without notes. It appears to have been no part of Dr. Payson's concern, to write a great Sermon; but the question, which seems to have been uppermost in his mind, was, how shall I present this subject so as to accomplish the most good? And in answering this question he consulted the capacity of ordinary hearers. Hence the great simplicity of his language, even in his boldest flights; hence the plainness and directness of his address, and a greater diffuseness of style, than he would otherwise have adopted.
In judging of these Sermons as intellectual efforts, it should also be remembered, that, besides the ceaseless calls for pastoral labour by a very numerous flock, and other demands upon his time, the preparing and preaching of three such Sermons a week, was the regular employment of Dr. Payson, during the greater part of his ministry. He seldom failed to meet his pastoral charge on the Sabbath, and at the weekly lecture; and the powers of his mind appear, not so much in single discourses, as in the general excellence of all, and that almost "infinite variety," which they exhibit, in the manner of presenting and enforcing truth and duty. He never "nods." While there is an obvious difference between his early and late productions, which shows a rapid progress of mind; there is a surprising equality in those which belong to the same period of his ministry, and this circumstance has increased the difficulty of making the selection.
The preceding suggestions have not arisen from the slightest conviction, that the following Sermons need any apology. On the contrary, it is believed, they will fill a place unoccupied in this species of literature, and be found a valuable accession to its riches.
It was originally contemplated, that the volume should include those Sermons of Dr. Payson, which have already been published. But on further examination of the manuscripts, it was thought, that subscribers and the public would be more obliged and profited by originals, possessing equal excellence; especially, as many are necessarily suppressed, which are not less deserving of the public eye. As an act of justice to the author, however, one is inserted, which has already appeared, that the reader, by a comparison of the others with this, might have an opportunity to judge what would have been their appearance, had they been revised by the Doctor's own hand. For the arrangement of the Sermons, their titles, and some minor things, the editor is responsible.
The volume, it is believed, will fulfil every promise held out in the proposals. It is commended to that Spirit, who has already set his seal to its truths.