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As to the choice of my subjects; some people have desired to see an invective against the fashionable and predominant vices of the age. This, I apprehend, would be like picking off the leaves, or clipping away the twigs, from some overgrown and noxious tree. Waving this tedious and ineffectual toil, I would rather lay the axe to the root. Let the knowledge and love of Christ take place in the heart, and not only a few of the branches, but the whole body of sin will fall at once.
Some would have the author insist upon the conscientious observation of the Sabbath, inculcate the daily worship of God in the family, and urge a devout attendance on the public ordinances of religion. But when a person is convinced of sin, and made sensible of misery; when he has "tasted the good word of God," Heb. vi. 5;" and seen by faith the Lord's Christ," Luke ii. 26; he will want no solicitation or incitement to these means of grace and exercises of godliness. He will have just the same disposition to them all, as the hungry appetite has to wholesome food, or the newborn babe to the milk of the breast.
Others may imagine, that I have neglected the interests of morality; because here is no professed attempt to delineate its duties, or enforce its practice. Let these persons remember, that morality never makes such vigorous shoots, never produces such generous fruit, as when engrafted on evangelical principles. And if I do not crop the pink, the rose, and the carnation-if I do not gather the peach, the nectarine, and the pine-apple-and put them into my reader's hand, for his immediate enjoyment; I am endeavouring to sow the seeds, and plant the roots in his garden, which, if cherished by the favourable influence of heaven, will yield him not an occasional, but a constant supply of all.
As several texts of Scripture come under consideration, criticisms upon the original are frequently subjoined, in order to clear up some difficulties, to rectify some mistranslations, or point out the many delicate and masterly strokes which occur in the Bible. And glad should I be, extremely glad, if I might recommend and endear that invaluable book; if, as the divine Redeemer "rideth on in the word
* 1 Pet. ii. 2. This comparison is, perhaps, the most exact and expressive that words can form, or fancy conceive. Babes covet nothing but the milk of the breast. They are indifferent about all other things. Give them riches, give them honours, give them whatever you please, without this rich, delicious, balmy nutriment, they will not, they cannot be satisfied. How finely does this illustrate, and how forcibly inculcate, what our Lord styles," the single eye," and "the one thing needful!" or, the salutary doctrines and delightful privileges of the gospel; together with that supreme value for them, and undivided complacency in them, which are the distinguishing character of the Christian !
of truth, of meekness, and righteousness," Psal. xlv. 4; this hand might scatter a palm branch, or this performance might lie as a floweret, to strew his way and solemnise his triumph.
In the course of the disputation, I dare not suppose that I have discussed all the arguments which sagacity may devise, or sophistry urge. Perhaps I have not removed all the scruples which may awaken prejudice, or embarrass integrity. This, however I may venture to affirm, that I myself have met with no considerable objection, which is not either expressly answered, or virtually refuted, in these conferences. And though I should neither satisfy nor silence the gainsayer, I shall think my endeavours happily employed, if they may throw light upon the dim apprehension, establish the wavering faith, or comfort the afflicted conscience.
If any should burlesque or ridicule these venerable truths and exalted privileges, I shall only say with my divine Master, "O that thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace! but now they are hid," it is evident from such a procedure, "they are hid from thine eyes," Luke xix. 42. Should any, in the spirit of decency and candour, either start new, or revive old objections, I doubt not but they will receive both a due examination and a proper reply. As these doctrines enter into the very essence of the gospel, and constitute the glory of our religion, they can never want a succession of advocates, so long as the sun and moon endure. For my own part, I must beg leave to retire from the lists, and lay down the weapons of controversy. Virgil's language is my resolution:
"Discedam, explebo numerum, reddarque tenebris."
This declaration is made, not from any the least suspicion that my tenets are indefensible, but because I would apprise my friends, and the friends of our common Christianity, that the field is clear and open for them to advance; that I resign to others the glorious combat, and shall content myself with wishing them success in the name of the Lord: because it becomes a person in my declining state to be more peculiarly intent upon encountering a different adversary, who is sure to overcome, and never allows quarter. Yet by this "word of my testimony, and by the blood of the Lamb," Rev. xii. 11, I hope to triumph even when I fall; and to be more than conqueror, through Jehovah my righteousness.
Should any thing be urged forcible enough to overthrow my arguments, or detect a mistake in my sentiments, the world may depend
* Alluding to Matth. xxi. 8.
upon seeing a free and undissembled retractation. I shall look upon it as a duty which I owe to my conscience, to my readers, and to my God, publicly to acknowledge the error.-It is one thing to be silent; another to be obstinate. As I shall inflexibly adhere to the first, I would with equal steadiness renounce the last. Though I withdraw from the strife of pens and of tongues, I shall take care to preserve a mind ever accessible to truth, ever open to conviction; a mind infinitely more concerned for the purity and prosperity of the everlasting gospel, than for the prevalence of my own opinion, or the credit of my own performance.
As I have the happiness of being a member, and the honour of being a minister, of the reformed established church, I cannot but reflect, with a peculiar pleasure, that every doctrine of note maintained in these dialogues and letters, is either implied in our Liturgy, asserted in our Articles, or taught in our Homilies. It affords me likewise some degree of satisfaction to observe, that the most material of the sentiments have been adopted by Milton, are incorporated into his Paradise Lost, and add dignity to the sublimest poem in the world. To have the highest human authority, and the first genius of the nation, on a writer's side, is no contemptible support. This must surely give a sanction, wherever our religious establishment is reverenced, or polite literature is held in repute. Yet even this sanction, compared with the oracle of revelation, is only like a range of ciphers connected with the initial figure,-which were they detached, would be insignificant, but, in such a subordination, are considerable.
Perhaps it should be farther acknowledged, that I have not always confined myself to the method of our systematic writers, nor followed their train of thoughts with a scrupulous regularity. I would conduct my fellow-creature to the supreme and eternal good, Christ Jesus. I have chosen the path which seemed most agreeable and inviting, rather than most beaten and frequented. If this leads, with equal certainty, to the great and desirable end, I dare promise myself an easy excuse. However, that method and order, in the doctrinal parts of the plan, are not wholly neglected, the following summary of contents may show.
I. CHARACTER of the speakers-On improving conversation-Elegance, dig-
nity, and singular usefulness of the Scriptures.
II. Walk through the gardens-The beautiful frame and beneficial ordination
of things-Preparatory discourse on the imputation of Christ's righteousness-
III. Walk through a meadow-Doctrine of Christ's satisfaction stated-
Considered as a redemption-price, and as a sacrifice for sin- Variously typified
under the Mosaic dispensation.
IV.--Park and romantic mount-Christ's death farther considered as the very
punishment which our sins deserved-Objections, ancient and modern, answered
-The whole summed up and improved.
V.-Elegant arbour in the flower-garden-Imputation of Christ's righteousness
--Objections from reason canvassed.
VI.-Gallery of pictures-Library and its furniture-A sordid taste in painting
censured; a more graceful manner displayed-Imputation of Christ's righteous-
VII.-Hay-making-Pleasures of nature freely enjoyed-Blessings of grace
bestowed with equal freeness-Theron's plan of acceptance with God; consists
VIII.-Duelling-Animadversions on the practice-Spirituality and extent of
the divine law-Infinite purity of God.
IX. Curious summer-house-No relaxation of the divine law, as to the precept
or the penality-Its flexible strictness, and principal ends.
X.-Theron's last effort to demolish the evangelical scheme of justification—
Among other objections, more plausible and refined than the preceding, he strenu-
ously insists that faith is our righteousness-Review of the whole.
XI.-Ruins of Babylon-Fine passage from Mr. Howe-Depravity and ruin of
human nature, as they are represented in Scripture-Applied, with a view to
XII. Extremely hot day—A solemn shady bower-The true method of deriv-
ing benefit from the classics-The wonderful structure and economy of the human
XIII.-Walk upon the terrace-Depravity of human nature laid open, and
proved from experience-Uses of the doctrine, and its subserviency to the grand
XIV.-Theron alone in the fields-His soliloquy on the charms of rural nature
-His reflections on the past conferences-Aspasio reinforces his arguments for
the imputation of Christ's righteousness - Recommends self-examination, the
keeping of a diary, and prayer for the enlightening Spirit-Departs, under an
engagement to correspond by letter.
LETTER I.-Aspasio opens the correspondence with some important
articles of duty, designed to facilitate self-examination, and promote convic-
II.-Theron, convinced of the iniquity of his life, and the evil of his heart,
sees the necessity of a better righteousness than his own-Desires a further
explanation, and fuller proof, of the doctrines under debate.
III.-Aspasio proves the point, from the Liturgy, the Articles, the Homilies
of the Church of England, and the writings of the fathers.
IV.-Aspasio re-establishes the tenet, from the Scriptures of the Old Tes-
V.-Aspasio relates a remarkable panic-Terrors of the day of judgment
-Christ's righteousness, and its imputation, largely demonstrated from the
VI.-Theron takes a cursory view of the habitable creation-Traces the
perfections of nature through the earth, air, and fire-Admirable construction,
VII.-Aspasio takes occasion to display the no less admirable perfection
of Christ's righteousness-Its principle, extent, perseverance.
XI.-Aspasio exemplifies the last particular in two very memorable instances
- Especially in the conduct of Abraham offering up his son Isaac.
XII.-Aspasio touches upon union with Christ-How described in Scrip-
XV.-Aspasio revisits Theron-Theron under anxiety of spirit-Aspasio,
partly to entertain, partly to comfort his friend, enlarges upon the bounty of the
Creator, visible both in the animal and vegetable world-The new convert is slow
of heart to believe-Evangelical motives to faith.
XVI. Harvest scene - Philenor's gardens-Statues-Grove of evergreens-
Nature of true faith-Its sure foundation, and firm supports.
XVII-A river voyage-The diversified prospect-Comparative happiness-
Advantages of peace-A celebration of the gospel, and its blessings, in a kind of
rhapsody-Christ's righteousness applied to every case of distress, and every time
LETTER from the Rev. J. Wesley to the Author of "Theron and Aspasio,"
containing various remarks and strictures on that work.
ASPASIO VINDICATED, in Eleven Letters from Mr. Hervey to the Rev. John
THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION IMPROVED.
VIII.-Aspasio describes a drought—Majesty and beauty of the sun, after
a night of rain-The meritorious excellency of Christ's righteousness illus-
trated, from the magnificence of his works, and the divinity of his person.. 322
IX-Theron's account of the western cliffs, the wonders of the ocean, and
X.-Aspasio enumerates the richer benefits resulting from the imputation
of Christ's righteousness-Shows their happy influence on holiness of heart,