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I TAKE the liberty to inscribe this volume, in its present form, to you. The original publication was addressed to those united churches in the city of New York, of which I was, at the time of its date, one of the pastors. And although I still cherish the memory of that relation with grateful and affectionate respect, and still continue the address which was at first adopted; yet, as the circumstances which induce me to present the work a second time to the public, are of wider extent than the demands of a few single congregations; I wish to bespeak the attention of the whole ecclesiastical body, with which I have the happiness to be connected, to the subject here discussed: a subject which the unscriptural and exorbitant claims of a particular denomination among us have invested with an interest beyond that which intrinsically belongs to it.
It is the duty of Christians in every age, not only to make themselves well acquainted with important religious truth, but also to arm themselves against surrounding errors; especially those which, from the plausibility and confidence with which they are advanced, are peculiarly fitted to “ deceive the hearts of the simple.”
The following “ Letters” were originally published in two separate volumes;—the first in the year 1807; the second in 1809; the latter being an examination of the strictures of several friends of prelacy on the preceding volume. They have both been out of print for a number of years; and although frequent inquiry has been made for them, it was not supposed, until lately, that the demand was sufficient to warrant a second edition. Recent circumstances, however, have led to the belief that a new and corrected impression would be seasonable, and not unacceptable to the friends of primitive truth and order.
The original publication was made, with much reluctance, in consequence of repeated, long-continued, and violent attacks from some high-toned advocates of prelacy, chiefly of the state of New York, where I then resided. Of its reception by my episcopal neighbours, I will here say nothing. But I have the satisfaction to know that many others, whose good opinion I highly prize, considered the work as a service of some value to the cause of truth. It answered, in a good measure, the purpose which I intended. It satisfied and confirmed numbers, who had been either surprised or perplexed by the confidence of episcopal statements, and for whose instruction I was bound to provide Having accomplished this design, I was quite willing that the work should pass into oblivion, with the controversy which had called it forth. And I can truly say, that one reason why I felt so little disposed, several years ago, to comply with urgent solicitations to reprint this manual, was, that I was unwilling to take any step which might prove the means of reviving or extending a dispute, which I cannot consider as either very honourable, or very profitable to the church of God.
And, as the original publication of the following Letters was prompted by unprovoked and violent attacks, and was made merely in self-defence ; so their appearance in this new form is occasioned by a similar cause. After reposing in quietness for more than twenty years, they have been, recently, again called up to public view, and subjected to
attacks marked by great vehemence and confidence. Of these attacks, it is not deemed necessary to take any further notice than to say, that their violence and their offensive imputations have created a new demand for the work, and thus afforded an opportunity of presenting it again to the public in a more convenient form. This is the only reply that I at present intend to give to any recent assailant. And I hope that every candid reader, after attentive consideration, will be of the opinion that more was not called for.
In preparing the work for a second edition, I have revised the whole with as much care as my circumstances allowed. And, although the further reading and reflection of twenty years, have enabled me to detect some mistakes, and to reconsider and modify the statements in a few places; -yet I can truly say, that the amount of my modification has generally been, to urge my former reasonings with new confidence; to array my old authorities with additional, instead of diminished force; and, in general, to manifest what I have really felt,-a greatly augmented assurance of the soundness of my original conclusions.
With regard to my quotations from the fathers, and other writers, I think it proper to say, once for all, that I have endeavoured to make them with all the fidelity of which I am capable. Those who are familiar with such matters need not be reminded, that, frequently, out of a folio page, not more than half a dozen lines have any direct bearing on the purpose of the extract; and that if these are exhibited without any uncandid wresting from their connection, the real spirit of the author is set forth with sufficient accuracy. If in any instance, in the following pages, an offence has been committed against this sound principle, it has not been done intentionally. It is, indeed, as common as it is easy, when an adversary is incommoded by a quotation in the way of authority, to complain of it as unfaithfully made, or as disingenuously separated from its proper connection. But of the truth of such complaints, every intelligent reader must judge for himself. I can sincerely declare, that after an attentive review of every page, I have permitted nothing to retain its place but what I verily believe may be firmly sustained; and that if I had possessed time and health to make further alterations, they would have been employed in adding what I honestly deem new evidence of the relevancy and force of every thing that I have advanced.
Nothing, my Christian friends, is further from my intention, in any thing which you will find in the following pages, than to attack the episcopal church. I have no hostility to that denomination of Christians. Those who prefer Prelacy to Presbyterianism, are cordially welcome, for me, and, I am perfectly confident, for the whole Presbyterian church, to the enjoyment of all the advantages which they see or imagine in that form of ecclesiastical government. I have not the least doubt, indeed, that prelacy is an unscriptural error; an anwarranted innovation on apostolic simplicity: but such an innovation as a man may adopt with zeal, and yet be an excellent Christian, and an heir of eternal blessedness. To all such Episcopalians as Whitefield and Hervey in former times, and as Newton, Scott, and others of similar stamp in later periods, I can cordially “ bid God speed,” and sincerely rejoice in their success. Were the world filled with such men, I, for one, should be ready to say: Let their spirit reign from the rising to the setting sun! With the utmost sincerity, then, can I declare, that no feeling of animosity toward Episcopalians, as such, has prompted me to speak in the language of the following pages. It is my unfeigned desire, and a desire which becomes stronger as I advance in life, that all who have received like precious faith through the righteousness of God, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ,” may live together “as one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." And I can further declare that it always gives me sensible