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PREF A C E.
Am fenfible the world is so stock'd
with books of devotion, as well as I
with prophane ; that, if the mode of writing continues, the catalogue
of authors may vie with the number of readers.
Did men read good books merely for instruction; first to learn, then to practise their duty; not to become more learned, but more virtuous ; new treatises on the subject of religion might appear fuperfluous.
But alas! the same books, which were ala-mode last year, are out of fashion this ; and thofe, that once charmed the reader, in process of time, like almanacks out of date, lie buried in duft and oblivion. All human things are in a perpetual motion : like the fun they have their Rife, their Meridian, and their Weft.
Our judgments and appetites vary, and are seldom constant in any thing but change.
Nay, Men are now come to such an excess of delicacy, that they regale their very souls with new ragoufts, as well as their palates : nothing spiritual will go down, unless novelty recommends it. The most solid piety is always attended with some curiosity; and nothing conveys more effeštually good instructions, than variety.
Í condescend to your inclination, to conquer your passons ; and strike in with one disease, to cure another. I therefore offer to your perufal these Moral Reflections on Select Passages of the New Testament. The thoughts, I must own, are vulgar, as well as the expressions ; for I pretend not to be admired, but understood : you will meet with nothing extraordinary, but plainness: and I confess, it is unfurnish'd of all advantage, but that the book is new.
However, I have laid open fo fully your duty, the advantages of an exact compliance, and the severe punishments of transgresors; that
you may not plead ignorance of your obligation, or want motives to fulfil it. You will see the law you must be try'd by at your deaths, as well as that you must live by'; and how prodigiously your practice falls short of your obligation : how earnestly it commands virtue, and how boldly you plunge into vice : what happiness attends a godly life ; what torments
bad one : in fine, how little unfortunate man seems concern'd at Christ's menaces, ar moved with his promises; as if these were only
intended to fright, and these to please. And then certainly, if we will but take the pains to compare our present enjoyments with the expectation of the future, the vast recompence of a good life with the severe chastisements of a bad one; we may either be allured to the practice of virtue, or scar'd out of the love of vice : besides, the press spreads infe&tion through the whole nation ; and you take in the poison with pleasure and transport.
Some vent downright blasphemies, under the disguise of pretended demonstrations, against the Trinity : with Arius, they laugh at the mystery, because they cannot understand it. Others strike at the soul's immortality; and endeavour to convince you,
die like beasts, to persuade you to copy their lives. Nay, one has the confidence to prove mortality no punishment of hin, but of infidelity*: as if a man could believe death out of the world, and protract his life in fæcula fæculorum, in spight of him who
it. Seeing therefore such a tide of bad books flows in upon us, good ones may take the same liberty : and as numbers havé debauchd our manners, why may not numbers reform them? I suppose Christians are not yet so deeply engaged in an alliance against Christ's commands, as to refuse all articles of accommodation.
They are not fo fond of damnation, as to fly in the face of a friend, who endea
* I suppose the author means Mr. Afgil, who pretended, that, if a man had faith, he would never die, but be translated alive to heaven,
vours to avert it :
it : nor so irreconcileably fallen out with religion and piety, as not to hear what can be pleaded in their favour. In the time of pestilence, no man complains of a friend, for proposng too many preservatives : when the danger is evident, prudence requires a suitable precaution. Now, there are so many contagious books, that their titles infect the streets, and it is less dangerous to enter into a pest-house, than to come within hght of a bookseller's shop, if curiosity accompany you, I have therefore thought fit to throw in a good title amongji so many bad ones; that the antidote may be near the poison; and the cure as ready at hand as the infection.
I present you therefore these Moral Reflections on Select Passages of the New Testament; that is, a moral comment on the Scripture. I pretend not to publish a new morality, but to explain that of Jesus Christ : and, as I difclaim á criminal indulgence on the one hand, so I disapprove too morose a severity on the other. I am far from being inclined to damn all, nor yet of the opinion to save all. Heaven's
gate is strait, but not walld up: few enter, but all may; in fine, the conquest of heaven is hard, but not imposible. It may be stormed, and the violent take it by force, Matth. xi. 12. but it cannot be taken by capitulation. Se that we must neither despair of success, nor temerariously presume.
Some may perchance object, that I often repeat the same things: but, first, if Atheists and Libertines gain ground upon religion, and
virtue, by repeated attacks ; if they weary, people out of their duty by importunity, and force them to yield in their own defence ; why may not I manage the interest of virtue by the same method, and foil its enemies at their own weapons ? Men may be importuned into heaven, as well as into hell : at least, tle importance of the concern deserves the experi
Buť behdes, we canno bear too often those things, which we cannot too perfectly learn: our salvation depends on the practice, and this on the knowledge of our duty : fo that if the vastness of Christ's promijës ballance the difficulty of the practice, the profit of the knowledge will attone for the frequency of the repetition. In a word, we cannot hear bad things too seldom, nor good too often.
I therefore desire the Christian Reader, if he intends to profit by these reflections, to carry about him this capital point of his religion, that he was made for heaven, by God's goodness; but that his own malice may plunge him into hell: he walks between two extremes; both eternal, both different ; the one of pleasure, the other of punishment : be may choose either ; both be cannot ; one be muft ; for there is no other state eternal for those, who once bave used reafon : the choice must be made in this world: when our glass is run, and our last breath has pasi’d our lips, nothing remains but reward or punishment, and both everlasting : it will be in vain to see our folly, when there is no pollibility of amendment,