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TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LADY FRANCES SHIRLEY.
Ir Christianity was inconsistent with true politeness, or prejudicial to real happiness, I should be extremely injudicious, and inexcusably ungrateful, in presenting these Essays to your Ladyship. But as the religion of Jesus is the grand ornament of our nature, and a source of the sublimest joy, the purport of the following pages cannot be unworthy the countenance and protection of the most accomplished person. Neither can there be a wish more suitable to the obligations or the dictates of a grateful heart, than that you may experience what you read, and be what you patronise.
Did religion consist in a formal round of external observances, or a forced submission to some rigorous austerities, I should not scruple to join with the infidel and the sensualist to dread it in one view, and to despise it in another. You need not be informed, Madam, that it is as much superior to all such low and forbidding sin gularities, as the heavens are higher than the earth. It is described by an author, who learned its theory in the regions of Paradise, and who displayed its efficacy in his own most exemplary conversation ;—it is thus described by that incomparable author: "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
To be reconciled to the Omnipotent God; to be interested in the unsearchable riches of Christ; to be renewed in our hearts, and influenced in our lives, by the sanctifying operations of the Divine Spirit- this is evangelical righteousness; this is genuine religion; this, Madam, is the kingdom of God established in the soul. How benign and inviting is such an institution! How honourable and advantageous such a state! And from such privileges, what other effects can flow, but that "peace, which passeth all understanding;" that "joy, which is unspeakable and glorious?"
Is there any thing in the amusements of the gay, and pursuits of the ambitious,
N of greater, of equal, of comparable value? Is not all that wealth can purchase, all
that grandeur can bestow, somewhat like those glittering bubbles, which, when
viewed are emptiness, when grasped, are nothing? Whereas the comforts, the benefits, the hopes of Christianity, are at once supremely excellent, and infinitely durable; a portion suited to the dignity of a rational soul; large as its faculties, and immortal as its being.
All these blessings are centered in Christ; were purchased by Christ; are communicated from Christ. It is for want of knowing those boundless and everlasting treasures of pardoning, justifying, saving merit, which the Lord Jesus Christ possesses, and which he freely dispenses even to sinners, that so many unthinking persons are attached to ignoble objects, and beguiled by delusory pleasures. Unhappy creatures! what can they do but catch at shadows, and stoop to trifles, while they are ignorant of the grand, the substantial, the exalted good? It is for want of duly attending to that fulness of grace, and that plenteousness of redemption, which dwell in our most adorable Saviour, that so many serious persons are strangers to the tranquillity and sweetness of religion; are subject to all its restraints, but enjoy few, if any, of its delights. Mistaken zealots! How can they avoid the gloomy situation, and the uncomfortable circumstances, so long as they withdraw themselves from the Sun of Righteousness, and his all-cheering beams?
May your Ladyship live continually under his heavenly light and heali: g wings; be more fully assured of his dying love; and have brighter, still brighter manifestations of his immense perfections! By these delightful views, and by that precious faith, may your heart be transformed into his holy, his amiable, his divine image! Your happiness will then be just such as is wished, but far greater than can be expressed, by,
Your most obliged, and
Weston-Favell, Jan. 6, 1755.
Most obedient humble servant,
THE reader will probably expect some account of the ensuing work; and to gratify him in this particular will be a real pleasure to the author.
The beauty and excellency of the Scriptures; - the ruin and depravity of human nature;-its happy recovery, founded on the atonement, and effected by the Spirit of Christ:-these are some of the chief points, vindicated, illustrated, and implied in the following sheets. But the grand article, that which makes the principal figure, is the IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS of our divine Lord; from whence arises our justification before God, and our title to every heavenly blessing; an article which, though eminent for its importance, seems to be little understood, and less regarded; if not much mistaken, and almost forgotten.
The importance of this great evangelical doctrine,-how worthy it is of the most attentive consideration, and of universal acceptance, —is hinted in the second dialogue; so that I need, in this place, do nothing more than give the sense of a passage from Witsius, which is there introduced in a note. "The doctrine of justification," says that excellent author, "spreads itself through the whole system of divinity. As this is either solidly established or superficially touched, fully stated or slightly dismissed; accordingly, the whole structure of religion either rises graceful and magnificent, superior to assault and beyond the power of decay, or else it appears disproportionate and defective, totters on its foundation, and threatens an opprobrious fall.”
The design is executed in the form of dialogue; those parts only excepted in which it was not easy to carry on a conversation, and assign to each person a proper degree of significancy. Here, to avoid the common imputation of bringing upon the stage a mute or a shadow,-one who fights without weapons, and submits without
contest, the scene shifts. Our gentlemen separate, and, instead of conversing, enter upon an epistolary correspondence.
The dialogue form seems, on niany considerations, a very eligible way of writing. Hereby the author gives an air both of dignity and of modesty to his sentiments. Of dignity; by delivering them from the mouths of persons in every respect superior to himself. Of modesty; because we no longer consider him in the raised, but invidious, capacity of a teacher. Instead of calling us to his feet, and dictating his precepts, he gratifies our curiosity. He turns back a curtain, and admits us to some remarkable interviews, or interesting conferences. We overhear, by a kind of innocent or imaginary stealth, the debates which pass in the recesses of privacy, which are carried on with the most unreserved freedom of speech, and openness of heart; a circumstance which will apologize for some peculiarities that might otherwise be inconsistent with humility, or offensive to delicacy. Particularly it may obviate the disgust which generally, and indeed deservedly, attends the frequent intrusion of that ambitious and usurping monosyllable, I.
The names of the persons are prefixed, each to his respective share of the discourse, in imitation of Cicero, and for the reasons which he assigns: "Quasi enim ipsos induxi loquentes: ne inquam et inquit sæpius interponerentur. Atque id eo feci, ut tanquam præsentibus coram haberi sermo videretur *." This method, he very justly intimates, is removed farthest from the narrative, and makes the nearest approaches to life and reality. It quite secretes the author, and, by introducing the persons themselves, renders all that passes entirely their own. It prevents likewise the repetition of those interlocutory words--he said, he replied; which, unless the speeches are very long, must frequently recur, and have no pleasing effect upon the ear. And if the speeches are long, the spirit of conversation is lost. The associates are no longer talking; but one of them, or the author, is lecturing.
Though I have so much to say in behalf of the model, I have very little to say with regard to the execution, unless it be to confess the deficiency. There is not, I am sensible, that peculiar air and distinguishing turn which should mark and characterise each speaker. This is what the nature of finished dialogue requires, and what the author applauds in some very superior writers. But not having the ability to copy it, he has not the vanity to affect it. Nevertheless, the attentive reader will, all along, perceive a dif
ference in the sentiment, if not in the language. The materials vary, even when they run into the same mould, and take the same form. In the diction also there must be some diversity; because several of the objections are proposed in the very words of one or two eminent writers who have appeared on the other side of the question. These are not particularised by the mark of quotation; because the man of reading will have no occasion for the assistance of such an index, and the man of taste will probably discern them by the singularity of the style.
Some of the following pieces, it must be acknowledged, are of the controversial kind: a species of writing least susceptible of the graces which embellish composition; or rather, most destitute of the attractives which engage attention and create delight. Yet I have sometimes thought, that it is not absolutely impossible to make even the stern face of controversy wear a smile, and to reap some valuable fruit from the rugged furrows of disputation. Whether this is effected in the present work, the public must judge; that it has been attempted, the author may be permitted to declare.
To soften the asperities of argument, views of nature are interspersed; that if the former should carry the appearance of a rude entangled forest, or of a frowning gloomy recess, there may be some agreeable openings, and lightsome avenues, to admit a prospect of the country; which is always arrayed in charms, and never fails to please.
The author confesses a very peculiar fondness for the amiable scenes of creation. It is therefore not at all improbable but his excursions on this topic may be of the diffusive kind, and his descriptions somewhat luxuriant. It is hoped, however, that the benevolent reader will indulge him in this favourite foible. If any should feel the same prevailing passion for the beauties of nature, it is possible these persons may be inclined not only to excuse, but to approve the fault; and may take part with the lover, even in opposition to the critic.
Further to diversify the piece, sketches of philosophy are introduced; easy to be understood, and calculated to entertain the imagination, as well as to improve the heart; more particularly, to display the wise and beneficent design of Providence, in the various appearances and numberless productions of the material world. Neither are these remarks altogether foreign to the main point; but as far as the wonders of creation may comport with the riches of free grace, subserve the general end.