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put forth by the Author, has afforded an opportunity for supplying this deficiency and it is hoped that by embracing it, an acceptable, and not unimportant, service has been rendered to the cause of Christianity.
Independent of their general merits, these Essays have some peculiar excellencies, to which it may be proper to advert in this place. No one can have observed the present state of theological discussion, without perceiving that there is a growing taste for simplicity and scriptural authority. The respect once paid to uninspired names and opinions, is passing away. An excited and stirring age protests against confining Christian truth in those swaddling bands of scholastic device, called Systems. It requires that Religion should be restored to its native freedom, and be exhibited with all that warmth, and freshness of coloring, which distinguished the writings of its primitive champions. There is evidently an increasing distaste for the “ inventions of men” which have been engrafted upon it—which were introduced to clear it of obscurity—but which have only resulted in perplexity and dissension. In one word, that the proper province of human reason, is to investigate the credibility and import of the Scriptures—that the state in which they exhibit Religion, is pre
cisely the state in which we are to receive it that no attempts should be made to explain what they have left obscure, or reconcile what they have left in seeming inconsistency—these are opinions becoming every day more current and authoritative in the Christian world.
And with this improvement in the mode of theological discussion, there should be—and it is hoped there is—a corresponding improvement in the ability with which it is conducted. “ The time past should suffice us” to have tolerated dull common-place, merely because it is marked by traces of piety. In the defence and illustration of Christianity, there are deserved and required the best talents of men ; and before individuals enlist themselves as authors in this cause, they should possess other claims to regard, besides sincerity and zeal.
Nor should we consent longer to laud works for their strength and solidity, merely because they use the “set speech” of party, or ring the changes upon some scale of religious phraseology. There can be no reason why Religion, a subject pertaining above all others to “ men's business and bosoms,” should not address them in popular language. Where its peculiarities (for it has peculiarities,) are to be designated—where this designation cannot easily be made, except by a single term
let that term be used which the Scriptures employ, and the Holy Spirit has sanctioned. This is essential to perspicuity, and should be practised, without giving the least heed to imputations of cant or fanaticism.But where such necessity does not exist where the Christian peculiarity can as well be expressed by circumlocution-or where the idea to be expressed involves nothing exclusively Christian—there to employ a peculiar term, is bad philosophy not less than bad taste.
If ever Christianity is to be properly understood and felt by the mass of men—especially if ever it is to command the respect and attention of cultivated men-it must put on the garb which is worn by other truths. It must clothe itself in a diction sanctioned by the usage of classical writers in other departments of Moral Science. Those technical terms, which have been so justly denominated “the lights of science, but the shades of religion,” must be laid aside. Those phrases must be disused which can be learned by rote—which are so often repeated without being understood, and which tend so much to induce the pride and presumption of knowledge, without its reality. The language of Religion should be the full and free outpouring of enlightened minds, and animated hearts. It should be fit
ted to awaken thought and feeling. It should commend itself to the best taste and judgment of the cultivated mind. In short, it should be that language which becomes a Religion destined to mingle with all the pursuits, and hallow all the thoughts and affections of men.
In these respects, the present Essays have a high claim to regard. It is not pretended that they are faultless—or that improvements might not be suggested by the intelligent reader. But it is the opinion of competent judges, that few works, embodying evangelical truth, have recently appeared, that are liable to less exception on the score either of style or sentiment. In his views of Christianity, Mr. Wilks is eminently scriptural.He makes no attempt to be wise above what is written+-to render that plain which the Holy Spirit has left obscure. He descends into no subtle distinctions, where the light of Revelation ceases to be his guide. His system of faith has the freedom from constraint which characterized the preaching of the Apostles, and recommends itself at one and the same time to our understandings, our consciences, and our hearts. In his train of thought he is clear and manly-in his diction pure, animated and impressive. When he speaks of the distinctive traits of our Religion, he does not
hesitate to call them by their distinctive names. He does not dread to illustrate and adorn his thoughts with apposite quotations from the sacred volume. But his general style is classical, and the whole work one which, while it cannot fail to instruct and interest the hum-. blest Christian, ought to command the attention, and rouse the sensibilities, of the most enlightened.
To the original work is added another Essay of the same author, on the “ Influence of a Moral Life on our Judgment in Matters of Faith.” This Essay has been already republished in this country, in a pamphlet form, and is inserted here for the purpose of giving it a more permanent and extended circulation.
With the earnest prayer that this volume may be made instrumental in promoting the influence, and extending the knowledge, of pure
and undefiled Religion, it is now commended to the blessing of God, and the favor of the public.
Boston, October, 1829.