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even weeks, might have yielded something more satisfactory. But complaint is useless; and apology vain. He has done, in his circumstances, what he could. And it yields him pleasure to think, that besides some other works of a general nature for the religious public, and especially several for the use of families, he has now done something more particularly for the Closet.
The writer has always been attached to publications of this kind; and from his own experience, and observation, he is convinced of their adaptation to usefulness. He cannot but wish that Christians would read the Scripture itself more; and endeavour to reflect themselves on the passages, which, either in a continued course, or in selections at the time, come before them. The power of doing this would improve by the use; and the pleasure and advantage resulting from the facility, would amply reward any difficulty in the acquisition. But it is to be lamented, many do not reflect: and so the customary and cursory perusal, for want of thought, produces little impression ; and the paragraph or chapter-or it may be even chapters—are immediately forgotten. But a verse or sentence, separately placed before the eye, is more distinctly remarked; and being illustrated in a brief and lively comment, is more easily remembered. To supply such assistance cannot be reckoned an attempt to lead people from the word
of God, but to it: and it may teach those who use it, in time, to do for themselves, what it may be necessary at first in another to do for them.
As to the subjects of these Exercises, the author has aimed to blend doctrine, experience, and practice together. There is danger of Antinomianism when the attention is too exclusively called to doctrinal points ; of enthusiasm, when it is too exclusively attached to experimental; and of legality, when it is too exclusively confined to practical. It is the proportioned admixture of sentiment, feeling, and duty, that qualifies each; and renders them all, not only safe, but profitable. The writer, also, has not limited himself to the usual mode of making the subjects of such meditations always of the consolatory kind. Christians, in the divine life, want something besides comfort. They are to have their pure minds stirred up, by way of remembrance; to suffer the word of exhortation; to hear the reproofs of wisdom; to walk humbly with God; and wisely with men. Indeed, the best way to gain comfort is not always to seek it directly ; but mediately: and the medium may require self-denial and patience. It is the same with comfort, as with reputation ; it is more certainly secured as a consequence, than by making it a mere design.
The writer has not often put the exercise into the form of a soliloquy, or generally expressed himself in the language of the first person. He found the common mode of address better suited, especially to the explanatory and hortative parts of his design. Why should not the reader consider himself the addressed, rather than the speaker ? and, by immediate application, make, as much as possible, the reflections his own ?
As to the style itself, what was principally designed for pious use in retirement could not be too clear, and easy, and forcible, and pointed ; too much abounding with terse briskness, and naiveté of expression; too free from the tameness and smoothness by which common, but important truths, are aided to slide down from the memory into oblivion.
In three hundred and sixty-five exercises, there may be some coincidences; and the same thought, image, or example, may occur more than once-It was hardly possible to prevent it, as the whole series could not be kept in memory, or be continually compared. As the work advanced, the subjects too frequently increased in length, beyond the bounds he had prescribed himself—The case was: the printer pressed upon him—and he had not time to be short.
He could have introduced more of the exercises, in verse.
If there be any blame arising from the few he has admitted, some friends ought to bear it, instead of himself.
But enough of this. The author commends the work to that part of the pious public who love and practise retreat; who wish not only to read the Scriptures alone, but to observe their beauties, and advantages; who, while they neglect not their own meditations, are thankful to derive help from others—and often exclaim, “A word fitly spoken, how good is it !” who wish to be in the fear of the Lord all the day long; who would not have their religion a visiter, but an inmate ; who would speak of divine things, not by a kind of artificial effort, but out of the abundance of the heart; and who know how much it conduces to our sanctification to keep the mind filled with good things, not only as these will exclude base intrusions, but will be sure to leave somewhat of their own tinge and likeness behind.
As to readers of this character, the author trusts the materials here furnished will not be unacceptable, of whatever religious denomination they may be found. He considers the community in which, by the providence of God, he himself labours—not as a party-but only as a part ; and he is not an enemy to the whole army, because he is attached to his own regiment.
He does not oppose, but co-operate. He has not attempted in these volumes to conceal the leading sentiments which he holds ; but he has not offensively obtruded them : nor has he availed himself of opportunities to bring forward those particular views, in subordinate matters, in which he may differ from others. He readily allows that every man has a right to state and defend the opinions which he has derived from conviction : but his love should abound in knowledge and in all judgment; and he should regulate the degree of his zeal by the importance of the subject. He is also persuaded that the statement and the defence should be effected in a work avowedly for the purpose ; and not be introduced into a publication adapted to general edification. How much less circulation and usefulness would Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion, and Alleine's Alarm, and other good books, have obtained, had their authors inserted their own minor partialities, and attacked those of others ! In reading a valuable volume where such things are found, we should resemble the ox in the meadow, who, when he comes to a tuft of grass he dislikes, does not grow angry and attempt to tear it up with his hoofs and horns, but placidly leaves it, and feeds on in the large and rich pasturage. But all have not this “ meekness of wisdom.” The prejudices of many are powerful, and quickly excited; and meeting with a passage in the beginning of a work-by no means essential to its design—they throw it instantly aside, and lose all the pleasure and benefit it would otherwise have afforded them.