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The little volume now presented to the reader is the result of some fear, on the one hand, that the principles of Congregational Dissent are not even by many of the members of our own body so thoroughly understood as could be wished; and of a strong conviction, on the other, of their truth, and importance, and powerfully practical tendency. We are not unaware that some good men have been accustomed to regard the distinctive tenets held by different sections of the great general body of evangelical Christians as speculative principles, which, in the experience of those who hold them, can contribute in no degree to promote spirituality of mind, and thus to augment their power of doing good. Were the correctness of this opinion conceded, it would follow that all discussion of such principles might cease, and perhaps should cease. The present writer does not, however, make this concession. He is persuaded, on the contrary, that they are powerfully adapted to develop and improve character,—to separate the precious from the vile; to promote caution, watchfulness, humility, love, zeal, and enterprise ; to elicit, and to give the stay and support of habit to all those holy affections which the Spirit of God implants in the hearts of his people, and to prepare them for a more splendid career of moral improvement when mortality shall have been swallowed up of life. If we do not now reap a full harvest of benefit from them, the sole reason, as the Author cannot but think, is, that by a part, perhaps a considerable part of the body, they are but imperfectly understood, or but feebly held. Let them only obtain, as we trust they will, a firmer establishment in the intelligent confidence of the members of the denomination at large, and especially let them be brought more vigorously into action, and, unless the writer is greatly mistaken, their abundant spiritual fruit will speedily show, with a power of evidence not to be resisted, that they form integrant parts of that revelation the ultimate design of which, in relation to man at least, is to transform him into the image of his Maker.
It is not, perhaps, impossible that some portion of this defective acquaintance with the principles of Congregational dissent, is the incidental result of one, especially, of those noble institutions which form the moral glory of our land. Since the establishment of Missionary and Bible Societies, churchmen and dissenters have mingled with one another more frequently than formerly, and loved one another more fervently. Our own brethren especially, rejoicing in this improved state of feeling, have, as a body, exercised the greatest caution to avoid every thing which might possibly abate the warmth of the newly-kindled fraternal affection. They have even been content to sacrifice the interest of their own denomination, or, as it would be more correct to say, to hold in practical abeyance that portion of
truth which is to be found in the distinctive principles of their denomination, lest they should give offence to those with whom they had been so recently brought to co-operate, and drive the new visitants to their places of worship-brought thither through the indirect operation of the great Christian societies to which reference has been made—back again to what would not have been, in some cases at least, feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined.”
Now, whatever may be thought of this course of proceeding itself, we must applaud the motive which led to it. It was not possible, perhaps, to anticipate formerly all the consequences to which it might lead; little doubt can remain now that, as one of its actual results, a new generation—both of ministers and people has sprung up among us, whose members have less knowledge of their principles than their predecessors possessed-who hold them with a less tenacious grasp_and who are, consequently, far more likely to abandon them when personal ambition has been disappointed, or when temptation presents its golden bait to draw the simple or the sordid astray.
It is not likely that any reflecting person among us will regard this as a sound state of the ecclesiastical body; all, it is presumed, will allow that some curative process is desirable. Now what process can present so strong a probability of success, as a return to the good old way of training up our congregations, and especially the young amongst them, in the knowledge of those great principles of Nonconformity, to the value as well as the truth of which so many of our pious forefathers set the seal of their blood ?
ourselves and them, except the sacrifice of a single grain of Divine truth, or our practical liberty to teach it to our own people.
The author is not without his apprehensions that some persons, both Churchmen and Dissenters, are apt to think it impossible to hold their sentiments on minor points, as an act of subjection to Divine revelation, and at the same time to exercise Christian forbearance and love to those who differ from them on those points ! He has, at any rate, met with individuals who seemed to imagine that they must either be latitudinarians or bigots. No error could be greater than this. It receives no countenance from the word of God. It is contradicted by fact; for, paradoxical as it might at first view appear, it will be found to be the case, generally at least, that the most liberal men are those who have been most careful to gather all their opinions from revelation. Conscientious themselves, they conceive others to be so, and respect them on that account. It mistakes the nature of Christian liberality, and founds it on the wrong basis. Christian liberality does not rest on the assumption that there is, correctly speaking, no right and wrong in reference to distinctive tenets; or, in other words, that men, equally honest and impartial, equally free from any bias which might improperly influence the judgment, equally humble and devout, might, on examining the New Testament, form different opinions in reference to the nature of a church, the character of its members, the mode of its government, &c.; for in that case Divine revelation, so it appears to us at least, would be chargeable, from its want of explicitness, with all the evils which have resulted from the