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SERMONS OF THE REV. JAMES BLAIR, M. A.
COMMISSARY OF VIRGINIA, PRESIDENT OF WILLIAM AND MARY
COLLEGE, AND RECTOR OF WILLIAMSBURG IN THAT COLONY.
In 4 vols. 8vo. London, 1740.
TO THE SECOND EDITION OF THE
SERMONS OF THE REV. JAMES BLAIR, M. A.
THE worthy author living (if he yet lives) at too great a distance to attend this edition, or to give it a new preface, I was desired to take that small trouble upon me: which I do with the more pleasure, partly, out of a grateful respect to a person, by whose pious and learned labours I have been so agreeably instructed ; and partly, to excite others to give them the more serious and careful perusal. I should have been glad to have had it in my power to oblige the public with some account of the life and character of this good man; who, while he has shined abroad, in a far distant land, has been but a little known here ; except it be by these his printed works, which appear to be a fair and full portraiture of his mind.
As to the rest, all that I can at present learn will lie within a very small compass. He was born and bred in Scotland; and was ordained and beneficed in the episcopal Church there : but meeting with some discouragements, under an unsettled state of affairs, and having a prospect of discharging his ministerial functions more usefully elsewhere, he quitted his preferments there, and came over into England, some time in the latter end of King Charles the Second's reign. It was not long before he was taken notice of by the then Bishop of London, (Dr. Compton,) who prevailed with him to go as missionary (about the
year 1685) into Virginia : where by his regular conversation, exemplary conduct, and unwearied labours in the work of the ministry, he did good service to religion, and gained to himself a good report amongst all: so that the same Bishop Compton, being well apprised of his true and great worth, made choice of him, about the year 1689, as his Commissary for Virginia ; a very weighty and creditable post, the highest office in the Church there : which, however, did not take him off from his pastoral care, but only rendered him the more shining example of it to all the other Clergy within that colony.
While his thoughts were wholly intent upon doing good in his office, he observed with true concern, that the want of schools and proper seminaries for religion and learning, was such a damp upon all great attempts for the propagation of the Gospel, that little could be hoped for, without first removing that obstacle. Therefore he formed a vast design of erecting and endowing a college in Virginia, at Williamsburg, the capital of that country, for professors and students in academical learning. In order thereto, he had himself set on foot a voluntary subscription, amounting to a great sum: and not content with that, he came over into England, in the year 1693, to solicit the affair at Court. The good Queen (Queen Mary) was so well pleased with the noble design, that she espoused it with a particular zeal; and King William also, as soon as he became acquainted with its use and excellency, very readily concurred with the Queen in it. Accordingly, a patent passed for the erecting and endowing a college, called from the founders the Williain and Mary College: and Mr. Blair, who had had the principal hand in laying, and soliciting, and concerting the design, was appointed President of the College a. Our
* See some account of this matter in Bishop Burnet's History of his own Time, vol. ii. p. 119. and in Dr. Humphreys's Historical Account of the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, p. 9, 10, 11.
author, it seems, has now been a Minister of the Gospel fifty-eight years, or thereabouts; a Missionary fifty-four years ; Commissary fifty years; and President of the College about forty-six: a faithful labourer in God's vineyard from first to last; an ornament to his profession and his several offices, and now in a good old age, hourly waiting for (if not before this gone to enjoy) the high prize of his calling.
As to the Discourses here following, they had the advantage of being composed at a mature age, after a course of serious studies, after much experience in the work of the ministry, after wide and large observations made upon men and things; and, in short, after an improved experimental knowledge gained in the school of Christ. They had their first impression in the year 1722 ; drawn into public light by the repeated importunities of several worthy Prelates, and other Clergy of our Church, (who had perused a few of them in manuscript,) and by the particular encouragement of the then Metropolitan, Archbishop Wake, and of Dr. Robinson, then Bishop of London, to whom the Sermons were dedicated. When that impression was gone off, and copies were become very scarce, the executors of the late Rev. Dr. Bray (to whom the author had previously transferred his copyright) thought of a new impression, and communicated their design to the worthy author: who accordingly, in the year 1732, revised the work, corrected the errata of the press, added indexes of texts and matters, and prepared a new dedication, addressed to the Right Reverend Father in God EDMUND, Lord Bishop of London. How the edition then intended came to be retarded till this time, I know not; neither is it of moment to inquire : it is well that now at last the public once more enjoys this valuable treasure of sound Divinity, of practical Christianity. But when I say practical, let no one be so weak as to take that for a diminutive expression; which is indeed the highest and brightest commendation that a work can have; whether we look at the intrinsic use and value