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THE several hints given in the first chapter of this Treatise, which contains a particular plan of the design, render it unnecessary to introduce it with a long preface. My much honored friend, Dr. WATTS, had laid the scheme, especially of the former part. But as those indispositions with which God has been pleased to exercise him had forbid his hopes of being able. to add this to his many labors of love to immortal soul; he was pleased, in a very affectionate and importunate manner, to urge me to undertake it: And I bless God with my whole heart, not only that he hath carried me through this delightful task, (for such indeed I have found it) but also that he hath spared that worthy and amiable person to see it accomplished, and given him strength and spirit to review so considerable a part of it. His approbation, expressed in stronger terms than modesty will permit me to repeat, encourages me to hope that it is executed in such a manner as may, by the Divine blessing, render it of some general service. And I the rather hope it will be so, as it now comes abroad into the world, not only with my own prayers and his, but also with those of many other pious friends, which I have been particularly careful to engage for its success.
Into whatever hands this work may come; I must desire that, before any pass their judgment upon it, they would please to read it through, that they may discern the connexion between one part of it and another; which I the rather request, because I have long observed that Christians of different parties have been eagerly laying hold on particular parts of the system of Divine truth, and have been contending about them, as if each had been all; or as if the separation of the members from each other, and from the head, were the preservation of the body, instead of its destruction. They have been zealous to espouse the defence, and to maintain the honor and usefulness of each apart whereas the honor, as well as the usefulness seems to me to lie much in their connection, and suspicions have often arisen betwixt the respective defenders of each, which have appeared as unreasonable and absurd as if all the preparations for securing one part of a ship in a storm were to be censured as a contrivance to sink the rest. I pray God to give to all his ministers and people more and more of the spirit of wisdom, and of love, and of a sound mind and to remove far from us those mutual jealousies and animosities which hinder our acting with that unanimity which is necessary in order to the successful carrying on of our common warfare against the enemies of Christianity. We may be sure these enemies will never fail to make their own advantage of our multiplied divisions and severe contests with each other. But they must necessarily lose both their ground and their influence, in proportion to the degree in which the energy of Christian principles is felt to unite and transform the heart of those by whom they are professed.
I have studied in this Treatise the greatest plainness of speech, that the lowest of my readers may, if possible, be able to understand every word; and I hope persons of a more elegant taste and refined education will pardon what appeared to me so necessary a piece of charity. Such a care in practical writings seems one important instance of that honoring all men, which our amiable and condescending religion teaches us; and I have been particularly obliged to my worthy patron for what he hath done to shorten some of the sentences, and to put my meaning into plainer and more familiar words.
I must add one remark here, which I heartily wish I had not omitted in the first edition, viz. That though I do in this book consider my reader as successively in a great variety of supposed circumstances, beginning with those of a thoughtless sinner, and leading him through several stages of conviction, terror, &c. as what may be previous to his sincerely accepting the Gospel, and devoting himself to the service of God; yet I would by no means be thought to insinuate, that every one who is brought to that happy resolution, arrives at it through those particular steps, or feels agitations of mind equal in degree to those I have described. Some sense of sin, and some serious and humbling apprehension of our danger and misery in consequence of it, must indeed be necessary to dispose us to receive the grace of the Gospel, and the Saviour who is there exhibited to our faith. But God is pleased sometimes to begin the work of his grace in the heart almost from the first dawning of reason, and to carry it on by such gentle and insensible degrees, that very excellent persons, who have made the most eminent attainments in the Divine life, have been unable to recount any remarkable history of their conversion. And so far as I can learn, this is most frequently the case with those of them who have enjoyed the benefit of a pious education, when it has not been succeeded by a vicious and licentious youth. God forbid, therefore, that any should be so insensible of their own happiness as to fall into perplexity with relation to their spiritual state, for want oft being able to trace such a rise of religion in their minds as it was necessary on my plan for me to describe and exemplify here. I have spoken my sentiments on this head so fully in the eighth of my Sermons on Regeneration, that I think none who has read and remembers the general contents of it can be ill danger of mistaking my meaning here. But as it is very possible this book may fall into the hands or many who have not read the other, and have no opportunity of consulting it, I thought it proper to insert this caution in the preface to this; and I am much obliged to that worthy and excellent person who kindly reminded me of the expediency of doing it.
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