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PREFACE BY THE FIRST EDITOR.
The Author had designed these Dissertations 194194 This preface was originally prefixed to the following Dissertations, “concerning the End for which God created the World, and the Nature of True Virtue,” in one volume.—W. for the public view; and wrote them out as they now appear: though it is probable, that if his life had been spared, he would have revised them, and rendered them in some respects more complete. Some new sentiments, here and there, might probably have been added; and some passages brightened with further illustrations. This may be conjectured from some brief hints or sentiments minuted down, on loose papers, found in the manuscripts.
But those sentiments concisely sketched out, which, it is thought, the author intended to enlarge, and digest into the body of the work, cannot be so amplified by any other hand, as to do justice to the author: it is therefore probably best that nothing of this kind should be attempted.
As these Dissertations were more especially designed for the learned and inquisitive, it is expected that the judicious and candid will not be disposed to object, that the manner in which these subjects are treated is something above the level of common readers. For though a superficial way of discourse and loose harangues may well enough suit some subjects, and answer some valuable purposes; yet other subjects demand more closeness and accuracy. And if an author should neglect to do justice to a subject, for fear that the simpler sort should not fully understand him, he might expect to be deemed a trifler by the more intelligent.
Our author had a rare talent to penetrate deep in search of truth; to take an extensive survey of a subject, and look through it into remote consequences. Hence many theorems, that appeared hard and barren to others, were to him pleasant and fruitful fields, where his mind would expatiate with peculiar ease, profit, and entertainment. Those studies, which to some are too fatiguing to the mind, and wearying to the constitution, were to him but a natural play of genius, and which his mind without labour would freely and spontaneously perform. A close and conclusive way of reasoning upon a controversial point was easy and natural to him.
This may serve, it is conceived, to account for his usual manner of treating abstruse and controverted subjects, which some have thought has been too metaphysical. But the truth is, that his critical method of looking through the nature of his subject,—his accuracy and precision in canvassing truth, comparing ideas, drawing consequences, pointing out and exposing absurdities,—naturally led him to reduce the evidence in favour of truth into the form of demonstration: which, doubtless, where it can be obtained, is the most eligible, and by far the most satisfying to great and noble minds. And though some readers may find the labour hard to keep pace with the writer, in the advances he makes, where the ascent is arduous; yet in general all was easy to him: such was his peculiar love and discernment of truth, and natural propensity to search after it. His own ideas were clear to him, where some readers have thought them obscure. Thus many things in the works of Newton and Locke, which appear either quite unintelligible, or very obscure to the illiterate, were clear and bright to those illustrious authors, and their learned readers.
The subjects here handled are sublime and important. The end which God had in view in creating the world, was doubtless worthy of him; and consequently the most excellent and glorious possible. This therefore must be worthy to be known by all the intelligent creation, as excellent in itself, and worthy of their pursuit. And as true virtue distinguishes the inhabitants of heaven, and all the happy candidates for that world of glory, from all others; there cannot surely be a more interesting subject.
The notions which some men entertain concerning God’s end in creating the world, and concerning true virtue, in our late author’s opinion, have a natural tendency to corrupt Christianity, and to destroy the gospel of our divine Redeemer. It was therefore, no doubt, in the exercise of a pious concern for the honour and glory of God, and a tender respect to the best interests of his fellow-men, that this devout and learned writer undertook the following work.—May the Father of lights smile upon the pious and benevolent aims and labours of his servant, and crown them with his blessing! 95
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