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BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THIS BOOK AND ITS AUTHOR,
BY THE FIRST EDITOR.
The Reverend Author of the following piece, was removed by death before its publication. But, ere his decease, the copy was finished and brought to the press; and a number of sheets passed his own review. They who were acquainted with the author, or know his just character, and have any taste for the serious theme, will want nothing to be said in recommendation of the ensuing tract, but only that Mr. Edwards wrote it.
Several valuable pieces on this subject have lately been published, upon the same side of the question. But he had no notice of so much as the very first of them, till he had wholly concluded what he had in view: nor has it been thought, that any thing already printed should supersede this work; being designed on a more extensive plan—comprising a variety of arguments, and answers to many objections, that fell not in the way of the other worthy writers—and the whole done with a care of familiar method and language, as well as clear reasoning, accommodated very much to common capacities. It must be a sensible pleasure to every friend of truth, that so masterly a hand undertook a reply to Dr. Taylor; notwithstanding the various answers already given him, both at home and abroad.
Since it has been thought unfit, that this posthumous book should go unattended with a respectful memorial of the author, it is hoped, the reader will candidly accept the following 232232 As we have given a full Memoir in the first volume, those particulars which were contained in this brief account, and which are more fully and accurately narrated there, are omitted, in order to avoid needless repetition. :
As he lived cheerfully resigned in all things to the will of Heaven, so he died, or rather, as the Scripture emphatically expresses it, in relation to the saint in Christ Jesus, he fell asleep, without the least appearance of pain, and with great calm of mind. Indeed, when he first perceived the symptoms upon him to be mortal, he is said to have been a little perplexed for a while, about the meaning of this mysterious conduct of Providence, in calling him out from his beloved privacy, to a public scene of action and influence; and then so suddenly, just upon his entrance into it, translating him from thence, in such a way, by mortality! However, he quickly got believing and composing views of the wisdom and goodness of God in this surprising event: and readily yielded to the sovereign disposal of Heaven, with 144 the most placid submission. Amidst the joy of faith, he departed this world, to go and see Jesus, whom his soul loved; to be with him, to behold his glory, and rejoice in his kingdom.
In person, he was tall of stature, and of a slender make. There was something extremely delicate in his constitution; which always obliged him to observe the exactest rules of temperance, and every method of cautious and prudent living. By such means he was helped to go through incessant labours, and to bear up under much study, which, Solomon observes, is a weariness to the flesh. Perhaps, never was a man more constantly retired from the world; giving himself to reading, and contemplation. And a wonder it was, that his feeble frame could subsist under such fatigues, daily repeated and so long continued. Yet upon occasion of some remark upon it by a friend, which was only a few months before his death, he told him, “He did not find but he was then as well able to bear the closest study, as he was thirty years before; and could go through the exercises of the pulpit with as little weariness of difficulty.” In his youth he appeared healthy, and with a good degree of vivacity; but was never robust. In middle life, he appeared very much emaciated (I had almost said, mortified) by severe studies, and intense applications of thought. Hence his voice was a little languid, and too low for a large assembly; though much relieved and advantaged by a proper emphasis, just cadence, well-placed pauses, and great distinctness in pronunciation.
He had a piercing eye, the truest index of the mind. His aspect and mien had a mixture of severity and pleasantry. He had a natural turn for gravity and sedateness; ever contemplative; and in conversation usually reserved, but always observant of a genuine decorum in his deportment; free from sullen, supercilious, and contemptuous airs, and without any appearance of ostentation, levity, or vanity. As to imagination, he had enough of it for a great and good man: but the gaieties of a luxuriant fancy, so captivating to many, were what he neither affected himself, nor was much delighted with in others. He had a natural steadiness of temper, and fortitude of mind; which being sanctified by the Spirit of God, was ever of vast advantage to him, to carry him through difficult services, and support him under trying afflictions, in the course of his life. Personal injuries he bore with a becoming meekness and patience, and a disposition to forgiveness. The humility, modesty, and serenity of his behavior, much endeared him to his acquaintance; and made him appear amiable in the eyes of such as had the privilege of conversing with him. He was a true and faithful friend; and showed much of a disinterested benevolence to his neighbour. The several relations sustained by him, he adorned with an exemplary conduct; and was solicitous to fill every station with its proper duty. He kept up an extensive correspondence, with ministers and others, in various parts; and his letters always contained some significant and valuable communications. In his private walk, as a Christian, he appeared an example of truly rational, consistent, uniform religion and virtue: a shining instance of the power and efficacy of that holy faith, to which he was so firmly attached, and of which he was so strenuous a defender. He exhibited much of spirituality, and a heavenly bent of soul. In him one saw the loveliest appearance, a rare assemblage of christian graces, united with the richest gifts, and mutually subserving and recommending one another.
As a scholar, his intellectual furniture exceeded what is common, considering the disadvantages we labour under in this remote corner of the world. He very early discovered a genius above the ordinary size; which gradually ripened and expanded, by daily exertion and application. He was remarkable for the penetration and extent of his understanding, for his powers of criticism and accurate distinction, quickness of thought, solidity of judgment, and force of reasoning; which made him an acute and strong disputant. By nature he was formed for a logician, and a metaphysician; but by speculation, observation, and converse, greatly improved. He had a good insight into the whole circle of liberal arts and sciences; possessed a very valuable stock of classic learning, philosophy, mathematics, history, chronology, &c. By the blessing of God on his indefatigable studiousness, to the last, he was constantly treasuring up useful knowledge, both human and divine.
Thus he appears uncommonly accomplished for the arduous and momentous province to which he was finally called. And had Heaven indulged us with the continuance of his precious life, we have reason to think, he would have graced his new station, and been a signal blessing to the college, and therein extensively served his generation, according to the will of God.
After all, it must be owned, divinity was his favourite study; and the ministry, his most delightful employment. Among the luminaries of the church, in these American regions, he was justly reputed a star of the first magnitude; thoroughly versed in all the branches of theology, didactic, polemic, casuistic, experimental, and practical. In point of divine knowledge and skill, he had few equals, and perhaps no superior, at least in these parts. On the maturest examination of the different schemes of principles, obtaining in the world, and on comparing them with the sacred Scriptures, the oracles of God and the great standard of truth, he was a Protestant and a Calvinist in judgment; adhering to the main articles of the reformed religion with an unshaken firmness, and with a fervent zeal, but tempered with charity and candor, and governed by discretion. He seemed as little as most men under the bias of education, or the influence of bigotry. As to practical and vital Christianity, no man appeared to have a better acquaintance with its nature and importance; or to understand true religion, and feel its power, more than he; which made him an excellently fit guide to inquiring souls, and qualified him to guard them against all false religion. His internal sense of the intercourse between God and souls, being brought by him to the severe test of reason and revelation, preserved him, both in sentiment and conduct, from the least tincture of enthusiasm. The accomplished divine enters deep into his character.
As a preacher, he was judicious, solid, and instructive. Seldom was he known to bring controversy into the pulpit; or to handle any subject in the nicer modes and forms of scholastic dissertation. His sermons, in general, seemed to vary exceedingly from his controversial compositions. In his preaching, usually, all was plain, familiar, sententious, practical; and very distant from any affectation of appearing the great man, or displaying his extraordinary abilities as a scholar. But still he ever preserved the character of a skilful and thorough divine. The common themes of his ministry were the most weighty and profitable; and especially, the great truths of the gospel of Christ, in which he himself lived by faith. His method in preaching was, first to apply to the understanding and judgment, labouring to enlighten and convince them; and then to persuade the will, engage the affections, and excite the active powers of the soul. His language was with propriety and purity, but with a noble negligence; nothing ornamented. Florid diction was not the beauty he preferred. His talents were of a superior kind. He regarded thoughts, rather than words. Precision of sentiment and clearness of expression are the principal characteristics of his pulpit style. Neither quick nor slow of speech, there was a certain pathos in his utterance, and such skill of address, as seldom failed to draw the attention, warm the hearts, and stimulate the consciences of the auditory. He studied to show himself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. And he was one who gave himself to prayer, as well as to the ministry of the word. Agreeably it pleased God to put great honour upon him, by crowning his labours with surprising successes, in the conversion of sinners, and the edification of saints, to the advancement of the kingdom and glory of God our Savior Jesus Christ.
As a writer, Mr. Edwards distinguished himself in controversy, to which he was called on a variety of occasions. Here the superiority of his genius eminently appeared. He knew to arrange his ideas in an exact method: and close application of mind, with the uncommon strength of his intellectual powers, enabled him in a manner to exhaust every subject he took under consideration. He diligently employed the latter part of his life in defending Christianity, both in its doctrinal and practical views, against the errors of the times. Besides his excellent writings in behalf of the power 145 of godliness, which some years ago happily prevailed in many parts of the British America, he made a noble stand against enthusiasm and false religion, when it threatened to spread, by his incomparable treatise upon religious affections. And more lately in opposition to Pelagian, Arminian, and other false principles, he published a very elaborate Treatise upon the Liberty of the human Will. A volume, that has procured him the eulogy of eminent divines abroad. Several professors of divinity in the Dutch universities very lately sent him their thanks, for the assistance he had given them in their inquiry into some controverted points; having carried his own further than any author they had ever seen. And now this volume of his, on the great christian doctrine of original sin, is presented to public view; which, though studiously adapted to lower capacities, yet carries in it the evident traces of his great genius, and seems with superior force of argument to have entirely baffled the opponent.
His writings will perpetuate his memory, and make his name blossom in the dust. The blessing of Heaven attending the perusal of them, will make them effectually conducive to the glory of God, and the good of souls; which will brighten the author’s crown, and add to his joy, in the day of future retribution.
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