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FROM PREFACE TO GLASGOW REPRINT.
BY THE REV. D. YOUNG, OF PERTH.
[THE late distinguished Dr. Chalmers commenced, with the aid of some other ministers of his own country and England, a series of re-issues of works of great usefulness, under the title of “Select Christian Authors, with Introductory Essays, Chalmers and Collins, Glasgow.” Chalmers himself furnished several introductions; and it was in this series, that John Foster issued his long and excellent introduction, to “Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion;” and Edward Irving gave a valuable Essay, at the head of a reprint of “Bishop Horne on the Psalms.” Mead’s “Almost Christian,” was one of the treatises thus prefaced and reprinted. The Introductory Essay, was by an excellent minister of Perth, the Rev. David Young. From it we have drawn the following remarks.]xii
“‘The almost Christian’—if there be one thing more than another, which its pages are fitted to produce, it is a godly jealousy. To awaken this, and realize the fruits of it, is the author’s chosen purpose. It is truly a searching volume. Its author saw the havoc which an easy credulity in matters of religion was spreading among professors of his own time; his spirit was stirred within him, at the thought of the delusion which it propagated, and the immensity of the interests which it bartered away; and in discharging a duty to the men of his generation, he has put on record a word in season to us. The volume is now intercepted from the disuse into which it was sinking; a laudable effort is made, to present it afresh to the religious public; and most devoutly is it to be wished, that the exercises which it inculcates, and to which it so honestly leads the way, may become the characteristic of modern professors. The immediate effect of such a revulsion might be, an extensive overthrow of hopes and purposes; but its latter end would be, righteousness and peace. It might lead to that fearfulness which surpriseth the hypocrite; but nothing whatever would it demolish, except those refuges of lies which the xiiihail of a judgment to come must ultimately sweep away.
“We cannot, indeed, withhold the remark, although it should be deemed censorious, that there is a very peculiar adaptation of the sentiments of this little book to the character of the times in which we are living. We all know the extent to which we set the fashion to each other in religion as in everything else, and every wise man will take care so to estimate the spirit of his times, as to ascertain the precise kind of modification into which they tend to form his character. There are times when Christianity is newly introduced among a people, or when an important reformation in its general profession has been recently effected, or when professors are assailed by persecution, or when a general revival of religion in its life and power has taken place, and in these times there is a tendency to the production of a severe sanctity in morals, and a peculiarly fervent and decided piety. In this state of things, the man of neutrality cannot subsist, and must either make an effort to come up to the general standard, or see himself left in the congregation of sinners. Such, however, are not our times. We have grown old in the enjoyment of peace, and the use of external privilege; the xivpublic creeds of most of our churches are substantially orthodox: this has produced, and is still maintaining a general soundness of religious sentiment among the professing community at large. The continued enforcement of Christian doctrine on the minds of the people, is preserving, if not extending a commendable decency of deportment; the attention paid to religious training among the young, with the remaining purity of Christian fellowship so far as it prevails, and the mingling influence of pious example from those who are decidedly Christian, have refined away the coarseness of the age, and induced even scepticism herself to speak with courtesy of the religion of the land. Now, let these things be put together and seriously thought of—let their tendency to induce a man to think well of himself, since he confessedly holds so much, and stands so well with others around him, be fairly estimated, and surely it will be granted that there is reason at least to inquire whether amidst the ease and tranquillity of our times, we are not egregiously forgetting ourselves, and singing a dismal lullaby over the slumberings of piety. When a man gives himself to considerations like these in the deep seclusion of serious thought—when he connects them for illustration with what xvhe sees and hears, and allows them to speak their native language to his understanding and his heart, he cannot suppress the working suspicion—that we are setting a fashion to each other of a kind the most injurious, and that the very generation to which we belong, more fearfully perhaps than any other, is abounding with ‘Almost Christians.’
“For such a state of things, the reader has in his hands an admirable antidote, applied with a plainness, and point, and delightful felicity of scriptural illustration, which render it both impressive and memorable. Matthew Mead, it is very true, was a man of olden habits, and to the charms of modern diction, his book has no pretensions; but we see him in the garb of his times, and that taste must be pettish indeed, which would wish to see him in any other. The style of the book, although unadorned, is yet perspicuous and striking, and the very homeliness of its phrases, in instances not a few, is happily fitted to promote its efficiency.
“It is a book of topics, containing much meaning in few words; and the serious reader may often regret that more has not been said, on matters which he feels to be so very interesting. But this appearance of defect is in reality an excellence; xviits aim is to provoke a scrutiny of character; and the writer who proposes this, has done enough, when he has shown cause for such a scrutiny, digested maxims for conducting it, and impressed his reader with the importance of the subject. The thing wanted here, is not an agent to do the work for a man, but a guide and monitor to furnish him with facilities, and ply him with motives to do it for himself.
“It is a book of dissections, in which every department of the Christian character is skilfully divested of its covering, and laid open to impartial survey; and although it would be too much to say, that in the performance of a task, which exhibits such diversity, and requires such a nicety of spiritual discrimination, nothing has been done to disturb the peace of a saint; yet the instances in which its author is chargeable with this, we take to be very few; while perhaps there is not one of them in which the pain produced, if rightly improven, is not salutary in its tendency, or fails to lead on to more exalted enjoyment. But supposing that instances do occur, in which the peace of conscience is unduly disturbed, or that a sentiment, here and there, has dropped from the pen of the author, which tends to a false or injurious alarm, still it is better that a reparable xviiinjury should be suffered, than that a delusion which is irreparable should remain undetected. It is the lot of the messenger, who either lifts up his voice or his pen to publish the counsel of God to man in the present complex state of society, that he cannot sound an alarm to the wicked, without putting some of the righteous in fear; nor can he minister consolation to the latter, without at least the hazard of having his message misapplied by the perversity of the latter. For these things, however, he is not accountable, although it is well that they overawe him. The scene in which he labors, is adjusted to his hand, by a wisdom which cannot err, and which has left him no choice, but to take things as he finds them; guarding himself as he can against either extreme, and imploring as he goes on, that, by, the mercy of the Lord, he may be found faithful.
“But leaving the treatise to speak for itself, we beseech the man who is but almost a Christian, in travelling through its pages to avail himself of its aid. We ask him simply, to reason the matter on the principles and findings which it sets before him; but to do this in that spirit of earnest and humble inquisitiveness, which befits so grave a subject: and if such a spirit be far from him, or appearing to evaporate as he proceeds, xviiilet him pause and invoke its return, from that God in Jesus Christ, who maketh the heart of the rash to understand doctrine. As be wishes to prosper, let him never forget, that while it is easy to show him the proper means, and possible to bring him into contact with these, yet the disposition to apply the means in such a way, as to gain their end, cometh forth from Him, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.”
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