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The following Essays contain the substance of some Discourses not originally designed for the Press, but which I was strongly urged to publish by several of the persons to whom the Volume is inscribed.
I have endeavoured to throw the materials into a form more suited for private perusal than that of the Discourses originally delivered. I fear, however, that, in consequence of frequent interruptions during the preparation of the work for the Press, some defects may be found in the arrangement and comparative development of the several topics, and other such imperfections in the composition, which can only
be effectually guarded against by means of a period of unbroken leisure beyond what I can ever reasonably expect.
But whatever may be thought of the Work as a Composition, I trust that, in respect of the matter of it, the reader will give me credit for being incapable of putting forth, on subjects so important, any views that have not been carefully considered.
In fact, among the subjects here treated of are some on which I have not only reflected much, but have written and published from time to time for above twelve years past.
And it may not be impertinent here to remark, that in respect of some most important points now maintained, I
may appeal (besides the arguments contained in the following pages) to the strongest of all external confirmations, the testimony of opponents. Not that I have ever written in a polemical form, or sought to provoke controversy; but by opponents, I mean, those who have maintained, and who still maintain, opinions opposite to those I have put
forth; but who have never, to the best of my knowledge, even attempted any refutation of the reasons I have adduced.
For instance, that the introduction into the Christian Religion of Sacrifices and Sacrificing Priests is utterly at variance with the whole System of the Gospel, and destructive of one of its most important characteristics; and, again, that the implicit deference due to the declarations and
precepts of Holy Scripture, is due to nothing else, and that it is not humble piety, but profane presumption, either to attribute infallibility to the traditions or decision of any uninspired Man or Body of men, (whether Church, Council, Fathers, or by whatever other title designated,) or, still more, to acknowledge in these, although fallible, a right to fix absolutely the interpretation of Scripture, to be blended therewith, and to supersede all private judgment,—these are positions which I have put forth, from time to time, for many years past, in various forms of expression, and supported by a variety of arguments, in several different works, some of which have appeared in more than one edition. And though opposite views are maintained by many writers of the present day, several of them professed members of the Church of England, I have never seen even an attempted refutation of any of those arguments.
It cannot be alleged that they are not worth noticing: since, whether intrinsically weak or strong, the reception they have met with from the Public indicates their having had some influence.
And again, if any one is averse to entering into controversy, and especially personal controversy (a feeling with which I cordially sympathize), this would not compel him to leave wholly unnoticed all the arguments that can be urged against his views. It would be absurd to speak as if there were no medium between, on the one hand, engaging in a controversy, and, on the other hand, passing over without any notice at all, every thing that ever has been, or may be, urged on the opposite side. Nothing is easier, or more common, and, I should add, nothing more advisable,