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CHURCH OF CHRIST,
Hi. My respected and beloved Flock ;
To whom can I dedicate this small volume with so much propriety as to you, who are the special objects of my pastoral solicitude; and who, after having heard the contents of these pages delivered from the pulpit, solicited that they might be placed before you, in a more permanent form, by the press ?
I avail myself of the opportunity which this inscription affords me, to record, publicly, my deep sense of that truly respectful attention which you have ever given to my ministry, and that unvarying solicitude which you have always manifested for my comfort. .
We have now been related to each other, as pastor
and people, for a period of nearly three-and-twenty years a term of sufficient length to try the basis, and to prove the strength, of our union; and, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that union has never been regarded, I believe, by either party, with regret, nor its continuance endangered by a single misconception. When I first took the oversight of your spiritual concerns, it was my felicity, as a very young and inexperienced man, to find myself surrounded by your hoary headed sires, who were men of wisdom and piety in the Church, and who had obtained a good report from them that are without, and of whom you, as their successors, are not unworthy. It has been said, with great truth and propriety, that the character of a young minister is formed, when he has sense and docility enough to be a learner as well as a teacher, by the plastic influence of his senior friends; while he, in his turn, as he advances in life, moulds the habits of his contemporaries and juniors.
Whether you are able to apply the latter part of the remark to myself, I do not presume to determine; but I most unhesitatingly avow my obligations to those venerable and venerated men who have long since passed away from amongst us, to the spirits of the just made perfect; who, without ever feeling that their age or office gave them liberty to controul or oppress their minister because he was young, exhibited to him an example which he was anxious to imitate, and often suggested
advice, which he perceived it to be his wisdom to follow.
It has been sometimes alleged against the principles of the Independent mode of Church government, that they supply innumerable occasions for strife and division. I wish that an appeal to facts did not seem to furnish some ground for the objection. The fault, however, is not in the system, but in the spiritual imperfections of those who embrace it; and, probably, in the attempts of many to carry it to an extreme. The identifying principle of any system, whether civil or sacred, should, of course, be well defined, constantly recognized, and carried out into all its practical details ;, but it should not be pushed too far, or too violently, in what may be called the line of its own
direction and tendency: it is by a forgetfulness of this, that monarchy is sometimes urged on to tyranny, and democracy to anarchy. Amongst us, as you know, all the principles of Independency have been recognized; but they have not assumed the character, nor produced the confusion, of a turbulent republic. We have not converted our church meetings into seasons for debate, nor have we either encouraged or tolerated those who love to prate and to have the pre-eminence. You have never encroached upon my duty and prerogative, as your spiritual ruler;, and I hope I have never attempted to lord it over God's heritage. Our union, formed upon the principle of mutual choice, was founded upon love, and has been supported by confidence: to this understanding of the nature of our relation, and of the duties it brings with it, we owe, under God, our undisturbed tranquillity.
In discharging the duties of my office as your minister, I have reserved to myself the irresponsible right,-irresponsible to all but to Christ-of selecting my own subjects of instruction, and of adopting my own method of discussing them. Your edification has been my great object; and in the promotion of which, no topic has ever been withheld from my pulpit through a fear of offending, or a desire of pleasing, any man upon earth. You will readily believe me in affirming, that your pastor “ knows no man after the flesh." Amidst all that variety of matter which is presented by the word of God, you have been much familiarized with those grand fundamental truths which constitute the leading features of the Christian economy--the divinity of Christ; the vicarious and sacrificial nature of his death ; justification by faith in his righteousness; regeneration and sanctification by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Loose generalities, cautious reserve, and ambiguous statements, have not been characteristic of the sermons you have heard. The importance of right sentiments has been enforced, the form of sound words has been exhibited, and the faith once given to the saints has been earnestly contended for; yet not, it is to be
hoped, in such a way, as either to generate a spirit of controversy, or to extinguish the feelings of benevolence. DOCTRINES, my friends---doctrines are of immense consequence,--they are the basis of all praetical religion; and the morality that is not connected with truth by faith, is not the morality of the New Testament. The theology of the word of God involves all the principles and motives of its morality. It is the very nature of Christian ethics, that they are so many emanations from Christian truths. Christ crucified, therefore, should be the great theme of every minister of religion: that latitudinarianism, -and, alas ! it is becoming but too fashionable in the present day,-- which would reduce all sentiments as to their importance, to a level, and which would banish all distinctive opinions from the pulpit, to make way for mere moral duties and social virtues, is the rankest and most mischievous infidelity. "If THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JEsus be withheld, there can be no Christianity : no, nothing but deism; and to this many of the liberals of the passing age would bring us ;--but it must not be.
Still, however, as the truth is a doctrine according to godliness, and as our Lord prayed that his disciples might be sanctified by the truth, Christian doctrines should always be preached in such a way as to produce and to support Christian morals. There is nothing in the Gospel of Christ purely speculative; nothing exclusively theoretical ; nothing in the form of abstract