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THE sermons contained in this volume are printed exactly as they were preached, with the exception of a very few verbal alterations, and of the addition of about two pages as an introduction to the twenty-sixth sermon.
In point of style they are wholly devoid of pretension ; for my main object was to write intelligibly, and if I have succeeded in this, I must be content to be censured for much homeliness, and perhaps awkwardness of expression, which I had not the skill to avoid.
In their matter they have not attempted to enter upon points of criticism, or to engage in any of the more difficult questions of theology. They are directly practical ; but it has been my endeavour in all of them to enforce what may be called peculiarly Christian practice ; that is, such a perfection in thought, word, and deed, as the Spirit of God should inspire to the enlightened understandings and willing hearts of those whom Christ redeemed, and who are now no longer under the law, but under grace.
There is an extreme reluctance amongst many who are very zealous supporters of the outward establishment of Christianity, to admitting its principles in the concerns of common life, in matters belonging to their own trade or profession, or above all, in the conduct of national affairs. They will not tolerate its spirit in their every day practice, but ridicule it as visionary and impracticable. Now, if the language of sermons be vague and general ; if it do not apply clearly and directly to our own times, our own ways of life, and habits of thought and action, men elude its hold upon their consciences with a wonderful dexterity ; and keeping their common practice safe out of the reach of its influence, they deceive themselves by their willingness to hear it, and by their
acquiescence, and even their delight in it. It appears to me that a sermon addressed to Englishmen in the nineteenth century should be very different from one addressed to Englishmen in the sixteenth, or even in the eighteenth; and still more unlike one addressed to Greeks or Asiatics in the third or in the first. It should differ according to the great difference of character and habits in the hearers of different ages and different countries : and if this seems no better than a truism, yet the truth which is almost self-evident in theory, has been by no means generally attended to in practice. On the contrary, one sort of phraseology has commonly been handed down in religious compositions from generation to generation ; and their language, instead of assimilating itself as closely as possible to that in common use, has studiously preserved a character of its own. But even with regard to the Scripture itself, it is surely the spirit of it, and not the language, which is of eternal application and efficacy; and that spirit will generally be most effectually conveyed in our writings, through a medium different from that which was originally chosen; because we and the first converts to Christianity are so different in climate, in national customs and feelings; in our trains of thought and modes of expression. My object, then, has been to bring the great principles of the Gospel home to the hearts and practices of my own countrymen in my own time; and particularly to those of my own station in society, with whose sentiments and language I am naturally most familiar. And for this purpose I have tried to write in such a style, as might be used in real life, in serious conversation with our friends, or with those who asked our advice ; in the language in short of common life, and
applied to the cases of common life; but ennobled and strengthened by those principles and feelings which are to be found only in the Gospel.
I have only further to observe, that the similarity between some passages in these sermons and parts of Dr. Whately's Essays on the Peculiarities of Christianity, and on some of the Difficulties in the writings of St. Paul, may render it necessary for me to exculpate myself from this apparent plagiarism. The fact is, that the
, passages in question were written before I was aware that Dr. Whately had expressed the same sentiments more clearly and more forcibly; and it is a pleasure to me to reflect, that we arrived by a separate process at the same conclusions in the first instance, although my views on these points, as on many others, have been confirmed and extended by the communication of his.
RUGBY, February 2, 1829.