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The many encomiums that have been passed upon Dr. Owen's theological works, by the best judges in the last and present century; and the high esteem in which they are held by orthodox, judicious, and truly spiritual Christians in the present day, are an incontestable proof of their intrinsic value. He often discovers, beyond dispute, great acuteness of thought, profound sentiments, and especially a solid judgment, in reference to the unadulterated Gospel; and, in the more practical and experimental parts of his writings, an uncommon degree of devotion, an alarming or melting animation, and spiritual fervor; qualities in an author, it must be owned, equally rare and invaluable!
We find, however, that frequently these excellent materials, (the substance and spirit of his writings) are negligently dressed; or, at least, when art is employed, it is employed according to the fashion of the times in which he lived; the effect of which may be justly termed a“cumbrous drapery," when compared with the “simplex munditiis,” the neatness and taste in style and composition, on which modern authors pique themselves: owing to this revolution in the mode of dressing thought, the innumerable scholastic divisions, the long sentences, and involved parentheses, the numerous quotations of Latin and Greek in the body of a work, often cause a modern eye to turn away in disgust, and to neglect a precious pearl that is lodged in so unfashionable a cabinet; while, perhaps, the same eye is charmed with another prettier casket, which contains only gewgaws and trifles.
Impartiality must also confess, that Dr. OWEN was what we may call a voluminous writer; and in the present day, the very idea of an expository work, consisting of four volumes folio, on a single epistle, is enough to frighten the fashionable class of readers, who are
never better pleased, as one observes, than when they peruse a book “brief, gaudy, and superficial.” The difference between the taste of the last and present age, in this respect, is very striking. As a specimen of the former, we might mention, beside the work under immediate notice, “CARYL On Job;" and as a portrait of the latter, the following remarks of a shrewd anonymous observer, “Μεγα βιβλιον μεγα κακον, αgreat book is a great evil,” is a maxim which was perhaps never more universally assented to than at present. With all the fondness for reading, now so observable in every class of the community, few are to be met with who will enter on laborious discussions, or peruse voluminous performances. Unambitious of possessing those genuine pearls of science, which must be sought by diving to the bottom of the ocean which produces them, the generality of readers content themselves with the shells that are to be gathered from its sands and its shallows. Many writers now employ themselves in dealing out learning, as innkeepers do their liqours, in “small quantities." This is satyrical.
On the other hand, the art of reducing the bulk of books, when it avoids the fault of being superficial and desultory, is not to be condemned. If a large work, abounding with excellent thoughts, and a truly evangelical spirit, a work comparatively but little known, too dear for the pockets, too voluminous for the courage and patience, and too unfashionable for the taste of the generality of religious readers; if, I say, such a work may be fairly compressed into about one third of the original size, and exhibited in a form more modern, perspicuous, and correct; it may be presumed that such a present might not be unacceptable, but received with gladness by the religious public, as calculated to promote the real interest of evangelical piety. Such is the design of this publication. The world,” says an ingenious writer, “becomes every day more and more convinced of the utility of abridgments. For so great is the increase of all kinds of knowledge, that the human mind finds herself incapable of taking in the whole; and becomes sensible of the necessity of being
assisted in her choice of essential and valuable things. Hence the Cyclopædias and Encyclopædias, for which modern times are noted, and with which the more enlightened countries, in point of science and arts, abound; which yet are only abridgments of voluminous, inconvenient, or inaccessible works. And though the public is often grossly imposed upon by pompous titles prefixed to superficial contents, yet the very attempt to im
is a presumptive argument that such a plan well executed is valuable. To which we may add, that the method of publishing large and valuable works abridged, tends perhaps to avoid what might be thought a growing evil—the multiplication of modern authors, who but barely stand on the list of mediocrity; while the most valuable sentiments obtain a fresh and more vigorous circulation.
But as the author just mentioned farther observes, “The same cause makes a good abridgment very difficult to compile. To omit nothing which is essential, and to insert nothing which is superfluous, requires a thorough knowledge of the subject, and a great discernment; for to reduce much into little, is far more difficult than to enlarge little into much.”+ And, indeed, the task becomes more difficult in proportion as the bulk of the original is reduced in the abridgment. The difficulty lies, in avoiding on the one hand, a mere e.ctract, which deserves not the name of an abridgment; and, on the other, the injudicious crowding of too many ideas into a small compass, which instead of enlightening dazzle the mind, appearing like a number of sparks in the midst of smoke, rather than a bright and pleasant flame; instead of engaging distracts, and instead of alluring fatigues the attention. In such a case the affections, which ought to be consulted by every writer who expects to profit by pleasing (and he must have an extraordinary invention, and no small share of assurance, who expects to profit by any other way) are prevented from operating, they have no room to play, their elasticity and expansive force are either weakened or destroyed. * Former's Ecclesiastical History. Preface.
+ Ut supra.
It may probably occur to some, that, seeing four volumes octavo must needs contain much less matter than the original work, which consists of so many small folios, much valuable matter is left out. To which I answer, that though this be granted, we have no need to regret the loss, when we observe, that nothing is left out but what appeared either tautological, redundant, digressive, and unnecessarily prolix; or else what was so plain to most intelligent readers, as by no means requiring a formal and long proof. The reader, who has no opportunity to compare this edition with the original work, may depend upon it, that all the valuable, useful, and pertinent criticisms; the most forcible arguments in proof of any important point; the most evangelical and sublime sentiments and doctrines; the most close, convincing, and edifying improvements; the most animating and pathetic addresses and exhortations, contained in the other, are preserved in this. And this, I presume, will be deemed a sufficient apology for reducing the size. But after all, I wish it may not be deemed by most still too long, as I suppose there is not another exposition on this epistle, the original excepted, so full and large as this abridgment will be found.
And I cannot help thinking that, with the exercitations, it may be reckoned one of the most valuable systems of doctrinal, practical, and experimental divinity, that is to be met with in the English language.
It is hardly needful to observe, that it is the incumbent duty of
every faithful abridger, as well as a faithful translator, to adhere scrupulously to the sense of his author, except the reason to the contrary be universally obvious, nor even then without apprizing the reader of it. This is what I have endeavored throughout to pay the strictest regard to. The reader of the ensuing pages will find in them the genuine thoughts and sentiments of Dr. Owen, to the best of my knowledge, and no other. Sometimes, indeed, the abridger thought it absolutely necessary, in discharging his duty to his readers, to exchange an expression, or to alter a phraseology, for others that appear now more expressive, or