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SYSTEMATIC Divinity is considered and treated, by many, with slight and contempt. And if a book be written in this form, and published under the title of a System or Body of Divinity, this is a sufficient reason, with them, to neglect it, as not worthy their attention. But can this be supported by any good reason? Is not a System of Divinity as proper and important, as a System of Jurisprudence, Physic, or natural Philosophy ?
If the Bible be a revelation from heaven, it contains a System of consistent important Doctrines; which are so connected, and implied in each other, that one cannot be so well understood, if detached from all the rest, and considered by itself; and some must be first known, before others can be seen in a proper and true light. When all these are stated, and explained, according to Scripture, and in their true order, connection and dependence, a System of Doctrines is formed. This every person must do in some measure and degree, who understands the Bible. And he who would assist others in doing this, and set the Doctrines of Christianity in a clear light, and to the best advantage to be un
derstood, will, of course, form a System of Truths. And so far as he falls short of this, or deviates from it, he must be defective and confused.
If the following System do indeed contain the chief and most important doctrines of christianity; and they be, in any good measure, explained and vindicated, shewing their consistence and connection with each other, the reader, it is hoped, will get some advantage by it. If it should be thought by any that it contains great errors and inconsistencies, it is to be wished, for their sake, and for the sake of truth, that they would not confidently rest in their conclusion, or drop the subject, till they are able to fix on a system of truths more consistent, and which can be better supported by the scripture, and are more agreeable to sound reason.
It is presumed, the author will not be suspected of going through the labour of composing the following work with a view of rendering himself popular, and obtaining the general applause; or that he has sought to "please men." The most that can be reasonably expected, is, that it may serve to confirm the friends of truth in the doctrines contained in the scripture; and enlighten some of those who have been in the dark respecting some truths, and have been inconsistent with themselves in the doctrines they have espoused: And that it may assist the honest inquirers to see what are the leading and most important doctrines of divine revelation; particularly those who are candidates for the evangelical ministry.
It is not pretended that every doctrine of christianity is expressly mentioned in this System; but that the most important and essential truths are brought into view: And of these some are treated more concisely; and others are more particularly examined and vindicated, as was judged most convenient and useful..
Nor was it thought necessary, or expedient, to mention all the objections which have been made to the doctrines here advanced, as they are sufficiently obviated, by establishing the truth, from scripture and reason; and as this would have enlarged the work to an undesirable length: Those only are mentioned, by an answer to which, the truth is more explained and established.
The same sentiments are brought into view, and repeated, in a number of instances; which could not well be avoided, in such a work: And it is hoped, that such repetitions will not be inconvenient or tedious to the reader.
To the most correct and elegant style, the author makes no pretension; as this is not his talent. If the words and expressions be not ambiguous, but are suited to convey the ideas, designed to be communicated to the mind of the reader, with ease and clearness, the chief and most important end of language is answered: And it is hoped, that they who are, with proper attention and concern, inquiring after the truth, will exercise so much candour, as not to be offended, or slight it, though it be not expressed in words and a style, more agreeable to their nice and critical taste; and they may observe a number of inaccuracies.
This work has been undertaken and prosecuted, under a conviction, that a performance of this kind is much wanted; and, if well executed, would be very useful, and greatly serve the cause of truth and religion. It is to be wished there were a more able hand, disposed to execute it: But as none appeared to do it, the author has done his best. Yet he doubts not that there are many defects; and is not confident that he has made no mistakes in less important points; while he has not the least doubt that the chief and leading doctrines here advanced are contained in the Bible, and are important
and everlasting truths: And that all those sentiments, and schemes of doctrine and religion, which are wholly inconsistent with these, and contrary to them, are not consistent with the Bible, or with one another; and, if followed in their just consequences, will lead to universal scepticism, and, which is the same indeed, to the horrible darkness of atheism itself.
The truth is great, and has omnipotence to support it; and therefore will prevail: And all erroneous doctrines, and false religion, will be utterly abolished. And there is no reason to doubt, that light will so increase in the church, and men will be raised up, who will make such advances in opening the scripture, and in the knowledge of divine truth; that what is now done and written, will be so far superseded, as to appear imperfect and inconsiderable, compared with that superior light, with which the church will then be blessed. Nevertheless, if publishing that to which we have now atttained, may be a mean of making such advances, and a proper and necessary step to it, the labour and expense of doing it, will be abundantly compensated.
Newport, August 20, 1792.