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JOHN THORNTON KIRKLAND,
D. D. LL. D.
PRESIDENT OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY,
VICE PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES,
COLLECTION OF ESSAYS AND TRACTS,
DESIGNED TO PROMOTE THE CAUSE
SACRED LEARNING, OF TRUTH AND CHARITY, OF RELIGIOUS
FREEDOM, AND RATIONAL PIETY,
AS A TOKEN OF GRATITUDE,
AFFECTIONATE REGARD, AND RESPECT;
BY HIS MOST BBLICIT
AND MOST HUMBLE SERVANT,
SINCE the commencement of the Reformation, books have been multiplied to a very great extent in almost every department of theology. No science has laid a heavier tax on the industry of the learned, or contributed more to fill the shelves of libraries. The Scriptures have been examined, and their meaning illustrated, by all the aids which talents and erudition could command. Philology, criticism, rhetoric, logic, and, indeed, all the arts of defining language and analyzing thought, have been employed to establish the foundation and ornament the structure of theology.
In a science, which runs so far into the deep and uncertain things of metaphysics, and which allows so wide a range for the imagination, it is no wonder, that much should be written, which is neither calculated to instruct the plain inquirer, nor edify the practical christian. It is no wonder, that reason should sometimes be misled, the judgment perverted, and truth obscured. The topics of theological dis cussion are exhaustless, and christians of every form of belief have applied themselves with equal zeal, if not with equal ability, to the task of developing and enforcing their peculiar sentiments. The consequence has been, that the labours of many great and wise men are now useless to the world. Lives have been passed in decorating gaudy and unsubstantial theories, or wasted in the barren fields of metaphysical controversy, or idly expended in the wild dreams of enthusiasm.
From general causes like these, and from others of a particular and local nature, theology has too often been rendered cumbersome, unintelligible, and unprofitable. But after all, amidst a prodigious waste of intellect and labour, some treasures remain worthy of the great minds, which bequeathed them to posterity, worthy of the religion of Jesus, and worthy to be studied and admired by every sincere believer. Among the numerous works on theological subjects, a few may be found, which have an intrinsic value distinct from the speculative opinions contained in them, and from the dogmas, which it may be their primary or subordinate object to inculcate. Practical religion is the same every where, and with all persons. Truth is uniformly the same, and so are the principles of human nature, of reason, and of conscience. Wise and enlightened men, however they may differ on points of speculation, will think nearly alike on all that is fundamental or important in religion, when they submit to be guided by their understanding.
În forming the present Collection of Essays and Tracts in Theology, it is the purpose of the Editor to select such articles from different writers, as in some degree at least bear this uniformity of character. Neither the particular tenets entertained by any author, nor the sect with which it may have been his pleasure to associate himself, will be taken into consideration. The only undeviating rule of selection will be, that every article chosen shall be marked with rational and liberal views of christianity, and suited to inform the mind, or improve the temper and practice. Nothing will be introduced, which violates the protestant principles of christian liberty, free inquiry, toleration, and the exercise of private judgment in all the concerns of religion. If there be a right more sacred than any other, it is that, which gives every man an unlimited control over the operations of his own mind, especially in those inquiries, for the result of which he is accountable only to God.
The work will be composed chiefly of pieces from English authors. Many articles of merit, written by men distinguished for learning and piety, have become rare, and are not to be obtained without difficulty. They are either concealed in voluminous works, or their fame is passed away with the memory of the events in which they originated. Bishop Watson's excellent Collection of Tracts has done much to rescue some treatises of this descrip