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CONSIDERING the many publications which already exist, explanatory of the Principles of our Religious Society, it may seem, to some persons, superfluous to publish any thing further on this subject. I have, notwithstanding, been long apprehensive, that a work is still wanting, which shall include the whole, or the most material part of our principles; and, in a concise, yet perspicuous manner, convey a sufficient explanation and defence of them. The ample and excellent Apology of Robert Barclay, is too diffuse for the generality of young readers; and it requires a more close and patient attention than many are willing to bestow. It would, however, in my apprehension, amply repay that attention: and I am so far from being desirous to lessen its use, that I wish particularly to recommend it to those of our society, who desire (what all should desire) thoroughly to understand their own religious principles. If the language is not modern, it is still correct and clear; if the work is thought too controversial, we should recollect, that the controversy is on subjects, the right understanding of which is intimately connected with our existence as a Religious Society.
The light and miscellaneous reading of the present day, it is to be feared, disinclines many amongst us, as well as others, from subjects which require close attention and serious consideration; and I wish it may not also be a means of weakening the attachment of many, to those religious Truths, in which our highest duty and our deepest interest consist.
In this work, I have been desirous of inculcating the general principles of religion, and of Christianity, as well as those which are peculiar to our Society; believing that we can no longer exist, with any degree of consistency, than while those principles are maintained, which constitute the basis of the Christian Religion. These I consider to be, Faith in God, and a belief of the immortality of the soul; an humbling sense of the depravity of human nature, and of the necessity and benefits of a Redeemer; that this Redeemer is Christ Jesus our Lord; that what the Evangelists and Apostles have written concerning Him, is true, both in relation to his Humanity and his Divinity, as are likewise their accounts of his many mighty works and miracles; his having, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself unto God for us, as a propitiation for our sins; and sent the Comforter, even the Spirit of Truth, to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; and to guide into all truth.
In treating of the Holy Scriptures, I have particularly endeavoured to obviate the principal objections made against
them; since it is by attempting to invalidate their authenticity and Divine authority, that the enemies of the Christian religion attack our faith. I have introduced the subject of the Scriptures, previously to the Chapter on the Christian Religion; considering, that if the authenticity and veracity, to say nothing of the Divine authority, of these writings be established, it is then necessary only to show, what Christianity is, according to the Scriptures: a few arguments are, however, added, in support of the Christian Religion.
With respect to those principles which are peculiar to our Religious Society, I hope that, however singular they may appear to some, they will, on close examination, be found consistent with the nature and spirit of the Gospel Dispensation, The conviction of this consistency has been increased on my mind, by the investigation which the writing of this work has occasioned; and, I trust, we are able to give such reasons for our dissent from other Christians, as may, at least, excuse it to those from whom we differ.
Although very little is quoted in this work from any books, but those of the Holy Scriptures, it may be proper to say, that I am indebted to the writings of others, for many of the arguments which I have advanced. At a time when so much has been written, and well written, on these subjects, it is not to be expected, th many fresh arguments can be brought forward. Some n matter will, nevertheless, be found.
The principal object aimed at in this work is, to digest what has been produced by reading and reflection, and to deliver it in such a manner, as may briefly, yet clearly, convey the sentiments designed to be inculcated. How far this object has been attained, is not for me to determine.
I wish not, by any thing which I have written, to promote a spirit of controversy. On the contrary, I desire the increase of that mutual charity, which it is alike our duty and our interest to cherish. To speak what we apprehend to be truth, is, however, sometimes necessary; and always so, if we speak at all. If we do this, as we ought to do, in love; and if what we say is received in the same spirit, we may be the means of stirring up the pure mind in each other; and of
promoting our growing up in Him, in all things, who is the Head, even Christ." *
* Ephesians iv. 15.
Universal Importance of Religion.-The belief
of a God its first principle.—The next, that of the
immortality of the soul.-Universality of these
principles.--Arguments for them.-Faith their
Nature and design of the Scriptures.-Their
claim to our regard, and to the belief of their
being Divinely inspired. Objections answered-
first to their genuineness and truth-next to their
inspiration. All related of good men not intended
for imitation.Impartiality of the Scriptures.-
Great judgment necessary in applying them
Possibility of placing too much dependence on