There are two classes of Sermons. One is composed of those which enter into the permanent literature of a nation, and which take their rank with its most pure and elevated writings, as enduring monuments of argument and of style. The English language is, perhaps, more rich in this species of literature than any other. For lucid statement; for profound argument; for richness of imagination; for copious-, ness of illustration; for beauty of style; for just views of morals,—the sermons of Barrow, and Tillotson, and Jeremy Taylor, and South, have taken their place with the best classical writings in our language.
The other class is composed of those which are of a less exalted and permanent character, and which are adapted to meet only a local or a temporary, though it may be a very important purpose. They are addressed mainly to the passing age. They are adapted to meet some peculiar state of public opinion, or some prevailing phase of error. They are designed to illustrate the doctrines and duties of religion in the language and style of that age. They, perhaps, have some temporary and local advantage from the name of the author, or from the relations which he sustains to a particular congregation. They accomplish an important purpose on a limited scale, and then pass away, with much of the literature of past ages, to be recalled and remembered no more.
. \ VI PREFACE.
The volume of Sermons now submitted to the public does not aspire to the dignity of the former class, nor is there any hope or expectation that it will occupy that elevated rank. All the hopes cherished in respect to it will be accomplished, if it has a place of temporary usefulness among the other class of sermons referred to, and if it may be made a means, to any extent, of meeting the wants of any portion of the passing generation.
This work has been prepared at the suggestion and the request of the English publishers. As it seemed desirable that there should be some unity of design which might be expressed by an appropriate title," The Wat Oe Salvation" has been selected as indicating, in the main, the purpose and character of the volume; and though not properly a treatise on that subject, yet it will be found, I trust, that all the Sermons have a bearing more or less direct upon the theme, and that each one will help to remove some obstacle, to explain some difficulty, or to throw some light on the points on which one inquiring how man can be saved, might desire information.
The volume is not an argument for the truth of revelation, nor is it designed formally to meet the objections of infidels, the difficulties of honest sceptics, or the sneers of cavillers. The man whom I have had in my eye in the preparation of the discourses—as I have usually had in my preaching on these and kindred topics—is not he who disbelieves because he chooses to do so; nor he who prefers to be a sceptic; nor the mere caviller, who, because he can laugh at death and the judgment, seeks to satisfy his conscience that it is right to do so; nor he who desires to find difficulties in religion because he is unwilling to submit to its claims and its restraints:—but I have had in my eye a class of minds, much larger than is generally supposed to exist, which see real difficulties in religion which they would not be unwilling to have explained. They are minds so constituted that they see the difficulties in believing as well as the facilities for it—the things which tend to hinder it, as well as those which tend to promote it. In all communities there are probably many of this class of minds. They should not be regarded as confirmed in infidelity, and still less as disposed to cavil; but they see real difficulties in Christianity and in the plan of salvation, and they would be gratified, not offended, to find a rational solution of them. It is in vain to deny that there are such difficulties ; and though he who has a mind so constituted as never to have seen them may be regarded as in some respects in a very enviable situation, yet he greatly errs in regard to human nature, and greatly underrates the magnitude of the subject of religion, who supposes that to all contemplative minds, even to candid minds, the subject appears to be free from perplexity and doubt. A perceived difficulty in the doctrines of religion—a difficulty so great as to lead to weighty and perplexing doubts—is not always proof of a depraved heart.
I may be permitted to remark, perhaps, as explaining the general character of the Sermons in this volume, that from the native tendencies of my own mind, from my early cherished habits of thought, and from my early reading, I have had this class of minds more frequently in my eye, in preaching, than any other. It has not been by avowedly meeting the arguments and difficulties of such minds; it has not been by a formal defence of the doctrines of Christianity against the objections of infidels ; it has not been by an open reply to the objections of sceptics or cavillers, but as a secret guide to my line of argument and thought, that I have had such minds almost constantly before me. My own mind has suggested what I have supposed they would suggest; and in meeting difficulties which have occurred to me, I have supposed that I have also met those which would occur to them. I cannot here repress the acknowledgment of the debt which, in this respect, I owe to " Butler's Analogy" —a work which has met more difficulties in my own mind, and aided me more in preaching, than any other work of uninspired composition. A careful reader of these Sermons will perceive that, in their preparation, I owe to that great work even much more than can be expressed by such a general acknowledgment.
These remarks may suffice to explain the pervading character of this volume of Sermons. In their general arrangement, they begin with a consideration of the claims of the Bible as a guide on the subject of religion (Sermon I.), and with an effort to show (Sermon u.) that the acknowledged obscurities in that book should not deter us from accrediting its claims; with a statement (Sermon in.) of the claims of Christianity, and an attempt to show (Sermon iv.) that the condition of man could not be benefited by the rejection of Christianity, and that the same difficulties precisely would remain, with no known method whatever of relief. Tho next object (Sermon v.) is to show that Christianity reveals the true ground of the importance attributed to man in the plan of salvation; that the earth is fitted to be a place of probation (Sermon Ti.), and that man is actually on probation (Sermon vn.) ; and that in religion, as in other things, he should accommodate himself to what are the actual arrangements of the Divine government (Sermon Tin.) The next object is to explain the condition in which the Gospel Piitds man—as an actual state which Christianity did not originate, for which it is not responsible, and which is a simple matter of fact in which all men are equally interested, whatever system of religion may be true or false (Sermon ix.); a state which naturally prompts to the inquiry what must be done in order to be saved—an inquiry which springs up in the heart of man everywhere, and in reference to which man pants for an answer (Sermon x.) This is followed (Sermons xi.—xiv.) by a description of the struggles of a convicted sinner—and by an attempt to show what is necessary, in the nature of things, to give peace to a mind in that condition. To meet the case, the mind thus anxious is directed to the mercy of God (Sermon XT.), and the effort is made to show that it is only an atonement for sin that can give permanent peace to the soul conscious of guilt (Sermons xvi., xni.) The doctrine of Regeneration, or the new birth, is then considered (Sermons Xviii.—xx.); an attempt is made to vindicate and explain the conditions—repentance and faith—which are made necessary to salvation, and to show not only their place in a revealed system of religion, but their relation to the human mind and the circumstances in which man is placed (Sermons xxi.—xxvin.); and the whole series is closed (Sermons xxix.—Xxxti.) by a consideration of the nature of justification, or the method by which a sinner may be just with God.
It will be seen that these topics embrace the most material and important inquiries which come before the mind on the question how man may he saved; and if a correct representation is given of them, they will furnish to an inquirer after truth a just view of the way of salvation.
I commit this volume to the public with the hope that it may be found to be a safe guide on the most momentous inquiry which can come before the human mind. I have abundant occasion for gratitude for the manner in which the volumes that I have published heretofore have been