Page images



No apology can be necessary for introducing to the American public a work from the pen of the Editor of the Christian Ob

The ability with which he has conducted that celebrated journal, and the sterling value of several of his separate works, have given Mr. Wilks a reputation, which must attract notice to any production bearing his name.

The present “ Essays,” however, have claims upon public favor, of a still more unequivocal description. They have already passed the ordeal of public opinion, and received the stamp of decided approval. Several years have now elapsed since they first issued from the English press, and this interval has only served to extend the popularity which greeted their first appearance. It is somewhat surprising, that a publication of such acknowledged merit should not have found its way, before this, through the American press.-A new and corrected edition, recently put forth by the Author, has afforded an opportunity for supplying this deficiency-and it is hoped that by embracing it, an acceptable, and not unimportant, service has been rendered to the cause of Christianity.

Independent of their general merits, these Essays have some peculiar excellencies, to which it may be proper to advert in this place. No one can have observed the present state of theological discussion, without perceiving that there is a growing taste for simplicity and scriptural authority. The respect once paid to uninspired names and opinions, is passing away. An excited and stirring age protests against confining Christian truth in those swaddling bands of scholastic device, called Systems. It requires that Religion should be restored to its native freedom, and be exhibited with all that warmth, and freshness of coloring, which distinguished the writings of its primitive champions. There is evidently an increasing distaste for the "inventions of men” which have teen engrafted upon it-which were introduced to clear it of obscurity—but which have only resulted in perplexity and dissension. In one word, that the proper province of human reason, is to investigate the credibility and import of the Scriptures—that the state in which they exhibit Religion, is pre

cisely the state in which we are to receive itthat no attempts should be made to explain what they have left obscure, or reconcile what they have left in seeming inconsistency—these are opinions becoming every day more current and authoritative in the Christian world.

And with this improvement in the mode of theological discussion, there should be—and it is hoped there is—a corresponding improvement in the ability with which it is conducted. “The time past should suffice us” to have tolerated dull common-place, merely because it is marked by traces of piety. In the defence and illustration of Christianity, there are deserved and required the best talents of men ; and before individuals enlist themselves as authors in this cause, they should possess other claims to regard, besides sincerity and zeal.

Nor should we consent longer to laud works for their strength and solidity, merely because they use the “ set speech” of party, or ring the changes upon some scale of religious phraseology. There can be no reason why Religion, a subject pertaining above all others to “men's business and bosoms,” should not address them in popular language. Where its peculiarities (for it has peculiarities,) are to be designated—where this designation cannot easily be made, except by a single term

let that term be used which the Scriptures employ, and the Holy Spirit has sanctioned. This is essential to perspicuity, and should be practised, without giving the least heed to imputations of cant or fanaticism.But where such necessity does not exist where the Christian peculiarity can as well be expressed by circumlocution—or where the idea to be expressed involves nothing exclusively Christian—there to employ a peculiar term, is bad philosophy not less than bad taste.

If ever Christianity is to be properly understood and felt by the mass of men—especially if ever it is to command the respect and attention of cultivated men-it must put on the garb which is worn by other truths. It must clothe itself in a diction sanctioned by the usage of classical writers in other departments of Moral Science. Those technical terms, which have been so justly denominated “the lights of science, but the shades of religion,” must be laid aside. Those phrases must be disused which can be learned by rote—which are so often repeated without being understood, and which tend so much to induce the pride and presumption of knowledge, without its reality. The language of Religion should be the full and free outpouring of enlightened minds, and animated hearts. It should be fitted to awaken thought and feeling. It should commend itself to the best taste and judgment of the cultivated mind. In short, it should be that language which becomes a Religion destined to mingle with all the pursuits, and hallow all the thoughts and affections of men.

In these respects, the present Essays have a high claim to regard. It is not pretended that they are faultless—or that improvements might not be suggested by the intelligent reader. But it is the opinion of competent judges, that few works, embodying evangelical truth, have recently appeared, that are liable to less exception on the score either of style or sentiment. In his views of Christianity, Mr. Wilks is eminently scriptural.He makes no attempt to be wise above what is written—to render that plain which the Holy Spirit has left obscure. He descends into no subtle distinctions, where the light of Revelation ceases to be his guide. His system of faith has the freedom from constraint which characterized the preaching of the Apostles, and recommends itself at one and the same time to our understandings, our consciences, and our hearts. In his train of thought he is clear and manly-in his diction

animated and impressive. When he speaks of the distinctive traits of our Religion, he does not


« PreviousContinue »