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abundant specimens have been given from the works of all the most distinguished writers; but the thing was impossible: and, after the reduction of the work to about one third its original size, the compiler can only regret that the labours of Bentley, Clarke, Butler, Sherlock, Waterland, Pearce, Skelton, Dodwell, Baxter, Douglas, and many others, not quoted in this work, as well as some whose authorities are adduced, should be so little known, except to theological students. If it might be permitted in this place to call the reader's attention to one quotation more, in addition to those in the body of the work, it would be the following from a laic, than whom none was better qualified to decide upon the value of our English writers.
“But our own language has, from the Reformation to the present time, been chiefly dignified and adorned by the works of our divines, who, considered as commentators, controvertists, or preachers, have undoubtedly left all other nations far behind them. No vulgar language can boast such treasures of theological knowledge, or such multitudes of authors at once learned, elegant, and pious. Other countries, and other communions, have authors perhaps equal in abilities and diligence to ours; but if we unite numbers with excellence, there is certainly no nation which must not allow us to be superior. Of morality, little is necessary to be said, because it is comprehended in practical divinity, and is perhaps better taught in English sermons than in any other books ancient or modern. Nor shall I dwell on our excellence in metaphysical speculations, because he that has read the works of our divines will easily discover how far human subtilty has been able to penetrate.”—IDLER, No. 91.
It was intended to have given a complete list of all the English, and the principal foreign authors who have discussed the subject; but on trial it was found far to exceed the limits which it appeared desirable to preserve in a work of this kind. It may also be doubted whether a catalogue of all the authors would be a useful appendage to an elementary work, chiefly designed for young persons. A well-arranged selection of the best would perhaps be desirable; but the difficulty of selection is such, that not many would be inclined to undertake it; whilst the importance of such a list requires its being entrusted only to those really competent to the task. By a catalogue raisonné the evil of indiscriminate recommendation might be avoided, in giving the reasons of preference; but the value of such a catalogue depends on the authority of the compiler; and the writer of these observations has no pretensions to that character, which would confer the power of balancing the comparative merits of men of the
highest attainments, or would enable others to confide in decisions so delivered. If the work now submitted to the public have any weight, the references given will be found sufficient, inasmuch as they will leave the unlearned and unskilful in the hands of far better guides, whose works will furnish abundant information as to the labours of others.
For the omission of a detailed statement of the writers against Christianity, no apology is deemed necessary; the reason of it, however, was in the bad faith which has generally been manifested on that side, in its authors availing themselves of the labours of the advocates of Christianity, to patch up a reputation for learning and research ; at the same time that they have not scrupled to make use of gross misquotation, and the repetition of arguments and statements repeatedly disproved. The author had no wish to shorten the labours of the disseminator of infidelity of the present day, by presenting him with a catalogue of those publications which might aid his exertions. Real objections have by no means been concealed, and it is trusted they will not be found unfairly stated; but being mere questions of argument, and not of fact, it mattered not from whom they originally proceeded. Those who read the authors in defence of the particular portions of the Evidences of Chrsitianity, will find the most full and explicit references to the works of objectors to such portions; and this is all that can be necessary.
As little reference as possible has been made to those now living who have preceded in the same course, from motives of delicacy, and the belief that their merits are sufficiently known to enable any one, really desirous of reading the best living authors, to refer to them without hesitation. It is painful to withhold the expression of admiration so justly their due; but the wish to prevent any misconstruction of such expression prevailed over every other consideration. So far as use has been made of their works, the author trusts the object for which they have been brought forward will be deemed a sufficient apology for connecting their acknowledged strength with what may prove the weakness of the present work, so far as it is original. In all cases, however, the reader is requested carefully to distinguish between the fault of the compiler and the matter compiled, that no responsibility be attached to others unjustly.
Still more earnestly is it requested, that those who may regard the whole as unsatisfactory will not suffer their minds to be prejudiced, in consequence of its deficiencies, against the cause it advocates. A decision is not unfrequently right, when the reasons given are wrong; and it is very possible, after the great quantity of reading through which the writer thought it a duty to wade in the first instance, a correct impression, so far as the result is concerned, may remain on the mind, when the various means by which that result is obtained have in some measure weakened the force of each.
If, then, the summary now presented to his attention be deemed, after all, inconclusive, the reader is requested fairly to examine some good original treatise upon the point where he deems the present work defective or erroneous. If, on the contrary, this attempt imperfect as it is) be found sufficient, let the reader, who is a stranger to the subject, judge what must be the weight of the evidence when presented by such men as Bentley and Butler.