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The following Lectures are published as they were delivered. Perhaps nothing would be gained on the whole, by recasting them; but they must be expected to have the defects incident to compositions prepared under the pressure of other duties, and required to be completed within a limited time.
When I entered upon the subject, I supposed it had been exhausted; but, on looking at it more nearly, I was led to see that Christianity has such relations to nature and to man, that the evidence resulting from a comparison of it with them may be almost said to be exhaustless. To the evidence from this source I have given greater prominence than is common, both because it has been comparatively neglected, and because I judged it better adapted than the historical proof to interest a promiscuous audience. It was with reference to both these points, that, in the arrangement and grouping of these Lectures, I have departed from the ordinary course ; and if they shall be found in any degree peculiarly adapted to the present state of the public mind, I think it will be from the prominence given to the Internal Evidence, while, at the same time, the chief topics of argument are presented within a moderate space.
The method of proof of which I have just spoken has one disadvantage which I found embarrassing. If Christianity is compared with nature or with man, it must be assumed that it is some specific thing; and hence there will be danger, either of being so general and indefinite as to be without interest, or of getting upon controversial ground. Each of these extremes it was my wish to avoid. That I succeeded in doing this perfectly, I cannot suppose. Probably it would be impossible for any one to do so in the judgment of all. My wish was to present the argument.
This I could not do without indicating my sentiments on some of the leading doctrines of Christianity up to a certain point; and if any think that I went too far, I can only say that it was difficult to know where to stop, and that, if I had given the argument precisely as it lay in my own mind, I should have gone much farther. It is from the adaptation of Christianity as providing an atonement, and consequently a divine Redeemer, to the condition and wants of man, that the chief force of such works as that of Erskine, and “ The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation,” is derived ; and I should be unwilling to have it supposed that I presented any thing which I regarded as a complete system of the Evidences of Christianity, from which that argument was excluded.
But if, in some of its aspects, the evidence for Christianity may be said to be exhaustless, it may also be said that several of the leading topics of argument have probably been presented as ably as they ever will be. Those topics I thought it my duty to present, and in doing so
I had no wish to sacrifice force to originality, and did not hesitate to avail myself freely of such labors of others as were within my reach. If I had had time to do this more fully, no doubt the Lectures would have been improved.
For much recurrence to original authorities in the historical part, I had not time. The quotations in that part are generally taken from Paley or Horne, or from some source equally common. Those quotations, however, are of unquestioned authority; they are to the point, and perhaps nothing could have more usefully occupied the same space.
The importance of the object intended to be accomplished by the founder of the Lowell Institute, in this course of Lectures, cannot be over-estimated. Let there be in the minds of the people generally a settled and rational conviction of the truth of Christianity, such as a fair presentation of the evidence could not fail to produce, and there will be the best and the only true foundation laid for a rational piety, and for the practice of every social and civil virtue. That these Lectures were useful, to some extent, when they were delivered, in producing such a conviction, I had the great satisfaction of knowing; and I now commit them to the blessing of God, with the hope, though there are so many and so able treatises on this subject already before the public, that they will have a degree of usefulness that will justify their publication.
WILLIAMS COLLEGE, April, 1846.