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The “ Private Thoughts on Religion” of the late Rev. Mr. Adam, of Wintringham, which are here republished, are inestimable. They are the produce of a very pious, a very acute, and a very honest mind. It is not a volume which charms by the force and purity of its style, by the closeness of its reasoning, or the tenderness of its persuasion. It is not a detail of evidences, nor a series of discourses. It was not even designed for publication; and partakes, therefore, of the disadvantages inseparable from merely private papers. The language is plain, and sometimes coarse. The topics are detached and unconnected. Some of the expressions are brief, and even obscure, and others strong and unguarded. But with all these, and perhaps some other defects, the thoughts are so acute and penetrating ; they spring from such a mature knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; they open the recesses of the human heart with such skill and faithfulness; they lift up so boldly the veil which conceals the deformity of our motives; and the whole conception of Christianity which they exhibit, is so just and so comprehensive, as to render them a most valuable inonument of practical and experimental divinity. Such a writer as Mr. Adam takes us out of our ordinary track of reading and reflection, and shows us ourselves. He scrutinizes the whole soul; dissipates the false glare which is apt to mislead the judgment; exposes the imperfections of what is apparently most pure and inviting; and thus teaches us to make our religion more and more spiritual, holy, solid, practical, humble, sincere.
His observations on the corruption of our nature are undoubtedly most humiliating, and may at first repel even some pious readers. But when his style and manner of expression on this subject are become familiar, and his full and elevated idea of Christianity as the remedy of it, is apprehended, this momentary dislike will yield to admiration and love. The reader will find that there is such a deep knowledge of scriptural truth in these remarks, illustrations so new and striking, drawn from a variety of sources, and so holy a tendency in every part of the statement, that he will peruse it again and again with increased advantage, and growing conviction and esteem.
The characteristic of tbe entire volume is depth of scriptural and experimental : knowledge. It requires,' therefore, thought and time in order to be appreciated. But it will amply repay both. And it may perhaps be affirined, that there is no work of modern divinity which is more likely, under God's blessing, to elevate and purify the standard of religious sentiment in those who study it.
It is, indeed, objected by some persons, that · to aim at a profound knowledge of the doctrines
of Christianity, is to involve oneself in a maze of controversy, to chill the best affections of the heart, and to check the progress and the consolations of the humble penitent. It is ad. ded, moreover, that the blessed Spirit of God is the only effectual teacher; and that refinements and metaphysical inquiries in religion tend to quench his sacred influences, whilst they lead to no satisfactory results.
To this it may be replied, that to pursue theological questions in the manner 'of the schools, would indeed be open to the objection now advanced. But this is far from the method of Mr. Adam in the work before us. He aims not at establishing a system, or defending minúte and doubtful points in religion. He plunges into no controversies. He pretends to no discoveries. He makes no show of metaphysical acuteness. The deep knowledge which he recommends is that of the Holy Scriptures, well considered in all their parts; weighed, compared, examined, reflected on, digested. This intimate acquaintance with Scripture he then applies to the human heart, and to the motives, spirit, and conduct of the great body of persons professing the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel ; and deduces a variety of remarks from this source, solid, practical, and many of them profound. This kind of knowledge, therefore, is so far from checking the flow of spiritual consolation, that it purifies and enlarges it; whilst the Divine Spirit, who is indeed the only effectual teacher, but who ordinarily works by means, increases by this very method all the strength, and activity, and influence of the Gospel, and prepares the mind for every act of penitence, faith, love, and joy.
In truth, it cannot be dissembled, that a chief defect of modern divinity, and modern preaching, is the superficial and cursory manner in which they are pursued. Frequently in stations of much public influence, and in writings which are fixing the taste of the age, it may fairly be questioned, whether more depth of meditation, more of a spirit of devotion and prayer, more acquaintance with Holy Scripture, more reference to existing evils in persons who espouse evangelical sentiments, more use of the records of ecclesiastical history in resolving difficult cases, would not raise the tone
of religion, and extend, as well as strengthen, the foundations of real piety. All persons, it is true, cannot make equal
, attainments. A variety in natural endowments and advantages for early study, as well as in the pressure of immediate duties, will produce important differences. But this consideration should heighten our esteem for such a writer as our author-gifted for this particular purpose ; with a mind strong, clear, upright; in a situation to make and preserve his observations, matured by a long course of opportunities for improvement; and whose reflections are the more valuable as they were penned in the retirement of his closet, without any view to publication, and are therefore free from the unfavourable bias which the expectation of the judgment of the public sometimes communicates.
The high value of deep religious knowledge in this best sense of the expression, is incalculable. It qualifies a minister of religion to speak with the authority becoming his office. It enables him to mert the infidel fully acquainted with his subject, and with the evidences of the religion which he preaches. It assists him in guiding and directing his people in the course of their difficult and varied duties and trials. It gives him the facility of discovering plausible but dangerous innovations in doctrine and