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The Writer of these pages is aware, that the subject of them is by no means popular, even among those who are esteemed the disciples of Christ. Besides the particular prejudices of various persons in favour of their own practice, the subject, by a kind of general consent, has of late years been considered as little connected with practical religion. Whether this has arisen from most parties being conscious that their own modes of worship are little conducive to godliness, and that they cannot be defended from the Scriptures, he presumes not to determine.
The religion of Jesus, in its do&rines, precepts and institutions, is one connected whole ; in
proportion as one part is overlooked, the force of all will be weakened. He who feels, as every Chriftian must, his proneness to let flip the most important truths of the word of God, will be thankful that the Lord has graciously employed various means to preserve in our minds the remembrance of them. He has revealed his will in the most engaging and affecting manner, and has also insti. tuted various ordinances of worship, all which represent, and are memorials of the doctrines of his word.
If, in reading the history of the life of a great man, we had at the same time an opportunity of feeing his actions delineated in the most correct and the finest paintings, it would make a far deeper impression on our minds than the mere nare zative.
Things to the mind before unknown,
Than had they enter'd by the eyes *. The ordinances of Christ are just so many sensible images of the doctrines he taught. When these are observed as he delivered them, they greatly tend to impress us with just views of the truth, and where they are in any measure corrupted, they naturally lead us into error and misapprehenfion: Error and misapprehenfion in fentiment, must always produce error in practice; for it is certain from the word of God, that holiness fprings from the knowledge and belief of the truth.
The great end aimed-at in these pages, is to promote love and union amongft Christians, and consequently the fuccess of the gospel in the world, The author is convinced, that both these are intimately connected with the subject of the book.
True, genuine, and sincere union, is absolutely impracticable while professors neglect to enquire,
* Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures, Quam quæ funt oculis subjecta fidelibus.
to understand, and to practise the directions of the word of God respecting social worship, and confequently their attempts to diffuse the knowledge of Christ will be feeble, inconsistent, and ineffectual.
He will be happy to receive correction wherein he has erred, for although he is persuaded that he treads on sure ground respecting the general principles which he has adopted, he is yet sensible that he may, in some respects, have committed mistakes in the application of them ; and if so, he knows that the error must have bad consequences on his mind.
This book is not intended as a standard for the order of any church of Christ. Should it be adopted as such, the views of the writer would be thereby completely defeated. His design is to excite his brethren in Christ to study the Scriptures on this and every other subject, and to appeal only to the law and to the testimony. In so far as it produces this effect, his object will be gained. He cordially adopts the language of Mr Ainsworth :
If any places (viz. of God's word) be alleged żmiss or impertinent, or things gathered otherwise than the text will afford, (as through my ignorance or unheedinefs, no doubt, many may be ;) I humbly ask pardon for the same, both of God and his people ; and do desire the reader not to rely upon my judgment in any thing, but as himfelf, by the wisdom of God's Spirit, shall see agreeable unto truth. For, if any shall build up
on my words, without sure ground from the law of the Lord, he shall first offend God, who hath given his Scriptures by divine inspiration, 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17. to teach and persuade all truth, to reprove and correct all error ; to instruct in righteoufness, and make men perfect unto every good work : he shall injure me also, who have written these things to be tried and examined by Christ's law, not to be accepted for a law; and he shall injure his own foul, by relying upon the word of frail man, whose breath is in his nostrils, which cannot esablish the heart, nor assure the conscience in any thing. Let, therefore, the grass wither, and the flower fade, for it is the word of our God that shall stand for ever!" Ifa. xl. 8. *
The Author hopes that criticisms or remarks, however just, on the manner or style in which he has written, will not be considered as reasons for neglecting what is here laid before the Public.
He now commends this attempt to place the truth before the minds of Christians, to that powerful influence which can produce attention, banish prejudice, and work effectually and practically against all oppofition!
EDINBURGH, June 4. 1805.
* Preface to Ainsworth's Treatise on the Communion of Saints, p. lxxviii. See his two Treatises re-published at Edinburgh, 1785.