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IT is a maxim among wise men, that the knowledge of persons,
is of as great use in the conduct of human life, as the knowledge of things : and it is most certain, that he who knows the various tempers, humours, and dispositions of men, who can find out their turn of thonglit, and penetrate into the secret springs and principles of their actings, will not be at a loss to find out proper mcans for compassing his aims, will easily preserve himself from snares, and either evite or overcome difficulties. But the knowledge of phuman nature morally considered, or, in other words, of the temper
and disposition of the soul in its moral powers, is of much greater value ; as it is of use, in the concerns of an unchangeable life and world : he who is possest of so valuable a branch of knowledge, is thereby capacitated to judge aright of himself, to understand true Christianity, and to conceive justly of perfect happiness and consimmate misery.
The deprávity of human nature is so plainly taught, yea, inculcated in sacred scripturc, and is so obvious to every thinking man's observation, who searches his own breast, and reflects duly on his temper and actings, that it is surprisingly strange and wonderful, how it comes to pass, that this important truth is so little understood, yea, so much disbelieved, by men who bear the name of gospel ministers. Are there not persons to be found in a neighbouring nation, in the character of preachers, appearing daily in pulpits, who are so unacquainted with their Bibles and themselves, that they ridicule the doctrine of original sin as unintelligible jargon ? If they are persons of a moral life and conversation, they seem to imagine they cannot become better than they are ; if they are immoral, they seem to indulge a conceit, that they can become virtuous, yea, religious, when they please. These are the men who talk of the dignity of human nature, of greatness of mind, nobleness of soul, and generosity of spirit : as if they intended to persuade themselves and others, that pride is a good principle, and do not know, that pride and selfishness are the bane of mankind, prodnetive of all the wickedness, and much of the misery to be found in this and in the other world : and is indeed that, wherein the depravity of human nature properly consists.
Upright Adam's nature taintly adumbrated the divine, in a moderated self-esteem, an adequate self-love, and delightful
reflection on his own borrowed excellency, regulated by a just esteem of, and supreme love to, his adored Creator : whence, a peaceful serenity of mind, a loving, compassionate, and bevevolent disposition of soul, a depth of thought, and brightness of imagination, delightfully employed in the rapturous contemplation of his beloved Maker's infinite perfections : thus bearing the divine image, and resembling God that made him. But no sooner did he disobey the divine probatory command, than the scales were cast, his moderated self-esteem degenerated into pride, his adequate self-love shrunk into mere selfishness, and his delightful reflections on his own excellency varied into the tickling pleasures of vanity and conceit; he lost view of the anthor of his being, and thenceforth, instead of delighting in him, first drearied, and then despised him.
The modest, and therefore hitherto anonymous, author of the following discourses, Mr. Thomas Boston, having handled this subject, in preaching to his own obscure parochial congregation of Ettrick, in the sheriffdom of Selkirk, had a particular view to their benefit, in printing and publishing them ; and therefore the style and method is plain and simple, and the first edition printed on coarse paper ; but the subject is so comprehensive and important, so well managed, and the book has been so well received, that it now appears in the world more ernbellished, as well as better corrected than formerly.
Let it suffice, to recommend it to those who have a right taste of genuine Christianity, that all the author's notions flow so directly from the sacred fountain, that it is to be doubtod, if he has had much recourse to any other helps than his Bible and his God, for assistance. Mean time, I am aware of an exception, from these who rank-themselves among the polite part of mankind, as that there is the same harsh peculiarity of dialect in it, which is commonly to be found in books of practical divinity. But I beg leave to observe, that the dialect they except against, is borrowed from sacred scripture : and like as it has pleased Gon, by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe ; so also to countenance what they are displeased with, by the operations of bis Spirit on the minds of true Christians, as their common experience witnesset). However, I heartily wish the exception were altogether removed, by some persons digesting into a methedical treutise, the views of human nature, in its primitive perfection, in its depraved condition, and in its retrieved state, who is master of modern style, and throughly understands the subjects discoursed in this book, that by becoming all things to all men, some, viz. of all ranks and kinds of men, may be gained.
I am not to declaim at large, in favour of religion ; this were to write a book by way of preface. Many able p'ns have been employed in recommending it to the world, hy strong arguments drawn from its usefulness to society, its suitableness to the dignity. of the rational nature, and the advantages arising to men from it, in
this and the other world. But, after all, may not one be allowed to doubt, if religion be rightly understood by all its patrons ? May not the beauties and excellencies of a precious gem be elegantly described by a naturalist or jeweller, who never saw the particular one he talked of, and knows little of its nature, less of the construction of its parts, and nothing of its proper use ? Are there not men of bright parts, who rea on finely in defence of religion, and yet are so much strangers to it, that they brand the persons, who are so happy as to be possest of it, with the hard name of Spiritualists, reckoning them a kind of enthusiasts, unworthy of their regard. The truth is, Christianity is a mystery, mere reason does not comprehend it. There is a spiritual discerning necessary to its being rightly understrod, whence it comes to pass, that men of great learning and abilities, though they read the scriptures with attention, and com. ment learnedly upon then ; yet do not, yea, cannot, enter into the vein of thought peculiar to the inspired penmen, because they share not of the same spirit ; wherefore it is that the apostle Paul asserts the natural, that is unregenerate, man not to know the things of God, neither indeed to be capable of knowing them, because they are spiritually discerned.
From what has been said it is easy to conclude, that no pedantic apology on the part of the author, for appearing in print, or fawning compliments to the courteous reader, on the part of the prefacer, are to be expected. The truth is, both the one and the other are rather little arts, vailing pedantry and conceit, than evidences of modesty and good sense. It is of more use to recommend the perusal of the book to persons of all ranks and degrees, from a few suitable topics, and to shew wherein the second differs from, and excels, the first edition.
That all mankind, however differenced by their rank and station in the world, have an equal concern in what is revealed concerning another and future world, will be readily owned ; and it must be as readily granted, that however allowable it may be, for men of learning and parts, to please themselves with fineness of language, justness of thought, and exact connection in writings upon other subjects, yet they ought not to indulge themselves in the same taste in discourses on divine things, lest they expose themselves to the just censure of acting with the same indiscretion, as a person in danger of famishing by hunger would be guilty of, if he perversely rejected plain wholesome food, when offered to him, for no other reason than the want of palatable sauce, or order and splendour in serving it up.
The sacred book we call the Bible, has a peculiar sublimity in it, vailed with unusual dialect and seeming inconnection ; but is not therefore to be rejected, by men who bear the name of Christians, as ucouth or unintelligible: true wisdom dictates quite another thing; it counsels us, by frequent reading, to acquaint ourselves well with it, become accustomed to its peculiar phrases, and search into its sublimities ; upon this.ground, that the matters contained in it are
of the utmost consequence to us, and, when rightly understood, yield a refined delight, much superior to what is to be found in read. ing the best written books on the most entertaining subjects. What pleads for the parent is a plea for the progeny ; practical discourses upon divine subjects are the genuine offspring of the sacred text,
and ought therefore to be read carefully and with attention, by persons of all ranks and degrees, though they are indeed calculated for, and peculiarly adapted to, such as move in low spheres of life.
Let it however be a prevailing argument, with persons of all denominations, carefully to read books of practical divinity, ibat many of them are not written on the same motives and principles, as other books are ; the authors have often a peculiar di ine call to publish them, and well-founded hope of their being useful to advance christianity in the world. In consequence whereof it is, that great numbers have reaped benefit by reading them, especially in childhood and youth ; many have been converted by them; and it may be questioned if ever there was a true Christian since the art of printing made these books common, wh has not in some stage of life reaped considerable advantage from them. This book recommends itself in a particular manner, by its being a short substantial system of practical divinity, insomuch that it may with truth be asserted, that a person who is thoroughly acquainted with all that is here taught, may, without danger to his eternal interest, remain ignorant of other things, which pertain to the science called divinity. It is therefore earnestly recommended to the serious and frequent perusal of all, but especially such as are in that stage of life called youth, and are so stationed in the world, as not to be frequently opportuned to hear sermons, and read commentaries on the sacred text.
It is doubtless incumbent on masters of families, to make some provision of spiritual as well as bodily food for their children and servants : this is effectually done by putting practical books in their hands: and therefore this book is humbly and earnestly recommended as a Family Book, which all the members of it are not only allowed but desired to peruse
As to the difference betwixt this and the former edition, which gives it preference; it lies chiefly in the author's not only having revised the style, but the thought in many places, and corrected both, so as to set several important truths in a clearer light, and make the style of the book now uniform, which formerly was not so, because of the explications of peculiar words and phrases, in rise amongst practical divines, especially of the church of Sc tland, which were interspersed throughout the former edition, and introduced by another hand, for the sake of such persons as are not accustomed to them. It remains that the prefacer not only subjoin his name which was concealed in the first edition, as a testimony that he esteems the author, and values the book, but that he may thereby recommend it in a particular manner to the perusal of persons of his own acquaintance,
ROBERT WIGHTMAN, D. M. G. E.