This volume is designed for the use of those who have not time and opportunity to study larger works on theology. In preparing it, my aim has been to present the system of Christian doctrine with plainness and brevity; and to demonstrate, at every point, its truth, and its tendency to sanctify the heart. Men who have inclination and talent for deep research, will prefer more elaborate discussions; but if the novice in religion shall be assisted in determining what is truth, and what the proper use to be made of it, the chief end for which I have written will have been attained.
In delineating divine truth, we may exhibit it in different aspects and relations. We may view it as coming forth from God, with supreme authority; or as a system revealed by Jesus Christ, all the parts of which beautifully harmonize with each other, and cluster around the doctrine of the cross, the central point of the system; or as entering the human heart by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and transforming it into the image of God. This last view I have labored to render prominent in these pages. The moral and religious principle in man needs a suitable influence for its development and perfection; and such influence this book finds in the truths here presented. The adaptedness of a doctrine to produce this effect, it regards as a proof of its truth and divine origin; and it accordingly deduces the articles of faith, to a great extent, from the inward exercises of piety. But this is not the only method relied on for demonstrating their truth. Other sources of religious knowledge have been examined and especially the Bible in which the truth of God is directly made known. To this holy book, as the highest standard, the last appeal is always made; and the harmony of its decisions, with the deductions from our inward experience, is carefully observed for the confirmation of our faith. While the system has been viewed as emanating from God, and as operating on man, attention has not been directed exclusively to its origin, or its termination. The convergence of all its lines in the glorious centre, the cross of Christ, has not been overlooked. The reader will, I hope, find proof in these pages, that the doctrine of the cross is the doctrine according to godliness.
It has been no part of my design, to lead the humble inquirer into the thorny region of polemic theology. To avoid everything that has been a subject of controversy, was impossible; for every part of divine truth has been assailed. But it has been my plan to pursue our course of investigation, affected as little as possible by the strife of religious disputants, and to know no controversy, but with the unbelief of our own hearts. The questions which are most likely to perplex sincere inquirers have been examined; and, if they have not been thoroughly elucidated, and fully answered, I hope they have been so disposed of as to leave the mind at rest, peacefully reposing on truth clearly revealed, and patiently waiting for the light of eternity to dispel all remaining darkness.
In religion, men appear naturally fond of the difficult and the obscure; perhaps, because they there find escape from the disquieting light of clearly revealed truth. Even the novice, leaving the subjects that are plain, plunges into deep investigations, and abstruse reasonings, which the skilful theologian thinks it wiser to avoid. Hence arises a necessity of frequently reminding the inquirer, that there are subjects which extend far beyond the limits of his vision; and that, in laboring to explore them further than he is guided by revelation, he is in danger of mistaking hypothesis, and deductions of fallacious reasoning for the truth of God. Hypothesis may be lawfully admitted for the removal of objections, if it be remembered that it is only hypothesis; and abstruse reasoning must be allowed, when it becomes needful to go into its labyrinth, for the purpose of extricating those who have lost themselves therein; but, for direct proof of all the articles of faith, this book relies on express declarations of God’s word, or such deductions as are adapted to plain and practical minds.
Any one who may desire to see a history of religious opinions, will not find it in this work. Religion is an affair between every man and his God; and every man should seek to know the truth for himself, whatever may be the opinions of others respecting it. It has been my aim to lead the mind of the reader directly to the sources of religious knowledge, and to incite him to investigate them for himself, without respect to human authority. He may learn, from the help which I am proffering him, what my views are, but I will here give the caution, once for all, not to adopt any opinion which I may advance, farther than it is well sustained by the word of God. Had I wished him to fix his faith on human authority, I should have adduced quotations from writers of celebrity in support of my opinions; but I have chosen not to do so. It is my desire that the reader should see, in the doctrine here presented, so far as respects human authority, nothing but the mere opinion of a fallible worm; but that so far as it is sustained by the word of God, he should receive it as the truth of God.
This volume contains nothing respecting the externals of religion. The form of godliness is important as well as its power, and the doctrine respecting it is a component part of the Christian system; but I have been unable to include it in the present work.
If this humble attempt to benefit others should be unsuccessful, it has not been useless to myself. In the near prospect of eternity, I have found it good to examine again the foundation on which my faith rests. if the perusal of these pages give as much profit and pleasure to the reader, as the preparing of them has given to the writer, we may find reason in the future world to rejoice together, that Christian friends have called for this little service to the cause of the Redeemer.