The venerable author has requested us to write an introduction to the work which follows. It gives us pleasure to comply with the wish of one who stands out on the edge of the eternal world. We can not forbear to say that, as we read the work in manuscript, we were profoundly impressed with the conviction that the utterances were those of a heart already ripe for heaven. In the volume to which the reader is now introduced, it will be found that the author has dug down to the solid rocks on which his own faith rested. From a sketch in our possession, which will appear in some future edition of this work, we learn that for about forty-five years the author has believed, loved, and preached the great doctrines discussed in this book.
A timid, shrinking man, the author has found his purest joy in the sweet quietude of a country home and pastorate. He has had no ambition to cross the line of that charmed circle in which he has moved for about a half century. However, at the urgent solicitation of many friends, he now consents, in the close of life, to furnish to others a discussion of those facts which have been the foundation of his own happiness
Many persons have thought that such a book as the present one is needed. The passing generation has been made well acquainted with rites and ceremonies. The baptismal controversy has been revived. The Lord’s Supper also has been the subject of a discussion which has swept over the whole land. Nor has church polity failed to command a share of public attention. And all this is well. The storm purifies the atmosphere and clears the skies. The danger is not that men will give too much attention to these things–this is impossible–but the danger is that they will feel too little interest in things of even greater importance. Many persons have correct views of the ordinances of God’s house, while at the same time their knowledge of the plan of salvation is not only very limited, but quite defective. A great number of books have been written with the design of securing uniformity of practice among the churches, but, so far as I know, very little has been done to secure “one faith.” It is insisted that our church-members must be informed on the subject of baptism, and that they must guard with sleepless vigilance the great memorial ordinance. The custodians of the truth, it is claimed that they should preserve the apostolic form of church-government. And to all this we give our hearty approval. But there is something higher; such, at least, is the conviction of the author, and he deems it of great importance that, in this age, men should give more attention to the study of the plan of salvation. This plan ought to be understood; we can better afford to be ignorant of any thing else. Our happiness here depends on it, and, what is a matter of graver importance, our future destiny will be determined by our acquaintance with this system of truth.
The author has not discussed a great variety of subjects, but he has treated of just such as involve all the highest interests of every immortal being. The work opens with a chapter on man’s moral nature. The depravity of the heart is but partially understood by many, and flatly denied by others. The human will is another subject about which there is much confusion of thought. Regeneration of heart, without which no one can see God in peace, is a fact in regard to which there has been the wildest discussion. There is perhaps no truth about which men differ more widely. Nor are we well agreed about faith, repentance, and justification. Though these are a part of every pious man’s experience, there is need that we shall be more perfectly taught. The perseverance of the saints is not well understood, even by those who accept the blessed doctrine. The eternal security of the Church is a matter of doubt with some; and among those who accept the promise of her final triumph, there are so many fears and doubts that the hope is robbed of half the joy it would impart. But man’s perverse will rebels most sternly against the great, grand facts of predestination and election. God’s sovereign will, and His sovereign disposition of things according to that will, are facts which rise high above our feeble comprehension; and because they are so sublime and awful, we push them aside, as affording no joy to the heart. More frequently we utterly deny the facts because we can not understand them. We venture to hope that these “hard doctrines,” as discussed in this book, will be a source of consolation to the Christian’s heart. And then this volume very properly closes with a discussion of the atonement. The world is full of books on this subject. When we consider the fact that men have the Bible to guide them, we should think there would be perfect agreement here. But such is not the case. We have here the greatest diversity of views; the theories about salvation are without number. The author has kindly stated the views of others, and has given the reasons why he differs from them. In this way he has modestly brought out his own theory. Such is an outline of the book the reader is now requested to examine.
This book, it must be confessed, contains nothing new. The design has not been to uncover golden veins of new thought, but to bring down to the masses, in simple language, the forms of thought with which the student and minister are quite familiar. This has been a work of great difficulty, but it is believed that no term or word has been employed which a man of ordinary intelligence can not understand; and while this is true, we trust there is nothing in the work which can be offensive to the good taste of the scholar and theologian. The design has been to place a theological hand-book in possession of every church member.
The author has not gone over the whole field usually embraced in a system of theology. It was not thought necessary to do this. Those subjects only have been treated about which there was most difficulty; and they have been discussed in such a way, it is hoped, as will strengthen the hearts of the pious, and contribute largely to secure correctness and uniformity of faith among God’s children. This result secured, both author and publisher will be satisfied.
A word more in regard to the history of the author. Norvell Robertson was born in Warren County, Ga., Nov. 14, 1796. His father, also named Norvell, was a Virginian by birth. On reaching manhood, he moved South and settled in Georgia. In the year 1804 he was called by his church to the work of the ministry. For fifty-one years he was an earnest and faithful Baptist preacher. He was called home to his reward in his ninety-first year. His ministerial life was spent in the States of Georgia and Mississippi. The son moved at an early day to Lawrence County, Mississippi; was converted in 1830, and a year later he was baptized by his father into the fellowship of Leaf River Baptist Church. Bethany Church, in the neighborhood of which he was teaching, and to which he moved his membership, a few months after this set him at liberty to preach. The same church, in January, 1833, set him apart, by ordination, to the full work of the gospel ministry. Twelve months later he was called to the pastoral care of this church, and has continued in the same position for about forty-one years. Nothing could ever tempt him to leave this country church. In 1835 he married Miss N. J. Cannon, who has been a faithful and worthy companion. Three little infants have gone up from the family circle to the paradise of God. Of the seven remaining children, the father has baptized all but one.
Father Robertson, as he is familiarly called by those who know him, has never enjoyed good health. The weight of years is pressing heavily upon him; and this work is very likely the last contribution we shall ever have from his pen. That it may be greatly blessed of God, and that the author may live to see the fruit of his labor, is the prayer of his
Brother in Christ Jesus,
W. D. MAYFIELD.
Memphis, Tenn., November 1, 1874.