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FOR THE YEAR 1804,
THE THIRD VOLUME.
PRINTED BY C. WHITTINGHAN,
Dean Street, Fetter Lan;
TO WHOM COMMUNICATIONS, POST PAID, MAY BE ADDRESSED.
At the close of the third year of our labours, it will be expected that we should address a few words to those persons who have either favoured us with their patronage, or perused our publication, Whether we have discharged the office of ChrisTIAN OBSERVERS in a manner calculated to promote the interests of true religion, must be submitted to their judgment. We hope, however, that in passing sentence they will not fail to bear in mind the magnitude and variety of those difficulties, under which the conductors of such a work as ours are laid.
We would begin with returning thanks to the public for the liberal encouragement which they have continued to afford us during the last year, and more particularly to our correspondents for the valuable aid which we have received from them. Their contributions have been very numerous, and the only merit in this respect to which we are entitled, is that of selection. Whether that task has been judiciously performed, we will not take upon us to decide. Anxious for our own part to recommend plain, serious, and practical religion; and to affirm the great evangelical doctrines of our Church, without too much encouraging nice theological distinctions; we, nevertheless, tolerate some latitude of opinion on subordinate questions, particularly those which are at issue between the Calvinists and the Arminians; and we have occasionally permitted temperate controversialists to speak for themselves. In endeavouring, however, to maintain that even balance which we have professed to hold between them, we are sensible that we have frequently excited the jealousy of both parties : and we also suspect that we have been thought, by some, to countenance too much that kind of theological debate, which is found to be productive of little practical benefit.
To the last mentioned description of persons we would suggest, that the Scriptures themselves exhort us to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints; and that the Apostles, as evidently appears from their Epistles, were jealous respecting many points of doctrine, especially those which relate to the great Article of Justification. It may also happen, that while to readers who have paid no particular attention to the origin and progress of errors in religion we inay appear to be occupied by subtletics which are not worth pursuing, we are, in reality, engaged in the defence of some essential and fundamental truth. We would, at least, request them to consider, that the doctrinal parts of religion are of great and unquestionable importance; since these awaken the affections of the inind, and the affections excite to practice. We freely admit, at the same time, that the proportion of doctrinal discussion may easily become too great : and we ourselves have sometiines wished that a larger portion of the contributions of our friends were of the plain, devotional, and directly practical kind.
THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER has been vehemently accused of having an Antinomian tendency. We believe that this is the charge, of all others, against which it is most easy to make our defence. To be an Antinomian, in the proper sense of the word, is to derive from the doctrine of the grace of God encouragement to sin. To our readers it seems superfluous to state, that we, on the contrary, have uniformly represented the undeserved mercy of God in Jesus Christ as the grand motive to obedience; affirming that a true faith in the Redeemer necessarily produces love to him who died for us; and that if God hath so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Viewing Christianity chiefly in this light, as a dispensation of mercy, calculated to inspire the love of God and of our neighbour, we have been desirous carefully to avoid making our publication a theatre of angry disputation. We have thought it our duty, indeed, freely, but yet, we trust, calmly and dispassionately, to point out the mischievous parts of other periodical works, especially
of those which are professedly of a moral or religious kind. And even when, in consequence of this freedom, any of them have attempted, by means of invective, to injure us in the public esteem, it has been our wish not to return railing for railing, but to rely chiefly on the evident and uniform tendency of our work for our defence.
We have intimated that we are enemies to Antinomianism. This pestilent heresy has many shapes, and we are hostile to it under every form. First, we would resist that Antinomianism which professes, in plain terms, that the law of God is no rule of conduct for the believer, a sentiment, indeed, which we trust is not very common; and we would likewise oppose every doctrine and expression bordering on this sentiment. We would inculcate carefully, zealously, and plainly, that the man, who being justified by faith is freed from the condemnation of the law, is still “ under the law to Christ;” and that his faith will be made manifest, both to himself and to the world, by his obedience.
We would also contend against an Antinomianism of another kind, which is somewhat more prevalent. Many persons embrace a system of evangelical doctrine, and even connect with it a cere tain degree of moral practice; but a practice, at the same time, by no means sufficiently Christian: they bestow only a sınall proportion of their attention on this important part of their religion. We wish to place before the eyes of such persons the universal excellence of that life to which they should aspire, and to delineate that Christian temper in which, perhaps, they are more particularly apt to fail. We wish to remind them, that when evangelical doctrines are popular among large bodies of men, as they unquestionably are at this period, a growing laxity of practice is very likely to accompany a considerable degree of religious knowledge: and that a man may feel much complacency in the consciousness of the orthodoxy of his faith, even while his life is not superior to that of many whom he condemns as unbelievers. He learns, perhaps, to deplore his sins instead of forsaking them: and to acknowledge the corruption of his nature, instead of heartily resisting it. He, at the same time, confidently repels the charge of Antinomjanism which men ignorant of the Gospel bring against him; and because he knows that there is nothing lax or licentious in his creed, he does not suspect the latent Antinomianism of his heart. Meanwhile his faith is not productive of good works. It is, therefore,