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P R E F A C E.
THERE are three sorts of persons, who absent themselves from the episcopal places of worship established by public authority in England; commonly, though improperly denominated Church of England. The first sort consists of irreligious persons, who renounce all public worship. The second is composed of such as approve of what they suppose the doctrine, discipline, and constitution of the episcopal church; but disapprove of the men, who officiate in it; either on account of their doctrine or practice, or both, which they think are incompatible with the constitution of it. We are not addressing ourselves to either of these classes; to their own master they stand or fall. The third sort do not dissent from the officers and members of the established church merely, (to them they wish every felicity,) but they disapprove of the coNSTITUTION ITSELF, and object against all the principles that support it. These are, strictly speaking, the only Nonconformists or protestant dissenters in this kingdom; they consist of the various denominations of Baptists-Independents-Presbyterians--and the people called
Quakers; and all their congregations together in England and Wales amount to near two thousand; so that they bear about the proportion of a fifth to the episcopal church.
Whatever may be the worth of those arguments, by which the religion of these dissenters is governed, whether they be sophistical, probable, or demonstrative, it is beyond a doubt, they have operated, and they continue to operate, a firm, resolute attachment to nonconformity; and it must needs be worth while to propose them in all their fair extent to the inquisitive youth in our communities, for whom our first wish is christianity, our second nonconformity. We have no secrets in our religion ; and although the rigour of times hath formerly obligedus to teach it in corners, yet the truths taught merit the attention of all mankind. Many of our brethren have lamented the inattention of our youth to dissenting principles, and they attribute it to one or other of the three following causes.
1. It is usual to impute the virtuous moderation of the state to the episcopal church, and to account a dissent from such a mild church less necessary now than formerly. The truth is, what the church was at first that it still continues. It retains the same articles, the same ceremonies, the same courts, officers, principles, and canons, that it had all the time of its persecuting, and it refuses to repeal any of them. The state has restrained the operation of the ecclesiastical system on dissenters; but the system itself is the same. The state tolerates ; but the church does not. Our youth should distinguish this.
2. Nonconformity is unfashionable, and in some places through various causes, contemptible; and fashion is law to too many young people. 3. Many pious ministers, all intent on inculcating the necessity of being saved from sin and punishment through faith in Christ, omit these peculiar principles of dissent. We highly commend their zeal ; but, as all their labours proceed on supposition of the truth of these principles, we presume, they ought diligently to examine and inculcate them. If our ministers neglect to teach these true grounds of christian action, they have no right to expect of their people any other than blind obedience or open apostacy
There are many ministers among us, who love work, and are indifferent about wages; who are industrious to disseminate religious principles in season and out of season; whose highest happiness is in the increase of the kingdom of our redeemer. These worthy disinterested servants of Christ are too often confined in regard to books, time, circumstances, and so on: to will is present with them, but how to perform that which they wish, they find not. To them we humbly present the following analysis, hoping it may facilitate their dissemination of their own principles among the youth in their assemblies.
We shall have supposed the good minister to have divided his congregation into three general parts. The first is the church, properly so called. The second little children to be catechized; and the third, for whose instruction this analysis is intended, CATECHUMENS, consisting of persons waiting to be admitted to church-fellowship, or of any others, who may chuse to be informed.
The primitive church was composed of persons professing faith and repentance. Where this profession was sincere it was the issue of cool deliberate examination, which necessarily preceded it. While the extraordinary influences of the holy spirit continued during the first age of the church, conversion was usually quick, and people in very short spaces were delivered from the power of darkness,
, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear son. After the cessation of extraordinary gifts, primitive christian ministers used an ordinary method of instruction. Such ignorant people as desired to join christian churches were formed into societies, regularly instructed by the ministers; and, at a proper state, brought forward to church fellowship. These were called Çatechumens ; and the revival of this state is previously necessary to the use of the following lectures. These are a kind of churchschools, more solemn than private conversation, and not subject to the laws of public worship. Here the pastor may simplify and familiarize a thousand topicks inadmissible to the pulpit, which yet all belong to his office; for he is the professor of divinity in his own congregation, and the giving of lectures on nonconformity is one branch of his office.
I shall suppose the pastor, then, to give public notice some time in each September that he shall give a course of lectures on nonconformity in the ensuing winter—that the first lecture will begin at six in the evening of the second Wednesday in October—that the second will be that day fortnight; and so on, once a fortnight; and, consequently, that the whole course, consisting of twelve lectures, will be finished about the middle of March - That all who choose to attend shall be admitted on giving in their names to the minister-and that timely notice shall be given of such a lectureroom as will contain the company. What small expences occur, for firing, candles, servants, and so on, may be easily discharged by a proportionable subscription.
It would be impertinent to pretend to expatiate on the utility of such a service; and more so to offer the following sketch as a perfect invariable model of it. We only mean to convey a clear notion of what we aim at in these lectures. Most of our pastors are far superior to the want of such helps; and, if no junior have any occasion for them, we Hatter ourselves they may not be unacceptable to such of our private youth as wish to trace the subject, and have no tutor to guide them. Each of these Analyses of lectures consist of a given number of notes. Each note contains one or more distinct ideas, and each idea is sufficient to form a period; the whole constituting a lecture. We have made half history, and half doctrine. They elucidate each other, and nonconformity includes both. We shall subjoin an example, at the end, of the manner of turning these notes into discourses.