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The following discourse would sooner have made its appearance, but for circumstances in which the public are too little interested to render it necessary or proper for me to explain : nor should I have adverted to the time of its publication, did it not seem strange that, having been preached on a public occasion, it should be committed to the press more than a twelvemonth after the delivery.
With respect to the sermon itself, the author begs leave to bespeak the indulgence of his readers for introducing sentiments with which they must be perfectly familiar, requesting them to recollect that, on practical subjects, the most common thoughts are usually the most important, and that originality is the last quality we seek for in advice. If it have any tendency to do good beyond the occasion of its delivery, by reminding my highly-esteemed brethren in the ministry of the duties and obligation attached to their sacred function, the end proposed will be answered. The worthy person to whom it was addressed gave a specimen of his liberality, in engaging me to take so leading a part in his ordination, when our difference of sentiment on the subject of baptism was well known; a subject which has, unhappily, been a frequent occasion of alienating the minds of Christians from each other. How much is it to be lamented, that the Christian world should be so violently agitated by disputes, and divided into factions, on points which, it is allowed, in whatever way they are decided, do not enter into the essentials of Christianity! When will the time arrive when the disciples of Christ shall cordially join hand and heart with all who hold the head, and no other terms of communion be insisted upon church but what are necessary to constitute a real Christian? The departure from a principle so directly resulting from the genius of Christianity, and so evidently inculcated and implied in the sacred Scriptures, has, in my apprehension, been productive of infinite mischief; nor is there room to anticipate the period of the universal diffusion and triumph of the Christian religion, but in consequence of its being completely renounced and abandoned.
What can be more repugnant to the beautiful idea which our Saviour gives us of his church, as one fold under one shepherd, than the present aspect of Christendom, split into separate and hostile communions frowning defiance on each other, where each erects itself upon party principles, and selects its respective watchword of contention, as
though the epithet of militant, when applied to the church, were designed to announce, not a state of conflict with the powers of darkness, but of irreconcilable intestine warfare and opposition. But it is necessary to quit a subject which, though painfully interesting, would necessarily lead to reflections inconsistent with the limits of this preface. It
may be more to the purpose to remark, that the substance of the following discourse was delivered in London, at the anniversary of an academical institution, recently established in the neighbourhood of that metropolis, for educating young men for the ministry in the Baptist denomination. The institution to which we refer is under the immediate superintendence of the Rev. William Newman. I cannot let the present occasion pass, of earnestly and respectfully recommending this infant seminary to the patronage of the religious public. There was a time, we are aware, when doubts were entertained, in some serious minds, of the eligibility of training young men for the ministry, by a preparatory course of study. These scruples, we believe, have long since subsided, and a conviction felt by intelligent men of all denominations of the expedience, if not the necessity, of instructing candidates for the ministry in the principles of science and literature. Learning is no longer dreaded as the enemy of piety ; nor is it supposed that the orthodoxy of a public teacher of religion derives any security from his professed ignorance on every other subject. Along with this revolution in the sentiments of a certain class of Christians, circumstances have arisen, connected with the more general diffusion of knowledge and the state of society, which render a higher degree of mental cultivation than was heretofore needed indispensably requisite. The Baptist denominatior, in common with other Christians, have not failed to advert to this urgent and increasing demand for cultivated talent in their ministers, although they have long had occasion to lament the scantiness and inadequacy of their means of supplying it. To the Bristol academy, the only seminary they possessed till within these few years, they feel the highest obligations, for supplying them with a succession of able and faithful pastors, who have done honour to their churches : and few things would give the patrons and founders of the seminary for which I am pleading more concern, than the suspicion of entertaining views unfavourable to that academy. They respect its claim of seniority; they revere the character of its excellent president; they contemplate, with the highest satisfaction, the beneficial result of its operations, conspicuous in most parts of the kingdom : but they are too well acquainted with the disinterested motives of its friends and benefactors to suspect them of wishing to monopolize the education of ministers connected with the denomination. They feel as little jealousy of the seminary recently established in Yorkshire, which has already produced good fruits, under the culture and superintendence of the excellent Mr. Steadman. Convinced, however, of there being still occasion for an enlargement of the means of instruction, and having, by the munificence of a generous individual, been presented with a house and premises well adapted to academical
purposes, they could feel no hesitation in accepting so noble a gift, or in seconding the pious and benevolent design of the founder. The institution is yet in its infancy, and subsists on a small scale. They look to the smiles of Heaven, and to the liberality of a Christian public, and especially to the piety and opulence of the professors of religion in the metropolis, who have never been wanting in the zealous support of institutions tending to promote the glory of God and the best interest of mankind, for such an enlargement of their funds and resources as, seconded by the efforts of its worthy tutor, shall render it a permanent and extensive blessing.
LEICESTER, December 31, 1811.