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The Congregational Union of England and Wales having, some time last year, mooted for discussion the question of the general indifference of the working classes to our religious institutions, I thought it a good opportunity to obtain from persons belonging to that section of the community, and therefore, familiar with their thoughts and habits, some information which might aid in conducting us to right conclusions. With this view I opened the columns of the Nonconformist, for several weeks in succession, to letters from working men, in which they were invited to state such reasons for the assumed fact, as they might happen to know had force upon the members of the class. I closed this series of interesting communications with some articles from my own pen, in which I endeavoured to account for the state of things then under investigation. In preparing those articles, I felt myself much hampered by the narrowness of the ground selected for inquiry, and a strong desire sprung up in my bosom to deal with a far more comprehensive question — namely,
namely, the comparative inefficiency of the British Churches in respect to the British people at large.
The urgent requests of some too partial friends fostered that desire into determination—and this volume is the
fruit of it.
The substance of the following pages has already been given to a very small fraction of the public in a course of lectures, delivered during the month of November, in the Theatre of the City of London Literary Institute. *
* I applied for the lesser Exeter Hall—but after having furnished the Secretary with a prospectus of the lectures, I was informed by him that the Committee declined acceding to my request. They probably judged that they would act more in accordance with the religious and philanthropic objects for which that edifice was erected, by letting the room for a series of “ Dramatic Readings," which I learn from advertisements are about to take place there.
mention, however, that they were prepared, not for oral delivery, but for the press.
the first person.
Such being the case, it may strike the reader as strange that I have everywhere spoken in
I have done so advisedly. Taste would have led me to comply with the usual custom-for forms of speech which savour of egotism are not the most graceful. But in a matter of so much importance, I felt it due to the public that the opinions given, or the changes advocated in this volume, should not derive a factitious value from the style in which they are set forth—and the reader, therefore, is perpetually reminded that nothing more than the views of the individual writer is before him, and that, consequently, they have no other authority than their actual conformity with truth may be found to give them. Whether there was need for this deviation from the etiquette of authorship may be fairly disputed—but, assuredly, it has been dictated by an opposite feeling to that of vanity. A few passages in the following pages may be recognised by some as having been addressed to the public in other productions of the writer. They are but few -- and most of them have appeared in an ephemeral form merely. I have not thought it worth while, therefore, to distinguish them. They happened to serve my present purpose—and being my own, I saw no good reason for `rejecting them.
I now submit the volume to the candid attention
of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. It contains matter worthy of serious consideration by all. The evils I have laboured to depict are not confined to any denomination. My illustrations of them are of course drawn from those
with which I am best acquainted—but, with few exceptions, I fancy, the strain of my observations will be found to hold good in reference to all. Most emphatically may it be said of this question, that it is not one of sect or party. The pervading spirit of the book will best explain my motives,