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The author earnestly recommends the perusal of these works to the younger members of the Nonconformist body, and the re-perusal of them to all. They demonstrate that Nonconformists have a history rich in the records of piety, heroism, and martyrdom, and which is adorned with the names of men, to whom even by the admission of their opponents, England is much indebted for the most precious of her possessions—her civil and religious liberties. Dissenters have no cause to be ashamed of their pedigree, and they would be more convinced of this, if they would make themselves better acquainted with the virtues, the struggles, and the sufferings of their illustrious ancestors : men of whom they are not worthy unless they are prepared to imi. tate their courage and their constancy, their glorious union of exalted piety with their ardent attachment to the cause of freedom.
For much of the information contained in the early pages of the second part, the author is indebted to an elegant volume of Mr. Wreford's, entitled “A Sketch of the History of Presbyterian Nonconformity in Birmingham.”
This work is intentionally and almost exclusively historical, and only incidentally and undesignedly controversial. The author's track, however, is along the border country, where the war of parties is still going on, and perhaps it is hardly to be expected that he will escape attack. Should his apprehensions be realized, it is not his intention to return the fire of any assailant. He has neither time, taste, nor talent for controversy, and is arrived at a period of life, when men usually covet repose rather than conflict. He has written nothing but what he believes to be true and good. Should any one prove that he is mistaken, he has neither the wish nor the pride to defend anything which he has advanced, merely because he has advanced it.
If in the account the author has given of his own church, and of one or two besides, he has been more particular than in reference to others, or than comports with the proper dignity of narrative, this may perhaps be justified on the ground of his own personal interest, or the larger range of history which these churches furnish, and on the supposition that they will be among the persons who will feel most desirous to possess the work. · The usual clerical and characteristic prefix of “Reverend” has been omitted, not because the author has any conscientious scruple about using this conventionality, nor in the way of retaliation for the assumptions of High Churchnen, in appropriating this honour exclusively to themselves, and denying the right of it to Dissenters, but to avoid an unnecessary and wearisome repetition. If at any time the author has advocated his own opinions, or opposed the opinions of others, it has been his endeavour to speak what he considered to be the truth, in love. It were well if all controvertists, especially those who, contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, would remember the very apt illustration of Mr. Hugh Miller, in his late beautiful work, entitled “Foot Prints of the Creator :" speaking in
his preface of certain pseudo philosophers, “I have not from any consideration of the mischief thus effected, written as if arguments, like cannon balls, could be rendered more formidable than in the cool state by being made red-hot.” And the comparison admits of the additional remark, that the artillery-man is much less likely to point his gun with precision when perturbed with passion, than when calm and collected.
The author will now conclude with one remark—that while it has been his desire and his aim to speak respectfully of those from whom he widely differs in sentiment, he does not wish this to be misconstrued into any want of perception of, or indifference to, what he considers to be the error or the danger of their theological opinions, or ecclesiastical systems. Religious sentiment, is in part, and only in part, the bond of ecclesiastical union. There are many with whom we can exchange and enjoy the courtesies of social life, with whom also we can maintain the intercourse, and co-operate in all the works, of citizenship; but with whom, from our extremes of opinion, we cannot in the fullest sense of the term, reciprocate the sympathies of a “like precious faith,” or enjoy the fellowship of Christians.
SKETCH OF THE GENERAL HISTORY OF NONCONFORMITY.
NONCONFORMITY, in relation to existing and prevailing systems of religious doctrine or polity, is no new thing, and should not be considered as pertaining exclusively to this age or to this country. It must be judged of, as regards its moral character, by the grounds on which it rests, and the spirit by which it is actuated. Separation from a system of error, originating in conscience, maintained in a spirit of charity, and avowed with the meekness of wisdom, is not only defensible, but praiseworthy and is indeed demanded by God as an act of allegiance to Him, and to truth.
In almost every age, since the commencement of the Christian era, there have been nonconformists, of some class or other. Such, in fact, were the first Christians in relation to Judaism and Paganism; such were the Cathari or Puritans, as the word signifies, of the third century ; such were Claude, of Turin, and his followers, who were the Protestants of the ninth century amidst the valleys of Piedmont; such were the Albigenses and Waldenses, who held fast their separation from Rome amidst the fortresses of the Alps ; such were Wickliffe and his followers; such were the Lollards and their massacred leader, Lord Cobham, in the time of Henry V.; such were the followers of John Huss and Jerome of Prague ; such, Luther and the Reformers. And what,