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AMONG the “ Tracts for the Times," there are several pieces which perhaps, in the opinion of some, might as well have been left out in this republication—either as relating exclusively to the condition of the Established Church of England, or as not possessing any special intrinsic importance. These pieces are, however, so few in comparison with the whole, that their admission will not affect the price of this edition ; and it has been thought that the majority of readers would be better pleased to have a complete collection of writings which, taken in themselves and in the influence they are exerting, are certainly to be ranked among the most remarkable publications of the age. It has therefore been determined to make this edition an exact reprint of the whole series.
The present republication will also include the “Plain Sermons by Contributors to the Tracts for the Times,” together with such other writings connected with the Oxford Theology as in the judgment of the Editor are of the greatest interest and value. The Editor wishes it to be distinctly understood that these latter works will consist of entire treatises precisely as they have been published by their respective authors. He is averse to extracts and selections generally; but in the present case he would especially shrink from the responsibility of doing anything which might be liable to the suspicion of presenting a partial or unfair exhibition of the principles and views of men whose writings have produced such a remarkable movement in the public mind, and who would ask for nothing so earnestly as to be accurately and thoroughly comprehended on both hands, by those who condemn and by those who approve them.
This republication has been commenced from the conviction that these writings are even more important for this country than for that in which they first appeared. For while in the bosom of the Episcopal Church of this country, from influences derived from the non-juring period of English Church History, and from our Church having no connection with the State, it has resulted that some of the leading doctrines of the Oxford divines, relating to the constitution of the Church, and to the Ministry, have been better preserved than in the English Establishment, yet on the other hand, from a variety of causes, loose and vague views in regard to the value of antiquity, the authority of the Church, the doctrine of the Sacraments, etc., are widely prevalent, it is apprehended, even in the Episcopal body, and still more in the religious community at large; and for these evils the corrective influence of these writings is perhaps more needful than in England.
One observation more the Editor thinks it important to make. An adequate judgment of the scope and character of the “ Tracts for the Times” can scarcely be formed but from the whole seriesat least a very imperfect impression of their value and excellence, as a whole, will be given from the earlier numbers of the series. But the reader may be confidently assured that, as he proceeds, he will find his interest in them continually increasing,—that questions of the highest moment that can possibly engage a rational being are treated in a spirit of deep and reverential piety, by men who have come to their work with minds stored with the best fruits of solid learning and profound meditation.
That the Divine blessing may be upon the present enterprise, is the devout prayer of the AMERICAN EDITOR.
The following Tracts were published with the object of contributing something towards the practical revival of doctrines, which, although held by the great divines of our Church, at present have become obsolete with the majority of her members, and are withdrawn from public view even by the more learned and orthodox few who still adhere to them. The Apostolic succession, the Holy Catholic Church, were principles of action in the minds of our predecessors of the 17th century; but, in proportion as the maintenance of the Church has been secured by law, her ministers have been under the temptation of leaning on an arm of flesh instead of her own divinely-provided discipline, a temptation increased by political events and arrangements which need not here be more than alluded to. A lamentable increase of sectarianism has followed; being occasioned (in addition to other more obvious causes,) first, by the cold aspect which the new Church doctrines have presented to the religious sensibilities of the mind, next to their meagerness in suggesting motives to restrain it from seeking out a more influential discipline. Doubtless obedience to the law of the land, and the careful maintenance of “decency and order,” (the topics in usage among us,) are plain duties of the Gospel, and a reasonable ground for keeping in communion with the Established Church ; yet, if Providence has graciously provided for our weakness more interesting and constraining motives, it is a sin thanklessly to neglect them; just as it would be a mistake to rest the duties of temperance or justice on the mere law of natural religion, when they are mercifully sanctioned in the Gospel by the more winning authority of our Saviour Christ. Experience has shown the inefficacy of the mere injunctions of Church
order, however scripturally enforced, in restraining from schism the awakened and anxious sinner; who goes to a dissenting preacher “ because (as he expresses it) he gets good from him:" and though he does not stand excused in God's sight for yielding to the temptation, surely the Ministers of the Church are not blameless if, by keeping back the more gracious and consoling truths provided for the little ones of Christ, they indirectly lead him into it. Had he been taught as a child, that the Sacraments, not preaching, are the sources of Divine Grace: that the Apostolical ministry had a virtue in it which went out over the whole Church, when sought by the prayer of faith; that fellowship with it was a gift and privilege, as well as a duty, we could not have had so many wanderers from our fold, nor so many cold hearts within it.
This instance may suggest many others of the superior influence of an apostolical over a mere secular method of teaching. The awakened mind knows its wants, but cannot provide for them; and in its hunger will feed upon ashes, if it cannot obtain the pure milk of the word. Methodism and Popery, are in different ways the refuge of those whom the Church stints of the gifts of grace ; they are the foster-mothers of abandoned children. The neglect of the daily service, the desecration of festivals, the Eucharist scantily administered, insubordination permitted in all ranks of the Church, orders and offices imperfectly developed, the want of societies for particular religious objects, and the like deficiencies lead the feverish mind, desirous of a vent to its feelings, and a stricter rule of life, to the smaller religious Communities, to prayer and bible meetings, and ill-advised institutions and societies, on the one hand,-on the other, to the solemn and captivating services by which Popery gains its proselytes. Moreover, the multitude of men cannot teach or guide themselves ; and an injunction given them to depend on their private judgment, cruel in itself, is doubly hurtful, as throwing them on such teachers as speak daringly and promise largely, and not only aid but supersede individual exertion.
These remarks may serve as a clue, for those who care to pursue it, to the views which have led to the publication of the following Tracts. The Church of Christ was intended to cope with human nature in all its forms, and surely the gifts vouchsafed it are adequate for that gracious purpose. There are zealous sons and servants of