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At the time when the following Lectures were first begun, the politi. cal, moral, and religious state of this kingdom, wore a very unfavourable aspect, and excited no small degree of uneasiness and alarm in every serious and reflecting mind. The enemies of this country were almost every where triumphant abroad, and its still more formidable enemies at home were indefatigably active in their endeavours to diffuse the poison of disaffection, infidelity, and contempt of the holy Scriptures, through every part of the kingdom, more especially aniong the lower orders of the people, by the most offensive and impious publications; while at the same time it must be acknowledged, that among too many of the higher classes, there prevailed, in the midst of all our distresses, a spirit of dissipation, profusion, and voluptuous gaiety, ill suited to the gloominess of our situation, and ill calculated to secure to us the protection of heaven against the various dangers that menaced us on every side. Under these circumstances, it seemed to be the duty of every friend to religion, morality, good order, and good government, and more especially of the ministers of the Gospel, to exert every power and every talent with which God had blessed them, in order to counteract the baneful effects of those pestilential writings which every day issued from the press; to give some check to the growing relax. ation of public manners; to state plainly and forcibly the evidences of our faith, and the genuine doctrines of our religion, the true principles of submission to our lawful governors, the mode of conduct in every relation of life which the Gospel prescribes to us; and to vindicate the truth, dignity, and divine authority of the sacred writings. All this, after much deliberation, I conceived could in no other way be so effectually done as by having recourse to those writings themselves, by going back to the very fountain of truth and holiness, and by drawing from that sacred source the proofs of its own celestial origin, and all the evangelical virtues springing from it, and branching out into the various duties of civil, social and domestic life.
The result was, that I resolved on discharging my share of these weighty obligations, by giving Lectures on the Gospel of St. Matthew, in my own parish church of St. James, Westminster, every Friday in Lent; which at the same time that it promoted my principal object, might also draw a little more attention to that holy, but too much neglected season, which our Church has very judiciously set apart for the purpose of retirement and recollection, and of giving some little pause and respite to the ceaseless occupations and amusements of a busy and a thoughtless world. I fore, saw, however, many difficulties in the undertaking, particularly in drawing together any considerable number of people to a place of public worship, for any length of time, on a common day of the week. But it pleased God to bless the attempt with a degree of success far beyond every thing I could have expected or imagined. And as I have been assured that several even of those amongst my audience, that disbelieved or doubted the truth of Christianity, were impressed with a more favourable opinion both of its evidences and its doctrines, and with a higher veneration for the sacred writings than they had before entertained, I am willing to flatter myself that similar impressions may possibly be made on some of that description, who may chance to cast their eyes on these pages; and that they may also tend in some degree to confirm the faith and invigorate the good resolutions of many sincere believers in the Gospel. With this hope I now offer them to the world, and particularly to those whom Providence has placed under my more immediate superintendance, and to whom I am desirous to bequeath this (perhaps) last public testimony of my solicitude for their everlasting welfare. And whatever errors, imperfections, or accidental repetitions (arising from the recurrence of the same subjects in the sacred narra. tive) the critical reader may discover in this work; he will, I trust, be disposed to think them entitled to some degree of indulgence, when he refleets that it was not a very easy task to adapt either the matter or the language of such discourses as these to the various characters, conditions, circumstances, capacities, and wants of all those different ranks of people to whom they were addressed ; and when he is also told that these Lectures were drawn up at a very advanced period of life, and not in the ease and tranquility of literary retirement, but at short broken intervals of time, such as could be stolen from the incessant occupations of an arduous and laborious station, which would not admit of sufficient leisure for profound research or finished composition.
OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
LECTURE I. FEB. 23, 1798.