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CONTENTS OF VOLUME I.
GEN. XII. 1.-Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kin-
ROMANS XV. 4:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
VARIOUS methods have been employed, at different periods and by different persons, to convey useful knowledge to mankind. The knowledge most useful and most important to man, is that of morals and religion. These sciences not only afford the most pleasant and elevating subjects of meditation, but evidently possess a very powerful influence over human happiness, both in the life which now is, and in that which is to come.
The principles of morality and religion have, by some, been delivered in short, plain, and significant sentences; and have been left to produce their effect, by their own weight and evidence. Public teachers have, at other times, taken pains to explain and enforce these principles; have demonstrated their reasonableness and utility; and have exhibited the criminality, the danger, and the misery, of neglecting or transgressing them. The charms and graces of poetry have been employed to set off the native, modest beauties of truth and virtue, and allegory has spread her veil over them, in order to stimulate our ardour in the pursuit, and to heighten our pleasure in the discovery. The penetration of genius, the enchantment of eloquence, and the creative energy of fancy, have successively lent their aid to those gentle guides of human life, those condescending ministers to human comfort.
The historic page, that faithful and true witness, has been unfolded. Ages and generations elapsed and gone, have been made to pass in review; and the lessons of religion and virtue have been forcibly inculcated, by a fair and impartial disclosure of the effects, which the observance or neglect of them have produced on the affairs of men. And the pencil of history has enriched the canvass, not only with men in groups, but selecting distinguished individuals, delineating them in their just proportions, and enlivening them with the colours of nature, has exhibited a collection of striking portraits, for our entertainment and instruction. In contemplating these we seem to expatiate in a vast gallery of family pictures, and take delight in observing and comparing the various features of the extensive kindred, as they resemble or differ from each other; and through the physiognomy piercing into the heart, we find them, though dead, yet speaking and pleasing companions.
The holy scriptures possess an acknowledged superiority over all other writings, in all the different kinds of literary composition; and in none more, than in that species of historical composition which is called BIOGRAPHY, or a delineation of the fortunes, character and conduct of particular persons: and that, whether the historians be themselves the men whom they describe and record; or whether, from proper sources of information, they record the lives and actions of others.
These Lectures, undertaken at your request, and humbly submitted to your candid and patient attention; and, permit me to add, intended for your religious instruction and improvement, will, through the help of God, present you with a course of SACRED BIOGRAPHY, that is, the more particular and detach ed history of the lives of those eminent and distinguished personages whom Providence raised up, and whom the Holy Spirit has in the scriptures of truth represented, either as patterns for us to imitate, or as objects of disesteem and aversion. We shall endeavour to compare together those which possess more obvious and striking marks of resemblance or of dissimilitude; and they shall be brought, one after another, into comparison with that pure and perfect example of all excellence, which was exhibited by Him, who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners."
Happy will your Lecturer esteem himself, if he shall in any measure attain what he ardently desires, the power of blending profit with delight, for your use the power with which the lively oracles of God furnish him, that of rendering the errors and the vices, as well as the wisdom and the virtue of others, beneficial unto you.
In order to justify the design, for we presume not to answer for the execution, we shall endeavour to shew the propriety and usefulness of this mode of instruction in general, and the peculiar advantages which the sacred writers enjoy, in thus communicating useful knowledge; and which we of course possess, in the diligent and attentive perusal of their writings: and this shall serve as an Introductory Lecture to the Course.
We begin with attempting to shew the propriety and usefulness of conveying instruction, by means of the historical representation of the character and conduct of individuals, as opposed to the object of general history.
Now the professed purpose of all history is, without fear or favour, without partiality or prejudice, to represent men and things as they really are—that goodness may receive its just tribute of praise, and vice meet its deserved censure and condemnation. It is evident, that this end is most easily and most certainly attained, when our attention is confined to one particular object, or to a few at most. This may be judged of by the feelings and operations of the mind, in the contemplation of other objects.
When, from the summit of some lofty mountain, we survey the wide extended landscape; though highly delighted, we feel ourselves bewildered, and overwhelmed, by the profusion and variety of beauties which nature spreads around us. But when we enter into the detail of nature: when we attend the footsteps of a friend through some favoured, beautiful spot, which the eye and the mind can take in at once; feeling ourselves at ease, with undivided, undistracted attention we contemplate the whole; we examine and arrange the parts; the imagination is indeed less expanded, but the heart is more gratified; our pleasure is less violent and tumultuous, but it is more intense, more complete, and continues much longer; what is lost in respect of sublimity, is gained in perspicuity, force, and duration.
Take another instance:-The starry heavens present a prospect equally agreeable to every eye. The delights of a calm, serene evening, are as much relished by the simple and unlettered, as by the philosopher. But who will compare the vague admiration of the child or the clown with the scientific joy of the astronomer, who can reduce into order, what to the untutored eye is involved in confusion; who can trace the path of each little star and, from their past appearances, can calculate, to an instant of time, their future oppositions and conjunctions?
Once more:-It is highly gratifying to find ourselves in the midst of a public assembly of agreeable people of both sexes, and to partake of the general cheerfulness and benevolence. But what are the cheerfulness and benevo