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The importance of the subject treated of, and the rank which it holds in the word of God, among the doctrines and duties of christianity; the backwardness of mankind to attend to it, in proportion to that importance; and an apprehension that it is not insisted on, either from the pulpit or the press, so frequently and strenuously in our times, as it was in the days of the apostles; form, collectively, the reasons which induced me to this publication. Much ignorance, and various hurtful and perplexing mistakes and difficulties about repentance, may be observed, both amongst professors of serious godliness and others: I therefore thought, that it might not be unseasonable, or unprofitable, to publish a discourse upon the subject.
My first intention was only to send to the press the substance of a sermon, which I had repeatedly preached; but the same reasons influenced me, upon mature consideration, to complete the design, as far as I was capable; though the size and price are both by that means increased.
Some passages may be judged to bear hard upon certain popular sentiments, and current species of religion. I have indeed very plainly spoken my mind respecting several things, which I am convinced are detrimental to the cause of pure religion: but I hope I have not transgressed the rules of meekness and candour. Even wise and good men, in their zeal for one part of divine truth, may drop unguarded expressions, which bear an interpretation injurious to another part of equal importance; and thus, undesignedly, by their reputation give sanction to error. This our artful and Watchful enemy will be sure to observe, and make his advantage of, in opposing true religion; by which some may be deceived, others hardened, and religion itself exposed to contempt and reproach.
It behoves, then, other friends of religion, who are witnesses of such perversions, to oppose and obviate them: nor must the reputation of some, or the censure of others, among their fellow-servants, be regarded, when the glory of God, the interests of religion, and the salvation of souls are at stake. Were some pious men, now in glory, to return on earth, and witness the abuse that has been made of certain indiscreet expressions which they employed, they would be the first to approve every endeavour to counteract their fatal tendency. With all plainness and freedom I would plead the cause of truth and holiness; but would give no needless offence to any man. May that God whom I would " serve with my spirit in "the gospel of his Son," powerfully succeed this feeble attempt to promote his glory in the salvation of souls!
More than eighteen years having now elapsed since this discourse was first published, and the Author having in that time had much opportunity of comparing what he had written, both with the scriptures, and with the state of religion at present; after carefully revising the work, he thinks it incumbent on him to annex to this sixth edition a declaration, that he is more than ever convinced, that the real nature of true repentance is here described; that there can be no saving faith where this repentance is wanting; that many false views of Christianity may be detected by this touchstone; and that the necessity and nature of true repentance- are generally too little insisted on in evangelical instructions.
Aston Sandford, April 19, 1803.
N. B. The above declaration was continued and renewed by the Author in every subsequent edition.—J. S.