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The ensuing sermon was preached merely as a practical improvement of the affecting providence which gave occasion to it, and for the edification of the single congregation before whom it was delivered, without the least view to its publication. Some of the audience having been considerably affected and quickened by hearing it, and hoping that others might derive similar advantage from perusing it, suggested, several days after, the first idea of printing it.
Still, however, it would probably have gone no further, had not some hints from a very respectable quarter1 induced me to set about transcribing the substance of it. The same enlarged zeal and benelence which have dictated and patronized so many measures for the glory of God, and the temporal and spiritual good of mankind, approving of and countenancing this feeble endeavour, have determined the publication.
Not having notes, I could not possibly send to the press precisely the same sermon I delivered from the pulpit. Want of recollection, at some distance of time, must cause numberless lesser vanations. Others I judged it proper to make intentionally; abridging, omitting, adding, and altering, as seemed most calculated for usefulness. Especially it was necessary more exactly to state, more fully to elucidate, and more strongly to argue some points before an impartial public, than was needful before a candid and favourable audience. Though the substance therefore of the sermon is the same, in the method, argument, and application; yet those who were present when it was delivered will perceive considerable alterations.
1 John Thornton, Esq. whose sister Dr. Conyers had married.—J. S.
But the grand difference is unavoidable : I mean the difference in point of animation between speaking in public, and writing in the study. This gives to extemporary preaching its grand advantage; alone countervails a varietyof disadvantages; and renders it so generally more acceptable to those who have got accustomed to it. But, when the sermon is printed, it loses all this advantage: and no wonder that the same truths make not the same impression. Hence many sermons, well received from the pulpit, are totally disregarded when published. As I have apprehensions that the same persons who requested the publication may be disappointed on the perusal, I would give them this intimation of the real cause. I can only say, I have done all I was capable of, though much less than I desired, to keep up the animation.
However, the subject and occasion being so interesting, and I hope treated in a plain, serious, and practical manner, according to the oracles of God, I am encouraged to expect some good from it to the souls of men. Being desirous of practising, as well as preaching, an active preparation for the closing scene; and to occupy with my talent, such as it is, till my Lord come; many judgments concurring that the publication might do some good, and could do no harm, I hesitated no longer.
To the glory of that Lord, whose, at least, I desire to be, and whom I would serve, I devote this feeble endeavour to promote practical godliness. To his blessing I humbly recommend it, and sincerely beseech him to accompany the perusal with the efficacious operations of his Spirit; that, "at that "day," the writer and the readers may rejoice and praise his name together, for the benefit he hath by means thereof communicated to their souls.
June 7, 1786.