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To lead an inquiring sinner in the way to Christ, or a renewed soul to more intimate communion with him, all lawful means become important, as under the divine blessing they have proved effectual. But probably no one in the whole list of means of spiritual good, is more generally found useful, than the records of the experience of those who have heretofore travel. led in the road to life eternal. There is an identity in the principles of spiritual religion in all ages, and in all cases, which renders the personal experience of the servants of the living God, in its general points, every where the same. So that the history of those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, and the results of the operations of his Spirit upon their minds, as displayed in their private diaries and meditations, become a continually increasing treasure for the Church, and a witness living through succeeding generations, of the spiritual power of God. This source of instruction and guidance in the way of refreshment and peace, is beautifully referred to in the Song of Solomon. When the Church asks, “ Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon ?"' the
direction given in reply, is “ If thou know not, go thy way forth, by the footsteps of the flock.” The path in which others have trodden in every age, is the path in which we are also to walk, and “the footsteps of the flock," as they are marked before us, will guide us to that rest in which it terminates, and which he whom our souls love, has provided for those who belong to him.
The natural condition of all men from Adam, as it regards their relation to God, and their dispositions towards him, is the same—" all have sinned,” nay “ are dead in sins.” The power by which they are renewed to holiness, and enabled to embrace the righteousness of God by faith, is also the same the mighty power of the Holy Ghost." The image and character, after which they are new created, is in all instances the same divine and spotless image of God. And the subject, the principles, and the pattern of grace, being thus always alike, the process in which this new creation is effected, is in each case the same also. The work of divine power and love which is accomplished, in bringing one unholy heart to submit to God, is but the sample of unnumbered thousands of similar divine operations. Each converted sinner is set forth as a pattern of divine long-suffering, to them who should hereafter believe. And “the footsteps of the flock," are found for every successive age, an invaluable guide in the way of holiness.
This instrument of spiritual good, the Holy Scriptures have very extensively displayed and used. A
INTRODUCTORY ESSAY.... vii. large portion of the sacred influence which they are made to exercise upon the hearts of the children of God, arises from their infallible details of the personal, experience of his children, in the ages in which they were written. Their abstract principles of truth be. come living and acting ministers of grace, as they are seen embodied in the varied trials and aspects of cha- ' racter, of men of like passions with ourselves, who have overcome in all their conflicts, and have entered into their rest. The history of David, in connexion with the records of his spiritual attainments, in the Psalms.—The story of suffering and sorrow which is told of the deeply sensitive Jeremiah, united with the accounts of the workings of his own mind under the influence of grace.-And in a later age, though with the same principle, the painful detail of hazard and distress which is given of the Apostle Paul, illustrated by the history which he presents of the progress of grace in his soul, in his various epistles : these, and many other similar instances in the sacred writings, are found to be of peculiar benefit to the Christian, be. cause they are registers of facts, and show not only what God can do in the restoration of sinful men, but what he actually has done, to make his goodness and his power known. These saints of former days, who stand up in their place in the divine word, as witnesses for God, are not peculiarities in his plan of grace-no exceptions from his general rule. They find the counterpart of their history, in those who have tasted the good word of God, and known the grace of
God in truth, in every succeeding generation of the - Church. Accordingly, all that they have written of
themselves, and of the power of grace upon their hearts, remains as a most profitable source of instruction to all who have since obtained like precious faith with them;—and the Bible continues to be an instrument of unceasing good ; not only because it speaks with divine authority, by the inspiration of God, but because it relates the wonderful works of God, in the conversion and sanctification of so many redeemed souls.
This principle, which renders the inspired record of the character and the meditations of men known to be the servants of God, so useful to us, even in these last days, affixes also an important value to similar histories of the experience of later servants of God, transmitted to us from age to age. It is true, that later histories can never be guides in the same degree profitable, as the stories of the word of truth, because there will necessarily be a less degree of confidence, in the relations of uninspired men. But then, we have this more sure word of prophecy, by which to try the spirits whether they are of God; and in proportion as we become convinced, that the individuals before us have walked in the way of life, will their footsteps be found a helpful guide. :
In religious biography, particularly that kind of biography which lays open in a private and free diary the intimate workings of the heart, and the state of the affections towards God; and in the meditations