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Opportunos magnis conatibus transitus rerum."-Tacitus, Hist. I. 21.
An outline of the matter contained in the following pages, was originally delivered in the form of Lectures, addressed to an audience composed chiefly of persons belonging to the middle rank of life. The subject having excited some interest, I was solicited by several persons who had heard the course, to publish it; and as this request was urged independently from different quarters, I was induced to give my consent, before I had well considered the task which I was undertaking. For, on reading over my manuscript, I perceived its unfitness to communicate such full and distinct views of the subject as could alone justify its being committed to the press, without very considerable enlargement and alteration, for which, though not wholly unprovided, I found it would be necessary to collect more ample materials. The whole work, therefore, has been recast—very little of the original course remaining, except the general design, a large portion of the introductory chapter, and a few passages interspersed through the subsequent portions of the work. An apology would be due to the friends who requested the publication, for offering them something so different from what they had asked, were I not persuaded, that, imperfect as the work still is, all the changes made have rendered it less so, and that, in its primitive form, it would have been wholly unworthy of their acceptance.
The idea which possessed my mind, when I first sketched out the plan of this volume, was the desirableness of embracing in a common point of view, the phænomena of the different religious parties, whose unintermitted strife and sharp contrast of manners and opinions, have given such a deep and varied interest to the spiritual history of England, especially during the three centuries which have elapsed since the Reformation. In pursuing this idea, I have tried to discover the governing principle and understand the characteristic working of each party—to apprehend their mutual relation--to shew how they have occa
sionally passed off into each other—and out of their joint operation, to trace the evolution of a more comprehensive principle, which looks above the narrowness of their respective views, and, allying itself with the essential elements of the Christian faith, may in time perhaps devise some me. thod of reconciling an unlimited freedom and variety of the religious life with the friendliness and mutual recognition of universal brotherhood. Such an idea, however, is more easy to conceive than to execute. The more I have read, the more I have felt the inadequacy of my materials for fully developing it; and though every fresh inquiry has confirmed me in my general view, I am conscious, that, with ampler opportunities of research, and more leisure for concentrated thought, I could have produced a more useful and satisfactory book. But it would not be right to defer any longer the redemption of the pledge I have given, or to abstract more time from the immediate duties of my station, with which the preparation of this volume has already too much interfered. My hope is, that with all its deficiencies, it may
still be of some use to the class for which it was at first designed.