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THE preaching of the gospel is the primary and most efficient agency appointed and employed by infinite wisdom for the conversion of men and the edification of the church. But the circulation of books characterized by a tendency to promote the interests of religion, must be regarded as auxiliary means. There have indeed been times when the auxiliary means have taken the place of the principal, and books have become almost the sole dispensers of religious knowledge.
Before the apostles and evangelists had finished their course, persecution raised his ferocious and infernal visage, and blighted the hopes which had been entertained by the first followers of Jesus. The preachers of truth were driven into corners, or immured in dungeons, or suffered at the stake; but prior to the termination of their career so highly distinguished for its usefulness and importance to the church of God, the Gospels and Epistles, together with the Acts of the Apostles, and the Revelation of John, were, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, composed for the general benefit of every succeeding age.
Those sacred VOL. II.
writings were also transcribed by many a hand with unwearied perseverance, and the copies were distributed amongst the various societies of Christians for their edification and comfort. In their circumstances of persecution, we may easily conceive that the records of truth would be held as precious indeed.
Passing over the instances which exhibit a similarity of situation to that of the primitive Christians, and in which the value of religious books would be estimated at a singularly high rate, the Editor would introduce the case of about two thousand congregations that were at once,* by the Act of Uniformity, deprived of the ministers, who had dispensed among them the word of life, and whom they esteemed very highly in love for their works' sake. Their ministers, however, were not formed of such materials as to cause them to sink into a state of inactivity. If they were not permitted any longer to officiate in their former places of worship, or to address the people when summoned together by the “ church-going bell,” after embracing every opportunity of preaching which presented itself, they retired to their studies and employed their leisure hours in writing, in order to promote the spiritual welfare of the people around them.
In such a state of seclusion, and even when the strong hand of power has shut up the witnesses to the truth within the walls of a prison, some of the most valuable literary productions have originated. When
Aug. 24, 1662.