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Copyright, 1896, by
The last few years have witnessed a real revival of interest in the subject of Puritanism. It has been studied with an earnestness and thoroughness which has not been equalled in the present century. It is difficult to determine the cause of this revival. Since the meeting of the International Council of Congregational Churches, which convened in London in 1891, the interest has been on the increase in England and in America, and several important works on the subject have appeared in both countries. Among them all, few, if any, have been more scholarly or comprehensive than the one which it is now my privilege to introduce to American readers. Its characteristics are perspicuity and careful scholarship. Its style is admirably clear, and the arrangement of the topics careful and discriminating, so that they may be easily read and remembered. It is essentially what its author styles it—a “handbook.” I do not know any volume which, within the same limits, presents so much and such valuable information on the subject with which it deals.
The author, the Rev. J. Gregory, of Edinburgh, has not heretofore been known in this country. He belongs to the class of quiet but earnest students who are known to
the world by their publications rather than by the positions which they may occupy in society or in public affairs. He is now in the prime of life, being, I believe, still under fifty years of age. He was educated at New College, London, and for a number of years was pastor of a prominent church in Leeds. From that he was called to succeed the Rev. Dr. Lindsay Alexander, in the pastorate of the Church of St. Angustine, in Edinburgh. Dr. Alexander was one of the most eminent preachers and theologians of the present century in the Scottish capital. He was a man of wonderful power, both as a thinker and as an orator. Perhaps no theologian among the Independent churches of the past generation has more strongly impressed himself upon the thought and life of that country. That our author was called to succeed such a man in the pastorate of the leading Congregational Church in the great university city, is testimony enough to his intellectual strength and spiritual earnestness. He retained that pastorate for about fifteen years. He is a man of large ability, wide reading, and is greatly loved by his friends. As chairman of the Congregational Union of Scotland, in 1890, he gave an address from the Chair on “The Church and Social Problems,” which attracted much attention. For years Mr. Gregory has been a student of Puritan times, and this book has been eagerly awaited by the friends who have known that it was in process of preparation.
Such works as this help greatly to clear the way for what many of us believe must come sooner or latersome kind of unity in the Christian Church. Before there can be unity either of spirit or of organization there must be first an accurate and sympathetic understanding of the
principles for which the various denominations stand. Until recently there has been little attempt on the part of Puritans to understand those who put emphasis upon the doctrine of the church, and on the part of Anglicans and Episcopalians little honest effort to understand the principles and motives of Puritanism. The latter have studied the doctrine of the Church, and the former have very generally ignored it. The revival of interest in the subject has led, of late, to a more candid examination of the doctrine. The result in all parts of the world has been a conviction that somehow the scandal of a divided Christendom ought to be removed. But there are practical difficulties in the way, and little progress has as yet been made. In the meantime, we are gradually learning that unity can not be realized by the sacrifice of principles, but only as all Christians come to estimate at their true value those phases of truth to which each denomination has been chosen to give prominence.
Such works as those of the late Dr. Dexter, Dr. John Brown, of Bedford, and that which I am now commending to American readers, have performed a real service in showing that Puritanism is more than a protest. It represents at least one hemisphere of the doctrine of the church-that doctrine is a sphere with two poles, namely, the independence of the individual and the local church, and the union of all Christians and all local churches in one undivided body. It has been difficult for most thinkers to realize that while these truths are opposed to each other, they are not antagonistic. Books like this of Mr. Gregory ought to be widely read, especially by those who differ from the positions which he takes. From it they will learn that Puritanism had its origin in a profound religious
experience, and that it has a continuity, reaching not only to apostolic times, but even to the days of the prophets. They will also better appreciate the truth that before the church can be one a broad and large place must be made for those whose fundamental belief is that each individual soul may come into direct contact with the Infinite Spirit, and that the Church of Christ is composed of all who from Jesus Christ have received the Divine life. Not by shutting our eyes to the beliefs of those who differ from us, but rather by a reverent and careful study of their teachings shall we come to that appreciation of the grounds of difference which is a necessary condition of the ultimate unity of the Church. As a book well calculated to help in this preliminary but important work, I commend to American readers “Puritanism in the Old World and in the New."
AMORY H. BRADFORD.
First Congregational Church,
Montclair, New Jersey.