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The subject of this volume is one upon which much has already been written, and written so well, that it may seem almost a work of supererogation to write more. What is important to the public, however, is not so much the existence of good books as the accessibleness of them; and the principal value of the present performance (if it have any) will be, that it presents in a small compass and at a cheap rate, information gleaned from many and more expensive volumes.
Of works touching incidentally on the working of the voluntary principle in the United States, the most valuable is undoubtedly Drs. Reed and Matheson's narrative of their visit to the American Churches, published in 1835. Two books have been produced on this subject exclusively. The first of them is by Dr. Lang--Religion and Education in America—the fruit of a visit to the States in 1839 and 1840 : the second is by Dr. Baird, an American Presbyterian minister, entitled Religion in the United States, and published in 1843. The former of these volumes contains much excellent matter ; but the latter exhausts the entire subject. For facts, as they were at the period of his writing, Dr. Baird, as a minister of high standing and long experience in the United States, is, of course, himself an authority; and for matters of history, as having access to all the best sources of information, he is scarcely less so. In this latter particular a writer in this country is necessarily at a disadvantage. Such original works as I have been able to find, however, I have consulted ; and I have in all cases found Dr. Baird's use of them so correct and so just, that I place in his citations an entire confidence. Those who have read Dr. Baird's book will find that I have made much use of it. I could not do otherwise, and I readily acknowledge my obligation.
In addition to Dr. Baird's volume, and as a kind of appendix to it, containing the most recent intelligence, there is great value in the statistical paper which he read before the Conference of the British Organization of the Evangelical Alliance, on the 30th of August last. I have made use of it as it appeared in the columns of the Christian Times newspaper, of September 6th.
This little performance, however, is far from being either an abridgment of Dr. Baird, or an imitation of him. Without a possibility of being original, it is assuredly not servile; and I trust I do not deceive myself in hoping that I have put the matter which is pertinent to the very important question I have handled, in a more compact and readable form than
any in which it has hitherto appeared before the British public.
LONDON, September 16, 1851.
TEST OF EXPERIENCE.
In a case in which opposite opinions are strongly entertained, it is difficult to render an argument conclusive. If something not wanting in weight may be advanced on one side, something scarcely (in the opinion of its propounders) less weighty may be urged on the other; and much, perhaps, may be said on both. In such circumstances it is a great felicity when a debated question is capable of being subjected to a practical test. If the result of applying such a test is clear and certain, an experimental argument is obtained of far greater power and conclusiveness than a host of speculations.
The question of national religious establishments is one on which it has, by both parties, been found very hard to produce conviction. The advocates of the compulsory principle, indeed, find much to say; but, after all, the promoters of the voluntary principle retain as unshaken a conviction as their opponents. Now it seems as though it might contribute to help the argument out of this difficulty-which, to use an American term, might not unaptly be called a fixif one could discover a practical test, and submit the volun