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THE Sermons contained in this volume were preached before the University of Oxford in the years 1846 and 1847, the four first in the office of Select Preacher, the two last on two occasional turns afforded by the kindness of friends. The Essays have been inserted in explanation or illustration of points on which it would have been inappropriate to enlarge in spoken discourses.
In the composition of the volume it is almost needless to say that I have derived great help not only from the works which have more or less treated of the same subject, but from those to whose intercourse and acquaintance, as well as to their actual criticism of these pages, I would here express my deep obligations, which I do not feel the less, because it is impossible more directly to acknowledge them. And, if there are fewer references than might naturally have been expected to the name of one to whom, though not living, this, as well as any similar work which I may be called to undertake, must in great measure be due, it is because I trust that I may be allowed to take this opportunity of vindicating, once for all, for the scholars of Arnold, the privilege and pleasure of using his words and adopting his thoughts without the necessity of specifying in every instance the source from which they have been derived.
It has been my object (as I have implied in the title of these Sermons and Essays) not to enter on the higher questions of Theology involved in “ the “Apostolical Doctrines” of the New Testament, except so far as they are implied in every subject of Christian study, but to confine myself strictly to the consideration of those characters and circumstances which represent most fully “the Aposto“ lical Age,” by exhibiting as far as possible the outward and local image of that which we usually contemplate in its inward and spiritual essence. To have entered on the wider field of the truths themselves which the Gospels and Epistles communicate, or of the general principles of their interpretation and application to the affairs of men, would have required more thought and labour than under the circumstances it was possible to bestow; and for the same reason, even within the narrow compass which I have assigned to myself, many questions necessarily remain untouched, important as some of them may be to the full understanding of the subject, and indefinite as some of my statements must appear by reason of their omission. Enough however will I trust be found of completeness both in the plan and in the subject, to justify a humbler selection, which, if it possesses far less general interest than would have attached to higher and more controverted points, was more easily brought within the limits imposed by the circum
stances of the case, and in itself was naturally suggested by the peculiar studies and pursuits of the place. Such historical representations of the first age of Christianity, as I have here ventured to attempt, are so necessary to a right interpretation of many parts of the New Testament, as well as so instructive in themselves, that there has been hardly any age of the Church in which they have not been more or less frequent. Cave's Lives of the Apostles and Butler's Lives of the Saints are familiar instances in which the individual human characters of the several Apostles have been exhibited at considerable length. And it is natural to expect that a branch of sacred criticism, to which so much attention was paid under the manifold disadvantages of former times, should not be neglected now, amidst our many additional means of investigating and illustrating the events of past times, and at a time when the reasons for endeavouring to form a lively conception of the scenes of Scripture history have been certainly increased rather than diminished. The language indeed and the form of such works must vary with the wants felt by different ages of the Church; and the requisitions of the nineteenth century necessarily differ from those of the eighteenth, in which most of our existing histories of the Apostolic age were framed. Such changes are however incidental to every endeavour to approximate the state of religious knowledge to that of the period in which we live ; and whether