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, etc., originally published at Oxford in 1661, must have been highly esteemed abroad, as it was reprinted at Bremen in 1684, and at Franeker in 1700. f3 In Scotland, the influence exerted by Owen’s writings has been very great.
They imbued with their own manly, solid, and scriptural character, the warm and evangelical theology of the early fathers of the Scottish Secession, — in some respects the only distinctive school of theology which Scotland has produced. The best modern edition of his commentary on the Hebrews we owe to the care and industry of Dr Wright, a minister of the Established Church in Stirling. In the list of subscribers to a folio volume of Owen’s works, there are twenty names connected with the nobility, and of these, fifteen belong to Scotland.
So early as the year 1721, the project seems to have been seriously entertained of collecting and publishing, in a series of uniform volumes, a complete edition of his works. A large and elegant folio, to which we have just referred, then issued from the London press, containing his Sermons, his Tracts (either already published or existing hitherto as manuscript in the possession of his friends), and the Latin Orations which he delivered when vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford. Prefixed to it is an excellent likeness of Owen, and it is dedicated to Sir John Hartopp, who had been his intimate friend, and who, at the advanced age of eighty-four, still survived him, and contributed the most important materials in the Memoir of his Life by Asty, which appears at the commencement of the volume. Although Asty signed the epistle dedicatory, and wrote the memoir, the preface is subscribed by other names as well as his own, — John Nesbitt, Matthew Clarke, Thomas Ridgley, D.D., and Thomas Bradbury, eminent Independent ministers in London. From this preface we learn that these gentlemen were desirous to publish all the treatises of Owen in volumes corresponding in size and appearance with the one ushered under their auspices into public notice. There was a large body of subscribers to it, amounting in number to three hundred and seventy-five.
The editors, accordingly, felt themselves bound to acknowledge the “uncommon encouragement” which as yet they had received to persevere in their undertaking. The scheme, however, proved abortive; — nothing appeared in addition to the volume which we have just described. The circumstance is much to be regretted, as the editors evince a laudable degree of care in their task, so far as it had proceeded. The memory of Owen was yet fresh, and no difficulty at that time would have been experienced in collecting all the genuine productions of a divine to whose literary industry the Church of Christ had been se largely indebted. It would seem to have been the practice of that age, whenever any author died whose works had commanded an extensive circulation in religious society, immediately to issue a collected edition of them in volumes of folio size, according to the prevailing task. Manton died in 1677, and during the years 1681-1691 his works were collected into five such volumes. Thomas Goodwin died in 1679, and the five volumes of his collected works were issued from to 1696. Charneck died in 1680, and forthwith, in 1684, his works were published in two volumes. Flavel died in 1691, and in 1701 the edition of his works in two volumes was printed. Bates died in 1699, and in the following year a volume, including all his productions, was given to the public. Howe died in 1705, and a complete edition of his works, in two volumes, appeared in 1724. It may seem storage that it should have fared differently with the works of Owen, whoso name towers into just preeminence among all his venerable compeers in Puritan literature. It serves to illustrate the comparative extent of his labors, as well as to indicate, perhaps, the special difficulty which may have prevented the same honor and service being rendered to his memory by the publication of his collected works, when we bear in mind that one of them, his Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, occupies of itself alone — four goodly folios.
Several treatises of Owen have won for themselves a high place in the standard theology of our country, and have, accordingly, during the last century, passed through innumerable editions; but it was not till 1826 that another and more successful effort was made to enrich our theological literature with a uniform edition of all his works. The credit of this undertaking is due to the enterprise of Mr Baynes, the London publisher.
The edition was comprised in twenty-one octavo volumes, — the first, however, consisting of the Memoir of Owen’s Life and Writings by Mr Orme, — and was printed under the editorial care of Mr Russell, a Dissenting minister in the neighborhood of London. As the first attempt f4 to collect the works of Owen, — an attempt, the difficulty of which may be inferred from the fact that in his lifetime Owen himself had for years lost sight of some of his own treatises, — and to publish them in a respectable form, it deserved well of the Christian public; and was indeed favourably received, for the subscribers to it rose to the number of three hundred and forty-six, and the impression, it is believed, has been long since exhausted.
The price at which, whether from its scarcity or its size, the edition of 1826 stood, prevented many from purchasing it who cherished an admiration for the writings of this great Nonconformist divine. A strong desire was evinced, in various ways, that his works might be issued in a form more accessible to the generality of the religious community. The publishers of the present edition lay claim to nothing more than the discernment by which they were led to mark, and the zeal with which they have endeavored to supply, what was felt to be a want and desideratum by the public. They have been fully justified in the belief under which they were induced to embark in this undertaking, by the number of subscribers to this edition, — a number almost unprecedented in the history of religious publications, and extending to nearly three thousand.
They had hardly begun to print, before they became aware, on a thorough examination of the previous edition, from which they intended to print, that on other grounds besides the scarcity of the former one, a new edition was imperatively required. It would be invidious to animadvert in disparaging terms on the manner in which the works of Owen have been generally published. Every effort to extend the knowledge of them is entitled to a cordial meed of approbation. It is but justice to the reader, however, that he should be informed on what principles the editorship of the present issue of His works has been conducted.
It was necessary that, in the simple matter of printing, greater accuracy should be studied than appears in previous editions. From the first, the publications of our author suffered greatly in this respect, He complains that the “Theologoumena” had been much disfigured with errors, “nobis a praelo a capite ad calcem operis absentibus.” He appends a humorous note to his treatise entitled, “Salus Electorum Sauguis Iesu; or, the Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” which we may quote, as illustrating how the inaccuracies in the old editions may have arisen. In reference to a list of errata that follows, he says, “I must inform the reader, that I cannot own any of His censures until he shall have corrected these errata, and allowed, besides, many grains for literal faults, viz., parius for parvus, let for set, him for them, and the like; also mispointing and false accenting of Greek words, occasioned by my distance from the press; and something else, of which it would be too much tyranny in making the printer instrumental in the divulging.” Subsequent editions evince little improvement in this direction. Even the edition of 1826 — though manifesting some advance in point of correct printing — is not what it might have been.
No liberties have been taken with the text of the author. On the contrary, in order to restore it to its original purity, a diligent comparison has been instituted between recent editions Of his works and the original edition, or at least some edition which, having been published during the lifetime of Owen, may be supposed to have been given to the public with his corrections, and, under his own superintendence. Wherever any alteration seemed requisite, or an omission needed to be supplied, the words added have been placed in brackets, in order to distinguish them from the author’s text. Slight grammatical errors have been corrected, but no change has been made on the venerable archaisms which sometimes occur in the modes of thought and expression which he was in the habit of using. Some accommodation of this kind to the usages. of modern language may be quite proper in the publication of any of HIS treatises for popular use; but in a standard edition of his works such a course is altogether inexpedient. It seems a breach of faith with the author. It would unsettle the landmarks of British literature. It is demanded by no necessity, as hardly any words employed by Owen have become so obsolete as to be now unintelligible.
In order, therefore, that the mind of our author should be expressed in His works in its full idiosyncrasy, it was felt a duty to abstain from any rash intermeddling with the costume of his thoughts, and to adhere with scrupulous jealousy to the ancient text.
The punctuation has undergone a thorough revisal. Passages which, from negligence in this respect, were previously very obscure, have brightened into significance, so as even to impart to the style a measure of clearness and animation of which it might have been deemed incapable. In the more important treatises, we have endeavored to make a judicious and sparing restoration of the Italics, of which copious use is made in the old editions.
They were employed, not merely for the purpose of emphasis, but to indicate quotations, and the train of thought. Quotations are now denoted by the ordinary marks in modem printing. The Italics are retained, where emphasis seems to have been designed, and where they tend to give connection and vividness to the composition.
In common with the authors of that age, Owen indulged freely in divisions and subdivisions of any topic under his consideration. The numerals employed to indicate the progress of thought were found in much confusion, — omissions occurring even in the early editions which appeared before the author’s death, and changes having been subsequently introduced (of course without the author’s sanction), which often destroy the connection and force of his statements, and bewilder his readers in a labyrinthine maze of numeration. Care has been taken to rectify these errors, and the subdivisions are denoted by the usual gradation in the numerals — I, 1, (1), , first, and first . It would have been an advantage if we could have dispensed with this cumbrous and complex apparatus; but such a course would have been questionable in principle, and indeed, on a little examination, will be seen to have been impossible.
The Scripture references demanded serious attention. A score of errors has sometimes been detected in a single sheet. Occasionally, moreover, when the words of Scripture were quoted, whether from mistakes in transcription and printing, or in consequence of the quotations having been made from memory, several inaccuracies have been noticed. These have been all corrected. No attempt, however, has been made to interfere, when it was evident that the author, as he sometimes does, purposely varied the translation of the authorized version of the Scriptures, in order to elicit more fully the import of the original.
Perhaps the works of Owen have suffered most injustice in regard to his quotations from the Greek and Latin Fathers. Even the editions which were printed when he was himself alive, here abound in errors to a degree that is a scandal to the British press. The circumstance can only be explained from the pressure of multifarious duties leaving the author little time to attend to the details in the printing of his own works. It would seem that this task was often devolved on others, who, in the department of the Greek and Latin citations, have not given much evidence of their competency for it. To these original errors many more were added in each successive edition, till some passages from the Fathers, but for the characters in which they were printed, when Greek, might have been Latin as well as Greek, — or when Latin, might have been Greek as well as Latin, for all the meaning that could be expiscated from them; and the riddle they presented to the reader could only he solved by the use of that suspicious instrument of criticism, — mere conjecture. So Herculean seemed the task of correcting and verifying these references and quotations, that Mr Russell, in 1826, expressly declined to undertake it. In a note to the treatise on the “Reason of Faith,” he remarks, “The editor takes this opportunity of stating, that he does not undertake — nor would it be possible, without a prodigious, and at the same time almost useless, expenditure of time and labor, and a boundless accumulation of books — to verify the numerous quotations of Dr Owen from the Fathers, and schoolmen and controversialists of a more recent period.” We have only to state, that, so far as circumstances permitted, the best attention of the present editor has been given to these quotations, and that at least all the most important of them have been duly verified and collated, and the proper reference given to their place in the writings of the Father from whom they may have been adduced.
A prefatory note has commonly been given to the different treatises. It is intended by the note simply to indicate the design of the treatise, to submit a brief analysis of its contents, and to specify the date of its original publication, the judgment that has been formed of its merits, and any circumstances of interest bearing on its character, or connected with its history. The perusal of a work presupposes some knowledge of its design and contents, before the reader is induced to devote his time to the examination of it. When old works are republished, there is no present impulse to discuss their merits, and the organs of periodical criticism seldom bestow on them a formal and detailed review; so that a reader is sometimes at a loss to judge of the treatise of an old author, whether it he worthy of his attention, or likely to interest him, or what precise object it was intended to serve. Prefatory notes, therefore, supplying a key to the author’s intention, so far as it can be gathered, have been inserted in the present edition. Explanations have been sometimes appended at the foot of the pages, in regard to any statements or allusions that general readers might fail to understand. The editor, however, has been anxious not to overlay the text in any instance with a parade of authorities and references, seeking in his duties to be under the influence of the sentiment, — Prodesse quam conspici.
To promote facility of reference to the various productions of our author, they have been arranged in three divisions — Doctrinal, Practical, and Controversial, and in each of these divisions the works have been given, as far as possible, according to the years in which they were published. It would be vain to attempt rigid precision and accuracy in any such arrangement that might be adopted. There are treatises which are at once doctrinal and practical in their nature. Some advantages would have accrued had the chronological order been followed, and had the works been inserted in this edition altogether according to the date of their original publication.
But much confusion and irregularity would have been the result, and treatises, among which an obvious affinity existed in their subject and design, would not have been included in the same volume.
It only remains for the editor to express his obligations to the Rev. John Edmondston of Ashkirk, whose aid has been invaluable, especially in the department of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew quotations; to the Rev. John Cunningham, LLD., who kindly undertook the research and inquiries that were found necessary in London; and to the custodians of the different public libraries in Edinburgh, through whose courtesy free access was granted to them, in order to prosecute the business of collation.
The best thanks of the publishers are due to the Rev. Andrew Thomson, for the Memoir of Owen which graces this edition of his works; and to the trustees of the Lancashire Independent College, for the use of a portrait which belongs to the library of the college, and from which the portrait at the beginning of this volume has been engraved. The engraving is a very truthful representation of the countenance of Owen, according to the original painting from which it has been taken, and which, on the whole, has been preferred to any other likeness of him as more in harmony with the depth and dignity of his character.
There are some important publications of Owen which were not included in Mr Russell’s edition. The Exercitations on the Sabbath do not appear in it, as they belonged to the preliminary dissertations prefixed to the Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. They were issued separately by our author, in order to diffuse sound views on the obligation of the Sabbath, among a wider circle of readers than his ponderous commentary was likely to overtake. Dr Wright restored them to their proper place in the introduction to the commentary. The “Theologoumena,” etc., also was not comprehended in the edition of 1826. In order to render this edition quite complete, the publishers contemplate a separate arrangement, by which subscribers, should a demand exist for it, will be supplied with the “Theologoumena,” and any other productions of our author not included in the previous volumes of this edition. There is a probability, also, from a desire already expressed for it, that the Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews — the noblest monument of Owen’s learning — will be published uniform with this edition of his works.
With these statements and explanations, the public must be left to judge of the merits and value of this edition of Owen’s works The editor may be permitted to express his own sense of the importance of the charge with which he has been intrusted, and his ardent desire that the volumes issued under his superintendence may prove, in elegance and correctness, worthy of the precious treatises contained in them, and a befitting monument to the name and memory of Owen. He was called by a sudden and urgent application to undertake these editorial labors, involving an expenditure of time and an amount of care and research beyond his own anticipation, and such as few are in circumstances to appreciate. No Christian man in his position could divest himself of solemn feeling, under the reflection that this publication, from the wide circulation already insured to it, must exert a mighty influence in gadding the minds of men, and moulding their habits of thought and action, — a feeling relieved only by the consideration that the principles of Owen were a close and faithful transcript of the Gospel of Christ, and that multitudes have already ripened for glory in meditation upon his pages. Should these volumes prove conducive to the same result, and perhaps on a wider scale, from the increased circulation now given to religious treatises of such sterling excellence, any amount of editorial care and labor will not be misspent The labor has even already been its own reward; nor was it a mean ambition, to have one’s name linked, by a connection however humble, with the great Nonconformist, whose writings in defense of toleration, and in rebuke of tyranny, did much to secure for us the rich inheritance of freedom and civil privilege in which we rejoice, and whose theology has stamped a deep and lasting impress on the religious character and tendencies of his nation. W. H. G.
Edinburgh, August 1850.