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PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
In offering to the public this new edition of Summerfield's Sermons, it is proper to state that a different sketch, selected from his remaining manuscripts, has been substituted in place of the fifty-third in the first edition. It was discovered, soon after the work was published, that an error had been committed in introducing this sketch, the thoughts and language of which are borrowed, almost entirely, from another. Mr. Summerfield was eminently an original thinker; but he was, at the same time, a diligent and laborious student, and intent on gathering from the ample stores of Christian literature whatever might strengthen his efforts in the great cause to which he was so ardently devoted. Hence he did not hesitate to transcribe occasionally, for a guide in his public ministrations, such expositions of Divine truth as impressed him most forcibly in the course of his reading, though always with some mark of acknowledgment. But, as these marks were merely for his own recognition, they are often not very distinct, and not uniformly of one character. Thus, in the instance here noticed, the evidence of quotation was so obscure as not to attract the compiler’s notice. It is proper farther to remark, however, as well for the satisfaction of the reader as in justice to the reputation of the revered and lamented author, that the work has been examined throughout, with a view to ascertain if there were any other inadvertences of the kind: none were found.
The very favourable reception given to the first edition of these sermons affords satisfactory proof of their high appreciation by the religious community, while it encourages the hope that, through God's providence, they will be made a distinguished instrument for good, in comforting and confirming the Christian, and in converting sinners from the error of their ways.
New-York, December, 1842.
At length the public are presented with a volume of Sermons, and Sketches of Sermons, from the preparations for the pulpit of the Rev. John Summerfield; a preacher who, for a brief space, enchained his immense audiences by the more than magic influence of an eloquence, as peculiar in its character, as it was universal in its control over the minds of men. The question will naturally arise in the mind of the reader, “Why have they been so long withheld ?” The answer is, that those who possessed these precious remains, were made diffident of the favour with which their publication would be received, from some indications of disappointment when the life of Mr. Summerfield was presented to the public, written by one who, all agree, was eminently qualified for the task, and who certainly spared no pains to fulfil the expectations of the numerous friends, and admirers of the deceased. In fact, Mr. Holland accomplished all that could be done, in regard to the biography of one whose brief career, though it blazed with unexampled brightness, was nevertheless marked with a sameness of incident, from which no writer could educe the variety which is necessary to give interest to narrative, whether of a general or an individual character.
In the life of Mr. Summerfield there was nothing very pecu. liar. We mark, indeed, an early development of those strong mental endowments, which were so strikingly exhibited even in his first pulpit efforts; but these were associated with the common waywardness of genius, and the concomitant premature relish for the vices of manhood. The process, by which the Lord of the Harvest called such an instrument into his service has been so often witnessed, that, though it still astonishes by the exhibition of omnipotent power, as do all the works of God, yet, like the firmament above us, being constantly in view, it no longer surprises by its novelty. His conversion was attended with no extraordinary circumstances. The instruments were such as to humble human pride, by showing that “the excellency of the power was of God, and not of man.” Even the abiding, indelible impression made on his mind by the wholesomeness of parental precept, and the piety and uniformity of parental example, is so far from being a new exhibition of truth, that we are taught to look for it by the Old Testament Scriptures; and it has been confirmed to us in all ages by the experience of the Church. All, then, that a biographer could do, Mr. Holland has done. He recorded faithfully, and he made a suitable use of the facts of the record.
But it was precisely where the biographer could do least, that most was expected. The public ministry of this extraordinary evangelist burst suddenly upon the world, as a comet shows itself among the heavenly constellations; but the comet, view it from what place or position you will, is the same.
All that can be seen of it is seen at once; and the future historian finds in its appearance only a simple fact, which can be recorded in a single page. Wherever Mr. Summerfield appeared, there was the same eagerness in all classes of people to hear him, and to see him; and, everywhere, there was the same uniform admiration of the preacher's manner and of his sermons. In Ireland, in Eng. land, and in America, whatever were the characteristic differences in the taste, and qualifications, and even the prejudices of the hearers, all heard with the same delight; all hearts melted, and all prejudices gave way, under an eloquence which it was as impossible to describe as to resist. But still, all this afforded little for his biographer. In any one of these countries, to describe the scene, and detail the facts and incidents of one occasion, on which he published to listening multitudes the Word of Life, was to give what occurred on every such occasion; and these followed each other with a rapidity which afforded no opportunity for other pursuits or engagements. Thus public expectation, with respect to the biography of Mr. Summerfield, was disappointed, because the expectation was unreasonable. All minds, all hearts were impressed with the living Summerfield, and no one could restore him to life, and present him as he had been seen and heard, the messenger of mercy and love, to whose ministry attentive multitudes listened with a delight, which it was vainly hoped could be recalled by the incidents of his life. Upon reading again the work of Mr. Holland, we are constrained to say, it is among the very best biographies that has fallen in our way; yet we remember to have participated in the common feeling when we first perused it. It was the manifestation of this feeling which discouraged the publication of the sermons and sketches contained in the volume now issued, as it was feared they would fall too far short of what so many heard from the lips of the author to give satisfaction. But they have now been postponed until they can be read by many, without the disadvantage of such comparison; and by the remainder, after time and intervening events have