Knowledge, in a great measure, forms the true dignity and happiness of man: it is that by which he holds an honorable rank in the scale of being, and by which he is rendered capable of adding to the felicity of his fellow-creature. Every attempt, therefore, to enlarge its boundaries, and facilitate its acquisition must be considered as worthy of our attention and regard. The present work is designed to promote these valuable and important ends.
The plan of conveying knowledge by dictionaries has been long established, and well received in the republic of letters. A dictionary, however, of a religious and ecclesiastical nature was still a desideratum in the religious world; for although we have had dictionaries which explained Scripture terms, yet it is evident these could not embrace the history of the church since the sacred canon was concluded, nor explain the numerous terms which have been used; nor, indeed, point out the various sects and denominations which have subsisted since that time. I do not mean, by these remarks, to depreciate the valuable works above referred to; I am sensible of their excellencies, and I have no wish to undervalue them in order to exalt my own. This work, however, is of a different nature, as the reader will easily see, if he takes the trouble to compare and examine.
There may, doubtless, be defects in this publication which may have escaped my attention; but whoever considers the various books that must have been consulted; the discriminations that were necessary to be made; the patient investigation required; and the toil of selecting, transcribing, and the probability of its being useful to others, greatly encouraged me in its prosecution. Besides, to be active, to be useful, to do something for the good of mankind, I have always considered as the honor of an intelligent being. It is not the student wrapped up in metaphysical subtleties; it is not the recluse living in perpetual solitude; it is not the miser who is continually amassing wealth, that can be considered as the greatest ornaments or the greatest blessings to human society:
it is rather the useful than the shining talent that is to be coveted.
Perhaps it may be said, the work is tinctured too much with my own sentiments, and that the theology is too antiquated to please a liberal, philosophizing, and refined age. In answer to this, I observe, that I could do no other, as an honest man, than communicate what I believed to be the truth. It is a false liberality to acquiesce with every man's opinion, to fall in with every man's scheme, to trifle with error, or imagine there is no difference between one sentiment and another: yet, notwithstanding this declaration, I trust the features of bigotry are not easily discernible in this work; and that, while I have endeavored to carry the torch of Truth in my hand, I have not forgotten to walk in the path of Candor.
It is almost needless here to say, that I have availed myself of all the writings of the best and most eminent authors I could obtain. Whatever has struck me as important in ecclesiastical history; whatever good and accurate in definition; whatever just views of the passions of the human mind; whatever terms used in the religious world; and whatever instructive and impressive in the systems of divinity and moral philosophy, I have endeavored to incorporate in this work. And in order to prevent its being a dry detail of terms and of dates, I have given the substance of what has been generally advanced on each subject, and occasionally selected some of the most interesting practical passages from our best and celebrated sermons. I trust, therefore, it will not only be of use to inform the mind, but impress the heart; and thus promote the real good of the reader. The critic, however, may be disposed to be severe; and it will, perhaps, be easy for him to observe imperfections. But be this as it may: I can assure him I feel myself happy in the idea that the work is not intended to serve a party, to encourage bigotry, nor strengthen prejudice, but "for the service of Truth, by one who would be glad to attend and grace her triumphs; as her soldier, if he has had the honor to serve successfully under her banner; or as a captive tied to her chariot wheels, if he has, though undesignedly, committed any offence against her." After all, however, what a learned author said of another work I say of this:- "If it have merit, it will go down to posterity; if it have none, the sooner it dies and is forgot the better."