I first came across a reference to this book during research I was doing on evangelicals in the Anglican and Episcopal church. Early attempts to locate a copy of it proved fruitless, and only after several worldwide book searches was a microfilmed copy found. It was a fascinating search, and its difficulty proved to make it only that much more intriguing. Yet when it was - at last! - located and read, it became apparent that what was surely clear and straightforward prose in 1680, was difficult and often obscure for the modern reader. To be of the same value as it was to the evangelicals of the 18th century, it would need to be put into more modern prose.
The task of updating the text of a book written three hundred years ago is considerable, and although not nearly so difficult, it provides fresh appreciation for those scholars engaged in translating the Bible from Hebrew or Greek into English. The English language, grammar and writing styles of 1680 differ in many ways from those of the late twentieth century, and although it is possible to read most sentences of that time and deduce their meaning, the effort can prove very tedious.
In order to maximize the benefit of this wonderful text, and make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible, certain updates were made to the language, grammar and style - all with a careful eye to preserve the original author’s tone and message. For example, commas and semicolons were used in the original at a rate, and with rules of placement, which to today’s reader would seem almost absurd, and render the text often impenetrable. These were reduced, and occasionally moved, to conform to modern standards of punctuation.
Many sentences of that day were extremely long, and contained numerous clauses and subclauses which referred back to distant parts of the same sentence. These were broken up into simpler sentences without loss of meaning, but with considerable gain in clarity.
In addition, some words and idioms have either vanished from the language, or changed meaning so substantially, that they would also render the text inaccessible or cause us to misconstrue its intent. An example of this is the word “discover,” which in 1680 was used to mean “admit,” as in “I must discover my sins to my brothers.” That is, not that I was to find my sins for the first time, but that I was to un-cover them to others.
A second example is found in some instances in the text of the more archaic uses of “brother,” and “men,” which no longer retain the inclusive connotation of their day for the average modern reader. These are not changed everywhere, nor are pronouns such as “he” and “his,” as they often would be today, but rather just in those instances when the older usage proved awkward or confusing.
Yet another example is the word conventing, which means to summon or convene, but which doesn’t even appear in many modern dictionaries - or, when its verb root, convent, does appear, it is labeled “obscure.” This and all such archaic words are replaced by a modern word or idiom which conveys the essential meaning that the original word held in 1680.
Lastly, there was an extremely small amount of material which reflected local religious controversies underway in England at the time, and which was simply superfluous, especially for a modern reader. This has been removed because it was confusing and misdirecting.
Aside from these essential updates, The Country Parson’s Advice to His Parishioners is intact as the English evangelicals, and in particular the Wesleys and the Holy Club, knew it and used it in their ministry. May it again prove valuable to the community of believers.
-George Byron Koch