To the Christian Readers,
Especially those in the Town and Corporation of Dartmouth, and Parts adjacent, who have either befriended, or attended these Lectures.
Honoured and worthy Friends,
Knowledge is man's excellency above the beasts that perish, Psal. 32: 9. the knowledge of Christ is the Christian's excellency above the Heathen, 1 Cor. 1: 23, 24. Practical and saving knowledge of Christ is the sincere Christian's excellency above the self- cozening hypocrite, Heb. 6: 4, 6. but methodical and well digested knowledge of Christ is the strong Christian's excellency above the weak, Heb. 5: 13 , 14. A saving, though an immethodical knowledge of Christ, will bring us to heaven, John 17: 2, but a regular and methodical, as well as a saving knowledge of him, will bring heaven into us, Col. 2: 2, 3.
For such is the excellency thereof, even above all other knowledge of Christ, that it renders the understanding judicious, the memory tenacious, and the heart highly and fixedly joyous. How it serves to confirm and perfect the understanding, is excellently discovered by a worthy divine of our own, in these words:
A young ungrounded Christian, when he sees all the fundamental truths, and sees good evidence and reasons of them, perhaps may be yet ignorant of the right order and place of every truth. It is a rare thing to have young professors to understand the necessary truths methodically: and this is a very great defect: for a great part of the usefulness and excellency of particular truths consisteth in the respect they have to one another. This therefore will be a very considerable part of your confirmation, and growth in your understandings, to see the body of the Christian doctrine, as it were, at one view, as the several parts of it are united in one perfect frame; and to know what aspect one point has upon another, and which are their due places. There is a great difference betwixt the sight of the several parts of a clock or watch, as they are disjointed and scattered abroad, and the seeing of them conjointed, and in use and motion. To see here a pin and there a wheel, and not know how to set them all together, nor ever see them in their due places, will give but little satisfaction. It is the frame and design of holy doctrine that must be known, and every part should be discerned as it has its particular use to that design, and as it is connected with the other parts.
By this means only can the true nature of Theology, together with the harmony and perfection of truth, be clearly understood. And every single truth also will be much better perceived by him that sees its place and order, than by any other: for one truth exceedingly illustrates and leads another into the understanding. - Study therefore to grow in the more methodical knowledge of the same truths which you have received; and though you are not yet ripe enough to discern the whole body of theology in due method, yet see so much as you have attained to know, in the right order and placing of every part. As in anatomy, it is hard for the wisest physician to discern the course of every branch of the veins and arteries; but yet they may easily discern the place and order of the principal parts, and greater vessels, (and surely in the body of religion there are no branches of greater or more necessary truth than these) so it is in divinity, where no man has a perfect view of the whole, till he comes to the state of perfection with God; but every true Christian has the knowledge of all the essentials, and may know the orders and places of them all.
And as it serves to render the mind more judicious, so it causes the memory to be more tenacious, and retentive of truths. The chain of truth is easily held in the memory, when one truth links in another; but the loosing of a link endangers the scattering of the whole chain. We use to say, order is the mother of memory; I am sure it is a singular friend to it: hence it is observed, those that write of the art of memory, lay so great a stress upon place and number. The memory would not so soon be overcharged with a multitude of truths, if that multitude were but orderly disposed. It is the incoherence and confusion of truths, rather than their number, that distracts. Let but the understanding receive then regularly, and the memory will retain them with much more facility. A bad memory is a common complaint among Christians: all the benefit that many of you have in hearing, is from the present influence of truths upon your hearts; there is but little that sticks by you, to make a second and third impression upon them. I know it may be said of some of you, that if your affections were not better than your memories, you would need a very large charity to pass for Christians.
I confess it is better to have a well ordered heart, than a methodical head; but surely both are better than either. And for you that have constantly attended these exercises, and followed us through the whole series and deduction of these truths, from text to text, and from point to point; who have begun one sabbath where you left another, it will be your inexcusable fault, if these things be not fixed in your understanding and memories, as nails fastened in a sure place: especially as providence has now brought to your eyes, what has been so often sounded in your ears, which is no small help to fix these truths upon you, and prevent that great hazard of them, which commonly attends bare hearing; for now you may have recourse as often as you will to them, view and review them, till they become your own.
But though this be a great and singular advantage, yet is not all you may have by a methodical understanding of the doctrines of Christ: it is more than a judicious understanding them, or faithful remembering them, that you and I must design, even the warm, vital, animating influences of these truths upon our hearts, without which we shall be never the better; yea, much the worse for knowing and remembering them.
Truth is the sanctifying instrument, John 17: 17. the mould into which our souls are cast, Rom. 6: 17. according therefore to the stamps and impressions it makes upon our understandings, and the order in which truths lie there, will be the depth and lastingness of their impressions and influences upon the heart; as, the more weight is laid upon the seal, the more fair and lasting impression is made upon the wax. He that sees the grounds and reasons of his peace and comfort most clearly, is like to maintain it the more constantly.
Great therefore is the advantage Christians have by such methodical systems. Surely they may be set down among the desiderata Christianorum, The most desired things of Christians.
Divers worthy modern pens have indeed undertaken this noble subject before me, Some more succinctly, others more copiously: these have done worthily, and their praises are in the churches of Christ; yet such breadth there is in the knowledge of Christ, that not only those who have written on this subject before me, but a thousand authors more may employ their pens after us, and not interfere with, or straiten another.
And such is the deliciousness of this subject, that, were there ten thousand volumes written upon it, they would never cloy, or become nauseous to a gracious heart. We use to say, one thing tires, and it is true that it does so, except that one thing be virtually and eminently all things, as Christ is; and then one thing can never tire; for such is the variety of sweetness in Christ, who is the deliciae humani generis, the delights of the children of men, that every time he is opened to believers from pulpit or press, it is as if heaven had furnished them with a new Christ; and yet he is the same Christ still.
The treatise itself will satisfy you, that I have not boasted in another man's line, of things made ready to my hand; which I speak not in the least to win any praise to myself from the undertaking, but to remove prejudice from it; for I see more defects in it, than most of my readers will see, and can forethink more faults to be found in it, than I now shall stand to tell thee of, or answer for. It was written in a time of great distractions; and didst thou but know how oft this work has died and revived under my hand, thou wouldst wonder that ever it came to thine.
I am sensible it may fall under some censorious (it may be, envious) eyes, and that far different judgements will pass upon it; for pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli: And no wonder if a treatise of Christ be, when Christ himself was to some, "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence." I expect not to please every reader, especially the envious; magna debet esse eloquentie, quae invitis placet. It is as hard for some to look upon other men's gifts without envy, as it is to look upon their own without pride; nor will I be any further concerned with such readers, than to pity them; well knowing that every proud, contemptuous and envious censure is a grenado that breaks in the hand of him that casts it.
But to the ingenuous and candid reader, I owe satisfaction for the obscurity of some part of this discourse, occasioned by the conciseness of the stile; to which I have this only to say, that I was willing to crowd as much matter as I could into this number of sheets in thy hand, that I might therein ease thee both in thy pains and thy purse. I confess the sermons were preached in a more relaxed stile, and most of these things were enlarged in the pulpit, which are designedly contracted in the press, that the volume might not swell above the ability of common readers. And it was my purpose at first to have comprised the second part, viz., The application of the redemption that is with Christ unto sinners, in one volume, which occasioned the contraction of this; but that making a just volume itself, must await another season to see the light. If the reader will be but a little the more intent and considerate in reading, this conciseness will turn to his advantage.
This may suffice to show the usefulness of such composure, and prevent offence; but something yet remains with me, to say to the readers in general, to those of this town in special, and to the flock committed by Christ to my charge more especially.
1. To readers in general, according as their different states and conditions may be; there are six things earnestly to be requested of them.
(1.) If you be yet strangers to Christ, let these things begin, and beget your first acquaintance with him. I assure thee, reader, it was a principal part of the design thereof; and here thou wilt find many directions, helps, and sweet encouragements, to assist a poor stranger as thou art, in that great work. Say not, I am an enemy to Christ, and there is no hope of reconciliation; for here thou wilt see, how "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." Say not, all this is nothing except God had told thee so, and appointed some to treat with thee about it; "for he has committed unto us the word of this reconciliation." Say not, yea, that may be from your own pity and compassion for us, and not from any commission you have for it; for we "are ambassadors for Christ," 2 Cor. 5: 20.
Say not, O but my sins are greater than can be forgiven: the difficulties of my salvation are too great to be overcome, especially by a poor creature as I am, that am able to do nothing, no, not to raise one penny towards the discharge of that great debt I owe to God. For here thou wilt find, upon thy union with Christ, that there is merit enough in his blood, and mercy enough in his bowels, to justify and save such a one as thou art. Yea, and I will add for thine encouragement, that it is a righteous thing, with God to justify and save thee, that canst not pay him one penny of all the vast sums thou owest him; when, by the same rule of justice, he condemns the most strict, self-righteous Pharisee, that thinks thereby to quit scores with him. It is righteous for a judge to cast him that has paid ninety-nine pounds of the hundred, which he owed, because the payment was not full; and to acquit him, whose surety has paid all, though himself did not, and freely confess that he cannot pay one farthing of the whole debt.
(2.) If thou be a self deceiving soul, that easily takest up thy satisfaction about thine interest in Christ, look to it, as thou valuest thy soul, reader, that a fond and groundless conceit of thine interest in Christ do not effectually and finally obstruct a true and saving, interest in him. This is the common and fatal error in which multitudes of souls are ensnared and ruined: for look as a conceit of great wisdom hinders many from the attaining of it; so a groundless conceit that Christ is already thine, may prove the greatest obstacle between Christ and thee: but here thou will meet with many rules that will not deceive thee, trials that will open thy true condition to thee.
Thou sometimes reflectest upon the state of thy soul, and enquirest, is Christ mine? may I depend upon it, that my condition is safe? Thy heart returns thee an answer of peace, it speaks as thou wouldst have it. But remember, friend, and mark this line, Thy final sentence is not yet come from the mouth of thy Judge; and what if, after all thy self-flattering hopes and groundless confidence, a sentence should come from him quite cross to that of thine own heart? where art thou then? what a confounded person wilt thou be? Christless, speechless, and hopeless, all at once!
O therefore build sure for eternity; take heed lest the loss of thine eternal happiness be at last imputed by thee to the deceitfulness and laziness of thine own heart: lest thy heart say to thee in hell, as the heart of Apollodorus seemed in his sufferings to say to him, I am the cause of all this misery to thee.
(3.) If thou be one whose heart is eagerly set upon this vain world, I beseech thee take heed, lest it interpose itself betwixt Christ and thy soul, and so cut thee off from him for ever. O beware, lest the dust of the earth, getting into thine eyes, so blind thee, that thou never see the beauty or necessity of Christ. The god of this world so blinds the eyes of them that believe not. And what are sparkling pleasures that dazzles the eyes of some, and the distracting cares that wholly divert the minds of others, but as a napkin drawn by Satan over the eyes of them that are to be turned off into hell? 1 Cor. 4: 3, 4.
Some general aims, and faint wishes after Christ you may have; but alas! the world has centered thy heart, intangled thy affections, and will daily find new diversions for them from the great business of life; so that, if the Lord break not this snare, thou wilt never be able to deliver thy soul.
(4.) If thou be a loose and careless professor of Christ, I beseech thee, let the things thou shalt read in this treatise of Christ, convince, shame, reclaim thee from thy vain conversation. Here thou wilt find how contrary thy conversation is to the grand designs of the death and resurrection of Christ. Oh, rethinks as thou art reading the deep humiliation, and unspeakable sorrows Christ underwent for the expiating of sin, thou shouldest thenceforth look upon sin as a tender child would look upon that knife that stabbed his father to the heart! thou shouldst never whet and sharpen it again to wound the Son of God afresh. To such loose and careless professors, I particularly recommend the last general use of this discourse, containing many great motives to reformation and strict godliness in all that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.
(5.) If thou hast been a profane and vain person, but now art pardoned, and dost experience the superabounding riches of grace, my request to thee is, that thou love Jesus Christ with a more fervent love than ever yet thou hadst for him. Here thou wilt find many great incentives, many mighty arguments to such a love of Christ. Poor soul, consider what thou hast been, what the morning of thy life was, what treasures of guilt thou laidst up in those days; and then think, can such a one as I receive mercy, and that mercy not break my heart? Can I read my pardon, and mine eyes not drop? What! mercy for such a wretch as I! a pardon for such a rebel! O what an ingenuous thaw should this cause upon my heart! if it do not, what a strange heart is thine.
Did the love of Christ break through so many impediments to come to thee? Did it make its way through the law, through the wrath of God, through the grave, through thine own unbelief and great unworthiness, to come to thee? O what a love was the love of Christ to thy soul; And is not thy love strong enough to break through the vanities and trifles of this world, which entangle it, to go to Christ? How poor, how low and weak is thy love to Christ then?
(6.) Lastly, Art thou one that hast through mercy at last attained assurance, or good hope, through grace, of thy interest in Christ? Rejoice then in thy present mercy, and long ardently to be with thine own Christ in his glory. There be many things dispersed through this treatise, of Christ, to animate such joy, and excite such longings. It was truly observed by a worthy author, (whose words I have mentioned more freely than his name in this discourse) That it is in a manner as natural for us to leap when we see the new Jerusalem, as it is to laugh when we are tickled: Joy is not under the soul's command when Christ kisseth it. And for your desires to be with Christ, what consideration can you find in this world strong enough to rein them in? O when you shall consider what he has done, suffered, and purchased for you, where he is now, and how much he longs for your coming, your very hearts should groan out those words, Phil. 1: 23, "I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ." The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for of Christ.
2. Having delivered my message to the reader in general, I have somewhat more particularly to say to you of this place.
You are a people that were born under, and bred up with the gospel. It has been your singular privilege, above many towns and parishes in England, to enjoy more than sixty years together an able and fruitful ministry among you. The dew of heaven lay upon you, as it did upon Gideon's fleece, when the ground was dry in other places about you; you have been richly watered with gospel-showers; you, with Capernaum, have been exalted to heaven in the means of grace. And it must be owned to your praise, that you testified more respect to the gospel than many other places have done, and treated Christ's ambassadors with more civility, whilst they prophesied in sackcloth, than some other places did. These things are praise-worthy in you. But all this, and much more than this, amounts not to that which Jesus Christ expects from you, and which in his name I would now persuade you to. And O that I (the least and unworthiest of all the messengers of Christ to you) might indeed prevail with all that are Christless among you, (1 ) To answer the long continued calls of God to you, by a thorough and sound conversion, that the long-suffering of God may be your salvation, and you may not receive all this grace of God in vain. O that the damned might never be set a wondering, to see a people of your advantages for heaven, sinking as much below many of themselves in misery, as you now are above them in means and mercy.
Dear friends, my heart's desire and prayer to God for you is that you may be saved. O that I knew how to engage this whole town to Jesus Christ, and make fast the marriage-knot betwixt him and you, albeit after that I should presently go to the place of silence; and see men no more, with the inhabitants of the world. Ah sirs! me thinks I see the Lord Jesus laying the merciful hand of a holy violence upon you: methinks he calls to you, as the angel to Lot saying, "Arise, lest ye be consumed; And "while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, the Lord being merciful unto him. And they brought him without the city, and said, Escape for thy life, stay not in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed," Gen. 19: 15. How often (to allude to this) has Jesus Christ in like manner laid hold upon you in the preaching of the gospel, and will you not flee for refuge to him? Will you rather be consumed, than to endeavour an escape? A beast will not be driven into the fire, and will you not be kept out? The merciful Lord Jesus, by his admirable patience and bounty, has convinced you how loth he is to leave or lose you. To this day his arms are stretched forth to gather you, and will you not be gathered? Alas for my poor neighbours! Must so many of them perish at last? What shall I do for the daughter of my people?
Lord, by arguments shall they be persuaded to be happy? What will win them effectually to thy Christ? They have many of them escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour. They are a people that love thine ordinances, they take delight in approaching to God; thou hast beautified many of them with lovely and obliging tempers and dispositions. Thus far they are come, there they stick; and beyond this no power but thine can move them. O thou, to whose hand this work is and must be left, put forth thy saving power and reveal thine arm for their salvation; Thou hast glorified thy name in many of them; Lord, glorify it again.
(2.) My next request is, that you will all be persuaded, whether converted or unconverted, to set up all the duties at religion in your families, and govern your children and servants as men that must give an account to God for them in the great day. O that there were not a prayerless family in this town! How little will their tables differ from the manger, where beasts feed together, if God be not owned and acknowledged there, in your eating and drinking? And how can you expect blessings should dwell in your tabernacles, if God be not called on there? Say not, you want time for it, or that your necessities will not allow it; for, had you been more careful of these duties, it is like you had not been exposed to such necessities: besides, you can find time to be idle, you can waste a part of every day vainly; Why could not that time be redeemed for God? Moreover, you will not deny but the success of all your affairs at home and abroad depends upon the blessing of God; and if so, think you it is not the right way, even to temporal prosperity, to engage his presence and blessing with you, in whose hands your all is? Say not, your children and servants are ignorant of God, and therefore you cannot comfortably join with them in those duties, for the neglect of those duties is the cause of their ignorance; and it is not like they will be better, till you use God's means to make them so.
Besides, prayer is a part of natural worship, and the vilest among men are bound to pray, else the neglect of it were none of their sin. O let not a duty, upon which so many and great blessings hang, fall to the ground, upon such silly (not to say wicked) pretences to shift it off. Remember, death will shortly break up all your families, and disband them; and who then think you will have most comfort in beholding their dead? The day of account also hastens, and then who will have the most comfortable appearing before the just and holy God? Set up, I beseech you, the ancient and comfortable duties of reading the scriptures, singing of psalms, and prayer, in all your dwelling-places. And do all these conscientiously, as men that have to do with God; and try the Lord herewith, if he will not return in a way of mercy to you, and restore even your outward prosperity to you again. However, to be sure, far greater encouragements than that lie before you, to oblige you to your duties.
(3.) More especially, I have a few things to say to you that have attended on the ministry, or are under my oversight in a more particular manner, and then I have done. And,
1st, I cannot but observe to you the goodness of our God, yea, the riches of his goodness:
Who freely gave Jesus Christ out of his own bosom for us, and has not withheld his Spirit, ordinances and ministers, to reveal and apply him to us. Here is love that wants an epithet to match it:
Who engaged my heart upon this transcendent subject in the course of my ministry among you: a subject which angels study and admire, as well as we:
Who so signally protected and overshadowed our assemble in those days of trouble, wherein these truths were delivered to you. You then sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to your taste: his banner over you was love; your bread was then sure, and your waters failed not: Yea, such was his peculiar indulgence, and special tenderness to you, that he suffered no man to do you harm; and it can hardly be imagined any could attempt it that had but known this, and no worse than this, to be your only design and business:
Who made these meditations of Christ a strong support, and sweet relief to mine, now with Christ, and no less to me, under the greatest exercises and tries that ever befel me in this world; preserving me yet (though a broken vessel) for some farther use and service to your souls:
Who in the years that are past left not himself without witness among us, blessing my labours, to the conversion and edification of many; Some of which yet remain with us, but some are fallen asleep:
Who has made many of you that yet remain, a willing and obedient people, who have in some measure supported the reputation of religion by your stability and integrity in days of abounding iniquity: my joy and my crown; so stand ye fast in the Lord!
Who after all the days of fears and troubles, through which we have past, has at last given us and his churches rest; "that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear in righteousness and holiness (which doing, this mercy may be extended to us) all the days of our life."
In testimony of a thankful heart for these invaluable mercies, I humbly and cheerfully rear up this pillar of remembrance, inscribing it with EBEN-EZER, and JEHOVAH-JIREH!
2dly, As I could not but observe these things to you, so I have a few things to request of you, in neither of which I can bar denial, so deeply Christ's, your own, and my interest lie in them.
(1.) Look to it, my dear friends, that none of you be found Christless at your appearance before him. Those that continue Christless now, will be left speechless then. God forbid that you that have heard so much of Christ, and you that have professed so much of Christ, should at last fall into a worse condition than those that never heard the name of Christ.
(2.) See that you daily grow more Christ-like by conversing with him, as you do, in his precious ordinances. Let it be with your souls, as it is with a piece of cloth, which receives a deeper dye every time it is dipt into a vat. If not, you may not expect the continuance of your mercies much longer to you.
(3.) Get these great truths well digested both in your heads and hearts, and let the power of them be displayed in your lives, else the pen of the scribe, and the tongue of the preacher, are both in vain. These things, that so often warmed your hearts from the pulpit, return now to make a second impression upon them from the press. Hereby you will recover and fix those truths, which, it is like, are in great part already vanished from you.
This is the fruit I promise myself from you: and whatever entertainment it meets with from others in this Christ-despising age, yet two things relieve me; one is, that future times may produce more humble and hungry Christians than this glutted age enjoys, to whom it will be welcome: the other is, that duty is discharged, and endeavours are used to bring men to Christ,, and build them up in him: wherein he does and will rejoice, who is a well-wisher to the souls of men. -- John Flavel.