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EPISTLE TO THE READER.
AMONGST all the useful treatises that the press hath of late exposed to public view, I have not met with any, as far as I remember, that hath purposely and directly treated on the subject of this discourse, notwithstanding it must be owned to be needful, seasonable, and profitable. It is a maxim to which men generally subscribe, and not a point of controversy, that, “ In God's favour is life:” yea, God's favour is pleaded for and pretended to by persons of every description, of all religions and persuasions. To be excluded from it, men think a serious and awful thing: the rich and great cannot say they are above it, the poor and profane will hope well, and desire to live and die in God's favour; the ignorant dream of God's favour, as their only sanctuary, though God saith plainly, “ It is a people of no understanding, therefore he that hath made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour. The learned Rabbies and grave sages of the world can discuss, and think to define the favour or grace of God, and even to confine it to themselves, and are ready to say as the chief priests and Pharisees of old, “ This people who know not the law are cursed :" + intimating that themselves are blessed, as being high in God's books, and advanced into God's favour above their neighbours. But Christ saith to them that justify themselves, “ That which is highly esteemed amongst men, is abomination in the sight of God.” | The aspiring Nimrods, the flattering Absaloms of the world, judge that they have the favour of God, when they have the favour of princes or people ; but Haman and Herod soon receive a confutation • Isa. xxvii. 11.
+ John vii. 49.
# Luke xvi. 15.
from divine indignation, the one being hanged up like a dog, and worms eating the loathsome carcass of the other. The greedy griping sons of good old Eli, who would have the best, and quickly, or would take their part by force, though they boasted of the ark and trusted to it, as having God Almighty in a manner engaged to them thereby, yet themselves were miserably slain, and their posterity must basely crouch for a piece of silver, and a morsel of bread.* Though carnal persons may bless the covetous rich man, yet God abhors him;t if Jeconiah will set his eyes and heart only on his covetousness, and build him an house by unrighteousness, and chambers by wrong, and use his neighbour's service without wages, so he shall die unlamented, and be buried with the burial of an ass ; the best part of his name shall be taken away, and he shall be called only Coniah, and though he were as the signet upon God's right hand, highly favoured, and advanced as ever mortal creature was, yet God would pluck him thence, and cast him out. Though the king of Tyre be as the anointed cherub, and say he is God, and set his heart as the heart of God, yet he shall be brought down to the pit. || Though mystical Babylon say, I sit as queen, and glorify herself, and be big with hopes of immunity from the favour of the husband, whose spouse she pretends to be, yet it shall appear she is the habitation of devils, and her plagues shall come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be utterly burnt with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. If Israel of old all the world with the loud acclamations of “ the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we, the church, the church, God's peculiar people, his portion, his chosen heritage,” | yet God can take his leave of Jerusalem, as he did of Shiloh, and cast the people out of his sight; and though they were to God once for a name and a praise, and for a glory, yet they become like a rotten girdle that is good for nothing; yea, God will dash them in pieces one against another, and will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them. **
If Chorazin and Bethsaida had mighty works
• 1 Sam. ii. 16. iv. 4. ii. 36.
Jer. xxii. 13, 17, 18, 24, 26. $ Rev. xviii. 8.
Jer, vii. 4.
+ Psalm x. 3.
done in them, and were highly favoured with our Saviour's glorious miracles, yet " it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for them :" and Capernaum that was exalted to heaven in privileges, shall be cast down to the lowest, hottest hell in punishment. * The seven Asiatic churches may lose their splendour, and Laodicea herself that was rich, increased with goods, and had need of nothing in her own conceit, that is, was adorned with brave preachers, glorious privileges, sound doctrine and notable gifts of the Spirit, whereby she thought herself more favoured by God than all the rest, yet shall be so disgusting and disowned, that she shall be vomited out of his mouth like lukewarm water offensive to his stomach. f Thousands in the world are mistaken about this great affair of such infinite concernment. Oh what a discovery shall be made, and what a woful disappointment shall many have at death and judgment ! Some will think to plead moral righteousness, others common performances, others their splendid professions, admission amongst, and communion with the saints: some will plead their excellent gifts in praying, preaching and high preferment in the church, as Judas: others will say, have we not eaten and drunk in thy presence ? hast thou not taught in our streets ? But he will answer these all alike, with “ I know you not, I will not own you, depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Oh dreadful and unexpected sentence ! what, we depart, we that were civil neighbours, good churchmen, orthodox believers, sober livers ; must we depart? we that heard the word gladly, commended the preacher, practised many things, had strong convictions, hated idolatry, loved God's pure worship, and took much delight in approaching to God, wilt thou not have favour for us? must we be banished from thee? oh strange disappointment. Alas, alas, what a discovering and dispiriting, and confounding day will that be to several persons, who upon false, self-flattering grounds were in this world as strangely conceited of their being in God's favour, as if they saw their names in God's book, or could look into God's heart and would by no means be beaten off this conceit; they shall now see themselves wofully deluded by Satan and their own deceit
• Matt. xi. 20_24. + Rev. iii. 16, 17. # Luke xiii. 26.
ful hearts, when it is too late to get into God's favour. Oh this makes honest ministers' hearts ache, and many good men weep in secret for the pride and folly of self-deceiving sculs. If we tell them there is danger, bid them search, and deal plainly with their hearts, they look upon us as enemies, think we make more ado than needs, by affrighting them with scarecrows, and making false alarms; they scorn our words, and bid us look to ourselves, assuring us that they are safe enough, and are in God's favour as well as the best of us, though their inconsistent expressions and irregular actions give ample ground of suspicion to intelligent observers : and alas, we are forced to leave them with a deep sigh, and a sad fear that we shall never see them at God's rigut hand with the saints another day.
And as many mistake, and are in danger of miscarrying to all eternity; so this favour, this special favour of God must needs be of absolute necessity, though whilst men live in prosperity, in the affluence and confluence of worldly comforts, they make a poor shift to enjoy themselves, drowning the noise of conscience, rocking themselves asleep in the cradle of ease, running out of God's blessing into the warm sun, as we use to say: yet a day is coming that will burn as an oven, and all the proud and profane shall be as stubble, and it shall leave them neither root nor branch ; * their worldly wealth shall perish,
2 and their hopes give up the ghost, when the heavens shall crack over their heads, and the earth tremble under their feet. Oh, what will God's favour and Christ's love-smiles be worth in that day, when he shall call the dead out of their graves, and bid them stand forth to receive the final sentence of absolution, or condemnation, according to their state ? then, O then to have the favour of the Lord, the Judge of heaven and earth, will be worth a thousand worlds. When God shall summon us by his messenger death, and tell us that the days of our appointed time on the earth are finished, he will remove us hence, to give an account of our stewardship; oh then God's special favour will stand us in infinite stead! In prosperity what can quiet a capacious soul that is still prying and peeping beyond sublunaries for satisfaction ? It is he, the letters of whose name are quiescent, that can give quietness, even the great Jehovah. In
# Mal, iv. I.
adversity there is an apparent discovery of the necessity of divine special favour. When God giveth quietness who then can make trouble, and when he hideth his face, who then can behold him ? * Then indeed in the day of calamity, God's favour is seen to be seasonable, when the favour of men is lost, and all things look black about us. O the joy and comfort
O souls have felt in the light of God's countenance, one smile from heaven hath fetched the saints from death to life.
Hence it is, that God's children have desired of the Lord some tokens of love, while they have been in this vale of tears. Let no man scoff at this, the Scripture warrants it: “ Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”—Jer. xxxiii. 3. So our Saviour, “ He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself to him.”—John xiv. 21. This is a sufficient warrant for our prayers and
expectations in God's way, for as the word of promise encourageth us, so the word of precept directeth and regulateth our desires ; certainly God hath promised great things to believers who keep in his way, and hath made good his promises on all occasions,
in all ages.
What that token for good was which the princely prophet David prays for, Psalm lxxxvi. 17, I will not positively determine ; but sure I am, it was some evidence of God's favour to him, either in a miraculous or gracious way, in ordinances or in providence, by way of influence or evidence, for quickening or comforting his heart. I confess, if this holy man, this man after God's own heart, had some special ground to expect extraordinary manifestations being made to him, or for him, it becomes not us to follow him therein, except we had the like ground either as to external or internal things, lest we provoke God, and ruin ourselves by enthusiastic presumptions. Sleidan in his Commentaries, t gives us a large account of Thomas Munster in Alstet, a town belonging to the Duke of Saxony in Thuringia, who exclaimed against Luther, as giving too much liberty : “ For," saith he, “the body must be made lean with fasting, there should be simple apparel, the countenance must be framed to gravity, a man should speak seldom, wear a long beard,” &c. • Job xxxiv. 29.
+ Book 5, fol. 55.