GENERAL PREFACE To
by JOHN MILLER DD
Lincoln College, Oxford, Rector of St. Martin's Birmingham
THE stores of theology, enriched by the accumulating
treasures of successive generations, have of late years been thrown open widely
to the Church of Christ. The Fathers, the Reformers, many of the great Puritan
writers, no less than the later theologians of the Church of England and of the
Nonconformist Churches, have been issued in a form and at a price which places
them within general reach. In the departments of Hermeneutics and Exegetics,
more especially, these stores are receiving constant and, with more or less of
the alloy of human imperfection and error, most valuable additions. Among
English scholars, the labours of Professor Ellicott, who, in philological
acumen and attainments of the highest order, in combination with an absence of
party bias, and with a profound reverence for the inspiration and authority of
the Sacred Scriptures, is a very model of scholarship, sanctified to the honest
and fearless interpretation of God's Word, - trusting Scripture, and anxious
only to educe its meaning, to whatever conclusions it may lead; Dean Alford and
Dr Wordsworth, in their great works; Dean Trench, Dr Peile, Professor Eadie, Dr
Vaughan (whose unpretending Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans is
sufficiently indicative of many of the qualifications of an expositor); Messrs
Conybeare and Howson, in their well-known work; Dr Henderson on the Prophets;
in America, Professor Stuart, with all his faults, and (though not as a
philological scholar, yet as a sober, copious, and painstaking expositor)
Albert Barnes, - have given to the Church so much, and in enumerating (not
invidiously, and without the affectation of attempting to do it exhaustively)
some of the most valuable modern additions to our expository theology, I cannot
bring myself to omit Haldane's "Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans,"
though not agreeing with Mr Haldane on every point, any more than with the
other writers specified above. No difference on particular points (where we
recognise substantial orthodoxy on the capital truths of the gospel) should
tempt us to withhold our meed of gratitude to such Philologists and expositors.
Their contributions should be recognised, not in a narrow-minded spirit of
party, but with candour and large-hearted acknowledgments. Robert Haldane's
grasp of the general scope of the Epistle to the Romans, and his lucid
exposition of its key-phrase, "the righteousness of God," have long led me to
value his work as one of the noblest pieces of exegetics in our language.
Nor must our obligations to modern German theologians be forgotten. Their works, the best of them, need to be read with discrimination. And in those which have been brought within reach of the English student, some of which are deservedly in high esteem, there is even in the best, with scarcely an exception, not only much that is prolix and wearisome, but, specially to those of us who read them under the disadvantage of a translation, much that is misty, and not a little that is questionable. These are within our reach, and much used by many of our clergy and ministers. No theological library can be complete without them. To the student and, to the preacher they are storehouses with which they can ill afford to dispense, if they are to be as scribes well "instructed unto the kingdom of heaven," bringing "forth out of their treasure things new and old."
For although there is something specious in the notion that the preacher can afford to be a man of one book, if that book be th. Book of God, - and we doubt not that such men have been, and will be yet again, blessed to great usefulness in the Church of Christ, - it involves surely a blind and ungrateful misappreciation and disparagement of the gifts dispensed by that Divine Spirit whose manifestation is "given to every man to profit withal," when we, underrate the treasures which have been left to us by men raised, from time to time for the close study and investigation of the written Word, and for the enforcement and defence of the doctrines of our "most holy faith." Individual cases of "unlearned and ignorant men," lacking apostolic inspiration and endowments, may arise not seldom, in which, with humble gifts, and little or none of the assistance of human lore and training, they have been signally owned and honoured by God to do His work in the ingathering and edification of His people. But, as a rule, an ignorant clergy, a clergy undisciplined by habits of study and uninformed by will fail to be effective in an enlightened and inquiring age, preaching will be vapid, superficial, and desultory, ultimately set down into an iteration (fluent enough perhaps) of facile topics.
These remarks apply with peculiar force to a crisis in the Church's history in which heresy is rife, and the foundations of the faith are undermined and assailed by formidable errors. The Church then needs well-equipped champions. Such can be found only among stored theologians, theologians "mighty in the Scriptures," but well versed also in the works of the great and gifted champions and exponents of the faith in every age - the Fathers and Reformers of old and the later and the living contributors to the Church's stores.
Among these stores, it will not be denied that the writings of the Puritan Divines must ever be held in high estimation. Many of them are, in extenso, within our reach, widely circulated, and largely used as Bishop Hopkins, Owen, Baxter, Howe, Bates, Flavel, &c. &c. Others, such as are to be published in this Series, are generally accessible in select works only; as Manton, Goodwin, Sibbes, Brooks, Charnock, Adams, &c. The works of the first four of these have never been published in a uniform edition; and of the works of Sibbes and Brooks, no complete collection exists in any public library of the kingdom, and probably in few, if in any, of the private libraries is a full set of either to be found. The projector of the present scheme - a scheme to be followed up, should its success realise the expectations formed of it, by the issue of the works of Trapp, Swinnock, Gilpin, Trail, Bates, Burgess, and others which have been suggested - is conferring a great boon upon the Church of Christ, and one the influence of which may be felt throughout the Protestant pulpits of Christendom; by doing for the comparatively inaccessible works of these Puritan Divines what has been done for many of the Fathers, the Reformers, and the German Theologians, in collecting their works, and issuing them in a form and at a price which will place them on the shelves of thousands of our students and ministers, at home, in the colonies, and in the United States of America.
It would obviously be beyond the scope of this preface to enlarge upon the history of the Puritans, interwoven as it is with stirring events and times, more familiar to us probably than any others in the annals of England. From Bishop Hooper, down to the disastrous ejectment of 1662, their story has been often told. By none with greater candour, with more enlarged catholicity of spirit, or with more graceful diction, than by the historian of the Early and Later Puritans, the Rev. J. B. Marsden, in his standard volumes. Wherever the religion, the language, or the free spirit of our Country has forced its way, the Puritans of old have some memorial. They have moulded the character and shaped the laws of other lands, and tinged with their devouter shades unnumbered congregations of Christian worshippers, even where no allegiance is professed, or willing homage done to their peculiarities. It is a party that has numbered in its ranks many of the best, and not a few of the greatest men that England has enrolled upon her history. Amongst the Puritans were found, together with a crowd of our greatest divines, and a multitude of learned men, many of our most profound lawyers, some of our most able statesmen, of our most renowned soldiers, and (strangely out of place as they may seem) not a few of our greatest orators and poets. Smith and Owen, Baxter and Howe, were their ministers, and preached amongst them. Cecil revered and defended them while he lived; so did the illustrious Bacon; and the unfortunate Essex sought his consolations from them when he came to die.
Mixed up as were the Puritans with keen and long-continued controversies, both political and religious, they have left behind them a vast mass of theology, - not controversial, but expository and hortatory, - which is the common property of the Church of Christ, and which Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Wesleyans, Independents and Baptists, may alike appreciate, use, and enjoy. Their works, developing and embodying the theology of the Reformation, form a department in our theological literature, and occupy a place so specific and important, that their absence from the student's shelves can be compensated neither by Fathers nor Reformers, nor by the richest stores of modern divinity, whether English or Continental. They have ever been subjects of eulogy with those best acquainted with them. The gustus spiritual'is predicated of Goodwin by his editors, " Thankful Owen," and "James Barron," - the "genius to dive into the bottom of points," and "to study them down," - "the happiness of high and intimate communion with God," - the "deep insight into the grace of God and the covenant of grace," - these are characteristic of the whole school; and, in an eminent degree, of those whose works have been selected for this Series. Of Manton writes the "silver-tongued Bates :" - "God had furnished him with a rare union of those parts that are requisite to form an excellent minister of His Word. A clear judgment, rich fancy, strong memory, and happy elocution, met in him, and were excellently improved by his diligent study." In the performing this work he was of that conspicuous eminence that none could detract from him, but from ignorance or envy. He was endowed with extraordinary knowledge in the Scriptures, those holy oracles from whence all spiritual light is derived; and in his preaching gave such a perspicuous account of the order and dependence of divine truths, and with that felicity applied the Scriptures to confirm them, that every subject by his management was cultivated and improved. His discourses were so clear and convincing, that none, without offering voluntary violence to conscience, could resist their evidence. And from hence they were effectual, not only to inspire a sudden flame, and raise a short commotion in the affections, but to make a lasting change in the life." "His doctrine was uncorrupt and pure; 'the truth according to goodness.' He was far from a guilty vile intention to prostitute that sacred ordinance for the acquiring any private secular advantage. Neither did he entertain his hearers with impertinent subtleties, empty notions, intricate disputes, dry and barren, without productive virtue; but as one that always had before his eyes the great end of the ministry, the glory of God and the salvation of men, his sermons were directed to open their eyes, that they might see their wretched condition as sinners, to hasten their 'flight from the wrath to come,' to make them humbly, thankfully, and entirely 'receive Christ as their Prince and all-sufficient Saviour.' And to build up the converted 'in their most holy faith,' and more excellent love, that is 'the fulfilling of the law.' In short, to make true Christians eminent in knowledge and universal obedience.
As the matter of his sermons was designed for the good of souls, so his way of expression was proper to that end. Words are the vehicle of the heavenly light. As the Divine Wisdom was incarnate to reveal the eternal counsels of God to the world, so spiritual wisdom in the mind must be clothed with words to make it sensible to others. And in this he had a singular talent. His style was not exquisitely studied, not consisting of harmonious periods, but far distant from vulgar meanness. His expression was natural and free, clear and eloquent, quick and powerful, without any spice of folly, and always suitable to the simplicity and majesty of divine truths. His sermons aflbrded substantial food with delight, so that a fastidious mind could not disrelish them. He abhorred a vain ostentation of wit in handling sacred things, so venerable and grave, and of eternal consequence." This fervour and earnestness in preaching was such as might soften and make pliant the most stubborn, obdurate spirits. I am not speaking of one whose talent was only in voice, that labours in the pulpit as if the end of preaching were for the exercise of the body, and not for the profit of souls; but this man of God was inflamed with a holy zeal, and from thence such ardent expressions broke forth, as were capable to procure attention and consent in his hearers. He spake as one that had a living faith within him of divine truths. From this union of zeal with his knowledge, he was excellently qualified to convince and convert souls." "His unparalleled assiduity in preaching declared him very sensible of those dear and strong obligations that lie upon ministers to be very diligent in that blessed work." "This faithful minister 'abounded in the work of the Lord;' and, which is truly admirable, though so frequent in preaching, yet was always superior to others, and equal to himself."
Of Clarkson, Bates spoke thus in his funeral sermon - "In his preaching, how instructive and persuasive to convince and turn the carnal and worldly from the love of sin to the love of holiness, from the love of the earth to the love of heaven. The matter of his sermons was clear and deep, and always judiciously derived from the text. The language was neither gaudy and vain, with light trimmings, nor rude and neglected, but suitable to the oracles of God. Such were his chosen acceptable words, as to recommend heavenly truths, to make them more precious and amiable to the minds and affections of men, like the colour of the sky, that makes the stars to shine with a more sparkling brightness." Both are included by the admirable and lamented Angell James in an apostrophe to the "mighty shades" of those "illustrious and holy" Nonconformists, who have "bequeathed" to us "a rich legacy in their immortal works." Later, in the pages of his stirring "Earnest Ministry," he places Clarkson in the first rank of those who were "most distinguished as successful preachers of the Word of God."
The work of Charnock on the Divine Attributes is thus spoken of by his early Editors: "But thou hast in this book not only an excellent subject in the general, but great variety of matter for the employment of thy understanding, as well as enlivening thy affections, and that, too, such as thou wilt not readily find elsewhere: many excellent things which are out of the road of ordinary preachers and writers, and which may be grateful to the curious, no less than satisfactory to the wise and judicious. It is not, therefore, a book to be played with, nor slept over, but read with the most intent and serious mind; for though it afford much pleasure for the fancy, yet much more work for the heart, and hath indeed enough in it to busy all the faculties. The dress is complete and decent, yet not garish or theatrical; the rhetoric masculine and vigorous, such as became a pulpit, and was never borrowed from the stage; the expressions full, clear, apt, and such as are best suited to the weightiness and spirituality of the truths here delivered. It is plain he was no empty preacher, but was more for sense than sound; filled up his words with matter, and chose rather to inform his hearers' minds than to claw any itching ears." "In the doctrinal part of several of his discourses thou wilt find the depth of polemical divinity, and in his inferences from thence the sweetness of practical; some things which may exercise the profoundest scholar, and others which may instruct and edify the weakest Christian; nothing is more nervous than his reasonings, and nothing more affecting than his applications. Though he make great use of school-men, yet they are certainly more beholden to him than he to them." "He is not like some school writers, who attenuate and rarefy the matter they discourse of to a degree bordering upon annihilation; at least beat it so thin that a puff of breath may blow it away; spin their threads so fine that the cloth, when made up, proves useless; solidity dwindles into niceties; and what we thought we had got by their assertions, we lose by their distinctions."
Baxter enumerates the works of Reynolds among those which he considers as indispensably necessary to the library of a theological student. Dr Doddridge says that Reynolds' "are most elaborate both in thought and expression. Few men," he adds, "were more happy in the choice of their similitudes. He was . . of great learning, and a frequent preacher." "Distinguished by profound learning and elevated character, serious without gloom, and zealous without harshness, he stands out as one of the best ecclesiastical characters of his time; and, in a crisis which was most solemn and memorable for the Church of England, he bears a lofty contrast to most of the dignitaries which assembled around James." - "The divines of the Puritan school," writes the Rev. C. Bridges, with his wonted discrimination, "however, (with due allowance for the prevalent tone of scholastic subtleties,) supply to the ministerial student a large fund of useful and edifying instruction. If they be less clear and simple in their doctrinal statements than the Reformers, they enter more deeply into the sympathies of Christian experience. Profoundly versed in spiritual tactics, - the habits and exercises of the human heart, - they are equally qualified to awaken conviction and to administer consolation, laying open the man to himself with peculiar closeness of application; stripping him of his false dependencies, and exhibiting before him the light and influence of the evangelical remedy for his distress,"
I have learned far more from John Howe," said Robert Hall, "than from any other author I ever read. There is an astonishing magnificence in his conceptions." Having added - " He had not the same perception of the beautiful as of the sublime, and hence his endless subdivisions " - " There was, I think, an innate inaptitude in Howe's mind for discerning minute graces and proprieties, and hence his sentences are often long and cumbersome " - he declared him "unquestionably the greatest of the Puritan Divines."
"Baxter," said Mr Hall, "enforces a particular idea with extraordinary clearness, force, and earnestness. His appeals to the conscience are irresistible. Howe, again, is distinguished by calmness, self-possession, majesty, and comprehensiveness; and, for my own part, I decidedly prefer him to Baxter."
Owen, Mr Hall did not admire. It is curious to compare with this the criticism of another mastermind - " Baxter," said Richard Cecil, "surpasses, perhaps, all others in the grand, impressive, and persuasive style. But he is not to be named with Owen, as to furnishing the student's mind. He is, however, multifarious, complex, practical." "Owen stands at the head of his class of divines. His scholars will be more profound and enlarged, and better furnished, than those of most other writers. His work on the Spirit has been my treasure-house, and one of my very first-rate books.' "
It is not to be denied, however, that Puritan theology has, of late years, been comparatively little read, either by clergy or laity, in this country. Owen and Baxter - and perhaps Howe - are those best known to the present generation. Of the others a few select works only are accessible to the mass of readers. Nor has the present Series been projected under the anticipation that their works, as a whole, will be popular, in the wide sense of that term, in our own day. The current of theological literature has become wider, but shallower. Shorter books, books calling for little thought; the thoughts of the intellectual giants of former days diluted and watered down to our taste; these are best adapted to an age of much and rapid reading, but little study - an age marked by a pernicious taste for light reading, and content to derive too much of its learning and information at second-hand, from periodicals and newspapers. An age, too, in which even the multiplication of privileges, in the number of sermons preached and of public meetings held, in combination with the cheap publications with which the press teems, tends to diffuse, but not to deepen, thought. And ministers find in the multiplication of facilities for the composition of sermons a corresponding snare. Many a boy at school would grow up into a sounder, riper, and more independent scholar - certainly the process of acquirement would have proved a more healthful gymnasium to his mental powers and habits, as well as for the general disciplining of his character - if he had fewer crutches on which to lean, in lexicons and translations and copious English notes, which make everything easy, and enable him to dispense with personal and direct reference to the great fountain-heads of learning and scholarship. Thus the minister finds appliances so multiplied, the old theology of Fathers, Reformers, and Puritans so ready to his hand, in commentaries and in diluted forms, that he is tempted to a growing habit of indolence; takes all at second-hand; and finds it easier to manipulate into sermons and expositions the cheap commentary, than to study the ponderous folio for himself.
It must be confessed that while, in substance, the Puritan theology is of sterling value, it presents not a few characteristics which are drawbacks to general popularity among theologians of our habits of thought. They are over-copious and diffuse, and thus not seldom prolix to wearisomeness; solid, often to heaviness; and encumbered by references to works little known and altogether unread. "Due allowance," says Mr Bridges, in the passage just quoted, must be made "for the prevalent tone of scholastic subtleties;" and, in some, for "the occasional mixture of obscurity and bombast." And Mr James, in eulogising a sermon of Doolittle's as perhaps "the most solemn and awful sermon in the English or any other language," qualifies that high eulogium by a criticism on much of its terminology," as expressive of a familiarity with awful realities" which was a "vice" of the Puritan age and school. Neither their expository works nor their sermons are presented as models. The former, looked upon as expositions, are marred occasionally by the endeavour to make them exhaustive treatises, and by a tiresome minuteness of division and subdivision. A sermon of Charnock's would be ill suited, as such, to a modern congregation: though not so much so as one of the English Chrysostom, Jeremy Taylor. But this very over-copiousness and attempts at exhaustiveness render them as storehouses invaluable. They are tomes of massive theology; theology with prolixity, and pedantry, and subtlety, but never as dry bones. It is experimental. There is unction, There is warmth. It is theology grasped and wrought out by great minds, but realised by loving hearts. The writers have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Their every page bears the impress of the bene orasse est bene studuisse. They are not theologians only but saints.
Nor are their characteristic excellencies hard to be accounted for. Not only were they pre-eminently men of God, and deep students of God's Word - " living and walking Bibles" - and this in combination often with great secular erudition - but their lot was cast in troublous times, times in which great principles were at stake, to which they were called to witness, and for which they were called to suffer. As with the individual Christian, the time, not of his wealth and ease, but of his trial and suffering, is that which braces his power, and stimulates his health and growth, so is it with the aggregate Church. Stirring times produce stirring men. Christ's heroes are drawn out by conflicts. When we handle the doctrines of the gospel merely as the subject-matter of sermons, and treatises, and controversies, we are in danger of handling them drily and abstrusely. But when we are called to confess Christ by the actual bearing of His cross, and to suffer for His truth's sake, our theology must be experimental. We then want not Christianity but Christ. The gospel is then a reality, not a creed, nor a system only nor mainly, but an inner life, an indwelling, inworking power. "Christ - the Scripture - your own hearts - and Satan's devices," writes Thomas Brooks, "are the four things that should be first and most studied and searched; if any cast off the study of these, they can be neither safe here, nor happy hereafter." His words are the key-note of Puritan theology.
These divines were diligent and profound students to a degree attained by few ministers of our own, day, when, in all sections of the Christian Church, so much of their time is consumed in out-door work and quasi-secular duties. The organisation and maintenance of parochial or congregational machinery, - the anxiety and labour merely of raising funds for their varied agencies and institutions, - the co-operation expected of them in the countless philanthropic schemes and multiplied religious societies of our age, - these drive or draw them from their studies. The mental tone and habits of the student are soon lost. A restless, desultory, excited spirit is engendered. And many an energetic minister falls into the fallacy that he is never working for his people, unless he is going up and down among them, and busy in schools, visitation, committees, and public meetings. No doubt it is a working age; working as distinguished from retirement, study, and meditation. But no minister should, under any stress of fancied duties, cease to be a student.
"Apart from practice, thought will become impoverished without study; the most active and fertile minds have perceived this, We cannot derive all the nourishment we need from ourselves; without borrowing we cannot create. It is true that there are other methods of study besides reading. When we have learned anything from books, and in the best of books as well as in others, we must make use of our native powers in order to assimilate it, as also we assimilate nourishment for the body. But when, without the aid of books, or in the absence of facts, we labour in solitude, on what materials shall we labour unless it be on those supplied by recollection? Whence do our thoughts arise except from facts, or from books, or from social intercourse? A great volume, which also demands our careful study. We must, therefore, study in order to excite and encircle our own thoughts by means of the thoughts of other men. Those who do not study will see their talent gradually fading away, and will become old and superannuated in mind before their time. Experience demonstrates this abundantly, so far as preaching is concerned. Whence comes it that preachers who were so admired when they entered upon their course, often deteriorate so rapidly, or disappoint many of the lofty expectations which they had excited? Very generally the reason is because they discontinue their studies. A faithful pastor will always keep up a certain amount of study; while he reads the Bible, he will not cease from reading the great book of humanity which is opened before him; but this empirical study will not suffice. Without incessant study, a preacher may make sermons, and even good sermons, but they will all resemble one another, and that increasingly as he continues the experiment. A preacher, on the other hand, who keeps up in his mind a constant flow of substantial ideas, who fortifies and nourishes his mind by various reading, will be always interesting. He who is governed by one pervading idea and purpose will find in all books, even in those which are not directly connected with the ministry, something that he may adapt to his special aim."
"For a man who preaches much, without from time to time renewing the stock of matter with which he began his career, however sound or pious he may continue to be, will be almost sure ultimately to become a very barren preacher. And I only say almost, in consideration of a few rare instances, in which observation of life, and intercourse with varieties of character, seem to make an original and peculiar cast of mind, independent in a good measure of reading. But these are rare exceptions. Generally, and all but universally, a public teacher requires to have his own mind supplied and exercised by books. And to derive full advantage from them, I need hardly say, that he must not only read, but think. Undigested reading is better, I am sure, than none. I know that a different opinion is entertained by some, but this is mine. For there is no one who does not take away some matter from what he reads, and no mind can be so inert as not to be forced to some activity, while taking in new facts or thoughts. And, what is not to be put out oI view, every mind becomes continually more unfurnished and more inert, when reading is wholly given up. But the benefit to be derived from reading without purpose and thought, of course falls far short of that which reflection will draw from the same, or from scantier stores. And this applies very particularly to the most fruitful, as well as the most important of the sources from which the preacher's materials are to be drawn. By reading the Holy Scriptures, without meditating upon them, a man may, no doubt, obtain considerable acquaintance with the facts and doctrines which they contain, - may become an adroit controversialist, and a well-furnished textuary, - but unless he studies the sacred volume with patient thought, (I need not add to you, my brethren, with earnest prayer,) until he becomes imbued with its spirit as well as acquainted with its contents, his use of Scripture will be comparatively jejune, and cold, and unprofitable. And so, you remember, the Apostle exhorts his beloved son in the faith: 'Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all.' And, certainly, all do feel the difference which there is between one who is giving out crude materials, taken in hastily for the occasion, and one who is drawing from the stores which he has laid up in this meditative study of divine truth."
The Puritan writers were men engaged in stirring scenes, and had the conduct of questions and controversies involving great principles, and in which the liberties of this country and of the Church of Christ were at stake. They had to endure, in not a few cases, "a great fight of afflictions," persecution, imprisonment, ejectment. They were not students as living in stagnant times. But study, long, close, deep, sustained, was with them an integral part of their ministry. They toiled alike in rowing and in fishing; but they mended their nets. They gave themselves unto reading. They were not content with indolently picking up a few stray surface pieces of ore, which had been dropped by others at the mine's mouth. They sunk the shaft and went down and toiled and dug and smelted and refined and burnished for themselves, and for the Church Catholic.
We hear, in our own day, complaints loud and frequent of the feebleness of the pulpit. Not men of the world only, to whom, if they ever hear sermons, the sermon is a form with which they would gladly dispense, but an Angell James asks, "Has the modern evangelical pulpit lost, and is it still losing, any of its power?"
Sir James Stephen writes -
"Every seventh day a great company of preachers raise their voices in the land to detect our sins, to explain our duty, to admonish, to alarm, and to console. Compare the prodigious extent of this apparatus with its perceptible results, and inestimable as they are, who will deny that they disappoint the hopes which, antecedently to experience, the least sanguine would have indulged? The preacher has, indeed, no novelties to communicate. His path has been trodden hard and dry by constant use; yet he speaks as an ambassador from Heaven, and his hearers are frail, sorrowing, perplexed, and dying men. The highest interests of both are at stake. The preacher's eye rests on his manuscript; the hearer's turns to the clock; the half-hour glass runs out its sand; and the portals close on well-dressed groups of critics, looking for all the world as if just dismissed from a lecture on the tertiary strata."
No doubt, in many cases, our critics are not qualified. " The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." And the true power of the pulpit, be it remembered, is not in Paul, nor in Apollos, but with the Holy Ghost.
And we cannot yield to the clamour for interesting sermqns, if sermons are to be made attractive by smatterings of geology, and political economy, and geography, in an age in which intellect is a chief idol.
But that there is a want of solid matter, a flimsiness, in too many of our modern sermons is undeniable. They may be faithful, bpt they are too often, if not crude, meagre and vapid. There is a cry for simplicity. Too often in aiming at simplicity we fall into imbecility. Practical preaching is in demand. But Christian practice must be enforced on Christian motive; and Christian motive cannot be urged in all its fulness and power, unless Christian doctrine in its depth and variety be stated and enforced. The gospel must be offensive to the natural heart. But surely that scheme into which "angels desire to look," and which is to those lofty intelligences, surrounded by many evidences of the divine wisdom beyond man's present ken, the brightest manifestation of it must have matter capable of exercising (and that lawfully and profitably) man's highest intellectual powers. We call upon men to receive it with the simple faith of little children, but not necessarily as in itself unworthy of intellectual study and research. " To the Greek foolishness," is still true. But let it be "the foolishness of God," not the foolishness of our indolence and insipidity. "Preaching indeed, considered in regard to its sublime object, is at its best but foolishness after all; but this, we venture to think, is a reason why it should do its best, not its worst." To this end ministers must be, as were the Puritan giants, students. Less public work. Fewer committees. Less serving of tables. A larger enlistment of the laity, specially in that which is secular. We must determine on this, or we shall have, in another generation, that of which we have but too threatening symptoms now - if indeed we have not passed beyond symptoms into a disastrous state of malady - an ill-stored, unlearned, untheological clergy.
Complaints of pulpit feebleness are not the only evil results. Our divinity students pass into the ministry and ascend our pulpits, having gone through their university curriculum, and " crammed up" the few authors required by their bishop or theological college, but unstored with experimental theology; too often with no discernment of distinctive truth, no well-proportioned and symmetrical view of Christian doctrine. Hence they are in danger of being "carried to and fro with every blast of vain doctrine." The mistiness and vagueness of negative theology, the husks of ritualism, would fail to satisfy men who had tasted "the living bread" and drunk deep into the wells of such theologians as this Series is designed to make accessible. Faults of prolixity, pedantry, scholastic subtlety, over-systematising, over-straining, and over-spiritualising, a familiarity and a homeliness running into a coarseness which would now shock where it did not provoke levity inconsistent with the reverence due to high and holy themes, are as trifles when weighed against the scriptural knowledge, the clear, distinct statement of doctrine, the close, masterly handling of all the subtle intricacies of the experiences of the inner life, in its varied conflicts, its hopes, its fears, its sorrows, its consolations, its joys. Contrast with a page of our modern negative theology, - an essay or sermon in which the writer, dealing with the fact of the death of Christ, at one time so employs the language of Holy Scripture as to leave no doubt of his orthodoxy, and, the next moment, so explains, and fences, and emasculates this language as to deprive the cross of its true efficacy, and to leave us in doubt as to any adequate cui bono for that unutterably solemn display of the divine perfections, - contrast with this a page of Charnock, or Reynolds, or Goodwin, or Clarkson, or - to go beyond the limits of this Series - of Thomas Jacomb or of Edward Polhill, and we at once feel the difference of the atmosphere. If we seem to have been guided by the negative theologian to some height of intellectual power and philosophic research, we find it not to be a height from which, in flooding sunshine, we may survey the panorama of Christian truth, but a height on which we stand shivering amid the mists of unsatisfying negatives; and if, awhile, the mists seem ready to roll away and to disperse themselves, they return to cloud and chill us as before. When Manton expounds St James, or Goodwin St Paul, - when Sibbes is opening up the "Soul's Conflict," or dilating on the "Beloved" and His " Bride," - when Brooks brings forth his " Precious Remedies" and "Heart's Ease," - when Owen is analysing indwelling sins or opening out the Epistle to the Hebrews - or Polhill treating of election and redemption, we have massive theology baptized with all the rich unction of Christian experience. To travel still further beyond the limits of this particular Series, the Lectures of Bishop King on Jonas present a combination of expository ability and pulpit power - specially in the element of uncompromising rebuke - which renders them a masterpiece and a model which modern preachers would do well to study. Contrasting these, and such as these, among our theological writers, with many whose unsound productions have for awhile unhappily superseded them, and are unsettling the minds of many in our universities and pulpits, we may employ the words of the editors of Goodwin, when they represent him as " wondering greatly at the daring attempts of some men of this age, unskilful in the word of righteousness, upon the great and momentous points of our religion, which are the glory of our Reformation; but these points will prove gold, silver, precious stones, when their wood, hay, and stubble will be burnt up. These will have a verdure and greenness on them, whilst the inventions of others will be blasted and wither. These will be firm, whilst others, wanting somewhat within, it will be with them as it was with the Jewish and heathenish worship, when a fate was upon them, all the efforts and endeavours of men could not make them stand.
The controversial writings of the Puritans are beyond the province of this preface. If in one instance - that of a Treatise on Church Government by Goodwin - controversy has been included in this Series, it has been done to prevent his Works from being incomplete. As a whole, this class of subjects hardly enters into the writings of the authors whose Works are comprised in this Series. Of their abilities in polemical divinity Mr Marsden observes, with more immediate reference to the earlier among them, that "the student, after a wide search amongst the combatants of later times, finds to his surprise how insignificant are all their additions to a controversy opened, and, as far as learning and argument go, finally closed, by the earliest champions on either side." Their style, if sometimes inflated and obscure, has a nervous pithiness and quaintness rarely found among the theologians and preachers of our own day. The commonplace book of the student will soon be filled up with terse and pointed sayings - those "words of the wise which are as goads." A strong, homely saying, quoted from an old Puritan, will be the sentence of all others, in many a modern sermon, which will fasten itself most readily on the memory, and retain the most lasting hold. " Several of them," says Mr Marsden, "write the English language in high, if not the highest, perfection, before it was degraded and Latinised by the feeble men of the last century."
Their homeliness, to call it by the mildest name, is nowhere more striking (nor, at times, more grotesque) than in the titles prefixed by them to treatises and sermons. Thomas Adams, for example, (following Luther,) designates a sermon on Judas, "The White Devil, or the Hypocrite Uncased;" another, " The Shot, or the Wofull Price which the Wicked pay for the Feast of Vanitie;" a third, on Jer. viii. 22, "The Sinner's Passing Bell, or a Complaint from Heaven for Man's Sinnes;" a fourth, on Matt. xii. 43, (the unclean spirit's return to the man from whom he had gone out,) "The Black Saint, or the Apostate;" a fifth, on Ecclies. ix. 3, "Mysticall Bedlam, or the World of Madmen." We can hardly open a page of his sermons without finding quaintnesses of the most striking kind. The openings of the sermons, "The Fatal Banket" and "The Shot," are among the most singular. And not seldom, when we feel that the writer is running into fanciful conceit rather than exposition, the application is so full of power and beauty that, despite our judgment, it carries us with it. Take the following from Adams' sermon on "Christ his Starre, or the 'Wise Men's Oblation," folio, 1030, p. 165 "Some will give myrrh, but not frankincense; some will give frankincense, but not myrrh; and some will give myrrh and frankincense, but not gold.
"1. Some will give myrrh, a strict moral life, not culpable of any gross eruption or scandalous impiety; but not frankincense. Their prayers are thin sown, therefore their graces cannot come up thick. Perhaps they feel no want, and then, you know, rarce fumant felicibus arae. In their thought, they do not stand in any great need of God; when they do, they will offer Him some incense. These live a morally honest life, but are scant of religious prayers; and so may be said to offer myrrh without frankincense.
"2. Some will give frankincense, pray frequently, perhaps tediously; but they will give no myrrh, not mortify or restrain their concupiscence. The Pharisees had many prayers, but never the fewer sins. These mock God, that they so often beg of Him that His will may be done, when they never subdue their affections to it. There are too many such among us, that will often join with the Church in communion devotions, who yet join with the world in common vices. These make great smokes of frankincense, but let not fall one drop of myrrh.
"3. Some will give both myrrh and frankincense, but by no means their gold. I will give (saith the worldling) a sober life - there 's my myrrh; I will say my prayers - there's my frankincense; but do you think I will part with my gold? This same gold lies closer in men's hearts than it doth in their purses. You may as well wring Hercules's club out of his fist as a penny from their heaps to charitable uses."
The skeleton of the sermon on "The Blacke Saint" is a most curious specimen of the over-elaborate division of a subject, specially as typographically displayed by the author (p. 352.)
It need hardly be remarked that "the Puritan was a Calvinist naturally and entirely." "Calvinism had been, if not the progenitor, the nursing-mother of Puritanism." Our Calvinism may be more or less than theirs, but every lover of evangelical truth will be at one with them in their full exhibitions of the grace and glory of Emmanuel, as the Church's Head and the sinner's only Saviour. Their transcendent merit is their "sweet savour of Christ." Man, in his utter ruin in the first Adam, and his glorious sa1vation in the second Adam; the sovereign grace of the Triune Jehovah, in the eternal purpose and plan for man's recovery; the riches of the Father's love; the might and comfort, the peace and joy of the Spirit's grace, - these are so taught as to fulfil the good pleasure of the Father, "that in all things" Christ "may have the pre-eminence." Their gospel is not "another gospel, which is not another," but the glorious gospel of the grace of the blessed God. "God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;" the surrendered life of Christ; the penal and vicarious satisfaction by which the curse of the broken law was met; the blood of Christ the fountain opened for uncleanness and for the consecration of God's elect to their royal priesthood; the active obedience of Christ, as "made under the law," combining with his sufferings and blood-shedding to constitute Him "the Righteousness of God" to His people; present pardon and justification; the Spirit indwelling as the Sanctifier, the Teacher, the Comforter, the inward Witness to sonship, the Intercessor, the seal, the earnest; in a word, THE NEW COVENANT, with all its riches, and privileges, and strength, and peace, and hope, and joy, - these are their great and central theme. They discerned the difficulties presented, not by the implacableness of the Father, but by the laws of His moral government, based upon His own moral perfections, to the salvation of a fallen moral being; and how these were met by the counsels and provisions of that eternal scheme by which God is just, and the justifier of the ungodly - at once a Moral Governor of unsullied truth and purity, and a Saviour.
On the expulsion of the Puritans, on St Bartholomew's Day, in 1662, under the disastrous and suicidal Act of Uniformity, "they carried with them the spiritual light 0f the Church of England." And "in the course of ninety years, the nation had descended to a state of irreligion which we now contemplate with feelings of dismay." "It was the opinion of those who lived in these evil days that had it not been for a small body of respectable clergymen who had been educated among the Puritans, and of whom Wilkins, Patrick, and Tillotson were the leaders, every trace of godliness would have been clean put out, and the land reduced to universal and avowed atheism. Indeed, the writings and sermons of the Church of England divines of this period confirm these statements. They are evidently addressed to hearers before whom it was necessary to prove not merely the providence, but the very being of a God - not only the soil's immortality, but the soui's existence. Their pains are chiefly spent not in defending any particular creed or system of doctrine, for they appear to have thought all points of doctrine beyond the attainment of the age. They take up the people of England where heathenism might have left them a thousand years before; they teach the first elements of natural religion, and descant upon the nature of virtue, its present recompense, and the arguments in favour of a state of retribution, after the manner of Socrates and Plato. It is seldom that they rise beyond moral and didactic instructions. Theology languished, arid spiritual religion became nearly unknown; and a few great and good men handed down to one another the practice and the traditions of a piety which was almost extinct. The restoration of civil liberty brought with it no return of spiritual life within the Church of England. The nation became less immoral without becoming more religious. Politics and party ate out the very vitals of what little piety remained. At length one of the most cautious of English writers, as well as the most profound of English divines, seventy years after the ejection of the Nonconformists, portrays the character of the age in those memorable words, in which he tells us that it had come, he knew not how, to be taken for granted by too many, that Christianity was not so much a subject of inquiry as that it was now at length discovered to be fictitious! How widely these opinions had infected the nation and its educated classes we may infer from the circumstance that he devoted his life to that wonderful book in which he proves by the argument from analogy that religion deserves at least a candid bearing. Bishop Newton, a few years afterwards, wrote his treatise on the fulfilment of prophecy, with the same intentions; while Doddridge, amongst Dissenters, deplored the prevalence of a fatal apathy, and the decay of real piety."
The preaching with which these great and holy men aroused the nation was the preaching of Puritan doctrine, in place of the Christless ethics and semi- (or more than semi-) Socinian doctrine by which it had been supplanted. Substantially, it is the preaching by which the Sacramentalism and the Neology of our own day are to be met; for, substantially, not without its measure of "wood, hay, stubble," it is "gold, silver, precious stones," built upon the one foundation - Christ.
The present may seem, in some sense, an unfavourable moment for the issue of this Series. The theological taste of the day is not for systematic theology. Nevertheless, the cordial favour with which the design of this project has been greeted by divines of the greatest eminence, from nearly all sections of the Christian Church, both in this kingdom and in America, is in itself a token for good, and may well afford encouragement to those among us who are disposed to take a gloomy view of our prospects, by reason of the heresies and divisions which are rife. In the Puritan Theologians, - not, of course, in all their views and statements of doctrine, but substantially, - a large body of the most eminent and best qualified judges recognise a clear, rich, scriptural statement of evangelical truth. And, amid diversities of opinions and conflicting parties, no less than as affording hope that the power of the pulpit will be greatly strengthened among us, the accord of so large a body of Christian men and ministers is a hopeful and cheering sign. It will be an incalculably blessed result of this reprint, should our ministers catch something of the grandly SCRIPTURAL character of Puritan preaching and exposition. In this lay the secret of their strength.
No "Broad Church" divinity will be found in these pages. Our students and younger ministers are often attracted by more brilliant writers and bolder (not deeper) thinkers. They may pronounce the Puritans old-fashioned, behind the age, heavy. But the Series has been projected in tha hope that a healthier tone may be fostered, and that facility may induce familiarity. Writings which must have been sought in rare and costly folios, or watched for at sales or at book-stalls, may now be upon our shelves without effort and at little cost. The supply will create a demand. A reaction in favour of Puritan theology - so far, at least, as to give it its due place - will indicate a healthier tone. The more spiritually-minded of our reading laity will find in these volumes truths and thoughts which may well tempt them to substitute them for those of writers who, if they make less demands upon the intellectual power of their readers, by presenting their matter in an easy and diluted form, repay the perusal in a proportionately moderate measure. But the main object and the paramount desire is that this Series may conduce to the soundness, solidity, and unction of the pulpit ministrations of our own day and of days to come; that, as these men were " mighty in the Scriptures," and proclaimed the gospel in all the riches of its grace, and exalted Christ, and honoured the Spirit of God, and entered, with a skilful and searching anatomy into the hidden secrets of the experience of God's saints, many a student and many a preacher may imbibe their spirit. No disparagement of the early Fathers nor of the Reformers, whose theology is here embodied and developed, is intended; nor any ungrateful undervaluing, by invidious comparison, of the treasures accumulated by later and living labourers. Still less are the Puritan theologians held up that we may call them fathers or masters, or make them an authoritative standard of appeal. Our first business, our Solemn responsibility, is with THE WRITTEN WORD. "WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURE?" Let that inquiry be first pursued, in lowly teachableness, in reliance upon no inner light, but upon the Spirit's promised teaching. Let it be pursued with diligent, honest study, not with a pedantic, but an exact and sound philology; and with a fearless trust in truth, no less than a sincere love of it. How few of us have full confidence in truth!
This Series, it is believed, supplies a lack. It comes forth in no ordinary crisis of the Church's history. If anywhere, within the Church the war of opinion rages. The ancient landmarks are being removed. The very foundations are threatened. The inspiratipn of the sacred oracles is controverted; their infallibility denied. The penmen of the Holy Ghost are deemed not to have been so inspired as to be preserved from error. Moses, Isaiah, and Paul - history, prophecy, doctrines - are alike assailed. Man brings his Maker's Book to the verifying faculty of his own inner light and moral consciousness. The death of the Son of God is an heroic self-sacrifice - not a penal satisfaction to the outraged law of the Moral Governor of the universe. Under our new interpreters, much of what we have received from our infancy, and have taught our children, as facts recorded in an inspired history, is relegated to the region of myth and ideology. At such a crisis, it is no slight boon to the Christian Church to make the voices of these witnesses to the truth be heard. Their testimony is, for the most part, silenced, because buried in costly folios; or comes to us only in the echoes of plagiarists. They will now speak in the library of many a pastor, upon whose shelves they have never yet found a place. And, while it is never to be forgotten that neither Father, nor Reformer, nor Puritan, is to share, much less to usurp, that homage which is due to the Scriptures of Truth alone, we believe that when the student and the preacher descend to the study of those uninspired, but gifted men who, in successive ages, have been raised up as exponents of those Scriptures and witnesses to that Truth, none are more calculated, under the divine blessing, to elevate and to deepen the tone of our theology, to preserve us from the deadly perils of old errors now revived, and to give distinctness, substance, unction, and experimental richness to our preaching, than the Puritan Divines.
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