James Durham

Concerning Scandal - Original Publisher’s Preface

There are, I suppose, few or none amongst us, or about us, so great strangers to the observation of providential occurrences in Scotland, as to be altogether without the knowledge of what has come to pass in these days: How the holy, just and sovereign Lord, who sometime lifted us up, has now cast us down; who crowned us with glory and honour, has stript us of our glory and made the crown to fall from our head (though we have not said, ‘Woe unto us, for we have sinned’); who sometime made us a praise in the earth, has now made us a hissing, a by-word and a reproach to all that are round about us; How he, who once by our unity and one-shoulder-service did make us beautiful as Tirza, comely as Jerusalem, and terrible as an Army with Banners, has now, alas! (which is one of the most embittering ingredients in our cup) instead of giving us one heart and one way, in his anger, divided, sub-divided, weakened, disjointed and broken us. So that Judah vexes Ephraim, and Ephraim envys Judah, and every man’s hand almost is against his brother, and through our lamentable and most unseasonable intestine jars and divisions we bite and devour one another, and are likely to be consumed one of another.
Oh tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Askelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph! That when God has cast us all down together we endeavour to keep down and tread upon one another. That when he has been justly angry with our mother her children are sinfully angry one with another, and when he has cast us all into the furnace, we are even there struggling and wrestling one with another to the increasing of the flame. And when brotherly love and loathness to give or take offence, is in a special manner called for, love did never wax more cold, nor offences more abound. Now, when our Church thus in a manner distracted and drunk with the wine of astonishment, is in so sad a posture, and but few of the sons she has brought forth guide her or take her by the hand, they all almost fainting and lying at the head of every street, as it were so many wild bulls in a net, full of the fury of the Lord and of the rebuke of our God; then steps forth (the Spirit of the Lord coming upon him) one of her sons, the Author of this excellent Treatise concerning Scandal (having made some serious essays before to take his mother by the hand, though but with small acceptance with many of his brethren, for which, it may be, the jealous God was in part provoked to remove him), whereby, as by his latter will and testament, especially to the Ministers of the Church of Scotland, he does again renew his formerly fruitless and unsuccessful attempt.
In which treatise, as there breathes a far more sweet and savoury spirit, than in most, if not all of the papers published upon occasion of our late lamentable differences (which I hope will by none be looked upon as any reflection), so there is throughout a most strong and fragrant smell of more than ordinary piety, that it may be averred of him, as once it was of Cyril of Jerusalem, in his last and best days, he was a man of eminent sanctity It plainly also speaks forth special acquaintance with the Scriptures (for, in all his discourses, as it is said of Basil, he exquisitely mingles divine testimonies of Scripture, that they are like precious stones, not sewed to, but bred in purple clothes) and intimacy with the mind of God, as to what may be duty under the various dispensations of his providence. So that it may be said of him, he was a man that had understanding of the times, and knew what Israel ought to do. For he does with admirable perspicacity take up, and with no less dexterity direct unto, what ought to be done in this, and that, and the other case, as a most skillful anatomist dissecting the whole complex body of duties in reference to ordinary and extraordinary cases and emergents, never missing, as it were, one lith or joint, and like a left-handed Benjamite, that in the greatest intricacies, and gravest difficulties, can sling stones at an hair’s breadth and not miss.
It savours likewise all-along of a most sharp, strong and pregnant wit, in supposing cases, proposing pertinent overtures and expedients, in disposing of arguments, framing distinctions, anticipating objections, in cautious guarding against mistakes and inconveniences, etc. So that it’s verified of him what was once said of Origen, he had such pregnancy of wit that he could reach anything; and of Joseph Scaliger; he was a man of stupendous wit. It discovers withal so very great insight in church history and writings of the ancient Fathers, wherewith it is everywhere most beautifully illuminated, that it may well be said of him, as once of sweet Bucholtzer; that one would have thought that all antiquity lay hid in his breast; and of famous Mr. Holland, Regius Professor of Divinity in Oxfbrd, he was so familiarly acquainted with the Fathers as if himself had been one of them.
As for his style and manner of expressing himself, it savours very much of the primitive and gospel-simplicity so that what is spoken to the commendation of Basil by a learned man, may fitly be applied to the Author. The Reader will find in him a simple and natural form of speech, flowing from his holy breast, much drained of all human passions. And that which is said of Ambrose, he studied, not to tickle and please ears, but to prick hearts, as likewise that which is said of another great man, his words were not inflating, but inflaming. He shows himself here many ways to have been indeed a great man, but I (having been his colleague in the ministry and of his very intimate acquaintance for some years) knew him to be such more particularly and several other ways. So that while I reflect upon, and call to remembrance what I have seen in and heard from him, I am constrained to say, as once Urbanus Regius (a man much more able indeed to discern) said of Luther; upon occasion of a conference with him, "He was always to me a great man, but now very great, for I saw and heard things when I was present with him, which can hardly by any pen be communicated to those that were absent."
In a word, as to the whole treatise, it may I think, without any hyperbole be said, that it is universally most profitable and seasonably beautiful. For in the first part of it concerning scandal in the general (excellently compended and commended as all the rest are, by the stately-styling, profound and precious prefacer, like minded in all these things with the blessed Author, whose sage mind in them, and not the less because of this co-incidency, would be more laid weight upon, lest we be put out of time to lament also the loss of such a healer and pillar in this sorely sick and shaken church); in the first part I say, the ancient, primitive, long-dead, buried, and almost-forgotten tenderness in the matter of offence (a specially-adorning requisite to a Christian and gospel-becoming conversation) is again revived and portrayed as risen from the dead with a most amiable and comely countenance and taking aspect, so that it forces the serious beholders to say, “Peace be upon as many as walk according to this Rule.”
In the second part concerning scandals as they are the object of church-censures, there is a very complete and compact directory according to the Scripture-pattern for church officers, how to manage the great ordinance of discipline in its exercise; which, if it were diligently and conscientiously followed in the several steps of it (as it was most convincingly so by the Author himself) would undoubtedly make that work both much more easy and much more successful than it ordinarily used to be.
In the third part concerning errors, wonderfully suited to this time of so great infection, sickness and mortality, by the raging plague and botch of error, exceedingly gathered to a head, ripened and made to break and run out, to the infecting, in a manner, of the very air wherein the churches of these nations breath, by the heat and warmness afforded to it from a lamentable liberty and vast toleration; in this third part, I say, there is as it were a physician’s shop, full of those choice preservatives against, and sovereign remedies of, poisonible errors and heresies.
In the fourth part, concerning scandalous divisions, he as another Irencus, with much meekness of wisdom and singular moderation of spirit, without any the least reflection or irritation, most tenderly, singly, unbiassedly, and impartially, and most affectionately, as a man burnt with the offence that waits on divisions among godly ministers especially, strongly endeavours an innocent and wholesome union and composure. So that (as an eminent aged and experienced servant of Jesus Christ, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all these churches, when he first saw this piece in writ, said) it will be unwelcome to none but such as are led with a bitter spirit. To which may well be added, that as it’s reported of Nazianzus, he was of such authority in the Greek churches, that whosoever durst oppose his testimony; was suspected to be a heretic. So may it be said of the piously and prudently-peaceable, and healing-spirited Author, that he deserves to be of such authority at least in the Scottish Church, that whoever shall adventure to oppose (as it’s hoped none will) his wise, harmless, holy and healing overtures, may be suspected to be no great friend to the union and peace of this afflicted and rent church.
I will not, Christian Reader, detain you any longer from perusing this notable tractate, but shall only offer to your grave and serious consideration, these two things, which I suppose will not a little commend the same unto you, especially as to the last part of it.
1. One is, that the Author, when he was (but a very little before his last sickness, and after his finishing the three first parts) most unexpectedly surprised with a motion suggested to him anent the expediency of handling somewhat of the scandal of divisions, it did so exceedingly affright him, and had such astonishing influence upon him through the apprehended difficulty and ticklishness of the subject (so tender was he) that (as he did to some afterward profess) he sunk down in his seat; and yet being convinced of the necessity of saying somewhat to it, the Lord having withal helped him in the other parts, he durst not forbear. Whereupon this choice discourse (for it was not divided in chapters till afterward) did follow, much whereof I know and am persuaded did occur and was given unto him during the dictation.
2. The other thing is, that sometimes before his death to some friends, he did humbly and gravely call it his Testament to the Church of Scotland, which Testament and Latter-will of a dead, but yet speaking faithful servant of God, will, I hope, in due time be confirmed by all godly, judicious, sober, peaceable and unprejudiced men, as containing in it a most excellent and enriching legacy worthy to be put into the church’s treasury Now that it may go forth with a rich blessing from the God of truth and peace, to all the honest-hearted lovers of the truth in peaces for the advancement of truth and a holy peace, is the desire of him, who desires to be thine to serve in the gospel of peace,
J. C. (John Carstares].

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