ORIGINAL PREFACE - TO DURHAM'S "SCANDAL"
BY ROBERT BLAIR
The rise of the subsequent treatise, the blessed author,
in the very first words thereof, declares to be the occasion he had from Rev 2,
on the Epistle to the Church of Pergamos, to meditate on the nature and sorts
of Scandal. And before I say anything of this present work, I shall hence take
occasion to show my thoughts of his Commentary on the Book of Revelation.
In my humble opinion, that which was spoken of the virtuous woman (Prov. 31:29), may well be applied to the pains this author has taken on that book: Many writers have done worthily, but thou excellest them all. The reason of my so high estimation thereof, is taken from a threefold excellence I find therein.
The first is a brief, clear and accurate opening of the most difficult text in the whole Bible, applying with great sagacity and admirable dexterity dark prophecies to their historical events; and yet with judicious sobriety; not restraining, as it were, to single stars of several persons, that which rather relates to conglobate constellations of agents or patients, together with a modest, yet a diligent search of those things which are not yet accomplished. Whoever would compendiously have an experiment hereof, let him read the first lecture on chapter six (which parcel, with some others, were sent to me by the author, some months before the printing). And as herein I did find great satisfaction, by reason of the clearness and notable coherence of the interpretation, and convincing grounds and arguments proving the solidity thereof, so may thou, Christian Reader, be sweetly refreshed and strongly confirmed thereby.
The second excellence hereof, is the great plenty of practical divinity, relating to all Christians, but more especially to ministers of the gospel. I cannot name any authors work, wherein I have perceived so many edifying overtures, so many searching discourses and encouraging helps as this commentary abounds with. From the first lecture on chapter three, I believe both the careful Christian and the well-gifted diligent preacher, may be first alarmed, and then well strengthened, by that searching discourse on these words, Thou hast a name that thou livest, but art dead.
The third excellency of this work, lies not only in clearing and answering many doubts very succinctly, but also in discussing more largely, by way of digression, many weighty and important truths, even to the number twenty-five. So that this commentary besides [the] profitable opening of such a text, and handling much practical divinity clears with great modesty without any personal reflections, and discusses edifyingly as much darkened truth, as if the whole work had been written to dispute and determine pertinent and important questions.
But now, to say no more of that work, which speaks for itself, being in the hands of many, and I wish it [to] be diligently perused with a blessing from heaven, I come to say something of this treatise of scandal. And well was he fitted to write of this subject, whose exercise it was to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men. And very successful was he in walking this way. For in a time wherein scandals of all sorts did abound exceedingly, few there were (if any at all) who did stumble at his way, or he at the way of others, endeavouring still and by all means winning and edifying. And whoever knew his way of walking, they will read the same in this treatise, set forth to others.
In the first part thereof you will find, Christian Reader, the nature of scandal dexterously opened, with the several sorts of it, and the variety of ways whereby it is both given and taken, with considerable grounds to make Christians loath and wary, both as to the giving of offense and taking. And withal, many intricate cases are cleared, as namely: What is to be done when the matter is lawful and the offense doubtful? What ought to be our carriage when there is a real difference between parties upon the account of a civil interest?
4 What behaviour is requisite when the command of superiors and the eschewing of offense are in opposition? Also, that very important case is accurately debated and wisely determined, What is to be done when offense is like[ly] to follow on either side?
And finally, What course ought both private Christians and pastors hold when scandals and offenses abound? the answer to which alone holds forth a very excellent directory for Christian walking toward others.
The second part treats scandal as it is public, and falls under ecclesiastic censure, wherein there are many excellent overtures for the wise and right exercise of church discipline. Among many, this is considerable, that the saving grace of repentance, is not to be inquired into as the alone ground upon which church officers are to rest for removing an offence; but that a sober, serious acknowledgement of the offence, with the expression of an unfeigned-like purpose to walk inoffensively, is sufficient. This is very accurately debated, and solidly and soundly determined. There is also (in Chapter Twelvet), a clear discussing of that ticklish question, What ought to be done by private persons when church officers spare such as are scandalous? to wit, upon supposition that there is a real defect (in the truth whereof often there is a mistake). Yet, private professors are to continue in the discharge of the duties of their stations, and [are] not to separate from the communion of the church, but [are] to count themselves exonered in holding fast their own integrity mourning for offences, representing the same to church officers, and if need be, to superior judicatories. All this is strongly, convincingly, and very satisfying proven by Scripture.
The third part is concerning Doctrinal Scandals, or Scandalous Errors, a theme very necessary for these reeling times. If I should offer to pick out from thence, points very remarkable, I would far pass the just bounds of a preface. Wherefore, I shall only thereof say this, that both Christian magistrates, ministers and people, will find their duty laid before them, no less solidly than accurately, what to do in the case of spreading error. And, Oh that the Most High would strike in his sovereign authority that upon the hearts and consciences of all sorts, especially magistrates, in whose hands this tractate shall come!
But now I come to speak a word of the fourth part of this treatise, and that so much the more,
1. because it was the last labour of this precious man of God, and so it is his Swan-like song. The Only Wise thought it fit to recommend to all his people, especially within this land, in these distracted times (when passion and prejudice makes it most difficult, if not altogether impossible to speak a word in a season acceptably), the hatefulness of scandalous division, and the loveliness of a godly union, by the words of a messenger, who was one of a thousand, known to be moderate, wise and faithful, very far from factiousness, sharply perceiving what was duty, and very impartially uttering the same. At the dictating of this part, the infirmity of the decaying tabernacle was so great, that he could not endure the labour of writing with his own hand. But being now ripe for glory, and having entered the suburbs of heaven, he breathed out his wise and godly thoughts to a borrowed pen.
2. Next, I have the greater reason to consider diligently this piece of work, and having considered it, to recommend it the more earnestly to all Christs people, and especially to my reverend and dear brethren of the ministry, because it was sent to me sealed from the author in the beginning of his last sickness, as a depositum committed to me to make it ready for publishing, which I performed carefully and faithfully, without the alteration of one material word. And having lately perused the copy the printer makes use of, I hereby testify it is the same for matter, order, sentences and words, the author sent to me, and I transmitted to him, a little before the Lord removed him.
And now, upon the matter, I think verily that this healing tractate is so full of that wisdom which is from above, first pure and then peaceable, that it will speak plainly [that] the author [was] fitted of God to bring forth a seasonable word. At the first reading thereof, my spirit was greatly refreshed, and my heart enlarged to bless the Lord, conceiving that the Prince of peace, in compassion over our putrified sores, had provided this mollifying ointment and cleansing plaster, in order to a cure of the same. And I doubt nothing but every true hearted lover of Sions peace, who longs to see the Lord exalted, in binding-up our hither-till incurable wounds, will magnify the Lord with me and exalt his name together.
Herein you will find excellently discovered the rise of divisions, what hand the holy Sovereignty of God has therein, and how the corruptions of men, even of the godly, both raise and wonderfully heighten divisions, and how great influence occasional means may have in the same, together with the sad and dreadful effects thereof, and the necessity of endeavouring unity herein.
You will also find the cure and remedy singularly opened, not only general grounds and preparatory endeavours for uniting, but also what things are to be forborne, and what is to be done in order to uniting. And that as well in closing doctrinal differences, not fundamental nor nigh the foundation, as for union in points not doctrinal, arising from diversity in external administration, and especially practical differences in church government, and about Constitutions and Acts of Synods, when the authority thereof is declined and denied. Yea, remedies are proposed of divisions arising from misapplication of power, in censuring or sparing church officers, real or supposed.
And finally, against the fears of misgovernment for the time to come, overtures are prudently given-in and all closed with laying out briefly, and yet very effectually, grounds and motives of the desired union. That which I conceive is most eminent in this choice treatise, lies in these two things: first, that this our cancer is most tenderly handled, in a very abstract way, never so much as stating or particularly touching any difference among us; and yet, upon the matter, the whole discourse comes home to the very point most pertinently. Herein appears the finger of God to them that will have eyes to see it.
The next is this, that the holy Scriptures are diligently searched, both in order to the disease and remedy, and the ancient church history and purer antiquity is most plentifully and sweetly made use of. The judicious and impartial Reader will, I think, say Miscuit utile dulci, and that here are words fitly spoken, like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
One thing I shall entreat, that the Reader judge not finally of any parcel or section thereof, till he reads and ponders the whole. Stumble not at his asserting, that authoritative ways at first are not the best to cure rents. A rent would be handled as a broken bone or a dislocation, where anointing and legatures are so necessary, as without these, healing cannot in haste be attained. If the question is made, How a man in that case should carry himself? Ought he to stretch himself to the full and put forth his whole strength? Or is that then impossible? And if through passion in a fit it is practiced, is it not obstructive to the recovery of strength and healing? Let the Reader remember this when he comes to that part of the discourse, and he will, upon the consideration, make the better use of the whole remedy as it is proposed.
I shall not detain much longer the Reader from the treatise itself, having added these few considerations for advancing heart-uniting in the Lord, which of all other, I conceive ought to be most weighty in the judgment and on the affections of all lovers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. From Eph. 2:14-17, the great Peace-maker, in offering up himself a sacrifice for the sins of the elect, intended with reconciling of them to God, to unite them in one body among themselves; yea, even those who were at furthest distance and greatest enmity, Jew and Gentile, and consequently other [of] his elect in their several differences and divisions throughout their generations. He took on him the debt of their sins and enmities, and lifted up with himself these on his cross, representatively, virtually and meritoriously, to expiate them in his flesh, and by his Spirit efficiently to slay and abolish them in due time, by making them one new man in himself. Mark, I pray, from that Scripture cited, that this complex business is the great design of our blessed and great Peace-maker. Also
2., in the sacrifice-feast of his Supper, this is still represented and exhibited till he comes again. So that this standing ordinance, destinated and appointed of God to carry-on and seal-up uniting with God, and one with another, till he comes again, at his coming will stand up and testify against all who comply not with Christ, but, following their own inclination, act rather against his design. And
3., in his solemn prayer (John 17), which is a specimen of his future intercession, he mainly presses after the salvation and sanctification of those that are given him (v. 21), That they also may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. Do not these words significantly and shiningly hold out what the Mediator is still about, and that uniting in God is his design still? And
4., upon this very same ground, the great Apostle, speaking to Jews and Gentiles who had embraced the gospel, and in them to all dissentients who love the gospel-truths and ordinances, says (Rom. 15:7), Wherefore receive ye one another as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Meritoriously and virtually the elect are received to the glory of God, and to the end they may be actually received; Receive one another, says the Apostle as [if] it were suspending the one upon the other. And now upon these grounds, Christ our Lord, his grand design being so conspicuous, his Supper-ordinance standing as a landmark in the way, having this engraven upon it, Union Communion, the glorious Mediator, his intercession running in that same channel, and the blessed Apostle making this the upshot of his doctrine, what lover of our Lord, well advised and recollecting himself, dare stiffly stand out from complying with him, to satisfy their own inclination and habituated custom and carriage?
My fear is that every one of us will look to some others rather than themselves, as obstructing the desired uniting in the Lord. But upon mature after-thoughts, it will be found the mind of Christ, that we narrowly search ourselves, every one of us, how we have provoked the Holy One to smite us so in his displeasure, and accurately to try what yet remains in us obstructive to this union, and withal to fly to our slighted duty, as in a city they run to the quenching of a public burning, laying this evil to heart more than sword or pestilence. All the writings and actings against Presbyterial government, which is the wall of the house of God, have never wronged or hurt it so much, as our ill-raised, and worse-continued contests. Our nakedness-discovering writings, what have they done but added oil to the flame? For Christs sake, my reverend and dear brethren, hearken to this word in season, from the oracles of God, and treasures of pure antiquity, pointing out the way of a godly and edifying peace. It will be no grief of heart, but sweet peace and consolation, when we are to appear before the Judge of the quick and dead.
Now the God of patience and consolation, grant you to be like minded one towards another, according to Christ Jesus.
So heartily prays, Your Brother and fellow Servant,
Robert Blair. St. Andrews, April 28, 1659.
THE ORIGINAL PREFACE BY ROBERT BLAIR
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