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BY THE EDITOR.
DR OWEN published three successive volumes of An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the years 1668, 1674, and 1680. He died in August 1683; and in the following year, the Exposition was completed by the publication of a fourth volume, which he had left in a finished state. Of this work, it is altogether unnecessary now to attempt any commendation. But for the use of those who have not yet examined it, we may be allowed to observe, that they will find it to possess these four claims on their serious attention.
First, These Volumes contain an elaborate illustration, of a most important part of the word of God.
Secondly, In these Volumes, the controversy with the Jews is discussed with a triumphant force of Christian reasoning, and of applicable learning. Of this the present Volume affords ample proof.
Thirdly, In these Volumes, the arguments of the Socinians are weighed in the balance of the sanctuary; and it is shewn, that the supporters of that system bring no proofs of a superior reason, and that they receive no countenance whatever from the Scriptures.
Fourthly, The Exposition contained in these Volumes, displays a mind anxiously alive to the importance of holy living. His reasonings always terminate in some holy result. After reading the criticisms of an accurate scholar, the arguments of a sound logician, and the illustrations of a fertile mind, we are furnished with di
rections for self-examination; or are sent away to our closets, with a warm exhortation to abound in prayer, if we hope to understand the "mind of the Spirit."
As this work has never been reprinted*, and cannot now be easily procured, a new edition has been undertaken, with the view of putting a valuable book into the hands of more readers, at a reduced price. In preparing this edition, the Editor thought that some alterations might be made with advantage, in the arrangement of some parts of the work. These alterations he has adopted. His reasons will appear, from an account of the manner, in which these Volumes were. written and published.
The Work consists of an Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and of Preliminary Dissertations, or Exercitations, as Dr OWEN calls them. A part of these Dissertations is prefixed to the first Volume of the Exposition, a part of them to the second, and another part of them forms a separate Treatise. The Author seems to have been led to this distribution of his materials, by the following causes.
The Dissertations arise out of the Exposition, and are somewhat of the nature of very long notes. In this form, many of them might have been appended to the different parts of the work with which they are connected. The Author however judged much more wisely, in making them the subjects of separate discussion. A part of the Exposition, and a part of the Dissertations, having been thus written in connexion, they were also published together. Accordingly, the first volume contains the Exposition of the first and second chapters of the Epistle, to which are prefixed
* In 1789, an abridgment of this Exposition was published in England, by Dr WILLIAMS, a respectable dissenting Clergyman. As an abridgment, it labours under the imperfections inseparable from works of that nature. But upon a comparison with the original work, it will be found to merit the praise of fidelity, and of general accu racy.
twenty-four Dissertations. The subjects of these Dissertations, give them a natural precedency to those which follow; and it is probable that the rest were not written when these were published. Besides, the Author might wish, that the first Volume should afford a specimen of the execution of both parts of his plan. He proceeded in the same way with the second volume, and had intended, that in this respect, the third volume should resemble the two former. But the state of his health, and other causes, prevented him from fully accomplishing this intention. This circumstance will Occasion lasting regret, to those who take an interest in works of this nature; and who have considered, that a man blessed with the Godliness, the Judgment, the Learning, and the Industry of DrOWEN, does not often
Though in the original edition then, a part of the preliminary matter follows the Exposition of the second chapter, yet as the reasons which led to this arrangement do not now operate, it is proposed in this edition to prefix all the Dissertations, that the continuity of the Exposition may not be broken.
The other part of these Dissertations, forms a treatise concerning the day of sacred rest. This was written to form a part of the second Volume. But as that Volume was not ready for publication till the year 1674, the circumstances of the times, seemed to Dr OWEN to require some earlier effort on his part, to assert the right of his God and Lord, to the hallowed services of the first day of the week.
During the Protectorate of CROMWELL, a variety of ill-digested opinions had been propagated, respecting almost every topic of religion. Some of these opinions were so unmeaning, or so trifling, or so wild, that they could not long retain adherents. But others of them were more plausible; these made more converts, and the diffusing of these tenets, tended to unsettle the minds of many, who did not ultimately
adopt them. Of this nature were the notions of some respecting the Lord's day. They talked of Christian liberty; they held, that the institution of the Sabbath was a part of the ceremonial law; that under the New Testament dispensation, every day was equally holy; and that to think otherwise, was to return under the "yoke of bondage, instead of standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free." The whole of
this reasoning, or a part of it, was adopted by different readers, as they severally found it to serve their purpose. When the gospel has been preached in purity for a time, some will always be found, who after a temporary profession of subjection to the truth, turn away by degrees from the holy commandment delivered unto them. To such men, a specious defence of their relaxed profession of religion, is ever acceptable. The extended observation of Dr OWEN, furnished him with many painful illustrations of this remark. He had seen not a few, who had formerly seemed to be zealous for the faith which purifieth the heart, drawing back, and extolling Christian liberty, falsely so called. To men in these alarming circumstances, the strict observance of the Sabbath day, will always appear irksome; a day of meditation, self-examination and prayer, has nothing to recommend it to them. To reclaim such men, if God peradventure would give them repentance, was one object of publishing in a separate form, the six Exercitations concerning the day of sacred rest. And another object was, to guard the less-informed against the seducing examples of those, who had declined from the good ways of the Lord.
But it was not only from such circumstances as these, that Dr OWEN felt himself to be called upon to enforce the duty of remembering the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy. There were also reasons of a different nature, and of as alarming an operation.
The personal profligacy of CHARLES II. had created a most profligate court, and too many of the people had followed their pernicious ways. An immoral
man wishes never to contemplate the consequences of his conduct. "He hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." The light of Heaven then, must not by any means disturb the king's dream of voluptuous delight. Pure and undefiled religion is banished from the palace. "Prophesy not again any more at Bethel, for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court." But though the unwelcome voice of pure religion may be heard no more at all in it, yet the recollections of religion may still haunt the mind. Fear must therefore, if pos sible, be excluded, as well as grace and truth. To accomplish this, intoxicating pleasures are multiplied. The moral necessities of the Court, call loudly for carousals and for masquerades, for buffoons and for players, for writers for the drama, and for writers of burlesque; that these all, labouring according to their several vocations, may pre-occupy every hour, and depress every rising thought of religion. Accordingly religious men were ridiculed; a profession of religion was considered as a full proof of hypocrisy; and "gra-, vity and sound speech, which cannot be condemned," were held as fit subjects of laughter. "The just and upright man is laughed to scorn."
But as the hand-writing appeared on the wall, while Belshazzar, despising the God of Israel, was drinking wine before his thousand lords, and was praising the gods of gold, and of silver, and of brass; so in the midst of all this profane mirth, the heart of the king may soon be made sad; for the anticipation's of futurity may intrude, and these will at any time damp unprincipled gaiety. Moreover, in the throngest succession of dissipation, there still are hours when a man is thrown back upon himself, and must think. Now, for these dark hours in the lives of profligate men, infidelity engages to make provision; and then it is, that with most success, it tries to substantiate its claims to regard. To attend to a train of reasoning, more mental exertion is requisite, than pro