« ForrigeFortsæt »
exasperating by activity; and also most liable to calumny and contempt, through imperfection, and mixture of that which indeed is worthy of dislike. Till godliness and Christianity be visible in full perfection, and elevated above the contradiction of folly, and the contempt of pride, the blind, distracted minds of hardened, forsaken sinners, will not acknowledge its divine, celestial nature and worth ; but then it will be too late to become partakers of it: they must both know and possess it in its infancy and minority, who will ever enjoy it in its heavenly dignity and glory. If seasonable illumination and conversion confute not the deceits and slanders which pride and ignorance have entertained, the too late confutation of them by death and their following experience, will make them wish, that they had been wise at cheaper rates, when it will be in vain to cry, “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are out;” Matt. xxv. 8.
But while I offer your name to the malicious world, as an instance of the temper which I here describe, I intend it not as a singular though an eminent instance: for through the great mercy of God, there are thousands of examples of confirmed Christians among us in this land, even before those eyes that will not see them. But it is not catalogues, but single names, which writers have used in this way. And why may I not take the advantage of custom, to leave to the world the testimony of my estimation and great respects, to so deserving a person of the primitive Christian, catholic temper: and to let them know, what sort of men were my most dear and faithful friends? And also thus to express my love, by telling you closely what you must be, as well as by telling the world for their example what you are? Upon these accounts, without your knowledge or consent, I presume thus to prefix your name to this treatise, written long ago, but now published by
Your faithful Friend,
RICHARD BAXTER. from my Lodging in New Prison,
June 14, 1669.
TO THE READER.
It is a matter of a greater woment than I can express, what idea or image of the nature of godliness and Christianity is imprinted upon men's minds : the description which is expressed in the sacred Scriptures, is true and full : the thing described is rational, pure, perfect, unblamable and amiable. That which is expressed in the lives of the most, is nothing so; but is purblind, defiled, maimed, imperfect, culpable, and mixed with so much of the contrary quality, that to them that cannot distinguish the chaff from the wheat, the sickness from the life, it seemeth an unreasonable, fanciful, loathsome and vexatious thing, and so far from being worthy to be preferred before all the riches, honours and pleasures of the world, that it seemeth worthy to be kept under as a troubler of kingdoms, societies and souls. And doubtless this monstrous expression of it in men's lives, is because the perfect expression of it in God's word hath not made a true impression upon the mind, and consequently upon the heart. For as it is sound doctrine which must make sound Christians, so doctrine worketh on the will and affections, not as it is in itself, and as delivered, but as it is understood, believed, remembered, considered ; even as it is imprinted on the mind, and used by it. And as interposed matter, or defective application may cause the image on the wax to be imperfect, though made by the most perfect seal; so is it in this case, when one man doth defectively understand the Scripture description of a godly man or Christian, and another by misunderstanding mixeth false conceptions of his own; and another by a corrupt, depraved will doth hinder the understanding from believing, or remembering, or considering and using what it partly apprehendeth; what
wonder if the godliness and Christianity in their hearts be unlike the godliness and Christianity in the Scriptures ? When the law of God, in nature and Scripture is pure and uncorrupt, and the law of God written imperfectly on the heart, is there mixed with the carnal law in their members, no marvel if it be expressed accordingly in their lives.
I have therefore much endeavoured in all my writings, and especially in this, to draw out the full portraiture of a Christian or godly man indeed, and to describe God's image on the soul of man, in such a manner as tendeth to the just information of the reader's mind, and the filling up of the wants, and rectifying the errors which may be found in his former conceptions of it. And I do purposely inculcate the same things oft, in several writings (as when I preached I did in all my sermons) that the reader may find that I bring him not undigested, needless novelties, and that the frequent repetition of them may help to make the deeper and fuller impression : for
work is to subserve the Holy Ghost, in putting God's law into men's hearts, and writing it out truly, clearly, and fully upon their inward parts; that they may be made such themselves, by understanding throughly what they must be, and what a solid Christian is : and that thus they may be born again by the incorruptible, immortal seed, the word of God, which will live and abide for ever; and may purify their souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit; 1 Pet. i. 22, 23. 25. He is the best lawyer, physician, soldier, &c. who hath his doctrine in his brain, and not only in his books, and hath digested his reading into an intellectual system and habit of knowledge. If ministers had a hundred times over repeated the integral portraiture or character of a sound Christian, till it had been as familiar to the minds and memories of their hearers, as is the description of a magistrate, a physician, a schoolmaster, a husbandman, a shepherd, and such things as they are well acquainted with, it would have been a powerful means to make sound Christians. But when men's minds conceive of a Christian, as a man that differeth from heathens and infidels, in nothing but holding the Christian opinions, and using different words and ceremonies of worship, and such like, no wonder if such be but opinionative, lifeless Christians : and if their religion make them no better than a Seneca or Plutarch, I shall never believe that they are any surer to be saved than they. And
such a sort of men there are, that suppose Christianity to consist but of these three parts. 1. The Christian doctrine acknowledged (which they call faith). 2. The orders and ordinances of the Christian church and worship, submitted to, and decently used, (which they call godliness). Andi 3. The heart and life of a Cato, Cicero, or Socrates adjoined ; but all that goeth beyond this, (which is the life of Christianity and godliness, a lively faith, and hope, and love; a heavenly and holy mind and life, from the renewing, indwelling Spirit of God, which is described in this treatise) they are strangers to it, and take it to be but fancy and hypocrisy. These no Christians do much to reduce the church to infidelity; that there may be indeed no Christians in the world. For my part I must confess, if there were no better Christians in the world than these, I think I should be no Christian myself: and if Christ made men no better than the religion of Socrates, Cato, or Seneča, and did no more to the reparation and perfecting of men's hearts and lives, I should think no better of the Christian religion than of theirs; for the means is to be estimated by the end and use: and that is the best physician that hath the remedies which are fittest to work the cure. If God had not acquainted me with a sort of men that have really more holiness, mortification, spirituality, love to God, and to one another, and even to enemies, and more heavenly desires, expectations and delights, than these men before described have, it would have been a very great hindrance to my faith.
The same may I say of those that place godliness and Christianity only in holding strict opinions, and in affected, needless singularities, and in the fluent oratory and length of prayer, and avoiding other men's forms and modes of worship, and in any thing short of a renewed, holy, heavenly heart and life.
And undoubtedly, if a true, full character of godliness had been imprinted in their minds, we should never have seen the professors of it so blotted with sensuality, selfishness, pride, ambition, worldliness, distrust of God, self-conceitedness, heresy, schism, rebellions, unquietness, impatiency, unmercifulness, and cruelty to men's souls and bodies, as we have seen them in this age, and all this justified as consistent with religion.
And I fear, that because this treatise will speak to few
that are not some way guilty, every face which hath a spot or blemish will be offended with the glass; and lest the faulty will say, that I particularly intended to disgrace them : but I must here tell the reader, to prevent his misunderstanding, that if he shall imagine that I have my eyes upon particular parties, and, as a discontented person, do intend to blame those that differ from myself, or to grieve inferiors, or dishonour and asperse superiors, they will mistake me, and wrong themselves, and me, who professedly intend but the true description of sound Christians, diseased Christians, and seeming Christians.
And for the manner of this writing, I am conscious it hath but little to commend it. The matter is that for which it is published. The Lord Verulam, in his essays, truly saith, that “ much reading makes one full, much discourse doth make one ready, and much writing doth make a man exact.” Though I have had my part of all these means, yet being parted five years from my books, and three years from my preaching, the effects may decay; and you must expect neither quotations or oratory testimonies, or ornaments of style: but having not yet wholly ceased from writing, I may own so much of the exactness, as will allow me to entreat the reader, not to use me as many have done, who by overlooking some one word, have made the sense another thing, and have made it a crime to be exact in writing, because they cannot or will not be exact in reading, or charitable or humane in interpreting.