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To my dearly beloved, the Church of Christ at Kidderminster in Worcestershire.
I SUPPOSE you do not only remember, that ten years ago I preached these sermons to you; but also what schisms, what revilings of the ministers of Christ, what heresies of Ranters, Seekers, and others; what cruelties against one another, and what remorseless overturnings of government; and worst of all, what bold appeals to God himself, as if he were the approver of all this, did give you and me extraordinary occasions of such thoughts and lamentations as are here expressed? But though the great mercy of God did preserve yourselves from these transgressions, and made it your lot to behold them with daily complaints and sorrows, yet I must not so flatter you as to say, that the ordinary weaknesses of Christians are not at all among you. The things which I especially loved in you, I will freely praise, which were, A special measure of humility; a plain simplicity in religion; a freedom from the common errors; a readiness to receive the truth; a catholic temper, without addictedness to any sect; a freedom from schism, and separating ways, and a unity and unanimity in religion; a hatred and disowning of the usurpations, and perturbations, and rebellions against the civil government, and an open bearing of your testimonies in all these cases; together with seriousness in religion, and sober, righteous, charitable, and godly conversations. But yet, with all this, which is truly amiable, I know you have your frailties and imperfections. The weaker sort of Christians (either in knowledge or in holiness) are the greater number in the best congregation that I ever yet knew. (To say nothing of the unsound.) And what may be your case these eight years since I have been separated from your presence, I cannot tell, though, through the mercy of God, I hear not of your declining. It is our sin which hath parted us asunder, let us lay the blame upon ourselves; I have now done expecting my ancient comforts in labouring among you any more. For these six years'
time, in which I thought my great experience had made me more capable of serving my Master better than before, hist wisdom and justice have caused me to spend in grievous silence. And now my decays and disability of body are so much increased, that if I had leave, I have not strength, nor can ever reasonably expect it; therefore, once more I am glad to speak to you as I may, and shall be thankful if Authority will permit these instructions to come to your view, that the weak may have some more counsel and assistance. And if any shall miscarry, and disgrace religion, there may remain on record one more testimony, what doctrine it was that you were taught. The Lord be your teacher, and your strength, and save you from yourselves, and from this present evil world, and preserve you to his heavenly kingdom, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
October 31, 1668.
THAT you may neither misunderstand this book nor me, I owe you this pre-advertisement, That it was preached in a lecture at Kidderminster in Worcestershire, about seven or eight years ago, 1658. That the sad experience of the distempers of weak, well-meaning people (though not in that place) yet in those times, (especially of those who ran after the most gross deceivers, distracted the churches, reviled, afflicted, and busily attempted to pull down the pastors, and actually pulled down the higher powers whom God forbade them to resist,) was the chief occasion of the preaching of these sermons; and that the special reasons for my publishing them now, are these that follow. 1. Because I perceive not that yet people are sufficiently humbled for those miscarriages, or have yet well found out their sins, which by many and sore judgments, have found them out. 2. Because I perceive that it is too ordinary to speak to weak Christians only by way of comfort, and too rare to shew them the evil of their distempers: and that the very terms are used as if they imported nothing but what is to be loved, or tenderly gainsayed. And most that hear themselves called weak Christians, do take it for a word of honouring pity, and feel in it no humbling matter of reproof. As if the comfort of being a living man, did nullify the trouble and pain of infancy, of a lethargy, a leprosy, a fever, gout or stone. The scandals which have dishonoured religion in this age, do tell us that it is not all a preacher's work to convince and convert the infidels and profane ones, but that much of it lieth in detecting hypocrisies, and humbling the weak, and healing their distempers, and saving and raising them from their falls. The thoughts of the case of such Christians as these, did tempt Augustine once to doubt whether there were not
a purgatory; it seemed so hard to him to believe, either that men who in the rest of their lives were godly and honest, should go to hell; or that men so guilty of particular crimes and scandals (of which their ignorance and error kept them from repenting) could go straight to heaven. And no doubt but it was the heinous sins and great distempers of men professing godliness, which caused human reason to invent and entertain this doctrine of purging-pains But when God hath cast men into many purgatories, and yet they repent not, I fear it threateneth worse than purgatory. 3. Moreover, I remembered the request of that learned, pious, peaceable A. B. Usher, which I mentioned in the preface to my Call to the Unconverted;" according to which I had before published, 1. That "Call." 2." Directions against Miscarrying in the Work of Conversion." 3. And this I intended for the third part, when I began it; but was hindered from bringing it to the purposed perfection, (the fourth part being "Directions for Peace of Conscience," being extant long before). 4. But that which since urged me to this publication was, that the last sermon which I preached publicly, was at Blackfriars, on this text, Col. ii. 6, 7. and presently after, there came forth a book called "Farewell Sermons," among which this of mine was one. Who did it, or to what end I know not, nor doth it concern me to inquire. But I took it as an injury, both as it was done without my knowledge, and against my will, and to the offence of my superiors; and because it was taken by the notary so imperfectly, that much of it was nonsense; especially when some foreigners that lived in Poland, Hungary, and Helvetia, were earnest to buy this with the rest of my writings, I perceived how far the injury was like to go both against me, and many others of my brethren. Therefore, finding since, among the relics of my scattered papers, this imperfect piece which I had before written on that text, I was desirous to publish it, as for the benefit of weak Christians, so to right myself, and to cashier that farewell sermon.
If the reader will but peruse these Directions impartially, and read them as he doth the prescripts of his physicians, which are not written merely to be read, but must be daily practised whatever it cost him, as he loveth his life; then I make no doubt, notwithstanding the weakness of the composure,but it may further the cure of his spiritual weaknesses