« PreviousContinue »
method so well digested, in its doctrines so truly evangelical, and (what is not very usual with our systematic writers) in its language so refined and elegant, in its manner so affectionate and animating, that I would recommend it to every student in divinity. I would not scruple to risk all my reputation upon the merits of this performance: and I cannot but lament it as one of my greatest losses, that I was no sooner acquainted with this most excellent author, all whose works have such a delicacy of composition, and such a sweet savour of holiness, that I know not any comparison more proper to represent their true character, than the golden pot which had manna, and was outwardly bright with burnished gold, inwardly rich with heavenly food.”
Extract of a Letter from a Clergymun in the Country
to the Publisher.
The sale of Witsius's ‘Economy of the Covenants' increases among my friends. The translation is very just, and the excellency of the work merits a place in every Christian's library: I shall do my utmost to recommend it at all times, and on all proper occasions. No pious person on earth can forbear leading the third book without wonder, rapture, and devotion. It exceeds all commendation. Hervey might well say, “I would not scruple to risk all my reputation upon the merits of this performance.' For my own part, I am not ashamed nor afraid of any scorn and ridicule, that may be poured on me from any quarter, whilst I constantly aver, that the work has not its equal in the world.”
To the very reverend, learned, and celebrated Professors of
Divinity in the Universities of the United Provinces of Holland, Pastors of the Reformed Churches, and zealous Defenders of the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
The present age furnishes such a number of books that the world is almost weary of them, and the church certainly groans under their weight; as this never flourished more than when, in the pure simplicity of faith and love, and without any fondness for disputations, it regarded the doctrine of our Lord alone, and drew the pure and undefiled truth from those writings only, which could make “ David wiser than all his teachers,” and “the man of God perfect, thoroughly instructed to every good work.” It is, indeed, very difficult in the present time, to write any thing which can please ; for so great is every where the fruitfulness of learning, or the vain imagination of science ; so obstinate the attachment to once-received hypotheses ; so obstinate the attachment of men to their own opinions; and so malevolent the judgment passed on other people's works (which even sometimes affects the minds of good men against their wills), that whoever thinks by his writings to satisfy your delicate minds, or those who are engaged in a more general search after knowledge, seems to attribute too much to his own capacity, and to be ignorant of the disposition of the times. From indulging the first
opinion, I am prevented by a consciousness of the slenderness of my own abilities; from the last, by my knowledge of the world. It therefore seems proper to assign some reasons for my appearing in public again, and to show the design of the work I now offer to the churches.
And to whom, reverend and learned sirs, should I render these reasons rather than to you, who are competent judges of what I write, and by whom, next to God and my own conscience, I wish to have my studies approved. In the first place, then, I sincerely declare, that it is not an incurable itch of writing, a raging thirst after vain-glory, an envious disposition of mind, a detestable desire of widening the wounds already made in the churches, the odious pleasure of blackening another’s character, by giving a wrong turn to what is really right; nor, lastly, the infamous desire to make, increase, or continue strifes, which have occasioned my writing at this time. Besides my own declaration to the contrary, the whole work itself, though but slightly attended to, will acquit me of acting on such motives,
To see the minds of the godly disturbed by the inconsiderate assertions and the unusual interpretations of the Scriptures of some writers, or by the suspicions of others (not all times dictated by charity, whatever share prudence may have in the case), gave me indeed the greatest concern. And forasmuch as the doctrine of the covenant of grace, by which the manner of the reconciliation of sinners to God is shown, and the different manifestations of that covenant, have been the unhappy object of controversy in the Netherlands, so that whatever points are now disputed upon (if we except the new method of interpreting the prophecies, and the opinions of the modern philosophy, which are imprudently introduced into the present system of divinity), may and ought to be referred to this. I have thought this subject deserving my notice in the first place, but I have treated it in that manner which is agreeable to the truths hitherto received in the churches, and without that levity or severity which is not consistent with the law of love. On which account, I have not confined myself to bare disputations, which are generally unprofitable; and, if it were not that they were seasoned with a degree of acrimony, would be destitute of every kind of elegance.
I have chosen to enter on this subject from its very beginning, and have endeavoured, as far as I could, to explain it methodically and clearly, enlightening the obscurer passages of Scripture, carefully examining the phrases used by the Holy Ghost, and referring the whole to the practice of faith and godliness, to the glory of God in Christ, that my exposition might be the more useful and entertaining. And as nothing was more profitable and delightful to myself, so nothing could more evidently and fully convince the mind of others, than a clear and sober demonstration of the truth to the conscience; which, by pleasing steps, beginning with plain and acknowledged truths, and connecting them together, gradually leads to the more abstruse points and forces an assent to them, not less strongly than to those we are obliged to agree to at the first view; and at the same time by its efficacy presents to the inmost soul some truths before unknown, fixing it with a degree of astonishment in contemplation on the admirable perfections of God.
I have found it absolutely necessary to oppose different opinions ; both those of the public adversaries of the reformed churches, amongst whom I reckon, first, the Socinians and the Remonstrants, who, by their daring comments have defiled the doctrine of God's covenants; and those of some of our brethren, who have enterprised the formation of new hypotheses, and have thereby almost rooted out all true divinity. I persuade myself it is not in the power of malice to deny that I have acted with candour and modesty : I have stated the controversy justly, not attributing to any one any opinion which he would not allow to be his own, and have made use of such arguments as had before satisfied my own conscience, as if these were not of themselves convincing, I could not think that any force would be added to them by the warmth of the disputant; especially, I considered that the opinions of our brethren were to be treated with candour, and I have never sought after any inaccurate word, harsh phrase, or crude expression, in order to criticise them; esteeming it much better to point out how far all the orthodox agree, and how the more improper ways of expression may be softened, remarking only on those sentiments which are really different; and these, I dare affirm, will be found to be fewer and of less moment than they are generally thought to be, provided we examine them without prejudice. Yet, I cannot pass over in silence some uncouth expressions, foreign interpretations, or contradictory theses, and occasionally I note the danger attending them, but without any malevolence to their authors; for I confess, I am of their opinion who believe that the doctrine of the covenant has long since been delivered to the churches on too good a foundation to stand in need of new hypotheses, in which I cannot find that solidity or usefulness which is necessary to establish their divinity.
The observation of the threefold covenant of grace; the first, under the promise, in which grace and liberty prevailed, without the yoke, or the burden of an accusing law; the second, under the law, when the Old Testament took place, subjecting the faithful to the dominion of angels, and the fear of death all their lives, and last of all, to the curse, not allowing to the fathers true and permanent blessings; the third, under the Gospel, when the godly began to be set at liberty from the domi