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To the very reverend, learned, and celebrated Professors of
United Provinces of Hok land; Pastors of the Reformed Churches, and zealous Defenders of the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
THE present age
present age furnishęs 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 fond dess 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 teaching ers, and
the man of God perfect, thoroughly instructed to every good work." It is, indeed, very difficult to write any thing now-a-days 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 fixed the study of particular parts, 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. But I am conscious of the slep derness of my own abilities: and it is impossible for a person not to know the world, who is at all conversant with it. It therefore seems proper to assign some reasons
for my appearing in public again; mix to shew 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 long 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. Be sides 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 of some, and their uncommon interpretations of the scriptures; or the suspicions of others, (not at all times dictated by charity, whatever share prudence may have in the case,) gave me indeed the greatest concern. And forasipuch as the doctrine of the covenant of grace, by which the manner of the reconciliation of sinners to God is shewn, and the manjfold dispensation of that covenant, have been the unbappy ob ject 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 philo sophy, which are imprudently introduced into the present sys tem of divinity, may, and ought to be referred to this,) I have thought this subject in the first place deserving my notice. But I have treated it in such a manner as 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 minds of others, than a clear and sober demonstration of the truth to the conscience; which, by pleasing advances, 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 some be
fore unknown truths to the inmost soul, fixing it with a de gree of astonishment on the contemplation of the admirable perfections of God.
I have found it absolutely necessary to oppose different opinions; either 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; or those of some of our brethren, who have taken it into their heads to form new hypotheses, and thereby almost root 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 ought not to 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 great warmth : especially, I thought 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 on 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 sometimes I note the danger attending some of them; but without any malevolence to their authors. For, I ccnfess, 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, as 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 do minion of the angels, from the fear of temporary death, and the curse which ap exact observance of the ceremonial law car
ried with it, and at length enjoyed true and lasting blessings, the circumcision of the heart, the law written there, the fulí and true remission of sins, the spirit of adoption, and such like things; this observation, I say, does not seem to me worthy to be insisted on in so many academical lectures, so many sermons, and such a number of books, as have been published in the Latin and our own languages, as though the whole of theo logical learning consisted in these. Por, in the following work I have shewn, that, however those doctrines are explained, they are horrible to be mentioned ; and are not to be defended with out wresting the scriptures.
But I esteem much more dangerous the opinions of some men, in other respects very learned, who deny that a covenant of works was made with Adam; and will scarce allow that by the death with which he was threatened, in case he sinned, a corporeal death is to be understoood ; and deny that spiritual and heavenly blessings, such as we now obtain through Christ, were promised to Adam on condition of perfect obedience; and by a musty distinction dividing the sufferings of Christ into painful and judiciary, affirm, that the latter only, or, as they sometimes soften the expression, chiefly were satisfactory: excluding by this means bis sorrows in the garden, the sentence passed on him both by the Jewish council, and the Roman go vernor, the stripes with which his body was wounded, his being Dailed to the cursed cross, and last of all his death itself. On these subjects I have given my mind freely and candidly, as became "a defender of the truth, and an opposer of falsehood :" which laudable character was given of the emperor Constantine the Fourth, by the sixth Oecumenical Synod, which met at Constantinople; and which is what all of our order ought to endeavour to deserve.
I have also made remarks on some things of less moment, which did not seem to have a solid scriptural interpretation, or are less accurately conceived of than they ought to be. Nor has my labour been without profit. Amphilochius is justly commended by Basilius, because he thought that “ do word which was used concerning God, should be passed over with out the most careful inquiry into its meaning.". But I have done this without rancour or raillery: “ not with a view of reproving the authors, but that she studious reader might be benefited by having their errors shewn him," as I remember Polibius somewhere expresses himself. And I hope it will not be taken ill by the learned and ingenious, to whom I grant the same liberty Í myself take, if, (to use nearly the same words which Augustine uses, when he declares his dissent from Cy.
prian) whilst “I cannot arrive at their degree of merit, ac. knowledge my writings inferior to many of theirs, love their ingenuity, am delighted with what they say, and admire their virtues; yet, I cannot in all things agree with them, but make
I use of the liberty wherewith our Lord has called us." Espe cially when they see, that I have willingly adopted their own ingenious inventions, what they have happily found out by searching into the original languages, have learnedly recovered from the reliques of bitherto unknowo antiquity, have judici, ously confirmed, or clearly explained; and have highly recom, mended them to the reader.
They will also find that, wherever I think them right, however they may be censured by others, I have cordially defend ed them, and have wiped off the stamp of absurdity and novels ty. und this I have done so frequently and solicitously, that, without doubt, some will say; I have done it too much. But I cannot yet allow myself to be sorry for having dealt so ingenuously by them. For how could any one have done otherwise, who is not attached to any faction, or is not a slave to his own or another's affections, but bas dedicated himself to truth alone, and regards not what any particular person says, but what is said. He who loves the peace of Jerusalem, had rather see controversies lessened than increased; and will with pleasure hear that several things are innocent, or even useful, which bad sometimes been made the matter of controrersy.
All good men indeed are justly offended with that wantonness of wit, which now-a-days, by dogmatical attacks, rashly aims to overturn wise opinions, and insolently offers a bold, and often ludicrous, interpretation of prophecy, ridiculously hawl. ing into their assistance, what contains nothing but the does trine of our common faith and holiness ; by which the publie and our sacred functions are not a little abused; and it is nos. to be wondered at, if the warmer zeal of some has painted this wantonness as it deserves, or, perhaps in too strong colours But yet, a medium is to be regarded in all things: and I do not approve the pains of some, who, whilst they discourse on their differences, not only name some decades of our controver. sies, but centuries of them; and frequently with cruel elo quence are very violent on some innocent subjects. Whether this method of disputing greatly conduces to the promoting of saving knowledge, or the edification of souls, I will not now say: but I am certain of this; the enemies of our church are hereby greatly delighted, and secretly rejoice, that there are as many and as warm disputes amongst ourselves, as with them. And this, not very secretly neither : for they do not,