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and so prevent what is the burden of many gracious souls, namely, vain thoughts; while thou wilt be fitted for duty, and enjoy much of heaven on earth.
The good Lord bless these papers, and the labours of all his faithful ambassadors to the good of his church, so prayeth,
The meanest of Christ's servants,
And thy soul's Friend,
July the 12th, 1667.
TO MY VERY LOVING AND DEARLY BELOVED FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS,
THE INHABITANTS OF COLEY,
And the Places adjacent.
MY DEARLY BELOVED IN THE LORD,
GOOD books are not the least part of the church's treasure and furniture, but there is not any book to be compared to that Book of books, the Holy Bible, or book of canonical Scripture, which was indited by the immediate dictates of the blessed Spirit-penned by holy men of God-which contains the whole of man, and opens God's heart to the sons of men. This precious Book is the common magazine of the saints, the greatest treasure of heavenly wisdom and science (saith a good Divine) that the whole earth hath in keeping. He that peruses and digests this Book cannot but be in a thriving state-he that digs in these golden mines cannot but be rich—and he that makes this Book his main study must needs be learned, holy, and happy. The best men have delighted most in the word of God, and they that have delighted most therein have become the best men of some famous men it is recorded, that they read every day fifteen Chapters in the Bible, many years together; of others it is said, they read it above twenty times over in their lives, with special observations; of others, that
by long and assiduous meditation on the Scriptures, their breasts became libraries of Jesus Christ. And, indeed, it is the duty and property of a gracious soul to meditate in God's law day and night, and to set a higher estimate upon it than upon the richest treasures of gold and silver, pearls, or precious stones. "It were better that all other books were burnt, (as Luther said) than that they should abate Scripture study: yet subordinately, the choice treatises of eminent divines in all ages are no mean part of the church's treasure, as helps to understand and improve the treasures of knowledge contained and couched in those sacred pages. These are as so many Philips to the studious eunuch to take the uncertain and inquiring passenger by the hand, through the deeper fords of Scripture studies; these as tender nurses, feed the children of God with milk or stronger meat, as they are able. These are those mineralists that dig out of this precious quarry such gold and silver ore, that if it have the stamp of God upon it, will much enrich the souls of spiritual merchants; only let the spiritual man, who judgeth all things, try the spirits, and distinguish betwixt the dross of error, and the solid gold of saving truth; let no poison, dropping from the pen, infect the eyes, and so bewitch the heart. It is a blessed thing to have a solid judgment, and an honest heart, to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. Blessed be God for good books, which are a better treasure for the church than the Romish stock of merits and indulgences; they are as so many sweet reflections from the sun of Scripture upon the dark and doubting soul, they are as pipes to convey the streams of salvation from those blessed fountains to private houses, and troubled hearts: and there is an advantage in writing; when preachers are dead or cannot speak, books may remain and instruct their surviving people, and what is wanting to the ear may be compensated to the eye, (which some have called the learned senses) and through the eye the heart may be affected, and why may not life be conveyed through the eyes to the heart? as death came in that way, so God can by his Spirit make pen and ink characters, to leave lively impressions, not on paper and parchment, but on the fleshly tables of the heart.*
2 Cor. iii. 3.
This in part is my apology for putting my sickle into this harvest, and taking such pains in composing this Treatise; whether it shall ever have the advantage of publication through the Press, I know not, but if the Lord will make any further use of it, for the good of his church, I shall accept of such opportunity, and leave myself and these poor labours to the service of that God, to whom I have devoted myself and all that I have or can do. I look upon myself as the weakest and unworthiest of all those that wait at God's altar, yet as the Lord hath put me in trust with the gospel, so I have desired in my measure to be faithful to the Lord and to your souls, and having obtained help of God, I continue a mirror of Providence to this day. I am not worthy to preach, much less to print any thing on these glorious mysteries. I rather wonder that God hath had patience with me thus long in his work; my God hath humbled me amongst you-you know how I have served the Lord with many tears and temptations which have befallen me many ways,* yet God is faithful, who hath not suffered me to be tempted beyond that strength he hath supplied me with, and hath, at last, made a way to escape.† Let God glorify himself, whatever become of this vile, wretched worm; the good of your souls lies near my heart-God is my witness how greatly I long after your spiritual welfare; it much grieves me to think of leaving any of your souls without a saving treasure, after all my soul-travail over you, and serving two full apprenticeships amongst you. Let not my sins or sufferings blemish my doctrine or practise, or be a stumbling-block before any of you. What you have seen good in me, imitate what hath been amiss, cover with the skirt of love, and beg a pardon from heaven for me. Some may think better of me than I deserve, and others worse, but while I consider man's judgment of little importance, both have tended to humble me, because I do not answer the apprehensions of the one, and my corruptions exceed any grounded censures of the other; it were but a sorry business to undertake a vindication of myself, except wherein the gospel is concerned. O that you and yours may be and do that which is good, though I should be as reprobate and unapproved. Let +1 Cor. x. 13. '
• Acts xx. 19.
Christ live, though we die-let souls be enriched, though we be impoverished;* would to God poor souls did reign as spiritual kings, for though they should seek to exclude us as means thereof, yet we also would reign with them as sharers therein, and in thankfulness to God for their mercy. Let people be
truly rich in grace, and we must be full of comfort; yea, our people's faith should comfort us in all our affliction. O how much would our people's spiritual gains countervail our temporal losses! It is better, infinitely better that you be rich with our wares, than we with yours; our greatest treasure, as Ministers, lies in your soul's riches-we seek not yours, but you, and it will be transcendently more comfort, if you give up your souls to Christ, than if you should give all your estates to We shall get riches enough if we make you rich, as Constantius said once. This is one of Paul's paradoxes. O that it might be verified in our success also, as poor, yet making many rich.-2 Cor. vi. 10.
Concerning the birth and bulk of this Treatise I must tell you, that the occasion of it was this: I heard a godly Minister preach a sermon upon this text, and I was much affected with it, and resolved, when I came home to search into it; I studied and preached three sermons, as I remember, upon it, with which some were so affected, that several entreated me to give them copies thereof, which I set myself to; but as I wrote, it swelled in my hands to this magnitude at last-and when some had perused it, they entreated me to let it be printed, and some would be at the charge. It was a sudden, and, to me, a strange motion, for I never yet judged any labours of mine to be of so much worth as to be exposed to public view, yet I did not know what hand and end the Lord might have in this motion. I sought God about it, and desired him to search my heart, and and purge it from the leaven of vanity and ostentation, which, God knows, I found too much working in me-then I told my friends I would communicate it to some Reverend Ministers, and should be ruled by their judgment and advice. I did so, and four or five eminent men in these two Counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire have moved me to publish it; and if Providence + 1 Cor. iv. 8.
2 Cor. xiii. 7.