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. VIII. The people of God described ...
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MY DEAR FRIENDS,
If either I or my labours have any thing of public use or worth, it is wholly, though not only, yours; and I am convinced, by Providence, that it is the will of God it should be so. This I clearly discerned in my first coming to you, in my former abode with you, and in the time of my forced absence from you. When I was separated by the miseries of the late unhappy war, I durst not fix in any other congregation; but lived in a military, unpleasing state, lest I should forestall my return to you, for whom I took myself reserved. The offers of greater worldly accommodations, with five times the means which I receive with you, was no temptation to me once to question whether I should leave you : your free invitation of my return, your obedience to my doctrine, the strong affection which I have yet towards you above all people, and the general, hearty return of love which I find from you, do all persuade me that I was sent into this world especially for the service of your souls. And that even when I am dead I might yet be a help to your salvation, the Lord hath forced me, quite beside my own resolution, to write this treatise, and leave it in your hands. It was far from my thoughts ever to have become thus public, and burthened the world with any writings of mine; therefore have I oft resisted the requests of my reverend brethren, and some superiors, who might else have commanded much more at my hands : but see how God overruleth and crosseth our resolutions.
Being in my quarters, far from home, cast into extreme languishing by the sudden loss of about a gallon of blood, after many years' foregoing weaknesses, and having no acquaintance VOL. XXII,
about me, nor any books but my bible, and living in continual expectation of death, I bent my thoughts on my “Everlasting Rest;' and because my memory, through extreme weakness, was imperfect, I took my pen and began to draw up my own funeral sermon, or some helps for my own meditations of heaven, to sweeten both the rest of my life and my death. In this condition God was pleased to continue me about five months, from home; where, being able for nothing else, I went on with this work, which so lengthened to this which here you see. It is no wonder, therefore, if I be too abrupt in the beginning, seeing I then intended but the length of a sermon or two; much less may you wonder if the whole be very imperfect, seeing it was written, as it were, with one foot in the grave, by a man that was betwixt living and dead, that wanted strength of nature to quicken invention or affection, and had no book but his bible while the chief part was finished, nor had any mind of human ornaments if he had been furnished. But O how sweet is this Providence now to my review, which so happily forced me to that work of meditation which I had formerly found so profitable to my soul, and showed me more mercy in depriving me of other helps than I was aware of, and hath caused my thoughts to feed on this heavenly subject, which hath more benefited me than all the studies of my life!
And now, dear friends, such as it is I here offer it you; and upon the bended knees of my soul I offer up my thanks to the merciful God who hath-fetched up both me and it, as from the grave, for your service; who reversed the sentence of present death, which, by the ablest physicians, was passed upon me; who interrupted my public labours for a time, that he might force me to do you a more lasting service, which, else, I had never been like to have attempted : that God do I heartily bless and magnify, who hath rescued me from the many dangers of four years' war, and after so many tedious nights and days, and so many doleful sights and tidings, hath returned me, and many of yourselves, and reprieved us till now to serve him in peace; and though men be ungrateful, and my body ruined beyond hope of recovery, yet he hath made up all in the comforts I have in you. To the God of mercy do I here offer my most hearty thanks, and pay the vows of acknowledgment which I oft made in my distress, who hath not rejected my prayers, which in my dolor I put up, but hath, by a wonder, delivered me in the
...: Arriba Concil. de Gratia et Liber Arbit. l. i. c. 10.
midst of my duties ; and hath supported me this fourteen years in a languishing state, wherein I have scarcely had a waking hour free from pain; who hath, above twenty several times, delivered me when I was near to death : and though he hath made me spend my days in groans and tears, and in a constant expectàtion of my change, yet hath he not wholly disabled me to his service, and hereby hath more effectually subdued my pride, and made this world contemptible to me, and forced my dull heart to more importunate requests, and occasioned more rare discoveries of his mercy than ever I could have expected in a prosperous state. For ever blessed be the Lord, that hath not only honoured me to be a minister of his Gospel, but hath also set me over a people su willing to obey, and given me that success of my labours which he hath denied to many more able and faithful; b who hath kept you in the zealous practice of godliness when so many grow negligent, or despise the ordinances' of God; who hath kept you stable in his truth, and saved you from the spirit of giddiness, levity, and apostasy, of this age ; who hath preserved you from those scandals, whereby others have so heinously wounded their profession, and hath given you to see the mischief of separation and divisions, and made you eminent for unity and peace when almost all the land is in a flame of contention, and so many that we thought godly are busily demolishing the church, and striving in a zealous ignorance against the Lord. Beloved, though few of you are rich or great in the world, yet for this riches of mercy towards you, I must say, ye are my glory, my crown, and my joy; and for all these råre favours to myself and you, as I have oft promised to publish the praises of our Lord, so do I here set up this stone of remembrance, and write upon it, 'Glory to God in the highest :
. Nam cum gaudere in hoc omnes fratres oportet, tum in gaudio communi major est episcopi portio. Ecclesiæ enim gloria præpositi gloria est. Quantum dolemus ex illis quos tempestas inimica prostravit ; tantum lætamur ex vobis, quos diabolus superare non potuit. Hortamur tamen per communem fidem, per pectoris nostri veram circa vos et simplicem charitatem ut adversarium prima hac congressione vicistis, gloriam vestram forti et perseveranti virtute teneatis. Adhuc in seculo sumus; adhuc in acie constituti, de vita nostra quotidie dimicamus. Danda opera est, ut post hæc initia, ad incrementa quoque veniatur, et consummetur in vobis, quod jam rudimentis fælicibus esse coepistis. Parum adipisci aliquid potuisse : plus est quod adeptus es pusse servare; sicut et fides ipsa et nativitas salutaris, non accepta, sed custodita vivificat. Nec statim consecutio, sed consummatio hominem Deo servat, ut John v. 14. -Cyprian. Epist. vii. ad Rogat., &c. p. (mini) 19.