Dedication to the Congregational Churches of Christ
AT PROVIDENCE CHAPEL, IN LONDON, AND AT RICHMOND, IN SURREY.
Dearly beloved in the Lord Jesus, and longed for in the bowels of Christ - whom I love in the faith, and to whom the love of Christ hath constrained me to become a debtor - grace, mercy, and peace, be multiplied among you, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I CHOSE to dedicate this little treatise to you, because, sometimes those providences which appear rather out of the common line are hard nuts in the mouth of a weak believer; but some of you have known me from the beginning, and have been eyewitnesses of most of the facts which I am going to relate. And, if you will allow me to make an honest confession, my conscience has often lashed me for not keeping a diary, or rather minuting down the many conspicuous providences of God, which have appeared to me in times of trouble: but, like ungrateful Israel, I went the only way to forget his works, and to be unmindful of the Rock of my salvation; and now I have nothing to trust to on this occasion but my own treacherous memory, unless the Lord be pleased to send the Comforter to me; and, if he come, he will "bring all things to my remembrance," whatsoever God hath said unto me in a way of providence.
I am sure "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all that is therein; all the cattle of the forest are his, and so are the flocks of a thousand hills - yea, the corn, and the wine, the oil, the wool, and the flax;" yea, and even the wicked deceiver, as well as the deceived, are the Lord's; and it is he that maketh one man poor and another rich; that bringeth down and lifteth up; and no man can add to the fixed stature of God whether the stature be in grace or in providence.
"The battle," saith the wise man, "is not to the strong, nor the race to the swift, nor bread to men of skill;" the weal; are often seen to win the field, and the cripple to win the heavenly race; and even fools to accumulate the greatest fortunes. There is no adding a cubit to this stature, even in the least circumstance - then why take we thought for the rest?
I believe God never intended me to be a preacher to the rich, because he has ever kept me dependent on his providence. Had I been rich, I might have been tempted to trust in uncertain riches; and I know well that "where the treasure is, there will the heart be also." It must be a hard task to preach against covetousness while the heart is trading at the stocks. I fear this is the case with some who are called ministers; but sin always brings its own punishment with it - such can have no communion with God nor peace of conscience; for it is sin that separateth between God and the soul; and the love of money is the root of all evil. Nor have I any reason to believe that God ever intended me for a preacher to please Pharisees, because he hath for many years given me an humbling sight, and a deep sense of my own wretched depravity; so that I dare not place any confidence in the flesh, nor even in the fruits of faith; knowing that a man can merit nothing, allowing that he were able to keep the law perfectly - "When ye have done all these things say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done no more than was our duty to do." - But I come infinitely short of doing all, therefore can never boast of doing a part. By nature we are all fond of a specious form of religion; and God permitted me to use a dry form for many years; but he never regarded any of those prayers put up by me, nor removed the guilt of my sin, in answer to them: therefore, to use an English proverb, "I shall never speak well of that bridge, because it never bore me safe over the stream." I know that God tells us to turn away from those who "have a form of godliness," but deny the power thereof. And dry forms of devotion, used by people who deny the grace and Spirit of God, is no better than a stage for antichrist, a varnish for sepulchres, Mat. xxiii. 27; an apparel for harlots, Isa. iv. 1; a winding sheet for Pharisees, Isa. xxx. 1; a bribe for dead works put into the hands of an honest conscience Heb. ix. 14; a trading stock for blind guides, Isa. lvi. 2; a dish of husks to stifle convictions, Luke, xv. 16; a mongrel service, offered to God and mammon, Mat. vi. 24; the mimicry of hypocrites, Mat. xv. 8; a starting hole to shun the cross, Isa. xlii. 22; and infidelity's last refuge.
God permitted me for many years to try what a form of devotion would do for me; but, like the poor woman in the gospel, I got worse instead of better; therefore was obliged to lay it by, and let the words of my mouth be the meditations of my heart. In this way the Holy Ghost helped my infirmities; therefore I must preach up spiritual prayer: and, as Christ answered the Spirit's call, I must preach Jesus as the eternal God that hears and answers prayer. This is a part of the ministry which I have received of the Lord; and I hope, through grace, to take heed to it, and fulfil it.
I believe God intended that I should preach faith; because he has kept me dependent by faith on himself both for spiritual and temporal supplies. And I am persuaded that he intended me for a minister to the ignorant and to the poor. To the ignorant, because he sent me to preach, and gave me many seals to my ministry, before I could read a chapter in the bible with propriety - to the poor, because he sent me without a penny in my pocket; therefore as a minister of the poor I hope to magnify mine office.
The vanity of worldly wisdom - the excellency of divine knowledge - the uncertainty of worldly riches the preciousness of faith's wealth - the blessed religion of Jesus, and the insufficiency of human inventions - all these seem to be some of the things belonging to the gospel which is committed to my trust. And I know that it becomes a steward to be found faithful, and not to waste his master's goods.
What further convinces me of my being appointed by God for a preacher to the poor is this - that the many seals of my ministry consist chiefly of the poor, both in town and country; so that I can adopt with propriety the language of the apostle, and say, "You see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence," 1 Cor. i. 27, 28.
Although my ministry is chiefly among the poor, yet it is a copy the Saviour has set, and it is very much like his own: for no man can prove Jesus a rich man after the flesh, nor a scholar after the flesh, nor a doctor after the flesh, nor a bishop after the flesh. And, as for the followers of his personal ministry, they were poor; for "unto the poor the gospel was preached:" and those who received the glad tidings were babes in human knowledge - "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight." Let us then take all the encouragement which God has given us to be contented in our respective stations, even though it be in servitude; for Jesus was among men as one that serveth. As Christ himself then is entirely on our side of the question, let us evermore rejoice in this glorious pattern.
One reason for my writing this treatise is, because we are often tempted to believe that God takes no notice of our temporal concerns. As the thoughts of the salvation of our souls lie near our hearts, and as that is of the greatest importance, we think God will not forget that; but, as for our private concerns in life, we suppose that they are beneath his notice and inspection. This latter is a temptation from the devil; and such I hope I shall make it appear in the following treatise.
Another reason why I have written this book, is, that the word of God abounds with many similar circumstances of the divine providence of God; such as changing the colour of Jacob's flocks and herds - the Lord making Abraham rich in cattle-feeding the prophet by a raven - multiplying the widow's oil and meal - sending the apostles out without purse or scrip - feeding Israel in the wilderness with manna - and cutting off that rich glutton, Nabal, in order to relieve poor hungry David. All these are striking instances of God's tender regard for the poor of his flock.
I shall only treat of what hath occurred in the course of my own experience, of which things many of you are living witnesses. And may God bless the work for the encouragement of his children's faith, patience, and watchfullness. To this end I shall descend to the most minute circumstances, in order to shew the narrow inspection of God into the affairs of those who put their trust in him.
I am aware of the reproach that will be cast upon such a work, as also upon the author; but this doth in no wise concern me: I only wish that I were as free from every sin as I am from the carnal fear of man; I believe I should then shortly preach up sinless perfection. If we preachers get proud, worldly, and lifeless, we generally fall into disesteem with the most lively Christians: and, if the presence of God doth not keep up our reputation among these righteous ones, we generally begin to undermine the reputation of those who cleave closer to God than ourselves; and endeavour to establish a character upon the ruins of other men's reputation: and, while we are carrying on this business, God sets others to undermine ours. "As ye mete, so shall it be measured to you again." This is God's balance. And the wise man's appeal to conscience is, "Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others," Eccles. vii. 21.
The first little treatise which I wrote was condemned by many, who at the same time never understood it; but God blessed it to several souls, to their happy deliverance; and, if God sets his seal to it, we have no cause to look to the approbation of any other. When THE SKELETON first appeared, the complaint was - that it was wrote in a bad spirit; that the divinity was tolerable, but the spirit was bad. Sound divinity and zeal for God, flowing from a bad spirit, is like the old contradiction we read of - "How can Satan cast out Satan?" However, although there were many who condemned it in private, yet I rejoice; because several of them plundered the very bowels of it to preach in public. I should like to see a treatise upon the operations of the Holy Ghost, written by some of those who are infallible; and then I should know, according to their views, how far the blessed Spirit ought to go in his operations, and where he ought to stop according to their decree. If Elijah was on earth, I believe, he would be loaded with as many reproaches of uncharitableness as I have been. But why should I wonder at this, when Christ himself was accused by the doctors of old of preaching and working under the influence of a bad spirit! They said that he east out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils. I would caution these infallible gentlemen, however, not to be too hasty in ascribing a work which God owns and blesses to the dictates of an evil spirit, "lest haply they be found even to fight against God" the Holy Ghost. I much question if they are very well acquainted with that blessed Spirit's tuition; for, if they were, they would not talk at that rate. Natural affections are often mistaken for the operations of the Spirit of God: but Christ sharply rebuked Peter for savouring the things of men more than the things of God. And I know that all the affections of nature are contradistinguished from the influences or fruits of the Spirit, by one who is an infallible Judge. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, thou must be born again." The new man must come forth, and the old man must be crucified throughout.
I own that natural affections are some of the best rags of fallen nature; but, as they are natural, they must not be mistaken for, nor Coupled with, the Holy Ghost. "All mortality shall be swallowed up of life," when he who only hath immortality shall appear. Therefore make not that your celestial covering which is to be no more than your grave clothes. All these cloths and napkins must be wrapt together by themselves, when Christ mystical shall awake and sing; for we hope to be delivered from the whole body of sin and death; because it is under this we groan, being burdened. Some, indeed, have no brighter views of heaven than Mahomet in his alcoran. "I speak this to their shame;" for some professors are ready to repeat the old inquiry, "How are the dead raised up?" and with what crop of natural affections do they come? To whom I answer - The old, the natural grain must entirely die, that the new and spiritual harvest may take place. "The seed which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain?"
However, God hath blessed THE SKELETON to many souls, which satisfies me. And, whether men approve or disapprove of the work, it matters not: for I find by history that the book of the Revelations, written by John the Divine, though it contains a certain and full prediction of all future events, both in churches and states, and a concise recapitulation of all past occurrences, was almost universally rejected by infallible prelates in the primitive church of Christ (though Christ sent his angels to testify it to them), they being wise above what was written, though perhaps too ignorant to understand the wrong; therefore it was kept out of the church as uncanonical. St. Jude's Epistle too, appearing such a foe to universal charity, as well as to spots in their feasts of charity, and other counterfeit errors, and being expressive of so much zeal and warmth for God's glory, was kept out of the church many years also; and the excuse was as weighty as some in our days make against mine - that it was written in a bad spirit, and that he had quoted an unscriptural expression; namely, that of "the devil contending for the body of Moses;" which, in my opinion, seems scriptural enough to any discerning christian; for, if the body of Moses be the offspring of Hagar, and figuratively the children of Jerusalem, which are in bondage; and Jerusalem the desolate, without God, and without a husband, and her children without a father; these children are bond children under the law, and, being under the law, are consequently under the curse. No wonder then if the officer, the devil, accuseth them to Justice, and contends for this mystical body of Moses, when Moses himself accuses them even before God, I hope these divines wilt shew me some lenity, although I may be of a bad spirit, because 1 have not gone quite so far in the trial of Universal Charity as to execute him.
Neither have I cut Agag in pieces, nor slain any of the prophets of Baal, as some have done at the command of God, and under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost. But, although I had, it would have been no crime, seeing God himself is a swift witness against sorcerers.
My first pamphlet being condemned as nonsense, and the second as the product of a bad spirit, so this will possibly be condemned as savouring too much of self; more especially as I treat only of the kind providences which occurred in the course of my own experience. However, I hope to rest satisfied till the great day arrives, when God will make manifest the secrets of the heart, and shew whom he approves and disapproves; and then it will be seen that neither universal charity nor natural affections shall be found among the redeemed of God; for it will not be said that natural affections shall be all, but that God shall be all in all.
As for the kind advice which some of you have given me, I thank you, and can bear with your weaknesses; knowing that "I [once] spake as a child, thought as a child, and understood as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things." I have no notion of getting a renowned preacher to preface any of my poor scribbling; it appears, in my opinion, too much like the Satanic art of puffing at an auction. The fewer human inventions the better in divine things. Besides, I believe that many precious ministers of Jesus have in their young days put prefaces to commentaries and other works, merely to please a bookseller; who, when possessed of a riper judgment, were ashamed of the doctrines which they had formerly recommended to others; yea, some, who I hear have condemned my book, have written prefaces to works now in my possession, out of which I defy all the masters of arts in Christendom to distil one thimbleful of evangelical divinity, exclusive of the holy name of God. Upon this principle I do not desire any good man to expose his judgment to contempt, by puffing off my abilities; for I have not a single doubt but kind Providence will defray my expenses at the press as long as God intends that I should write any thing for him; and, when this cruse of oil fails, you will hear no more of me from thence. Besides, if I was inclined to beg or cringe for a preface, I have no such tip-top ministers to go to; for I find, by blessed experience, that I can creep into the very bosom of my dear Redeemer with more ease than I can touch the robes of a dignified clergyman. I have sometimes indeed been admitted into the pulpits of some of these great men; but, if the power of God has been present to heal, and the people have been happy under me, I have been admitted there no more.
I am informed that it is common among horse-jockies, to cry a horse down if his heels are too light. This custom may well become the turf, but it ill becomes the pulpit. However, God has given me a pulpit of my own, so I have no cause to borrow and this fulfils an ancient promise, once applied to my soul with power, even from God himself - "thou shalt lend to many, but borrow of none."
I choose that my doctrine and reputation should stand and fall together. It never shall be the coal-hearer and co. All that I preach or write, that is divine, God himself taught me; for I never learned it of man, nor did I bring any of it into the world with me: therefore it is not my own, except the errors; for I have nothing, nor am nothing, by nature, but sin: of course I think it my duty to be faithful in delivering what I have received to the benefit of others; and to be labourious, watchful, and faithful, over those whom God hath committed to my care.
I must beg leave to lead my reader a little farther on, in addition to the dedication, in order to shew him what different receptions the BANK OF FAITH has met with in the world. Indeed I did not expect that it should be in equal esteem with the Bank of England - no; I know the greater part of the human race have their portion in this life, whose purses and bellies God fills with his hid treasure. These have so far cast off God as to call their lands by their own names, to the dishonour of God who gave them; and leave their substance as a trap to their posterity, who are too apt to praise their sayings, and go to the generation of their fathers without seeing light.
The greatest curse under heaven is an impenitent heart clogged with the sorrow of this world - "Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them," Lam. iii. 65. And the next curse is an independent fortune in the hands of such graceless souls, whose infidelity turns every providential blessing into a curse. "If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of Hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart," Mal. ii. 2.
The BANK OF FAITH has dropped into the hands of some of these gentlemen, and it has acted the part of Samson; that is, it has made sport for them; and no wonder, seeing they have attributed the government of the world to blind Fortune, and the glory that is due to God is ascribed to a phantom on a wheel.
But who would have thought that men calling themselves gospel ministers would have bought my book to ridicule it, and pour contempt on the providence of God? Can such be called ministers of God's word who laugh at the fulfilment of it? - If they deny the inspection of God into our temporal concerns, they must deny half the Bible, which informs us that God adorns the lilies, feeds the ravens when they Cry, and gives the lion his prey; when he opens his hand they are filled, and when he takes away their breath they die. Strange! that professors of Christ should rob him of his glory, of which he is so tender - which he will never give to another - and which is due to him from all the human race; but much more so from his professors, who pretend to renounce all confidence in the flesh in point of justification, and all pretensions to a portion in this life, when compared to the blessed earnest of a portion in the future. Surely such must differ much in spirit from the apostles, who seemed so zealous for the honour of Christ, that they would let no miracle of his slip unnoticed, unacknowledged, nor unrecorded. They tell us of the five barley loaves and the five thousand fed - of the seven barley loaves and the seven thousand fed - of the baskets of fragments that remained - and of the Saviour's strict command that nothing of the produce of these miracles should be lost.
They inform us of the Lord's condescension in coming to them on the shore of the sea of Tiberias, and of his baking bread and broiling fish upon the coals to supply their wants - of the liberality of those who were converted by their ministry - of their selling their inheritances to support the gospel and feed the poor of Christ's flock - and of Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead for mimicking the hospitality of the children of God.
Israel's forty year's journey in the wilderness abounds with the miraculous providences of God, and so does the book of Ruth. To ridicule then the mystery of Providence is to make sport of one half of the Bible. But these gentlemen have got a stock in hand, like the prodigal at his first leaving his fathers house; therefore they laugh at those who are obliged to fetch their supplies daily from the fountain head. But, alas! an independent fortune is too often like the manna that Israel kept, which bred worms and stunk, while that which was gathered daily was sweet food. This Paul applies to Providence - "He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack." Let there be an equality (says Paul) in your contributions - not One eased, and another burdened. Some have affirmed, since they read this little book of mine, that we have no warrant to pray for temporal things; but blessed be God, he has given us "the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come;" yea, the promise of all things pertaining to life and godliness; and whatever God has promised we may warrantably pray for. Those that came to the Saviour in the days of his flesh, prayed chiefly for temporal mercies: the blind prayed for sight - the lepers for a cure - the lame for the use of their limbs - and the deaf for the use of their ears. And surely, had they prayed unwarrantably, their prayers would not have been so miraculously answered. Elijah prayed for a temporal mercy when he prayed for rain; and it is clear that God answered him. Elisha works a miracle to produce a temporal mercy when he healed the barren plains of Jericho. God hath said that he "will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel," Hos. ii. 21, 92. If some professors are favoured with au abundant stock in hand, it is not given them that they should requite the bounties of Providence with contempt. If they have got houses to eat in, they are not to shame them that have not; and, if they have bottled up a store of the goat's milk, they are not to cut off the breast from the poor that have none, Prov. xxvii. 23, 24, 27. Is my reader a poor Christian? - Take it patiently. God maketh the poor as well as the rich. Envy not the rich. Riches are often seen to be a canker-worm at the root of a good man's comfort, a snare in his life, and an iron pillar at the back of his pride. Agur prayed to be fed with food convenient for him; and you may pray for the same; and what God gives you in answer to your prayers you will be thankful for. That state is surely best which keeps you dependant on God and thankful to him; and so you shall find it in the end. Go on, poor Christian, trusting in the providence of God. God promised a preceding blessing on the Israelites, who were to keep the year of jubilee; and, though they were neither to plough, sow, nor reap, on this year of release, yet they had the promise of old store for food for the following year, Lev. xxv. 20, 21. God's blessing on the sixth year, was to produce food for three years. And shall not God provide for Israelites indeed, who are released by the gospel trumpet from spiritual bondage, and made free by the Holy Ghost! Surely such shall eat of the old store; yea, in a twofold sense - for every scribe instructed in the kingdom is like an old householder who bringeth things out of his treasures, new and old; and all this to feed the Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile.
In Egypt we find that God's blessing on the seven years of plenty was sufficient to serve Egypt, and numbers more, through the seven years of famine which followed. Surely these wonders of the Lord of hosts shall never be blotted out of the Bible by a few independent gentlemen, though preachers; nor shall Zion's blessings be chased from the poor of her family by a few worldly professors, who "trust in uncertain riches," and sneer at the daily provision that God makes for the poor of his household. Reader, trust thou in the Father of all mercies, and the God of all comfort, for every supply. Independent Adam, and the independent prodigal, came both to bankruptcy and beggary; therefore trade thou with the stock of God, and thou shalt never fail.
Use no unlawful means either to avoid having, or the care of, a numerous family. This is the root of God-dishonouring and damning unbelief; and the effect is Onanism; which God views as an act of infidelity and distrust: cast on his providence, an injury done to a fruitful womb, and the sin of murder committed on unsinning innocence, which he hath twice visited with immediate death in the very action, Gen. xxxviii. 7:10.
I have been married upwards of twenty years, have had thirteen children; just Jacob's number, thirteen to the dozen; and, instead of being a beggar, am as rich as ever I was: and do believe that, was I to die this day, if all matters were properly settled, I should be clear of the world. And I am sure that faith is satisfied with an honourable discharge through this world; but, if we aim to supply the wants of Infidelity, all the world is not sufficient to satisfy her demands.
I have been acquainted with several professors of considerable property; but, as God liveth, after a strict observation of their conduct, I never envied their happiness, nor wished to exchange situations: for I found some, who were warmly attached to the form of prayer, and to the walls of the established church, would give a thousand pounds to support the forms and walls of the church of England, before they would give five shillings to support those who enforced the Spirit's work on the souls of men. And others, who were filled with head notions from commentators rather than the grace of God in their hearts, expected every preacher that partook of their liberality to say as they did, and offer both conscience and affections (which are due to God only) to their purse; which compliance being denied, has caused great offence, and the honest servants of Christ have received many wounds both in their reputation and labours; which have made the cross of poverty the more heavy, stirred up the corruptions of the honest suffering saint to be more rebellious against God, and made his mind recoil with indignation against the aspiring rival of Christ.
To be short, among all the rich professors that I have known, upon a proper reflection, I have found that they expended the greatest part of the bounties of Providence in support of their own humours, their bigotry, their prejudices, and their own personal honour; being most liberal where their liberality was received by those of dignity, and where it was to appear in print.
Such as these have their reward as they proceed, but can have no reward of their Father which is in heaven. I believe it will appear, in the great day, that the greatest part of the liberality of rich professors has been expended more in their own cause than in the support of the spiritual reign of the Son of God. This has been made evident by the many apostates who have been long held up by the spirit of bigotry and the purse of wealth; whom, notwithstanding, God hath cast down, in defiance of all their sanction, patronage, and liberality.
I am much deceived if the purse of worldly professors is not a snare in our days to many a servant of Christ. The liberal purse, and the besetting sin of the 'squire, has muzzled the mouth of many a poor labourer in the vineyard; while the preacher has died in his ministry, the flock in their souls, and the formidable 'squire, who appeared as a column, was ripened for damnation, under a muzzled gospel preacher. For my part I have never yet seen any thing in a rich professor that could in the least draw me to envy his happiness; but, contrarywise, to pity him, as being a trap to others and an ensnared person himself. The common industrious persons, are, in general, the happy recipients of grace, and such are the chief supporters of the gospel; and such I have found my friends rather than my traps.
In this narrative I shall set forth all the circumstances of God's providence which he hath brought to my remembrance. May his kind providence shine to his own honour, and to the comfort of his poor flock, who are obliged to trust in him or strive, O blessed object, worthy of all trust!
I doubt, reader, we shall give a second offence for chatting so long together by way of dedication. Cavillets will be ready to say that we are "like children in the market-place calling to their fellows;" therefore we had better part than give any offence to them.
Good morning to you, Mr. Parson; God bless you.
I thank thee, Christian: but beseech thee not to put any titles or compliments upon me; give them to those who can make a meal of them. Coal-heaving is hard work, and coal-hearers require better food than compliments.
Reader, fare thee well
Thine to serve in the bowels of Christ.