TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE AND RELIGIOUS LADY, THE LADY STRATHNAVER.
Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; as it ought to be the principal concern of all who have not sitten down on this side of Jordan to satisfy their souls (once created for, and in their own nature requiring, in order to satisfaction, spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible substance,) with husks prepared for beasts, to be built in and upon this corner-stone, for an habitation of God, through the Spirit; so it ought to be the main design and work of such as would be approven of God as faithful labourers and co-workers with God, to be following the example of him who determined not to know anything among those he wrote unto, save Jesus Christ and him crucified. O! this noble, heart-ravishing, soul-satisfying mysterious theme, Jesus Christ crucified, the short compend of that uncontrovertibly great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory, wherein are things the angels desire to look unto, or with vehement desire bend, as it were, their necks, and bow down their heads to look and peep into, (as the word used, I Pet. i. 12, importeth) is a subject for angelical heads to pry into, for the most indefatigable and industrious spirits to be occupied about. The searching into, and studying of this one truth, in reference to a closing with it as our life, is an infallible mark of a soul divinely enlightened, and endued with spiritual and heavenly wisdom; for though it be unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness, yet unto them who are called, it is Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. O what depths of the manifold wisdom of God are there in this mystery! The more it is preached, known, and believed aright, the more it is understood to be beyond understanding, and to be what it is--a mystery. Did ever any preacher or believer get a broad look of this boundless ocean, wherein infinite wisdom, love that passeth all understanding, grace without all dimensions, justice that is admirable and tremendous, and God in his glorious properties, condescensions, high and noble designs, and in all his perfections and virtues, flow over all banks; or were they ever admitted to a prospect hereof in the face of Jesus Christ, and were not made to cry out, O the depth and height, the breadth and length! O the inconceivable, and incomprehensible boundlessness of all infinitely transcendent perfections! Did ever any with serious diligence, as knowing their life lay in it, study this mysterious theme, and were not in full conviction of soul, made to say, the more they promoved in this study, and the more they descended in their divings into this depth, or soared upward in their mounting speculations in this height, they found it the more an unsearchable mystery! The study of other themes (which, alas! many who think it below them to be happy, are too much occupied in) when it hath wasted the spirits, wearied the mind, worn the body, and rarified the brain to the next degree unto a distraction, what satisfaction can it give as to what is attained, or encouragement as to future attainments? And when, as to both these, something is had, and the poor soul puffed up with an airy and fanciful apprehension of having obtained some great thing, but in truth a great nothing, or a nothing pregnant with vanity and vexation of spirit, foolish twins causing no gladness to the father, "for he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow," Eccles. i. 18. What peace can all yield to a soul reflecting on posting away time, now near the last point, and looking forward to endless eternity? Oh the thoughts of time wasted with, and fair opportunities of good lost by the vehement pursuings and huntings after shadows and vanities, will torment the soul by assaulting it with piercing convictions of madness and folly, in forsaking all to overtake nothing; with dreadful and soul-terrifying discourses of the saddest of disappointments, and with the horror of an everlasting and irrecoverable loss. And what hath the laborious spirit then reaped of all the travail of his soul, when he hath lost it? But, on the other hand, O what calmness of mind, serenity of soul, and peace of conscience, because of the peace of God which passeth all understanding, will that poor soul look back, when standing on the border of eternity, on the bygone days or hours it spent in seeking after, praying and using all appointed means for some saving acquaintance with, and interest in this only soul up-making, and soul-satisfying mystery; and upon its yielding up itself, through the efficacious operations of the Spirit of grace, wholly, without disputing, unto the powerful workings of this mystery within; and in becoming crucified with Christ, and living through a crucified Christ's living in it, by his Spirit and power. And with what rejoicing of heart, and glorious singing of soul, will it look forward to eternity, and its everlasting abode in the prepared mansions, remembering that there its begun study will be everlastingly continued, its capacity to understand that unsearchable mystery will be inconceivably greater; and the spiritual, heavenly and glorious joy, which it will have in that practical reading its divinity without book of ordinances, will be its life and felicity for ever? And what peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, what inward inexpressible quiet and contentment of mind will the soul enjoy in dwelling on these thoughts, when it shall have withal the inward and well-grounded persuasion of its right through Christ, to the full possession of that all which now it cannot conceive, let be comprehend; the foretastes whereof filleth it with joy unspeakable and full of glory, and the hope of shortly landing there, where it shall see and enjoy, and wonder and praise, and rest in this endless and felicitating work, making it to sing while passing through the valley and shadow of death? O if this were believed! O that we were not drunk to a distraction and madness, with the adulterous-love of vain and airy speculations, to the postponing, if not utter neglecting, of this main and only up-making work, of getting real acquaintance with, and a begun possession of this mystery in our souls, Christ, the grand mystery, formed within us, living and working within us by his Spirit, and working us up into a conformity unto, and an heart-closing with God manifested in the flesh, that we may find in experience, or at least in truth and reality, have a true transumpt of that gospel mystery in our souls! Oh, when shall we take pleasure in pursuing after this happiness that will not flee from us, but is rather pursuing us! when shall we receive with joy and triumph, this King of glory that is courting us daily, and is seeking access and entry into our souls! Oh, why cry we not out in the height of the passion of spiritual longing and desire, O come Lord Jesus, King of glory, with thine own key, and open the door, and enlarge and dilate the chambers of the soul, that thou may enter and be entertained as the King of glory, with all thy glorious retinue, to the ennobling of my soul, and satisfying of all the desires of that immortal spark? Why do we not covet after this knowledge which hath a true and firm connexion with all the best and truly divine gifts. O happy soul that is wasted and worn to a shadow, if that could be, in this study and exercise, which at length will enliven, and, as it were, bring in a new heavenly and spiritual soul into the soul, so that it shall look no more like a dead dis-spirited thing out of its native soil and element, but as a free, elevated, and spiritualized spirit, expatiating itself and flying abroad in the open air of its own element and country. O happy day, O happy hour that is really and effectually spent in this employment! What would souls, swimming in this ocean of pleasures and delights care for? Yea, with what abhorrency would they look upon the bewitching allurements of the purest kind of carnal delights, which flow from the mind's satisfaction in feeding on the poor apprehensions, and groundlessly expected comprehensions of objects, suited to its natural genius and capacity? O what a more hyperbolical exceeding and glorious satisfaction hath a soul in its very pursuings after (when it misseth and cannot reach) that which is truly desirable! How doth the least glimpse through the smallest cranie, of this glorious and glorifying knowledge of God in Christ, apprehended by faith, raise up the soul to that pitch of joy and satisfaction which the knowledge of natural things, in its purest perfection, shall never be able to cause; and to what a surmounting measure of this joy and contentation will the experiencing and feeling, by spiritual sense, the sweet and relish of this captivating, and transcendently excellent knowledge raise the soul unto? O must not this be the very suburbs of heaven to the soul! When the soul thus seeth and apprehendeth God in Christ, and that as its own God through Christ, (for as all saving knowledge draweth out the soul unto an embracing and closing with the object, so it bringeth in the object to the making up of the reciprocal union and in-being) it cannot but admire with exultation, and exult with admiration, at that condescendence of free grace that hath made it, in any measure, capable of this begun glory, and will further make it meet, by this begun glory, to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. And what will a soul that hath tasted of the pure delights of this river of gospel manifestations, and hath seen, with soul-ravishing delights, in some measure, the manifold wisdom of God wrapped up therein; and the complete and perfect symmetry of all the parts of that noble contexture, and also the pure design of that contrivance to abase man, and to extol the riches of the free grace of God, that the sinner, when possessed of all designed for him and effectuated in him thereby, may know who alone should wear the crown and have all the glory; what, I say, will such a soul see in another gospel (calculated to the meridian of the natural, crooked, and corrupt temper of proud men, who is soon made vain of nothing, which, instead of bringing a sinner, fallen from God through pride, back again to the enjoyment of him, through a Mediator, doth but foster that innate plague and rebellion, which and procured his first excommunication from the favour, and banishment out of the paradise of God,) that shall attract its heart to it, and move it to a compliance with it? When the poor sinner that hath been made to pant after a Saviour, and hath been pursued to the very ports of the city of refuge by the avenger of blood, the justice of God, hath tasted and seen how good God is, and felt the sweetness of free love in a crucified Christ, and seen the beauty and glory of the mystery of his free grace, suitably answering and overcoming the mystery of its sin and misery; O what a complacency hath he therein, and in the way of gospel salvation, wherein free grace is seen to overflow all banks, to the eternal praise of the God of all grace. How saltless and unsavoury will the most cunningly-devised and patched-together mode of salvation be, that men, studying the perversion of the gospel, and seeking the ruin of souls with all their skill, industry, and learning, are setting off with forced rhetoric, and the artifice of words of man's wisdom, and with the plausible advantages of a pretended sanctity, and of strong grounds and motives unto diligence and painfulness, to a very denying and renouncing Christian liberty, when once it is observed, how it entrencheth upon, and darkeneth lustre, or diminisheth the glory of free grace, and hath the least tendency to the setting of the crown on the creature's head, in whole or in part? The least perception, that hereby the sinner's song, "ascribing blessing, honour, glory, and power unto him that was slain, and hath redeemed them to God by his blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hath made them, unto their God, kings and priests," shall be marred, will be enough to render that device detestable, and convince the soul, that it is not the gospel of the grace of God and of Christ, but rather the mystery of iniquity. What a peculiar savouriness doth the humbled believer find in the doctrine of the true gospel-grace, and the more that he be thereby made nothing, and Christ made all; that he in his highest attainments be debased, and Christ exalted; that his most lovely peacock feathers be laid, and the crown flourish on Christ's head; that he be laid flat, without one foot to stand upon, and Christ the only supporter and carrier of him to glory; that he be as dead without life, and Christ live in him, the more lovely, the more beautiful, the more desirable and acceptable is it unto him. O what a complacency hath the graced soul in that contrivance of infinite wisdom, wherein the mystery of the grace of God is so displayed, that nothing appeareth from the lowest foundation-stone to the uppermost cope-stone but grace, grace, free grace making up all the materials, and free grace with infinite wisdom cementing all? The gracious soul can be warm under no other covering but what is made of that web, wherein grace, and only grace, is both wooft and warp; and the reason is manifest, for such an one hath the clearest sight and discovery of his own condition, and seeth that nothing suiteth him and his case but free grace; nothing can make up his wants but free grace; nothing can cover his deformities but free grace; nothing can help his weaknesses, shortcomings, faintings, sins, and miscarriages but free grace. Therefore is free grace all his salvation and all his desire. It is his glory to be free grace's debtor for evermore; the crown of glory will have a far more exceeding and eternal weight, and be of an hyperbolically hyperbolic and eternal weight, and yet easily carried and worn, when he seeth how free grace and love hath lined it, and free grace and free love sets it on and keeps it on for ever; this makes the glorified saint wear it with ease, by casting it down at the feet of the gracious and loving purchaser and bestower. His exaltation is the saint's glory, and by free grace, the saints receiving and holding all of free grace, is he exalted. O what a glory is it to the saint, to set the crown of glorious free grace with his own hands on the head of such a Saviour, and to say, "Not unto me, not unto me, but unto thee, even unto thee alone, be the glory for ever and ever." With what delight, satisfaction, and complacency will the glorified saint, upon this account, sing the redeemed and ransomed their song? And if the result and effect of free grace will give such a sweet sound there, and make the glorified's heaven, in some respects, another thing, or at least, in some respect, a more excellent heaven than Adam's heaven would have been; for Adam could not have sung the song of the redeemed; Adam's heaven would not have been the purchase of the blood of God; nor would Adam have sitten with Christ Redeemer on his throne; nor would there have been in his heaven such rich hangings of free grace, nor such mansions prepared by that gracious and loving husband, Christ, who will come and bring his bought bride home with him. Seeing, I say, heaven, even upon the account of free grace, will have such a special, lovely, desirable, and glorious lustre, O bow should grace be prized by us now! How should the gospel of the grace of God be prized by us! What an antipathy to glory, as now prepared and dressed up for sinful man, must they shew, whose whole wits and parts are busied to darken the glory of that grace, which God would have shining in the gospel; and who are at so much pains and labour to dress up another gospel, (though the apostle hath told us, Gal. i. 7, that there is not another,) wherein gospel-grace must stand by, and law-grace take the throne, that so man may sacrifice to his own net, and burn incense to his own drag, and may, at most, be grace's debtor in part; and yet no way may the saved man account himself more grace's debtor, than the man was who wilfully destroyed himself in not performing of the conditions; for grace, as the new gospellers, or rather gospel-spillers mean and say, did equally to both frame the conditions, make known to the contrivance, and tender the conditional peace and salvation. But as to the difference betwixt Paul and Judas, it was Paul that made himself to differ, and not the free grace of God determining the heart of Paul by grace to a closing with and accepting of the bargain. It was not grace that wrought in him both to will and to do. It was he, and not the grace of God in him; what is more contradictory to the gospel of the grace of God? And yet vain man will not condescend to the free grace of God. Pelagianism and Arminianism needeth not put a man to much study, and to the reading of many books, to the end it may be learned, (though the patrons hereof labour hot in the very fires, to make their notions hang together, and to give them such a lustre of unsanctified and corrupt reason, as may be taking with such as know no other conduct in the matters of God,) for naturally we all are born Pelagians and Arminians. These tenets are deeply engraven in the heart of every son of fallen Adam. What serious servant of God findeth not this, in his dealing with souls, whom he is labouring to bring into the way of the gospel? Yea, what Christian is there, who hath acquaintance with his own heart, and is observing its biasses, and corrupt inclinations, that is not made to cry out, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from these dregs of Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Jesuitism, which I find yet within my soul? Hence, it may seem no wonderful or strange thing (though, after so much clear light, it may be astonishing to think, that now, in this age, so many are so openly and avowedly appearing for this dangerous and deadly error,) to us, to hear and see this infection spreading and gaining ground so fast, there needeth few arguments or motives to work up carnal hearts to an embracing thereof, and to a cheerful acquiescing therein; little labour will make a spark of fire work upon gunpowder. And, methinks, if nothing else will, this one thing should convince us all of the error of this way, that nature so quickly and readily complieth therewith. For who, that hath an eye upon, or regard of such things, seeth not what a world of carnal reasonings, objections, prejudices, and scruples, natural men have in readiness against the gospel of Christ; and with what satisfaction, peace, and delight they reason and plead themselves out of the very reach of free grace; and what work there is to get a poor soul, in any measure wakened and convinced of its lost condition, wrought up to a compliance with the gospel-way of salvation? How many other designs, projects, and essays doth it follow, with a piece of natural vehemency and seriousness, without wearying, were it even to the wasting of its body and spirits, let be its substance and riches, before it be brought to a closing with a crucified Mediator, and to an accounting of all its former workings, attainments, and painful labourings and gain, as loss for Christ, and for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, and as dung that it may win Christ, and be found in him, not having its own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith, Phil. iii. 7-9. And may it not seem strange, that now, after so many have found, through the grace of God, the sweet experience of the gracious workings of the gospel-grace of God upon their hearts, and so are in case, as having this witness within them, to give verdict against those assertions, yea, more, and many more than were in several ages before; yet Satan should become so bold as to vent these desperate opinions, so diametrically opposite to the grace of God declared in the gospel, and engraven in the hearts of many hundreds by the finger of God, confirming, in the most undoubted manner, the truth of the gospel doctrines. This would seem to say, that there are such clear sunshine days of the gospel, and of the Son of Man a-coming (and who can tell how soon this night shall be at an end?) that all these doctrines of nature shall receive a more conspicuous and shameful dash than they have received for these many ages. Hithertil when Satan raised up and sent forth his qualified instruments for this desperate work, God always prepared carpenters to fright these horns, and thus gospel truth came forth, as gold out of a furnace, more clear and shining: And who can tell but there may be a dispensation of the pure grace of God, in opposition to these perverting ways of Satan, yet to come, that, as to the measure of light and power, shall excel whatever hath been since the apostles' days. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. However, Madam, the grace of God will be what it is, to all the chosen and ransomed ones, they will find in it, which will make whatever cometh in competition therewith or would darken it, contemptible in their eyes: And happy they, of whom in this day wherein darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the people, it may be said, the Lord hath arisen upon them, and his glory hath been seen upon them: For whatever others, whose understanding is yet darkened, and they alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts, imagine of the gospel-grace, and however they discern nothing of the heavenly and spiritual glory of the grace of God; yet they, being delivered or cast into the form and mould of the doctrine of the gospel which they have obeyed from the heart, through the powerful and irresistible efficacy of the mighty grace of God, have seen such an alluring excellency in that gracious contrivance of infinite wisdom, to set forth the unparallelableness of the pure grace of God, and are daily seeing more and more of the graciousness and wisdom of that heavenly invention, in its adequate suitableness to all their necessities, that as they cannot but admire and commend the riches of that grace that interlineth every sentence of the gospel, and the greatness of that love that hath made such a completely broad plaister to cover all their sores and wounds; so the longer they live, and the more they drink of this pure fountain of heavenly nectar; and the more their necessities press them to a taking on of new obligations, because of new supplies from this ocean of grace, the more they are made to admire the wisdom and goodness of the Author; and the more they are made to fall in love with to delight, and lose themselves in the thoughts of this incomprehensible grace of God; yea, and to long to be there, where they shall be in better case to contemplate, and have more wit to wonder at, and better dexterity to prize, and a stronger head to muse upon, and a more enlarged heart to praise for this boundless and endless treasure of the grace of God, with which they are enriched, through Jesus Christ. Sure, if we be not thus enamoured and ravished with it, it is because we are yet standing without, or, at most, upon the threshold and border of this grace; were we once got within the jurisdiction of grace, and had yielded up ourselves unto the power thereof, and were living and breathing in this air, O! how sweet a life might we have! What a kindly element would grace be to us! As sin had reigned unto death, even so grace should reign, through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom. v. 21. Grace reigning within us through righteousness, would frame and fit our souls for that eternal life that is insured to all who come once under the commanding, enlivening, strengthening, confirming, corroborating, and perfecting power of grace. And seeking grace for grace, and so living, and walking, and spending upon grace's costs and charges; O how lively, and thriving proficients might we be! The more we spend of grace (if it could be spent) the richer should we be in grace. O what an enriching trade must it be to trade with free grace, where there is no loss, and all is gain, the stock, and gain, and all is insured; yea, more, labouring in grace's field would bring us in Isaac's blessing an hundred-fold. But, alas! it is one thing to talk of grace, but a far other thing to trade with grace. When we are so great strangers unto the life of grace, through not breathing in the air of grace, how can the name of the Lord Jesus be glorified in us, and we in him, according to the grace of our God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, Thess. i. 12. Consider we, what an affront and indignity it is unto the Lord dispensator of grace, that we look so lean and ill-favoured, as if there were not enough of the fattening bread of the grace of God in our Father's house, or as if the great Steward, who is full of grace and truth, were unwilling to bestow it upon us, or grudged us of our allowance, when the fault is in ourselves; we will not follow the course that wise grace and gracious wisdom hath prescribed; we will not open our mouth wide, that he might fill us; nor go to him with our narrowed or closed mouths, that grace might make way for grace, and widen the mouth for receiving of more grace; but lie by in our leanness and weakness. And, alas! we love too well to be so. O but grace be ill wared on us who carry so unworthily with it as we do; yet it is well with the gracious soul that he is under grace's tutory and care; for grace will care for him when he careth not much for it, nor yet seeth well to his own welfare; grace can and will prevent, yea, must prevent, afterward, as well as at the first; that grace may be grace, and appear to be grace, and continue unchangeably to be grace, and so free grace. Well is it with the believer, whom grace has once taken by the heart and brought within the bond of the covenant of grace; its deadliest condition is not desperate. When corruption prevaileth to such a height, that the man is given over for dead, there being no sense, no motion, no warmth, no breath almost to be observed, yet grace, when violently constrained by that strong distemper, to retire to a secret corner of the soul, and there to lurk and lie quiet, will yet at length, through the receiving influences of grace promised in the covenant, and granted in the Lord's good time, come out of its prison, take the fields, and recover the empire of the soul; and then the dry and withered stocks, when the God of all grace will be as dew unto Israel, shall blossom and grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon; his branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon. It is a happy thing either for church or particular soul to be planted in grace's sappy soil, they lie open to the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness; and the winter blasts may be sharp and long; clouds may intercept the heat, and nipping frosts may cause a sad decay, and all the sap may return and lie, as it were, dormant in the root; yet the winter will pass, the rain will be over and gone, and the flowers will appear on the earth; the time of singing of birds will come, and the voice of the turtle will be heard in the land; then shall even the wilderness and solitary place be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose, it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. We wonder that 'tis not always hot summer days, a flourishing and fruitful season, with souls and with churches. But know we the thoughts of the Lord; see we to the bottom of the deep contrivance of infinite wisdom? Know we the usefulness, yea, necessity of long winter nights, stormy blasts, rain, hail, snow, and frost? Consider we, that our state and condition, while here, calleth for those vicissitudes, and requireth the blowing of the north as well as of the south winds? If we considered, how grace had ordered all things for our best, and most for the glory and exaltation of grace, we would sit down and sing under the saddest of dispensations, and living by faith and hope, we would rejoice in the confident expectation of a gracious outgate; for as long as grace predomineth (and that will be until glory take the empire) all will run in the channel of grace; and though now sense (which is oft faith's unfaithful friend) will be always suggesting false tales of God, and of his grace unto unbelief, and raising thereby discontents, doubts, fears, jealousies, and many distempers in the soul, to its prejudice and hurt, yet in end, grace shall be seen to be grace; and the faithful shall get such a full sight of this manifold grace, as ordering, tempering, timing, shortening, or continuing, of all the sad and dismal days and seasons that have passed over their own or their mother's head, that they shall see, that grace did order all, yea, every circumstance of all the various tossings, changes, ups and downs, that they did meet with. And O what a satisfying sight will that be, when the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are in-rolled in Heaven, and every individual saint, shall come together, and take a view of all their experience, the result of which shall be, grace began, grace carried on, and grace hath perfected all, grace was at the bottom of all? What shoutings, grace, grace unto it, will be there; when the head-stone shall be brought forth? What soul-satisfying complacency in, and admiration at all that is past, will a back-look thereat yield, when every one shall be made to say, grace hath done all well, not a pin of all the work of grace in and about me might have been wanted; now I see, that the work of God is perfect, grace was glorious grace, and wise grace, whatever I thought of it then. O what a fool have I been, in quarrelling at, and in not being fully satisfied with all that grace was doing with me? O how little is this believed now?
In conscience, madam, that your ladyship (to me no ways known, but by a savoury report) shall accept of this bold address, I recommend your ladyship, my very noble lord your husband, and offspring, to the word of his grace, and subscribe myself,
Your and their servant in the gospel and the grace of God.