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TO THE FIRST EDITION.
THE substance of the ensuing treatise was published in the form of an oce casional sermon, in 1787, and though it did not attract any general attention, it was so favourably received by a few respectable persons, that the author has been repeatedly desired to reprint it. Upon reflection, however, he concluded that a treatise on the same important subject would have a greater probability of usefulness; and he accordingly has bestowed considerable pains in making the necessary alterations.
The sentiments and arguments of the sermon have been scrupulously preserved, as far as they seemed material to the subject; the whole has been revised with the greatest care and attention ; very large additions have been made, the thoughts have been arranged in a new manner, and the author has gone as far in making the treatise complete, according to his views and ability, as was consistent with the compass prescribed to him: for he deemed it better to retrench and abridge, than, by advancing the price, to throw any hindrance in the way of its circulation.
September 1, 1795.
GROWTH IN GRACE.
THE apostle Paul was evidently a man of strong passions, and peculiar sensibility ; and being by Divine grace exceedingly filled with love to the Lord Jesus, and to the souls of men, his mind was affected with the most lively emotions of joy or sorrow, hope or fear, according to the tidings he received from the several churches of Christ. At one time he complains, that “he has no rest in his flesh,” “ is filled with heaviness," and " can no longer forbear;" and that he "writes out of much affliction and anguish of heart, with many tears :” at another, he declares, that “he is filled with comfort, and is exceedingly joyful in all his tribulation, being comforted by the faith of his beloved children; for now," says he, “ we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” He seems indeed to intimate, that these were things which concerned his infirmities :" and doubtless this sanguine disposition requires much correction and regulation by Divine grace; but, when it is thus tempered, and counterbalanced by proportionable humility, wisdom, patience, and disinterestedness, it may be considered as the main-spring of a minister's activity. And as these united qualifications certainly conduced very much to the apostle's extraordinary usefulness, so they render his epistles peculiarly interesting to us, in all our inquiries concerning the best methods of promoting the enlargement and prosperity of the church, and the edification of all the true disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Among other peculiarities of his manner, it especially suits our present purpose to notice the animated glow of joy and affection, with which he addresses his Christian brethren.-Thus, when writing to the Philippians, hé abruptly breaks forth, " I thank my God upon every remembrance of you ; always in every prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy.” From the same fulness of heart he afterwards adds,“ Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are enemies to the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things." Phil. iii. 18, 19.
There are, alas ! too many professors of the gospel in most places, whose conduct would constrain a believer of far less gracious sensibility than holy
Lul, to weep at every recollection of them ; but there are others also, on whose account we ought to “bless God without ceasing, whilst we remember their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess. i. 3. Every faithful and affectionate pastor, therefore, will find cause for alternate sorrow and joy, whilst he reflects on the people, among whom he hath been called to labour.
But, while the apostle saw great cause for thankfulness on account of what the Lord had done for the Philippians, yet he was equally disposed to pray for them continually ; not only, lest they should decline in zeal and diligence; but that they might make still greater progress in every thing pertaining to genuine Christianity. “ For God,” says he, “ is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent ; that ye may be sincere and without offence, till the day of Christ; being filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the praise and glory of God.” Phil. i. 8—11. And in the subsequent parts of the epistle, he very copiously and pathetically exhorts them to follow after all those very things, for which he had most fervently prayed in their behalf.
These remarks on the writings of St. Paul may suggest some reflections, which are suited to introduce the subject of this treatise. A great part of that confusion, which pervades the discourses of many persons on religious topics, arises from inattention to the different eharacters of those, concerning whom the sacred writers speak, or to whom they address their instructions. In all endeavours to do good to the souls of men, it is especially necessary, that we “ rightly divide the word of truth;” and apply it to the hearts and consciences of the persons addressed, according to their various characters and situations : for the portion which suits one man may be as improper for another, as the same medicine is for persons labouring under diseases of a contrary nature. If therefore the wise attention of the sacred writers to this important concern be overlooked by their readers ; there will be the greatest reason to fear, lest they should wrest even the words of inspiration to their own destruction.
Every man, who will take the pains to examine, must be convinced, that the apostles addressed themselves to ignorant idolaters, careless sinners, bigotted Jews, proud Pharisees, profane scoffers, or hypocritical abusers of the gospel, in a manner adapted to their several cases; that they employed very different language, and used far other topics, when they were instructing serious inquirers, encouraging broken-hearted penitents, or “restoring, in the spirit of meekness,” such as “ had been overtaken in a fault:" and that they brought forward instructions and exhortations of a different nature, when they wrote to establish believers, or to those who had newly embraced the gospel, and were full of zeal, but in danger of being misled by false teachers, or drawn aside by manifold temptations.
It is, therefore, evident, that the exhortations of the apostles, and their prayers for the progress of their people in all holy affections and conduct, are entirely consistent with the doctrines of grace, for which they in other parts most zealously contend: seeing they have an exclusive reference to persons, who, “having been justitied by faith, had peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ ;" “ in whom they had redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of their sins, according to the riches of his grace:” For the Lord had “ saved them, and called them with an holy calling, not according to their own works, but according to his own purpose and grace given them in Christ Jesus before the world began;" and the security of the new covenant engaged to them, that they should " be kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.” In imitation, therefore, of this example, and with a most zealous attachment to the same doctrines, the ministers of Christ should now also exhort those, whom, with heart-felt satisfaction, they regard as true believers, to follow after every branch of that holiness, which the apostles most pathetically recommended to their belored children; and assuredly we sin against the Lord if we cease to pray for them in the same style and manner.
The ensuing treatise being especially intended for the benefit of those, who make a creditable and explicit profession of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, nothing will be spoken of those doctrines, in a way of controversy