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life, light, power, growth, consolation, and joy here;
On these and the like accounts, the principal design of their whole lives unto whom he is thus precious, is to acquaint themselves with him, the mystery of the wisdom, grace, and love of God, in his person and mediation, as revealed unto us in the Scripture, which is 'life eternal;' John xvii. 3. to trust in him, and unto him; as unto all the everlasting concernments of their souls; to love and honour him with all their hearts; to endeavour after conformity unto him, in all those characters of divine goodness and holiness, which are represented unto them in him. In these things consist the soul, life, power, beauty, and efficacy of Christian religion; without which, whatever outward ornaments may be put upon its exercise, it is but a useless, lifeless carcase. The whole of this design is expressed in those heavenly words of the apostle, Phil. iii. 8-12. 'Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ, and be
found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.' This is a divine expression of that frame of heart, of that design which is predominant and efficacious in them. unto whom Christ is precious.
But on the other hand, according unto the forementioned prediction, as he hath been a sure foundation unto all that believe; so he hath in like manner been a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, unto them that stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto they also were appointed. There is nothing in him, nothing wherein he is concerned, nothing of him, his person, his natures, his office, his grace, his love, his power, his authority, his relation unto the church, but it hath been unto many a stone of stumbling and rock of offence. Concerning these things have been all the woful contests, which have fallen out and been managed among those that outwardly have made profession of the Christian religion. And the contentions about them do rather increase than abate, unto this very day; the dismal fruits whereof the world groaneth under, and is no longer able to bear. For as the opposition unto the Lord Christ in these things by men of perverse minds, hath ruined their own souls, as having dashed themselves in pieces against this everlasting rock; so in conjunction with others lusts and interests of the carnal minds of men, it hath filled the world itself with blood and confusion.
The re-enthroning of the person, spirit, grace, and authority of Christ, in the hearts and consciences of men, is the only way whereby an end may be put unto these woful conflicts. But this is not to be expected in any degree of perfection, amongst them who stumble at this stone of offence, whereunto they are appointed; though in the issue he will herein also send forth judgment unto victory, and all the meek of the earth shall follow after it. In the meantime, as those unto whom he is thus a rock of offence, in his person, his spirit, his grace, his office, and authority, are diligent and restless (in their various ways and forms, in lesser or higher degrees, in secret artifices, or open contradictions unto any or all of them, under various pretences, and for divers ends, even secular advantages some of them, which the craft of Satan hath prepared for the ensnaring of them) in all ways of opposition unto his glory; so it is the highest duty of them unto whom he is precious, whose principal design is to be found built on him as the sure foundation; as to hold the truth concerning him (his person, spirit, grace, office, and authority), and to abound in all duties of faith, love, trust, honour, and delight in him; so also to declare his excellency, to plead the cause of his glory, to vindicate his honour, and to witness him the only rest and reward of the souls of men, as they are called and have opportunity.
This and no other is the design of the ensuing treatise; wherein, as all things fall unspeakably short of the glory, excellency, and sublimity of the subject treated of, for no mind can conceive, no tongue can express, the real substantial glory of them; so there is no doubt but that in all the parts of it, there is a reflection of failings and imperfections from the weakness of its author. But But yet I must say with confidence, that in the whole, that eternal truth of God concerning the mys
tery of his wisdom, love, grace, and power, in the person and mediation of Christ, with our duties towards himself therein, even the Father, Son, and eternal Spirit, is pleaded and vindicated, which shall never be shaken by the utmost endeavours and oppositions of the gates of hell.
And in the acknowledgment of the truth concerning these things consists that faith in an especial manner, which was the life and glory of the primitive church, which they earnestly contended for, wherein and whereby they were victorious against all the troops of stumbling adversaries, by whom it was assaulted. In giving testimony hereunto, they loved not their lives unto death, but poured out their blood like water, under all the pagan persecutions, which had no other design but to cast them down and separate them from this impregnable rock, this precious foundation. In the defence of these truths did they conflict in prayers, studies, travels, and writings, against the swarms of seducers by whom they were opposed. And for this cause I thought to have confirmed the principal passages of the ensuing discourse with some testimonies from the most ancient writers of the first ages of the church; but I omitted that course, as fearing that the interposition of such passages might obstruct instead of promoting the edification of the common sort of readers, which I principally intended. Yet withal I thought not good utterly to neglect that design, but to give at least a specimen of their sentiments about the principal truths pleaded for, in this preface to the whole. But herein also I met with a disappointment; for the bookseller having, unexpectedly unto me, finished the printing of the discourse itself, I must be contented to make use of what lieth already collected under my hand, not having leisure or time to make any farther inquiry.
I shall do something of this nature the rather because I shall have occasion thereby to give a summary account of some of the principal parts of the discourse itself, and to clear some passages in it, which by some may be apprehended obscure.
Chap. i. The foundation of the whole is laid in the vindication of those words of our blessed Saviour, wherein he declares himself to be the rock whereon the church is built. Matt. xvi. 18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' The pretended ambiguity of these words, hath been wrested by the secular interests of men to give occasion unto that prodigious controversy among Christians, namely, whether Jesus Christ or the pope of Rome be the rock whereon the church is built. Those holy men of old unto whom Christ was precious, being untainted with the desires of secular grandeur and power, knew nothing hereof. Testimonies may be, they have been, multiplied by others unto this purpose; I shall mention some few of them.
Οὗτος ἔστιν ἡ πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἄγουσα ὁδὸς, ἡ πέτρα, ἡ KλEIÇ O TOчunν, &c. saith Ignatius, Epist. ad Philadelph. 'He' (that is, Christ)' is the way leading unto the Father, the rock, the key, the shepherd;' wherein he hath respect unto this testimony. And Origen expressly denies the words to be spoken of Peter, in Matt. xvi. Tract 1. Quod si super unum illum Petrum tantum existimes totam ecclesiam ædificari, quid dicturus es de Johanne, et apostolorum unoquoque? Num audebimus dicere quod adversus Petrum unum non prevalituræ sunt portæ inferorum? If you shall think that the whole church was built on Peter alone, what shall we say of John, and each of the apostles? What, shall we dare to say that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Peter only? So he according unto the common