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I shall in a few words give the reader an account of the occasion and design of the small ensuing discourse. Some while since I published a treatise about the “Reason of Faith, or the Grounds whereon we Believe the Scripture to be the Word of God,” with that faith which is our duty, and pre-required unto all other acceptable obedience. But although this be the first fundamental principle of supernatural religion, yet is it not sufficient unto any of the ends thereof (that we believe the Scripture to be divine revelation), unless we understand the mind and will of God therein revealed. At least, the knowledge and understanding of those things wherein our present duty and future state of blessedness or misery are immediately concerned, are no leas indispensably necessary unto us than is the belief of the Scripture to be the word of God. To declare the ways and means whereby we may assuredly attain that understanding is the design of the ensuing discourse, as those whereby we come infallibly to believe the Scripture with faith divine and supernatural are the subject of the former. My principal scope in both hath been, to manifest that such is the abundant goodness, wisdom, and grace of God, in granting unto us the inestimable benefit of his word, that no persons whatever shall or can come short of the advantage intended by it but through their own sinful negligence and ingratitude, — the highest crimes in things of a spiritual and eternal concernment; for he hath given such convincing evidences of the procedure or emanation of the Scripture from himself, by the divine inspiration of the penmen thereof, and so plainly declared his mind and will therein as unto the faith and obedience which he requires of any or all sorts of persons in their various circumstances, that every one who takes care of his own present and eternal welfare may and shall, in the due use of the means by him appointed, and discharge of the duties by him prescribed unto that end, with a due dependence on the aid and assistance which he will not withhold from any who diligently seek him, infallibly attain such measure of the knowledge of his mind and will, with full assurance therein, as will be sufficient to guide him unto eternal blessedness. The same measure of divine knowledge is not required in all and every one, that they may live unto God and come unto the enjoyment of him. The dispensation of God towards mankind, in nature, providence, and grace, is an invincible spring of such variety among them, as will not allow a prescription of the same measures of knowledge unto all who have consistency with divine wisdom and goodness; and a supposition of it would bring confusion into all the order of things and persons which is of divine constitution. Nor is it pretended that any one man may or can have, in the use of any means whatever, a full comprehension of all divine revelations in this life, nor perhaps of any one of them; or that all men, in the use of the same means prescribed unto them, shall have the same conceptions of all things revealed. The Scripture was given for the use of the whole church, and that in all ages, states, and conditions, with respect unto that inconceivable variety of circumstances which all sorts of causes do distribute the whole multitude of them into. Wherefore, the wisdom of God therein hath suited itself unto the instruction of every individual believer, unto the moment of his entrance into eternity. That any one of them, that any society of them, should have a perfect comprehension of the entire revelation of God, or a perfect understanding of the whole Scripture, and every part of it, with all that is contained therein, was never required of them in a way of duty, nor ever designed unto them in a way of privilege: for besides that he hath replenished it with unfathomable stores, unsearchable treasures of divine mysteries, wherein we cannot find out the Almighty unto perfection, and hath provided another state for the comprehension of that by sight which is the object of adoration and admiration in believing such knowledge is not necessary unto any that they may lead the life of faith, and discharge the duties thereof, in all holy obedience unto God; yea, such a knowledge 120and comprehension would be inconsistent with that state and condition wherein we are to walk with God, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, and during the continuance thereof. But the substance of what we plead for is, that such is the wisdom, goodness, and love of God towards mankind, in the grant that he hath made unto them of the revelation of himself, his mind and will, in the Scripture, as that no one person doth or can fail of attaining all that understanding in it and of it which is any way needful for his guidance to live unto God in his circumstances and relations, so as to come unto the blessed enjoyment of him, but by the sinful neglect of the means and duties prescribed by him for the attainment of that understanding, and want of a due dependence on those spiritual aids and assistances which he hath prepared for that end. By what ways and means he hath thus provided for the assurance and security of all men, in things of their eternal concernment, and what are those acts of his wisdom, power, and grace, which he exerts for that end — namely, that they may both believe the Scripture to be his word, and understand his mind revealed therein, both according unto what is required of them in a way of duty, so as in both they may be accepted with him, — is the design of this and the other forementioned discourse to declare. And they are both of them principally intended for the use of the ordinary sort of Christians, who know it their concernment to be established in the truth of those things wherein they have been instructed; for they are frequently attacked with these questions, “How do you know the Scriptures to be the word of God? and what assurance have you that you understand any thing contained in them, seeing all sorts of persons are divided about their sense and meaning, nor do you pretend unto any immediate inspiration to give you assurance?” And if, on these ensnaring inquiries, they are cast under any doubts or perplexities in their minds, as it often falls out amongst them who have not diligently weighed the principles of their own profession, the next insinuation is, that they ought to betake themselves either to some other present guide, as their own light and reason, or make a complete resignation of themselves and the conduct of their souls unto the pretended authority and guidance of other men. To give assurance and security unto their minds that they neither are nor can be deceived in the belief of the Scriptures to be the word of God, and [as to] the understanding of his mind and will therein, so far as their present obedience and eternal happiness are concerned, and that unto this end they need not be beholding unto any, nor depend on any but God himself, in the use of known and obvious means or duties, is designed in these small treatises. And upon the principles evinced and confirmed in them, I have yet proposed a farther inquiry, — namely, What conduct, in these times of great contests about the assurance of faith, and the causes of it, every one that takes care of his own salvation ought to betake himself unto, that he may not be deceived nor miscarry in the end: and this is designed with especial respect unto the church of Rome, which vehemently pretends unto the sole infallible conduct in these things. But probably the near approach of the daily-expected and earnestly-desired hour of my discharge from all farther service in this world will prevent the accomplishment of that intention.147147 In 1679, Dr Owen published a small treatise answering this description, under the title of “The Church of Rome no Safe Guide.” It forms a part of his controversial writings. See vol. xiv. — Ed. In the continual prospect hereof do I yet live and rejoice; which, among other advantages unspeakable, hath already given me an unconcernment in those oppositions which the passions or interests of men engage them in, of a very near alliance unto, and scarce distinguishable from, that which the grave will afford. I have but one thing more to acquaint the reader withal, wherewith I shall close this preface, and it is the same with that wherewith the preface unto the former discourse is concluded:— This also belongeth unto the second part of my discourse concerning the dispensation and operations of the Holy Spirit. The first volume on that subject, some years since published, having found good acceptance among them that are godly and learned, both at home and abroad, I have been desired to give out what yet remaineth for the complete accomplishment of what I had designed thereon in this way of lesser discourses, that may have their use before the whole be finished, or whether ever it be so or no.
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