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TO THE READER.

CHRISTIAN READER,—It is somewhat difficult not to applaud that excellency which has first approved itself to our judgment. Hence is it that, though this work needs it not, I will so far gratify my own affections, and comply with obtaining custom, as to acquaint thee that, if thou hadst my eyes and taste, thou must admire its beauty, and confess its sweetness; much more when thou shalt use thy own more discerning eye and judicious palate.

The matter of these sermons is spiritual, and speaks the author one intimately acquainted with the secrets of wisdom. He writes like one that knew the Psalmist’s heart, and felt in his own the sanctifying power of what he wrote. Their design is practice; beginning with the understanding, dealing with the affections, but still driving on the advancement of practical holiness. They come home and close to the conscience; first presenting us a glass, wherein we may view the spots of our souls, and then directing us to that fountain wherein we may wash them away. They are of an evangelical complexion, abasing proud corrupt nature, and advancing free and efficacious grace in the conversion of sinners. The exhortations are powerful, admirably suited to treat with reasonable creatures, yet still supposing them to be the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, through which he communicates life and power to obey them.

The manner of handling is not inferior to the dignity of the matter; so plain as to accommodate the most sublime truths to the meanest spiritual capacity, and yet so elevated as to approve itself to the most refined understanding. He knew how to be succinct without obscurity, and where the weight of the argument required it, to enlarge without nauseous prolixity. He studied more to profit than please, and yet an honest heart will then be best pleased when most profited. He chose rather to speak appositely than elegantly; and yet the judicious do account propriety the choicest elegancy. He laboured more industriously to conceal his learning than some others to ostentate theirs: and yet, when he would most veil it, the discerning reader cannot but discover it, and rejoice to find such a mass, such a treasure of useful learning, couched under a well-studied and artificial plainness. But let the reader take a taste of, let him concoct and digest, these spiritual discourses, and he shall say with the Sabean queen, ‘It was a 4true report I heard in my own land; but behold the one-half was not told me!’ Or with the men of Sychar, ‘Now we believe, not because of thy saying, but because we ourselves have proved and experienced’ their delicacies; as one taste of honey will more effectually commend its sweetness than the most elaborate oratory.

Those ancients that had seen the first temple wept bitterly when they saw the foundation of the second laid. And perhaps some pious souls who have ‘sat with great delight’ under the author s ministerial ‘shadow, and have found his fruit sweet to their taste,’ may secretly shed a tear, that though they here meet also the same divine truths, the same spiritual matter, yet they want the living voice, the grateful elocution, the natural eloquence, in which that heavenly matter dropped, or rather flowed, from his gracious lips. But let the same consideration which quieted the spirits of those Jews of old satisfy theirs: God can fill this house also with his glory; and though the second edition of the temple fall short of the former in the beauty and symmetry of the structure, yet can the Spirit flow from the press as well as the pulpit; with this advantage, that they may here in safety read what with great danger they formerly heard.

I have admired, and must recommend to the observation of the reader, the fruitfulness of the author’s holy invention, accompanied with solid judgment; in that whereas the coincidence of the matter in this psalm might have superseded his labours in very many verses, yet, without force or offering violence to the sacred text, he has, either from the connection of one verse with its predecessor, or the harmony between the parts of the same verse, found out new matter to entertain his own meditation and his reader’s expectation; nor do I observe more than twelve verses in this large psalm wholly omitted, if at least they may be said to be omitted, whose subject-matter is elsewhere copiously handled.

Had the reverend author designed these papers for public view, he could not have flattered himself, in a cavilling age, that he should escape the severe lashes of envy and malice (those fiends that haunt all things and persons excellent); he must have expected a snarl from the wolf’s black mouth, or a kick from the dull ass’s hoof. Yet on his behalf I demand this justice, that he be not condemned for the printers’ crimes. Their venial errors will receive a pardon of course from the ingenuous reader; and for their mortal transgressions, whereof they are sometimes guilty, either clouding, altering, or perverting the scope of the author, enjoin them, gentle reader, a moderate penance, and then receive them to full absolution, who have voluntarily offered themselves to confession.

Thus much, Christian reader, it was thy interest and mine to have spoken; the rest must be to the God of all grace, that he would give thee and this book his blessing; which is the prayer of thy affectionate friend and faithful servant in our Lord Jesus,

V. A.11   That is, ‘Vincent Alsop.’—ED.

December 13, 1680.

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