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THE BRANCH OF THE LORD THE BEAUTY OF ZION; OR, THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH IN ITS RELATION UNTO CHRIST.
OPENED IN TWO SERMONS; One Preached At Berwick, The Other At Edinburgh.
ALL the information which can be given respecting these sermons on Isaiah 56:7, will be found in the “Life,” vol. i. p. 45, and the dedication to Cromwell which is prefixed to them. The first sermon was preached at Berwick, July 21, 1650. The date of the dedication is November 26, 1650.
There is no record of Owen’s proceedings in Scotland. The decisive battle of Dunbar, September 3, 1650, placed Edinburgh in the hands of Cromwell. The castle for a time held out against him; and as the Presbyterian ministers who had retired to it refused to issue from it on the Sabbath to fill the pulpits in the town, there is every likelihood that Owen found constant employment in preaching the gospel. A celebrated correspondence took place between those ministers, as represented by Dundas, the commandant of the fortress, and Oliver Cromwell. The latter offered them liberty to preach in their respective churches. Not much to their credit, they declined to avail themselves of this permission, on the ground of “the personal persecution” of which they were afraid if they ventured to quit the castle. Cromwell replies with insinuations that they wished “worldly power,” and made “worldly mixtures to accomplish the same,” and advises them to “trust to the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God;” alleging, at the same time, that though they bad not listened to his public appeals,” the Lord hath heard us,” in the victory of Dunbar.
The ministers, in their reply, and in allusion to the practices of Cromwell’s officers, “regret that men of mere civil place and employment should usurp the calling and employment of the ministry, particularly in Scotland, contrary to the government and discipline therein established, — to the maintenance whereof you are bound by the Solemn League and Covenant;” and state that they “have not so learned Christ as to hang the equity of their cause upon events.” Cromwell, in a long answer, with a postscript of four queries, betraying some temper at the smart rejoinder of the clergy, complains that they make themselves “infallible expositors of the Covenant;” and winds up a reproof to them for calling such successes as that achieved at Dunbar “bare events,” with the characteristic words, “The Lord pity you.” In one of the postscript queries he has very manifestly the advantage, when he twits the ministers with their inconsistency in “crying down Malignants, and yet ‘setting up the head of them,’ Charles Stuart.’” It has been thought that the hand of Owen can be traced in the letters of Cromwell; and Hume speaks of them “as the best of Cromwell’s wretched compositions.” The improvement in the composition may be ascribed to the greater leisure which Cromwell possessed at this time, while waiting the reduction of the castle. The letters are deeply impregnated with all the strongly-marked peculiarities of Cromwell’s style of thought, — the perpetual emphasis of a resolute will, expressed in sentences “lumbering,” indeed, but, like his own sword, sharp as well as heavy. Owen, we cannot but think, would have been more successful in reply to some of the statements of the ministers, and especially to the charge which they preferred against Cromwell, of suspending the equity of his cause upon his outward success. Sea Owen’s answer to such an accusation in the prefatory note to the third sermon in this volume. — ED.
TO HIS EXCELLENCY, THE LORD GENERAL CROMWELL, ETC.
MY LORD, IT was with thoughts of peace that I embraced my call to this place in time of war. As all peace that is from God is precious to my spirit, so incomparably that between the Father and his elect, which is established and carried on in the blood and grace of Jesus Christ. The ministerial dispensation of this peace being through free grace committed even unto me also, I desire that in every place my whole may be, to declare it to the men of God’s good pleasure. That this was my chief design, in answer to the call of God upon me, even to pour out a savor of the gospel upon the sons of peace in this place, I hope is manifest to the consciences of all with whom (since my coming hither) in the work of the ministry I have had to do. The enmity between God and us began on our part; — the peace which he hath made begins and ends with himself. This is the way of God with sinners: when he might justly continue their enemy, and fight against them to their eternal ruin, he draws forth love, and beseeches them to be reconciled who have done the wrong, and them to accept of peace who cannot abide the battle. Certainly the bearing forth of this message, which is so “worthy of all acceptation,” and ought to be so welcome, cannot but have sweetness enough to season all the pressures and temptations wherewith it is sometimes attended. This it hath been my desire to pursue, and that with the weapons which are not carnal. And though some may be so seasoned with the leaven of contention about carnal things, or at best the tithing of mint and cummin, as to disrelish the weightier things of the gospel, yet the great Owner of the vineyard hath not left me without a comfortable assurance that even this labor in the Lord hath not been in vain.
The following sermons, which I desire to present unto your excellency, were preached, one at Berwick, upon your first advance into Scotland, the other at Edinburgh. My willingness to serve the inheritance of Christ here, even in my absence, caused me to close with the desires that were held out to this purpose. And I do present them to your excellency, not only because the rise of my call to this service, under God, was from you; but also, because in the carrying of it on I have received from you, in the weaknesses and temptations wherewith I am encompassed, that daily spiritual refreshment and support by inquiry into, and discovery of, the deep and hidden dispensations of God towards his secret ones — which my spirit is taught to value. The carrying on of the interest of the Lord Jesus amongst his saints, in all his ways, which are truth and righteousness — the matter pointed at in this discourse — being the aim of your spirit in your great undertakings, it bears another respect unto you. I am not unacquainted with its meanness. yea, its coming short, in respect of use and fruit, of what the Lord hath since and by others drawn forth; but such as it is, having by Providence stepped first into the world, I wholly commend it to him for an incense who graciously “supplied the seed to the sower;” — beseeching him that we may have joy unspeakable and glorious in the acceptance of that peace which he gives us in the Son of his love, whilst the peace whose desire in the midst of war you continually bear forth to him and to others, is by them rejected to their hurt. Your Excellency’s Most humble Servant in our dearest Lord, J. OWEN.