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THE GLORY AND INTEREST OF NATIONS PROFESSING THE GOSPEL.
A GREAT event has occurred since the last two sermons, comparatively cheerful and buoyant in their tone, were preached. Oliver Cromwell is dead. His son Richard is in his place; but cannot fill it. The Parliament has been convened on the 27th of January 1659; and on the 4th of February Dr. Owen is called to preach before it. It is most interesting to gather the spirit of the day from the scope and character of this discourse. In the last discourses, complacency in the peace prevailing in the country, and jealousy lest unseemly contention should renew the distraction and turmoil from which the nation has made its escape, are predominant characteristics. In the discourse that follows, it is easy to mark a spirit of anxiety as to the future developments of Providence. One emphatic sentence lays bare the very heart of the nation, heaving and throbbing with painful uncertainty in regard to the issue of public events; — “We have peace now, outward peace; but, alas! we have not quietness: and if any thing may be done that may give us quietness, yet perhaps we may not have assurance.” The preacher, however, has not abated his confidence in God, — insists upon His presence and aid as the true source of hope to the nation, and of preservation from ruin, — shows that, from the multitude of the godly in the land, God’s presence is still with the nation, and rejoices in the belief that they will prove to it” as the ark in the house of Obededom, as Joseph in the house of Potiphar.” Whatever reasons might exist for the prevailing anxiety, Owen “encouraged himself in God;” and sought in this discourse to infuse into the minds of his hearers his own unshaken stead. fastness of faith.
It appears, from the dedication, that some exception had been taken to certain views which he had expressed in the sermon about civil government. The only passage in it which bears on civil government will be found at the foot of p. 466; in which he mentions, that although he does not think a man may not be lawfully called to magistracy who is not a believer, yet he had “no great expectation from them whom God loves not.” In the dedication he affirms that he had advanced nothing which could “really interfere with any form of civil government, in the world, administered according to righteousness and equity.” — ED.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE, THE COMMONS OF ENGLAND, ASSEMBLED IN PARLIAMENT, I NEED not give any other account of my publishing this ensuing short discourse, than that which was also the ground and reason of its preaching, — namely, your command. Those who are not satisfied therewith, I shall not endeavor to tender farther grounds of satisfaction unto, as not having any persuasion of prevailing if I should attempt it. Prejudice so far oftentimes prevails, even on good soils, that satisfaction will not speedily thrive and grow in them. That which exempts me from solicitousness about the frame and temper of men’s minds and spirits, in the entertainment of discourses of this nature, is the annexing of that injunction unto our commission in delivering the word of God: it must be done, “whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear.” Without, therefore, any plea or apology for whatever may seem most to need it in this sermon, I devolve the whole account of the rise and issue it had, or may have, on the providence of God in my call and your command. Only I shall crave leave to add, that, in my waiting for a little leisure to recollect what I delivered out of my own short notes and others’ (that I might not preach one sermon and print another), there were some considerations that fell in exciting me to the obedience I had purposed. The desire I had to make more public, at this time and season, the testimony given in simplicity of spirit to the interest of Christ in these nations, and therein to the true, real interest of these nations themselves, — which was my naked design, openly managed, and pursued with all plainness of speech (as the small portion of time allotted to this exercise would allow), — was the chief of them. Solicitations of some particular friends gave also warmth unto that consideration. I must farther confess, that I was a little moved by some mistakes that were delivered into the hands of report, to be managed to the discountenance of the honest and plain truth contended for, especially when I found them, without due consideration, exposed in print unto public view. That is the manner of these days wherein we live. I know full well that there is not any thing, from the beginning to the ending of this short discourse, that doth really interfere with any form of civil government in the world, administered according to righteousness and equity,-as there is not in the gospel of Christ, or in any of the concernments of it. And I am assured, also, that the truth proposed in it inwraps the whole ground of any just expectation of the continuance of the presence of God amongst us, and his acceptation of our endeavors about the allotment and just disposal of our civil affairs. Let others lay what weight they will or please, upon the lesser differences that are amongst us on any account whatever; if this shield be safe, — this principle maintained and established, that is here laid down, — and the just rights of the nation laid in a way of administration, suited unto its preservation and furtherance, I shall not easily be cast down from my hopes, that amongst us — poor, unprofitable, unthankful creatures as we are — we may yet see the fruit of righteousness to be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for evermore. For those, then, who shall cast their eve on this paper, I would beg of them to lay aside all those prejudices against persons or things, which their various contexture in our public affairs may possibly have raised in them. I know how vain, for the most part, expectations of prevailing in such a desire by naked requests are; but sick men must be groaning, though they look for no relief thereby.
Wherefore, committing it into that hand wherein lie also your hearts and mine, I shall commend it, for your use, unto the sovereign grace of Him, who is able to work all your present works for you, and, which is more, to give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified. So prays Your Servant in the work of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel, JOHN OWEN.