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AN HUMBLE TESTIMONY UNTO THE GOODNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD IN HIS DEALING WITH SINFUL CHURCHES AND NATIONS; OR, THE ONLY WAY TO DELIVER A SINFUL NATION FROM UTTER RUIN BY IMPENDENT JUDGMENTS:
IN A DISCOURSE ON THE WORDS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, <421301> LUKE 13:1-4. Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins “ — <235801>Isaiah 58:1.
In publico discrimine omnis homo miles est.” PREFATORY NOTE.
IN his own preface to the reader Dr. Owen very briefly alludes to the circumstances which had induced him to deliver to “a private congregation” several discourses on Luke 13:1-5, and afterwards to publish the substance of them in the following discourse. For obvious reasons, he evinces great caution in referring to passing events, which, about the time the discourse was published, excited “continual apprehensions of public calamities” in the minds of all the friends of liberty and order. The nation had been agitated with stormy discussions about the :Exclusion Bill. The Whig party were bent on preventing the accession of James, the Duke of York, to the British throne on the demise of Charles II. In the agitation which shook the country in consequence of this attempt, “a whole year,” says Macaulay, “elapsed, — an eventful year, which has left lasting traces in our manners and language... On the one side, it was maintained that the constitution and religion of the state would never be secure under a Popish king; — on the other, that the right of James to wear the crown in his turn was derived from God, and could not be annulled, even by the consent, of all the branches of the Legislature.
The bill had been several times introduced into the House of Commons, — in 1679, in November 1680, a third time in the following January, and finally, in the Parliament which met at Oxford in March 1681, when the Whig measures were defeated by the dissolution of the Parliament only seven days after it had met.
Whatever judgment be formed as to the expediency of the Exclusion Bill, the strenuous exertions which the Whigs and Nonconformists made to secure the success of that measure, enable us to estimate the alarm and forebodings which filled their minds, when the power of the Court had triumphed.
Apart, however, from this defeat, there were other causes of anxiety and apprehension. Dissenters were subjected to severe and increasing oppression; and while the friends of the popular cause were disconcerted and baffled, a manifest reaction was taking place throughout England in favor of the Court. It was this change of public sentiment, and decay of patriotic zeal — arising in some degree from growing indifference to religious principle — that led our author to entertain, at this juncture, gloomy views in regard to the prospects of the nation, and to issue a solemn and urgent warning to his countrymen.
The discourse of Dr. Owen is extremely suitable to the crisis which had elicited it. While he makes no reference to the proceedings of the government, he dwells upon evangelical truths and duties, in a strain peculiarly fitted to elevate his readers above unworthy fears, and to make the danger to which they might feel themselves exposed a motive to repentance and godliness. “The ‘Testimony,’ “ says Orme, “contains much of that practical wisdom which the Doctor had acquired from his long and deep study of the Word of God, and from his extensive experience in the ways of Providence.” The discourse was published in the year 1681. — ED.
TO THE READER.
THE ensuing discourse contains the substance of sundry sermons preached in a private congregation. Some who heard them, considering the subjectmatter treated of, and the design in them with respect unto the present state of things in this nation, did judge that it might be convenient and seasonable to make them more public, for the use and benefit of others; but, knowing how remote I was from any such intention in their first composure, and how naked they were of all ornaments that might render them meet for public view, I was unwilling for a season to comply with their desires. Neither was it their importunity (which, as they did not use, so I should not in this case have valued), but their reasons, that prevailed with me, to consent that they might be published by any that had a mind thereunto; which is all my concernment therein. For they said, that whereas the land wherein we live is filled with sin, and various indications of God’s displeasure thereon, yet there is an unexemplified neglect in calling the inhabitants of it unto repentance, for the diverting of impendent judgments. The very heathen, they said, upon less evidence of the approaches of divine vengeance than is now amongst us, did always solemnly apply themselves to their deities, for the turning it away.
Wherefore, this neglect amongst us they supposed to be of such ill abode, as that the weakest and meanest endeavor for relief under it might be of some use; and of that nature I cannot but esteem this discourse to be.
They added, moreover, that whereas, on various accounts, there are continual apprehensions of public calamities, all men’s thoughts are exercised about the ways of deliverance from them; but whereas they fix themselves on various and opposite ways and means for this end, the conflict of their counsels and designs increaseth our danger, and is like to prove our ruin. And the great cause hereof is, a general ignorance and neglect of the only true way and means whereby this nation may be delivered from destruction under the displeasure of God. For if their thoughts did agree and center therein, as it would insensibly work them off from their present mutual destructive animosities; so also it is of such a nature as would lead them into a coalescency in those counsels, whose fruit would be the establishment of truth, with righteousness and peace. Now, this way is no other but sincere repentance, and universal reformation in all sorts of persons throughout the nation.
That this is the only way for the saving of this nation from impending judgments and wasting desolations, — that this way. will be effectual unto that end when all others shall fail, — is asserted and proved in this discourse, from the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, to confront the wisdom of politicians, who are otherwise minded, with a plain word of truth and power.
It was hoped also by them, that some intimation of their duty might be hereby given unto those who, having the ministerial oversight of the generality of the people, do divert their minds unto the petty differences and contests, whilst the fire of God’s displeasure for sin is ready to devour their habitations. And the truth is, if they persist in their negligence, if they give not a public evidence, at this season, of their zeal for repentance and reformation of life among all sorts of persons, — going before them in their example and endeavors unto the promotion of them, — I understand not how they will give an account of their trust and duty to God or men.
And therefore, were I worthy to give advice to any of my brethren in the ministry, who are in the same condition with myself as unto outward circumstances, it should be this only, namely, that whilst others do seek to obstruct them in the whole discharge of their duty, and to deprive the church of the benefit of their labors, they would, by their own personal example, by peculiar endeavors in their congregations, among all that hear them, and on every occasion, so press the present calls of God unto repentance, and so promote the work of a visible reformation, as eminently to help in saving of the nation from approaching judgments, and therein of them also who design their trouble; — and I doubt not but most of them are already engaged and forward herein.
This shall be our testimony, and our peace, in whatever may befall us in this world.
Let us not satisfy ourselves, that our congregations are in so good a posture as that they may continue for our lives; and so be like ill tenants, who care not if their houses fall upon the expiration of the term of their interest in them. That reparation is required of us which may make them serve for succeeding generations.
And when any church is so unobservant of its own decays as to be negligent of endeavors for proportionable reformation, — if, after a while, any will deliver their own souls, it must be by a departure from them that hate to be reformed.
It is a fond imagination, that churches may render their communion useless and dangerous only by heresy, tyranny, and false worship; — an evil, worldly, corrupt conversation in the generality of their members, contrary to the doctrine of the gospel, not opposed and contradicted by a constant endeavor for sincere reformation, is no less ruinous unto the being of churches than any of these other evils.
On these and such like considerations, I was not unwilling that this plain discourse should be exposed to public view, hoping that it might stir up others of greater abilities and opportunities more effectually to pursue the same design. I do not think it needful to make any apology for the plainness both of the matter and style in this small treatise.
The least endeavor to attire a discourse of this nature with the ornaments of speech or language, is even ridiculous; it is more fit to bear the furrows of sighs and tears, than to be smoothed and flourished with the oily colors of elegance and rhetoric.
And as for the obvious plainness of the matter contained in it, it is suited, as I judge, unto them whose good is principally designed therein. Plain men have sinned as well as others, though it may be not unto so high a degree, nor in such an outrage of excess. However, on many considerations, they are likely first to suffer, unless impendent judgments are diverted by repentance.
I do but a little plead with every man for himself and in his own cause.
Neither, however wise or learned men may be, is it meet, in this case, to treat them otherwise. It is to no purpose to make a fine speech unto such as are falling into a lethargy, nor to discourse learnedly of the art of navigation unto them that are ready to perish in a storm; they must be plain words and plain things that are forcible in this case. And those by whom they are despised, from any principle of self-elation, give but an uncomfortable indication of what will be the issue of their dangers.
Let, therefore, the reader but candidly excuse and pass by the trouble which he will be put unto by the frequent mistakes of the press, especially in mispointings, rendering the sense sometimes obscure and unobvious; and I have, on the behalf of the treatise itself, no more to desire of his forbearance.