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DIRECTED TO MY WORTHY FRIEND, HENRY ASHURST, ESQ. CITIZEN
DEAR AND FAITHFUL FRIEND,
When this book was printed and passing into the world, without the ordinary ornament of a prefixed honored name, my thoughts reduced me into the common way, though not upon the common reasons; assuring me that your name would be more than an accident or ceremony to such a discourse as this; even a part more substantial than a map is in a treatise of geography, or the well-cut figures in tractates of anatomy. Discourses of navigation, architecture, music, &c. may almost as hopefully instruct the learners, without any visible operations or effects, as the characters of well-tempered Chistians can duly inform the minds of ignorant, ungodly men, of so divine a thing as Christianity and godliness, without acquaintance with some such persons, in whom these characters are manifestly exemplified. Wise and holy precepts, are to make wise and holy persons : it is such persons as well as such precepts which bear the image of God; which indeed is most perfect in exactness and integrity in the precepts; (for in them is no imperfection or error, as they are of God;) but it is of greater final excellency, in activity and usefulness as it is in men. And therefore as God delighteth in his servants, and is glorified in and by them in the world, so Satan usually chooseth such persons, to reproach and make odious to the ignorant, rather than the holy precepts immediately, by which they are directed; both because their holiness is most exasperating by activity; and also most liable to calumny and contempt, through imperfection, and mixture of that which indeed is worthy of dislike. Till godliness and Christianity be visible in full perfection, and elevated above the contradiction of folly, and the contempt of pride, the blind, distracted minds of hardened, forsaken sinners, will not acknowledge its divine, celes
tial nature and worth ; but then it will be too late to become partakers of it; they must both know and possess it in its infancy and minority, who will ever enjoy it in its heavenly dignity and glory. If seasonable illumination and conversion confute not the deceits and slanders which pride and ignorance have entertained, the too late confutation of them by death and their following experience, will make them wish, that they had been wise at cheaper rates, when it will be in vain to cry, “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are out ;" Matt. xxv. 8.
But while I offer your name to the malicious world, as an instance of the temper which I here describe, I intend it not as a singular though an eminent instance : for through the great mercy of God, there are thousands of examples of confirmed Christians among us in this land, even before those eyes that will not see them. But it is not catalogues, but single names, which writers have used in this way. And why may I not take the advantage of custom, to leave to the world the testimony of my estimation and great respects, to so deserving a person of the primitive Christian, catholic temper : and to let them know, what sort of men were my most dear and faithful friends? And also thus to express my love, by telling you closely what you must be, as well as by telling the world for their example what you are ? Upon these accounts, without your knowledge or consent, I presume thus to prefix your name to this treatise, written long ago, but now published by
Your faithful Friend,
RICHARD BAXTER. From my Lodging in New Prison, June 14, 1669.
It is a matter of a greater moment than I can express, what idea or image of the nature of godliness and Christianity is imprinted upon men's minds. The description which is expressed in the sacred Scriptures, is true and full: the thing described is rational, pure, perfect, unblamable and amiable. That which is expressed in the lives of the most, is nothing so ; but is purblind, defiled, maimed, imperfect, culpable, and mixed with so much of the contrary quality, that to them that cannot distinguish the chaff from the wheat, the sickness from the life, it seemeth an unreasonable, fanciful, loathsome and vexatious thing, and so far from being worthy to be preferred before all the riches, honors and pleasures of the world, that it seemeth worthy to be kept under as a troubler of kingdoms, societies and souls. And doubtless this monstrous expression of it in men's lives, is because the perfect expression of it in God's word hath not made a true impression upon the mind, and consequently upon the heart. For as it is sound doctrine which must make sound Christians, so doctrine worketh on the will and affections, not as it is in itself, and as delivered, but as it is understood, believed, remembered, considered; even as it is imprinted on the mind, and used by it. And as interposed matter, or defective application may cause the image on the wax to be imperfect, though made by the most perfect seal; so it is in this case, when one man doth defectively understand the Scripture description of a godly man or Christian, and another by misunderstanding mixeth false conceptions of his own; and another by a corrupt, depraved will doth hinder the understanding from believing, or remembering, or considering and using what it partly apprehendeth ; what wonder if the godliness and Christianity in their hearts be unlike the godliness and Christianity in the Scriptures? When the law of God, in nature and Scripture is pure and uncorrupt, and the law of God written imperfectly on the heart, is there mixed with the carnal law in their members, no marvel if it be expressed accordingly in their lives.