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should be printed, about two years since, I reckoned it little other than an expedient to disengage myself from any farther thoughts, and my friends from any expectation of it, which I could not well do, but by having a proof of the backwardness of persons to encourage, by subscription, a work which would be so very expensive to the undertakers; but, the design being countenanced, beyond what I could have imagined, and numbers subscribed for, with more expedition than is usual, I was laid under an obligation immediately to prepare my notes for the press, and set forward the work, which, through the divine goodness, has been thus far carried on; and I cannot but take occasion to express my grateful acknowledgment of the respect that has been shewed me, by those who have encouraged this undertaking. If it may answer their expectation, and subserve their spiritual advantage, I shall count my labour well employed, and humbly offer the glory thereof, as a tribute due to God, whose interest is the only thing that demands all our time, strength, and utmost abilities. If I may but have a testimony from him that I have spoken nothing concerning him that is a dishonour to his name, unbecoming his perfections, or that has a tendency to lead his people out of the right way to the glorifying and enjoying of him, my end is fully answered. Whatever weakness I have discovered, arising from mine inequality to the greatness of the subjects insisted on, I hope to obtain forgiveness thereof from God, whose cause I have endeavoured to maintain; and, to be excused by men, as I may truly say, I have not offered, either to him or them, what cost me nothing. I have, as far as I am able, adapted my method of reasoning to the capacities of those who are unacquainted with several abstruse and uncommon words and phrases, which have been often used by some who have treated on these subjects, which have a tendency rather to perplex, than improve the minds of men: terms of art, as they are sometimes called, or hard words, used by metaphysicians and schoolmen, have done little service to the cause of Christ.
If I have explained any doctrine, or given the sense of any scripture in a way somewhat different from what is commonly received, I have never done it out of the least affectation of singularity, nor taken pleasure in going out of the beaten path, having as great a regard to the footsteps of the flock, as is consistent with that liberty of thinking and reasoning, which we are allowed to use, who conclude nothing to be an infallible rule of faith, but the inspired writings.
As to what I have advanced concerning the eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Ghost, I have thought myself obliged to recede from some common modes of plication, which have been used, both by ancient and modern
writers, in insisting on these mysterious doctrines, which, probably, will appear, if duly weighed, not to have done any great service to the cause, which, with convincing evidence, they have maintained; since it is obvious that this is the principal thing that has given occasion to some modern Arians to fill the margins of their books with quotations, taken out of the writings of others, whom they have either, without ground, pretended to have been on their side of the question, or charged with plucking down with one hand, what they have built up with the other.
Whether my method of explaining these doctrines be reckoned just, or no, I cannot but persuade myself, that if what I have said, concerning the subordination of these divine persons, be considered in any other view, than as an explication of the Sonship of Christ, and the procession of the Holy Ghost, it will not be reckoned a deviating from the common faith of those who have defended the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity; and, if it be an error to maintain that these divine persons, as well as the Father, are independent, as to their personality, as well as their essence, or to assert that the manner of their having the divine essence, as some express it, is independent, as well as the essence itself, then what I have delivered, on that subject, is to no purpose, which, when I am convinced of, I shall readily acknowledge my mistake, and count it an happiness to be undeceived.
As to what respects the decrees of God, and more particularly those that relate to angels and men, and his providence, as conversant about sinful actions, and the origin of moral evil, I have endeavoured to account for them in such a way, as, I trust, does not in the least, infer God to be the author of sin; nor have I, in any instance, represented God as punishing sin, or determining to do it, out of his mere sovereignty, as though he designed to render his creatures miserable, without considering them as contracting guilt, and thereby procuring this to themselves. And, when I have been led to insist on the freeness of divine grace, and the covenant of grace, as made with Christ, and, in him, with the elect, and maintained the absoluteness and independency hereof on the will of man to render it effectual to salvation, I have, notwithstanding, said as much as is necessary concerning the conditionality of our claim to the blessings thereof, and the inseparable connexion that there is between practical religion and salvation, which fences against the charge that is often brought against this doctrine, as though it led to licentiousness. This I could not omit to mention, that the reader might not entertain groundless prejudices against some of the doctrines insisted on, before he duly weighs the method in which they are handled, or considers whether my
defence of them against the popular objections, of that or any other kind, be just or no. Some, it may be, will see reason to conclude that it is; and others, who think that there are many unsurmountable difficulties on our side of the question, may be convinced, that there are difficulties of another nature, as great, if not greater, attending the opposite scheme, which they themselves maintain. But this I rather chuse to submit to the impartial judgment of those who are not disposed to condemn a doctrine, without desiring to know what may be said in its defence.
As to what concerns the work in general, it may be observed, that when I have occasion to illustrate an argument, by making use of any criticism that may be of advantage to it, or to give the sense of ancient writers, either for or against what I have laid down, I have inserted it in Italics in the notes, that it might not appear to be a digression, or break the thread of
Though the title of every page mentions only the general subject of the question, there is a table prefixed to each vollume, that comprises the contents thereof, laid down in such a form, as that the reader may easily see the heads of argument, under every question, in their proper method and connexion.
And, at the end, there is an index of scriptures, in which only those are inserted that are either more largely or concisely explained. This, together with the table, was drawn up by a kind brother, which I thankfully acknowledge, as having afforded me more leisure to attend to the work itself.*
As to what concerns the second edition,† it was undertaken at the request of some who did not expect that the former would be so soon out of print. That which gives me great satisfaction is, the acceptance it has met with from many judicious divines and others, in North-Britain; and I cannot but reckon the honour that the learned professors in the university of Aberdeen did me, in signifying their approbation of it, much more to be desired, than the highest titles that could have been conferred upon me without it.
I have nothing farther to trouble the reader with in this preface; but would only request of him, that, what thoughts soever he may entertain concerning the way in which I have endeavoured to state and defend some great and important truths, he would search the scriptures, and explain them agreeably to the divine perfections, and not think the worse of the gospel, which stands upon a firmer basis, than the weak efforts of fallible men, who use their best endeavours to defend it. If we had not a
And besides the above-mentioned Indexes there are now added to this edition an alphabetical index to the whole matters contained in the work.
And the same reason may be assigned why this third is now offered to the public.
surer rule of faith, than the methods of human reasoning, religion would be a matter of great uncertainty, and we should be in danger of being tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. But our best security against this, will be our having hearts established with grace, and rightly disposed to make a practical improvement of what we learn; and, if we are enabled to follow on to know the Lord with minds free from prejudice, and, if under a due sense of our weakness, we humbly present our supplications to him, who is able to make us wise to salvation, we may then hope to attain to that knowledge of the truth, as it is in Jesus, which shall be attended with peace and comfort here, and crowned with blessedness and glory hereafter.
May the great God, in whose hand is the life and usefulness of all men, succeed, with his blessing, what is humbly offered to his service, so far as it is adapted thereunto, and approved of by him, that hereby it may be conducive to the spiritual advantage of professing families, and the rising generation.