« AnteriorContinua »
adopt them. Of this nature were the notions of some respecting the Lord's day. They talked of Christian liberty; they held, that the institution of the Sabbath was a part of the ceremonial law; that under the New Testament dispensation, every day was equally holy; and that to think otherwise, was to return under the "yoke of bondage, instead of standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.” The whole of this reasoning, or a part of it, was adopted by different readers, as they severally found it to serve their purpose.
When the gospel has been preached in purity for å time, some will always be found, who after a temporary profession of subjection to the truth, turn away by degrees from the holy commandment delivered unto them. To such men, a specious defence of their relaxed profession of religion, is ever acceptable. The extended observation of Dr Owen, furnished him with many painful illustrations of this remark. He had seen not a few, who had formerly seemed to be zealous for the faith which purifieth the heart, drawing back, and extolling Christian liberty, falsely so called. To men in these alarming circumstances, the strict observance of the Sabbath day, will always appear irksome; a day of meditation, self-examination and prayer, has nothing to recommend it to them. To reclaim such men, if God peradventure would give them repentance, was one object of publishing in a sea parate form, the six Exercitations concerning the day of sacred rest. And another object was, to guard the less-informed against the seducing examples of those, who had declined from the good ways of the Lord.
But it was not only from such circumstances as these, that Dr Owen felt himself to be called upon to enforce the duty of remembering the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy. There were also reasons of a different nature, and of as alarming an operation.
The personal profligacy of Charles II. had created & most profligate court, and too many of the people had followed their pernicious ways. An immoral
man wishes never to contemplate the consequences of his conduct. “ He hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." The light of Heaven then, must not by any means disturb the king's dream of voluptuous delight. Pure and undefiled religion is banished from the palace.“ Prophesy not again any more at Bethel, for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court.” But though the unwelcome voice of pure religion may be heard no more at all in it, yet 'the recollections of religion may still haunt the mind. Fear must therefore, if possible, be excluded, as well as grace and truth. To accomplish this, intoxicating pleasures are multiplied. The moral necessities of the Court, call loudly for carousals and for masquerades, for buffoons and for players, for writers for the drama, and for writers of burlesque; that these all, labouring according to their several vocations, may pre-occupy every hour, and depress every rising thought of religion. Accordingly religious men were ridiculed ; a profession of religion was considered as a full proof of hypocrisy ; and“ gravity and sound speech, which cannot be condemned," were held as fit subjects of laughter. * The just and upright man is laughed to scorn.” But as the hand-writing appeared on the wall
, while Belshazzar, despising the God of Israel, was drinking wine before his thousand lords, and was praising the gods of gold, and of silver, and of brass ; so in the midst of all this profane mirth, the heart of the king may soon be made sad; for the anticipations of futurity may intrude, and these will at any time damp unprincipled gaiety. Moreover, in the throngest succession of dissipation, there still are hours when a man is thrown back upon himself, and must think. Now, for these dark hours in the lives of profligate men, infidelity engages to make provision; and then it is, that with most success, it tries to substantiate its claims to regard. To attend to a train of reasoning, more mental exertion is requisite, than pro
fligate men are willing to bestow on the subject of re* ligion. But doubts may be expressed in few words ; objections, misrepresentations and ludicrous allusions, may be soon made, and are easily remembered. Accordingly, although they could never have disproved any one of the evidences of Christianity, they could boldly affirm, that the whole of this evidence was doubtful at best; that the Christian doctrines were contradictory and incredible; and that the morality of Scripture was rigid and inapplicable to the condition of man.
And in proportion as a man possessed the “mind which was in Christ Jesus,” though they“had no evil thing to say of him,” they could try to hold him up to scorn, under the reviling epithets of illiberal, or morose, or visionary, or hypocritical. They who talked thus, and they who listened, were equally willing to support these assertions; the proof of them was not required. Wit or raillery supplied the place both of principle and argument; and wealth, festivity, and increasing numbers, gave spirit to their exertions.
To the patrons of such sentiments, the weekly recurrence of the Lord's day was peculiarly unwelcome. This sacred day has ever been an eminent means of propagating Christian truth, and of forming the Christian character. Of this the Puritans had been fully aware. They had enforced the doctrines of Scripture on this subject, and under their potent ministrations, a serious impression of the importance of sanctifying the Sabbath day, had been widely diffused. Of the religious effects which followed the strict observance of this day, profane and sceptical men were also aware. And they were anxious to counteract its influence, not merely because they were unwilling to worship God, but also because they hoped to supplant religious principle, by introducing a neglect.of religious ordinances. A serious regard to the duties of private worship, was now considered by many as beneath the character of a man of rank ; and a contempt of every public appearance of devotion, was a distinguishing
mark of the friends of the King. When CHARLES was at any time in the house of God, he seemed to be afraid that it was not sufficiently known," that he feared not God, neither regarded man." < And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice ?" The example of the King was followed by the minions of his pleasures; and the conduct of the court, whatever it may be, will ever be copied by multitudes. Religious men, in every age, have seen cause to lament, that many neglect the duties of the Sabbath ; but at this period, the contempt of these salutary duties was open and bold. The torrent of impiety which descended from the throne, was swollen in its progress, and deluged the land. “O my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.”
The attention of Dr OWEN had been often directed with grief to this declining state of religion ; and he tells us, that to the introduction of a great neglect of the duties of the Lord's day, might be ascribed much of the profaneness which had become so general. While studying the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, he examined with much care the doctrine of Scripture respecting the Sabbath. The result of this examination is contained in six Exercitations, concerning the name, the origin, the nature, the use, and the continuance of a day of sacred rest;' and practical directions for the due observance of this day are subjoined. These Dissertations were a part of the second volume of the Exposition; but as the other parts of this volume were not ready for publication, the six Dissertations were published, in the 1671, in a detached form, that they might be read more extensively, and without delay. When the second Volume was afterwards published, the author thought that it would be unfair to many of his readers to increase its size, by inserting the Dissertations concerning the Sabbath; of which two editions were then in the hands of the public. On this account, they were not included in
the volumes of the Exposition. But as these Disserta. tions are very important, as they are now but little known, and especially as they constitute an essential part of Dr Owen's Illustration of the Epistle to the Hebrews, they will be restored to their proper place in this edition.
The style of Dr Owen's writings has been a subject of frequent censure. The length of his sentences, it is said, their intricacy, and consequently their obscurity, fatigue the reader's attention, and retard his progress. His admirers must indeed admit, that the complaint is not without foundation, but they maintain, that there are few authors whose works will better repay the time and the labour, which are spent in the perusal of them. Dr OWEN was a very voluminous writer; he needed the services of an Amanuensis, and his works bear marks of this division of labour. Accustomed only to dictate his ideas, he surveys the stores of a mind rich in knowledge; and perceiving clearly the leading truth which he meant to illustrate, he brings forward a long series of thoughts, all bearing on the subject. The associations which linked these thoughts together in his mind, were probably most natural; but these thoughts were perhaps not all requisite at the time, parentheses frequently occur, and the passage becomes perplexed. He had neither leisure nor inclination to revise and to retrench; perhaps, though he had made the attempt, he was not qualified for rendering his writings much more acceptable by improvements in style. In general, however, it is not difficult to perceive his meaning, and when the sentence is intricate, a little more attention will generally enable the reader to disentangle the several clauses.
But as many readers will not submit to this labour, an attempt has been made in this edition to render the style somewhat more perspicuous. This has been done chiefly by dividing long sentences, and sometimes by supplying the place of antiquated words, by