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Thomas Goodwin :: To the Reader

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To the Reader

What the scope of this treatise itself is, the title-page and the table that follows will sufficiently inform you: I shall only here acquaint you with what was mine, in a few words. I have by long experience observed many holy and precious souls, who have clearly and wholly given up themselves to Christ, to be saved by him his own way, and who at their first conversion (as also at times of desertion) have made an entire and immediate close with Christ alone for their justification, who yet in the ordinary course and way of their spirits have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself: the stream of their more constant thoughts and deepest intentions running in the channel of reflecting upon, and searching into the gracious dispositions of their own hearts, so to bring down, or to raise up (as the apostle’s words are, Romans 10:8), and so get a sight of Christ by them. Whereas Christ himself is “nigh them” (as the apostle there speaks), if they would but nakedly look upon himself through thoughts of pure and single faith.

And although the use of our own graces, by way of sign and evidence of Christ in us, be allowed us by God, and is no way derogatory from Christ, if subordinated to faith; and so as that the heart be not too inordinate and immoderate in poring too long or too much on them, to fetch their comfort from them, unto a neglect of Christ: yet as pleasures that are lawful are unlawfully used when our thoughts and intentions are too long, or too frequent, or too vehement in them, so as to dead the heart, either to the present delighting in God, or pursuing after him, with the joint strength of our souls, as our only chief good: so an immoderate recourse unto signs (though barely considered as such), is as unwarrantable, when thereby we are diverted and taken off from a more constant actual exercise of daily thoughts of faith towards Christ immediately, as he is set forth to be our righteousness, either by the way of assurance (which is a kind of enjoyment of him), or recumbency and renewed adherence in pursuit after him.

And yet the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that (as the Psalmist says of God) Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts.” But let these consider what a dishonor this must necessarily be unto Christ, that his train and favorites (our graces) should have a fuller court and more frequent attendance from our hearts than himself, who is the “King of Glory.” And likewise what a shame also it is for believers themselves, who are his spouse, to look upon their husband no otherwise but by reflection and at second hand, through the intervention and assistance of their own graces, as mediators between him and them.

Now to rectify this error, the way is not wholly to reject all use of such evidences, but to order them, both for the season, as also the issue of them. For the season, so as that the use of them go not before, but still should follow after an address of faith first renewed, and acts thereof put forth upon Christ himself. Thus whenever we would go down into our own hearts, and take a view of our graces, let us be sure first to look wholly out of ourselves unto Christ, as our justification, and to close with them * immediately; and this as if we had no present or by-past grace to evidence our being in him. And if then, while faith is thus immediately clasping about Christ, as sitting upon his throne of grace, we find either present or fore-past graces coming in as handmaids, to attend and witness to the truth of this adherence unto Christ (as after such single and absolute acts of faith it oftentimes falls out);—the Holy Ghost (without whose light they shine not) “bearing witness with our spirits,” that is, our graces, as well as to our spirits;—and then again, for the issue of them, if in the closure of all, we again let fall our viewing and comforting ourselves in them, or this their testimony, and begin afresh (upon his encouragement) to act faith upon Christ immediately with a redoubled strength; if thus (I say) we make such evidences to be subservient only unto faith (while it makes Christ its Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all), this will be no prejudice at all to Christ’s glory, or the workings of faith itself; for by this course the life of faith is still actually maintained and kept upon wing in its full use and exercise towards Christ alone for justification. Whereas many Christians do habitually make that only but as a supposed or taken for granted principle, which they seldom use, but have laid up for a time of need; but actually live more in the view and comfort of their own graces, and the gracious workings thereof in the duties towards Christ.
*Qu. “him?”—ED.

The reason of this defect, among many others, I have attributed partly to a “barrenness” (as Peter’s phrase is) “in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and of such things revealed about him, as might be matter for faith to work and feed upon: as also to a want of skill (while men want assurance) to bend and bow, and subjugate to the use of a faith for mere adherence, all those things that they know and hear of Christ as made justification unto us. It being in experience a matter of the greatest difficulty (and yet certainly most feasible and attainable), for such a faith as can yet only rely and cast itself upon Christ for justification, yet rightly to take in, and so to make use of all that which is or may be said of Christ, his being made righteousness to us, in his death, and resurrection, as to quicken and strengthen itself in such acts of mere adherence, until assurance itself comes, for whose use and entertainment all truths lie more fair and directly to be received by it. They all serve as a fore-right wind to assurance of faith, to fill the sails thereof, and carry on with a more full and constant gale (as the word used by the apostle for assurance * imports), whereas to the faith of a poor recumbent, they serve but as a half sidewind, unto which yet, through skill, the sails of such a faith may be so turned and applied towards it, as to carry a soul on with much ease and quietness unto Christ the desired haven; it notwithstanding waiting all that while for a more fair and full gale of assurance in the end.
*Viz. πληροφορία.—ED.

Now to help or instruct believers in that latter, namely, the use of such a skill, is not directly the drift of this treatise, I having reserved that part (if God assist me and give leisure, and this find acceptance) unto another about the Acts of justifying faith, wherein this are now mentioned is to be the main scope. That which I have here endeavored, is, to set forth to all sorts of believers (whether they have assurance or not) Christ as he is the object of our faith as justifying, and as the cause of justification to us; and so I send forth this as a premise and preparatory to that other. And to that purpose I have run over some few articles of our faith or creed, as I found them put together in one bundle by the great Apostle, namely Christ, in his death, resurrection, ascension, sitting at God’s right hand, and intercession, and have handled these no further than as in all these he is made justification unto us, therein having punctually kept unto the apostle’s scope. By all which you may (in the meantime) see, what abundant provision God has laid up in Christ (in the point of justification) for all sorts of believers to live upon: everything in Christ, whatsoever he was, or whatsoever he did, with a joint voice speaking justification unto us. You may see also that God has in Christ justified us over and over; and thereby come to discern what little reason you have to suffer your hearts to be carried aside to other comforters, and so be spoiled and bereft of these more immediately prepared, and laid up for us in Christ himself. To have handled all those considerations, which his obedience unto death affords unto the justification of a believer, and his comfort therein, in this small tractate, would have made that part too disproportioned to the rest: it alone deserves, and will require a distinct tract, which therefore I have cast into another method; and so in this treatise have touched only upon what may for the present be sufficient to furnish that part, to keep company with its fellows. Only when I had thus presented Christ along from his death, resurrection, and ascension, unto his sitting in heaven, and there performing that great part of his priesthood, the work of intercession, I judged it both homogeneal to all these, and conducing to the greater encouragement of believers in the exercise of their faith, to subjoin that other treatise, How Christ’s Heart, now he is in Heaven, stands affected to us Sinners here below. And a better token (take the argument itself, if I could have fully represented it) how to present unto his spouse I know not, than a true character of her Husband’s heart, now he is in glory: and (but for method’s sake) I would have placed it first, it being more suited to vulgar capacities, whose benefit I aim at. Now in that discourse I confess I have not aimed to keep so strictly unto the matter of justification only, as in the other I have done; but have more generally discussed it, and shown how his heart stands towards us, under all sorts of infirmities whatsoever, either of sin or misery, yet so as it will serve for the matter of justification also. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ grant us according to the riches of his glory, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, and that we may know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge! Amen. ―Thomas Goodwin


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