I think it necessary to give the reader a brief account of the nature and design of the ensuing plain discourse, which may both direct him in the reading and be some kind of apology for myself in the publishing of it. He may know, therefore, that the thoughts here communicated were originally private meditations for my own use, in a season wherein I was every way unable to do any thing for the edification of others, and far from expectation that ever I should be so able any more in this world.
Receiving, as I thought, some benefit and satisfaction in the exercise of my own meditations therein, when God was graciously pleased to restore a little strength unto me, I insisted on the same subject in the instruction of a private congregation. And this I did, partly out of a sense of the advantage I had received myself by being conversant in them, and partly from an apprehension that the duties directed and pressed unto in the whole discourse were seasonable, from all sorts of present circumstances, to be declared and urged on the minds and consciences of professors.
For, leaving others unto the choice of their own methods and designs, I acknowledge that these are the two things whereby I regulate my work in the whole course of my ministry. To impart those truths of whose power I hope I have had in some measure a real experience, and to press those duties which present occasions, temptations, and other circumstances, do render necessary to be attended unto in a peculiar manner, are the things which I would principally apply myself unto in the work of teaching others; for as in the work of the ministry in general, the whole counsel of God concerning the salvation of the church by Jesus Christ is to be declared, so in particular we are not to fight uncertainly, as men beating the air, nor shoot our arrows at random, without a certain scope and design. Knowledge of the flock whereof we are overseers, with a due consideration of their wants, their graces, their temptations, their fight, their strength and weakness, are required herein.
And when, in pursuance of that design, the preparation of the word to be dispensed proceeds from zeal for the glory of God and compassion unto the souls of men, when it is delivered with the demonstration of a due reverence unto God whose word it is, and of authority towards them unto whom it is dispensed, with a deep sense of that great account which both they that preach and they that hear the word preached must shortly give before the judgment-seat of Christ, there may be a comfortable expectation of a blessed issue of the whole work. But my present design is only to declare in particular the reasons why I judged the preaching and publishing of this small and plain discourse, concerning “the Grace and Duty of being Spiritually Minded,” not to be altogether unseasonable at this time in the present circumstances of most Christians.
And the first thing which I would observe unto this end is, the present importunity of the world to impose itself on the minds of men, and the various ways of insinuation whereby it possesseth and filleth them. If it attain hereunto – if it can fill the minds, the thoughts, and affections of men, with itself – it will in some fortify the soul against faith and obedience, and in others weaken all grace, and endanger eternal ruin. For “if we love the world, the love of the Father it not in us;” and when the world fills our thoughts, it will entangle our affections. And, first, the present state of all public affairs in it, with an apprehended concernment of private persons therein, continually exerciseth the thoughts of many, and is almost the only subject of their mutual converse; for the world is at present in a mighty hurry, and being in many places cast off from all foundations of steadfastness, it makes the minds of men giddy with its revolutions, or disorderly in the expectations of them.
Thoughts about these things are both allowable and unavoidable, if they take not the mind out of its own power by their multiplicity, vehemency, and urgency, until it be unframed as unto spiritual things, retaining neither room nor time for their entertainment.
Hence men walk and talk as if the world were all, when comparatively it is nothing.
And when men come with their warmed affections, reeking with thoughts of these things, unto the performance of or attendance unto any spiritual duty, it is very difficult for them, if not impossible, to stir up any grace unto a due and vigorous exercise. Unless this plausible advantage which the world hath obtained of insinuating itself and its occasions into the minds of men, so as to fill them and possess them, be watched against and obviated, so far, at least, as that it may not transform the mind into its own image and likeness, this grace of being spiritually minded, which is life and peace, cannot be attained nor kept unto its due exercise.
Nor can we be any of us delivered from this snare, at this season, without a watchful endeavour to keep and preserve our minds in the constant contemplation of things spiritual and heavenly, proceeding from the prevalent adherence of our affections unto them, as will appear in the ensuing discourse.
Again, there are so great and pregnant evidences of the prevalency of an earthly, worldly frame of spirit in many who make profession of religion, that it is high time they were called unto a due consideration how unanswerable they are therein unto the power and spirituality of that religion which they do profess. There is no way whereby such a frame may be evinced to prevail in many, yea, in the generality of such professors, that is not manifest unto all. In their habits, attires, and vestments, in their usual converse and misspense of time, in their over-liberal entertainment of themselves and others, unto the borders of excess, and sundry other things of a like nature, there is in many such a conformity unto the world (a thing severely forbidden) that it is hard to make a distinction between them. And these things do manifest such a predominancy of carnal affections in the minds of men as, whatever may be pretended unto the contrary, is inconsistent with spiritual peace.
To call men off from this evil frame of heart and mind, to discover the sin and danger of it, to direct them unto the ways and means whereby it may he effected, to supply their thoughts and affections with better objects, to discover and press that exercise of them which is indispensably required of all believers if they design life and peace, is some part of the work of the ensuing discourse. It may be it will be judged but a weak attempt as unto the attaining of that end; but it cannot be denied to have these two advantages: first, that it is seasonable, and, secondly, that it is sincerely intended.
And if it have this only success, that it may occasion others who have more ability and opportunity than I have to bring in their assistance for an opposition unto the vehement and importunate insinuations of the world in these things to have an entertainment in the minds of professors, this labour will not he lost. But things are come to that pass amongst us that unless a more than ordinary vigorous exercise of the ministry of the word, with other means appointed unto the same end, he engaged in to recall professors unto that strict mortification, that sincerity of conversation, that separation from the ways of the world, that heavenly mindedness, that delight in the contemplation o’f spiritual things, which the gospel and the whole nature of Christian religion do require, we shall lose the glory of our profession, and leave it very uncertain what will be our eternal condition.
The same may be spoken concerning love of the world, as unto the advantages and emoluments which men trust to attain unto themselves thereby. This is that which renders men earthly minded, and most remote from having their conversation above. In the pursuit of this corrupt affection do many professors of religion grow withering, useless, sapless, giving no evidence that the love of God abideth in them. On these and many other accounts do many Christians evidence themselves to be strangers from spiritual mindedness, from a life of meditation and holy contemplation on things above; yet unless we are found in these things in some good measure, no grace will thrive or flourish in us, no duty will be rightly performed by us, no condition sanctified or improved, nor are we prepared in a due manner, or “made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Wherefore, as was said, to direct and provoke men unto that which is the only remedy of all these evils, which alone is the means of giving them a view into and a foretaste of eternal glory, especially unto such who are in my own condition – namely, in a very near approach unto a departure out of this world – is the design and scope of the ensuing discourse, which is recommended unto the grace of God for the benefit of the reader.