|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by Margaret Durham
To the Right Honourable, truly Noble, and Religious Lady, my Lady Viscountess of Kenmure.
Many have been the helps and furtherances that the people of God, in these latter times, and more especially in these lands, have had in their Christian course and way to heaven: in which respect, our blessings have not a little prevailed above the blessings of our progenitors, who, as they enjoyed not such plentiful preaching of the gospel, so were they not privileged with so many of the printed, and published labours of his servants, succinctly and clearly opening up the meaning; and by brief, plain, familiar, and edifying observations, making application of the holy scriptures in our own vulgar language, and that even to the lowest capacities: a rich treasure highly valuable above all the gold of both Indies, and the greatest external blessings of the most potent and flourishing nations; and the more to be valued, if we call to remembrance, how that not very many years ago, the Christians in this same island, would have travelled far to have heard a portion of the scriptures only read to them, and would very liberally and cheerfully have contributed of their substance for that end; and would withal carefully have sought out, and at high rates made purchase of a Bible, a New Testament, or any small treatise (then very rare and hard to come by) affording but the least measure of light on the scriptures (which in those dark times were to them much as a sealed book in comparison of what they have been in the late bright and glorious sun-shine of the gospel to us) though to the manifest hazard of being burnt quick for so doing. O how highly would these precious souls have prized, and how mightily would they have improved the frequent, pure, plain, and powerful preachings, and many excellent writings, wherewith Britain and Ireland, have to admiration been privileged of late years! Sure their laborious, painful, costly, and hazardous diligence, in seeking after the knowledge of God, according to his word, will rise in the judgment against this careless, lazy, negligent, and slothful generation, who, in the use of so many various and choice helps, have so patent and easy access to know, and serve him, with that which almost costs them nothing.
We have now--besides the large English Annotations, and the Dutch lately Englished on the whole scriptures, and some notable pieces of English divines upon several parts of them--the book of Psalms, all the small Prophets, the gospels according to Matthew, and John, the epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Hebrews, the two epistles of Peter, the Revelation, and this Song of Solomon, solidly explained, and in short notes, sweetly improved by the ministers and divines of our own church, for the benefit, not only of scholars (who have many large helps in other languages;) but also, yea, principally, of such as cannot, on several accounts conveniently make use of the other; and yet it may be, (which is for a lamentation) there are many particular persons, and not a few whole families, that can read, and might easily come at such books, mainly designed for their edification, who concern themselves so little in these important things, that they look not after them, though in their secret and family reading of the scriptures, they might be thereby singularly profited. Oh! do we thus despise the goodness of God, and vilify the riches of his bounty? Is this to run to and fro, that scripture-knowledge may be increased; to cry after knowledge, and to lift up our voice for understanding; to seek her as silver, and to search for her as for hid treasure? Or, is this to look on scripture wisdom, making wise to salvation, as the principal thing, and with all our getting to get understanding? How much, alas! Have we set light by, and loathed this manna, that hath from heaven for many years fallen frequently and abundantly, as it were, about our camps? No doubt, as we begin sadly to feel already (but, ah! our stroke is above our groaning) so we have further ground to fear, that our holy and jealous God, may for this and other such provocations (whereby we have evidently manifested our detestable indifferency and great unconcernedness in things of greatest concernment) send us a famine not of bread, nor a thirst of water, (these comparatively were light afflictions;) but of hearing the words of the Lord, so that we shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, and shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it; and in his wrathful, yet spotless and just providence, order some such revolution, as it shall be accounted a crime punishable by bonds, torture, and death, to read, or have such books, yea, even the book of God itself. O for opened eyes to see what helps and privileges we have enjoyed, and do in part yet enjoy, and grace suitable to improve them.
Amongst these many helps, what my blest husband, the Author of this piece, hath, according to the grace given unto him, contributed, shall not, I hope, be the least acceptable and useful to the church, he having by the good hand of his God upon him, been led to open up two books of the holy scriptures, wherein belike the Lord's people did very much desire to know the mind of the Spirit, they being somewhat darker, and less easily understood, than many, if not than any of all the rest,--the book of the Revelation, and this book of Solomon, the Song of Songs, or the most excellent Song; containing the largest and liveliest discoveries of the love of Jesus Christ, the King, Bridegroom, and Husband of his church, to her his Queen, Bride, and Spouse; and of hers to him, with those spiritually glorious interviews, holy courtings, most superlative, but most sincere, commending and cordial entertainings of each other, those mutual praisings and valuings of fellowship;--those missings, lamentings, and bemoanings of the want thereof;--those holy impatiencies to be without it, swelling to positive and peremptory determinations, not to be satisfied, nor comforted in any thing else, those diligent, painful and restless seekings after it, till it be found and enjoyed, on the one , hand;--and those sweet, and easy yieldings to importunity, and gracious grantings of it, on the other; with those high delightings, solacings, complacencies, and acquiescings in, and heartsome embracings of one another's fellowship:--Those failings, faultings, lyings a-bed, and lazinesses, and thereupon, when observed, those love-faintings, swarfings, swoonings, seekings, and sorrowings on the one side; and those love-followings, findings, pityings, pardonings, passings by, rousings, revivings, supportings, strengthenings, courings, confirmings, and comfortings, with most warm and kindly compellations, on the other: (O let men and angels, wonder at the kingly condescending, the majestic meekness, the stately stooping, the high humility, and the lofty lowliness that conspicuously shines forth here on the Bridegroom's part!) --Those love-languishings, feverings, sickenings, holy violentions, apprehendings, and resolute refusings to let go on the one part, and those love-unheartings, heart-ravishings, captivatings, and being overcome: those love-arrests, and detainments in the galleries, as if nailed (to speak so with reverence) to the place, and sweetly charmed into a kind of holy impotency, to remove the eye from looking on so lovely an object, on the other:--Those bashful, but beautiful blushings, humble hidings, and modest thinking shame to be seen or heard speak, on the Bride's part, and those urgent callings, and in a manner compellings, to compear, with those serious professings of singular satisfaction, to hear her sweet voice, and to see her comely countenance on the Bridegroom's part:--Those frequently claimed, avouched, boasted of, and gloried in, mutual interests:-Those love-restings, and reposings on the arm, and on the bosom of one another, with these serious and solemn chargings and adjurings not unseasonably to disturb and interrupt this rest and repose:--Those mutual kind invitings, and hearty accepting of invitations; those comings and welcomings; those feastings, feedings, and banquetings on all manner of pleasant fruits, chief spices, and best wines, even the rarest and chiefest spiritual dainties and delicates:--Those pleasant, refreshful airings and walkings together in the fragrant fields, villages, woods, orchards, gardens, arbours, umbrages, and as it were, labyrinths of love:--Those stately magnificent and majestic describings of one another, as to stature, favour, beauty, comer proportion of parts, curious deckings and adornings, sweet-smelling odoriferous anointings, powderings, and perfumings, hold-ing forth their respective qualifications, endowments, accomplishments, perfections, and excellencies, whereof all things in the world, bearing such names, are but dark, dull, and empty resemblances:-[In which commending descriptions the Bridegroom seems holily to hyperbolize, and the Bride, though doing her best, doth yet fall hugely below his matchless and incomparable worth, which is exalted far above all the praise of men and angels; his also of her are many more and more brightly illuminated and garnished with delectable variety of admirably opposite similitudes, than hers are of him, because his love is infinitely more strong, and his skill in commending infinitely greater and more exquisite, and because withal her jealousies, and suspicions of his love, are not easily removed, nor the persuasions of his so egregious esteem of her easily admitted, though doubtless, he who is the chief of ten thousands, and altogether lovely, hath infinitely the preference and pre-eminence, whereof, if there were not another, that is a demonstrative, and undeniable evidence, that all the splendour and glory, wherewith she thus shineth, is derived and borrowed by her, as but a little twinkling state from him, that great light, the Sun of righteousness. O what will he make of his church when sinless and in heaven, when he makes so much of her, when sinful and on earth! and how incomprehensibly glorious must he be in himself, that puts such passing glory on her!]--These transports of admiration at one another, held forth in the several Behold's, O's, Who's, and How's, prefixed to their respective compellations and commendations:--and finally these vehement joint-longings, to have the marriage consummated and the fellowship immediate, full, and never any more to be interrupted.
From this little hint, may it not be said, that the ravishing passions and passionate ravishings of most purely spiritual, chaste, and ardent love, burning like coals of juniper, and flaming forth in the excellentest expressions imaginable, do quite surpass, transcend, and out-vie those of the most strongly affectionate lovers in the world, whether wooers, or married persons? nay, these scarcely serve darkly to shadow forth those; for, indeed, this marriage, and marriage-love, betwixt Christ and his ' church is a great mystery, and deservedly so called, by the apostle: the incarnation of the Son of God, with what he was made, died and suffered out of mere free love to the elect, that he might bring about and accomplish this blest match betwixt him and them, and so bestow all his purchase, nay, himself on them; this, this I say, is without all controversy the great mystery of godliness: O the height and the depth, the breadth and length of the love of Christ, whereof, when all that can be said of it, were it by the tongues of men and angels is said, that must needs be said, that it is a love which passeth knowledge: who can speak suitably, and as he ought of this noble, notable and non-such subject, the love of Christ to his church, that breathes so sweetly and strongly throughout this Song, and that doth by its sovereign influence so powerfully draw forth the church's love after him: a heart bedrenched with, and a tongue and pen dipped in the sense of this love, would do well; sure the reading, writing, speaking, hearing, and meditating of this Song, treating of so transcendently excellent a theme, and in so spiritually sublime and lofty a strain, calls for a most spiritual and divine frame of heart; to the attaining whereof, that the author might help himself and others, he did, as from one principal motive, pitch on this book, and preach on it at great length to the people of his charge in Glasgow: (in which sermons, he went through pleasant variety of much choice and rich matter, wonderfully suited to the several cases of his hearers, especially of the most seriously and deeply exercised Christians;) and thereafter, lecture on it more shortly, only opening up the meaning of the text, and giving some succinct, but very sweet notes from it, designing, (at the urgent importunity of several friends, who had been much refreshed by his larger sermons) these lectures for the more public edification of the church; by which also he speaketh now the third time more particularly to the people of Glasgow, on this precious subject.
I suppose I may without vanity say, that the frame of his spirit did in a good measure suit such a spiritual purpose, and was more and more spiritualized by his conversing in, and handling of it: he was a disciple whom Jesus much loved; and who by very intimate and familiar acquaintance with him, was privileged to lean, as it were, on his bosom; most dearly also did he love his master; and from a principle of sincere love to him, watchfully and tenderly fed his sheep and lambs. He did withal, as a special friend of the Bride-groom, stand by to hear his voice, having therein his joy fulfilled, and was effectually taught the excellent art of commending the Bridegroom, and of Wooing a Bride for him; so that this much beloved and very loving disciple, was fitted beyond many of his fellows to treat of the love betwixt Christ and his church. O that the reading of this savoury comment on this sweetest and most spiritual text, may, according to the author's desire and design, through God's blessing, contribute to make those that are after the flesh to be after the Spirit, and those that are after the Spirit, as to their state, to mind more the things of the Spirit, as to their frame! Sure there was never more need; for, alas! We are generally undone, through a great remainder of the carnal mind, which is death, and are lamentably little spiritually minded, though to be so be life and peace. It may verily be doubted, if there hath been any generation of Christians before this, that have so little minded the things of the Spirit, and have so strongly favoured the things of the flesh, that have set their affections so little on things above, and so much on things on the earth, notwithstanding of so many and mighty pullings of providence at them.
I hope, noble Madam, with whomsoever this piece shall fall short of the author's aim, it shall not with you, to whom he designed the dedication of it, as he showed to an intimate friend on his death-bed: it is true, he did not very much please dedicatory epistles, as savouring often, in his opinion, somewhat of adulation; yet such was the true sense of his singular obligations to your Ladyship, and the deep conviction of the sincerity and eminency of the grace of God in you, (whom looking on as indeed a mother in our Israel, he thought it a privilege to have his only daughter, after her mother's death, a while under your educating inspection, of whom you had no reason to be ashamed, she having more especially betwixt that time and her death, though but very young, in modesty, sobriety, gravity, humility, self-deniedness, and in the serious and profound exercise of godliness resembling her blest father to the life, whom through grief for his death she did not long out-live) that be resolved to dedicate this piece to you: which part of his latter will, I durst not but fulfil; and had I been with any such predetermination left to my own choice, your Ladyship would have been the very person pitched upon, not only on the account of my husband's and my own esteem of you, but also of your constantly continued kindness to his family since his death.
Let me, Madam, say it, for provoking you to be yet more for God, and to exercise yourself yet further unto godliness, that your praise is much in the churches of Christ, as otherwise, so through several dedications of books, and missive letters now printed and published from some of the most faithful and famous men in this church, whereby all readers of them are some way alarmed to enquire what this Lady of honour may be, that hath been in so high esteem with so holy, grave, and discerning men. Since your religion is thus talked of, and spread abroad in several places, (so that I need say nothing) I hope you will endeavour, through grace, in the frame of your spirit, and in your whole deportment to suit this savoury report that hath gone of you; and that not in order to the getting or keeping such a name for yourself, but as the native, necessary, and unconstrained result of the power of the life of the grace of God within, and in order to the glorifying of him, by whom you were called, and that betimes, even in the morning of your days, to the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord by the gospel; wherein he hath graciously helped you now these forty years and upward, as I suppose, under all the times, changes, and revolutions, that have gone over you (which have not been few, nor inconsiderable) to continue stedfast, without any back-drawing, wavering, shrinking or staggering, reflecting upon, or blemishing your holy profession, and to follow the Lord fully; a rare and singular mercy, which but few professors of such old standing, especially in these days, have obtained.
Let all the favour and grace you have found in his sight, and all the respect you have had from his choice servants make you constantly speak yourself thus in the ear,--Should such a person as I, do that which would displease him, and make any that seek him, sad or ashamed for my sake. And, what manner of person ought I to be, in all holy conversation and godliness.
Now, Madam, that it may be thus with your Ladyship, and that you may be fat and flourishing, bringing forth fruit in old age, that you may in waiting on God, renew your strength, run and not be weary, walk and not faint, yea, mount up with wings, as the eagle, putting forth fresh strength in this last stage of your race, and that it may be the one thing done by you, and all the Lord's people, to forget the things that are behind, to reach forth unto the things that are before, and to press hard toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, is the desire of,
Right honourable, your Ladyship's singularly obliged Debtor, for all duties of love and service,
A fascinating look at Lady Kenmure by Alexander Whyte
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