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The knowledge of Christ crucified

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The Author's Preface to the unpredudic'd reader

Be pleased (Reader) with patience to take notice of and give credence to this true (though brief) ensuing information. As for my part, being conscious to myself of manifold failings (perhaps more than others can or will acquaint me withal) I should have stood in more awe of a press than in such a critical age to have exposed even the best of my labours to public view: had not some both eminently godly and judicious encouraged me much by their approbation: Amongst whom the Vice-chancellor (Dr J Conant) and Dean of Christ Church (Dr Edward Reynolds) (whose judgments I highly value) approved what now comes forth. Likewise those several sermons which I formerly printed in another language, for the most part were communicated to a reverend and judicious divine (Dr Harris, President of Trinity College, Oxon), lately gone to heaven (with whom I had intimate acquaintance, and always found a faithful friend) by whose advice they were committed to the press. For apologies, and such like preliminary discourses, I purposely waive as superfluous altogether.

I have often thought (not without great detestation) of a proud vainglorious speech of one (not worth the naming), Trajectum plantavit, Lovanium rigavit, Caesar dedit incrementum. (Utrecht planted, Louvain watered, but the Emperor gave the increment). Whereupon another made answer, Hic Deus nihil fecit (so God did none of it). I shall acknowledge Adwickium in agro Eboracensi plantavit (Adwick in Yorkshire planted), There I was born. Oxonium rigavit (Oxford watered), There I had the greatest part of my education, Christus autem dedit incrementum (But Christ gave the increase). The increase and blessing of all I ascribe unto Christ alone. Paul may plant, and Apollo may water, but God alone giveth the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). I have read that a philosopher accounted it as his honour, that he was a man, a citizen, and lived in the time of Socrates. Much more do I account it my honour to be a Christian, and born in a land where Christ is known, and (through riches of grace and mercy) to be born again: and to be accounted worthy (even such a worthless instrument as I am) to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for whose sake to spend and be spent, I account it a far greater honour than to be the Emperor of the world. And if the Lord be pleased to make me more instrumental to gain souls to Christ (through mercy I have already heard of some brought in, to my comfort) this mercy I shall value at a higher rate than all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Neither may I pass by in silence (for which I cannot be thankful enough) God's gracious dealings with me in my younger years at Gloucester, where  the Lord blest to my soul the ministry of a holy man of God (Mr John Workman) and likewise the labours of a worthy schoolmaster (Mr John Langly). Further, the Lord in mercy afforded unto me great advantages, after I was placed in Magdalen Hall under the government of my honoured uncle (Dr John Wilkinson, Principal of Magdalen Hall 43 years), the vigilant Principal, one (as I conceive, endowed with the spirit of government, where likewise I was well accommodated with a religious, learned and diligent tutor (Dr Henry Wilkinson, now Canon of Christ Church)), now an eminent Professor of divinity in this University. These I mention with thankfulness unto God, and with Pliny I conceive it, Ingenuum confiteri per quos profecerim (honesty leads us to mention those who have helped us).

As for many of my brethren who have more talents entrusted to them than myself, I envy not any of them but heartily wish a diligent improvement of them, as remembering where much is given, much is required. For what (through grace is given me) I am obliged to be thankful and not hide in a napkin. Those Scriptures are as frontlets before mine eyes, and frequent monitors unto me, viz: Eccl. 9:10, Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work nor device, nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest, John 9:4, I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work. And 2 Cor. 5:14, The love of Christ constraineth us. Upon these principles I desire to manage all my undertakings, and act accordingly.

Now in an especial manner I present these sermons (as duty and gratitude binds me) to the University, before whom I preached them. I cannot conceal (what my heart is so much affected with) but must acknowldge with all thankfulness those signal mercies from heaven of late extended even to a miracle, that the ministry, and maintenance due thereunto, the Universities and their privileges are yet secured and rescued from the malicious projects and attempts of unreasonable men, who cry with a Stentorian voice against an University, as the children of Edom did in the day of Jerusalem, Raze, raze it even to the foundation thereof (Psalm 137:7). these are of John of Leyden's and Wigelius his faction, lately confuted by a learned Professor (Dr Arrowsmith in orat. antiWeigel.). It's sufficiently known that men of this leaven have an evil eye against all schools of learning, and therefore bespatter and calumniate them, that they may more easily make a prey of their revenues. This was the devilish design of Julian the Apostate to overthrow schools of learning and rob them of their maintenance; and this was a subtle stratagem used by him to hinder the succession of ministers. But all sober-minded persons (who have their eyes in their heads) see, and cannot but acknowledge the singular and daily use of nurseries of learning, maugre all the aspersions and outcries of those false tongues set on fire of hell. From these places of learning have come forth a noble army of martyrs, viz: Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper, Bradford, Tindall, Philpot etc., who have resisted popery unto blood, and sealed unto the truth of the Protestant religion with their own blood.

Our University of Oxford can produce a large catalogue of eminent champions for the truth, some whereof were Bradwardin, Wickliffe, Jewell, Fox, John Reynolds, Hooker, Ayry, Crackenthorp, Field, Lake, Hackwell, Benefield, Bolton, Pemble etc. Our public Professors have been an ornament unto that chair and have opposed Rome, Racovia, Munster etc. Their names are like precious ointment poured forth, leaving a sweet savour behind them, viz: Peter Martyr, Humfred, Abbot, Holland, Prideaux, Sanderson, Hoyle. And the present Professor, (though I conceal his name) deserves an honourable mention, whose parts and graces, adorned with so great humility, render him an useful instrument for public good.

It's worth our observation that in former times still God raised up men of heroic courage and invincible resolution to lop off and sear the hydra of heresies and defend the truth against all gainsayers. I shall only make mention of some remarkable passages within my own remembrance. When that novel upstart doctrine of Arminius (novel I call it, unless Arminius be Pelagius redivivus, and upon that account may plead more antiquity) was broached, when some (not all) prelates countenanced those tenets and preferred those of that persuasion to places of preferment: how many then of the younger students bent their studies that way? Inasmuch as I have seen a Remonstrance of Parliament above thirty years ago, declaring that the study of Arminianism was the ready way to preferment, and the Arminians were compared to the Jesuits. For my own observation, I have for the most part apprehended an Arminian to be compounded of a Jesuit and a formal Protestant, That so by the one he may ingratiate himself thus, by broaching pleasing doctrines of general redemption, freewill etc. And by the help of the other, he may carry on his designs with more subtlety. It canot be denied but twenty years ago Arminians had a great harvest in both Universities, yet in both God raised up worthy champions to oppose and confute all those rotten opinions. To instance only according to my own personal knowledge. In this University the learned Professor of the chair (Dr Prideaux) stood up with courage in his lectures and disputations against Arminianism. Dr Twisse put forth that learned accurate book called Vindiciae Gratiae etc. Since him Dr Kendall wrote after the same copy. Maugre inhibitions, affrightments and other dangers of those times, yet some there were who were not afraid of the face of men, cried aloud against the errors of the time. Two or three more I shall mention. One (Mr Hodges of Exeter College) preached upon this text. Num. 14:4: and they said one unto another, let us make a captain and return into Egypt. In which sermon Gravenchovius was quite beaten out of the field.

Another (Mr Ford of Magdalen Hall) preached on this text, 2 Thess. 2:10: because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. He gave Arminius a deadly blow and cried down superstitious innovations in these words, Altars, high altars, the uncouth language of a strange land. These suffered banishment, and their suffering was their crown.

A third (Mr Cooke of Brasen-nose College, whom I heard preach in Latin about 27 years ago) charged Arminius through and through, and in conclusion was not afraid to call a spade a spade. These were (as I well remember) his ipsissima verba (very words) : postremo agendum est mihi cum Jacobo Arminio, qui etiamsi non esset othodoxus, utinam non esset perjurus (finally I must deal with James Arminius. I wish that even if weren't orthodox, he might at least avoid perjury). And in the public Act the same year, a worthy doctor answered (Dr Staunton, now President of Christ Church), and at another time a bachelor of divinity, who both faithfully and courageously defended this truth against their antagonists: Deus non est author mali secundum Reformatorum placita (God is not the author of sin in Reformation teaching).

A fourth I shall mention is (about 22 years ago) an ancient bachelor of divinity (Mr Kilby of Lincoln College) who defended the othodox doctrine against the Arminian faction. His text was Phil. 2:12, Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. being called in question for that sermon he ingeniously confest, that the selfsame sermon he had preached in St Mary's pulpit sixteen years before, and then it was well approved of and accounted true doctrine.

Neither can I bury in silence (to God's glory be it mentioned) that Oxford hath afforded many faithful and constant preachers this last century. What excellent preaching was there (as I have received from good hands) at Allhallows by the Tuesday lecturers (for which Dr White, a worthy benefactor to the University and founder of the 5 exhibitions in Magdalen Hall, left an allowance). Then Dr John Reynolds, Dr Ayry and others supplied that course. And Dr Ayry for many years together preached at St Peter's in the East each Lord's Day, and his excellent pains are made public in those lectures on the Philippians. Within the compass of my own remembrance (for thirty years at least I can speak) there were many able and judicious preachers in particular parishes, who constantly laboured in the word and doctrine. Of such were choice ministers of the gospel at Allhallows, at St Michael's, St Peter's in the East (Mr Pope, Mr Blackburn, Mr Wight, Mr Easton), by whose ministry (blessed be God) I received much edification. Other able and faithful preachers are yet alive who have, and do at present take abundance of pains in the work of the gospel amongst us,whose names, though I pass by, yet are no whit the less to be esteemed of. I would not willingly give offence neither to Jew nor to Gentile nor to Church of God. yet I must speak my conscience, without respect of persons, that for these thirteen years last past there hath been more constant and more practical edifying preaching amongst us, than the eldest alive can remember was ever before in this University.

Every Lord's Day, at several hours, three or four sermons are preached. Likewise every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, constant lectures are preached, besides many other lectures in private chapels. Upon these considerations it plainly appears what care and industry is taken to propagate religion in the University and city. And many there are amongst us of that excellent temper of  Amaziah the son of Zichri (2 Chron. 17:16), who willingly offer up themselves unto the service of the Lord; who give their labours as a freewill-offering gratis (I may truly say), I hope not ingratis (unwelcome).

It's not in my intention to make up a nomenclature and complete catalogue of the worthies of our Universities. Many not named perhaps may be no whit inferior to those that are already named. My design is to stop the mouths of clamorous, envious and malicious persons who asperse and traduce Universities as useless, and little better than hives of wasps and drones (although I know no reason why because of some wasps and drones the whole hive should be destsroyed): but those Machiavilian counsels take place (too too much) nowadays, Audacter criminare aliquid haerebit(Throw plenty of mud, some of it will stick).

Neither do I in the least question but that the venerable University of Cambridge can produce a parallel number of choice divines and scholars, such as were Whitaker, Cartwright, Ward, Davenant, Greenham, Perkins, Baynes, Sibbes, Preston, Dod, Hildersham, Hill, Arrowsmith etc.

But I proceed no further in this argument, By what I have observed from others (to whom I subscribe) that since Christian religion was professed, there was never a collection of more godly, orthodox and learned divines than in this present century. Yet I am far from excusing or extenuating the animosities, heart-divisions,uncouth, unseemly habits, self interests, carnal policies, unwarrantable separations, and that latitude which many take unto themselves nowadays. The good old Puritan would not take an inch formerly, where many now venture to take an ell. I heartily wish a reformation thorow and impartial, that what we condemn in others, we may avoid each one in himself. O that it might be the main design we drive at to advance the power of godliness and to go before each other in a real example of reformation. Let's all labour as one man to be sound in the faith and holy in life, so that heresies, blasphemies and all sorts of profaneness may be abominated and extirpated. And let it be our endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), so that according to those prophesies (the accomplishment whereof we daily expect) we may all worship the Lord with one consent, that the Lord may be one, and his name one (Zeph. 3:9, Zech. 13:9). And let us never forget that the vows of God are upon us (which we ought to our power to endeavour to keep inviolably) in that solemn National Covenant (which was made in a day of distress) with our hands lifted up to the most high God. Let not that Solemn Oath be counted as an almanack out of date, lest the Lord send a sword to avenge the quarrel of a broken covenant. Let's expostulate with Ezra (9:14), Should we again break the commandment, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? After oaths, covenants, days of humiliation, and after so many signal deliverances, shall we again hanker after superstitious ceremonies, a formal service book, a lordly prelacy, unwarrantable separations, schisms, Machiavilian policies, self-seeking interests? The Lord forbid that we should be so unthankful for the mercies received, and su unmindful of those particular duties which God expects from us in our several places and callings.

But I shall not exceed the bounds of a preface; although this may be counted a digression, yet (I hope) may be of some use to the reader.

Thus much I was willing to premise (as far as I apprehend) having a single eye at God's glory and the public benefit. Wherefore be pleased (Reader) to peruse deliberately and candidly these three decades of sermons preached with much plainness to the auditors, accompanied with a vehement desire to do good, and afford the author thy prayers, who desires a share in the prayers of all the Israel of God, and remains

Thy soul's servant

Henry Wilkinson

Magdalen Hall Oxon,

April 9, 1660