Works of Thomas Goodwin

The Works of Thomas Goodwin Volume III – Preface


With General Preface

And Memoir







How unfit I am to perform even this common and usual office of introducing thee to the entertainment which the following discourses will afford, the knowledge which I ought to have of myself is sufficient to convince me; for it cannot be expected that I should give a due character of the author, which hath been already drawn by a more excellent hand,† and which for me to attempt, as it would not be comely, so it is above my undertaking. It would as ill suit with my disability, who am inconsiderable and so little known, to offer my mean judgment needlessly to recommend any of his writings to the world. All that is proper and agreeable for me to do is to assure thee that these which I have had the care of publishing are the genuine issue of his thoughts,—most of them the mature fruits of the later years of his life,—and to give some short account of their order and general design.

I have here offered to public view, in a second volume of his works, several discourses upon great and important truths; that what were his own retired and profitable meditations may, by the divine blessing, become a common benefit.

The first which presents itself is An Exposition on the Revelation; a portion of Scripture so abstruse, that though it has exercised the thoughts and studies of many worthy divines, may yet, in some respects, be called ‘a sealed book;’ which will be more perfectly explained when he who alone is found worthy to open it, the holy Lamb of God, shall come to unfold all its difficult passages in their glorious accomplishment. As the author lived and rejoiced in this hope, he has here in this his comment pointed to the foundation upon which he grounded it, even ‘a sure word of prophecy.’ But as he was fully ascertained that God would in his own time make good his word, he was not over curious in dating the day of his performance. You will find him modest in this point; he himself determines nothing, but expresses the opinions of others rather than his own, though he indeed illustrates them with reasons which might make them look probable; and though they have proved to be mistaken in their calculations, yet many things occur in drawing them up which are not altogether unworthy of being remarked. Their account indeed is now superannuated, yet it was proper enough for the author to mention it at the time of his writing this discourse, which was in the year 1639. It seems to be the divine prerogative to know the times and the seasons; and as he always chooseth the fittest, he reserves to himself the exact knowledge of his own appointed day.

That which comes next in order of these treatises is, A Discourse of the Knowledge of God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ; which I have placed the first of these theological tracts, (and of others that are to follow, if Providence permits me an opportunity of publishing them, which insist upon other the chiefest heads of divine knowledge,) because it is the design of the first rudiments of religion to instruct us what due apprehensions we ought to have of the Deity. As our Saviour tells us, ‘that this is life eternal, to know God the Father, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent,’ so it is the firm foundation whereon the beautiful and uniform structure of all other truths is built; and sad experience in all ages hath made us understand into what wild imaginations, as to the other parts of our Christian religion, those unhappy men have wandered, (as the Arians in the primitive times, and the Socinians in our own,) who have stumbled, and so made a false step in their entrance at this first and principal truth.

The author, who considered the irremediable mischiefs of the least error in these first articles of faith, and saw the proneness in men to mistake, has made it his chief design, in all the parts of this discourse, to direct our thoughts to due conceptions of the divine nature, of the Trinity, and the person of Christ. And as his assertions herein are no other than according to those measures the word of God has prescribed, he has fetched his proofs from the same magazine; and the evidence of his arguments is the more convincing since it proceeds from that light which he beats out by comparing places of Scripture together. If any should judge some of his notions to be too fine, and condemn his thoughts for taking too high a flight, and leaping over the common bounds of knowledge; this may be pleaded in defence, that he has at least asserted nothing that contradicts a received truth, or which by any consequence may weaken the foundations of religion. Nay, he asserts nothing but what divine authority in Scripture does countenance; he proves all by plain texts, and by an easy, unforced explication, without racking or torturing them to make them speak his own mind.

He is the vender of no new opinions, since what he delivers he clearly evinces to be the sense of the eternal oracles of truth. Nor is he too boldly curious, since he is not wise beyond what is written; and the inquisitiveness of his mind should not be prejudged, when his inquiries have proceeded according to the conduct of an infallible guide. And if they have gone further than others, it is only because, having seen the glimpse of a truth, he could not leave it till he had pursued it down through the most intimate recesses of Scripture. It is certainly allowable to dig deeper in those mines which are inexhaustible, and where those who come after the diligence of others may still find new and far richer treasures. Our spiritual knowledge surely is capable of increase, and further degrees may be yet added to it; for even after those glorious times wherein God has promised to bless his people with larger effusions of his Spirit, who shall lead them into all truth, they yet will then know but in part: and indeed all the successive ages of the world put together afford too short a time for us perfectly to search into the deep things of God, since eternity itself will give us but space enough to know and admire them.

The discourse which follows is, Of the Creatures, and the Condition of their State by Creation; which I have placed before that of Election, because though indeed the electing decree externally preceded the framing of this world, yet God made his choice out of the creatures which he determined to make, and considered them in the state wherein they were placed by creation. And the author, when he evinces the necessity of an election-grace to save certainly and infallibly any of either angels or men, draws his most cogent proof from the mutability of the creature, which absolutely required a supernatural grace to secure its establishment. And he therein refers the reader to this discourse, wherein he proves that the creature, as such, was changeable and uncertain in the best circumstances of its condition, and had a very unfixed station when it stood, and flourished in all the glory of its innocence.

It is therefore requisite for the intelligent reader, if he would understand the force of the argument, to peruse what is discoursed in this treatise concerning the weak and unstable condition of the creatures, which renders the grace of election indispensably necessary unto their salvation. And as the author had it in his eye and heart, not only to prove the absolute need we have of this grace, but also to celebrate unto the height its glory and praise, in prosecution of this design he compares all the advantages which Adam, as an innocent creature, by nature possessed, with all those signal mercies which belong to that condition whereunto grace advances the elect since the fall, and endeavours to convince us how vastly those blessings we receive from Christ, the second Adam, excel all the benefits which the Creator’s bounty bestowed upon the first; how grace instates us in a higher happiness than we should have enjoyed, though we had lived with our first father in innocence; how grace makes us gainers by the loss of all paradise’s pleasures, though we are apt to envy and regret that we have lost them; and how the state of the meanest soul that belongs to Christ, who is blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in him, is infinitely preferable to Adam’s primitive condition, with all its enjoyments. Thus in this discourse, he prepares the mind of the reader to admire and adore the riches of that grace, which further to evince and illustrate is the whole design of that which follows in the last place of this volume.

The last discourse, then, is Of Election, which to so many is a hard saying, a stumblingblock, and a stone of offence. He discourses this high truth with such a wary exactness, that its greatest opposers will not find anything in what he asserts whereon to fasten those invidious reflections, those harsh and horrid consequences with which they use to deform this doctrine, to make it look affrighting. He is very tender in the point of reprobation, and expresses himself no otherwise concerning it than the Scriptures themselves do: viz., that there are some of mankind whom God has left out of the compass of his gracious decrees, as indeed he was not obliged to share equal favour to all; that these are the rest, or remainder, Rom. 11:7 when God has chosen out the others; that these he resigns to the conduct of their free-will, and leaves them to go on in their own ways, Acts 14:16, and to reap at last the bitter fruits of their evil actions.

After he has proved the necessity of such a grace as is derived from the decree of election to assure the salvation of both angels and men, and that all whom God hath rescued from the misery and ruin of the fall were really saved by this grace, he proceeds to illustrate the infinite greatness of it by many considerations: as, that it appoints, and certainly brings us to a higher glory and blessedness than was the design of creation to confer on the creature, though they had continued in innocence; and that it commends itself by a discriminating love, which makes a difference between the elect and the other of mankind. He then discourses how infallibly God’s decrees of election obtained their designed issue, and proves largely how an effectual invincible grace does certainly accomplish what the decree and counsel of God’s will had determined. These were the truths which exercised the thoughts and heart of the author, the element in which he lived, the air in which his soul breathed, and by which a spiritual life was constantly maintained in it. And as he experienced that they afforded him comfort and support against all his temptations and trials, he committed them to writing, that others might receive from them the same solace and refreshing help as he did.

It renders his loss the more supportable, that he has left behind him, now that he is retired out of sight, what may perpetuate a grateful remembrance of him among men; that though God hath withdrawn him to heaven, he may yet be useful to His church hero on earth; that his service is not ended with his life, nor buried with him in the dust; and ‘though he rests from all his labours, yet the fruits of them may follow him,’ even after he is gone hence to receive their reward. He lives again in this offspring of his better part, his mind; and ‘being dead, he yet speaks’ in them the same truths, which when living were the most delightful entertainment of his thoughts.

But I forget that I assume too much to myself, in delivering my own thus freely, in things which are indeed so much above me; and I know not how a zealous affection for the memory of a father’s name, whom I cannot but love and honour in the grave, hath carried me beyond the bounds of that reservedness and modesty which would perhaps have far better become


Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1861), 3:xxvii–xxx.

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