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MR. COOPER'S PREFACE TO THE READER.
There are several dispensations, or days of grace, which the church of God has been under from the beginning of time. There is that under the ancient patriarchs; that under the law of Moses; and there is that of the gospel of Jesus Christ, under which we now are. This is the brightest day that ever shone, and exceeds the other, for peculiar advantages. To us who are so happy as to live under the evangelical dispensation, may those words of our Saviour be directed, which he spake to his disciples, when he was first setting up the Messiah's kingdom in the world, and gospel-light and power began to spread abroad: “ Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see. For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them."*
The Mosaic dispensation, though darkened with types and figures, yet far exceeded the former: but the gospel dispensation so much exceeds in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal, as the stars disappear when the sun ariseth, and goeth forth in his strength.--And the chief thing that renders the gospel so glorious is, that it is the ministration of the Spirit. Under the preaching of it, the Holy Spirit was to be poured out in more plentiful measures; not only in miraculous gifts, as in the first times of the gospel, but in his internal saving operations, accompanying the outward ministry, to produce numerous conversions to Christ, and give spiritual life to souls that were before dead in trespasses and sins, and so prepare them for eternal life. Thus the apostle speaks, when he runs a comparison between the Old Testament and the New, the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus Christ: “For the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away; how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious ?"+
This blessed time of the gospel hath several other denominations, which may raise our esteem and value for it. It is called by the evangelical prophet, “ The acceptable year of the Lord.”I Or, as it may be read, the year of liking, or of benevolence, or of the good will of the Lord; because it would be the special period in which he would display his grace and favor, in an extraordinary manner, and deal out spiritua. blessings with a full and liberal hand. It is also styled by our Saviour, the regen. eration, which may refer not only to that glorious restitution of all things, which is looked for at the close of the Christian dispensation, but to the renewing work of grace in particular souls, carried on from the beginning to the end of it. But few were renewed and sanctified under the former dispensations, compared with the instances of the grace of God in gospel-times. Such numbers were brought into the gospel church when it was first set up, as to give occasion for that pleasing admiring question, which was indeed a prophecy of it, il * Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows ?" Then the power of the divine Spirit so accompanied the ministry of the word, as that thousands were converted under one sermon. ---But notwithstanding this large effusion of the Spirit, when gospel-light first dawned upon the world—that pleasant spring of religion which then appeared on the face of the earth-there was a gradual withdrawing of his saving light and influences; and so the gospel came to be less successful, and the state of Christianity withered in one place and another. Indeed at the time of the Reformation from popery, when gospel-light broke in
Luke x. 23, 24. + 2 Cor. iii. 6, 78 Isa. Ix.. 2. Matt. xix. 28. ll Isa. Ix. 8.
upon the church, and dispelled the clouds of antichristian darkness that covered it, the power of divine grace so accompanied the preaching of the word, as that it had admirable success in the conversion and edification of souls; and the blessed fruits thereoi appeared in the hearts and lives of its professors. That was one of the days of the Son of man," on which the exalted Redeemer rode forth, in his glory and majesty, on the white horse of the pure gospel, "conquering and to conquer;" and the bow in his right hand, like that of Jonathan, returned not empty. But what a dead and barren time has it now been, for a great while, with all the churches of the Reformation ? The golden showers have been restrained; the influences of the Spirit suspended; and the consequence has been, that the gospel has not had any eminent success. Conversions have been rare and dubious; few sons and daughters have been born to God; and the hearts of Christians not so quickened, warmed, and refreshed under the ordinances, as they have been.
That this has been the sad state of religion among us in this land, for many years (except one or two distinguished places, which have at times been visited with a shower of mercy, while other towns and churches have not been rained upon), will be acknowledged by all who have spiritual senses exercised, as it has been lamented by faithful ministers and serious Christians. Accordingly it has been a constant petition in our public prayers, from Sabbath to Sabbath, “That God would pour out his Spirit upon us, and revive his work in the midst of the years.” And besides our annual fastdays appointed by government, most of the churches have set apart days, wherein to seek the Lord by prayer and fasting, that he would “come and rajn down righteousness upon us."
And now,- "Behold! the Lord whom we have sought, has suddenly come to his temple.” The dispensation or grace we are now under, is certainly such as neither we nor our fathers have seen; and in some circumstances so wonderful, that I believe there has not been the like since the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit immediate ly after our Lord's ascension. The apostolical times seem to have returned upon us : such a display has there been of the power and grace of the divine Spirit in the assemblies of his people, and such testimonies has he given to the word of the gospel.
I remember a remarkable passage of the late reverend and learned Mr. Howe, which I think it may be worth while to transcribe here. It is in his discourse concerning the “Prosperous State of the Christian Church before the End of Time, by a plentiful Effusion of the Holy Spirit,” page 80. “In such a time,” says he, “when the Spirit shall be poured forth plentifully, surely ministers shall have their proportionable share. And when such a time as that shall come, I believe you will hear much other kind of sermons (or they will who shall live to such a time) than you are wont to do now-a-days: souls will surely be dealt with at another rate. It is plain (says he), too sadly plain, there is a great retraction of the Spirit of God even from us. We know not how to speak living sense into souls; how to get within you: our words die in our mouths, or drop and die between you and us. We even faint when we speak; long-experienced unsuccessfulness makes us despond: we speak not as persons that hope to prevail, that expect to make you serious, heavenly, mindful of God, and to walk more like Christians. The methods of alluring and convincing souls, even that some of us have known, are lost from amongst us in a great part. There have been other ways taken, than we can tell now how to fall upon, for the mollifying of the obdurate, and the awakening of the secure, and the convincing and persuading of the obstinate, and the winning of the disaffected. Surely there will be a large share, that will come even to the part of ministers, when such an effusion of the Spirit shall be, as it is expected: that they shall know how to speak to better purpose, with more compassion, with more seriousness, with more authority and allurement, than we now find we can.”
Agreeable to the just expectation of this great and excellent man, we have found it in this remarkable day. A number of preachers have appeared among us, to whom God has given such a large measure of his Spirit, that we are ready sometimes to apply to them the character given of Barnabas, that "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith."* They preach the gospel of the grace of God from place to place, with uncommon zeal and assiduity. The doctrines they insist on, are the doctrines of the reformation, under the influence whereof the power of godliness so flourished in the last century. The points on which their preaching mainly turns are those important ones of man's guilt, corruption, and impotence; supernatural re
generation by the Spirit of God, and free justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ; and the marks of the new birth.–The manner of their preaching is not with the enticing words of man's wisdom ; howbeit, they speak wisdom among them that are perfect. An ardent love to Christ and souls, warms their breasts, and animates their labors. God has made those his ministers active spirits, a flame of fire in his service; and his word in their mouths has been, “as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." In most places where they have labored, God has evi dently wrought with them, and “confirmed the word by signs following.” Such a power and presence of God in religious assemblies, has not been known since God set up his sanctuary amongst us. He has indeed “ glorified the house of his glory."
This work is truly extraordinary, in respect of its extent. It is more or less in the several provinces that measure many hundred miles on this continent. · "He sendeth forth his commandment on earth! his word runneth very swiftly.” It has entered and spread in some of the most populous towns, the chief places of concourse and business. And-blessed be God !--it has visited the seats of learning, both here, and in a neighboring colony. O may the Holy Spirit constantly reside in them both, seize our devoted youth, and form them as polished shafts, successfully to fight the Lord's battles against the powers of darkness, when they shall be called out to service !-It is extraordinary also with respect to the numbers that have been the subjects of this operation. Stupid sinners have been awakened by hundreds ; and the inquiry has been general in some places, “ What must I do to be saved ?" I verily believe, that in this our metropolis, there were the last winter some thousands under such religious im. pressions as they never felt before.
The work has been remarkable also for the various sorts of persons that have been under its influence.—These have been of all ages. Some elderly persons have been snatched as brands out of the burning, made monuments of divine mercy, and born to God, though out of due time; as the apostle speaks in his own case.* But here, with us, it has lain mostly among the young. Sprightly youth have been made to bow like willows to the Redeemer's sceptre, and willingly to subscribe with their own hands to the Lord. And out of the mouths of babes, some little children, has God ordained to himself praise, to still the enemy and the avenger.— They have also been of all ranks and degrees. Some of the great and rich; but more of the low and poor.-Of other countries and nations. Ethiopia has stretched out her hand : some poor negroes have, I trust, been brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.-of all qualities and conditions. The most ignorant ; the foolish things of the world, babes in knowledge, have been made wise unto salvation, and taught those heavenly truths, which have been hid from the wise and prudent. Some of the learned and knowing among men have had those things revealed to them of the Father in heaven, which flesh and blood do not teach : and of these, some who had gone into the modern notions, and had no other than the polite religion of the present times, have had their prejudices conquered, their carnal reasonings overcome, and their understandings made to bow to gospel mysteries; they now receive the truth as it is in Jesus, and their faith no longer stands in the wisdom of man but in the power of God.” Some of the most rude and disorderly are become regular in their behavior, and sober in all things. The gay and airy are become grave and serious.
Some of the greatest sinners have appeared to be turned into real saints : drunkards have become temperate ; fornicators and adulterers of a chaste conversation ; swearers and profane persons have learned to fear that glorious and fearful Name, THE LORD THEIR GOD; and carnal worldlings have been made to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Yea, deriders and scoffers at this work and its instruments, have come under its conquering power. Some of this stamp, who have gone to hear the preacher (as some did Paul What will this babbler say ?"), have not been able to resist the power and the Spirit with which he spake; have sat trembling under the word, and gone away from it weeping; and afterward did cleave unto the preacher, as Dionysius the Areopagite did unto Paul.t Divers instances of this kind have fallen under my knowledge.
The virtuous and civil have been convinced that morality is not to be relied on for life; and so excited to seek after the new birth, and a vital union to Jesus Christ by faith. The formal professor likewise has been awakened out of his dead formalities, brought under the power of godliness ; taken off from his false rest, and brought to build his hope only on the Mediator's righteousness. At the same time, many of the children of God have been greatly quickened and refreshed; have been awakened out * 1 Cor. xv.
+ Acts xvii. 18, 34. VOL. I.