THE AUTHOR TO THE READER.
Friend, because it is a dangerous thing to be walking towards the lace of darkness and anguish; and again, because it is (notwithstanding) the journey that most of the poor souls in the world are taking, and that with delight and gladness, as if THERE was the only happiness to be found, I have therefore thought it my duty, being made sensible of the danger that will befal those that fall therein, for the preventing of thee, O thou poor man or woman! to tell thee, by opening this parable, what sad success those souls have had, and are also like to have, that have been, or shall be found persevering therein.
We use to count him a friend that will forewarn his neighbour of the danger, when he knoweth thereof, and doth also see that the way his neighbour is walking in doth lead right thereto, especially when we think that our neighbour may be either ignorant or careless of his way. Why friend, it may be, nay twenty to one, but thou hast been, ever since thou didst come into the world, with thy back towards heaven, and thy face towards hell; and thou, it may be, either through ignorance or carelessness, which is as bad, if not worse, hast been running full hastily that way ever since. Why friend? I beseech thee put a little stop to thy earnest race, and take a view of what entertainment thou art like to have, if thou do in deed and in truth persist in this thy course. Friend, thy way leads 'down to death,' and thy 'steps take hold on hell' (Prov 5:5). It may be the path indeed is pleasant to the flesh, but the end thereof will be bitter to thy soul. Hark, dost thou not hear the bitter cries of them that are but newly gone before, saying, Let him 'dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame?' (Luke 16:24). Dost thou not hear them say, Send out from the dead, to prevent my father, my brother, and my father's house, from coming 'into this place of torment?' Shall not then these mournful groans pierce thy flinty heart? Wilt thou stop thine ears, and shut thy eyes? And wilt thou not regard?
Take warning and stop thy journey before it be too late. Wilt thou be like the silly fly, that is not quiet unless she be either entangled in the spider's web, or burned in the candle? Wilt thou be like the bird that hasteth to the snare of the fowler? Wilt thou be like that simple one named in the seventh of Proverbs, that will be drawn to the slaughter by the cord of a silly lust? O sinner, sinner, there are better things than hell to be had, and at a cheaper rate by the thousandth part! O! there is no comparison, there is heaven, there is God, there is Christ, there is communion with an innumerable company of saints and angels. Hear the message then that God doth send, that Christ doth send, that saints do bring, nay, that the dead do send unto thee: 'I pray thee, therefore, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house'; 'if one went unto them from the dead they would repent.' 'How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? And the scorners delight in their scorning? And fools hate knowledge?' 'Turn you at my reproof: behold,' saith God, 'I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.' I say, hear this voice, O silly one, and turn and live, thou sinful soul, lest he make thee hear that other saying, But, 'because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh' (Prov 1:22-26).
O poor soul, If God and Christ did [thus] with thee for thine harm, it would be another matter; then if thou didst refuse, thou mightest have some excuse to make, or fault to find, and ground to make delays. But this is for thy profit, for thy advantage, for the pardoning of thy sins, the salvation of thy soul, the delivering of thee from hell fire, from the wrath to come, from everlasting burnings, into favor with God, Christ, and communion with all happiness, that is so indeed.
But it may be thou wilt say, All that hath been spoken to in this discourse is but a parable, and parables are no realities. I could put thee off with this answer, That though it be a parable, yet it is a truth, and not a lie; and thou shalt find it so too, to thy cost, if thou shalt be found a slighter of God, Christ, and the salvation of thy own soul.
But secondly, know for certain, that the things signified by parables are wonderful realities. O what a glorious reality was there signified by that parable, 'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea,' &c. Signifying, that sinners of all sorts, of all nations, should be brought into God's kingdom, by the net of the gospel. And O! how real a thing shall the other part thereof be, when it is fulfilled, which saith, And 'when it was full they drew to shore, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away' (Matt 13:47,48). Signifying the mansions of glory that the saints should have, and also the rejection that God will give to the ungodly, and to sinners. And also that parable, what a glorious reality is there in it, which saith, 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit' (John 12:24). To signify that unless Jesus Christ did indeed spill his blood, and die the cursed death, he should abide alone; that is, have never a soul into glory with him; but if he died, he should bring forth much fruit; that is, save many sinners. And also how real a truth there was in that parable concerning the Jews putting Christ to death, which the poor dispersed Jews can best experience to their cost; for they have been almost ever since a banished people, and such as have had God's sore displeasure wonderfully manifested against them, according to the truth of the parable (Matt 21:33-41). O therefore, for Jesus Christ's sake, do not slight the truth, because it is discovered in a parable! For by this argument thou mayest also, nay, thou wilt slight almost all the things that our Lord Jesus Christ did speak; for he spake them for the most part, if not all, in parables. Why should it be said of thee as it is said of some, These things are spoken to them that are without 'in parables, that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand?' (Luke 8:10). I say, take heed of being a quarreller against Christ's parables, lest Christ also object against the salvation of thy soul at the judgment day.
Friend, I have no more to say to thee now. If thou dost love me pray for me, that my God would not forsake me, nor take his Holy Spirit from me; and that God would fit me to do and suffer what shall be from the world or devil inflicted upon me. I must tell thee, the world rages, they stamp and shake their heads, and fain they would be doing; the Lord help me to take all they shall do with patience; and when they smite the one cheek, to turn the other to them, that I may do as Christ hath bidden me; for then the Spirit of God, and of glory, shall rest upon me. Farewell.
I am thine, if thou be not ashamed to own me, because of my low and contemptible descent in the world.