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Prefatory note.

In his own preface to the reader Dr Owen very briefly alludes to the circumstances which had induced him to deliver to “a private congregation” several discourses on Luke xiii. 1–5, and afterwards to publish the substance of them in the following discourse. For obvious reasons, he evinces great caution in referring to passing events, which, about the time the discourse was published, excited “continual apprehensions of public calamities” in the minds of all the friends of liberty and order. The nation had been agitated with stormy discussions about the Exclusion Bill. The Whig party were bent on preventing the accession of James, the Duke of York, to the British throne on the demise of Charles II. In the agitation which shook the country in consequence of this attempt, “a whole year,” says Macaulay, “elapsed, — an eventful year, which has left lasting traces in our manners and language … On the one side, it was maintained that the constitution and religion of the state would never be secure under a Popish king; — on the other, that the right of James to wear the crown in his turn was derived from God, and could not be annulled, even by the consent, of all the branches of the Legislature.”

The bill had been several times introduced into the House of Commons, — in 1679, in November 1680, a third time in the following January, and finally, in the Parliament which met at Oxford in March 1681, when the Whig measures were defeated by the dissolution of the Parliament only seven days after it had met.

Whatever judgment be formed as to the expediency of the Exclusion Bill, the strenuous exertions which the Whigs and Nonconformists made to secure the success of that measure, enable us to estimate the alarm and forebodings which filled their minds, when the power of the Court had triumphed.

Apart, however, from this defeat, there were other causes of anxiety and apprehension. Dissenters were subjected to severe and increasing oppression; and while the friends of the popular cause were disconcerted and baffled, a manifest reaction was taking place throughout England in favour of the Court. It was this change of public sentiment, and decay of patriotic zeal — arising in some degree from growing indifference to religious principle — that led our author to entertain, at this juncture, gloomy views in regard to the prospects of the nation, and to issue a solemn and urgent warning to his countrymen.

The discourse of Dr Owen is extremely suitable to the crisis which had elicited it. While he makes no reference to the proceedings of the government, he dwells upon evangelical truths and duties, in a strain peculiarly fitted to elevate his readers above unworthy fears, and to make the danger to which they might feel themselves exposed a motive to repentance and godliness. “The ‘Testimony,’ “says Orme, “contains much of that practical wisdom which the Doctor had acquired from his long and deep study of the Word of God, and from his extensive experience in the ways of Providence.” The discourse was published in the year 1681. — Ed.

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