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SECTION 1 — THE NATURE OF THIS OVERSIGHT
Having showed you, What it is to take heed to ourselves, I am to show you, next, What it is to take heed to all the flock.
It was first necessary to take into consideration, what we must be, and what we must do for our own souls, before we come to that which must be done for others: ‘He cannot succeed in healing the wounds of others who is himself unhealed by reason of neglecting himself. He neither benefits his neighbors nor himself. He does not raise up others, but himself falls.” Yea, lest all his labors come to naught, because his heart and life are naught that doth perform them. ‘For some persons there are who, though expert in spiritual ministry, go about it in a headstrong manner, and while acting intelligently, tread underfoot any good they do. They teach too hurriedly what can only be rendered holy by meditation; and what they proclaim in public they impugn by their conduct. Whence it is that as pastors they walk in paths too rugged for the flock to follow.” When we have led them to the living waters, if we muddy it by our filthy lives, we may lose our labor, and they be never the better. Before we speak of the work itself, we shall notice somewhat that is pre-supposed in the words before us. 1. It is here implied, that every flock should have its own pastor, and every pastor his own flock. As every troop or company in a regiment of soldiers must have its own captain and other officers, and every soldier knows his own commander and colors; so it is the will of God, that every church should have its own pastor, and that all Christ’s disciples ‘should know their teachers that are over them in the Lord.’ Though a minister is an officer in the Church universal, yet is he in a special manner the overseer of that particular church which is committed to his charge. When we are ordained ministers without a special charge, we are licensed and commanded to do our best for all, as we shall have opportunity for the exercise of our gifts: but when we have undertaken a particular charge, we have restrained the exercise of our gifts so specially to that congregation, that we must allow others no more than it can spare of our time and help, except where the public good requireth it, which must, no doubt, be first regarded. From this relation of pastor and flock, arise all the duties which they mutually owe to each other. 2. When we are commanded to take heed to all the flock, it is plainly implied, that flocks must ordinarily be no greater than we are capable of overseeing, or ‘taking heed to.’ God will not lay upon us natural impossibilities: he will not bind men to leap up to the moon, to touch the stars, or to number the sands of the sea. If the pastoral office consists in overseeing all the flock, then surely the number of souls under the care of each pastor must not be greater than he is able to take such heed to as is here required. Will God require one bishop to take the charge of a whole county, or of so many parishes or thousands of souls, as he is not able to know or to oversee? Yea, and to take the sole government of them, while the particular teachers of them are free from that undertaking? Will God require the blood of so many parishes at one man’s hands, if he do not that which ten, or twenty, or a hundred, or three hundred men can no more do, than I can move a mountain Then woe to poor prelates! Is it not, then, a most doleful case, that learned, sober men should plead for this as a desirable privilege; that they should wilfully draw on themselves such a burden; and that they do not rather tremble at the thoughts of so great an undertaking? O, happy had it been for the Church, and happy for the bishops themselves, if this measure, that is intimated by the apostle here, had still been observed: that the diocese had been no greater than the elders or bishops could oversee and rule, so that they might have taken heed to all the Rock: or that pastors had been multiplied as churches increased, and the number of overseers been proportioned to the number of souls, that they might not have let the work be undone, while they assumed the empty titles, and undertook impossibilities! And that they had rather prayed the Lord of the harvest to send forth more laborers, even so many as were proportioned to the work, and not to have undertaken all themselves. I should scarcely commend the prudence or humility of that laborer, let his parts be ever so great, that would not only undertake to gather in all the harvest in this county himself, and that upon pain of death, yea, of damnation, but would also earnestly contend for this prerogative.
But it may be said, there are others to teach, though one only have the rule.
To this I answer: Blessed be God it is so; and no thanks to some of them.
But is not government of great concernment to the good of souls, as well as preaching? If it be no , then what use is there for church governors? If it be, then they that nullify it by undertaking impossibilities, do go about to ruin the churches and themselves. If only preaching be necessary, let us have none but mere preachers: what needs there then such a stir about government? But if discipline, in its place, be necessary too, what is it but enmity to men’s salvation to exclude it? and it is unavoidably excluded, when it is made to be his work that is naturally incapable of performing it.
The general that will command an army alone, may as well say, Let it be destroyed for want of command: and the schoolmaster that will oversee or govern all the schools in the county alone, may as well say, Let them all be ungoverned: and the physician that will undertake the care of all the sick people in a whole nation, or county, when he is not able to visit the hundredth man of them, may as well say, Let them perish. Yet still it must be acknowledged, that in case of necessity, where there are not more to be had, one man may undertake the charge of more souls than he is well able to oversee particularly. But then he must undertake only to do what he can for them, and not to do all that a pastor ordinarily ought to do. This is the case of some of us, who have greater parishes than we are able to take that special heed to which their state requireth. I profess for my own part, I am so far from their boldness that dare venture on the sole government of a county, that I would not, for all England, have undertaken to be one of the two that should do all the pastoral work that God requireth, in the parish where I live, had I not this to satisfy my conscience, that, through the Church’s necessities, more cannot be had; and therefore, I must rather do what I can, than leave all undone because I cannot do all. But cases of unavoidable necessity are not to be the ordinary condition of the Church; or at least, it is not desirable that it should so be. O happy Church of Christ, were the laborers but able and faithful, and proportioned in number to the number of souls; so that the pastors were so many, or the particular churches so small, that we might be able to ‘take heed to all the flock.’
Having noticed these things, which are presupposed, we shall now proceed to consider the duty which is recommended in the text, Take heed to all the flock. It is, you see, all the flock, or every individual member of our charge.
To this end it is necessary, that we should know every person that belongeth to our charge; for how can we take heed to them, if we do not know them? We must labor to be acquainted, not only with the persons, but with the state of all our people, with their inclinations and conversations; what are the sins of which they are most in danger, and what duties they are most apt to neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to; for if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians.
Being thus acquainted with all the flock, we must afterward take heed to them. One would imagine that every reasonable man would be satisfied of this, and that it would need no further proof. Doth not a careful shepherd look after every individual sheep? and a good schoolmaster after every individual scholar? and a good physician after every particular patient? and a good commander after every individual soldier? Why then should not the shepherds, the teachers, the physicians, the guides of the churches of Christ, take heed to every individual member of their charge? Christ himself, the great and good Shepherd, that hath the whole to look after, doth yet take care of every individual; like him whom he describes in the parable, who left ‘the ninety and nine sheep in the wilderness, to seek after one that was lost.’ The prophets were often sent to single men. Ezekiel was made a watchman over individuals, and was commanded to say to the wicked, ‘Thou shalt surely die.’ Paul taught his hearers not only ‘publicly but from house to house.” and in another place he tells us, that he ‘warned every man, and taught every man, in all wisdom, that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.’ Many other passages of Scripture make it evident that it is our duty to take heed to every individual of our flock; and many passages in the ancient Councils do plainly show that this was the practice of the primitive times. But I shall quote only one from Ignatius: ‘Let assemblies,’ says he, ‘be often gathered; inquire after all by name: despise not servant-men or maids.’ You see it was then considered as a duty to look after every member of the flock by name, not excepting the meanest servant-man or maid.
But, some one may object, ‘The congregation that I am set over is so great that it is impossible for me to know them all, much more to take heed to all individually.’ To this answer, ‘Is it necessity or is it not, that hath cast you upon such a charge If it be not, you excuse one sin by another. How durst you undertake that which you knew yourself unable to perform, when you were not forced to it? It would seem you had some other ends in undertaking it, and never intended to be faithful to your trust. But if you think that you were necessitated to undertake it, I would ask you, might you not have procured assistance for so great a charge? Have you done all that you could with your friends and neighbors, to get maintenance for another to help you? Have you not as much maintenance yourself, as might serve yourself and another? What though it will not serve to maintain you in fullness? Is it not more reasonable that you should pinch your flesh and family, then undertake a work that you cannot perform, and neglect the souls of so many of your flock I know, that what I say will seem hard to some; but to me it is an unquestionable thing, that, if you have but a hundred pounds a year, it is your duty to live upon part of it, and allow the rest to a competent assistant, rather than that the flock which you are over should be neglected. If you say, that is a hard measure, and that your wife and children cannot so live, I answer, Do not many families in your parish live on less? Have not many able ministers in the prelates’ days been glad of less, with liberty to preach the gospel There are some yet living, as I have heard, who have offered the bishops to enter into bond to preach for nothing, if they might but have liberty to preach the gospel. If you shall still say, that you cannot live so meanly as poor people do, I further ask, Can your parishioners better endure damnation, than you can endure want and poverty? What! do you call yourselves ministers of the gospel, and yet are the souls of men so base in your eyes, that you had rather they should eternally perish, than that you and your family should live in a low and poor condition? Nay, should you not rather beg your bread, than put so great a matter as men’s salvation upon a hazard, or disadvantage? Yea, as hazard the damnation of but one soul? O sirs, it is a miserable thing when men study and talk of heaven and hell, and the fewness of the saved, and the difficulty of salvation, and be not all the while in good earnest. If you were, you could never surely stick at such matters as these, and let your people go down to hell, that you might live in higher style in this world. Remember this, the next time you are preaching to them, that they cannot be saved without knowledge; and hearken whether conscience does not tell you, ‘It is likely they might be brought to knowledge, if they had but diligent instruction and exhortation privately, man by man; and if there were another minister to assist me, this might be done: and if I would live sparingly and deny my flesh, I might have an assistant. Dare I, then, let my people live in that ignorance which I myself have told them is damning, rather than put myself and family to a little want?’
Must I turn to my Bible to show a preacher where it is written, that a man’s soul is worth more than a world, much more therefore than a hundred pounds a year, much more are many souls more worth? Or that both we and all that we have are God’s, and should be employed to the utmost for his service? Or that it is inhuman cruelty to let souls go to hell, for fear my wife and children should fare somewhat the harder, or live at lower rates; when, according to God’s ordinary way of working by means, I might do much to prevent their misery, if I would but a little displease my flesh, which all, who are Christ’s, have crucified with its lusts? Every man must render to God the things that are God’s, and that, let it be remembered, is all he is and all he possesses. How are all things sanctified to us, but in the separation and dedication of them to God? Are they not all his talents, and must be employed in his service? Must not every Christian first ask, In what way may I most honor God with my substance? Do we not preach these things to our people? Are they true as to them, and not as to us? Yea more, is not the church-maintenance devoted, in a special manner, to the service of God for the church? And should we not then use it for the utmost furtherance of that end? If any minister who hath two hundred pounds a year can prove that a hundred pounds of it may do God more service, if it be laid out on himself, or wife and children, than if it maintain one or two suitable assistants to help forward the salvation of the flock, I shall not presume to reprove his expenses; but where this cannot be proved, let not the practice be justified.
And I must further say, that this poverty is not so intolerable and dangerous a thing as it is pretended to be. If you have but food and raiment, must you not therewith be content? and what would you have more than that which may fit you for the work of God? It is not ‘being clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day,’ that is necessary for this end. ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth.’ If your clothing be warm, and your food be wholesome, you may be as well supported by it to do God service as if you had the fullest satisfaction to your flesh. A patched coat may be warm, and bread and water are wholesome food. He that wanteth not these, hath but a poor excuse to make for hazarding men’s souls, that he may live on dainties.
But, while it is our duty to take heed to all the flock, we must pay special attention to some classes in particular. By many, this is very imperfectly understood, and therefore I shall dwell a little upon it. 1. We must labor, in a special manner, for the conversion of the unconverted.
The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labor with all our might. Alas! the misery of the unconverted is so great, that it calleth loudest to us for compassion. If a truly converted sinner do fall, it will be but into sin which will be pardoned, and he is not in that hazard of damnation by it as others are. Not but that God hateth their sins as well as others’, or that he will bring them to heaven, let them live ever so wickedly; but the spirit that is within them will not suffer them to live wickedly, nor to sin as the ungodly do. But with the unconverted it is far otherwise. They ‘are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity,’ and have yet no part nor fellowship in the pardon of their sins, or the hope of glory. We have, therefore, a work of greater necessity to do or them, even ‘to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified.’ He that seeth one man sick of a mortal disease, and another only pained with the toothache, will be moved more to compassionate the former, than the latter; and will surely make more haste to help him, though he were a stranger, and the other a brother or a son. It is so sad a case to see men in a state of damnation, wherein, if they should die, they are lost for ever, that methinks we should not be able to let them alone, either in public or private, whatever other work we may have to do. I confess, I am frequently forced to neglect that which should tend to the further increase of knowledge in the godly, because of the lamentable necessity of the unconverted. Who is able to talk of controversies, or of nice unnecessary points, or even of truths of a lower degree of necessity, how excellent soever, while he seeth a company of ignorant, carnal, miserable sinners before his eyes, who must be changed or damned?
Methinks I even see them entering upon their final woe! Methinks I hear them crying out for help, for speediest help! Their misery speaks the louder, because they have not hearts to ask for themselves. Many a time have I known, that I had some hearers of higher fancies, that looked for rarities, and were addicted to despise the ministry, if I told them not somewhat more than ordinary; and yet I could not find in my heart to turn from the necessities of the impenitent, for the humouring of them; nor even to leave speaking to miserable sinners for their salvation, in order to speak to such novelists; no, nor so much as should otherwise be done, to weak saints for their confirmation and increase in grace. Methinks, as Paul’s ‘spirit was stirred within him, when he saw the Athenians wholly given to idolatry,’ so it should cast us into one of his paroxysms, to see so many men in the utmost danger of being everlastingly undone. Methinks, if by faith we did indeed look upon them as within a step of hell, it would more effectually untie our tongues, than Croesus’ danger, as they tell us, did his son’s. He that will let a sinner go down to hell for want of speaking to him, doth set less by souls than did the Redeemer of souls; and less by his neighbor, than common charity will allow him to do by his greatest enemy.
O, therefore, brethren, whomsoever you neglect, neglect not the most miserable! Whatever you pass over, forget not poor souls that are under the condemnation and curse of the law, and who may look every hour for the infernal execution, if a speedy change do not prevent it. O call after the impenitent, and ply this great work of converting souls, whatever else you leave undone. 2. We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us with cases of conscience; especially the great case which the Jews put to Peter, and the gaoler to Paul and Silas, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies, and the lawyer for their estates: so that each man who is in doubts and straits, may bring his case to him for resolution; as Nicodemus came to Christ, and as it was usual with the people of old to go to the priest, ‘whose lips must keep knowledge, and at whose mouth they must ask the law, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.’ But as the people have become unacquainted with this office of the ministry, and with their own duty and necessity in this respect, it belongeth to us to acquaint them with it, and publicly to press them to come to us for advice about the great concerns of their souls. We must not only be willing to take the trouble, but should draw it upon ourselves, by inviting them to come. What abundance of good might we do, could we but bring them to this! And, doubtless, much might be done in it, if we did our duty. How few have I ever heard of, who have heartily pressed their people to their duty in this way! Oh! it is a sad case that men’s souls should be so injured and hazarded by the total neglect of so great a duty, and that ministers should scarcely ever tell them of it, and awaken them to it. Were your hearers but duly sensible of the need and importance of this, you would have them more frequently knocking at your doors, and making known to you their sad complaints, and begging your advice. I beseech you, then, press them more to this duty for the future; and see that you perform it carefully when they do seek your help.
To this end it is very necessary that you be well acquainted with practical cases, and especially that you be acquainted with the nature of saving grace, and able to assist them in trying their state, and in resolving the main question that concerns their everlasting life or death. One word of seasonable, prudent advice, given by a minister to persons in necessity, may be of more use than many sermons. ‘A word fitly spoken,’ says Solomon, ‘how good is it!’ 3. We must study to build up those who are already truly converted. In this respect our work is various, according to the various states of Christians. (1) There are many of our flock that are young and weak, who, though they are of long standing, are yet of small proficiency or strength. This, indeed, is the most common condition of the godly. Most of them content themselves with low degrees of grace, and it is no easy matter to get them higher. To bring them to higher and stricter opinions is easy, that is, to bring them from the truth into error, on the right hand as well as on’ the left; but to increase their knowledge and gifts is not easy, and to increase their graces is the hardest of all. It is a very sad thing for Christians to be weak: it exposeth us to dangers; it abateth our consolations and delight in God, and taketh off the sweetness of wisdom’s ways; it maketh us less serviceable to God and man, to bring less honor to our Master, and to do less good to all about us. We get small benefit in the use of the means of grace. We too easily play with the serpent’s baits, and are ensnared by his wiles. A seducer will easily shake us, and evil may be made to appear to us as good, truth as falsehood, sin as duty; and so on the contrary. We are less able to resist and stand in an encounter; we sooner fall; we hardlier rise; and are apter to prove a scandal and reproach to our profession. We less know ourselves, and are more apt to be mistaken as to our own estate, not observing corruptions when they have got advantage of us. We are dishonorable to the gospel by our very weakness, and little useful to any about us. In a word, though we live to less profit to ourselves or others, yet are we unwilling and too unready to die.
Now, seeing the case of weakness in the converted is so sad, how diligent should we be to cherish and increase their grace! The strength of Christians is the honor of the Church. When they are inflamed with the love of God, and live by a lively working faith, and set light by the profits and honors of the world, and love one another with a pure heart fervently, and can bear and heartily forgive a wrong, and suffer joyfully for the cause of Christ, and study to do good, and walk inoffensively and harmlessly in the world, are ready to be servants to all men for their good, becoming all things to all men in order to win them to Christ, and yet abstaining from the appearance of evil, and seasoning all their actions with a sweet mixture of prudence, humility, zeal, and heavenly mindedness – oh, what an honor are such to their profession! What an ornament to the Church; and how serviceable to God and man! Men would sooner believe that the gospel is from heaven, if they saw more such effects of it upon the hearts and lives of those who profess it. The world is better able to read the nature of religion in a man’s life than in the Bible. ‘They that obey not the word, may be won by the conversation’ of such as are thus eminent for godliness. It is, therefore, a most important part of our work, to labor more in the polishing and perfecting of the saints, that they may be strong in the Lord, and fitted for their Master’s service. (2) Another class of converts that need our special help, are those who labor under some particular corruption, which keeps under their graces, and makes them a trouble to others, and a burden to themselves. Alas! there are too many such persons. Some are specially addicted to pride, and others to worldly-mindedness; some to sensual desires, and others to frowardness or other evil passions. Now it is our duty to give assistance to all these; and partly by dissuasions, and clear discoveries of the odiousness of the sin, and partly by suitable directions about the remedy, to help them to a more complete conquest of their corruptions. We are leaders of Christ’s army against the powers of hell, and must resist all the works of darkness wherever we find them, even though it should be in the children of light. We must be no more tender of the sins of the godly, than of the ungodly, nor any more befriend them or favor them. By how much more we love their persons, by so much the more must we manifest it, by making opposition to their sins. And yet we must look to meet with some tender persons here, especially when iniquity hath got any head, and made a party, and many have fallen in love with it; they will be as pettish and as impatient of reproof as some worse men, and perhaps will interest even piety itself in their faults. But the ministers of Christ must do their duty, notwithstanding their peevishness; and must not so far hate their brother, as to forbear rebuking him, or suffer sin to lie upon his soul. It must, no doubt, be done with much prudence, yet done it must be. (3) Another class who demand special help are declining Christians, that are either fallen into some scandalous sin, or else abate their zeal and diligence, and show that they have lost their former love. As the case of backsliders is very sad, so our diligence must be very great for their recovery. It is sad to them to lose so much of their life, and peace, and serviceableness to God; and to become so serviceable to Satan and his cause. It is sad to us to see that all our labor is come to this; and that, when we have taken so much pains with them, and have had so much hopes of them, all should be so far frustrated. It is saddest of all, to think that God should be so dishonored by those whom he hath so loved, and for whom he hath done so much; and that Christ should be so wounded in the house of his friends. Besides, partial backsliding hath a natural tendency to total apostasy, and would effect it, if special grace did not prevent it.
Now, the more sad the case of such Christians is, the more must we exert ourselves for their recovery. We must ‘restore those that are overtaken in a fault, in the spirit of meekness,’ and yet see that the sore be thoroughly searched and healed, and the joint be well set again, what pain soever it may cost. We must look especially to the honor of the gospel, and see that they give such evidence of true repentance, and make such free and full confession of their sin, that some reparation be thereby made to the Church and their holy profession, for the wound they have given to religion. Much skill is required for restoring such a soul. (4) The last class whom I shall here notice, as requiring our attention, are the strong; for they, also, have need of our assistance: partly to preserve the grace they have; partly to help them in making further progress; and partly to direct them in improving their strength for the service of Christ, and the assistance of their brethren; and, also, to encourage them to persevere, that they may receive the crown.
All these are the objects of the ministerial work, and in respect to each of them, we must ‘take heed to all the flock.’ 4. We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed. The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all. What are we like to do ourselves to the reforming of a congregation, if all the work be cast on us alone; and masters of families neglect that necessary duty of their own, by which they are bound to help us? If any good be begun by the ministry in any soul, a careless, prayerless, worldly family is like to stifle it, or very much hinder it; whereas, if you could but get the rulers of families to do their duty, to take up the work where you left it, and help it on, what abundance of good might be done! I beseech you, therefore, if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion. To this end, let me entreat you to attend to the following things: (1) Get information how each family is ordered, that you may know how to proceed in your endeavors for their further good. (2) Go occasionally among them, when they are likely to be most at leisure, and ask the master of the family whether he prays with them, and reads the Scripture, or what he doth? Labor to convince such as neglect this, of their sin; and if you have opportunity, pray with them before you go, and give them an example of what you would have them do. Perhaps, too, it might be well to get a promise from them, that they will make more conscience of their duty for the future. (3) If you find any, through ignorance and want of practice, unable to pray, persuade them to study their own wants, and to get their hearts affected with them, and, in the meanwhile, advise them to use a form of prayer, rather than not pray at all. Tell them, however, that it is their sin and shame that they have lived so negligently, as to be so unacquainted with their own necessities as not to know how to speak to God in prayer, when every beggar can find words to ask an alms; and, therefore, that a form of prayer is but for necessity, as a crutch to a cripple, while they cannot do well without it; but that they must resolve not to be content with it, but to learn to do better as speedily as possible, seeing that prayer should come from the feelings of the heart, and be varied according to our necessities and circumstances. (4) See that in every family there are some useful moving books, beside the Bible. If they have none, persuade them to buy some: if they be not able to buy them, give them some if you can. If you are not able yourself, get some gentlemen, or other rich persons, that are ready to good works, to do it. And engage them to read them at night, when they have leisure, and especially on the Lord’s day. (5) Direct them how to spend the Lord’s day; how to despatch their worldly business, so as to prevent encumbrances and distractions; and when they have been at church, how to spend the time in their families.
The life of religion dependeth much on this, because poor people have no other free considerable time; and, therefore, if they lose this, they lose all, and will remain ignorant and brutish. Persuade the master of every family to cause his children and servants to repeat the Catechism to him, every Sabbath evening, and to give him some account of what they have heard at church during the day.
Neglect not, I beseech you, this important part of your work. Get masters of families to do their duty, and they will not only spare you a great deal of labor, but will much further the success of your labors. If a captain can get the officers under him to do their duty, he may rule the soldiers with much less trouble, than if all lay upon his own shoulders. You are not like to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. Some little religion there may be, here and there; but while it is confined to single persons, and is not promoted in families, it will not prosper, nor promise much future increase. 5. We must be diligent in visiting the sick, and helping them to prepare either for a fruitful life, or a happy death. Though this should be the business of all our life and theirs, yet doth it, at such a season, require extraordinary care both of them and us. When time is almost gone, and they must now or never be reconciled to God, oh, how doth it concern them to redeem those hours, and to lay hold on eternal life! And when we see that we are like to have but a few days or hours more to speak to them, in order to their everlasting welfare, who, that is not a block or an infidel, would not be much with them, and do all he can for their salvation in that short space? Will it not awaken us to compassion, to look on a languishing man, and to think that within a few days his soul will be in heaven or in hell? Surely it will try the faith and seriousness of ministers, to be much about dying men! They will thus have opportunity to discern whether they themselves are in good earnest about the matters of the life to come.
So great is the change that is made by death, that it should awaken us to the greatest sensibility to see a man so near it, and should excite in us the deepest pangs of compassion, to do the office of inferior angels for the soul, before it departs from the body, that it may be ready for the convoy of superior angels to the ‘inheritance of the saints in light.’ When a man is almost at his journey’s end, and the next step brings him to heaven or hell, it is time for us, while there is hope, to help him if we can.
And as their present necessity should move us to embrace that opportunity for their good, so should the advantage that sickness and the prospect of death affordeth. Even the stoutest sinners will hear us on their death-bed, though they scorned us before. They will then let fall their fury, and be as gentle as lambs, who were before as untractable as lions. I find not one in ten, of the most obstinate scornful wretches in my parish, but when they come to die, will humble themselves, confess their faults, and seem penitent, and promise, if they should recover, to reform their lives.
Cyprian saith to those in health, ‘He who everyday reminds himself that he is dying, despises the present and hastens to things to come. Much more he who feels himself to be in the very act of dying.’ O how resolvedly will the worst of sinners seem to cast away their sins and promise reformation, and cry out of their folly, and of the vanity of this world, when they see that death is in good earnest with them, and away they must without delay! Perhaps you will say, that these forced changes are not cordial, and that, therefore, we have no great hope of doing them any saving good. I confess it is very common for sinners to be frightened into ineffectual purposes, but not so common to be at such a season converted to the Savior. It is a remark of Augustine, ‘He cannot die badly who lives well; and scarcely shall he die well who lives badly.’ Yet ‘scarcely’ and ‘never’ are not all one. It should make both them and us the more diligent in the time of health, because it is ‘scarcely’; but yet we should bestir us at the last, in the use of the best remedies, because it is not ‘never’.
But as I do not intend to furnish a directory for the whole ministerial work, I will not stop to tell you particularly what must be done for men in their last extremity; but shall notice only three or four things, as specially worthy of your attention. (1) Stay not till their strength and understanding are gone, and the time so short that you scarcely know what to do; but go to them as soon as you hear they are sick, whether they send for you or not. (2) When the time is so short, that there is no opportunity to instruct them in the principles of religion in order, be sure to ply the main points, and to dwell on those truths which are most calculated to promote their conversion, showing them the glory of the life to come, and the way by which it was purchased for us, and the great sin and folly of their having neglected it in time of health; but yet the possibility that remaineth of their still obtaining it, if they will believe in Christ, the only Savior, and repent of their sins. (3) If they recover, be sure to remind them of their promises and resolutions in time of sickness. Go to them purposely to set these home to their consciences; and whenever, afterwards, you see them remiss, go to them, and put them in mind of what they said when they were stretched on a sick-bed. And because it is of such use to them who recover, and hath been the means of the conversion of many a soul, it is very necessary that you go to them whose sickness is not mortal, as well as to those who are dying, that so you may have some advantage to move them to repentance, and may afterward have this to plead against their sins; as a bishop of Cologne is said to have answered the Emperor Sigismund, when he asked him what was the way to be saved, ‘He must be what he purposed, or promised to be, when he was last troubled with the stone and the gout.’ 6. We must reprove and admonish those who live offensively or impenitently. Before we bring such matters before the church, or its rulers, it is ordinarily most fit for the minister to try himself what he can do in private to bow the sinner to repentance, especially if it be not a public crime. Here there is required much skill, and a difference must be made, according to the various tempers of the offenders; but with the most it will be necessary to speak with the greatest plainness and power, to shake their careless hearts, and make them see what it is to dally with sin; to let them know the evil of it, and its sad effects as regards both God and themselves. 7. The last part of our oversight, which I shall notice, consisteth in the exercise of Church discipline. This consisteth, after the aforesaid private reproofs, in more public reproof, combined with exhortation to repentance, in prayer for the offender, in restoring the penitent, and in excluding and avoiding the impenitent. (1) In the case of public offenses, and even of those of a more private nature, when the offender remains impenitent, he must be reproved before all, and again invited to repentance. This is not the less our duty, because we have made so little conscience of the practice of it. It is not only Christ’s command to tell the church, but Paul’s to ‘rebuke before all,’ and the Church did constantly practice it, till selfishness and formality caused them to be remiss in this and other duties. There is no room to doubt whether this be our duty, and as little is there any ground to doubt whether we have been unfaithful as to the performance of it. Many of us, who would be ashamed to omit preaching or praying half so much, have little considered what we are doing, while living in the wilful neglect of this duty, and other parts of discipline, so long as we have done. We little think how we have drawn the guilt of swearing, and drunkenness, and fornication, and other crimes upon our own heads, by neglecting to use the means which God has appointed for the cure of them.
If any shall say, There is little likelihood that public reproof will do them good, that they will rather be enraged by the shame of it; I answer – [a] It ill becomes a creature to implead the ordinances of God as useless, or to reproach God’s service instead of doing it, and to set his wits in opposition to his Maker. God can render useful his own ordinances, or else he would never have appointed them. [b] The usefulness of discipline is apparent, in the shaming of sin and humbling the sinner, and in manifesting the holiness of Christ, and of his doctrine and Church, before all the world. [c] What will you do with such sinners? Will you give them up as hopeless? That would be more cruel than administering reproof to them. Will you use other means? Why , it is supposed that all other means have been used without success; for this is the last remedy. [d] The principal use of this public discipline is not for the offender himself, but for the Church. It tendeth exceedingly to deter others from the like crimes, and so to keep the congregation and their worship pure.
Seneca could say, ‘He who excuses present evils transmits them to posterity.’ And elsewhere, ‘He who spares the guilty harms the good.’ (2) With reproof we must join exhortation of the offender to repentance, and to the public profession of it for the satisfaction of the church. As the church is bound to avoid communion with impenitent scandalous sinners, so, when they have had evidence of their sin, they must also have some evidence of their repentance; for we cannot know them to be penitent without evidence; and what evidence can the church have but their profession of repentance, and afterwards their actual reformation Much prudence, I confess, is to be exercised in such proceedings, lest we do more hurt than good; but it must be such Christian prudence as ordereth duties, and suiteth them to their ends, not such carnal prudence as shall enervate or exclude them. In performing this duty, we should deal humbly, even when we deal most sharply, and make it appear that it is not from any ill will, nor any lordly disposition, nor from revenge for any injury, but a necessary duty which we cannot conscientiously neglect; and, therefore, it may be meet to show the people the commands of God obliging us to do what we do, in some such words as the following: ‘Brethren, sin is so hateful an evil in the eyes of the most holy God, how light soever impenitent sinners make of it, that he hath provided the everlasting torments of hell for the punishment of it; and no lesser means can prevent that punishment than the sacrifice of the Son of God, applied to those who truly repent of and forsake it; and therefore God, who calleth all men to repentance, hath commanded us to “exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” ( Hebrews 3:13) and that we do not hate our brother in our heart, but in any wise rebuke our neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him, ( Leviticus 19:17) and that if our brother offend us, we should tell him his fault between him and us; and if he hear us not, we should take two or three more with us; and if he hear not them, we should tell the church; and if he hear not the church, he must be to us as a heathen man and a publican; ( Matthew 18:15–17) and those that sin, we must rebuke before all, that others may fear, ( Timothy 5:20) and rebuke with all authority: ( Titus 2:15) yea, were it an apostle of Christ that should sin openly, he must be reproved openly, as Paul did Peter; ( Galatians 2:11,14) and if they repent not, we must avoid them, and with such not so much as eat, ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6,11,12,14; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.) ‘Having heard of the scandalous conduct of A.B. of this church, or parish, and having received sufficient proof that he hath committed the odious sin of –, we have seriously dealt with him to bring him to repentance; but, to the grief of our hearts, we perceive no satisfactory result of our endeavors; but he seemeth still to remain impenitent (or he still liveth in the same sin, though he verbally professes repentance). We therefore judge it our duty to proceed to the use of that further remedy which Christ hath commanded us to try; and hence we beseech him, in the name of the Lord, without further delay, to lay to heart the greatness of his sin, the wrong he hath done to Christ and to himself, and the scandal and grief that he hath caused to others. And I do earnestly beseech him, for the sake of his own soul, that he will consider, what it is that he can gain by his sin and impenitency, and whether it will pay for the loss of everlasting life; and how he thinks to stand before God in judgment, or to appear before the Lord Jesus, when death shall snatch his soul from his body, if he be found in this impenitent state. And I do beseech him, for the sake of his own soul, and, as a messenger of Jesus Christ, require him, as he will answer the contrary at the bar of God, that he lay aside the stoutness and impenitency of his heart, and unfeignedly confess and lament his sin before God and this congregation. And this desire I here publish, not out of any ill will to his person, as the Lord knoweth, but in love to his soul, and in obedience to Christ, who hath made it my duty; desiring that, if it be possible, he may be saved from his sin, and from the power of Satan, and from the everlasting wrath of God, and may be reconciled to God and to his church; and, therefore, that he may be humbled by true contrition, before he be humbled by remediless condemnation.’
To this purpose I conceive our public admonitions should proceed; and, in some cases, where the sinner considereth his sin to be small, it may be necessary to point out the aggravations of it, particularly by citing some passages of Scripture which speak of its evil and its danger. (3) With these reproofs and exhortations, we must join the prayers of the congregation in behalf of the offender. This should be done in every case of discipline, but particularly if the offender will not be present to receive admonition, or gives no evidence of repentance, and shows no desire for the prayers of the congregation. In such cases, especially, it will be meet that we beg the prayers of the congregation for him ourselves, entreating them to consider what a fearful condition the impenitent are in, and to have pity on a poor soul that is so blinded and hardened by sin and Satan, that he cannot pity himself; and to think what it is for a man to appear before the living God in such a case, and, therefore, that they would join in earnest prayer to God, that he would open his eyes, and soften, and humble his stubborn heart, before he be in hell beyond remedy. And, accordingly, let us be very earnest in prayer for him, that the congregation may be excited affectionately to join with us; and who knows but God may hear our prayers, and the sinner’s heart may relent under them, more than under all our exhortations?
It is, in my judgment, a very laudable course of some churches, that use, for the next three days together, to desire the congregation to join in earnest prayer to God for the opening of the sinner’s eyes, and the softening of his heart, and the saving of him from impenitency and eternal death. If ministers would be conscientious in performing this duty entirely and self-denyingly, they might make something of it, and expect a blessing upon it; but when we shrink from all that is dangerous or ungrateful in our work, and shift off all that is costly or troublesome, we cannot expect that any great good should be effected by such a carnal, partial use of means; and though some may here and there be wrought upon, yet we cannot look that the gospel should run and be glorified when we do our duty so lamely and so defectively. (4) We must restore the penitent to the fellowship of the church. As we must not teach an offender to make light of discipline by too much facility, so neither must we discourage him by too much severity. If he appear to be truly sensible of the sinfulness of his conduct, and penitent on account of it, we must see that he confess his guilt, and that he promise to fly from such sins for the time to come, to watch more narrowly and to walk more warily, to avoid temptation, to distrust his own strength, and to rely on the grace which is in Christ Jesus.
We must assure him of the riches of God’s love, and the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to pardon his sins, if he believe and repent.
We must see that he begs to be restored to the communion of the church, and desires their prayers to God for his pardon and salvation.
We must charge the church that they imitate Christ, in forgiving and in retaining the penitent person; or, if he were cast out, in restoring him to their communion; and that they must never reproach him with his sins, nor cast them in his teeth, but forgive them, even as Christ doth.
Finally, we must give God thanks for his recovery, and pray for his confirmation and future preservation. (5) The last part of’ discipline is the excluding from the communion of the church those who, after sufficient trial, remain impenitent.
Exclusion from church communion, commonly called excommunication, is of divers sorts or degrees, which are not to be confounded; but that which is most commonly to be practiced amongst us, is, only to remove an impenitent sinner from our communion, till it shall please the Lord to give him repentance.
In this exclusion or removal, the minister or governors of the church are authoritatively to charge the people, in the name of the Lord, to have no communion with him, and to pronounce him one whose communion the church is bound to avoid; and it is the people’s duty carefully to avoid him, provided the pastor’s charge contradict not the Word of God.
Nevertheless, we must pray for the repentance and restoration even of the excommunicated; and if God shall give them repentance, we must gladly receive them again into the communion of the church.
Would we were but so far faithful in the practice of this discipline, as we are satisfied both of the matter and manner of it; and did not dispraise and reproach it by our negligence, while we write and plead for it with the highest commendations! It is worthy of our consideration, who is like to have the heavier charge about this matter at the bar of God – whether those who have reproached and hindered discipline by their tongues, because they knew not its nature and necessity; or we who have so vilified it by our constant omission, while with our tongues we have magnified it? If hypocrisy be no sin, or if the knowledge of our Master’s will by no aggravation of disobedience, then we may be in a better case than they; but if these be great evils, we must be much worse than the very persons whom we so loudly condemn. I will not advise the zealous maintainers, and obstinate neglecters of discipline, to unsay all that they have said, till they are ready to do as they say; nor to recant their defences of discipline, till they mean to practice it; nor to burn all the books which they have written for it, and all the records of their cost and hazards for it, lest they rise up in judgment against them, to their confusion. But I would persuade them, without any more delay, to conform their practice to these testimonies which they have given, lest the more they are proved to have commended discipline, the more they are proved to have condemned themselves for neglecting it. It hath somewhat amazed me to hear some, that I took for reverend, godly divines, reproach, as a sect, the Sacramentarians and Disciplinarians. And, when I desired to know whom they meant, they told me they meant them that will not give the sacrament to all the parish, and them that will make distinctions by their discipline. I had thought the tempter had obtained a great victory, if he had got but one godly pastor of a church to neglect discipline, as well as if he had got him to neglect preaching; much more if he had got him to approve of that neglect: but it seems that he hath got some to scorn at the performers of the duty which they neglect. Sure I am, if it were well understood how much of the pastoral authority and work consisteth in church guidance, it would be also discerned, that to be against discipline, is near to being against the ministry; and to be against the ministry is near to being absolutely against the church; and to be against the church, is near to being absolutely against Christ. Blame not the harshness of the inference, till you can avoid it, and free yourselves from the charge of it before the Lord.
SECTION 2 — THE MANNER OF THIS OVERSIGHT
Having thus considered the nature of this oversight, we shall next speak of the manner; not of each part distinctly, lest we be tedious, but of the whole in general. 1. The ministerial work must be carried on purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own. A wrong end makes all the work bad as from us, how good soever it may be in its own nature. It is not serving God, but ourselves, if we do it not for God, but for ourselves. They who engage in this as a common work, to make a trade of it for their worldly livelihood, will find that they have chosen a bad trade, though a good employment. Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but it is doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service. Hard studies, much knowledge, and excellent preaching, if the ends be not right, is but more glorious hypocritical sinning. The saying of Bernard is commonly known: ‘Some desire to know merely for the sake of knowing, and that is shameful curiosity. Some desire to know that they may sell their knowledge, and that too is shameful. Some desire to know for reputation’s sake, and that is shameful vanity. But there are some who desire to know that they may edify others, and that is praiseworthy; and there are some who desire to know that they themselves may be edified, and that is wise.’ 2. The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O see, then, that this work be done with all your might!
Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow; and, as Cassiodorus says: ‘Here the common level of knowledge is not to be the limit; here a true ambition is demonstrated; the more a deep knowledge is sought after, the greater the honor in attaining it.’ But especially be laborious in the practice and exercise of your knowledge. Let Paul’s words ring continually in your ears, ‘Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!’ Ever think with yourselves what lieth upon your hands: ‘If I do not bestir myself, Satan may prevail, and the people everlastingly perish, and their blood be required at my hand. By avoiding labor and suffering, I shall draw on myself a thousand times more than I avoid; whereas, by present diligence, I shall prepare for future blessedness.’ No man was ever a loser by God. 3. The ministerial work must be carried on prudently and orderly. Milk must go before strong meat; the foundation must be laid before we attempt to raise the superstructure. Children must not be dealt with as men of full stature. Men must be brought into a state of grace, before we can expect from them the works of grace. The work of conversion, and repentance from dead works, and faith in Christ, must be first and frequently and thoroughly taught. We must not ordinarily go beyond the capacities of our people, nor teach them the perfection, that have not learned the first principles of religion: for, as Gregory of Nyssa saith: ‘We teach not infants the deep precepts of science, but first letters, and then syllables, etc. So the guides of the Church do first propound to their hearers certain documents, which are as the elements; and so by degrees do open to them the more perfect and mysterious matters.’ Therefore did the Church take so much pains with their catechumens, before they baptized them, and would not lay unpolished stones into the building. 4. Throughout the whole course of our ministry, we must insist chiefly upon the greatest, most certain, and most necessary truths, and be more seldom and sparing upon the rest. If we can but teach Christ to our people, we shall teach them all. Get them well to heaven, and they will have knowledge enough. The great and commonly acknowledged truths of religion are those that men must live upon, and which are the great instruments of destroying men’s sins, and raising the heart to God. We must, therefore, ever have our people’s necessities before our eyes. To remember the ‘one thing needful’ will take us off gauds and needless ornaments, and unprofitable controversies. Many other things are desirable to be known; but this must be known, or else our people are undone for ever. I confess I think NECESSITY should be the great disposer of a minister’s course of study and labor. If we were sufficient for everything, we might attempt everything, and take in order the whole Encyclopaedia: but life is short, and we are dull, and eternal things are necessary, and the souls that depend on our teaching are precious. I confess, necessity hath been the conductor of my studies and life. It chooseth what book I shall read, and tells me when, and how long. It chooseth my text, and makes my sermon, both for matter and manner, so far as I can keep out my own corruption. Though I know the constant expectation of death hath been a great cause of this, yet I know no reason why the most healthy man should not make sure of the most necessary things first, considering the uncertainty and shortness of all men’s lives. Xenophon thought, ‘there was no better teacher than necessity, which teacheth all things most diligently.’ Who can, in studying, preaching, or laboring, be doing other matters, if he do but know that this MUST be done? Who can trifle or delay, that feeleth the urgent spurs of necessity? As the soldier saith, ‘No lengthy discussing, but speedy and strong contending is needed where necessity urges on’, so much more must we, as our business is more important. Doubtless this is the best way to redeem time, to see that we lose not an hour, when we spend it only on necessary things. This is the way to be most profitable to others, though not always to be most pleasing and applauded; because, through men’s frailty, it is true what Seneca says, that ‘We are attracted to novelties rather than to great things.’
Hence it is, that a preacher must be oft upon the same things, because the matters of necessity are few. We must not either feign necessaries, or fall much upon unnecessaries, to satisfy them that look for novelties, though we must clothe the same truths with a grateful variety in the manner of our delivery. The great volumes and tedious controversies that so much trouble us and waste our time, are usually made up more of opinions than of necessary verities; for, as Ficinus saith , ‘Necessity is shut up within narrow limits ; not so with opinion’: and, as Gregory Nazianzen and Seneca often say, ‘Necessaries are common and obvious; it is superfluities that we waste our time for, and labor for, and complain that we attain them not.’ Ministers, therefore, must be observant of the case of their flocks, that they may know what is most necessary for them, both for matter and for manner; and usually the matter is to be first regarded, as being of more importance than the manner. If you are to choose what authors to read yourselves, will you not rather take those that tell you what you know not, and that speak the most necessary truths in the clearest manner, though it be in barbarous or unhandsome language, than those that will most learnedly and elegantly tell you that which is false or vain, and ‘by a great effort say nothing.’ I purpose to follow Augustine’s counsel: ‘Give first place to the meaning of the Word, so that the soul is given preference over the body; from which it follows that we seek the more true as much as the more discerning discourses to be met with, just as we seek the more sensible, as much as the more handsome, to be our friends.’ And surely, as I do in my studies for my own edification, I should do in my teaching for other men’s. It is commonly empty, ignorant men who want the matter and substance of true learning, that are over curious and solicitous about words and ornaments, when the old, experienced, and most learned men, abound in substantial verities delivered usually in the plainest dress. As Aristotle makes it the reason why women are more addicted to pride in apparel than men, that, being conscious of little inward worth, they seek to make it up with outward borrowed ornaments; so is it with empty, worthless preachers, who affect to be esteemed that which they are not, and have no other way to procure that esteem. 5. All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. This doth best suit a teacher’s ends. He that would be understood must speak to the capacity of his hearers. Truth loves the light, and is most beautiful when most naked. It is the sign of an envious enemy to hide the truth; and it is the work of a hypocrite to do this under pretense of revealing it; and therefore painted obscure sermons (like painted glass in windows which keeps out the light) are too oft the marks of painted hypocrites. If you would not teach men, what do you in the pulpit? If you would, why do you not speak so as to be understood? I know the height of the matter may make a man not understood, when he hath studied to make it as plain as he can; but that a man should purposely cloud the matter in strange words, and hide his mind from the people, whom he pretendeth to instruct, is the way to make fools admire his profound learning, and wise men his folly, pride, and hypocrisy. Some men conceal their sentiments, under the pretense of necessity, because of men’s prejudices, and the unpreparedness of common understandings to receive the truth. But truth overcomes prejudice by the mere light of evidence, and there is no better way to make a good cause prevail, than to make it as plain, and as generally and thoroughly known as we can; it is this light that will dispose an unprepared mind. It is, at best, a sign that a man hath not well digested the matter himself, if he is not able to deliver it plainly to others. I mean as plainly as the nature of the matter will bear, in regard of capacities prepared for it by prerequisite truths; for I know that some men cannot at present understand some truths, if you speak them as plainly as words can express them; as the easiest rules in grammar, most plainly taught, will not be understood by a child that is but learning his alphabet. 6. Our work must be carried on with great humility. We must carry ourselves meekly and condescendingly to all; and so teach others, as to be as ready to learn of any that can teach us, and so both teach and learn at once; not proudly venting our own conceits, and disdaining all that any way contradict them, as if we had attained to the height of knowledge, and were destined for the chair, and other men to sit at our feet. Pride is a vice that ill beseems them that must lead men in such an humble way to heaven: let us, therefore, take heed, lest, when we have brought others thither, the gate should prove too strait for ourselves. For, as Grotius saith, ‘Pride is born in heaven, but as if unmindful that the way from that place is closed, it is impossible for it to return afterwards!’ God, that thrust out a proud angel, will not entertain there a proud preacher. Methinks we should remember, at least the title of a Minister, which, though the popish priests disdain, yet so do not we. It is this pride at the root that feedeth all the rest of our sins. Hence the envy, the contention, and unpeaceableness of ministers; hence the stops to all reformation; all would lead, and few will follow or concur. Hence, also, is the non-proficiency of too many ministers, because they are too proud to learn. Humility would teach them another lesson. I may say of ministers as Augustine to Jerome, even of the aged among them, ‘Although it is more fitting for the aged to teach than to learn, much more is it fitting to learn than to be ignorant.’ 7. There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline; each must be predominant, according to the quality or character of the person, or matter, that we have in hand. If there be no severity, our reproofs will be despised. If all severity, we shall be taken as usurpers of dominion, rather than persuaders of the minds of men to the truth. 8. We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. Our work requireth greater skill, and especially greater life and zeal than any of us bring to it. It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of the Redeemer. It is no easy matter to speak so plainly, that the most ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that the contradicting cavillers may be silenced. The weight of our matter condemneth coldness and sleepy dullness. We should see that we be well awakened ourselves, and our spirits in such a plight as may make us fit to awaken others. If our words be not sharpened, and pierce not as nails, they will hardly be felt by stony hearts. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all. 9. The whole of our ministry must be carried on in tender love to our people. We must let them see that nothing pleaseth us but what profiteth them; and that what doeth them good doth us good; and that nothing troubleth us more than their hurt. We must feel toward our people, as a father toward his children: yea, the tenderest love of a mother must not surpass ours. We must even travail in birth, till Christ be formed in them.
They should see that we care for no outward thing, neither wealth, nor liberty, nor honor, nor life, in comparison of their salvation; but could even be content, with Moses, to have our names blotted out of the book of life, i.e. to be removed from the number of the living: rather than they should not be found in the Lamb’s book of life. Thus should we, as John saith, be ready to ‘lay down our lives for the brethren,’ and, with Paul, not count our lives dear to us, so we may but ‘finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord Jesus.’ When the people see that you unfeignedly love them, they will hear any thing and bear any thing from you; as Augustine saith, ‘Love God, and do what you please.’
We ourselves will take all things well from one that we know doth entirely love us. We will put up with a blow that is given us in love, sooner than with a foul word that is spoken to us in malice or in anger. Most men judge of the counsel, as they judge of the a affection of him that gives it: at least, so far as to give it a fair hearing. Oh, therefore, see that you feel a tender love to your people in your breasts, and let them perceive it in your speeches, and see it in your conduct. Let them see that you spend, and are spent, for their sakes; and that all you do is for them, and not for any private ends of your own. To this end the works of charity are necessary, as far as your estate will reach; for bare words will hardly convince men that you have any great love to them. But, if you are not able to give, show that you are willing to give if you had it, and do that sort of good you can.
But see that your love be not carnal, flowing from pride, as one that is a suitor for himself rather than for Christ, and, therefore, doth love because he is loved, or that he may be loved. Take heed, therefore, that you do not connive at the sins of your people, under pretense of love, for that were to cross the nature and end of love. Friendship must be cemented by piety. A wicked man cannot be a true friend; and, if you befriend their wickedness, you show that you are wicked yourselves. Pretend not to love them, if you favor their sins, and seek not their salvation. By favoring their sins, you will show your enmity to God; and then how can you love your brother? If you be their best friends, help them against their worst enemies. And think not all sharpness inconsistent with love: parents correct their children, and God himself ‘chastens every son whom he receiveth.’ Augustine saith, ‘Better it is to love even with the accompaniment of severity, than to mislead by (excess of) lenity.’ 10. We must carry on our work with patience. We must bear with many abuses and injuries from those to whom we seek to do good. When we have studied for them, and prayed for them, and exhorted them, and beseeched them with all earnestness and condescension, and given them what we are able, and tended them as if they had been our children, we must look that many of them will requite us with scorn and hatred and contempt, and account us their enemies, because we ‘tell them the truth.’
Now, we must endure all this patiently, and we must unweariedly hold on in doing good, ‘in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God, peradventure, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’ We have to deal with distracted men who will fly in the face of their physician, but we must not, therefore, neglect their cure. He is unworthy to be a physician, who will be driven away from a frenetic patient by foul words. Yet, alas, when sinners reproach and slander us for our love, and are more ready to spit in our faces, than to thank us for our advice, what heart-risings will there be, and how will the remnants of old Adam (pride and passion) struggle against the meekness and patience of the new man!
And how sadly do many ministers come off under such trials! 11. All our work must be managed reverently, as beseemeth them that believe the presence of God, and use not holy things as if they were common. Reverence is that affection of the soul which proceedeth from deep apprehensions of God and indicateth a mind that is much conversant with him. To manifest irreverence in the things of God is to manifest hypocrisy, and that the heart agreeth not with the tongue. I know not how it is with others, but the most reverent preacher, that speaks as if he saw the face of God, doth more affect my heart, though with common words, than an irreverent man with the most exquisite preparations. Yea, though he bawl it out with never so much seeming earnestness, if reverence be not answerable to fervency, it worketh but little. Of all preaching in the world, (that speaks not stark lies) I hate that preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh, or to move their minds with tickling levity, and affect them as stage-plays used to do, instead of affecting them with a holy reverence of the name of God. Jerome says, ‘Teach in thy church, not to get the applause of the people, but to set in motion the groan; the tears of the hearers are thy praises.’ The more of God appeareth in our duties, the more authority will they have with men. We should, as it were, suppose we saw the throne of God, and the millions of glorious angels attending him, that we may be awed with his majesty when we draw near him in holy things, lest we profane them and take his name in vain. 12. All our work must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of the Holy Ghost. There is in some men’s preaching a spiritual strain, which spiritual hearers can discern and relish; whereas, in other men’s, this sacred tincture is so wanting, that, even when they speak of spiritual things, the manner is such as if they were common matters. Our evidence and illustrations of divine truth must also be spiritual, being drawn from the Holy Scriptures, rather than from the writings of men. The wisdom of the world must not be magnified against the wisdom of God; philosophy must be taught to stoop and serve, while faith doth bear the chief sway. Great scholars in Aristotle’s school must take heed of glorying too much in their master, and despising those that are below them, lest they themselves prove lower in the school of Christ, and ‘least in the kingdom of God,’ while they would be great in the eyes of men. As wise a man as any of them would glory in nothing but the cross of Christ, and determined to know nothing but him crucified. They that are so confident that Aristotle is in hell, should not too much take him for their guide in the way to heaven. It is an excellent memorandum that Gregory hath left: ‘God in the first place gathers together the unlearned; afterwards the wise ones. And not of orators does he make fishermen, but of fishermen he produces orators.’ The most learned men should think of this.
Let all writers have their due esteem, but compare none of them with the Word of God. We will not refuse their service, but we must abhor them as rivals or competitors. It is the sign of a distempered heart that loseth the relish of Scripture excellency. For there is in a spiritual heart a conaturality to the Word of God, because this is the seed which did regenerate him. The Word is that seal which made all the holy impressions that are in the hearts of true believers, and stamped the image of God upon them; and, therefore, they must needs be like that Word and highly esteem it as long as they live. 13. If you would prosper in your work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success. If your hearts be not set on the end of your labors, and you long not to see the conversion and edification of your hearers, and do not study and preach in hope, you are not likely to see much success. As it is a sign of a false, self-seeking heart, that can be content to be still doing, and yet see no fruit of his labor; so I have observed that God seldom blesseth any man’s work so much as his, whose heart is set upon the success of it. Let it be the property of a Judas to have more regard to the bag than to his work, and not to care much for what they pretend to care; and to think, if they have their salaries, and the love and commendations of their people, they have enough to satisfy them: but, let all who preach for Christ and men’s salvation, be unsatisfied till they have the thing they preach for. He never had the right ends of a preacher, who is indifferent whether he obtain them, and is not grieved when he misseth them, and rejoiced when he can see the desired issue. When a man doth only study what to say, and how, with commendation, to spend the hour, and looks no more after it, unless it be to know what people think of his abilities, and thus holds on from year to year, I must needs think that this man doth preach for himself, and not for Christ, even when he preacheth Christ, how excellently soever he may seem to do it. No wise or charitable physician is content to be always giving physic, and to see no amendment among his patients, but to have them all die upon his hands: nor will any wise and honest schoolmaster be content to be still teaching, though his scholars profit not by his instructions; but both of them would rather be weary of the employment.
I know that a faithful minister may have comfort when he wants success; and ‘though Israel be not gathered, our reward is with the Lord,” and our acceptance is not according to the fruit, but according to our labor: but then, he that longeth not for the success of his labors can have none of this comfort, because he was not a faithful laborer. What I say is only for them that are set upon the end, and grieved if they miss it. Nor is this the full comfort that we must desire, but only such a part as may quiet us, though we miss the rest. What if God will accept a physician, though the patient die? He must, notwithstanding that, work in compassion, and long for a better issue, and be sorry if he miss it. For it is not merely our own reward that we labor for, but other men’s salvation. I confess, for my part, I marvel at some ancient reverend men, that have lived twenty, thirty, or forty years with an unprofitable people, among whom they have scarcely been able to discern any fruits of their labors, how they can, with so much patience, continue among them. Were it my case, though I durst not leave the vineyard, nor quit my calling, yet I should suspect that it was God’s will I should go somewhere else, and another come in my place that might be fitter for them; and I should not be easily satisfied to spend my days in such a manner. 14. Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ. We must go for light, and life, and strength to him who sends us on the work. And when we feel our own faith weak, and our hearts dull, and unsuitable to so great a work as we have to do, we must have recourse to him, and say, ‘Lord, wilt thou send me with such an unbelieving heart to persuade others to believe? Must I daily plead with sinners about everlasting life and everlasting death, and have no more belief or feeling of these weighty things myself? O, send me not naked and unprovided to the work; but, as thou commandest me to do it, furnish me with a spirit suitable thereto.’
Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching: he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent. When our own hearts are so far out of order, and theirs so far out of order, if we prevail not with God to mend and help them, we are like to make but unsuccessful work. 15. Having given you these concomitants of our ministerial work, as singly to be performed by every minister, let me conclude with one other, that is necessary to us as we are fellow-laborers in the same work; and that is this, we must be very studious of union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee. We must be sensible how needful this is to the prosperity of the whole, the strengthening of our common cause, the good of the particular members of our flock, and the further enlargement of the kingdom of Christ. And, therefore, ministers must smart when the Church is wounded, and be so far from being the leaders in divisions, that they should take it as a principal part of their work to prevent and heal them. Day and night should they bend their studies to find out means to close such breaches. They must not only hearken to motions for unity, but propound them and prosecute them; not only entertain an offered peace, but even follow it when it flieth from them. They must, therefore, keep dose to the ancient simplicity of the Christian faith, and the foundation and center of catholic unity. They must abhor the arrogancy of them that frame new engines to rack and tear the Church of Christ under pretense of obviating errors and maintaining the truth. The Scripture sufficiency must be maintained, and nothing beyond it imposed on others; and if papists, or others, call to us for the standard and rule of our religion, it is the Bible that we must show them, rather than any confessions of churches, or writings of men. We must learn to distinguish between certainties and uncertainties, necessaries and unnecessaries, catholic verities and private opinions; and to lay the stress of the Church’s peace upon the former, not upon the latter. We must avoid the common confusion of speaking of those who make no difference between verbal and real errors, and hate that ‘madness formerly among theologians,’ who tear their brethren as heretics, before they understand them. And we must learn to see the true state of controversies, and reduce them to the very point where the difference lieth, and not make them seem greater than they are.
Instead of quarrelling with our brethren, we must combine against the common adversaries; and all ministers must associate and hold communion, and correspondence, and constant meetings to these ends; and smaller differences of judgment are not to interrupt them. They must do as much of the work of God, in unity and concord, as they can, which is the use of synods; not to rule over one another, and make laws, but to avoid misunderstandings, and consult for mutual edification, and maintain love and communion, and go on unanimously in the work that God hath already commanded us. Had the ministers of the gospel been men of peace, and of catholic, rather than factious spirits, the Church of Christ had not been in the case it now is. The nations of Lutherans and Calvinists abroad, and the differing parties here at home, would not have been plotting the subversion of one another, nor remain at that distance, and in that uncharitable bitterness, nor strengthen the common enemy, and hinder the building and prosperity of the Church as they have done.
SECTION 3 — MOTIVES TO THE OVERSIGHT OF THE FLOCK
Having considered the manner in which we are to take heed to the flock, I shall now proceed to lay before you some motives to this oversight; and here I shall confine myself to those contained in my text. 1. The first consideration which the text suggesteth to us, is drawn from our relation to the flock: We are overseers of it. (1) The nature of our office requireth us to ‘take heed to the flock.’
What else are we overseers for “Bishop” is a title which intimates more of’ labor than of honor,’ says Polydore Virgil.’ To be a bishop, or pastor, is not to be set up as an idol for the people to bow to, or as idle ‘slow bellies,’ to live to our fleshly delight and ease; but it is to be the guide of sinners to heaven. It is a sad case that men should be of a calling of which they know not the nature, and undertake they know not what. Do these men consider what they have undertaken, that live in ease and pleasure, and have time to take their superfluous recreations and to spend an hour and more at once, in loitering, or in vain discourse, when so much work doth lie upon their hands?
Brethren, do you consider what you have taken upon you? Why, you have undertaken the conduct, under Christ, of a band of his soldiers ‘against principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places.’ You must lead them on to the sharpest conflicts; you must acquaint them with the enemies’ stratagems and assaults; you must watch yourselves, and keep them watching. If you miscarry, they and you may perish. You have a subtle enemy, and therefore you must be wise. You have a vigilant enemy, and therefore you must be vigilant.
You have a malicious and violent and unwearied enemy, and therefore you must be resolute, courageous and indefatigable. You are in a crowd of enemies, encompassed by them on every side, and if you heed one and not all, you will quickly fall. And oh, what a world of work have you to do! Had you but one ignorant old man or woman to teach, what a hard task would it be, even though they should be willing to learn!
But if they be as unwilling as they are ignorant, how much more difficult will it prove! But to have such a multitude of ignorant persons, as most of us have, what work will it find us! What a pitiful life is it to have to reason with men that have almost lost the use of reason, and to argue with them that neither understand themselves nor you! O brethren, what a world of wickedness have we to contend against in one soul; and what a number of these worlds! And when you think you have done something, you leave the seed among the fowls of the air; wicked men are at their elbows to rise up and contradict all you have said. You speak but once to a sinner, for ten or twenty times that the emissaries of Satan speak to them.
Moreover, how easily do the business and cares of the world choke the seed which you have sown. And if the truth had no enemy but what is in themselves, how easily will a frozen carnal heart extinguish those sparks which you have been long in kindling! yea, for want of fuel, and further help, they will go out of themselves. And when you think your work doth happily succeed, and have seen men confessing their sins, and promising reformation, and living as new creatures and zealous converts, alas! they may, after all this, prove unsound and false at the heart, and such as were but superficially changed and took up new opinions and new company, without a new heart. O how many, after some considerable change, are deceived by the profits and honors of the world, and are again entangled by their former lusts! How many do but change a disgraceful way of fleshpleasing, for a way that is less dishonorable, and maketh not so great a noise in their consciences! How many grow proud before they acquire a thorough knowledge of religion; and, confident in the strength of their unfurnished intellects, greedily snatch at every error that is presented to them under the name of truth; and, like chickens that straggle from the hen, are carried away by that infernal kite, while they proudly despise the guidance and advice of those that Christ hath set over them for their safety! O brethren, what a field of work is there before us! Not a person that you see but may find you work. In the saints themselves, how soon do the Christian graces languish if you neglect them; and how easily are they drawn into sinful ways, to the dishonor of the gospel, and to their own loss and sorrow! If this be the work of a minister, you may see what a life he hath to lead. Let us, then, be up and doing, with all our might; difficulties must quicken, not discourage us in so necessary a work. If we cannot do all, let us do what we can; for, if we neglect it, woe to us, and to the souls committed to our care! Should we pass over all these other duties, and, by a plausible sermon only, think to prove ourselves faithful ministers, and to put off God and man with such a shell and vizor, our reward will prove as superficial as our work. (2) Consider that it is by your own voluntary undertaking and engagement that all this work is laid upon you. No man forced you to be overseers of the Church. And doth not common honesty bind you to be true to your trust? (3) Consider that you have the honor to encourage you to the labor.
And a great honor it is to be the ambassadors of God, and the instruments of men’s conversion, to ‘save their souls from death, and to cover a multitude of sins.’ The honor, indeed, is but the attendant of the work. To do, therefore, as the prelates of the Church in all ages have done, to strive for precedency, and fill the world with contentions about the dignity and superiority of their seats, doth show that we much forget the nature of that office which we have undertaken. I seldom see ministers strive so furiously, who shall go first to a poor man’s cottage to teach him and his family the way to heaven; or who shall first endeavor the conversion of a sinner, or first become the servant of all. Strange, that notwithstanding all the plain expressions of Christ, men will not understand the nature of their office! If they did, would they strive who would be the pastor of a whole county and more, when there are so many thousand poor sinners in it that cry for help, and they are neither able nor willing to engage for their relief?
Nay, when they can patiently live in the house with profane persons, and not follow them seriously and incessantly for their conversion?
And that they would have the name and honor of the work of a county, who are unable to do all the work of a parish, when the honor is but the appendage of the work Is it names and honor, or the work and end, that they desire? Oh! if they would faithfully, humbly, and self-denyingly lay out themselves for Christ and his Church, and never think of titles and reputation, they should then have honor whether they would or not; but by gaping after it, they lose it: for, this is the case of virtue’s shadow, ‘What follows I fly; what flies, the same I follow.’ (4) Consider that you have many other excellent privileges of the ministerial office to encourage you to the work. If therefore you will not do the work, you have nothing to do with the privileges. It is something that you are maintained by other men’s labors. This is for your work, that you may not be taken off from it, but, as Paul requireth, may ‘give yourselves wholly to these things,’ and not be forced to neglect men’s souls, whilst you are providing for your own bodies. Either do the work, then, or take not the maintenance. But you have far greater privileges than this. Is it nothing to be brought up to learning, when others are brought up to the cart and plough? and to be furnished with so much delightful knowledge, when the world lieth in ignorance? Is it nothing to converse with learned men, and to talk of high and glorious things, when others must converse with almost none but the most vulgar and illiterate But especially, what an excellent privilege is it, to live in studying and preaching Christ! to be continually searching into his mysteries, or feeding on them! to be daily employed in the consideration of he blessed nature, works, and ways of God! Others are glad of the leisure of the Lord’s day, and now and then of an hour besides, when they can lay hold upon it. But we may keep a continual Sabbath. We may do almost nothing else, but study and talk of God and glory, and engage in acts of prayer and praise, and drink in his sacred, saving truths. Our employment is all high and spiritual. Whether we be alone, or in company, our business is for another world. O that our hearts were but more tuned to this work!
What a blessed, joyful life should we then live! How sweet would our study be to us! How pleasant the pulpit! And what delight would our conference about spiritual and eternal things afford us! To live among such excellent helps as our libraries afford, to have so many silent wise companions whenever we please – all these, and many other similar privileges of the ministry, bespeak our unwearied diligence in the work. (5) By your work you are related to Christ, as well as to the flock. You are the stewards of his mysteries, and rulers of his household; and he that entrusted you, will maintain you in his work. But then, ‘it is required of a steward that a man be found faithful.’ Be true to him, and never doubt but he will be true to you. Do you feed his flock, and he will sooner feed you as he did Elijah, than leave you to want. If you be in prison, he will open the doors; but then you must relieve imprisoned souls. He will give you “a tongue and wisdom that no enemy shall be able to resist,” but then you must use it faithfully for him. If you will put forth your hand to relieve the distressed, he will wither the hand that is stretched out against you. The ministers of England, I am sure, may know this by large experience. Many a time hath God rescued them from the jaws of the devourer. Oh, the admirable preservations and deliverances that they have had from cruel Papists, from tyrannical persecutors, and from misguided, passionate men! Consider, brethren, why it is that God hath done all this. Is it for your persons, or for his Church? What are you to him more than other men, but for his work and people’s sakes? Are you angels? Is your flesh formed of better clay than your neighbors? Are you not of the same generation of sinners, that need his grace as much as they? Up then, and work as the redeemed of the Lord, as those that are purposely rescued from ruin for his service. If you believe that God hath rescued you for himself, live to him, as being unreservedly his who hath delivered you. 2. The second motive in the text is drawn from the efficient cause of this relation. It is the Holy Ghost that hath made us overseers of his Church, and, therefore, it behoveth us to take heed to it. The Holy Ghost makes men bishops or overseers of the Church in three several respects: By qualifying them for the office; by directing the ordainers to discern their qualifications, and know the fittest men; and by directing them, the people and themselves, for the affixing them to a particular charge. All these things were then done in an extraordinary way, by inspiration, or at least very often. The same are done now by the ordinary way of the Spirit’s assistance. But it is the same Spirit still; and men are made overseers of the Church (when they are rightly called) by the Holy Ghost, now as well as then. It is a strange conceit, therefore, of the Papists, that ordination by the hands of man is of more absolute necessity in the ministerial office, than the calling of the Holy Ghost. God hath determined in his Word, that there shall be such an office, and what the work and power of that office shall be, and what sort of men, as to their qualifications, shall receive it.
None of these can be undone by man, or made unnecessary. God also giveth men the qualifications which he requireth; so that, all that the Church hath to do, whether pastors or people, ordainers or electors, is but to discern and determine which are the men that God hath thus qualified, and to accept of them that are so provided, and, upon consent, to install them solemnly in this office. What an obligation, then, is laid upon us, by our call to the work! If our commission be sent from heaven, it is not to be disobeyed. When the apostles were called by Christ from their secular employments, they immediately left friends, and house, and trade, and all, and followed him. When Paul was called by the voice of Christ, he ‘was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.’ Though our call is not so immediate or extraordinary, yet it is from the same Spirit. It is no safe course to imitate Jonah, in turning our back upon the commands of God. If we neglect our work, he hath a spur to quicken us; if we run away from it, he hath messengers enough to overtake us, and bring us back, and make us do it; and it is better to do it at first than at last. 3. The third motive in the text is drawn from the dignity of the object which is committed to our charge. It is the Church of God which we must oversee – that Church for which the world is chiefly upheld, which is sanctified by the Holy Ghost, which is the mystical body of Christ, that Church with which angels are present, and on which they attend as ministering spirits, whose little ones have their angels beholding the face of God in heaven. Oh what a charge is it that we have undertaken! And shall we be unfaithful to it? Have we the stewardship of God’s own family, and shall we neglect it? Have we the conduct of those saints that shall live for ever with God in glory, and shall we neglect them? God forbid! I beseech you, brethren, let this thought awaken the negligent. You that draw back from painful, displeasing, suffering duties, and put off men’s souls with ineffectual formalities, do you think this is honorable treatment of Christ’s spouse? Are the souls of men thought meet by God to see his face, and live for ever in heaven, and are they not worthy of your utmost cost and labor on earth? Do you think so basely of the Church of God, as if it deserved not the best of your care and help? Were you the keepers of sheep or swine, you would scarcely let them go, and say, They are not worth the looking after; especially if they were your own. And dare you say so of the souls of men, of the Church of God? Christ walketh among them: remember his presence, and see that you are diligent in your work.
They are ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, to show forth the praises of him that hath called them.’ And yet will you neglect them? What a high honor is it to be but one of them, yea, but a door-keeper in the house of God’! But to be the priest of these priests, and the ruler of these kings – this is such an honor as multiplieth your obligations to diligence and fidelity in so noble an employment. 4. The last motive that is mentioned in my text, is drawn from the price that was paid for the Church which we oversee: ‘Which God,’ says the apostle, ‘hath purchased with his own blood.’ Oh what an argument is this to quicken the negligent, and to condemn those who will not be quickened to their duty by it! ‘Oh,’ saith one of the ancient doctors, ‘If Christ had but committed to my keeping one spoonful of his blood in a fragile glass, how curiously would I preserve it, and how tender would I be of that glass! If then he have committed to me the purchase of his blood, should I not as carefully look to my charge ‘ What! sirs, shall we despise the blood of Christ? Shall we think it was shed for them who are not worthy of our utmost care? You may see here, it is not a little fault that negligent pastors are guilty of. As much as in them lieth, the blood of Christ would be shed in vain. They would lose him those souls which he hath so dearly purchased. Oh, then, let us hear these arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless: ‘Did I die for these souls, and wilt not thou look after them? Were they worth my blood, and are they not worth thy labor? Did I come down from heaven to earth, “to seek and to save that which was lost;” and wilt thou not go to the next door, or street, or village, to seek them? How small is thy condescension and labor compared to mine! I debased myself to this, but it is thy honor to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation, and was I willing to make thee a fellow-worker with me, and wilt thou refuse to do that little which lieth upon thy hands?’ Every time we look upon our congregations, let us believingly remember that they are the purchase of Christ’s blood, and therefore should be regarded by us with the deepest interest and the most tender affection. Oh, think what a confusion it will be to a negligent minister, at the last day, to have this blood of the Son of God pleaded against him; and for Christ to say, ‘It was the purchase of my blood of which thou didst make so light, and dost thou think to be saved by it thyself?’ O brethren, seeing Christ will bring his blood to plead with us, let it plead us to our duty, lest it plead us to damnation.
I have now done with the motives which I find in the text itself. There are many more that might be gathered from the rest of this exhortation of the apostle, but we must not stay to take in all. If the Lord set home but these few upon our hearts, I doubt not we shall see reason to mend our pace; and the change will be such on our hearts and in our ministry, that ourselves and our congregations will have cause to bless God for it. I know myself to be unworthy to be your monitor; but a monitor you must have; and it is better for us to hear of our sin and duty from anybody than from nobody.
Receive the admonition, and you will see no cause in the monitor’s unworthiness to repent of it. But if you reject it, the unworthiest messenger may bear that witness against you another day which will then confound you.