THE REFORMED PASTOR
BY THE EDITOR.
I HOPE my dear brethren in the ministry will excuse me for taking the liberty of earnestly recommending to their serious attention and careful perusal, the following tract. I intend it more especially for the younger preachers in the Methodist connection: those who, comparatively, have been but a short time in the Work, and those who from year to year are entering into the Lord’s vineyard; though I am certain that there is not a preacher in the connection, nor a minister in Britain, of any denomination, whatever his learning, his abilities, or his rank and standing in the church may be, has need to attend to it, and may derive much benefit from it. Above thirty years ago, a very respectable and aged minister of the Church of Scotland, in the neighbourhood of Perth, told me, that he knew no minister who could read Baxter’s Reformed Pastor without being covered with shame and confusion, except Mr. Wesley.
The pious and venerable author of this book shows what sort of men ministers ought to be, in spirit, in conversation, in life, and doctrine; the greatness of the work which they have to do, and how every part of it must be performed: and this he does in such a pointed and convincing manner, that it is hardly possible for any to read it, who are at all sensible of the importance of the ministerial character and work, without being roused and quickened to greater zeal and diligence. In many parts the language is most searching and powerful; it pierces and cuts like a two-edged sword: so that he who does not feel it, and sensibly too, must be almost past feeling. And yet he does not overrate the work. No; it is as extensive, as various, as necessary, and as important in every respect, as he represents it. Indeed, its importance cannot be told; it far exceeds all human comprehension. The man is yet unborn who duly considers the worth of immortal souls. He only knows their Worth who bought them with his blood.
The real excellence of this book recommends it to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; and in my humble opinion is such, that every minister, and in particular every Methodist preacher, ought to make it a kind of pocket companion, to read it frequently, examine himself by it, and endeavour to live, preach, and labour for the salvation of souls as it directs. Were we to do so, what zealous, faithful, and indefatigable men should we be. Our profiting and our usefulness would appear unto all: for we should bestir ourselves in another manner, and do much more for the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and the increase of religion among our people, than, in general, we do. Brethren,lay your hand upon your heart, and ask yourselves, as in the presence of God, is not all this necessary? Is it not what we are called (yea, engaged) to do? And ought not we, in the name and strength of the Lord, to strive by every means, and in every possible way, to promote this work? Ought we not to be instant in season and out of season? Yea, ought we not to spend and be spent therein, seeing that we publicly profess that our business is to save all the souls we can? “You have nothing to do but save souls: therefore spend and be spent in this work. Observe, it is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care merely of this or that society, but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many lost sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness, without which they cannot see the Lord.”
But besides the intrinsic excellence of this treatise it is peculiarly necessary for ministers, and particularly for those in our connection at this time, for several reasons.
I. Many are very active in spreading infidelity turning the blessed word of God and the sacred work of the ministry into matter of ridicule; representing the one as a cunningly devised fable, and the other as mere priestcraft, designed only to shackle and impose upon the people. And others, with a great deal of art and plausibility, are no less zealous in propagating doctrines, which, if not immediately connected with infidelity, yet by direct and easy steps lead to it and to say the least of them, they totally sap the foundations of genuine and vital Christianity. I mean Arianism and Socinianism. Hence the essential doctrines of the Gospel, viz, the doctrine of the holy and ever blessed Trinity, the universal and total depravity of human nature, the great and glorious work of atonement by Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the whole work of the Spirit in the soul, are represented as the corruptions of Christianity. But if we must give up all these as corruptions, I should be glad to know what of Christianity we shall retain: in my opinion, nothing that deserves the name.
II. There is a species of refined and bewitching Antinomianism preached by some, which has a direct and powerful tendency to mislead and insnare those who hear it, leading them to believe that they must necessarily sin ; or, which is the same, that they cannot avoid committing sin, and being sometimes overcome by it ; that sin will do them little harm: and therefore it leads them to be at ease in their sins, crying, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Or, if they have religion, it makes them content with very low attainments; effectually keeping them from forgetting the things which are behind, reaching forth unto those things which are before, and pressing towards the mark for the prize of their high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The preachers of this stamp preach almost exclusively to believers; and a great part of what they say to them is to tell them how safe they are; yea, that they are as safe, though not as happy, as the saints in heaven. They may fall,—to be sure they may fall as foully as Peter, or even David: but what then? It is tacitly intimated that such falls can do them no real injury; because, however egregiously they may fall, they cannot be lost, but shall rise again, and praise God louder in heaven for their falls. They say little on the subject of Christian duties: seldom, and in a very vague and superficial manner, exhort believers to “be zealous of good works, to watch and pray always, to deny themselves, to take up their cross daily, and follow Christ; to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure, by adding to their faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.” These savour too much of legality, and working for life, of which they are dreadfully afraid. On the contrary, they insinuate (or perhaps tell them in plain English) that their salvation is finished, that Christ has done all, and that all, or at least the principal part, of what they are called to, is to believe that they have nothing to do.
This is a most dangerous and flesh-pleasing gospel, and wherever it is preached, can not fail of being attended with the most fatal consequences to those who sit under such a siren song, and believe what they hear: for it says more to encourage sin, and to make men be at ease in their sins, than to promote holiness. Hence, while it pretends, and, in words, appears to exalt and honour Christ, it in fact rejects him, crucifies him afresh, and puts him to open shame.
Some time ago, being peculiarly situated, I heard a popular preacher of this sort for several weeks, always once, and sometimes twice a week, who uniformly preached in the manner I have described. His hearers both on the Sabbath and week-day evenings, were numerous and genteel; and, without any violation of charity, there was too much reason to fear that, in matters of religion, many of them did not know their right hand from their left. Notwithstanding, he scarce ever dropped a word to unawakened and impenitent sinners, unless sometimes a sentence or two at the close of his discourse, telling them what a miserable state they were in. But all the times I heard him, he never once set life and death before them; never told them how to escape the wrath to come, and how to be saved; never explained the nature of repentance, nor exhorted them to repent; never showed them how to come to Christ; nor inferred the necessity of the new birth. In short, he preached as if he had no message to impenitent sinners, and therefore had nothing to do with the unconverted. I confess I was astonished at the strain and manner in which he preached, and could not help both thinking and saying,—This is another gospel—this is not the way in which the prophets, our blessed Lord, and his apostles preached. Prophets cried to sinners, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die? Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Our Lord warned sinners to “flee from the wrath to come,” called them to “repent and believe the gospel,” and exhorted them to “strive to enter in at the strait gate;” to “ask, seek, knock;” to “watch and pray always;” to “be importunate with God;” yea, to “take the kingdom of heaven by force;” to “labour for the meat which endureth to eternal life;” and to “deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him, without which they could not be his disciples.” He told them again and again, that “except they were converted, and became as little children, they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven;” and that “they must be born again.” St. Paul was sent to the “Gentiles to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith which is in Christ Jesus.” To Jews and Gentiles he preached “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ ; warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, with prayers and tears, both night and day.” He faithfully testified to sinners of every, description, “There is no respect of persons with God. He will render to every man according to his deeds. To them that seek for glory, honour, and immortality, eternal life; but to them who are contentious, and obey not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul that doeth evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” He cried aloud, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Awake, thou that sleepest; arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Awake to righteousness, and sin not. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, he persuaded men” to repent and turn from their sins, and prepare to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. And as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus, to whom was “committed the ministry of reconciliation,” in his name, and in his stead, he “besought sinners to be reconciled unto God,” and “travailed in birth for them till Christ was formed in them.” How different is this preaching from that mentioned above, and what different effects it is calculated to produce!
III. There is a kind of modish, superficial, pointless preaching, practised by some, which I fear several of our young preachers are in danger of falling into. This preaching is, for the most part, sensible, pretty, and not foreign to the subject in hand; neither is it mere morality, but has a tincture of the gospel; yea, in general, contains the truth, but not the whole truth; not the truth in its native and proper dress, nor directed and applied as it ought to be, to its grand and proper end. It is defective in the following respects:
1. It wants depth, weight, spirituality, and point. There is, comparatively, little in it for solid and useful instruction; and almost nothing to awaken, fasten upon, and affect the hearers. It passes away as a tale that is told, or as water spilt on the ground, and leaves them dull and unmoved. Though many may be pleased with it, and highly applaud it as excellent preaching, (for many love smooth things,) yet the more judicious and spiritual part of the hearers look up, and are not fed. They find it to be light food. It does not nourish, comfort, and strengthen their souls.
2. It wants more of the spirit and marrow of the gospel; more of Christ and the Holy Ghost. He is not clearly, strongly, and constantly exhibited as the only foundation and end of all our hopes—the Alpha and the Omega—the all in all: nor his Spirit, as that divine agent who alone works in us all that is good, all that is holy and well pleasing in the sight of God, and who disposes and enables us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. And that preaching which does not freely and fully dispense the bread of life, must necessarily, so far, be attended with barrenness, leanness, and death.
3. It is not sufficiently close and practical. The preachers of this stamp study their sermons without studying the people to whom they are to preach them. Hence their preaching, though good in the main, is not suited to the tastes and wants of their hearers. They either speak of things at a distance, or else in such a way that the people do not feel themselves much interested in what is delivered. Their words do not come home, do not reach the hearts and consciences of those to whom they speak; but fall, like pointless arrows, short of the mark.
The chief causes of this sort of preaching are, (1.) Want of simplicity. (2.) A desire of popularity; to be thought fine, or great preachers, and rather to please than profit. (3.) The want of a proper sense of the greatness and design of the work of the ministry; which is for the sole purpose of bringing lost sinners to Christ, building them up in faith and love, and assisting them to get safe to heaven. Let a preacher only have his mind deeply impressed with the value of immortal souls, their miserable and alarming state, and that he is appointed by the Lord a watchman and a shepherd, to warn them of their danger, gather them unto the fold of the Lord Jesus, and lead and feed them according as he hath directed in his holy word which, if he neglect to do, and they perish through his negligence, their blood will be required at his hand; I say, let him only feel these things as he ought, and he will no longer continue a superficial, smooth, and easy preacher; but will quickly become serious, deep, lively, and spiritual—a man of weight and fire. (4.) The state of discipline in the Christian church. This has seldom, if ever, been more neglected than it is in the present day, by almost every denomination of professing Christians. Whoever will be at the pains to compare the discipline enjoined by our Lord, and exercised by his apostles and their successors for four hundred years; as also that which Mr. Baxter so strenuously enforces in the following treatise, and which he and others exercised in their several parishes and congregations; I say, whoever will compare these with the discipline which is at present in use, must see, in the most clear and convincing light, what a low and neglected state it is in, and how very little care is taken to purge and keep clean the floor of Christ. Among many, there is scarce a shred of what can properly be called discipline maintained. Chapels are built, various ministers are appointed to preach in those chapels, persons take seats and so become stated hearers, and then receive a note or token to admit them to the Lord’s supper. This, if I am not mistaken, is most of the discipline that is observed by many. How few take care to know all their flock, that they may take heed to them all, and give unto each his portion in due season. How little is done in the way of catechising, personal instruction, and teaching from house to house; at least, in that spirit and manner in which it must be done, in order to answer the great purposes for which it is intended. How few in that respect are instant in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long suffering and doctrine. How frequently do we suffer sin in our brother; and how seldom are those who sin openly, rebuked before all, that others also may fear. Surely the Lord may justly take up the same complaint against many of us which he did against the shepherds of Israel in the days of the prohet Ezekiel, saying, “Ye feed not the flock. The diseased ye have not strengthened; neither have ye healed that which was sick; neither have ye bound up that which was broken; neither have ye brought again that which was driven away; neither have ye sought that which was lost.” It is to be feared that many hardly consider discipline as any part of the ministerial work; whereas it is plain from the word of God, that it is a most necessary and important part of the work of every one who has the care of souls; without which their public preaching, however excellent, will avail comparatively little, especially towards promoting deep and permanent godliness.
My dear brethren, must not we plead guilty in this matter? Our economy is admirably calculated to separate the precious from the vile, and for preserving our societies pure. Indeed, if preachers and leaders did but unitedly and steadily maintain our rules of discipline, no person who does not walk as becomes the gospel could continue a member of our society. But, alas, have we not suffered the hedge in parts to be broken down, and even trodden under foot? Is not this evil increasing among us? I know many, both preachers and people, see and deplore it; but what is done to prevent and cure it? It would be easy to descend to particulars; but to you this is unnecessary.
To be fully convinced of the sin which, in this respect, lieth at our door, we need only read over our General Minutes, which contain the form of discipline established among us, and which every preacher, on his being received into full connection, solemnly and publicly engages to maintain.
For these reasons, as well as others that might be adduced, the following tract, is highly necessary for ministers at this time; and, if properly attended to, will, by the divine blessing, effectually preserve them from all the above evils. If they practise what in the most plain and forcible manner they are therein taught, they will be preserved from every species of infidelity: for they will heartily believe and love the holy Scriptures, which will be to them sweeter than honey or the honeycomb, and more precious than gold and rubies. The word of the Lord will dwell in them richly; they will hide it in their heart, that they may not sin against him; and from that inexhaustible treasure bring forth, both in their public preaching and private instructions, what will preserve and establish others in the truth. They will be preserved from Arianism and Socinianism; for they will believe, and feel, and teach, the first and fundamental principles of the doctrine of Christ. They will particularly insist on the supreme and essential divinity of the Lord Jesus, the depravity of human nature, the doctrine of atonement by the vicarious sacrifice of the Redeemer, repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the renewal of the soul in righteousness and true holiness, by the inspiration and power of the Holy Ghost. They will be preserved from Antinomianism, both in theory and practice; for they will see that Christ is not only a Redeemer and a Saviour, a Prophet, and an atoning High-Priest; but also a King, a Lawgiver, and a righteous Judge; and that he hath given them his law, hath delivered unto them a holy commandment, which he requires, and will enable them to fulfil; and that it is the doers of the law, and not the hearers only, that shall be finally justified. ‘Hence,’ says our blessed Lord, “He that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house upon a rock; and he that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.” Thus we see, whatever Antinomians may teach, according to the plain words of Him who is is the “faithful and true Witness,” that hearing his sayings, and doing them, is building on a rock; and hearing his sayings, and not doing them, is building on the sand. They will not be smooth, flimsy, and superficial preachers; but serious, earnest, and weighty. They will feel what they say, and their great concern and constant endeavour will be to make those that hear them understand and feel it also. In a word, they will declare the whole counsel of God, not only by public preaching, but also by personal instruction, and teaching from house to house; laying themselves out in every possible way to be useful to those over whom they are appointed, and for whose souls they watch as they that must give an account. If they cannot do all they would, they will strive to do all they can, that they may be clear of the blood of all men.
Now, my brethren, a book which is thus calculated to guard us against so many dangerous extremes on the right hand and on the left, and to stir us up to zeal, diligence, and fidelity in the great work of saving our own souls, and those that hear us—the most important work under the sun; certainly such a book is worthy of our most careful and serious attention.
But, added to all these reasons, there is one in particular which strongly recommends it to the preachers in our connection. A very important part of our form of discipline, which we all have engaged before God, angels, and men, to maintain among our people, and that with all our might, is taken verbatim from this book. See Gen. Min., p. 26, § 17. On visiting and instructing the people from house to house. And Mr. Wesley’s works, vol. xv, p. 284; where he introduces it thus:—
“1. Personal religion, either towards God or men, is amazingly superficial among us. How little faith is there among us; how little communion with God: how little living in heaven, walking in eternity, deadness to every creature! How much love of the world, desire of pleasure, of ease, of praise, of getting money! How little brotherly love; what continual judging one another; what gossiping, evil speaking, tale-bearing; what want of moral honesty! Who does as he would be done by in buying and selling, particularly in selling horses?
“2. Family religion is shamefully wanting, and almost in every branch. And our people in general will be little better, till we take quite another course with them. For what avails public preaching alone, though we could preach like angels? We must therefore instruct them from house to house. Till this is done, and that in good earnest, the Methodists will be little better than other people.
“Can we find a better method of doing this than Mr. Baxter’s? If not, let us adopt it without delay. His whole tract, entitled Gildas Salvianus, is well worth a careful perusal. A short extract from it I here subjoin. Speaking of this visiting from house to house, (p. 351,) he says, ‘We shall find many difficulties, both in ourselves, and in the people,'” &c., &c.
Thus, my brethren, we, in particular, are under very strong and solemn obligations, not only to peruse, but diligently and faithfully to practise a most important part of what the pious author chiefly insists upon in this work.
I have been led as follows to abridge it. About four months ago a friend lent me Dr. Smith on the sacred office, with which I was much pleased; and as he repeatedly quotes Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, I determined to read it over again, which accordingly I did as soon as I had finished the other, and was so struck with its excellence and vast importance, that I thought it was a great pity such a treasure of necessary and useful instruction should be so little known. Therefore, after reading it through with particular care, I immediately began to abridge it, hoping that it might, by the blessing of God, be the means of stirring up some, at least, to greater zeal and diligence in the work of the ministry, and of promoting vital and practical godliness both among preachers and people. I had only gone over a few pages, when I mentioned what I had done and intended to do, to a worthy and sensible friend, who highly approved of the design, and kindly offered to take the printing of it upon himself. Thus encouraged, I cheerfully proceeded in my work.
I was also the more desirous to do something in this way, because, in consequence of a severe rheumatic fever which confined me to my bed for near five weeks, and a succession of ill health ever since, I have for many months been quite incapable of any public work. All I can do is to read and write a little. Hence I thought if I could be instrumental in getting this book reprinted, and more generally read, I might thereby serve the cause of my blessed Lord and Master, for whom I would fain be doing something as long as I live. I love his cause, his people, and his work: and it is my grief and shame that I have done so little for him, and served him so unfaithfully when I had health and strength.
My dear brethren, though I have presumed, in this advertisement, to act the part of a monitor to you, yet I can assure you that I put myself in the front of those who have the greatest cause to be ashamed and humbled before the Lord, for negligence and unfaithfulness in his work: for I know none in the connection so guilty as myself. But this will not excuse you. Nay, rather let it provoke you to double your diligence, and lay out all your strength, time, and talents for God. I believe when we come to the end of our race, we shall wish we had done more; and shall see that, in many respects, we might have done more for the glory of God and the salvation of souls than we have.
For near two months, I have employed as much of my time every day in preparing this work for the press as my strength would permit; and sometimes I believe I have done more than I ought. It has been to me very pleasant work, and, I hope, profitable. Sometimes the delight I have felt in it has made me forget my pain and weakness; and, at other times, they have been so great as to oblige me to lay it aside. Indeed, my weakness at present is inexpressible: I seem, from day to day, like one suspended between life and death; and which scale will preponderate, the Lord only knows. His will be done! Health or sickness, strength or weakness, ease or pain, life or death, is welcome—if I may but glorify and enjoy him.
“All is one to me, so I
In my Lord may live and die!”
I have endeavoured to abridge this book as a dying man, thinking it is not improbable that it may be the last work I shall ever do for the church below.*
(*And so it was; for in about one month after preparing this work for the press, he gently sunk into the arms of his Lord, in the fifty first year of his age.)
I have therefore done it as with God, death, eternity, and immortal souls before my eyes, and with many prayers, and some tears. O, that the great Bishop and Shepherd of souls may accompany it with his abundant blessing to all who read it, and especially to those for whom it is chiefly intended!
I have taken much pains in order to make it as correct as I possibly could. Some, perhaps, will think that I have left out too much; but I apprehend the majority will think that I have retained more than is either altogether suitable or necessary. I confess there are some parts that do not immediately suit us; but, nevertheless, they show in such a striking manner the spirit of the author, and how much his heart was enlarged and set upon the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and do also contain so much useful information how to deal with persons of different dispositions, states, sentiments, and characters, in order, if possible, to pluck them as brands from the burning, and make them wise unto salvation, that I thought, in justice both to the original author and the reader, they ought to be preserved.
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