“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”— Acts XX, 28.
REVEREND AND DEARLY BELOVED BRETHREN,—
Though some think that Paul’s exhortation to these elders proves him their ruler, we who this day speak to you from the Lord, hope that we may freely do the like, without any jealousy of such a conclusion. Though we teach our people as officers set over them in the Lord, yet we may teach one another as brethren in office as well as in faith. If the people of our charge must teach, admonish, and exhort each other daily, (Col. iii, 16; Heb. iii, 13,) no doubt teachers may do it to one another without any supereminence of power or degree. We have the same sins to mortify and destroy, and the same graces to be quickened and strengthened as our people have: we have greater works to do than they, greater difficulties to overcome, and no less necessity is laid upon us, and therefore we have need to be warned and awakened, if not instructed, as well as they; so that I confess I think such meetings should be more frequent, if we had nothing else to do together but this. And that we should deal as plainly and closely with one another as the most serious among us do with our flocks, lest if they only have the sharp admonitions and reproofs, they only should be sound and lively in the faith. That this was Paul’s judgment, there need no other proof than this rousing and heart-melting exhortation to the Ephesian elders—a short sermon, but not soon learned.
Our time will not allow me to touch any part of it but my text, which contains a twofold duty, and a fourfold motive to enforce it.
The first duty is to take heed to themselves, the second, to take heed to all the flock, and the work for the flock, which is to be done with the greatest care, is to feed them, or act the part of good shepherds towards them.
The motives are these:—Their engagement and relation; they are the overseers of the flock—the efficient cause, even the authority and excellence of Him who called them to it; the Holy Ghost—the dignity of the object; the church of God, the most excellent and honourable society of the world—the tender regard that Christ hath to this church, and the price it cost him; he purchased it with his own blood.
1.0.1. A brief explication of the text
The terms used in the text do not require much explication. Προσεχειν is, in general, to apply the mind to any thing with strict and close attention. Here it signifies diligently to watch over ourselves, over our own conduct and behaviour, our heart and our life; all our tempers, words, and actions. ποιμνίῳ (a little flock) does not here signify the whole church of Christ; but that particular church of which those elders had the charge; Επισκοπους, (bishops or overseers,) persons appointed by Christ to teach and guide those churches, or that particular church, in the way of salvation. The same persons who before are called elders of the church of Ephesus, are here called bishops. Εθετο (hath made, placed, ordained, or constituted,) and imports the qualification and appointment of those elders or bishops, by the Holy Ghost, to their particular charge. Ποιμαίνειν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ, to feed the church of God. Ποιμαίνειν is by some rendered barely to feed, as here, and by others to rule: but it ought not to be confined to either; for it comprehends both, or the whole of the pastoral work. In a word, it is to do the work of a pastor to all the flock, or church of God, over which he is appointed. Ην περιεποιήσατο, which he (God) hath acquired or purchased, in a peculiar way and manner, viz., Διὰ τον ἰδίου αἵματος, with his own blood. Jesus Christ is he who purchased the church with his own blood, and is here expressly called God. He indeed is God over ALL, blessed for ever more.
1.0.2. The doctrine and method
The doctrine contained in the text is, that the pastors, or overseers of the churches of Christ, must take great heed both to themselves and to all their flocks, in every part of their pastoral work. In handling which, I shall (1.) briefly show you what is meant by pastors and churches. (2.) What it is to take heed to ourselves, and wherein it must be done (3.) Give some reasons for that part of the work. (4.) What it is to take heed of all the flock in our pastoral work, and how it must be done. (5.) I shall make some application of the whole.
1.0.3. The terms opened
By a pastor or bishop here, is meant an officer appointed by Christ for the ordinary teaching and guiding a particular church and all its members, in order that they may be saved, and walk so as to please God. The office itself he has appointed in his holy word, and he calls men to it. (1.) By endowing them with suitable gifts. (2.) By his providential dispensations. (3.) By the work and inspiration of his Spirit in their hearts. (4.) By the ordination or appointment of his present officers, and the approbation of the church.
Teaching and guidance comprehend the main parts of the work to which they are appointed. A particular church is the object of their work, by which they are distinguished from apostolical itinerant ministers. By the flock and church is meant that particular society of Christians, of which these bishops or elders have the charge, associated for personal communion in God’s public worship, and other mutual assistance in the way of salvation.
1.1. Wherein we must take heed to ourselves
Let us next consider what it is to take heed to ourselves, and wherein it must be done. Here, for the sake of brevity, I shall adjoin the application to the explication. Take, therefore, I beseech you all, this explication, as so much advice and exhortation to the duty: and let your hearts, as well as your understandings, attend to it.
1.1.1. Lest you perish while you call upon others to take heed of perishing
Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim the necessity of a Saviour to the world, your own hearts neglect him, and you miss of an interest in him, and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves lest you perish while you call upon others to take heed of perishing; and, lest you famish yourselves while you prepare them food. Though there be a promise of shining as the stars to those who turn many to righteousness, it is on the supposition that they are first turned to it themselves: their own sincerity in the faith is the condition of their glory, simply considered, though their great ministerial labours may be a condition of the promise of their greater glory. Many men have warned others not to go to that place of torment, who yet have hasted thither themselves. Many a preacher is now in hell who had a hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. Is it reasonable to imagine that God will save men for offering salvation to others, while they refuse it themselves; or for telling others those truths which they themselves neglect or abuse? Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was justified and sanctified, and, consequently, faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed therefore to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe; and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others. He who bid you love your neighbours as yourselves, implied that you should love yourselves, and not hate and destroy yourselves and them.
1.1.2. Lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn
Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those actual sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and, when you have done, dishonour him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power, and yet contemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws, and wilfully break them? If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it be dangerous, how dare you venture on it? If it be not, why do you tell men so? If God’s threatenings be true, why do you not fear them? If they be false why do you trouble men needlessly, and put them into such frights without a cause? Do you know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death; and yet will you do them? (Rom. i, 32.) Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, or be drunk, or covetous, art thou such thyself? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? (Rom. ii, 21, 22, 23.) What, shall the same tongue speak evil that speaketh against evil? Shall it censure, and slander, and secretly backbite; and yet cry down these in others? Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slaves yourselves. For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. (2 Pet. ii, 19.) To whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness. (Rom. vi, 16.) It is easier to chide at sin than to overcome it.
1.1.3. That you be not unfit for the great employment you have undertaken
Take heed to yourselves, that you be not unfit for the great employment you have undertaken. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge who will teach men all those mysterious things that must be known in order to salvation. O what qualifications are necessary for that man who has such a charge upon him as we have! How many difficulties in divinity to be opened; yea, concerning the fundamentals that must be known! How many obscure passages of Scripture to be expounded! How many duties to be done, wherein we and others may miscarry, if in the matter, end, manner, and circumstances, they be not well informed! How many sins to be avoided, which, without understanding and foresight, cannot be done! What a number of subtle temptations must we open to our people, that they may escape them! How many weighty, and yet intricate cases of conscience have we almost daily to resolve! Can so much work, and such work as this, be done by raw, unexperienced men? O what strong holds have we to batter! What subtle, diligent, and obstinate resistance must we expect from every heart we deal with! Prejudice has blocked up our way: we can scarcely procure a patient hearing. They think ill of what we say while we are speaking it. We cannot make a breach in their groundless hopes and carnal peace, but they have twenty shifts and seeming reasons to make it up again; and twenty enemies, who appear to be friends, are ready to help them. We do not dispute with them upon equal terms, but have children to reason with who cannot understand us; distracted men (in spirituals) who will bawl us down with raging nonsense. We have wilful, unreasonable people to deal with; who, when they are silenced, are never the more convinced; and, when they can give you no reason, they will give you their resolution. We dispute the case against men’s will and sensual passions as much as against their understanding, and these have neither reason nor ears: their best arguments are, “I will not believe you, nor all the preachers in the world, in such things. I will not change my mind or life; I will not leave my sins, I will never be so precise, whatever be the consequence.” We have not only one, but multitudes of raging passions, and contradicting enemies, to dispute with at once, whenever we go about the conversion of a sinner; as if a man were to dispute in a fair or tumult, or in the midst of a crowd of violent scolds: what equal dealing, and what success could be expected there? Yet such is our work, and a work that must be done. O, dear brethren, what men should we be in skill, resolution, and unwearied diligence, who have all this to do! Did Paul cry out, “Who is sufficient for these things!” and shall we be proud, careless, or lazy, as if we were sufficient? As Peter says to every Christian, in consideration of our great approaching change, “What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” so may I say to every minister, seeing all these things lie upon our hands, What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy endeavours and resolutions for our work! This is not a burden for the shoulders of a child. What skill doth every part of our work require, and of how much moment is every part! To preach a sermon, I think, is not the hardest part; and yet what skill is necessary to make plain the truth, to convince the hearers, to let in irresistible light to their consciences, to keep it there, and drive all home; to screw the truth into their minds, and work Christ into their affections; to meet every objection, and clearly to resolve it; to drive sinners to a stand, and make them see that there is no hope of their escaping destruction except they be converted; and to do all this, both for language and manner, as becomes our work, and yet suited to the capacities of our hearers; this, and much more that should be done in every sermon, surely requires to be done with a great deal of holy skill. The great God, whose message we deliver, should be honoured by our delivery of it. It is lamentable that, in delivering a message from the God of heaven, of everlasting consequence to the souls of men, we should behave so weakly, so imprudently, or with so much coldness and indifference, as to cause the whole to miscarry in our hands; and God be dishonoured, his work disgraced; and sinners rather hardened than converted; and all this through our weakness or neglect! How often have carnal hearers gone jeering home at the palpable and dishonourable failings of the preacher! How many sleep under us, because our hearts and tongues are sleepy; and we bring not with us so much skill and zeal as to awake them!
Moreover, what skill is necessary to defend the truth against gainsayers, and to deal with disputing cavillers? And, if yet we fail through weakness, how will they insult and triumph; and who knows how many weak ones may be perverted by their success? What skill is necessary, to deal in private with poor ignorant souls for their conversion!
O brethren, do you not shrink and tremble under the sense of all this work! Will a common measure of holy skill and ability, of prudence and other qualifications, serve for such a task as this? I know necessity may cause the church to tolerate the weak; but wo to us if we tolerate and indulge our own weakness. Do not reason and conscience tell you that, if you dare venture on so high a work as this, you should spare no pains to be fitted for the performance of it. It is not now and then an idle snatch or taste of studies that will serve to make a sound divine. I know that laziness has taught us to make light of all our studies, and that the spirit only must wholly qualify us for the work; as if God commanded the use of means, and yet would warrant the neglect of them; as if it were his way to cause us to thrive in a course of idleness, and to bring us to knowledge by dreams when we are asleep, or to take us up into heaven, and show us his counsels while we think of no such matter, but are rooting in the earth. O that men should dare so sinfully by their laziness to quench the Spirit, and at the same time pretend the Spirit for their doing of it. God has required of us that we be not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Such we must provoke our hearers to be, and such we must be ourselves. O brethren, therefore lose no time; study and pray, confer and practise; for, by these four ways your abilities must be increased. Take heed to yourselves lest you be weak through your own negligence, and lest you mar the work of God by your own weakness. “As the man is, so is his strength,” Judg. viii, 21.
1.1.4. Lest your example contradict your doctrine
Take heed heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and you lay such stumbling blocks before the blind as may be the occasion of their ruin; lest you unsay that with your lives which you say with your tongues, and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labours. It greatly hinders our work when other men are all the week long contradicting to the people in private what we have been speaking to them from the word of God in public; but it will much more hinder if we ourselves contradict it, if our actions give our tongue the lie, if we build up an hour or two with our mouths, and all the week after pull down with our hands! This is the way to make men think that the word of God is but an idle tale, and to make preaching seem no better than prating. He who means as he speaks will surely do as he speaks. One proud lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing. Tell me, brethren, in the fear of God, do you regard the success of your labours, or do you not? Do you long to see it upon the souls of your hearers? If you do not, what do you preach for, what do you study for, what do you call yourselves the ministers of Christ for? But if you do, then surely you cannot find in your heart to mar your work for a thing of naught. What, do you regard the success of your labours, and yet will not part with a little to the poor; put up with an injury, stoop to the meanest, nor forbear your passionate or lordly carriage; no, not for the winning of souls, and attaining the end of all your labours? You much regard their success, indeed, to sell it at so cheap a rate.
It is a palpable error in those ministers who make such a difference between their preaching and their living; they study hard to preach exactly, and study little or none at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough to study how to speak two hours; and yet one hour seems too much to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons, or to be guilty of any remarkable mistake or blunder; (and I blame them not, for the matter is holy and weighty;) but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions in the course of their lives. O how curiously have I heard some men preach, and how carelessly have I seen them live! They have been so accurate as to the wording part of their preparations, seldom preaching seemed a virtue to them; that their language might be the more polished; and all the rhetorical jingling writers they could meet with were pressed to serve them for the adorning of their style. They were likewise so nice in hearing others, that no man pleased them who spoke as he thought; and yet, when it came to matter of practice, when they were once out of church, how incurious were the men, and how little did they regard what they said or did, provided it were not so palpably gross as to dishonour them! They who preach precisely would not live precisely. What difference between their pulpit speeches and their familiar discourse! They who cannot bear vulgar solecisms and paralogisms in a sermon, can easily tolerate them in their conversation.
Certainly, brethren, we have very great cause to take heed: what we do as well as what we say. If we will indeed be the servants of Christ, we must not be tongue-servants only; but be doers of his work, that we may be blessed in our deed. As our people must be doers of the word, and not hearers only; so we must be doers, and not preachers only, lest we be deceivers of ourselves. A practical doctrine must be practically preached. We must study as hard to live well as how to preach well. We must think, and think again, how to order our lives so as may most tend to men’s salvation, as well as compose our sermons. When you are studying what to say to them, I know these are your thoughts, (or else they are worthless, and not to the purpose,) “How shall I get within them? what shall I say that is likely most effectually to convince and convert them, and tend to their salvation?” And should you not as diligently think, “How shall I live, and what shall I say and do, and how shall I dispose of all that I have as may most tend to the saving of men’s souls?”
Brethren, if saving souls be your end, you will certainly intend it as well out of the pulpit as in it! If it be your end, you will live for it, and contribute all your endeavours to attain it; and if you do so, you will as well ask concerning the money in your purse, as the words of your mouth, “Which way should I lay it out for they greatest good, especially to mens’ souls?” O that it were your daily study how to use your substance, your friends, and all you have, for God, as well as your tongues! Then we should see that fruit of your labours which otherwise is never likely to be seen. If you intend the end of the ministry in the pulpit only, then it seems you take yourselves for ministers no longer than you are there; and if so, I think you are unworthy to be esteemed such at all.
1.2. Reasons why we must take heed to ourselves.
Having showed you how it is that we must take heed to ourselves, and what is comprised in this command, I am next to give you the reasons for it, which I entreat you to take as so many motives to awaken you to your duty, and apply them as we ago.
1.2.1. A holy calling will not save an unholy man
You have a heaven to win or lose yourselves, and souls that must be happy or miserable for ever; and therefore it concerns you to begin at home, and to take heed to yourselves as well as to others. Preaching well may succeed to the salvation of others, without the holiness of your own hearts or lives: it is possible, at least, though not usual; but it is impossible it should serve to save yourselves. Many shall say at that day, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? who shall be answered with, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity. O sirs, how many men have preached Christ, and perished for want of a saving interest in him! How many that are now in hell, have told their people of the torments of hell and warned them to avoid it! How many have preached of the wrath of God against sinners, that are now feeling it! O what more melancholy case can there be than for a man that made it his trade and calling to proclaim salvation, and to help others to attain it, yet after all to be himself lost for ever! Alas, for us, that we should have so many books in our libraries that tell us the way to heaven, that we should spend so many years in reading those books, and studying the doctrine of eternal life; and, after all this, to miss it! That we should study and preach so many sermons upon salvation, and yet fall short of it; so many sermons on damnation, and yet fall into it! And all because we preached so many sermons concerning Christ, while we neglected him; on the Spirit, while we resisted him; on faith, while we did not heartily believe; on repentance and conversion, while we continued in sin; and on a heavenly life, while we remained carnal and earthly! If we be divines only in tongue and title, and have not the divine image upon our souls, nor give up ourselves to the divine honour and will, no wonder if we be separated from the divine presence, and denied the fruition of God for ever! Believe it, sirs, God is no respecter of persons: he saveth men not for their coats or callings—a holy calling will not save an unholy man. If you stand at the door of the kingdom of grace, to light others in, and will not go in yourselves, you shall knock in vain at the gates of glory, who would not enter at the door of grace. You shall then find that your lamps should have had the oil of grace, as well as of ministerial gifts; of holiness, as well as of doctrine; in order to your having part in the glory which you preached. Need I tell you that preachers of the gospel must be judged by the gospel and stand at the same bar, and be sentenced on the same terms, and dealt with as severely as other men? Take heed therefore to yourselves, for your own sakes, seeing you have souls to save or lose as well as others, and must be saved in the same way, and on the same terms.
1.2.2. You have a depraved nature, and sinful inclinations, as well as others
Take heed to yourselves, for you have a depraved nature, and sinful inclinations, as well as others. If innocent Adam had need to take heed, and lost himself and us for want of it, how much more need have we? Sin may dwell in us, when we have preached never so much against it: one degree of it prepareth the heart to another, and one sin inclineth the mind to more. If one thief be in the house he will let in the rest, because they have the same disposition and design. A spark is the beginning of a flame and a small disease may bring a greater. A man that knows himself to be purblind should take heed to his feet. Alas, even in our hearts, as well as in our hearers, there is an averseness to God, a strangeness to him unreasonable, and almost unruly passions. In us there may be the remnants of pride, unbelief, self-seeking, hypocrisy, and the most hateful and deadly sins. And doth it not then concern us to take heed? Is so much of the fire of hell unextinguished that at first was kindled in us? Are there so many traitors in our hearts, and is it not time for us to take heed? You will scarcely let your little children go themselves while they are weak, without calling on them to take heed of falling. And how weak, alas, are those of us that seem strongest! How apt to stumble at a very straw. How small a matter will cast us down, by enticing us to folly, kindling our passions and inordinate desires, perverting our judgment, abating our resolutions, cooling our zeal, or interrupting our diligence! Ministers are not only sons of Adam, but sinners against the grace of Christ, as well as others; and so have increased their radical sin. Those treacherous hearts will one time or other deceive you, if you do not take heed. Those sins that seem now to lie dead, will revive; your pride, worldliness, and many other noisome vices will spring up, that you thought had been weeded out by the roots. It is most necessary, therefore, that men of such infirmities should take heed to themselves, and be exceedingly careful of their own souls.
1.2.3. So great a work as ours puts men on greater trial of their graces
And the rather also, take heed to yourselves, because so great a work as ours puts men on greater exercise and trial of their graces, seeing they are exposed to greater temptations than most other men. Weaker gifts and graces may carry a man out in a more private and even course of life, who is not called to such great trials. Smaller strength may serve for lighter work. But, if you will venture on the great work of the ministry; if you will lead on the troops of Christ against the face of Satan and his followers; if you will engage yourselves against principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places; if you undertake to rescue captivated sinners, and to fetch men out of the devil’s paws; do not think that a heedless, careless minister, is fit for so great a work as this. You must expect to come off with greater shame, and deeper wounds of conscience, than if you had lived a common life, if you attempt to go through such things as these with a careless soul. We have seen many men who lived as private Christians, in good reputation for parts and piety; but when they took upon them either military employment or magistracy, where the work was above their parts, and they were exposed to temptations above their strength, they proved a disgrace to the office they sustained. And we have also known some private Christians of note, who, having thought too highly of their parts, and thrust themselves into the ministerial office, that proved empty men, and burdens to the church. They might have done God more service in the station of the higher rank of privatemen, than they do among the lowest in the ministry. If you will venture into the midst of the enemies, and bear the burden and heat of the day, take heed to yourselves.
1.2.4. The tempter will make his first and sharpest attack on you
Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will make his first and sharpest attack on you. He bears those the greatest malice who are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. As he hates Christ more than any of us, because he is the General of the field, and the Captain of our salvation, and doth more than all the world besides against the kingdom of darkness, so he hates the leaders under him more than the common soldiers, for the same reason; He knows what devastation he is likely to make among the rest, if the leaders fall before their eyes. He hath long practised fighting, neither against great nor small, comparatively, but these; and of smiting the shepherds, that he might scatter the flock: and so great hath been his success, that he will follow it as far as he is able. Take heed therefore, brethren, for the enemy hath a special eye upon you. You are sure to have his most subtle insinuations, incessant solicitations, and violent assaults. Take heed to yourselves, lest he overwit you. The devil is a greater scholar than you are, and a more nimble disputant: he can transform himself into an ange1 of light to deceive. He will get within you, and trip up your heels before you are aware: he will cheat you of your faith or innocence, before you are aware: nay, he will make you believe it is multiplied or increased when it is lost. You shall see neither hook nor line, much less the subtle angler himself while he is offering you his bait: and his bait shall be so fitted to your temper and disposition, that he will be sure to find advantages within you, and make your own principles and inclinations betray you; and whenever he prevails against you, he will make you the instruments of your own ruin. O what a conquest he has got, when he makes a minister lazy and unfaithful, or draws him into some scandalous sin! He then glories against the church, and says, “These are your holy preachers: you see what their preciseness is come to!” Nay, he glories against Jesus Christ himself, and says, “These are thy champions! I can make thy chief servants forsake and abuse thee: I can make the stewards of thy house unfaithful.” If he did so insult against God upon a false surmise and tell him he could make Job curse him to his face, what will he not do if he should prevail against us? And at last he will insult and triumph over you for betraying your great trust, disgracing your holy profession, and doing such essential service to your greatest enemy. O do not thus gratify Satan! Do not make him so much sport. Suffer him not to use you as the Philistines did Samson; first to deprive you of your strength, then put out your eyes, and finally make you the subjects of his triumph and derision.
1.2.5. There are many eyes upon you
Take heed to yourselves also, because there are many eyes upon you, and therefore many who watch your conduct. If you miscarry, the world will ring with it. The eclipses of the sun by day are seldom without witnesses. As you have engaged to be the light of the world and the church, you must expect that men’s eyes will be upon you. Although other men may sin without observation, you cannot: and you should thankfully consider what a great mercy it is that you have so many eyes to watch over you, and so many ready to tell you of your faults, and thereby have greater helps than others, at least for restraining you from sin; though some may do it maliciously, yet you have the advantage of it. God forbid that we should do evil in public, and sin wilfully while the world is gazing on us! “He that is drunk, is drunk in the night; and he that sleepeth, doth sleep in the night,” 1 Thess. v, 7. What fornicator so impudent as to sin in the open streets? Consider that you are always in the open light; even the light of your own doctrine will disclose your evil deeds. While you are as lights set upon a hill, do not expect to lie hid. Take heed therefore to yourselves, and do your work as those who remember that the world is looking on them, and that with the quick-sighted eye of malice; ready to make the worst of all, to find the smallest fault where it is, to aggravate it where they find it, and to divulge and make it as far as possible answer their designs; yea, to make faults where they cannot find them. How cautiously should we walk before so many evil-minded observers! “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
1.2.6. Your sins are more heinous than the sins of other men
Take heed to yourselves, because your sins are more heinous than the sins of other men. It is noted among King Alphonsus’s sayings, that a great man cannot commit a small sin. We may with more propriety say, that a teacher of others cannot commit a small sin: or at least, that the sin is great, as committed by him, which in another is comparatively small.
18.104.22.168. You are more likely than others to sin against knowledge
You are more likely than others to sin against knowledge, because you have more than they; at least you sin against more light and means of knowledge. What! do you not know that covetousness and pride are sins? Do you not know the dreadful consequence of being unfaithful to your trust, and by negligence or self-seeking to betray immortal souls? You know your Master’s will; and if you do it not, you shall be beaten with many stripes. If you sin, it is because you will sin.
22.214.171.124. Your sins have more hypocrisy in them than those of other men
Your sins have more hypocrisy in them than those of other men. O what a heinous thing it is in us to study to say all we can against sin, and make it as odious to our people as possible, and when we have done so to live in it, and secretly cherish that which we openly defamed! What vile hypocrisy it is to make it our daily work to cry sin down, and yet hug it in our bosom; to declaim against it in public, and in private to make it our companion; to bind heavy burdens on others, and not to touch them ourselves with a finger! What will you say to this in judgment? Do you think as ill of sin as you speak, or do you not? If you do not, why do you dissemble? If you do, why do you commit it? O bear not that badge of the miserable Pharisees, “They say, but do not.” Many a minister of the gospel will be confounded at last by this heavy charge of hypocrisy.
126.96.36.199. Your sin has more treachery in it than that of other men
Your sin has more perfidiousness in it than that of other men. You are more publicly and solemnly engaged against it. Besides all your common engagements as Christians, you have many more as ministers. How often have you proclaimed the evil and danger of sin, and called sinners from it! How often have you declared the terrors of the Lord! All these implied that you saw the evil of it, and had renounced it yourselves. Every sermon you preached against it, every private exhortation, and every confession of it in the congregation, laid an engagement upon you to forsake it. Every child that you have baptized, and entered into the covenant with Christ; and every administration of the Lord’s supper, wherein you called men to renew their covenant, implied that you had renounced the flesh and the world, and given yourselves to Christ. How often and how openly have you borne witness to the odiousness and damnable nature of sin! And yet will you entertain it against all these professions and testimonies of your own? O what treachery it is to make such a stir in the pulpit against sin, and after all to entertain it in the heart, and give it the room there that is due to God, and even prefer it before the glory of the saints!
Many more aggravations of your sins might be mentioned, but want of time obliges us to leave them to your own consideration.
1.2.7. The honour of your Lord and Master lies more on you than on other men
Take heed to yourselves, because the honour of your Lord and Master, and of his truth and his ways, lies more on you than on other men. As you may do him more service, so also more disservice than others. The nearer men stand to God, the more is he dishonoured by their miscarriages, and the more are they imputed by foolish men to God himself. The heavy judgment recorded in 1 Sam. ii, 29, was threatened and executed on Eli and on his house, because they “kicked at his sacrifice and offering.” “For therefore was the sin of the young men great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord,” v, 17. It was that great aggravation of “causing the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme,” which provoked God to deal so severely with David, (2 Sam. xii, 11-14.) If you be indeed Christians, the glory of God is dearer to you than life itself. Take heed therefore what you do against it, as you would take heed what you do against your own lives. Would it not wound you to the heart to hear the name and truth of God reproached on your account? To see men point to you and say, “There goes a covetous minister, a secret tippler, a scandalous man: these are they that preach up strictness, while they themselves live as loose as others; they condemn us by their sermons, and condemn themselves by their lives and conversation; for, notwithstanding all their talk, they are as bad as we.” O brethren, could your hearts endure to hear men cast the dung of your iniquities in the face of the holy God, in the face of the gospel, and of all who desire to fear the Lord? Would it not break your hearts to think that all the godly Christians around you should suffer reproach through your misdoings! If one of you who is a leader of the flock, should be ensnared in a scandalous crime, there is scarcely a man or woman, who is diligently seeking salvation, within the hearing of it, but, besides their grief for your sin, are sure to have it cast in their teeth by the ungodly, however they may detest and lament it. The ungodly husband will tell his wife, the ungodly parents their children, and neighbours and fellow-servants one another, saying, “These are your godly preachers: you may see what comes of all your stir! Are you any better than others? Nay, you are all alike.” Such words as these must all the godly in the country perhaps hear through your misconduct. “It must needs be that offences come, but wo to that man by whom the offence cometh,” Matt. Xviii, 7.
O take heed, brethren, in the name of God, of every word that you speak, and every step you tread; for you bear the ark of the Lord; you are intrusted with his honour: and dare you cast it in the dirt? If you “that know his will, and approve the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and being confident that you yourselves are guides of the blind, and lights to them that are in darkness, instructers of the foolish, teachers of babes;” if you, I say, live contrary to your doctrine, and “by breaking the law dishonour God, the name of God will be blasphemed among the ignorant and ungodly through you,” Rom. ii, 19-24. And you are not unacquainted with that standing decree of Heaven, “Them that honour me I will honour; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed,” 1 Sam. ii, 30. Never did any man dishonour God but it proved the greatest dishonour to himself.
1.2.8. The souls of your hearers, and the success of all your labours depend upon it
Take heed to yourselves: for the souls of your hearers, and the success of all your labours depend upon it. God generally fits men for his work before he employs them in accomplishing it; and exercises them in those works for which they are prepared. If the work of the Lord be not deep and genuine in your own hearts, how can you expect that he should bless your labours for the effecting it in others? He may do it if he please, but you have much cause to doubt whether he will. I shall here give you some reasons to satisfy you, that he who would be instrumental in saving others must take heed to himself, and that God doth seldom prosper the labours of unconverted men.
188.8.131.52. Can it be expected that God should bless that man’s labours, who worketh not for God, but for himself?
Can it be expected that God should bless that man’s labours (I mean comparatively), who worketh not for God, but for himself? Now this is the case with every unconverted man. None but the upright make God their chief end, and do all heartily for his honour. Others make the ministry but a trade to live by: they choose it rather than another calling, because their parents intended them for it; because it is a pleasant thing to know, and is a life wherein they have greater opportunities of furnishing their intellects with all kinds of science; because it is not so laborious to those who wish to favour the flesh; because it is accompanied with reverence and respect from men; because they think it a fine thing to be leaders and teachers, and to have others depend on them, and receive the law at their mouth; and because it affords them a competent maintenance. For such ends as these are they ministers, and for these do they preach; and can it be expected that God should bless the labours of such men? It is not for him they preach, but themselves, and their own reputation or gain; not him, but themselves, that they seek and serve, and therefore no wonder if he leave them to themselves for their success.
184.108.40.206. Can you suppose that an unholy man can be hearty and serious in the ministerial work?
Can you suppose that he is likely to be as successful as others, who is not hearty and faithful in his work, does not really believe what he says, and is not truly serious even when he seems to be most diligent? Can you suppose that an unholy man can be hearty and serious in the ministerial work? It cannot be. A kind of seriousness indeed he may have; but the seriousness and fidelity of a real believer, whose ultimate end is the glory of God and man’s salvation, this he has not. O, sirs, all your preaching and persuading of others, will be but dreaming and trifling hypocrisy, till the work be thoroughly wrought in your own hearts! How can you set yourselves day and night to a work which your carnal hearts are averse from? How can you call, with serious fervour, upon poor sinners to repent and come to God, who have never repented nor come to him yourselves? How can you heartily follow sinners with importunate solicitations to flee from sin, and to engage in a holy life, who have never yourselves felt the evil of sin, nor the worth of holiness? I tell you, these things are never properly known, till they are felt; nor properly felt till they are possessed: he who feels them not himself is not so likely to speak feelingly of them to others, nor help others to the possession of them. How can you follow sinners with compassion in your hearts, and tears in your eyes, and beseech them in the name of the Lord to stop their course, and return and live, who never had so much compassion on your own souls, as to do this for yourselves? What, can you love other men better than yourselves; and have pity on them while you have none upon yourselves? Sirs, do you think they will be hearty and diligent to save men from hell, who are not heartily persuaded that there is a hell; or to bring men to heaven, who do not really believe that there is such a place? He who hath not such a belief of the Word of God and the life to come, as takes off his own heart from the vanities of this world, and causes him diligently to seek his own salvation, cannot be expected to be faithful in seeking the salvation of other men. Surely he who dare damn himself dare let others alone in the way to damnation; and he who will sell his Master with Judas, for silver, will not stick to make merchandise of the flock. I confess that man shall never have my consent to be intrusted with the care of others, and to oversee them in order to their salvation, who does not take heed to himself.
220.127.116.11. Do you think it is likely that he will fight against Satan with all his might, who is his servant?
Do you think it is likely that he will fight against Satan with all his might, who is his servant; or, will he do any great harm to the kingdom of the devil, who is himself a subject of that kingdom; or, will he be true to Christ who is in covenant with his enemy? And this is the case with every unconverted man, of what cloth soever his coat is made. They are the servants of Satan, and the subjects of his kingdom, and he worketh and ruleth in their hearts. What prince chooses the friends and voluntary servants of his enemy to lead his armies in war against him? It is this that makes so many preachers of the gospel enemies to the work of the gospel which they preach. O how many such traitors have been in the church of Christ in all ages, who have done more against him under his colours, than they could have done in the open field! They have spoken well of Christ, Scripture, and godliness in general; and yet slyly done what they could to bring it into disgrace, and make men believe that those who set themselves to seek God with all their hearts, were but a company of hypocrites, or self-conceited fanatics. It cannot be expected that a slave of Satan should be any other than an enemy to the cross of Christ. What though they live civilly, preach plausibly, and have the outside of an easy and cheap religion; they may be as fast in the devil’s snare by worldly-mindedness, pride, a secret dislike of strict godliness, or by a heart that is not rooted in the faith, and unreservedly devoted to God in Christ, as any others are by drunkenness, uncleanness, and such egregious sins. I know that a wicked man may be more desirous of the reformation of others than himself; and may therefore, with some earnestness, dissuade them from sin; because he can preach against sin at a far easier rate than forsake it.
18.104.22.168. The success of your labours depends on the blessing of the Lord; and where has he promised his blessing to ungodly men?
Consider, that the success of your labours depends on the grace and blessing of the Lord; and where has he promised his assistance and blessing to ungodly men? If he see it good to cormmunicate to his church a blessing even by such, yet he does not promise THEM a blessing. To his faithful servants he has promised, that he will be with them, that he will put his Spirit upon them, and his word into their mouths, and that Satan shall fall before them as lightning from heaven. But where is there any such promise to the ungodly? Nay, do they not rather, by their abuse of his goodness, provoke him to forsake them, and blast their endeavours, at least as to themselves? For I do not deny but that God may, and sometimes does, do good to his church, even by unconverted and wicked ministers; but not so usually, nor eminently, as by his faithful servants.
|Address to the people||CONTENTS||Chapter 2|