HAVING disclosed and lamented our negligence and miscarriages, our duty lies plain before us. God forbid that we should now go on in the sin that we have confessed as carelessly as we did before!
Be awakened, therefore, I beseech you, brethren; by the loud and manifold voice of God, to engage more seriously in his work; to do it for the future with all your might, and to take heed to yourselves and to all the flock. The reasons why you should take heed to yourselves, I gave you in the beginning. The reasons why you should take heed to all the flock I shall give you now, as motives to enforce this exhortation; and the Lord grant that they may work with us according to their truth and weight.
5.1. Motives in the text
5.1.1. From our office and relation to all the flock
The first quickening consideration which the text here affords us, is taken from our relation to all the flock. We are overseers thereof. In this I shall farther show you these subordinate particulars, which will manifest the force of this consideration.
126.96.36.199. What else are we overseers for!
The nature of the office requires us to take heed. What else are we overseers for! Virgil says, “An overseer is a name which implies more of a burden than of honour.” To be a bishop, or pastor is not to be set up as an idol for the people to bow to, nor yet to live at our ease in fleshly delight; but it is to be the guides of sinners to salvation. The particulars of our duty we have touched before, and shall do more by-and-by. 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 know and consider what they have undertaken who live at ease and pleasure, and have time to take their superfluous recreations, and to spend an hour or more at once in loitering and vain discourses, when so much work lies upon their hands! Brethren, do you consider where you stand, and what you have taken upon you? 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 enemy’s 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 must be wise; you have a vigilant enemy, and therefore must be vigilant; a malicious, violent, and unwearied enemy, and therefore you must be resolute, courageous, and unwearied. You are in a crowd of enemies, compassed with them on every side, and if you heed one, and not all, you will quickly fall. And O what a world of work have you to do! Had you but one ignorant old man or woman to teach, though willing to learn, what a tedious task were it: but if they be as unwilling as ignorant, how much more difficult! But to have such a multitude of these as most of us have, what work will it find us! Who that ever tried it does not know by experience? What a pitiful life it is to reason with men who have almost lost the use of reason, and to talk with obstinate, wilful people, who know what they will do, but not why they do it; and to argue the case with them who neither understand themselves nor you, and yet think that no man has understanding who contradicts them; and who are confident they are in the right when they can show nothing but that confidence to make them so.
O, brethren, what a world of wickedness have we to contend against even in one soul, and what a number of those worlds! How deeply rooted are their sins! With what disadvantage must truth come to their ears! How strange are they to the heavenly message that we bring them; and know not what you say when you speak in the only language that they understand! And when you think you have done something, you leave your seed among the fowls of the air; wicked men are at their elbows to rise up and contradict all that you have said. They will cavil and slander you, that they may disgrace your message, draw them away from Christ, and quickly extinguish the good beginnings which you hoped you had seen. You speak but once to a sinner, for ten or twenty times that the messengers of Satan speak to htm. Moreover, how easily do the cares and business of the world devour and choke the seed which you have sown! And if it had no enemy but what is in themselves, how easily will a carnal heart extinguish those sparks which you have been long in kindling; and, for want of fuel and farther help, they will go out of themselves. Among what abundance of evil tempers and passions do you cast your gracious words, and what entertainment such companions will afford them you may easily conjecture. When you think your work happily succeeds, having seen men under trouble confessing their sins, promising reformation, and living as new creatures and zealous converts; alas! after all this, they may 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. How many, being deceived by the cares, profits, and honours of the world, fall away while they think they stand! How many are entangled again in their former sensuality; and how many do but change a disgraceful way of flesh-pleasing for a way that is less dishonourable, and makes not so great a noise in their consciences! How many grow proud before they reach to a settled knowledge, and greedily snatch at every error that is presented to them under the name of truth; and, in confidence of the strength of their unfurnished intellects, despise those of whom they were wont to learn, and become the greatest grief to their teachers, who before rejoiced in their hopeful beginnings!
O, brethren, what a field of work is there before us! Not a person you can see but may find you work. In the saints themselves—how soon do their graces languish if you neglect them; and how easily are they drawn into crooked and forbidden paths, to the dishonour of the gospel, and their own loss and sorrow! If this be the work of a minister, you may see what a life he has to lead. Up, then, and let us be doing with all our might. Difficulties must quicken, and not discourage, in a possible and necessary work. If we cannot do all, let us do what we can; for if we neglect it, wo to us and them! Should we pass over all these needful things, and, by a plausible sermon, only think to prove ourselves faithful ministers, and to put off God and man with such a shell and visor, our reward will prove as superficial as our work.
188.8.131.52. It is by your own voluntary undertaking that all this work is laid upon you
Consider also 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 does not common honesty bind you to be true to your trust?
184.108.40.206. You have the honour to encourage you to the labour
Consider also that you have the honour to encourage you to the labour; and a great honour indeed it is to be the ambassadors of God, and the instruments of men’s conversion and salvation; “to save men’s souls from death, and cover a multitude of sins.” Indeed the honour is the attendant of the work. To do therefore as the prelates of the church have often done, to strive for precedency, and fill the world with contention about the dignity and superiority of their seats, shows that they forget the nature and work of that office about which they strive. I seldom see men strive who shall go first to a poor man’s cottage to teach him and his family the way to heaven, or who shall first endeavour the conversion of a sinner, or first become the servant of all. Strange that, for 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 ten thousand poor sinners in it who cry for help, and they are not so eager to engage for their relief; nay, when they can patiently live in the houses with riotous, profane persons, and not follow them seriously and incessantly for their change! They would have the name and honour of the work of a county who are not able to do all the work of a parish, when the honour is but the appendix of the work. Is it names and honour, or the work and end, that these desire? O, if they would faithfully, humbly, and self-denyingly, lay out themselves for Christ and his church, and never think of titles and reputations, they should then have honour, whether they would or not: but by gaping after it they lose it. For this is the case of virtue’s shadow: “I fly from that which follows me, and what flies from me I pursue.”
220.127.116.11. If you will not do the work, you have nothing to do with the privileges
Consider also you have many other excellent privileges belonging to the ministerial office to encourage you to the work. If you will not, therefore, do the work, you have nothing to do with the privileges. It is something that you are maintained by other men’s labours, and live on the commonwealth’s allowance. This is for your work, that you may not be taken off it; but, as Paul requires, may wholly give yourselves to these things, and not be forced to neglect men’s souls while you are providing for your own bodies. Either do the work, then, or take not the maintenance.
But you have far greater privileges yet than this. Is it nothing to be bred up to learning when others are bred at the plough and cart; and to be furnished with so much delightful knowledge when the world lies in ignorance? Is it nothing to converse with learned men, and talk of high and glorious things, when others must converse with almost none but the ignorant?
What an excellent life it is to live in studying and preaching Christ; to be still searching into his mysteries, or feeding on them; to be daily in the consideration of the blessed nature, works, or ways of God! Others are glad of the leisure of the Lord’s day, and now and then an hour besides, when they can lay hold of it; but we may keep a continual Sabbath. We may do nothing else almost but study and talk of God and glory, and call upon him, and drink in his sacred, saving truths. Our employment is all high and spiritual. Whether we be alone, or with others, our business is for another world. O, were our hearts but thoroughly suited to this work, what a blessed, joyful life should we live! How sweet would our study be to us; how pleasant the pulpit; and what delight would our conference of these things afford! To live among such excellent helps as our libraries afford, and have so many silent, wise companions whenever we please, and of such variety—all these and more such privileges of the ministry demand our unwearied diligence in the work.
18.104.22.168. Consider why it is that God has advanced you by your relation to the flock
You are related to Christ as well as to the flock and he being also related to you, you are not only advanced, but secured by the relation, if you be but faithful in the work that he requires. You are the stewards of his mysteries and rulers of his household: and He who intrusted 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 Elias, than forsake you. 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 resist; but then you must use it faithfully for him. If you will put forth your hand to relieve the distressed, and willingly put it to his plough, he will wither the hand that is stretched out against you. The ministers of England, I am sure, know this by large experience. Many a time has God rescued them from the jaws of the devourer. O the admirable preservations and deliverances that they have had from cruel papists, from tyrannical persecutors, and misguided, passionate men!
Brethren, in the fear of God consider why it is that God has 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 sake? Are you angels, or men? Is your flesh of any better mettle than your neighbours? Are you not of the same generation of sinners, and need his grace as much as they? Up, then, and work as the redeemed of the Lord, as those who are purposely rescued from ruin for his service. O do not prepare a remediless overthrow for the English ministry by your ingratitude, after all these deliverances! If you believe that God has rescued you for himself, live to him, then, as being unreservedly his, who has delivered you.
5.1.2. From the efficient cause, the Holy Ghost
The second motive in the text is, the efficient cause. It is God, by his Spirit, who makes us overseers of his church; therefore it behooves us to take heed to ourselves and it. I have already shown you that the Holy Ghost is said to make bishops, or pastors 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 those ordainers, the people, and themselves, for affixing them to a particular charge. All these were done in the apostle’s days, in an extraordinary manner, by inspiration, at least very frequently. The same are done now in 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, to think that ordination by the hands of man is of more absolute necessity in the ministerial office than the calling of the Holy Ghost. God has determined in his word that there shall be such an office, and what the work and power 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 gives men the qualifications which he requires. So that all the church has to do, whether pastors or people, ordainers or electors, is but to discern and determine which are the men that God has thus qualified, and to accept of them who are so provided, and upon consent to install them solemnly in this office. But I purposely cut short the controvertible part.
What an obligation then is laid upon us by our call! If our commission be sent from heaven, it is not to be disobeyed. When Paul was called by the voice of Christ, he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. When the apostles were called by Christ from their secular employments, they immediately left friends, and house, and trade, and all, and followed him. Though our call be 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 has a spur to quicken us; and if we overrun it, he has messengers enough to overtake us, fetch us back, and make us do it; and it is better to do it at first than at last. This is the second motive.
5.1.3. From the dignity of the object
The third motive in the text is, the dignity of the object. It is the church of God that we must oversee and feed. It is that church for which the world is upheld, which is sanctified by the Holy Ghost, which is united to Christ, and is his mystical body; that church which angels are present with and attend upon as ministering spirits, whose very little ones have their angels beholding the face of God in heaven. O what a charge have we undertaken! And shall we be unfaithful? Have we the stewardship of God’s own family, and shall we neglect it? Have we the guidance of those saints who 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 who draw bank from painful, displeasing, suffering duties, and will put off men’s souls with ineffectual formalities; do you think this is honourable usage of Christ’s spouse? Are the souls of men thought meet by God to see his face and live for ever in his glory, and and are they not worthy of your utmost cost and labour? 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 might better let them go, and say they were not worthy of looking after; and yet you would scarcely do so if they were your own. But dare you say so by the souls of men, even by the church of God? Christ walks among them. Remember his presence, and keep all as clean as you can. The praises of the most high God are in the midst of them. They are a sanctified, peculiar people, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a choice generation, to show forth the praises of him who has called them; and yet dare you neglect them? What a high honour it is 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 honour as multiplies your obligations to diligence and fidelity in such a noble and glorious employment.
5.1.4. From the price paid for the church
The last motive mentioned in my text is, the price paid for the church which we oversee. God the Son purchased it with his own blood. O what an argument is here to quicken the negligent; and what an argument to condemn those who will not be quickened to their duty by it! “O, (says, one of the ancient doctors,) if Christ had but committed to my keeping one spoonful of his blood in a fragile glass, how curiously should I have preserved it, and how tender should I have been of that glass!” If then he have committed to me the purchase of his blood, should I not as earnestly look to my charge? What, sirs, shall we despise the blood of Christ: shall we think it was shed for those 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 lies the blood of Christ should be shed in vain: they would lose him those souls whom he has so dearly bought!
O then let us hear those arguments of Christ whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless: “Did I die for them, and wilt not thou look after them? Were they worth my blood, and are they not worth thy labour? Did I come down from heaven 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 labour or condescension compared to mine! I debased myself to this, but it is thy honour to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation; and was I willing to make thee a co-worker with me; and wilt thou refuse that little that lies 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 accordingly by us.
And think what a confusion it will be at the last day to a negligent minister to have this blood of the Son of God pleaded against him, and for Christ to say, “It was the purchase of my blood that thou didst make light of, 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.
5.2. A more particular exhortation
I have done with the motives 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 mention all; If the Lord set home these few upon your hearts, I dare say we shall see reason to mend our pace; and the change will be such in our hearts and in our ministry, that we ourselves and our congregations will have cause to bless God for it. I feel myself 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 any body than from none at all. 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 which will confound you.
5.2.1. To see that the work of grace be advancing in our own hearts
See that the work of saving grace be throroughly wrought on your own souls. It is a fearful case to be an unsanctified professor, but much more to be an unsanctified preacher. Does it not make you tremble when you open the Bible, lest you should there read the sentence of your own condemnation? When you pen your sermons, little do you think that you are drawing up indictments against your own souls! When you are arguing against sin, you are aggravating your own; when you proclaim to your hearers the riches of God’s grace, you publish your own iniquity in rejecting it, and your unhappiness in being without it. What can you do in persuading men to come to Christ, in drawing them from the world, in urging them to a life of faith and holiness; but conscience, if it were awake, might tell you that you speak all this to your own confusion! If you mention hell, you mention your own inheritance; if you describe the joys of heaven, you describe your misery that have no right to it. What can you devise to say, for the most part, that will not be against your own souls? O miserable life, that a man should study and preach against himself, and spend all his days in a course of self-condemnation! A graceless, unexperienced preacher, is one of the most unhappy creatures upon earth; and yet he is usually most insensible of his unhappiness: for he has so many counterfeits, which seem like the gold of saving grace, and so many splendid stones, which seem like the Christian’s jewel, that he is seldom troubled with the thoughts of his poverty; but thinks he is rich and wants nothing, when he is poor, and miserable, and blind and naked. He is acquainted with the Holy Scripture, he is exercised in holy duties, he does not live in open disgraceful sin, he serves at God’s altar, he reproves other men’s faults, and preaches up holiness both of heart and life; and how can this man choose but be holy? O what an aggravated misery is this, to perish in the midst of plenty; and to famish with the bread of life in our hands, offering it to others, and urging it on them: that those ordinances of God should be the occasions of our delusion, which are instituted to be the means of our conviction and salvation; and that while we hold the looking-glass of the gospel to others to show them the true face of the state of their souls, we should either look on the back of it ourselves where we can see nothing, or turn it aside, that it may misrepresent us to ourselves.
If such a wretched man would take my counsel, he should make a stand, and call his heart and life to an account, and fall a preaching a while to himself, before he preach any more to others; he should consider whether food in the mouth will nourish that goes not in the stomach; whether it be a Christ in the mouth or in the heart that will save men; whether he who names him should not depart from iniquity; whether God will hear their prayers, if they regard iniquity their hearts; whether it will serve the turn at the day of reckoning to say, “Lord, we have prophesied in thy name,” when they shall hear, “Depart from me, I know you not;” what comfort will it be to Judas when he is gone to his own place, to remember that he preached with the rest of the apostles, or that he sat with Christ, and was called by him, friend; and whether a wicked preacher shall stand in the judgment, or sinners in the assembly of the just? When such thoughts as these have entered into his soul, and kindly wrought a while upon his conscience, I would advise him next to go to the congregation, and there preach over Origen’s* Sermon on Psalm l. 16, 17; “But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant into thy mouth? seeing thou hatest instruction, and hast cast my words behind thee.” And when he has read this text, to sit down, and expound, and apply it by his tears; and then to make a free confession of his sin, and lament his case before the assembly, and desire their earnest prayers to God for pardoning and renewing grace; and so to close with Christ in heart, who before admitted him no farther than into the brain, that hereafter he may preach a Christ whom he knows, feel what he speaks, and commend the riches of the gospel by experience.
22.214.171.124. Footnote on Origen’s sermon on Psalm 50:16-17
(* “Origen lived in the latter part of the second, and beginning of the third century. He was trained up by his father from his infancy in the Christian religion, and in the knowledge of literature; but especially in the knowledge of the sacred Scriptures. When he was seventeen years old, his father being carried to prison, he had such a fervent desire to suffer martyrdom with him, that he would have thrust himself into the persecutors’ hands, had he not been prevented by his mother, who, in the night, stole away his clothes; hence, for shame of being seen naked, and not from fear of dying, he was constrained to stay at home.
“After he entered into the sacred work of the ministry, many of the Gentiles resorted to his lectures, and were, by the blessing of God upon his word, truly converted to Christianity. In this employment he prospered exceedingly, and purchased to himself a famous name among all the faithful, particularly by cheerfully embracing and mightily encouraging the martyrs. He visited such as were in deep dungeons and close imprisonment, encouraged them when they were to receive their last sentence, and also after sentence was pronounced: yea, he accompanied them to the place of execution, often putting himself thereby into great danger. He boldly embraced and kissed them at their farewell, so that once the heathens in their furious rage, had stoned him to death, if the power of God had not marvellously delivered him. He was so extremely hated by the infidels, that soldiers were hired to guard his house by the multitudes who came to him to be instructed in the Christian faith. The rage of his enemies was so violent against him for this cause, that he could not, with safety, walk the streets of Alexandria. He was obliged frequently to change his lodgings, thereby to escape the pursuers.
“In the reign of Decius he underwent, for the doctrine of Christ, bands and torments in his body, rackings with bars of iron, dungeons, besides terrible threats of death and burning, and divers other torments; all which he courageously and patiently suffered for Christ. At length, hearing that some Christians were carried to an idol temple, to force them to sacrifice, he ran thither, out of zeal to encourage and dissuade them from it. This was what his adversaries expected and wished for; and, therefore, letting go the others, they laid hold upon him, giving him his choice, either to offer incense to the idol, or have his body defiled with a foul and ugly blackmoor, whom they had prepared for the purpose. Origen being in a miserable strait, at last chose rather to offer incense than have his chaste body polluted by such a filthy creature. Then they immediately put incense into his trembling hands, and while he demurred about it, they took his hands and caused him to throw it into the fire; upon which they cried aloud, ‘Origen hath sacrificed! Origen hath sacrificed!’ After which he was excommunicated by the church; and being filled with shame and sorrow, he left Alexandria, and went into Judea. When he came to Jerusalem, being well known there by his learned expositions, and gift of utterance, he was entreated by the ministers to give them a sermon in the church. After much importunity, being in a manner constrained thereto, he stood up, took his Bible, opened it, and the first place he cast his eye upon was Psalm l. 16, 17, But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? seeing thou hatest instruction, and hast cast my words behind thee. Which words, as soon as he had read, he closed the book, sat down, and burst into a flood of tears, (the whole congregation weeping with him,) so that he could not say any more to them. After this he wandered up and down in great grief and distress of conscience, and wrote his famous lamentation.”—See CLARK’s Lives of the Fathers.)
126.96.36.199. A word to tutors and school-masters
It is the common danger and calamity of the church to have unregenerate and inexperienced pastors; and to have men become preachers before they are Christians; to be sanctified by dedication to the altar, as God’s priests, before they are sanctitied by hearty dedication to Christ as his disciples, and so to worship an unknown God, and to preach an unknown Christ, an unknown Spirit, an unknown state of holiness and communion with God, and a glory that is unknown, and likely to be unknown to them for ever. He is likely to be but a heartless preacher who has not the Christ and grace that he preaches in his heart. O that all our students in the university would well consider this! What a poor business it is to themselves to spend their time in knowing some little of the works of God, and some of those names that the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know the Lord himself, exalt him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy. They do but walk in a vain show, and spend their lives like dreaming men, while they busy their wits and tongues about abundance of names and notions, and are strangers to God and the life of saints. If ever God awaken them by his grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations were, that they will confess they did but dream before. A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are wilful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, where God is not studied. We know but little of the creature, till we know it as it stands in its order and respect to God: single letters and syllables unconnected are nonsense. He who overlooks the Alpha and Omega, and sees not the beginning and end, and Him in all, who is the all of all, sees nothing at all. All creatures are, as such, broken syllables: they signify nothing as separated from God. Were they separated actually, they would cease to be, and the separation would be an annihilation; and when we separate them in our fancies, we make nothing of them to ourselves. It is one thing to know the creatures as Aristotle, and another thing to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his physics, so as to understand it rightly. It is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many well understand; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us. When man was made perfect, and placed in a perfect world, where all things were in perfect order and very good, the whole creation was then man’s book, in which he was to read the nature and will of his great Creator; every creature had the name of God so legibly engraven on it, that man might run and read it. He could not open his eyes without seeing some image of God, but nowhere so full and lively as in himself; and, therefore, it was his work to study the whole volume of nature, but first and chiefly to study himself. If man had held on in this prescribed work, he would have continued and increased in the knowledge of God and himself; but when he would needs know and love the creature and himself in a way of separation from God, he lost the knowledge of all, both of the creature, himself; and God, so far as it could beatify, and was worth the name of knowledge; and, instead of it, he has got the unhappy knowledge which he affected, even the empty notions and fantastic knowledge of the creature and himself as thus separated. Thus he who lived to and upon the Creator, now lives to and upon the other creatures and himself; and thus “every man at his best state (the learned as well as the illiterate) is altogether vanity—surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain,” Psa. xxxix, 5, 6. It must be well observed, that as God laid not aside the relation of a Creator by becoming our Redeemer, nor
Therefore, I shall presume to tell you by the way, that it is a grand error, and of dangerous consequence in the Christian academies, (pardon the censure from one so unfit for it, seeing the necessity of the case commands it,) that they study the creature before the Redeemer, and set themselves to physics, and metaphysics, and mathematics, before they set themselves to theology; whereas no man who has not the vitals of theology is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy; and all that such do is but doting about questions and opposition of sciences, falsely so called. And as by affecting a separated creature-knowledge Adam fell from God, so they who mind these profane, empty babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called, miss the end of all right study; they err concerning the faith; while they will needs prefer these, they miss that faith which they pretend to aim at. Their pretence is, that theology, being the end, and the most perfect branch, must be the last, and all the subservient sciences must go before it. (1.) There is some natural knowledge indeed prerequisite, and somewhat of art, before any can receive theology; but that is no more than their mothers can teach them before they go to school. (2.) All right natural knowledge tends to the increase of theological knowledge; but that which is a means to its perfection may be the effect or consequence of its beginning. (3.) The end must be first known, because it must be intended before the choice or use of means. (4.) The Scripture reveals to us the things of God himself in the most easy way, and therefore he must be first learned there. (5.) The book of the creatures is not to show us more of God than the Scripture does; but, by representing him to us in more sensible appearances, to make our knowledge of him the more intense and operative; and being continually before our eyes, God also would be continually before them, if we could aright discern him in them.
It is evident therefore that theology must lay the ground and lead the way in all our studies, when we are once so far acquainted with words and things as is needful to our understanding the sense of its principles. If God must be searched after in our search of the creatures, and we must affect no separated knowledge of them, then tutors must read God to their pupils in all; and divinity must be the beginning, the middle, the end, the life, the all of their studies; and our physics and metaphysics must be reduced to theology, and nature must be read as one of God’s books, which is purposely written for the revelation of himself. The Holy Scripture is the easiest book. When you have first learned God and his will there, in the necessary things, address yourselves cheerfully to the study of his works, that you may see there the creature itself as your alphabet, and their order as the connection of syllables, words, and sentences, and God as the subject matter of all, and their respect to him as the sense or signification; and then carry on both together, and never more play the mere scriveners; stick no more in your letters and words, but read every creature as a Christian or a divine. If you see not yourselves and all things as living, and moving, and having being in God, you see nothing, whatever you think you see. If you perceive not in your perusals of the creatures, that God is all, and in all, you may think perhaps that you know something, but you know nothing as you ought to know. He who sees and loves God in the creature, the same is known and loved of him. Think not so basely of the works of God and your physics as that they are only preparatory studies for boys. It is a most high and noble part of holiness to search after, behold, admire, and love the great Creator in all his works. How much have the saints of God been employed in it! The beginning of Genesis, the books of Job and the Psalms, may acquaint us that our physics are not so little akin to theology as some suppose. I do therefore, in zeal to the good of the church, and their own success in their most necessary labours, propound it to the consideration of all pious tutors, whether they should not as early and as diligently read to their pupils, or cause them to read, the chief parts of practical divinity (and there is no other) as any of the sciences; and whether they should not go together from the very first? It is well that they hear sermons; but that is not enough. If they have need of private help in philosophy besides public lectures, how much more in theology! If tutors would make it their principal business to acquaint their pupils with the doctrine of life, and labour to set it home upon their hearts, that all might be received according to its weight, and read to their hearts as well as to their heads, and so carry on the rest of their instructions, that it might appear they made them but subservient to this, and that their pupils may feel what they drive at in all, and so that they would teach all their philosophy in habitu theologico, this might be a happy means to make happy souls, a happy church and commonwealth. The same I mean also respecting schoolmasters to their scholars. But when languages and philosophy have almost all their time and diligence, and instead of reading philosophy like divines, they read divinity like philosophers, as if it were a thing of no more moment than a lesson of music or arithmetic, and not the doctrine of everlasting life; this is what blasts so many in the bud, and pesters the church with unsanctifted teachers. Hence it is that we have so many worldlings to preach of the invisible felicity, and so many carnal men to declare the mysteries of the Spirit; and I would I had not cause to say, so many infidels to preach Christ, or so many atheists to preach the living God; and when they are taught philosophy before or without religion, what wonder if their philosophy be all, or most of their religion; if they grow up into admirations of their unprofitable fancies, and deify their own deluded brains, whe
Again: I address myself to all those who have the education of youth, especially in order to prepare them for the ministry. You who are schoolmasters and tutors, begin and end with the things of God. Speak daily to the hearts of your scholars those things which must be wrought into their hearts, or else they will be undone. Let some piercing words fall frequently from your mouths, of God, the state of their souls, and the life to come. Do not say they are too young to understand and entertain them. You little know what impressions they may make which you discern not. Not only the soul of that boy, but a congregation, or many souls therein, may have cause to bless God for your zeal and diligence, yea, for one such seasonable word. You have a great advantage above others to do them good. You have them before they are grown to the worst, and they will hear you when they will not hear another. If they are destined to the ministry, you are preparing them for the special service of God; and should they not first have the knowledge of him whom they must serve? O think with yourselves what a sad thing it will be to their own souls, and what a wrong to the church of God, if they come out from you with carnal hearts to so holy, spiritual, and great a work! Of a hundred students that are in one of your colleges, how many may there be who are serious, experienced, godly men: some talk of too small a number. If you should send one half of them on a work that they are unfit for, what bloody work will they make in the church! Whereas if you be the means of their thorough sanctification, how many souls may bless you, and what greater good can you possibly do the church! When their hearts are once savingly affected with the doctrine which they study and preach, they will study it heartily, and preach it heartily. Their own experience will direct them to the fittest subjects, furnish them with the matter, and quicken them to set it home. I observe that the best of our hearers can feel and savour such experimental preachers, and usually less regard others, whatever may be their accomplishments. See therefore that you make not work for sequestrators, nor for the groans and lamentation of the church, nor for the great tormenter of the murderer of souls.
5.2.2. Keep grace active and vigorous, and preach to our own hearts first
Content not yourselves to have the main work of grace; but be also very careful that your graces be kept in life and action, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons you study before you preach them to others. If you did this for your own sakes it would not be lost labour: but I am speaking to you on account of the public, and that you would do it for the sake of the church. When your minds are in a heavenly and holy frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, praises, and doctrine will be heavenly and sweet to them. They will feel when you have been much with God. That which is most on your hearts is likely to be most in their ears. I confess, I speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my soul. When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused my preaching is so too: and I can observe the same frequently in the best of my hearers, that, when I have awhile grown cold in preaching, they have cooled accordingly; and the next prayers that I have heard from them have been too much like my preaching. We are the nurses of Christ’s little ones. If we forbear our food we shall famish them; they will quickly find it in the want of milk, and we may quickly see it again in them in the cold and dull discharge of their several duties. If we let our love go down we are not likely to raise theirs up. If we abate our holy care and fear, it will appear in our doctrine. If the matter show it not, the manner will. If we feed on unwholesome food, either errors or fruitless controversies, our hearers are likely to fare the worse for it. Whereas if we abound in faith, love and zeal, how will it overflow to the refreshing of our congregations, and how will it appear in the increase of the same graces in others.
O, brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts! Keep out sinful passions and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith and love; be much at home and be much with God. If it be not your daily, serious business to study your own hearts, subdue corruptions, and live as upon God; if you do not make it your very work, which you constantly attend, all will go amiss, and you will starve your auditors; or if you have but an affected fervency, you cannot expect a blessing to attend it: above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation. Thence you must fetch the heavenly fire that must kindle your sacrifices. Remember you cannot decline and neglect your duty to your own hurt alone: many will be losers by it as well as you. For your people’s sake, therefore, look to your hearts. If a pang of spiritual pride should overtake you, and you should grow into any dangerous or schismatical conceits, and vent your own overvalued inventions to draw away disciples after you, what a wound might this prove to the church that you are set over; and you might become a plague to them instead of a blessing, and cause them to wish they had never seen your faces. O take heed, therefore, of your own judgments and affections! Error and vanity will slily insinuate, and seldom come without fair pretences. Great distempers and apostacies have usually small beginnings. The prince of darkness frequently personates the angels of light, that he may draw children of light again into his darkness. How easily also will distempers creep in upon our affections, and our first love, and fear, and care abate! Watch therefore for the sake of yourselves and others.
More particularly, a minister should take some special pains with his heart before he goes to the congregation. If it be then cold, how can he expect to warm the hearts of the hearers? Go therefore, then, especially to God for life, and read some rousing, awakening book, or meditate on the weight of the subject that you are to speak of, and on the great necessity of your people’s souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house.
5.2.3. Stir up ourselves in the work, and do it with all our might
Stir up yourselves to the great work of God when you are upon it, and see that you do it with all your might. Though I move you not to a constant loudness, (for that will make your fervency contemptible,) yet see that you have a constant seriousness, and when the matter requires it, (as it should do in the application at least of every doctrine,) then lift up your voice, spare not your spirits, and speak to them as to men that must be awakened either here or in hell. Look upon your congregations believingly, and with compassion, and think in what a state of joy or torment they must all be for ever; and then, I think, it will make you earnest, and melt your heart with a sense of their condition. O, speak not one cold or careless word about so great a business as heaven or hell! Whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest.
Truly, brethren, they are great works that are to be done, and you must not think that trifling will despatch them. You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures at the drowsy request of one who seems not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted. If you say, “The work is God’s, and he may do it by the weakest means;” I answer, It is true he may; but yet his ordinary way is to work by means, and to make not only the matter that is preached, but also the manner of preaching, instrumental to the work: or else it were a small matter whom he should employ that would but speak the truth. If grace made as little use of the ministerial persuasions as some conceive, we need not so much mind a reformation, nor cast out the insufficient.
A great matter also with most of our hearers lies in the very pronunciation and tone of speech. The best matter will scarcely move them if it be not movingly delivered. Especially see that there be no affectation, but that we speak as familiarly to our people as we would do if we were talking to them personally. The want of a familiar tone and expression is as great a defect in the delivery of most of us as any thing whatsoever, and that which we should be very careful to amend. When a man has a reading or declaiming tone, like a school-boy saying his lesson or an oration, few are moved with any thing that he says. Let us therefore rouse ourselves up to the work of the Lord, and speak to our people as for their lives, and save them as by violence, pulling them out of the fire. Satan will not not be charmed out of his possession. We must lay siege to the souls of sinners, which are his garrisons, find out where his chief strength lies, lay the battery of God’s ordnance against it, and ply it closely till a breach be made; and then suffer them not by their shifts to make it up again; but find out their common objections, and give them a full and satisfactory answer. We have reasonable creatures to deal with; and as they abuse their reason against the truth, so they will have better reason for it before they obey. We must therefore see that all our sermons be convincing, and that we make the light of Scripture and reason shine so bright in the faces of the ungodly that it may force them to see, unless they wilfully shut their eyes. A sermon, full of mere words, how neatly soever it be composed, while there is wanting the light of evidence and the life of zeal, is but an image or a well-dressed carcass. In preaching there is intended a communion of souls, and a communication of somewhat from ours to theirs. As we and they have understandings, and wills, and affections, so must the bent of our endeavours be to communicate the fullest light of evidence from our understandings to theirs, and to warm their hearts by kindling in them holy affections, as by a communication from ours. The great things which we have to commend to our hearers have reason enough on their side, and lie plain before them in the word of God. We should, therefore, be so furnished with evidence as to come as with a torrent upon their understandings, and bear down all before us; and with our dilemmas and expostulations to bring them to a nonplus, and pour shame upon all their vain objections, that they may be forced to yield to the power of truth, and see that it is great and will prevail.
5.2.4. Keep up earnest desires and expectation of success
Keep up earnest desires and expectations of success. If your hearts be not set on the end of your labours 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 fruit of it. It is an ill sign of a false, self-seeking heart, that can be content to be still doing and see no fruit of his labour. So I have observed that God seldom blesses any man’s work so much as his whose heart is set upon success. Let it be the property of such as Judas to have more regard to the bag than to their business, and not to care much for what they pretend to care; and to think, if they have their tithes and the love and commendations of the people, that they have enough to satisfy them. But let all who preach for Christ and men’s salvation be unsatisfied till they gain the objects of their preaching. He has not the right motives of a preacher who is indifferent whether he obtain them, is not grieved when he misses them, and rejoiced when he sees the desired issue. When a man only studies 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 own abilities, and thus holds on from year to year; I must needs think that this man preaches for himself, drives on a private trade of his own, and does not preach for Christ, even when he preaches Christ, how excellently soever he may seem to do it. No wise or charitable physician is content to be still giving physic and see no amendment among his patients, but have them all to die upon his hands; nor will any wise and honest school-master be content to be still teaching, though his scholars profit not; but either of them would grow 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 labour. If God set us to wash blackamoors, and cure those who will not be cured, we shall not lose our labour, though we perform not the cure. But then he who does not long for the success of his labours can have none of this comfort, because he was not a faithful labourer: this is only for them that I speak of, who are set upon the end, and grieved if they miss it. This is not 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 work in compassion, long for a better issue, and be sorry if he miss it, for all that; for it is not only our own reward that we labour for, but other men’s salvation. I confess, for my part, I marvel at some ancient and reverend men, who have lived twenty, forty, or fifty years, with an unprofitable people, where they have seen so little fruit of their labours, that it was scarcely discernible how they can with so much patience still go on! Were it my case, though I durst not leave the vineyard nor my calling, yet I should suspect that it was God’s will I should go somewhere else, and another take my place who might be fitter for them; and I should not be easily satisfied to spend my days in such a manner.
5.2.5. Be zealous of good works—spare no cost
188.8.131.52. Maintain your innocence, and walk without offence
Maintain your innocence, and walk without offence. Let your lives condemn sin and persuade men to duty. Would you have your people be more careful of their souls than you are of yours? If you would have them redeem their time, do not you misspend yours. If you would not have them vain in their conversation, see that you speak yourselves the things which may edify and tend to minister grace to the hearers. Order your own families well, if you would have them do so by theirs. Be not proud and lordly, if you would have them to be lowly. There is no virtue wherein your example will do more, at least to abate men’s prejudice, than humility, and meekness, and self-denial. Forgive injuries, and be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Do as our Lord, who, when he was reviled, reviled not again. If sinners be stubborn and contemptuous, flesh and blood will persuade you to take up their weapons, and to master them by their carnal means; but that is not the way, farther than necessary self-preservation, or public good requires it; but overcome them with kindness, patience, and gentleness. The former may show that you have more worldly power than they, wherein yet they are, for the most part, too hard for the faithful; but it is the latter only that will tell them that you outdo them in spiritual excellence, and in the true qualifications of a saint. If you think that Christ is more worthy of being imitated than Cesar or Alexander, and that it is more glorious to be a Christian than to be a conqueror, yea, to be a man than a beast, which often exceeds us in strength, then contend with charity, and not with violence; and set meekness, love, and patience, against force, and not force against force. Remember you are obliged to be the servants of all. Condescend to men of low estate. Be not strange to the poor of your flock. They are apt to take your strangeness for contempt. Familiarity, improved to holy ends, is exceedingly necessary, and may do abundance of good. Speak not stoutly or disrespectfully to any one: but be courteous to the meanest as your equal in Christ. A kind and winning carriage is a cheap way of advantage to do men good.
184.108.40.206. Stretch your purse to the utmost in works of charity
Remember what I said before of works of charity. Go to the poor, and see what they want, and show at once your compassion to soul and body. Buy them a catechism, and some small books that are most likely to do them good; and bestow them on your neighbours, and make them promise you to read them; and especially to spend that part of the Lord’s day therein which they can spare from greater duties. Stretch your purse to the utmost, and do all the good you can. Think not of being rich; seek not great things for yourselves or posterity. What, if you impoverish yourselves to do a greater good, will it be loss or gain? If you believe that God is your safest purse-bearer, and that to expend in his service is the greatest usury, and the most thriving trade, show them that you believe it. I know that flesh and blood will cavil before it will lose its prey, and will never want somewhat to say against that duty which is against its interest. But mark what I say, and may the Lord set it home upon your hearts: That man who has any thing in the world so dear to him that he cannot spare it for Christ, if he call for it, is no true Christian. And, because a carnal heart will not believe that Christ calls for it when he cannot spare it, and, therefore, makes that his self-deceiving shift; I say farther, That that man who will not be persuaded that duty is duty, because he cannot spare that for Christ which is therein to be expended, is no true Christian: for a false heart corrupts the understanding, and that again increases the delusions of the heart. Do not take it therefore as an undoing to make you friends of the mammon of unrighteousness and to lay up a treasure in heaven, though you leave yourselves but little on earth.
I know, where the heart is carnal and covetous, words will not wring the money out of their hands. They can say all this and more to others: but saying is one thing, and believing is another. But with those who are true believers, methinks, such considerations should prevail. O what abundance of good might ministers do, if they would but live in a contempt of the world, and the riches and glory of it, and expend all they have for their Master’s use, and pinch their flesh that they might have wherewith to do good. This would unlock more hearts to the reception of their doctrine than all their oratory will do; and, without this, singularity in religion will appear but hypocrisy, and it is likely that it is so. Though we need not do as the papists, who betake them to monasteries and cast away property, yet we must have nothing but what we have for God.
5.2.6. Maintain communion—the way thereto
Maintain your Christian and brotherly unity and communion, and do as much of God’s work as you can in unanimity and holy concord. Blessed be the Lord that it is so well with us in this county, with regard to this, as it is! We lose our authority with our people when we divide. They will yield to us when we go together, who would resist and contemn the best of us alone. Two things in order to this I beseech you to observe:—
220.127.116.11. Maintain meetings, hold Christian correspondence, grow not strange to one another
Still maintain your meetings for communion, incorporate and hold all Christian correspondence, grow not strange to one another, do not say that you have business of your own to do when you should be at any such meeting or other work for God. It is not only the mutual edification that we receive by lectures, disputations, or conferences, (though that is not to be disregarded,) but is especially for consultations for the common good and maintaining our communion, that we must thus assemble. Though your own persons might be without the benefit of such meetings, yet the church and our common work require them. Do not then show yourselves contemners or neglecters of such a necessary work. Distance breeds strangeness, and foments dividing flames and jealousies, which communion will prevent or cure. Our enemies’ chief plot is to divide us, that they may weaken us. Conspire not therefore with the enemies, and take not their course. Indeed, ministers have need of one another, and must improve the gifts of God in one another; and the self-sufficient are the most deficient, being proud and empty men. Some there are who come not among their brethren to do or receive good, nor afford them any of their assistance in consultation for the common good, and their excuse is, “We love to live privately.” To whom I say, Why do you not, on the same grounds, forbear going to church, and say you love to live privately? Is not ministerial communion a duty as well as common Christian communion; and has not the church always thought so, and practised accordingly? If you mean that you love your own ease or convenience better than God’s services, say so, and speak your minds. But I suppose there are few who think that any just excuse, though they will give us no better. Something else lies at the bottom.
18.104.22.168. Avoid extremes in doctrine and communion
22.214.171.124.1. Unite in necessary truths, and tolerate tolerable failings
Unite in necessary truths, and tolerate tolerable failings; bear with one another in things that may be borne with, and do not make a larger creed and more necessaries than God has done: and to that end let no man’s writings, nor the judgment of any party, though right, be taken as a test, or made that rule. (1.) Lay not too great stress upon controverted opinions which have godly men, and especially whole churches, on both sides. (2.) Lay not too great stress on those controversies that are ultimately resolved into philosophical uncertainties, as some unprofitable contoversies are about free will, the manner of the Spirit’s operation of grace, the divine decrees, and predetermination. (3.) Lay not too great stress on those controversies that are merely verbal, and which, if they were anatomized, would appear to be no more. Of which sort are far more (I speak it confidently upon certain knowledge) that now make a great noise in the world, and tear the church, than almost any of the eager contenders that ever I spoke with will believe. (4.) Lay not too much on any point of faith which was disowned or unknown to the whole church of Christ in any age since the Scriptures were delivered us. (5.) Much less should you lay too much on those which any of the more pure and judicious ages were wholly ignorant of. (6.) And least of all should you lay too much on any point which no one age since the apostles ever received.
He who shall live in that happy time when God will heal his broken churches, shall see all this that I am now pleading for reduced to practice. Then this moderation will take place, and also Scripture sufficiency, and all men’s confessions and comments be valued only as subservicent helps, and not be made the test of church communion, any farther than they are excatly the same with Scripture. And till the healing age come, we cannot expect that healing truths will be entertained, because there are not healing spirits in the leaders of the church. But when the work is to be done the workmen will be fitted for it, and blessed will be the agents of so glorious a work.
126.96.36.199.2. Avoid hindering the progress of knowledge
But because the love of unity and truth, peace and purity, must be conjunctly manifested, we must avoid the extremes, both in doctrines and communion. The extremes in doctrine are on one side by innovating additions, and on the other by envying and hindering the progress of the light. (1.) By making new points of faith or duty. (2.) By making those points to be fundamental, or necessary to salvation, that are not so.
The other extreme about doctrine is, by hindering the progress of knowledge; and this is commonly on pretence of avoiding the innovating extreme. It must be considered therefore how far we may grow, and not be culpable innovators. (1.) Our knowledge must increase extensively ad plura. We must know more truths than we knew before, though we may not feign more. There is much of Scripture that will remain unknown to us when we have done our best. Though we shall find out no more articles of faith which must be explicitly believed by all who will be saved, yet we may find out the sense of more particular texts, and several doctrinal truths, not contrary to the former, but such as befriend them and are connected with them. And we may find out more the order of truths, and how they are placed in respect to one another; and so see more of the true method of theology than we did, which will give us a very great light into the matter itself, and its ramifications and consequences. (2.) Our knowledge also must grow subjectively, intensively, and in the manner as well as in the matter of it. And this is our principal growth: to know the same great and necessary truths with a sounder and clearer knowledge than we did. This is done by getting strong evidence and reasons instead of the weak ones which we trusted to before: (for many young persons receive truths on uncertain grounds:) by multiplying our evidence and reasons for the same truth: by a clearer and deeper apprehension of the same evidence and reasons which before we had but superficially received; for one who is strong in knowledge sees the same truth as in the noon-day light, which the weak see but as in the twilight. To all this must be added the more full improvement of the truth received to its intended and proper end.
I shall give you the sum of my meaning in the words of that great enemy of innovation, Vincent. “But some one perhaps may say, ‘Is there then no progress to be attained in the church of Christ?’ Truly there is a progress in religion to be attained, and that a very great one; for who would be so envious to man, and hateful to God, as to endeavor to hinder it? Yet let it be really a progress in faith, not an innovation; since it belongs to perfection that every thing should be increased in itself: but when some thing is changed from one to another, again and again, it tends to innovation. Therefore there should be an increase and a great and eager proficiency both of individuals and of all, as well of one man as of the whole church during life, and in all ages, in the degree of knowledge, science, and wisdom: but it should be only in the same kind, the same tenets, the same sense, and the same judgment.” And he speaks more plainly and briefly when he says, “For it is right that those ancient tenets of heavenly philosophy should be extended, polished, and dressed in process of time: but by no means be changed. They may receive evidence, light, and precision: but it is necessary that they retain their fulness, integrity, and propriety.” Let this mean then be observed, if we would practise both truth and peace.
Having said thus much of the means, I return to the end of this exhortation; beseeching all the ministers of Christ to compassionate the poor divided church, and to entertain such catholic principles and charitable dispositions as tend to their own and the common peace. Has any thing in the world done more to lose our authority, and unfit us for God’s service, than our differences and divisions? If ministers could but be all of a mind, or at least concur in the substance of the work, so that the people who hear one, might, as it were, hear all, and not have any of us to head a party for the discontented to fall into, or to object against the rest, we might then do wonders for the church of Christ. But if our tongues and hearts be divided, what wonder if our work be spoiled, and prove more like a Babel than a temple of God! Get together therefore speedily, consult for peace, do not cherish heart-burnings, and continue not uncharitable distances and strangeness. If dividing have weakened you, closing must recover your authority and strength. If you have any dislike to your brethren or their ways, manifest it by a free debate to their faces, but do not unnecessarily withdraw from them. If you will but keep together, you may come to a better understanding of each other. Especially quarrel not upon points of precedence, or reputation, or any interest of your own. No man will have settled peace in his mind, nor be peaceable in his place, who proudly envies the precedence of others, and secretly grudges at those who seem to cloud his parts and name. One or other will ever be an eye-sore to such. There is too much of the devil’s image in this sin for an humble servant of Christ to entertain.
Moreover, be not too sensible of injuries; and make not a great matter of every offensive word or deed. At least, do not let it interrupt your communion and concord in God’s work: that were to wrong Christ and his church, because another has wronged you. If you be of this impatient humour, you will never be quiet; for we are all faulty, and cannot live together without trying one another. Proud, over tender men, are often hurt by their own conceits. They frequently think a man jeers them and contemns them, or means them ill, when it never came into his thoughts. Till this self be taken down, we shall every man have a private interest, and of his own, which will lead us all into several ways, and spoil the peace and welfare of the church. While every man is for himself and his own reputation, and all mind their own things, no wonder if they mind not the things of Christ.
5.2.7. Practise so much discipline as is certainly your duty
No longer neglect the execution of so much discipline in your congregations as is confessedly necessary and right. I desire not to spur on any one to an unseasonable performance of the greatest duty. But will it never be a fit season? Would you forbear sermons and sacraments so many years on pretence of their being unseasonable? Will you have a better season for it when you are dead? How many have died before they did any thing in this work, who were long preparing for it! It is near three years since many of us now present engaged ourselves to this duty; and have we been faithful in the performance of that engagement? I know some have more discouragements and hinderances than others: but what discouragements can excuse us from such a duty? Besides the reasons that we then considered, let these few be farther laid to heart.
188.8.131.52. How sad a sign to our people
How sad a sign do we make it to be in our preaching to our people, to live in the wilful, continued omission of any known duty! And shall we do so year after year, yea, all our days? If excuses will take away the danger of this sign, what man will not find them as well as you? Amesius says, “Yea, he sins against Christ, the author and instituton of it, whoever does not all that in him lies to establish and promote this discipline in the churches of God.” And do you think it safe to live and die in such a known sin?
184.108.40.206. We manifest laziness and sloth, if not unfaithfulness, in the work of Christ
We manifest laziness and sloth, if not unfaithfulness, in the work of Christ. I speak from experience. It was laziness that kept me off so long, and pleaded hard against this duty. It is indeed a troublesome and painful work, and such as calls for some self-denial, because it will expose us to the displeasure of the wicked. But dare we prefer our ease and quietness, and the love or peace of wicked men, before our service to Christ our Master? Can slothful servants look for a good reward?
Remember, brethren, that we, of this county, have thus promised before God, in the second article of our agreement: “We agree and resolve, by God’s help, that, so far as God makes known our duty to us, we will faithfully endeavour to discharge it; and will not desist through any fears or losses in our estates, or the frowns and displeasure of men, or any other carnal inducement whatever.” I pray you study this promise, and compare your performance with it: and do not think that you were ensnared by thus engaging; for God’s law laid an obligation on you to the whole of this duty before your engagement did it. Here is nothing but what others are bound to as well as you.
220.127.116.11. The neglect of discipline has a strong tendency to delude souls
The neglect of discipline has a strong tendency to delude souls, by making those think they are Christians who are not, being permitted to live in the reputation of such, and not separated from the rest by God’s ordinance; it also has a tendency to make the scandalous think lightly of their sin, seeing that it is tolerated by the pastors of the church.
18.104.22.168. We corrupt Christianity itself in the eyes of the world
We corrupt Christianity itself in the eyes of the world, and do our part to make them believe that to be a Christian is but to be of such an opinion, to have that faith which James says the devils have, and to be solifidians; and that Christ is no more for holiness than Satan, or that the Christian religion exacts holiness no more than the false religions of the world: for if the holy and unholy are all permitted to be sheep of the same fold, without the use of Christ’s means to distinguish them, we do our part to defame Christ thereby, as if he were guilty of it, and as if this were the strain of his prescripts.
22.214.171.124. Many honest Christians think they are necessitated to withdraw
126.96.36.199. We blast the fruit of our labours
By the neglect of proper discipline we do much to bring the wrath of God upon ourselves and our congregations, and thereby to blast the fruit of our labours. If the angel of the church of Thyatira was reproved for suffering seducers in the church, we may be reproved on the same ground, for suffering open, scandalous, impenitent sinners.
5.2.8. Faithfully discharge the duties of catechising and instructing all the flock.
Faithfully discharge the great duty which you have undertaken, and which is the occasion of our meeting here to-day, in personally catechising and instructing every one in your parishes that will submit thereto. What our undertaking is you know, you have considered it, and it is now published to the world. But what the performance will be I know not: but I have many reasons to hope well of the most, though some will always be more ready to say than to do. And because this is the chief business of the day, I must beg leave to insist the longer on it. (1.) I shall give you some farther motives to persuade you to faithfulness in the work which you have undertaken, presupposing the former general motives which should excite us to this as well as to any other part of our duty. (2.) I shall give to the younger of my brethren a few words of advice respecting the manner in which it should be performed.
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