THE first reasons by which I shall persuade you to this duty are taken from the benefits of it; the second from the difficulty; and the third from the necessity, and the many obligations that are upon us for the performance of it: and to these three heads I shall reduce them all.
6.1. From the benefits
When I look forward, and consider what, through the blessing of God, this work, if well managed, is likely to produce, it makes my heart leap for joy. Truly, brethren, you have begun a most blessed work; such as your own consciences may rejoice in, your parishes rejoice in, the nation rejoice in, and children yet unborn: yea, thousands, and millions, for aught we know, may have cause to bless God for it when we have finished our course. And though it be our business here to humble ourselves for the neglect of it so long, as we have very great cause to do, yet the hopes of a blessed success are so great in me that they are ready to turn it into a day of rejoicing. I bless the Lord that I have lived to see such a day as this, and to be present at so solemn an engagement of so many servants of Christ to such a work. I bless the Lord who has honoured you of this county to be the beginners and awakeners of the nation hereunto. It is not a controverted business, where the exasperated minds of divided men might pick quarrels with us or malice itself be able to invent a rational reproach; nor is it a new invention, where envy might charge you as innovators, or proud boasters of any new discoveries of your own, or scorn to follow in it because you have led the way. No! it is a well known duty. It is but the more diligent and effectual management of the ministerial work; the teaching of our principles, and the feeding of babes with milk. You lead indeed, but not in invention of novelty, but the restoration of the ancient ministerial work, and the self-denying attempt of a duty that few or none can contradict. Unless men envy you, your labours and your sufferings, or unless they envy the saving of men’s souls, I know not what they can envy you for in this. The age is so quarrelsome that, where there is any matter to fasten on, we can scarcely explain a truth or perform a duty, but one or other, if not many, will have a stone to cast at us, and will speak evil of the things which they do not understand, or which their hearts and interests are against. But here I think we have silenced malice itself and, I hope, may do this part of God’s work quietly. If they cannot endure to be told what they know not, or contradicted in what they think, or confounded by discovery of what they have said amiss, I hope they will give us leave to do that which no man can contradict, and to practise that which all are agreed in. I hope we may have their good leave, or silent patience at least, to deny the ease and pleasure of our flesh, and to set ourselves in good earnest to help men to heaven, and to propagate the knowledge of Christ with our people. And I take it for a sign of a great and necessary work, that it has such universal approbation; the commonly acknowledged truths and duties being, for the most part, of greatest necessity and moment. It is a more noble work faithfully to practise the truths and duties that all men confess, than to make knew ones, or discover more than others have discovered. I know not why we should be ambitious of finding out new ways to heaven: to make plain, and to walk in the old way, is our work and our greatest honour.
Because the work in hand is so pregnant with great advantages to the church, I will come down to the particular benefits which we may hope for, that when you see the excellence of it you may be the more set upon it, and loath, by any negligence or failing, to destroy or frustrate it. For certainly he who has the true views of a minister will rejoice in the appearances of any farther hopes of attaining his end; and nothing can be more welcome to him than that which will farther the very business of his life: and that our present work is such I shall show you more particularly.
6.1.1. It is the most likely mean for promoting the conversion of many souls
It is the most likely mean for promoting the conversion of many souls; for it has a concurrence of those great things which must farther such a work. (1.) For the matter of it: it is about the most needful things, the principles and essentials of the Christian faith. (2.) For the manner of exercise: it will be by private conference, where we may have opportunity to set all home to the heart. (3.) The common concord of ministers will do much to bow their hearts to a consent. Were it but a meeting to resolve some controverted questions, it would not have so direct a tendency to conversion. Were it but occasional, we could not handsomely fall on them so closely; but when we make it the appointed business, it will be expected, and not so strangely taken. And if most ministers had singly set upon this work, perhaps but few of the people would have submitted; and then you might have lost your chief opportunities, and those that most needed your help would have had least of it. Whereas now we may hope that, when it is a general thing, few will refuse it; and when they see that other neighbours do it, they will be ashamed to be so singular or openly ungodly as to deny.
The work of conversion consists of two parts:—(1.) The well informing of the judgment in necessary points. (2.) The change of the will by the efficacy of this truth. Now in this work we have the most excellent advantage for both. For the informing of their understandings, it must needs be an excellent help to have the sum of all Christianity still in memory; and though bare words, not understood, will make no change, yet when the words are plain he who has the words is far more likely to know the meaning and matter than another; for what have we to make things known by, that are themselves invisible, but words and other subservient signs? Those therefore who will deride all catechisms and professions, as unprofitable forms, had better deride themselves for talking and using the form of their own words to make known their minds to others; and they may deride all God’s word on the same account, which is a standing form for the guiding of preachers, and teaching all others the doctrine of eternal life. Why may not written words, that are still before their eyes, and in their memories, instruct them, as well as the transient words of a preacher? These forms, therefore, of wholesome words are so far from being unprofitable, as some fantastical persons imagine, that they are of admirable use to all.
We shall have the opportunity by personal conference to try them, how far they understand it, and also to explain it to them as we go; and to choose out and insist on those particulars which the persons that we speak to have most need to hear. So that these two conjunct, a form of words with a plain explication, may do more than either of them could do alone.
Moreover, we have the best opportunity to imprint the same truths on their hearts, when we can speak to each one’s particular necessity, and say to the sinner, “Thou art the man;” plainly mention his particular case, and set home the truth with familiar importunity. If any thing be likely to do them good it is this. They will understand a familiar speech who hear a sermon as if it were nonsense, and they have far greater help for the application of it to themselves. You will also hear their objections, and know where it is that Satan has most advantage over them, and what it is that stands up against the truth; and so may be able to show them their errors, confute their objections, and more effectually convince them. We can better drive them to a stand, and urge them to discover their resolutions for the future, and to promise the use of means and reformation, than otherwise we could do. What need we more for this than our experience? I seldom deal with men purposely on this great business, in private, serious conference, but they go away with some seeming convictions and promises of new obedience, if not some deeper remorse and sense of their condition; and, I hope, your own experiences are the same.
O, brethren, what a blow may we give the kingdom of darkness by the faithful and skilful managing of this work! If then the saving of souls, of your neighbours’ souls, of many souls, from everlasting misery, be worth your labour, up and be doing! If the increase of the true church of Christ be desirable, this work is excellent which is so likely to promote it. If you would be the fathers of many that shall be new-born to God, would see the travail of your souls with comfort, and would be able to say at last, “Here am I and the children that thou hast given me,” up, then, and ply this blessed work; if it will do you good to see your holy converts among the saints in glory, praising the Lamb before his throne; if you will be glad to present them blameless and spotless to Christ; be glad then of this singular opportunity that is offered you. If you be ministers of Christ, indeed, you will long for the perfecting of his body, and the gathering in of his elect; and your hearts will be set upon it, and you will travail as in birth for them till Christ be formed in them. Then you will consider such opportunities as your harvest time, and as sunshine days in a rainy harvest, in which it is unreasonable and inexcusable to be idle. If you have any spark of Christian compassion in you, it will surely seem worth your utmost labour to save so many souls from death, and to cover so great a multitude of sins. If you are indeed co-workers with Christ, set then to his work, and neglect not the souls for whom he died. O remember when you are talking with the unconverted, that now there is an opportunity in your hands to save a soul, to rejoice the angels of heaven, and to rejoice Christ himself; and that your work is to cast out Satan out of a sinner, and to increase the family of God. What is your own hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not your saved people in the presence of Christ Jesus at his coming? Yea, doubtless, they are your glory and your joy.
6.1.2. It will be the orderly building up of those who are converted, and their establishment in the faith.
It will be the orderly building up of those who are converted, and their establishment in the faith. It hazards the whole work, or at least hinders it, when we do it not in the order in which it must be done. How can you build if you do not first lay a good foundation; or, how can you set on the top stone while the middle parts are neglected? Gratia non facit saltam, any more than nature. The second order of Christian truths have such dependance upon the first, that they can never be well learned till the first are learned. This makes so many deluded novices, that are puffed up with vain conceit of knowledge while they are grossly ignorant, and itch to be preaching before they well know what it is to be Christians; because they took not the work before them, but learned some less matters, which they heard most talked of, before they learned the vital principles. This makes many labour so much in vain, and still learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth, because they would learn to read before they learn to spell, or to know their letters; and this causes so many to fall away, and to be easily shaken with every wind of temptation, because they were not well settled in the fundamentals. It is these fundamentals that must lead men to farther truths: it is these they must build all upon. It is these that they must live upon, and that must actuate all their graces, and animate all their duties; it is these that must fortify them against particular temptations. He who knows these well, knows as much as will make him happy; he who knows not these, knows nothing; and he who knows these best, is the best and most understanding Christian. The most godly people, therefore, in your congregations will find it worth their labour to learn the very words of a catechism: and if you would safely edify them, and firmly establish them, be diligent in this work.
6.1.3. It will make our public preaching to be better understood and regarded.
It will make our public preaching to be better understood and regarded. When you have acquainted them with the principles they will the better understand all that you say. They will perceive what you aim at when they are once acquainted with the main parts. This prepares their minds, and opens you a way to their hearts; when, without this, you may lose the most of your labour; and the more pains you take in accurate preparations, the less good you do. As you would not therefore lose your public labour, see that you be faithful in this private work.
6.1.4. You will come to be familiar with your people, the want of which is a great impediment to the success of our labours
You will come to be familiar with your people when you have had the opportunity of familiar conversation; and the want of this with us, who have very numerous parishes, is a great impediment to the success of our labours. By distance, and our being unacquainted with them, slanderers and deceivers have opportunity to possess them with false conceits of you, which prejudice their minds against your doctrine; and by this distance and strangeness between ministers and people abundance of mistakes are fomented. Besides that, familiarity itself tends to beget those affections which open their ears to farther teaching; and when we are familiar with them they are more encouraged to open their doubts, seek resolution, and deal freely with us. But when a minister knows not his people, or is as strange with them as if he did not know them, it must be a great hinderance to his doing them any good.
6.1.5. We shall know the better how to preach to them, when we know their temper, their chief objections, and what they have most need to hear.
By these private instructions we shall come to be the better acquainted with each person’s spiritual state, and so the better know how to watch over them, and carry ourselves towards them ever after. We shall know the better how to preach to them, when we know their temper, their chief objections, and what they have most need to hear. We shall know the better wherein to be jealous of them with a pious jealousy, and what temptations to help them most against. We shall know better how to lament for them, to rejoice with them, and to pray for them to God. For as he who prays heartily for himself will know his own sores and wants, and the diseases of his own heart; so he who prays heartily for others, should know theirs as far as is meet. If a man have the charge of but sheep or cattle, he cannot so well discharge his trust, if he do not know them, and their state and qualities. So it is with the master who will well teach his scholars, and parents who will rightly educate their children; and so with ministers who properly feed the church of God.*
188.8.131.52. Footnote on Ouranius
(*“Ouranius is a holy priest, full of the spirit of the gospel, watching, labouring, and praying for a poor country village. Every soul in it is as dear to him as himself, and he loves them all as he loves himself, because he prays for them all as often as he prays for himself. If his whole life be one continued exercise of great zeal and labour, hardly ever satisfied with any degree of care and watchfulness, it is because he has learned the great value of souls, by so often appearing before God as their intercessor for them. He goes about his parish, and visits every body in it; but visits in the same spirit of piety that he preaches to them. He visits them to encourage their virtues, to assist them with his advice and counsel, to discover their manner of life, and to know the state of their souls, that he may intercede with God for them according to their particular necessities.
“When Ouranius first entered into holy orders, he had a haughtiness in his temper, a great contempt and disregard for all foolish and unreasonable people; but he has prayed away this spirit, and has now the greatest tenderness of obstinate sinners, because he is always hoping that God will, sooner or later, hear those prayers that he makes for their repentance. The rudeness, ill-nature, or perverse behaviour of any of his flock, used first to betray him into impatience; but now it raises no other passion in him than a desire to be upon his knees in prayer to God for them. Thus have his prayers for others altered and amended his own heart. It would strangely delight you to see with what spirit he converses, with what tenderness he reproves, with what affection he exhorts and preaches to those for whom he first prayed to God. This devotion softens his heart, enlightens his mind, sweetens his temper, and makes every thing that comes from him instructive, amiable, and affecting. He thinks the poorest creatures in his parish good enough and great enough to deserve the humblest attendances, the kindest friendships, the tenderest offices he can show them. He presents every one of them so often before God in his prayers, that he never thinks he can esteem, reverence, and serve those enough, for whom he implores so many mercies from God.”—Law’s Serious Call to a Holy Life.)
6.1.6. We shall the better understand how far they are fit or unfit to receive the sacraments
This acquaintance with our people’s state will better satisfy us in the administration of the sacraments. We shall the better understand how far they are fit or unfit. Though this give them not the state or relation of a member of that church of which we are overseers; yet because the members of the church universal, though of no particular church, may, in some cases, have a right to the ordinances of Christ in those particular churches where they come, and in some cases they have no right, we shall by this means therefore be the better informed how to deal with them, though they be no members of that particular church. And whereas many will question a minister who examines his people in order to the Lord’s supper, by what authority he does it, the same work will be done this way, in a manner beyond exception. Though I doubt not but a minister may require his flock to come to him at any convenient season, to give an account of their faith and proficiency, and to receive instruction, and therefore he may do it in preparation to the sacrament; yet, because ministers have laid the stress of that examination upon the mere necessity of their being prepared for that ordinance, and not upon their common duty to see the state and proficiency of each member of their flock at all proper seasons, and upon the people’s duty to submit to the guidance and instruction of the pastors at all times, they have therefore occasioned people ignorantly to quarrel against their examinations, and to call for the proof. Whereas it is an easy thing to prove that any scholar in Christ’s school is bound at any time to be accountable to his teachers, and to obey them in all lawful things, in order to their own edification and salvation; though it may be more difficult to prove a necessity that a minister must so examine them in order to the Lord’s supper, any more than in order to a day of thanksgiving, or the Lord’s day, or the baptizing of their children. Now by this course we shall discern their fitness in an unquestionable way.
6.1.7. It will inform men better of the true nature of the ministerial office
It will inform men better of the true nature of the ministerial office, and awaken them to a more serious consideration of it than is now usual. It is now too common for men to think that the work of the ministry is nothing but to preach well, to baptize, administer the Lord’s supper, and visit the sick. On this account, the people will submit to no more; and too many ministers are negligently or wilfully such strangers to their own calling, that they will do no more. It has often grieved my heart to observe how little some eminent and able preachers do for the saving of souls, except in the pulpit, and to how little purpose much of their labour is in consequence of this neglect. They have hundreds of people to whom they never spoke a word personally for their salvation; and if we may judge by their practice, they do not think it their duty; and the principal thing that hardens men in this oversight, is the common neglect of the private part of the work by others. There are so few who do much in it, and the omission is grown so common among pious and able men, that they have abated the disgrace of it by their parts; so that a man may now be guilty of it, without any common observance or dishonour. Never does sin so reign in a church or state as when it has gained reputation, or at least is no disgrace to the sinner, nor a matter of any offence to beholders. But I make no doubt, through the mercy of God, but the restored practice of personal oversight will convince many ministers that this is as truly their work as that which they now do, and will awaken them to see that the ministry is another kind of business than too many excellent preachers take it to be.
Brethren, do but set yourselves closely to this work, and follow on diligently; and though you do it silently, without any words to those who are negligent, I am in hope that most of you here may live to see the day that the neglect of private personal oversight of all the flock shall be taken for a scandalous and odious omission, and shall be as disgraceful to them who are guilty of it as preaching but once a day was heretofore. A schoolmaster must not only read a common lecture, but take a personal account of his scholars, or else he is likely to do little good. If physicians were only to read a public lecture on physic, their patients would not be much the better for them; nor would a lawyer secure your estate by reading a lecture on law. The charge of a pastor requires personal dealings as well as any of these. Let us show the world this by our practice; for most men are grown regardless of bare words.
6.1.8. It will help our people to understand better the nature of their duty towards their overseers
It will help our people to understand better the nature of their duty towards their overseers, and consequently to discharge it better. This were no matter if it were only for our sakes; but their own salvation is very much concerned in it. I am confident, by sad experience, that it is none of the least impediments to their happiness, and to a true and more general reformation of the church, that the people do not understand the work and power of ministers, nor their own duty towards them. They commonly think that a minister has no more to do with them but to preach to them, visit them in sickness, and administer sacraments; and if they hear him, and receive the sacrament from him, they owe no farther obedience, nor can he require any more at their hands. Little do they know that the minister is in the church, as the schoolmaster in his school, to teach and take an account of every one in particular, and that all Christians must be disciples or scholars in some such school. They do not think that a minister is in the church as a physician in the town, for all people to resort to for personal advice for the curing of all those diseases that are fit to be brought to a physician; and that the priest’s lips must preserve knowledge, and the people must ask the law at his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts: and that every soul in the congregation is bound, for their own safety, to have personal recourse to him, for the resolving of their doubts, for help against their sins, for direction in duty, and for increase of knowledge and all saving grace; and that ministers are purposely settled in congregations to this end, to be still ready to advise and help the flock. If our people did but know their duty, they would readily come to us to be instructed when they are desired, and to give an account of their knowledge, faith, and lives; yea, they would come themselves, without sending for, and knock more frequently at our doors, and call for advice and help for their souls, and ask, “What shall we do to be saved?” Whereas now the matter is come to such a pass, that they think a minister has nothing to do with them; and if he admonish them, they will bid him look to himself—he shall not answer for them. If he call them to be catechised or instructed, to prepare for the Lord’s supper or other holy ordinances, or would take an account of their faith and profiting, they will ask him by what authority he does these things; and think he is a busy, pragmatical fellow, who loves to be meddling where he has nothing to do; or a proud fellow, who would bear rule over their consciences. When they might as well ask him by what authority he preaches, prays for them, or gives them the sacrament. Or they might as well ask a schoolmaster by what authority he calls his scholars to learn to say their lesson, or a physician by what authority he enjoins them to take his medicines. People do not consider that all our authority is for our work, even a power to our duty, and our work is for them; so that it is but an authority to do them good. Hence they talk no wiser than if they were to quarrel with a man for helping to quench the fire in their thatch, and ask him by what authority he did it: or that would give his money to relieve the poor, and they should ask him, by what authority do you require us to take this money; or that had offered his hand to one that had fallen to help him up, or to one in the water to save him from drowning, and he should ask by what authority he did so. Truly we often have no wiser nor more thankful dealing from these men; and yet we are doubly obliged, both by Christian charity and the ministerial office, to do them all the good we can. I know not of any simile that more aptly expresses the ministerial power and duty, and the people’s duty to their ministers, than these two conjunct: viz., a physician in a hospital, who has taken the charge of it, and a schoolmaster in his school, especially such as the philosophers, or teachers of any science or art, whose schools have the aged and voluntary members as well as children. Such are ministers in the church: such is their work, their authority to do it, and the duty of the people to submit thereto, allowing such differences as the subject requires.
What is it that has brought people to this ignorance of their duty but custom? It is long of us, brethren, to speak truly and plainly, it is long of us who have not used them nor ourselves to any more than common public work. We see how much custom does with people. Where it is the custom, they stick not among the papists at confessing all their sins to the priest; and because it is not the custom among us, they disdain to be privately questioned, catechised, or instructed at all. They wonder at it as a strange thing, and say, “Such things were never done before.” And if we can but prevail to make this duty become as usual as other duties, they will much more easily submit to it than now. What a happy thing would it be if you should live to see the day that it will be as common for people of all ages to come in course to their teachers for personal advice and help for their salvation as it is now for them to come to the church, or to send their children thither to be catechised. Our diligence in this work is the way to promote this.
6.1.9. Our practice will give the governors of the nation some better information about the nature and burden of the ministry
Our practice will give the governors of the nation some better information about the nature and burden of the ministry, and so may procure their farther assistance. It is a lamentable impediment to the reformation of the church, and saving of souls, that in most populous congregations there is but one or two men to oversee many thousand souls; and so there are not labourers in any measure answerable to the work. Hence it becomes an impossible thing to them to do any considerable part of that personal duty which should be done by faithful pastors to all the flock. I have often said it, and still must say it, that this is a great part of England’s misery, and great degree of spiritual famine which reigns in most cities and great towns through the land, even where they are insensible of it, and think themselves well provided. Alas, we see multitudes of carnal, ignorant sinners around about us! Here is a family, and there a family, and there almost a whole street or village of them: Our hearts pity them—we see that their necessities cry aloud for our speedy and diligent relief, so that he who has ears to hear must needs hear it: and if we would ever so gladly, we cannot help them; not only through their obstinacy, but also through our want of opportunity. We have experience, that if we could but have leisure to speak to them, and plainly to open to them their sin and danger, there were great hopes of doing good to many of those who receive little by our public teaching. But we cannot come at them: more necessary work prohibits us. We cannot do both at once: and the public must be preferred, because there we deal with many at once: and it is as much as we are able to do to perform the public work, or some little more. If we take the time when we should eat or sleep, besides the ruining of weakened bodies by it, we shall not be able after all to speak to one of very many of them. So that we stand by and see poor people perish, and can but be sorry for them, not being able so much as to speak to them, to endeavour their recovery. Is not this a sad case in a nation that glories in the fulness of the gospel? An infidel will say, No: but methinks no man who believes everlasting joy or torment will say so. I will instance of my own case: We are together two ministers, and a third at a chapel, willing to bestow every hour of our time in Christ’s work. Before we undertook this work that we are now upon, our hands were full; and now we are engaged to set apart two days every week from morning to night for private catechising and instruction: so that any man may see that we must leave undone all that other work which we were wont to do at that time; and we are necessitated to run upon the public work of preaching with small preparation; and so must deliver the message of God in such a raw, confused manner, and in a way unsuitable to its dignity and the necessity of men’s souls, that it is a great trouble to our minds to consider it, and a greater trouble to us when we are doing it. Yet it must be so: there is no remedy. Unless we omit this personal instruction, we must needs run thus unprepared into the pulpit; and to omit this we dare not, it is so great and necessary a work. When we have incurred all the fore-mentioned inconveniences, and have set two whole days every week apart for the work that we have now undertaken, it will be as much as we shall be able to do to go over the parish but once in a year, there being in it about eight hundred families; and, what is worse than that, we shall be forced to cut it short, and do it less effectually than we ought, having above fifteen families to visit in a week; and alas, how small a matter it is to speak to a man once only in a year, and that so cursorily as we must be forced to do, in comparison of what their necessities require! Yet are we in hope of some fruit of this much; but how much more might it be, if we could but speak to them once a quarter, and do the work more fully and deliberately, as you who are in smaller parishes may do. Many ministers in England have ten times, if not more, the number of parishioners that I have; so that if they should undertake the work as we have done they can go over their parish but once in ten years. Thus, while we are hoping for opportunities to speak to them, we hear of one dying after another; and, to the grief of our souls, are forced to go with them to their graves before we could ever speak a word to them personally to prepare them for their change. What is the cause of all this misery? Why, our rulers have not seen a necessity of any more ministers than one or two in such parishes; and so they have not allowed any maintenance to that end. It is easy to separate from the multitude, gather distinct churches, and let the rest sink or swim; or, at least, if they be not saved by public preaching, let them be damned; but whether this be the most charitable and Christian course, one would think can be no hard question. What is the cause that wise and godly rulers should be thus guilty of our misery, and that none of our cries will awaken them to compassion? What, are they so ignorant as not to know these things? Are they grown cruel to the souls of men; or are they false-hearted to the interest of Christ, and have a design to undermine his kingdom? No: I hope it is none of these; but for aught I can find, it is long of us, even us ministers of the gospel, whom they should thus maintain. For those ministers who have small parishes, and might do all this private part of the work, yet do it not, except a very few, and will not do it: and those in great towns and cities who might do somewhat, though they cannot do all, will do just nothing but what accidentally falls in their way, or next to nothing; so that magistrates are not awakened to observe and consider the weight of our work; if it be not in their eyes, as well as in their ears, they will not regard it. Or if they apprehend the usefulness of it, yet if they see that ministers are so careless and lazy that they will not do it, they think it in vain to provide them a maintenance for it—it would be but to cherish idle drones: and so they think that if they maintain ministers enough to preach in the pulpit, they have done their part; and thus are they involved in heinous sin of which we are the occasion. Whereas if we do but heartily all set ourselves to this work, and show the magistrates that it is a most weighty and necessary part of our business; that we would do it throughly if we could; and that, if there were hands enough at it, the work would go on; and withal, when they shall see the happy success of our labours, then no doubt, if the fear of God be in them, and they have any love to his truth and men’s souls, they will put to their helping hand, and not let men perish because there is no man to speak to them to prevent it. They will one way or other raise maintenance in such populous places for labourers proportioned to the number of souls and greatness of the work. Let them but see us fall to the work, and see it prosper in our hands; as, if it be well managed, through God’s blessing, there is no doubt but it will, and then it will draw out their hearts to the promoting of it: and instead of laying parishes together, to diminish the number of teachers, they will either divide them, or allow more teachers to a parish. But when they see that many carnal ministers make a greater stir to have more maintenance to themselves, than to have more help in the work of God, they are tempted by such worldlings to wrong the church, that particular ministers may have ease and fulness.
6.1.10. It may exceedingly facilitate the ministerial service to the next generation
It may exceedingly facilitate the ministerial service to the next generation, and prevent the rebellion of people against their teachers. Custom sways with the multitude; and those who first break a destructive custom must bear the brunt of their indignation. Somebody must do this. If we do it not, it will lie upon our successors; and how can we expect that they should be more hardy, resolute, and faithful, than we? We have seen the heavy judgments of the Lord, and heard him pleading by fire and sword with the land. We have been ourselves in the furnace, and should be the most refined. We are most deeply obliged by oaths and covenants, by wonderful deliverances, experiences, and mercies of all sorts; and if we yet flinch, turn our backs, and prove false-hearted, why should we expect better from those who have not been driven by such scourges, nor drawn by such cords. But if they do prove better than we, and will do it, the same odium and opposition must befall them which we avoid, and that with some increase, because of our neglect; for the people will tell them that we, their predecessors, did no such things. But if we would now break through who are set in the front, and break the ice for those who follow us, their souls will bless us, our names shall be dear to them, and they will feel the happy fruits of our labour every week and day of their ministry. When the people shall willingly submit to their private instructions and examinations, yea, and to discipline too, because we have acquainted them with it, removed the prejudice, and broke the evil custom that those who went before us had been the cause of; and so we may do much to the saving of many thousand souls in all ages to come, as well as in the present age.
6.1.11. We shall keep our people’s minds and time from much of that vanity that now possesses them.
We shall keep our people’s minds and time from much of that vanity that now possesses them. When men are at work, almost all their talk is vanity, the children also learn foolish and ribald songs and tales: with such filth and rubbish are their memories furnished, many an hour is lost, and many thousands of idle thoughts and words are they guilty of. Whereas, when they once know that catechisms must be learned and that they must all give account, it will turn much of their thoughts and time that way.
6.1.12. It will do much for the better ordering of families, and better spending of the Lord’s day.
It will do much for the better ordering of families, and better spending of the Lord’s day. When we have once got the master of the family to undertake to examine his family every Lord’s day, and hear what they can say of the catechism, it will find them the most profitable employment; whereas otherwise many of them would be idle, or ill employed. Many masters who know but little themselves may yet be brought to do this for others.
6.1.13. It will do good to many ministers who are apt to be idle and misspend their time
It will do good to many ministers who are apt to be idle and misspend their time in unnecessary discourse, business, journeys or recreations; and will let them see that they have no time to spare for such things. When they are engaged in so much pressing employment of such a high nature, it will be the best cure for all their idleness or loss of time; and withal it will cut off that scandal which is consequent thereon. The people say, “Such a minister can set in an alehouse or tavern, or spend his time at bowls or other sports, or vain discourse, and why may not we do so?” Let us all set closely to this part of our work, and then see what time we can find to spare; yea, let us only faithfully employ ourselves in it, and live an idle, worldly, or voluptuous life, if we can.
6.1.14. Many personal benefits to ourselves are consequent on these.
Many personal benefits to ourselves are consequent on these. It will do much to exercise and increase our own graces; to subdue our own corruptions; and, besides our safety, it will breed much peace to our own consciences, and comfort us when our time and actions must be reviewed. (1.) To be much in provoking others to repentance and heavenly mindedness may do much to excite them in ourselves. (2.) To cry down the sin of others, engage them against it, and direct them to overcome it, will do much to shame us out of our own; and conscience will scarcely suffer us to live in that we make so much ado to draw others from. That very constant employment for God, and busying our minds and tongues against sin, and for Christ and holiness, will do much to habituate us, and to overcome our fleshly inclinations, both by direct mortification and by diversion, leaving our fancies no room nor time for their old employment. I dare say that all the austerities of monks and hermits, who addict themselves to unprofitable solitude, and are the true imitators of the unprofitable servant who hid his talent because his master was an austere man, and think to save themselves by neglecting to show compassion on others, will not do near so much in the true work of mortification as this fruitful diligence for Christ.
6.1.15. By this means we shall take off ourselves and our people from vain controversies
By this means we shall take off ourselves and our people from vain controversies, and from employing our care and zeal upon the lesser matters of religion, things which often hinder their spiritual edification: for while we are taken up in teaching, and they in learning the fundamentals, our minds and tongues too will be diverted from lower things; and thus it will cure much wrangling and contention between ministers and people; for we do that which we need not and should not, because we will not fall closely to do that which we need and should. If we could contrive to get some of the most understanding and judicious of our people to assist us in privately helping others, it would be the most effectual way to prevent their running into preaching distempers or schisms; for this employment would take them up, and content the teaching humour to which they are inclined; and it might make their parts more useful in a safe and lawful way.
6.1.16. It will do much to set men right about many controversies that now trouble the church
The very diligent practice of this work that we are upon will do much to set men right about many controversies that now trouble the church, and so to put an end to our differences. Especially, most of those about the ministry, churches, and discipline, would receive more convincing light by practice than by all our idle talking or writing. We have fallen of late into parties, and troubled the church about many controversies concerning excommunication, in such and such cases, which perhaps never will fall out; or if they do, they never can be so well decided by any man who is not engaged in the practice. It is like the profession of a physician, a soldier, or a pilot, who can never be worth a straw at their work, by all the precepts in the world, without practice and experience. This will be the only course to make,—(1.) Sound divines in the main, which bare studying will not do. (2.) Recover us again to the primitive simplicity, to live upon the substantial, necessary things. (3.) To direct and resolve us in many of our quarrels, which can no other way be well resolved. For example: if this work had been set on foot, and it had been made visible what it is to have the oversight of souls, durst any bishops have contended for the sole oversight of two hundred, four hundred, or a thousand churches; and that the presbyters might be but their curates and informers? Durst they have striven with might and main to draw upon themselves such impossibilities, to carry such mountains on their backs, and to answer to God, as overseers and pastors of so many thousand people, whose faces they were never likely to see, much less were they ever to speak one word to them for their everlasting life? Would not each of them rather have said, “If I must be a bishop, let me be a parochial bishop, or have no more to oversee than I am capable of overseeing; and let me be such as the primitive bishops were, who had but one church, and not hundreds, to take care of; and let me not be engaged to perform impossibilities, and that on pain of damnation and to the certain destruction of the business that I undertake.” Surely these would rather have been their strivings; I do not speak this against any bishops who acknowledge the presbyters to be true pastors to rule and teach the flock, and consider themselves only the chief or presidents among the presbyters, yea, or the rulers of presbyters who are the rulers of the flock; but of those who make null the presbyter’s office, and the church’s government and discipline, by undertaking it alone as their sole prerogative.
Many other controversies pertaining to discipline I might instance, which will be better resolved by this course of practice, through the abundant experience it will afford, than by all the disputations or writings that have attempted it.
6.1.17. We have reason to hope that the success will be more extensive in our several parishes than we have hitherto seen
The design of this work is the reformation and salvation of all the people in our several parishes, for we shall not leave out any man who will submit to be instructed. And though we can scarcely hope that every particular person will be reformed and saved by it, yet we have reason to hope that as the attempt is universal so the success will be more general and extensive than we have hitherto seen our other labours. Sure I am it is most like to the spirit, precept, and offers of the gospel, which require us to preach the gospel to every creature, and promise life to every man who accepts it by believing. If God would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, that is, as Rector and Benefactor of the world, he has manifested himself willing to save all men, if they will themselves; then surely it becomes us to offer salvation to all men, and endeavour to bring them to the knowledge of the truth: and if Christ tasted death for every man, it is meet we should preach his death to every man. This work has a more excellent design than our accidental conferences with now and then a particular person. And I observe that in such occasional discourses men satisfy themselves to have spoken some good words, but seldom set plainly and closely to the matter, to convince men of sin, misery, and mercy, as in this work we are now more likely to do.
6.1.18. It is likely to be a work that shall spread over the whole land, and not stop with us who have now engaged in it.
It is likely to be a work that shall spread over the whole land, and not stop with us who have now engaged in it. For though it be at present neglected, I suppose the cause is the same with our brethren as it has all this while been with us, who, by vain expectations of the magistrate’s interposition, or by that inconsiderateness and laziness which we are bewailing here this day, have omitted it till now, as we have done; but especially a despair of a common submission of the people has been the hinderance. But when they shall be reminded of so clear and great a duty, and excited to the consideration of it, and see with us the feasibleness of it in a good measure, when it is done by common consent, no doubt they will universally take it up, and gladly concur with us in so blessed a work. For they are the servants of the same God, as regardful of their flocks, as conscientious as we, as sensible of the interest of Christ, as compassionate to men’s souls, and as self-denying and ready to do or suffer for such excellent ends. Seeing, therefore, they have the same spirit, rule, and Lord, I will not be so uncharitable as to doubt whether all who are godly, or the generality of them, will gladly join with us through all the land. And O what a happy thing it will be to see such a general combination for Christ—to see all England seriously called upon and importuned for Christ, and set in so fair a way for heaven! Methinks the consideration of it should make our hearts rejoice within us, to see so many faithful servants of Christ all over the land, to fall in with every particular sinner with such industrious solicitations for the saving of their souls as men who will hardly take a denial. Methinks I see all the godly ministers of England setting upon the work already, and resolving to take the opportunity, that unanimity may facilitate it; which, if they do, no doubt but God will succeed them. Is it not then a most happy undertaking that you are all setting your hands to, and desiring the assistance of Christ in this day?
6.1.19. The chief part of the church reformation which is behind, as to means, consists in it
Such is the weight and excellence of the duty that we are upon, that the chief part of the church reformation which is behind, as to means, consists in it, and it must be the chief means to answer the judgments, the mercies, the prayers, the promises, the cost, the endeavours, and blood of the nation: and without this it will not be done; the end of all these will never be well attained; a reformation to purpose will never be wrought; the church will be still low; the interest of Christ will be much neglected; and God will still have a controversy with the land, and, above all, with the ministers, who have been deepest in the guilt.
How long have we talked of reformation, how much have we said and done for it in general, and how deeply and devotedly have we vowed it for our own parts; and after all this, how shamefully have we neglected it to this day! We carry ourselves as if we had not known or considered what that reformation was which we vowed. As carnal men will take on them to be Christians, and profess with confidence to believe in Christ, and accept of his salvation, and may contend for Christ, and fight for him; and yet for all this would have none of him, but perish for refusing him, who little dreamed that ever they had been refusers of him; and all because they understood not what his salvation is, and how it is carried on; but dream of a salvation without flesh-displeasing, and without self-denying, and renouncing the world, and parting with their sins, and without any holiness, or any great pains and labour of their own in subserviency to Christ and the Spirit; even so did too many ministers and private men, talk, and write, and pray, and fight, and long for reformation; and would little have believed that man who should have presumed to tell them that for all this their very hearts were against reformation; and that those who were praying, fasting, and wading through blood for it, would never accept of it, but would themselves be the rejecters and destroyers of it. Yet so it is, and so it has too plainly proved; and whence is all this strange deceit of heart, that good men should no better know themselves? Why, the case is plain: they thought of a reformation to be given by God, but not of a reformation to be wrought on and by themselves. They considered the blessing, but never thought of the means of accomplishing it. As if they had expected that all things besides themselves should be mended without them; or that the Holy Ghost should again descend miraculously; or that every sermon should convert its thousands; or that some angel from heaven, or some Elias, should be sent to restore all things; or that the law of a parliament, and the sword of a magistrate, would have converted and constrained all, and have done the deed. Little did they think of a reformation that must be wrought by their own diligence and unwearied labours, by earnest preaching, catechising, personal instructions, and taking heed to all the flock, whatever pains or reproaches it might cost them. They thought not that a thorough reformation must multiply their own work. We had all of us too carnal thoughts, that when we had ungodly men at our mercy all would be done, and conquering them was converting them, or such a mean as would have frightened them to heaven. But the business is far otherwise; and had we then known how a reformation must be attained, perhaps some would have been colder in the prosecution of it. And yet I know that even foreseen labours seem small matters at a distance, while we do but hear and talk of them; but when we come nearer to them, and must put our hands to the work, and put on our armour, and charge through the thickest of opposing difficulties, then are the sincerity and strength of men’s hearts brought to trial, and it will appear how they purposed and promised before. Reformation is to many of us as the Messiah was to the Jews. Before he came they looked and longed for him, and boasted of him, and rejoiced in hope of him; but when he came, they hated him, would not believe that he was indeed the person; and therefore persecuted and put him to death, to the curse and confusion of the main body of their nation. “The Lord whom we seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; but who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness,” Mal. iii, 1-3. And the reason was, because they expected him to come in a different manner from that in which he appeared to them. They looked for one to bring them riches and liberty; and to this day they profess that they will never believe in any but such. So it is with too many about reformation. They hoped for a reformation that should bring them more wealth and honour with the people, and power to force men to do what they would have them; and now they see a reformation that must put them to more condescension and pains than ever they were at before, this will not go down with them. They thought to have the opposers of godliness under their feet, but now they see they must go to them with humbled entreaties, and put their hands under their feet, if it would do them good; meekly beseeching even those who sometimes sought their lives; make it now their daily business to overcome them by kindness, and win them with love. O how many carnal expectations are here crossed!
Hence also it is that most men lay so great a part of reformation in their private opinions or singular ways. The Episcopal party think that the true reformation is to restore them to power; the Presbyterians, that if episcopacy and independency were put down, and classes set up, the work were chiefly done; the Independents, that if they had gathered a separated body of godly people under covenant, much of the reformation were wrought; and the Baptists think that if they could but get people to be baptized again, they had done a great matter for reformation. I am not now reproving any of these in the matter, though the last especially well deserve it, but to show that they lay far too much upon their several orders and formalities. Indeed, if we had our will in all these matters of order, and had the best form of government in the world, yet it is the painful execution, and the diligent and prudent use of means for men’s conversion and edification, by able, faithful men, that must accomplish the reformation.
Brethren, I dare confidently tell you, that if you will but faithfully perform what you have agreed upon, both in this business of catechising and personal instruction, and in the matter of discipline formerly where we have well waived all the controverted part which has so much ascribed to it, you will do more for the true reformation, which is so desirable, and has been so long prayed and hoped for, than all the changes of forms and orders so eagerly contended for are ever likely to effect. If bishops would do this work, I would take them for reformers; and if Presbyterians will do it, I will take them for reformers; and those who neglected and hindered it, I have always taken for deformers. Let us see the work well done that God has made so necessary for men’s conversion, preservation, restoration, and salvation, and the doers of it, whether prelates or presbyters, shall never have any opposition from me. But it is not bare canons, orders, names, and shows, that any wise man will take for the substance of reformation. It is not circumcision or uncircumcision, to be a Jew or a Gentile, bond or free, that availeth any thing, but a new creature, and faith that worketh by love. That is the reformation which best heals the ignorance, infidelity, pride, hypocrisy, worldly mindedness, and other killing sins of the land, and that most effectually brings men to faith and holiness. Not that I would have the least truth or duty undervalued, or any part of God’s will to be rejected: but the kingdom of God consisteth not in every truth or duty, not in ceremonies or circumstances, not in meats or drinks; but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Dear brethren, it is you, and such as you, that, under Christ, must yet give this nation the fruit of all their prayers and pains, their cost and blood, and their heavy sufferings. All that they have been doing for the good of the church, and for true reformation for so many years, was but to prepare the way for you to come in and do the work which they desired. Alas, what would they do by fire and sword, by drums and trumpets, for the converting of souls! The actions of armies and famous commanders, which seem so glorious, and make so great a noise that the world rings with them, what have they done, or what can they do, that is worth talking of without you? In themselves considered, all their victories and great achievements are, so far from being truly glorious, that they are very lamentable; and a butcher may as well glory that he has killed so many beasts, or a hangman that he has executed so many men, as they can glory in the thing considered in itself; for war is the most heavy temporal judgment: and far less cause would they have to glory if their cause and end were wrong. If their hearts, end, and cause be right, and they mean as honestly as any men in the world, yet are these great commanders but your pioneers, to cut up the thorns that stand in your way, to cast out the rubbish, and prepare you the way to build the house. Alas, they cannot with all their victories exalt the Lord Jesus in the soul of any sinner; and therefore they cannot set up his spiritual kingdom, for the hearts of men are his house and throne. If the work should stop with the end of theirs, and go no farther than they can carry it, we should be in the end but where we were in the beginning; and one generation of Christ’s enemies would succeed another, and they who take down the wicked would inherit their vices, as they possess their places, and the last would be far the worst, as being deeper in the guilt, and more engaged in evil-doing. All this trouble then and stir of the nation has been to bring the work to your hands; and shall it die there? God forbid! They have opened you the door; and, at exceeding cost and sufferings, have removed many of your impediments, and put the building instruments into your hands, and will you now stand still or loiter? God forbid! Up then, brethren, and give the nation the fruit of their cost and labour. Frustrate not the long expectations of so many thousands, who have prayed in hope of a true reformation, paid in hope, ventured in hope, suffered in hope, and waited till now in hope. In the name of God, take heed that you do not disappoint all these hopes! Have they spent so long time in fencing the vineyard, in weeding and pruning it, and making it ready for your hands; and will you now fail those who are sent to gather in the vintage, and be the cause of their losing all their labours? When they have ploughed the field, will you sow it only by halves? If they had known beforehand that ministers would have proved idle and unfaithful, how many hundreds would have spared their blood; how many thousands would have set still, and have let the old readers and formalists alone, and have said, “If we must have dull and unprofitable men, it is as good to have one as another: it is not worth so much cost and pains to change one careless minister for another.” The end is the mover and life of the agent in all the means; How many thousands have prayed, and paid, and suffered; and more in expectation of a great advantage to the church, and more common illumination and reformation of the nation by your means; and will you now deceive them all? Again I say, God forbid! It is at your hands that they are now expecting the happy issue of all. The eyes of the nation are, or should be, all, under God, upon you, for the bringing in the harvest of their cost and labours. I profess it makes me wonder at the fearful deceitfulness of the heart of man, to see how every man can call on others for duty, or censure them for omitting it; and what excellent judges we are in other men’s cases, and how partial in our own.
Brethren, it were a strange mistake, if any of us should think that the price of the nation’s wealth and blood was to settle us in good benefices. Was this the reformation intended, that we might live in greater ease and fulness? Why, sirs, what are we more than other men, that the people should do all this; that they should empoverish the whole nation almost to provide us a livelihood? What can they see in our persons or countenances for which they should so dote upon us? Are we not men, frail and corruptible flesh, and unworthy sinners like themselves? Surely it was for our work, and the end of our work, and not for our persons, that they have done all this. What say you now, brethren? Will you deal faithfully with your creditors, and pay the nation the debt which you owe them? Shall all the blood and cost of this people be frustrated or not? You are now called upon to give your answer, and it is you that must give it. The work is now before you; and in these personal instructions of all the flock, as well as in public preaching, does it consist. Others have done their part, and borne their burden, and now comes in yours. You may easily see how great a matter lies upon your hands, how many will be wronged by your failing, and how much will be lost by the sparing of your labour. If your labour be more worth than all our treasures, hazards, and lives,—more worth than the souls of men and the blood of Christ; then sit still, and look not after the ignorant or the ungodly; follow your pleasure and worldly business, or take your ease; displease not sinners, nor your own flesh; but let your neighbours sink or swim, and if public preaching will not save them, let them perish. But if the case be far otherwise, you had best look about you. I shall say more of this by-and-by.
6.2. From the difficulty of this work
Having given you the first sort of reasons, which were drawn from the benefits of the present work, I come to the second sort, which are taken from the difficulties, which, if they were alone, or in a needless business, I confess might be rather discouragements than motives: but taking these with those that go before and follow, the case is otherwise; for difficulties must excite to greater diligence in a necessary and important work. We shall find many difficulties both in ourselves and in our people, which, because they are things so obvious that your experience will leave no room for doubt, I shall pass them over in a few words.
6.2.1. In ourselves
184.108.40.206. In ourselves there is much dulness and laziness, so that there will be much ado to get us to be faithful in the work.
In ourselves there is much dulness and laziness, so that there will be much ado to get us to be faithful in the work. Like a sluggard in bed, who knows he should rise, and yet delays, and would stay as long as he can; so do we by duties that our corrupt nature is against, and puts us to the use of all our powers. Mere sloth ties the hands of many.
220.127.116.11. We have a base, man-pleasing temper, which makes us let men perish rather than lose their love
We have a base, man-pleasing temper, which makes us let men perish rather than lose their love; and let them go quietly to hell, lest we should make them angry with us for seeking their salvation. We are ready to venture on the displeasure of God, and suffer our people to run into everlasting misery, rather than get ill-will to ourselves. This disposition must be diligently resisted.
18.104.22.168. Some of us have a foolish bashfulness, which makes us very backward to begin with them, and to speak plainly to them.
Some of us have a foolish bashfulness, which makes us very backward to begin with them, and to speak plainly to them. We are so modest that we blush to speak for Christ, to contradict the devil, or to save a soul, when of shameful works we are less ashamed.
22.214.171.124. Our worldly interests often stop our mouths and make us unfaithful in the work of Christ.
Our worldly interests often stop our mouths and make us unfaithful in the work of Christ. We are afraid lest we bring trouble upon ourselves, or set people against us, and such like. All these require diligence for their resistance.
126.96.36.199. We are weak in faith
The greatest hinderance of all is, that we are weak in faith; so that when we should set upon a man for his conversion with all our might, if there be not the stirrings of unbelief within us, to raise up actual questionings of heaven and hell, whether the things that we should earnestly press be true; yet at least the belief of them is weak, and do not excite in us fervent, resolute, and constant zeal. Thus our whole motion is weak, because our faith, the spring of it, is weak. O what need, therefore, have all ministers for themselves and their work to look well to their faith, especially that their assent to the truth of Scripture, about the joy and torments of the life to come, be deep and lively.
188.8.131.52. We are unskilful in the work.
We are unskilful in the work. Alas, how few know how to deal with men for their salvation! To get within them, and win them, and suit all our speeches to their several conditions and tempers; to choose the fittest subjects, and follow them with a holy mixture of seriousness, terror, love, meekness, and evangelical allurements. O who is fit for these things! I profess, it seems to me as hard a matter to converse aright with such, as to preach such sermons as we usually do, if not much more so. All these difficulties in ourselves should awaken us to resolution, preparation, and diligence, that we be not overcome by them, and hindered in our work.
6.2.2. In our people
In our people we have also many difficulties to grapple with.
184.108.40.206. Many of them will be unwilling to be taught, and refuse to come near us
Many of them will be unwilling to be taught, and refuse to come near us, as being too good to be catechised, or too old to learn, unless we deal wisely with them in public and private, and, by the force of reason and the power of love, conquer their perverseness, which we must carefully endeavour.
220.127.116.11. Many who are willing, are extremely dull, and therefore will keep away
Many who are willing, are extremely dull, and therefore will keep away, for fear of showing their dulness, unless we tenderly and diligently encourage them.
18.104.22.168. When they do come, so great is their ignorance that you will find it a hard matter to get them to understand you.
When they do come, so great is their ignorance that you will find it a hard matter to get them to understand you. Hence, if you have not the art of making every thing plain, you will leave them as strange to it as before.
22.214.171.124. You will find it still harder to fix things on their hearts
You will find it still harder to fix things on their hearts, and set them home to the quick, so as to produce that saving change which is our end, and without which our labour is lost. O what a rock is a hardened, carnal heart! How stiffly will it resist the most powerful persuasions, and hear of everlasting life or death as a thing of naught. If you have not, therefore great seriousness, fervency, and fitness of expression, what good can you expect? And when all is done, the Spirit of grace must do the work; but as God and men choose instruments most suitable to the nature of the agent, work, or end, so here the spirit of wisdom, life, and holiness does not usually work by foolish, dead, or worldly instruments; but by such persuasions of light, life, and purity, as are most like himself and the work that is to be wrought thereby.
126.96.36.199. When you have made some impressions on their hearts, if you look not after them, they will soon return to their former hardness
When you have made some impressions on their hearts, if you look not after them, they will soon return to their former hardness, and their old companions and temptations will render all abortive. All the difficulties of the work of conversion with which we usually acquaint our people are before us in our present work, which, however, I shall not enumerate.
6.3. From the necessity of it
The third sort of reasons are drawn from the necessity of the work: for if it were not necessary, the lazy might be discouraged rather than excited by the forementioned difficulties.
In the first place, it is necessary by obligation, ut officium, necessitate, prœcepti: in the second, it is necessary ad finem, and that for God, for our neighbours, and ourselves.
(1.) We have on us the obligation of Scripture precepts, both general and special. (2.) The subservient obligation, by promises and threatenings. (3.) These are seconded by executions of actual judgments and mercies. (4.) We have the obligation of our own undertaking upon us. All these deserve your consideration.
6.3.1. Every Christian is obliged to do all that he can for the salvation of others
Every Christian is obliged to do all that he can for the salvation of others; but every minister is doubly obliged, because he is separated to the gospel of Christ for that end, and is to give himself up wholly to that work. It is needless to question our obligation, when we know that this work is needful for the conversion and salvation of our people, and that we are commanded to do all that is needful for that end as far as we are able. Even old professors have need to be taught the first principles of God’s oracles, if they have neglected or forgot them. That the unconverted have need of conversion, and the means of it, is not doubted among us; and whether the work of personal instruction be not a needful means, experience will put us out of doubt. Let those who have taken most pains in public examine their people, and try whether many of them be not yet as ignorant and careless almost as if they had never heard the gospel. For my part, I study to speak as plainly and affectingly as I can: next my study to speak truth, this is my chief study, and yet I frequently meet with those who have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth, life, and death, as if they had never heard it before; and of those who know the history of the gospel, how few are there who know the nature of that repentance, faith, and holiness which it requires; but most of them have an ungrounded affiance in Christ, trusting that he will justify and save them while the world has their hearts, and they live to themselves; and this affiance they take for justifying faith. I have found by experience that these have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close discourse, than they did from ten years’ public preaching. I know that the public preaching of the gospel is the most excellent means, because we speak to many at once; but otherwise, it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to a particular sinner; for the plainest man can scarcely speak plain enough in public for them to understand, but we may in private. In public our discourses are long, and we quite overrun their understandings and memories; they are confounded and at a loss, and not able to follow us, and one thing drives out another. But in private we can take our work gradatim, and take our hearers with us as we go; and by questions and their answers can see how far they go with us, and what we have next to do. I conclude, therefore, that public preaching will not be sufficient: for though it may be an effectual means to convert many, yet not so many as may justly be expected from a diligent and faithful use of all the other means which God has appointed for that end. You may long study and preach to little purpose, if you neglect this duty of private and personal instruction.
For instances of particular and special obligation, we might easily show you many, both from Christ’s own example, who used this interlocutory dialogue way of preaching both to his disciples and the Jews, and from the example of the apostles. Thus Peter preached to the Jews, and to Cornelius and his friends; thus Philip preached to the eunuch, and thus Paul preached to the jailer and many others. It is plain that it was the most common manner of preaching in those times.
6.3.2. There is a necessity also for this duty ad finem
There is a necessity also for this duty ad finem.
188.8.131.52. For bringing greater glory to God, by the more full and extensive success of the gospel
For bringing greater glory to God, by the more full and extensive success of the gospel, because he is most honoured and pleased when most are saved; for he has sworn that he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he return and live. And, doubtless, as every Christian lives to the glory of God as his end, so he will gladly take that course which will most effectually promote it? for what man would not attain his end? O, brethren, if we could set this work on foot in all the parishes in England, and get our people to submit to it, and then prosecute it skilfully and zealously ourselves, what a glory would it put upon the face of the nation, and what glory would redound to God thereby! If our common ignorance were thus banished, our vanity and idleness turned into the study of the way of life, and every shop and every house were busy in learning catechisms, and speaking of the word and works of God, what pleasure would God take in our cities and countries! He would even dwell in our habitations, and make them his delight. It is the glory of Christ which shines in his saints, and all their glory is his glory; that, therefore, which honours them, in number or excellence, honours him. Will not the glory of Christ be most wonderful and conspicuous in the New Jerusalem, when the church shall have that shining lustre which is described in Rev. xxi? It is he who is the sun and shield of his church, and his light is it in which they shall have light; and the business of every saint is to glorify him. If therefore we can increase the number or strength of the saints, we thereby increase the honour of the King of saints; for he will have service and praise where before he had disobedience and dishonour. Christ also will be honoured in the fruits of his bloodshed, and the Spirit of grace in the fruit of his operations; and do not all these ends require us to use the means with diligence?
184.108.40.206. This duty also is necessary to the welfare of our people.
This duty also is necessary to the welfare of our people. How much it will tend to their salvation is manifest. Brethren, can you look on your miserable neighbours, and not perceive them calling for your help? There is not a sinner whose case you should not so far compassionate as to be willing to relieve him at a dearer rate than this. Can you see them as the wounded man by the way, and unmercifully pass by? Can you hear them cry to you as the man of Macedonia to Paul, in his vision, Come and help us, and yet will you refuse your help? Are you intrusted with an hospital, where one languishes in one corner, and another groans in another, and cries out, “O help me, pity me for the Lord’s sake;” and a third is raging mad, and would destroy himself and you; and yet will you sit idle? If it may be said of him who does not relieve men’s bodies, how much more of those who relieve not their souls! “If you see your brother have need, and shut up the bowels of your compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in you?” You are not such hard-hearted men but you will pity a leper—you will pity the naked, imprisoned, or desolate—you will pity him who is tormented with grievous pain or sickness; and will you not pity an ignorant, hard-hearted sinner? Will you not pity one who must be shut out from the presence of the Lord, and lie eternally under his wrath; if thorough and speedy repentance prevent it not? O what a heart it is which does not pity such a one! What shall I call the heart of such a man? A heart of stone, or adamant—the heart of a tiger, or rather the heart of an infidel, for surely if he believed the misery of the impenitent, it is not possible but he should have pity on him! Can you tell men in the pulpit that they shall certainly be damned except they repent, and yet have no pity on them when you have proclaimed their danger; and if you pity them, will you not do this much for their salvation? What multitudes around about you are blindly hastening to perdition; and your voice is appointed to be the means of reclaiming them!
Brethren, what if you heard sinners cry after you in the streets, “O, sirs, have pity on me, and afford me your advice—I am afraid of the everlasting wrath of God—I know I must shortly leave this world, and I am afraid lest I shall be miserable in the next!” Could you deny your help to such a sinner? What if they came to your study door, and cried for help, and would not go away till you had told them how to escape the wrath of God; could you find in your hearts to drive them away without advice? I am confident you could not. Alas, such persons are less miserable than those who cannot cry for help! It is the hardened sinner, that cares not for your help, who most needs it; and he who has not so much life as to feel that he is dead, nor so much light as to see his danger, or so much sense left as to pity himself—this is the man that is most to be pitied. Look upon your neighbours around about you, and think what numbers need your help in no less a case than the apparent danger of damnation. All the impenitent you see around you, suppose that you hear them cry to you, “If ever you pitied poor wretches, pity us, lest we should be tormented in the flames of hell; if you have the hearts of men, pity us!” Do that for them which you would do if they followed you with such complaints. O how can you walk, and talk, and be merry with such people, when you know their case! Methinks when you look them in the face, and think how they must be in perpetual misery, you should break forth into tears, as the prophet did when he looked upon Hazael, and then begin with the most importunate exhortations. When you must visit them in their sickness, will it not wound your hearts to see them ready to depart into misery, before you have ever dealt seriously with them for their salvation? O then, for the Lord’s sake, and for the sake of poor souls, have pity on them, bestir yourselves, and spare no pains that may be conducive to their salvation.
220.127.116.11. This ministerial fidelity is necessary to your own welfare as well as to that of your people
I must farther tell you that this ministerial fidelity is necessary to your own welfare as well as to that of your people; for this is your work, according to which you shall be judged. You can no more be saved without ministerial diligence and fidelity, than they or you can be saved without Christian diligence and fidelity. If you care not for others, at least care for yourselves. O what is it to answer for the neglect of such a charge; and what sin is more heinous than the betraying of souls? Does not this threatening make you tremble? “If thou warn not the wicked, their blood will I require at thy hands.” I am afraid, nay, I am past doubt, that the day is near, when unfaithful ministers will wish they had never known their charge; but that they had rather been colliers, tinkers, or sweepers of channels,than pastors of Christ’s flock—when, besides all the rest of their sins, they shall have the blood of so many souls to answer for.
O, brethren, our death, as well as that of our people, is at hand; and it is as terrible to an unfaithful pastor as to any! When we see that die we must, and there is no remedy, no wit or learning, no credit or popular applause can put by the stroke or delay the time; but, willing or unwilling, our souls must go, and that into a world which we never saw, where our persons and worldly interests will not be respected. O then for a clear conscience, that can say, “I lived not to myself, but to Christ; I spared no pains; I hid not my talent: I concealed not men’s misery, nor the way of their recovery.” O, sirs, let us therefore take time while we may have it, and work while it is day; for the night cometh when none can work. This is our day too; and by doing good to others we must do good to ourselves. If you would prepare for a comfortable death, and a sure and great reward, the harvest is before you: gird up the loins of your minds, and quit yourselves like men, that you may end your days with that confident triumph: “I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which God, the righteous Judge, shall give me.” And if you would be blessed with those who die in the Lord, labour now, that you may rest from your labours then; and do such works as you would wish should follow you, and not such as will prove your terror in the review.
6.4. Application of the reasons, in order to humble and excite us to the work
Having given you the reasons for this work, I shall, before I come to the directions, (1.) Apply them, in order to humble and excite us to the work. (2.) Answer some objections.
6.4.1. What cause of humiliation we have, that we have so long neglected this work
What cause have we to bleed before the Lord this day, who have neglected this great and good work so long, that we have been ministers of the gospel so many years, and done so little by personal instruction, for the saving of men’s souls! If we had set about this business sooner, who knows how many more might have been brought to Christ, and how much holier and happier we might have made our congregations; and why might we not have done it sooner? There were many hinderances in our way; and so there are still, and always will be: but if the greatest hinderance had not been in ourselves, in our own dulness and littleness of faith and love, much might have been done before now. We had the same God to command us, and the same miserable objects of compassion to excite us to the work. May the Lord in mercy forgive us, and lay not this or any of our ministerial negligences to our charge! O that he would cover all our unfaithfulness; and, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, wash away our guilt of the blood of souls, that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, we may stand before him in peace, and may not be condemned for scattering or neglecting his flock!
6.4.2. An exhortation to the faithful performance of it
Now, brethren, what shall we do for the time to come, but deny and rouse up ourselves to the business that we are engaged in. The harvest is great; the labourers are too few; the loiterers and contentious hinderers are many; the souls of men are precious; the misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery that they are in danger of is greater; the beauty and glory of the church are desirable; the joy that we are helping them to is inconceivable. To be coworkers with God and his Spirit, and to promote the end for which Christ shed his blood, by striving for men’s salvation, is most glorious; to lead on the armies of Christ through the midst of their enemies, and conduct them safe to the land of everlasting rest, requires no small skill and diligence. The season for doing this work is more calm and favourable than most ages before us have ever seen. The present time is posting away: while we are trifling, men are dying, and passing quickly into another world. And is there nothing in all this to awaken us to our duty, and prompt us to speedy and unwearied diligence? Can a man be too careful and active under all these motives and engagements? Do we need to heap up words to persuade you to a known and most important duty? One would think it should be enough to show you a line in the book of God, to prove that it is his will, and has a tendency to men’s salvation; or that the very sight of your miserable neighbours should be sufficient to draw out your most compassionate endeavours for their relief. Were there but clear and deep impressions upon our souls of those glorious things that we daily preach, what a change would it make in our sermons and in our private discourse. O what a miserable thing it is to the church, and to themselves, that men must preach of heaven and hell before they heartily believe the reality of either, or have felt the weight of the doctrines they preach! It is amazing to think what matters we preach and talk of. Together with a thousand other truths equally important and solemn, we tell our hearers that their souls must shortly be separated from their bodies, appear before a righteous God, and enter upon unchangeable joy or torment. O with what amazing thoughts do dying men view these things! How should such matters be preached and discoursed of. O the gravity, the seriousness, the incessant diligence that these things require! I know not what others think of them; but, for my part, I am ashamed of my stupidity, and wonder at myself that I deal not with my own and other souls as one who looks for the great day of the Lord; and that I can have room for almost any other thoughts or words, and that such astonishing matters do not wholly occupy me. I marvel how I can preach of them superficially and coldly; how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them, and beseech them for the Lord’s sake to repent, however they take it, and whatever pains or trouble it may cost me. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smites me that I have been no more serious and fervent. It accuses me not so much for want of human ornaments or elegancy, not for letting fall an uncouth word; but it asks me, “How couldst thou speak of life and death with such a heart? How couldst thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner? Dost thou believe what thou hast said? Art thou in earnest or in jest? How canst thou tell people that sin is such a thing, and that so much misery is upon them, and before them, and be no more affected with it? Shouldst thou not weep over such a people, and should not thy tears interrupt thy words; shouldst not thou cry aloud, and show them their transgressions, and entreat and beseech them as for life and death?” Truly this is the peal that conscience rings in my ears, and yet my drowsy soul is not fully awakened. O what a thing is a senseless, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? I am even confounded to think what a difference there is between my views in sickness and my pulpit discourses and conversation in health, concerning the life to come: that that can appear so light to me now which was then so solemn and affecting, and which I know will be so again when death looks me in the face.
O brethren, surely, if you had all conversed with death as often as I have done, and as often received the sentence in yourselves, you would have an unquiet conscience, without a reformed life in your ministerial diligence and fidelity; and you would have something within you that would frequently ask you such questions as these: “Is this all thy compassion for lost sinners; wilt thou do no more to seek and to save them! Is there not such and such a one? O how many around about thee who are yet the visible sons of death! What hast thou said to them, or done for their recovery? Shall they die and be in hell before thou wilt speak one serious word to them to prevent it? Shall they there curse thee for ever that didst no more in time to save them?” Such cries of conscience are daily in my ears, though the Lord knows I have too little obeyed them. The God of mercy pardon me, and awake me with the rest of his servants who have been thus sinfully negligent! I confess to my shame that I seldom hear the bell toll for one that is dead, but conscience asks me, “What hast thou done for the saving of that soul before it left the body? There is one more gone to judgment. What didst thou to prepare that immortal spirit for judgment?” And yet I have been slothful and backward to help those who survive. How can you refrain, when laying a corpse in the grave, from thinking, “Here lies the body, but where is the soul, and what have I done for it before it departed? It was part of my charge—what account can I give of it?” O sirs, is it a small matter to answer such questions as these? It may seem so now, but the hour is coming when it will not. If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and will condemn us much more, with another kind of condemnation than conscience does. The voice of conscience now is a still voice, and the sentence of conscience is a gentle sentence, in comparison of the voice and the sentence of God. Alas, conscience sees but very little of our sin and misery, in comparison of what God sees! What mountains would these things appear to your souls, which now seem mole hills; and what beams would these be in your eyes, though now but as motes, if you saw them as you ought: I dare not say, as God sees them. “Wherefore we receiving (and preaching) a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire,” Heb. xii, ult.
6.4.3. Aggravations of our sin, and witnesses which will condemn the wilful neglecters of such great and plain duties as private instruction and discipline are.
That you may not say I frighten myself or you without cause, and tell you of dangers and terrors when there are none, I will here add the certainty of that condemnation which is likely to befall negligent pastors, and particularly that will befall us, if we shall hereafter be wilful neglecters of this great work. Many will rise up against us and condemn us.
18.104.22.168. Our parents, who destined us to the ministry
Our parents, who destined us to the ministry, will condemn us, and say, “Lord, we devoted them to thy service, and they made light of it, and served themselves.”
22.214.171.124. Our masters, tutors, the schools and universities, and the years we spent in study
Our masters who taught us, our tutors who instructed us, the schools and universities that we lived in, and all the years we spent in study, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us. What was all this for, but the work of God?
126.96.36.199. Our learning, knowledge, and ministerial gifts
Our learning, knowledge, and ministerial gifts will condemn us. For what end are we made partakers of these, but for the work of God?
188.8.131.52. Our voluntarily undertaking the charge of souls
Our voluntarily undertaking the charge of souls will condemn us; for men should be true to the trust they undertake.
184.108.40.206. All the care of God for his church, and all that Christ has done and suffered for them
All the care of God for his church, and all that Christ has done and suffered for them, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us, because by our negligence we destroyed them for whom Christ died.
220.127.116.11. All the severe precepts and charges of Holy Scripture
All the severe precepts and charges of Holy Scripture, with the promises of assistance and reward, and all the threatenings of punishment, will rise up against the unfaithful and condemn them.
18.104.22.168. The example of the prophets and apostles
The example of the prophets and apostles, and other preachers recorded in Scripture, will rise up against such and condemn them. This pattern set them by Paul, (Acts xx,) and the example of the d1l1gent servants of Christ in these latter times, and in the places around them. These were for their imitation, to provoke them to a holy emulation in fidelity and ministerial diligence.
22.214.171.124. The Holy Bible, and all the books in our studies
The Holy Bible, and all the books in our studies, which tell us of our duty, directly or indirectly, will condemn lazy or unprofitable servants.
126.96.36.199. All the sermons by which we endeavour to persuade our people to work out their salvation with fear and trembling
All the sermons by which we endeavour to persuade our people to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, to lay violent hands upon the crown, and take the kingdom as by force, to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and so to run as that they may obtain, will rise up against us, and condemn us; for if it concern them to labour for their salvation, does it not concern us who have the charge of them to be also violent, laborious, and unwearied, in striving to help on their salvation? Is it worth their labour and patience, and is it not also worth ours?
188.8.131.52. All the sermons by which we set before them the danger of their natural state
All the sermons by which we set before them the danger of their natural state, the evil of sin, the need of Christ and grace, the joys of heaven and the torments of hell, yea, and the truth of the Christian religion, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us. And a dismal review it will be when we shall be forced to think, “Did I tell them of such great dangers and hopes in public, and would I do no more to help them in private? What, tell them daily of threatened damnation, and yet let them run into it! Tell them of such glory, and scarcely speak a word to them personally to help them to it! Were these such great matters with me at church, and so small when I came home?” Dreadful self-condemnation!
184.108.40.206. All the sermons that we have preached to persuade other men to these very duties
All the sermons that we have preached to persuade other men to these very duties; as neighbours to exhort one another daily, and plainly to rebuke them that sin; parents and masters to instruct their children and servants. All these will condemn us. For shall we persuade others to that which we will not do ourselves? When we threaten them for neglecting it, we threaten our own souls.
220.127.116.11. The maintenance we take for our service
The maintenance we take for our service, if we be unfaithful, will condemn us: for who will pay a servant to take his pleasure, or sit still, or work for himself? If we have the fleece, it is surely that we may feed the flock. By taking the wages, we oblige ourselves to the work.
18.104.22.168. All the honour we receive
All the honour we expect or receive from the people, and all the ministerial privileges before mentioned, will condemn the unfaithful.
22.214.171.124. All the judgments that God has executed on them in this age before our eyes
All the judgments that God has executed on them in this age before our eyes will condemn us, if we be unfaithful. Has he made the idle shepherds and sensual drones to stink in the nostrils of the people, and will he honour us if we be idle and sensual? Has he sequestered them, and cast them out of their habitations, and out of the pulpits, and laid them by as dead while they are alive, and made them a hissing and a by-word in the land; and yet dare we imitate them? Are not their sufferings our warnings? If any thing in the world can awaken ministers to self-denial and diligence, one would think we have seen enough to do it. If the judgments of God on one man could do so much, what should so many years’ judgment on so many hundreds do? Would you have imitated the old world, if you had seen the flood that drowned them? Would you have taken up the sins of Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and idleness, if you had seen the flames of Sodom? This was God’s argument to deter the Israelites from the sins of the surrounding nations: “For all these things they had seen them cast out before them.” Who would have been a Judas that had seen him hang himself; or a lying, sacrilegious hypocrite, that had seen Ananias and Sapphira struck dead? Who would not have been afraid to contradict the gospel that had seen Elymas struck blind? And shall we prove self-seeking, idle ministers, when we have seen God scourging such out of his temple, and sweeping them away in his displeasure? God forbid! For then how great and manifold will our condemnation be?
126.96.36.199. All the days of fasting and prayer for a reformation
All the days of fasting and prayer that have been of late years in England for a reformation will rise up in judgment against the unreformed who will not be persuaded to this part of the work. And I confess it is so heavy an aggravation of our sin, that it makes me ready to tremble to think of it. Was there ever a nation on the face of the earth that so long and solemnly followed God with fasting and prayer as we have done? For many years we had a monthly fast, besides frequent private and public fasts; and what was all this for? The end of all our prayers was church reformation, and especially these two things: a faithful ministry, and exercise of discipline in the church. Did it then once enter into the hearts of the people, yea, or into our own hearts, to imagine, that when we had all that we wished for, and the matter was put into our own hands, to be as diligent as we could, and to exercise what discipline we pleased, that then we would do nothing but preach publicly; that we would not be at the pains to catechise and instruct our people personally, nor exercise any considerable part of discipline at all? It astonishes me to think of it. What a depth of deceit is in the heart of man!
O the earnest prayers that I have heard in secret for a faithful ministry and for discipline! They prayed as if they had wrestled for salvation itself. Yea, they commonly called discipline the kingdom of Christ, or the exercise of his kingly office in his church; and so preached and prayed for it as if the setting up of discipline had been the setting up of the kingdom of Christ; and did I then think that they would refuse to set it up when they might? What, is the kingdom of Christ now reckoned among the things indifferent?
If the God of heaven, who knew our hearts, had, in the midst of our prayers and cries, on one of our public monthly fasts, returned us this answer with his dreadful voice, in the audience of the assembly: “You deceitful-hearted sinners, what hypocrisy is this, to weary me with your cries, for that which you will not have if I would give it you, and thus to lift up your voices for that which your souls abhor! What is reformation but the instructing and importunate persuading of sinners to entertain my Christ and grace as offered them, and the governing my church according to my word? And these, which are your work, you will not be persuaded to when you come to find it troublesome and ungrateful. When I have delivered you, it is not me, but yourselves, that you will serve; and I must be as earnest to persuade you to reform the church, in doing your own duty, as you are earnest with me to grant you liberty for reformation; and when all is done you will leave it undone.” I say, if the Lord, or any messenger of his, had given us such an answer, would it not have amazed us, and seemed incredible to us that our hearts should ever be such as now they prove; and would we not have said, as Hazael, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” Or, as Peter, “Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I?” Well, brethren, sad experience has discovered our frailty. We have denied the troublesome and costly part of the reformation that we prayed for: but Christ still turns back, and looks with a merciful, eye upon us. O that we had but the hearts immediately to go out and weep bitterly and do as we have done no more, lest a worse thing come upon us; but henceforth follow Christ through labour and suffering, though it were unto death.
188.8.131.52. All the judgments upon the nation
All the judgments upon the nation, the cost, the labour, the blood, and the deliverances, and all the endeavours of the governors for reformation, will rise up against us, if we now refuse to be faithful for a reformation, when it is before us, and at our will.
184.108.40.206. Many vows and promises of our own
If we still make light of a reformation, by instructing the ignorant, or exercising Christ’s discipline, many vows and promises of our own will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us. Not to mention the national covenant, we solemnly engaged, near three years ago, that we would set up the exercise of discipline, and yet how many have neglected it to this day, without giving any good reason for it. We have now subscribed another engagement for catechising and instructing all that will submit. We have done well so far: but if we should flag, and prove remiss and superficial in the performance, our subscriptions will condemn us—this day’s humiliation will condemn us. Be not deceived, God is not mocked: it is not your names only, but your hearts and hands also, that he requires. There is no dallying with God by feigned promises: he expects that you will be as good as your word. He will not hold him guiltless who by false oaths, vows, or covenants with him, takes his holy name in vain. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldst not vow, than that thou shouldst vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel that it was an error; wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands?” Eccles. v, 4-6.
Thus I have showed you what will be the consequence of your not setting yourselves faithfully to this work, to which you have so many obligations and engagements; what an inexcusable thing our neglect will be, and how great and manifold a condemnation it will expose us to. Truly, brethren, if I did not apprehend the work to be of exceeding great moment to yourselves, to the people, and to the honour of God, I would not have troubled you with so many words about it, nor have presumed to have spoken so sharply as I have done. But when it is for life and death men are apt to forget their reverence, courtesy, and compliments. For my own part, I apprehend this is one of the best and greatest works that ever I put my hand to: and I verily think that your thoughts of it are as mine. If so, you will not think my words too many, or too keen. I can well remember the time when I was earnest for the reformation of matters of ceremony; and if I should be cold in such a substantial matter as this, how disproportionable would my zeal appear. Alas, can we think that the reformation is wrought when we have cast out a few ceremonies, changed some vestures, gestures, and forms? No; it is the converting and saving of souls that is our business. The chief part of the reformation is that which does most good, and tends most to the salvation of the people. Let others take it as they please, I will so far speak for your encouragement as to say again, I am verily persuaded, that as you are happily agreed and combined for this work, so if you faithfully execute this agreement, together with your former agreement for discipline, you will do much more for a true reformation, and that peaceably, without meddling with controverted points, than has yet been done in any part of England, though no more than is unquestionably your duty.
6.5. The objections of indolent and unfaithful ministers answered
I shall now answer some objections.
6.5.1. “This course will take up so much time as to interfere with our studies.”
Some object that “this course will take up so much time as to interfere with our studies. Most of us are young, and have need of much time to improve our own abilities, which this course prohibits us.” I answer:
(1.) Those whom we persuade to this work are supposed to understand the substance of the Christian religion, and to be able to teach others; and the addition of lower and less necessary things is not to be preferred before this needful communication of the fundamentals. I highly value common knowledge, and would not encourage any to set light by it; but I value the saving of souls before it. That work which is immediately connected with the end of all our labours must be done, whatever be undone. Get well to heaven, and help your people thither, and then you shall know in a moment a thousand times more than you can now attain by all your studies; and is not this the most expeditious and certain way to knowledge?
(2.) If you grow not extensively in knowledge you will by this way of diligent practice obtain the intensive and more excellent growth. If you know not so many things as others, you will know the great things better than they; for this serious dealing with sinners for their salvation will help you to far deeper apprehensions of their saving principles than will be got by any other means; and more of the knowledge of these is worth all the other knowledge in the world. When I am looking heavenward, gazing towards the inaccessible light, and aspiring after the knowledge of God, and find my soul so dark and distant that I am ready to say, “I know not God; he is above me; quite out of my reach:” this is the most killing and grievous ignorance. Methinks I could willingly exchange all other knowledge that I have for one glimpse more of the knowledge of God and the life to come. O that I had never known a word in logic, metaphysics, &c.; nor known what schoolmen said, so I had but one spark more of that light that would show me the things that I must shortly see. For my part, I conceive that by seriously talking of everlasting things, and teaching the creed and catechism, you may grow more in knowledge, though not in the knowledge of more things, and prove much wiser men, than if you spent that time in common or curious and less necessary things.
(3.) Yet let me add, that though I count this the chief knowledge, I wish you to have more; because those subservient sciences are very useful; and therefore I say, that you may have competent time for both, lose none upon vain recreations and employments; trifle not away a minute; consume it not in needless sleep; do what you do with all your might, and then see whether you will not have a sufficient portion of time for gaining useful knowledge. If you set apart but two days in a week for this great work, you may find some for common studies out of all the other five.
(4.) Duties must be taken together, and the greatest preferred; but none neglected that can be performed, nor one pleaded against another, but each in its proper place. Therefore if we cannot pursue our studies, and instruct the ignorant, we must let our studies alone. I would throw by all the libraries in the world, rather than be guilty of the perdition of one soul.
6.5.2. “But this course will destroy the health of our bodies.”
It is objected, “But this course will destroy the health of our bodies, by allowing us no time for necessary reereations; and it will wholly lock us up from any civil and friendly intercourse with our friends for the relaxation of our minds.”
Ans. (1.) This is the mere plea of the carnal mind. The sluggard saith, There is a lion in the way. He will not plough because of the cold. There is no duty of moment and self-denial, but if you consult with flesh and blood, they will give you as good reasons as these against it. Who would ever have been burned at the stake for Christ, if this reasoning had been good; yea, who would ever have been a Christian?
(2.) We may take time for necessary recreation. An hour or half an hour’s walk before meals is as much recreation as is necessary for the health of the weaker sort of students. I know something of this by long experience. I have languished under great bodily weakness for many years, and have found exercise the principal means of my preservation till now; and therefore have as great reason to plead for it as any man that I know; yet I have found that the aforesaid proportion of time has been blessed to my preservation, though I know more would have tended to increase my health. I do not know one minister in a hundred who needs so much as I do. Yea, I know abundance of ministers who scarcely ever use any exercise at all, but I do not commend them for it. It is our duty to use as much exercise as is necessary for the preservation of our health, so far at least as our work requires; otherwise we should for one day’s work lose the opportunity of many. But this may be done, and yet the works which we are engaged in be done too.
As for those men who do not limit their recreation to their stated hours, but must have them merely for their pleasure, and not only to fit them for their work; such have need to study better the nature of Christianity, learn the danger of living after the flesh, and more mortification and self-denial, before they preach these things to others. If you must needs have your pleasures, you should not have put yourselves into that calling that requires you to make God and his service your pleasure. Your baptismal engagement is to fight against the flesh. Much of the Christian warfare consists in the combat between the flesh and the spirit. The difference between a true Christian and a wicked man is, that one lives after the Spirit, and mortifies the deeds of the body, and the other lives after the flesh. Do you know that the overcoming the flesh is the principal part of our victory, on which the crown of life depends; and do you make it your calling to preach all this to others, and yet must you needs have your pleasures? If you must, then for shame give over preaching the gospel, and the profession of Christian self-denial, and profess yourselves to be what you are; and as you sow to the flesh, so of the flesh shall you receive the wages of corruption. Does such a one as Paul say, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when 1 have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway,” 1 Cor. iv, 26, 27. And have not we need to do so? Shall we pamper our bodies, and indulge ourselves in unnecessary pleasures, when Paul must keep under his body, and bring it into subjection? Must Paul do this, lest after all his preaching, he should be a cast-away; and have not we cause to fear it of ourselves much more? I know that some pleasure itself is lawful; that is, when it is of use to fit us for our work. But for a man to be so far in love with his pleasures as that he must unnecessarily waste his precious time in them, and neglect the great work of God for men’s salvation, yea, and plead for this as if it might be done, and to justify himself in such a course, is wickedness inconsistent with the comnnen fidelity of a Christian, much more with the fidelity of a teacher of the church. Such as are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God must look to be loved of him accordingly, and are more fit to be cast out of Christian communion than to be chief in the church; for we are commanded from such to turn away. The recreations of a student must be especially for the exercise of his body: in his work he has a great variety of delights for his mind and they must be like whetting with the mower, only used so far as is necessary for his work. He must be careful that they rob him not of his precious time and therefore must be kept within narrow bounds. Peruse Mr. Wheatley’s sermon on the redemption of time.
(3.) The labour we are now engaged to perform is not likely to impair our health. It is true it must be serious; but that will only excite and revive our spirits, and not spend them. Men can talk all the day long of other matters without any abatement of their health; and why may not we talk with men about their salvation without any abatement of ours?
What have we our time and strength for but to lay both out for God? What is a candle made for but to burn? Burned and wasted we must be; and is it not more fit it should be in lighting men to heaven, and in working for God, than in living to the flesh. How little difference is there between the pleasure of a long and a short life when both are at an end? What comfort will it be at death, that you lengthened your life by shortening your work? He that works much lives much. Our life is to be esteerned according to the end and work of it, and not according to the mere duration. As Seneca can say of a drone, ibi jacet, non ibi vivit: et diu fuit, non diu vixit. Will it not comfort us more at death to review a short time faithfully spent, than a long time unfaithfully?
(4.) Visiting and civilities, if they be for greater purposes than your ministerial employments are, you may break a Sabbath for them; you may forbear preaching, and also this private work. But if it be otherwise, how dare you make them a pretence to neglect so great a duty? Must God wait on your friends? What if they be lords, or knights, or gentlemen! Must they be served before him? Is their displeasure equal to his? Or dare you think, when God calls you to give an account of your ways, to put him off with this excuse: “Lord, I would have spent more of my time in seeking men’s salvation, but that such a gentleman and such a friend would have taken it ill if I had not waited on them.” If you yet seek to please men you are no longer the servants of Christ. He who dares spend his life in self-pleasing and man-pleasing is bolder than I am; and he who dares waste his time in compliments, little considers what he has to do with it. O that I could improve my time according to my convictions of the necessity of it! He who has looked death in the face as often as I have done will thereby be taught to value his time. I profess I wonder at those ministers who can hunt, shoot, bowl, or use such recreations two or three hours, yea, whole days together; who can sit an hour in vain company, and spend whole days in complimental visits and journeys. Good Lord, what do these men think on! When so many souls are crying for their help, and they know not how short a time their people may be together; and the smallest parish has work sufficient to employ all their diligence night and day!
Brethren, I hope you are content to be plainly dealt with. If you have no sense of the worth of souls, of the preciousness of that blood which was shed for them, of the glory to which they are going, and of the misery they are in danger of; then are you no Christians, and therefore very unfit to be ministers; and if you have, how can you find time for needless recreations, visits, or discourses? Dare you chat and trifle away your time when you have such works as these to do, and so many of them? O precious time, how swiftly does it pass away, how soon will it be gone! What are the forty years of my life that are past! Were every day as long as a month, methinks it were too short for the work of a day. Have we not lost enough already in the days of our vanity? Never do I come to a dying man that is not utterly stupid, but he sees the worth of time. O then if they could call time back, how loud would they call! If they could but buy it, what would they not give for it! And yet we trifle it away; yea, and allow ourselves in this, and wilfully cast off the greatest works of God. O what a bewitching thing is sin, that can thus distract even wise men! It is impossible that a man of any true compassion and honesty, who has any concern for his ministerial duty, or any sense of the strictness of the account he must shortly give, should have time to spare for idleness and vanity.
I must tell you farther, brethren, that suppose others may take some time for mere delight which is not strictly necessary, yet so may not you; for your undertaking binds you to a stricter attendance. May a physician in the time of the plague take any more relaxation than is necessary for his life, when so many require his help in a case of life and death? As his pleasure is not worth men’s lives, so neither is yours worth men’s souls. Suppose your cities were besieged, and the enemy watching all advantages to take them by surprise, and striving continually to set them on fire; I pray you tell me, if certain men undertook to watch the ports, and others to quench the fire that might kindle in the houses, what time would you allow these men for recreation and relaxation? At the utmost, you would allow them none but what was absolutely necessary.
Do not grudge now, and say, “This is a hard saying, who can bear it?” For it is your mercy; and you are well, if you know when you are well, as I shall show you in answering the next objection.
6.5.3. “I do not think that it is required of ministers to make drudges of themselves.”
It is objected, “I do not think that it is required of ministers to make drudges of themselves. If they preach diligently, visit the sick, do other ministerial duties, and occasionally do good to those they converse with, I do not think that God requires we should thus tie ourselves to instruct every person distinctly, and make our lives mere slavery.”
Ans. (1.) Do you think God does not require you to do all the good you can? Will you stand by and see sinners gasping under the pangs of death, and say, “God does not require me to make myself a drudge to save them?” Is this the voice of ministerial or Christian compassion, or rather of laziness and diabolical cruelty? Does God set you work to do, and will you not believe that he would have you do it? Is that the voice of obedience or of rebellion? It is all one whether you deny obedience to acknowledged duty, and say plainly, “I will obey no farther than it pleases me;” or whether you wilfully reject the evidence that should convince you that it is a duty, and say, “I will not believe it to be my duty unless it please me.” It is the true character of a self-deceiver to make a religion to himself of the cheapest part of God’s service, which he endeavours to reconcile with his selfish ends, and to reject the rest. To the words of hypocrisy this objection superadds the words of gross impiety. For what a wretched calumny is this against the most high God, to call his service slavery and drudgery. What thought have these men of their Master, their work, and their wages! Are they likely to honour God and promote his service who have such base thoughts of it themselves? Do they delight in holiness who account it a slavish work? Do they believe indeed the misery of sinners, who consider it drudgery to be diligent in striving to save them? Christ says, He that denies not himself, forsakes not all, and takes not up his cross daily, and follows him, cannot be his disciple; and yet these men count it a slavery to labour hard in his vineyard, and deny themselves. If they had seen the diligence of Christ when he went about doing good, when he neglected his meat to talk with one woman, and when he had not time to eat bread, would not they have been of the same mind with his carnal friends, who went to lay hold on him, and said, “He is beside himself.” They would have told him he made a drudge or a slave of himself and that God did not require so much. If they had seen him all night in prayer, and all day preaching, and healing the diseased, it seems they would have censured him for his labour. I advise these men to search their own hearts, whether they unfeignedly believe the word that they preach. Do you believe indeed that such glory attends those who die in the Lord, and such torment those who die unconverted? If you do, how can you think any labour too much for such weighty purposes? If you do not, say so, and get you out of the vineyard. Go with the prodigal to keep swine, but do not undertake to feed the flock of Christ.
Do you not know that it is your own benefit which you call drudgery? The more you do, the more you receive: the more you lay out, the more you have coming in. If you are strangers to these Christian paradoxes, you should not have taken on you to teach them to others. At the present our incomes of spiritual life and peace are commonly in the way of duty; so that he who is most in duty has most of God. Exercise of grace increases it. And is it a slavery to be more with God, and to receive more from him than other men? It is the chief solace of a gracious soul to be doing good, and receiving by doing, and to be much exercised about those divine things which have his heart. Besides, we prepare for fuller receivings hereafter. We set our talents to usury; and by improving them we shall make five become ten, and so be made rulers of ten cities. We shall be judged according to our works. Is it a drudgery to send to the utmost parts of the world to exchange our trifles for gold and jewels? Do not these men seek to justify and encourage profane sinners, who consider all diligent godliness a drudgery, and reproach it as a precise and tedious life. They say they will never believe but a man may be saved without so much ado. Even so say these in respect to the work of the ministry. They will not believe but a man may be a faithful minister without all this ado. It is a heinous sin to be negligent in such important business; but to approve of that negligence, and to plead against duty, as if it were none; and when they should lay out themselves for the saving of souls, to say, “I do not believe that God requires it;” this is so great an aggravation of the sin, that, where the church’s necessity does not force us to make use of such for want of better, I cannot but think them worthy to be cast out as the rubbish, and as salt that has lost its savour, which is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill. And if such ministers become a by-word and reproach, let them thank themselves; for it is their own sin that makes them vile.
6.5.4. “But if you make such severe laws for ministers, the church will be left without.”
It is objected, “But if you make such severe laws for ministers, the church will be left without: for men will avoid it, both on account of bodily toil, and danger to their consciences, if they should not properly discharge it.”
Ans. (1.) It is not we, but Christ, that hath made and imposed these laws which you call severe; and if I should silence, misinterpret, or tell you that there are no such laws, that would not relax them, nor excuse you. He that made them knew why he did it, and expects obedience to them. Is infinite goodness itself to be questioned or suspected by us as making unmerciful laws? Nay, it is mere mercy in him who imposes this great duty on us. What, must God let the souls of your neighbours perish to save you a little labour and suffering, and this in mercy to you? O what a miserable world should we have, if blind, self-conceited man had the ruling of it?
(2.) As for a supply of pastors, Christ will take care of that. He who imposes duty has the fulness of the Spirit, and can give men hearts to obey his laws. Do you think Christ will suffer all men to be as cruel, unmerciful, and self-seeking as you? He who has undertaken himself the work of our redemption, borne our transgressions, and been faithful as the chief Shepherd and Teacher of the church, will not lose all his labour and sufferings for want of instruments to carry on his work; nor will he come down again to do all himself because no other will do it; but he will provide men to be his servants and ushers in his school, who shall willingly take the labour on them, and rejoice to be so employed, and account that the happiest life in the world which you account so great a toil, nor would they change it for all your ease and carnal pleasure; but, on the contrary, for the saving of souls, and the propagating of the gospel of Christ, they will be content to bear the burden and heat of the day, to fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ in their bodies, to do what they do with all their might, to work while it is day, to be the servants of all, not to please themselves, but others, for their edification, to become all things to all men that they may save some, to endure all things for the elect’s sake; and to spend and be spent for men, though the more they love the less they should be beloved, and should be accounted their enemies for telling them the truth; with such pastors will Christ provide his people, after his own heart, who will feed them with knowledge, as men that seek not theirs, but them. What, do you think Christ can have no servants, if such as you, with Demas, turn to the present world, and forsake him? If you dislike his service, you may seek you a better, where you can find it, and boast of your gain in the conclusion; but do not threaten him with the loss of your service. He has made such laws as you will call severe for all who will be saved as well as for his ministers, though he impose not on them the same employment; for all must deny themselves, mortify the flesh, be crucified to the world, and take up their cross daily, and follow Christ, who will be his disciples. And yet Christ will not be without disciples, nor will he hide what some call his hard terms from men to entice them to his service, but will tell them of the worst, and then let them choose. He will call to them beforehand to count what it will cost them, and tell them that “the foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” He comes not to give them worldly peace and prosperity, but to call them to suffer with him, that they may reign with him, and in patience to possess their souls, and to conquer that they may be crowned with him, and sit down on his throne; and all this he will enable his followers to perform. If you be at that pass with Christ, as the Israelites were once with David, and say, “Will the son of Jesse give you fields and vineyards? Every man to your tents, O Israel;” and if you say, “Now look to thy own house, O David,” you shall see that Christ will look to his own house; and do you look to yours as well as you can, and tell me at the hour of death or judgment which is the better bargain, and whether Christ had more need of you or you of him.
With regard to scrupling it in conscience for fear of failing, it is not involuntary imperfections that Christ takes so heinously, but unfaithfulness and wilful negligence: and it will not serve your turn to run out of the vineyard on pretence of scruples that you cannot do the work as you ought. He can follow you, and overtake you, as he did Jonas, with such a storm as will lay you in the belly of hell. Totally to cast off a duty, because you cannot endure to be faithful in the performance of it, will prove but a poor excuse at last. If men had but reckoned well at first of the difference between things temporal and eternal, and of what they shall lose or get by Christ, and had that faith which is the evidence of things not seen, and lived by faith, and not by sense, all these objections would be easily resolved; and all the pleas of flesh and blood would appear to have no more reason than a sick man’s plea for cold water in a pestilential fever.
6.5.5. “But to what purpose is all this, when most of the people will not submit?”
It is objected, “But to what purpose is all this, when most of the people will not submit? Therefore we had as good let them alone as trouble ourselves to no purpose.”
Ans. (1.) It is not to be denied that too many people are obstinate in their wickedness, too many simple ones love simplicity, and too many scorners delight in scorning, and fools hate knowledge. But the worse they are the more deplorable is their case, the more to be pitied, and the more diligent should we be for their recovery.
(2.) I fear it is too much owing to the conduct of ministers that a great part of the people are so obstinate and contemptuous. Did we shine and burn before them as we should; had we convincing sermons and convincing lives; did we set ourselves to do them all the good in our power, whatever it cost us; were we more humble and meek, more loving and charitable, and let them see that we set light by all worldly things in comparison of their salvation, much more might be done than is, and the mouths of many would be stopped; though still the wicked will do wickedly, yet more would be tractable, and the wicked would be fewer, and calmer than they are. If you say that the ablest and most godly ministers in the world have had as untractable and scornful parishioners as any others; I answer, that even able, godly men have some of them been too lordly and strange, and some of them too uncharitable, and worldly, and backward to difficult though necessary works; and some of them have done but little in private, when they have done excellently in public, and so have hindered the fruit of their labours. But where these hinderances have not had place, experience tells us that the success is much greater, at least as to the bowing of people to more calmness and teachableness; but we cannot expect that all should.
(3.) Their wilfulness will not excuse us from our duty. If we do not offer them our help, how do we know who will refuse it? Offering it is our part, and accepting is theirs. If we offer it not, we leave them excusable, and we are without excuse; but if they refuse our help when it is offered, we have done our part, and delivered our own souls.
(4.) If some refuse our help, others will accept it; and the success with them may be so much as to repay all our labour. All are not wrought on by our public preaching, and yet we must not on that account give it over.
6.5.6. “But faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word preached.”
It is objected, “But what probability is there that men will be informed or converted by this means who are not by the preaching of the word, when that is God’s chief ordinance appointed to that end? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word preached.”
Ans. (1.) The advantages I have showed you before, and therefore will not stand to repeat them; only, lest any think that this will wrong them, by hindering them from preaching, I add to the twenty benefits before mentioned, that it will be an excellent means to help you in preaching. For as the physician’s work is half done when he fully knows the disease, so when you are well acquainted with your people’s case you will know what to preach on; and it will furnish you with matter to talk an hour with an ignorant or obstinate sinner, as much as an hour’s study will do; for you will know what you have need to insist on, and what objections of theirs to refute.
(2.) I hope there are none so ignorant as to think personal instruction is not preaching. Does the number we speak to make it preaching; or does interlocution make it none? Surely a man may as truly preach to one as to a thousand; and, as has already been hinted, if you search you will find that most of the gospel preaching was by conference, or serious speeches to people occasionally, and frequently interlocutory; and that with one, two, or more, as opportunity served. Thus Christ himself most commonly preached. Besides, we must take an account how our people learn what they have been taught, if we regard the success of our work.
6.6. Conclusion of the exhortation
There is nothing, therefore, from God, from the Spirit, nor from right reason, to cause us to make any question of our work, or to be unwilling to engage in it; but from the world, the flesh, and the devil we shall have much, and more perhaps than we yet expect. But against all temptations, if we have recourse to God, and look on his great obligations on one hand, and the hopeful effects and reward on the other, we shall see that we have no cause either to draw back or to faint.
Let us follow the example of St. Paul, to serve the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears; to keep back nothing that is profitable to the people, and to teach them publicly, and from house to house; that the matter of our preaching be repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; that though we go bound in the Spirit, not knowing particularly what shall befall us, but only that everywhere bonds and afflictions await us, yet none of these things shall move us, neither will we count our life dear, so that we may finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God; to take heed to ourselves and all the flock, particularly against domestic seducers and schisms, without ceasing to warn every one, day and night, with tears; to covet no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel, as counting it more honourable to give than to receive. O what a lesson is here before us; but how ill is it learned by those who still question whether all this be their duty. I confess some of these words of Paul have so often been presented before my eyes, and stuck upon my conscience, that I have been deeply convinced by them both of my duty and negligence: and I think this one speech better deserves a twelve months’ study than most things that young students lay out their time in. O brethren, write it on your own study doors, or set it as your copy in capital letters still before your eyes! Could we but properly learn two or three lines of it, what preachers we should be! (1.) Our general business, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind. (2.) Our special work, Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock. (3.) Our doctrine, Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (4.) The place and manner of teaching, I have taught you publicly, and from house to house. (5.) The object and internal manner, I ceased not to warn every one, night and day, with tears. This is it that must win souls, and preserve them. (6.) His innocence and self-denial for the advantage of the gospel, I have coveted no man’s silver or gold. (7.) His patience, None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear. (8.) And among all our motives, these have need to be strikingly placed before our eyes; we oversee and feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood— Grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock—of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Write all this upon your hearts, and it will do yourselves and the church more good than twenty years’ study of lower things, which, though they may gain you greater applause in the world, yet, separate from these, will make you but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
The great advantage of our having a sincere heart is, that God and glory, and the saving of souls, are then our immediate end; and where that end is truly intended, no labour or suffering will stop or turn us back. Then we retain this lesson, whatever we forget, One thing is necessary—seek first the kingdom of God; and therefore say, “Necessity is laid upon me, and wo unto me if I preach not the gospel!” This it is that will most effectually make easy our labours, make light all our burdens, make all our sufferings seem tolerable, and cause us to venture on any hazard in the way. That which I once made the motto of my colours in another warfare, I desire may be still before my eyes in this, which yet, according to my intention, is not altogether another. On one side, He that saveth his life shall lose it; on the other, Nec propter vitam vivendi perdere causas. This, Dr. Reignolds thought, had reason enough in it to hold him to his labours, though it cost him his life. He who knows that he serves a God that will never suffer any man to be a loser by him need not fear what hazard he runs in his cause: and he who knows that he seeks a prize which, if obtained, will infinitely overmatch his cost, may boldly engage his whole estate on it, and sell all to purchase so rich a pearl.
Brethren, I will spend no more words in exhorting wise merchants to such a bargain, or telling teachers themselves of such common truths; and if I have said more than needs already, I am glad. I hope now I may take it for granted that you are resolved on the utmost diligence and fidelity in the work, on which supposition I shall now proceed.
|Chapter 5||CONTENTS||Chapter 7|