IT is so happy a work which we have before us, that it is a thousand pities it should be destroyed in the birth, and perish in our hands. Though I know we have a knotty generation to deal with, and that it is past the power of any of us to change a carnal heart without the effectual grace of the Holy Ghost; yet it is so usual with God to work by means, and to bless the right endeavours of his servants, that I cannot fear but great things will be done, and a wonderful blow given to the kingdom of darkness by our work, if it do not miscarry, through the fault of the ministers themselves. The chief danger is, want of diligence and skill. Of the former I have spoken much already. As for the latter, I am so conscious of my own unskilfulness, that I am far from imagining myself fit to give directions to any but the younger and unexperienced in the work of the ministry; and therefore you will suppose me now to speak to none but such. I cannot pass over this part in silence, because the number of such is great, and I am persuaded that the welfare of the church and nation greatly depends on the management and success of this work.
The points wherein you have need to be solicitous are two: (1.) To bring your people to submit to this course of private instructions; for if they will not come near you, what good can they receive? (2.) To do the work so as may most tend to the success of it when they do come.
7.1. How to bring the people to submit to it
With respect to the first, the best directions that I can give are the following.
7.1.1. For a minister so to behave himself in the main course of his ministry and life as may tend to convince his people of his ability, sincerity, and unfeigned love to them
The chief means of all is, for a minister so to behave himself in the main course of his ministry and life as may tend to convince his people of his ability, sincerity, and unfeigned love to them; for if they take him to be ignorant, they will despise his teaching, and think themselves as wise as he. If they think him self-seeking, or hypocritical, they will suspect all that he says and does for them, and will not regard him. If they think he intends but to domineer over their consciences, or to trouble them, or merely to exercise their wit and memory, they will flee away from him as from an adversary, and from his endeavours, as hurtful and disgusting. Whereas, when they are convinced that he understands what he does, and have high thoughts of his abilities, they will reverence him, and the more readily stoop to his advice. When they are persuaded of his uprightness, they will the less suspect the steps he may take for their edification; and when they perceive that he intends no private ends of his own, but merely their good, they will the sooner be persuaded by him. Because those to whom I write are supposed not to be the most able ministers, and therefore may despair of being reverenced, for their parts, I say to such: (1.) You have the more need to study and labour for their increase. (2.) You must necessarily have that which makes the lowest degree tolerable; and it will produce some reverence when they know you are wiser than themselves. (3.) And that which you want in ability must be made up in the other qualifications, and then your advice may be as successful as others.
If ministers would condescend to their people, and be familiar and loving with them, prudent in their carriage among them, and, according to their ability, abound in good works, they might do much more than usually they do. Not that we should much regard an interest in them for our own sakes, but that we may be more capable of promoting the interest of Christ, and of farthering their salvation. Were it not for their own sakes, it were no great matter whether they love or hate us. But what commander can do any great service by an army that hates him? And how can we think that they will regard our counsel, while they abhor or disregard the persons who give it? Labour, therefore, for some competent interest in your people’s esteem and affection, and then you may the better prevail with them.
18.104.22.168. Objection: What should a minister do who has lost his people’s esteem and affection?
Obj. But what should a minister do, who finds he has quite lost his people’s esteem and affection?
Ans. If they be so vile a people that they hate him not for any weakness, nor through misreports about particular things, but merely for endeavouring their good, though in prudence as well as zeal, and would hate any other that should do his duty; then must he in patience and meekness continue to instruct those who oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth. But if it be upon any weaknesses of his, or difference in lesser opinions, or prejudice merely against his own person, let him try first to remove the prejudice by all lawful means; and if he cannot, let him tell them, “It is not for myself but for you that I labour; and, therefore, seeing that you will not obey the word from me, I desire that you will agree to accept of some other that may do you that good which I cannot:” and so leave them, and try whether another man may not be fitter for them, and he for another people. An ingenuous man can hardly stay with a people against their wills; and a sincere man can more hardly, in any interest of his own, remain in a place where he is likely to be unprofitable, to hinder the good which they might receive from another man, who has the advantage of a greater interest in their estimation and affection.
7.1.2. Prove it to be good for him, and do this by evidence suited to his understanding
Supposing then this general preparation, the next thing to be done is, to use the most effectual means to convince them of the benefit and necessity of this mode of instruction for their own souls. The way to win the consent of any man to what you offer him, is to prove it to be good for him and to do this by evidence suited to his understanding; for if you cannot make him believe that it is good or necessary for him, he will not receive it. You must therefore preach to them some plain and convincing sermons to this purpose beforehand, which shall fully show them the benefit and necessity of the knowledge of divine truths in general, and of knowing the first principles in particular; and that the aged have as much need as others, and in some respects much more. Heb. v, 12, affords us many observations suitable to our business. As, (1.) That God’s oracles must be man’s lessons. (2.) Ministers must teach these, and people must learn them. (3.) The oracles of God have some fundamentals, which all must know who will be saved. (4.) These fundamentals must be first learned. (5.) It may be expected that people will grow in knowledge according to the means or teaching which they possess; and if they do not, it is their sin. (6.) If any have lived long in the church under the means of knowledge, and yet be ignorant of these first principles, they have need to be taught them again. All this is plain from the text, whence we have a fair opportunity by twenty clear and convincing reasons, to show them the necessity of knowing God’s oracles, especially the first principles; in particular for the aged, who have lost so much time already, have long promised to repent when they were old, should now have been teachers of others, and whose ignorance therefore is a double sin and shame. Convince them how impossible it is to walk in the way to heaven without knowing it, when there are so many difficulties and enemies in their way. Men cannot do their worldly business without knowledge, nor learn a trade without an apprenticeship. Who can love, or seek, or desire that which he knows not? Convince them what a contradiction it is to be a Christian, and yet to refuse to learn. For what is a Christian but a disciple of Christ, and how can he be his disciple who refuses to be taught by him? They who refuse to be taught by his ministers refuse to be taught by him; for Christ will not come down from heaven again to teach them by his own mouth, but has appointed his ministers to keep school and teach them under him. To say therefore that they will not be taught by his ministers, is to say they will not be taught by Christ; and that is to say they will be none of his disciples. Abundance of such undeniable evidences we have to convince them of their duty. Make them understand that it is not an arbitrary business of our own devising and imposing, but that necessity is laid upon us, and if we look not to every member of the flock according to our power, they may perish in their iniquities, but their blood will be required at our hands: it is God, and not we, who is the contriver and imposer of this work. Would they be so cruel as to wish a minister to lose his own soul for fear of troubling them, by striving to prevent their damnation? especially acquaint them fully with the true nature of the ministerial office, the church’s necessity of it, and that it consists in teaching and guiding all the flock; show them that they must come to the congregation as scholars to school, and must be content to give account of their learning, and be instructed man by man. Let them know what a tendency this has to their salvation, what a profitable improvement it will be of their time, how much vanity and evil it will prevent; and when they once find that it is for their own good, they will the more easily yield to it.
7.1.3. Give one of the catechisms to every family, poor and rich
When this is done, it will be necessary to give one of the catechisms to every family, poor and rich, that they may be so far without excuse; for if you leave it to themselves, perhaps half of them will not get them. Whereas, when they are put into their hands, the receiving of them is a kind of engagement to learn them; and if they do but read the exhortation, it will perhaps convince and excite them to submit. In delivering them, the best way is, for the minister first to give notice in the congregation that they shall be brought to their houses, and then to go himself from house to house and deliver them and take that opportunity of persuading them to the work; and as you go, take a catalogue of all the persons at years of discretion in the several families, that you may know whom you have to take care of and instruct, and whom to expect when it comes to their turn. If the minister be able, it will be well for him to bear the charge of the books; if not, the richer part of his people should bear it among them: or on a day of humiliation preparatory to the work, let the collection that is wont to be made for the poor be employed to buy catechisms, and the people desired to be more liberal. As for the order of proceeding in small parishes, it is no great matter; but in large ones it will be needful to take them in order, family by family, beginning the execution a month or six weeks after the delivery of their books, that they may have time to learn; and thus, taking them together in common, they will the more willingly come.
7.1.4. Deal gently with them, and remove every discouragement as effectually as you can
Be sure you deal gently with them, and remove every discouragement as effectually as you can. (1.) Tell them publicly that if they have learned any other catechism already, you will not urge them to learn this, unless they desire it themselves: for the substance of all catechisms that are orthodox is the same; only our reason for offering them this was its brevity and fulness, that we might give them as much as we could in few words. If any of them would rather learn any other orthodox catechism, let them have their choice. (2.) As for old people of weak memories, who complain that they cannot remember the words, tell them you do not expect that they should perplex their minds about it, but hear it often read over, see that they understand it, and get the matter into their minds and hearts; and then they may be borne with, though they remember not the words. (3.) And let your dealing with those whom you begin with be so gentle, convincing, and winning, that the report of it may be an encouragement to others to come.
7.1.5. If all this will not serve to bring any particular persons to submit, do not so cast them off
If all this will not serve to bring any particular persons to submit, do not so cast them off; but go to them, and expostulate the case with them; know what their reasons are, and convince them of the sinfulness and danger of their contempt of the help that is offered them. A soul is so precious that we should not lose one for want of labour; but follow them while there is any hope, and not give them up as desperate till there be no remedy. Before we give them over as dogs or swine, let us try the utmost, that we may have the experience of their obstinate contempt, or renting us to warrant our forsaking them. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”
7.2. How to do the work so as may most tend to the success of it when they do come.
Having used these means to procure them to come and submit to your teaching, the next thing to be considered is, how you should deal with them in the work: and again I must say, that I think it an easier matter by far to compose and preach a good sermon, than to deal properly with an ignorant man for his instruction in the necessary principles of religion. Much as this work is contemned by some, I doubt not but it will try the parts and spirits of ministers more fully than pulpit-preaching will do. Here I will transcribe the words of Archbishop Usher:
Great scholars may possibly think it beneath them to spend so much of their time in teaching the first principles of the doctrine of Christ; but they should consider that laying the foundation skilfully, as it is matter of the greatest importance in the whole building, so it is the very master-piece of the wisest builder. “According to the grace of God which is given me as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation,” says the great apostle. And let the most learned and wisest of us try it whenever we please, we shall find that to lay this groundwork properly, to apply ourselves to the capacity of our people individually, and to make an ignorant man understand the grounds of religion, will put us to the trial of our skill. Christ gave as well his apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, as his ordinary pastors and teachers, to bring us all, both learned and unlearned, to the unity of this faith and knowledge; and the neglecting of this is the frustrating of the whole work of the ministry; for, let us preach ever so many sermons to the people, our labour is but lost as long as the foundation is unlaid, and the first principles untaught upon which all other doctrines must be built.
The directions which I think necessary to be observed in managing the work, for matter and manner, are the following:—
7.2.1. Begin with a brief preface to prepare them for the cordial reception of your instructions.
When your neighbours come to you, one family or more, begin with a brief preface to prepare them for the cordial reception of your instructions.
“Neighbours and brethren, it may perhaps seem to some of you an unusual and troublesome business that I have put you upon; but I hope you will not think it needless; for if I had thought so, I should have spared you and myself this labour. But my conscience has told me, yea, God has told me in his word, what it is to have the charge of men’s souls, and how the blood of them that perish in their sins will be required at the hands of the minister who neglects them, and I dare not be guilty of it. Alas, all our business in this world is to get well to heaven; and God has appointed us to be guides to his people, to help them safe thither. If this be well done, all is done; and if this be not done, we are for ever undone! The Lord knows how short a time you and I may be together; and therefore it concerns us to do what we can for our own and your salvation, before we leave you, or you leave the world. All other employments in the world are but toys and dreams in comparison of this. The labours of your calling are but to prop up the cottages of your flesh, while you are making ready for death and judgment, which God knows is near at hand. I hope, therefore, you will be glad of help, in such a needful work, and not think it much that I put you to this trouble, when the trifles of the world cannot be got without greater trouble.”
This, or something to this purpose, may tend to make them more willing to hear you, and receive instruction, and give you an account of their knowledge and practice, which must be the work of the day.
7.2.2. Then take them one by one, and deal with them in private.
When you have spoken thus to them all, then take them one by one, and deal with them in private. For some cannot speak freely before others; some cannot endure to be questioned before others, because they are ashamed to have them hear their answers; and some who can give better answers will be ready when they are gone to tattle of what they heard, and to despise those who spake not so well as they did. You must therefore be very prudent to prevent all these inconveniences. But the main reason is, as I find by experience, people will better take plain, close dealing, about their sin, and misery, and duty, when you have them alone, than they will before others; and if you have not opportunity to set it home, and deal freely with them, you will frustrate all. If, therefore, you have a convenient place, let the rest stay in one room while you confer with each person separately in another; only, in order to avoid the appearance of evil, we must speak to the women in the presence of some others: and if we do lose some advantage by it with regard to the success of our instructions, there is no remedy; better do so than, by giving occasion to those who are seeking it, destroy the whole work. Yet we may so contrive it as to let none be present but the members of the same family, or those who are most familiar, and therefore not likely to reproach one another. In your rousing examinations and reproofs address yourselves chiefly to the most ignorant, secure, and vicious, that you may have the clearer ground for your closet-dealing, and that the hearing of it may awaken bystanders, to whom you seem not so directly to apply it. These small things deserve attention, because they are parts of a work that is not small; and small errors may hinder a great deal of good.
7.2.3. Take an account of what they have learned of the catechism
Begin your work by taking an account of what they have learned of the catechism, receiving their answer to each question; and if they are able to recite little or none of it, try whether they can rehearse the creed and the decalogue.
7.2.4. Choose out some of the weightiest points, and try how they understand them.
Then choose out some of the weightiest points, and try how they understand them. In so doing, be careful, (1.) That you do not begin with less necessary points, but those which they themselves may perceive do most clearly concern them: as, “What do you think becomes of men after death? Do you believe you have sin in you; that you were born in sin; and what does sin deserve? What remedy has God provided for guilty, miserable sinners? Has any one suffered for our sins in our stead, or must we suffer for them ourselves? Who are they whom God will pardon? Who shall be saved by the blood of Christ? What change must be made on all that shall be saved? How is it made? Wherein consists our chief happiness? What must our hearts be most set upon?” and such like. (2.) Take heed of asking them nice, needless, or doubtful and very difficult questions, though about matters that are of the greatest importance in themselves. Especially be very cautious how you put them upon definitions or descriptions. Some self-conceited men will be busy with questions which they cannot answer themselves, and as censorious and severe with the poor people who cannot answer them, as if life and death depended thereon. You will ask them, perhaps, What is God? And how defective an answer must you make yourselves? You may tell what he is not sooner than what he is. If you ask, What is repentance, what is faith, or what is forgiveness of sin? how many ministers may you ask before you have a right answer, or else they would not differ so widely in their opinions on these points. So if you ask them what regeneration is, what sanctification is? But you will perhaps say, “If men know not what God is, what repentance, faith, conversion, justification, and sanctification are, how can they be true Christians?” I answer, It is one thing to know exactly what they are, and another thing to know them in their nature and effects, though with a more general and indistinct knowledge; and it is one thing to know, and another to tell what this or that is. The very name, as commonly used, signifies to them, and expresses for them, the thing without a definition; and they partly understand what that name signifies, when they cannot tell it you in other words. As they know what it is to repent, to believe, to be forgiven; by custom of speech they know what these mean, and yet cannot define them. Yet I do not absolutely dissuade you from the use of such questions; but to do it cautiously, in case you suspect some gross ignorance in the point, especially about God himself. (3.) In such a case, so contrive your question, that they may perceive what you mean, and that it is not a nice definition, but a necessary solution you expect. Look not after words, but things, and there leave them only a bare yea or nay, or the mere election of one of the two descriptions which you yourself shall propound. As, What is God? Is he made of flesh and blood, as we are, or is he an invisible spirit? Had he any beginning? Can he die? What is faith? Is it a believing all the word of God? What is it to believe in Christ? Is it all one as to become a true Christian; or to believe that Christ is the Saviour of the world, and to accept him for your Saviour, to pardon, teach, govern, and glorify you? What is repentance? Is it only to be sorry for sin; or is it the change of the mind from sin to God, or both? (4.) Where you perceive they understand not the stress of your question, you must lead them into it by other questions. So I have asked some, How do you think your many and great sins will be pardoned? And they tell me, by their repenting and mending their lives, and never mention Jesus Christ. I ask them farther, But do you think your amendment will make any satisfaction for your past sins? They answer, “We hope so; or else we know not what will?” One would think now these had no knowledge of Christ at all: and some I find have indeed none. Hence, when I tell them the history of the gospel, and what Christ did and suffered, and why, they wonder at it as a strange thing that they had never heard before, and say, they never heard this much till now, though they came to church every Lord’s day. But others, I perceive, give such answers, because they understand not the scope of my question. And if I ask farther, “Can you be saved without the death of Christ?” They say, “No.” And if I ask, “What has he done or suffered for you?” they will say, “He shed his blood for us;” and will profess that they place their confidence in that for salvation. Many men have that in their minds which is not ripe for utterance, and through want of education and practice, they are strangers to the expressions of those things which they have some conceptions of: and, by the way, you may here see how needful it is to deal very tenderly with the common people for matter of knowledge and defect of expression, if they are teachable, and willing to use means, and to live obediently; for many, even aged, godly persons, cannot speak their minds in any tolerable expressions; no, nor can learn when expressions are put into their mouths. Some of the most pious, experienced, and approved Christians that I know, complain exceedingly to me with tears that they cannot learn the words of the catechism; and when I consider their advantages, that they have lived under the most excellent helps, in constant duty, and in the best company, forty, fifty, or sixty years together, it teaches me what to expect from poor ignorant people who have not had such advantages, and not to reject them so hastily as some hot and too high professors would have us do. (5.) When you find them at a loss, and perceive them troubled that they cannot answer, step in yourself and take the burden off them, answering the question yourself, and then do it thoroughly and plainly, and make a full explication of the whole business to them, that by your teaching they may be brought to understand it before you leave them.
7.2.5. Instruct them yourselves, according to their several capacities.
Thus, when you have tried their knowledge, proceed next to instruct them yourselves, according to their several capacities. If he be a professor who understands the fundamentals, fall on what you perceive he most needs, either explaining farther some of the doctrines of the gospel, or some duty which he may doubt of, or showing the necessity of what he neglects, as may be most convincing and edifying to him. If it be one that is grossly ignorant, give him a plain recital of the sum of the Christian religion in a few words, as thus:
“You must know that from everlasting there was one only God, who had no beginning, and can have no end; who is not a body as we are, but a most pure, spiritual being, who knows all things, and can do all things, and has all goodness and blessedness in himself. This God is but one; but yet three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in an incomprehensible manner, above our reach: yet we have somewhat in ourselves and other creatures that may give us some resemblance of it. As in a man, his power, and his understanding and will, are but one soul, and yet they are not one faculty, but differ one from another; or as in the sun the being or power, and the heat and the light, are not all one, and yet there is but one sun: so, in a more incomprehensible manner, it is in God. And you must know that this one God made all the world by his word; the heavens he made to be the place of his glory, and made a world of holy angels to serve him in his glory; but some of these, by pride or other sin, fell from God, and are become devils, who shall be miserable in torments forever. When he had made the rest of this lower world, he made man, as his noblest creature here, even one man and one woman, Adam and Eve; and he made them pefect without any sin or fault, and put them into the garden of Eden, and forbid them to eat but of one tree in the garden, and told them that if they did they should die: but the devil, who had first fallen himself, tempted them to sin, and they yielded to his temptation, and by wilfully sinning, fell under the curse of God’s law, and fell short of the glory of God. But God of his infinite wisdom and mercy sent his own Son Jesus Christ to be their Redeemer, who, as he was promised in the beginning, so in the fulness of time, 1800 years ago, was made man, and was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Ghost, and lived on earth among the Jews about thirty-three years; and he preached the gospel himself, and wrought many miracles to prove his doctrine and bring men to believe in him, healing the lame, the blind, the sick, and raising the dead by the word of his mouth by his divine power; and at the end, by the malice of the Jews and his own consent, he was offered up on the cross, as a sacrifice for our sins, to bear that curse that we should have borne; and when he was buried, he rose again the third day, and lived on earth forty days after, and before his departure he sent his apostles and other ministers to preach the gospel of salvation to the world, and to call home lost sinners by repentance, and to assure them in his name that if they will but believe in him and take him for their Saviour, and unfeignedly lament their former sins, and turn from them to God, and will take everlasting glory for their portion, and be content to resign their carnal interests and desires, he will pardon freely all that is past, and be merciful to them for the time to come, and will lead them up into spiricual communion with God, and bring them to his glory when this life is ended: but for those who make light of their sins and of God’s mercy, and will not forsake the pleasures of this world for the hopes of another, they shall be condemned to everlasting punishment. This gospel Christ has appointed his ministers to preach to all the world; and when he had given this charge to his apostles, he ascended up into heaven before their faces, where he is now in glory with God the Father, in our nature, ruling all: and at the end of this world he will come again in that nature, and will call the dead to life again, and set them all before him, to be judged; and all that truly repented and believed in him, and were renewed by his Spirit, and renounced this world for the hopes of a better, shall be judged to live with God in glory, and shall be like his angels, and praise him for ever; and the rest that repented not, and believed not in him, but lived to the flesh and the world, shall be condemned to everlasting misery. So that you may see by this that man’s happiness is not in this world, but in the next, and that all men have lost their hopes of that happiness by sin, and that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, and the Redeemer of the world, has recovered it for us by the price of his blood, and has made a new covenant with us, assuring us of life and salvation, if we repent and believe in him for that life, and mortify our fleshly desires. To this end he sends forth his Holy Spirit to convert all that shall be saved; and to turn their hearts from this world to God. If ever you mean to be saved, therefore, it must be thus with you: your former sins must be the grief of your soul, and you must fly to a crucified Christ as your only refuge from the deserved curse; and the Spirit of Christ must convert you, and dwell in you, and make you wholly a new creature, or there is no salvation.”
And if you perceive they do not understand you, go over it again till they do; and if possible, fix it in their memories.
7.2.6. Make a prudent inquiry into their state
Whether they be grossly ignorant or not, in the next place, make a prudent inquiry into their state; and the best way will be by a few words to prepare their minds, and convince them of the necessity of it. Suppose to this purpose:
“You read in the Scriptures of truth that the Holy Ghost, by the word, enlightens men’s minds, and softens and opens their hearts, and turns them from the power of Satan to God, by faith in Christ, thereby making them a sanctified, peculiar people to God; and that none but such are made partakers of Christ. Now though I have no desire needlessly to pry into any man’s state, yet because it is the office of ministers to give advice to people in the matters of salvation, and because it is so dangerous to be mistaken where life or death everlasting lies upon it, I would entreat you to deal truly, and tell me whether you ever found this great change wrought upon your heart or not? Did you ever find the Spirit of God, by the word, come in upon your understanding with such power, light, and life, as made you a new creature? The Lord who sees your heart knows whether it be so or not; therefore, I pray you, see that you speak the truth!”
If he tell you, he hopes he is converted —all are sinners—but he is sorry for his sins; then tell him more particularly what true conversion is, and so renew and enforce the inquiry thus:
“Because your salvation or damnation depends upon it, I would fain help you a little, that you may not be mistaken in a business of such consequence, but may find out the truth before it be too late; for as God will judge us impartially, so we have his word before us, by which we may know now how God will judge us then; for this word tells us most certainly who shall go to heaven, and who to hell. Now the Scripture tells us that the state of an unconverted man is this: he sees no great matter of felicity in the everlasting enjoyment of God in the life to come, which may draw his heart thither from this present world; but he lives to himself, and the main bent of his life is, that it may go well with his body here. The world and flesh are highest in his esteem and nearest to his heart, and God and glory stand below them and farther off; and all his service of God is but giving him that which the world and flesh can spare. This is the true case of every unconverted man, and all who are in this state are in a state of misery. But he who is truly converted has had a light shining into his soul from God, which has showed him the greatness of his sin and misery, and made it a heavy load upon his soul; it has also showed him Christ, and what he has done for sinners, and made him admire the riches of God’s grace in him. O what glad news it is to him that yet there is hope for such lost sinners as he—that so many and so great sins may be pardoned—and that this is offered to all that will accept it! How gladly does he entertain this message and offer: and for the time to come he resigns himself and all that he has to Christ to be wholly his, and disposed of by him, in order to the everlasting glory which he has promised. He has now such a sight of the blessed state of the saints in glory, that he despises all this world as dross and dung in comparison of it, and there he lays up his happiness and his hopes, and takes all the matters of this life but as so many helps or hinderances in the way to that; so that the very bent and main care and business of his life is to be happy in the life to come. This is the case of all that are truly converted and shall be saved. Is this your case or not? Have you found such a change as this upon your soul?”
If he say he hopes he has, descend to some particulars.
“I pray you then answer these two or three questions:—(1.) Can you truly say that all the known sins of your past life are the grief of your heart, that you have felt everlasting misery is due to you for them, and that in the sense of this heavy burden you have felt yourself a lost man, and have gladly entertained the news of a Saviour, and cast your soul upon Christ alone for pardon by his blood? (2.) Can you truly say that your heart is so far turned from your former sins, that you hate the sins which formerly you loved, and love that holy life which you had no mind to before, and that you do not now live in the wilful practice of any known sin? Is there no sin which you are not heartily willing to part with, whatever it cost you, and no duty which you are not willing to perform? (3.) Can you truly say that you have so far taken the everlasting enjoyment of God for your happiness, that it has the most of your heart, of your love, desire, and care; and that you are resolved by the strength of grace to let go all you have in this world, rather than hazard it, and that it is your daily and principal business to seek it? Can you truly say that, though you have your failings, yet your main care and the bent of your whole life is to please God and enjoy him for ever; and that your worldly business is but as a traveller seeking provision in his journey, and heaven is your home?”
If he say yea to the first and third, tell him how great a thing it is for a man’s heart to abhor his sin, unfeignedly to lay up his happiness in another world, and to live in this world for one that is out of sight; and therefore desire him to see that it be so indeed. If he say yea to the second question, then read over some of those duties which you most suspect him to omit; and ask him whether he performs such or such a duty, especially family and private prayer, and the holy spending of all the Lord’s day.
7.2.7. When you have reason to conclude that he is yet unconverted, endeavour to bring his heart to a sense of his condition.
When you have, by these inquiries into his spiritual state, reason to conclude that he is yet unconverted, your next business is to endeavour with all your skill and power to bring his heart to a sense of his condition.
“Truly, neighbour, I have no desire, the Lord knows, to make your condition worse than it is, nor to fill you with unnecessary fear and trouble: but I suppose you would take me for a flattering enemy, and not a faithful friend, if I should daub you, and not tell you the truth. If you sought to a physician in your sickness, you would wish him to tell you the truth, though it were the worst. Much more here: for there the knowledge of your disease might by fears be increased; but here you must know it, or else you can never be recovered from it. I much fear that you are yet a stranger to the new life of all those whom Christ will save: for if you were truly converted, your very heart would be set on God and the life to come; you would admire the riches of grace in Christ, you would make it your business to prepare for eternity, and you durst not, you would not live in any wilful sin, nor in the neglect of any known duties. Alas! what have you done? How have you spent your time till now? Did you not know that you had a soul to save or lose, and that you must live in heaven or hell for ever, and that you had your life and time in this world to prepare for heaven! Alas, what have you been doing all this while, that you are so ignorant, and so unprepared for death, if it should now find you? If you had but as much minded heaven as earth, you would have known more of it, done more for it, and inquired more diligently after it than you have. You can learn how to do your business in the world, and why could you not have learned more of the will of God? You have neighbours that could learn more, who have had as much to do in the world as you, and as little time. Do you think that heaven is not worth your labour, or that it can be had without care and pains, when you cannot have the trifles of this world without seeking after them, and when God has commanded you first to seek his kingdom, and the righteousness thereof? Alas, neighbour, what if you had died before this hour, in an unconverted state! What had become of you, and where had you now been? Why, you did not know all this while that you should live a day to an end. O that ever you should be so cruel to yourself as to venture your everlasting state so desperately as you have done! What did you think of? Did you not all this while know that you must shortly die, and be judged as you were then found? Had you any greater work to do, or any greater business to mind, than your salvation? Do you think that all you can get in this world will comfort you in a dying hour, or purchase your salvation, or ease the pains of hell fire?”
Set these things home with a more earnest voice than the former part of your discourse; for if you get not to the heart, you do nothing.
7.2.8. Conclude the whole with a practical exhortation
Conclude the whole with a practical exhortation, which must contain two parts: (1.) The duty of the heart, in order to a closure with Christ, and what is contained in that closure. (2.) The use of external means for the time to come, and the avoiding of former sins.
“Neighbour, I am heartily sorry to find you in so sad a case, but I should be more sorry to leave you in it; and therefore let me entreat you for the Lord’s sake, and for your own sake, to regard what I shall say to you for the time to come. It is the Lord’s great mercy that he did not cut you off in your unconverted state, that you have yet life and time, and that there is a sufficient remedy provided for your soul in the blood of Christ; and he is yet offered with pardon and life to you as well as others. God has not left sinful man to utter desperation for want of a ransom by a Redeemer, as he has done the devils, nor has he made any exception in the offer and promise of pardon and life against you any more than against others. If you had yet but a bleeding heart for sin, and would come to Christ believingly for recovery, and resign yourself to him as your Saviour and Lord, the Lord would have mercy on you, pardon your sins, and save your soul; and I must tell you that as it must be the work of God’s grace to give you such a heart: so, if ever he pardon and save you, he will work this change in you that I have mentioned: he will make you feel your sin as the heaviest burden in the world, as that which is most odious in itself, and has laid you open to the curse of God: he will make you see that you are a lost man, and that there is no way but one for you, everlasting damnation, unless you are pardoned by the blood of Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit: he will make you see the need you have of Christ, and how much you are beholden to him for the shedding of his blood, and how all your hope and life is in him: he will make you see the vanity of this world, and all that it can afford you, and that all your happiness is with God, in that everlasting life, where, with saints and angels, you may behold his glory, and live in his presence, and praise him for ever, when those who reject him shall be tormented with the devils: and because it is only Christ the Redeemer that can bring you to that glory, and deliver you from that torment, he will make you look to him as your hope and life, cast your burdened soul upon him, and give yourself up to be saved, and taught, and ruled by him; and he will possess you with the spirit of holiness, that your heart shall be set upon God and heaven as your treasure, and the care of your mind, and the business of your life shall be to obtain it; and you shall despise this world, deny yourself, and cast away the sin with abhorrence which you delighted in; and count no pains too great, nor no suffering too dear, for the obtaining of that everlasting life. Let me tell you, that till this work is done you are a miserable man; and if you die before it is done, you are lost for ever. Now you have hope and help before you, but then there will be none. Let me therefore entreat these two or three things of you, and do not deny them me, as you love your soul: (1.) That you will not rest in this condition. Be not quiet in your mind till you find a true conversion wrought. Think when you rise in the morning, O what if this day should be my last, and death should find me in an unrenewed state! Think when you are about your labour, O how much greater work have I to do to get my soul reconciled to God and possessed of his Spirit! Think when you are eating, or drinking, or looking on any thing that you possess in the world, What good will all this do me if I live and die an enemy to God, a stranger to Christ and his Spirit, and so perish for ever? Let these thoughts be day and night upon your mind till your soul be changed. (2.) Think seriously what a vain thing this world is, and how shortly it will leave you to a cold grave, and to everlasting misery, if you have not a better treasure. Think what it is to live in the presence of God, to reign with Christ, and be like the angels; and that this is the life that Christ has procured you, and is preparing for you, and freely offers you, if you will accept it in and with himself, upon his easy and reasonable terms. Think whether it be not madness to slight such endless glory, and to prefer these fleshly dreams and earthly shadows before it. Use yourself to such considerations as these when you are alone, and let them dwell upon your mind. (3.) Presently, without any more delay, accept of this felicity, and this Saviour. Close with the Lord Jesus, who offers you this eternal life. Joyfully and thankfully accept his offer as the only way to make you happy; and then you may believe that all your sins shall be done away by him. (4.) Resolve presently against your former sins; find out what has defiled your heart and life, and cast it away, by repentance, as you would poison out of your stomach, and abhor the thought of taking it in again. (5.) Set yourself closely to the use of God’s means till this change be wrought, and then continue his means till you are confirmed, and at last perfected. Because you cannot of yourselves make this change in your heart and life, apply daily to God for it; and beg earnestly, as for your life, that he will pardon all your sins, change your heart, show you the riches of his grace in Christ, and the glory of his kingdom, and draw up your heart to himself. Follow God day and night with these requests. Fly from temptations and occasions of sin, and forsake your former evil company, and associate with those who fear God, and will help you in the way to heaven. Especially spend the Lord’s day in holy exercises, both public and private, and lose not one quarter of an hour of your time, particularly of that most precious time which God has given you purposely that you may set your mind upon him, be instructed by him, and prepare yourself for your latter end. What say you? Will you do this presently, at least so much of it as you can? Will you promise me to think of these things that I have mentioned, and to pray daily for a change of heart till you have obtained it, and to change your company and courses, and fall upon the use of God’s means in reading and hearing the Scriptures, and meditating on them, especially on the Lord’s day?”
And here be sure, if you can, to get their promise to forsake sin, change their company, and use the appointed means, and in this way wait for that change without which they must perish; and do this solemnly, reminding them of the presence of God, who hears their promises, and will expect the performance.
7.2.9. Before you dismiss them, add a few words
Before you dismiss them, add a few words to this effect:
“I pray you take it not ill that I have put you to this trouble, or dealt thus freely with you! It is as little pleasure to me as to you. If I did not know these things to be true and necessary, I would have spared this labour to myself and you. But I know that we shall be here but a little while—we are almost at the next world already—and therefore it is time for us all to look about us, and see that we be ready when God shall call us.”
Put them in a way for perfecting what is begun. Engage the head of each family to call all his family to give an account, every Lord’s day evening, before they go to bed, what they can rehearse of the catechism, and so to continue till they have all learned it perfectly; and when they have done so, yet still to continue to hear them recite it, that they may not forget it: for even to the most judicious it will be an excellent help to have still in memory a sum of the Christian doctrine, for matter, method, and words. As for the rulers of families themselves, or those who are under such rulers as will not help them, if they have learned some small part of the catechism only, engage them either to come again to you, when they have learned the rest, or else to go to some experienced neighbour and recite it to him, that they may have his assistance when they cannot have yours.
7.2.10. Have all the names of your parishioners by you in a book
Have all the names of your parishioners by you in a book; and when they come and recite the catechism, note in your book who come, and who do not; and who are so ignorant as to be utterly unfit for the Lord’s supper and the other holy communion, and who not. As you perceive the necessities of each, so deal with them for the future.
7.2.11. See that the manner as well as the matter be suited to the end.
Through the whole course of your conference with them, see that the manner as well as the matter be suited to the end. Concerning the manner observe these particulars:—(1.) Speak differently, according to the difference of the persons you have to deal with. To the dull and obstinate you must be more earnest and sharp; to the tender and timorous that are already humbled you must rather insist on direction and confirmation; to the young you must point out the danger of worldly and sensual pleasures, and show them the nature and necessity of mortification; to the aged you must show the vanity of this present world, and make them apprehensive of the nearness of their change, and the aggravations of their sin, if they live and die in ignorance and impenitence; to inferiors, and the younger sort, you must be more free; to superiors and elders, more respectful; to the rich, the deceitfulness of riches, and the nature and necessity of self-denial must be opened, and the dreadful consequence of preferring present prosperity to future happiness, as also the necessity of improving their talents in well-doing; to the poor, show the riches of glory which are propounded to them in the gospel, and how well present things may be spared where those may be secured. Also those sins must be most insisted on to which their age, sex, or calling and employment in the world most exposes them. (2.) Be as condescending, familiar, and plain, as is possible with those who are of a weaker capacity. (3.) Give them Scripture proof for all you say, that they may see it is not you only, but God by you that speaks to them. (4.) Be as serious in all, but especially in the applicatory part, as you can. I scarcely fear any thing more than lest some ministers should slubber over the work, and do it superficially and without life, and destroy this, as they do all other duties, by turning it into mere formality; putting a few cold questions to them, and giving them two or three cold words of advice, without any life and feeling in themselves, and therefore not likely to produce any in the hearers. But surely he who values souls, and knows what an opportunity is before him, will apply himself to it with all his might. (5.) To this end I think it very necessary that we, both before and in the work, take special pains with our own hearts; especially to excite and strengthen our belief of the truth of the gospel, and the invisible glory and misery that is come. I am confident this work will exceedingly try the strength of our faith; for he that is superficially a Christian, and not sound in the faith, will likely feel his zeal quite fail him, especially when the duty becomes common, for want of a proper sense of the things which he is to treat of, to keep it alive. An affected fervency will not hold out in such duties long. The pulpit will have more of them than a conference with poor ignorant souls; for the pulpit is the hypocritical minister’s stage. There, in the press, and in the public acts, where there is room for ostentation, you are sure to have his best, and almost all. It is other kind of men that must effectually do the work now in hand. (6.) It is therefore highly necessary that we prepare ourselves for it by private prayer, and that we begin and end with a short prayer with our people. (7.) Carry on all, even the most earnest passages, in clear demonstrations of love to their souls, and make them feel through the whole that you aim at nothing but their salvation. (8.) If you have not time to deal so fully with each one in particular as is here directed, then omit not the most necessary parts; take several of them together that are friends, and will not seek to divulge each other’s weaknesses, and speak to them in common as much as concerns all; only the examinations of their knowledge and state, and convictions of misery and special directions, must be used to the individuals alone: but take heed of slubbering it over, or being too brief without real necessity.
7.2.12. Extend your charity to the poorest set before you let them go
If God enable you, extend your charity to the poorest set before you let them go; give them something towards their relief, and for the time that is thus taken from their labours, especially for the encouragement of them that do best; and promise the rest as much when they have learned the catechism. I know you cannot give what you have not; but I speak to those who can. So much shall serve for directions to the younger ministers in their dealing with the more ignorant or carnal sort of persons.
|Chapter 6||CONTENTS||Chapter 8|