TO THE PEOPLE.
THE reason why I have called this volume the first part of the book, is, because I intend, if God enable me, and give me time, a second part, containing the duty of the people to their pastors; and therein to show, (1.) The right and necessity of a ministry. (2.) The way to know which is the true church and ministry, how we justify our own calling to this office, and how false prophets and teachers must be discerned. (3.) How far the people must assist the pastors in the work of the gospel, and the pastors employ them for that end. And (4.) How far the people must submit to their pastors, and what other duty they must perform in that relation. But because my time and strength are so uncertain, that I know not whether I may live to publish my yet imperfect preparations on this subject, I dare not let this first part come into your hands without a word of caution and advice, lest you should misunderstand or misapply it.*
(*I do not find that ever the author published the above.)
Entertain no unworthy thoughts of your pastors; because we here confess our own sins, and aggravate them, in order to our humiliation and reformation. You know it is men, and not angels, whom God hath appointed to the work of the ministry, and to be overseers of his church.
Brethren, let me deal freely with you. The ungrateful contempt of a faithful ministry is the shame of the faces of thousands in this land; and, if true repentance prevent it not, they shall better know in hell whether such ministers were their friends or foes, and what they would have done for them if their counsel had been heard. When the messengers of God were mocked, his words despised, and his prophets abused, the wrath of the Lord arose on the Israelites themselves, and there was no remedy. 2(Chron. xxxvi, 16.) Shall ministers study, preach, and pray for you, and after all be despised? When they have the God of heaven and their own consciences to witness that they desire not yours, but you; are willing to spend and be spent for you; that all the wealth in the world is nothing to them in comparison of your salvation, and that all their labours and sufferings are for your sake; if yet they be requited with your contempt and unteachableness, see who will be the losers in the end. When God himself shall justify them with Well done, good and faithful servant, let those who reproached, despised, and condemned them, defend their faces from shame, and their consciences from the accusations of their horrid ingratirude, if they can! Read the Scripture, and see whether they who obeyed God’s messengers, or they who despised and disobeyed them, fared best. And if any tell you that we are not the ministers of Christ, leave them not till they also tell you which is his true church and ministry, and where they are; and, by the time they have answered you, you will know more of their mind.
See that you obey your faithful teachers, and improve their help for your salvation while you have it. Take heed that you refuse not to learn when they would teach you. Especially see that you refuse not to submit to them in the duty of private instruction mentioned in this treatise. Go to them when they desire you, and be thankful for their help; yea, and at other times, when you need their advice, go to them of your own accord and ask it. Their business is to guide you in the way of life. If you seek not their direction, you either despise salvation itself, or you are so proud as to think yourselves sufficient to be your own directors. Shall God in mercy send you leaders to teach you and conduct you in the way to glory; and will you send them back, or refuse their assistance, and say, “We have no need of their instruction?” Is it for their own gain that they trouble you, or is it for your everlasting gain? Remember what Christ said to his messengers, “He that despiseth you, despiseth me.” If your obstinate refusal of the instruction of your ministers should put them to bear witness against you in judgment, and say, “Lord, I would have taught these ignorant sinners, and admonished these worldly impenitent men, but they would not so much as come to me, nor speak with me,” look you to it, and answer it if you can: for my part, I would not then be in your situation for all the world. But I shall say no more to you on this point, only desire you to read and consider the exhortation published in our agreement itself, which speaks to you more fully. If you read this book, remember that the duty which you find to belong to the ministers shows also what belongs to yourselves. For it cannot be our duty to teach, catechise, advise, &c., if it be not yours to hear, and learn, and seek advice.
“There will (saith Dr. Hammond) be little matter of doubt or controversy, but that private, frequent, spiritual conference, between fellow Christians, and especially (in important and difficult matters) between the presbyter and those of his charge, even in the time of health, particularly that part of it which is spent in the discussion of every man’s special sin, and infirmities, and inclinatitons, and may prove very useful and advantageous, in order to spiritual directions, reproof and comfort, to the making the man of God perfect: and, to tell the truth, if the pride and self-conceit of one, the wretchedness of another, the bashfulness of a third, the nauseating and instant satiety of any good in a fourth, the follies of men and the artifices of Satan had not put this practice quite out of fashion among us, there is no doubt but more good might be done by ministers this way, than is now done by any other means; yea, than by public preaching itself (which hath now the fate to be cried up, and almost wholly depended on, which yet need not be neglected the more when this is used,) it being the most likely way, as Quintilian saith, (comparing the public and private teaching of youth,) to fill narrow bottles, (and such are the most of us,) by taking them separately and pouring water into each, than by setting them all together and throwing never so much water upon them.”*
(*Power of the Keys. cap. 4, sec. 104, p. 113.)
“The ignorant soul (saith Gurnal) feels no such smart. If the minister stay till he sends for him to instruct him, he may sooner hear the bell proclaim his death, than see a messenger from him. You must seek them out, and not expect that they will come to you. These are a sort of people that are more afraid of their remedy than their disease, and study more how to hide their ignorance than how to have it cured; which should make us pity them the more, because they pity themselves so little. I confess it is no small unhappiness to some of us, who have to do with a multitude, that we have neither time nor strength to make our addresses to every particular person in our congregations, and attend on them as their needs require; and yet we cannot well satisfy our consciences otherwise. But let us look to it, that though we cannot do to the height of what we would, we be not found wanting in what we can; Let not the difficulty of our province make us like some, who, when they see they have got more work upon their hands than they can well despatch, grow sick of it and sit down, out of a lazy despondence, and do nothing. O, if our hearts were once filled with zeal for God and compassion to the souls of our people, we should up and be doing, though we could lay but one brick a day, and God would be with us. It may be you find a people rude and sottishly ignorant, like stones in a quarry; and trees unfelled shall not bring the work to such perfection in your days as you desire; yet, as David did for Solomon, you may, by your pains in teaching and instructing them, prepare materials for another, who shall rear the temple.”†
(† The Christian in complete Armour, p. 235.)
April 16, 1656.