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APPLICATION OF THESE MOTIVES
Having found so many and so powerful reasons to move us to this work, I shall now apply them further for our humiliation and excitation.
1. What cause have we to bleed before the Lord this day, that we have neglected so great and good a work so long; that we have been ministers of the gospel so many years, and done so little by personal instruction and conference for the saving of men’s souls! If we had but set about this business sooner, who knows how many souls might have been brought to Christ, and how much happier our congregations might have been? And why might we not have done it sooner as well as now? I confess, there were many impediments in our way, and so there are still, and will be while there is a devil to tempt, and a corrupt heart in man to resist the light: but if the greatest impediment had not been in ourselves, even in our own darkness, and dulness, and indisposedness to duty, and our dividedness and unaptness to close for the work of God, I see not but much might have been done before this. We had the same God to command us, and the same miserable objects of compassion, and the same liberty from governors as now we have. We have sinned, and have no just excuse for our sin; and the sin is so great, because the duty is so great, that we should be afraid of pleading any excuse. The God of mercy forgive us, and all the ministry of England, and lay not this or any of our ministerial negligences to our charge! Oh 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 the scattering of his flock. And oh that he would put up his controversy, which he hath against the pastors of his Church, and not deal the worse with them for our sakes, nor suffer underminers or persecutors to scatter them, as they have suffered his sheep to be scattered; and that he will not care as little for us, as we have done for the souls of men; nor think his salvation too good for us, as we have thought our labor and sufferings too much for men’s salvation!
As we have had many days of humiliation in England for the sins of the land, and the judgments that have befallen us, I hope we shall hear that God will more thoroughly humble the ministry, and cause them to bewail their own neglects, and to set apart some days through the land to that end, that they may not think it enough to lament the sins of others, while they overlook their own; and that God may not abhor our solemn national humiliations, because they are managed by unhumbled guides; and that we may first prevail with him for a pardon for ourselves, that we may be the fitter to beg for the pardon of others.
And oh that we may cast out the dung of our pride, contention, self-seeking, and idleness; lest God should cast our sacrifices as dung in our faces, and should cast us out as the dung of the earth, as of late he hath done many others for a warning to us; and that we may presently resolve in concord to mend our pace, before we feel a sharper spur than hitherto we have felt.
2. And now, brethren, what have we to do for the time to come, but to deny our lazy flesh, and rouse up ourselves to the work before us. The harvest is great, the laborers are few; the loiterers and hinderers are many, the souls of men are precious, the misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery to which they are near is greater, the joys of heaven are inconceivable, the comfort of a faithful minister is not small, the joy of extensive success will be a full reward. To be fellow-workers with God and his Spirit is no little honor; to subserve the blood-shedding of Christ for men’s salvation is not a light thing. To lead on the armies of Christ through the thickest of the enemy; to guide them safely through a dangerous wilderness; to steer the vessels through such storms and rocks and sands and shelves, and bring it safe to the harbour of rest, requireth no small skill and diligence. The fields now seem even white unto harvest; the preparations that have been made for us are very great; the season of working is more calm than most ages before us have ever seen. We have carelessly loitered too long already; the present time is posting away; while we are trifling, men are dying; oh how fast are they passing into another world! And is there nothing in all this to awaken us to our duty, nothing to resolve us to speedy and unwearied diligence? Can we think that a man can be too careful and painful under all these motives and engagements? Or can that man be a fit instrument for other men’s illumination, who is himself so blind? or for the quickening of others, who is himself so senseless? What, sirs! are ye, who are men of wisdom, as dull as the common people? and do we need to heap up a multitude of words to persuade you to a known and weighty duty? One would think it should be enough to set you on work, to show a line in the Book of God; to prove it to be his will; or to prove to you that the work hath a tendency to promote men’s salvation. One would think that the very sight of your miserable neighbors would be motive sufficient to draw out your most compassionate endeavors for their relief. If a cripple do but unlap his sores, and show you his disabled limbs, it will move you without words; and will not the case of souls, that are near to damnation, move you? O happy church, if the physicians were but healed themselves; and if we had not too much of that infidelity and stupidity against which we daily preach in others; and were more soundly persuaded of that of which we persuade others; and were more deeply affected with the wonderful things wherewith we would affect them!
Were there but such clear and deep impressions upon our own souls of those glorious things which we daily preach, oh what a change would it make in our sermons, and in our private course of life! Oh what a miserable thing it is to the Church and to themselves, that men must preach of heaven and hell, before they soundly believe that there are such things, or have felt the weight of the doctrines which they preach! It would amaze a sensible man to think what matters we preach and talk of; what it is for the soul to pass out of this flesh, and appear before a righteous God, and enter upon unchangeable joy or unchangeable torment! Oh, with what amazing thoughts do dying men apprehend these things! How should such matters be preached and discoursed of! Oh the gravity, the seriousness, the incessant diligence, which 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 others’ souls, as one that 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 absorb my mind. I marvel how I can preach of them slightly and coldly, and 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 may take it, and whatever pains or trouble it may cost me! I seldom come out of the pulpit, but my conscience smiteth me that I have been no more serious and fervent in such a case. It accuseth me not so much for want of ornaments or elegancy, nor for letting fall an unhandsome word; but it asketh 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 sayest? 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 doth ring in my ears, and yet my drowsy soul will not be awakened.
Oh what a thing is a senseless, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity and hard-heartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our own souls, which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others! I am even confounded to think what a difference there is between my sickbed apprehensions, and my pulpit apprehensions, of the life to come; that ever that can seem so light a matter to me now, which seemed so great and astonishing a matter then, and I know will do so again when death looks me in the face, when yet I daily know and think of that approaching hour; and yet these forethoughts will not recover such working apprehensions! O sirs, surely if you had all conversed with neighbor Death as oft as I have done, and as often received the sentence in yourselves, you would have an unquiet conscience, if not a reformed life, as to 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 — oh how many round about thee! — that are yet the visible sons of death? What hast thou said to them, or done for their conversion? Shall they die and be in hell before thou wilt speak to them one serious word 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 ringing in mine ears, though, the Lord knows, I have too little obeyed them. The God of mercy pardon me, and awaken me, with the rest of his servants that have been thus sinfully negligent. I confess to my shame that I seldom hear the bell toll for one that is dead, but conscience asketh 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 him for judgment?’ and yet I have been slothful and backward to help them that survive. How can you choose, when you are laying a corpse in the grave, but think with yourselves, ‘Here lieth 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 you to answer such questions as these? It may seem so now, but the hour is coming when it will not seem so. ‘If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts,’ and will condemn us much more, even with another kind of condemnation than conscience doth. The voice of conscience 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 seeth but a very little of our sin and misery, in comparison of what God seeth. What mountains would these things appear to your souls, which now seem molehills? What beams would these be in your eyes, that now seem motes, if you did but see them with a clearer light? (I dare not say, As God seeth them.) We can easily make shift to plead the cause with conscience, and either bribe it, or bear its sentence; but God is not so easily dealt with, nor his sentence so easily borne. ‘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.’ But because you shall not say that I affright you with bugbears, and tell you of dangers and terrors when there are none, I will here show you the certainty and sureness of that condemnation that is like to befall negligent pastors, particularly how many will be ready to rise up against us and condemn us, if we shall hereafter be wilful neglecters of this great work.
(1) Our parents, that 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.’
(2) Our masters that taught us, our tutors that instructed us, the schools and universities where we lived, and all the years that we spent in study, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us; for why was all this, but for the work of God
(3) Our learning and knowledge and ministerial gifts will condemn us; for to what end were we made partakers of these, but for the work of God
(4) Our voluntary undertaking the charge of souls will condemn us; for all men should be faithful to the trust which they have undertaken.
(5) All the care of God for his Church, and all that Christ hath done and suffered for it, will rise up in judgment against us, if we be negligent and unfaithful, and condemn us; because by our neglect we destroyed them for whom Christ died.
(6) All the precepts and charges of Holy Scripture, all the promises of assistance and reward, all the threatenings of punishment, will rise up against us and condemn us; for God did not speak all this in vain.
(7) All the examples of the prophets and apostles, and other preachers recorded in Scripture, and all the examples of the faithful and diligent servants of Christ in these latter times, and in the places around us, will rise up in judgment and condemn us; for all these were for our imitation, and to provoke us to a holy emulation in fidelity and ministerial diligence.
(8) The Holy Bible that lies open before us, and all the books in our studies that tell us of our duty, directly or indirectly, will condemn the lazy and unprofitable servant; for we have not all these helps and furniture in vain.
(9) All the sermons that we preach to persuade our people to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, to lay violent hands upon the crown of life, and take the kingdom by force, to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and so to run as to obtain, will rise up against the unfaithful and condemn them; for if it so nearly concern them to labor for their salvation, doth 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 labor, and patience, and is it not also worth ours?
(10) All the sermons that we preach to them to set forth the evil of sin, the danger of a natural state, the need of a Savior, the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell, yea, and the truth of the Christian religion, will rise up in judgment against the unfaithful, and condemn them. And a sad review it will be to themselves, when they shall be forced to think, ‘Did I tell them of such great dangers and hopes in public, and would I do no more, in private, to help them? What? tell them daily of damnation, and yet let them run into it so easily? Tell them of such a 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 matters when I came home?’ Ah! this will be dreadful self-condemnation.
(11) All the sermons that we have preached to persuade other men to such duties — as neighbors to exhort one another daily, and parents and masters to teach their children and servants the way to heaven — will rise up in judgment against the unfaithful, and condemn them; for will you persuade others to that which you will not do, as far as you can, yourselves? When you threaten them for neglecting their duty, how much more do you threaten your own souls!
(12) All the maintenance which we take for our service, if we be unfaithful will condemn us; for who is it that will pay a servant to take his pleasure, or sit idle, or work for himself. If we have the fleece, surely it is that we may look after the flock; and, by taking the wages, we oblige ourselves to the work.
(13) All the witness that we have borne against the scandalous, negligent ministers of this age, and all the endeavors that we have used for their removal, will condemn the unfaithful; for God is no respecter of persons. If we succeed them in their sins, we have spoken all that against ourselves; and, as we condemned them, God and others will condemn us, if we imitate them. And, though we should not be so bad as they, it will prove sad if we are even like them.
(14) All the judgments that God hath, in this age, executed on negligent ministers, before our eyes, will condemn us, if we be unfaithful. Hath he made the idle shepherds and sensual drones to stink in the nostrils of the people? And will he honor us, if we be idle and sensual? Hath he sequestrated them, and cast them out of their habitations, and out of their pulpits, and laid them by as dead, while they are yet 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? and did not all this befall them as an example to us? If any thing in the world would awaken ministers to self-denial and diligence, methinks we have seen enough to do it. Would you have imitated the old world if you had seen the flood that drowned it? Would you have indulged in the sins of Sodom — idleness, pride, fullness of bread — if you had stood by, and seen the flames which consumed it ascending up to heaven? Who would have been a Judas, that had seen him hanged and burst asunder? And who would have been a lying, sacrilegious hypocrite, that had seen Ananias and Sapphira die? And who would not have been afraid to contradict the gospel, that had seen Elymas smitten with blindness? And shall we prove idle, self-seeking ministers, when we have seen God scourging such out of his temple, and sweeping them away as dirt into the channels? God forbid! For then how great and how manifold will our condemnation be?
(15) Lastly, All the days of fasting and prayer, which have, of late years, been kept in England for a reformation, will rise up in judgment against the unreformed, who will not be persuaded to the painful part of the work. This, I confess, 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, which so long and so solemnly followed God with fasting and prayer, as we have done? Before the parliament began, bow frequent and fervent were we in secret! After that, for many years together, we had a monthly fast commanded by the parliament, besides frequent private and public fasts on other occasions. And what was all this for? Whatever was, for some time, the means we looked at, yet still the end of all our prayers was Church-reformation, and, therein, especially these two things, a faithful ministry, and the exercise of discipline in the Church. And did it once enter then into the hearts of the people, or even into our own hearts, to imagine, that when we had all we would have, and the matter was put into our own hands, to be as painful as we could, and to exercise what discipline we would, that then we would do nothing but publicly preach? that we would not be at the pains of catechizing and instructing our people personally, nor exercise any considerable part of discipline at all? It astonisheth me to think of it. What a depth of deceit is the heart of man! What? are good men’s hearts so deceitful? Are all men’s hearts so deceitful? I confess, I then told many soldiers, and other sensual men, that though they had fought for a reformation, I was confident they would abhor it, and be enemies to it, when they saw and felt it; thinking that the yoke of discipline would have pinched their necks, and that, when they were catechized and personally dealt with, and reproved for their sin, in private and public, and brought to public confession and repentance, or avoided as impenitent, they would scorn and spurn at all this, and take the yoke of Christ for tyranny; but little did I think that the ministers would let all fall, and put almost none of this upon them; but let them alone for fear of displeasing them, and let all run on as it did before.
Oh the earnest prayers which I have heard for a painful ministry, and for discipline! It was as if they had even 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 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 to 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 to them, and the governing of my Church according to my word? Yet 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, and will be long before you will be persuaded to my work.’ If the Lord, or any messenger of his, had given us such an answer, would it not have amazed us? Would it not have seemed incredible to us, that our hearts should 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 hath showed us our frailty. We have refused the troublesome and costly part of the reformation that we prayed for; but Christ yet turneth back, and looketh with a merciful eye upon us. Oh that we had yet the hearts immediately to go out and weep bitterly, and to do no more as we have done, lest a worse thing come upon us; and now to follow Christ, whom we have so far forsaken, through labor and suffering, even though it were to death!
I have thus showed you what will come of it, if you will not set yourselves faithfully to this work, to which you are under so many obligations and engagements; and 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 honor of God, I would not have troubled you with so many words about it, nor have presumed to speak so sharply as I have done. But when the question is about life and death, men are apt to forget their reverence and courtesy and compliments and good manners. For my own part I apprehend this is one of the best and greatest works I ever in my life put my hand to; and I verily think, that if your thoughts of it are as mine, 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 substantial matter as this, how disorderly and disproportionable would my zeal appear! Alas! can we think that the reformation is wrought, when we cast out a few ceremonies, and changed some vestures, and gestures, and forms! Oh no, sirs! it is the converting and saving of souls that is our business. That is the chiefest part of reformation, that doth most good, and tendeth most to the salvation of the people.
And now, brethren, the work is before you. In these personal instructions of all the flock, as well as in public preaching, doth 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, and how many will be wronged by your failing of your duty, and how much will be lost by the sparing of your labor. If your labor be more worth than the souls of men, and than the blood of Christ, then sit still, and look not after the ignorant or the ungodly; follow your own pleasure or worldly business, or take your ease; displease not sinners, nor your own flesh, but let your neighbors 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.
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