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OBJECTIONS TO THIS DUTY
I shall next answer some of those objections, which may be made to the practice I have been recommending.
We teach our people in public; and how then are we bound to teach them, man by man, besides?
You pray for them in public: must you not also pray for them in private? Paul taught every man, and exhorted every man, and that both publicly, and from house to house, night and day, with tears. But what need we say more, when experience speaks so loudly on this subject? I am daily forced to wonder how lamentably ignorant many of our people are, who have seemed diligent hearers of me these ten or twelve years, while I spoke as plainly as I was able to speak. Some know not that each person in the Trinity is God; nor that Christ is God and man; nor that he took his human nature to heaven; nor what they must trust to for pardon and salvation; nor many similar important principles of our faith. Nay, some who come constantly to private meetings are grossly ignorant: whereas, in one hour’s familiar instruction of them in private, they seem to understand more, and better entertain it than they did in all their lives before.
All the parish are not the church, nor do I take the pastoral charge of them, and therefore I am not satisfied that I am bound to take these pains with them.
[a] The common maintenance which most receive is for teaching the whole parish, though you be not obliged to take them all for a church.
[b] What need we look for a stronger obligation than the common bond that lieth on all Christians, to further the work of men’s salvation and the good of the Church, and the honor of God, to the utmost of their power; together with the common bond that is on all ministers, to further these ends by ministerial teaching to the utmost of their power? Is it a work so good, and apparently conducing to so great benefits to the souls of men, and yet can you perceive no obligation to the doing of it?
This course will take up so much time, that a man will have no opportunity to follow his studies. Most of us are young and inexperienced, and have need of much time to improve our own abilities, and to increase our own knowledge, which this course will entirely prevent.
(1): We suppose those whom we persuade to this work, to understand the substance of the Christian religion, and to be able to teach it to others; and the addition of lower and less necessary things, is not to be preferred before this needful communication of the fundamental principles of religion. I highly value common knowledge, and would not encourage any to set light by it; but I value the saving of souls more. That work which is our great end must be done, whatever be left undone. It is a very desirable thing for a physician to be thoroughly studied in his art; and to be able to see the reason of his practice, and to resolve such difficult controversies as are before him. But if he had the charge of a hospital, or lived in a city where the pestilence was raging, if he would be studying fermentation, the circulation of the blood, blisters, and the like, and such like excellent points, when he should be visiting his patients, and saving men’s lives; if he should even turn them away, and let them perish, and tell them that he has not time to give them advice, because he must follow his own studies, I would consider that man as a most preposterous student, who preferred the remote means before the end itself of his studies: indeed, I would think him but a civil kind of murderer. Men’s souls may be saved without knowing whether God did predetermine the creature in all its acts; whether the understanding necessarily determines the will; whether God works grace in a physical or in a moral way of causation; what freewill is; whether God have scientiam mediam,’ or positive decrees concerning the blame for evil deeds; and a hundred similar questions, which are probably the things you would be studying when you should be saving souls. Get well to heaven, and help your people thither, and you shall know all these things in a moment, and a thousand more, which now, by all your studies, you can never know; 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 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 the saving principles of religion than you will get by any other means; and a little more knowledge of these is worth all the other knowledge in the world. Oh, when I am looking heavenward, and 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,’ methinks I could willingly exchange all the other knowledge I have, for one glimpse more of the knowledge of God and of the life to come. Oh that I had never known a word in logic or metaphysics, nor known whatever schoolmen said, so I had but one spark more of that light which would show me the things that I must shortly see. For my part, I conceive, that by serious talking of everlasting things, and teaching the creed, or some short 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 studying common or curious, yet less necessary things.
And perhaps it will be found, before we have done, that this employment tends to make men much abler pastors for the Church, than private studies alone. He will be the ablest physician, lawyer, and divine too, that addeth practice and experience to his studies: while that man shall prove a useless drone, that refuseth God’s service all his life, under pretense of preparing for it, and lets men’s souls pass on to perdition, while he pretendeth to be studying how to recover them, or to get more ability to help and save them.
(3) Yet let me add, that though I count this the chief, I would have you to have more, because these subservient sciences are very useful; and, therefore, I say, that you may have competent time for both, lose no time upon vain recreations and employments; consume it not in needless sleep; trifle not away a minute. Do what you do with all your might; and then see whether you have not competent time for these other pursuits. If you set apart but two days in a week to this great work, you may find some time for common studies out of the other four.
Indeed, are not four days in the week, (after so many years spent in the university,) a fair proportion for men to study controversies and sermons? Though my weakness deprive me of abundance of time, and extraordinary works take up six, if not eight parts of my time, yet I bless God I can find time to provide for preaching two days a week, notwithstanding the two days for personal instruction. Now, for those that are not troubled with any extraordinary work, (I mean writings, and vocations of several sorts, besides the ordinary work of the ministry,) I cannot believe, but, if they are willing, they may find two half days a week at least for this work.
(4) Duties are to be taken together: the greatest is to be preferred, but none are to be neglected that can be performed; no one is to be pleaded against another, but each is to know its proper place. But if there were such a case of necessity, that we could not carry on further studies, and instruct the ignorant too, I would throw aside all the libraries in the world, rather than be guilty of the perdition of one soul; or at least, I know that this would be my duty.
But this course will destroy the health of our bodies, by continual spending our spirits, and allowing us no time for necessary recreations; and it will wholly lock us up from friendly intercourse with others, so that we must never stir from home, nor enjoy ourselves a day with our friends, for the relaxation of our minds; but, as we shall seem uncourteous courteous and morose to others, so we shall tire ourselves, and the bow that is always bent will be in danger of breaking at last.
(1): This is the plea of the flesh for its own interest. The sluggard saith, ‘There is a lion in the way," nor will he plough because of the cold. There is no duty of moment and self-denial, but, if you consult with flesh and blood, it will give you as wise reasons as these against it. Who would ever have been burned at a stake for Christ, if this reasoning had been good? Yea, or who would ever have been a Christian?
(2) We may take time for necessary recreation, and yet attend to this work. An hour, or half an hour’s walk before meat, is as much recreation as is necessary for the health of most of the weaker sort of students. I have reason to know somewhat of this by long experience. Though I have a body that hath languished under great weaknesses for many years, and my diseases have been such as require as much exercise as almost any in the world, and I 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 foresaid proportion hath been blessed to my preservation, though I know that much more had been like to have tended to my greater health. Indeed, I do not know one minister in a hundred that needeth so much exercise as myself. Yea, I know abundance of ministers, that scarce ever use any exercise at all, though I commend them not in this. I doubt not but it is our duty to use so much exercise as is necessary for the preservation of our health, so far as our work requireth; otherwise, we should, for one day’s work, lose the opportunity of many. But this may be done, and yet the work that we are engaged in, be done too. On those two days a week that you set apart for this work, what hinders but you may take an hour or two to walk for the exercise of your bodies? Much more on other days. But as for those men, who limit not their recreations to stated hours, but must have them for the pleasing of their voluptuous humor, and not merely to fit them for their work, such sensualists have need to study better the nature of Christianity, and to learn the danger of living after the flesh, and to get 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 a calling that requireth you to make God and his service your pleasure, and restraineth you so much from fleshly pleasures. Is it not your baptismal engagement to fight against the flesh? and do you not know that much of the Christian warfare consisteth in the combat between the flesh and the spirit? and that this is the difference between a true Christian and an unconverted man, that the one liveth after the spirit, and mortifieth the deeds and desires of the body, and the other liveth after the flesh? And do you make it your calling to preach all this to others; and, notwithstanding this, must you needs have your pleasures? If you must, then, for shame, give over the preaching of the gospel, and the profession of Christianity, and profess yourselves to be what you are; and as ‘you sow to the flesh, so of the flesh you shall reap corruption.’ Doth even 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 I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway?’ And have not such sinners as we still more need to do so? What? shall we pamper our bodies and give them their desires in unnecessary pleasure, 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 castaway? and have not we much more cause to fear it of ourselves I know that some pleasure 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 for the sake of them to waste unnecessarily his precious time, and to neglect the great work of men’s salvation, yea, and to plead for this, as if it must or might be done, and so to justify himself in such a course, is a wickedness inconsistent with the common fidelity of a Christian, much more with the fidelity of a minister of Christ. Such wretches as are ‘lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God,’ must look to be loved of him accordingly, and are fitter to be cast out of Christian communion, than to be the chief in the Church; for we are commanded ‘from such to turn away.’ Recreations for a student must be specially for the exercise of his body, he having before him such variety of delights to his mind. And they must be used as whetting is by the mower, that is, only so far as is necessary to his work. We must be careful that they rob us not of our precious time, but be kept within the narrowest possible bounds.
(3) The labor in which we are engaged is not likely much to impair our health. It is true, it must be serious; but that will but excite and revive our spirits, and not so much spend them. Men can talk all day long about other matters without any abatement of their health; and why may we not talk with men about their salvation without such great abatement of ours?
(4) What have we our time and strength for, but to lay them out for God? What is a candle made for, but to burn? Burned and wasted we must be; and is it not fitter 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 of a short life, when they are both at an end! What comfort will it be to you at death, that you lengthened your life by shortening your work? He that worketh much, liveth much. Our life is to be esteemed according to the ends and works of it, and not according to the mere duration. As Seneca says of a drone, ‘There he lies, not there he lives; and long he abode, not long he lived.’ Will it not comfort us more at death, to review a short time faithfully spent, than a long life spent unfaithfully?
(5) As for visits and civilities, if they be of greater use than our ministerial employments, you may break the Sabbath for them; you may forbear preaching for them, and you may also forbear this private work. But if it be otherwise, how dare you make them a pretense for neglecting so great a duty? Must God wait on your friends? What though they be lords, or knights, or gentlemen; must they be served before God? Or is their displeasure or censure a greater hurt to you than God’s displeasure or censure? Or dare you think, when God will question you for your neglects, to put him off with this excuse: ‘Lord, I would have spent more of my time in seeking men’s salvation; but such a gentleman, or 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 that dare spend his life in flesh-pleasing, and man-pleasing, is bolder than I am. And he that dare waste his time in compliments, doth little consider what he hath to do with it. Oh that I could but improve my time, according to my convictions of the necessity of improving it! He that hath looked death in the face as oft as I have done, I will not thank him if he value his time. I profess I wonder at those ministers who have time to spare; who can hunt or shoot or bowl, or use the like recreations two or three hours, yea, whole days together; that can sit an hour together in vain discourse, and spend whole days in complimental visits, and journeys to such ends. Good Lord! What do these men think on, when so many souls around them cry for help, and death gives us no respite, and they know not how short a time their people and they may be together; when the smallest parish hath so much work that may 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, and of the preciousness of that blood which was shed for them, and of the glory to which they are going, and of the misery of which they are in danger, you are not Christians, and consequently are very unfit to be ministers. And if you have, how can you find time for needless recreations, visits or discourses? Dare you, like idle gossips, 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 doth 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 already lost time enough, in the days of our vanity? Never do I come to a dying man that is not utterly stupid, but he better sees the worth of time. O then, if they could call time back again, how loud would they call! If they could but buy it, what would they not give for it? And yet we can afford to trifle it away; yea, and to allow ourselves in this, and wilfully to cast off the greatest works of God. O what a befooling thing is sin, that can thus distract men that seem so wise! Is it possible that a man of any compassion and honesty, or any concern about his ministerial duty, or any sense of the strictness of his account, should have time to spare for idleness and vanity?
And I must tell you further, brethren, that, if another might take some time for mere delight, which is not necessary, yet so cannot you; for your undertaking binds you to stricter attendance than other men are bound to. May a physician, when the plague is raging, take any more relaxation or recreation than is necessary for his life, when so many are expecting his help in a case of life and death? As his pleasure is not worth men’s lives, still less is yours worth men’s souls. Suppose a city were besieged, and the enemy watching, on one side, all advantages to surprise it, and, on the other, seeking to fire it with grenades,’ which they are throwing in continually, I pray you, tell me, if certain men undertake, as their office, to watch the ports, and others to quench the fire that may be kindled in the houses, what time will you allow these men for recreation or relaxation when the city is in danger, and the fire will burn on and prevail, if they intermit their diligence? Or would you excuse one of these men, if he come off his work, and say, I am but flesh and blood, I must have some relaxation and pleasure? Surely, at the utmost, you would allow him none but what was absolutely necessary. Do not grudge at this, and say, ‘This is a hard saying; who can hear 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.
I do not think that it is required of ministers that they make drudges of themselves. If they preach diligently, and visit the sick, and perform other ministerial duties, and occasionally do good to those they converse with, I do not think that God doth require that we should thus tie ourselves to instruct every person distinctly, and to make our lives a burden and a slavery.
Of what use and weight the duty is, I have showed before, and how plainly it is commanded. And do you think God doth 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 doth not require me to make myself a drudge to save them?’ Is this the voice of Christian or ministerial compassion? Or rather is it not the voice of sensual laziness and diabolical cruelty? Doth God set you work to do, and will you not believe that he would have you do it? Is this the voice of obedience, or of rebellion? It is all one whether your flesh prevail with you to deny obedience to acknowledged duty, and say plainly, I will obey no further than it pleaseth me; or whether it may make 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 character of a hypocrite, to make a religion to himself of the cheapest part of God’s service which will stand with his fleshly ends and felicity, and to reject the rest, which is inconsistent therewith. And to the words of hypocrisy, this objection superaddeth the words of gross impiety. For what a wretched calumny is this against the most high God, to call his service a slavery and drudgery! What thoughts have such men of their Master, their work, and their wages? the thoughts of a believer, or of an infidel. Are these men like to honor God, and promote his service, that have such base thoughts of it themselves? Do these men delight in holiness, that account it a slavish work? Do they believe indeed the misery of sinners, that account it such a drudgery to be diligent to save them? Christ saith, that ‘he that denieth not himself, and forsaketh not all, and taketh not up his cross, and followeth him, cannot be his disciple.’ But these men count it a slavery to labor hard in his vineyard, and to deny their ease, at a time when they have all accommodations and encouragements. How far is this from forsaking all! And how can these men be fit for the ministry, who are such enemies to self-denial, and so to true Christianity?
I am, therefore, forced to say, that hence arises the chief misery of the Church, that so many are made ministers before they are Christians. If these men had seen the diligence of Christ in doing good, when he neglected his meat to talk with one woman, and when he had no time to eat bread, would they not have been of the mind of his carnal friends, who went to lay hold on him, and said, ‘He is beside himself?’ They would have told Christ he made a drudge or a slave of himself, and God did not require all this ado. If they had seen him all day in preaching, and all night in prayer, it seems he would have had this censure from them for his labor. I cannot but advise these men to search their own hearts, whether they unfeignedly believe that Word which they preach. Do you indeed believe that such glory awaiteth those who die in the Lord, and such torment those that die unconverted? If you do, how can you think any labor too much for such weighty ends? If you do not, say so, and get you out of the vineyard, and go with the prodigal to keep swine, and undertake not to feed the flock of Christ.
Do you not know, brethren, that it is your own benefit which you grudge at? The more you do, the more you will receive: the more you lay out, the more you will have coming in. If you are strangers to these Christian paradoxes, you should not have undertaken to teach them to others. At present, our incomes of spiritual life and peace are commonly in the way of duty; so that he who is most in duty hath most of God. Exercise of grace increaseth 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 put out our talents to usury, and, by improving them, we shall make five become ten, and so be made rulers of ten cities. Is it a drudgery to send to the most distant parts of the world, to exchange our trifles for gold and jewels? Do not these men seek to justify the profane, who make all diligent godliness a drudgery, and reproach it as a precise and tedious life, and say they will never believe but a man may be saved without all this ado? Even so say these in respect to the work of the ministry. They take this diligence for ungrateful tediousness, and will not believe but a man may be a faithful minister without all this ado!
It is a heinous sin to be negligent in so great a business; but to approve of that negligence, and so to be impenitent, 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 requireth it – this is so great an aggravation of the sin, that, where the Church’s necessity doth not force us to make use of such men for want of better, I cannot but think them worthy to be cast out as rubbish, and as ‘salt that hath lost its savor, that is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill.’ ‘He that hath ears to hear,’ adds Christ, ‘let him hear.’ And if such ministers become a byword and a reproach, let them thank themselves; for it is their own sin that maketh them vile. And while they thus debase the service of Christ, they do but debase themselves, and prepare for a greater debasement at the last.
The times that Paul lived in required more diligence than ours. The churches were but in the planting, the enemies many, and persecution great. But now it is not so.
This argument savours of a man locked up in a study and unacquainted with the world. Good Lord! Are there such multitudes round about us that know not whether Christ be God or man, whether he have taken his body to heaven or left it on earth, nor what he hath done for their salvation, nor what they must trust to for pardon and everlasting life? Are there so many thousands round about us who are drowned in presumption, security, and sensuality, and, when we have done all we can in the pulpit, will neither feel us nor understand us? Are there so many wilful drunkards, worldlings, self-seekers, railers, haters of a holy life, that want nothing but death to make them remediless? Are there so many ignorant dull and scandalous professors, so many dividers, seducers, and troublers of the Church. And yet is the happiness of our times so great, that we may excuse ourselves from personal instruction, because of the less necessity of the times? What needs there but faith and experience to answer this objection? Believe better within and look more without among the miserable, and I warrant you, you will not see cause to spare your pains for want of work, or of necessities to invite you. What conscientious minister finds not work enough to do from one end of the year to another, if he have not even an hundred souls to care for? Are ungodly men the less miserable, because they make profession of Christianity, or the more?
But if you make such severe laws for ministers, the Church will be left without them. For what man will choose such a toilsome life for himself? or what parents will impose such a burden on their children? Men will avoid it both for the bodily toil, and the danger to their consciences, if they should not well discharge it.
(1): It is not we, but Christ, who hath made and imposed these laws which you call severe: and if I should silence them or misinterpret them, that would not relax them, nor excuse you. He that made them, knew why he did it, and will expect obedience to them. Is infinite goodness to be questioned or suspected by us, as making bad or unmerciful laws? Nay, it is pure mercy in him to impose this great duty upon us. If physicians were required to be as diligent as possible in hospitals, or pest-houses, or with other patients in order to save their lives, would there not be more of mercy than of rigour in this law? What! must God let the souls of your neighbors perish, to save you a little labor and suffering; and this in mercy to you? Oh, what a miserable world should we have, if blind, self-conceited man had the ruling of it!
(2) As to a supply of pastors, Christ will take care of that. He who imposeth duty hath the fullness 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, fleshly, and self-seeking as you? He who himself undertook the work of our redemption, and bore our transgressions, and hath been faithful as the chief Shepherd of the Church, will not lose all his labor and suffering 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 labor on them, and rejoice to be so employed, and account that the happiest life in the world which you account so great a toil, and would not exchange it for all your ease and carnal pleasure; but for the saving of souls, and the propagating of the gospel of Christ, will be content to bear the burden and heat of the day; and to fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ in their bodies; and to work while it is day; and to do what they do with all their might; and to be the servants of all, and not to please themselves, but others, for their edification; and to become all things to all men, that they may save some; and to endure all things for the elect’s sake; and to spend and be spent for their fellow-creatures; though the more they love, the less they should be beloved, and should be accounted their enemies for telling them the truth. Such pastors will Christ provide his people, after his own heart, who will ‘feed them with knowledge and understanding," as men that ‘seek not theirs, but them.’ What? do you think Christ will have no servants, if such as you shall, with Demas, turn to the present world, and forsake him?
If you dislike his service, you may seek a better where you can find it, and boast of your gain in the end; but do not threaten him with the loss of your service. He hath made such laws as you will call severe, for all who will be saved, as well as for his ministers; for all who will be his disciples must ‘deny themselves, and mortify the flesh, and be crucified to the world, and take up their cross, and follow him.’ And yet Christ will not be without disciples, nor will he conceal his seeming hard terms from men to entice them to his service; but he will tell them of the worst, and then let them come or not, as they choose. He will call to them beforehand to count the cost, and will tell them, that ‘the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head," that 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," to conquer, that they may be crowned and ‘sit down with him on his throne.’ And all this he will cause his chosen to perform. If you be come to 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, thou Son of 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 and judgment, which is the better bargain, and whether Christ had more need of you, or you of him.
As to scruples of conscience, for fear of failing, let it be remarked: First, It is not involuntary imperfections that Christ will take so heinously; it is unfaithfulness and wilful negligence. Second, It will not serve your turn to run out of the vineyard, on pretense of scruples that you cannot do the work as you ought. He can follow you, and overtake you, as he did Jonah, with such a storm as shall lay you ‘in the belly of hell.’ To cast off a duty because you cannot be faithful in the performance of it will prove but a poor excuse at last. If men had but reckoned well at first the difference between things temporal and things eternal, and what they shall lose or get by Christ, and had possessed that faith which is ‘the evidence of things not seen,’ and had lived by faith, and not by sense, all these objections would be easily resolved by us; and all the pleas of flesh and blood for its interest would appear as the reasoning of children, or rather of men who had lost their senses.
But to what purpose is all this, when most of the people will not submit? They will not come to us to be catechized, and will tell us that they are now too old to go to school. And therefore it is better to let them alone, as trouble them and ourselves to no purpose.
(1): It is not to be denied that too many people are obstinate in their wickedness, that the ‘simple ones love simplicity, and the scorners delight in scorning, and fools hate knowledge.’ But the worse they are, the sadder is their case, and the more to be pitied, and the more diligent should we be for their recovery.
(2) I would it were not the blame of ministers, that a great part of the people are so obstinate and contemptuous. If we did but burn and shine before them as we ought; had we convincing sermons and convincing lives; did we set ourselves to do all the good we could, whatever it might cost us; were we more meek and humble, 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 by us than is done, and the mouths of many would be stopped; and though the wicked will still do wickedly, yet more would be tractable, and the wicked would be fewer and calmer than they are. If you say that some of the ablest and godliest ministers in the country have had as untractable and scornful parishioners as others, I answer, that some able godly men have been too lordly, and strange, and some of them too uncharitable and worldly, and backward to costly though necessary good 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 labors. But where there are not these impediments, experience telleth us that the success is much greater, at least as to the bowing of people to more calmness and teachableness; yet we cannot expect they all will be brought to so much reason.
(3) The wilfulness of the people will not excuse us from our duty. If we offer them not our help, how do we know who will refuse it? Offering it is our part, and accepting it is theirs. If we offer it not, we leave them excusable, for then they refuse it not; but then we are left 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 may reward all our labor, were it even greater. All our people are not wrought on by our public preaching, and yet we must not, on this account, give it over as unprofitable.
But what likelihood is there that men will be converted by this means, who are not converted by the preaching of the Word, when that is God’s chief ordinance for that end ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the preaching of the word.’
(1) The advantages of this course I have showed you before, and therefore I will not now repeat them; only, lest any think that this will hinder them from preaching, I may add, to the many benefits before mentioned, that it will be an excellent means of helping you in preaching. For as the physician’s work is half done when he understands 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 useful matter for your sermons, to talk an hour with an ignorant or obstinate sinner, as much as an hour’s study will do, for you will learn what you have need to insist on, and what objections of theirs to repel.
(2) I hope there are none so silly as to think this conference is not preaching. What? doth the number we speak to make it preaching? Or doth interlocution make it none Surely a man may as truly preach to one, as to a thousand. And, as we have already said, if you examine, you will find that most of the preaching recorded in the New Testament, was by conference, and frequently interlocutory, and that with one or two, fewer or more, as opportunity served. Thus Christ himself did most commonly preach. Besides, we must take account of our people’s learning, if we regard the success of our work.
There is, therefore, nothing from God, from the Scriptures, or from right reason, to cause us to make any question of our work, or to be unwilling to it. But from the world, from the flesh, and from the devil, we shall have much, and more, perhaps, than we anticipate. But against all temptations, if we have recourse to God, and look, on the one hand, to our great obligations, and to the hopeful effects, and the blessed reward, on the other, we shall see that we have little cause to draw back, or to faint.
Let us set before us the pattern in our text, and learn thence our duty. O what a lesson is here before us! But how ill is it learned by those who still question whether these things be their duty! I confess, some of these words of Paul have been so often presented before my eyes, and impressed upon my conscience, that I have been much convinced by them of my duty and my neglect. And I think this one speech better deserveth a twelvemonth’s study, than most things that young students spend their time upon. O brethren! write it on your study doors – set it in capital letters as your copy, that it may be ever before your eyes. Could we but well learn two or three lines of it, what preachers should we be!
[a] Our general business – Serving the lord with all humility of mind and with many tears.
[b] Our special work – Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock.
[c] Our doctrine – Repentance toward god and faith toward our lord Jesus Christ.
[d] The place and manner of teaching – I have taught you publicly and from house to house.
[e] His diligence, earnestness, and affection – I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. This is that which must win souls, and preserve them.
[f] His faithfulness – I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, and have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of god.
[g] His disinterestedness and self-denial for the sake of the gospel – I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel: yea these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me remembering the words of the lord Jesus, how he said, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
[h] His patience and perseverance – None of these things move me neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the lord Jesus.
[i] His prayerfulness – I commend you to god and to the word of his grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
[j] His purity of conscience – Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men.
Write all this upon your hearts, and it will do yourselves and the Church more good than twenty years’ study of those lower things, which, though they may get you greater applause in the world, yet, if separated from these, they will make you but as ‘sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.’ The great advantage of ministers having a sincere heart, is this, that the glory of God and the salvation of souls are their very end; and where that end is truly intended, no labor or suffering will stop them, or turn them back; for a man must have his end, whatever it cost him. Whatever he forgets, he will still retain this lesson: One thing is needful; seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Hence he says, ‘Necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.’ This is it that will most effectually make easy all our labors, and make light all our burdens, and make tolerable all our sufferings, and cause us to venture on any hazards, if we may only win souls to Christ. That which I once made the motto of my colors in another warfare, I desire may be still before my eyes in this; which yet, according to my intentions, is not altogether another. On one side, ‘He that saveth his life shall lose it." – on the other, ‘Ruin not the cause for the sake of keeping one’s life.’ He who knoweth that he serveth a God that will never suffer any man to be a loser by him, need not fear what hazards he runs in his cause: and he who knows that he seeks a prize, which, if obtained, will infinitely overbalance his cost, may boldly engage his whole estate on it, and sell all to purchase so rich a pearl. Well, brethren, I will spend no more words in exhorting wise merchants to such a bargain, nor telling teachers themselves such common truths; and if I have already said more than is needful, I shall be glad. I hope I may now take it for granted, that you are resolved on the utmost diligence and fidelity in the work; and, on this supposition, I shall now proceed to give you some directions for the right management of it.
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