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The especial duty of pastors of churches.
We have declared the way whereby pastors are given unto and instated in the church; that which should ensue is an account of their work and duty in the discharge of their office: but this hath been the subject of many large discourses, both among the ancient writers of the church and of late; I shall therefore only touch on some things that are of most necessary consideration:—
1. The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word. It is a promise relating to the new testament, that God would give unto his church “pastors according to his own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understandings” Jer. iii. 15. This is by teaching or preaching the word, and 75no otherwise. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it; so that he who doth not, or can not, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he may have in the church. The care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and in him unto all true pastors of the church, under the name of “feeding,” John xxi. 15–17. According to the example of the apostles, they are to free themselves from all encumbrances, that they may give themselves wholly unto the word and prayer, Acts vi. 1–4. Their work is “to labour in the word and doctrine,” 1 Tim. v. 17; and thereby to “feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers,” Acts xx. 28: and it is that which is everywhere given them in charge.
This work and duty, therefore, as was said, is essential unto the office of a pastor. A man is a pastor unto them whom he leads by pastoral teaching, and to no more; and he that doth not so feed is no pastor. Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure, but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from this work, that he give himself unto it, — that he be in these things labouring to the utmost of his ability. Without this no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the last day.
There is, indeed, no more required of any man than God giveth him ability for. Weakness, sickness, bodily infirmities, may disenable men from the actual discharge of this duty in that assiduity and frequency which are required in ordinary cases; and some may, through age or other incapacitating distempers, be utterly disabled for it, — in which case it is their duty to lay down and take a dismission from their office, or, if their disability be but partial, provide a suitable supply, that the edification of the church be not prejudiced; — but for men to pretend themselves pastors of the church, and to be unable for, or negligent of, this work and duty, is to live in open defiance of the commands of Christ.
We have lived to see and hear of reproachful scorn and contempt cast upon laborious preaching, — that is, “labouring in the word and doctrine,” and all manner of discouragements given unto it, with endeavours for its suppression in sundry instances; yea, some have proceeded so far as to declare that the work of preaching is unnecessary in the church, so to reduce all religion to the reading and rule of the liturgy. The next attempt, so far as! know, may be to exclude Christ himself out of their religion; which the denial of a necessity of preaching the gospel makes an entrance into, yea, a good progress towards.
Sundry things are required unto this work and duty of pastoral preaching; as, — (1.) Spiritual wisdom and understanding in the 76mysteries of the gospel, that they may declare unto the church “all the counsel of God” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ:” see Acts xx. 27; 1 Cor. ii. 4–7; Eph. iii. 8–11. The generality of the church, especially those who are grown in knowledge and experience, have a spiritual insight into these things, and the apostle prays that all believers may have so, Eph. i. 15–19; and if those that instruct them, or should do so, have not some degree of eminency herein, they cannot be useful to lead them on to perfection. And the little care hereof or concernment herein is that which in our days hath rendered the ministry of many fruitless and useless. (2.) Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part will be unprofitable towards others. It is, to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage, or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied. But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. And let any say what they please, it is evident that some men’s preaching, as well as others’ not-preaching, hath lost the credit of their ministry. (3.) Skill to divide the word aright, 2 Tim. ii. 15; and this consists in a practical wisdom, upon a diligent attendance unto the word of truth, to find out what is real, substantial, and meet food for the souls of the hearers, — to give unto all sorts of persons in the church that which is their proper portion. And this requires, (4.) A prudent and diligent consideration of the state of the flock over which any man is set, as unto their strength or weakness, their growth or defect in knowledge (the measure of their attainments requiring either milk or strong meat), their temptations and duties, their spiritual decays or thrivings; and that not only in general, but, as near as may be, with respect unto all the individual members of the church. Without a due regard unto these things, men preach at random, uncertainly fighting, like those that beat the air. Preaching sermons not designed for the advantage of them to whom they are preached; insisting on general doctrines not 77levelled to the condition of the auditory; speaking what men can, without consideration of what they ought, — are things that will make men weary of preaching, when their minds are not influenced with outward advantages, as much as make others weary in hearing of them. And, (5.) All these, in the whole discharge of their duty, are to be constantly accompanied with the evidence of zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men. Where these are not in vigorous exercise in the minds and souls of them that preach the word, giving a demonstration of themselves unto the consciences of them that hear, the quickening form, the life and soul of preaching, is lost.
All these things seem common, obvious, and universally acknowledged; but the ruin of the ministry of the most for the want of them, or from notable defects in them, is or may be no less evidently known. And the very naming of them (which is all at present which I design) is sufficient to evidence how great a necessity there is incumbent on all pastors of churches to give themselves unto the word and prayer, to labour in the word and doctrine, to be continually intent on this work, to engage all the faculties of their souls, to stir up all their graces and gifts, unto constant exercise in the discharge of their duty; for “who is sufficient for these things?” And as the consideration of them is sufficient to stir up all ministers unto fervent prayer for supplies of divine aid and assistance for that work which in their own strength they can no way answer, so is it enough to warn them of the avoidance of all things that would give them a diversion or avocation from the constant attendance unto the discharge of it.
When men undertake the pastoral office, and either judge it not their duty to preach, or are not able so to do, or attempt it only at some solemn seasons, or attend unto it as a task required of them, without that wisdom, skill, diligence, care, prudence, zeal, and compassion, which are required thereunto, the glory and use of the ministry will be utterly destroyed.
2. The second duty of a pastor towards his flock is continual fervent prayer for them, James v. 16; John xvii. 20; Exod. xxxii. 11; Deut. ix. 18; Lev. xvi. 24; 1 Sam. xii. 23; 2 Cor. xiii. 7, 9; Eph. i. 15–19, iii. 14; Phil. i. 4; Col. i. 3; 2 Thess. i. 11. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer,” Acts vi. 4. Without this, no man can or doth preach to them as he ought, nor perform any other duty of his pastoral office. From hence may any man take the best measure of the discharge of his duty towards his flock. He that doth constantly, diligently, fervently, pray for them, will have a testimony in himself of his own sincerity in the discharge of all other pastoral duties, nor can he voluntarily omit or neglect any of them. And as for those who are negligent herein, be their pains, labour, and travail in other 78duties never so great, they may be influenced from other reasons, and so give no evidence of sincerity in the discharge of their office. In this constant prayer for the church, which is so incumbent on all pastors as that whatever is done without it is of no esteem in the sight of Jesus Christ, respect is to be had, — (1.) Unto the success of the word, unto all the blessed ends of it, among them. These are no less than the improvement and strengthening of all their graces, the direction of all their duties, their edification in faith and love, with the entire conduct of their souls in the life of God, unto the enjoyment of him. To preach the word, therefore, and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random. (2.) Unto the temptations that the church is generally exposed unto. These greatly vary, according unto the outward circumstances of things. The temptations in general that accompany a state of outward peace and tranquillity are of another nature than those that attend a time of trouble, persecution, distress, and poverty; and so it is as unto other occasions and circumstances. These the pastors of churches ought diligently to consider, looking on them as the means and ways whereby churches have been ruined, and the souls of many lost for ever. With respect unto them, therefore, ought their prayers for the church to be fervent. (3.) Unto the especial state and condition of all the members, so far as it is known unto them. There may be of them who are spiritually sick and diseased, tempted, afflicted, bemisted, wandering out of the way, surprised in sins and miscarriages, disconsolate and troubled in spirit in a peculiar manner. The remembrance of them all ought to abide with them, and to be continually called over in their daily pastoral supplications. (4.) Unto the presence of Christ in the assemblies of the church, with all the blessed evidences and testimonies of it. This is that alone which gives life and power unto all church assemblies, without which all outward order and forms of divine worship in them are but a dead carcase. Now, this presence of Christ in the assemblies of his church is by his Spirit, accompanying all ordinances of worship with a gracious, divine efficacy, evidencing itself by blessed operations on the minds and hearts of the congregation. This are pastors of churches continually to pray for; and they will do so who understand that all the success of their labours, and all the acceptance of the church with God in their duties, do depend hereon. (5.) To their preservation in faith, love, and fruitfulness, with all the duties that belong unto them, etc.
It were much to be desired that all those who take upon them this pastoral office did well consider and understand how great and necessary a part of their work and duty doth consist in their continual fervent prayer for their flocks; for besides that it is the only 79instituted way whereby they may, by virtue of their office, bless their congregations, so will they find their hearts and minds, in and by the discharge of it, more and more filled with love, and engaged with diligence unto all other duties of their office, and excited unto the exercise of all grace towards the whole church on all occasions. And where any are negligent herein, there is no duty which they perform towards the church but it is influenced with false considerations, and will not hold weight in the balance of the sanctuary.
3. The administration of the seals of the covenant is committed unto them, as the stewards of the house of Christ; for unto them the authoritative dispensation of the word is committed, whereunto the administration of the seals is annexed; for their principal end is the peculiar confirmation and application of the word preached. And herein there are three things that they are to attend unto:— (1.) The times and seasons of their administration unto the church’s edification, especially that of the Lord’s supper, whose frequency is enjoined. It is the duty of pastors to consider all the necessary circumstances of their administration, as unto time, place, frequency, order, and decency. (2.) To keep severely unto the institution of Christ, as unto the way and manner of their administration. The gradual introduction of uninstituted rites and ceremonies into the church celebration of the ordinance of the Lord’s supper ended at length in the idolatry of the mass. Herein, then, alone, and not in bowing, cringing, and vestments, lies the glory and beauty of these administrations, namely, that they are compliant with and expressive of the institution of Christ, nor is any thing done in them but in express obedience unto his authority. “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you,” saith the apostle in this case, 1 Cor. xi. 23. (3.) To take care that these holy things be administered only unto those who are meet and worthy, according unto the rule of the gospel Those who impose on pastors the promiscuous administration of these divine ordinances, or the application of the seals unto all without difference, do deprive them of one-half of their ministerial office and duty.
But here it is inquired by some, “Whether, in case a church have no pastor at present, or a teaching elder with pastoral power, it may not delegate and appoint the administration of these especial ordinances unto some member of the church at this or that season, who is meetly qualified for the outward administration Of them?” which, for the sake of some, I shall examine.
A church not complete in order cannot be complete in administrations, because the power of administrations depends upon the power of order proportionably; that is, the power of the church depends 80upon the being of the church. Hence the first duty of a church without officers is to obtain them, according to rule. And to endeavour to complete administrations without an antecedent completing of order is contrary unto the mind of Christ, Acts xiv. 23; Tit. i. 5, “That thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every church.” The practice therefore proposed is irregular, and contrary to the mind of Christ.
The order of the church is twofold, — as essential, and as organical. The order of the church as essential, with its power thence arising, is, — first, For its preservation; secondly, For its perfection. (1.) For its preservation in admission and exclusion of members; (2.) For its perfection in the election of officers.
No part of this power, which belongs to the church as essentially considered, can be delegated, but must be acted by the whole church. They cannot delegate power to some to admit members, so as it should not be an act of the whole church. They cannot delegate power to any to elect officers, nor any thing else which belongs to them as a church essentially. The reason is, things that belong unto the essence of any thing belong unto it formally as such, and so cannot be transferred.
The church, therefore, cannot delegate the power and authority inquired after, should it be supposed to belong to the power of order as the church is essentially considered; which yet it doth not.
If the church may delegate or substitute others for the discharge of all ordinances whatsoever without elders or pastors, then it may perfect the saints and complete the work of the ministry without them, which is contrary to Eph. iv. 11, 12; and, secondly, it would render the ministry only convenient, and not absolutely necessary to the church, which is contrary to the institution of it.
A particular church, in order as organical, is the adequate subject of all ordinances, and not as essential; because as essential it never doth nor can enjoy all ordinances, namely, the ministry in particular, whereby it is constituted organical. Yet, on this supposition, the church, as essentially considered, is the sole adequate subject of all ordinances.
Though the church be the only subject, it is not the only object of gospel ordinances, but that is various. For instance, —
(1.) The preaching of the word: its first object is the world, for conversion; its next, professors, for edification.
(2.) Baptism: its only object is neither the world nor the members of a particular church, but professors, with those that are reckoned to them by God’s appointment, — that is, their infant seed.
(3.) The supper: its object is a particular church only, which is acknowledged, and may be proved by the institution, one special end of it, and the necessity of discipline thereon depending.
81Ordinances, whereof the church is the only subject and the only object, cannot be administered authoritatively but by officers only, — (1.) Because none but Christ’s stewards have authority in and wards his house as such, 1 Cor. iv. 1; 1 Tim. iii. 15; Matt. xxiv. 45; (2.) Because it is an act of office-authority to represent Christ to the whole church, and to feed the whole flock thereby, Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. v. 2.
There are no footsteps of any such practice among the churches of God who walked in order, neither in the Scripture nor in all antiquity.
But it is objected, by those who allow this practice, “That if the church may appoint or send a person forth to preach, or appoint a brother to preach unto themselves, then they may appoint him to administer the ordinance of the supper.”
Ans. Here is a mistake in the supposition. The church, — that is, the body of it, — cannot send out any brother authoritatively to preach. Two things are required thereunto, collation of gifts and communication of office; neither of which the church, under that consideration, can do to one that is sent forth. But where God gives gifts by his Spirit and a call by his providence, the church only complies therewith, not in communicating authority to the person, but in praying for a blessing upon his work.
The same is the case in desiring a brother to teach among them. The duty is moral in its own nature; the gifts and call are from God alone; the occasion of his exercise is only administered by the church.
It is further added, by the same persons, “That if a brother, or one who is a disciple only, may baptize, then he may also administer the Lord’s supper, being desired of the church.”
Ans. The supposition is not granted nor proved; but there is yet a difference between these ordinances, — the object of the one being professors, as such, at large; the object of the other being professors, as members of a particular church. But to return, —
4. It is incumbent on them to preserve the truth or doctrine of the gospel received and professed in the church, and to defend it against all opposition. This is one principal end of the ministry, one principal means of the preservation of the faith once delivered unto the saints. This is committed in an especial manner unto the pastors of the churches, as the apostle frequently and emphatically repeats the charge of it unto Timothy, and in him unto all to whom the dispensation of the word is committed, 1 Epist. i. 3, 4, iv. 6, 7, 16, vi. 20; 2 Epist. i. 14, ii. 25, iii. 14–17. The same he giveth in charge unto the elders of the church of Ephesus, Acts xx. 28–31. What he says of himself, that the “glorious gospel of the blessed God was committed unto his trust,” 1 Tim. i. 11, is true of all pastors of churches, according to their measure and call; and they should all 82aim at the account which he gives of his ministry herein: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” 2 Tim. iv. 7. The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth;” and it is so principally in its ministry. And the sinful neglect of this duty is that which was the cause of most of the pernicious heresies and errors that have infested and ruined the church. Those whose duty it was to preserve the doctrine of the gospel entire in the public profession of it have, many of them, “spoken perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Bishops, presbyters, public teachers, have been the ringleaders in heresies, Wherefore this duty, especially at this time, when the fundamental truths of the gospel are on all sides impugned, from all sorts of adversaries, is in an especial manner to be attended unto.
Sundry things are required hereunto; as, — (1.) A clear, sound, comprehensive knowledge of the entire doctrine of the gospel, attained by all means useful and commonly prescribed unto that end, especially by diligent study of the Scripture, with fervent prayer for illumination and understanding. Men cannot preserve that for others which they are ignorant of themselves. Truth may be lost by weakness as well as by wickedness. And the defect herein, in many, is deplorable. (2.) Love of the truth which they have so learned and comprehended. Unless we look on truth as a pearl, as that which is valued at any rate, bought with any price, as that which is better than all the world, we shall not endeavour its preservation with that diligence which is required. Some are ready to part with truth at an easy rate, or to grow indifferent about it; whereof we have multitudes of examples in the days wherein we live. It were easy to give instances of sundry important evangelical truths, which our forefathers in the faith contended for with all earnestness, and were ready to seal with their blood, which are now utterly disregarded and opposed, by some who pretend to succeed them in their profession. If ministers have not a sense of that power of truth in their own souls, and a taste of its goodness, the discharge of this duty is not to be expected from them. (3.) A conscientious care and fear of giving countenance or encouragement unto novel opinions, especially such as oppose any truth of whose power and efficacy experience hath been had among them that believe. Vain curiosity, boldness in conjectures, and readiness to vent their own conceits, have caused no small trouble and damage unto the church. (4.) Learning and ability of mind to discern and disprove the oppositions of the adversaries of the truth, and thereby to stop their mouths and convince gainsayers. (5.) The solid confirmation of the most important truths of the gospel, and whereinto all others are resolved, in their teaching and ministry. Men may and do ofttimes prejudice, yea, betray the truth, by the weakness of their pleas for it. (6.) A diligent watch 83over their own flocks against the craft of seducers from without, or the springing up of any bitter root of error among themselves. (7.) A concurrent assistance with the elders and messengers of other churches with whom they are in communion, in the declaration of the faith which they all profess; whereof we must treat afterward more at large.
It is evident what learning, labour, study, pains, ability, and exercise of the rational faculties, are ordinarily required unto the right discharge of these duties; and where men may be useful to the church in other things, but are defective in these, it becomes them to walk and act both circumspectly and humbly, frequently desiring and adhering unto the advices of them whom God hath intrusted with more talents and greater abilities.
5. It belongs unto their charge and office diligently to labour for the conversion of souls unto God. The ordinary means of conversion is left unto the church, and its duty it is to attend unto it; yea, one of the principal ends of the institution and preservation of churches is the conversion of souls, and when there are no more to be converted, there shall be no more church on the earth. To enlarge the kingdom of Christ, to diffuse the light and savour of the gospel, to be subservient unto the calling of the elect, or gathering all the sheep of Christ into his fold, are things that God designs by his churches in this world. Now, the principal instrumental cause of all these is the preaching of the word; and this is committed unto the pastors of the churches. It is true, men may be, and often are, converted unto God by their occasional dispensation of the word who are not called unto office; for it is the gospel itself that is the “power of God unto salvation,” by whomsoever it is administered, and it hath been effectual unto that end even in the necessary occasional teaching of women: but it is so, frequently, in the exercise of spiritual gifts by them who are not stated officers of the church, 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25; Phil. i. 14, 15, 18; 1 Pet. iv. 10, 11. But yet this hinders not but that the administration of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, as unto all the ends of it, is committed unto the pastors of the church. And the first object of the preaching of the gospel is the world, or the men of it, for their conversion; and it is so in the preaching of all them unto whom that work is committed by Christ. The work of the apostles and evangelists had this order in it:— First, they were to make disciples of men, by the preaching of the gospel unto conversion; and this was their principal work, as Paul testifieth, 1 Cor. i. 17: and herein were they gloriously instrumental in laying the foundation of the kingdom of Christ all the world over. The second part of their work was to teach them that were converted, or made disciples, to do and observe all that he did command them. In the pursuit of this part of their commission, they gathered 84the disciples of Christ into churches, under ordinary officers of their own. And although the work of these ordinary officers, pastors and teachers, be of the same nature with theirs, yet the method of it is changed in them; for their first ordinary work is to conduct and teach all the disciples of Christ to do and observe all things appointed by him, — that is, to preach unto and watch over the particular flocks unto whom they do relate. But they are not hereby discharged from an interest in the other part of the work, — in preaching the word unto the conversion of souls They are not, indeed, bound unto the method of the apostles and evangelists; yea, they are, by virtue of their office, ordinarily excluded from it. After a man is called to be a pastor of a particular church, it is not his duty to leave that church, and go up and down to preach for the conversion of strangers. It is not, I say, ordinarily so; for many cases may fall out wherein the edification of any particular church is to give way unto the glory of Christ with respect unto the calling of all the members of the church catholic. But in the discharge of the pastoral office there are many occasions of preaching the word unto the conversion of souls; as, — (1.) When any that are unconverted do come into the assemblies of the church, and are there wrought upon by the power of the word; whereof we have experience every day. To suppose that a man, at the same time, and in the same place, preaching unto one congregation, should preach to some of them, namely, those that are of the church whereunto he relates, as a minister, with ministerial authority, and to others only by virtue of a spiritual gift which he hath received, is that which no man can distinguish in his own conscience; nor is there any colour of rule or reason for it: for though pastors, with respect unto their whole office and all the duties of it, whereof many can have the church only for their object, are ministers in office unto the church, and so ministers of the church, yet are they ministers of Christ also; and by him it is, and not by the church, that the preaching of the gospel is committed unto them. And it is so committed as that, by virtue of their office, they are to use it unto all its ends, in his way and method; whereof the conversion of sinners is one. And for a man to conceive of himself in a double capacity, whilst he is preaching to the same congregation, is that which no man’s experience can reach unto. (2.) In occasional preaching in other places, whereunto a pastor of a church may be called and directed by divine providence; for although we have no concernment in the figment of an indelible character accompanying sacred orders, yet we do not think that the pastoral office is such a thing as a man must leave behind him every time he goes from home, or that it is in his own power, or in the power of all men in the world, to divest him of it, unless he be dismissed or deposed from it by Christ himself, through the rule of his word Wherever a true minister preacheth, he preacheth as a minister, 85for as such the administration of the gospel is committed unto him, as unto all the ends of it, whereof the chief, as was said, is the conversion of souls; yea, of such weight it is that the conveniency and edification of particular churches ought to give place unto it. When, therefore, there are great opportunities and providential calls for the preaching of the gospel unto the conversion of souls, and, the harvest being great, there are not labourers sufficient for it, it is lawful, yea, it is the duty of pastors of particular churches to leave their constant attendance on their pastoral charge in those churches, at least for a season, to apply themselves unto the more public preaching of the word unto the conversion of the souls of men. Nor will any particular church be unwilling hereunto which understands that even the whole end of particular churches is but the edification of the church catholic, and that their good and advantage is to give place unto that of the glory of Christ in the whole.
The good shepherd will leave the ninety and nine sheep, to seek after one that wanders; and we may certainly leave a few for a season, to seek after a great multitude of wanderers, when we are called thereunto by divine providence: and I could heartily wish that we might have a trial of it at this time.
The ministers who have been most celebrated, and that deservedly, in the last ages, in this and the neighbour nations, have been such as whose ministry God made eminently successful unto the conversion of souls. To affirm that they did not do their work as ministers, and by virtue of their ministerial office, is to cast away the crown and destroy the principal glory of the ministry. For my own part, if I did not think myself bound to preach as a minister, and as a minister authorized in all places and on all occasions, when I am called thereunto, I think I should never preach much more in this world. Nor do I know at all what rule they walk by who continue public constant preaching for many years, and yet neither desire nor design to be called unto any pastoral office in the church. But I must not here insist on the debate of these things.
6. It belongs unto them, on the account of their pastoral office, to be ready, willing, and able, to comfort, relieve, and refresh, those that are tempted, tossed, wearied with fears and grounds of disconsolation, in times of trial and desertion. “The tongue of the learned” is required in them, “that they should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” One excellent qualification of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the discharge of his priestly office now in heaven, is, that he is touched with a sense of our infirmities, and knows how to succour them that are tempted. His whole flock in this world are a company of tempted ones; his own life on the earth he calls “the time of his temptation;” and those who have the charge of his flock under him ought to have a sense of their infirmities, and endeavour in an especial manner to succour them that are tempted. 86But amongst them there are some always that are cast under darkness and disconsolations in a peculiar manner: some at the entrance of their conversion unto God, whilst they have a deep sense of the terror of the Lord, the sharpness of conviction, and the uncertainty of their condition; some are relapsed into sin or omissions of duties; some under great, sore, and lasting afflictions; some upon pressing, urgent, particular occur; some on sovereign, divine desertions; some through the buffetings of Satan and the injection of blasphemous thoughts into their minds, with many other occasions of an alike nature. Now, the troubles, disconsolations, dejections, and fears, that arise in the minds of persons in these exercises and temptations are various, oftentimes urged and fortified with subtle arguings and fair pretences, perplexing the souls of men almost to despair and death. It belongs unto the office and duty of pastors, —
(1.) To be able rightly to understand the various cases that will occur of this kind, from such principles and grounds of truth and experience as will bear a just confidence in a prudent application unto the relief of them concerned; [to have] “the tongue of the learned, to know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” It will not be done by a collection and determination of cases, which yet is useful in its place; for hardly shall we meet with two cases of this kind that will exactly be determined by the same rule, all manner of circumstances giving them variety: but a skill, understanding, and experience, in the whole nature of the work of the Spirit of God on the souls of men, of the conflict that is between the flesh and the Spirit, of the methods and wiles of Satan, of the wiles of principalities and powers or wicked spirits in high places, of the nature, and effects, and ends of divine desertions, with wisdom to make application out of such principles, or fit medicines and remedies unto every sore and distemper, are required hereunto. These things are by some despised, by some neglected, by some looked after only in stated cases of conscience, in which work it is known that some have horribly debauched their own consciences and [those of] others, to the scandal and ruin of religion, so far as they have prevailed. But not to dispute how far such helps as books written on cases of conscience may be useful herein, — which they may be greatly unto those who know how to use them aright, — the proper ways whereby pastors and teachers must obtain this skill and understanding are, by diligent study of the Scriptures, meditation thereon, fervent prayer, experience of spiritual things, and temptations in their own souls, with a prudent observation of the manner of God’s dealing with others, and the ways of the opposition made to the work of his grace in them. Without these things, all pretences unto this ability and duty of the pastoral office are vain; whence it is that the whole work of it is much neglected.
87(2.) To be ready and willing to attend unto the especial cases that may be brought unto them, and not to look on them as unnecessary diversions, whereas a due application unto them is a principal part of their office and duty. To discountenance, to discourage any from seeking relief in perplexities of this nature, to carry it towards them with a seeming moroseness and unconcernedness, is to turn that which is lame out of the way, to push the diseased, and not at all to express the care of Christ towards his flock, Isa. xl. 11. Yea, it is their duty to hearken after them who may be so exercised, to seek them out, and to give them their counsel and direction on all occasions.
(3.) To bear patiently and tenderly with the weakness, ignorance, dulness, slowness to believe and receive satisfaction, yea, it may be, impertinencies, in them that are so tempted. These things will abound amongst them, partly from their natural infirmities, many being weak, and perhaps froward, but especially from the nature of their temptations, which are suited to disorder and disquiet their minds, to fill them with perplexed thoughts, and to make them jealous of every thing wherein they are spiritually concerned; and if much patience, meekness, and condescension, be not exercised wards them, they are quickly turned out of the way.
In the discharge of the whole pastoral office, there is not any thing or duty that is of more importance, nor wherein the Lord Jesus Christ is more concerned, nor more eminently suited unto the nature of the office itself, than this is. But whereas it is a work or duty which, because of the reasons mentioned, must be accompanied with the exercise of humility, patience, self-denial, and spiritual wisdom, with experience, with wearisome diversions from other occasions, those who had got of old the conduct of the souls of men into their management turned this whole part of their office and duty into an engine they called “auricular confession;” whereby they wrested the consciences of Christians to the promotion of their own ease, wealth, authority, and ofttimes to worse ends.
7. A compassionate suffering with all the members of the church in all their trials and troubles, whether internal or external, belongs unto them in the discharge of their office; nor is there any thing that renders them more like unto Jesus Christ, whom to represent unto the church is their principal duty. The view and consideration, by faith, of the glory of Christ in his compassion with his suffering members, is the principal spring of consolation unto the church in all its distresses. And the same spirit, the same mind herein, ought, according to their measure, to be in all that have the pastoral office committed unto them. So the apostle expresseth it in himself, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” 2 Cor. xi. 29. And unless this compassion and goodness do run through the discharge of their whole office, men cannot be said 88to be evangelical shepherds, nor the sheep said in any sense to be their own. For those who pretend unto the pastoral office to live, it may be, in wealth and pleasure, regardless of the sufferings and temptations of their flock, or of the poor of it, or related unto such churches as wherein it is impossible that they should so much as be acquainted with the state of the greatest part of them, is not answerable unto the institution of their office, nor to the design of Christ therein.
8. Care of the poor and visitation of the sick are parts of this duty, commonly known, though commonly neglected.
9. The principal care of the rule of the church is incumbent on the pastors of it. This is the second general head of the power and duty of this office, whereunto many things in particular do belong. But because I shall treat afterward of the rule of the church by itself distinctly, I shall not here insist upon it.
10. There is a communion to be observed among all the churches of the same faith and profession in any nation. Wherein it doth consist, and what is required thereunto, shall be afterward declared. The principal care hereof, unto the edification of the churches, is incumbent on the pastors of them. Whether it be exercised by letters of mutual advice, of congratulation or consolation, or in testimony of communion with those who are called to office in them, or whether it be by convening in synods for consultation of their joint concernments (which things made up a great part of the primitive ecclesiastical polity), their duty it is to attend unto it and to take care of it.
11. That wherewith I shall close these few instances of the pastoral charge and duty is that without which all the rest will neither be useful unto men nor be accepted with the great shepherd, Christ Jesus; and that is, a humble, holy, exemplary conversation, in all godliness and honesty. The rules and precepts of the Scripture, the examples of Christ and his apostles, with that of the bishops or pastors of the primitive churches, and the nature of the thing itself, with the religion which we do profess, do undeniably prove this duty to be necessary and indispensable in a gospel ministry. It were an easy thing to fill up a volume with ancient examples unto this purpose, with testimonies of the Scripture and first writers among Christians, with examples of public and private miscarriages herein, with evident demonstration that the ruin of Christian religion in most nations where it hath been professed, and so of the nations themselves, hath proceeded from the ambition, pride, luxury, uncleanness, profaneness, and otherwise vicious conversations, of those who have been called the “clergy.” And in daily observation, it is a thing written with the beams of the sun, that whatever else be done in churches, if the pastors of them, or those who are so esteemed, are not exemplary in gospel obedience and holiness, religion will not be carried on and 89improved among the people. If persons light or profane in their habits, garbs, and converse, corrupt in their communication, unsavoury and barren as unto spiritual discourse; if such as are covetous, oppressive, and contentious; such as are negligent in holy duties in their own families, and so cannot stir up others unto diligence therein; much more, if such as are openly sensual, vicious, and debauched, — are admitted into this office, we may take our leave of all the glory and power of religion among the people committed unto their charge.
To handle this property or adjunct of the pastoral office, it were necessary distinctly to consider and explain all the qualifications assigned by the apostle as necessary unto bishops or elders, evidenced as previously necessary unto the orderly call of them unto this office, 1 Tim. iii. 2–7, Tit. ii. 6–9; which is a work not consistent with my present design to engage in.
These are some instances of the things wherein the office-duty of pastors of the church doth consist They are but some of them, and these only proposed, not pursued and pressed with the consideration of all those particular duties, with the manner of their performance, way of management, motives and enforcements, defects and causes of them; which would require a large discourse. These may suffice unto our present purpose; and we may derive from them the ensuing brief considerations:—
1. A due meditation and view of these things, as proposed in the Scripture, is enough to make the wisest, the best of men, and the most diligent in the discharge of the pastoral office, to cry out with the apostle, “Who is sufficient for these things?” This will make them look well to their call and entrance into this office, as that alone which will bear them out and justify them in the susception of it; for no sense of insufficiency can utterly discourage any in the undertaking of a work which he is assured that the Lord Christ calls him unto, for where he calls to a duty, he gives competent strength for the performance of it. And when we say, under a deep sense of our own weakness, “Who is sufficient for these things?” he doth say, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
2. Although all the things mentioned do plainly, evidently, and undeniably, belong unto the discharge of the pastoral office, yet, in point of fact, we find, by the success, that they are very little considered by the most that seek after it. And the present ruin of religion, as unto its power, beauty, and glory, in all places, ariseth principally from this cause, that multitudes of those who undertake this office are neither in any measure fit for it, nor do either conscientiously attend unto or diligently perform the duties that belong unto it. It ever was and ever will be true in general, “Like priest, like people.”
3. Whereas the account which is to be given of this office and 90the discharge of it at the last day unto Jesus Christ, the consideration whereof had a mighty influence upon the apostles themselves and all the primitive pastors of the churches, is frequently proposed unto us, and many warnings given us thereon in the Scripture, yet it is apparent they are but few who take it into due consideration. In the great day of Christ’s visitation, he will proceed on such articles as those here laid down, and others expressed in the Scripture, and not at all on those which are now inquired upon in our episcopal visitations. And if they may be minded of their true interest and concern, whilst they possess the places they hold in the church, without offence, I would advise them to conform their inquiries, in their visitations, unto those which they cannot but know the Lord Christ will make in the great day of his visitation, which doth approach. This I think but reasonable In the meantime, for those who desire to give up their account with joy and confidence, and not with grief and confusion, it is their wisdom and duty continually to bear in mind what it is that the Lord Christ requires of them in the discharge of their office. To take benefices, to perform legal duties, by themselves or others, is not fully compliant with what pastors of churches are called unto.
4. It is manifest also from hence how inconsistent it is with this office, and the due discharge of it, for any one man to undertake the relation of a pastor unto more churches than one, especially if far distant from one another. An evil this is like that of mathematical prognostications at Rome, — always condemned and always retained. But one view of the duties incumbent on each pastor, and of whose diligent performance he is to give an account at the last day, will discard this practice from all approbation in the minds of them that are sober. However, it is as good to have ten churches at once, as, having but one, never to discharge the duty of a pastor towards it.
5. All churches may do well to consider the weight and burden that lies upon their pastors and teachers in the discharge of their office, that they may be constant in fervent prayers and supplications for them; as also to provide, what lies in them, that they may be without trouble and care about the things of this life.
6. “There being so many duties necessary unto the discharge of this office, and those of such various sorts and kinds as to require various gifts and abilities unto their due performance, it seems very difficult to find a concurrence of them in any one person in any considerable degree, so that it is hard to conceive how the office itself should be duly discharged.” I answer, — (1.) The end both of the office and of the discharge of it is the due edification of the church; this, therefore, gives them their measure. Where that is attained, the office is duly discharged, though the gifts whereby men are enabled thereunto be not eminent (2.) Where a man is called 91unto this office, and applieth himself sincerely unto the due discharge of it, if he be evidently defective with respect to any especial duty or duties of it, that defect is to be supplied by calling any other unto his assistance in office who is qualified to make that supply unto the edification of the church. And the like must be said concerning such pastors as, through age or bodily weakness, are disabled from attendance unto any part of their duty; for still the edification of the church is that which, in all these things, is in the first place to be provided for.
7. It may be inquired what is the state of those churches, and what relation with respect unto communion we ought to have unto them, whose pastors are evidently defective in or neglective of these things, so as that they are not in any competent measure attended unto; and we may, in particular, instance in the first and last of the pastoral duties before insisted on. Suppose a man be no way able to preach the word unto the edification of them that are pleaded to be his flock, or, having an ability, yet doth not, will not, give himself unto the word and prayer, or will not labour in the word and doctrine, unto the great prejudice of edification; and suppose the same person be openly defective as unto an exemplary conversation, and on the contrary layeth the stumbling-block of his own sins and follies before the eyes of others, — what shall we judge of his ministry, and of the state of that church whereof he is a constituent part as its ruler? I answer:—
(1.) I do not believe it is in the power of any church really to confer the pastoral office, by virtue of any ordination whatever, unto any who are openly and evidently destitute of all those previous qualifications which the Scripture requireth in them who are to be called unto this office. There is, indeed, a latitude to be allowed in judging of them in times of necessity and great penury of able teachers, so that persons in holy ministry design the glory of God and the edification of the church according to their ability; but otherwise there is a nullity in the pretended office.
(2.) Where any such are admitted, through ignorance or mistake, or the usurpation of undue power over churches in imposing ministers on them, there is not an absolute nullity in their administrations until they are discovered and convicted by the rule and law of Christ. But if, on evidence hereof, the people will voluntarily adhere unto them, they are partakers of their sins, and do what in them lies to unchurch themselves.
(3.) Where such persons are, by any means, placed as pastors in or over any churches, and there is no way for their removal or reformation, it is lawful unto, it is the duty of every one who takes care of his own edification and salvation to withdraw from the communion of such churches, and to join with such as wherein edification is better 92provided for; for whereas this is the sole end of churches, of all their offices, officers, and administrations, it is the highest folly to imagine that any disciple of Christ can be or is obliged, by his authority, to abide in the communion of such churches, without seeking relief in the ways of his appointment, wherein that end is utterly overthrown.
(4.) Where the generality of churches, in any kind of association, are headed by pastors defective in these things, in the matter declared, there all public church-reformation is morally impossible, and it is the duty of private men to take care of their own souls, let churches and churchmen say what they please.
Some few things may yet be inquired into with reference unto the office of a pastor in the church; as, —
1. Whether a man may be ordained a pastor or a minister without relation unto any particular church, so as to be invested with office power thereby?
It is usually said that a man may be ordained a minister unto or of the catholic church, or to convert infidels, although he be not related unto any particular flock or congregation.
I shall not at present discuss sundry things about the power and way of ordination which influence this controversy, but only speak briefly unto the thing itself. And, —
(1.) It is granted that a man endowed with spiritual gifts for the preaching of the gospel may be set apart by fasting and prayer unto that work, when he may be orderly called unto it in the providence of God; for, — [1.] Such an one hath a call unto it materially in the gifts which he hath received, warranting him unto the exercise of them for the edification of others as he hath occasion, 1 Pet. iv. 10, 11; 1 Cor. xiv. 12.
Setting apart unto an important work by prayer is a moral duty, and useful in church-affairs in an especial manner, Acts xiii. 1–3. [2.] A public testimony unto the approbation of a person undertaking the work of preaching is necessary, — 1st. Unto the communion of churches, that he may be received in any of them as is occasion; of which sort were the letters of recommendation in the primitive church, 1 Cor. xvi. 3; 2 Cor. iii. 1; 3 John 9; — 2dly. Unto the safety of them amongst whom he may exercise his gifts, that they be not imposed on by false teachers or seducers. Nor would the primitive church allow, nor is it allowable in the communion of churches, that any person not so testified unto, not so sent and warranted, should undertake constantly to preach the gospel.
(2.) Such persons, so set apart and sent, may be esteemed ministers in the general notion of the word, and may be useful in the calling and planting of churches, wherein they may be instated in the pastoral office. This was originally the work of evangelists, 93which office being ceased in the church (as shall be proved elsewhere), the work may be supplied by persons of this sort.
(3.) No church whatever hath power to ordain men ministers for the conversion of infidels. Since the cessation of extraordinary officers and offices, the care of that work is devolved merely on the providence of God, being left without the verge of church-institutions. God alone can send and warrant men for the undertaking of that work; nor can any man know or be satisfied in a call unto that work without some previous guidance of divine providence leading him thereunto. It is, indeed, the duty of all the ordinary ministers of the church to diffuse the knowledge of Christ and the gospel unto the heathen and infidels, among whom, or near unto whom, their habitation is cast, and they have all manner of divine warranty for their so doing, as many worthy persons have done effectually in New England; and it is the duty of every true Christian who may be cast among them by the providence of God to instruct them according unto his ability in the knowledge of the truth: but it is not in the power of any church, or any sort of ordinary officers, to ordain a person unto the office of the ministry for the conversion of the heathen antecedently unto any designation by divine providence thereunto.
(4.) No man can be properly or completely ordained unto the ministry, but he is ordained unto a determinate office, as a bishop, an elder, a pastor. But this no man can be but he who is ordained in and unto a particular church; for the contrary practice, —
[1.] Would be contrary to the constant practice of the apostles, who ordained no ordinary officers but in and unto particular churches, which were to be their proper charge and care, Acts xiv. 23; Tit. i. 5. Nor is there mention of any ordinary officers in the whole Scripture but such as were fixed in the particular churches whereunto they did relate, Acts xx. 28; Phil. i. 1; Rev. ii. 3; nor was any such practice known or heard of in the primitive church: yea, —
[2.] It was absolutely forbidden in the ancient church, and all such ordinations declared null, so as not to communicate office-power or give any ministerial authority. So it is expressly in the first canon of the council of Chalcedon, and the council decrees, “That all imposition of hands in such cases is invalid and of no effect.” Yea, so exact and careful were they in this matter, that if any one, for any just cause, as he judged himself, did leave his particular church or charge, they would not allow him the name or title of a bishop, or to officiate occasionally in that church, or anywhere else. This is evident in the case of Eustathius, a bishop of Pamphylia. The good man finding the discharge of his office very troublesome, by reason of secular businesses that it was encumbered withal, and 94much opposition with reproach that befell him from the church itself, of his own accord laid down and resigned his charge, the church choosing one Theodorus in his room. But afterward he desired that, though he had left his charge, he might retain the name, title, and honour of a bishop. For this end he made a petition unto the council of Ephesus; who, as themselves express it, in mere commiseration unto the old man, condescended unto his desire as unto the name and title, but not as unto any office-power, which, they judged, related absolutely unto a particular charge, Epist. Conc. Eph. i., ad Synod. in Pamphyl.
[3.] Such ordination wants an essential constitutive cause, and part of the collation of office-power, which is the election of the people; and is therefore invalid. See what hath been proved before unto that purpose.
[4.] A bishop, an elder, a pastor, being terms of relation, to make any one so without relation unto a church, a people, a flock, is to make him a father who hath no child, or a husband who hath no wife, a relate without a correlate, which is impossible, and implies a contradiction.
[5.] It is inconsistent with the whole nature and end of the pastoral office. Whoever is duly called, set apart, or ordained unto that office, he doth therein and thereby take on himself the discharge of all the duties belonging thereunto, and is obliged to attend diligently unto them. If, then, we will take a view of What hath been proved before to belong unto this office, we shall find that not the least part, scarce any thing of it, can be undertaken and discharged by such as are ordained absolutely without relation unto particular churches. For any to take upon them to commit an office unto others, and not at the same time charge them with all the duties of that office and their immediate attendance on them, or for any to accept of an office and office-power not knowing when or where to exert the power or perform the duties of it, is irregular. In particular, ruling is an essential part of the pastoral office, which they cannot attend unto who have none to be ruled by them.
2. May a pastor remove from one congregation unto another?
This is a thing also which the ancient church made great provision against; for when some churches were increased in members, reputation, privileges, and wealth, above others, it grew an ordinary practice for the bishops to design and endeavour their own removal from a less unto a greater benefice. This is so severely interdicted in the councils of Nice and Chalcedon as that they would not allow that a man might be a bishop or presbyter in any other place but only in the church wherein he was originally ordained; and, therefore, if any did so remove themselves, decreed that they should be sent home again, and there abide, or cease to be church-officers, 95Conc. Nicæ. can. 15, 16; Chalced., can. 5, 20. Pluralities, as they are called, and open contending for ecclesiastical promotions, benefices, and dignities, were then either unknown or openly condemned.
Yet it cannot be denied but that there may be just causes of the removal of a pastor from one congregation unto another; for whereas the end of all particular churches is to promote the edification of the catholic church in general, where, in any especial instance, such a removal is useful unto that end, it is equal it should be allowed. Cases of this nature may arise from the consideration of persons, places, times, and many other circumstances that I cannot insist on in particular. But that such removals may be without offence, it is required that they be made, — (1.) With the free consent of the churches concerned; (2.) With the advice of other churches, or their elders, with whom they walk in communion. And of examples of this kind, or of the removal of bishops or pastors from one church to another in an orderly manner, by advice and counsel, for the good of the whole church, there are many instances in the primitive times. Such was that of Gregory Nazianzen, removed from Casima to Constantinople; though I acknowledge it had no good success.
3. May a pastor voluntarily, or of his own accord, resign and lay down his office, and remain in a private capacity?
This also was judged inconvenient, if not unlawful, by the first synod of Ephesus, in the case of Eustathius. He was, as it appears, an aged man, one that loved his own peace and quietness, and who could not well bear the oppositions and reproaches which he met withal from the church, or some in it, and thereon solemnly, upon his own judgment, without advice, laid down and renounced his office in the church; who thereupon chose a good man in his room. Yet did the synod condemn this practice, and that not without weighty reasons, whereby they confirmed their judgment.
But yet no general rule can be established in this case; nor was the judgment or practice of the primitive church precise herein. Clemens, in his epistle to the church of Corinth, expressly adviseth those on whose occasion there was disturbance and divisions in the church to lay down their office and withdraw from it. Gregory Nazianzen did the same at Constantinople; and protested openly that although he were himself innocent and free from blame, as he truly was, and one of the greatest men of his age, yet he would depart or be cast out, rather than they should not have peace among them; which he did accordingly, Orat. 52, et Vit. Greg. Nazian. And afterward a synod at Constantinople, under Photius, concluded that in some cases it is lawful, can. 5. Wherefore, —
(1.) It seems not to be lawful so to do merely on the account of weakness for work and labour, though occasioned by age, sickness, or bodily distemper: for no man is any way obliged to do more than 96he is able with the regular preservation of his life; and the church is obliged to be satisfied with the conscientious discharge of what abilities a pastor hath, otherwise providing for itself in what is wanting.
(2.) It is not lawful merely on a weariness of and despondency under opposition and reproaches, which a pastor is called and obliged to undergo for the good and edification of the flock, and not to faint in the warfare whereto he is called.
These two were the reasons of Eustathius at Perga, which were disallowed in the council at Ephesus. But, —
(3.) It is lawful in such an incurable decay of intellectual abilities as whereon a man can discharge no duty of the pastoral office unto the edification of the church.
(4.) It is lawful in case of insurable divisions in the church, constantly obstructing its edification, and which cannot be removed whilst such a one continues in his office, though he be no way the cause of them. This is the case wherein Clemens gives advice, and whereof Gregory gave an example in his own practice.
But this case and its determination will hold only where the divisions are incurable by any other ways and means; for if those who cause such divisions may be cast out of the church, or the church may withdraw communion from them, or if there be divisions in fixed parties and principles, opinions or practices, they may separate into distinct communions. In such cases this remedy, by the pastor’s laying down his office, is not to be made use of; otherwise all things are to be done for edification.
(5.) It may be lawful where the church is wholly negligent in its duty, and persists in that negligence, after admonition, in providing, according to their abilities, for the outward necessity of their pastor and his family. But this case cannot be determined without the consideration of many particular circumstances.
(6.) Where all or many of these causes concur, so as that a man cannot cheerfully and comfortably go on in the discharge of his office, especially if he be pressed in point of conscience, through the church’s noncompliance with their duty with respect unto any of the institutions of Christ, and if the edification of the church, which is at present obstructed, may be provided for, in their own judgment, after a due manner, there is no such grievous yoke laid by the Lord Christ on the necks of any of his servants but that such a person may peaceably lay down his office in such a church, and either abide in a private station, or take the care of another church, wherein he may discharge his office (being yet of ability) unto his own comfort and their edification.
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