1. The Use of Humiliation
Reverend and dear brethren, our business here this day is to humble our souls before the Lord for our past negligence, and to implore God’s assistance in our work for the time to come. Indeed, we can scarcely expect the latter without the former. If God will help us in our future duty, he will first humble us for our past sin. He who has not so much sense of his faults as unfeignedly to lament them, will hardly have so much more as to move him to reform them. The sorrow of repentance may exist without a change of heart and life; because a passion may be more easily wrought, than a true conversion. But the change cannot take place without some good measure of the sorrow. Indeed, we may here justly begin our confessions; it is too common with us to expect that from our people, which we do little or nothing in ourselves. What pains do we take to humble them, while we ourselves are unhumbled! How hard do we expostulate with them to wring out of them a few penitential tears (and all too little), while yet our own eyes are dry! Alas, how we set them an example of hard–heartedness, while we are endeavoring by our words to melt and mollify them! Oh, if we did but study half as much to affect and amend our own hearts, as we do those of our hearers, it would not be with many of us as it is (I Cor. 11:31)! It is a great deal too little that we do for their humiliation; but I fear it is much less that some of us do for our own. Too many do somewhat for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget that they have souls of their own to regard. They so carry the matter, as if their part of the work lay in calling for repentance, and the hearers’ in repenting; theirs in bespeaking tears and sorrow, and other men’s in weeping and sorrowing; theirs in crying down sin, and the people’s in forsaking it; theirs in preaching duty, and the hearers’ in practicing it.
But we find that the guides of the Church in Scripture did confess their own sins, as well as the sins of the people. Ezra confessed the sins of the priests, as well as of the people, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. Daniel confessed his own sin, as well as the people’s. I think, if we consider well the duties already stated, and how imperfectly we have performed them, we need not demur upon the question, whether we have cause of humiliation? I must needs say, though I condemn myself in saying it, that he who reads but this one exhortation of Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus, and compares his life with it, must be stupid and hard–hearted, if he do not melt under a sense of his neglects, and be not laid in the dust before God and forced to bewail his great omissions, and to fly for refuge to the blood of Christ, and to his pardoning grace. I am confident, brethren, that none of you do in judgment approve of the libertine doctrine, that cries down the necessity of confession, contrition, and humiliation, yes, and in order to the pardon of sin! Is it not a pity, then, that our hearts are not as orthodox as our heads? But I see we have but half learned our lesson, when we know it, and can say it. When the understanding has learned it, there is more ado to teach our wills and affections, our eyes, our tongues, and hands. It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still, if we have studied and preached ourselves asleep, and have talked so long against hardness of heart, until our own has grown hardened under the noise of our own reproofs.
And that you may see that it is not a causeless sorrow that God requires of us, I shall call to your remembrance our manifold sins, and set them in order before you, that we may deal plainly and faithfully in a free confession of them, and that God who is ‘faithful and just may forgive them, and cleanse us from all iniquity (I Jn. 1:9).’ In this I suppose I have your hearty consent, and that you will be so far from being offended with me, though I should disgrace your persons, and others in this office, that you will readily subscribe the charge, and be humble self–accusers; and so far am I from justifying myself by the accusation of others, that I do unfeignedly put my name with the first in the bill of indictment. For how can a wretched sinner, one chargeable with so many and so great transgressions, presume to justify himself before God? Or how can he plead guiltless, whose conscience has so much to say against him? If I cast shame upon the ministry, it is not on the office, but on our persons, by opening that sin which is our shame. The glory of our high employment does not communicate any glory to our sin; for ‘sin is a reproach to any people.’ And be they pastors or people, it is only those who ‘confess and forsake their sins that shall have mercy,’ while ‘he who hardens his heart shall fall into mischief (Prov. 14:34, Prov. 28:13-14).’
The great sins that we are guilty of, I shall not undertake to enumerate; and therefore my passing over any particular one, is not to be taken as a denial or justification of it. But I shall consider it as my duty, to instance some few which cry loud for humiliation and speedy reformation.
Only I must needs first premise this profession, that, notwithstanding all the faults which are now among us, I do not believe that ever England had so able and faithful a ministry since it was a nation, as it has at this day; and I fear that few nations on earth, if any, have the like. Sure I am, the change is so great within these twelve years, that it is one of the greatest joys that ever I had in the world to behold it. Oh, how many congregations are now plainly and frequently taught, that lived then in great obscurity! How many able, faithful men are there now in a county, in comparison of what were then! How graciously has God prospered the studies of many young men, who were little children in the beginning of the late troubles, so that now they cloud the most of their seniors! How many miles would I have gone twenty years ago, and less, to have heard one of those ancient reverend divines, whose congregations are now grown thin, and their parts esteemed mean, by reason of the notable improvement of their juniors! And in particular, how mercifully has the Lord dealt with this poor county of Worcester, in raising up so many who do credit to the sacred office, and self–denyingly and freely, zealously and unweariedly, lay out themselves for the good of souls! I bless the Lord that has placed me in such a neighborhood, where I may have the brotherly fellowship of so many able, faithful, humble, unanimous, and peaceable men. Oh that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy county! And I hope I shall rejoice in God while I have a being, for the common change in other parts, that I have lived to see: that so many hundred faithful men are so hard at work for the saving of souls, although with the muttering and gnashing of teeth of the enemy; and that more are springing up apace. I know there are some men, whose parts I reverence, who being, in point of government, of another mind from them, will be offended at my very mention of this happy alteration. But I must profess, if I were absolutely prelatical, if I knew my heart, I could not choose, for all that, but rejoice. What! Not rejoice at the prosperity of the Church, because the men do differ in one opinion about its order? Should I shut my eyes against the mercies of the Lord? The souls of men are not so contemptible to me, that I should envy them the bread of life because it is broken to them by a hand that had not the prelatical approbation. O that every congregation were thus supplied! But everything cannot be done at once. They had a long time to settle a corrupted ministry; and when the ignorant and scandalous are cast out, we cannot create abilities in others for the supply; we must stay the time of their preparation and growth; and then, if England drive not away the gospel by their abuse, even by their willful unreformedness, and hatred of the light, they are like to be the happiest nation under heaven. For, as for all the sects and heresies that are creeping in and daily troubling us, I doubt not but the gospel, managed by an able self–denying ministry, will effectually disperse and shame them all.
But you may say, this is not confessing sin, but applauding those whose sins you pretend to confess. To this I answer, it is the due acknowledgment of God’s kindness, and thanksgiving for his admirable mercies, that I may not seem unthankful in confession, much less to cloud or vilify God’s graces, while I open the frailties that in many do accompany them; for many things are sadly out of order in the best, as will appear from the following particulars.
1. One of our most heinous and palpable sins is PRIDE. This is a sin that has too much interest in the best of us, but which is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in other men. Yet is it so prevalent in some of us, that it indicts our discourses, it chooses our company, it forms our countenances, it puts the accent and emphasis upon our words. It fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs. It possesses them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory, or hinder the progress of their reputation. Oh what a constant companion, what a tyrannical commander, what a sly and subtle insinuating enemy, is this sin of pride! It goes with men to the draper, the mercer, the tailor: it chooses them their cloth, their trimming, and their fashion. Fewer ministers would ruffle it out in the fashion in hair and habit, if it were not for the command of this tyrannous vice. And I would that this were all, or the worst. But, alas, how frequently does it go with us to our study, and there sit with us and do our work! How often does it choose our subject, and, more frequently still, our words and ornaments! God commands us to be as plain as we can, that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we are able, that we may melt and change their hardened hearts. But pride stands by and contradicts all, and produces its toys and trifles. It pollutes rather than polishes. And, under presence of laudable ornaments, dishonors our sermons with childish gauds, as if a prince were to be decked in the habit of a stage–player, or a painted fool. It persuades us to paint the window, that it may dim the light, and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand, to let them know that we are able to speak unprofitably. If we have a plain and cutting passage, it takes off the edge, and dulls the life of our preaching, under presence of filing off the roughness, unevenness, and superfluity. When God charges us to deal with men as for their lives, and to beseech them with all the earnestness that we are able, this cursed sin controls all, and condemns the most holy commands of God, and says to us, ‘What! Will you make people do you think are mad? Will you make them say you rage or rave? Cannot you speak soberly and moderately?’ And thus does pride make many a man’s sermons; and what pride makes, the devil makes; and what sermons the devil will make and to what end, we may easily conjecture. Though the matter be of God, yet if the dress, and manner, and end be from Satan, we have no great reason to expect success.
And when pride has made the sermon, it goes with us into the pulpit, forms our tone, animates us in the delivery, takes us off from that which may be displeasing, how necessary soever, and sets us in pursuit of vain applause. In short, the sum of all is this: it makes men, both in studying and preaching, to seek themselves, and deny God, when they should seek God’s glory, and deny themselves. When they should inquire, What shall I say, and how shall I say it, to please God best, and do most good? it makes them ask, What shall I say, and how shall I deliver it, to be thought a learned able preacher, and to be applauded by all that hear me? When the sermon is done, pride goes home with them, and makes them more eager to know whether they were applauded, than whether they did prevail for the saving of souls. Were it not for shame, they could find in their hearts to ask people how they liked them, and to draw out their commendations. If they perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice, as having attained their end; but if they see that they are considered but weak or common men, they are displeased, as having missed the prize they had in view.
But even this is not all, nor the worst, if worse may be. Oh, that ever it should be said of godly ministers, that they are so set upon popular air, and on sitting highest in men’s estimation, that they envy the talents and names of their brethren who are preferred before them. As if all were taken from their praise that is given to another; and as if God had given them his gifts to be the mere ornaments and trappings of their persons, that they may walk as men of reputation in the world; and as if all his gifts to others were to be trodden down and vilified, if they seem to stand in the way of their honor! What? A saint, a preacher of Christ, and yet envy that which has the image of Christ, and malign his gifts for which he should have the glory, and all because they seem to hinder our glory? Is not every true Christian a member of the body of Christ, and, therefore, partakes of the blessings of the whole, and of each particular member thereof? And does not every man owe thanks to God for his brethren’s gifts, not only as having himself a part in them, as the foot has the benefit of the guidance of the eye; but also because his own ends may be attained by his brethren’s gifts, as well as by his own? For if the glory of God, and the Church’s felicity, be not his end, he is not a Christian. Will any workman malign another, because he helps him to do his master’s work? Yet, alas, how common is this heinous crime among the ministers of Christ! They can secretly blot the reputation of those that stand in the way of their own; and what they cannot for shame do in plain and open terms, lest they be proved liars and slanderers, they will do in generals, and by malicious intimations, raising suspicions where they cannot fasten accusations. And some go so far, that they are unwilling that any one who is abler than themselves should come into their pulpits, lest they should be more applauded than themselves. A fearful thing it is, that any man, who has the least of the fear of God, should so envy God’s gifts, and had rather that his carnal hearers should remain unconverted, and the drowsy unawakened, than that it should be done by another who may be preferred before him. Yes, so far does this cursed vice prevail, that in great congregations, which have need of the help of many preachers, we can scarcely, in many places, get two of equality to live together in love and quietness, and unanimously to carry on the work of God. But unless one of them be quite below the other in parts, and content to be so esteemed, or unless he be a curate to the other, and ruled by him, they are contending for precedency, and envying each other’s interest, and walking with strangeness and jealousy towards one another, to the shame of their profession, and the great wrong of their people. I am ashamed to think of it, that when I have been laboring to convince persons of public interest and capacity, of the great necessity of more ministers than one in large congregations, they tell me, they will never agree together. I hope the objection is unfounded as to the most; but it is a sad case that it should be true of any. No, some men are so far gone in pride, that when they might have an equal assistant to further the work of God, they had rather take all the burden upon themselves, though more than they can bear, than that any one should share with them in the honor, or that their interest in the esteem of the people should be diminished.
Hence also it is that men do so magnify their own opinions, and are as censorious of any that differ from them in lesser things, as if it were all one to differ from them and from God. They expect that all should conform to their judgment, as if they were the rulers of the Church’s faith; and while we cry down papal infallibility, too many of us would be popes ourselves, and have all stand to our determination, as if we were infallible. It is true, we have more modesty than expressly to say so. We pretend that it is only the evidence of truth that appears in our reasons, that we expect men should yield to, and our zeal is for the truth and not for ourselves. But as that must needs be taken for truth which is ours, so our reasons must needs be taken for valid. And if they be but freely examined and be found fallacious, as we are exceedingly backward to see it ourselves because they are ours, so we are angry that it should be disclosed to others. We so espouse the cause of our errors, as if all that were spoken against them were spoken against our persons, and we were heinously injured to have our arguments thoroughly confuted, by which we injured the truth and the souls of men. The matter is come to this pass, through our pride, that if an error or fallacious argument do fall under the patronage of a reverend name (which is nothing rare), we must either allow it the victory, and give away the truth, or else become injurious to that name that does patronize it. For though you meddle not with their persons, yet do they put themselves under all the strokes which you give their arguments; and feel them as sensibly as if you had spoken of themselves, because they think it will follow in the eyes of others, that weak arguing is a sign of a weak man. If, therefore, you consider it your duty to shame their errors and false reasonings by discovering their nakedness, they take it as if you shamed their persons. And so their names must be a garrison or fortress to their mistakes, and their reverence must defend all their sayings from attack.
So high indeed are our spirits, that when it becomes the duty of any one to reprove or contradict us, we are commonly impatient both of the matter and the manner. We love the man who will say as we say, and be of our opinion, and promote our reputation, though, in other respects, he be less worthy of our esteem. But he is ungrateful to us who contradicts us and differs from us, and deals plainly with us as to our miscarriages and tells us of our faults. Especially in the management of our public arguings, where the eye of the world is upon us, we can scarcely endure any contradiction or plain dealing. I know that railing language is to be abhorred, and that we should be as tender of each other’s reputation, as our fidelity to the truth will permit. But our pride makes too many of us think all men condemn us, that do not admire us, yes, and admire all we say, and submit their judgments to our most palpable mistakes. We are so tender that a man can scarcely touch us but we are hurt. We are so high–minded that a man who is not versed in complimenting and skilled in flattery above the vulgar rate can scarcely tell how to handle us so observantly—and fit our expectations at every turn—without there being some word or some neglect which our high spirits will fasten on and take as injurious to our honor.
I confess I have often wondered that this most heinous sin should be made so light of, and thought so consistent with a holy frame of heart and life, when far less sins are, by ourselves, proclaimed to be so damnable in our people. And I have wondered more, to see the difference between godly preachers and ungodly sinners, in this respect. When we speak to drunkards, worldlings, or ignorant unconverted persons, we disgrace them to the utmost, and lay it on as plainly as we can speak, and tell them of their sin, and shame, and misery; and we expect that they should not only bear all patiently, but take all thankfully. And most that I deal with do take it patiently; and many gross sinners will commend the closest preachers most, and will say that they care not for hearing a man that will not tell them plainly of their sins. But if we speak to godly ministers against their errors or their sins, if we do not honor them and reverence them, and speak as smoothly as we are able to speak, yes, if we mix not commendations with our reproofs, and if the applause be not predominant, so as to drown all the force of the reproof or confutation, they take it as almost an insufferable injury.
Brethren, I know this is a sad confession, but that all this should exist among us, should be more grievous to us than to be told of it. Could the evil be hid, I should not have disclosed it, at least so openly in the view of all. But, alas, it is long ago open to the eyes of the world. We have dishonored ourselves by idolizing our honor; we print our shame, and preach our shame, thus proclaiming it to the whole world. Some will think that I speak overcharitably when I call such persons godly men, in whom so great a sin does so much prevail. I know, indeed, that where it is predominant, not hated, and bewailed, and mortified in the main, there can be no true godliness; and I beseech every man to exercise a strict jealousy and search of his own heart. But if all be graceless that are guilty of any, or of most of the fore–mentioned discoveries of pride, the Lord be merciful to the ministers of this land, and give us quickly another spirit; for grace is then a rarer thing than most of us have supposed it to be.
Yet I must needs say, that I do not mean to involve all the ministers of Christ in this charge. To the praise of Divine grace be it spoken, we have some among us who are eminent for humility and meekness, and who, in these respects, are exemplary to their flocks and to their brethren. It is their glory, and shall be their glory; and makes them truly honorable and lovely in the eyes of God and of all good men, and even in the eyes of the ungodly themselves. O that the rest of us were but such! But, alas, this is not the case with all of us.
O that the Lord would lay us at his feet, in the tears of sincere sorrow for this sin! Brethren, may I expostulate this case a little with my own heart and yours, that we may see the evil of our sin, and be reformed! Is not pride the sin of devils, the first–born of hell? Is it not that wherein Satan’s image does much consist? And is it to be tolerated in men who are so engaged against him and his kingdom as we are? The very design of the gospel is to abase us; and the work of grace is begun and carried on in humiliation. Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature. It is a contradiction in terms, to be a Christian, and not humble. All who will be Christians must be Christ’s disciples, and ‘come to him to learn’; and the lesson which he teaches them is, to ‘be meek and lowly (Mt. 11:29).’ Oh, how many precepts and admirable examples has our Lord and Master given us to this end! Can we behold him washing and wiping his servants’ feet, and yet be proud and lordly still (Jn. 13)? Shall he converse with the lowest of the people, and shall we avoid them as below our notice, and think none but persons of wealth and honor fit for our society? How many of us are oftener found in the houses of gentlemen than in the cottages of the poor, who most need our help? There are many of us who would think it below us, to be daily with the most needy and beggarly people, instructing them in the way of life and salvation; as if we had taken charge of the souls of the rich only! Alas, what is it that we have to be proud of? Is it of our body? Why, is it not made of the like materials as the brutes; and must it not shortly be as loathsome and abominable as a carcass? Is it of our graces? Why, the more we are proud of them, the less we have to be proud of. When so much of the nature of grace consists in humility, it is a great absurdity to be proud of it. Is it of our knowledge and learning? Why, if we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble. How little is it that the most learned know, in comparison of that of which they are ignorant! To know that things are past your reach, and to know how ignorant you are, one would think should be no great cause of pride. However, do not the devils know more than you? And will you be proud of that in which the devils excel you? Our very business is to teach the great lesson of humility to our people; and how unfit, then, is it that we should be proud ourselves? We must study humility, and preach humility; and must we not possess and practice humility? A proud preacher of humility is at least a self–condemning man.
What a sad case is it, that so vile a sin is not more easily discerned by us, but many who are most proud can blame it in others, and yet take no notice of it in themselves! The world takes notice of some among us, that they have aspiring minds, and seek for the highest room, and must be the rulers, and bear the sway wherever they come, or else there is no living or acting with them. In any consultations, they come not to search after truth, but to dictate to others, who, perhaps, are fit to teach them. In a word, they have such arrogant domineering spirits, that the world rings of it, and yet they will not see it in themselves!
Brethren, I desire to deal closely with my own heart and yours. I beseech you consider whether it will save us to speak well of the grace of humility while we possess it not, or to speak against the sin of pride while we indulge in it? Have not many of us cause to inquire diligently, whether sincerity will consist with such a measure of pride as we feel? When we are telling the drunkard that he cannot be saved unless he become temperate, and the fornicator that he cannot be saved unless he become chaste, have we not as great reason, if we are proud, to say to ourselves, that we cannot be saved unless we become humble? Pride, in fact, is a greater sin than drunkenness or whoredom; and humility is as necessary as sobriety and chastity. Truly, brethren, a man may as certainly, and more slyly, make haste to hell, in the way of earnest preaching of the gospel, and seeming zeal for a holy life, as in a way of drunkenness and filthiness. For what is holiness, but a devotedness to God and a living to him? And what is a damnable state, but a devotedness to carnal self and a living to ourselves? And does any one live more to himself, or less to God, than the proud man? And may not pride make a preacher study for himself and pray and preach, and live to himself, even when he seems to surpass others in the work? It is not the work without the right principle and end that will prove us upright. The work may be God’s, and yet we may do it, not for God, but for ourselves. I confess I feel such continual danger on this point, that if I do not watch, lest I should study for myself, and preach for myself, and write for myself, rather than for Christ, I should soon miscarry; and after all, I justify not myself, when I must condemn the sin.
Consider, I beseech you, brethren, what baits there are in the work of the ministry, to entice a man to selfishness, even in the highest works of piety. The fame of a godly man is as great a snare as the fame of a learned man. But woe to him that takes up the fame of godliness instead of godliness! ‘Verily I say unto you, they have their reward (Mt. 6:25).’ When the times were all for learning and empty formalities, the temptation of the proud did lie that way. But now, when, through the unspeakable mercy of God, the most lively practical preaching is in credit, and godliness itself is in credit, the temptation of the proud is to pretend to be zealous preachers and godly men. Oh, what a fine thing is it to have the people crowding to hear us, and affected with what we say, and yielding up to us their judgments and affections! What a taking thing is it to be cried up as the ablest and godliest man in the country, to be famed through the land for the highest spiritual excellencies! Alas, brethren, a little grace combined with such inducements will serve to make you join yourselves with the forwardest in promoting the cause of Christ in the world. No, pride may do it without special grace.
Oh, therefore, be jealous of yourselves; and, amid all your studies, be sure to study humility. ‘He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted (I Peter 5:6).’ I commonly observe that almost all men, whether good or bad, do loathe the proud, and love the humble. So far indeed does pride contradict itself, that, conscious of its own deformity, it often borrows the homely dress of humility. We have the more cause to be jealous of it, because it is a sin most deeply rooted in our nature, and as hardly as any extirpated from the soul.
2. We do not so seriously, unreservedly, and laboriously lay out ourselves in the work of the Lord as becomes men of our profession and engagements. I bless the Lord that there are so many who do this work with all their might. But, alas, how imperfectly and how negligently do the most, even of those that we take for godly ministers, go through their work! How few of us do so behave ourselves in our office, as men that are wholly devoted thereto, and who have consecrated all they have to the same end! And because you shall see my grounds for this confession, I shall mention some instances of our sinful negligence.
(1) If we were duly devoted to our work, we should not be so negligent in our studies. Few men are at the pains that are necessary for the right informing of their understanding, and fitting them for their further work. Some men have no delight in their studies, but take only now and then an hour, as an unwelcome task which they are forced to undergo, and are glad when they are from under the yoke. Will neither the natural desire of knowledge, nor the spiritual desire of knowing God and things Divine, nor the consciousness of our great ignorance and weakness, nor the sense of the weight of our ministerial work—will none of all these things keep us closer to our studies, and make us more painful in seeking after truth? O what abundance of things are there that a minister should understand! And what a great defect is it to be ignorant of them! And how much shall we miss such knowledge in our work! Many ministers study only to compose their sermons, and very little more, when there are so many books to be read, and so many matters that we should not be unacquainted with. No, in the study of our sermons we are too negligent, gathering only a few naked truths, and not considering of the most forcible expressions by which we may set them home to men’s consciences and hearts. We must study how to convince and get within men, and how to bring each truth to the quick, and not leave all this to our extemporary promptitude, unless in cases of necessity. Certainly, brethren, experience will teach you that men are not made learned or wise without hard study and unwearied labor and experience.
(2) If we were heartily devoted to our work, it would be done more vigorously, and more seriously, than it is by the most of us. How few ministers do preach with all their might, or speak about everlasting joys and everlasting torments in such a manner as may make men believe that they are in good earnest! It would make a man’s heart ache, to see a company of dead, drowsy sinners sitting under a minister, and not hear a word that is likely to quicken or awaken them. Alas, we speak so drowsily and so softly, that sleepy sinners cannot hear. The blow falls so light that hard–hearted sinners cannot feel. The most of ministers will not so much as exert their voice, and stir up themselves to an earnest utterance. But if they do speak loud and earnestly, how few do answer it with weight and earnestness of matter! And yet without this, the voice does little good; the people will esteem it but mere bawling, when the matter does not correspond. It would grieve one to the heart to hear what excellent doctrine some ministers have in hand, while yet they let it die in their hands for want of close and lively application; what fit matter they have for convincing sinners, and how little they make of it; what good they might do if they would set it home, and yet they cannot or will not do it.
O sirs, how plainly, how closely, how earnestly, should we deliver a message of such moment as ours, when the everlasting life or everlasting death of our fellow–men is involved in it! Methinks we are in nothing so wanting as in this seriousness; yet is there nothing more unsuitable to such a business, than to be slight and dull. What! Speak coldly for God, and for men’s salvation? Can we believe that our people must be converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone? In the name of God, brethren, labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. Remember they must be awakened or damned, and that a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken drowsy sinners. Though you give the holy things of God the highest praises in words, yet, if you do it coldly, you will seem by your manner to unsay what you said in the matter. It is a kind of contempt of great things, especially of so great things, to speak of them without much affection and fervency. The manner, as well as the words, must set them forth. If we are commanded, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecc. 9:10),’ then certainly such a work as preaching for men’s salvation should be done with all our might. But, alas, how few in number are such men! It is only here and there, even among good ministers, that we find one who has an earnest, persuasive, powerful way of speaking, that the people can feel him preach when they hear him.
Though I move you not to a constant loudness in your delivery (for that will make your fervency contemptible), yet see that you have a constant seriousness; and when the matter requires it (as it should do, in the application at least), then lift up your voice, and spare not your spirits. Speak to your people as to men that must be awakened, either here or in hell. Look around upon them with the eye of faith, and with compassion, and think in what a state of joy or torment they must all be forever; and then, methinks, it will make you earnest, and melt your heart to a sense of their condition. Oh, speak not one cold or careless word about so great a business as heaven or hell. Whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest. Truly, brethren, they are great works which have to be done, and you must not think that trifling will dispatch them. You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or pronouncing a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures at the drowsy request of one that seems not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted or not. If you say that the work is God’s, and he may do it by the weakest means, I answer, It is true, he may do so; but yet his ordinary way is to work by means, and to make not only the matter that is preached, but also the manner of preaching instrumental to the work.
With the most of our hearers, the very pronunciation and tone of speech is a great point. The best matter will scarcely move them, if it be not movingly delivered. See, especially, that there be no affectation, but that you speak as familiarly to them as you would do, if you were talking to any of them personally. The want of a familiar tone and expression is a great fault in most of our deliveries, and that which we should be very careful to amend. When a man has a reading or declaiming tone, like a school–boy saying his lesson, or repeating an oration, few are moved with anything that he says. Let us, therefore, rouse up ourselves to the work of the Lord, and speak to our people as for their lives, and save them as by violence, ‘pulling them out of the fire (Jude 2:3).’ Satan will not be charmed out of his possession: we must lay siege to the souls of sinners, which are his garrison, and find out where his chief strength lies. We must lay the battery of God’s ordnance against it, and ply it close, until a breach is made; and then suffer them not by their shifts to repair it again. As we have reasonable creatures to deal with, and as they abuse their reason against the truth, we must see that our sermons be all convincing, and that we make the light of Scripture and Reason shine so bright in the faces of the ungodly, that it may even force them to see, unless they willfully shut their eyes. A sermon full of mere words, how needy soever it be composed, while it wants the light of evidence, and the life of zeal, is but an image or a well–dressed carcass.
In preaching, there is a communion of souls, and a communication of somewhat from ours to theirs. As we and they have understandings and wills and affections, so must the bent of our endeavors be to communicate the fullest light of evidence from our understandings to theirs, and to warm their hearts, by kindling in them holy affections as by a communication from our own. The great things which we have to commend to our hearers have reason enough on their side, and lie plain before them in the Word of God. We should, therefore, be furnished with all kind of evidence, so that we may come as with a torrent upon their understandings, and with our reasonings and expostulations to pour shame upon all their vain objections, and bear down all before us, that they may be forced to yield to the power of truth.
(3) If we are heartily devoted to the work of God, why do we not compassionate the poor unprovided congregations around us, and take care to help them to find able ministers; and, in the mean time, go out now and then to their assistance, when the business of our particular charge will give us any leave? A sermon in the more ignorant places, purposely for the work of conversion, delivered by the most lively, powerful preachers, might be a great help where constant means are wanting.
3. Another sad discovery that we have not so devoted ourselves and all we have to the service of God as we ought, is our prevailing regard to our worldly interests in opposition to the interest and work of Christ. This I shall manifest in three instances:
(1) The temporizing of ministers. I would not have any to be contentious with those that govern them, nor to be disobedient to any of their lawful commands. But it is not the least reproach of ministers, that the most of them, for worldly advantage, do always suit themselves to the party which is most likely to promote their ends. If they look for secular advantages, they suit themselves to the secular power; if for popular applause, they suit themselves to the Church party that is most in credit. This, alas, is an epidemic malady. In Constantine’s days how prevalent were the Orthodox! In Constantine's days they almost all turned Arians, so that there were very few bishops that did not apostatize or betray the truth, even of the very men that had been in the Council of Nicaea. Indeed when not only Liberius, but great Ossius himself fell, who had been the president in so many orthodox councils, what better could be expected of weaker men? Were it not for secular advantage, how should it come to pass that ministers, in all countries of the world, are either all, or almost all, of that religion that is most in credit, and most consistent with their worldly interests? Among the Greeks, they are all of the Greek profession; among the Papists, they are almost all Papists; in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, they are almost all Lutherans; and so in other countries. It is strange that they should be all in the right in one country, and all in the wrong in another, if carnal advantages did not sway much with men, when they engage in the search of truth. The variety of intellect, and numberless other circumstances, would unavoidably occasion a great variety of opinions on various points. But let the prince, and the stream of men in power, go one way, and you shall have the generality of ministers agree with them to a hair, and that without any extraordinary search. How generally did the common sort of ministers change their religion with the prince, at several times, in this land! Not all, indeed, as our Martyrology can witness, but yet the most. And the same tractable distemper does still follow us, so that it occasions our enemies to say that reputation and preferment are our religion and our reward.
(2) We too much mind worldly things, and shrink from duties that will injure or hinder our temporal interests. How common is it for ministers to drown themselves in worldly business! Too many are such as the sectaries would have us to be, who tell us that we should go to the plough and labor for our living, and preach without so much study. This is a lesson which is easily learned. Men show no anxiety to cast off care, that their own souls and the Church may have all their care.
And especially, how commonly are those duties neglected, that are likely, if performed, to diminish our estates! Are there not many, for example, that dare not, that will not, set up the exercise of discipline in their churches, because it may hinder the people from paying them their dues? They will not offend sinners with discipline, lest they offend them in their estates. I find money is too strong an argument for some men to answer, that yet can proclaim ‘the love of it to be the root of all evil,’ and can make long orations of the danger of covetousness. I will at present say no more to them but this: If it was so deadly a sin in Simon Magus to offer to buy the gift of God with money, what is it to sell his gift, his cause, and the souls of men for money? And what reason have we to fear, lest our money perish with us!
(3) Our barrenness in works of charity, and in improving all we have for our Master’s service. If worldly interest did not much prevail against the interest of Christ and the Church, surely most ministers would be more fruitful in good works, and would more lay out what they have for his glory. Experience has fully proved that works of charity do most powerfully remove prejudice, and open the heart to words of piety. If men see that you are addicted to do good, they will the more easily believe that you are good, and that it is good which you persuade them to. When they see that you love them, and seek their good, they will the more easily trust you. And when they see that you seek not the things of the world, they will the less suspect your intentions, and the more easily be drawn by you to seek that which you seek. Oh, how much good might ministers do, if they did set themselves wholly to do good, and would dedicate all their faculties and substance to that end! Say not that it is a small matter to do good to men’s bodies, and that this will but win them to us, and not to God; for it is prejudice that is a great hindrance of men’s conversion, and this will help to remove it. We might do men more good, if they were but willing to learn of us; and this will make them willing, and then our further diligence may profit them. I beseech you, brethren, do not think that it is ordinary charity that is expected from you, any more than ordinary piety. You must, in proportion to your talents, go much beyond others. It is not enough to give a little to a poor man: others do that as well as you. But what singular thing do you do with your estates for your Master’s service? I know you cannot give away that which you have not; but methinks all that you have should be devoted to God. I know the great objection is, ‘We have a wife and children to provide for: a little will not serve them at present, and we are not bound to leave them beggars.’ To this I answer:
[a] There are few texts of Scripture more abused than that of the apostle, ‘He who provides not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ This is made a pretense for gathering up portions, and providing a full estate for posterity. Rather, the apostle speaks only against them that did cast their poor kindred and family on the Church, to be maintained out of the common stock, when they were able to do it themselves; as if one has a widow in his house that is his mother or daughter, and would have her to be kept by the parish when he has enough himself. The following words show that it is present provision, and not future portions, that the apostle speaks of, when he bids ‘them that have widows relieve them, and let not the church be charged, that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.’
[b] You may so educate your children as other persons do, that they may be able to gain their own livelihood by some honest trade or employment, without other great provisions. I know that your charity and care must begin at home, but it must not end there. You are bound to do the best you can to educate your children, so as they may be capable of being most serviceable to God, but not to leave them rich, nor to forbear other necessary works of charity, merely to make a larger provision for them. There must be some proportion between the provision we make for our families, and for the Church of Christ. A truly charitable self–denying heart, that has devoted itself and all that it has to God, would be the best judge of the due proportions, and would see which way of expense is likely to do God the greatest service, and that way it would take.
[c] I confess I would not have men lie too long under temptations to incontinency, lest they wound themselves and their profession by their falls. But yet methinks it is hard that men can do no more to mortify the concupiscence of the flesh, that they may live in a single condition, and have none of those temptations from wife and children, to hinder them from furthering their ministerial ends by charitable works. If he who marries not does better than he who does marry, surely ministers should labor to do that which is best. And if he who can ‘receive this saying,’ must receive it, we should endeavor after it (I Cor. 7:38). This is one of the highest points of the Romish policy, which alleges that it is the duty of bishops, priests, and other religious orders, not to marry, by which means they have no posterity to drain the church’s revenues, nor to take up their care. But they make the public cause to be their interest, and they lay out themselves for it while they live, and leave all they have to it when they die (I Tim. 4:3). It is a pity that for a better cause we can no more imitate them in self–denial, where it might be done.
[d] But those who must marry, should take such as can maintain themselves and their children, or maintain them at the rate which their temporal means will afford, and devote as much of the church’s means to the church’s service as they can.
I would put no man upon extremes. But in this case, flesh and blood does even make good men so partial, that they take their duties, and duties of very great worth and weight, to be extremes. If worldly vanities did not blind us, we might see when a public, or other greater good, did call us to deny ourselves and our families. Why should we not live more nearly and poorer in the world, rather than leave those works undone, which may be of greater use than our plentiful provision? But we consult in points of duty with flesh ant blood; and what counsel it will give us, we may easily know. It will tell us we must have a competency; and many pious men’s competency is but little below the rich man’s rates in the parable (Luke 16:19). If they be not clothed in the best, and ‘fare sumptuously every day,’ they have not a competency. A man that preaches an immortal crown, should not seek much after transitory vanity. And he who preaches the contempt of riches should himself condemn them and show it by his life. And he who preaches self–denial and mortification should practice these virtues in the eyes of them to whom he preaches, if he would have his doctrine believed. All Christians are sanctified; and, therefore, themselves, and all that they have, are consecrated ‘to the Master’s use (2 Tim. 2:21).’ But ministers are doubly sanctified: they are devoted to God, both as Christians and as ministers; and, therefore, they are doubly obligated to honor him with all they have.
Oh, brethren, what abundance of good works are before us, and to how few of them do we put our hands! I know the world expects more from us than we have; but if we cannot answer the expectations of the unreasonable, let us do what we can to answer the expectations of God, and of conscience, and of all just men. ‘This is the will of God, that with well doing we should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (I Peter 2:15).’
Those ministers, especially, that have larger incomes must be larger in doing good. I will give but one instance at this time. There are some ministers who have a hundred and fifty, two hundred, or three hundred pounds a year of salary, and have so large parishes that they are not able to do a quarter of the ministerial work, nor once in a year to deal personally with half their people for their instruction. Yet they will content themselves with public preaching, as if that were all that was necessary, and leave almost all the rest undone, to the everlasting danger or damnation of multitudes, rather than maintain one or two diligent men to assist them. Or if they have an assistant, it is but some young man who is but poorly qualified for the work, and not one that will faithfully and diligently watch over the flock, and afford them that personal instruction which is so necessary. If this be not serving ourselves of God, and selling men’s souls for our fuller maintenance in the world, what is? Methinks such men should fear, lest, while they are accounted excellent preachers and godly ministers by men, they should be accounted cruel soul–murderers by Christ; and lest the cries of those souls which they have betrayed to damnation, should ring in their ears forever and ever. Will preaching a good sermon serve the turn, while you never look more after them, but deny them that closer help that is necessary, and alienate that maintenance to your own flesh, which should provide relief for so many souls? How can you open your mouths against oppressors, when you yourselves are so great oppressors, not only of men’s bodies, but of their souls? How can you preach against unmercifulness, while you are so unmerciful? And how can you talk against unfaithful ministers, while you are so unfaithful yourselves? The sin is not small because it is unobserved, and is not odious in the eyes of men, or because the charity which you withhold is such as the people blame you not for withholding. Satan himself, their greatest enemy, has their consent all along in the work of their perdition. It is no extenuation, therefore, of your sin, that you have their consent: for that you may sooner have for their everlasting hurt, than for their everlasting good.
And now, sirs, I beseech you to take what has been said into consideration. See whether this be not the great and lamentable sin of the ministers of the gospel, that they be not fully devoted to God, and give not up themselves, and all that they have, to the carrying on of the blessed work which they have undertaken? See whether flesh–pleasing and self–seeking, and an interest distinct from that of Christ, do not make us neglect much of our duty, and serve Got in the cheapest and most applauded part of his work, and withdraw from that which would subject us to cost and sufferings? And see whether this do not show that too many of us are earthly that seem to be heavenly, and mind the things below, while they preach the things above, and idolize the world while they call men to condemn it? And as Salvian says, ‘No one neglects salvation more than he who prefers something above God.’ Despisers of God will prove despisers of their own salvation.
4. We are sadly guilty of undervaluing the unity and peace of the whole Church. Though I scarcely meet with any one who will not speak for unity and peace, or, at least, that will expressly speak against it, yet is it not common to meet with those who are studious to promote it. But too commonly do we find men averse to it, and jealous of it, if not themselves the instruments of division. The Papists have so long abused the name of the catholic Church, that, in opposition to them, many either put it out of their creeds, or only retain the name while they understand not, or consider not the nature of the thing. Or they think it is enough to believe that there is such a body, though they behave not themselves as members of it. If the Papists will idolize the Church, shall we therefore deny it, disregard it, or divide it? It is a great and a common sin throughout the Christian world, to take up religion in a way of faction; and instead of a love and tender care of the universal Church, to confine that love and respect to a party. Not but that we must prefer, in our estimation and communion, the purer parts before the impure, and refuse to participate with any in their sins; yet the most infirm and diseased part should be compassionated and assisted to the utmost of our power. And communion must be held as far as is lawful, and nowhere avoided, but upon the urgency of necessity; as we must love those of our neighborhood that have the plague or leprosy, and afford them all the relief we can. We acknowledge all our just relations to them, and communicate to them, though we may not have local communion with them; and in other diseases which are not so infectious, we may be the more with them for their help, by how much the more they need it.
Of the multitude that say they are of the catholic Church, it is rare to meet with men of a catholic spirit. Men have not a universal consideration of, and respect to, the whole Church, but look upon their own party as if it were the whole. If there be some called Lutherans, some Calvinists, some subordinate divisions among these, and so of other parties among us, most of them will pray hard for the prosperity of their party, and rejoice and give thanks when it goes well with them. But if any other party suffer, they little regard it, as if it were no loss at all to the Church. If it be the smallest parcel that possesses not many nations, no, nor cities on earth, they are ready to carry it, as if they were the whole Church, and as if it went well with the Church when it goes well with them. We cry down the Pope as Antichrist, for including the Church in the Romish pale, and no doubt but it is abominable schism: but, alas, how many do imitate them too far, while they reprove them! And as the Papists foist the word Roman into their creed, and turn the catholic Church into the Roman Catholic church, as if there were no other Catholics, and the Church were of no larger extent, so is it with many others as to their several parties. Some will have it to be the Lutheran catholic church, and some the Reformed catholic church; some the Anabaptist catholic church, and so of some others. And if they differ not among themselves, they are little troubled at differing from others, though it be from almost all the Christian world. The peace of their party they take for the peace of the Church. No wonder, therefore, if they carry it no further.
How rare is it to meet with a man that smarts or bleeds with the Church’s wounds, or sensibly takes them to heart as his own, or that ever had solicitous thoughts of a curer. No; but almost every party thinks that the happiness of the rest consists in turning to them. And because they be not of their mind, they cry, Down with them! and are glad to hear of their fall, as thinking that is the way to the Church’s rising, that is, their own. How few are there who understand the true state of controversies between the several parties; or that ever well discerned how many of them are but verbal, and how many are real! And if those that understand it do, in order to right information and accommodation, disclose it to others, it is taken as an extenuation of their error, and as a carnal compliance with them in their sin. Few men grow zealous for peace until they grow old, or have much experience of men’s spirits ant principles; and see better the true state of the Church, and the several differences, than they did before. And then they begin to write their Irenicons, and many such are extant at this day. As a young man in the heat of his lust and passion was judged to be no fit auditor of moral philosophy, so we find that those same young men who may be zealous for peace and unity, when they are grown more experienced, are zealous for their factions against these in their youthful heat. And therefore, such peacemakers as these before–mentioned do seldom do much greater good than to quiet their own consciences in the discharge of so great a duty; and to moderate some few, and save them from further guilt; and to leave behind them, when they are dead, a witness against a willful, self–conceited, unpeaceable world.
No, commonly it brings a man under suspicion either of favoring some heresy or abating his zeal, if he do but attempt a pacificatory work. As if there were no zeal necessary for the great fundamental verities of the Church’s unity and peace, but only for parties, and some particular truths.
And a great advantage the devil has got this way, by employing his own agents, the unhappy Socinians, in writing so many treatises for catholic and arch–catholic unity and peace, which they did for their own ends. By which means the enemy of peace has brought it to pass, that whoever makes motion for peace, is presently under suspicion of being one that has need of it for an indulgence to his own errors. A fearful case, that heresy should be credited, as if none were such friends to unity and peace as they; and that so great and necessary a duty, upon which the Church’s welfare does so depend, should be brought into such suspicion or disgrace.
Brethren, I speak not all this without apparent reason. We have as sad divisions among us in England, considering the piety of the persons, and the smallness of the matter of our discord, as most nations under heaven have known. The most that keeps us at odds is but the right form and order of Church government. Is the distance so great, that Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Independent might not be well agreed? Were they but heartily willing and forward for peace, they might. I know they might. I have spoken with some moderate men of all the parties, and I perceive, by their concessions, it were an easy work. Were men’s hearts but sensible of the Church’s case, and unfeignedly touched with love to one another, and did they but heartily set themselves to seek it, the settling of a safe and happy peace were an easy work. If we could not in every point agree, we might easily narrow our differences, and hold communion upon our agreement in the main, determining on the safest way for managing our few and small disagreements, without the danger or trouble of the Church. But is this much done? It is not done. To the shame of all our faces be it spoken, it is not done. Let each party flatter themselves now as they please, it will be recorded to the shame of the ministry of England while the gospel shall abide in the world.
And oh what heinous aggravations do accompany this sin! Never men, since the apostles’ days, I think, did make greater profession of godliness. The most of them are bound by solemn oaths and covenants, for unity and reformation. They all confess the worth of peace, and most of them will preach for it, and talk for it, while yet they sit still and neglect it, as if it were not worth the looking after. They will read and preach on those texts that command us to ‘follow peace with all men,’ and ‘as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with them (Heb. 12:14, Rom. 12:18).’ Yet they are so far from following it, and doing all they possibly can for it, that many snarl at it, and malign and censure any that endeavor to promote it. They act as if all zeal for peace did proceed from an abatement of our zeal for holiness, and as if holiness and peace were so fallen out, that there were no reconciling them. Yet it has been found, by long experience, that concord is a sure friend to piety, and piety always moves to concord; while, on the other hand, errors and heresies are bred by discord, as discord is bred and fed by them. We have seen, to our sorrow, that where the servants of God should have lived together as one—of one heart, and one soul, and one lip—and should have promoted each other’s faith and holiness, and admonished and assisted each other against sin, and rejoiced together in the hope of future glory, we have, on the contrary, lived in mutual jealousies. We have drowned holy love in bitter contentions, and studied to disgrace and undermine one another, and to increase our own parties by right or wrong. We, that were used to glory of our love to the brethren as a mark of our sincerity in the faith, have now turned it into the love of a party only; and those that are against that party have more of our spleen and envy and malice, than our love. I know this is not so with all, nor prevalently with any true believer, yet it is so common that it may cause us to question the sincerity of many that are thought by themselves and others to be most sincere.
And it is not ourselves only that are scorched in this flame, but we have drawn our people into it, and cherished them in it, so that most of the godly in the nation are fallen into parties, and have turned much of their ancient piety into vain opinions and disputes and envyings and animosities. Yes, whereas it was used to be made the certain mark of a graceless wretch to deride the godly, how few are there now that stick at secretly deriding and slandering those that are not of their opinions! A pious Prelatical man can reverently scorn and slander a Presbyterian; and a Presbyterian an Independent; and an Independent both. And, what is the worst of all, the common ignorant people take notice of all this, and do not only deride us, but are hardened by us against religion. And when we go about to persuade them to be religious, they see so many parties, that they know not which to join; and think that it is as good to be of none at all, as of any, since they are uncertain which is the right. Thus thousands are grown into a contempt of all religion, by our divisions; and many poor carnal wretches begin to think themselves in the better case of the two, because they hold to their old formalities, when we hold to nothing.
I know that some of these men are learned and reverend, and intend not such mischievous ends as these. The hardening of men in ignorance is not their design. But this is the thing effected. To intend well in doing ill is no rarity. Who can, in reverence to any man on earth, sit still and hold his tongue, while he sees people thus run to their own destruction, and the souls of men undone by the contentions of divines for their several parties and interests? The Lord that knows my heart, knows (if I know it myself) that as I am not of any one of these parties, so I speak not a word of this in a factious partiality for one party, or against another, as such, much less in spleen against any person. But if I dare in conscience, I would have silenced all this, for fear of giving them offence whom I must honor. But what am I but a servant of Christ? And what is my life worth, but to do him service? And whose favor can recompense me for the ruin of the Church? And who can be silent while souls are undone? Not I, for my part, while God is my Master, and his Word my rule; his work my business; and the success of it, for the saving of souls, my end. Who can be reconciled to that which so lamentably crosses his Master’s interest, and his main end in life? Nor yet would I have spoken any of this, had it been only in respect to my own charge, where, I bless God, the sore is but small, in comparison of what it is in many other places. But the knowledge of some neighboring congregations, and of others more remote, has drawn out these observations from me.
We may talk of peace, indeed, as long as we live, but we shall never obtain it but by returning to the apostolical simplicity. The Papists’ faith is too big for all men to agree upon, or even all their own, if they enforced it not with arguments drawn from the fire, the halter, and the strappado. And many anti–Papists do too much imitate them in the tedious length of their subscribed confessions, and the novelty of their impositions, when they go furthest from them in the quality of the things imposed. When we once return to the ancient simplicity of faith, then, and not until then, shall we return to the ancient love and peace. I would therefore recommend to all my brethren, as the most necessary thing to the Church’s peace, that they unite in necessary truths, and bear with one another in things that may be borne with; and do not make a larger creed, and more necessaries, than God has done. To this end, let me entreat you to attend to the following things:
(1) Lay not too great a stress upon controverted opinions, which have godly men, and, especially, whole churches, on both sides.
(2) Lay not too great a stress on those controversies that are ultimately resolvable into philosophical uncertainties, as are some unprofitable controversies about freewill, the manner of the Spirit’s operations and the Divine decrees.
(3) Lay not too great a stress on those controversies that are merely verbal, and which if they were anatomized, would appear to be no more. Of this sort are far more (I speak it confidently upon certain knowledge) that make a great noise in the world, and tear the Church, than almost any of the eager contenders that ever I spoke with do seem to discern, or are like to believe.
(4) Lay not too much stress on any point of faith which was disowned by or unknown to the whole Church of Christ, in any age, since the Scriptures were delivered to us.
(5) Much less should you lay great stress on those of which any of the more pure or judicious ages were wholly ignorant.
(6) And least of all should you lay much stress on any point which no one age since the apostles did ever receive, but all commonly held the contrary.
I know it is said that a man may subscribe the Scripture, and the ancient creeds, and yet maintain Socinianism, or other heresies. To which I answer: So he may be put to another test which your own brains shall contrive. And while you make a snare to catch heretics, instead of a test for the Church’s communion, you will miss your end. And the heretic, by the slipperiness of his conscience, will break through, and the tender Christian may possibly be ensnared. And by your new creed the Church is like to have new divisions, if you keep not close to the words of Scripture.
He who shall live to that happy time when God will heal his broken churches, will see all this that I am pleading for reduced to practice, and this moderation take place of the new–dividing zeal, and the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture established. All men’s confessions and comments will be valued only as subservient helps, and not made the test of Church communion, any further than they are the same with Scripture. Until, however, the healing age come, we cannot expect that healing truths will be entertained, because there are not healing spirits in the leaders of the Church. But when the work is to be done, the workmen will be fitted for it; and blessed will be the agents of so glorious a work.
5. Lastly, We are sadly negligent in performing acknowledged duties; for example, church discipline. If there be any work of reformation to be set afoot, how many are there that will go no further than they are drawn! It were well if all would do even that much. And when a work is like to prove difficult and costly, how backward are we to it, and how many excuses do we make for the omission of it! What has been more talked of, and prayed for, and contended about in England, for many years past, than discipline? There are, in fact, but few men who do not seem zealous in disputing for one side or other; some for the Prelatical way, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Congregational. And yet, when we come to the practice of it, for anything I see, we are quite agreed: most of us are for no way. It has made me wonder, sometimes, to look on the face of England, and see how few congregations in the land have any considerable execution of discipline. And to think withal what volumes have been written for it, and how almost all the ministry of the nation are engaged for it. How zealously they have contended for it, and made many a just exclamation against the opposers of it. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they will do little or nothing in the exercise of it. I have marveled what should make them so zealous in siding for that which their practice shows their hearts are against. But I see a disputing zeal is more natural than a holy, obedient, practicing zeal.
How many ministers are there in England that know not their own charge, and cannot tell who are the members of it. How many never cast out one obstinate sinner, nor brought one to public confession and promise of reformation, nor even admonished one publicly to call him to such repentance! But they think they do their duty, if they give them not the sacrament of the Lord’s supper (when it is perhaps avoided voluntarily by the persons themselves). In the mean time, we leave them stated members of our churches (for church membership does not consist merely in partaking of the Lord’s supper, else what are children who have been baptized in their infancy?), and grant them all other communion with the Church, and call them not to personal repentance for their sin. Is it not God’s ordinance that they should be personally rebuked and admonished, and publicly called to repentance, and be cast out if they remain impenitent? If these be no duties, why have we made such a noise and stir in the world about them? If they be duties, why do we not practice them? Many of them avoid the very hearing of the Word. The ancient discipline of the Church was stricter, when the Sixth General Council at Trulli ordained that ‘Whoever was three days together from church, without urgent necessity, was to be excommunicated.’
Brethren, I desire not to offend any party, but I must needs say that these sins are not to be cloaked over with excuses, extenuations, or denials. We have long cried up discipline, and every party its particular way. Would you have people value your form of government, or would you not? No doubt but you would. Now, if you would have them value it, it must be for some excellency. Show them then that excellency. What is it? Wherein does it consist? And if you would have them believe you, show it to them, not merely on paper, but in practice; not simply in words, but in deeds. How can the people know the worth of discipline, without the thing? Is it a name and a shadow that you have made all this noise about? How can they think that to be good, which does no good? Truly, I fear we take not the right way to maintain our cause; that we even betray it, while we are hot disputers for it. Speak truly: is it not these two things that keep up the reputation of the long–contended–for discipline among men; namely, with the godly, the mere reputation of their ministers that stand for it, and with many of the ungodly, the non–execution of it, because they find it to be toothless, and not so troublesome to them as they expected? If once our Government come to be upholder by the votes of those who should be corrected or ejected by it, and the worst men be friends to it because it is a friend to them in their ungodliness, we shall then engage the Lord against it, and he will appear as engaged against us. Set all the execution of discipline together that has been practiced in a whole county, ever since it was so contended for, and I doubt it will not appear so observable as to draw godly people into a liking of it for its effects. How can you wonder, if many that desire deeds and not words, reformation, and not merely the name of reformation, do turn over to the separated congregations, when you show them nothing but the bare name of discipline in yours?
All Christians value God’s ordinances, and think them not vain things; and, therefore, are unwilling to live without them. Discipline is not a needless thing to the Church: if you will not make a difference between the precious and the vile, by discipline, people will do it by separation. If you will keep many scores or hundreds in your churches that are notoriously ignorant and utterly destitute of religion, and never publicly (nor, perhaps, privately) reprove them, nor call them to repentance, nor cast them out, you need not marvel if some timorous souls should run out of your churches, as from a ruinous edifice, which they fear is ready to fall upon their heads. Consider, I pray you, if you should act in the same manner with them as to the sacrament as you do as to discipline, and should only show them the bread and wine, and never let them taste of these memorials of their Redeemer’s love. Could you expect that the name of a sacrament would satisfy them, or that they would like your communion? Why should you then think that they will be satisfied with the empty sound of the word church–government?
Besides, consider what a disadvantage you cast upon your cause, in all your disputations with men of different views. If your principles be better than theirs, and their practice be better than yours, the people will suppose that the question is whether the name or the thing, the shadow or the substance, be more desirable. They will take your way to be a mere delusive formality, because they see you but formal in the use of it, yes, that you use it not at all. In what I now say, I speak not against your form of government, but for it; and tell you, that it is you who are against it that seem so earnest for it, while you more disgrace it for want of exercise, than you credit it by all your arguments. And you will find, before you have done, that the faithful execution of it would be your strongest argument. Until then, the people will understand you, as if you openly proclaimed, We would have no public admonitions, confessions, or excommunications; our way is to do no good, but to set up the naked name of a government.
I desire not to spur on any one to an unseasonable performance of this great duty. But will it never be a fit season? Would you forbear sermons and sacraments so many years on presence of unreasonableness? Will you have a better season for it when you are dead? How many are dead already, before they ever did anything in this important work, though they were long preparing for it! I know some have more discouragements and hindrances than others; but what discouragements and hindrances can excuse us from such a duty? Besides the reasons which we have already stated, let these few be seriously considered:
(1) How sad a sign do we make it to be in preaching to our people, to live in the willful and continued omission of any known duty! And shall we do so year after year, no, all our days? If excuses will take off the danger of this sign, what man will not find them as well as you?
(2) We plainly manifest laziness and sloth, if not unfaithfulness in the work of Christ. I speak from experience. It was laziness that kept me so long from this duty, and pleaded hard against it. It is indeed a troublesome and painful work, and such as calls for some self–denial, because it will bring upon us the displeasure of the wicked. But dare we prefer our carnal ease and quietness, or the love and peace of wicked men, before our service to Christ our Master? Can slothful servants expect a good reward? Remember, brethren, that we of this county have thus promised before God, in the second article of our agreement: ‘We agree and resolve, by God’s help, that so far as God does make known our duty to US, we will faithfully endeavor to discharge it, and will not desist through any fears or losses in our estates, or the frowns and displeasure of men, or any the like carnal inducements whatever.’ I pray you study this promise, and compare your performance with it. And do not think that you were ensnared by thus engaging; for God’s law has laid an obligation on you to the very same duty, before your engagement did it. Here is nothing but what others are bound to, as well as you.
(3) The neglect of discipline has a strong tendency to delude immortal souls, by making those think they are Christians that are not, while they are permitted to live with the character of such, and are not separated from the rest by God’s ordinance. Also, it may make the scandalous think their sin a tolerable thing, which is so tolerated by the pastors of the church.
(4) We corrupt Christianity itself in the eyes of the world, and do our part to make them believe that Christ is no more for holiness than Satan, or that the Christian religion exacts holiness no more than the false religions of the world. For if the holy and unholy are all permitted to be sheep of the same fold, without any means being used to separate them, we defame the Redeemer, as if he were guilty of it, and as if this were the nature of his precepts.
(5) We keep up separation by permitting the worst to be uncensored in our churches, so that many honest Christians think they are obliged to withdraw from us. I have spoken with some members of the separated churches, who were moderate men, and have argued with them against separation. They have assured me that they were of the Presbyterian judgment, or had nothing to say against it, but they joined themselves to other churches from pure necessity, thinking that discipline, being an ordinance of Christ, must be used by all that can. Therefore, they dare no longer live without it when they might have it; and they could find no Presbyterian churches that executed discipline, as they wrote for it. And they told me that they separated only pro tempore, until the Presbyterians will use discipline, and then they will willingly return to them again. I confess I was sorry that such persons had any such occasion to withdraw from us. It is not keeping offenders from the sacrament that will excuse us from the further exercise of discipline, while they are members of our churches.
(6) We do much to bring the wrath of God upon ourselves and our congregations, and so to blast the fruit of our labors. If the angel of the church of Thyatira was reproved for suffering seducers in the church (Rev. 2:20), we may be reproved, on the same ground, for suffering open, scandalous, impenitent sinners.
And what are the hindrances that now keep the ministers of England from the execution of that discipline, for which they have so much contended? The great reason, as far as I can learn, is, ‘The difficulty of the work, and the trouble or suffering that we are like to incur by it. We cannot publicly reprehend one sinner, but he will storm at it, and bear us a deadly malice. We can prevail with very few to make a public profession of true repentance. If we proceed to excommunicate them, they will be raging mad against us. If we should deal as God requires us, with all the obstinate sinners in the parish, there would be no living among them. We should be so hated of all, that, as our lives would be uncomfortable, so our labors would become unprofitable; for men would not hear us when they are possessed with a hatred of us. Therefore duty ceases to be duty to us, because the hurt that would follow would be greater than the good.’
These are the great reasons for the non–execution of discipline, together with the great labor that private admonition of each offender would cost us. Now, to all this I answer:
[a] Are not these reasons as valid against Christianity itself, especially in some times and places, as they are against discipline? Christ came not to send peace on earth (Mt. 10:34). We shall have his peace, but not the world’s; for he has told us that it will hate us (Jn. 15:18). Might not Bradford, or Hooper, or any that were burned in Queen Mary’s days, have alleged more than all this against the duty of owning the Reformation? Might they not have said, ‘It will make us hated, and it will expose our very lives to the flames?’ He is concluded by Christ to be no Christian, who hates not all that he has, and his own life, for him; and yet we can take the hazard of worldly loss as a reason against his work! What is it but hypocrisy to shrink from sufferings, and to take up none but safe and easy works, and make ourselves believe that the rest are no duties? Indeed this is the common way of escaping suffering, to neglect the duty that would expose us to it. If we did our duty faithfully, ministers would find the same lot among professed Christians as their predecessors have done among Pagans and other infidels. But if you cannot suffer for Christ, why did you put your hand to his plough? Why did you not first sit down and count the cost (Luke 9:62,14:28)? This makes the ministerial work so unfaithfully executed, because it is so carnally undertaken. Men enter upon it as a life of ease, and honor, and respectability, and they resolve to attain their ends, and have what they expected by right or wrong. They looked not for hatred and suffering, and they will avoid it, though by the avoiding of their work.
[b] As for the making yourselves incapable of doing them good, I answer, That reason is as valid against plain preaching, reproof, or any other duty which wicked men will hate us for. God will bless his own ordinances to do good, or else he would not have appointed them. If you publicly admonish and rebuke the scandalous, and call them to repentance, and cast out the obstinate, you may do good to many whom you reprove, and possibly to the excommunicated themselves. I am at least sure it is God’s means; and it is his last means when reproofs will do no good. It is therefore perverse to neglect the last means, lest we frustrate the foregoing means, when the last are not to be used but upon supposition that the former were all frustrated before. However, those within and those without may receive good by it, if the offender should receive none. And God will have the honor, when his Church is manifestly distinguished from the world, and the heirs of heaven and hell are not totally confounded, nor the world made to think that Christ and Satan do but contend for superiority, and that they have the like inclination to holiness or to sin.
[c] But yet let me tell you, that there are not such difficulties in the way, nor is discipline such a useless thing as you imagine. I bless God upon the small and too late trial which I have made of it myself. I can speak by experience, that it is not in vain; nor are the hazards of it such as may excuse our neglect.
I confess, if I had my will, that man should be ejected as a negligent pastor that will not rule his people by discipline, as well as he is ejected as a negligent preacher that will not preach. For ruling I am sure is as essential a part of the pastor’s office as preaching.
I shall proceed no further in these confessions. And now, brethren, what remains, but that we all cry guilty of these fore–mentioned sins, and humble our souls for our miscarriages before the Lord? Is this ‘taking heed to ourselves and to all the flock (Acts 20:28)’? Is this like the pattern that is given us in the text? If we should now prove stout–hearted and unhumbled, how sad a symptom would it be to ourselves, and to the Church! The ministry has often been threatened and maligned by many sorts of adversaries; and though this may show their impious malice, yet may it also intimate to us God’s just indignation. Believe it, brethren, the ministry of England are not the least nor the last in the sins of the land. It is time, therefore, for us to take our part of that humiliation to which we have been so long calling our people. If we have our wits about us, we may perceive that God has been offended with us, and that the voice that called this nation to repentance, did speak to us as well others. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ the precepts of repentance proclaimed in so many admirable deliverances and preservations (Rev. 2:7). He who has eyes to see, let him see them written in so many lines of blood. By fire and sword has God been calling us to humiliation; and as ‘judgment has begun at the house of God (I Peter 4:17),’ so, if humiliation begin not there too, it will be a sad prognostication to us and to the land.
What! Shall we deny or extenuate our sins while we call our people to free and full confession? Is it not better to give glory to God by humble confession, than, in tenderness to ourselves, to seek for fig leaves to cover our nakedness? Is it not better to put God to it to build his glory, which we denied him, upon the ruins of our own, which we preferred before him; and to distrain for that by yet sorer judgments which we refused voluntarily to surrender to him? Alas, if you put God to get his honor as he can, he may get it, to your everlasting sorrow and dishonor! Sins openly committed are more dishonorable to us when we hide them, than when we confess them. It is the sin, and not the confession, that is our dishonor. We have committed them before the sun, so that they cannot be hid; and attempts to cloak them do but increase our guilt and shame. There is no way to repair the breaches in our honor, which our sin has made, but by free confession and humiliation. I dare not but make confession of my own sins. And if any be offended that I have confessed theirs, let them know, that I do but what I have done by myself. And if they dare disown the confession of their sin, let them do it at their peril. But as for all the truly humble ministers of Christ, I doubt not but they will rather be provoked to lament their sins more solemnly in the face of their several congregations, and to promise reformation.
2. The Duty of Personal Catechizing and Instructing the Flock Particularly Recommended
Having disclosed and lamented our miscarriages and neglects, our duty for the future lies plain before us. God forbid that we should now go on in the sins which we have confessed, as carelessly as we did before. Leaving these things, therefore, I shall now proceed to exhort you to the faithful discharge of the great duty which you have undertaken; namely, personal catechizing and instructing every one in your parishes or congregations that will submit thereto.
First, I shall state to you some motives to persuade you to this duty.
Secondly, I shall answer some objections which may be made to this duty.
Lastly, I shall give you some directions for performing this duty.
Part I. Motives to This Duty
Agreeably to this plan, I shall proceed to state to you some motives to persuade you to this duty. The first reasons by which I shall persuade you to this duty, are taken from the benefits of it; the second, from its difficulty; and the third, from its necessity, and the many obligations that are upon us for the performance of it.
Motives from the Benefits of the Work
When I look before me, and consider what, through the blessing of God, this work, if well managed, is like to effect, it makes my heart leap for joy. Truly, brethren, you have begun a most blessed work, and such as your own consciences may rejoice in, and your parishes rejoice in, and the nation rejoice in, and the child that is yet unborn rejoice in. Yes, thousands and millions, for anything we know, may have cause to bless God for it, when we shall have finished our course. And though it is our business this day to humble ourselves for the neglect of it so long, as we have very great cause to do, yet the hopes of a blessed success are so great in me, that they are ready to turn it into a day of rejoicing.
I bless the Lord that I have lived to see such a day as this, and to be present at so solemn an engagement of so many servants of Christ to such a work. I bless the Lord, that has honored you of this county to be the beginners and awakeners of the nation to this duty. It is not a controverted point, as to which the exasperated minds of men might pick quarrels with us. Nor is it a new invention, as to which envy might charge you as innovators, or pride might scorn to follow, because you had led the way. No; it is a well–known duty. It is but the more diligent and effectual management of the ministerial work. It is not a new invention, but simply the restoration of the ancient ministerial work. And because it is so pregnant with advantages to the Church, I will enumerate some of the particular benefits which we may hope to result from it, that when you see the excellency of it, you may be the more set upon it, and the more loath, by any negligence or failing of yours, to frustrate or destroy it. For certainly he who has the true intentions of a minister of Christ will rejoice in the appearance of any further hope of attaining the ends of his ministry; and nothing will be more welcome to him than that which will further the very business of his life. That this work is calculated to accomplish this, I shall now show you more particularly.
1. It will be a most hopeful mean of the conversion of souls; for it unites those great things which most further such an end (2 Tim. 3:15).
(1) As to the matter of it: it is about the most necessary things, the principles or essentials of the Christian faith.
(2) As to the manner of it: it will be by private conference, when we may have an opportunity to set all home to the conscience and the heart.
The work of conversion consists of two parts: first, the informing of the judgment in the essential principles of religion; second, the change of the will by the efficacy of the truth. Now in this work we have the most excellent advantages for both. For the informing of their understandings, it must needs be an excellent help to have the sum of Christianity fixed in their memory. And though bare words, not understood, will make no change, yet, when the words are plain English, he who has the words is far more likely to understand the meaning and matter than another. For what have we by which to make known things which are themselves invisible, but words or other signs? Those, therefore, who deride all catechisms as unprofitable forms, may better deride themselves for talking and using the form of their own words to make known their minds to others. Why may not written words, which are constantly before their eyes, and in their memories, instruct them, as well as the transient words of a preacher? These ‘forms of sound words’ are, therefore, so far from being unprofitable, as some persons imagine, that they are of admirable use to all (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
Besides, we shall have the opportunity, by personal conference, to try how far they understand the catechism, and to explain it to them as we go along; and to insist on those particulars which the persons we speak to have most need to hear. These two conjoined—a form of sound words, with a plain explication—may do more than either of them could do alone.
Moreover, we shall have the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual’s particular necessity, and say to the sinner, ‘You are the man (2 Sam. 12:7),’ and plainly mention his particular case, and set home the truth with familiar importunity. If anything in the world is likely to do them good, it is this. They will understand a familiar speech, who understand not a sermon; and they will have far greater help for the application of it to themselves. Besides, you will hear their objections, and know where it is that Satan has most advantage of them, and so may be able to show them their errors, and confute their objections, and more effectually convince them. We can better bang them to the point, and urge them to discover their resolutions for the future, and to promise the use of means and reformation, than otherwise we could do. What more proof need we of this, than our own experience? I seldom deal with men purposely on this great business, in private, serious conference, but they go away with some seeming convictions, and promises of new obedience, if not some deeper remorse, and sense of their condition.
O brethren, what a blow may we give to the kingdom of darkness, by the faithful and skillful managing of this work! If, then, the saving of souls, of your neighbors’ souls, of many souls, from everlasting misery, be worth your labor, up and be doing! If you would be the fathers of many that are born again, and would ‘see of the travail of your souls (Isa. 53:10),’ and would be able to say at last, ‘Here am I, and the children whom you have given me’—up and ply this blessed work (Heb. 2:13)! If it would do your heart good to see your converts among the saints in glory, and praising the Lamb before the throne; if it would rejoice you to present them blameless and spotless to Christ, prosecute with diligence and ardor this singular opportunity that is offered you. If you are ministers of Christ indeed, you will long for the perfecting of his body, and the gathering in of his elect; and you will ‘travail as in birth’ until Christ be formed in the souls of your people (Eph. 4:12, Gal. 4:19). You will embrace such opportunities as your harvest–time affords, and as the sunshine days in a rainy harvest, in which it is unreasonable and inexcusable to be idle. If you have a spark of Christian compassion in you, it will surely seem worth your utmost labor to save so many ‘souls from death, and to cover’ so great a ‘multitude of sins (Jas. 5:19-20).’ If, then, you are indeed fellow–workers with Christ, set to his work, and neglect not the souls for whom he died. O remember, when you are talking with the unconverted, that now you have an opportunity to save a soul, and to rejoice the angels of heaven, and to rejoice Christ himself, to cast Satan out of a sinner, and to increase the family of God! And what is your ‘hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing’? Is it not your saved people ‘in the presence of Christ Jesus at his coming’? Yes, doubtless ‘they are your glory and your joy.’
2. It will essentially promote the orderly building up of those who are converted, and the establishment of them in the faith. It hazards our whole work, or at least much hinders it, if we do it not in the proper order. How can you build, if you first do not lay a good foundation? Or how can you set on the top–stone, while the middle parts are neglected? ‘Grace makes no leaps,’ any more than nature. The second order of Christian truths have such a dependence upon the first, that they can never be well learned until the first are learned. This makes many labor so much in vain; they are ‘ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7),’ because they would read before they learn to spell, or to know their letters. This makes so many fall away: they are shaken with every wind of temptation, because they were not well settled in the fundamental principles of religion. It is these fundamentals that must lead men to further truths; it is these they must build all upon; it is these that must actuate all their graces, and animate all their duties; it is these that must fortify them against temptations. He who knows not these, knows nothing; he who knows them well, does know so much as will make him happy; and he who knows them best, is the best and most understanding Christian. The most godly people, therefore, in your congregations, will find it worth their labor to learn the very words of a catechism. If, then, you would safely edify them, and firmly establish them, be diligent in this work.
3. It will make our public preaching better understood and regarded. When you have instructed them in the principles, they will the better understand all you say. They will perceive what you drive at, when they are once acquainted with the main points. This prepares their minds, and opens a way to their hearts; whereas, without this, you may lose the most of your labor, and the more pains you take in accurate preparation, the less good you may do. As you would not, therefore, lose your public labor, see that you be faithful in this private work.
4. By means of it, you will come to be familiar with your people, and may thereby win their affections. The want of this, with those who have very numerous congregations, is a great impediment to the success of our labors. By distance and unacquaintedness, abundance of mistakes between ministers and people are fomented. On the other hand, familiarity will tend to beget those affections which may open their ears to further instruction. Besides, when we are familiar with them, they will be encouraged to open their doubts to us and deal freely with us. But when a minister knows not his people, or is as strange to them as if he did not know them, it must be a great hindrance to his doing any good among them.
5. By means of it, we shall come to be better acquainted with each person’s spiritual state, and so the better know how to watch over them. We shall know better how to preach to them, and carry ourselves to them, when we know their temper, and their chief objections, and so what they have most need to hear. We shall know better wherein to be ‘jealous over them with a godly jealousy (2 Cor. 11:3),’ and what temptations to guard them most against. We shall know better how to lament for them, and to rejoice with them, and to pray for them. For as he who will pray rightly for himself must know his own wants, and the diseases of his own heart, so he that will pray rightly for others, should know theirs as far as possible.
6. By means of this trial and acquaintance with our people’s state we shall be much assisted in the admission of them to the sacraments. I doubt not a minister may require his people to come to him at any convenient season, to give an account of their faith and proficiency, and to receive instruction, and therefore he may do it as a preparation for the Lord’s supper. Yet because ministers have laid the stress of that examination upon the mere necessity of fitness for that ordinance, and not upon their common duty to see the state and proficiency of each member of their flock at all fit seasons, and upon the people’s duty to submit to the guidance and instruction of their pastors at all times, they have occasioned people ignorantly to quarrel with their examinations. Now, by this course we shall discover their fitness or unfitness, in a way that is unexceptionable, and in a way far more effectual than by some partial examination of them before they are admitted to the Lord’s table.
7. It will show men the true nature of the ministerial office, and awaken them to the better consideration of it, than is now usual. It is too common for men to think that the work of the ministry is nothing but to preach, and to baptize, and to administer the Lord’s supper, and to visit the sick. By this means the people will submit to no more; and too many ministers are such strangers to their own calling, that they will do no more. It has often grieved my heart to observe some eminent able preachers, how little they do for the saving of souls, save only in the pulpit; and to how little purpose much of their labor is, by this neglect. They have hundreds of people that they never spoke a word to personally for their salvation. If we may judge by their practice, they consider it not as their duty; and the principal thing that hardens men in this oversight is the common neglect of the private part of the work by others. There are so few that do much in it, and the omission has grown so common among pious, able men, that the disgrace of it is abated by their ability. A man may now be guilty of it without any particular notice or dishonor. Never does sin so reign in a church or state, as when it has gained reputation, or, at least, is no disgrace to the sinner, nor a matter of offence to beholders. But I make no doubt, through the mercy of God, that the restoring of the practice of personal oversight will convince many ministers that this is as truly their work as that which they now do. And it may awaken them to see that the ministry is another kind of business than too many excellent preachers take it to be.
Brethren, do but set yourselves closely to this work, and follow it diligently. Though you do it silently, without any words to them that are negligent, I am in hope that most of you who are present may live to see the day when the neglect of private personal oversight of all the flock shall be taken for a scandalous and odious omission, and shall be as disgraceful to them that are guilty of it, as preaching but once a day was heretofore. A schoolmaster must take a personal account of his scholars, or else he is like to do little good. If physicians should only read a public lecture on physic, their patients would not be much the better of them; nor would a lawyer secure your estate by reading a lecture on law. Now, the charge of a pastor requires personal dealing, as well as any of these. Let us show the world this by our practice; for most men are grown regardless of bare words.
The truth is, we have been led to wrong the Church exceedingly in this respect, by the contrary extreme of the Papists, who bring all their people to auricular confession. In overthrowing this error of theirs, we have run into the opposite extreme, and have led our people much further into it than we have gone ourselves. It troubled me much to read, in an orthodox historian, that licentiousness, and a desire to be from under the strict inquiries of the priests in confession, did much further the entertainment of the reformed religion in Germany. And yet it is like enough to be true, that they who were against reformation in other respects, might, on this account, join with better men in crying down the Romish clergy. I have no doubt that the Popish auricular confession is a sinful novelty, which the ancient Church was unacquainted with. But perhaps some will think it strange I should say that our common neglect of personal instruction is much worse, if we consider their confessions in themselves, and not as they respect their linked doctrines of satisfaction and purgatory. If any among us should be guilty of so gross a mistake, as to think that, when he has preached, he has done all his work, let us show him, by our practice of the rest, that there is much more to be done. ‘Taking heed to all the flock’ is another business than careless, lazy ministers imagine (Acts 20:28). If a man have an apprehension that duty, and the chief duty, is no duty, he is like to neglect it, and to be impenitent in the neglect.
8. It will help our people better to understand the nature of their duty toward their overseers, and, consequently, to discharge it better. This, indeed, were a matter of no consequence, if it were only for our sakes; but their own salvation is much concerned in it. I am convinced, by sad experience, that it is none of the least impediments to their salvation, and to a true reformation of the Church, that the people understand not what the work of a minister is, and what is their own duty towards him. They commonly think that a minister has no more to do with them, but to preach to them, and administer the sacraments to them, and visit them in sickness; and that, if they hear him, and receive the sacraments from him, they owe him no further obedience, nor can he require any more at their hands. Little do they know that the minister is in the church, as the schoolmaster in his school, to teach, and take an account of every one in particular; and that all Christians, ordinarily, must be disciples or scholars in some such school. They do not think that a minister is in the church, as a physician in a town, for all people to resort to, for personal advice for the curing of all their diseases; and that ‘your priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and the people should ask the law at his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts (Mal. 2:7).’ They consider not that all souls in the congregation are bound, for their own safety, to have personal recourse to him for the resolving of their doubts, for help against their sins, for direction in duty, and for increase of knowledge and all saving grace—that ministers are purposely settled in congregations to this end, to be still ready to advise and help the flock.
If our people did but know their duty, they would readily come to us, when they are desired, to be instructed, and to give an account of their knowledge, faith, and life. They would come of their own accord, without being sent for; and knock oftener at our doors; and call for advice and help for their souls; and ask, ‘What shall we do to be saved (Acts 16:31)?’ Whereas now the matter is come to that sad pass that they think a minister has nothing to do with them. And if he admonish them, or if he call them to be catechized and instructed, or if he would take an account of their faith and profiting, they would ask him by what authority he does these things (Mt. 21:23)? They would think that he is a busy, pragmatical fellow, who loves to be meddling where he has nothing to do, or a proud fellow, who would bear rule over their consciences. They may as well ask by what authority he preaches, or prays, or gives them the sacrament? They consider not that all our authority is but for our work, even a power to do our duty; and that our work is for them, so that it is but an authority to do them good. They talk not more wisely than if they should quarrel with a man who would help to quench a fire in their houses, and ask him by what authority he does it? Or that would give money to relieve the poor, and they should ask him, By what authority do you require us to take this money? Or as if I offered my hand to one that is fallen, to help him up, or to one that is in the water, to save him from drowning, and he should ask me by what authority I do it? And what is it that has brought our people to this ignorance of their duty, but custom? It is we, brethren, to speak truly and plainly, who are to blame, that have not accustomed them and ourselves to any more than common public work. We see how much custom does with the people. Where it is the custom, as among the Papists, they hesitate not to confess all their sins to the priest; but, among us, they disdain to be catechized or instructed, because it is not the custom. They wonder at it, as a strange thing, and say, Such things were never done before. And if we can but prevail to make this duty as common as other duties, they will much more easily submit to it than now. What a happy thing would it be if you might live to see the day that it should be as ordinary for people of all ages to come in course to their ministers for personal advice and help for their salvation, as it is now usual for them to come to the church to hear a sermon, or receive the sacrament! Our diligence in this work is the way to bring this about.
9. It will give the governors of the nation more correct views about the nature and burden of the ministry, and so may procure from them further assistance. It is a lamentable impediment to the reformation of the Church, and the saving of souls, that, in most populous towns, there are but one or two men to oversee many thousand souls, and so there are not laborers in any degree equal to the work. It becomes an impossible thing for them to do any considerable measure of that personal duty which should be done by faithful pastors to all the flock. I have often said it, and still must say it, that this is a great part of England’s misery, that a great degree of spiritual famine reigns in most cities and large towns throughout the land, even where they are insensible of it, and think themselves well provided. Alas, we see multitudes of ignorant, carnal, sensual sinners around us—here a family, and there a family, and there almost a whole street or village of them—and our hearts pity them, and we see that their necessities cry loud for our speedy and diligent relief, so that ‘he who has ears to hear’ must needs hear (Rev. 2:7). Yet if we were never so gladly, we cannot help them: and that not merely through their obstinacy, but also through our want of opportunity. We have found by experience, that if we could but have leisure to speak to them, and to open plainly to them their sin and danger, there were great hopes of doing good to many of them, that receive time by our public teaching. But we cannot come at them—more necessary work prohibits us. We cannot do both at once, and our public work must be preferred because there we deal with many at once. And it is as much as we are able to do, to perform the public work, or some time more. And if we do take the time when we should eat or sleep (besides the ruining of weakened bodies by it), we shall not be able, after all, to speak to one of very many of them. So that we must stand by and see poor people perish, and can but be sorry for them, and cannot so much as speak to them to endeavor their recovery. Is not this a sad case in a nation that glories of the fullness of the gospel? An infidel will say, No. But, methinks, no man that believes in everlasting joy or torment should give such an answer.
I will give you the instance of my own case. We are together two ministers, and a third at a chapel, willing to spend every hour of our time in Christ’s work. Before we undertook this work, our hands were full, and now we are engaged to set apart two days every week, from morning to night, for private catechizing and instruction. Any man may see that we must leave undone all that other work that we were used to do at that time. Also, we are necessitated to run upon the public work of preaching with small preparation, and so must deliver the message of God so rawly and confusedly, and unanswerably to its dignity and the need of men’s souls, that it is a great trouble to our minds to consider it, and a greater trouble to us when we are doing it. And yet it must be so; there is no remedy. Unless we will omit this personal instruction, we must needs run thus unpreparedly into the pulpit. And to omit this we dare not—it is so great and necessary a work. And when we have incurred all the aforementioned inconveniences, and have set apart two whole days a week for this work, it will be as much as we shall be able to do, to go over the parish once in a year (being about 800 families). What is worse than that, we shall be forced to cut it short, and do it less effectually to those that we do it, having above fifteen families a week to deal with. And, alas, how small a matter is it to speak to men only once in a year, and that so cursorily as we must be forced to do, in comparison of what their necessities require. Yet are we in hope of some fruit of this much; but how much more might it be, if we could but speak to them once a quarter, and do the work more fully and deliberately, as you that are in smaller parishes may do. And many ministers in England have ten times the number of parishioners which I have, so that if they should undertake the work which we have undertaken, they can go over the parish but once in ten years. So that while we are hoping for opportunities to speak to them, we hear of one dying after another, and to the grief of our souls, are forced to go with them to their graves, before we could ever speak a word to them personally to prepare them for their change. And what is the cause of all this misery? Why, our rulers have not seen the necessity of any more than one or two ministers in such parishes; and so they have not allowed any maintenance to that end. Some have alienated much from the Church (the Lord humble all them that consented to it, lest it prove the consumption of the nation at last), while they have left this famine in the chief parts of the land. It is easy to separate from the multitude, and to gather distinct churches, and to let the rest sink or swim; and if they will not be saved by public preaching, to let them be damned. But whether this be the most charitable and Christian course, one would think should be no hard question.
But what is the matter that wise and godly rulers should be thus guilty of our misery, and that none of our cries will awaken them to compassion? What! Are they so ignorant as not to know these things? Or are they grown cruel to the souls of men? Or are they false–hearted to the interest of Christ, and have a design to undermine his kingdom? No, I hope it is none of these; but, for anything I can find, it is we who are to blame, even we, the ministers of the gospel, whom they should thus maintain. For those ministers that have small parishes, and might do all this private part of the work yet do it not, or at least few of them. And those in great towns and cities, that might do somewhat, though they cannot do all, will do just nothing but what accidentally falls in their way, or next to nothing, so that the magistrate is not awakened to the observance or consideration of the weight of our work. Or if they do apprehend the usefulness of it, yet if they see that ministers are so careless and lazy that they will not do it, they think it in vain to provide them a maintenance for it—it would be but to cherish idle drones. So they think that if they maintain ministers enough to preach in the pulpit, they have done their part. And thus are they involved in heinous sin, and we are the occasion of it. Whereas, if we do but all heartily set ourselves to this work, we would show the magistrate to his face that it is a most weighty and necessary part of our business. We would do it thoroughly if we could, and if there were hands enough, the work might go on. When he shall see the happy success of our labors, then, no doubt, if the fear of God be in them, and they have any love to his truth and men’s souls, they will set to their helping hand, and not let men perish because there is no man to speak to them to prevent it. They will one way or other raise maintenance in such populous places for laborers, proportioned to the number of souls, and greatness of the work. Let them but see us fall to the work, and behold it prosper in our hands; as, if it be well managed, there is no doubt it will, through God’s blessing. Then their hearts will be drawn out to the promoting of it, and, instead of laying parishes together to diminish the number of teachers, they will either divide them, or allow more teachers to a parish. But when they see that many carnal ministers do make a greater stir to have more maintenance to themselves, than to have more help in the work of God, they are tempted by such worldlings to wrong the Church, that particular ministers may have ease and fullness.
10. It will exceedingly facilitate the ministerial work in succeeding generations. Custom, as I said before, is the thing that sways much with the multitude, and they who first break a destructive custom must bear the brunt of their indignation. Now, somebody must do this. If we do it not, it will lie upon our successor; and how can we expect that they will be more hardy, and resolute, and faithful than we? It is we that have seen the heavy judgments of the Lord, and heard him pleading by fire and sword with the land. It is we that have been ourselves in the furnace, and should be the most refined. It is we that are most deeply obliged by oaths and covenants, by wonderful deliverances, experiences, and mercies of all sorts. And if we yet flinch and turn our backs, and prove false–hearted, why should we expect better from them, that have not been driven by such scourges as we, nor drawn by such cords? But, if they do prove better we, the same odium and opposition must befall those who we avoid, and that with some increase, because of our neglect; for the people will tell them that we, their predecessors did no such things. But if we would now break the ice for them that follow us, their souls will bless us, and our names will be dear to them, and they will feel the happy fruits of our labor every day of their ministry. Then the people shall willingly submit to their private instructions and examinations, yes, and to discipline too, because we have acquainted them with it, and removed the prejudice, and broken the evil custom which our predecessors had been the cause of. Thus we may do much to the saving of many thousand souls, in all ages to come, as well as in the present age in which we live.
11. It will much conduce to the better ordering of families, and the better spending of the Sabbath. When we have once got the masters of families to undertake that they will, every Lord’s day, examine their children and servants, and make them repeat some catechism and passages of Scripture, this will find them most profitable employment. Otherwise many of them would be idle or ill–employed. Many masters, who know little themselves, may yet be brought to do this for others, and in this way they may even teach themselves.
12. It will do good to many ministers, who are too apt to be idle, and to spend their time in unnecessary discourse, business, journeys, or recreations. It will let them see that they have no time to spare for such things; and thus, when they are engaged in so much pressing employment of so high a nature, it will be the best cure for all that idleness, and loss of time. Besides, it will cut off that scandal, which usually follows thereupon; for people are apt to say, Such a minister can spend his time at bowls, or other sports, or vain discourse; and why may not we do so as well as he? Let us all set diligently to this part of our work, and then see what time we can find to spare to live idly, or in a way of voluptuousness, or worldliness, if we can.
13. It will be productive of many personal benefits to ourselves. It will do much to subdue our own corruptions, and to exercise and increase our own graces. It will afford much peace to our consciences, and comfort us when our past lives come to be reviewed.
To be much in provoking others to repentance and heavenly–mindedness may do much to excite them in ourselves. To cry down the sin of others, and engage them against it, and direct them to overcome it, will do much to shame us out of our own; and conscience will scarcely suffer us to live in that which we make so much ado to draw others from (Mt. 7:3-5). Even our constant employment for God, and busying our minds and tongues against sin, and for Christ and holiness, will do much to overcome our fleshly inclinations, both by direct mortification, and by diversion, leaving our fancies no room nor time for their old employment. All the austerities of monks and hermits, who addict themselves to unprofitable solitude, and who think to save themselves by neglecting to show compassion to others, will not do near so much in the true work of mortification, as this fruitful diligence for Christ.
14. It will be some benefit, that by this means we shall take off ourselves and our people from vain controversies, and from expending our care and zeal on the lesser matters of religion, which least tend to their spiritual edification. While we are taken up in teaching, and they in reaming the fundamental truths of the gospel, we shall divert our minds and tongues, and have less room for lower things. So it will cure much wranglings and contentions between ministers and people. For we do that which we need not and should not, because we will not fall diligently to do that which we need and should.
15. And then for the extent of the aforesaid benefits: The design of this work is the reforming and saving of all the people in our several parishes, for we shall not leave out any man that will submit to be instructed. And though we can scarcely hope that every individual will be reformed and saved by it, yet have we reason to hope that as the attempt is universal, so the success will be more general and extensive than we have hitherto seen of our other labors. Sure I am, it is most like to the spirit, and precept, and offers of the gospel, which requires us to preach Christ to every creature, and promises life to every man, if he will accept it by believing. If God would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth (that is, as Rector and Benefactor of the world, he has manifested himself willing to save all men, if they be willing themselves, though his elect he will also make willing), then surely it beseems us to offer salvation unto all men, and to endeavor to bring them to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). And, if Christ ‘tasted death for every man,’ it is meet we should preach his death to every man (Heb. 2:9). This work has a more excellent design than our accidental conferences with now and then a particular person. And I have observed that in such occasional discourses men satisfy themselves with having spoken some good words, but seldom set plainly and closely home the matter, to convince men of sin and misery and mercy, as in this purposely appointed work we are more like to do.
16. It is like to be a work that will reach over the whole land, and not stop with us that have now engaged in it. For though it be at present neglected, I suppose the cause is the same with our brethren as it has been with us; namely, that inconsiderateness and laziness, which we are here bewailing this day, but especially, despair of the submission of the people to it. But when they shall be reminded of so clear and great a duty, and shall see the practicability of it, in a good measure, when it is done by common consent, they will, no doubt, universally take it up, and gladly concur with us in so blessed a work. For they are the servants of the same God, as sensible of the interests of Christ and as compassionate to men’s souls, as conscientious and self–denying and ready to do or suffer for such excellent ends, as we are. Seeing, therefore, they have the same spirit, rule, and Lord, I will not be so uncharitable as to doubt whether all that are godly throughout the land (or at least the generality of them) will gladly join with us. And oh, what a happy thing it will be to see such a general combination for Christ—to see all England so seriously called upon, and importuned for Christ, and set in so fair a way to heaven! Methinks the consideration of it should make our hearts rejoice within us, to see so many faithful servants of Christ all over the land addressing every particular sinner with such importunity, as men that will hardly take a denial. Methinks I even see all the godly ministers of England commencing the work already, and resolving to embrace the present opportunity, that unanimity may facilitate it.
17. Lastly, of so great weight and excellency is the duty which we are now recommending, that the chief part of Church reformation that is behind as to means consists in it; and it must be the chief means to answer the judgments, the mercies, the prayers, the promises, the cost, the endeavors, and the blood of the nation. Without this it will not be done. The ends of all these will never be well attained; a reformation to purpose will never be wrought; the Church will be still low; the interest of Christ will be much neglected; and God will still have a controversy with the land, and, above all, with the ministry that have been deepest in the guilt (Hos. 4:1).
How long have we talked of reformation, how much have we said and done for it in general, and how deeply and devoutly have we vowed it for our own parts. And, after all this, how shamefully have we neglected it, and neglect it to this day! We carry ourselves as if we had not known or considered what that reformation was which we vowed. Carnal men will take on them to be Christians, and profess with confidence that they believe in Christ, and accept of his salvation. They may contend for Christ and fight for him, and yet, for all this, will have none of him. They perish for refusing him, who little dreamed that ever they had been refusers of him; and all because they understood not what his salvation is, and how it is carried on. Instead they dream of a salvation without flesh–displeasing, and without self–denial and renouncing the world, and parting with their sins, and without any holiness, or any great pains and labor of their own in subserviency to Christ and the Spirit. In the same way did too many ministers and private men talk and write and pray and fight and long for reformation, and would little have believed that man who should have presumed to tell them, that, notwithstanding all this, their very hearts were against reformation—that they who were praying for it, and fasting for it, and wading through blood for it, would never accept it, but would themselves be the rejectors and destroyers of it. And yet so it is, and so it has too plainly proved. And whence is all this strange deceit of heart, that good men should no better know themselves? Why, the case is plain; they thought of a reformation to be given by God, but not of a reformation to be wrought on and by themselves. They considered the blessing, but never thought of the means of accomplishing it—as if they had expected that all things besides themselves should be mended without them. Perhaps the Holy Spirit should again descend miraculously, or every sermon should convert its thousands, or some angel from heaven or some Elijah should be sent to restore all things, or the law of the parliament, and the sword of the magistrate, would have converted or constrained all, and have done the deed. Little did they think of a reformation that must be wrought by their own diligence and unwearied labors, by earnest preaching and catechizing, and personal instructions, and taking heed to all the flock, whatever pains or reproaches it should cost them. They thought not that a thorough reformation would multiply their own work. But we had all of us too carnal thoughts, that when we had ungodly men at our mercy, all would be done, and conquering them was converting them, or such a means as would have frightened them to heaven. But the business is far otherwise, and had we then known how a reformation must be attained, perhaps some would have been colder in the prosecution of it. And yet I know that even foreseen labors seem small matters at a distance, while we do but hear and talk of them. But when we come nearer them, and must lay our hands to the work, and put on our armor, and charge through the thickest of opposing difficulties, then is the sincerity and the strength of men’s hearts brought to trial, and it will appear how they purposed and promised before.
Reformation is to many of us as the Messiah was to the Jews. Before he came, they looked and longed for him, and boasted of him, and rejoiced in hope of him. But when he came they could not abide him, but hated him, and would not believe that he was indeed the person, and therefore persecuted and put him to death, to the curse and confusion of the main body of their nation. ‘The Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears (Mal. 3:1-3)? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.’ And the reason was, because it was another manner of Christ that the Jews expected. It was one who would bring them riches and liberty, and to this day they profess that they will never believe in any but such. So it is with too many about reformation. They hoped for a reformation that would bring them more wealth and honor with the people, and power to force men to do what they would have them. And now they see a reformation that must put them to more condescension and pains than they were ever at before. They thought of having the opposers of godliness under their feet, but now they see they must go to them with humble entreaties, and put their hands under their feet, if they would do them good. They must meekly beseech even those that sometime sought their lives, and make it now their daily business to overcome them by kindness, and win them with love. O how many carnal expectations are here crossed!
Motives from the Difficulties of the Work
Having stated to you the first class of reasons, drawn from the benefits of the work, I come to the second sort, which are taken from the difficulties. If these, indeed, were taken alone, I confess they might be rather discouragements than motives. But taking them with those that go before and follow, the case is far otherwise: for difficulties must excite to greater diligence in a necessary work.
And difficulties we shall find many, both in ourselves and in our people; but because they are things so obvious that your experience will leave you no room to doubt of them, I shall pass them over in a few words.
1. Let me notice the difficulties in ourselves.
(1) In ourselves there is much dullness and laziness, so that it will not be easy to get us to be faithful in so hard a work. Like a sluggard in bed, that knows he should rise, and yet delays and would lie as long as he can, so do we by duties to which our corrupt natures are averse. This will put us to the use of all our powers. Mere sloth will tie the hands of many.
(2) We have a base man–pleasing disposition, which will make us let men perish lest we lose their love, and let them go quietly to hell lest we should make them angry with us for seeking their salvation. We are ready to venture on the displeasure of God, and risk the everlasting misery of our people, rather than draw on ourselves their ill–will. This distemper must be diligently resisted.
(3) Many of us have also a foolish bashfulness, which makes us backward to begin with them, and to speak plainly to them. We are so modest, forsooth, that we blush to speak for Christ, or to contradict the devil, or to save a soul, while, at the same time, we are less ashamed of shameful works.
(4) We are so carnal that we are drawn by our fleshly interests to be unfaithful in the work of Christ, lest we should lessen our income, or bring trouble upon ourselves, or set people against us, or such like. All these things require diligence in order to resist them.
(5) We are so weak in the faith that this is the greatest impediment of all. Hence it is, that when we should set upon a man for his conversion with all our might, if there be not the stirrings of unbelief within us, whether there be a heaven and a hell, yet at least the belief of them is so feeble that it will hardly excite in us a kindly, resolute, constant zeal. As a result, our whole motion will be but weak, because the spring of faith is so weak. O what need, therefore, have ministers for themselves and their work, to look well to their faith, especially that their assent to the truth of Scripture, about the joys and torments of the life to come, be sound and lively.
(6) Lastly, We have commonly a great deal of unskilfulness and unfitness for this work. Alas, how few know how to deal with an ignorant, worldly man, for his conversion! To get within him and win upon him; to suit our speech to his condition and temper; to choose the meet subjects, and follow them with a holy mixture of seriousness, and terror, and love, and meekness, and evangelical allurements—oh! who is fit for such a thing? I profess seriously: It seems to me, by experience, as hard a matter to confer aright with such a carnal person, in order to his change, as to preach such sermons as ordinarily we do, if not much more. All these difficulties in ourselves should awaken us to holy resolution, preparation, and diligence, that we may not be overcome by them, and hindered from or in the work.
2. Having noticed these difficulties in ourselves, I shall now mention some which we shall meet with in our people.
(1) Many of them will be obstinately unwilling to be taught. They will scorn to come to us, as being too good to be catechized or too old to learn, unless we deal wisely with them in public and private, and study, by the force of reason and the power of love, to conquer their perverseness.
(2) Many that are willing are so dull that they can scarcely learn a leaf of a catechism in a long time, and therefore they will keep away, as ashamed of their ignorance, unless we are wise and diligent to encourage them.
(3) And when they do come, so great is the ignorance and unapprehensiveness of many, that you will find it a very hard matter to get them to understand you. So if you have not the happy are of making things plain, you will leave them as ignorant as before.
(4) And yet harder will you find it to work things upon their hearts, and to set them so home to their consciences as to produce that saving change, which is our grand aim, and without which our labor is lost. Oh what a block, what a rock, is a hardened, carnal heart! How strongly will it resist the most powerful persuasions, and hear of everlasting life or death, as a thing of nothing! If, therefore, you have not great seriousness, and fervency, and powerful matter, and fitness of expression, what good can you expect? And when you have done all, the Spirit of grace must do the work. But as God and men usually choose instruments suitable to the nature of the work or end, so the Spirit of wisdom, life, and holiness does not usually work by foolish, dead, carnal instruments, but by such persuasions of light and life and purity as are like to itself, and to the work that is to be wrought thereby.
(5) Lastly, When you have made some desirable impressions on their hearts, if you look not after them, and have a special care of them, their hearts will soon return to their former hardness, and their old companions and temptations will destroy all again. In short, all the difficulties of the work of conversion, which you use to acquaint your people with, are before us in our present work.
Motives from the Necessity of the Work
The third sort of motives are drawn from the necessity of the work. For if it were not necessary, the slothful might be discouraged rather than excited by the difficulties now mentioned. But because I have already been longer than I intended, I shall give you only a brief hint of some of the general grounds of this necessity.
1. This duty is necessary for the glory of God. As every Christian lives to the glory of God, as his end, so will he gladly take that course which will most effectually promote it. For what man would not attain his ends? O brethren, if we could set this work on foot in all the parishes of England, and get our people to submit to it, and then prosecute it skillfully and zealously ourselves, what a glory would it put upon the face of the nation, and what glory would, by means of it, redound to God! If our common ignorance were thus banished, and our vanity and idleness turned into the study of the way of life, and every shop and every house were busied in learning the Scriptures and catechisms, and speaking of the Word and works of God, what pleasure would God take in our cities and country! He would even dwell in our habitations, and make them his delight. It is the glory of Christ that shines in his saints, and all their glory is his glory. That, therefore, which honors them, in number or excellency, honors him. Will not the glory of Christ be wonderfully displayed in the New Jerusalem, when it shall descend from heaven in all that splendor and magnificence with which it is described in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:2)? If, therefore, we can increase the number or strength of the saints, we shall thereby increase the glory of the King of saints; for he will have service and praise where before he had disobedience and dishonor. Christ will also be honored in the fruits of his blood shed, and the Spirit of grace in the fruit of his operations. And do not such important ends as these require that we use the means with diligence?
Every Christian is obliged to do all he can for the salvation of others; but every minister is doubly obliged, because he is separated to the gospel of Christ, and is to give up himself wholly to that work (Rom. 1:1). It is needless to make any further question of our obligation, when we know that this work is needful to our people’s conversion and salvation, and that we are in general commanded to do all that is needful to these ends, as far as we are able. Whether the unconverted have need of conversion, I hope is not doubted among us. And whether this be a means, and a most needful means, experience may put beyond a doubt, if we had no more. Let them that have taken most pains in public, examine their people, and try whether many of them are not nearly as ignorant and careless as if they had never heard the gospel. For my part, I study to speak as plainly and movingly as I can (and next to my study to speak truly, these are my chief studies), and yet I frequently meet with those that have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth and life and death, as if they had never heard it before. And of those who know the history of the gospel, how few are there who know the nature of that faith, repentance, and holiness which it requires, or, at least, who know their own hearts? But most of them have an ungrounded trust in Christ, hoping that he will pardon, justify, and save them, while the world has their hearts, and they live to the flesh. And this trust they take for justifying faith. I have found by experience that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close discourse, than they did from ten years’ public preaching.
I know that preaching the gospel publicly is the most excellent means, because we speak to many at once. But it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to a particular sinner, as to himself. For the plainest man that is can scarcely speak plain enough in public for them to understand; but in private we may do it much more. In public we may not use such homely expressions, or repetitions, as their dullness requires, but in private we may. In public our speeches are long, and we quite over–run their understandings and memories, and they are confounded and at a loss, and not able to follow us, and one thing drives out another, and so they know not what we said. But in private we can take our work gradatim, and take our hearers along with us; and, by our questions, and their answers, we can see how far they understand us, and what we have next to do. In public, by length and speaking alone we lose their attention; but when they are interlocutors, we can easily cause them to attend. Besides, we can better answer their objections, and engage them by promises before we leave them, which in public we cannot do. I conclude, therefore, that public preaching will not be sufficient: for though it may be an effectual means to convert many, yet not so many as experience, and God’s appointment of further means, may assure us. Long may you study and preach to little purpose, if you neglect this duty.
2. This duty is necessary to the welfare of our people. Brethren, can you look believingly on your miserable people and not perceive them calling to you for help? There is not a sinner whose case you should not so far compassionate, as to be willing to relieve them at a much dearer rate than this comes to. Can you see them, as the wounded man by the way, and unmercifully pass by? Can you hear them cry to you, as the man of Macedonia to Paul, in vision, ‘Come and help us,’ and yet refuse your help (Acts 16:9)? Are you intrusted with the charge of a hospital, where one languishes in one corner, and another groans in another, and cries out, ‘Oh, help me, pity me for the Lord’s sake!’ and where a third is raging mad, and would destroy himself and you; and yet will you sit idle and refuse your help? If it may be said of him that relieves not men’s bodies, how much more of him that relieves not men’s souls: ‘If he see his brother have need, and shut up his affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him (I Jn. 3:17)?’ You are not such monsters, such hard–hearted men, but you will pity a leper; you will pity the naked, the imprisoned, or the desolate; you will pity him that is tormented with grievous pain or sickness; and will you not pity an ignorant, hard–hearted sinner? Will you not pity one that must be shut out from the presence of the Lord, and lie under his remediless wrath, if thorough repentance speedily prevent it not? Oh what a heart is it that will not pity such a one! What shall I call the heart of such a man? A heart of stone, a very rock or adamant; the heart of a tiger; or rather the heart of an infidel: for surely if he believed the misery of the impenitent, it is not possible but he should take pity on him. Can you tell men in the pulpit that they shall certainly be damned, except they repent, and yet have no pity on them when you have proclaimed to them such a danger? And if you pity them, will you not do this much for their salvation?
How many around you are blindly hastening to perdition, while your voice is appointed to be the means of arousing and reclaiming them! The physician has no excuse who is doubly bound to relieve the sick, when even every neighbor is bound to help them. Brethren, what if you heard sinners cry after you in the streets, ‘O sir, have pity on me, and afford me your advice! I am afraid of the everlasting wrath of God. I know I must shortly leave this world, and I am afraid lest I shall be miserable in the next.’ Could you deny your help to such poor sinners? What if they came to your study–door and cried for help, and would not go away until you had told them how to escape the wrath of God? Could you find in your hearts to drive them away without advice? I am confident you could not. Why, alas, such persons are less miserable than they who will not cry for help. It is the hardened sinner who cares not for your help that most needs it. And he who has not so much life as to feel that he is dead, nor so much light as to see his danger, nor so much sense left as to pity himself—this is the man that is most to be pitied.
Look upon your neighbors around you, and think how many of them need your help in no less a case than the apparent danger of damnation. Suppose that you heard every impenitent person whom you see and know about you, crying to you for help: ‘As ever you pitied poor wretches, pity us, lest we should be tormented in the flames of hell; if you have the hearts of men, pity us.’ Now, do that for them that you would do if they followed you with such expostulations. Oh how can you walk, and talk, and be merry with such people, when you know their case? Methinks, when you look them in the face, and think how they must suffer everlasting misery, you should break forth into tears (as the prophet did when he looked upon Hazael) (2 Kings 8:11-12), and then fall on with the most importunate exhortations. When you visit them in their sickness, will it not wound your hearts to see them ready to depart into misery, before you have ever dealt seriously with them for their conversion? Oh, then, for the Lord’s sake, and for the sake of poor souls, have pity on them, and bestir yourselves, and spare no pains that may conduce to their salvation.
3. This duty is necessary to your own welfare, as well as to your people’s. This is your work, according to which, among others, you shall be judged. You can no more be saved without ministerial diligence and fidelity, than they or you can be saved without Christian diligence and fidelity. If, therefore, you care not for others, care at least for yourselves. Oh what a dreadful thing is it to answer for the neglect of such a charge! And what sin more heinous than the betraying of souls? Does not that threatening make you tremble—‘If you could not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but HIS BLOOD WILL I REQUIRE AT YOUR HAND (Ezek. 33:8)’? I am afraid, no, I have no doubt, that the day is near when unfaithful ministers will wish that they had never known the charge of souls. They would have rather been colliers, or sweeps, or tinkers, than pastors of Christ’s flock when, besides all the rest of their sins, they shall have the blood of so many souls to answer for. O brethren, our death, as well as our people’s, is at hand, and it is as terrible to an unfaithful pastor as to any. We need to see that die we must, and that there is no remedy—that no wit, nor learning, nor popular applause, can avert the stroke, or delay the time—but, willing or unwilling, our souls must be gone, and that into a world which we never saw, where our persons and our worldly interest will not be respected. Oh, then, for a clear conscience that can say, ‘I lived not to myself but to Christ; I spared not my pains; I hid not my talents; I concealed not men’s misery, nor the way of their recovery.’ O sirs, let us therefore take time while we have it, and work while it is day, ‘for the night comes, when no man can work (Jn. 9:4).’ This is our day too; and by doing good to others, we must do good to ourselves. If you would prepare for a comfortable death, and a great and glorious reward, the harvest is before you. Gird up the loins of your minds, and quit yourselves like men, that you may end your days with these triumphant words: ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give unto me in that day.’ If you would be blessed with those that die in the Lord, labor now, that you may rest from your labors then, and do such works as you would wish should follow you, and not such as will prove your terror in the review (I Peter 1:13, I Cor. 16:13, 2 Tim. 9:6-8).
Application of These Motives
Having found so many and so powerful reasons to move us to this work, I shall now apply them further for our humiliation and excitation.
1. What cause have we to bleed before the Lord this day, that we have neglected so great and good a work so long; that we have been ministers of the gospel so many years, and done so little by personal instruction and conference for the saving of men’s souls! If we had but set about this business sooner, who knows how many souls might have been brought to Christ, and how much happier our congregations might have been? And why might we not have done it sooner as well as now? I confess, there were many impediments in our way, and so there are still, and will be while there is a devil to tempt, and a corrupt heart in man to resist the light. But if the greatest impediment had not been in ourselves, even in our own darkness, and dullness, and indisposedness to duty, and our dividedness and unaptness to close for the work of God, I see not but much might have been done before this. We had the same God to command us, and the same miserable objects of compassion, and the same liberty from governors as now we have. We have sinned, and have no just excuse for our sin; and the sin is so great, because the duty is so great, that we should be afraid of pleading any excuse. The God of mercy forgive us, and all the ministry of England, and lay not this or any of our ministerial negligences to our charge! Oh that he would cover all our unfaithfulness, and, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, wash away our guilt of the blood of souls; that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, we may stand before him in peace, and may not be condemned for the scattering of his flock. And oh that he would put up his controversy which he has against the pastors of his Church, and not deal the worse with them for our sakes, nor suffer underminers or persecutors to scatter them, as they have suffered his sheep to be scattered. And that he will not care as little for us, as we have done for the souls of men; nor think his salvation too good for us, as we have thought our labor and sufferings too much for men’s salvation (Heb. 13:20, I Peter 5:4)!
As we have had many days of humiliation in England for the sins of the land, and the judgments that have befallen us, I hope we shall hear that God will more thoroughly humble the ministry. May God cause them to bewail their own neglects, and to set apart some days through the land to that end, that they may not think it enough to lament the sins of others, while they overlook their own. And may God not abhor our solemn national humiliations, because they are managed by unhumbled guides; and may we first prevail with him for a pardon for ourselves, that we may be the fitter to beg for the pardon of others. And oh that we may cast out the dung of our pride, contention, self–seeking, and idleness; lest God should cast our sacrifices as dung in our faces, and should cast us out as the dung of the earth, as of late he has done many others for a warning to us. Oh that we may presently resolve in concord to mend our pace, before we feel a sharper spur than hitherto we have felt.
2. And now, brethren, what have we to do for the time to come, but to deny our lazy flesh, and rouse up ourselves to the work before us. The harvest is great; the laborers are few (Mt. 9:37-38). The loiterers and hinderers are many; the souls of men are precious. The misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery to which they are near is greater. The joys of heaven are inconceivable, the comfort of a faithful minister is not small, and the joy of extensive success will be a full reward. To be fellow–workers with God and his Spirit is no little honor; to subserve the blood–shedding of Christ for men’s salvation is not a light thing. To lead on the armies of Christ through the thickest of the enemy; to guide them safely through a dangerous wilderness; to steer the vessels through such storms and rocks and sands and shoals, and bring them safe to the harbor of rest, requires no small skill and diligence (Jn. 4:35). The fields now seem even white unto harvest; the preparations that have been made for us are very great; the season of working is more calm than most ages before us have ever seen. We have carelessly loitered too long already. The present time is posting away. While we are trifling, men are dying; oh how fast are they passing into another world! And is there nothing in all this to awaken us to our duty, nothing to resolve us to speedy and unwearied diligence? Can we think that a man can be too careful and painful under all these motives and engagements? Or can that man be a fit instrument for other men’s illumination, who is himself so blind? Or for the quickening of others, who is himself so senseless? What, sirs! Are you, who are men of wisdom, as dull as the common people? And do we need to heap up a multitude of words to persuade you to a known and weighty duty? One would think it should be enough to set you to work, to show a line in the Book of God; to prove it to be his will; or to prove to you that the work has a tendency to promote men’s salvation. One would think that the very sight of your miserable neighbors would be motive sufficient to draw out your most compassionate endeavors for their relief. If a cripple do but unwrap his sores, and show you his disabled limbs, it will move you without words; and will not the case of souls, that are near to damnation, move you? O happy church, if the physicians were but healed themselves; and if we had not too much of that infidelity and stupidity against which we daily preach in others. And were more soundly persuaded of that of which we persuade others; and were more deeply affected with the wonderful things with which we would affect them!
Were there but such clear and deep impressions upon our own souls of those glorious things which we daily preach, oh what a change would it make in our sermons, and in our private course of life! Oh what a miserable thing it is to the Church and to themselves, that men must preach of heaven and hell, before they soundly believe that there are such things, or have felt the weight of the doctrines which they preach! It would amaze a sensible man to think what matters we preach and talk of; what it is for the soul to pass out of this flesh, and appear before a righteous God, and enter upon unchangeable joy or unchangeable torment! Oh, with what amazing thoughts do dying men apprehend these things! How should such matters be preached and discoursed of! Oh the gravity, the seriousness, the incessant diligence, which these things require! I know not what others think of them; but for my part, I am ashamed of my stupidity, and wonder at myself that I deal not with my own and others’ souls as one that looks for the great day of the Lord. I wonder that I can have room for almost any other thoughts or words, and that such astonishing matters do not wholly absorb my mind. I marvel how I can preach of them slightly and coldly, and how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them, and beseech them, for the Lord’s sake, to repent, however they may take it, and whatever pains or trouble it may cost me! I seldom come out of the pulpit, but my conscience smites me that I have been no more serious and fervent in such a case. It accuses me not so much for want of ornaments or elegancy, nor for letting fall an unhandsome word. It asks me, ‘How could you speak of life and death with such a heart? How could you preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner? Do you believe what you say? Are you in earnest or in jest? How can you tell people that sin is such a thing, and that so much misery is upon them and before them, and be no more affected with it? Should you not weep over such a people, and should not your tears interrupt your words? Should not you cry aloud, and show them their transgressions, and entreat and beseech them as for life and death?’ Truly, this is the peal that conscience does ring in my ears, and yet my drowsy soul will not be awakened.
Oh what a thing is a senseless, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity and hard–heartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our own souls, which you would use us to do on the souls of others! I am even confounded to think what a difference there is between my sickbed apprehensions, and my pulpit apprehensions, of the life to come. That ever that can seem so light a matter to me now, which seemed so great and astonishing a matter then, and I know will do so again when death looks me in the face, when yet I daily know and think of that approaching hour. And yet these forethoughts will not recover such working apprehensions! O sirs, surely if you had all conversed with neighbor Death as often as I have done, and as often received the sentence in yourselves, you would have an unquiet conscience, if not a reformed life, as to your ministerial diligence and fidelity. You would have something within you that would frequently ask you such questions as these: ‘Is this all your compassion for lost sinners? Will you do no more to seek and to save them? Is there not such and such—oh how many round about you!—that are yet the visible sons of death? What have you said to them, or done for their conversion? Shall they die and be in hell before you will speak to them one serious word to prevent it? Shall they there curse you forever that did no more in time to save them?’
Such cries of conscience are daily ringing in mine ears, though, the Lord knows, I have too little obeyed them. The God of mercy pardon me, and awaken me, with the rest of his servants that have been thus sinfully negligent. I confess to my shame that I seldom hear the bell toll for one that is dead, but conscience asks me, ‘What have you done for the saving of that soul before it left the body? There is one more gone to judgment; what did you to prepare him for judgment?’ And yet I have been slothful and backward to help them that survive. How can you choose, when you are laying a corpse in the grave, but think with yourselves, ‘Here lies the body; but where is the soul? And what have I done for it, before it departed? It was part of my charge; what account can I give of it?’
O sirs, is it a small matter to you to answer such questions as these? It may seem so now, but the hour is coming when it will not seem so. ‘If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts,’ and will condemn us much more, even with another kind of condemnation than conscience does (I Jn. 3:20). The voice of conscience is a still voice, and the sentence of conscience is a gentle sentence, in comparison of the voice and the sentence of God. Alas, conscience sees but a very little of our sin and misery, in comparison of what God sees. What mountains would these things appear to your souls, which now seem molehills? What beams would these be in your eyes, that now seem motes, if you did but see them with a clearer light? (I dare not say, As God sees them). We can easily make shift to plead the cause with conscience, and either bribe it, or bear its sentence; but God is not so easily dealt with, nor his sentence so easily borne. ‘Wherefore we receiving,’ and preaching, ‘a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence, and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).’ Because you shall not say that I affright you with bugbears, and tell you of dangers and terrors when there are none, I will here show you the certainty and sureness of that condemnation that is like to befall negligent pastors, particularly how many will be ready to rise up against us and condemn us, if we shall hereafter be willful neglecters of this great work.
(1) Our parents, that destined us to the ministry, will condemn us, and say, ‘Lord, we devoted them to your service, and they made light of it, and served themselves.’
(2) Our masters that taught us, our tutors that instructed us, the schools and universities where we lived, and all the years that we spent in study, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us; for why was all this, but for the work of God?
(3) Our learning and knowledge and ministerial gifts will condemn us; for to what end were we made partakers of these, but for the work of God?
(4) Our voluntary undertaking the charge of souls will condemn us; for all men should be faithful to the trust which they have undertaken.
(5) All the care of God for his Church, and all that Christ has done and suffered for it, will rise up in judgment against us if we be negligent and unfaithful, and condemn us; because by our neglect we destroyed them for whom Christ died.
(6) All the precepts and charges of Holy Scripture, all the promises of assistance and reward, all the threatenings of punishment, will rise up against us and condemn us; for God did not speak all this in vain.
(7) All the examples of the prophets and apostles, and other preachers recorded in Scripture, and all the examples of the faithful and diligent servants of Christ in these latter times, and in the places around us, will rise up in judgment and condemn us; for all these were for our imitation, and to provoke us to a holy emulation in fidelity and ministerial diligence.
(8) The Holy Bible that lies open before us, and all the books in our studies that tell us of our duty, directly or indirectly, will condemn the lazy and unprofitable servant; for we have not all these helps and furniture in vain.
(9) All the sermons that we preach to persuade our people to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, to lay violent hands upon the crown of life, and take the kingdom by force, to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and so to run as to obtain, will rise up against the unfaithful and condemn them. For if it so nearly concern them to labor for their salvation, does it not concern us who have the charge of them to be also violent, laborious, and unwearied in striving to help on their salvation? Is it worth their labor, and patience, and is it not also worth ours (Phil. 2:12, Mt. 7:13)?
(10) All the sermons that we preach to them to set forth the evil of sin, the danger of a natural state, the need of a Savior, the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell, yes, and the truth of the Christian religion, will rise up in judgment against the unfaithful, and condemn them. And a sad review it will be to themselves, when they shall be forced to think, ‘Did I tell them of such great dangers and hopes in public, and would I do no more, in private, to help them? What? Tell them daily of damnation, and yet let them run into it so easily? Tell them of such a glory, and scarcely speak a word to them personally, to help them to it? Were these such great matters with me at church, and so small matters when I came home?’ Ah, this will be dreadful self–condemnation!
(11) All the sermons that we have preached to persuade other men to such duties – as neighbors to exhort one another daily, and parents and masters to teach their children and servants the way to heaven – will rise up in judgment against the unfaithful, and condemn them; for will you persuade others to that which you will not do, as far as you can, yourselves? When you threaten them for neglecting their duty, how much more do you threaten your own souls!
(12) All the maintenance which we take for our service, if we be unfaithful, will condemn us; for who is it that will pay a servant to take his pleasure, or sit idle, or work for himself? If we have the fleece, surely it is that we may look after the flock; and, by taking the wages, we oblige ourselves to the work.
(13) All the witness that we have borne against the scandalous, negligent ministers of this age, and all the endeavors that we have used for their removal, will condemn the unfaithful; for God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11). If we succeed them in their sins, we have spoken all that against ourselves; and, as we condemned them, God and others will condemn us, if we imitate them. And, though we should not be so bad as they, it will prove sad if we are even like them.
(14) All the judgments that God has, in this age, executed on negligent ministers, before our eyes, will condemn us, if we be unfaithful. Has he made the idle shepherds and sensual drones to stench in the nostrils of the people? And will he honor us, if we be idle and sensual? Has he sequestrated them, and cast them out of their habitations, and out of their pulpits, and laid them by as dead, while they are yet alive, and made them a hissing and a byword in the land? And yet dare we imitate them? Are not their sufferings our warnings? And did not all this befall them as an example to us? If anything in the world would awaken ministers to self–denial and diligence, methinks we have seen enough to do it. Would you have imitated the old world if you had seen the flood that drowned it? Would you have indulged in the sins of Sodom—idleness, pride, fullness of bread—if you had stood by, and seen the flames which consumed it ascending up to heaven? Who would have been a Judas, that had seen him hanged and burst asunder? And who would have been a lying, sacrilegious hypocrite, that had seen Ananias and Sapphira die? And who would not have been afraid to contradict the gospel, that had seen Elymas smitten with blindness (2 Peter 2:5-6, Acts 1:18, Acts 5:5, Acts 13:10-12)? And shall we prove idle, self–seeking ministers, when we have seen God scourging such out of his temple, and sweeping them away as dirt into the channels? God forbid! For then how great and how manifold will our condemnation be!
(15) Lastly, All the days of fasting and prayer, which have, of late years, been kept in England for a reformation, will rise up in judgment against the unreformed, who will not be persuaded to the painful part of the work. This, I confess, is so heavy an aggravation of our sin, that it makes me ready to tremble to think of it. Was there ever a nation on the face of the earth, which so long and so solemnly followed God with fasting and prayer, as we have done? Before the parliament began, how frequent and fervent were we in secret! After that, for many years together, we had a monthly fast commanded by the parliament, besides frequent private and public fasts on other occasions. And what was all this for? Whatever was, for some time, the means we looked at, yet still the end of all our prayers was Church–reformation, and, therein, especially these two things: a faithful ministry, and the exercise of discipline in the Church. And did it once enter then into the hearts of the people, or even into our own hearts, to imagine, that when we had all we would have, and the matter was put into our own hands, to be as painful as we could, and to exercise what discipline we would, that then we would do nothing but publicly preach? That we would not be at the pains of catechizing and instructing our people personally, nor exercise any considerable part of discipline at all? It astonishes me to think of it. What a depth of deceit is the heart of man (Jer. 17:9)! What? Are good men’s hearts so deceitful? Are all men’s hearts so deceitful? I confess, I then told many soldiers and other sensual men that though they had fought for a reformation, I was confident they would abhor it, and be enemies to it, when they saw and felt it. I thought that the yoke of discipline would have pinched their necks, and that, when they were catechized and personally dealt with, and reproved for their sin in private and public, and brought to public confession and repentance or avoided as impenitent, they would scorn and spurn at all this, and take the yoke of Christ for tyranny. But little did I think that the ministers would let all fall, and put almost none of this upon them; but let them alone for fear of displeasing them, and let all run on as it did before.
Oh the earnest prayers which I have heard for a painful ministry, and for discipline! It was as if they had even wrestled for salvation itself. Yes, they commonly called discipline ‘the kingdom of Christ, or the exercise of his kingly office in his church,’ and so preached and prayed for it, as if the setting up of discipline had been the setting up of the kingdom of Christ. And did I then think that they would refuse to set it up when they might? What! Is the kingdom of Christ now reckoned among things indifferent?
If the God of heaven, who knew our hearts, had, in the midst of our prayers and cries, on one of our public monthly fasts, returned us this answer, with his dreadful voice, in the audience of the assembly: ‘You deceitful–hearted sinners! What hypocrisy is this, to weary me with your cries for that which you will not have, if I would give it to you; and thus to lift up your voices for that which your souls abhor! What is reformation, but the instructing and importunate persuading of sinners to entertain my Christ and grace, as offered to them, and the governing of my Church according to my Word? Yet these, which are your work, you will not be persuaded to, when you come to find it troublesome and ungrateful. When I have delivered you, it is not me, but yourselves, that you will serve; and I must be as earnest to persuade you to reform the Church, in doing your own duty, as you are earnest with me to grant you liberty for reformation. And, when all is done, you will leave it undone, and will be long before you will be persuaded to my work.’ If the Lord, or any messenger of his, had given us such an answer, would it not have amazed us? Would it not have seemed incredible to us, that our hearts should be such as now they prove? And would we not have said, as Hazael, ‘Is your servant a dog, that he should do this thing?’ or as Peter, ‘Though all men forsake you, yet will not I (2 Kings 8:13, Mt. 26:33),’? Well, brethren, sad experience has showed us our frailty. We have refused the troublesome and costly part of the reformation that we prayed for; but Christ yet turns back, and looks with a merciful eye upon us. Oh that we had yet the hearts immediately to go out and weep bitterly, and to do no more as we have done, lest a worse thing come upon us; and now to follow Christ, whom we have so far forsaken, through labor and suffering, even though it were to death!
I have thus showed you what will come of it, if you will not set yourselves faithfully to this work, to which you are under so many obligations and engagements; and what an inexcusable thing our neglect will be, and how great and manifold a condemnation it will expose us to. Truly, brethren, if I did not apprehend the work to be of exceeding great moment to yourselves, to the people, and to the honor of God, I would not have troubled you with so many words about it, nor have presumed to speak so sharply as I have done. But when the question is about life and death, men are apt to forget their reverence and courtesy and compliments and good manners. For my own part I apprehend this is one of the best and greatest works I ever in my life put my hand to; and I verily think, that if your thoughts of it are as mine, you will not think my words too many or too keen. I can well remember the time when I was earnest for the reformation of matters of ceremony; and, if I should be cold in such substantial matter as this, how disorderly and disproportionable would my zeal appear! Alas, can we think that the reformation is wrought, when we cast out a few ceremonies, and changed some vestures, and gestures, and forms! Oh no, sirs! It is the converting and saving of souls that is our business. That is the chief part of reformation, that does most good, and tends most to the salvation of the people.
And now, brethren, the work is before you. In these personal instructions of all the flock, as well as in public preaching, does it consist. Others have done their part, and borne their burden, and now comes in yours. You may easily see how great a matter lies upon your hands, and how many will be wronged by your failing of your duty, and how much will be lost by the sparing of your labor. If your labor be more worth than the souls of men, and than the blood of Christ, then sit still, and look not after the ignorant or the ungodly. Follow your own pleasure or worldly business, or take your ease. Displease not sinners, nor your own flesh, but let your neighbors sink or swim; and, if public preaching will not save them, let them perish. But, if the case be far otherwise, you had best look about you.
Part II. Objections to This Duty
I shall next answer some of those objections which may be made to the practice I have been recommending.
OBJECTION 1. We teach our people in public; and how then are we bound to teach them, man by man, besides?
ANSWER: 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 (Acts 20:27). 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. No, 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.
OBJECTION 2. 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.
ANSWER: I will pass by the question, Whether all the parish are to be taken for your church, because in some places it is so, and in others not.
[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 lies 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?
OBJECTION 3: 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.
ANSWER: (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 are, and to be able to see the reason of his practice, and to resolve such difficult controversies as are before him. But what if he had the charge of a hospital, or lived in a city where the pestilence was raging, and 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. What 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 there, 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. 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 adds practice and experience to his studies. Meanwhile that man shall prove a useless drone that refuses God’s service all his life, under presence of preparing for it, and lets men’s souls pass on to perdition, while he pretends 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. 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.
OBJECTION 4: But this course will destroy the health of our bodies, by continually spending our spirits, and allowing us no time for necessary recreations. And it will wholly lock us up from friendly communion 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 and morose to others, so we shall tire ourselves, and the bow that is always bent will be in danger of breaking at last.
ANSWER: (1) This is the plea of the flesh for its own interest. The sluggard says, ‘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? Yes, 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. I have a body that has languished under great weaknesses for many years, and my diseases have been such as require as much exercise as almost any in the world. I have found exercise the principal means of my preservation until 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 has 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 needs so much exercise as myself. Yes, 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 requires. 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, and 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. They need 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 requires you to make God and his service your pleasure, and restrains 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 consists 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 lives after the spirit, and mortifies the deeds and desires of the body, and the other lives 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.’(Gal 6:8)Does even Paul say: ‘I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats 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’? (1Cor 9:26)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, yes, 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’ (2Tim 3:5) 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.’ (2Tim 3:5)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 who works much, lives 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 presence 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,’ (Gal 1:10) you are no longer the servants of Christ. He who dare spend his life in flesh–pleasing, and man–pleasing, is bolder than I am. And he who dare waste his time in compliments, does little consider what he has to do with it. Oh that I could but improve my time, according to my convictions of the necessity of improving it! He who has looked death in the face as often 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, yes, 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 has 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 does 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; yes, and to allow ourselves in this, and willfully 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.
OBJECTION 5: 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 does require that we should thus tie ourselves to instruct every person distinctly, and to make our lives a burden and a slavery.
ANSWER: Of what use and weight the duty is, I have showed before, and how plainly it is commanded. And do you think God does 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 does 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? Does 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 pleases me; or whether it may make you willfully 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 superadds 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 says, that ‘he who denies not himself, and forsakes not all, and takes not up his cross, and follows him, cannot be his disciple.’ (Luke 14:26) (Mt 10:38) 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’? (John 4:34) (Mark 3:21) 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 awaits 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 has most of God. Exercise of grace increases 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 requires it—this is so great an aggravation of the sin. Where the Church’s necessity does 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 has lost its savor, that is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the ash-heap.’ (Luke 14:34-35) ‘He who has ears to hear,’ (Rev 2:7) 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 makes 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.
OBJECTION 6: 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.
ANSWER: This argument savors 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 has taken his body to heaven or left it on earth, nor what he has 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 willful 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?
OBJECTION 7: 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.
ANSWER: (1) It is not we, but Christ who has 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 who 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? No, 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 rigor 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 imposes duty has 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 has 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. They shall 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, they 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. They will joy to work while it is day; to do what they do with all their might; 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. They will gladly endure all things for the elect’s sake, and 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 has 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 has not where to lay his head.’ He will tell them 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 your own house, you 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 willful negligence. Second, it will not serve your turn to run out of the vineyard on presence 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. 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.
OBJECTION 8: 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.
ANSWER: (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. 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. Some have been too uncharitable and worldly, and backward to costly though necessary good works. And some have done but little in private, when they have done excellency in public, and so have hindered the fruit of their labors. But where there are not these impediments, experience tells 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 willfulness 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.
OBJECTION 9: 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 comes by hearing, and hearing by the preaching of the word.’
ANSWER: (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. 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? Does the number we speak to make it preaching? Or does 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 deserves a twelve months’ 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: YES, 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 THOSE WHO 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 YOU FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Hence he says, ‘Necessity is laid upon me, yes, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.’ This is what will most effectually make easy all our labors, make light all our burdens, 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 who saves his life shall lose it,’ and on the other, ‘Ruin not the cause for the sake of keeping one’s life.’ He who knows that he serves 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.
Part III: Directions for This Duty
It is so great a work which we have before us, that it is a thousand pities it should be destroyed in the birth, and perish in our hands. I know that we have a knotty generation to deal with, and that it is past the power of any of us to change a carnal heart without the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit. Yet it is so usual with God to work by means and to bless the right endeavors of his servants, that I cannot fear but great things will be accomplished and a wonderful blow will be given to the kingdom of darkness by this work, if it do not miscarry through the fault of the ministers themselves. The main danger arises from the want either of diligence or of skill. Of the former, I have spoken much already. As to the latter, I am so conscious of my own unskilfulness, that I am far from imagining that I am fit to give directions to any but the younger and more inexperienced of the ministry. Therefore, I expect so much justice in your interpretation of what I say, as that you will suppose me now to speak to none but such. But yet something I shall say, and not pass over this part in silence, because the number of such is so great; and I am apprehensive that the welfare of the Church and nation does so much depend on the right management of this work.
The points as to which you need to be solicitous are these two:
1. To bring your people to submit to this course of private catechizing or instruction; for, if they will not come to you, or allow you to come to them, what good can they receive?
2. To do the work in such a way as will most tend to the success of it.
I am first to give you some directions for bringing your people to submit to this course of catechizing and instruction.
1. The chief means of all is this, for a minister so to conduct himself in the general course of his life and ministry, as to convince his people of his ability, sincerity, and sincere love to them. For if they take him to be ignorant, they will despise his teaching, and think themselves as wise as he. And if they think him self–seeking, or hypocritical, and one that does not mean as he says, they will suspect all he says and does for them, and will not regard him. Whereas, if they are convinced that he understands what he does, and have high thoughts of his abilities, they will reverence him, and the more easily stoop to his advice. When they are persuaded of his uprightness, they will the less suspect his motives. When they perceive that he intends no private ends of his own, but merely their good, they will the more readily be persuaded by him. And because those to whom I write are supposed to be none of the ablest ministers, and may therefore despair of being reverenced for their parts, I would say to them, you have the more need to study and labor for their increase. And that which you want in ability must be made up in other qualifications, and then your advice may be as successful as others.
If ministers were content to purchase an interest in the affections of their people at the dearest rates to their own flesh, and would condescend to them, and be familiar, affectionate, and prudent in their carriage, and abound, according to their ability, in good works, they might do much more with their people than ordinarily they do. We should not much regard an interest in them for our own sakes, but that we may be more capable of promoting the interest of Christ, and of furthering their salvation. Were it not for their own sakes, it were no great matter whether they love or hate us; but what commander can do any great service with an army that hates him? And how can we think that they will much regard our counsel while they abhor or disregard the persons that give it them? Labor, therefore, for some competent interest in the estimation and affection of your people, and then you may the better prevail with them.
But perhaps some will say, What should a minister do who finds he has lost the affections of his people? To this I answer, If they be so vile a people that they hate him not for any weakness or misconduct of his, but merely for endeavoring their good, and would hate any other that should do his duty, then must he with patience and meekness continue to ‘instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.’ But if it be on account of any weakness of his, or difference about lesser opinions, or prejudice against his own person, let him first try to remove the prejudice by all lawful means. If he cannot, let him say to them, ‘It is not for myself, but for you that I labor; and therefore, seeing that you will not obey the Word from me, I desire that you will agree to accept of some other that may do you that good which I cannot.’ And so leave them, and try whether another man may not be fitter for them, and he fitter for another people. For an ingenuous man can hardly stay with a people against their wills. And a sincere man can still more hardly, for any benefit of his own, remain in a place where he is like to be unprofitable and to hinder the good which they might receive from another man, who has the advantage of a greater interest in their affection and esteem.
2. Supposing this general preparation, the next thing to be done is to use the most effectual means to convince them of the benefit and necessity of this course to their own souls. The way to win the consent of people to anything that you propose, is to prove that it is good and profitable for them. You must therefore preach to them some powerful convincing sermons to this purpose before hand, and show them the benefit and necessity of the knowledge of divine truths in general, and of knowing the first principles in particular. You must also show that the aged have the same duty and need as others, and in some respects much more: e.g. from Heb. 5:12, ‘For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat.’ This verse affords us many observations suitable to our present object, as:
(1) That God’s oracles must be a man’s lessons.
(2) Ministers must teach these, and people must learn them from ministers.
(3) The oracles of God have some fundamental principles, which all must know who wish to be saved.
(4) These principles must be first learned: that is the right order.
(5) It may be reasonably expected that people should thrive in knowledge, according to the means of instruction which they possess; and if they do not, it is their great sin.
(6) If any have lived long in the church, under the means of knowledge, and yet are ignorant of these first principles, they have need to be yet taught them, how old soever they may be.
All this is plain from the text; whence we have a fair opportunity, by many clear convincing reasons, to show them: First, the necessity of knowing God’s oracles. Secondly, and more especially of knowing the fundamental principles. Thirdly, and particularly for the aged, who have sinfully lost so much time already. They have so long promised to repent when they were old, and should be teachers of the young. Their ignorance is a double sin and shame, who have now so little time in which to learn. They are so near to death and judgment, and have souls to save or lose as well as others. Convince them how impossible it is to go the way to heaven without knowing it, when there are so many difficulties and enemies in the way. Why, men cannot do even their worldly business without knowledge, nor learn a trade without an apprenticeship. Convince them what a contradiction it is to be a Christian, and yet to refuse to learn; for what is a Christian but a disciple of Christ? And how can he be a disciple of Christ, that refuses to be taught by him? And he who refuses to be taught by his ministers, refuses to be taught by him. For Christ will not come down from heaven again to teach them by his own mouth, but has appointed his ministers to keep school and teach them under him. To say, therefore, that they will not be taught by his ministers is to say they will not be taught by Christ; and that is to say, they will not be his disciples, or no Christians.
Make them understand that it is not an arbitrary business of our own devising and imposing; but that necessity is laid upon us. If we look not to every member of the flock according to our ability, they may perish in their iniquity; but their blood will be required at our hand. Show them that it is God, and not we, who is the contriver and imposer of the work, and that therefore they blame God more than us in accusing it. Ask them, would they be so cruel to their minister as to wish him to cast away his own soul, knowingly and willfully, for fear of troubling them by trying to hinder their damnation? Acquaint them fully with the nature of the ministerial office, and the Church’s need of it; how it consists in teaching and guiding all the flock. Show them that, as they must come to the congregation as scholars to school, so must they be content to give an account of what they have learned, and to be further instructed, man by man. Let them know what a tendency this has to their salvation, what a profitable improvement it will be of their time, and how much vanity and evil it will prevent. And when they once find that it is for their own good, they will the more easily yield to it.
3. When this is done, it will be very necessary that we give one of the catechisms to every family in the parish, whether rich or poor, that so they may be without excuse. For if you leave it to themselves to buy them, perhaps the half of them will not get them; whereas, when they have copies put into their hands, the receiving of them will be a kind of engagement to learn them. And if they do but read the exhortation (as it is likely they will), it will perhaps convince them and incite them to submit. As to the delivery of them, the best way is for the minister first to give notice in the congregation that they shall be brought to their houses, and then to go himself from house to house and deliver them, taking the opportunity of persuading them to the work. As he goes round, he should take a list of all the persons who have come to years of discretion in the several families, that he may know whom he has to take care of and instruct, and whom he has to expect when it comes to their turn. I have formerly, in distributing some other books among my people, desired every family to call for them, but I found more confusion and uncertainty in that way. I now adopt this as the better method, but in small congregations, either way may do.
As to the expense of the catechisms, if the minister be able, it will be well for him to bear it. If not, the best affected of his people of the richer sort should bear it among them. Or, on a day of humiliation, in preparation for the work, let the collection that is made for the poor be employed in buying catechisms, and the people be desired to be more liberal than ordinary; and what is wanting, the well–affected to the work may make up.
As to the order of proceeding, it will be necessary that we take the people in order, family by family, beginning a month or six weeks after the delivery of the catechisms, that they may have time to learn them. And thus, taking them together in common, they will be the more willing to come, and the backward will be the more ashamed to keep off.
4. Be sure that you deal gently with them, and take off all discouragements as effectually as you can.
(1) Tell them publicly that if they have learned any other catechism already, you will not urge them to learn this unless they desire it themselves, for the substance of all catechisms that are orthodox is the same. Let them know your reason for offering them this was its brevity and fullness—that you might give them as much as possible in few words, and so make their work more easy. Or, if any of them would rather learn some other catechism, let them have their choice.
(2) As for the old people who are of weak memories, and not likely to live long in the world, and who complain that they cannot remember the words; tell them that you do not expect them to perplex their minds overmuch about it. But encourage them to hear it often read over, to see that they understand it, and to get the matter into their minds and hearts. Then they may be borne with, though they remember not the words.
(3) Let your dealing with those you begin with be so gentle, convincing, and winning, that the report of it may be an encouragement to others to come.
5. Lastly, If all this will not serve to bring any particular persons to submit, do not cast them off. Instead, go to them and expostulate with them, and learn what their reasons are, and convince them of the sinfulness and danger of their neglect of the help that is offered them. A soul is so precious that we should not lose one for want of labor, but follow them while there is any hope. Do not give them up as desperate, until there be no remedy. Before we give them over let us try the utmost, that we may have the experience of their obstinate contempt to warrant our forsaking them. Charity bears and waits long.
Having used these means to procure them to come and submit to your instructions, we are next to consider how you may deal most effectually with them in the work. And again I must say that I think it an easier matter by far to compose and preach a good sermon, than to deal rightly with an ignorant man for his instruction in the more essential principles of religion. As much as this work is condemned by some, I doubt not it will try the gifts and spirit of ministers, and show you the difference between one man and another, more fully than preaching will do. And here I shall, as fitting my purpose, transcribe the words of a most learned, orthodox, and godly man, Archbishop Ussher, * in his sermon before King James at Wanstead on Eph. 4:13: ‘Your Majesty’s care can never be sufficiently commended, in taking order that the chief heads of the catechism should, in the ordinary ministry, be diligently propounded and explained unto the people throughout the land; which I wish were as duly executed every where, as it was piously by you intended.’
‘Great scholars possibly may think, that it stands not so well with their credit to stoop thus low, and to spend so much of their time in teaching these rudiments and first principles of the doctrine of Christ; but they should consider, that the laying of the foundation skillfully, as it is the matter of greatest importance in the whole building, so is it the very masterpiece of the wisest–building. "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master–builder, I have laid the foundation," says the great apostle. And let the most learned of us all try it whenever we please, we shall find, that to lay this groundwork rightly (that is, to apply ourselves to the capacity of the common auditory, and to make an ignorant man to understand these mysteries in some good measure) will put us to the trial of our skill, and trouble us a great deal more, than if we were to discuss a controversy, or handle a subtle point of learning in the schools. Yet Christ did give as well his apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, as his ordinary pastors and teachers, to bring us all, both learned and unlearned, unto the unity of this faith and knowledge; AND THE NEGLECTING OF THIS, IS THE FRUSTRATING OF THE WHOLE WORK OF THE MINISTRY. For, let us preach ever so many sermons to the people, our labor is but lost, as long as the foundation is unlaid, and the first principles untaught, upon which all other doctrine must be.’
The directions which I think it necessary to give for the right managing of the work are the following:
1. When your people come to you, one family or more, begin with a brief preface, to mollify their minds and to take off all offence, unwillingness, or discouragement, and to prepare them for receiving your instructions. ‘My friends,’ you may say, ‘it may perhaps seem to some of you an unusual and a troublesome business that I put you upon; but I hope you will not think it needless: for if I had thought so, I would have spared both you and myself this labor. But my conscience has told me, yes, God has told me in his Word, so solemnly, what it is to have the charge of souls, and how the blood of them that perish will be required at the hands of a minister that neglects them, that I dare not be guilty of it as I have hitherto been. Alas, all our business in this world is to get well to heaven; and God has appointed us to be guides to his people, to help them safe decipher. If this be well done, all is done; and if this be not done, we are forever undone. The Lord knows how short a time you and I may be together; and therefore it concerns us to do what we can for our own and your salvation before we leave you, or you leave the world. All other business in the world is but as toys and dreams in comparison of this. The labors of your calling are but to prop up a cottage of clay, while your souls are hastening to death and judgment, which may even now be near at hand. I hope, therefore, you will be glad of help in so needful a work, and not think it much that I put you to this trouble, when the trifles of the world cannot be got without much greater trouble.’ This, or something to this purpose, may tend to make them more willing to hear you, and receive instruction, and to give you some account of their knowledge and practice.
2. When you have spoken thus to them all, take them one by one, and deal with them as far as you can in private, out of the hearing of the rest. For some cannot speak freely before others, and some will not endure to be questioned before others, because they think that it will tend to their shame to have others hear their answers. And some persons that can make better answers themselves, will be ready, when they are gone, to talk of what they heard, and to disgrace those that speak not so well as themselves. Thus people will be discouraged, and persons who are backward to the exercise will have presences to forbear and forsake it, and to say, ‘We will not come to be made a scorn and a laughingstock.’ You must, therefore, be very careful to prevent all these inconveniences. But the main reason is, as I find by experience, people will better take plain close dealing about their sin and misery and duty when you have them alone, than they will before others; and, if you have not an opportunity to set home the truth, and to deal freely with their consciences, you will frustrate all. If, therefore, you have a convenient place, let the rest stay in one room, while you confer with each person by himself in another room; only, in order to avoid scandal, we must speak to the women only in presence of some others; and, if we lose some advantage by this there is no remedy. It is better to do so, than, by giving occasion of reproach to the malicious, to destroy all the work. Yet we may so contrive it, that, though some others be in the room, yet what things are less fit for their observance may be spoken in a low voice that they may not hear it; and therefore they may be placed at the remotest part of the room; or, at least, let none be present but the members of the same family, who are more familiar with each other, and not so likely to reproach one another. And then, in your most rousing examinations and reproofs, deal most with the ignorant, secure, and vicious, that you may have the clearer ground for your close dealing, and the hearing of it may awaken the bystanders, to whom you seem not so directly to apply it. These small things deserve attention, because they are in order to a work that is not small: and small errors may hinder a great deal of good.
3. Begin your work by taking an account of what they have learned of the words of the catechism, and receiving their answer to each question; and, if they are able to repeat but little or none of it, try whether they can rehearse the creed and the decalog.
4. Then choose out some of the weightiest points, and try, by further questions, how far they understand them. And therein be careful of the following things:
(1) That you do not begin with less necessary point, but with those which they themselves may perceive most nearly concern the. Fore example; ‘What do you think becomes of men when they die? What shall become of us after the end of the world? Do you believe that you have any sin; or that you were born with sin? What does every sin deserve? What remedy has God provided for the saving of sinful, miserable souls? Has any one suffered for you sins in our stead; or must we suffer for them ourselves? Who are those who God will pardon; and who shall be saved by the blood of Christ? What change must be made on all who shall be saved; and how is this change effected? Wherein lies our chief happiness? And what is it that our hearts must be most set upon?’ And such like other questions.
(2) Beware of asking them nice, or needless, or doubtful, or very difficult questions, though about those matters that are of greatest weight in themselves. Some self–conceited persons will be as busy with such questions which they cannot answer themselves, and as a censorious of the poor people that cannot answer them, as if life and death depended on the.
You will ask them perhaps, ‘What is God?’: and how defective an answer must you make yourselves! You may tell what he is not sooner than what he is. If you ask, ‘What is repentance, what faith, or what is forgiveness of sin?’, how many ministers may you ask before you have a right answer, or else they would not be so disagreed in the point! Likewise if you ask them what regeneration is, what sanctification is. But you will perhaps say, ‘If men know not what God is, what repentance, faith, conversion, justification, and sanctification are, how can they be true Christians and be saved?’. I answer, It is one thing to know exactly what they are, and another thing to know them in their nature and effects, though with a more general and indistinct knowledge; and it is one thing to know, and another thing to tell what this or that is. The very name as commonly used does signify to the, and express from theme the thing without a definition; and they partly understand what that name signifies, when they cannot tell it to you in other words; as they know what it is to repent, to believe, to be forgiven. By custom of speech they know what these mean, and yet cannot define them, but perhaps put you off with the country answer: ‘To repent is to repent; and to be forgiven is to be forgiven;’ or if they can say ‘It is to be pardoned,’ it is fair. Yet do I not absolutely dissuade you from the use of such questions; but do it cautiously, in case you suspect some gross ignorance in the point, especially about God himself.
(3) So contrive your questions, that they may perceive what you mean, and that it is not a nice definition, but simply a solution, that you expect. Look not after words, but things, and even leave them to a bare Yes, or No, or the mere election of one of the two descriptions which you yourself may have propounded. For example: ‘What is God? Is he made of flesh and blood, as we are; or is he an invisible Spirit? Is he a man, or is he not? Had he any beginning? Can he die? What is faith? Is it a believing all the Word of God? What is it to believe in Christ? Is it all one as to become a true Christian? Or to believe that Christ is the Savior of sinners, and to trust in him, as your Savior, to pardon, sanctify, govern, and glorify you? What is repentance? Is it only to be sorry for sin? Or is it the change of the mind from sin to God, and a forsaking of it? or does it include both?’
(4) When you perceive that they do not understand the meaning of your question, you must draw out their answer by an equivalent, or expository question. Or, if this will not do, you must frame the answer into your question, and require in reply but Yes or No. I have often asked some very ignorant people, ‘How do you think that your sins, which are so many and so great, can be pardoned?’ And they tell me, ‘By our repenting, and amending our lives,’ and never mention Jesus Christ. I ask them further, ‘But do you think that your amendment can make God any amends or satisfaction for the sin that is past?’ They will answer, ‘We hope so, or else we know not what will.’ One would now think that these men had no knowledge of Christ at all, since they make no mention of him. Some I indeed find have no knowledge of him; and when I tell them the history of Christ, and what he is, and did, and suffered, they stand wondering at it as a strange thing. And some say they never heard this much before, nor knew it, though they came to church every Lord’s day. But some, I perceive, give such answers because they understand not the scope of my question. They suppose that I take Christ’s death for granted, and that I only ask them, ‘What shall make God satisfaction?’ as their part under Christ—though in this, also, they reveal sad ignorance. And when I ask them whether their good deeds can merit anything from God, they answer, ‘No, but we hope God will accept us.’ And if I ask further, ‘Can you be saved without the death of Christ?’ they say, ‘No.’ And if I ask still further, ‘What has he done or suffered for you?’ they will say, ‘He died for us; or he shed his blood for us,’ and will profess that they place their confidence in that for salvation.
Many men have that in their minds which is not ripe for utterance; and, through an imperfect education and disuse, they are strangers to the expression of those things of which they yet have some conception. And, by the way, you may here see reason why you should deal very tenderly with the common people for matter of knowledge and defect of expression, if they are teachable and tractable, and willing to use the means For many, even ancient godly persons, cannot express themselves with any tolerable propriety, nor yet learn when expressions are put into their mouths. Some of the most pious, experienced, approved Christians that I know (aged people) complain to me, with tears, that they cannot learn the words of the catechism. And when I consider their advantages—that they have enjoyed the most excellent helps, in constant duty, and in the best company, for forty, fifty, or sixty years together—it teaches me what to expect from poor ignorant people, who never had such company and converse for one year or week. I must not reject them so hastily as some hot and too high professors would have us do.
(5) If you find them at a loss and unable to answer your questions, do not drive them too hard or too long with question after question, lest they conceive you intend only to puzzle them, and disgrace them. But when you perceive that they cannot answer, step in yourself, and take the burden off them and answer the question yourselves. Do it thoroughly and plainly, and give a full explanation of the whole truth to them, that, by your teaching, they may be brought to understand it before you leave them. And herein it is commonly necessary that you fetch up the matter from the beginning, and take it in order, until you come to the point in question.
5. When you have done what you see cause in the trial of their knowledge, proceed next to instruct them yourselves, and this must be according to their several capacities. If it be a professor that understands the fundamental principles of religion, fall upon somewhat which you perceive that he most needs. It may be explaining further some of the mysteries of the gospel, or laying the grounds of some duty which he may doubt of, or showing the necessity of what he neglects, or pointing out his sins or mistakes that will be most convincing and edifying to him. If, on the other hand, it be one who is grossly ignorant, give him a plain, familiar recital of the sum of the Christian religion in a few words. For though it be in the catechism already, yet a more familiar way may better help him to understand it. Thus: ‘You must know, that from everlasting there was one God, who had no beginning, and will have no end, who is not a body as we are, but a most pure, spiritual Being, that knows all things, and can do all things; and has all goodness and blessedness in himself. This God is but one, but yet Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, in a manner that is above our understanding. And you must know, that this one God did make all the world by his Word; the heavens he made to be the place of his glory, and a multitude of holy angels to serve him. But some of these did, by pride or some other sin, fall from their high estate, and are become devils, and shall be miserable forever. When he had created the earth, he made man, as his noblest creature here below, even one man and one woman, Adam and Eve; and he made them perfect, without any sin, and put them into the garden of Eden, and forbade them to eat of one tree in the garden, and told them that if they ate of it they should die. But the devil, who had first fallen himself, did tempt them to sin, and they yielded to his temptation, and thus fell under the curse of God’s law. But God, of his infinite wisdom and mercy, did send his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be their Redeemer, who, in the fullness of time, was made man, being born of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and lived on earth, among the Jews, about thirty–three years, during which time he preached the gospel himself, and wrought many miracles to prove his doctrine, healing the lame, the blind, the sick, and raising the dead by his Divine power; and in the end he was offered upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sins to bear that curse which we should have borne.’
‘And now, if sinners will but believe in him, and repent of their sins, he will freely pardon all that is past, and will sanctify their corrupted nature, and will at length bring them to his heavenly kingdom and glory. But if they make light of their sins and of his mercy, he will condemn them to everlasting misery in hell. This gospel, Christ, having risen from the dead on the third day, appointed his ministers to preach to all the world; and when he had given this in charge to all his apostles, he ascended up into heaven, before their faces, where he is now in glory, with God the Father, in our nature. And at the end of this world, he will come again in our nature, and will raise the dead to life again, and bring them all before him, that they may "give an account of all the deeds done in the body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil." If, therefore, you mean to be saved, you must believe in Christ, as the only Savior from the wrath to come; you must repent of your sins; you must, in short, be wholly new creatures, or there will be no salvation for you.’ Some such short rehearsal of the principles of religion, in the most familiar manner that you can devise, with a brief touch of application in the end, will be necessary when you deal with the grossly ignorant. And if you perceive they understand you not, go over it again, and ask them whether they understand it, and try to fix it in their memories.
6. Whether they be grossly ignorant or not, if you suspect them to be unconverted, endeavor next to make some prudent inquiry into their state. The best and least offensive way of doing this will be to prepare them for the inquiry by saying something that may mollify their minds, and convince them of the necessity of the inquiry, and then to take occasion from some article in the catechism to touch their consciences.
For example: ‘You see that the Holy Spirit does, by the Word, enlighten men’s minds, and soften and open their hearts, and turn them from the power of Satan unto God, through faith in Christ, and "purifies them unto himself a peculiar people"; and that none but these shall be made partakers of everlasting life. Now, though I have no desire, needlessly, to pry into any man’s secrets, yet, because it is the office of ministers to give advice to their people in matters of salvation, and because it is so dangerous a thing to be mistaken as to points which involve everlasting life or everlasting death, I would entreat you to deal honestly, and tell me whether or not you ever found this great change upon your own heart? Did you ever find the Spirit of God, by the Word, come in upon your understanding, with a new and heavenly life, which has made you a new creature? The Lord, who sees your heart, does know whether it be so or not; I pray you, therefore, see that you speak the truth.’
If he tell you that he hopes he is converted—all are sinners but he is sorry for his sins, or the like—then tell him more particularly, in a few words, of some of the plainest marks of true conversion. And so renew and enforce the inquiry thus: ‘Because your salvation or damnation is involved in this, I would gladly help you a little in regard to it, that you may not be mistaken in a matter of such moment, but may find out the truth before it be too late; for as God will judge us impartially, so we have his Word before us, by which we may judge ourselves; for this Word tells us most certainly who they are that shall go to heaven, and who to hell. Now the Scripture tells us that the state of an unconverted man is this: he sees no great felicity in the love and communion of God in the life to come, which may draw his heart there from this present world. But he lives to his carnal self, or to the flesh; and the main bent of his life is, that it may go well with him on earth. And that religion which he has is but a little by the by, lest he should be damned when he can keep the world no longer; so that the world and the flesh are highest in his esteem, and nearest to his heart, and God and glory stand below them, and all their service of God is but a giving him that which the world and flesh can spare. This is the case of every unconverted man; and all who are in this case are in a state of misery. But he who is truly converted, has had a light shining into his soul from God, which has showed him the greatness of his sin and misery, and made it a heavy load upon his soul; and showed him what Christ is, and what he has done for sinners, and made him admire the riches of God’s grace in him.’
‘Oh, what glad news it is to him, that yet there is hope for such lost sinners as he; that so many and so great sins may be pardoned; and that pardon is offered to all who will accept of it! How gladly does he entertain this message and offer! And for the time to come, he resigns himself and all that he has to Christ, to be wholly his, and to be disposed of by him, in order to the everlasting glory which he has promised. He has now such a sight of the blessed state of the saints in glory, that he despises all this world as dross and dung, in comparison of it; and there he lays up his happiness and his hopes, and takes all the affairs of this life but as so many helps or hindrances in the way to that; so that the main care and business of his life is to be happy in the life to come. This is the case of all who are truly converted and who shall be saved. Now, is this the case with you, or is it not? Have you experienced such a change as this upon your soul?’
If he says, he hopes he has, descend to some particulars, thus: ‘I pray you then answer me these two or three questions:
(1) Can you truly say that all the known sins of your past life are the grief of your heart; and that you have felt that everlasting misery is due to you for them; and that, under a sense of this heavy burden, you have felt yourself a lost man; and have gladly entertained the news of a Savior, and cast your soul upon Christ alone, for pardon by his blood?
(2) Can you truly say that your heart is so far turned from sin, that you hate the sins which you once have loved, and love that holy life which you had no mind to before; and that you do not now live in the willful practice of any known sin? Is there no sin which you are not heartily willing to forsake, whatever it cost you, and no duty which you are not willing to perform?
(3) Can you truly say that you have so far taken the everlasting enjoyment of God for your happiness; that it has the most of your heart, of your love, desire, and care; that you are resolved, by the strength of Divine grace, to let go all that you have in the world, rather than hazard it; and that it is your daily, and your principal business to seek it? Can you truly say, that though you have your failings and sins, yet your main care, and the bent of your whole life, is to please God, and to enjoy him forever; that you give the world God’s leavings, as it were, and not God the world’s leavings; and that your worldly business is but as a traveler seeking for provision in his journey, and heaven is the place that you take for your home?’
If he answer in the affirmative to these questions, tell him how great a thing it is for a man’s heart to abhor his sin, and to lay up his happiness unfeignedly in another world; and to live in this world for another that is out of sight. And, therefore, desire him to see that it be so indeed. Then turn to some of the articles in the catechism, which treat of those duties which you most suspect him to omit, and ask him whether he performs such or such a duty; as for instance, prayer in his family, or in private, and the holy spending of the Lord’s day.
I would, however, advise you to be very cautious how you pass too hasty or absolute censures on any you have to do with, because it is not so easy a matter to discern a man to be certainly graceless, as many imagine it to be. And you may do the work in hand as well without such an absolute conclusion as with it.
7. If, however, you have, either by former discovery of gross ignorance, or by these later inquiries into his spiritual state, discerned an apparent probability that the person is yet in an unconverted state, your next business is to employ all your skill to bring his heart to a sense of his condition. For example: ‘Truly, my friends, I have no mind, the Lord knows, to make your condition worse than it is, nor to occasion you any causeless fear or trouble; but, I suppose, you would account me a treacherous enemy, and not a faithful minister, if I should flatter you, and not tell you the truth. If you seek a physician in your sickness, you would have him tell you the truth, though it were the worst. Much more here! For there the knowledge of your disease may, by your fears, increase it; but here you must know it, or else you can never be recovered from it. I much fear that you are yet a stranger to the Christian life. For if you were a Christian indeed, and truly converted, your very heart would be set on God and the life to come, and you would make it your chief business to prepare for everlasting happiness; and you dare not, you would not, live in any willful sin, nor in the neglect of any known duty.’
‘Alas, what have you done? How have you spent your time until now? Did you not know that you had a soul to be saved or lost; and that you must live in heaven or in hell forever; and that you had your life and time in this world chiefly for the purpose of preparing for another? Alas, what have you been doing all your days that you are so ignorant, or so unprepared for death, if it should now find you? If you had but as much mind of heaven as of earth, you would have known more of it, and done more for it, and inquired more diligently after it, than you have done. You can learn how to do your business in the world; and why could you not learn more of the will of God, if you had but attended to it? You have neighbors that could learn more, that have had as much to do in the world as you, and who have had as little time. Do you think that heaven is not worth your labor? Or that it can be had without any care or pains, when you cannot have the trifles of this world without them, and when God has bid you seek first his kingdom and the righteousness thereof? Alas, my friends, what if you had died before this hour in an unconverted state? What then had become of you, and where had you now been? Alas, that you were so cruel to yourselves as to venture your everlasting state so desperately as you have done! What did you think of? Did you not all this while know that you must shortly die, and be judged as you were then found? Had you any greater work to do, or any greater business to mind, than your everlasting salvation? Do you think that all that you can get in this world will comfort you in a dying hour, or purchase your salvation, or ease the pains.’
Set these things home with a peculiar earnestness, for if you get not to the heart, you do little or nothing; and that which affects not is soon forgotten.
8. Conclude the whole with a practical exhortation, which must contain two parts: first, the duty of believing in Christ; and second, of using the external means of grace for the time to come, and the avoiding of former sins. For example: ‘My friend, I am heartily sorry to find you in so sad a case, but I should be more sorry to leave you in it, and therefore let me entreat you, for the Lord’s sake, and for your own sake, to regard what I shall say to you, as to the time to come. It is of the Lord’s great mercy that he did not cut you off in your unconverted state, and that you have yet life and time, and that there is a remedy provided for you in the blood of Christ, and that pardon and sanctification and everlasting life are offered to you as well as to others. God has not left sinful man to utter destruction, as he has done the devils; nor has he made any exception in the offer of pardon and eternal life against you any more than against any other.’
‘If you had yet but a bleeding heart for sin, and could come to Christ believingly for recovery, and resign yourself to him as your Savior and Lord, and would be a new man for the time to come, the Lord would have mercy on you in the pardon of your sins, and the everlasting salvation of your soul. And I must tell you that, as it must be the great work of God’s grace to give you such a heart, so if ever he mean to pardon and save you, he will make this change upon you. He will make you feel your sin as the heaviest burden in the world, as that which is most odious in itself, and has rendered you liable to his wrath and curse. He will make you see that you are a lost man, and that there is nothing for you but everlasting damnation, unless you are pardoned by the blood of Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit. He will make you see the need you have of Christ, and how all your hope and life is in him. He will make you see the vanity of this world and all that it can afford you, and that all your happiness is with God, in that everlasting life in heaven, where you may, with the saints and angels, behold his glory, and live in his love, and be employed in his praises. Let me tell you that, until this work be done upon you, you are a miserable man; and if you die before it is done, you are lost forever. Now you have hope and help before you, but then there will be none.’
‘Let me therefore entreat you, as you love your soul, first, that you will not rest in the condition in which you at present are. Be not quiet in your mind until a saving change is wrought in your heart. Think, when you rise in the morning, Oh, what if this day should be my last, and death should find me in an unrenewed state? Think, when you are about your labor, Oh, how much greater a work have I yet to do, to get my soul reconciled to God, and sanctified by his Spirit! Think, when you are eating, or drinking, or looking on anything that you possess in the world, What good will all this do me, if I live and die an enemy to God, and a stranger to Christ and his Spirit, and so perish forever? Let these thoughts be day and night upon your mind until your soul be changed. Secondly, I entreat you to bethink yourself seriously what a vain world this is, and how shortly it will leave you to a cold grave, and to everlasting misery, if you have not a better treasure than it. And consider what it is to live in the presence of God, and to reign with Christ, and be like the angels; and that this is the life that Christ has procured you, and is preparing for you, and offers you, if you will only accept of it. And oh think, whether it be not madness to slight such an endless glory, and to prefer these fleshly dreams and earthly shadows before it. Accustom yourself to such considerations as these when you are alone, and let them dwell upon your mind. Thirdly, I entreat, that you will presently, without any more delay, accept of this felicity, and this Savior. Close with the Lord Jesus that offers you this eternal life. Joyfully and thankfully accept his offer as the only way to make you happy. And then you may believe that all your sins will be done away by him. Fourthly, resolve presently against your former sins; find out what has defiled your heart and life, and cast it from you, as you would do poison out of your stomach, and abhor the thought of taking it again.’
‘My last request to you is, that you will set yourself to the diligent use of the means of grace until this change be wrought, and then continue the use of these means until you are confirmed, and at last perfected.
(1) As you cannot of yourself effect this change upon your heart and life, betake yourself daily to God in prayer, and beg earnestly, as for your life, that he will pardon all your sins, and change your heart, and show you the riches of his grace in Christ, and the glory of his kingdom. Follow God day and night with these requests.
(2) Fly from temptations and occasions of sin, and forsake your former evil company, and betake yourself to the company of those that fear God, and will help you in the way to heaven.
(3) Be specially careful to spend the Lord’s day in holy exercises, both public and private, and lose not one quarter of an hour of any of your time—but especially of that most precious time which God has given you purposely, that you may set your mind upon him, and be instructed by him, and prepare yourself for your latter end. What say you to these things? Will you do this presently or at least so much of it as you can? Will you give me a promise to this effect, and study henceforth to keep that promise?’
And here be sure, if you can, to get their promise, and engage them to amendment, especially to use the means of grace, and to change their company, and to forsake their sins, because these are more within their reach; and in this way they may wait for the accomplishing of that change that is not yet wrought. And do this solemnly, reminding them of the presence of God who hears their promises, and who will expect the performance of them. And when you afterward have opportunity, you may remind them of their promise.
9. At the dismissing of them, do these two things:
(1) Mollify their minds again by a few words, deprecating anything like offence. For example: ‘I pray you, take it not ill that I have put you to this trouble, or dealt thus freely with you. It is as little pleasure to me as to you. If I did not know these things to be true and necessary, I would have spared this labor to myself and you; but I know that we shall be here together but a little while. We are almost at the world to come already; and therefore it is time for us all to look about us, and see that we be ready when God shall call us.’
(2) As you may not soon have an opportunity to speak with the same persons, set them in the way of perfecting what you have begun. Engage the master of each family to call all his family to repeat, every Lord’s day, what they have learned of the catechism; and to continue this practice until they have all learned it perfectly. And when they have done so, still to continue to hear them regularly recite it, that they may not forget it; for, even to the most judicious, it will be an excellent help to have in memory a Sum of the Christian Religion, as to matter, method, and words.
As to the rulers of families themselves, or those that are under such masters as will not help them, if they have learned some part of the catechism only, engage them either to come again to you (though before their course) when they have learned the rest, or else to go to some able experienced neighbor, and repeat it to him; and do you take the assistance of such persons, when you cannot have time yourself.
10. Have the names of all your parishioners by you in a book, and when they come and repeat the catechism, note in your book who come, and who do not; and who are so grossly ignorant as to be unfit for the Lord’s supper and other holy communion, and who not. And as you perceive the necessities of each, so deal with them for the future. But as to those that are utterly obstinate, and will not come to you, nor be instructed by you, deal with them as the obstinate despisers of instruction should be dealt with, in regard to sealing and confirming ordinances; which is, to avoid them, and not to hold holy or familiar communion with them in the Lord’s supper or other ordinances. And though some reverend brethren are for admitting their children to baptism (and offended with me for contradicting it), yet so cannot I, nor shall I dare to do it upon any presences of their ancestors’ faith, or of a dogmatical faith of these rebellious parents.
11. Through the whole course of your conference with them, see that the manner as well as the matter be suited to the end. And concerning the manner observe these particulars:
(1) That you make a difference according to the character of the persons whom you have to deal with. To the youthful, you must lay greater shame on sensual voluptuousness, and show them the nature and necessity of mortification. To the aged, you must do more to disgrace this present world, and make them apprehensive of the nearness of their change, and the aggravations of their sin, if they shall live and die in ignorance or impenitency. To inferiors and the young, you must be more free; to superiors and elders, more reverend. To the rich, you must show the vanity of this world, the nature and necessity of self–denial, and the damnableness of preferring the present state to the next, together with the necessity of improving their talents in doing good to others. To the poor, you must show the great riches of glory which are offered to them in the gospel, and how well present comfort may be spared when everlasting joy may be got. Those sins must also be most insisted on which each one’s age, or sex, or temperament, or calling and employment in the world, does most incline them to: as in females, loquacity, evil speeches, passion, malice, pride; in males, drunkenness, ambition, etc.
(2) Be as condescending, familiar, and plain as possible, with those that are of weaker capacity.
(3) Give them Scripture proof of all you say, that they may see that it is not you only, but God by you that speaks to them.
(4) Be as serious as you can in the whole exercise, but especially in the applicatory part. I scarce fear anything more than that some careless ministers will slubber over the work, doing all superficially and without life and destroying this as they do all other duties by turning it into a mere formality. In putting a few cold questions to their people, and giving them two or three cold words of advice without any life and feeling in themselves, they are not likely to produce any feeling in the hearers. But surely he who values souls, and knows what an opportunity is before him, will go through the exercise with deep seriousness, and will be as earnest with them as for life or death.
(5) To this end, I should think it very necessary that, both before and in the work, we take special pains with our own hearts, to excite and strengthen our belief of the truth of the gospel and of the invisible glory and misery that are to come. I am confident this work will exceedingly try the strength of our belief. For he who is but superficially a Christian, and not sound at bottom, will likely feel his zeal quite fail him, especially when the duty is grown common for want of a belief of the things of which he is to treat. An affected hypocritical fervency will not hold out long in duties of this kind. A pulpit shall have more of it, than a conference with poor ignorant souls. For the pulpit is the hypocritical minister’s stage: there, and in the press, and in other public acts, where there is room for ostentation, you shall have his best, perhaps his all. It is other kind of men that must effectually do the work now in hand.
(6) It is, therefore, very meet that we prepare ourselves for it by secret prayer; and, if time would permit, and there be many together, it were well if we began and ended with a short prayer with our people.
(8) If you have not time to deal so fully with each individual as is here directed, then omit not the most necessary parts. Take several of them together who are friends, and who will not seek to divulge each other’s weaknesses, and speak to them in common as much as concerns all. Only the examinations of their knowledge and state, and of their convictions of sin and misery, and special directions to them, must be used to the individuals alone. But take heed of slubbering it over with an unfaithful laziness, or by being too brief, without a real necessity.
12. Lastly, If God enable you, extend your charity to those of the poorest sort, before they part from you. Give them somewhat towards their relief and for the time that is thus taken from their labors, especially for the encouragement of them that do best. And to the rest, promise them so much when they have learned the catechism. I know you cannot give what you have not, but I speak to them that can.
And now, brethren, I have done with my advice, and leave you to the practice. Though the proud may receive it with scorn, and the selfish and slothful with distaste or even indignation, I doubt not but God will use it. He will use it, in despite of the opposition of sin and Satan, to the awakening of many of his servants to their duty, and the promoting of the work of a right reformation. His blessing will accompany the present undertaking for the saving of many a soul, the peace of you that undertake and perform it, the exciting of his servants throughout the nation to second you, and the increase of the purity and the unity of his churches. Amen.