CHAPTER 3 [contd]
SECTION 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 catechising 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.
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. Yea, thousands and millions, for aught 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 hath 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 hath 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 means of the conversion of souls; for it unites those great things which most further such an end.
(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 consisteth 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 that hath 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. 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, ‘Thou art the man," and plainly mention his particular case; and set home the truth with familiar importunity. If any thing 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 hath 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 bring 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 neighbours’ 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,’ and would be able to say at last, ‘Here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me’ — up and ply this blessed work! 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’ till Christ be formed in the souls of your people. 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.’ 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 hazardeth our whole work, or at least much hindereth it, if we do it not in the proper order. How can you build, if you first 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 till 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, 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 that knows not these, knows nothing; he that knows them well, doth know so much as will make him happy; and he that 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 prepareth their minds, and openeth 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; while, 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,’ 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 that 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. Though 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 hath oft 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; and if we may judge by their practice, they consider it not as their duty; and the principal thing that hardeneth 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 hath grown so common among pious, able men, that the disgrace of it is abated by their ability; and a man may now be guilty of it without any particular notice or dishonor. Never doth sin so reign in a church or state, as when it hath gained reputation, or, at least, is no disgrace to the sinner, nor a matter of offense 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 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; and 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 requireth 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; for, 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 that 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 hath preached, he hath done all his work, let us show him, by our practice of the rest, that there is much more to be done; and that ‘taking heed to all the flock,’ is another business than careless, lazy ministers imagine. If a man have an apprehension that duty, and the chiefest 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 hath 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 think not 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 ‘the 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.’ 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, and for help against their sins, and for direction in duty, and for increase of knowledge and all saving grace; and 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; and 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? ’ Whereas now the matter is come to that sad pass, that they think a minister hath 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 doth these things? and think that he is a busy, pragmatical fellow, who loves to be meddling where he hath nothing to do; or a proud fellow, who would bear rule over their consciences; whereas they may as well ask, by what authority he preacheth, or prayeth, or giveth 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 doth 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 hath 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 doth 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; but 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 that hath ears to hear’ must needs hear. Yet if we were never so fain, 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 little 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 little 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 glorieth of the fullness of the gospel? An infidel will say, No: but, methinks, no man that believes an 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; so that any man may see that we must leave undone all that other work that we were wont to do at that time: and 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 forementioned 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,) and which 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 a man 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 aught 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 — and 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, and show the magistrate to his face, that it is a most weighty and necessary part of our business; and that we would do it thoroughly if we could; and that if there were hands enough, the work might go on: and, withal, 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, and 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 successors; 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 than we, the same odium and opposition must befall them which 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; when the people shall willingly submit to their private instructions and examinations, yea, 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; whereas many of them would otherwise 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 mis-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 followeth 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. 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 learning the fundamental truths of the gospel, we shall divert our minds and tongues, and have less room for lower things; and 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 requireth us to preach Christ to every creature, and promiseth 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 hath 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. And, if Christ ‘tasted death for every man,’ it is meet we should preach his death to every man. This work hath 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 hath 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 as 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; and 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 consisteth 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; and 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.
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. As carnal men will take on them to be Christians, and profess with confidence that they believe in Christ, and accept of his salvation, and may contend for Christ, and fight for him, and yet, for all this, will have none of him, but 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, but 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: even so 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; and 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 hath 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. But as if they had expected that all things besides themselves should be mended without them, or that the Holy Ghost should again descend miraculously, or every sermon should convert its thousands, or that some angel from heaven or some Elias should be sent to restore all things, or that the law of the parliament, and the sword of the magistrate, would have converted or constrained all, and have done the deed; and 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 ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in. But who may abide the day of his coming and who shall stand when he appeareth? 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, and 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 dulness 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 delayeth 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: and 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, so that 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 meetest 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; and 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 that if you have not the happy art 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 nought! 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 doth not usually work by foolish, dead, carnal instruments, but by such persuasions of light and life and purity as are likest 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 liveth 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 skilfully 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 shineth in his saints, and all their glory is his glory. That, therefore, which honoureth them, in number or excellency, honoureth 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? 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. 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 requireth, 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 hath 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 dulness 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? Are you intrusted with the charge of an hospital, where one languisheth in one corner, and another groaneth in another, and crieth 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 relieveth not men’s bodies, how much more of him that relieveth not men’s souls, ‘If he see his brother have need, and shut up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? ’ 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 hath 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 till 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 that hath 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), 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? Doth not that threatening make you tremble — ‘If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand ? ’ I am afraid, nay, I have no doubt, that the day is near when unfaithful ministers will wish that they had never known the charge of souls; but that they had 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. When we 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 cometh, when no man can work.’ 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.
APPLICATION OF THESE MOTIVES
Having found so many and so powerful reasons to move us to this work, I shall now apply them further for our humiliation and excitation.
1. What cause have we to bleed before the Lord this day, that we have neglected so great and good a work so long; that we have been ministers of the gospel so many years, and done so little by personal instruction and conference for the saving of men’s souls! If we had but set about this business sooner, who knows how many souls might have been brought to Christ, and how much happier our congregations might have been? And why might we not have done it sooner as well as now? I confess, there were many impediments in our way, and so there are still, and will be while there is a devil to tempt, and a corrupt heart in man to resist the light: but if the greatest impediment had not been in ourselves, even in our own darkness, and dulness, and indisposedness to duty, and our dividedness and unaptness to close for the work of God, I see not but much might have been done before this. We had the same God to command us, and the same miserable objects of compassion, and the same liberty from governors as now we have. We have sinned, and have no just excuse for our sin; and the sin is so great, because the duty is so great, that we should be afraid of pleading any excuse. The God of mercy forgive us, and all the ministry of England, and lay not this or any of our ministerial negligences to our charge! Oh that he would cover all our unfaithfulness, and, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, wash away our guilt of the blood of souls; that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, we may stand before him in peace, and may not be condemned for the scattering of his flock. And oh that he would put up his controversy. which he hath against the pastors of his Church, and not deal the worse with them for our sakes, nor suffer underminers or persecutors to scatter them, as they have suffered his sheep to be scattered; and that he will not care as little for us, as we have done for the souls of men; nor think his salvation too good for us, as we have thought our labor and sufferings too much for men’s salvation!
As we have had many days of humiliation in England for the sins of the land, and the judgments that have befallen us, I hope we shall hear that God will more thoroughly humble the ministry, and cause them to bewail their own neglects, and to set apart some days through the land to that end, that they may not think it enough to lament the sins of others, while they overlook their own; and that God may not abhor our solemn national humiliations, because they are managed by unhumbled guides; and that we may first prevail with him for a pardon for ourselves, that we may be the fitter to beg for the pardon of others.
And oh that we may cast out the dung of our pride, contention, self-seeking, and idleness; lest God should cast our sacrifices as dung in our faces, and should cast us out as the dung of the earth, as of late he hath done many others for a warning to us; and that we may presently resolve in concord to mend our pace, before we feel a sharper spur than hitherto we have felt.
2. And now, brethren, what have we to do for the time to come, but to deny our lazy flesh, and rouse up ourselves to the work before us. The harvest is great, the laborers are few; the loiterers and hinderers are many, the souls of men are precious, the misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery to which they are near is greater, the joys of heaven are inconceivable, the comfort of a faithful minister is not small, the joy of extensive success will be a full reward. To be fellow-workers with God and his Spirit is no little honor; to subserve the blood-shedding of Christ for men’s salvation is not a light thing. To lead on the armies of Christ through the thickest of the enemy; to guide them safely through a dangerous wilderness; to steer the vessels through such storms and rocks and sands and shelves, and bring it safe to the harbour of rest, requireth no small skill and diligence. The fields now seem even white unto harvest; the preparations that have been made for us are very great; the season of working is more calm than most ages before us have ever seen. We have carelessly loitered too long already; the present time is posting away; while we are trifling, men are dying; oh how fast are they passing into another world! And is there nothing in all this to awaken us to our duty, nothing to resolve us to speedy and unwearied diligence? Can we think that a man can be too careful and painful under all these motives and engagements? Or can that man be a fit instrument for other men’s illumination, who is himself so blind? or for the quickening of others, who is himself so senseless? What, sirs! are ye, who are men of wisdom, as dull as the common people? and do we need to heap up a multitude of words to persuade you to a known and weighty duty? One would think it should be enough to set you on work, to show a line in the Book of God; to prove it to be his will; or to prove to you that the work hath a tendency to promote men’s salvation. One would think that the very sight of your miserable neighbors would be motive sufficient to draw out your most compassionate endeavors for their relief. If a cripple do but unlap his sores, and show you his disabled limbs, it will move you without words; and will not the case of souls, that are near to damnation, move you? O happy church, if the physicians were but healed themselves; and if we had not too much of that infidelity and stupidity against which we daily preach in others; and were more soundly persuaded of that of which we persuade others; and were more deeply affected with the wonderful things wherewith we would affect them!
Were there but such clear and deep impressions upon our own souls of those glorious things which we daily preach, oh what a change would it make in our sermons, and in our private course of life! Oh what a miserable thing it is to the Church and to themselves, that men must preach of heaven and hell, before they soundly believe that there are such things, or have felt the weight of the doctrines which they preach! It would amaze a sensible man to think what matters we preach and talk of; what it is for the soul to pass out of this flesh, and appear before a righteous God, and enter upon unchangeable joy or unchangeable torment! Oh, with what amazing thoughts do dying men apprehend these things! How should such matters be preached and discoursed of! Oh the gravity, the seriousness, the incessant diligence, which these things require! I know not what others think of them; but for my part, I am ashamed of my stupidity, and wonder at myself that I deal not with my own and others’ souls, as one that looks for the great day of the Lord; and that I can have room for almost any other thoughts or words; and that such astonishing matters do not wholly absorb my mind. I marvel how I can preach of them slightly and coldly, and how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them, and beseech them, for the Lord’s sake, to repent, however they may take it, and whatever pains or trouble it may cost me! I seldom come out of the pulpit, but my conscience smiteth me that I have been no more serious and fervent in such a case. It accuseth me not so much for want of ornaments or elegancy, nor for letting fall an unhandsome word; but it asketh me, ‘How couldst thou speak of life and death with such a heart? How couldst thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner Dost thou believe what thou sayest? Art thou in earnest or in jest? How canst thou tell people that sin is such a thing, and that so much misery is upon them and before them, and be no more affected with it? Shouldst thou not weep over such a people, and should not thy tears interrupt thy words? Shouldst not thou cry aloud, and show them their transgressions, and entreat and beseech them as for life and death? ’ Truly, this is the peal that conscience doth ring in my ears, and yet my drowsy soul will not be awakened.
Oh what a thing is a senseless, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity and hard-heartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our own souls, which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others! I am even confounded to think what a difference there is between my sickbed apprehensions, and my pulpit apprehensions, of the life to come; that ever that can seem so light a matter to me now, which seemed so great and astonishing a matter then, and I know will do so again when death looks me in the face, when yet I daily know and think of that approaching hour; and yet these forethoughts will not recover such working apprehensions! O sirs, surely if you had all conversed with neighbor Death as oft as I have done, and as often received the sentence in yourselves, you would have an unquiet conscience, if not a reformed life, as to your ministerial diligence and fidelity; and you would have something within you that would frequently ask you such questions as these: ‘Is this all thy compassion for lost sinners? Wilt thou do no more to seek and to save them? Is there not such and such — oh how many round about thee! — that are yet the visible sons of death? What hast thou said to them, or done for their conversion? Shall they die and be in hell before thou wilt speak to them one serious word to prevent it? shall they there curse thee for ever that didst no more in time to save them? ’
Such cries of conscience are daily ringing in mine ears, though, the Lord knows, I have too little obeyed them. The God of mercy pardon me, and awaken me, with the rest of his servants that have been thus sinfully negligent. I confess to my shame that I seldom hear the bell toll for one that is dead, but conscience asketh me, ‘What hast thou done for the saving of that soul before it left the body? There is one more gone to judgment; what didst thou to prepare him for judgment? ’ and yet I have been slothful and backward to help them that survive. How can you choose, when you are laying a corpse in the grave, but think with yourselves, ‘Here lieth the body; but where is the soul? and what have I done for it, before it departed? It was part of my charge; what account can I give of it? ’
O sirs, is it a small matter to you to answer such questions as these? It may seem so now, but the hour is coming when it will not seem so. ‘If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts,’ and will condemn us much more, even with another kind of condemnation than conscience doth. The voice of conscience is a still voice, and the sentence of conscience is a gentle sentence, in comparison of the voice and the sentence of God. Alas! conscience seeth but a very little of our sin and misery, in comparison of what God seeth. What mountains would these things appear to your souls, which now seem molehills What beams would these be in your eyes, that now seem motes, if you did but see them with a clearer light? (I dare not say, As God seeth them.) We can easily make shift to plead the cause with conscience, and either bribe it, or bear its sentence; but God is not so easily dealt with, nor his sentence so easily borne. ‘Wherefore we receiving,’ and preaching, ‘a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence, and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.’ But because you shall not say that I affright you with bugbears, and tell you of dangers and terrors when there are none, I will here show you the certainty and sureness of that condemnation that is like to befall negligent pastors, particularly how many will be ready to rise up against us and condemn us, if we shall hereafter be wilful neglecters of this great work.
(1) Our parents, that destined us to the ministry, will condemn us, and say, ‘Lord, we devoted them to thy service, and they made light of it, and served themselves.’
(2) Our masters that taught us, our tutors that instructed us, the schools and universities where we lived, and all the years that we spent in study, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us; for why was all this, but for the work of God
(3) Our learning and knowledge and ministerial gifts will condemn us; for to what end were we made partakers of these, but for the work of God
(4) Our voluntary undertaking the charge of souls will condemn us; for all men should be faithful to the trust which they have undertaken.
(5) All the care of God for his Church, and all that Christ hath done and suffered for it, will rise up in judgment against us, if we be negligent and unfaithful, and condemn us; because by our neglect we destroyed them for whom Christ died.
(6) All the precepts and charges of Holy Scripture, all the promises of assistance and reward, all the threatenings of punishment, will rise up against us and condemn us; for God did not speak all this in vain.
(7) All the examples of the prophets and apostles, and other preachers recorded in Scripture, and all the examples of the faithful and diligent servants of Christ in these latter times, and in the places around us, will rise up in judgment and condemn us; for all these were for our imitation, and to provoke us to a holy emulation in fidelity and ministerial diligence.
(8) The Holy Bible that lies open before us, and all the books in our studies that tell us of our duty, directly or indirectly, will condemn the lazy and unprofitable servant; for we have not all these helps and furniture in vain.
(9) All the sermons that we preach to persuade our people to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, to lay violent hands upon the crown of life, and take the kingdom by force, to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and so to run as to obtain, will rise up against the unfaithful and condemn them; for if it so nearly concern them to labor for their salvation, doth it not concern us who have the charge of them to be also violent, laborious, and unwearied in striving to help on their salvation? Is it worth their labor, and patience, and is it not also worth ours?
(10) All the sermons that we preach to them to set forth the evil of sin, the danger of a natural state, the need of a Savior, the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell, yea, and the truth of the Christian religion, will rise up in judgment against the unfaithful, and condemn them. And a sad review it will be to themselves, when they shall be forced to think, ‘Did I tell them of such great dangers and hopes in public, and would I do no more, in private, to help them? What? tell them daily of damnation, and yet let them run into it so easily? Tell them of such a glory, and scarcely speak a word to them personally, to help them to it? Were these such great matters with me at church, and so small matters when I came home? ’ Ah! this will be dreadful self-condemnation.
(11) All the sermons that we have preached to persuade other men to such duties — as neighbors to exhort one another daily, and parents and masters to teach their children and servants the way to heaven — will rise up in judgment against the unfaithful, and condemn them; for will you persuade others to that which you will not do, as far as you can, yourselves? When you threaten them for neglecting their duty, how much more do you threaten your own souls!
(12) All the maintenance which we take for our service, if we be unfaithful will condemn us; for who is it that will pay a servant to take his pleasure, or sit idle, or work for himself. If we have the fleece, surely it is that we may look after the flock; and, by taking the wages, we oblige ourselves to the work.
(13) All the witness that we have borne against the scandalous, negligent ministers of this age, and all the endeavors that we have used for their removal, will condemn the unfaithful; for God is no respecter of persons. If we succeed them in their sins, we have spoken all that against ourselves; and, as we condemned them, God and others will condemn us, if we imitate them. And, though we should not be so bad as they, it will prove sad if we are even like them.
(14) All the judgments that God hath, in this age, executed on negligent ministers, before our eyes, will condemn us, if we be unfaithful. Hath he made the idle shepherds and sensual drones to stink in the nostrils of the people? And will he honor us, if we be idle and sensual? Hath he sequestrated them, and cast them out of their habitations, and out of their pulpits, and laid them by as dead, while they are yet alive, and made them a hissing and a by-word in the land? And yet dare we imitate them Are not their sufferings our warnings? and did not all this befall them as an example to us? If any thing in the world would awaken ministers to self-denial and diligence, methinks we have seen enough to do it. Would you have imitated the old world if you had seen the flood that drowned it? Would you have indulged in the sins of Sodom — idleness, pride, fullness of bread — if you had stood by, and seen the flames which consumed it ascending up to heaven? Who would have been a Judas, that had seen him hanged and burst asunder? And who would have been a lying, sacrilegious hypocrite, that had seen Ananias and Sapphira die! And who would not have been afraid to contradict the gospel, that had seen Elymas smitten with blindness And shall we prove idle, self-seeking ministers, when we have seen God scourging such out of his temple, and sweeping them away as dirt into the channels? God forbid! For then how great and how manifold will our condemnation be"
(15) Lastly, All the days of fasting and prayer, which have, of late years, been kept in England for a reformation, will rise up in judgment against the unreformed, who will not be persuaded to the painful part of the work. This, I confess, is so heavy an aggravation of our sin, that it makes me ready to tremble to think of it. Was there ever a nation on the face of the earth, which so long and so solemnly followed God with fasting and prayer, as we have done? Before the parliament began, bow frequent and fervent were we in secret! After that, for many years together, we had a monthly fast commanded by the parliament, besides frequent private and public fasts on other occasions. And what was all this for? Whatever was, for some time, the means we looked at, yet still the end of all our prayers was Church-reformation, and, therein, especially these two things, a faithful ministry, and the exercise of discipline in the Church. And did it once enter then into the hearts of the people, or even into our own hearts, to imagine, that when we had all we would have, and the matter was put into our own hands, to be as painful as we could, and to exercise what discipline we would, that then we would do nothing but publicly preach? that we would not be at the pains of catechizing and instructing our people personally, nor exercise any considerable part of discipline at all? It astonisheth me to think of it. What a depth of deceit is the heart of man! What? are good men’s hearts so deceitful Are all men’s hearts so deceitful? I confess, I then told many soldiers, and other sensual men, that though they had fought for a reformation, I was confident they would abhor it, and be enemies to it, when they saw and felt it; thinking that the yoke of discipline would have pinched their necks, and that, when they were catechized and personally dealt with, and reproved for their sin, in private and public, and brought to public confession and repentance, or avoided as impenitent, they would scorn and spurn at all this, and take the yoke of Christ for tyranny; but little did I think that the ministers would let all fall, and put almost none of this upon them; but let them alone for fear of displeasing them, and let all run on as it did before.
Oh the earnest prayers which I have heard for a painful ministry, and for discipline! It was as if they had even wrestled for salvation itself. Yea, they commonly called discipline, ‘the kingdom of Christ, or the exercise of his kingly office in his church," and so preached and prayed for it, as if the setting up of discipline had been the setting up of the kingdom of Christ. And did I then think that they would refuse to set it up when they might? What! is the kingdom of Christ now reckoned among things indifferent?
If the God of heaven, who knew our hearts, had, in the midst of our prayers and cries, on one of our public monthly fasts, returned us this answer, with his dreadful voice, in the audience of the assembly: ‘You deceitful-hearted sinners! What hypocrisy is this, to weary me with your cries for that which you will not have, if I would give it to you; and thus to lift up your voices for that which your souls abhor! What is reformation, but the instructing and importunate persuading of sinners to entertain my Christ and grace, as offered to them, and the governing of my Church according to my word? Yet these, which are your work, you will not be persuaded to, when you come to find it troublesome and ungrateful. When I have delivered you, it is not me, but yourselves, that you will serve; and I must be as earnest to persuade you to reform the Church, in doing your own duty, as you are earnest with me to grant you liberty for reformation. And, when all is done, you will leave it undone, and will be long before you will be persuaded to my work.’ If the Lord, or any messenger of his, had given us such an answer, would it not have amazed us? Would it not have seemed incredible to us, that our hearts should be such as now they prove? And would we not have said, as Hazael, ‘Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing ‘ or as Peter, ‘Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I? ’ Well, brethren, sad experience hath showed us our frailty. We have refused the troublesome and costly part of the reformation that we prayed for; but Christ yet turneth back, and looketh with a merciful eye upon us. Oh that we had yet the hearts immediately to go out and weep bitterly, and to do no more as we have done, lest a worse thing come upon us; and now to follow Christ, whom we have so far forsaken, through labor and suffering, even though it were to death!
I have thus showed you what will come of it, if you will not set yourselves faithfully to this work, to which you are under so many obligations and engagements; and what an inexcusable thing our neglect will be, and how great and manifold a condemnation it will expose us to. Truly, brethren, if I did not apprehend the work to be of exceeding great moment to yourselves, to the people, and to the honor of God, I would not have troubled you with so many words about it, nor have presumed to speak so sharply as I have done. But when the question is about life and death, men are apt to forget their reverence and courtesy and compliments and good manners. For my own part I apprehend this is one of the best and greatest works I ever in my life put my hand to; and I verily think, that if your thoughts of it are as mine, you will not think my words too many or too keen. I can well remember the time when I was earnest for the reformation of matters of ceremony; and, if I should be cold in such substantial matter as this, how disorderly and disproportionable would my zeal appear! Alas! can we think that the reformation is wrought, when we cast out a few ceremonies, and changed some vestures, and gestures, and forms! Oh no, sirs’! it is the converting and saving of souls that is our business. That is the chiefest part of reformation, that doth most good, and tendeth most to the salvation of the people.
And now, brethren, the work is before you. In these personal instructions of all the flock, as well as in public preaching, doth it consist. Others have done their part, and borne their burden, and now comes in yours. You may easily see how great a matter lies upon your hands, and how many will be wronged by your failing of your duty, and how much will be lost by the sparing of your labor. If your labor be more worth than the souls of men, and than the blood of Christ, then sit still, and look not after the ignorant or the ungodly; follow your own pleasure or worldly business, or take your ease; displease not sinners, nor your own flesh, but let your neighbors sink or swim; and, if public preaching will not save them, let them perish. But, if the case be far otherwise, you had best look about you.