By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
THE REFORMED PASTOR
By Richard Baxter
Many who have undertaken the work of the ministry, do so obstinately proceed in self-seeking, negligence, pride, and other sins, that it has become our necessary duty to admonish them. If we saw that such would reform without reproof, we would gladly forbear the publishing of their faults. But when reproofs themselves prove so ineffectual that they are more offended at the reproof than at the sin, and had rather that we should cease reproving than that they should cease sinning, I think it is time to sharpen the remedy. For what else should we do? To give up our brethren as incurable were cruelty as long as there are further means to be used. We must not hate them, but plainly rebuke them, and not suffer sin upon them. To bear with the vices of the ministers is to promote the ruin of the church; for what speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides? And how can we more effectually promote a reformation than by endeavoring to reform the leaders of the Church?
Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master's work.
A graceless, inexperienced preacher is one of the most unhappy creatures upon earth; and yet he is ordinarily very insensible of his unhappiness; for he hath so many counterfeits that seem like the gold of saving grace, and so many splendid stones that resemble Christian jewels, that he is not troubled with the thoughts of his poverty, but thinks he is "rich and increased with goods; and hath need of nothing;" when he is "poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked."
Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others. If you did this for your own sakes, it would not be lost labor. When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers and praises and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is likely to be most in their ears. I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and so I can often observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I have grown cold in preaching they have grown cold, too; and the next prayers which I have heard from them have been, too, like my preaching.
Oh, brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lust and passions and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith and love and zeal; be much at home, much with God. If it be not your daily business to study your own hearts, and to subdue corruption and to walk with God -- if you make not this a work to which you constantly attend, all will go wrong, and you will starve your hearers; or, if you have an affected fervency, you cannot expect a blessing to attend it from on high. Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation. Thence you must fetch the heavenly fire that must kindle your sacrifices.
Vanity and error will slyly insinuate, and seldom come without fair pretenses: great distempers and apostasies have usually small beginnings. The prince of darkness doth frequently personate an angel of light, to draw the children of light again into darkness.
Take heed lest you unsay with your lives what you say with your tongues. He that means as he speaks, will surely do as he speaks. One proud, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action may cut the throat of many a sermon and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing.
I. A Wise And Safe Investment
Brethren, if the salvation of souls be your end, you will certainly intend it out of the pulpit as well as in it. If it be your end you will live for it and contribute all your endeavors to attain it. You will ask concerning the money in your purse as well as concerning other means, In what way shall I lay it out for the greatest good, especially to men's souls? Oh, that this were your daily study -- how to use your wealth, your friends and all you have for God, as well as your tongues. Let your lives condemn sin and persuade men to duty. If you would have others redeem their time, do not misspend yours. Be not proud and lordly if you would have others be lowly. A kind and winning carriage is a cheap way of doing men good. Let me entreat you to abound in works of charity and benevolence. Go to the poor and see what they want and show your compassion at once to their soul and body. Buy them a catechism or other small books that are most likely to do them good, and make them promise to read them with care and attention. Stretch your purse to the utmost and do all the good you can. Think not of being rich, seek not great things for yourselves or posterity. What if you do impoverish yourselves to do a greater good; will this be loss or gain? If you believe that God is the safest purse-bearer, and that to expend in His service is the greatest usury, show them that you do believe it.
That man who hath anything in the world so dear to him that he cannot spare it for Christ if He call for it is no true Christian. Oh, what abundance of good might ministers do if they would but live in contempt of the world and the riches and glory thereof; and expend all they have in their Master's service and pinch their flesh that they may have wherewith to do good. This would unlock more hearts to the reception of their doctrine than all their oratory; and without this, singularity in religion will seem like hypocrisy; and it is likely that it is so.
II. Satan Aims Especially At Ministers
Believe it, brethren, God is no respecter of persons; He saveth not men for their coats or callings. A holy calling will not save an unholy man. Take heed to yourselves because you are exposed to greater temptations than other men. If you will be the leaders against the prince of darkness, he will spare you no further than God restraineth him. He beareth the greatest malice to those that are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. He hath long tried that way of fighting neither against great nor small, comparatively, but of smiting the shepherds that he may scatter the flock; and so great hath been his success this way that he will follow it as far as he is able. Take heed therefore, brethren, for the enemy hath a special eye upon you. The devil is a greater scholar than you; he will cheat you of your faith or innocence and you shall not know that you have lost it. Nay, he will make you believe it is multiplied or increased when it is lost. You shall see neither hook nor line, much less the subtler angler himself while he is offering you his bait. And his bait shall be so fitted to your temper and disposition that he will be sure to find advantages within you and make your own principles and inclinations betray you; and whenever he ruineth you he will make you the instrument of ruin to others. Oh, what a conquest will he think he hath got if he can make a minister lazy and unfaithful -- if he can tempt a minister into covetousness or scandal; he will glory against the church, and say, These are your holy preachers!
The eclipses of the sun by day are seldom without witnesses. As you take yourselves for the lights of the churches, you may expect that men's eyes will be upon you. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. A great man cannot commit a small sin. Oh, what a heinous thing it is in us to study how to disgrace sin to the utmost and make it as odious in the eyes of our people as we can, and when we have done it, to live in it and secretly cherish that which we publicly disgrace. What vile hypocrisy is it to make it our daily work to cry it down and yet to keep to it -- to call it publicly all naught and privately to make it our bed-fellow and companion -- to bind heavy burdens on others and not to touch them ourselves with a finger. What can you say to this in judgment? Why, if one of you that is a leader of the flock should be ensnared but once into some scandalous crime, there is scarcely a man or woman that seeketh diligently after their salvation within the bearing of it, but besides the grief of their hearts for your sin, are likely to have it cast in their teeth by the ungodly about them, however much they may detest and lament it. The ungodly husband will tell the wife and the ungodly parents will tell their children, and ungodly neighbors and fellow-servants will he telling one another of it, saying, These are your godly preachers! See what comes of all your stir; are you any better than others? You are even all alike. Such words as these must all the godly in the country bear for your sakes. "It must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom they come."
Never did man dishonor God, but it proved the greatest dishonor to himself. God will find out ways enough to wipe off any stain east upon Him; but you will not so easily remove the shame and sorrow from yourselves.
III. Unfaithful Shepherds
Can it be expected that God will bless that man's labors I mean comparatively as to other ministers -- who worketh not for God but for himself? Now this is the case with every unsanctified man. They choose it rather than another calling because their parents did destine them to it; or because it is a life wherein they have more opportunity to furnish their intellects with all kinds of science; and because it is not so toilsome to the body, to those that have a mind to favor their flesh; and because it is accompanied with some reverence and respect from men; and because they think it is a fine thing to be leaders and teachers, and have others "receive the law at their mouth." For such ends as these are they ministers and for these do they preach; and were it not for these or similar objects, they would soon give over. And can it be expected that God should bless the labors of such men? What though he live civily and preach plausibly and maintain outwardly a profession of religion? He may be as fast in the devil's snares by worldliness, pride, a secret distaste of diligent godliness, or by an unsound heart that is not rooted in the faith, nor unreservedly devoted to Christ as others are by drunkenness, uncleanness and similar disgraceful sins.
Publicans and harlots do sooner enter heaven than Pharisees, because they are sooner convinced of their sinfulness and misery. And though many of these men may seem excellent preachers and may cry down sin as loudly as others, yet it is all but an affected fervency and too commonly but a mere useless bawling; for he who cherishes sin in his own heart doth never fall upon it in good earnest in others.
If you are ungodly and teach not your families the fear of God, nor contradict the sins of the company you are in, nor turn the stream of their vain conversation, nor deal with them plainly about their salvation, they will take it as if you preached to them that such things are needless, and that they may boldly do so as well as you. You do worse than all this, for you teach them to think evil of others that are better than yourselves. How many a faithful minister and private Christian is hated and reproached for the sake of such as you! What say the people to them? You are so precise and tell us so much of sin and duty and make such a stir about these matters while such or such a minister that is as great a scholar as you and as good a preacher will be merry and jest with us and let us alone and never trouble himself or us. You can never be quiet, but make more ado than needs; and love to frighten men with talk of damnation when sober, learned, peaceful divines are quiet and live with us like other men. Such are the thoughts and talk of people which your negligence doth occasion. They will give you leave to preach against their sins and talk as much as you will for godliness in the pulpit if you will but let them alone afterward and be friendly and merry with them when you have done and talk as they do and live as they and be indifferent with them in your conversation.
Methinks as Paul's "spirit was stirred within him when he saw the Athenians wholly given to idolatry," so it should east us into one of his paroxysms to see so many men in the greatest danger of being everlastingly undone. Methinks if, by faith, we did, indeed, look upon them as within a step of hell, it would more effectually untie our tongues than Croesus' danger did his son's. He that will let a sinner go down to hell for want of speaking to him doth set less by souls than did the Redeemer of souls, and less by his neighbor than common charity will allow him to do by his greatest enemy.
How often do we hear sermons applauded which force us in compassion to men's souls to think, oh, what is all this to the opening of a sinner's heart unto himself and showing him his unregenerate state?
What is this to the conviction of a self-deluding soul that is passing into hell with the confident expectations of heaven?
What is this to show men their undone condition? What is in this to lead men up from earth to heaven and to acquaint them with the unseen world? How little skill have many miserable preachers in the searching of the heart, and helping men to know themselves whether Christ be in them, or whether they be reprobates. "They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace."
What vile deceit and cruelty against the souls of men are such preachers guilty of that would make them believe that all is well with them, or that their state is safe or tolerable till they must find it otherwise to their everlasting woe. What shame, what punishment can be too great for such a wretch when the neglect and making light of Christ and His salvation is the common road to hell; and most men perish because they value not and use not the necessary means of their recovery. For a man in the name of a minister of the gospel to cheat them into such undervaluings and neglects as are likely to prove their condemnation -- what is this but to play the minister of Satan and to do his work in the name and garb of a minister of Christ? It is damnable treachery against Christ and against the people's souls to hide their misery when it is your office to reveal it: and to let people deceive themselves in the matter of salvation and not to labor diligently to undeceive them. A dreadful reckoning to these unfaithful shepherds when they must answer for the ruin of their miserable flocks. How great will their damnation be which must be aggravated by the damnation of so many others? Will it not awaken us to compassion to look on a languishing man and to think that within a few days his soul will be in heaven or in hell? Surely it will try the faith and seriousness of ministers to be much about dying men. They will thus have opportunity to discern whether they themselves are in good earnest about the matters of the life to come. Stay not till their strength and understanding are gone and the time so short that you scarcely know what to do; but go to them as soon as you hear they are sick whether they send for you or not.
IV. Faithful Shepherds
Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but it is doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour's faithful service. Hard study, much knowledge and excellent preaching, if the ends be not right, is but more glorious hypocritical sinning. Ministerial work must be carried on with great humility. God, that thrust out a proud angel, will not entertain there a proud preacher. It is, indeed, pride that feedeth the rest of our sins. Hence the envy, the contention and unpeaceableness of ministers; hence the stops to all reformation: all would lead and few will follow or concur. Hence, also, is the non-proficiency of too many ministers, because they are too proud to learn. It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation as from the living God, in the name of the Redeemer. It is no easy matter to speak so plainly that the most ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly that the contradicting caviler may be silenced.
We must feel toward our people as a father toward his children; yea, the tenderest love of a mother must not surpass ours. We must even travail in birth till Christ be formed in them. They should see that we care for no outward thing, neither wealth, nor liberty, nor honor, nor life, in comparison of their salvation. I know not how it is with others, but the most reverent preacher that speaks as though he saw the face of God, doth more affect my heart, though with common words, than an irreverent man with the most exquisite preparations. Of all preaching in the world -- that speaks not stark lies -- I hate that preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh or to move their minds with tickling levity and affect them as stage plays used to do, instead of affecting them with a holy reverence of the name of God.
The more of God appeareth in our duties the more authority will they have with men. We should, as it were, suppose we saw the throne of God and the millions of glorious angels attending Him, that we may be awed with His majesty when we draw near Him in holy things, lest we profane them and take His name in vain.
V. Heavenly Concern Insures Success
If you would prosper in the ministerial work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success. If your hearts be not set on the end of your labors and you long not to see the conversion and edification of your hearers and do not study and preach in hope you are not likely to see much success.
Prayer must carry on our work, as well as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to repent.
To be a bishop or pastor, is not to be set up as an idol for the people to bow to; but it is to be the guide of sinners to heaven. Do these men consider what they have undertaken, that live in ease and pleasure, and have time to take their superfluous recreations, and to spend an hour and more at once in loitering or in vain discourse, when so much work doth lie upon their hands? If you will put forth your hand to relieve the distressed, He will wither the hand that is stretched out against you.
"Oh," saith one of the ancient doctors, "if Christ had but committed to my keeping one spoonful of His blood in a fragile glass, how curiously would I preserve it and how tender would I be of that glass! If then He has committed to me the purchase of His blood, should I not as carefully look to my charge?" You may say here, It is not a little crime that negligent pastors are guilty of. Oh, then, let us hear those arguments of Christ. Did I come down from heaven to earth "to seek and to save that which was lost," and wilt thou not go to the next door or street or village to seek them? How small is thy labor and condescension compared to mine. I debased myself to this, but it is thy honor to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation and was I willing to make thee a fellow-worker with me, and wilt thou refuse to do that little that lieth upon thy hands? Every time we look on our congregations, let us believingly remember that they are the purchase of Christ's blood. Oh, brethren, seeing Christ will bring His blood to plead with us, let it plead us to our duty lest it plead us to damnation.
VI. The Use Of Humiliation
If God will help us in our future duty, He will first humble us for our past sin. He that hath not so much sense of his faults as unfeignedly to lament them, will hardly have so much as to move him to reform them. Indeed, we may here justly begin our confessions; it is too common with us to expect from our people that which we do nothing or little 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.
One of the most heinous and palpable sins is PRIDE. It is so prevalent in some of us that it inditeth our discourses, it chooseth our company, it formeth our countenances, it putteth the accent and emphasis upon our words. It fills some men's minds with aspiring desires and designs; it possesseth 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 is this sin of pride! How frequently doth it go with us to our study and there sit with us and do our work. How oft doth it choose our subject, and more frequently still, our words and Ornaments. God commandeth 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 standeth by and contradicteth all and produces its toys and trifles. It persuadeth us to paint the window that it may dim the light; and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand to show them that we are able to speak unprofitably.
If we have a plain and cutting passage, it taketh off the edge and dulls the life of our preaching under pretense of filing off the roughness, unevenness and superfluity. When God chargeth us to deal with men as for their lives and to beseech them with all the earnestness that we are able, this cursed sin controlleth all and condemneth the most holy commands of God, and saith to us, What, will you make people think you are mad? Will you make them say you rage or rave? Cannot you speak soberly and moderately? And thus doth pride make many a man's sermon, and what pride makes, the devil makes. Though the matter be of God, yet if the dress and manner and eloquence be from Satan, we have no great reason to expect success. And when pride hath made the sermon, it goes with us to the pulpit -- it formeth our tone -- it animateth us in the delivery -- it take, us off from that which may be displeasing, how necessary soever, and setteth us in pursuit of vain applause. In short, the sum of all this is, it maketh 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 goeth home with them and maketh 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 condemnations. 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.
VII. Jealousy A Heinous Crime
Will any workman malign another because he helpeth him do his master's work? Yet, alas! How common is this heinous crime among the members 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 anyone 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 hath 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 them.
But unless one of them be quite below the other in parts, and content to be so esteemed, or unless he be aft assistant 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 injury of their people. Nay, so great is the pride of some men 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 the honor or that their interest in the affections of the people should be diminished.
So high, indeed, are our spirits that when it becomes the duty of others 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 contradicteth us and differeth from us and dealeth plainly with us as to our inconsistencies and telleth us of our faults. Where the eye of the world is upon us, we can scarce endure any contradiction or plain dealing. Our pride makes too many of us think all men contemn us that do not admire us; yea, and admire all we say. We are so tender that a man can scarcely touch us but we are hurt; and 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.
VIII. The Subtlety Of Pride
When we speak of 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. 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 a minister against his errors or his sins, if we do not honor them and reverence them and speak as smoothly as we are able to speak; yet if we mix not commendations with our reproofs, if the applause be not predominant so as to drown all the force of the reproof, they take it as almost an insufferable injury.
Is not pride the sin of devils -- the first-born of hell? Is it not that wherein Satan's image doth 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. 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? And must it not shortly be loathsome in the grave? Is it of our graces? Why the more we are proud of them, the less we have to be proud of. 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 lesson of humility to our people. And how unfit is it that we should be proud ourselves? We must study humility and preach humility. And must we not possess and practice humility?
Pride, in fact, is no less a sin than drunkenness or fornication, 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 the way of drunkenness and filthiness. For what is holiness but a living to God; and what is a damnable state but a living to ourselves? And doth anyone live more to himself or less to God than the proud man? And may not pride make a preacher pray and study and preach and live to himself even when he seems to surpass others in the work? The work may be God's and yet we may do it, not for God, but for ourselves. Consider, I beseech you, brethren, what baits there are in the work of the ministry 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 with the fame of godliness instead of godliness. Oh, what a fine thing it is to have the people crowding to hear us and affected with what we say, and yielding up to us their judgment and affections. What a noble thing it is it to be famed through the land for the highest spiritual excellences. I commonly observe that almost all men, whether good or bad, do loathe the proud and love the humble. So far, indeed, doth pride contradict itself that, conscious of its own deformity, it often borrows the 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.
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. A sermon full of mere words, how neatly soever it be composed, while it wants the light of evidence and life of zeal, is but the image of a well-dressed carcass.
IX. The Danger Of Covetousness
If any business for the church be on foot, how many ministers neglect it for their own private business. When we should meet and counsel together for the unanimous and successful prosecution of our work, one hath this business of his own, and another, that business, which must be preferred before God's business. How common is it for ministers to drown themselves in worldly business. They show no anxiety to throw off care, that their own souls and the church may have all their care. Money is too strong an argument for some men to answer, that can proclaim the love of it to be the root of all evil and can make long orations of the danger of covetousness. 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 gifts, His cause, and the souls of men for money? Let us fear, lest our money perish with us. A man that preacheth an immortal crown should not seek after transitory vanities. And he that preacheth the contempt of riches should himself contemn them.
Those ministers, especially, that have larger incomes, must be larger in doing good. And now, brethren, I beseech you to take what has been said into consideration and see whether this be not the great and lamentable sin of the ministers of the gospel, that they give not up themselves and all that they have to the blessed work which they have undertaken; and 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 God in the cheapest and most applauded part of His work and withdraw from that which would subject us to cost and sufferings. And whether this does 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 contemn it.
He is concluded by Christ to be no Christian who hateth not all that he hath and his own life for Him. What is it but hypocrisy to shrink from sufferings and 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 a duty that would expose us to it. If we did our duty faithfully, ministers would find the same lot among Christians as their predecessors have done among pagans and other infidels.
But if you cannot suffer for Christ, why do you put your hand to the plow? Why did you not first sit down and count the cost? 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. They look not for hatred and suffering and they will avoid it, though by the avoiding of their work. * * * X. The Importance Of Personal Instruction
If then, you are, indeed, fellow workers with Christ, set to His work and neglect not the souls for whom He died. Oh, remember when you are talking with the unconverted, that now you have an opportunity to save a soul and to rejoice the angels 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? Yea, doubtless, "they are your glory and your joy."
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. It hath often grieved my heart to observe some eminent preachers, how little they do for the saving of souls except in the pulpit. A schoolmaster must take a personal account of his scholars or else he is likely 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.
If any among us should be guilty of so gross a mistake as to think that when he hath preached be hath done all his work, let us show him by our practice, that there is much more to be done; and that taking heed to all the flock is another business than careless, lazy ministers imagine.
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 church to hear a sermon. Our diligence in this work is the way to accomplish this.
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; 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. 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. Doth not that threatening make us 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 no doubt that the day is near, when unfaithful ministers will wish that they had never known their charge, but that they had rather been colliers or sweepers 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. 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 talent; I concealed not men's misery nor the way of their recovery.
XI. The Final Review
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.
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?
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?
Our voluntary undertaking the charge of souls will condemn us; for all men should be faithful to the trust which they have undertaken.
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 we neglected them for whom Christ died.
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. 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 straight gate and so to run as to obtain, will rise up against the unfaithful and condemn them.
All the sermons that we preach to set forth 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? 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.
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 had 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 and fulness of bread, if you had stood by and seen the flames as they ascended 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?
I profess I wonder at those ministers who have time to spare -- who can hunt, or shoot, or bowl, or use the like recreations two or three hours; yea, whole days together -that can sit an hour together in vain discourse, and spend whole days in complimental visits, and journeys to such ends. Good Lord, what do these men think on when so many souls around them cry for help, and death gives us no respite and they know not how short a time they and their people 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 willing 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, trifle away time when you have such works as these to do and so many of them. Oh, precious time -- how swiftly doth it pass away -- how soon will it be gone! Never do I come to a dying man that is not utterly stupid but he better sees the worth of time. Oh, then, if they could call time back again, how loudly 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? 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 or vanity?
He who knoweth that he serveth a God that will never suffer a 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.
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 a short life when they are both at an end? What comfort will it be to you at death that you lengthened your life by shortening your work? He that works much, liveth much. Our life is to be esteemed according to the ends and works of it, and not according to the mere duration. Will it not comfort us more at death, to review a short time faithfully spent, than a long life spent unfaithfully?
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. 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 granadoes, which they are throwing in continually, I pray you tell me, if some 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 will you excuse one of these men if he comes off his work and says, I am but flesh and blood, I must have some relaxation and pleasure? Surely, at the most you will allow him none but what was absolutely necessary.
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 blest with those that die in the Lord, labor now, that you may rest from your labors then, and do such works as you wish should follow you and not such as will prove your terror in the review.
Boldness In The Gospel
Shall I, for fear of feeble men,
The Spirit's course in me restrain?
Or undismayed in deed or word,
Be a true witness of my Lord?
Awed by a mortal's frown, shall I,
Conceal the word of God Most High?
How then before Thee shall I dare
To stand, or how Thine anger bear?
Shall I, to soothe the unholy throng,
Soften Thy truth, or smooth my tongue,
To gain earth's gilded toys, or flee
The cross endured, my Lord, by Thee?
What then is he whose scorn I dread?
Whose wrath or hate makes me afraid?
A man! an heir of death! a slave
To sin! a bubble on the wave!
Yea, let men rage; since Thou wilt spread
Thy shadowing wings around my head;
Since in all pain Thy tender love
Will still my sure refreshment prove.
Give me Thy strength, O God of power,
Then let winds blow, or thunders roar,
Thy faithful witness will I be;
'Tis fixed I can do all through Thee.
J. J. Winkler, Tr. by J. Wesley.