« AnteriorContinuar »
creatures? No excuse then can possibly be made for this coldness, except that which the author of Emilius has put into the mouth of a fictitious character: "Of what importance is it to me," says the vicar Savoyard, "what becomes of the wicked? I am but little concerned in their future destiny." An excuse for the want of zeal, which can never be pleaded without reflecting the utmost disgrace upon humanity.
6. Ye pastors of a flock ever prone to wander! choose whom you will follow, philosophers or apostles; the indefatigable zeal of St. Paul, or the cruel indifference of the skeptical vicar? But, if you take the latter for your model, we solemnly entreat you to lay aside the profession while you so shamefully renounce the duties of the holy ministry. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live," Ezek. xxiii, 11. With you, however, it is a matter of very inconsiderable importance, whether the wicked be finally saved or destroyed. And yet, careless as you arc of its weal or wo, you presume to appear as ministers of the Church, and as pastors over that little flock, for which the good Shepherd was content to lay down his life. To rank with the watchful attendants of the fold is an honour of which you are altogether unworthy; but you may with propriety be counted in the number of those ungrateful hirelings, who "care not for the sheep," John x, 13.
8. It is true, you are not without companions, as well ancient as modern. You have Hophni and Phinehas, Gehazi and Balaam, to keep you in countenance; you have the prophets of Jezebel to plead in your favour, and every worldly ecclesiastic of the present day to approve your choice: but apostolical men will resolutely withstand you, like Elisha and his master, in the cause of deserted truth. Ye slothful domestics of the most diligent Master! Ye cruel attendants of the tenderest Shepherd! say, have ye never heard that Master crying out, with the voice of affection, "Feed my sheep?" John xxi, 17. Have ye not seen him conducting his flock to an evangelical pasture, in the temple, in synagogues, in villages, in houses, in deserts, on the sea shore, and on the tops of mountains? He anxiously sought out the miserable. Truth was the guide of his way, charity accompanied his steps, and his path was marked with blessings. His secret efforts were more painful than his public labours: he publicly instructed through the day, but he privately agonized in prayer through the night. His first disciples were anxious to tread in the steps of their adorable Master. They exercised their ministry within sight of torments and death. And will you dare to neglect it, now the cry of persecution is hushed? Will you equally despise both the promises and threatenings of the Gospel? Will you hasten the time of antichrist by an antichristian conduct? And when the Son of man shall come, shall he find you trampling under foot the Gospel of his grace? Or, shall he surprise you distributing cards round the tables of your friends, rather than earnestly inviting those friends to the table of your Lord?
O that we could prevail upon you to stand in your proper post, and act in conformity to your professional character! While you dream of security, you are surrounded with the most alarming dangers. "Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth; having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace: above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer, and watching thereunto with all perseverance, and supplications for all saints, [and for the ministers of the Gospel in particular,] that they may open their mouths boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, and diffuse abroad the unsearchable riches of Christ," Eph. vi, 14-19; iii, 8. Thus quitting yourselves like men in this sacred warfare, after steadily resisting, you shall finally overcome all the strength of the enemy, "by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left," 2 Cor. vi, 7: till, having weathered out the evil day, continuing "faithful unto death," ye shall be rewarded with "a crown of everlasting life," Rev. ii, 10.
(1.) When we see a number of persons in perilous circumstances, charity constrains us to make our first efforts in favour of those who appear to be in the most imminent danger. Such are unholy Christians. Sinful heathens are doubtless in danger; obstinate Jews in still greater peril; but impenitent Christians are in a situation abundantly more lamentable than either; since they offend against clearer light and knowledge, equally inattentive to the most gracious promises on the one hand, and the most terrible menaces on the other. To sin with the New Testament in our hand, and with the sound of the Gospel in our ears: to sin with the seal of baptism on our forehead, and the name of Christ in our lips: to sin and receive the holy communion: to ratify and break the most solemn engagements; what is this, but earnestly labouring out our own damnation, and plunging ourselves into those abysses of wretchedness which Pagans and Jews are unable to fathom? How eagerly then should every believer attempt to rescue his falling brethren; and especially how anxious should they be to arrest those leaders of the Wind who are drawing their followers to the brink of perdition! As this is one of those arguments upon which the truth here pleaded for must principally rest, we shall consider it in the several points of view under which it is presented to us in the Gospel.
(2.) The commission of St. Paul was particularly directed to the Gentiles; yet, before he visited their benighted nations, he judged it his duty to make a full and a free qffer of the everlasting Gospel to the people of the Jews. For the conduct of the apostle in this respect, the following reasons are to be assigned. First, The promises pertained to the Jews in a peculiar manner, Rom. ix, 4. Secondly, The children of Abraham, according to the flesh, had a more threatening prospect before them, in case of final impenitence, than any other people upon earth. "Tribulation and anguish shall be upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile," Rom. ii, 9. (3.) The same reasons, though chiefly the latter, are still to be urged, why the ministers of Christ should principally labour among Christians. For if sinners of the circumcision shall be more severely punished than the ignorant heathen, so the apostle declares that sinners, who are baptized into the name of Christ, shall be treated with still greater rigour than impenitent Jews. "He that despised Moses' law," saith he, "died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, then, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" Heb. x, 28, 29. If this consideration were accompanied with its due effect, it would fire us with the most unconquerable zeal for the salvation of the negligent Christians.
(4.) In one of the last discourses our Lord addressed to the cities of Galilee, we find him reading over to them this dreadful sentence of condemnation: "Wo unto thee, Chorazin, wo unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which [by thy religious privileges,] art exalted unto heaven, shalt, [for the non-improvement of them,] be brought down to hell." Yea, "it shall be more tolerable, in the day of judgment, for the land of Sodom, [which has been already consumed with fire from above,] than for thee," Matt. xi, 21-24.
(5.) To draw the just consequences from this affecting menace, we must recollect that, when it was pronounced, the inhabitants of the above mentioned cities had been favoured, but for a very short interval, with the ministry of Christ and his messengers. And if the death and resurrection of Jesus were afterward published among them, it is more probable that these important facts were published only in a desultory and transient way. Nevertheless, the sinners of Capernaum were thought worthy of greater punishment than the sinners of Sodom. Hence, we conclude, that if the sinners of London, Paris, Rome, and Geneva, have hardened themselves against the truths of the Gospel for a much longer continuance than the citizens of Capernaum were permitted to do, there is every reason to apprehend that their sentence will not only be more dreadful than the sentence of Sodom, but abundantly less tolerable than that which was pronounced upon the inhabitants of Galilee.
(6.) While we consider the various proportions in which future punishment shall be administered to the wicked of different classes, we may turn to those remarkable expressions of St. Peter and St. Paul: "If after having escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome; the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them," 2 Pet. ii, 20, 21. "If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries," Heb. x, 26,27. These declarations assist us to discover the true ground of that apostolic exhortation, with which we shall close this chapter: "Of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire," Jude 22, 23.
From this last view of the subject, we may perceive into how dangerous an error those persons are fallen, who presume to object against imitating the zeal of St. Paul.
A fifth objection answered.
Thk solidity of the preceding remarks maybe acknowledged by many pastors, who will still excuse themselves from copying the example of St. Paul.
"It is unreasonable," they will say, " to require that we should preach the word of God, in season and out of season, as St. Paul once did, and as Timothy was afterward exhorted to do. We find it, in this day, a matter of difficulty to prepare any public address that may be either acceptable to the people, or honourable to ourselves." To this objection we return the following replies:— (1.) He, who spake as never man spake, rejected the arts of our modern orators, delivering his discourses in a style of easy simplicity and unaffected zeal.
(2.) We do not find that St. Paul and the other apostles imposed upon themselves the troublesome servitude of penning down their discourses. And we are well assured, that when the seventy and the twelve were commissioned to publish the Gospel, no directions of this nature were given in either case.
(3.) St. Paul gives the following pastoral instructions to Timothy: "Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee. Meditate upon these things: give thyself wholly to them. Take heed unto thyself and to thy doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee," 1 Tim. iv, 13, 16. "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine," 2 Tim. iv, 2. Now, had it ever entered into the mind of the apostle that it would be proper for pastors to compose their sermons in the manner of rhetoricians, and to deliver them as public orators, he would most probably have given some intimation of this to his disciple. In such case he would have held out to his pupil in divinity some instructions of the following nature: "O Timothy, my son! I have frequently commanded thee to labour in the work of the Lord, according to my example. But as thou art not an apostle, properly so called, and hast not received the gift of languages, I advise thee to write over thy sermons as correctly as possible. And after this, do not fail to rehearse them before a mirror, till thou art able to repeat them with freedom and grace: so that when thou art called upon public duty, thou mayest effectually secure the approbation of thine auditors. Furthermore, when thou art about to visit any distant Churches, lay up in thy portmanteau the choicest of thy sermons. And wherever thou art, take care to have, at least, one discourse about thee, that thou mayest be prepared for any sudden emergency, and never appear unfurnished in the eyes of the people." The idea of such a passage in the Epistles of St. Paul, whether public or private, is too absurd to be endured.
(4.) If advocates, after hastily considering a question of difficulty, are ready to plead the cause of their client before a court of judicature; can it be possible, that, after several years of meditation and study, a minister should still be unprepared to plead the cause of piety before a plain assembly of his unlearned parishioners?
(5.) When we are deeply interested in a subject of the last importance, do we think it necessary to draw up our arguments in an orderly manner upon paper, before we attempt to deliver our sentiments upon the matter in hand 1 Are not the love and penetration of a parent sufficient to dictate such advice as is suited to the different tempers and conditions of his children? After perceiving the house of our neighbour on fire, we do not withdraw to our closet to prepare a variety of affecting arguments, by way of engaging him to save both himself and his family from the flames. In such case, a lively conviction of our neighbour's danger, and an ardent desire to rescue him from it, afford us greater powers of natural eloquence than any rules of art can furnish us with.
(6.) Horace observes, that neither matter nor method will be wanting upon a well-digested subject:—
Cui lecta patenter erit ret.
With how much facility then may suitable expressions be expected to follow those animating sentiments which are inspired by an ardent love to God and man; especially when subjects of such universal concern are agitated, as death and redemption, judgment and eternity! Upon such occasions, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak, "nor will the preacher be able to repeat a tenth part of the truths which God has communicated to him, while meditating upon his text." (Act of Synod, chap. xi.) If malice can furnish those persons with an inexhaustible fund of conversation, who delight in malice, how much more may we suppose the charity of a pastor to furnish him with an inexhaustible fund of exhortation, instruction, and comfort!
(7.) It has been a plea with many ministers of the Gospel, that they neglect to proclaim that Gospel during six days in the week, lest they should be unprepared to address their parishioners, with propriety, upon the seventh. With teachers, who are thus scrupulously tenacious of their own reputation, we may justly be allowed to reason in the following manner: to what purpose are all those oratorical appendages, with which you are so studious to adorn your discourses: and who hath required all this useless labour at your hand? Isaiah i, 11, 12. If a servant, after being charged by his master with a message of the utmost importance, should betake himself to his chamber, and defer the execution of it day after day, would not such a delay be esteemed an unpardonable neglect? Or, if he should attempt to apologize for the omission, by alleging that he had been busily engaged in learning to repeat, with precision, the message he had received, and to move upon his errand with dignity and grace; would not such an excuse be regarded as an instance of the highest prcsumotion and folly? And can we imagine