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Never suffer any differences, if possible, to arise between you and any of the people who are committed to your care, or attend on your ministrations; this will endanger the success of your best labours among them, and, for this reason, though you visit families with freedom, yet avoid all unnecessary inquiries into their domestic affairs by a prying curiosity; the pleasure of such secrets will never pay for the danger that attends them ;-and your own business is sufficient for you.
Avoid entering into any of the little private and personal quarrels that may arise among them, unless Providence give you an evident call to become a peace-maker; but even in this blessed work there is some danger of disobliging one side or the other; for though both sides are often to blame, yet each supposes himself so much in the right, that your softest and most candid intimation of their being culpable, even in little things, will sometimes awaken the jealousy of one or both parties against you. This will tend to abate their esteem of you, and give a coldness to their attention on your sacred services. We had need be wise as serpents in this case, and harmless as doves. *
§ 39. 5. Let your conversation be as fruitful and edifying as your station and opportunities will allow. Wheresoever you come, use your utmost endeavours that the world may be the better for you. If it be the duty of every Christian, much more is it the indispensable duty of a minister of Christ to take heed that no corrupt communication proceed out of his mouth, but that which is good for edification, that it may minister grace to the hearers t
In your private visits to the members of your flock, or to the houses of those who attend on your ministry, depart not without putting in, if possible, some word for God and religion, for Christ and his gospel: take occasion from common occurrences that arise, artfully and insensibly to introduce some discourse of things sacred. Let it be done with prudence and holy skill, that the company
*Matt. x. 16.
may be led into it ere they are aware. The ingenious Mr. Norris's little Discourse on Religious Conversation, and Mr. Matthew Henry's Sermon on Friendly Visits, have many excellent and valuable hints in them for our
It is to be confessed, that the best of ministers and Christians sometimes fall into such company, that it is hardly possible to speak a word for God and the gospel among them. Try then whether you cannot lead the discourse to some useful theme in matters of science, art, and ingenuity, or to rules of prudence, morality, or human conduct. There is a time of keeping silence, and restraining our lips as with a bridle, even from every thing that is piously good, while some sort of wicked men stand before us t. The best men are sometimes dumb with silence, and dare not speak of God or religion, lest they should. cast their pearls before swine, and give their holy things to dogs; and lest they should provoke the unclean or the envious animals to foam out their impurities, or to turn again and rend them; but I doubt this caution has been carried much farther by our own cowardice and carnality of spirit than David practised it, or than Jesus Christ meant it, in the seventh chapter of Matthew. Let us take heed then that we abuse not this prudent caution to a manifest neglect of our duty, and to withhold our lips from the things of God, where Providence gives us a fair opportunity to speak of them.
Now and then take occasion to speak a kind and religi ous word to the children of the household; put them in mind of avoiding some childish folly, or of practising some duty that belongs to their age. Let your memory be well furnished with the words of Scripture, suited to the several ages of mankind, as well as to the various occasions of life, that, out of the abundance of the heart, your mouth may speak to the advantage of all that hear you, and particularly to that of the younger parts of mankind, who are the hopes of the next generation. Make the lambs of the flock love you, and hear your voice with delight, that they may grow up under your instruction to fill up the room of their fathers when they are called away to Heaven: nor let
+ Psa. xxxix. 1, 2.
servants be utterly neglected, where Providence may afford you an opportunity to speak a word to their souls.
He that has the happy talent of parlour-preaching, has sometimes done more for Christ and souls in the space of a few minutes, than by the labour of many hours and days, in the usual course of preaching in the pulpit. Our character should be all of a piece, and we should help forward the success of our public ministrations, by our private addresses to the hearts and consciences of men, where Providence favours us with just occasions.
In order to promote this work of particular watchfulness over the flock of Christ, where he has made you a shepherd and overseer, it is useful to keep a catalogue of their names, and now and then review them with a pastoral eye and affection. This will awaken and incline you to lift up proper petitions for each of them, so far as you are acquainted with their circumstances in body or mind. This will excite you to give thanks to God on account of those who walk as becomes the gospel, and who have either begun, or proceeded and increased in the Christian life and temper by your ministry: you will observe the names of the negligent and backsliding Christians, to mourn over them and admonish them: you will be put in mind how to dispose of your time in Christian visits, and learn the better to fulfil your whole ministry among them.
§ 40. (V.) The things which I have spoken hitherto, have been a display of the best methods i can think of, for the execution of the sacred office of the ministry; and so far as they are conformable to the word of God, we may venture to say, these are your duties, my dear brother, and these are ours. It remains now to be considered, in what manner shall we enforce them on our own consciences, and on yours? What solemn obtestations shall I use to press these momentous concerns on all our hearts? What pathetic language shall I choose, what words of awful efficacy and divine fervour, which may first melt our spirits into softness, and then imprint these duties upon them with lasting power? We exhort and charge you, we exhort and charge ourselves, by all that is serious and sacred, by all that is important and everlasting, by all the solemn transactions between God and man which are past, and by
all the more solemn and awful scenes which are yet to come; by all things in our holy religion which are dreadful and tremendous, and by all things in this gospel which are glorious and amiable, heavenly and divine. We charge you by all that is written in this book of God, according to which we shall be judged in the last day, by all the infinite and astonishing glories and terrors of an invisible world, and an unseen eternity; we charge and exhort you, we exhort and charge ourselves, that we all take heed to the ministry which we have received of the Lord Jesus, that we fulfil it.
§ 41. We charge you, and we charge ourselves by the decaying interest of religion, and the withering state of Christianity at this day, that we do not increase this general and lamentable decay, this growing and dreadful apostasy, by our slothful and careless management of the trust which is committed to us. It is a divine interest indeed, but declining; it is a heavenly cause, but among us it is sinking and dying. O let us stir up our hearts, and all that is within us, and strive mightily in prayer and in preaching to revive the work of God, and beg earnestly that God, by a fresh and abundant effusion of his Spirit, would revive his work among us. Revive thy own work, O Lord, in the midst of these years of sin and degeneracy, nor let us labour in vain! Where is thy zeal, O Lord, and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and thy mercies? Are they restrained? O let us rouse our souls with all holy fervour, to fulfil our ministry, for it will be a dreadful reproach upon us, and a burden too heavy for us to bear, if we let the cause of Christ and godliness die under our hands for want of a lively zeal, and pious fervour and faithfulness in our ministrations!
§ 42. We entreat, we exhort and charge you, and we charge ourselves, by the solemn and awful circumstances of a dying bed, and the thoughts of conscience in that important hour, when we shall enter into the world of spirits, that we take heed to the ministry which we have received: surely that hour is hastening upon us, when our heads will lie upon a dying pillow. When a few more mornings and evenings have visited our windows, the shadows of a long night will begin to spread themselves over us; in that
gloomy hour, conscience will review the behaviour of the days that are past, will take account of the conduct of our whole lives, and will particularly examine our labours and cares in our sacred office. Oh, may we ever dread the thoughts of making bitter work for repentance in that hour, and of treasuring up terrors for a death-bed, by a careless and useless ministry!
§ 43. We exhort and charge you, and we charge ourselves, by our gathering together before the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the solemn account we must there give of the ministry with which he hath entrusted us, that we prepare, by our present zeal and labour, to render that most awful scene peaceful to our souls, and the issue of it joyful and happy. Let us look forward to that illustrious and tremendous appearance, when our Lord shall come with ten thousands of his holy angels to inquire into the conduct of men, and particularly of the ministers of his kingdom here on earth. Let us remember that we shall be examined in the light of the flames of that day, what we have done with his gospel which he gave us to preach! What we have done with his promises of rich salvation, which he sent us to offer in his name! What is become of the souls committed to our care! O that we may give up our account with joy, and not with grief, to the Judge of the living and the dead, in that glorious, that dreadful and decisive hour!
§ 44. We charge and warn you, my dear brother, and warn and charge ourselves, by all the terrors written in this divine book, and by all the indignation and vengeance of God, which we are sent to display before a sinful world; by all the torments and agonies of Hell, which we are commissioned to denounce against impenitent sinners, in order to persuade men to turn to God, and receive and obey the gospel, that we take heed to our ministry that we fulfil it. This vengeance and these terrors will fall upon our souls, and that with intolerable weight, witn double and immortal anguish, if we have trifled with these terrible solemnities, and made no use of these awful scenes to awaken men to lay hold of the offered grace of the gospel. Knowing, therefore, the terrors of the Lord, let us persuade