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gislator can, and will do it. Think of these things, and guard against such fatal regligence in every future instance. Think of them, and humble thyself deeply before God, for every past instance in which such guilt has been incurred."
§ 6. God is my witness, that I mean not to insinuate the least disrespectful thought, with regard to any one of you. Nevertheless, permit me to say it without offence (for I say it in the fear of God, and with the sincerest deference and friendship to you) I am afraid, the extensive and important obligations of the ministerial office are not generally considered and remembered among us as they ought. 1 apprehend, much more might be done for the honour of God and the good of souls than is commonly done, even by those who, in the main, have a principle of true religion in their hearts; by those who keep up the exercise of public worship in a regular and honourable manner, and appear not only irreproachable in their conversation, but, if considered as in private life, bringing forth the fruits of righteousness. The learned, the wise, the virtuous, the pious minister, is, I fear, often negligent of a considerable part of his trust and charge; and thereby fails to deliver; as he might, those that are drawn unto death, and perhaps are just ready to be slain.
§7. To awaken our spirits, therefore, from that insensi❤ bility, in this respect, into which they are so ready to fall, I shall take the liberty,
I. Briefly to consider, what excuses we may be most ready to offer, for neglecting the souls of men.
II. Seriously to represent the great evil of that neglect in the sight of God, notwithstanding all those excuses. After which,
III. I shall add a few hints, by way of reflection, as the time may admit.
§ 8. (I.) I am to consider, what excuses we may be ready to make, for neglecting to do our utmost for the salvation of men's souls. Particularly,
1. That we do something considerable for that purpose; - that we take care for their instruction in public; read
ing the word of God to them, when they are assembled together in his house; explaining and enforcing it, in our expositions and sermons; presenting prayers and praises to God, in their name; and, at proper seasons, administering the sacraments, in such a manner as we judge most agreeable to the institution of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so far indeed it is well; and a most wise and gracious appointment of our blessed Redeemer it is, that such ordinances should be administered on solemn stated days, and by men appropriated to that employment; in consequence of which, such knowledge is dispersed, as is, through the divine blessing, effectual for the salvation of many souls; and I am not afraid to say that this would make the Christian ministry, even in the hands of ignorant, careless, and vicious men, a blessing to the nation where it is settled, so long as reading the Scriptures, and almost any kind of prayers in an intelligible language, make a part of divine service in their assemblies. Much more then will it be so in the hands of wise, sober, and religi
§ 9. But while we are thus pleading our diligence and care in the administration of public ordinances, it will be kindness to ourselves, seriously to ask our own hearts, at least, how they are administered. It is a very important trust to have the management of men's religious hours committed to us; their seasons of social worship being, comparatively, so short, and so infinitely momentous. Methinks, we do almost, as it were, put our own lives in our hand while we undertake it, and may justly tremble on the view of that awful account which we are to give of it.
I hope, Sirs, we have the testimony of our own consciences before God, that we do not, on these solemn occasions, content ourselves with cold essays on mere moral subjects, however acute, philosophical, or polite; nor make it our main business, in our sermons, to seek the ornament and elegance of words, the refinements of criticism, or the nice arrangement of various complex and abstruse argumentations. When we speak, in the name and presence of God, to immortal creatures, on the borders of eternity, I hope we entertain our hearers with plain,
serious, and lively discourses, on the most important doctrines of Christianity, in their due connection and their relation to each other, in such a manner as we, on mature consideration, do verily believe may have the most effectual tendency to bring them to God through Christ, and to produce and promote in their hearts, through the divine blessing, the great work of regeneration and holiness. I hope and trust that God is our witness, and that the people of our charge are witnesses, that not one of those who diligently attend on our ministry, though but for a few succeeding Sabbaths, can fail to learn the way of salvation, as exhibited in the gospel; and that we speak of it as those that are in earnest, and do, from our very souls, desire to answer the great ends of our ministry, in the prosperity of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the eternal happiness of those invaluable souls whom he has committed to our care, otherwise, we may incur great and fatal guilt, though public worship be constantly and decently carried on, and though a reasonable proportion of time be employed in it, with numerous and attentive auditories; to whom we may be as the lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice*, while in the ears of God, for want of that fervent charity, which should dictate and animate all, we are but as sounding brass, or as a tinkling cymbal. †
§ 10. But granting, as I would willingly suppose, and as with relation to you, my brethren, I do firmly believe, all these reflections can be answered with satisfaction, here is indeed a part of your duty honourably performed, and an important part of it too; but is that part, though ever so important, to be substituted for the whole? The diligent inspection of our flock, pastoral visits, the observation of the religious state of families, personal exhortations, admonitions, and cautions, by word or letter, as Prudence shall direct, catechizing children, promoting religious associations among the younger and the elder people of our charge, and the strict and resolute exercise of discipline in the several churches over which we pre
* Ezek. xxxiii. 32.
+1 Cor. xiii. 1.
are these no parts of our office? Will we say it with our dying breath? - will we maintain it before the tribunal of Christ, that they did not belong to the Christian ministry? and if not, will our care in other parts of it be allowed as a sufficient excuse before him for our total omission of these? We have preached, and prayed, and administered the sacraments. These things we should indeed have done; and when we had taken the care of congregations upon us, we could hardly avoid it ; but surely our own consciences will, now or hereafter, tell us that we ought not to have left the others undone * but we may, perhaps, for a while elude the conviction, by pleading,
§ 11. 2, That the care of particular persons more properly belongs to others; and especially to heads of families, who have more opportunities of being serviceable to those under their charge, and indeed have the most immediate concern in them. It certainly does. But does it belong to them alone? or if it did, do not they belong to us and to our care? - and is it not the part of every superior officer of a society to see to it, that the subaltern officers be careful and diligent in the discharge of their duty? and in this case, are we to take it for granted that, in our respective congregations, heads of families are so of course? that they pray in their families; - that they read the Scriptures and other good books there, especially on the evening of the Lord's Day; that they catechize their children; and solemnly press upon them, and upon their servants, the serious care of practical religion. Are we roundly to conclude, without any farther inquiry, that all this is done, and done in so diligent and so prudent a manner as that there is no need of any particular exhortations, instructions, or admonitions from us? Would to God there were any one congregation in the whole kingdom of which this might reasonably be presumed to be the case! But if it were indeed so, would not our concurrence with these wise and pious heads of families, in so good but so difficult a work, encourage and strengthen them to prosecute it with greater cheerfulness
* Matt. xxxii. 23.
and vigour? Would it not quicken both their cares and their endeavours? And might it not, by the divine blessing, promote the success of them? Might it not gain on the minds of children and servants, to see that we do not think it beneath us, tenderly to care for their souls? And might not our tender and condescending regards to them in private, by convincing them how well we mean them, render our public labours more acceptable and useful to them? Now, we well know that the children and servants of the present generation are the hopes of the next; as they are probably those that, in their turns, will be parents and governors of families, whose children and servants, when they arise, will one way or another feel the happy or unhappy consequences of our fidelity or neglect? — and when such affairs are in question, shall we allow ourselves to plead,
12. 3. That we have so much other business, and such various engagements of a different kind, that we cannot possibly attend to these things?
But give me leave, my brethren, to observe, that the question here is not, Whether we can find out other agreeable ways of filling up our time? but, Whether those other ways are more important? and, Whether that different manner of employing it be more acceptable in the sight of God, and will turn to a better account in that great day, when our conduct is to be finally reviewed by Him? We must indeed have our seasons of recreation, and our seasons of study: but it will easily appear, that no regards to either of these will vindicate or excuse our neglect of the private duties we owe to our flock, in giving diligence to know their state *; and being careful to teach them, not only publicly, but from house to house. †
§ 13. Recreation, to be sure, can afford no just apology for neglecting it; since to follow this employment prudently, might be made a kind of recreation from the labours of a sedentary and studious life. A grave and severe
* Prov. xxvii. 23.
+ Acts xx. 20.