CHAPTER III: Application

ARTICLE 2: Motives from the difficulties of the work


Having stated to you the first class of reasons, drawn front 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 labour 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.