CHAPTER III: Application
ARTICLE 3: Motives from the necessity of the work
The third sort of motives are drawn from the necessity of the work. For if it were not necessary, the slothful might be discouraged rather than excited by the difficulties now mentioned. But because I have already been longer than I intended, I shall give you only a brief hint of some of the general grounds of this necessity.
1.This duty is necessary for the glory of God. As every Christian liveth to the glory of God, as his end, so will he gladly take that course which will most effectually promote it. For what man would not attain his ends? O brethren, if we could set this work on foot in all the parishes of England, and get our people to submit to it, and then prosecute it skilfully and zealously ourselves, what a glory would it put upon the face of the nation, and what glory would, by means of it, redound to God! If our common ignorance were thus banished, and our vanity and idleness turned into the study of the way of life, and every shop and every house were busied in learning the Scriptures and catechisms, and speaking of the Word and works of God, what pleasure would God take in our cities and country! He would even dwell in our habitations, and make them his delight. It is the glory of Christ that shineth in his saints, and all their glory is his glory. That, therefore, which honoureth them, in number or excellency, honoureth him. Will not the glory of Christ be wonderfully displayed in the New Jerusalem, when it shall descend from heaven in all that splendour and magnificence with which it is described in the Book of Revelation? If, therefore, we can increase the number or strength of the saints, we shall thereby increase the glory of the King of saints; for he will have service and praise where before he had disobedience and dishonour. Christ will also be honoured in the fruits of his blood shed, and the Spirit of grace in the fruit of his operations. And do not such important ends as these require that we use the means with diligence?
Every Christian is obliged to do all he can for the salvation of others; but every minister is doubly obliged, because he is separated to the gospel of Christ, and is to give up himself wholly to that work. It is needless to make any further question of our obligation, when we know that this work is needful to our people's conversion and salvation, and that we are in general commanded to do all that is needful to these ends, as far as we are able. Whether the unconverted have need of conversion, I hope is not doubted among us. And whether this be a means, and a most needful means, experience may put beyond a doubt, if we had no more. Let them that have taken most pains in public, examine their people, and try whether many of them are not nearly as ignorant and careless as if they had never heard the gospel. For my part, I study to speak as plainly and movingly as I can, (and next to my study to speak truly, these are my chief studies,) and yet I frequently meet with those that have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth and life and death, as if they had never heard it before. And of those who know the history of the gospel, how few are there who know the nature of that faith, repentance, and holiness which it requireth, or, at least, who know their own hearts? But most of them have an ungrounded trust in Christ, hoping that he will pardon, justify, and save them, while the world hath their hearts, and they live to the flesh. And this trust they take for justifying faith. I have found by experience, that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour's close discourse, than they did from ten years' public preaching.
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, as to himself: 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. In public our speeches are long, and we quite over-run their understandings and memories, and they are confounded and at a loss, and not able to follow us, and one thing drives out another, and so they know not what we said. But in private we can take our work gradatim, and take our hearers along with us; and, by our questions, and their answers, we can see how far they understand us, and what we have next to do. In public, by length and speaking alone we lose their attention; but when they are interlocutors, we can easily cause them to attend. 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.
2. This duty is necessary to the welfare of our people.
Brethren, can you look believingly on your miserable people, and not perceive them calling to you for help? There is not a sinner whose case you should not so far compassionate, as to be willing to relieve them at a much dearer rate than this comes to. Can you see them, as the wounded man by the way, and unmercifully pass by? Can you hear them cry to you, as the man of Macedonia to Paul, in vision, ‘Come and help us;' and yet refuse your help? Are you intrusted with the charge of an hospital, where one languisheth in one corner, and another groaneth in another, and crieth out, ‘Oh, help me, pity me for the Lord's sake!' and where a third is raging mad, and would destroy himself and you; and yet will you sit idle and refuse your help? If it may be said of him that relieveth not men's bodies, how much more of him that relieveth not men's souls, ‘If he see his brother have need, and shut up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?' You are not such monsters, such hard-hearted men, but you will pity a leper; you will pity the naked, the imprisoned, or the desolate; you will pity him that is tormented with grievous pain or sickness; and will you not pity an ignorant, hard-hearted sinner? will you not pity one that must be shut out from the presence of the Lord, and lie under his remediless wrath, if thorough repentance speedily prevent it not? Oh what a heart is it that will not pity such a one! What shall I call the heart of such a man? A heart of stone, a very rock or adamant; the heart of a tiger; or rather the heart of an infidel: for surely if he believed the misery of the impenitent, it is not possible but he should take pity on him. Can you tell men in the pulpit that they shall certainly be damned, except they repent, and yet have no pity on them when you have proclaimed to them such a danger? And if you pity them, will you not do this much for their salvation?
How many around you are blindly hastening to perdition, while your voice is appointed to be the means of arousing and reclaiming them! The physician hath no excuse who is doubly bound to relieve the sick, when even every neighbour is bound to help them. Brethren, what if you heard sinners cry after you in the streets, ‘O sir, have pity on me, and afford me your advice! I am afraid of the everlasting wrath of God. I know I must shortly leave this world, and I am afraid lest I shall be miserable in the next.' Could you deny your help to such poor sinners? What if they came to your study-door, and cried for help, and would not go away till you had told them how to escape the wrath of God? Could you find in your hearts to drive them away without advice? I am confident you could not. Why, alas! such persons are less miserable than they who will not cry for help. It is the hardened sinner who cares not for your help, that most needs it: and he that hath not so much life as to feel that he is dead, nor so much light as to see his danger, nor so much sense left as to pity himself--this is the man that is most to be pitied.
Look upon your neighbours around you, and think how many of them need your help in no less a case than the apparent danger of damnation. Suppose that you heard every impenitent person whom you see and know about you, crying to you for help, ‘As ever you pitied poor wretches, pity us, lest we should be tormented in the flames of hell: if you have the hearts of men, pity us.' Now, do that for them that you would do if they followed you with such expostulations. Oh how can you walk, and talk, and be merry with such people, when you know their case? Methinks, when you look them in the face, and think how they must suffer everlasting misery, you should break forth into tears (as the prophet did when he looked upon Hazael), and then fall on with the most importunate exhortations. When you visit them in their sickness, will it not wound your hearts to see them ready to depart into misery, before you have ever dealt seriously with them for their conversion? Oh, then, for the Lord's sake, and for the sake of poor souls, have pity on them, and bestir yourselves, and spare no pains that may conduce to their salvation.
3. This duty is necessary to your own welfare, as well as to your people's. This is your work, according to which, among others, you shall be judged. You can no more be saved without ministerial diligence and fidelity, than they or you can be saved without Christian diligence and fidelity. If, therefore, you care not for others, care at least for yourselves. Oh what a dreadful thing is it to answer for the neglect of such a charge! and what sin more heinous than the betraying of souls? Doth not that threatening make you 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, I have no doubt, that the day is near when unfaithful ministers will wish that they had never known the charge of souls; but that they had rather been colliers, or sweeps, 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. O brethren, our death, as well as our people's, is at hand, and it is as terrible to an unfaithful pastor as to any. When we see that die we must, and that there is no remedy; that no wit, nor learning, nor popular applause, can avert the stroke, or delay the time; but, willing or unwilling, our souls must be gone, and that into a world which we never saw, where our persons and our worldly interest will not be respected; 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 talents; I concealed not men's misery, nor the way of their recovery.' O sirs, let us therefore take time while we have it, and work while it is day; ‘for the night cometh, when no man can work.' This is our day too; and by doing good to others, we must do good to ourselves. 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 blessed with those that die in the Lord, labour now, that you may rest from your labours then, and do such works as you would wish should follow you, and not such as will prove your terror in the review.