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Many have warned others that they come not to that place of torment, while yet they hastened to it themselves: many a preacher is now in hell, who hath a hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refuse it themselves; and for telling others those truths which they themselves neglect and abuse?
Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. Take heed, therefore, to ourselves first, that you he that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and heartily entertain that Savior whom you offer to them. He that bade you love your neighbors as yourselves, did imply that you should love yourselves, and not hate and destroy yourselves and them.
It is a fearful thing to be an unsanctified professor, hut much more to be an unsanctified preacher. Doth it not make you tremble when you open the Bible, lest you should there re d the sentence of your own condemnation? When you pen your sermons, little do you think that you are drawing up indictments against your own souls! When you are arguing against sin, that you are aggravating your own! When you proclaim to your hearers the unsearchable riches of Christ and his grace, that you are publishing your own iniquity in rejecting them, and your unhappiness in being destitute of them!
What can you do in persuading men to Christ, in drawing them from the world, in urging them to a life of faith and holiness, but conscience, if it were awake, would tell you, that you speak all this to your own confusion? Oh what aggravated misery is this, to perish in the midst of plenty!
That those ordinances of God should be the occasion of our delusion, which are instituted to be the means of our conviction and salvation! If such a wretched man would take my counsel, he would make a stand, and call his heart and life to an account, and fall a preaching a while to himself, before he preach any more to others. He is like to be but a heartless preacher, that hath not the Christ and grace that he preacheth, in his heart. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this!
What a poor business is it to themselves, to spend their time in acquiring some little knowledge of the works of God, and of some of those names which the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know God himself, nor exalt him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy! If ever God awaken them by his saving grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations, that they will confess they did but dream before.
A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are wilful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied.
We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed, are no better than nonsense. All creatures, as such, are broken syllables; they signify nothing as separated from God. Were they separated actually, they would cease to be, and the separation would be an annihilation; and when we separate them in our fancies, we make nothing of them to ourselves.
It is one thing to know the creatures as Aristotle, and another thing to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his Physics so as to understand it rightly. It is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many apprehend; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us. Every creature had the name of God so legibly engraven on it, that man might run and read it.
He could not open his eyes, but he might see some image of God; but no where so fully and lively as in himself. It was, therefore, his work to study the whole volume of nature, but first and most to study himself.
And if man had held on in this course, he would have continued and increased in the knowledge of God and himself; but when he would needs know and love the creature and himself in a way of separation from God, he lost the knowledge both of the creature and of the Creator, so far as it could beatify and was worth the name of knowledge; and instead of it, he hath got the unhappy knowledge which he affected, even the empty notions and fantastic knowledge of the creature and himself, as thus separated.
Surely every man walketh in a vain show; surely they are disquieted in vain. It is the work of Christ to bring us back to God, and to restore us to the perfection of holiness and obedience; and as he is the way to the Father, so faith in him is the way to our former employment and enjoyment of God. Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the end, the object, and the life of them all.
And, therefore, I shall presume to tell you, by the way, that it is a grand error, and of dangerous consequence in Christian academies, pardon the censure from one so unfit to pass it, seeing the necessity of the case commandeth it, that they study the creature before the Redeemer, and set themselves to physics, and metaphysics, and mathematics, before they set themselves to theology; whereas, no man that hath not the vitals of theology, is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy.
Theology must lay the foundation, and lead the way of all our studies. If God must be searched after, in our search of the creature, and we must affect no separated knowledge of them then tutors must read God to their pupils in all; and divinity must be the beginning, the middle, the end, the life, the all, of their studies. The Holy Scripture is the easier book: when you have first learned from it God, and his will, as to the most necessary things, address yourselves to the study of his works, and read every creature as a Christian and a divine.
If you see not yourselves, and all things, as living, and moving, and having being in God, you see nothing, whatever you think you see. It is a most high and noble part of holiness, to search after, behold admire, and love the great Creator in all his works.
How much have the saints of God been employed in this high and holy exercise! The book of Job, and the Psalms, may show us that our physics are not so little kin to theology as some suppose. I do, therefore, in zeal for the good of the Church, and their own success in their most necessary labors, propound it for the consideration of all pious tutors, whether they should not as timely, and as diligently, read to their pupils, or cause them to read, the chief parts of practical divinity and there is no other , as any of the sciences; and whether they should not go together from the very first?
It is well that they hear sermons; but that is not enough. Hence it is, that we have so many worldlings to preach of the invisible felicity, and so many carnal men to declare the mysteries of the Spirit; and I would I might not say, so many infidels to preach Christ, or so many atheists to preach the living God: and when they are taught philosophy before or without religion, what wonder if their philosophy be all or most of their religion!
Again, therefore, I address myself to all who have the charge of the education of youth, especially in order to preparation for the ministry. You, that are schoolmasters and tutors, begin and end with the things of God.
Speak daily to the hearts of your scholars those things that must be wrought into their hearts, or else they are undone. Do not say, they are too young to understand and entertain them. You little know what impressions they may make. Not only the soul of the boy, but many souls may have cause to bless God, for your zeal and diligence, yea, for one such seasonable word. You have a great advantage above others to do them good; you have them before they are grown to maturity, and they will hear you when they will not hear another.
If they are destined to the ministry, you are preparing them for the special service of God, and must they not first have the knowledge of him whom they have to serve Oh think with yourselves, what a sad thing it will be to their own souls, and what a wrong to the Church of God, if they come out from you with common and carnal hearts, to so great and holy and spiritual a work!
Of a hundred students in one of our colleges, how many may there be that are serious, experienced, godly young men! If you should send one half of them on a work which they are unfit for, what cruel work will they make in the Church or country! Whereas, if you be the means of their conversion and sanctification, how many souls may bless you, and what greater good can you do the Church?
When once their hearts are savingly affected with the doctrine which they study and preach, they will study it more heartily, and preach it more heartily: their own experience will direct them to the fittest subjects, and will furnish them with matter, and quicken them to set it home. See, therefore, that you make not work for the groans and lamentation of the Church, nor for the great tormentor of the murderers of souls.
Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others. If you did this for your own sakes, it would not be lost labor; but I am speaking to you upon the public account, that you would do it for the sake of the Church, When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it.
Your prayers, and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears.
I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused, my preaching is confused; and so I can oft observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold too; and the next prayers which I have heard from them have been too like my preaching.
If we forbear taking food ourselves, we shall famish them; it will soon be visible in their leanness, and dull discharge of their several duties. If we let our love decline, we are not like to raise up theirs. If we abate our holy care and fear, it will appear in our preaching: if the matter show it not, the manner will. If we feed on unwholesome food, either errors or fruitless controversies, our hearers are like to fare the worse for it. Whereas, if we abound in faith, and love, and zeal, how would it overflow to the refreshing of our congregations, and how would it appear in the increase of the same graces in them!
O brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith, and love, and zeal: be much at home, and be much with God. Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation. Thence you must fetch the heavenly fire that must kindle your sacrifices: remember, you cannot decline and neglect your duty, to your own hurt alone; many will be losers by it as well as you.
If a pang of spiritual pride should overtake you, and you should fall into any dangerous error, and vent your own inventions to draw away disciples after you, what a wound may this prove to the Church, of which you have the oversight; and you may become a plague to them instead of a blessing, and they may wish they had never seen your faces.
Oh, therefore, take heed to your own judgments and affections. Vanity and error will slyly insinuate, and seldom come without fair pretences: great distempers and apostasies have usually small beginnings.
The prince of darkness doth frequently personate an angel of light, to draw the children of light again into darkness. How easily also will distempers creep in upon our affections and our first love, and fear and care abate! Watch, therefore, for the sake of yourselves and others. But, besides this general course of watchfulness, methinks a minister should take some special pains with his heart, before he is to go to the congregation: if it be then cold, how is he likely to warm the hearts of his hearers?
Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and lest you lay such stumbling-blocks before the blind, as may be the occasion of their ruin; lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors. It much hindereth our work, when other men are all the week long contradicting to poor people in private, that which we have been speaking to them from the Word of God in public, because we cannot be at hand to expose their folly; but it will much more hinder your work, if you contradict yourselves, and if your actions give your tongue the lie, and if you build up an hour or two with your mouths, and all the week after pull down with your hands!
This is the way to make men think that the Word of God is but an idle tale, and to make preaching seem no better than prating. He that means as he speaks, will surely do as he speaks. One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing.
Tell me, brethren, in the fear of God, do you regard the success of your labors, or do you not? Do you long to see it upon the souls of your hearers? He is like to be but a heartless preacher, that hath not the Christ and grace that he preacheth, in his heart. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this! Think about this for a moment: would Satan be persuaded by one of his servants?
Can a kingdom divided against itself stand? Ministers who are not ministers, who are not converted Christians, are servants of Satan and bound, in varied ways, to serve the Devil in the pulpits. These kinds of men are not going to tell you they are servants of Satan, and for the most part will not know it themselves. How then can the Christian overcome such men — they should be able to tell a good minister from a false teacher!
In contrast to unsaved and ill fit ministers, there are the truly appointed pastors over the flock. Baxter does not simply commend these men in their vocation and calling, but takes the rest of the book to exhort them to a proper practice in their role as overseer of the flock.
He begins this with a lively faith. They should be Christians filled with grace, and then continues stirring up of that grace to receive more grace and thus exemplify a lively faith. If ministers lead people down the road of filthy lifestyles, then the minister has been the occasion of stumbling for them.
Baxter presses hard on the need to ordain qualified for ministers. Better to have one minister who is qualified than ten that are not qualified. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge, that will teach men all those mysterious things which must be known in order to salvation. A good standard for a minister is that for every minute they preach or teach, they should study one hour. He exegetes the text, checks his work, creates an outline, pulls a doctrine or two from the text, and then applies it.
This was a typical structure for preaching in the time of the Reformation, and in his day. Applying the sermon is often the most difficult of tasks. How does a minister reach both the weak and strong minded in the same sermon to feed the flock week after week?
How does he reach the children who are not attentive, as well as the studied scholar who may be sitting in the front row? On this note alone, most lecturers who think they are preaching, should get out of the pulpit and into the pew. They tend to try and get their thoughts out of their own head at the end, and generally fumble on this point, where they should be preaching a sermon to get it into the minds of the hearers.
And in such a fight, the minister is the first to win or lose heaven. It is something done far too often today. You cannot miscarry but the world will ring of it. That is where the minister must be reminded of his lifestyle and walk. But, obviously, at the very least, each church should have a pastor to watch over their souls.
The text, Acts , demands this. How could the pastor ever get to know people and watch over their souls? How could he possibly take heed of them all? Yes, Baxter is saying that pastors should take heed over all the flock, not some of the flock. To this end it is necessary, that we should know every person that belongeth to our charge; for how can we take heed to them, if we do not know them?
We must labor to be acquainted, not only with the persons, but with the state of all our people, with their inclinations and conversations; what are the sins of which they are most in danger, and what duties they are most apt to neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to; for if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians.
There are certain kinds of people that ministers are to give heed to; special consideration over certain types of people. In this respect our work is various, according to the various states of Christians.
This, indeed, is the most common condition of the godly. Most of them content themselves with low degrees of grace, and it is no easy matter to get them higher.
Baxter says ministers should get information on how the family is ordered. Then they are to go occasionally among them in order to persuade them to study their own wants prayer, reading, meditation, etc.
They are to be sure they have useful books as well as the Bible to study. How should a minister help the sick be fruitful for life or ready themselves for a happy death? What would you say a minister should do in these cases? If you are a ministers asking these question and do not know the answer to them, then get to studying!
This consisteth, after the aforesaid private reproofs, in more public reproof, combined with exhortation to repentance, in prayer for the offender, in restoring the penitent, and in excluding and avoiding the impenitent. Preventative discipline is any teaching to help the saints be edified and the sinner be converted. It is this help along the way that guides them to follow the Lord in righteousness.
Corrective discipline is when formal discipline of a wayward member takes place. Sometimes this ends in excommunicating a covenanted member of the church. It was once said, without recalling who said it, that to be a minister you must be one of two things: 1 called of God, or 2 insane.
I think this is quite true. What then are your ends as a minister of the Word to the flock of God? Sermons are then seen in a proper light. Milk must go before strong meat; the foundation must be laid before we attempt to raise the superstructure. Children must not be dealt with as men of full stature.
Men must be brought into a state of grace, before we can expect from them the works of grace. The work of conversion, and repentance from dead works, and faith in Christ, must be first and frequently and thoroughly taught. We must not ordinarily go beyond the capacities of our people, nor teach them the perfection, that have not learned the first principles of religion. The weight of our matter condemneth coldness and sleepy dullness.
We should see that we be well awakened ourselves, and our spirits in such a plight as may make us fit to awaken others.
If our words be not sharpened, and pierce not as nails, they will hardly be felt by stony hearts. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all. And yet all this teaching is to be done in a certain light — in love. They will never respect you, never love you, and never find the love of God to them through you. Were they worth my blood, and are they not worth thy labor? How small is thy condescension and labor compared to mine!
I debased myself to this, but it is thy honor to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation, and was I willing to make thee a fellow-worker with me, and wilt thou refuse to do that little which lieth upon thy hands?
That is what made their preaching so effective, humanly speaking. Do you think charming homilies will rescue people from hell? If the word is preached, it should be preached in power and authority.
How few ministers do preach with all their might, or speak about everlasting joys and everlasting torments in such a manner as may make men believe that they are in good earnest!
The blow falls so light that hard-hearted sinners cannot feel. The most of ministers will not so much as exert their voice, and stir up themselves to an earnest utterance.
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