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“ The care of souls is indeed a great work, a noble “ undertaking, but yet a very grievous burden.” He must be a man of very firm shoulders that is not crushed under it.
I have ofttimes, not without wonder and indignation, observed the strange confidence of empirics in physic, that dare venture on the practice of that noble art, which they do not at all understand; considering how for a little paltry gain they shrewdly hazard, or rather certainly destroy, the health and lives of men; and have judged them worthy of as capital and ignominious a punishment as those that kill men on the highways.
But I have soon exchanged this meditation into another of more concernment to myself; and my indignation hath quickly returned into my own bosom, when I consider how much bolder and more hazardous an attempt it is for a man to venture on the priestly office; to minister to the eternal health and salvation of souls. How much skill is requisite to qualify a man for such an undertaking ! how great care in the discharge of it! What a sad thing it would be, if through my unskilfulness or negligence any one soul should miscarry under my hands, or die and perish eternally!
We minister to souls. Souls ! Methinks in that one word there is a sermon.
Immortal souls ! precious souls! one whereof is more worth than all the world besides, the price of the blood of the Son of God. I close up this with the excellent words appointed by the church to be read at the ordination of every priest : “ Have always therefore in your “ remembrance how great a treasure is committed “ to your charge ; for they are the sheep of Christ,
“ which he bought with his death, and for whom he “shed his blood. The church and congregation “whom ye serve is his spouse and body. And if it “shall happen the same church, or any member " thereof, to take any hurt or hinderance by reason “ of your negligence, you know the greatness of the “ fault, and also the horrible punishment that will
And now methinks I may use the apostle's words in another case, 1 Cor. i. 26. Ye see your calling, brethren s; you see how extremely difficult and hazardous an office it is we have undertaken ; who is sufficient for these thingsb? Whose loins do not tremble at this fearful burden on his shoulders ? Who would not be almost tempted to repent himself of his undertaking, and to wish himself any the meanest mechanic rather than a minister ? But, alas ! this were vain, yea sinful. We are engaged in this sacred office, and there is no retreating; we must now run the hazard, how great soever it be; in we are, and on we must. What shall we then say? what shall we do? Surely this is our best, yea our only course. Let us first prostrate ourselves at the feet of the Almighty God, humbly confessing and heartily bewailing our great and manifold miscarriages in this weighty undertaking; let us weep tears of blood (if it were possible) for the blood of souls, which we have reason to fear may stick upon our garments. The blood of souls, I say : for when I consider how many less discerned ways there be, whereby a man may involve himself in that guilt, as not only by an openly vicious example, but even by
Βλέπετε την κλήσιν υμών, αδελφοί.
a less severe, prudent, and wary conversation; not only by actions directly criminal, but by lawful actions, when offensive, (for by these the apostle assures us, a man may destroy the soul of his weak brother, for whom Christ died, Rom. xiv. 15.) not only by a gross negligence and supine carelessness, but by every lesser remission of those degrees of zeal and diligence, which are requisite in so important an affair : in a word, by not doing all that a man can, and lies within his power, to save the souls committed to his charge : I say, when I consider this, for mine own part I cannot, I dare not justify myself, or plead Not guilty before the great Judge of heaven and earth; but do upon the bended knees of my soul bewail my sin, and implore his pardoning grace and mercy, crying mightily unto him; Deliver me from this bloodguiltiness, O my God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. [Psalm li. 14.]
Having laid ourselves at God's feet, let us not lie idly there, but arise, and for the future do the work of God with all faithfulness and industry; yea, let us make amends for our past negligence, by doubling our future diligence. And for our encouragement here, let us remember, that though many things are required of a minister, yet the chief and most indispensable requisites are these two, a passionate desire to save souls, and an unwearied diligence in the pursuit of that noble design. The minister that wants these two qualifications will hardly pass the test, or gain the approbation of God the great judge and trier ; but where these are found, they will cover a multitude of other failings and defects. Let us therefore, reverend brethren, (and may I here conjure both you and myself, by the endeared love we bear to our own souls, and the precious souls 'committed to our charge, yea by the blood of the Son of God, the price of both,) let us, I beseech you, from henceforth return to our several charges, zealously and industriously plying the great work and business that is before us. Let us think no pains too great to escape that perlov kpíua, that greater judgment that otherwise attends us.
Let us study hard, and read much, and pray often, and preach in season and out of season, and catechise the youth, and take wise opportunities of instructing those, who being of riper years, may yet be as unripe in knowledge; and visit the sick, and according to our abilities relieve the poor; shewing to all our flock the example of a watchful, holy, humble conversation. And may a great blessing of God crown our labours ! Let us go on, and the Lord prosper us.
I have done ad clerum, and have but a word more ad populum, “ to the people.”
My brethren, you may possibly think yourselves altogether unconcerned in this whole discourse. But if you do, you are mistaken; all this nearly concerns even you. I shall only point to you wherein.
1. If the pastoral office be so tremendous an undertaking, judge then, I pray you, of the sacrilegious boldness and impiety of those Uzzahs among the laity, that dare touch this ark, the priest's charge and care.
we, my brethren, that have been trained up in the schools of the prophets, that have been educated with no small care and cost to this employment, that have spent a double apprenticeship of years in our studies, and most of us a great deal more: if we, I say, after all this, find reason to
tremble at our insufficiency for such an undertaking, how horrible is the confidence, or rather impudence, of those mechanics, that have leaped from the shopboard or plough into the pulpit, and thus, per
saltum, by a prodigious leap, commenced teachers! What shall we say to these mountebanks in the church, these empirics in theology? I only say this; I can never sufficiently admire, either their boldness in venturing to be teachers, or the childish folly and simplicity of those that give themselves up to be their disciples. It is a miracle that any such person should dare to preach; or if he do, that any man in his right wits should vouchsafe to hear him.
2. This discourse concerning the difficulty and hazard of the priestly office shews sufficiently all the people's danger. It is the danger your own souls are in, my brethren, if not carefully looked to, that is the great hazard of our office. O therefore, if you do consider it, what need have you to look to yourselves !
3. Lastly, If our work and office be attended with this difficulty, sure it is your duty to pity us, to pray for us, to encourage us by all possible ways and means to the vigorous performance of it; at least not to add to our load, or discourage us, either by your wayward factiousness, or stubborn profaneness, or sacrilegious injustice: if you do, sad will be your account.
Remember therefore the advice of the apostle, Heb. xiii. 17. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves : for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do this (i. e. attend on this work of watching over your souls) with joy, and not with griefi. Gro
Η “Ινα μετά χαράς τούτο παιώσει, και μη στενάζοντες.