The church itself, without its watchmen, is a weak, feeble, and very helpless thing. What can the lady or mistress do to defend herself against thieves and sturdy villains, if there be none but she at home? It is said, when the shepherd is smitten, the sheep will be scattered. What could the temple do without its watchmen? 1 Chron.9:24.
Then let the churches love their pastors, hear their pastors, be ruled by their pastors, and suffer themselves to be watched over, and to be exhorted, counselled, and if need be, reproved and rebuked by their pastors. And let the ministers not sleep, but be watchful, and look to the ordinances, to the souls of the saints, and the gates of the church. Watch, man; WATCH, MAN; WATCH!
Duty Of Churches To The Ministry.
O churches, let your ministers be beautified with your love; that they may beautify you with their love, and also be an ornament unto you, and to that gospel they minister to you, for Jesus Christ's sake.
Different Classes Of Ministers.
Is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then this should teach the people to be very careful to whom they commit the teaching and guidance of their souls.
This is a business of the greatest concern: men will be careful to whom they commit their children, whom they make the executors of their wills, in whose hand they trust the writing and evidences of their lands; but how much more careful should we be, unto whom we commit the teaching and guidance of our souls. And yet most men are in these matters least of all careful.
There are idol shepherds. Zech.11:7. There are foolish shepherds. Zech.11:15. There are shepherds that feed themselves, and not their flocks. Ezek.34:2. There are hard-hearted and pitiless shepherds. Zech.11:3. There are shepherds that instead of healing, smite, push, and wound the diseased. Ezek.34:4, 21. There are shepherds that cause their flocks to go astray. Jer.50:6. And there are shepherds that feed their flocks: these are the shepherds to whom thou shouldst commit thy soul for teaching and for guidance.
Then said the Interpreter, "Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee." So he commanded his man to light a candle, and bade Christian follow him. So he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door: the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: it had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in its hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.
Then said Christian, "What meaneth this?"
INTERPRETER. "The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, 1 Cor.4:15, travail in birth with children, Gal.4:19, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth written on his lips; it is to show thee that his work is to know and to unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee that, slighting and despising the things that are present for the love that he hath to his Master's service, he is sure, in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward.
"Now," said the Interpreter, "I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way; wherefore, take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thau meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death."
DUTY OF MINISTERS.
Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered in the first place to the biggest sinners? then let God's ministers tell them so.
There is a tendency in us, I know not how it doth come about, when we are converted to contemn them that are left behind. Poor fools as we are, we forget that we ourselves were so.
But would it not become us better, since we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, so to act towards them that we may give them convincing ground to believe that we have found that mercy which also sets open the door for them to come and partake with us?
Austerity doth not become us, neither in doctrine nor in conversation. We ourselves live by grace; let us give as we receive, and labor to persuade our fellow-sinners whom God has left behind us, to follow after, that they may partake with us of grace. We are saved by grace, let us live like them that are gracious. Let all our things to the world be done in charity towards them; pity them, pray for them, be familiar with them for their good. Let us lay aside our foolish, worldly, carnal grandeur; let us not walk the streets, and have such behaviors as signify we are scarce for touching the poor ones that are left behind, no, not with a pair of tongs.
Remember your Lord; he was familiar with publicans and sinners to a proverb. "Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber; a friend of publicans and sinners." Matt.11:19. The first part, concerning his gluttonous eating and drinking, to be sure, was a horrible slander; but for the other, nothing was ever spoken truer of him by the world.
Now why should we lay hands cross on this text; that is, choose good victuals and love the sweet wine better than the salvation of the poor publican? Why not be familiar with sinners, provided we hate their spots and blemishes, and seek that they may be healed of them? Why not be fellowly with our carnal neighbors, if we take occasion to do so that we may drop and be distilling some good doctrine upon their souls? Why not go to the poor man's house, and give him a penny and a scripture to think upon?
"There were giants in the earth in those days." These words seem to be spoken to show us the hazards that Noah run while he preached the truth of God; he incurred the displeasure of the giants, who doubtless made all men tremble and kept the whole world in awe. But Noah must engage the giants, he must not fear the face of a giant.
This way God also took with Moses and with his people of Israel. They must go to possess the land of the giants, a people high and tall as the cedars, a people of whom went the proverb, "Who can stand before the children of Anak?" They must not be afraid of Og the king of Bashan, though his head be as high as the ridge of a house, and his bedstead a bedstead of iron.
This should teach us not to fear the faces of men; no, not the faces of the mighty; not to fear them in the matters of God, though they should run upon us like a giant.
Persecution, or the appearance of the giants against the servants of God, is no new business; not a thing of yesterday, but of old, even when Noah did minister for God in the world.
"And Noah began to be a husbandman." This trade he took up for want of better employment; or rather, in mine opinion, from some liberty he took to himself to be remiss in his care and work as a preacher. For seeing the church was now at rest, and having the world before them, they still retaining outward sobriety, poor Noah, good man, now might think with himself, "I need not now be so diligent, watchful, and painful in my ministry as formerly; the church is but small, without opposition and also well settled in the truth; I may now take to myself a little time to tamper with worldly things." So he makes an essay upon husbandry: "He began to be a husbandman." Ha, Noah, it was better with thee when thou wast better employed; yea, it was better with thee when a world of ungodly men set themselves against thee -- yea, when every day thy life was in danger to be destroyed by the giants, against whom thou wast preacher above a hundred years -- for then thou didst walk with God: then thou wast better than all the world; but now thou art in the relapse.
MINISTERS, SERVANTS OF THE CHURCH.
Gifts and office make no men sons of God; as so, they are but servants; though these, as ministers and apostles, were servants of the highest form. It is the church, as such, that is the lady, a queen, the bride, the Lamb's wife; and prophets, apostles, and ministers are but servants, stewards, laborers for her good.
As therefore the lady is above the servant, the queen above the steward, or the wife above all her husband's officers, so is the church, as such, above these officers.
GIFTS AND GRACE IN MINISTERS.
A tinkling cymbal, 1 Cor.13:1, 2, is an instrument of music with which a skilful player can make such melodious and heart-inflaming music, that all who hear him play can scarcely hold from dancing; and yet behold, the cymbal hath not life, neither comes the music from it, but because of the art of him that plays therewith; so then the instrument at last may come to naught and perish, -- though in times past such music hath been made upon it.
Just thus I saw it was and will be with them that have gifts, but want saving grace: they are in the hand of Christ, as the cymbal in the hand of David; and as David could with the cymbal make that mirth in the service of God as to elevate the hearts of the worshippers, Christ can so use these gifted men, as with them to affect the souls of his people in his church; and yet when he hath done all, hang them by, as lifeless, though sounding cymbals.
A man may be used as a servant in the church of God, and may receive many gifts and much knowledge of the things of heaven, and yet at last, himself be no more than a very bubble and nothing.
This our day doth indeed abound with gifts; many sparkling wits are seen in every corner; men have the word and truths of Christ at their fingers' ends. But alas, with many, yea a great many, there is naught but wits and gifts: they are but words; all their religion lieth in their tongues and heads; the power of what they say and know is seen in others, not in themselves. These are like the lord on whom the king of Israel leaned; they shall see the plenty, the blessed plenty that God doth provide and will bestow upon his church, but they shall not taste thereof.
Alas, great light, great parts, great works, and great confidence of heaven, may be where there is no faith of God's elect, no love of the Spirit, no repentance unto salvation, no sanctification of the Spirit, and so, consequently, no saving grace.
THE FALSE MINISTER.
So Christian and Hopeful went on, and Ignorance followed. They went then till they came to a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go; and here they knew not which of the two to take, for both seemed straight before them; therefore, here they stood still to consider.
And as they wore thinking about the way, behold, a man black of flesh, but covered with a very light robe, came to them, and asked them why they stood there. They answered, that they were going to the celestial city, but knew not which of these ways to take. "Follow me," said the man; "it is thither that I am going." So they followed him in the way that but now came into the road, which by degrees turned, and turned them so far from the city that they desired to go to, that in a little time their faces were turned away from it; yet they followed him. But by and by, before they were aware, he led them both within the compass of a net, in which they were both so entangled that they knew not what to do; and with that the white robe fell off from the black man's back: then they saw where they were. Wherefore, there they lay crying some time, for they could not get themselves out.
Then said Christian to his fellow, "Now do I see myself in an error. Did not the shepherds bid us beware of the flatterer?" Thus they lay bewailing themselves in the net. At last they spied a shining one coming towards them with a whip of small cords in his hand. When he was come to the place where they were, he asked them whence they came, and what they did there. They told him that they were poor pilgrims going to Zion, but were led out of their way by a black man clothed in white, who bid us, said they, follow him, for he was going thither too. Then said he with the whip, "It is Flatterer, a false apostle that hath transformed himself into an angel of light." So he rent the net, and let the men out.
Then said he to them, "Follow me, that I may set you in your way again." So he led them back to the way which they had left to follow the flatterer. Then he asked them, saying, "Where did you lie the last night?" They said, "With the shepherds upon the delectable mountains." He asked them then, if they had not a note of direction for the way. They answered, "Yes." "But did you not," said he, "when you were at a stand, pluck out and read your note?" They answered, "No." He asked them, "Why?" They said they forgot. He asked, moreover, if the shepherds did not bid them beware of the flatterer. They answered, "Yes; but we did not imagine," said they," that this fine-spoken man had been he." Rom.16:17, 18.
Then I saw in my dream that he commanded them to lie down, Deut.29:2; which when they did, he chastised them sore, to teach them the good way wherein they should walk, 2 Chron.6:26, 27; and as he chastised them he said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore and repent." This done, he bid them go on their way, and take heed to the other directions of the shepherds. So they thanked him for his kindness, and went softly along the right way, singing.
Another reason why delusions do so easily take place in the hearts of the ignorant, is because those that pretend to be their teachers do behave themselves so basely among them. And indeed I may say of these, as our Lord said of the Pharisees in another case, All the blood of the ignorant, from the beginning of the world, shall be laid to the charge of this generation. They that pretend they are sent of the Lord, and come saying, Thus saith the Lord; we are the servants of the Lord; our commission is from the Lord -- I say, those who pretend themselves to be the preachers of truth, but are not, do by their loose conversation render the true doctrine of God and his Son Jesus Christ contemptible, and do give the adversary mighty encouragement to cry out against the truths of our Lord Jesus Christ, because of their wicked walking. Now "shall not his soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" who pretend to be teachers of the people in goodness, when, as for the most part of them, they are the men that at this day do harden their hearers in their sins, by giving them such ill examples that none goeth beyond them for impiety? As for example, Would a parishioner learn to be proud? he or she need look no further than to the priest, his wife, and family; for there is a notable pattern before them. Would the people learn to be wanton? they may also see a pattern among their teachers. Would they learn to be drunkards? they may also have that from some of their ministers; for indeed they are ministers in this, to minister ill examples to their congregations. Again, would the people learn to be covetous? they need but look to their ministers, and they shall have a lively, or rather a deadly, resemblance set before them, in both riding and running after great benefices and parsonages, by night and by day; nay, they among themselves will scramble for the same. I have seen, that so soon as a man hath but departed from his benefice as he calls it, either by death or out of covetousness of a bigger, we have had one priest from this town, and another from that, so run for these tithe-cocks and handfuls of barley, as if it were their proper trade and calling to hunt after the same.
A covetous minister is a base thing; a pillar more symbolizing Lot's wife, than a holy apostle of Jesus Christ.
The unbelieving world slight the Scriptures because carnal priests tickle the ears of their hearers with vain philosophy and deceit, and thereby harden their hearts against the simplicity of the gospel and word of God; which things the apostle admonished those that have a mind to close in with Christ, to avoid, saying, "Beware lest any man," be he what he will, "spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men and rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
And you who muzzle up your people in ignorance, with Aristotle, Plato, and the rest of the heathenish philosophers, and preach little if any thing of Christ rightly -- I say unto you, that you will find you have sinned against God and beguiled your hearers, when God shall in the judgment-day lay the cause of the damnation of many thousands of souls to your charge, and say, "I will require their blood at your hands."
THE MINISTER AT THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
Some men, it is to be feared, at the day of judgment, will be found to be the authors of destroying whole nations. How many souls, do you think, Balaam with his deceit will have to answer for? How many Mahomet? How many the Pharisees that hired the soldiers to say the disciples stole away Jesus, and by that means stumbled their brethren to this day?
How many poor souls hath Bonner to answer for, think you; and several filthy, blind priests? How many souls have they been the means of destroying by their ignorance and corrupt doctrine? preaching that which was no better for their souls than ratsbane to the body, for filthy lucre's sake. They shall see that they, many of them it is to be feared, will have whole towns to answer for, whole cities to answer for. Ah, friend, I tell thee, thou that hast taken in hand to preach to the people, it may be thou hast taken in hand thou canst not tell what. Will it not grieve thee to see thy whole parish come bellowing after thee to hell, crying out, This we may thank thee for; thou didst not teach us the truth; thou didst lead us away with fables; thou wast afraid to tell us of our sins, lest we should not put meat fast enough into thy mouth. O cursed wretch, that ever thou shouldst beguile us thus, deceive us thus, flatter us thus. We would have gone out to hear the word abroad, but that thou didst reprove us, and also tell us that that which we see now is the way of God was heresy and a deceivable doctrine, and wast not contented, blind guide as thou wert, to fall into the ditch thyself, but hast also led us thither with thee.
I say, look to thyself, lest thou cry out when it is too late, Send Lazarus to my people, my friends, my children, my congregation to whom I preached, and whom I beguiled through my folly. Send him to the town in which I did preach last, lest I be the cause of their damnation.
In my preaching of the word, I took special notice of this one thing, namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where his word begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege that the curse of God by the law doth belong to, and lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin.
Now this part of my work I fulfilled with great feeling; for the terrors of the law, and guilt for my transgressions, lay heavy on my conscience: I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel; even that under which my poor soul did groan and tremble to astonishment.
Indeed, I have been as one sent to them from the dead; I went myself in chains, to preach to them in chains; and carried that fire in my own conscience, that I persuaded them to be aware of. I can truly say, and that without dissembling, that when I have been to preach, I have gone full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit-door, and there it hath been taken off, and I have been at liberty in my mind until I have done my work; and then immediately, even before I could get down the pulpit-stairs, I have been as bad as I was before; yet God carried me on, but surely with a strong hand, for neither guilt nor hell could take me off my work.
Thus I went on for the space of two years, crying out against men's sins, and their fearful state because of them. After which the Lord came in upon my soul with some sure peace and comfort through Christ; for he did give me many sweet discoveries of his blessed grace through him: wherefore now I altered my preaching -- for still I preached what I saw and felt. Now, therefore, I did much labor to hold forth Jesus Christ in all his offices, relations, and benefits unto the world; and did strive also to discover, to condemn, and remove those false supports and props on which the world doth both lean and by them fall and perish. On these things also I staid as long as on the other.
When I have been preaching, I thank God, my heart hath often all the time of this and the other exercise, with great earnestness cried to God that he would make the word effectual to the salvation of the soul; still being grieved lest the enemy should take the word away from the conscience, and so it should become unfruitful: wherefore I have labored so to speak the word, as that thereby, if it were possible, the sin and person guilty might be particularized by it.
And when I have done the exercise, it hath gone to my heart to think the word should now fall as rain on stony places; still wishing from my heart, Oh, that they who have heard me speak this day did but see as I do, what sin, death, hell, and the curse of God are; and also what the grace, and love, and mercy of God are, through Christ; to men in such a case as they are who are yet estranged from him. And indeed, I did often say in my heart before the Lord, that if I should be hanged up presently before their eyes, and it would be a means to awaken them and confirm them in the truth, I gladly should be contented.
For I have been in my preaching, especially when I have been engaged in the doctrine of life by Christ without works, as if an angel of God had stood at my back to encourage me. Oh, it hath been with such power and heavenly evidence upon my own soul, while I have been laboring to unfold it, to demonstrate it, and to fasten it upon the consciences of others, that I could not be contented with saying, I believe, and am sure. Methought I was more than sure -- if it be lawful thus to express myself -- that those things which then I asserted were true.
If any of those who were awakened by my ministry did after that fall back -- as sometimes too many did -- I can truly say, their loss hath been more to me than if my own children, begotten of my body, had been going to their grave. I think verily I may speak it without any offence to the Lord, nothing has gone so near me as that; unless it was the fear of the loss of the salvation of my own soul. I have counted as if I had goodly buildings and lordships in those places where my children were born: my heart hath been so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted myself more blessed and honored of God by this, than if he had made me emperor of the Christian world or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it. Oh these words: "He that converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death." "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise." "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever." "For what is our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy." These, I say, with many others of a like nature, have been great refreshments to me.
I have observed that a word cast in by the by, hath done more execution in a sermon, than all that was spoken besides: sometimes also, when I have thought I did no good, then I did the most of all; and at other times, when I thought I could catch them, I have fished for nothing.
BUNYAN'S CHARACTER AND PRINCIPLES
For my descent, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land. Wherefore I have not, as others, to boast of noble blood and of any high-born estate according to the flesh; though all things considered, I magnify the heavenly Majesty for that by this door he brought me into the world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel.
What need you, before you have showed one syllable of a reasonable argument in opposition to what I assert, thus trample my person, my gifts, and grace -- have I any -- so disdainfully under your feet, because of my low descent among men; stigmatizing me for a person of that rank that need not to be heeded. And what, is my rank so mean that the most gracious and godly among you may not duly and soberly consider what I have said? Was it not the act of the false apostles to say thus -- to bespatter a man that his doctrine might be disregarded? "Is not this the carpenter?" and, "His bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible," did not use to be in the mouths of the saints; for they knew the wind blew where it listed. Neither is it high birth, worldly breeding, or wealth; but electing love, grace, and the wisdom that comes from heaven, that those who strive for strictness of order in. the things and kingdom of Christ, should have in regard and esteem. Need I read you a lecture? Hath not God chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, yea and even things that are not to bring to naught things that are? Why then do you despise my rank, my state, and quality in the world?
Since you would know by what name I would be distinguished from others, I tell you, I would be, and I hope I am, A CHRISTIAN; and choose, if God should count me worthy, to be called A CHRISTIAN, A BELIEVER, or other such name which is approved by the Holy Ghost.
Your artificial, squibbling suggestions to the world about myself, my imprisonment, and the like, I freely bind unto me as an ornament among the rest of my reproaches, till the Lord shall wipe them off at his coming.
Faith and holiness are my professed principles, with an endeavor, so far as in me lieth, to be at peace with all men. What shall I say? Let mine enemies themselves be judges, if any thing in these following doctrines, or if aught that any man hath heard me preach, doth or hath, according to the true intent of my words, savored either of heresy or rebellion. I say again, let them themselves be judges, if aught they find in my writing or preaching doth render me worthy of almost twelve years' imprisonment, or one that deserveth to be hanged or banished for ever, according to their tremendous sentence. Indeed my principles are such as lead me to a denial to communicate in the things of the kingdom of Christ with the ungodly and open profane; neither can I consent that my soul should be governed in any of my approaches to God by the superstitious inventions of this world, because commanded to the contrary, or commended for so refusing. Wherefore, excepting in this one thing -- for which I ought not to be rebuked -- I shall, I trust, in despite of slandor and falsehood, discover myself at all times a peaceable anl obedient subject. But if nothing will do, unless I make my conscience a continual butchery or slaughter-shop -- unless, putting out mine own eyes, I commit myself to the blind to lead me, as I doubt not is desired by some -- I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith and principles.
To the reader. I marvel not that both yourself and others do think my long imprisonment strange -- or rather strangely of me for the sake of that -- for verily I should also have done it myself, had not the Holy Ghost long since forbidden me.1 Pet.4: 12; 1 John, 3: 13. Nay, verily, notwithstanding that, had the adversary but fastened the supposition of guilt upon me, my long trials might by this time have put it beyond dispute; for I have not hitherto been so sordid, as to stand to a doctrine right or wrong; much less, when so weighty an argument as above eleven years' imprisonment is continually dogging of me to weigh and pause and weigh again the grounds and foundation of those principles for which I thus have suffered. But having not only at my trial asserted them, but also since -- even all this tedious tract of time, in cool blood, a thousand times -- by the word of God examined them, and found them good, I cannot, I dare not now revolt or deny the same, on pain of eternal damnation.