The duty of the people of God to excite others to seek this Rest
The author laments that Christians do so little to help others to obtain the saints’ rest: I. Shows the nature of this duty; particularly, 1, In having our hearts affected with the misery of our brethren’s souls; 2. In taking all opportunities to instruct them in the way of salvation; 3. In promoting their profit by public ordinances. II. Assigns various reasons why this duty is so much neglected, and answers some objections against it. III. Urges to the discharge of it, by several considerations: 1. Addressed to such as have knowledge, learning, and utterance; 2. Those that are acquainted with sinners; 3. Physicians that attend dying men; 4. Persons of wealth and power; 5. Ministers; 6. And those that are intrusted with the care of children or servants. The chapter concludes with an earnest request to Christian parents to be faithful to their trust.
Hath God set before us such a glorious prize as the saints’ rest, and made us capable of such inconceivable happiness? Why, then, do not all the children of this kingdom exert themselves more to help others to the enjoyment of it? Alas! how little are poor souls about us beholden to most of us! We see the glory of the kingdom, and they do not; we see the misery of those that are out of it, and they do not; we see some wandering quite out of the way, and know, if they hold on, they can never come there; and they themselves discern it not. And yet we will not seriously show them their danger and error, and help to bring them into the way, that they may live. Alas! how few Christians are there to be found who set themselves with all their might to save souls! No thanks to us if heaven be not empty, and if the souls of our brethren perish not for ever. Considering how important this duty is to the glory of God and the happiness of men, I will show–how it is to be performed;–why it is so much neglected;–and then offer some considerations to persuade to it.
First. THE DUTY of exciting and helping others to discern their title to the saints’ rest. This does not mean that every man should turn a public preacher, or that any should go beyond the bounds of their particular calling; much less does it consist in promoting a party spirit and, least of all, in speaking against men’s faults behind their backs, and being silent before their faces. This duty is of another nature, and consists of the following things: in having our hearts affected with the misery of our brethren’s souls, in taking all opportunities to instruct them in the way of salvation, and in promoting their profit by public ordinances.
1. Our hearts must be affected with the misery of our brethren’s souls. We must be compassionate toward them, and yearn after their recovery and salvation. If we earnestly longed for their conversion, and our hearts were solicitous to do them good, it would set us at work, and God would usually bless it.
2. We must take every opportunity that we possibly can to instruct them how to attain salvation. If the person be ignorant, labor to make him understand the chief happiness of man; how far he was once possessed of it; the covenant God then made with him; how he broke it; and what penalty he incurred; and into what misery he brought himself. Teach him his need of a Redeemer; how Christ mercifully interposed, and bore the penalty; what the new covenant is; how men are drawn to Christ; and what are the riches and privileges which believers have in him. If he is not moved by these things, then show him the excellency of the glory he neglects; the extremity and eternity of the torments of the damned; the justice of enduring them for wilfully refusing grace; the certainty, nearness, and terrors of death and judgment; the vanity of all things below; the sinfulness of sin; the preciousness of Christ; the necessity of regeneration, faith, and holiness, and their true nature. If; after all, you find him entertaining false hopes, then urge him to examine his state; show him the necessity of doing so; help him in it; nor leave him till you have convinced him of his misery and remedy. Show him how vain and destructive it is to join Christ and his duties to compose his justifying righteousness. Yet be sure to draw him to the use of all means; such as hearing and reading the word, calling upon God, and associating with the godly: persuade him to forsake sin, avoid all temptations to sin, especially evil companions, and to wait patiently on God in the use of means, as the way in which God will be found.
But, because the manner of performing this work is of great moment, observe therefore these rules: Enter upon it with right intentions. Aim at the glory of God in the person’s salvation. Do it not to get a name or esteem to thyself; or to bring men to depend upon thee, or to get thee followers; but in obedience to Christ, in imitation of him, and tender love to men’s souls. Do not as those who labor to reform their children or servants from such things as are against their own profit or humor, but never seek to save their souls in the way which God has appointed. Do it speedily. As you would not have them delay their return, do not you delay to seek their return. While you are purposing to teach and help him, the man goes deeper in debt; wrath is heaping up; sin taking root; custom fastens him; temptations to sin multiply; conscience grows seared; the heart hardened; the devil rules; Christ is shut out; the Spirit is resisted; God is daily dishonored; his law violated; he is robbed of that service which he should have; time runs on; death and judgment are at the door; and what if the man die, and drop into hell, while you are purposing to prevent it! If, in the case of his bodily distress, you “must not say to him, go and come again, and tomorrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee;” how much less may you delay the succor of his soul! That physician is no better than a murderer, who negligently delays till his patient be dead or past cure. Lay by excuses, then, and all lesser business, and “exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Let your exhortation proceed from compassion and love. To jeer and scoff, to rail and vilify, is not a likely way to reform men, or convert them to God. Go to poor sinners with tears in your eyes, that they may see you believe them to be miserable, and that you unfeignedly pity their case. Deal with them with earnest, humble entreaties. Let them perceive it is the desire of your heart to do them good; that you have no other end but their everlasting happiness; and that it is your sense of their danger, and your love to their souls, that forces you to speak; even because you “know the terrors of the Lord,” and for fear you should see them in eternal torments. Say to them, “Friend, you know I seek no advantage of my own: the method to please you, and keep your friendship, were to soothe you in your way, or let you alone; but love will not suffer me to see you perish, and be silent. I seek nothing at your hands but that which is necessary to your own happiness. It is yourself that will have the gain and comfort if you come to Christ.” If we were thus to go to every ignorant and wicked neighbor, what blessed fruit should we quickly see!
Do it with all possible plainness and faithfulness. Do not make their sins less than they are, nor encourage them in a false hope. If you see the case dangerous, speak plainly: “Neighbor, I am afraid God has not yet renewed your soul; I fear you are not yet recovered ‘from the power of Satan to God;’ I fear you have not chosen Christ above all, nor unfeignedly taken him for your sovereign Lord. If you had, surely you durst not so easily disobey him, nor neglect his worship in your family and in public; you could not so eagerly follow the world, and talk of nothing but the things of the world. If you were ‘in Christ,’ you would be ‘a new creature; old things’ would be ‘passed away, and all things’ would ‘become new.’ You would have new thoughts, new conversation, new company, new endeavors, and a new life. Certainly without these you can never be saved; you may think otherwise, and hope otherwise as long as you will, but your hopes will all deceive you, and perish with you Thus must you deal faithfully with men, if ever you intend to do them good. It is not in curing men’s souls, as in curing their bodies, where they must not know their danger, lest it hinder the cure. They are here agents in their own cure; and if they know not their misery, they will never bewail it, nor know their need of a Savior.
Do it also seriously, zealously, and effectually. Labor to make men know that heaven and hell are not matters to be played with, or passed over with a few careless thoughts. “It is most certain that, one of these days, thou shalt be in everlasting joy or torment; and doth it not awaken thee? Are there so few that find the way of life? so many that go the way of death? Is it so hard to escape? so easy to miscarry? and yet you sit still and trifle? What do you mean? The world is passing away; its pleasures, honors, and profits are fading and leaving you; eternity is a little before you; God is just and jealous; his threatenings are true; the great day will be terrible; time runs on; your life is uncertain; you are far behindhand; your case is dangerous; if you die tomorrow, how unready are you! With what terror will your soul leave the body! And do you yet loiter? Consider, God is all this while waiting your leisure: his patience beareth: his long-suffering forbeareth: his mercy entreateth you: Christ offereth you his blood and merits: the Spirit is persuading: conscience is accusing: Satan waits to have you. This is your time now or never. Had you rather burn in hell than repent on earth? have devils your tormentors, than Christ your governor? Will you renounce your part in God and glory, rather than renounce your sins? O friends, what do you think of these things? God hath made you men; do not renounce your reason where you should chiefly use it.” Alas! it is not a few dull words between jest and earnest, between sleeping and waking, that will rouse a dead-hearted sinner. If a house be on fire you will not make a cold oration on the nature and danger of fire, but will run and cry, Fire! fire! To tell a man of his sins as softly as Eli did his sons; or to reprove him as gently as Jehoshaphat did Ahab; “Let not the king say so;” usually does as much harm as good. Loathness to displease men makes us undo them.
Yet, lest you run into extremes, I advise you to do it with prudence and discretion. Choose the fittest season. Deal not with men when they are in a passion, or where they will take it for a disgrace. When the earth is soft the plough will enter. Take a man when he is under affliction, or newly impressed under a sermon. Christian faithfulness requires us not only to do good when it falls in our way, but to watch for opportunities. Suit yourself also to the quality and temper of the person. You must deal with the ingenious more by argument than persuasion. There is need of both to the ignorant. The affections of the convinced should be chiefly excited. The obstinate must be sharply reproved. The timorous must be dealt with tenderly. Love, and plainness, and seriousness take with all; but words of terror some can hardly bear. Use also the aptest expressions. Unseemly language makes the hearers loathe the food they should live by, especially if they be men of curious ears and carnal hearts.
Let all your reproofs and exhortations be backed with the authority of God. Let sinners be convinced that you speak not merely your own thoughts. Turn them to the very chapter and verse where their sin is condemned, and their duty commanded. The voice of man is contemptible, but the voice of God is awful and terrible. They may reject your words who dare not reject the words of the Almighty.
Be frequent with men in this duty of exhortation. If we are “always to pray, and not to faint,” because God will have us importunate with himself; the same course, no doubt, will be most prevailing with men. Therefore we are commanded “to exhort one another daily,” and “with all long-suffering.” The fire is not always brought out of the flint at one stroke; nor men’s affections kindled at the first exhortation: and if they were, yet if they be not followed they will soon grow cold again. Follow sinners with your loving and earnest entreaties, and give them no rest in their sin. This is true charity, the way to save men’s souls, and will afford you comfort upon review.
Strive to bring all your exhortations to an issue. If we speak the most convincing words, and all our care is over with our speech, we shall seldom prosper in our labors; but God usually blesses their labors whose very heart is set upon the conversion of their hearers, and who are therefore inquiring after the success of their work. If you reprove a sin, cease not till the sinner promises you to leave it, and avoid the occasions of it. If you are exhorting to a duty, urge for a promise to enter upon it without delay. If you would draw men to Christ, leave them not till they are brought to confess the misery of their present unregenerate state, and the necessity of Christ, and of a change, and have promised you to be faithful in the use of means. O that all Christians would take this course with all their neighbors that are enslaved to sin, and strangers to Christ!
Once more, be sure your example exhort as well as your words. Let them see you constant in all the duties to which you persuade them. Let them see in your life that superiority to the world which your lips recommend. Let them see, by your constant labors for heaven, that you indeed believe what you would have them believe. A holy and heavenly life is a continual sting to the consciences of sinners around you, and continually solicits them to change their course.
3. Besides the duty of private admonition, you must endeavor to help men to profit by public ordinances. In order to that, endeavor to procure for them faithful ministers where they are wanting. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Improve your interest and diligence to this end, till you prevail. Extend your purposes to the utmost. How many souls may be saved by the ministry you have procured! It is a higher and nobler charity than relieving their bodies. What abundance of good might great men do, if they would support, in academical education, such youth as they have first carefully chosen for their talents and piety, till they should be fit for the ministry!–and when a faithful ministry is obtained, help poor souls to receive the fruit of it–draw them constantly to attend it–remind them often what they have heard; and, if it be possible, let them hear it repeated in their families or elsewhere–promote their frequent meeting together, besides publicly in the congregation; not as a separate church, but as a part of the church, more diligent than the rest in redeeming time and helping the souls of each other heaven-ward. Labor also to keep the ordinances and ministry in esteem: no man will be much wrought on by that which be despised. An apostle says, “We beseech you, brethren, to know them who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love, for their work’s sake.”
Secondly. Let us inquire what may be the CAUSES OF THE GROSS NEGLECT of this duty; that the hinderances, being discovered, may the more easily be overcome.
One hinderance is, men’s own sin and guilt. They have not themselves been ravished with heavenly delights; how then should they draw others so earnestly to seek them? They have not felt their own lost condition, nor their need of Christ, nor the renewing work of the Spirit; how then can they discover these to others? They are guilty of the sins they should reprove, and this makes them ashamed to reprove.
Another is, a secret infidelity prevailing in men’s hearts. Did we verily believe that all the unregenerate and unholy shall be eternally tormented, how could you refrain from speaking, or avoid bursting into tears, when we look them in the face, especially when they are our near and dear friends? Thus doth secret unbelief consume the vigor of each grace and duty. O Christian, if you did verily believe that your ungodly neighbors, wife, husband, or child, should certainly lie for ever in hell, except they be thoroughly changed before death shall snatch them away, would not this make you address them day and night till they were persuaded? Were it not for this cursed unbelief, our own and our neighbors’ souls would gain more by us than they do.
These attempts are also much hindered by our want of charity and compassion for men’s souls. We look on miserable souls, and pass by, as the priest and Levite by the wounded man. What though the sinner, wounded by sin and captivated by Satan, do not desire thy help himself; yet his misery cries aloud. If God had not heard the cry of our miseries before he heard the cry of our prayers, and been moved by his own pity before he was moved by our importunity, we might long have continued the slaves of Satan. You will pray to God for them, to open their eyes and turn their hearts; and why not endeavor their conversion, if you desire it? And if you do not desire it, why do you ask it? Why do you not pray them to consider and return, as well as pray to God to convert and turn them? If you should see your neighbor fallen into a pit, and should pray God to help him out, but neither put forth your hand to help him, nor once direct him to help himself, would not any man censure you for your cruelty and hypocrisy? It is as true of the soul as of the body. If any man “seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” or what love hath he to his brother’s soul?
We are also hindered by a base, manpleasing disposition. We are so desirous to keep in credit and favor with men, that it makes us most unreasonably neglect our own duty. He is a foolish and unfaithful physician that will let a sick man die for fear of troubling him. If our friends are deranged, we please them in nothing that tends to their hurt. And yet when they are beside themselves in point of salvation, and in their madness posting on to damnation, we will not stop them for fear of displeasing them. How can we be Christians, that “love the praise of men more than the praise of God?” For, if we “seek to please men, we shall not be the servants of Christ.”
It is common to be hindered by sinful bashfulness. When we should shame men out of their sins, we are ourselves ashamed of our duties. May not these sinners condemn us, when they blush not to swear, be drunk, or neglect the worship of God; and we blush to tell them of it, and persuade them from it? Bashfulness is unseemly in cases of necessity. It is not a work to be ashamed of; to obey God in persuading men from their sins to Christ. Reader, hath not thy conscience told thee of thy duty many a time, and urged thee to speak to poor sinners and yet thou hast been ashamed to open thy mouth, and so let them alone to sink or swim? O read and tremble, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.”
An idle and impatient spirit hindereth us. It is an ungrateful work, and sometimes makes men our enemies. Besides, it seldom succeeds at the first, except it be followed on. You must be long in teaching the ignorant, and persuading the obstinate. We consider not what patience God used toward us when we were in our sins. Wo to us, if God had been as impatient with us as we are with others.
Another hinderance is, self-seeking. “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s,” and their brethren’s. With many pride is a great impediment. If it were to speak to a great man, and it would not displease him, they would do it: but to go among the poor, and take pains with them in their cottages, where is the person that will do it? Many will rejoice in being instrumental to convert a gentleman, and they have good reason; but overlook the multitude, as if the souls of all were not alike to God. Alas these men little consider how low Christ stooped to us! Few rich, and noble, and wise are called. It is the poor that receive the glad tidings of the Gospel. And with some, their ignorance of the duty hindereth them from performing it: either they know it not to be a duty, or at least not to be their duty. If this be thy case, reader, I am in hope thou art now acquainted with thy duty, and wilt enter upon it.
Do not object to this duty, that you are unable to manage an exhortation; but either set those at the work who are more able, or faithfully and humbly use the small ability you have, and tell them, as a weak man may do, what God says in his word. Decline not the duty because it is your superior who needs advice and exhortation, Order must be dispensed with in cases of necessity. Though it be a husband, a parent, a minister, you must teach him in such a case. If parents are in want, children must relieve them. If a husband be sick, the wife must fill up his place in family affairs. If the rich are reduced to beggary, they must receive charity. If the physician be sick, somebody must look to him. Thus the meanest servant must admonish his master, and the child his parent, and the wife her husband, and the people their minister; so that it be done when there is real need, and with all possible humility, modesty, and meekness. Do not say, this will make us all preachers; for every good Christian is a teacher, and has a charge of his neighbor’s soul. Every man is a physician, when a regular physician cannot be had, and when the hurt is so small that any man may relieve it; and in the same cases every man must be a teacher. Do not despair of success. Cannot God give it? And must it not be by means? Do not plead, it will only be casting pearls before swine. When you are in danger to be torn in pieces, Christ would have you forbear; but what is that to you who are in no such danger? As long as they will hear, you will have encouragement to speak, and may not cast them off as contemptible swine. Say not, “It is a friend on whom I much depend; and by telling him his sin and misery, I may lose his love, and be undone.” Is his love more to be valued than his safety? or thy own benefit by him, than the salvation of his soul? or wilt thou connive at his damnation because he is thy friend? Is that thy best requital of his friendship? Hadst thou rather he should burn in hell for ever, than thou shouldst lose his favor, or the maintenance thou hast from him?
Thirdly. But that all who fear God may be excited to do their utmost to help others to this blessed rest, let me entreat you to consider the following MOTIVES: As, for instance, not only nature, but especially grace, disposes the soul to be communicative of good; therefore, to neglect this work, is a sin both against nature and grace. Would you not think him unnatural who would suffer his children or neighbors to starve in the streets, while he has provision at hand? And is not he more unnatural, who will let them eternally perish, and not open his mouth to save them? An unmerciful, cruel man, is a monster to be abhorred of all. If God had bid you give them all your estate, or lay down your life to save them, you would surely have refused, when you will not bestow a little breath to save them. Is not the soul of a husband, or wife, or child, or neighbor, worth a few words? Cruelty to men’s bodies is a most damnable sin; but to their souls much more, as the soul is of greater worth than the body, and eternity than time. Little know you what many a soul may now be feeling in hell, who died in their sins for want of your faithful admonition.
Consider what Christ did toward the saving of souls. He thought them worth his blood; and shall we not think them worth our breath? Will you not do a little where Christ hath done so much? Consider what fit objects of pity ungodly people are. They are dead in trespasses and sins, have not hearts to feel their miseries, nor to pity themselves. If others do not pity them, they will have no pity; for it is the nature of their disease to make them pitiless to themselves, yea, their own most cruel destroyers. Consider, it was once thy own case. It was God’s argument to the Israelites, to be kind to strangers, because they themselves had been “strangers in the land of Egypt.” So should you pity them that are strangers to Christ, and to the hopes and comforts of the saints, because you were once strangers to them yourselves Consider your relation to them. It is thy neighbor, thy brother, whom thou art bound to love as thyself. He that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth daily, doth not love God, whom he never saw. And doth he love his brother that will see him go to hell, and never hinder him?
Consider what a load of guilt this neglect lays upon thy own soul. Thou art guilty of the murder and damnation of all those souls whom thou dost thus neglect and of every sin they now commit, and of all the dishonor done to God thereby; and of all these judgments which their sins bring upon the town or country where they live. Consider what it will be to look upon your poor friends in eternal flames, and to think that your neglect was a great cause of it. If you should there perish with them, it would be no small aggravation of your torment. If you be in heaven, it would surely be a sad thought, were it possible that any sorrow could dwell there, to hear a multitude of poor souls cry out, for ever,”O, if you would but have told me plainly of my sin and danger, and set it home, I might have escaped all this torment, and be now in rest!” What a sad voice will this be! Consider what a joy it will be in heaven, to meet those there whom you have been the means to bring thither; to see their faces, and join with them for ever in the praises of God, whom you were the happy instruments of bringing to the knowledge and obedience of Jesus Christ! Consider how many souls you may have drawn into the way of damnation, or hardened in it. We have had, in the days of our ignorance, our companions in sin, whom we enticed or encouraged. And doth it not become us to do as much to save men as we have done to destroy them? Consider how diligent are all the enemies of these poor souls to draw them to hell. The devil is tempting them day and night; their inward lusts are still working for their ruin; the flesh is still pleading for its delights; their old companions are increasing their dislike of holiness. And if nobody be diligent in helping them to heaven, what is like to become of them?
Consider how deep the neglect of this duty will wound when conscience is awakened. When a man comes to die, conscience will ask him, “What good hast thou done in thy lifetime? The saving of souls is the greatest good work; what hast thou done toward it? How many hast thou dealt faithfully with?” I have often observed that the consciences of dying men very much wounded them for this omission. For my own part, when I have been near death, my conscience hath accused me more for this than for any sin: it would bring every ignorant, profane neighbor to my remembrance, to whom I never made known their danger; it would tell me, “Thou shouldst have gone to them in private, and told them plainly of their desperate danger, though it had been when thou shouldst have eaten or slept, if thou hadst no other time.” Conscience would remind me how, at such or such a time, I was in company with the ignorant, or riding by the way with a wilful sinner, and had a fit opportunity to have dealt with him, but did not; or at least did it to little purpose. The Lord grant I may better obey conscience while I have time, that it may have less to accuse me of at death! Consider what a seasonable time you now have for this work. There are times in which it is not safe to speak; it may cost you your liberty or your life. Besides, your neighbors will shortly die, and so will you. Speak to them, therefore, while you may. Consider, though this is a work of the greatest charity, yet every one of you may perform it; the poorest as well as the rich: every one hath a tongue to speak to a sinner.
Once more, consider the happy consequences of this work where it is faithfully done. You may be instrumental in saving souls, for whom Christ came down and died, and in whom the angels of God rejoice. Such souls will bless you here and hereafter; God will have much glory by it; the church will be multiplied and edified by it; your own soul will enjoy more improvement and vigor in the divine life, more peace of conscience, more rejoicing in spirit. Of all the personal mercies that I ever received, next to the love of God in Christ to my own soul, I must most joyfully bless him for the plentiful success of my endeavors upon others. O what fruits, then, might I have seen, if I had been more faithful! I know we need be very jealous of our deceitful hearts on this point, lest our rejoicing should come from our pride. Naturally we would have the praise of every good work ascribed to ourselves; yet to imitate our Father in goodness and mercy, and to rejoice in the degree of them we attain to, is the duty of every child of God. I therefore tell you my own experience, to persuade you, that if you did but know what a joyful thing it is, you would follow it night and day through the greatest discouragements.
Up, then, every man that hath a tongue, and is a servant of Christ, and do something of your Master’s work. Why hath he given you a tongue, but to speak in his service? And how can you serve him more eminently than in laboring for the salvation of souls? He that will pronounce you blessed at the last day, and invite you to “the kingdom prepared for you,” because you “fed him, and clothed him, and visited him,” in his poor members, will surely pronounce you blessed for so great a work as bringing souls to his kingdom. He that saith, “the poor you have always with you,” hath left the ungodly always with you, that you might still have matter to exercise your charity upon. If you have the heart of a Christian or of a man, let it yearn towards your ignorant, ungodly neighbors. Say, as the lepers of Samaria, “We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.” Hath God had so much mercy on you, and will you have no mercy on your poor neighbors? But as this duty belongs to all Christians, so especially to some, according as God hath called them to it, or qualified them for it to them, therefore, I will more particularly address the exhortation:
1. God especially expects this duty at your hands, to whom he has given more learning and knowledge, and endued with better utterance, than your neighbors. The strong are made to help the weak, and those that see must direct the blind. God looketh for this faithful improvement of your powers and gifts, which, if you neglect, it were better you had never received them; for they will but aggravate your condemnation, and be as useless to your own salvation as they were to others.
2. All those who are particularly acquainted with some ungodly men, and who have peculiar interest in them, God looks for this duty at your hands. Christ himself did eat and drink with publicans and sinners; hut it was only to be their physician, and not their companion. Who knows but God gave you interest in them to this end, that you might be the means of their recovery? They that will not regard the words of a stranger, may regard a brother, or sister, or husband, or wife, or near friend; besides that the bond of friendship engages you to special kindness and compassion.
3. Physicians that are much about dying men, should, in a special manner, take conscience of this duty. It is their peculiar advantage, that they are at hand; that they are with men in sickness and danger, when the ear is more open and the heart less stubborn than in time of health; and that men look upon their physician as a person in whose hands is their life or, at least, who may do much to save them; and therefore they will the more regard his advice. You that are of this honorable profession, do not think this a work beside your calling, as if it belonged to none but ministers; except you think it beside your calling to be compassionate, or to be Christians. O help, therefore, to fit your patients for heaven! and, whether you see they are for life or death, teach them both how to live and die, and point them to a remedy for their souls, as you do for their bodies. Blessed be God that very many of the chief physicians of this age have, by their eminent piety, vindicated their profession from the common imputation of atheism and profaneness.
4. Men of wealth and authority, and that have many dependants, have excellent advantages for this duty. O what a world of good might gentlemen do if they had but hearts to improve their influence over others! Have you not all your honor and riches from God? Doth not Christ say, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required’?” If you speak to your dependants for God and their souls, you may be regarded, when even a minister would be despised. As you value the honor of God, your own comfort, and the salvation of souls, improve your influence over your tenants and neighbors; visit their houses; see whether they worship God in their families; and take all opportunities to press them to their duty. Despise them not. Remember, God is no respecter of persons. Let men see that you excel others in piety, compassion, and diligence in God’s work, as you do in the riches and honors of the world. I confess you will, by this means, be singular, but then you will be singular in glory; for few of the mighty and noble are called.”
5. As for the ministers of the Gospel, it is the very work of their calling to help others to heaven. Be sure to make it the main end of your studies and preaching. He is the able, skilful minister, that is best skilled in the art of instructing, convincing, persuading, and consequently, of winning souls; and that is the best sermon that is best in these. When you seek not God, but yourselves, God will make you the most contemptible of men. It is true of your reputation, as Christ says of your life, “He that loveth it shall lose it.” Let the vigor of your persuasions show that you are sensible on how weighty a business you are sent. Preach with seriousness and fervor, as men who believe their own doctrine, and know their hearers must be prevailed with, or be damned. Think not that all your work is in your studies and pulpit. You are shepherds, and must know every sheep, and what is their disease, and mark their strayings, and help to cure them, and fetch them home. Learn of Paul, not only to teach your people “publicly,” but “from house to house.” Inquire how they grow in knowledge and holiness, and on what grounds they build their hopes of salvation, and whether they walk uprightly, and perform the duties of their several relations. See whether they worship God in their families, and teach them how to do it. Be familiar with them, that you may maintain your interest in them, and improve it all for God. Know of them how they profit by public teaching. If any too little “savor the things of the Spirit,” let them be pitied, but not neglected. If any walk disorderly; recover them with diligence and patience. If they be ignorant, it may be your fault as much as theirs. Be not asleep while the wolf is waking. Deal not slightly with any. Some will not tell their people plainly of their sins, because they are great men and some, because they are godly; as if none but the poor and the wicked should be dealt plainly with. Yet labor to be skilful and discreet, that the manner may answer to the excellency of the matter. Every reasonable soul hath both judgment and affection; and every rational, spiritual sermon must have both. Study and pray, and pray and study, till you are become “workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” that your people may not be ashamed, nor weary in hearing you. Let your conversation teach men as well as your doctrine. Be as forward in a holy and heavenly life as you are in pressing others to it. Let your discourse be edifying and spiritual. Suffer any thing, rather than the Gospel and men’s souls should suffer. Let men see that you use not the ministry only for a trade to live by; but that your hearts are set upon the welfare of souls. Whatsoever meekness, humility, condescension, or self-denial you teach them from the Gospel, teach it them also by your undissembled example. Study and strive after unity and peace. If ever you would promote the kingdom of Christ and your people’s salvation, do it in a way of peace and love. It is as hard a thing to maintain in your people a sound understanding, a tender conscience, a lively, gracious, heavenly frame of spirit, and an upright life, amidst contention, as to keep your candle lighted in the greatest storms. “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.”
6. All you whom God has intrusted with the care of children and servants, I would also persuade to this great work of helping others to the heavenly rest. Consider what plain and pressing commands of God require this at your hands. “These words thou shalt teach diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Joshua resolved that “he and his house would serve the Lord.” And God himself says of Abraham, “I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.”
Consider, it is a duty you owe your children in point of justice. From you they received the defilement and misery of their nature; and therefore you owe them all possible help for their recovery. Consider how near your children are to you: they are parts of yourselves. If they prosper when you are dead, you view it as if you lived and prospered in them; and should you not be of the same mind for their everlasting rest? Otherwise you will be witnesses against your own souls. Your care, and pains, and cost for their bodies, will condemn you for your neglect of their precious souls. Yea, all the brute creation may condemn you. Which of them is not tender of its young?
Consider, God hath made your children your charge, and your servants too. Every one will confess they are the minister’s charge. And have not you a greater charge of your own families than any minister can have of them? Doubtless at your hands God will require the blood of their souls. It is the greatest charge you ever were intrusted with, and wo to you, if you suffer them to be ignorant or wicked for want of your instruction or correction. Consider what work there is for you in their dispositions and lives. Theirs is not one sin, but thousands. They have hereditary diseases bred in their nature. The things you must teach them are contrary to the interests and desires of their flesh. May the Lord make you sensible what a work and charge lie upon you!
Consider what sorrows you prepare for yourselves by the neglect of your children. If they prove thorns in your eyes, they are of your own planting. If you should repent and be saved, is it nothing to think of their damnation; and yourselves the occasion of it? But if you die in your sins, how will they cry out against you in hell! “All this was wrong of you; you should have taught us better, and did not; you should have restrained us from sin and corrected us, but did not.” What an addition will such outcries be to your misery! On the other hand, think what a comfort you may have if you be faithful in this duty! If you should not succeed, you have freed your own souls, and may have peace in your own consciences. If you succeed, the comfort is inexpressible, in their love and obedience, their supplying your wants, and delighting you in all your remaining path to glory. Yea, all your family may fare the better for one pious child or servant. But the greatest joy will be, when you shall say, “Lord, here am I, and the children thou hast given me;” and shall joyfully live with them for ever. Consider how much the welfare of the church and the state depends on this duty. Good laws will not reform us, if reformation begin not at home. This is the cause of all our miseries in the church and the state, even the want of a holy education of children.
I also entreat parents to consider what excellent advantages they have for promoting the salvation of their children. They are with you while they are tender and flexible: you have a twig to bend, not an oak. None in the world have such an interest in their affections as you have: you have also the greatest authority over them. Their whole dependence is upon you for a maintenance. You best know their temper and inclinations. And you are ever with them, and can never want opportunities: especially you, mothers, remember this, who are more with your children, while young, than their fathers. What pains do you take for their bodies! What do you suffer to bring them into the world! And will you not be at as much pains for the saving of their souls? Your affections are tender, and will it not move you to think of their perishing for ever? I beseech you, for the sake of the children of your own flesh, teach them, admonish them, watch over them, and give them no rest till you have brought them to Christ.
I shall conclude with this earnest request to all Christian parents that read these lines, that they would have compassion on the souls of their poor children, and be faithful to the great trust that God hath put on them. If you cannot do what you would for them, yet do what you can. Both the church and the state, the city and the country, groan under the neglect of this weighty duty. Your children know not God nor his laws, but “take his name in vain,” and slight his worship, and you neither instruct them nor correct them; and therefore God corrects both them and you. You are so tender of them, that God is the less tender of both them and you. Wonder not if God makes you smart for your children’s sins; for you are guilty of all they commit by your neglect of your duty to reform them. Will you resolve, therefore to enter upon this duty, and neglect it no longer? Remember Eli. Your children are like Moses in the bulrushes, ready to perish if they have not help. If you would not be charged before God as murderers of their souls, nor have them cry out against you in everlasting fire, see that you teach them how to escape it, and bring them up in holiness and the fear of God. I charge every one of you, upon your allegiance to God, as you will very shortly answer the contrary at your peril, that you neither refuse nor neglect this most necessary duty. If you are not willing to do it, now you know it to be so great a duty, you are rebels, and no true subjects of Jesus Christ. If you are willing, but know not how, I will add a few words of direction to help you. Lead them, by your own example, to prayer, reading, and other religious duties; inform their understandings; store their memories; rectify their wills; quicken their affections; keep tender their consciences; restrain their tongues, and teach them gracious speech; reform and watch over their outward conversation. To these ends, get them Bibles and pious books, and see that they read them. Examine them often as to what they learn; especially spend the Lord’s day in this work; and suffer them not to spend it in sports or idleness. Show them the meaning of what they read or learn. Instruct them out of the holy Scriptures. Keep them out of evil company, and acquaint them with the godly. Especially show them the necessity, excellency, and pleasure of serving God, and labor to fix all upon their hearts