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Take heed to yourself, then, with regard to the reality of true godliness, and the state of religion in your own soul. That you are a partaker of regeperating grace, I have a pleasing persuasion: that you have some experience of those pleasures and pains, of those joys and sorrows, which are peculiar to real Christians, I make no doubt. But this does not supersede the necessity of the admonition. Make it your daily prayer, and your diligent endeavour, therefore, to feel the importance of those truths you have long believed~of those doctrines you now preach. Often inquire at the mouth of conscience, what you experience of their comforting, reproving, and sanctifying power? When you have been preaching the promises of grace, or urging the precepts of duty, earnestly pray that their practical influence may appear in your own dispositions and conduct. Endeavour to realise the force, and to comply with the requisition of that precept, Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In proportion as the principles of true piety are vigorous in your heart, may you be expected to fill up the wide circumference of pastoral duty. For there is no reason to fear that a minister, if tolerably furnished with gifts, will be remarkably deficient, or negligent, in any known branch of pastoral obligation, while his heart is alive to the enjoyments and to the duties of the christian character. It is from the pastor's defects considered under the notion of a disciple, that his principal difficulties and chief dangers arise. For, my Brother, it is only on the permanent basis of genuine christian piety, that your pastoral character can be established, or appear with respectability, in the light of the New Testament.--I called genuine christian piety permanent. Because every thing essential to it will abide, and flourish in immortal vigour : whereas the pastoral office, though honourable and important when connected with true godliness, must soon be laid aside, as inconsistent with the heavenly state.
Take heed to yourself, lest you mistake an increase of gifts for a growth in grace.
Your knowledge of the Scriptures, your abilities for explaining them, and your ministerial talents in general, may considerably increase, by reading, study, and public exercise; while real godliness is far from flourishing in your heart. For, among all the apostolic churches, none seem to have abounded more in the enjoyment of spiritual gifts, than the church at Corinth: yet few of them appear to have been in a more unhappy state, or more deserving of reproof. I have long been of opinion, my Brother, that no professors of the genuine gospel have more need to be on their guard against self-deception, respecting the true state of religion in their own souls, than those who statedly dispense the gracious truth. For as it is their calling and their business, frequently to read their Bibles, and to think much on spiritual things—to pray, and preach, and often to converse about the affairs of pięty; they will, if not habitually cautious, do it all ex officio, or merely as the work of their ministerial calling, without feeling their own interest in it.
To grow in love to God, and in zeal for his honour; in conformity to the will of Christ, and in heavenly-mindedness, should be your first concern. Look well, therefore, to your internal character. For it is awful to think of appearing as a minister, without being really a Christian; or of any one officially watching over the souls of others, who is habitually unmindful of his own immortal interests.
In the course of your public ministry, and in a great variety of instances, you may perhaps find it impracticable to enter into the true spirit of a precept, or of a prohibition, so as to reach its full meaning and its various application, without feeling yourself convicted by it. In cases of this kind, you must fall under the conviction secretly before God, and pray over it with undissembled contrition: agreeably to that saying, Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? When Ministers hardly ever make this practical application of their public admonitions and cautions, as if their own spiritual interests were not concerned in them; their consciences will grow callous, and their situation, with regard to eternity, extremely dangerous. For, this being habitually neglected, how can they be considered as walking HUMBLY with God? which, nevertheless, is of such essential importance in the christian life, that, without it, all pretences to true piety are vain. Hence an author, of no small repute in the churches of Christ, says, “He that would go down to the pit in peace, let him keep up duties in his family and closet; let him hear as often as he can have opportunity ; let him speak often of good things; let him leave the company of profane and ignorant men, until he have obtained a great repute for religion; let him preach, and labour to make others better than he himself; and,
in the mean time, neglect to humble his heart to walk with God in a manifest holiness and usefulness, and he will not fail of his end.'*
Take heed that your pastoral office prove not a snare to your soul, by lifting you up with pride and self-importance. ' Forget not, that the whole of your work is ministerial; not legislative–That you are not a lord in the church, but a servant-That the New Testament attaches no honour to the character of a pastor, except in connection with his humility and benevolence, his diligence and zeal, in promoting the cause of the Great Shepherd-And, that there is no character upon earth which so ill accords with a proud, imperious, haughty spirit, as that of a christian pastor.
If not intoxicated with a conceit of your own wisdom and importance, you will not, when presiding in the management of church affairs, labour to have every motion determined according to your own inclination. For this would savour of ecclesiastical despotism ; be inconsistent with the nature and spirit of congregational order ; and implicitly grasping at a much larger degree of power, and of responsibility, than properly falls to
Nor, if this caution be duly regarded, will you consider it as an insult on either your ministerial wisdom, or your pastoral dignity, if now and then, one or another of your people, and even the most illiterate among them, should remind you of some real or supposed inadvertency or mistake, either in doctrine or in conduct; 'no, not though it be in blunt language, and quite unfounded. For a readi* Dr. Owen's Sermons and Tracts, p. 47. Folio. London, 1721.
ness to take offence on such occasions, would be a bar to your own improvement; and, perhaps, in articles, relatively considered, of great importance. Nay, in such cases, to be soon irritated, though not inconsistent with shining abilities, nor yet with great success in the ministry; would, nevertheless, be an evidence of pride, and of being, as a Christian, in a poor, feeble state. For, to be easily shoved out of the way, pushed down, as it were, with a straw, or caused to fall into sin, by so feeble an impulse, must be considered as an undoubted mark of great spiritual weak
Because the health of the soul, and the vigour of the spiritual life, are to be estimated, not by our knowledge and gifts, but by the exercise of christian graces, in cheerfully performing arduous labours; in surmounting successive difficulties; and in patiently bearing hardships, for the sake of Jesus. Yes, and in proportion to the degree of your spiritual health, will be your meekness and forbearance under those improprieties of treatment, by one and another of your people, which you will undoubtedly meet.--On examining ourselves by this rule, it will plainly appear, I presume, that though many of us in this assembly might, with regard to the length of our christian profession, be justly denominated fathers; yet, with reference to spiritual stature and strength, we deserve no better character than that of ricketty children.---Think not, however, that I advise you always to tolerate ignorant, conceited, and petulent professors, in making exceptions to your ministry, or in calling you to account for your conduct, without reason, and without good
* Rom. xv. 1.