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It is no doubt incumbent on the ministers of the gospel, who are frequently represented as shepherds, to watch over their flocks, and prevent, as much as in them lies, their being imposed upon, and deluded, by seducers and false teachers, with whom the church hath been infested, more or less, in all ages of it. “ These are wolves in sheep's clothing ;" who, instead of feeding and defending, do indeed scatter and devour the flock. Any man that hath confidence enough, and conscience little enough, may boldly pretend to a call from God to preach the gospel ; and so with a great deal of ignorance, the mother of bis forced and furious devotion, obtrude himself into the sacred employment, and deceive weak and unstable minds. Others under the pretence of extraordinary compassion to the souls of men, and a desire to preach the gospel to every creature, stretch themselves beyond their own line, and boast in that of another man ; undervaluing the labors of many of Christ's faithful ministers, they conduct as if “on THEM came the care of all the churches." * Happy they who are not “ led away by the error of the wicked so as to fall from their own steadfastness !” The several duties mentioned are incumbent on the ministers of Christ, and must be performed by those who faithfully watch for the souls committed to their charge.
We are led, in the third place, to consider something more of the faithful manner in which these duties must be performed ; and the solemn obligations lying upon Christ's ministers hereto, by the next words of our text : They watch for your souls, as they that must give account. These words intimate, that the ministers of Christ must give account how they have discharged their duty to the people of their charge—and that they should daily maintain a lively and practical belief of this thing, to excite them to such fidelity and diligence, as will meet with the approbation of their judge.
That they are accountable for their conduct in their ministerial character, is as evident as any article of revelation: To labor the proof of it would therefore be needless and impertinent. They are ambassadors sent forth by Christ to entreat sinners to be reconciled to God: They must return to him that sent them, and give account how they have discharged their embassy. They are stewards, who are betrusted with certain talents to be faithfully improved, according to the directions of their Lord, during such a term ; of their improvement of these, they must give account to him who has committed them into their hands : “ It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” They are watcbmen, who receive a solemn charge to be faithful and vigilant : Most
The author understood that some persons in the eastern parts of this province, not very distant from the place where this sermon was preached, had conducted too much in the manner here represented.
When I say
gracious rewards are annexed to their fidelity; while they are threatened with most awful punishments, if they prove false to their trust, and negligent of their duty. The matter is represented in a very solemn and striking manner in what God says to the prophet Ezekiel ; “ So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel : Therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. unto the wicked, O wicked man! thou shalt surely die ; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity ; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of bis way to turn from it: If he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity ; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” Thus solemn is the charge to the ministers of Christ, enforced by a sure prospect of an approaching judgment, when they shall receive most glorious rewards, or fall under most awful punishments, according as they have been faithful, or unfaithful watchmen, respecting the souls committed to their care.
Now it is not enough, that they have a general speculative belief of this ; but a lively and realizing sense of it should, as much as possible, be kept present to their minds. This would prove a forcible spring, io nove these two powerful principles of action, in the human mind, bope, and fear; and so would bave a happy influence upon all branches of their conduct. How would this raise their minds above all low and sordid views ! How would it break the force of temptations! How would it banish all undue influence from the fear of man! What fortitude and firmness of mind would it inspire, in the milst of dangers and trials! The glorious hopes and triumphant expectations of the approbation of their Judge, and the rewards of faithful servants, must wonderfully encouraye their hearts and strengthen their hands. Labor and pain would bereby become ease and pleasure. They would cheerfully “ endure bardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” They would “willingly spend and be spent, in bis service, and not account even their lives dear to them, if they may finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they bave received of the Lord Jesus." While on the other band; the gloomy and dreadful prospect, of having the blood of souls, wbich perish through their neglect, required at their hands, will most effectually harden and fortify their minds, against the allurements of flesh and sense, and their solicitations to become inattentive to, and forgetful of, the important trust reposed in them; and forcibly drive away a thousand templations to sloth and negligence; as a mighty wind drives chaff and dust before it.
How important is it then, that ministers endeavor to lay their minds open, as much as possible, to the power and influence of such prospects ? that they labor to bring the faith of them near to their hearts, and keep it near the nearer the better, the greater its practical force will be ; as the power of attraction increases in proportion to the nearness of the object. How advantageous might it be for them frequently to make appeals in their own minds, to their judge, respecting their fidelity, in discharging the duties of their office? this they may do, by putting closely to their consciences, such recollecting questions as the following, “Do I now pursue my studies? do I now preach the great truths of the gospel ? do I now converse and behave among my people in such a manner, with such diligence, and impartiality ; with such concern to do them good; and readiness in embracing every opportunity for it; as I really believe is agreeable to my great Judge, whose observing eye is ever upon me? as I really think I shall be able to reflect on with comfort in the near views of death ? and as I can humbly hope, will meet with the approbation of Jesus Christ, in the great day, when I shall stand before his judgment-seat, and give account of myself to him ?” This is to watch for souls as they that must give account. The time will not allow me to add any thing farther in explanation of a minister's duty, as contained in my text. I ask your patience and attention, while I endeavor briefly to explain what it suggests of people's duty to their ministers, and the motives to engage them to comply with it.
The duty enjoined on you, you observe, is to obey them, and submit yourselves to them. We are far from supposing an implicit obedience and blind submission to be here required. The obedience and submission of a people must bear proportion, and be a kind of counterpart, to that authority with which Christ bas invested the ministerial office: And, as we observed before, that office doth not include a rigorous and arbitrary rule, so now we remark, that the station of a people doth not oblige them to an abject submission, or servile obedience.
People must indeed submit to be instructed by their spiritual guides, and not vainly say, they know more than their teachers, and are too wise or good to learn of them. The instructions which they deliver, agreeable to the oracles of God, should be received with a meek submissive temper of mind, as enforced by divine authority. You should regard them not barely “as the words of men, but as they are indeed and in truth the words of God," and endeavor to bring your hearts and lives under the commanding power and authority of them.
You must also submit to the discipline, which Christ bath ordered should be kept up in his church, in the exercise of which, your ministers, by virtue of their office, must lead, or preside, as Dr. Doddridge renders the word which in our translation is to rule over.
You must not set yourselves to oppose your pastors,
in the due administration of government, in God's house, but afford them all proper assistance and encouragement, in maintaining that order which is essential to the good of it.
This obedience and submission are due to the ministers of Christ, when they endeavor faithfully to discharge the various difficult and important duties of their stations : When in the dispensation of the word, “they speak as becometh the oracles of God :" And in the discipline of the church, “ rule well.” The motives to engage you to your duty are many, and suited forcibly to act on the principles of gratitude, reason and religion. I shall briefly mention, and urge those suggested in the text.
You should consider, in the first place, that your souls are the object of your minister's care and watchfulness. In obedience to their commission, they are obliged to watch for, and lay hold on, all opportunities to do you good, in your spiritual interests; to warn you of your danger, by reason of sin ; to show you the paths of peace and safety ; to entreat you to turn your feet into them, and to walk in them, that you may be partakers of the great salvation, which the gospel reveals and offers. They receive a solemn charge diligently and faithfully to prosecute this great design. Concern for success herein runs through the whole compass of their duty. This animateth them to painful and diligent study, to earnest and fervent prayer, and to zeal and fidelity in preaching the word. This engageth them, “ to be instant in season and out of season, in reproving, rebuking and exhorting, with all long-suffering and doctrine.” With this view they endeavor “ to feed their people with knowledge and understanding,” according to their various capacities, and circumstances, and thus to train them up, in the way of faith and holiness, to everlasting life. Now, will a proper submission to the ministers of Christ, in the faithful discharge of the duties of their ministerial character, be grievous to you? Will it be esteemed a burden ; when you daily reflect, that your own good is the great object of their pursuit ; the thing which they sincerely desire and endeavor to promote ? How can it be supposed !
Especially ; when you consider, secondly, what solemn obligations lie upon your spiritual rulers, to diligence and fidelity in their work. If they neglect your souls, they hazard their own : They watch for your souls as they that must give account. They must give account, how they have performed the duty of watchmen ; what are become of the souls committed to their care ; whether any of them are lost through their neglect. How full of concern and thoughtfulness must those ministers be, who have any proper sense of these things upon their minds! what a variety of labor, must they be hereby engaged in! Will not the common sentiments of humanity, if you are not strangers to them, make you cautious, how you add to their burdens and sorrows, by a refractory and captious temper, under their administrations ? Surely this might be expected.
For, you should seriously consider, thirdly, how much their comfort and joy, in their great work, is promoted by your good behavior towards them; and on the contrary, how grievous the want hereof is to them. This consideration is urged in our text, as will appear, by a due attention to the connection of the words. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief: That is ; that they may discharge their duty in watching for your souls, with joy and not with grief; and not that they may give up their account with joy and not with grief, as some seem to understand it;* for, I imagine, it cannot refer to their future account, but to the present discharge of their duty. For it is not possible, the most perverse and unteachable temper of a people, should prevent a faithful minister's giving up his account with joy; or fill his mind with grief, in that happy day, when, his warfare being accomplished, he shall “enter into the joy of his Lord.” For although we may justly suppose, that it will be a singular joy and satisfaction, to a faithful minister, in the day of the Lord Jesus, to behold the fruit of bis labor, and to meet those at the right hand of God, who have received saving benefit by his ministry ; yet we know, God is able to make up the want of this joy to him, by opening a thousand other springs of comfort, from whence the streanis of delight shall flow plentisully into his soul. And we may assure ourselves, that he will do it, for those who have been faithful watchmen, over a disobedient and gainsaying people. “Though Israel be not gathered,” by their pastoral care and diligence, “yet shall they be glorious in the eyes of the Lord;” nor sball their reward be less bright and illustrious, than that of those of equal fidelity, how small soever their success may have been.
But it is very evident, as well from daily observation, as from the word of God, that the minds of faithful ministers, in this life, are very greatly affected with joy or grief, according to the good or ill temper and behavior of their people ; according as they are obedient, or disobedient to the word of Christ, and the rules of his gospel. What comfort and satisfaction does it give them, to find the dear people of their charge, of a teachable disposition ; diligent in their attendance on the word preached ; receiving the same with meekness, and made to grow thereby?“What greater joy can they have, than to see them walking in the truth?” How will this sweeten all their labors, and lighten all their burdens, in the arduous work! How will this animate them to pursue, with
* See Dr. OWEN and Dr. DODDRIDGE upon the place.