Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

two reflections, which, I humbly apprehend, may be of singular use to us of the ministry, if seriously laid to heart.

First: Let us awfully consider whom it is we have undertaken to serve, and wherein we propose, to serve him; how arduous our duty; how glorious the reward to be hoped for, if we discharge it as our Master requires; and how dreadful the punishment to be feared, if we materially fail therein. If the best clergyman in the world lays this home to his heart, as feelingly as the dignity of the subject demands, it will shake his soul within him. His modesty will perhaps be more ready to suggest the punishment to his fears, than his vanity the reward to his hopes. What then must we suppose the unworthy clergyman ought to feel, could he sum up thought enough for the alarming reflection. God be merciful to me! I feel it too sensibly myself to be able to dwell on it any longer.

What I have said concerning the dignity of our employment, was chiefly in order to give us an high idea of that, and an humble one of ourselves, and our qualifications, when compared to a post of such transcendent trust and importance.

The meanest artificer stands as high as he can on the honour of his particular calling; and, if he hath any sense, he knows the best, or rather, the only way to procure it honour, is to fill it with skill and integrity. And shall not a clergyman, whose calling is in all respects so sacred, give proofs of a like sensible zeal for its credit, and take the same method to honour it himself, and to render it respectable in the estimation of others ? But when the ignorant, the slothful, or the vicious, takes this office on him, does he not despise it himself, and teach others to do the same, inasmuch as he thinks a wretch like him is good enough for it! Does he not treat it with more contempt than the layman, who calls it priestcraft ; since, in the very literal sense of the word, he actually makes a craft of it, and a most iniquitous craft too; for, so he can devour the temporal good things of his flock, he cares not whether they taste of spiritual good things from him, or not.

And, after all, does he stupidly look for respect on account of a profession, to which he is a scandal? It ought to be laid dowu as a maxim, applicable to all employments, but more especially to that of a clergyman, that the post should impart only so much reputation to the man, as he is qualified to reflect on it. Indeed this is practically received by all the wiser part of the world. We do not honour an officer, although he struts in scarlet, and wears a sword, if we know him to be a coward; or, if we do, it must be owned that, when such are honoured, the commission is vilified; for it is supposed, the base and timorous are fit enough to bear it. In like manner, we must either despise the office of a clergyman, as too many do, for the unworthiness of him who fills it; or we must look with more contempt on him for presuming to undertake so sacred a charge, than we should have done, had we seen him in the light of a dishonest tradesman, or an unskilful ploughman.

The other reflection is, that we do not want encouragement, even from men, to hope for a retrieval of our honour, if we are not altogether wanting to ourselves. Things are at such a pass (we should be stung to the heart with the reproachful truth) that a clergyman who does but the third part of his duty, and is but half as exemplary as he ought to be (so glad are our people to see us aim at diligence) is sure to be applauded, and almost compared to the primitive apostles and fathers. While he hath but too much reason to fear the vengeance of God for the far greater part of his duty, which he neglects, he hears himself (O shameful honour!) exalted to the stars by men, for the little he performs.

This, notwithstanding, I shall readily own, there are those, who, from various motives, too invidious, and too tedious to be detailed, will be sure to throw on us all the contempt and odium they possibly can, let our carriage be never so prudent, never so apostolical ; nay, who will be very sorry to see us behave ourselves as we ought to do; because that will deprive them of the only topic they know how to be witty on, of their strongest argument against onr religion; and, what must be still more vexatious, will revive the influence of that religion, which they hate, and which they had hopes of banishing out of the world.

These men, however, cannot yet (God be praised) boast a majority among the people; so that a proper conduct in us, joined to the candour of a far greater number, will soon

stifle the then ill-grounded insinuations, and manifestly malicious railleries, of such men.

To concinde : It is in vain to hope for a retrieval of our dignity, or a revival of Christian piety, which must always go together, without one and all, or generally, at least, betaking ourselves to the measures recommended. God will assist and bless no other; and if we put our trust in mere prudential or political schemes, those he will blast and curse.

Let us, therefore, in the name of our Almighty Master, do our utmost, honestly to approve ourselves in all things as the ministers of God; and then, and only then, may we reasonably hope our people will, with affection and esteem, “think of us, as they ought to think of the ministers of Christ, and the stewards of the mysteries of God.'

And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, ‘unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end.? Amen.

DISCOURSE XXXVIII.

THE RELIGIOUS DUTY OF PARENTS AND MASTERS

ENFORCED.

JOSHUA xxiv. 15

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Though the office, in which the master of a family is placed, does not usually give him authority over many persons, yet it is a post of great importance and trust. The head of this little society has a more absolute power, and exercises it more personally and immediately upon his subjects, than that of any other. The number of those, over whom he is set, is, by the nature of things, generally determined to a few; because it would be impossible for one man to make such provision, to give such instructions, and employ such a degree of care over many, as the ends and purposes of a family require. The master of a family is not only to provide the necessaries and conveniences of life for his children and servants; but on his instructions, his example, and his care, depend, in a great measure, their virtue, their honour, and happiness here, and their eternal salvation hereafter.

The power of the magistrate operates upon private families at a distance, and only on their outward actions. The public precepts and exhortations of the pastor are general, and his private ones can be applied to particular persons only at certain times; and then too under the disadvantage of an imperfect knowledge, as to their tempers and wants. But the master of a family, living in one house with those under him, and being always among them, cannot but know what instructions their ignorance, what restraints their vices, and what management their dispositions, require. Nor does he want a power, proportionable to his knowledge, to support and enforce the proper methods of nurture and government. His children and servants have, under God, scarce anydependence, but on him. He can encourage, or correct; can dispense pleasure or pain among them, as he pleases. This cannot but give him all that weight and authority, which are necessary to the great ends of his office. - In the next place, his influence commences at that very time, when the subjects, on which it is to work, are the best disposed to be wrought on, and to receive impressions. He has tender and flexible materials under his hands, and such as are then capable of any forms he is pleased to give them. They have, it is true, a certain bias to evil; but this calls upon him for the greater vigilance and industry, in prepossessing them with the principles of virtue. If they, through his neglect or mismanagement, should miss

the opportunity of being duly instructed in the principles of . religion, and trained up to an habitual course of piety and virtue, they come forth into the world only qualified to create mischiefs and disturbance to their country, and to bring infamy and distress on themselves; and, at last, go out into another life with a load of sin about them, sufficient to sink them in misery, as lasting as their immortal souls.

If the mind be not seasonably plied with good principles, and steadily disciplined to virtue, in time, it will find out wicked principles, and bad habits, for itself. To root out these, after they have spread, and struck deep into the soil, will be almost impossible in manhood or old age. I believe there can be few instances given of ill-livers, who, having been much neglected in their youth, were ever reclaimed afterwards.

If the influence, which the master has in a family, be not applied to the good ends and pnrposes for which it was intended, it cannot but promote the contrary ends. The authority, that sets him above his children and servants, makes him a pattern to them, and his actions a rule for theirs. If he does not seem to fear God, or to worship him with devotion, neither will they; and, when they come to have houses and families of their own, they will be too apt to think they have done very well, if they do as he did. So ignorance, and neglect of God's worship, beginning at him, will spread from family to family, will go down from generation to generation, making infidels, and damping souls, for ought he knows, to the end of the world. Now can a man answer it to his own conscience, his posterity, or his God, that he has perverted the power given him by divine providence and nature, for the great purposes of instructing his charge, and training them up to devotion; and employed the whole force of it, in propagating the infection of his own evil example among his miserable posterity, and that of his unhappy servants ?

It is not easy to conceive, how masters of families, can so generally get over these reflections; or how they expect to account for the neglect of a duty on which such an infinite deal depends. Surely, did they believe in, and fear God, or expect a future reckoning; had they either humanity or conscience, they could not give up those, who rise out of their own bowels, or who maintain them with their labour, whom God has made, and Christ died for, to almost a certainty of being for ever unhappy. If such impious cruelty and contempt be not downright atheism, it must probably be very near of kin to it. This, however, is certain, that if one, who is capable of this crime, hath any religion at all, it must be in so scanty a measure, as to be of little or

« VorigeDoorgaan »