FOR THEY WATCH FOR YOUR SOULS, AS THEY THAT MUST GIVE ACCOUNT.
THE Author of this epistle, in his conclusion, ex|horts the Hebrews to several christian duties; and in this verse, of which our text is a part, to obey them that have the rule over them, and submit themselves. By those who had the rule over them, the Apostle means those who were Pastors of the Church; being appointed overseers by the Holy Ghost, to lead the people in their public devotions; explain the word of God to them; to speak, exhort, and rebuke, with all authority; and to administer to the Church the seals of the covenant.
Gospel Ministers are stewards of the mysteries of God; and when they faithfully perform their work, obedience and submission are due to them from those whom they are set over. People are bound to obey the truths preached by the Ministers of Jesus Christ, and submit to their instructions and leading, as far as they are agreeable to the divine rule: for Ministers have their commission and authority from the King of Heaven; hence disobe|dience to them is disobedience to Christ. A reason why people should obey them who have the rule over them is given in the words of our text, "For they watch for your souls, as they that must give account." Your souls Page 4 are near their hearts, and they have critical and painful work to do for them; to watch for their salvation, and carefully avoid every thing in their ministerial work which will hinder it. And this they do as knowing they must hereafter give account to him, who put them into the ministry, of all their conduct as Ministers of the Gos|pel, and what attention they have paid to your souls. Seeing then they have such a solemn charge over you, and account to give, it becomes you to obey them, and submit yourselves, lest their account finally prove un|profitable for you, which will be the case if they have to give up their account with grief for your disobedience to the gospel which they preached to you.
From the words of our text we may note this doc|trine, viz.
That Ministers of the Gospel must give account how they watch for souls.
The following remarks may illustrate the doctrine.
I. The trust committed to Ministers is very precious. It consists in the souls of men; those rational capacities which render men subjects of moral government; with which they may serve and enjoy God forever. But the souls of men, which are by nature sinful and exposed to eternal punishment, may be saved by the gospel which the Ministers of Christ preach to them: souls for whom Christ came into this world and laid down his life that a way be opened for their salvation; souls who, if obedient to the gospel, will forever enjoy and praise God in heav|en; but if finally disobedient, will forever sink under the wrath of the Almighty, and more dreadfully than if they never heard of the gospel of Christ. These souls were made after the image of God, and do still retain his natural image—They are to answer some very im|portant end in the divine plan, which will be attended with unspeakable joy or woe to these souls.
If Ministers have such precious things committed to Page 5 their trust, it is evident they must give account of the betrustment to him whose the property is. And all souls are God's; hence he will call for an account of his own property, which was delivered to the care of his serv|ants; and especially such valuable property as the souls of men, who are to be eternally happy or miserable.
II. The eternal interest of souls is nearly connected with the gospel which the Ministers of Christ are to preach. The gospel contains that eternal life which all the saved do partake in; and it is by the preaching of the gospel that God saves sinners, and builds up saints in faith and holiness for the heavenly world. If Ministers do not warn sinners, they will die in their sins: and if they do not feed Christians, with gospel truths, they will not increase in knowledge under their ministry. If Min|isters corrupt the word by their preaching, souls will be misled, and settle down in belief of such errors as will prove their eternal ruin. If Ministers faithfully preach the gospel, Christians will be edified and strengthened in the ways of God; sinners may see the danger of all their false refuges; be sensible of the need of Christ for their Saviour; and be influenced to comply with the terms of the gospel, which are set before them by the faithful preaching of it. If Ministers are faithful, the finally im|penitent, under their ministry, will have no excuse to make for continuing in unbelief and impenitence. They were faithfully warned, and earnestly invited to Christ for salvation, but would not obey. Their blood then will be upon their own heads; and their eternal punishment will be more dreadful than if they had never sat under the faithful ministry of the gospel! If such great, and eternally important things are connected with the gospel being preached to men, how strict will the account be which Ministers must give to him who sent them to preach the gospel! If such are lost through the negligence, or corrupt preaching of Ministers, they must give account for such conduct in their ministry which Page 6 ruined souls! why they neglected the souls under their care! why they prefered corrupt doctrine to the pure word of God! why they chose to declare smooth things to sinners, rather than proclaim the terrors of the divine law, and precepts of the gospel, which are very disagree|able to sinners, tending to alarm their consciences and make them feel uneasy in hearing such truths. If Chris|tians have been fed by the faithful preaching of Gospel Ministers, and the finally impenitent prepared for a more dreadful punishment by it, they must give account of such faithful preaching which has occasioned such glo|rious and dreadful effects. But it will be a joyful and happy account for such faithful Ministers.
III. The work is very great which Ministers have to do in watching for souls; far greater than any other work men can engage in. They have to treat with souls as they are related to the Great God and Eternity. Ministers have to set the Divine Character be|fore their people in its scriptural light. And how great a work is this! No being is to be compared with God for greatness! Before him all nations are less than no|thing and vanity. How solemn will the account be which Ministers will have to give, how they treated the character of God in their preaching! Whether they strictly adhered to the Revelation God has given of himself in his word concerning his natural and moral perfections, and concerning his universal government over all creatures and events, and have carefully avoided giving any feature of the Divine Character which is not clearly warranted by the word of God? Or whether they have not, in some measure, described the Divine Character in such a light as is pleasing to the selfish feel|ings of sinners; and explained some of the scripture de|clarations concerning God, so as to strip them of that majesty and terror which they wear in plain scripture language; and this with a view that wicked men may feel more easy in their minds concerning God, than the Bible will allow them to feel?
Page 7Ministers have also the Law of God to set before sin|ners. This is a very necessary and important part of their work, for this is the rule of their duty toward God and man. This shews the consequence of disobedience to its precepts, and is as important to be known as the gospel: for without a right knowledge of the law a person can have no consistent ideas of the Gospel. The gospel establishes the divine law, and illustrates its purity and justice in the clearest light. The law shews sin in its nature and consequences; and the need sinners stand in of the gospel salvation is more clearly seen by rightly understanding the law. No person can be a true friend to Christ and his salvation, and at the same time wholly ignorant of, or an enemy to the law of God.—Here, then, is solemn work for Gospel Ministers. They must give account how they watch for souls in set|ting the law of God before them; whether, to please men, they said little or nothing about the law; or what they did say was of such a nature as to bend the law down to the selfish feelings of the natural heart, and strip it of all its terrors, with which scripture clothes it relative to transgressors! or whether, in watching for souls, they have, like Paul, knowing the terrors of the law, persuad|ed men, by unfolding the law in its purity, justice, strict|ness, extensiveness and dreadfulness as it relates to sin|ners; and shewing them that no thought, word or deed of theirs can be considered a conformity to the law of God, in the least degree, while wholly destitute of holy love to God and men. And whether they have thus set the law before sinners, from a sincere desire for the sal|vation of their souls; not being influenced by the fear of offending them, on the one hand, nor from a party spirit to irritate and stir up their passions, on the other hand. In this great work which Ministers have to per|form, is contained the news of salvation by Jesus Christ. This is great, important and interesting. Here they have to shew that God had an eternal purpose of grace Page 8 for men, appointing a certain number of them to eternal life by Jesus Christ. The glorious character of the Re|deemer they have to describe to men, and set him before them as God-man, mediator between God and men; his atonement as the only foundation of hope for sinners; his doctrines, precepts, the religion which he requires of his followers; its nature and influence on the life of a Christian. What his salvation consists in; on what terms it can be enjoyed by sinners; and what the conse|quences will be of finally neglecting to comply with these terms; the nature of the christian Church; the charac|ter of its members; the rules for its government; and its final prosperity and victory over all its enemies. A future state of rewards and punishments; a general resurrection, and final judgment, are subjects for Gospel Ministers to treat upon in their ministry. In performing this great work, they must give an account how they treated the various subjects of the gospel. Whether they strictly conformed to the scripture representation of truths in their connection and importance; or have glossed them with human inventions, to please men, and be popular in the view of the world. When treat|ing of the Saviour of men, whether they have held him up in his glorious and mysterious union of divine and human natures, or represented him as a mere creature! Whether they have rightly treated of the atonement of Christ, as being necessary for the salvation of men; or denied its necessity and wholly set it aside. When speaking of the salvation by Christ, whether they have described it in its glorious reality as deliverance from moral evil, as well as natural; enjoying and serving God forever in heaven; or considered it mostly as deliverance from future punishment. And whether they have en|couraged sinners to hope for this salvation on any thing they can do short of Repentance and Faith. Whether they have insisted on the necessity of regeneration, that sinners be holy and safe; and taught that it was effected Page 9 by the special influence of the Holy Spirit, or by the endeavours of the sinner.
Ministers must give account, whether they have taken pains to convince sinners that they are wholly to blame for remaining in impenitence and unbelief; or whether they have so represented their state as tends to make them feel that they are excusable for living in rejection of Jesus Christ. Whether, in treating of Christ's reli|gion, they have carefully endeavoured to distinguish it from all counterfeits, and shew wherein the difference consists.
Ministers must give account, whether they have care|fully fed the people of God, with wholesome truths, precepts and promises, explained in a gospel light. Whether they have taken pains to guard Christians a|gainst error in doctrine, and deviations from the chris|tian rule in practice.
Ministers of the Gospel must give account why they entered into this great, glorious and dreadful work of the gospel ministry. Whether it was from love to souls; regard for the interest of Christ's kingdom in the world; and a desire of glorifying God in this line of duty: or whether it was from selfish views; for the sake of filthy lucre, popular applause, or any other sinister motive. Whether they entered upon it with fear and trembling, from a view of the greatness of the work, and their own insufficiency to perform it; with humble, earnest prayer to God for wisdom, and grace rightly to engage in this work, and faithfully go through with it; or whether they paid no heed to it in this manner, and little thought of its importance and solemnity.
Ministers must give account, whether they have been much at the throne of grace in fervent prayer for them|selves, that they may be directed in the search of divine truth; in giving the true sense of the scripture, when they attempt to explain it to the people; be directed wisely to choose subjects for the benefit and instruction Page 10 of their hearers; that they may be faithful in all their work with souls, both as to preaching and living.—And whether they have earnestly and honestly prayed for their people, that they may be saved; that believers may increase in numbers, and grow in grace; or whe|ther they have been strangers to prayer in their studies, and families, for their people. They must give account whether they have made their work their business; by devoting their time to study, and other parts of the min|isterial duty; or whether they were oftener found in worldly employments than in their study, and attending to their flocks.—Whether they have watched all oppor|tunities to do good to souls, by private visits, as they had opportunity, as well as public administrations, and make these visits serve religious purposes; and in some way or other promote the interest of souls; or whether they have visited only from worldly views.—Whether they have taken all the pains in their power with care|less sinners, to awaken them; with convinced sinners, to lead them to Christ; and with converts, to build them up in knowledge and holiness.—Whether they have been diligent to warn their people against the errors in doctrine which they saw them exposed to; and shew them the danger of such schemes of religion which please the natural hearts of men; and have endeavoured to prove from the word of God that such religion is false, and dangerous; and though it may offend those who are inclined to error, yet from love to their souls have persevered in beating down these strong holds of Satan; or whether from fear of offending their hearers they have let them alone in their errors. Also when they have known of any wicked conduct among their people, they have borne testimony against such things; exhorting the guilty to repent of all vile conduct, and reform from it; shewing how ruinous to the soul such things are, which the word of God condemns: or whether from fear of giving offence, they have suffered their people to live in Page 11 known transgressions without warning them.—How sol|emn the account will be! And the work being so great, an account must be given how it was performed!
IV. The work of the gospel ministry is attended with great difficulty, arising from various causes; which ren|der it needful that Ministers have patience, forbearance, fortitude, fidelity, skill, and a spirit of holy prayer, in a right discharge of the work.
Though the precepts and rules of the gospel are plain, and intelligible; yet there are some things hard to be understood, which require close and diligent study, in comparing scripture with scripture▪ and searching for the connected meaning of such passages, lest a wrong construction be given to scripture, and the hearers thereby misled. Ministers then must give ac|count how they have attended to this part of their duty, for the benefit of their flocks.
The work of the gospel ministry is very unpopular in view of a careless world; and will subject Ministers to many censures, reproaches, and bitter words, if they are faithful to sinners, in setting before them the truths of Revelation, which their natural hearts dislike. Here is a temptation for Ministers to soften their preaching to the taste of sinners, in order to live in good terms with them. Ministers then must give account whether they patiently endured reproach, for their faithful discharge of the trust committed to them; choosing rather to please God than men: or whether, to please men, they have daubed with untempered mortar!—No serious person wishes to be an object of contempt, merely, to his fellow men; and when he is thus unjustly treated, it must be trying to his feelings. This is the case with Ministers, when they are despised, and rejected, for be|ing faithful to souls. Therefore they must give ac|count, whether they prefered fidelity to popular applause, or otherwise.
Ministers, in general, are dependent on their people Page 12 for temporal support. Their work forbids them from engaging in worldly business, to procure support and worldly riches for themselves and families. They must give their time to their ministry; and look to them whom they serve for their necessary support. This is a trying circumstance in their ministry. For they need bread and clothing, as well as others; and the necessa|ries and conveniences of life are desirable to them, in a reasonable measure, as well as to Christians in a more private life: but to be dependent for these things on men, who dislike the truths of the gospel, is, in some respects, undesirable; and affords a temptation to Min|isters to seek to please wicked men, by withhold|ing plain truth from them, that they may more cheerfully contribute to their worldly support. Min|isters must give account how they have watched for souls in this respect. Whether they have been wil|ling to submit to inconveniences arising from this quar|ter, for the sake of being faithful to souls; or, for the sake of worldly gain, have been willing their people should be ignorant of plain and important truth!
Ministers are men of like passions with other men; they have infirmities of body and mind; their health is often so impaired as to render it very difficult to attend public administrations. Yet many people are unwilling to make excuses for them on this account; when, per|haps, one half of the complaint in themselves, which their Ministers labour under, would be sufficient to keep them from places of public worship. This is hard treatment.
Ministers must often expose their health, in visiting the sick and others of their flocks, or offend their people. This is another difficulty they have to meet with. They must then give account, whether, in such cases, they have consulted their own ease more than duty, in serving their people, or otherwise.
Ministers also have to contend with their own spir|itual Page 13 infirmities, which remain in them, as well as in other Christians, and often cause them very sorrowful reflections. They are liable, like other Christians, at times, to be off their guard, in speech and behaviour, and to be led aside by temptation. They have the passions of anger, resentment, grief, &c. which may, in times of temptation, break forth in an unchristian man|ner, for which they are humble and penitent when they come to reflect thereon. Yet how ready are their peo|ple, often, to catch at such infirmities in them, and raise irreconcilable objections against them, on account thereof; and are wholly unwilling to make such allow|ances for their Ministers, in such cases, as they would wish to be made for themselves, even in far greater de|viations from the line of duty!—Ministers, then, must give account how they watched for souls, under such difficulties; whether they conscienciously bore testimo|ny against all sin, even in such instances wherein they themselves have been overtaken. Whether they could forgive those who treated them with unchristian sever|ity; whether they humbled themselves for their sinful missteps, and cautiously watched against sinful passions and conduct in future; or whether it were otherwise with them.
V. Ministers have the eternal interest of their own souls involved in watching for the souls of their people. If they are unfaithful to the souls of others, they will be so to their own souls: but if faithful to others, they will be so to their own. If they truly strive for the salvation of others souls, they will for the salvation of their own souls. If sinners perish through the sinful neglect of Ministers, their blood will be required at the watchman's hand. That solemn and alarming passage in the 3d and 33d Chapters of Ezekiel is worthy the serious and abiding attention of every Gospel Minister.
The Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to take heed to himself, as well as to the doctrine, for in doing this, he would save himself and those who heard him. Ministers have to watch over their own hearts, and lives, in watching for souls; and see that they love and live the religion of Christ, which they preach to others. Paul said he did thus, he kept his body under, and brought Page 15 it into subjection, lest when he had preached to others he himself should be a castaway. Which implies, that Ministers who have no true religion themselves will be lost. Nor can they faithfully watch for souls, if they take no care to maintain a life of religion before their people. A true Minister of Jesus Christ is a man of true religion; and he will strive to be faithful in his preaching and personal religion. Therefore Ministers must give account how they watched for souls with re|lation to their own salvation.
VI. Ministers of the Gospel have their commission and charge to preach the gospel from Jesus Christ. He qualifies them with gifts and grace for the work. He sends them forth, in his providence, to preach to souls. They are put into office by the rule of Christ in his word. They are bound to preach the truth which Christ has revealed to men. God has committed to them the word of reconciliation; they are ambassadors for Christ, and in his stead to pray men to be reconciled to God. They are Ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Consequently they must give ac|count to him, who made them overseers of the flock of God, and stewards of his word, whether they have strict|ly conformed to the rule, given them by their Great Lord and Master, in preaching to saints and sinners; not daring to add any thing of human invention; or leave out any part of the gospel, through design to please men. Whether they have endeavoured, all in their power, to understand the errand which they are sent upon, and plead the cause of their Master. When they have been treating with the enemies of Christ, whe|ther they honestly stood up for their Lord, his word and kingdom, or shamefully betrayed their trust, by siding with his enemies; allowing their objections to be true, and just, which they make against God, his govern|ment, and religion; and justified the enemies of Christ, in their refusal immediately to submit to him; by set|ting Page 16 them to do many things previously to their repent|ing, and submitting themselves to their Sovereign, whom they ought to obey and love constantly. The least deviation from the rule of Christ, in watching for souls, is going aside from the commission and authority which he has committed to their trust; and they must give account of it to their Lord; and so of all their work, whether faithful or unfaithful.
VII. The glory of God is the great end of the gospel ministry, as well as other parts of God's plan; and Min|isters of the Gospel must so watch for souls as to honour God. In preaching divine truth, God is set on high, as before observed. It is for his honour, for Ministers to preach to their people those plain, close, uncorrupted truths which God has revealed in his word. It is for the glory of God, that sinners are brought to embrace the gospel, and be saved: that saints are, by the faithful preaching of the gospel, built up in christian knowledge and holiness; and that the finally impenitent are ren|dered more inexcusable, by attending to the faithful min|istry of the gospel. Ministers then must give account, whether they have regarded the honour of God, or not, in this work. Whether, in their reading, praying, preaching and living, they have had a sacred regard for the Divine Being; and desire that they may glorify him, in all their ministerial work; and be instrumental in leading sinners to honour and please God. Whether, for the honour of God, they have borne testimony a|gainst all vile conduct among their people; or such as their people have been exposed to elsewhere, and they may be knowing to. Whether, for the honour of God, they have endeavoured to stop the mouths of gainsayers, and refute the errors and corrupt opinions of men con|cerning the word of God. Whether they have, for the honour of God, pled for the rules and order of Christ's house, and shewn the importance of Christians walking agreeably thereto. Whether, for the glory of God, Page 17 they have persevered in pleading for his cause, truth and religion, when they have been hated, reviled and abused; and refused to yield to the unreasonable desires of men, relative to their solemn covenant engagements; or whether they have had no regard for the honour of God, in any part of their ministry!
1. We infer from this subject, the importance that Ministers of the Gospel be men of ability, knowledge, and real religion. Without these they cannot be qual|ified for the gospel ministry. Men cannot perform this great work of watching for souls, if they are destitute of knowledge and grace. Those who have no talent for instruction, and exhortation, are not fit for the minis|try. Nor are those who are ignorant men, not ac|quainted with letters, in any considerable degree. Nor those, who are ignorant of the doctrines of the bible, and the nature of true religion. How can men teach souls the important truths they ought to know, if they have no knowledge of truth themselves? And how can men who have no true religion be faithful guides to souls? Such know not the spiritual taste of real Christians, nor how to feed them suitably to their char|acters. Unholy men are not engaged for the salvation of souls; nor the honour of the Great Redeemer. They may preach truths, but they do not love divine truth.
2. If Ministers of the gospel must give account how they watch for souls, we may learn how cautiously they ought to enter upon such a great and solemn work. With what seriousness, attention, examination and prayer, should they exercise themselves before they dare venture forth in such an important and dangerous field! They should be satisfied, from good evidence, that God has qualified them with gifts, knowledge, and grace, for this solemn work; that they may not mislead souls; ruin themselves; and dishonour God.
Page 183. This subject may lead us to reflect on the great difference between the accounts of the faithful and un|faithful Ministers of the word. Those who loved the truth, lived the religion of Christ, and honestly preached his gospel, will meet the approbation of their Lord, saying, Well done! good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord! On the other hand, those who have been deceitful workers, corrupt|ers or neglecters of the truth, enemies to the religion of Christ, unfaithful to souls and the cause of the Re|deemer, must meet with a dreadful frown from the Great Judge of the World, saying, Go ye wicked and slothful servants into outer darkness, bound hand and foot! The faithful Minister will be approved by his Judge, in the great day, and glorious in heaven forever, though numbers to whom he preached are eternally lost! He is free from their blood, having been faith|ful to them! And the unfaithful Minister must sink down, most dreadfully, under the wrath of the Almigh|ty, with those whom he misled in his ministry, and was criminally instrumental in their ruin! Who can trifle with so solemn a work as the gospel ministry! How can a man feel easy in his mind, when he has evidence that he was always an enemy to the gospel of Christ, which he pretends to declare to others! And how can he be content to make self and wordly interest his prin|cipal end, in entering on this work! Do such think how dreadful an account they are preparing for the day of Judgment? How pale and trembling will unfaith|ful Ministers meet their people at the bar of God! to see those, whose souls they undertook to watch for, lost through their negligence and unfaithfulness! remem|bering what corrupt sentiments they taught them; with what selfish arguments they persuaded them to embrace a false religion; and reject the sound doctrines of the bible, and holy religion of the Redeemer. All their corrupt, self-pleasing sermons will be exhibited to Page 19 view in that day! All the exhortations and directions they gave to sinners, which encouraged them to rest short of Christ, in their impenitence, hoping to be ac|cepted at last, will then be rehearsed in their true mean|ing. And the miserable souls, who were so foolish as to be deluded by such unfaithful dealing, will appear before them, as evidences of their guilt in ruining their souls! How dreadful is the thought concerning the account of unfaithful Ministers! On the other hand, how joyful will be the appearance of the faithful serv|ants of Jesus Christ! The gospel truths they delivered in their sermons; the close applications; the warm ex|hortations; and the earnest entreaties with sinners, to repent and believe; will then be mentioned in their favour. And they will see all their flocks, to whom they ministered in this world: the children of God, whom they were instrumental in saving, comforted by the truths they heard at such and such a time, and warned from their mistakes and wrong steps, will ap|pear before them as their crown of rejoicing! And those of their people, who refused to obey the truth which they preached to them, will be present, also, and remember the times their Ministers warned them to re|pent and believe, which they refused to comply with. Now they find true what their faithful guides told them; that except they repented in time they would be lost forever! But the faithful Minister is clear; their blood will be upon their own heads!
4. Learn from this subject, how solemn and weighty the connection is between a Minister of the Gospel and his people. They have chosen him to the most impor|tant service a mortal can do for them; and he has taken upon him the most weighty charge he can take. The connection being so solemn, a Minister ought, from a full conviction or his duty, to take the oversight of a flock, and never wish for a dissolution of his connection with them, except fully satisfied that duty requires it. Small, Page 20 trifling matters should never influence him to quit his solemn charge. So with the people, they ought to look well whom they choose to be set over them as their spir|itual guide; as to his natural, acquired, and gracious qualifications. That he is sound in the faith; will feed them with knowledge and understanding; and will be willing to spend and be spent for the good of their souls. And if they have such a one given them by the great Head of the Church, they ought very highly to prize him, for his works sake, and hold him in reputation. No small affair should influence them to part with such a messenger from the LORD of Hosts. A true and faithful Minister of Christ is endeavouring to serve his people, in their best interests. How careful should they be, that they do not hinder his usefulness among them! Much is required of a people toward their Minister, that he may profit them. They must pray much for him; provide for his comfort; be very friendly to him at all times; put the best construction on all he says and does, privately and publicly, which cases will admit of. Never grieve him by opposing the truths he delivers; nor by censuring him for his faith|fulness, in bearing testimony against their bad conduct. Nor try to hurt his influence among his people, by pre|judicing their minds against him, relative to his doc|trine or conduct. If a Minister is guilty of error in any of his sermons; or unchristian steps in his conduct; he is entitled to the privilege of the rules of Christ's house; to be tried thereby; and his people ought never to re|ject him, till they have found him guilty upon trial. How can a people know that their Minister will not give them christian satisfaction, if they deal with him according to gospel rule? And possibly, upon exam|ination, it may appear that he has not transgressed, as they supposed him to have done. And if they have accused and condemned him without trial, and thus hindered his usefulness, how great must their guilt be! Page 21 They have injured their own souls, and the souls of others, by destroying the influence of one whom God approves of as faithful; and also grieving a friend and servant of Jesus Christ! Such people ought to remem|ber the solemn words of the Lord Jesus, "He that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me." Christ is here speaking of those whom he sent forth to preach the gospel to men; and we see how dreadful it is to despise them! Their crime does not stop against the Minister, whom they despise; but reaches to Christ, and the Father. The Son of God and eternal Father are despised! How great must their guilt be, who are seeking all the ad|vantage they possibly can, to prejudice the minds of others against their Minister! Some will prejudice their children against their Minister, by often, in their pres|ence, opposing the doctrines he preaches, without giv|ing any scripture proof of their being unsound. And thus their children drink in an unjust prejudice against the truths they hear from their Minister, and receive no benefit from his ministry; all his instructions are in vain to such persons; and they may die in such preju|dice to the truth, and perish forever. Dreadful thought for parents! If a people, by their unkind and unchris|tian treatment of a Minister of Jesus Christ, should so far prevail as to destroy his influence among his people, that a separation from them becomes necessary, how dreadful is the sin of such a people! They do despise Christ, and in effect pray him to depart from them; and they have awful reason to fear he will leave them without any spiritual guide at all; or send them one who will pervert the truth, and lead them on to endless ruin. The connection then between Ministers and people is most important.
5. We may infer from the subject, that people who have rejected a faithful watchman, will have a most dreadful account to give in the great day; that is, if Page 22 they die impenitent for such rejection. They and their Minister must meet again; but it will be at the bar of God, where nothing but truth will be admitted. No plea will avail there, which is not consistent with the commands of God, and religion of Jesus Christ. It will not then do to plead, they did not like the Minis|ter's sentiments, provided they are sound, according to the bible; nor to plead, they surmised him to be irregu|lar in some of his conduct. If they have treated him contrary to the rules of the gospel, and thus been in|fluential to destroy his usefulness, they must answer for it on that dreadful day of account. How confounded will they be to hear the Judge approve of the faithful min|istry of his servants, whom their people rejected; and even of those very things they rejected them for! How solemn their account concerning their own souls! Why are they not saved? They had warning from the Min|isters of Christ. The particular sabbaths, lectures, and private interviews with their Ministers, will all be brought into view. The particular sermons, the truths which were delivered, the exhortations and entreaties to repent and believe, will all be mentioned then; with the arguments which were used to urge a compliance with the gospel. What then can be said in defence of rejecting salvation by Christ? To say then, as often they do in this world, they supposed the Minister was angry; had a party spirit; and the like; will not avail with them. If he faithfully warned them, they ought to have received the warning, and repented.—But some never take pains to hear what the watchman has to say for the good of their souls, at least, very seldom attend. Christ sent a messenger to them, to instruct them in their duty; but they would not hear what he had to say to them. They had opportunity to attend, but chose to neglect it. They esteemed it a great calamity to have such a one among them; and wished to be rid of him. Are such persons friendly to their own souls? Page 23 Are they friendly to Christ? It is impossible! For they sin against Christ, in refusing to hear whom he sends to them; and he who sins against Christ wrongs his own soul.
6. Let us now apply this subject more particularly to this present solemn occasion; an occasion the most sol|emn, in some respects, I was ever called to attend to.
In compliance with the free invitation of this Church, and People, I was, nine years ago, set a watchman over you, to watch for your souls; for which I must shortly give account. My ministerial connection with you is now dissolved; being requested by the town. I am no more your watchman as heretofore. I have not that particular charge of your souls, which I once had. And though it is possible some of you may hear me preach again, yet not as your Minister, as once I was. But this is not the last meeting we are to have together. The most solemn meeting we can have, is yet future. It will be at the bar of God; where we shall see each other, and know that we once had an important con|nection together as Minister and People! Then will be mentioned the means which led to this connection; and those also which led to a dissolution of it; with all the circumstances attending us, from my first preaching to you, to this closing sermon. You must give ac|count of your motives in inviting me to settle with you; and of all your measures in bringing about such a connection. I must give account of my motives in accepting your invitation; and all my public and pri|vate conduct towards you since, as your Minister. You must give account of the parts you have taken, in those measures adopted by the town, in dissolving this union. And I must give account of every thing I have done in this solemn affair, till a dissolution took place. As to my ministry here, I have a most solemn account to give, whether I have prayerfully endeavoured to be Page 24 faithful to your souls, in studying, preaching, warning, reproving, exhorting, visiting, and living religion. Though I have many failings in the course of my min|istry to bewail before God; yet, I humbly trust, through infinitely sovereign grace, I shall appear pure from the blood of all your souls, which have been com|mitted to my care. But for this I rely upon the mercy of God alone, through the great Redeemer. From a consciousness of duty, I have relinquished my ministry here; yet I may possibly be mistaken, and have gone aside from duty.
Let me, my Christian Friends, address a few words to you on this occasion, particularly the CHURCH in this place. With you, as a body, I have walked in fel|lowship for a number of years; but am no more your Pastor, to administer common and special ordinances to you; and it is probable we shall never more sit together at the table of the Lord in this world. But, my friends, we must meet again in another world, and there remember all the solemn scenes we passed through in this world. I must give account how I have treated you, as a part of the visible spouse of Jesus Christ; of all the methods I have taken to lead you as your Pas|tor, with my motives in taking the oversight of you. Whether I have faithfully endeavoured to feed you with the good and wholesome truths of Revelation, free from human invention: Whether I have plainly laid before you the marks of the real Christian; and faithfully ex|horted you to examine whether these marks could be found upon you. Or whether I have so described the Christian, as was calculated to deceive you, and cause you to hope without sufficient grounds. Whether I have honestly endeavoured to watch over the Church, and warn them of danger from errors in doctrine, and deviations from the rule of duty in conduct. Whether I have set before you the order of Christ's house, as revealed in the scripture, and shewn you the importance Page 25 of strictly complying therewith. Whether I have been cautious and careful in the examination of candidates for church communion; not daring to encourage any to come, who did not give me some reason to believe they were subjects of saving grace, though I may be de|ceived concerning them. Whether I have pitied you under all your trials and temptations, which have come to my knowledge, and endeavoured to give you all that instruction and comfort in my power. Whether I have rejoiced to see you appearing at any time to maintain the honour of Christ's cause, by an holy life, and love to the doctrines of the gospel: and, on the other hand, mourned to see a different appearance in any of you. And whether I have daily borne you on my heart at the throne of grace, that you may grow in christian knowledge and grace, and all finally be saved.—O what a solemn account have I to give to him who made me an overseer over this Church of God! And, my friends, have not you also a very solemn account to give in this connection? If your Pastor has been faithful, must you not give account how you have improved under his ministry? But if he has been unfaithful, must you not give account whether you have treated him as the gos|pel rule requires of you? Yes, you must all give ac|count of your thoughts, words, and conduct towards your Pastor. Whether you have loved him, pitied him under trials, prayed for him, and tried all in your power to strengthen his hands. Whether you have carefully avoided saying or doing any thing which could weaken his ministerial influence among this people; and refused to receive an accusation against him but before two or three witnesses.—And relative to this solemn separa|tion, which has now taken place, you must give account whether you were aiding in it; or endeavoured by all christian steps to prevent it. Whether you have never shewn opposition to any of the truths your Pastor has preached; and thus strengthened the hands of the en|emy. Page 26 Whether any of you have had your ears open to the tattle of the vain world, and been ready to believe idle reports without examination. Whether you have had your minds cooled towards your Pastor from mere hearsay, without ever knowing whether or not they were true. And whether you have never given a misrepre|sentation of facts, by means of which, others have been troubled in their minds. And, in a word, you must give account whether you have endeavoured at all times to treat your Pastor as an Ambassador from Jesus Christ.
May God, of his free gace, through Jesus Christ, par|don all our sins we have been guilty of towards each other, as Pastor and Church! And I pray God to build you up in the faith and order of the gospel; and enable you to keep up a strict watch over one another in the Lord; and may we finally meet in the heavenly world, where christian friends will never more part!
I would now say a few words to the CONGREGATION, not particularly of the Church. I am now about to take my leave of you, as your Minister; perhaps never more to preach the gospel to you. But we must give account of the opportunities we have had together in this connection: I of my preaching; you of your hear|ing, or refusing to hear. I must soon give account of all my treatment of you in my ministerial connection with you; and, if I have been faithful, the account will be joyful for me; but dreadful for you, if you have not been faithful to your own souls. From you, as a town, my dismission was occasioned. You desired me to re|linquish my ministry in this place. You have refused to give reasons for this desire; and you have also refused to have this solemn affair examined by an Ecclesiastical Council. But, a Council, called by the Pastor and Church, have advised to a dismission, which has now taken place. But, my friends, the affair is not to end thus: all these transactions are registered in the Page 27 Court of Heaven, to be brought out to public view be|fore the assembled universe! You and I shall then have a very solemn meeting! Then I shall hear the reasons why you pressed for a dismission from my ministry, as you have done. Christ is perfectly acquainted with them; and he will state them plainly, that all the world may know them! Then you cannot keep them out of hearing. And are you sure they are such as the impar|tial Judge will approve of?
Relative to this solemn affair, I must give account of every step I have taken in it. Why I so much in|sisted upon order and regularity in such a serious affair, which we have been attending to. Whether it was from selfish views, or from a regard to the order of the Churches, and the solemn charge of your souls. You must give account whether it were from covetousness, you refused a Council; or from a full conviction that such a step would be contrary to the laws of Jesus Christ. Should any individuals in this town think themselves free from this solemn account, because they have not acted on either side, but remained neuters through the whole; let such remember, they must give account why they have not acted in this solemn and important affair. Al|though you have not voted for, or against; or, in view of the world, taken sides in the late struggles concern|ing your Minister; yet your minds have certainly been decidedly on one side or the other; and you know what side you wished might prevail. There is no such thing as the mind being neuter towards opposing causes which it attends to. Christ says, "He that is not with me is against me."* And you have, at heart, been either for or against your Minister. If you believed his preach|ing and conduct to be such as rendered him worthy of contempt and rejection from this people; you must give account why you have not boldly, for the cause or reli|gion, exerted yourselves to remove him from his minis|try Page 28 here, agreeably to gospel rule. But if you believe that he has endeavoured to be honest and faithful in his ministerial charge; you must give a dreadful account for withholding your help, when you saw him abused and persecuted by his opposers! These things are nearly con|nected with the cause of God. And is not his cause worthy your taking an active part in? The Angel of the Lord pronounced a bitter curse against those, who came not to the help of the Lord against the mighty.* And how can you feel easy in your minds, when you know you have not come forth to the help of the Lord in this place? Another day will disclose your views and motives in neglecting to be active in this solemn affair. Those who have disliked my preaching, must give ac|count whether they had good reason to believe that I did not preach the gospel of Christ truly, and profitably for honest minds: or whether the truths delivered, did not apply too closely to them, condemn their conduct which they chose to indulge; and yet unable to say that any thing was ever delivered contrary to the bible in its connection.
It is to be feared that some of you, who have sat under my ministry, are still in your sins; never complied with the invitations of the gospel which have been set be|fore you; and it is likely I may never have any more op|portunities to warn you of your danger. Let me tell you, once more, O sinners, that if you go on till death in your impenitence and unbelief, you will forever sink down under the wrath of the Almighty; and all the in|structions and warnings you have had, will serve to ag|gravate your dreadful punishment! You will remember all the calls and warnings you have had from those whom God sent to you in the name of Christ. And now you are free from your Minister, and from any more public warnings from him, as your Minister; what will be the event is known only to him who governs all Page 29 things. How sad will be your case, if you never have any more warnings from God by his servants! You may be given up to choose corrupt preaching, which pleases the natural heart; and that will ruin you. Or you may be left to the choice of no worship at all; this also will destroy you. Therefore repent now; choose Christ, and his religion, and you will be happy forever. And if you as a people truly humble yourselves before God for all your sins, he may yet build you up.
If here are any who have been under serious impres|sions from what they have heard under my ministry, and are returning again to vanity; I have one word to say to you. The time is coming when it will appear whe|ther you were affected by truth which you heard, or not; and why you can now feel cold towards such things as once made you tremble. If you once believed that your Minister preached truth, which was solemn and important, why do you now treat the same kind of preaching with neglect? Are you now sure that what you once thought to be true is false?
I have now done with you all, perhaps, forever! I may never preach to you again; at least I am no more your Minister! Have I been faithful to you? Have you been faithful to your own souls? Will there not be a dread|ful separation among us, another day?—May God ena|ble all of us to repent of all our sins; believe in Jesus Christ, and live a holy life; then we shall have a happy meeting together in a better world!