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And as the word of God, so the sacraments that he has appointed, and the discipline of his house, he has committed to them, to be administered by them; and has subjected the souls themselves that they have the care of to them, as far as is necessary to put them under the greatest advantage effectually to care for their salvation, and has left a charge to their people to obey them and submit themselves, as in the verse of my text.
I now proceed III. To observe, that the way in which he who has committed souls to ministers, expects they should seek that these purposes may be obtained with respect to them, is by watching for them.
Though great things have been done by Christ to make way for the salvation of those precious souls, and altbough Christ has furnished ministers with all proper means to keep them; yet they are in such circumstances in this world, that there is need of the exercise of great watchfulness, and the utmost care and diligence, in those that have the care of them, to prevent their being lost : for they are in the midst of snares, and encompassed round with dangers on every side ; they are in the enemy's country, where there are multitudes every where that are strong and subtil, and exceeding blood-thirsty and cruel, that are indefatigably, day and night, seeking the destruction of these souls.
If a prince should commit some great treasure, consisting of most precious jewels, to the care of a subject, to keep for him, and carry through an enemy's country, and bring home safe to his palace, and knew that the enemies by the way would be sensible that the treasure was committed to him, and would be aware of the great value of it, and therefore would be exceeding greedy of it, and incessant in their endeavours to get it from him ; would not the prince expect that he, with whom he had entrusted this treasure, should use great care in keeping it? Would he be esteemed faithful to his trust, in the care of so great a treasure, and in such circumstances, without keeping up a continual watch? They that have the care of a city in time of war, and especially at a time when the city is encompassed by enemies that lay siege to it, are wont, if faithful, to maintain incessant vigilance to defend it: the watchmen of the city in such a case had need to watch strictly, for they have the care of the lives of men.--Ministers are from time to time represented in Scripture as the watchmen that have the care of the city of God; as Cant. iii. 3. and v. 7. Isai. lii. 8. and lxii. 6. and in other places. These watchmen have not only the care of the lives of men's bodies, but of their souls, which are infinitely more precious. It is expected of them that they should behave themselves as those that both kept and built the city of Jerusalem, in Nehemiah's time, while they were continually observed by malicious and subtil enemies, that diligently sought by all means to circumvent them, and to destroy the city and people ; who with one hand wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon ; holding spears from the rising of the morning until the stars appeared ; and had a trumpet always åt hand to sound, to give warning of any appearing danger, and did not put off their clothes, nor lay up their weapons, day nor night, Neh. iv. from the 16 verse to the end.
Ministers are appointed to be shepherds over Christ's flock ; and he commits his flock to their care to keep them, and lead them through a great and howling wilderness, full of hungry wolves and roaring lions. And is there not need of a strict and constant watch in the shepherds in such a case, as they would preserve the lives of the sheep, and lead them to the land of their rest?
I come now to,
IV. The last thing in the doctrinal handling of the text, viz. That ministers hereafter must give account to him that committed men's precious souls to their care.
Christ's committing souls to ministers' care and charge, and betrusting them with them as servants or stewards, necessarily supposes them to be accountable to their master with respect to the charge committed to them.
He that has a treasure committed to him by the owner, and takes the care and charge of it, not as his own possession, but only to improve or keep for an appointed time, for him to whom the proper possession belongs, must return that treasure to the owner when his time is out, and is accountable to him how he has fulfilled that which he undertook ; and if any precious jewel be missing, he must give an account of it.--So must ministers give an account of the souls committed to their care.
The office and work of ministers is not to last always; their care of souls is but for a limited season; and when that is expired, they must return to their master to give an account.
After what manner they must be called to an account, may be shown in these two things,
1. The event of things with regard to the souls committed to them will be inquired into. As there are so many precious souls committed to their care by Christ, so hereafter it will be inquired what is become of those souls. As if a person has a number of precious jewels committed to him to keep; when the time of his betrustment is out, and he comes to return the instrusted treasure, the state of it will be examined, that it may be seen whether any jewel be lacking or not; and if any be missing, an account must be given what is become of it. The charge of a minister is in scripture represented by that of a
steward, to whom the householder, when going into a far country commits his goods, and when he returns, expects that the steward should give an account of his stewardship. In such a case the householder looks into the state of his goods that he left behind under the steward's care. The master in the
parable, Matt. xxv. 14, &c. when he returns from his journey, has his goods, that he committed to the care of his servants, brought forth and laid before him.
2. It will be inquired how far the event that shall be found, with regard to souls committed to them, was owing to their faithfulness or unfaithfulness in that care and watch that was appointed them. If any precious soul be found lacking, it will be inquired how this comes to pass : they must give an account what they have done with this and that soul that is missing, whether they were lost through their neglect or no; they must give an account what care they have taken, and what diligence they have used, and whether or no they can wash their hands from guilt with respect to them : it shall be examined by an eye that is as a tlame of fire, whether the blood of the souls that are lost is not indeed to be found in their skirts.- We find in the parable of the great supper, that the servants that are sent out to invite guests, return from time to time to their master to give him an account both of the event in their success with respect to some that they were sent to, and unsuccessfulness with regard to others ; and also of their own doings and faithfulness, whereby they are clear of the guilt of their unsuccessfulness, and are commended to the gracious reward of their success. Luke xiv. 20, 21. I now come to the
APPLICATION. * In which I shall only address myself to those who are principally concerned in the great and solemn affair of this day, viz. to him who is now solemnly to be set apart to the work of the ministry in this place, and to those whose souls are to be committed to his care.
1. I would apply myself to you, dear sir, to whose care the great Redeemer and Head of the church is this day committing a number of precious souls in this place. I besech you now to suffer the word of exhortation on this solemn occasion ; suffer me to put you in mind how great the person is, with whom you are immediately and chietly concerned in the affair of this day; even the great Shepherd of the sheep, and glorious Lord of heaven and carth, who is to be your and our judge. You present yourself this day before him to receive at his hands a sacred depositum, a great treasure, a number of souls that are to exist throughout all eternity, each one of which is infinitely more precious than all the precious gems that the earth affords. And I beseech you to consider to how great a purpose he is about to commit them to your care and keeping; it is that they, by means of your faithful care and watchfulness, may be saved with an everlasting salvation. You may judge how much Christ will insist upon it that you should exercise great diligence and strictness in the care you take of them, by the value he himself has manifested of the souls of men, by what he has done and suffered for them: he has shown how precious he has judged immortal souls to be, in that he, though a person of infinite glory, did not think his own blood, his life, his soul, too precious to be offered up as a price for them to redeem them, that they might obtain that salvation in order to which he now is about to commit a number of them to your care, and to betrust you with the means that he has provided for that end ; committing to you his holy oracles, and the food of his house, which is his own body and blood, that therewith you might feed these souls; and in some sense committing to you the keys of his stores and treasures, that you might supply and enrich them, and be a means of their eternal wealth and glory.
Consider, dear sir, how great an honour he does you whom God the Father bath made head of the whole universe, and Lord of all things to the church ; that after he has provided for the salvation of souls by his dying pains and precious blood, and the Father has committed to him all power in heaven and carth, that he might actually bestow eternal life on them that he died for ; he should call you to be a co-worker with him, and should commit precious souls to your care, that you might be the instrument of bringing them home to him, and bringing that to pass with respect to them, for which his soul travailed in the agonies of death, and in ineffable conflicts with the dreadful wrath of God. You are now about to receive the precious treasure at his hands, which you are to keep for him : you present yourself here before the Lord for this end, that you may as it were reach forth your hand and take this great depositum with solemn vow diligently and faithfully to keep it, and devote yourself to that service; so that if it be possible for you to prevent it, no one of those infinitely precious jewels may be lost, but that you may return them all safe to him from whose hands you receive them.
Consider the example of your glorious Lord and master. There was a number of the souls of men committed by the father into bis hands, that he might take care for their salvation. And after what manner did he execute his office? How did he lay out himself for the salvation of those souls? What great things did he do? And what great things did he suffer? How hard was the labour he went through? And how greatly did he deny himself? How did this great shepherd of the sheep behave himself when he saw the wolf coming to destroy the sheep; he did not flee to save his own life, and so leave the sheep to become a prey; but from pity and love to the sheep, interposed himself between them and their enemy, stood between them and harm, and encountered the wolf, and in the conflict gave his own life to save their's, John x. 11-15.-We read of Christ's travailing for souls, Isai. liii. 10, 11. It pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put him to grief. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed. -He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied. And how did he travail for this seed of his? Look into the garden of Gethsemane, and there behold him lying on the earth, with his body covered over with clotted blood, fallen down in lumps to the ground, with his soul exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, and offering up strong crying and tears together with his blood: and look to the cross, where he endured yet far more extreme agonies, and drank up the bitter cup of God's wrath, and shed the remainder of his blood, lingeringly drained out through his tortured hands and feet, and extravated out of his broken heart into his bowels, and there turned into blood and water, through the vehement fermentation occasioned by the weight of grief and extremity of agony of soul, under which 'he cried out with that loud and lamentable and repeated cry. Thus he travailed in birth with his seed; thus he laboured and suffered for the salvation of those souls that the Father had com. mitted to him. This is the example of the great shepherd. And though it is not required of under-shepherds that they should endure sufferings of such a degree or nature; for Christ has suffered them to that end, that both ministers and people might escape them ; yet surely he expects that, as they would approve themselves as his disciples and followers, and co-workers with him in seeking the salvation of the same souls, they should not be backward to go through any labours or sufferings which may be requisite in them, in order to their most effectually promoting the great end of his sufferings, with regard to the souls that he has committed to them.
And as you, dear sir, are to stand in Christ's stead towards this people, and to act as his ambassador; should you not show the like spirit, the like love to souls, and imitate him in his readiness to labour and deny yourself and suffer, yea to spend and be spent for them ? like the blessed apostle. 2 Cor. xii. 15.
The case with you, sir, is as if the head of a family, that was a great prince, with a number of children in a strange land, when going home to receive a kingdom, should leave his children behind him, and commit them to the care of a servant, safely to conduct them through a dangerous wilderness, and bring them home to him ; in which case, he has their health and lives committed to his care, as well as their future glory in his kingdom. With what care and watchfulness would it be ex