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And that without partiality or exception, I must not single out some of the best of my flock, such as I have the highest respect for, or have received the greatest obligations from; but minister to every one according to their several necessities. If I meet with men of knowledge and virtue, my business must be to confirm and establish them therein; if with those that are ignorant and immoral, to teach and instruct them in the ways of religion, and, by all means possible, to reclaim and reduce them to the exercise of their duty, always remembering, that as the blessed Jesus, the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, was not sent, save unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; so it is the indispensable duty of his apostles and ministers (and, by the grace of God, I shall make it mine) to follow his example in this particular; to spare no time nor pains in the reformation of sinners, though it be never so irksome and difficult to accomplish, even though I should meet with such as the prophet David speaks of, who hate to be reformed, and cast my words behind them. And therefore, as I know it is my duty, so I shall always endeavour to take pleasure in the several offices I perform of this kind, to strengthen the weak, heal the wounded, and bind up the broken heart; to call in those that err and go astray, and to seek and save those that are lost.
To these ends, though preaching is, without doubt, a most excellent and useful, as well as necessary duty, (especially if it be performed, as it ought, with zeal and reverence, and the doctrine applied and pressed home with sincerity of affection,) yet I shall not think it sufficient to instruct my people only from the pulpit, but take all opportunities to instil good thoughts and principles into their minds in my private conversation. I know it is impossible for all ministers frequently to visit every particular person or family in their parish, there being in some parishes, especially in and about
London, so many thousands of souls: but, howsoever, if it should please the Lord to call me to such a flock, though I cannot visit all, I shall visit as many as I can; especially those that are sick and infirm, and be sure to feed them with the sincere milk of the word, such as may turn to their spiritual nourishment, and make them grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I will not fill their heads with speculative notions and niceties in divinity; (which, among the less judicious, are very often the occasion of heresy and error, and sometimes also of delusion and distraction;) but my chief care shall be to instruct them in those necessary truths, which their Christian faith indispensably obliges them to know and believe, and press them to the performance of those duties, without which they cannot be saved; meekly and impartially reproving the particular vices they are most inclined and addicted to, and cheerfully encouraging and improving whatever virtuous actions they are any of them exemplary in, and whatever good habits or inclinations the divine grace has put into their hearts.
And since love and charity is the great characteristic of our profession, the bond and cement of all other Christian duties, in order to make my ministry the more successful, I resolve, in the last place, not only to avoid all differences and disputes with them myself, but amicably to compose all such as may arise among the neighbours. In a word, I shall make it my endeavour, in all things, so to approve myself as a faithful minister, both in life and doctrine, before them, that, at the last day, when the great God shall call for my parish, and myself to appear before him, I may be fitly prepared to give an account of both; at least, to answer for as many of them as he requires; and may, with joy and comfort, pronounce this sentence of my Saviour, if it may, without offence, be applied to his ministers, Behold, I and the children which thou hast given me.
I am resolved, by the grace of God, to be as faithfu and constant to my friend, as I would have my friend to be faithful and constant to me.
HAVING before resolved to be zealous in loving God, I here resolve to be as constant in loving my friend. But why do I resolve upon this? Is it possible to live, and not to love? this to me seems as plain a contradiction, as to live, and not to live. For love, in my opinion, is as much the life of the soul, as the soul is the life of the body. So that, for my own part, I shall expect to cease to live, at the very moment that I cease to love; nay, I do not look upon love only as my life, but as the joy and comfort of it too. And, for this reason, I shall never envy any man his riches, pleasures, or preferments, provided that I can but enjoy the persons my soul delights in, viz. Christ in the first place, and my friend and neighbour in the second.
But then I must have a great care where, and how, I place this affection; for if I place it wrong, my very loving will be sinning. And therefore I shall always endeavour to make such only my friends, as are friends to God. Not that I look upon it as necessary to love my friends always under that notion only, as they are friends of God; for then, no love but that which is spiritual would be lawful; whereas, there is, doubtless, a natural love, that is no less a duty, and, by consequence, no less lawful, than the other; as the love of parents towards their children, and children towards their parents; and the mutual complacency that arises betwixt friends, as well as relations, from the harmony and agreement of humours and tempers. Thus our Saviour is said to have loved St. John more than any of his other disciples, which cannot be understood of a spiritual love; for this, undoubtedly, was equal to all; but being a man subject to the like passions (though
not imperfections) as we are, he placed more natural affection upon, and might have more natural complacency in, John, than in his other disciples.
And, therefore, when I say, I am to make such my friends only as are friends to God, my meaning is, that I will make none my friends, but such as I know to be good men and good Christians, such as deserve my love in a spiritual, as well as a natural sense; and since I may lawfully love my friend in both these senses, the one is so far. from being exclusive, that it is really perfective of the other. And for this reason, as the spiritual good of my friend is always to be preferred before that which is temporal, I am resolved to found the one upon the other. I will always be ready, as oft as he stands in need, either for my advice, encouragement, or assistance, to do him all the kind offices I can in his worldly affairs, to promote his interest, vindicate his character from secret aspersions, and defend his person from open assaults; to be faithful and punctual in the performance of my promises to him, as well as in keeping the secrets he has entrusted me with. But all these things are to be done with a tender regard to the honour of God, and the duties of religion; so that the services I do him in his temporal concerns must still be consistent with, and subservient to, the spiritual interest and welfare of his immortal soul, in which I am principally obliged to manifest my friendship towards him. If I see him wander out of the right way, I must immediately take care to advertise him of it, and use the best means I can to bring him back to it: or if I know him to be guilty of any reigning vices, I must endeavour to convince him of the danger and malignity of them, and importune and persuade him to amend and forsake them. And lastly, I must be as constant in keeping my friend, as cautious in choosing him; still continuing the heat of my affections towards him in the day of his affliction, as well as in the height of his prosperity.
These are the rules whereby I resolve to express my friendship unto others, and whereby I would have others to express their friendship unto me.
CONCERNING MY TALENTS.
HAVING so solemnly devoted myself to God, according to the covenant he hath made with me, and the duty I owe to him; not only what I am, and what I do, but likewise what I have, is still to be improved for him. And this I am bound to, not only upon a federal, but even a natural account; for whatsoever I have, I received from him, and therefore all the reason in the world, whatsoever I have, should be improved for him. For I look upon myself as having no other propriety in what I enjoy, than a servant hath in what he is entrusted with to improve for his master's use. Thus, though I should have ten thousand pounds a year, I should have no more of my own than if I had but two-pence in all the world; for it is only committed to my care for a season, to be employed and improved to the best advantage, and will be called for again at the grand audit, when I must answer for the use or abuse of it; so that whatsoever, in a civil sense, I can call my own, that, in a spiritual sense, I must esteem as God's. And, therefore, it nearly concerns me to manage all the talents I am entrusted with, as things I must give a strict account for at the day of judgment. As God bestows his mercies upon me, through the greatness of his love and affection, so I am to restore his mercies back again to him, by the holiness of my life and conversation. In a word, whatever I receive from his bounty, I must, some way or other, lay out for his glory, accounting nothing mine own, any farther than as I improve it for God's sake, and the spiritual comfort of my own soul.