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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 at 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 VOL. VII.
steward, to whom the householder, when going into a far coun. try 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 flame 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 chiefly concerned in the affair of this day; even the great Shepherd of the sheep, and glorious Lord of heaven and earth, who is to be your and our judge. You present yourself this day before him to receive at his hands a sacred deposilum, 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 bis 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 hath 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 his 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
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 committed 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 chil. dren 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 expected of a servant that he should execute his office in such a case !' and surely if he fails of being thoroughly careful and watchful, after he has taken upon him so great a charge, and any sad disaster should be the consequence of his unfaithfulness ; it will most justly be required of him that he should answer it, and he will inexcusably fall under his master's heaviest displeasure.
And suffer me, sir, to put you in mind of the account you must give to your master of these souls he seems this day to be about to commit to you: You are to watch for these souls as one that must give account. If any one of these souls should be missing hereafter, having been lost under your ministry, it will be demanded of you another day, by your great Lord, 46 “ What is become of such a soul? Here are not all the souls that I committed to you to bring home to me; there is such an one missing ; what is become of it? has it perished through your neglect ?" If you are able to say at that time, “Lord, it was not through my neglect ; I have done what in me lay for his salvation; I ceased not to warm and counsel and reprove him, and faithfully set before him his danger, and have not forborne to declare thy whole counsel to him; I have not neglected this and other souls that thou didst commit to me, to gratify my sloth, or pursue my worldly interest; I have given myself wholly to this work, labouring therein night and day ; I have been ready, Lord, as thou knowest, to sacrifice my own ease and profit, and pleasure, and temporal convenience, and the good will of my neighbours, for the sake of the good of the souls I had the charge of; I have not led this soul into any snare by myill example; I have neglected no means of thine appointment, either publicor private, to turn him from sin to God; I sought out acceptable words, and studied for the most likely means to be used for his saving good ; but he would not hearken, but turned a deaf ear; under all was stupid and obstinate, and went on carelessly and frowardly in the imagination of his heart.” If you are able to say in like manner as Christ did to the Father, with respect to the souls that were committed to him ; those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdidition ; you will be able to hold up your head with comfort before your Judge, your account will be accepted, you shall be acquitted, and your unsuccessful faithfulness shall be rewarded. But if when it shall be demanded of you what is become of such and such souls? You shall be dumb, having nothing to say, your conscience flying in your face, and it shall appear that it has been much owing to your unfaithfulness; O how amazing will your case be! What confusion and astonishment will fill your soul before your great master and Judge! And remember that the blood of such souls will be required at your hands, Ezek. xxxiii. 6.