feel, towards their religious instructor, much as Ahab did towards the prophet Micaiah, though they should not express their feelings, in so plain terms? "I hate him, for he always prophesieth evil concerning me."

Still more difficult it may be, for a Christian minister to give private counsel, exhortation and reproof, without awakening the resentment of those whom he addresses, and bringing on himself the pointed marks of their displeasure. Yet faithfulness to God, and to them, will not suffer him to neglect this difficult and painful duty.

The service, to which a minister is often called, of visiting and conversing with the sick, frequently involves in it great difficulties, trials, and temptations. He many times finds persons, in sore distress, both of body and mind. Their situation strongly excites compassion. His heart must be hard and unfeeling indeed, not to be tenderly moved. As to many of these persons, he may have no ground, from their former lives and conversation, to judge favorably of their spiritual state. He wishes to speak words of comfort to them, and to apply the promises of the gospel, to dispel their fears, and ease their pained minds. His bowels of pity and tenderness almost constrain him to do it. But he is anxious, lest this should produce a false peace, and lead them to rest on deceptive hopes; lest it should prevent that sense of guilt and danger, which they ought to entertain, in order to lay them low, humble, and penitent, at the feet of divine mercy, and to excite them to employ their remaining moments, and their last breath, in ardent cries to a compassionate God and Saviour, for pardoning mercy, and sanctifying grace. What can the minister do? If he deals plainly and faithfully, though from the most benevolent motives, he may be deemed cruel: He may grieve and offend the sick persons, and their surrounding friends. Those who have never been called to perform the part of a gospel minister's duty, which we are considering, will hardly conceive the difficulties which in many cases attend it. Great wisdom is requisite so to unite fidelity and tenderness; that a dangerous presumption may not be encouraged, nor a fatal despondency produced, in the last and important days, and hours of sickness, and of life.

Another thing, in the situation of a minister of religion, will, by persons acquainted with human nature, be considered as painful and self-denying, viz. his being obliged to give up his independence, so far as many of his people seem to expect; so far as to make himself subservient to their call, their will, and, too often, to their humor; so far as to have scarcely any time which he can call his own; so far as not to be allowed to claim many of the common rights of human nature, with that free and independent

spirit, with which other good men among his people do it, without giving any offence. He ought undoubtedly to adopt the language, and sentiment of the great apostle, who owned himself "his people's servant for Jesus' sake;" and to be willing in a sober and consistent sense, "to become all things to all men ;" i. e. to discover a kind, yielding, and condescending disposition. But is it certain that this would give universal satisfaction? There may be, in most societies, a number who expect their minister should make a greater sacrifice than this to please them. He must forbear to declare his opinion, with that decent freedom which others use, upon religious, domestic, or political subjects, concerning which a diversity of sentiments prevails among his people. Many individuals may be ready to claim a right of prohibiting their minister from expressing an opinion contrary to theirs. If he doth not yield to that prohibition, he will hardly fail of meeting with the displeasure of the persons, from whom he dares to dissent. Ministers, as well now, as in the day of our Saviour's abode upon earth, need to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." And when they sincerely desire and endeavor to be so, it is hardly to be expected they should be so fortunate as to give offence to none. Their concessions may not come up to the wishes of some. Is it possible to please all, when so many, and so different tempers and dispositions, views and designs exist among their parishioners?

One of the most painful trials, which Christ's ministers often meet with, still remains to be mentioned, namely, the little attention paid to their most faithful instructions, by a great proportion of their people, and the small success of their labors, in general. It is hard to say what can be more grievous and disheartening to those who have a proper concern for the prosperity of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the salvation of precious souls. Under this discouragement, respecting the people to whom he ministered, the prophet Jeremiah once made this resolution, "I will speak no more to them, in the name of the Lord." This drew very moving complaints from some others of God's ancient prophets. "I have labored in vain, and spent my strength for nought: Israel will not be gathered. Who hath believed our report?"

When a minister is diligent in his studies, fervent in his prayers, earnest in his preaching, faithful in giving private counsel, and circumspect in his own conduct, yet then to observe many among his people growing evidently more hardened and fixed in wickedness; many who will not give themselves the trouble of attending public worship; many more, who appear quite careless and unconcerned about the welfare of their immortal souls; and some among those who have bound themselves, by public covenant engagements, to maintain a life of strict piety and virtue, yet walking very unsuitably to the profession they have made; what

can more deeply and painfully wound him? Yet thus wounded, many times, are Christ's faithful ministers. Their time, their strength, and their lives are wearing away, without the comfort of satisfactory evidences that "their labor is not in vain, in the Lord."

I have been long, perhaps too long, in sketching out the dark side of the picture of a Christian minister's situation. Still nothing has been said but what I believe to be a just representation, and what is often realized, by persons in the sacred office. This may have led many ministers, of the present day, to apply to themselves, the remark which the apostle made, relative to himself, and his brethren in the apostolic office. "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable."

But is there no bright side to this picture? Is there no counterpart to what hath been described, of a minister's labors, trials and conflicts? Hath he no pleasures and comforts, while discharging the duties of his station? He undoubtedly has, if he is faithful, and some which are exceedingly endearing and supporting. The approbation of his own conscience, and comfortable hopes of the divine approbation. Sensible aid and assistance in his labors, from the spirit and grace of Christ. Delightful contemplations on the truths, and blessings of the gospel, for which his professional business gives him great advantages. The friendship, the warm affection, the sincere good wishes, and the fervent prayers, of the most amiable and worthy characters, among his people. Great satisfaction, sometimes, in seeing "the pleasure of the Lord prospering in his hands;" and "souls flocking to Christ, as doves to their windows: " And especially the prospect of those gracious rewards, which Christ hath promised to his faithful ministers, when they shall have finished their course, and the ministry they have received. "Be ye faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."

Will not the faithful laborer, in the vineyard of Christ, who keeps the eye of his faith fixed on such gracious promises, be comforted, in all his tribulations? Will he not, like the apostle, though sorrowful, yet be always rejoicing? Yea it may be hoped that in the near views of death, he may be able in a good measure humbly to adopt his joyful and triumphant language. "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight: I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me, at that day."

Who could be expected to enter into the sacred employment, or long to continue in it, if nothing of this sort was to be expected, or found, to balance the many trials and difficulties which

are inseparable from it? More virtue and fortitude, than most men are possessed of, would be requisite to prevent their shrinking from a service, so unpromising, yea so formidable. But our Saviour doth not leave, thus comfortless, his servants, whom he calls into his vineyard. Though the rewards of their diligence and fidelity are principally reserved to the future world, yet for their present support and comfort, he hath made such gracious declarations as the following: "Lo, I am with you always to the end of the world. My grace is sufficient for you, and my strength is made perfect in your weakness."

With an expectation of both these, the trials* and the supports, your minister consented to enter into the sacred work, in this place, and was solemnly set apart to it forty years ago, viz. on the fifth day of February, A. D., 1756. A day, and a transaction much to be remembered; and which he can truly say have hardly been out of his serious recollection, for a week or a day since.†

Soon after his entering on the work he was visited with such bodily infirmities, as led him to expect his life and labors would be short; that he should, in a little time, finish his course, and the ministry which he had received. Still, with truth he can say, he did not forget his vows and resolutions, to work while it was day; nor did he feel an unwillingness to spend what little strength he had, in the service of his beloved people. He did "not account his life dear to him," if he might spend it successfully in the great work, on which he had entered. To the honor of God, he desires thankfully to mention it, that he was strengthened to go on, in his professional labors, much beyond his expectations, and with no long interruptions, for a number of years. With sentiments of gratitude and affection, he often reflects on the kind, candid, and tender manner, in which his people treated him, and with which his feeble endeavors to serve them were received. They did not despise either his youth or his infirmities. The abundant marks of their sympathetic tenderness and affection rendered all his

* Seven members of the church, and three or four others, opposed his settlement. After a little time, he had the satisfaction of numbering them all, among his kind, affectionate, and confidential friends; and such they all continued, to the close of their lives.

+ Very frequently hath he recollected the leading sentiments of an excellent discourse delivered by the Rev. Mr. Appleton, on those words of the apostle, 2 Tim. ii. 15. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Often hath he recollected the charge by the Rev. Mr. Townsend of Needham, delivered, at once, with that parental tenderness, and that seriousness and gravity, which were happily united in the temper and conduct of that worthy servant of Christ. Often hath he recollected that profusion of Christian friendship, and brotherly love, expressed, in the right hand of fellowship, given by the Rev. Mr. Balch; all which friendship and brotherly love he continued to exemplify, while his valuable life was spared, towards the person then ordained, and towards his brethren, in the gospel ministry in general.

labors among them, eminently labors of love, which were their own reward.


After about eighteen years, feebly, yet pleasantly spent, in their service, God was pleased to visit him with a threatening fever, which reduced him, in appearance, to the very gates of the grave. The tenderness with which they ministered to him during that sickness, is fresh in his grateful remembrance. Their prayers,* which God was pleased graciously to answer, called him back to further labors among them. The blessing of Heaven, on the gratuitous, the careful, and judicious prescriptions and attendance of his skilful and benevolent physician,† recovered him to a better state of health, than he had enjoyed for some time before. With renewed pleasure and resolution he again entered on his public and private labors, in the gospel. And with renewed marks of respect his people received him.

During about seventeen years after this, he was not absent from public worship more than two Sabbaths, excepting the time when he had the small-pox, which detained him three. Frequently, however, in that term of seventeen years, has he come into this house of worship, weak and trembling, when it appeared to him hardly possible that, without special help from above, he should go through the services of the day. Strength was, as he desires thankfully to record, from time to time, vouchsafed to him.

About five years ago, he was visited with a slow fever, which detained him from the house of God, for five Sabbaths. Since that time, he hath every Lord's day attended the services of the sanctuary. He desires now to set up his Ebenezer, acknowledging that "hitherto the Lord hath helped him." He hath spared, and assisted him, to labor in his vineyard, feeble and imperfect as his labors have been, much longer than any of his predecessors, in this society. His term of service hath been protracted beyond that of most of his brethren, in the ministry.

Upon retrospecting this term of forty years, your minister finds much to lament, much to be humbled for, of his faults, defects, and imperfections. His hope is in the abundant mercy of God, and the merit of that blood, which was shed for the priesthood as well as for the congregation; to pardon what has been amiss; and to accept his feeble, though, he hopes, sincere attempts to promote the cause of Christ, and the good of souls. He finds, at the same time, many things which demand his gratitude to his divine Master; particularly, that he hath called him to labor in so pleasant a part of his vineyard; that he hath supported and assisted him so long; that he hath rendered his services, in a good degree acceptable to

*A day of fasting and prayer was observed by his people, on his account. Doctor John Sprague.

« VorigeDoorgaan »