Our Oversight

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
~ 1 Timothy 4:16

Take heed now; for the LORD hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary: be strong, and do it.
~ 1 Chronicles 28:10

And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment.
~ 2 Chronicles 19:6

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
~ Luke 21:34

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
~ Acts 20:28

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
~ 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,
~ Titus 2:7

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
~ Hebrews 12:15

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
~ 2 John 1:8

The Nature and Oversight of Ourselves, by Richard Baxter. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “The Reformed Pastor”. 1656.

Chapter 1

The Oversight of Ourselves

Section 1 — The Nature of this Oversight

3. Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and lest you lay such stumbling-blocks before the blind, as may be the occasion of their ruin; lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors. It much hindereth our work, when other men are all the week long contradicting to poor people in private, that which we have been speaking to them from the Word of God in public, because we cannot be at hand to expose their folly; but it will much more hinder your work, if you contradict yourselves, and if your actions give your tongue the lie, and if you build up an hour or two with your mouths, and all the week after pull down with your hands! This is the way to make men think that the Word of God is but an idle tale, and to make preaching seem no better than prating. He that means as he speaks, will surely do as he speaks. One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing. Tell me, brethren, in the fear of God, do you regard the success of your labors, or do you not? Do you long to see it upon the souls of your hearers? If you do not, what do you preach for; what do you study for; and what do you call yourselves the ministers of Christ for? But if you do, then surely you cannot find in your heart to mar your work for a thing of nought. What! do you regard the success of your labors, and yet will not part with a little to the poor, nor put up with an injury, or a foul word, nor stoop to the meanest, nor forbear your passionate or lordly carriage, – no, not for the winning of souls, and attaining the end of all your labors! You little value success, indeed, that will sell it at so cheap a rate, or will not do so small a matter to attain it. It is a palpable error of some ministers, who make such a disproportion between their preaching and their living; who study hard to preach exactly, and study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough, to study how to speak two hours; and yet one hour seems too much to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons, or to be guilty of any notable infirmity, (and I blame them not, for the matter is holy and weighty,) but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions, in the course of their lives. Oh how curiously have I heard some men preach; and how carelessly have I seen them live! They have been so accurate as to the preparation of their sermons, that seldom preaching seemed to them a virtue, that their language might be the more polite, and all the rhetorical writers they could meet with were pressed to serve them for the adorning of their style, (and gauds were oft their chiefest ornaments.) They were so nice in hearing others, that no man pleased them that spoke as he thought, or that drowned not affections, or dulled not, or distempered not the heart by the predominant strains of a fantastic wit. And yet, when it came to matter of practice, and they were once out of church, how incurious were the men, and how little did they regard what they said or did, so it were not so palpably gross as to dishonor them! They that preach precisely, would not live precisely! What a difference was there between their pulpit speeches and their familiar discourse? They that were most impatient of barbarisms, solecisms, and paralogisms in a sermon, could easily tolerate them in their life and conversation.

Certainly, brethren, we have very great cause to take heed what we do, as well as what we say: if we will be the servants of Christ indeed, we must not be tongue servants only, but must serve him with our deeds, and be ‘doers of the work, that we may be blessed in our deed.’ As our people must be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only,’ so we must be doers and not speakers only, lest we ‘deceive our own selves.’ A practical doctrine must be practically preached. We must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well. We must think and think again, how to compose our lives, as may most tend to men’s salvation, as well as our sermons.

When you are studying what to say to your people, if you have any concern for their souls, you will oft be thinking with yourself, ‘How shall I get within them? and what shall I say, that is most likely to convince them, and convert them, and promote their salvation!’ And should you not as diligently think with yourself, ‘How shall I live, and what shall I do, and how shall I dispose of all that I have, as may most tend to the saving of men’s souls?’ Brethen, if the saving of souls be your end, you will certainly intend it out of the pulpit as well as in it! If it be your end, you will live for it, and contribute all your endeavors to attain it. You will ask concerning the money in your purse, as well as concerning the word of your mouth, ‘In what way shall I lay it out for the greatest good, especially to men’s souls?’ Oh that this were your daily study, how to use your wealth, your friends, and all you have for God, as well as your tongues! Then should we see that fruit of your labors, which is never else like to be seen. If you intend the end of the ministry in the pulpit only, it would seem you take yourselves for ministers no longer than you are there. And, if so, I think you are unworthy to be esteemed ministers at all.

Let me then entreat you, brethren, to do well, as well as say well. Be ‘zealous of good works.’ Spare not for any cost, if it may promote your Master’s work.

(1) Maintain your innocency, and walk without offense. Let your lives condemn sin, and persuade men to duty. Would you have your people more careful of their souls, than you are of yours? If you would have them redeem their time, do not you mis-spend yours. If you would not have them vain in their conference, see that you speak yourselves the things which may edify, and tend to ‘minister grace to the hearers.’ Order your own families well, if you would have them do so by theirs. Be not proud and lordly, if you would have them to be lowly. There are no virtues wherein your example will do more, at least to abate men’s prejudice, than humility and meekness and self-denial. Forgive injuries; and ‘be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ Do as our Lord, ‘who, when he was reviled, reviled not again.’ If sinners be stubborn and stout and contemptuous, flesh and blood will persuade you to take up their weapons, and to master them by their carnal means: but that is not the way, (further than necessary self-preservation or public good may require,) but overcome them with kindness and patience and gentleness. The former may show that you have more worldly power than they (wherein yet they are ordinarily too hard for the faithful); but it is the latter only that will tell them that you excel them in spiritual excellency. If you believe that Christ is more worthy of imitation than Caesar or Alexander, and that it is more glory to be a Christian than to be a conqueror, yea to be a man than a beast – which often exceed us in strength – contend with charity, and not with violence; set meekness and love and patience against force, and not force against force. Remember, you are obliged to be the servants of all. ‘Condescend to men of low estate.’ Be not strange to the poor of your flock; they are apt to take your strangeness for contempt. Familiarity, improved to holy ends, may do abundance of good. Speak not stoutly or disrespectfully to any one; but be courteous to the meanest, as to your equal in Christ. A kind and winning carriage is a cheap way of doing men good.

(2) Let me entreat you to abound in works of charity and benevolence. Go to the poor, and see what they want, and show your compassion at once to their soul and body. Buy them a catechism, and other small books that are likely to do them good, and make them promise to read them with care and attention. Stretch your purse to the utmost, and do all the good you can. Think not of being rich; seek not great things for yourselves or your posterity. What if you do impoverish yourselves to do a greater good; will this be loss or gain? If you believe that God is the safest purse-bearer, and that to expend in his service is the greatest usury, show them that you do believe it. I know that flesh and blood will cavil before it will lose its prey, and will never want somewhat to say against this duty that is against its interest; but mark what I say (and the Lord set it home upon your hearts), that man who hath any thing in the world so dear to him, that he cannot spare it for Christ, if he call for it, is no true Christian. And because a carnal heart will not believe that Christ calls for it when he cannot spare it, and, therefore, makes that his self-deceiving shift, I say further, that the man who will not be persuaded that duty is duty, because he cannot spare that for Christ which is therein to be expended, is no true Christian; for a false heart corrupteth the understanding, and that again increaseth the delusions of the heart. Do not take it, therefore, as an undoing, to make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness and to lay up treasure in heaven, though you leave yourselves but little on earth. You lose no great advantage for heaven, by becoming poor: ‘In pursuing one’s way, the lighter one travels the better.’

I know, where the heart is carnal and covetous, words will not wring men’s money out of their hands; they can say all this, and more to others; but saying is one thing, and believing is another. But with those that are true believers, methinks such considerations should prevail. O what abundance of good might ministers do, if they would but live in contempt of the world, and the riches and glory thereof, and expend all they have in their Master’s service, and pinch their flesh, that they may have wherewith to do good! This would unlock more hearts to the reception of their doctrine, than all their oratory; and, without this, singularity in religion will seem but hypocrisy; and it is likely that it is so. ‘He who practises disinterestedness prays to the Lord; he who snatches a man from peril offers a rich sacrifice; these are our sacrifices; these are holy to God. Thus he who is more devout among us is he who is more self-effacing,’ saith Minucius Felix. Though we need not do as the papists, who betake themselves to monasteries, and cast away property, yet we must have nothing but what we have for God.

4. Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and, when you have done, dishonor him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power, and yet contemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws, and wilfully break them? If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it be dangerous, how dare you venture on it? if it be not, why do you tell men so? If God’s threatenings be true, why do you not fear them? if they be false, why do you needlessly trouble men with them, and put them into such frights without a cause? Do you ‘know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death,’ and yet will you do them? ‘Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery,’ or be drunk, or covetous, art thou such thyself? ‘Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?’ What! shall the same tongue speak evil that speakest against evil? Shall those lips censure, and slander, and backbite your neighbor, that cry down these and the like things in others? Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and yet do not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slaves yourselves: ‘For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.’ ‘To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.’ O brethren! it is easier to chide at sin, than to overcome it.

Lastly, take heed to yourselves, that you want not the qualifications necessary for your work. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge, that will teach men all those mysterious things which must be known in order to salvation. O what qualifications are necessary for a man who hath such a charge upon him as we have! How many difficulties in divinity to be solved! and these, too, about the fundamental principles of religion! How many obscure texts of Scripture to be expounded! How many duties to be performed, wherein ourselves and others may miscarry, if in the matter, and manner, and end, we be not well informed! How many sins to be avoided, which, without understanding and foresight cannot be done! What a number of sly and subtle temptations must we open to our people’s eyes, that they may escape them! How many weighty and yet intricate cases of conscience have we almost daily to resolve! And can so much work, and such work as this, be done by raw, unqualified men? O what strong holds have we to batter, and how many of them! What subtle and obstinate resistance must we expect from every heart we deal with! Prejudice hath so blocked up our way, that we can scarcely procure a patient hearing. We cannot make a breach in their groundless hopes and carnal peace, but they have twenty shifts and seeming reasons to make it up again; and twenty enemies, that are seeming friends, are ready to help them. We dispute not with them upon equal terms. We have children to reason with, that cannot understand us. We have distracted men (in spirituals) to argue with, that will bawl us down with raging nonsense. We have wilful, unreasonable people to deal with, who, when they are silenced, are never the more convinced, and who, when they can give you no reason, will give you their resolution; like the man that Salvian had to deal with, who, being resolved to devour a poor man’s substance, and being entreated by him to forbear, replied, ‘He could not grant his request, for he had made a vow to take it,’ so that the preacher, by reason of this most religious evil deed, was fain to depart. We dispute the case against men’s wills and passions, as much as against their understandings; and these have neither reason nor ears. Their best arguments are, ‘I will not believe you, nor all the preachers in the world, in such things. I will not change my mind, or life; I will not leave my sins; I will never be so precise, come of it what will.’ We have not one, but multitudes of raging passions, and contradicting enemies, to dispute against at once, whenever we go about the conversion of a sinner; as if a man were to dispute in a fair or a tumult, or in the midst of a crowd of violent scolds. What equal dealing, and what success, could here be expected? Yet such is our work; and it is a work that must be done.

O brethren! what men should we be in skill, resolution, and unwearied diligence, who have all this to do? Did Paul cry out, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ And shall we be proud, or careless, or lazy, as if we were sufficient? As Peter saith to every Christian, in consideration of our great approaching change, ‘What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness!’ so may I say to every minister, ‘Seeing all these things lie upon our hands, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy endeavors and resolutions for our work!’ This is not a burden for the shoulders of a child. What skill doth every part of our work require! – and of how much moment is every part! To preach a sermon, I think, is not the hardest part; and yet what skill is necessary to make the truth plain; to convince the hearers, to let irresistible light in to their consciences, and to keep it there, and drive all home; to screw the truth into their minds, and work Christ into their affections; to meet every objection, and clearly to resolve it; to drive sinners to a stand, and make them see that there is no hope, but that they must unavoidably either be converted or condemned – and to do all this, as regards language and manner, as beseems our work, and yet as is most suitable to the capacities of our hearers. This, and a great deal more that should be done in every sermon, must surely require a great deal of holy skill. So great a God, whose message we deliver, should be honored by our delivery of it. It is a lamentable case, that in a message from the God of heaven, of everlasting moment to the souls of men, we should behave ourselves so weakly, so unhandsomely, so imprudently, or so slightly, that the whole business should miscarry in our hands, and God should be dishonored, and his work disgraced, and sinners rather hardened than converted; and all this through our weakness or neglect! How often have carnal hearers gone home jeering at the palpable and dishonorable failings of the preacher! How many sleep under us, because our hearts and tongues are sleepy, and we bring not with us so much skill and zeal as to awake them! Moreover, what skill is necessary to defend the truth against gainsayers, and to deal with disputing cavillers, according to their several modes and case! And if we fail through weakness, how will they exult over us! Yet that is the smallest matter: but who knows how many weak ones may thereby be perverted, to their own undoing, and to the trouble of the Church? What skill is necessary to deal in private with one poor ignorant soul for his conversion! O brethren! do you not shrink and tremble under the sense of all this work? Will a common measure of holy skill and ability, of prudence and other qualifications, serve for such a task as this? I know necessity may cause the Church to tolerate the weak; but woe to us, if we tolerate and indulge our own weakness! Do not reason and conscience tell you, that if you dare venture on so high a work as this, you should spare no pains to be qualified for the performance of it? It is not now and then an idle snatch or taste of studies that will serve to make an able and sound divine. I know that laziness hath learned to allege the vanity of all our studies, and how entirely the Spirit must qualify us for, and assist us in our work; as if God commanded us the use of means, and then warranted us to neglect them; as if it were his way to cause us to thrive in a course of idleness, and to bring us to knowledge by dreams when we are asleep, or to take us up into heaven, and show us his counsels, while we think of no such matter, but are idling away our time on earth! O that men should dare, by their laziness, to ‘quench the Spirit,’ and then pretend the Spirit for the doing of it! ‘O outrageous, shameful and unnatural deed!’ God hath required us, that we be ‘not slothful in business,’ but ‘fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ Such we must provoke our hearers to be, and such we must be ourselves. O, therefore, brethren, lose no time! Study, and pray, and confer, and practice; for in these four ways your abilities must be increased. Take heed to yourselves, lest you are weak through your own negligence, and lest you mar the work of God by your weakness.