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
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. Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.
~ 2 Chronicles 19:6-7
Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?
~ Isaiah 63:11
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
~ Acts 13:2
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
~ Philippians 1:1
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
~ John 21:15-17
The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.
~ Proverbs 10:21
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
~ 1 Corinthians 1:2
Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.
~ Psalm 74:2
The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter. The following contains an excerpt from Part One, Article Four this work. 1656.
Application of these motives (of ministry work)
Having found so many and so powerful reasons to move us to this work, I shall now apply them further for our humiliation and excitation.
1. What cause have we to bleed before the Lord this day, that we have neglected so great and good a work so long; that we have been ministers of the gospel so many years, and done so little by personal instruction and conference for the saving of men’s souls! If we had but set about this business sooner, who knows how many souls might have been brought to Christ, and how much happier our congregations might have been? And why might we not have done it sooner as well as now? I confess, there were many impediments in our way, and so there are still, and will be while there is a devil to tempt, and a corrupt heart in man to resist the light: but if the greatest impediment had not been in ourselves, even in our own darkness, and dulness, and indisposedness to duty, and our dividedness and unaptness to close for the work of God, I see not but much might have been done before this. We had the same God to command us, and the same miserable objects of compassion, and the same liberty from governors as now we have. We have sinned, and have no just excuse for our sin; and the sin is so great, because the duty is so great, that we should be afraid of pleading any excuse. The God of mercy forgive us, and all the ministry of England, and lay not this or any of our ministerial negligences to our charge! Oh that he would cover all our unfaithfulness, and, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, wash away our guilt of the blood of souls; that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, we may stand before him in peace, and may not be condemned for the scattering of his flock. And oh that he would put up his controversy, which he hath against the pastors of his Church, and not deal the worse with them for our sakes, nor suffer underminers or persecutors to scatter them, as they have suffered his sheep to be scattered; and that he will not care as little for us, as we have done for the souls of men; nor think his salvation too good for us, as we have thought our labor and sufferings too much for men’s salvation!
As we have had many days of humiliation in England for the sins of the land, and the judgments that have befallen us, I hope we shall hear that God will more thoroughly humble the ministry, and cause them to bewail their own neglects, and to set apart some days through the land to that end, that they may not think it enough to lament the sins of others, while they overlook their own; and that God may not abhor our solemn national humiliations, because they are managed by unhumbled guides; and that we may first prevail with him for a pardon for ourselves, that we may be the fitter to beg for the pardon of others.
And oh that we may cast out the dung of our pride, contention, self-seeking, and idleness; lest God should cast our sacrifices as dung in our faces, and should cast us out as the dung of the earth, as of late he hath done many others for a warning to us; and that we may presently resolve in concord to mend our pace, before we feel a sharper spur than hitherto we have felt.
2. And now, brethren, what have we to do for the time to come, but to deny our lazy flesh, and rouse up ourselves to the work before us. The harvest is great, the laborers are few; the loiterers and hinderers are many, the souls of men are precious, the misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery to which they are near is greater, the joys of heaven are inconceivable, the comfort of a faithful minister is not small, the joy of extensive success will be a full reward. To be fellow-workers with God and his Spirit is no little honor; to subserve the blood-shedding of Christ for men’s salvation is not a light thing. To lead on the armies of Christ through the thickest of the enemy; to guide them safely through a dangerous wilderness; to steer the vessels through such storms and rocks and sands and shelves, and bring it safe to the harbour of rest, requireth no small skill and diligence. The fields now seem even white unto harvest; the preparations that have been made for us are very great; the season of working is more calm than most ages before us have ever seen. We have carelessly loitered too long already; the present time is posting away; while we are trifling, men are dying; oh how fast are they passing into another world! And is there nothing in all this to awaken us to our duty, nothing to resolve us to speedy and unwearied diligence? Can we think that a man can be too careful and painful under all these motives and engagements? Or can that man be a fit instrument for other men’s illumination, who is himself so blind? or for the quickening of others, who is himself so senseless? What, sirs! are ye, who are men of wisdom, as dull as the common people? and do we need to heap up a multitude of words to persuade you to a known and weighty duty? One would think it should be enough to set you on work, to show a line in the Book of God; to prove it to be his will; or to prove to you that the work hath a tendency to promote men’s salvation. One would think that the very sight of your miserable neighbors would be motive sufficient to draw out your most compassionate endeavors for their relief. If a cripple do but unlap his sores, and show you his disabled limbs, it will move you without words; and will not the case of souls, that are near to damnation, move you? O happy church, if the physicians were but healed themselves; and if we had not too much of that infidelity and stupidity against which we daily preach in others; and were more soundly persuaded of that of which we persuade others; and were more deeply affected with the wonderful things wherewith we would affect them!
Were there but such clear and deep impressions upon our own souls of those glorious things which we daily preach, oh what a change would it make in our sermons, and in our private course of life! Oh what a miserable thing it is to the Church and to themselves, that men must preach of heaven and hell, before they soundly believe that there are such things, or have felt the weight of the doctrines which they preach! It would amaze a sensible man to think what matters we preach and talk of; what it is for the soul to pass out of this flesh, and appear before a righteous God, and enter upon unchangeable joy or unchangeable torment! Oh, with what amazing thoughts do dying men apprehend these things! How should such matters be preached and discoursed of! Oh the gravity, the seriousness, the incessant diligence, which these things require! I know not what others think of them; but for my part, I am ashamed of my stupidity, and wonder at myself that I deal not with my own and others’ souls, as one that looks for the great day of the Lord; and that I can have room for almost any other thoughts or words; and that such astonishing matters do not wholly absorb my mind. I marvel how I can preach of them slightly and coldly, and how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them, and beseech them, for the Lord’s sake, to repent, however they may take it, and whatever pains or trouble it may cost me! I seldom come out of the pulpit, but my conscience smiteth me that I have been no more serious and fervent in such a case. It accuseth me not so much for want of ornaments or elegancy, nor for letting fall an unhandsome word; but it asketh me, ‘How couldst thou speak of life and death with such a heart? How couldst thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner? Dost thou believe what thou sayest? Art thou in earnest or in jest? How canst thou tell people that sin is such a thing, and that so much misery is upon them and before them, and be no more affected with it? Shouldst thou not weep over such a people, and should not thy tears interrupt thy words? Shouldst not thou cry aloud, and show them their transgressions, and entreat and beseech them as for life and death?’ Truly, this is the peal that conscience doth ring in my ears, and yet my drowsy soul will not be awakened.
Oh what a thing is a senseless, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity and hard-heartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our own souls, which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others! I am even confounded to think what a difference there is between my sickbed apprehensions, and my pulpit apprehensions, of the life to come; that ever that can seem so light a matter to me now, which seemed so great and astonishing a matter then, and I know will do so again when death looks me in the face, when yet I daily know and think of that approaching hour; and yet these forethoughts will not recover such working apprehensions! O sirs, surely if you had all conversed with neighbor Death as oft as I have done, and as often received the sentence in yourselves, you would have an unquiet conscience, if not a reformed life, as to your ministerial diligence and fidelity; and you would have something within you that would frequently ask you such questions as these: ‘Is this all thy compassion for lost sinners? Wilt thou do no more to seek and to save them? Is there not such and such — oh how many round about thee! — that are yet the visible sons of death? What hast thou said to them, or done for their conversion? Shall they die and be in hell before thou wilt speak to them one serious word to prevent it? Shall they there curse thee for ever that didst no more in time to save them?’
Such cries of conscience are daily ringing in mine ears, though, the Lord knows, I have too little obeyed them. The God of mercy pardon me, and awaken me, with the rest of his servants that have been thus sinfully negligent. I confess to my shame that I seldom hear the bell toll for one that is dead, but conscience asketh me, ‘What hast thou done for the saving of that soul before it left the body? There is one more gone to judgment; what didst thou to prepare him for judgment?’ and yet I have been slothful and backward to help them that survive. How can you choose, when you are laying a corpse in the grave, but think with yourselves, ‘Here lieth the body; but where is the soul? and what have I done for it, before it departed? It was part of my charge; what account can I give of it?’
O sirs, is it a small matter to you to answer such questions as these? It may seem so now, but the hour is coming when it will not seem so. ‘If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts,’ and will condemn us much more, even with another kind of condemnation than conscience doth. The voice of conscience is a still voice, and the sentence of conscience is a gentle sentence, in comparison of the voice and the sentence of God. Alas! conscience seeth but a very little of our sin and misery, in comparison of what God seeth. What mountains would these things appear to your souls, which now seem molehills? What beams would these be in your eyes, that now seem motes, if you did but see them with a clearer light? (I dare not say, As God seeth them.) We can easily make shift to plead the cause with conscience, and either bribe it, or bear its sentence; but God is not so easily dealt with, nor his sentence so easily borne. ‘Wherefore we receiving,’ and preaching, ‘a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence, and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.’ But because you shall not say that I affright you with bugbears, and tell you of dangers and terrors when there are none, I will here show you the certainty and sureness of that condemnation that is like to befall negligent pastors, particularly how many will be ready to rise up against us and condemn us, if we shall hereafter be wilful neglecters of this great work.
(1) Our parents, that destined us to the ministry, will condemn us, and say, ‘Lord, we devoted them to thy service, and they made light of it, and served themselves.’
(2) Our masters that taught us, our tutors that instructed us, the schools and universities where we lived, and all the years that we spent in study, will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us; for why was all this, but for the work of God.
(3) Our learning and knowledge and ministerial gifts will condemn us; for to what end were we made partakers of these, but for the work of God.
(4) Our voluntary undertaking the charge of souls will condemn us; for all men should be faithful to the trust which they have undertaken.
(5) All the care of God for his Church, and all that Christ hath done and suffered for it, will rise up in judgment against us, if we be negligent and unfaithful, and condemn us; because by our neglect we destroyed them for whom Christ died.
(6) All the precepts and charges of Holy Scripture, all the promises of assistance and reward, all the threatenings of punishment, will rise up against us and condemn us; for God did not speak all this in vain.