Chapter VIII. Of the Functions and Labours of Clergymen.
I have in the former Chapter laid down the Model and Method, by which a Clerk is to be formed and prepared; I come now to consider his Course of Life, his Public Functions, and his Secret Labours. In this as well as in the former, I will study to consider what Mankind can bear, rather than what may be offered in a fair Idea, that is far above what we can hope ever to bring the World to. As for a Priest's Life and Conversation, so much was said in the former Chapter; in which as a preparation to Orders, it was proposed what he ought to be, that I may now be the shorter on this Article.
The Clergy have one great advantage, beyond all the rest of the World, in this respect, besides all others, that whereas the particular Callings of other Men, prove to them great Distractions, and lay many Temptations in their way, to divert them from minding their high and holy Calling of being Christians, it is quite otherwise with the Clergy, the more they follow their private Callings, they do the more certainly advance their general one: The better Priests they are, they become also the better Christians: every part of their Calling, when well performed, raises good Thoughts, brings good Ideas into their Mind, and tends both to increase their Knowledge, and quicken their Sense of Divine Matters. A Priest therefore is more accountable to God, and the World for his Deportment, and will be more severely accounted with than any other Person whatsoever. He is more watched over and observed than all others: Very good men will be, even to a Censure, jealous of him; very bad men will wait for his halting, and Insult upon it; and all sorts of Persons, will be willing to defend themselves against the Authority of his Doctrine and Admonitions; by this he says but does not; and though our Saviour charged his Disciples and Followers, to hear those who sat in Moses his Chair, and to observe and do whatsoever they bid them observe, but not to do after their works, for they said and did not; the World will reverse this quite, and consider rather how a Clerk Lives, than what he Says. They see the one, and from it conclude what he himself thinks of the other; and so will believe themselves not a little justified, if they can say that they did no worse, than as they saw their Minister do before them.
Therefore a Priest must not only abstain from gross Scandals, but keep at the furthest distance from them: He must not only not be drunk, but he must not sit a Tipling; nor go to Taverns or Ale-houses, except some urgent occasion requires it, and stay no longer in them, than as that occasion demands it. He must not only abstain from Acts of Lewdness, but from all indecent Behaviour, and unbecoming Raillery. Gaming and Plays, and every thing of that sort, which is an approach to the Vanities and Disorders of the World, must be avoided by him. And unless the straitness of his Condition, or his Necessities force it, he ought to shun all other Cares, such as, not only the farming of Grounds, but even the teaching of Schools, since these must of necessity take him off both from his Labour and Study. Such Diversions as his Health, or the Temper of his Mind, may render proper for him, ought to be Manly, Decent and Grave; and such as may neither possess his Mind or Time too much, nor give a bad Character of him to his People: He must also avoid too much Familiarity with bad People; and the squandering away his time in too much vain and idle Discourse. His cheerfulness ought to be frank, but neither excessive nor licentious: His Friends and his Garden ought to be his chief Diversions, as his Study and his Parish, ought to be his chief Employments. He must still carry on his Study, making himself an absolute Master of the few Books he has, till his Circumstances grow larger, that he can purchase more. He can have no pretence, if he were ever so narrow in the World, to say, that he cannot get, not only the Collects, but the Psalms, and the New Testament by heart, or at least a great part of them. If there are any Books belonging to his Church, such as Jewel's Works, and the Book of Martyrs, which lie tearing in many Places, these he may read over and over again, till he is able to furnish himself better, I mean with a greater variety; but let him furnish himself ever so well, the reading and understanding the Scriptures, chiefly the Psalms and the New Testament, ought to be still his chief Study, till he becomes so conversant in them, that he can both say many Parts of them, and explain them without Book.
It is the only visible Reason of the Jews adhering so firmly to their Religion, that during the Ten or Twelve years of their Education, their Youth are so much practiced to the Scriptures, to weigh every word in them, and get them all by heart, that it is an Admiration, to see how ready both Men and Women among them are at it; their Rabbi's have it to that Perfection, that they have the Concordance of their whole Bible in their Memories, which give them vast Advantages, when they are to argue with any that are not so ready as they are in the Scriptures: Our Task is much shorter and easier, and it is a Reproach, especially to us Protestants, who found our Religion merely on the Scriptures, that we know the New Testament so little, which cannot be excused.
With the Study of the Scriptures, or rather as a part of it comes in the Study of the Fathers, as far as one can go; in these their Apologies, and Epistles, are chiefly to be read; for these give us the best view of those Times: Basil's and Chrysostom's Sermons, are by much the best. To these Studies, History comes in as a noble and pleasant Addition; that gives a Man great views of the Providence of God, of the Nature of Man, and of the Conduct of the World. This is above no Man's Capacity; and though some Histories are better than others; yet any Histories, such as one can get, are to be read, rather than none at all. If one can compass it, he ought to begin with the History of the Church, and there at the Head Josephus, and go on with Eusebius, Socrates, and the other Historians, that are commonly bound together; and then go to other later Collectors of Ancient History; the History of our own Church and Country is to come next; then the Ancient Greek and Roman History, and after that, as much History, Geography, and Books of Travels as can be had, will give an easy and a useful Entertainment, and will furnish one with great variety of good Thoughts, and of pleasant, as well as edifying Discourse. As for all other Studies, every one must follow his Inclinations, his Capacities, and that which he can procure to himself. The Books that we learn at Schools are generally laid aside, with this Prejudice, that they were the Labours as well as the Sorrows of our Childhood and Education; but they are among the best of Books. The Greek and Roman Authors have a Spirit in them, a force both of Thought and Expression, that later Ages have not been able to imitate: Buchanan only excepted, in whom, more particularly in his Psalms, there is a Beauty and Life, an Exactness as well as a Liberty, that cannot be imitated, and scarce enough commended. The Study and Practice of Physic, especially that which is safe and simple, puts the Clergy in a capacity of doing great Acts of Charity, and of rendering both their Persons and Labours very acceptable to their People; it will procure their being soon sent for by them in Sickness, and it will give them great advantages in speaking to them, of their Spiritual Concerns, when they are so careful of their Persons, but in this nothing that is sordid must mix.
These ought to be the chief Studies of the Clergy. But to give all these their full effect, a Priest that is much in his Study, ought to Employ a great part of his Time in secret and fervent Prayer, for the Direction and Blessing of God in his Labours, for the constant assistance of his Holy Spirit, and for a lively Sense of Divine Matters, that so he may feel the Impressions of them grow deep and strong upon his Thoughts. This, and this only, will make him go on with his work, without wearying, and be always rejoicing in it: This will make his Expressions of these things to be Happy and Noble, when he can bring them out of the good Treasure of his Heart; that is, ever full, and always warm with them.
From his Study, I go next to his Public Functions: He must bring his Mind to an inward and feeling Sense of those things that are prayed for in our Offices: That will make him pronounce them with an equal measure of Gravity and Affection, and with a due Slowness and Emphasis. I do not love the Theatrical way of the Church of Rome, in which it is a great Study, and a long Practice, to learn in every one of their Offices, how they ought to Compose their Looks, Gesture and Voice; yet a light wandering of the Eyes, and a hasty running through the Prayers, are things highly unbecoming; they do very much lessen the Majesty of our Worship, and give our Enemies advantage to call it dead and formal, when they see plainly, that he who officiates is dead and formal in it. A deep Sense of the things prayed for, a true Recollection and Attention of Spirit, and a holy Earnestness of Soul, will give a Composure to the Looks, and a weight to the Pronunciation, that will be tempered between affectation on the one hand, and Levity on the other. As for Preaching, I refer that to a Chapter apart.
A Minister ought to Instruct his People frequently, of the nature of Baptism, that they may not go about it merely as a Ceremony, as it is too visible the greater part do; but that they may consider it as the Dedicating their Children to God, the Offering them to Christ, and the holding them thereafter as his, directing their chief care about them, to the breeding them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. There must be Care taken to give them all a right Notion of the use of God-fathers and God-mothers, which is a good Institution, to procure a double Security for the Education of Children; it being to be supposed, that the common Ties of Nature and Religion, bind the Parents so strongly, that if they are not mindful of these, a Special Vow would not put a new force in them, and therefore a Collateral Security is also demanded, both to supply their Defects, if they are faulty, and to take care of the Religious Education of the Infant, in case the Parents should happen to die before that is done; and therefore no God-father or God-mother are to be invited to that Office, but such with whom one would trust the care of the Education of his Child, nor ought any to do this Office for another, but he that is willing to charge himself, with the Education of the Child for whom he answers. But when Ambition or Vanity, Favour or Presents, are the Considerations upon which those Sureties in Baptism are chosen; great advantage is hereby given to those who reject Infant Baptism, and the Ends of the Church in this Institution are quite defeated; which are both the making the Security that is given for the Children so much the stronger, and the establishing an Endearment and a Tenderness between Families; this being, in its own Nature, no small Tie, how little soever it may be apprehended or understood.
Great care must be taken in the Instruction of the Youth: The bare saying the Catechism by Rote is a small Matter; it is necessary to make them understand the weight of every Word in it: And for this end, every Priest, that minds his Duty, will find that no Part of it is so useful to his People, as once every year to go through the whole Church Catechism, Word by Word, and make his People understand the Importance of every Tittle in it. This will be no hard labour to himself; for after he has once gathered together the Places of Scripture that relate to every Article, and formed some clear Illustrations, and easy Similes to make it understood; his Catechetical Discourses, during all the rest of his Life, will be only the going over that same Matter again and again; by this means his People will come to have all this by heart; they will know what to say upon it at home to their Children; and they will understand all his Sermons the better, when they have once had a clear Notion of all those Terms that must run through them; for those not being understood, renders them all unintelligible. A Discourse of this sort would be generally of much greater Edification than an Afternoons Sermon; it should not be too long; too much must not be said at a time, nor more than one Point opened; a Quarter of an Hour is time sufficient; for it will grow tedious and be too little remembered, if it is half an hour long. This would draw an Assembly to Evening Prayers, which we see are but too much neglected, when there is no sort of Discourse or Sermon accompanying them. And the practicing this, during the Six Months of the year, in which the days are long, would be a very effectual means, both to Instruct the People, and to bring them to a more Religious Observation of the Lord's Day; which is one of the powerfullest Instruments for the carrying on, and advancing of Religion in the World.
With Catechising, a Minister is to join the preparing those whom he Instructs to be Confirmed; which is not to be done merely upon their being able to say over so many words by Rote. It is their renewing their Baptismal Vow in their own Persons, which the Church designs by that Office, and the bearing in their own Minds, a Sense of their being bound immediately by that, which their Sureties then undertook for them: Now to do this in such a manner, as that it may make Impression, and have a due effect upon them, they must stay, till they themselves understand what they do, and till they have some Sense and Affection to it; and therefore till one is of an Age and Disposition fit to receive the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and desires to be Confirmed, as a solemn Preparation and Qualification to it; he is not yet ready for it; for in the common Management of that Holy Rite, it is but too visible, that of those Multitudes that crowd to it, the far greater Part, come merely as if they were to receive the Bishop's Blessing, without any Sense of the Vow made by them, and of their renewing their Baptismal Engagements in it.
As for the greatest and solemnest of all the Institutions of Christ, the Commemorating his Death, and the Partaking of it in the Lord's Supper; this must be well explained to the People, to preserve them from the extremes of Superstition and Irreverence; to raise in them a great Sense of the Goodness of God, that appeared in the Death of Christ; of his Love to us, of the Sacrifice he once offered, and of the Intercession which he still continues to make for us: A share in all which is there Federally offered to us, upon our coming under Engagements, to answer our Part of the Covenant, and to live according to the Rules it sets us: On these things he ought to enlarge himself, not only in his Sermons, but in his Catechetical Exercises, and in private Discourses; that so he may give his People right Notions of that Solemn Part of Worship, that he may bring them to delight in it; and may neither fright them from it, by raising their Apprehensions of it to a strictness that may terrify too much, nor encourage them in the too common Practice of the dead and formal receiving, at the great Festivals, as a piece of Decency recommended by Custom.
About the time of the Sacrament, every Minister that knows any one of his Parish guilty of eminent Sins, ought to go and Admonish him to change his Course of Life, or not to profane the Table of the Lord; and if private Admonitions have no Effect; then if his Sins are Public and Scandalous, he ought to deny him the Sacrament; and upon that he ought to take the Method which is still left in the Church, to make Sinners ashamed, to separate them from Holy things, till they have edified the Church as much by their Repentance, and the outward Profession of it, as they had formerly scandalized it by their Disorders. This we must confess, that though we have great Reason, to lament our want of the Godly Discipline that was in the Primitive Church, yet we have still Authority for a great deal more than we put in Practice. Scandalous Persons ought, and might be more frequently presented than they are, and both Private and Public Admonitions might be more used than they are. There is a flatness in all these things among us. Some are willing to do nothing, because they cannot do all that they ought to do; whereas the right way for procuring an enlargement of our Authority, is to use that we have well; not as an Engine to gratify our own or other Peoples Passions, not to vex People, nor to look after Fees, more than the Correction of Manners, or the Edification of the People. If we began much with private Applications, and brought none into our Courts, till it was visible that all other ways had been unsuccessful, and that no regard was had either to Persons or Parties, to Men's Opinions or Interests, we might again bring our Courts into the esteem which they ought to have, but which they have almost entirely lost: We can never hope to bring the World to bear the Yoke of Christ, and the Order that he has appointed to be kept up in his Church, of noting those that walk disorderly, of separating our selves from them, of having no fellowship, no, not so much as to eat with them, as long as we give them cause to apprehend, that we intend by this to bring them under our Yoke, to subdue them to us, and to rule them with a Rod of Iron: For the truth is, Mankind is so strongly compounded, that it is very hard to restrain Ecclesiastical Tyranny on the one hand, without running to a Lawless Licentiousness on the other; so strongly does the World love Extremes, and avoid a Temper.
Now I have gone through the Public Functions of a Priest, and in speaking of the last of these, I have broke in upon the Third Head of his Duty, his private Labours in his Parish. He understands little the Nature and the Obligations of the Priestly Office, who thinks he has discharged it, by performing the Public Appointments, in which if he is defective, the Laws of the Church, how feeble soever they may be as to other things, will have their Course; but as the private Duties of the Pastoral Care, are things upon which the Cognizance of the Law cannot fall, so they are the most important and necessary of all others; and the more Praise Worthy, the freer they are, and the less forced by the Compulsion of Law. As to the Public Functions, every Man has his Rule; and in these all are almost alike; every Man, especially if his Lungs are good, can read Prayers, even in the largest Congregation; and if he has a right Taste, and can but choose good Sermons, out of the many that are in Print, he may likewise serve them well that way too. But the difference between one Man and another, shows it self more sensibly in his private Labours, in his prudent Deportment, in his modest and discreet Way of procuring Respect to himself, in his Treating his Parish, either in reconciling such Differences as may happen to be among them, or in Admonishing Men of Rank, who set an ill Example to others, which ought always to be done in that way, which will probably have the best effect upon them; therefore it must be done secretly, and with Expressions of Tenderness and Respect for their Persons; fit times are to be chosen for this; it may be often the best way to do it by a Letter: For there may be ways fallen upon, of reproving the worst Men, in so soft a manner, that if they are not reclaimed, yet they shall not be irritated or made worse by it, which is but too often the Effect of an indiscreet Reproof. By this a Minister may save the Sinners Soul; he is at least sure to save his own, by having discharged his Duty towards his People.
One of the chief Parts of the Pastoral Care, is the visiting the sick; not to be done barely when one is sent for: He is to go as soon as he hears that any of his Flock are ill; He is not to satisfy himself with going over the Office, or giving them the Sacrament when desired: He ought to inform himself of their Course of Life, and of the Temper of their Mind, that so he may apply himself to them accordingly. If they are insensible, he ought to awaken them with the Terrors of God; the Judgment and the Wrath to come. He must endeavour to make them sensible of their Sins; particularly of that which runs through most Men's Lives, their forgetting and neglecting God and his Service, and their setting their Hearts so inordinately upon the World: He must set them on to examine their dealings, and make them seriously to consider, that they can expect no Mercy from God, unless they restore whatsoever they may have got unjustly from any other, by any manner of way, even though their Title were confirmed by Law: He is to lay any other Sins to their charge, that he has reason to suspect them guilty of; and must press them to all such Acts of Repentance as they are then capable of. If they have been Men of a bad Course of Life, he must give them no encouragement to hope much from this Death-bed Repentance; yet he is to set them to Implore the Mercies of God in Christ Jesus, and to do all they can to obtain his Favour. But unless the Sickness has been of a long continuance, and that the Person's Repentance, his Patience, his Piety has been very extraordinary, during the Course of it, he must be sure to give him no positive ground of Hope; but leave him to the Mercies of God. For there cannot be any greater Treachery to Souls, that is more fatal and more pernicious, than the giving quick and easy hopes, upon so short, so forced, and so imperfect a Repentance. It not only makes those Persons perish securely themselves, but it leads all about them to destruction; when they see one, of whose bad Life and late Repentance they have been the Witnesses, put so soon in hopes, nay by some unfaithful Guides, made sure of Salvation; this must make them go on very secure in their Sins; when they see how small a measure of Repentance sets all right at last: All the Order and Justice of a Nation, would be presently dissolved, should the howlings of Criminals, and their Promises of Amendment, work on Juries, Judges, or Princes: So the hopes that are given to Death-bed Penitents, must be a most effectual means to root out the Sense of Religion of the Minds of all that see it; and therefore though no dying Man is to be driven to Despair, and left to die obstinate in his Sins; yet if we love the Souls of our People, if we set a due value on the Blood of Christ, and if we are touched with any Sense of the Honour or Interests of Religion, we must not say any thing that may encourage others, who are but too apt of themselves to put all off to the last Hour. We can give them no hopes from the Nature of the Gospel Covenant; yet after all, the best thing a dying Man can do, is to Repent; if he recovers, that may be the Seed and Beginning of a new Life and a new Nature in him: Nor do we know the Measure of the Riches of God's Grace and Mercy; how far he may think fit to exert it beyond the Conditions and Promises of the New Covenant, at least to the lessening of such a Persons Misery in another State. We are sure he is not within the New Covenant; and since he has not repented, according to the Tenor of it, we dare not, unless we betray our Commission, give any hopes beyond it. But one of the chief Cares of a Minister about the Sick, ought to be to exact of them Solemn Vows and Promises, of a Renovation of Life, in case God shall raise them up again; and these ought to be demanded, not only in general Words, but if they have been guilty of any scandalous Disorders, or any other ill Practices, there ought to be special Promises made with Relation to those. And upon the Recovery of such Persons, their Ministers ought to put them in mind of their Engagements, and use all the due freedom of Admonitions and Reproof, upon their breaking loose from them. In such a Case they ought to leave a terrible denunciation of the Judgments of God upon them, and so at least they acquit themselves.
There is another sort of sick Persons, who abound more in Towns than in the Country; those are the troubled in Mind; of these there are two sorts, some have committed enormous Sins, which kindle a Storm in their Consciences; and that ought to be cherished, till they have completed a Repentance proportioned to the Nature and Degree of their Sin. If Wrong has been done to another, Reparation and Restitution must be made to the utmost of the Party's Power. If Blood has been shed, a long course of Fasting and Prayer; a total abstinence from Wine; if Drunkenness gave the rise to it, a making up the loss to the Family, on which it has fallen, must be enjoined. But alas, the greater part of those that think they are troubled in Mind, are Melancholy hypochondriacal People, who, what through some false Opinions in Religion, what through a foulness of Blood, occasioned by their unactive Course of Life, in which their Minds work too much, because their Bodies are too little employed, fall under dark and cloudy Apprehensions; of which they can give no clear nor good Account. This, in the greatest Part, is to be removed by strong and Chalybeate Medicines; yet such Persons are to be much pitied, and a little humoured in their Distemper. They must be diverted from thinking too much, being too much alone, or dwelling too long on Thoughts that are too hard for them to Master.
The Opinion that has had the chief Influence in raising these Distempers, has been that of Praying by the Spirit; when a flame of Thought, a melting in the Brain, and the abounding in tender expressions, have been thought the Effects of the Spirit, moving all those Symptoms of a warm Temper. Now in all People, especially in Persons of a Melancholy Disposition, that are much alone, there will be a great diversity, with relation to this at different times: Sometimes these Heats will rise and flow copiously, and at other times there will be a damp upon the Brain, and a dead dryness in the Spirits. This to men that are prepossessed with the Opinion, now set forth, will appear as if God did sometimes shine out, and at other times hide his face; and since this last will be the most frequent in men of that Temper; as they will be apt to be lifted up, when they think they have a fulness of the Spirit in them, so they will be as much cast down when that is withdrawn; they will conclude from it, that God is angry with them, and so reckon that they must be in a very dangerous Condition: Upon this, a vast variety of troublesome Scruples will arise, out of every thing that they either do or have done. If then a Minister has occasion to treat any in this Condition, he must make them apprehend that the heat or coldness of their Brain, is the effect of Temper; and flows from the different State of the Animal Spirits, which have their Diseases, their hot and their cold Fits, as well as the Blood has; and therefore no measure can be taken from these, either to Judge for or against themselves. They are to consider what are their Principles and Resolutions, and what's the settled Course of their Life; upon these they are to form sure Judgments, and not upon any thing that is so fluctuating and inconstant as Fits or Humours.
Another part of a Priest's Duty is, with relation to them that are without, I mean, that are not of our Body, which are of the side of the Church of Rome, or among the Dissenters. Other Churches and Bodies are noted for their Zeal, in making Proselytes, for their restless Endeavours, as well as their unlawful Methods in it, they reckoning, perhaps, that all will be sanctified by the increasing their Party, which is the true name of making Converts, except they become at the same time Good Men, as well as Votaries to a Side or Cause. We are certainly very remiss in this, of both hands, little pains is taken to gain either upon Papist or Nonconformist; the Law has been so much trusted to; that that method only was thought sure; it was much valued, and others at the same time as much neglected; and whereas at first, without force or violence, in Forty years time, Popery from being the prevailing Religion, was reduced to a handful, we have now in above twice that number of years, made very little Progress. The favour shew'd them from our Court, made us seem, as it were, unwilling to disturb them in their Religion; so that we grow at last to be kind to them, to look on them as harmless and inoffensive Neighbours, and even to cherish and comfort them; we were very near the being convinc'd of our mistake, by a terrible and dear bought Experience. Now they are again under Hatches; certainly it becomes us, both in Charity to them, and in regard to our own Safety, to study to gain them by the force of Reason and Persuasion; by shewing all kindness to them, and thereby disposing them to hearken to the Reasons that we may lay before them. We ought not to give over this as desperate upon a few unsuccessful Attempts, but must follow them in the meekness of Christ, that so we may at last prove happy Instruments, in delivering them from the Blindness and Captivity they are kept under, and the Idolatry and Superstition they live in: We ought to visit them often in a Spirit of Love and Charity, and to offer them Conferences; and upon such Endeavours, we have reason to expect a Blessing, at least this, of having done our Duty, and so delivering our own Souls.
Nor are we to think, that the Toleration, under which the Law has settled the Dissenters, does either absolve them from the Obligations that they lay under before, by the Laws of God and the Gospel, to maintain the Unity of the Church, and not to rent it by unjust or causeless Schisms, or us from using our endeavours to bring them to it, by the methods of Persuasion and Kindness: Nay, perhaps, their being now in Circumstances, that they can no more be forced in these things, may put some of them in a greater towardness to hear Reason; a Free Nation naturally hating Constraint: And certainly the less we seem to grudge or envy them their Liberty, we will be thereby the nearer gaining on the generouser and better Part of them, and the rest would soon lose Heart, and look out of Countenance; if these should hearken to us. It was the Opinion many had of their strictness, and of the looseness that was amongst us, that gained them their Credit, and made such numbers fall off from us. They have in a great measure lost the Good Character that once they had; if to that we should likewise lose our bad one; if we were stricter in our Lives, more serious and constant in our Labours; and studied more effectually to Reform those of our Communion, than to rail at theirs; If we took occasion to let them see that we love them, that we wish them no harm, but good, then we might hope, by the Blessing of God, to lay the Obligations to Love and Peace, to Unity and Concord before them, with such Advantages, that some of them might open their Eyes, and see at last upon how flight Grounds, they have now so long kept up such a Wrangling, and made such a Rent in the Church, that both the Power of Religion in general, and the strength of the Protestant Religion, have suffered extremely by them.
Thus far I have carried a Clerk through his Parish, and all the several Branches of his Duty to his People. But that all this may be well gone about, and indeed as the Foundation upon which all the other Parts of the Pastoral Care may be well managed, he ought frequently to visit his whole Parish from House to House; that so he may know them, and be known of them. This I know will seem a vast Labour, especially in Towns, where Parishes are large; but that is no excuse for those in the Country, where they are generally small; and if they are larger, the going this Round will be the longer a doing; yet an hour a day, Twice or Thrice a Week, is no hard Duty; and this in the Compass of a Year will go a great way, even in a large Parish. In these Visits, much Time is not to be spent; a short Word for stirring them up to mind their Souls, to make Conscience of their Ways, and to pray earnestly to God, may begin it, and almost end it. After one has asked in what Union and Peace the Neighbourhood lives, and enquired into their Necessities, if they seem very Poor, that so those to whom that Care belongs, may be put in mind to see how they may be relieved. In this course of visiting, a Minister will soon find out, if there are any truly Good Persons in his Parish, after whom he must look with a more particular regard. Since these are the Excellent ones, in whom all his delight ought to be. For let their Rank be ever so mean, if they are sincerely Religious, and not Hypocritical Pretenders to it, who are vainly puffed up with some Degrees of Knowledge, and other outward Appearances, he ought to consider them as the most valuable in the sight of God; and indeed, as the chief Part of his Care; for a living Dog is better than a dead Lion. I know this way of Parochial Visitation, is so worn out, that, perhaps, neither Priest nor People, will be very desirous to see it taken up. It will put the one to Labour and Trouble, and bring the other under a closer Inspection, which bad Men will no ways desire, nor perhaps endure. But if this were put on the Clergy by their Bishops, and if they explained in a Sermon before they began it, the Reasons and Ends of doing it; that would remove the Prejudices which might arise against it. I confess this is an increase of Labour, but that will seem no hard matter to such as have a right Sense of their Ordination-Vows, of the value of Souls, and of the Dignity of their Function. If Men had the Spirit of their Calling in them, and a due measure of Flame and Heat in carrying it on; Labour in it would be rather a Pleasure than a Trouble. In all other Professions, those who follow them, labour in them all the Year long, and are hard at their Business every Day of the Week. All Men that are well suited in a Profession, that is agreeable to their Genius and Inclination, are really the easier and the better pleased, the more they are employed in it. Indeed there is no Trade nor Course of Life, except Ours, that does not take up the whole Man: And shall Ours only, that is the Noblest of all others, and that has a certain Subsistence fixed upon it, and does not live by Contingencies, and upon Hopes, as all others do, make the labouring in our Business, an Objection against any part of our Duty? Certainly nothing can so much dispose the Nation, to think of the relieving the Necessities of the many small Livings, as the seeing the Clergy setting about their Business to purpose; this would, by the Blessing of God, be a most effectual Means, of stopping the Progress of Atheism, and of the Contempt that the Clergy lies under; it would go a great way towards the healing our Schism, and would be the chief step that could possibly be made, towards the procuring to us such Laws as are yet wanting to the completing our Reformation, and the mending the Condition of so many of our poor Brethren, who are languishing in Want, and under great Straits.
There remains only somewhat to be added concerning the Behaviour of the Clergy towards one another. Those of a higher Form in Learning, Dignity and Wealth, ought not to despise poor Vicars and Curates; but on the contrary, the poorer they are, they ought to pity and encourage them the more, since they are all of the same Order, only the one are more happily placed than the others: They ought therefore to cherish those that are in worse Circumstances, and encourage them to come often to them; they ought to lend them Books, and to give them other Assistances in order to their progress in Learning, 'Tis a bad thing to see a Bishop behave himself superciliously towards any of his Clergy, but it is intolerable in those of the same Degree. The Clergy ought to contrive Ways to meet often together, to enter into a brotherly Correspondence, and into the Concerns one of another, both in order to their progress in Knowledge, and for consulting together in all their Affairs. This would be a means to cement them into one Body: hereby they might understand what were amiss in the Conduct of any in their Division, and try to correct it either by private Advices and Endeavours, or by laying it before the Bishop, by whose private Labours, if his Clergy would be assisting to him, and give him free and full Informations of things, many Disorders might be cured, without rising to a public Scandal, or forcing him to extreme Censures. It is a false Pity in any of the Clergy, who see their Brethren running into ill Courses, to look on and say nothing: it is a Cruelty to the Church, and may prove a Cruelty to the Person of whom they are so unseasonably tender: for things may be more easily corrected at first, before they have grown to be public, or are hardened by Habit and Custom. Upon all these Accounts it is of great advantage, and may be Matter of great Edification to the Clergy, to enter into a strict Union together, to meet often, and to be helpful to one another: but if this should be made practicable, they must be extremely strict in those Meetings, to observe so exact a Sobriety, that there might be no Colour given to censure them, as if these were merry Meetings, in which they allowed themselves great Liberties: it were good, if they could be brought to meet to fast and pray; but if that is a strain too high for the present Age, at least they must keep so far within bounds, that there may be no room for Calumny. For a Disorder upon any such Occasion, would give a Wound of an extraordinary Nature to the Reputation of the whole Clergy, when every one would bear a Share of the Blame, which perhaps belonged but to a few. Four or five such Meetings in a Summer, would neither be a great Charge, nor give much Trouble: but the Advantages that might arise out of them, would be very sensible.
I have but one other Advice to add, but it is of a thing of great consequence, though generally managed in so loose and so indifferent a Manner, that I have some reason in Charity to believe, that the Clergy make very little Reflection on what they do in it: And that is, in the Testimonials that they sign in favour of those that come to be Ordained. Many have confessed to my self, that they had signed these upon general Reports, and Importunity; though the Testimonial bears personal Knowledge. These are instead of the Suffrages of the Clergy, which in the Primitive Church were given before any were Ordained. A Bishop must depend upon them; for he has no other way to be certainly informed: and therefore as it is a Lie, pass'd with the Solemnity of Hand and Seal, to affirm any thing that is beyond one's own Knowledge, so it is a Lie made to God and the Church; since the design of it is to procure Orders. So that if a Bishop trusting to that, and being satisfied of the Knowledge of one that brings it, ordains an unfit and unworthy Man, they that signed it, are deeply and chiefly involved in the Guilt of his laying Hands suddenly upon him: therefore every Priest ought to charge his Conscience in a deep particular Manner, that so he may never testify for any one, unless he knows his Life to be so regular, and believes his Temper to be so good, that he does really judge him a Person fit to be put in Holy Orders. These are all the Rules that do occur to me at present.
In performing these several Branches of the Duty of a Pastor, the trouble will not be great, if he is truly a good Man, and delights in the Service of God, and in doing Acts of Charity: the Pleasure will be unspeakable; first, that of the Conscience in this Testimony that it gives, and the Quiet and Joy which arises from the Sense of one's having done his Duty: and then it can scarce be supposed but by all this, some will be wrought on; some Sinners will be reclaimed; bad Men will grow good, and good Men will grow better. And if a generous Man feels to a great degree, the Pleasure of having delivered one from Misery, and of making him easy and happy; how sovereign a Joy must it be to a Man that believes there is another Life, to see that he has been an Instrument to rescue some from endless Misery, and to further others in the way to everlasting Happiness? and the more Instances he sees of this, the more do his Joys grow upon him. This makes Life happy, and Death joyful to such a Priest, for he is not terrified with those words, Give an Account of thy Stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer Steward: He knows his Reward shall be full, pressed down, and running over. He is but too happy in those Spiritual Children, whom he has begot in Christ, he looks after those as the chief part of his Care, and as the principal of his Flock, and is so far from aspiring, that it is not without some Uneasiness that he leaves them, if he is commanded to arise to some higher Post in the Church.
The Troubles of this Life, the Censures of bad Men, and even the prospect of a Persecution, are no dreadful Things to him that has this Seal of his Ministry; and this Comfort within him, that he has not laboured in vain, nor run and fought as one that beats the Air; he sees the Travel of his Soul, and is satisfied when he finds that God's Work prospers in his hand. This comforts him in his sad Reflections on his own past Sins, that he has been an Instrument of advancing God's Honour, of saving Souls, and of propagating his Gospel: Since to have saved one Soul, is worth a Man's coming into the World, and richly worth the Labours of his whole Life. Here is a Subject that might be easily prosecuted by many warm and lively Figures: But I now go on to the last Article relating to this Matter.