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A Discourse of the Pastoral Care
By Gilbert Burnet
Bishop of Salisbury

First edition London, 1692; third edition London, 1712.


THIS Subject, how Important soever in it self, yet has been so little treated of, and will seem so severe in many parts of it, that if I had not judged this a necessary service to the Church, which did more decently come from one, who, how undeserving soever he is, yet is raised to a Post that may justify the writing on so tender a Head, I should never have undertaken it. But my Zeal for the true Interests of Religion, and of this Church, determined me to set about it; yet since my Design is to correct things for the future, rather than to reproach any for what is past, I have resolved to cast it rather into Advices and Rules, into plain and short Directions, than into long and laboured Discourses, supported by the shows of Learning, and Citations from Fathers, and Historical Observations; this being the more profitable, and the less invidious way of handling the Subject.

It ought to be no Imputation on a Church, if too many of those that are dedicated to her Service, have not all the Characters that are here set forth, and that are to be desired in Clergymen. Even in the Apostles' days there were false Apostles, and false Teachers; as one of the Twelve was a Traitor, and had a Devil; some loved the pre-eminence, others loved this present World to a scandalous degree; some of those that preached Christ, did it not sincerely, but out of contention; they vied with the Apostles, and hoped to have carried away the esteem from them, even while they were suffering for the Faith: for envying their Credit, they designed to raise their own Authority, by lessening the Apostles; and so hoped to have added affliction to their bonds. In the first and purest Ages of the Church we find great Complaints of the Neglects and Disorders of the Clergy of all Ranks. Many became the Stewards and Bailiffs of other Peoples Estates; and while they looked too diligently after those Cares which did not belong to them, they even in those times of trial, grew very remiss in the most important of all Cares, which was their proper business.

As soon as the Empire became Christian, the Authority, the Immunity, and the other Advantages, which by the bounty of Princes, followed the Sacred Functions, made them to be generally much desired; and the Elections being then for most part popular, (though in some of the greater Cities, the Magistracy took them into their hands, and the Bishops of the Province were the Judges both of the fitness of the Person, and of the regularity of the Election); these were managed with much faction and violence, which often ended in blood, and that to so great an excess, that if we had not Witnesses to many Instances of this among the best men in those Ages, it would look like an uncharitable Imputation on those Times, to think them capable of such Enormities. Indeed the Disorders, the Animosities, the going so oft backwards and forwards in the matters of Faith, as the Emperors happened to be of different Sides, are but too ample a proof of the Corruptions that had then got into the Church. And what can we think of the breach made in the Churches of Africa by Donatus, and his Followers, upon so inconsiderable a Point, as whether Cecilian and his Ordainers had denied the Faith in the last Persecution, or not? which grew to that height, that almost in every Town of Africa there were divided Assemblies, and separating Bishops, upon that Account. Nor was this Wound healed but with the utter ruin of those Churches. St. Jerome, though partial enough to his own side, as appears by his espousing Damasus's Interests, notwithstanding that vast effusion of blood that had been at his Election; which was set on by him, and continued for four days with so much violence, that in one night, and at one Church, a hundred and seven and thirty were killed; yet he could not hold from laying open the Corruptions of the Clergy in a very severe style. He grew so weary of them, and they of him, that he went and spent the rest of his days at Bethlehem.

Those Corruptions were so much the more remarkable, because the Eminent Men of those times, procured a great many Canons to be made, both in Provincial and General Councils, for correcting Abuses, as soon as they observed them creeping into the Church: but it is plain from St. Chrysostom's Story, that though bad men did not oppose the making good Rules, while they were so many dead Letters in their Registers; yet they could not bear the rigorous Execution of them: so that those good Canons do show us indeed what were the growing Abuses of the Times, in which they were made; and how good men set themselves against them; but are no sure indications of the Reformation that was effected by them.

The Tottering state of the Roman Empire which had then fallen under a vast Dissolution of Discipline and Manners, and coming into feeble hands, was then sinking with its own weight, and was become on all sides an easy Prey to its Invaders, who were either Pagans or Arians, ought to have awakened the Governors of the Church to have apprehended their approaching Ruin; to have prevented it by their Prayers and Endeavours; and to have corrected those Abuses which had provoked God, and weakened and distracted both Church and Empire. But if we may believe either Gildas here in Britain, or Salvian in France, they rather grew worse, more impenitent, and more insensible, when they saw the Judgments of God coming upon the Empire, Province after Province rent from it, and over-run by the Barbarians.

When that great Wound was in some sort healed, and a Second Form of Christianity rose up and prevailed again in the Western Parts, and the World became Christian with the allay that dark and superstitious Ages had brought into that holy Doctrine: Then all the Rules of the former Ages were so totally forgotten, and laid aside, that the Clergy universally lost their esteem: And tho' Charles the Great, and his Son, held a great many Councils for correcting these Abuses, and published many Capitulars on the same design; yet all was to no purpose: There was neither Knowledge nor Virtue enough left to reform a Corruption that was become universal. The Clergy by these Disorders fell under a general Contempt, and out of that rose the Authority, as well as the Wealth of the Monastic Orders; and when Riches and Power had corrupted them, the Begging Orders took away the Credit from both; yet even their Reputation, which the outward severity of their Rule, Habit, and Manner of Life did both establish and maintain long, was at last so generally lost, that no Part or Body of the Roman-Clergy had Credit enough to stop the Progress of the Reformation; which was in a great measure occasion'd by the scorn and hatred that fell on them, and which was so spread over all the parts of Europe, that to it, even their own Historians do impute the great Advances that Luther's Doctrine made for about Fifty Years together; whole Kingdoms and Provinces embracing it as it were all of the sudden.

It has now for above an Hundred Years made a full stand, and in most places it has rather lost ground, than gained any. The true account of this is not easily given; the Doctrine is the same; and it has been of late defended with greater Advantages, with more Learning, and better Reasoning than it was at first; yet with much less Success. The true reason of the slackening of that Work, must be imputed to the Reformation made in several Points with relation to the Manners, and the Labors of the Clergy, by the Church of Rome, and the Depravation under which most of the Reformed Churches are fallen. For the Manners and the Labours of the Clergy, are real Arguments, which all people do both understand and feel; they have a much more convincing force, they are more visible, and persuade more universally, than Books can do, which are little read, and less considered: And indeed the Bulk of Mankind is so made, that there is no working on them, but by moving their Affections, and commanding their Esteem. It cannot be denied but that the Council of Trent established the Errors of Popery in such a manner, as to cut off all possibility of ever treating, or reuniting with them; since those Decisions, and their Infallibility, which is their Foundation, are now so twisted together, that they must stand and fall together: Yet they established such a Reformation in Discipline, as may make Churches that pretend to a more Glorious Title, justly ashamed. For though, there are such Reserves made for the Plenitude of the Papal Authority, that in great instances, and for a Favourite, all may be broke through; yet the most notorious Abuses are so struck at, and this has been in many places so effectually observed, chiefly where they knew that their Deportment was looked into, and watched over by Protestants, that it must be acknowledged, that the cry of the Scandals of Religious Houses is much laid: And tho' there is still much Ignorance among their Mass-Priests; yet their Parish-Priests are generally another sort of men: They are well instructed in their Religion; lead regular Lives, and perform their Parochial Duties with a most wonderful diligence: They do not only say Mass, and the other public Functions daily, but they are almost perpetually employing themselves in the several parts of their Cures: Instructing the Youth, hearing Confessions, and visiting the Sick: and besides all this, they are under the constant obligation of the Breviary: There is no such thing as Non-residence or Plurality, to be heard of in whole Countries of that Communion; and though about Cathedrals, and in Greater Cities, the vast number of Priests, gives still great and just occasion to censure; yet the Parish-Priests have almost universally recovered the Esteem of the People: They are no more disposed to think ill of them, or to hearken to any thing that may give them a just cause, or at least a plausible colour for departing from them. So that the Reformation that Popery hath been forced to make, has in a great measure stopped the progress of the Reformation of the Doctrine and Worship that did so long carry every thing before it.

But this is the least Melancholy part of the Account that may be given of this matter. The Reformers began that blessed Work with much Zeal; they and their first Successors carried it on with Learning and Spirit: They were active in their Endeavours, and constant and patient in their Sufferings; and these things turn'd the esteem of the world, which was alienated from Popery, by the Ignorance and Scandals of the Clergy, all towards them: But when they felt the warmth of the Protection and Encouragement that Princes and States gave them, they insensibly slackened; They fell from their First Heat and Love; they began to build Houses for themselves, and their Families, and neglected the House of God: They rested satisfied with their having reformed the Doctrine and Worship; but did not study to reform the Lives and Manners of their People: And while in their Offices they lamented the not having a Public Discipline in the Church, as it was in the Primitive Times; They have either made no attempts at all, or at least very faint ones for restoring it. And thus, while Popery has purified it self from many former Abuses, Reformed Churches have added new ones to the old, that they still retain, and are fond of. Zeal in Devotion, and Diligence in the Pastoral Care, are fallen under too visible and too scandalous a decay. And whereas the understanding of the Scriptures, and an Application to that Sacred Study, was at first the distinguishing Character of Protestants, for which they were generally nicknamed Gospellers; These Holy Writings are now so little studied, that such as are obliged to look narrowly into the matter, find great cause of regret and lamentation, from the gross Ignorance of such as either are in Orders, or that pretend to be put in them.

But the most Capital and Comprehensive of all Abuses, is, That the false Opinion of the worst Ages of Popery, that made the chief, if not the only obligation of Priests to be the performing Offices; and judged, that if these were done, the chief part of their Business was also done, by which the Pastoral Care came to be in a great measure neglected, does continue still to leaven us: While men imagine that their whole work consists in Public Functions, and so reckon, that if they either do these themselves, or procure and hire another person in Holy Orders to do them, that then they answer the Obligation that lies on them: And thus the Pastoral Care, the Instructing, the Exhorting, the Admonishing and Reproving, the directing and conducting, the visiting and comforting the People of the Parish, is generally neglected: while the Incumbent does not think fit to look after it, and the Curate thinks himself bound to nothing but barely to perform Offices according to agreement.

It is chiefly on design to raise the sense of the Obligations of the Clergy to the Duties of the Pastoral Care, that this Book is written. Many things do concur in our present Circumstances, to awaken us of the Clergy, to mind and do our duty with more zeal and application than ever. It is very visible that in this present Age, the Reformation is not only at a stand, but is going back, and grows sensibly weaker and weaker. Some Churches have been plucked up by the roots; and brought under a total desolation and dispersion; and others have fallen under terrible oppressions and shakings. We have seen a Design formed and carried on long, for the utter destruction of that Great Work. The Clouds were so thick gathered over us, that we saw we were marked out for destruction: And when that was once compassed, our Enemies saw well enough, that the rest of their Designs would be more easily brought about. It is true, our Enemies intended to set us one upon another by turns, to make us do half their work; and to have still an abused Party among us ready to carry on their ends; for they thought it too bold an Attempt, to fall upon all at once; but while they were thus shifting Hands, it pleased God to cut them short in their Designs; and to blast that part of them in which we were concerned, so entirely, that now they carry them on more barefacedly: and drive at Conquest, which is at one stroke to destroy our Church and Religion, our Laws and our Properties.

In this critical state of things, we ought not only to look at the Instruments of the Calamities that have fallen so heavily on so many Protestant Churches, and of the Dangers that hang over the rest; but we ought chiefly to look up to that God, who seems to be provoked at the whole Reformation; because they have not walked suitably to the Light that they have so long enjoyed, and the Blessings which had been so long continued to them; but have corrupted their ways before him. They have lost the Power of Religion, while they have seemed to magnify the Form of it, and have been zealous for Opinions and Customs; and therefore God has in his wrath, taken even that Form from them, and has loathed their Solemn Assemblies; and brought them under a famine of the Word of the Lord, which they had so much despised.

While these things are so, and while we find that we our selves, are as a brand plucked out of the fire, which may be thrown back into it again, if we are not alarmed by the just, but unsearchable Judgments of God, which have wasted other Churches so terribly, while they have only frighted us; what is more evident, than that the present state of things, and the signs of the times, call aloud upon the whole Nation to bring forth fruits meet for repentance? since the ax is laid to the root of the tree. And as this indeed concerns the body of the Nation, so we who are the Priests and Ministers of the Lord, are under more particular Obligations, first to look into our own ways, and to reform whatsoever is amiss among us, and then to be Intercessors for the People, committed to our Charge: to be mourning for their Sins, and by our secret Fastings and Prayers, to be standing in those Breaches which our crying Abominations have made: and so to be averting those Judgments, which may be ready to break in upon us; and chiefly to be lifting up our voices like Trumpets, to show our people their transgressions. To be giving them faithful warning, from which we may expect this blessed success, that we may at least gain upon such a number, that for their sakes, God, who will not slay the righteous with the wicked, may be yet entreated for our sins; and that the Judgments which hang over us, being quite dissipated, his Gospel, together with Peace and Plenty, may still dwell among us, and may shine from us, with happy Influences to all the ends of the Earth. And even such Pastors as shall faithfully do their duty, but without any success, may depend upon this, that they shall save their own souls; and shall have a distinguished fate, if we should happen to fall under a common Calamity: they having on them not only the mark of Mourners and Intercessors, but of faithful Shepherds: Whereas if an overflowing Scourge should break in upon us, we have all possible reason, both from the Judgments of God, and the present situation of Affairs, to believe that it will begin at the Sanctuary, at those who have profaned the holy things; and have made the daily Sacrifice to be loathed.

There is another, and perhaps yet a more dismal Character of the present state of the Age, that calls on the Clergy, to consider well both their own deportment, and the Obligations that lie upon them; which is the growing Atheism and Impiety, that is daily gaining ground, not only among us, but indeed all Europe over. There is a Circulation observed in the general Corruptions of Nations: sometimes Ignorance and Brutality overruns the World, that makes way for Superstition and Idolatry: When Mankind is disgusted with these, then fantastical and Enthusiastical Principles, and under these hypocritical Practices have their course; these being seen through, give great occasions to profaneness, and with that, Atheism, and a disbelief of all Religion, at least of all Revealed Religion, is nourished: and that is very easily received by depraved Minds, but very hardly rooted out of them: For though it is very easy to beat an Enquirer into things, out of all speculative Atheism; yet when a disbelief of Sacred Matters, and a profane Contempt of them, has once vitiated ones mind, it is a very extraordinary thing, and next to miraculous, to see such an one reduced. Now this I am forced to declare, That having had much free Conversation with many that have been fatally corrupted that way, they have very often owned to me, that nothing promoted this so much in them, as the very bad Opinion which they took up of all Clergy-men of all sides: They did not see in them that strictness of life, that contempt of the World, that Zeal, that Meekness, Humility and Charity; that Diligence and Earnestness, with relation to the great Truths of the Christian Religion, which they reckoned they would most certainly have, if they themselves firmly believed it: Therefore they concluded, that those, whose business it was more strictly to enquire into the truth of their Religion, knew that it was not so certain, as they themselves, for other ends, endeavoured to make the World believe it was: And that, though for carrying on of their own Authority or Fortunes, which in one word, they call their Trade, they seemed to be very positive in affirming the Truth of their Doctrines; yet they in their own hearts did not believe it, since they lived so little suitable to it, and were so much set on raising themselves by it; and so little on advancing the Honour of their Profession, by an exemplary Piety, and a Shining Conversation.

This is a thing not to be answered by being angry at them for saying it, or by reproaching such as repeat it, as if they were Enemies to the Church; these Words of Heat and Faction signifying nothing to work upon, or convince any. For how little strength soever there may be in this, as it is made an Argument, it is certainly so strong a prejudice, that nothing but a real Refutation of it, by the eminent Virtues and Labours of many of the Clergy, will ever conquer it. To this, as a Branch or Part of it, another consideration from the present State of things is to be added, to call upon the Clergy to set about the Duties of their Calling; and that is, the contempt they are generally fallen under, the Injustice they daily meet with, in being denied their Rights, and that by some out of Principle, and by others out of downright and undisguised Sacrilege. I know a great deal of this is too justly, and too truly to be cast on the Poverty of the Clergy: But what can we say, when we find often the poorest Clarks in the Richest Livings? whose Incumbents not content to devour the Patrimony of the Church, while they feed themselves, and not the Flock out of it; are so scandalously hard in their Allowance to their Curates, as if they intended equally to starve both Curate and People: And is it to be supposed, that the People will think themselves under a very strict obligation of Conscience, to pay religiously all that is due to one, who seems to think himself under no obligation to labour for it. And since it is a Maxim founded upon Natural Equity, That the Benefice is given for the Office; men will not have great Scruples in denying the Benefice, where the Office is neglected, or ill performed. And as for the too common Contempt that is brought on the Clergy, how guilty soever those may be, who out of hatred to their Profession, despise them for their works sake; yet we who feel our selves under these Disadvantages, ought to reflect on those Words of the Prophet, and see how far they are applicable to us; The Priests lips should keep Knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth, for he is the Messenger of the Lord of Hosts. But ye are departed out of the way, ye have caused many to stumble at the Law: Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the People; according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in my Law. If we studied to honour God, and so to do honour to our Profession, we might justly hope that he would raise it again to that credit which is due to it; and that he would make even our Enemies to be at peace with us, or at least afraid to hurt or offend us. And in this we have good reason to rest assured; since we do not find many Instances of Clergy-men, who live and labour, who preach and visit as they ought to do, that are under any Eminent Degrees of Contempt: If some do despise those that are faithful to their Trust, yet they must do it secretly; they dare not show it, as long as their Deportment procures them the Esteem, which we must confess does generally follow true Worth, and hearty Labours in the Ministry.

These are things of such consequence, that it may seem a Consideration too full of ill Nature, of Emulation, and of Jealousy, if I should urge upon the Clergy the Divisions and Separation that is formed among us; though there is a terrible Word in the Prophet, that belongs but too evidently to this likewise; The Pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord; therefore they shall not prosper, and all their Flocks shall be scattered. If we led such Exemplary Lives, as became our Character, if we applied our selves wholly to the Duties of our Profession, if we studied to outlive, and out-labour those that divide from us; we might hope by the Blessing of God, so far to overcome their Prejudices, and to gain both upon their Esteem and Affections, that a very small matter might go a great way towards the healing of those Wounds, which have so long weakened and distracted us. Speculative Arguments do not reach the Understandings of the greater part, who are only capable of sensible ones: and the strongest Reasonings will not prevail, till we first force them to think the better of our Church, for what they see in our selves, and make them wish to be of a Communion, in which they see so much truth, and unaffected Goodness and Worth: When they are once brought so far, it will be easy to compass all the rest: If we did generally mind our Duties, and discharge them faithfully, this would prepare such as mean well in their Separation from us, to consider better of the Grounds on which they maintain it. And that will best enforce the Arguments that we have to lay before them. And as for such as divide from us with bad Designs, and an unrelenting Spite, they will have a small party, and a feeble support, if there were no more occasion given to work on the Affections of the People, by our Errors and Disorders.

If then either the sense of the Wrath of God, or the desire of his Favour and Protection; if Zeal for our Church and Country; if a sense of the progress of Atheism and Irreligion; if the contempt that falls on us, and the Injustices that are daily done us; if a desire to heal and unite, to purify and perfect this our Church: If either the Concerns of this World, or of the next, can work upon us, and affect us, all these things concur to call on us, to apply our utmost Care and Industry to raise the Honour of our Holy Profession, to walk worthy of it, to perform the Engagements that we came under at the Altar, when we were dedicated to the Service of God, and the Church; and in all things both to adorn our Religion, and our Church.

It is not our boasting that the Church of England is the best reformed, and the best constituted Church in the world, that will signify much to convince others: We are too much Parties to be believed in our own Cause. There was a Generation of men that cried, The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, as loud as we can cry, The Church of England, the Church of England: When yet by their sins they were pulling it down: and kindling that Fire which consumed it. It will have a better grace to see others boast of our Church, from what they observe in us, than for us to be crying it up with our words, when our deeds do decry it. Our Enemies will make severe Inferences from them; and our Pretensions will be thought vain and impudent things, as long as our Lives contradict them.

It was on design to raise in myself and in others, a deep sense of the obligations that we lie under, of the Duties of our Functions; of the extent of them, and of the Rewards that follow them, and to observe the proper Methods of performing them, so as they may be of the greatest advantage both to our selves and others, that I have entered on these Meditations. They have been for many years the chief Subjects of my Thoughts: If few have writ on them among us, yet we have St. Gregory Nazianzen's Apologetic, Saint Chrysostom's Books of the Priesthood, Gregory the Great's Pastoral, and Bernard's Book of Consideration, among the Ancients, and a very great number of Excellent Treatises, writ lately in France upon them. I began my Studies in Divinity with reading these, and I never yet grew weary of them; they raise so many Noble Designs, they offer such Schemes, and carry so much of unction and life in them, that I hope an imperfect Essay this way may have some effect. For the Searcher of hearts knows, I have no Design in it, save this of stirring up in my self and others, the gift which was given by the Imposition of hands.

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