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cyer you are that add this to your general care to please God in all things, blessed art thou of the Lord ! “Thy days shall be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
8. But as for you who are little concerned about this matter, who do not make it a point of conscience, to obey your parents in all things, but sometimes obey them, as it happens, and sometimes not; who frequently do what they forbid or disapprove, and neglect what they bid you do : suppose you awake out of sleep, that you begin to feel yourself a sinner, and begin to cry to God for mercy, is it any wonder that you find no answer, while you are under the guilt of unrepented sin? How can you expect mercy from God till you obey your parents ? But suppose you have, by an uncommon miracle of mercy, tasted of the pardoning love of God, can it be expected, although you hunger and thirst after righteousness, after the perfect love of God, that you should ever attain it, ever be satisfied therewith, while you live in outward sin, in the wilful transgression of a known law of God, in disobedience to your parents? Is it not rather a wonder, that he has not withdrawn his Holy Spirit from you? That he still continues to strive with you, though you continually grieve his Spirit? O grieve him no more : By the grace of God obey them in all things from this moment ! As soon as you come home, as soon as you set foot within the door, begin an entirely new course ; look upon your father and mother with new eyes; see them. as representing your Father which is in heaven; and let it be your constant endeavour, study, and desire to please, to help, and to obey them in all things. Behave not barely as their child, but as their servant for Christ's sake. O how will you then love one another ! In a manner unknown before. God will bless you to them, and them to you : all around will feel that God is with you of a truth. Many shall see it and praise God: and the fruit of it shall remain when both you and they are lodged in Abraham's bosom.
ON OBEDIENCE TO PASTORS.
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves : for
they watch over your souls, as they that shall give account, that they may do this with joy, and not with grief ; for that is unprofitable for you.”—HEBREWS xiii. 17.
1. EXCEEDINGLY few, not only among nominal Christians, but among truly religious men, have any clear conception of the important doctrine, which is here delivered by the Apostle. Very many scarcely think of it, and hardly know that there is any such direction in the Bible. And the greater part of those who know it is there, and imagine they follow it, do not understand it, but lean too much either to the right hand or to the left, to one extreme or the other. It is well known to what an extravagant height the Romanists in general carry this direction. Many of them believe an implicit faith is due to the doctrines delivered by those that rule over them, and that implicit obedience ought to be paid, to whatever commands they give : and not much less has been insisted on, by several eminent men of the Church of England. Although it is true, that the generality of Protestants are apt to run to the other extreme : allowing their Pastors no authority at all, but making them both the creatures and the servants of their congregations. And very many there are of our own Church who agree with them herein : supposing the Pastors to be altogether dependent upon the people ; who, in their judgment, have a right to direct, as well as to choose their Ministers.
2. But is it not possible, to find medium between these two extremes? Is there any necessity for us to run, either into one, or into the other? If we set human laws out of the question, and simply attend to the Oracles of God, we may certainly discover a middle path in this important matter. In order thereto, let us carefully examine the words of the Apostle above recited. Let us consider,
I. Who are the persons mentioned in the text, They that rule over us ?
II. Who are they whom the Apostle directs, to obey and submit themselves to them?
III. What is the meaning of this direction? In what sense are they to obey and submit themselves ? --I shall then endeavour to make a suitable application of the whole.
1. 1. Consider we, first, who are the persons mentioned in the text: They that have the rule over you? I do not conceive that the words of the Apostle are properly translated ; because this translation makes the sentence little better than tautology. If they rule over you, you are certainly ruled by them : so that according to this translation, you are only enjoined to do what you do already: to obey those whom you do obey. Now there is another meaning of the Greek word, which seems abundantly more proper : it means to guide, as well as to rule. And thus, it seems, it should be taken here. The direction, then, when applied to our spiritual guides, is plain and pertinent.
2. This interpretation seems to be confirmed by the seventh verse; which fixes the meaning of this. • Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God." The Apostle here shows, by the latter clause of the sentence, whom he meant in the former. Those that were over them were the same persons who spoke unto them the word of God : that is, they were their Pastors, those who guided and fed this part of the flock of Christ.
3. But by whom are these guides to be appointed ? And what are they supposed to do, in order to be entitled to the obedience which is here prescribed ?
Volumes upon volumes have been written on that knotty question, By whom are guides of souls to be appointed? I do not intend here, to enter at all, into the dispute concerning Church-Government : neither to debate, whether it be advantageous or prejudicial to the interest of true religion, that the Church and State should be blended together, as they have been ever since the time of Constantine, in every part of the Roman Empire, where Christianity has been received. Waiving all these points, (which may find employment enough for men that abound in leisure,) by them that guide you, I mean, them that do it, if not by your choice, at least by your consent : them that you willingly accept of to be your guides in the way to Heaven.
4. But what are they supposed to do, in order to entitle them to the obedience here prescribed ?
They are supposed to go before the flock, (as is the manner of the Eastern shepherds to this day,) and to guide them in all the ways: of truth and holiness : they are to “ nourish them with the words of eternal life,” to feed them with the pure milk of the word :” applying it continually for doctrine; teaching them all the essential doctrines contained therein: for reproof; warning them if they turn aside from the way to the right hand or to the left: for correction; showing them how to amend what is amiss, and guiding them back into the way of peace: and for instruction in righteousness; training them up to outward holiness, “ until they come to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
5. They are supposed to “ watch over your souls, as those that: shall give account.” As those that shall give account ! How uns: speakably solemn, and awful, are those words ! May God writé them upon the heart of every guide of souls !
They watch, waking while others sleep, over the flock of Christ : over the souls that he has bought with a price; that he has purchased with his own blood. They have them in their hearts both by day and by night; regarding neither sleep nor food in comparison of them. Even while they sleep, their heart is waking, full of concern for their beloved children. They watch with deep earnestness, with uninterrupted seriousness, with unwearied care, patience, and diligence, as they that are about to give an account of every particular soul, to him that standeth at the door, to the Judge of quick and dead.
II. 1. We are, secondly, to consider, Who those are whom the Apostle directs to obey them that have the rule over them ? And in order to determine this, with certainty and clearness, we shall not appeal to human institutions, but simply, (as in answering the prece. ding question,) appeal to that decision of it, which we find in the Oracles of God. Indeed we have hardly occasion to go one step farther than the text itself. Only it may be proper, first, to remove out of the way some popular opinions, which have been almost every where taken for granted, but can in nowise be proved.
2. It is usually supposed, first, That the Apostle is here directing Parishioners to obey and submit themselves to the Minister of their Parish. But can any one bring the least shadow of proof for this from the Holy Scripture? Where is it written, that we are bound to obey any Minister, because we live in what is called his Parish ? - Yes," you say,
“ we are bound to obey every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." True, in all things indifferent; but this is not so: it is exceeding far from it. It is far from being a thing indifferent to me, who is the guide of my soul. I dare not receive one as my guide to heaven, that is himself in the high road to hell. I dare not take a wolf for my shepherd, that has not so much as sheep's clothing; that is a common swearer, an open drunkard, a notorious sabbath-breaker. And such (the more is the shame, and the more the pity) are many Parochial Ministers at this day.
3. “But are you not properly members of that congregation to which your parents belong ?". I do not apprehend that I am: I know no scripture that obliges me to this. I owe all deference to the commands of my parents, and willingly obey them in all things lawful. But it is not lawful to call them Rabbi, that is, to believe or obey them implicitly. Every one must give an account of himself to God. Therefore, every man must judge for himself: especially in a point of so deep importance as this is, the choice of a guide for his soul.
4. But we may bring this matter to a short issue, by recurring to the very words of the text. They that have voluntarily connected themselves with such a Pastor, as answers the description given therein: such as do, in fact, “watch over their souls, as they that shall give account:" such as do “nourish them up with the words of eternal life ;" such as feed them as with the “pure milk of the word,” and constantly apply it to them “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness :" all who have found and chosen guides of this character, of this spirit and behaviour, are undoubtedly required by the Apostle, to obey and submit themselves to them.
III. 1. But what is the Meaning of this Direction ? This remains to be considered. In what sense, and how far does the Apostle direct them, to obey and submit to their spiritual guides?
If we attend to the proper sense of the two words here used by the Apostle, we may observe that the former of them (TE1360, from Fullw, to persuade,) refers to the understanding; the latter, VASİXOTE, to the will and outward behaviour. To begin with the former, What influence ought our spiritual guides to have over our understanding? We dare no more call our spiritual fathers Rabbi, than the fathers of our flesh. We dare no more yield implicit faith to the former than to the latter. In this sense, one is our Master, (or rather Teacher,) who is in heaven. But whatever submission, of even our understanding, is short of this, we may, nay, we ought to yield to them.
2. To explain this a little farther. St. James uses a word which is nearly allied to the former of these ; “ The wisdom which is from above is, evtl0ns, easy to be convinced, or to be persuaded.” Now if we ought to have, and to show this wisdom toward all men, we ought to have it in a more eminent degree, and to show it upon every occasion, toward those that watch over our souls. With regard to these, above all other men, we should be easy to be entreated; easily convinced of any truth, and easily persuaded to any thing that is not sinful.
3. A word of nearly the same import with this, is frequently used by St. Paul, namely, efisiens. In our translation, it is more than once rendered gentle. But perhaps it might be more properly rendered (if the word may be allowed) yielding ; ready to yield, to give up our own will, in every thing that is not a point of duty. This amiable temper every real Christian enjoys, and shows in his intercourse with all men.
But be shows it in a peculiar manner toward those that watch over his soul. He is not only willing to receive any instruction from ; them to be convinced of any thing which he did not know before; to lie open to their advice, and glad to receive admonition or reproof: but is ready to give up his own will whenever he can do it with a clear conscience. Whatever they desire him to do, he does ; if it be not forbidden in the word of God. Whatever they desire him to refrain from, he does so; if it be not enjoined in the word of God. This is implied in those words of the Apostle, “Submit yourselves to them; yield to them:" give up your own will. This is meet, and right, and your bounden duty, if they do indeed watch over your souls, as they that shall give account. If you do thus obey and sube mit yourselves to them, they will give an account of you, with joy, not with groaning, as they must otherwise do : for although they should be clear of your blood, yet that would be unprofitable to you : yea, a prelude to eternal damnation.
4. How acceptable to God was an instance of obedience, some