Pastors Need Warnings
If the people in our charge are to teach, admonish, and exhort each other daily (Col. 3:16; Heb. 3:13), no doubt we may do the same for one another. We have the same sins to kill and the same inner workings of God’s grace to be enlivened and strengthened as our people have. We have greater works to do than they have and greater difficulties to overcome, so no less necessity is laid on us.
Therefore, we need to be warned and awakened as well as they do, and we should deal with one another as plainly and intimately as the most serious pastors among us do with their flocks. Otherwise, if only our people have the benefit of sharp admonitions and reproofs, only they will be sound and lively in the faith. I need no other proof that this was Paul’s udgment than his rousing, heart-melting exhortation to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20: a short sermon but not quickly learned. If the leaders and teachers of the church had thoroughly learned this short exhortation, how happy it would have been for the church and for them! Therefore, let us consider what it is to take heed unto ourselves.
Take Heed unto Yourself
Take heed unto yourselves lest you be void of that saving grace of God that you offer to others and be strangers to the effectual workings of the gospel you preach. Take heed unto yourselves lest while you proclaim the necessity of a Savior to the world, your own hearts neglect him and you miss out on an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed unto yourselves lest you perish while you call on others to take heed of perishing and lest you starve yourselves while you prepare their food.
Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others while they refused it themselves and for telling others those truths that they themselves neglected and abused? Many a tailor goes in rags who makes costly clothes for others. Many a cook barely licks his fingers when he has prepared for others the most costly dishes. Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man because he was a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher, but because he was a justified, sanctified man and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Therefore, first take heed unto yourselves so that you will be that which you persuade your hearers to be, believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily accepted that Christ and Spirit whom you offer unto others.
Take heed unto yourselves lest you live in those actual sins that you preach against in others and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God and, when you have finished, dishonor him as much as others do? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power and yet treat it with contempt and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws and willfully break them? If sin is evil, why do you live in it? If it is not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it is dangerous, how dare you venture upon it? If it is not, why do you tell men that it is dangerous? If God’s threatenings are true, why do you not fear them? If they are false, why do you trouble men needlessly with them and put them into such a state of fear without cause? Do you know the judgment of God that those who commit such things are worthy of death (Rom. 1:32), and yet will you do them? You who teach another, do you not teach yourself?
Take heed unto yourselves that you are not unfit for the great employments that you have undertaken. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge who will teach men all those mysterious things that are to be known in order to enjoy salvation. Oh, what qualifications are necessary for the man who has such a charge on him as we have! How many difficulties in theology to be opened! How many obscure texts of Scripture to be expounded! How many duties to be done wherein ourselves and others may miscarry if they are not well informed in the matter, end, manner, and circumstances! How many sins to be avoided, which cannot be done without understanding and foresight! What manner of people ought we to be in all holy endeavors and resolutions for our work! This is not a burden for the shoulders of a child. What skill does every part of our work require, and of how much importance is every part?
Believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily accepted that Christ and Spirit whom you offer unto others.
Take heed unto yourselves lest your example contradict your doctrine and you lay stumbling blocks before the blind that may be the occasion of their ruin. Take heed unto yourselves lest you deny with your lives that which you say with your tongues and so be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors. This is the way to make men think that the word of God is merely an idle tale and to make preaching seem no better than prattling. He who means as he speaks will surely do as he speaks. One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless disagreement, one covetous action may cut the throat of many a sermon and destroy the fruit of all that you have been doing.
Tell me, brethren, in the fear of God, do you value the success of your labors, or do you not? Do you long to see it in the souls of your hearers? If you do not, why do you preach? Why do you study? Why do you call yourselves ministers of Christ? It is a palpable error in those ministers who will allow such a distance between their preaching and their living that they will study hard to preach exactly and yet study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough time for them to study how to preach for an hour, and yet one hour seems too much to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons or to be guilty of any notable blemish (I do not blame them, for the matter is holy and weighty), but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions in the course of their lives. Oh, how carefully have I heard some men preach, and how carelessly have I seen them live!
Certainly, we have very great cause to take heed what we do as well as what we say. If we will be the servants of Christ indeed, we must not be tongue servants only. As our people must be doers of the word and not hearers only, so we must be doers and not speakers only, lest we deceive ourselves (James 1:22). A practical doctrine must be practically preached. We must study just as hard how to live well as how to preach well. We must think and think again how to compose our life as well as our sermons so that both may encourage men’s salvation in the best way that they can. When you are preparing what to say in a sermon, you will always ask, “Which way should I lay it out for the greatest good, especially to men’s souls?” You should ask the same question concerning the money in your purse. Oh, that this were your daily study: how to use your wealth, your friends, and all you have for God, as well as your tongues. Then we should see fruit for your labors that is never likely to be seen otherwise.
This article is adapted from The Reformed Pastor: Updated and Abridged by Richard Baxter, and adapted by Tim Cooper.
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