Page images
PDF
EPUB

forth. And the same appointment is confirmed by our Lord, when, after his resurrection, he thrice addresses, to the same apostle, this solemn question-Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? And having received an assurance of his love and attachment, he thrice repeats the emphatical charge--Feed my lambs; and Feed my sheep. This pastoral office St. Peter was commanded to execute, 'as a proof of his sincere love to his Master : he was to 'execute this office by virtue and authority of his Master's express commission, and after the example of his Master, in feeding his Father's sheep; for it is added, in the sequel, Follow thou me! (John, xxi.)

Hence it appears that St. Peter, in the words of the text, commits to the elders of the church that pastoral office which he himself had received from the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Of the important duties, of the high degree of red sponsibility, annexed to this their appointed station, St. Paul thus reminds the elders of the church at Ephesus, and sets before them à cogent motive to redouble their vigilance, their assiduity, and their zeal I am pure,

says he, from the blood of all men ; for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 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. For I know this, that, after my departing, shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And of yourselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore, watch : and remember that, by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one, night and day, with tears. (Acts, xx. 26, &c.)

Should any contend that, in our days, such extraordinary exertions are not required, they will have to prove that, in the present age, there are no grievous wolves troubling the flock, no perverse teachers drawing away disciples after them. If this cannot be proved, we see what is our duty, and what our responsibility. If souls are lost through our neglect, the day of recompense will come, and blood will be required..

St. Peter having, therefore, urged the sacred and indispensable duty of the ministers of the church to feed the flock of God, proceeds, in the next place, to discriminate the temper and disposition with which this important office is to be executed— Taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly: or, as the words seem rather to įmply, superintending, not compulsively, but voluntarily : for the apostle is not giving direction as to the manner of taking, but of exercising, the sacred office.

Hence his exhortation takes hold of the present age of the church. Many amongst us may be found, who would take upon themselves a post of honour and of profit, not by constraint, but willingly; but the question still returns, Who is prepared and disposed to fill the duties of his station wor, thily and conscientiously?

The persons to whom the apostle 'addresses himself are now elders of the church, the same sense, as St. Peter himself is an elder: for he speaks to them in the character of ovum pso Butecos, or a fellow-elder. It is therefore, implied, by the nature of their; station, that the duty of superintendence, in a larger or more limited sense, according to their rank and order, either as bishops of districts or pastors of particular congregations, already pertains to them. Consequently, the exhortation refers to the temper and disposition with which this duty is to be discharged: and here we find something forbidden, and something enjoined.

It is forbidden to exercise the superintending office with reluctance and alienation of mind; as he may be said to do, who regards his duty as a burthen, and not as a delight. Such a 'man is an eye-servant. He does not give his duty the first place in his heart. He satisfies his own conscience, by doing nothing more than what the general laws of the church expressly enjoin; and even this he does, merely because it is enjoined, and cannot, with impunity, be left undone. Or, perhaps, he gladly avails himself of the far lower standard, to which the stated duties of his office may have been reduced by the silent lapse of custom. Even this external 'show of duty is, probably, dispatched with the least possible exertion, in a manner so indifferent, so indolent, as to prove that it is the minister's highest ambition to elude public censure, by shel.

'tering himself under the wings of modish ease: that it is not his aim to edify the church, or to merit the approbation of his heavenly Master. He substitutes regularity for energy; formality, for diligence; fashionable apathy, for Christian zeal. The standard of his character, and of his duty, is upheld by custom and the opinion of the gay circles, not by conscience and integrity. His own indulgence, his own vanity, his own interest, constitute the great object of his labours, instead of the preservation and improvement of his flock. Should the tumult of his neglected sheep occasionally disturb his repose, he opens a languid eye, and faintly exclaimingo-It is the robbert It is the wolf-calmly resumes his slumbers. With reason does the apostle deprecate this reluctance, this privation of zeal and energy, in the discharge of ministerial duties. Where this evil prevails, it cannot but be highly detrimental to the cause of true religion, The infection of heedlessness, indifference, and apathy, is gradually communicated to the flock. And whilst the indolent shepherd is folding his arms, the wandering sheep either entangle themselves in the brakes of

« PreviousContinue »