One Thing Leads to Another
You will be called, as a minister, to spend much time in laborious study, the tendency of which is to draw the mind off from spiritual concerns; and sometimes in the perusal of erroneous, heretical, and even infidel works, that you may know what it is you have to combat. Your condition in this is like that of the physician, who ventures into infection, and makes trial of poisons. You will need much grace to preserve your spiritual health in such perils. The freedom with which you must mingle in society will expose you to many of the common temptations of a wicked world; and it will require the extreme of reserve, caution, and mortification, on your part, to prevent your falling into the snare. In the present day, out of opposition to the ascetic life, we all probably act too much as if we were " children of the bride-chamber," and too much neglect the subjugation of the body. That a man is a minister is no token that he shall not be cast into hell-fire. The instances of apostasy within our own knowledge stare at us, like the skeletons of lost travelers, among the sands of our desert-way. No temptation hath befallen them but that which is common to man. The apparitions of clerical drunkards, and the like, should forewarn us. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall I The apostle Paul expresses his view of this, in terms of which the force cannot be fully brought out by any translation: "But I keep under my body," υπωπιαζω). I strike under the eye, so as to make it black and blue, a boxing phrase, indicative of strenuous efforts at mortification; as who should say, "I subdue the flesh by violent and reiterated blows, and bring it into subjection," δουλαγωγω; " I lead it along as a slave;" having subjugated it by assault and beating, I treat it as a bondman, as boxers in the Palaestra used to drag off their conquered opponents. And the reason for this mortification of the flesh is, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." 1 Cor. ix. 27. Dreadful words! but needed, to deter us from more dreadful destruction. The tophet of apostate ministers must be doubly severe. It is the "deceitfulness of sin" which hardens so many of us into carelessness about so great a danger. Pride goeth before destruction, till suddenly, like Saul, the careless minister finds himself inveigled into some great sin. This may never be known to the world, yet it may lead to his ruin. "I am persuaded," says Owen, " there are very few that apostatize from a profession of any continuance, such as our days abound with, but their door of entrance into the folly of backsliding was either some great and notorious sin, that blooded their consciences, tainted their affections, and intercepted all delight of having anything more to do with God; or else it was a course of neglect in private duties, arising from a weariness of contending against that powerful aversation which they found in themselves unto them. And this also, through the craft of Satan, hath been improved into many foolish and sensual opinions of living unto God without and above any duties of communion. And we find that after men have, for a while, choked and blinded their consciences with this pretense, cursed wickedness or sensuality hath been the end of their folly."
Of all people on earth, ministers most need the constant impressions derived from closet piety. If once they listen to the flattering voice of their admirers, and think they are actually holy because others treat them as such; if they dream of going to heaven ex officio; if, weary of public exercises, they neglect those which are private; or if they acquire the destructive habit of preaching and praying about Christ without any faith or emotion; then their course is likely to be downward. Far short, however, a minister of Christ may be of so dreadful doom, and yet be almost useless. To prevent such declension, the best advice I know of, is to be much in secret devotion; including in this term the reflective reading of Scripture, meditation, self-examination, prayer, and praise. And here you must not expect from me any recipe for the conduct of such exercises, or rules for the times, length, posture, place, and so forth; for I rejoice in it as the glory of the Church to which we both belong, that it is so little rubrical. How often you shall fast or sing or pray, must be left to be settled between God and your conscience; only fix in mind and heart the necessity of much devotion.