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The souls of men being thus in a special manner from God, God is represented as having a special propriety in them, Ezek. xviii. 4. Behold all souls are mine : As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine.
And as the souls of men are more directly from God, by the more special and immediate exercise of his divine power as a creator, and are what he challenges as his by a special propriety, and are the most noble part of the lower creation, and are infinitely distinguished from all other creatures here below in that they are immortal beings; so they are, above all other creatures which God hath made in this world, the subjects of God's care and special providence.
Divines are wont to distinguish between God's common and special providence. His common providence is that which he exercises towards all his creatures, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, in preserving them, and disposing of them by his mighty power, and according to his sovereign pleasure. His special providence is that which he exercises towards his intelligent rational creatures, as moral agents: of which sort are mankind alone, of all the innumerable kinds of creatures in this lower world : and in a special manner the souls of men ; for in them only is immediately seated reason and intelligence, and a capacity of moral agency; and therefore they in a peculiar manner are the subjects of God's special providence that he exercises in this lower world. And it is to be observed that God's common providence is subordinated to his special providence ; and all things in this world are governed and disposed of in subordination to the great ends God has to obtain with respect to the souls of men. And it is further to be observed, that as the creation of the world was committed to the Son of God by the Father, so is the government of it; and in a peculiar manner the affairs of God's special providence, are left in his hands; and so the souls of men, that are the peculiar subjects of his special providence, are committed to his care; and more especially such souls as are of Christ's visible kingdom or church, which is often in the scripture represented as the field and vineyard that he is the owner of, and has taken the care of. And what Christ's value is for men's souls appears by what he has done and suffered for them.
But these souls that Christ has made, and that are committed into his hands of the Father, and that are so precious in his account, he commits to the care of ministers. There is a certain order of men that are so dignified and honoured by him, as to have so great a trust reposed in them. He, as it were, brings those souls as an infinitely precious treasure, and commits them to them to take care of; as a prince commits his treasure, his jewels, and most precious things into the hands of one of the dignified servants of his household; or as the father
of a family, when he goes a journey into a far country, leaves his family to the care of a steward.
I come now in the 2d place, to inquire to what purpose Christ commits the precious souls of men to the care of ministers.
I answer in two things,
1. He commits men's souls to ministers to keep and take care of them for him, that by their means they may answer their end in glorifying him. God has made all things for himself, he has created them for his glory ; but more especially those creatures that he has endued with understanding, as he has done the souls of men: it is by them that God has his glory from all his creatures, as they are the eye of the creation to behold the glory of God manifested in the other creatures, and the mouth of the creation to praise him and ascribe to him the glory that is displayed in them. The other creatures glorify God passively and eventually, as God glorifies himself in them, as they are the subjects of the exercise of his power and wisdom in their creation and preservation, and in those events that are brought to pass in his disposal of them. Thus God glorifies himself in his works that are manifest in the irrational and inanimate creation, in the view of his rational creatures that he has made ca. pable of beholding and admiring them, and adoring, loving and praising him for them: But they only are capable of glorifying him actively and immediately; therefore all the other creatures do, as it were, bring their tribute of glory to them, through their hands, to be offered to their Creator. And there fore the souls of men are beings that, with regard to the glory of God, the great end of all things, are of immensely greater importance than all other creatures in this lower world. But these, with respect to this their great end, are committed to the care and keeping of ministers; and therefore Christ has furnished them with proper means to bring them to this end; he has given them all needful instructions; they have a perfect rule and directory to guide them in this great affair; and has enjoined them the duties they are to perform in their office in every particular, and the manner in which they are to perform these duties, in the charge which he has left them; and has furnished them with all needful helps for the instruction of those souls that are committed to them, to lead them to answer their great end, in duly glorifying their Creator; and all proper means for the exciting and engaging them to attend to, and follow those instructions, as also means for their help and assistance in it, that they may do it the more easily and effectually.
2. They are committed to their care and keeping that they may not be eternally lost, but may have everlasting life. These souls, as I observed before, are immortal and made for eternity:
they are set in this world between two opposite eternal states, the one a state of exceeding and eternal glory and blessedness, the other a state of unutterable and unalterable misery: and as they are by nature they are liable to either; by their original guilt and corruption they are exposed to perish forever, in total and perfect destruction and misery : but Christ, from his knowledge of the infinite worth of souls, and his great compassion and love to them, has, by his own precious blood, made way for their escape, and at this infinite expense, has procured unspeakable exaltation and perfect blessedness for them in heaven to all eternity; which by this means they have opportunity to obtain. But yet it remains uncertain what will become of them, until Christ's redemption be applied to them, or they are actually cast into hell; there is an opportunity given, a time of probation, until the great and unalterable event shall determine one way or the other. In the mean time there is a space for the use of means, and the exercise of care, prudence and diligence for our own souls and the souls of others; that they may not fail of the grace of God, but may escape that infinitely dreadful destruction that they are naturally in danger of, and may indeed obtain that infinite privilege of eternal life, that is offered through the purchase of Jesus Christ. And now in this grand affair, and to this great purpose of an escape from eternal misery, and the obtaining everlasting glory, Christ has committed the precious souls of men to the care of ministers; that by their means they may have the benefit of his redemption, and might obtain that which he has suffered so much to procure. Christ knew that notwithstanding all that he had done to procure life for souls, they would need much care to be taken of them, and many means to be used with them, in order to their being indeed preserved from eternally perishing, and actually brought to the possession of life: and therefore he has appointed a certain order of men, whose whole business it might be to take care of immortal souls; and into their hands has committed these souls, and has betrusted them with the ordinances of his house, and means that he has provided for their salvation ; that nothing might be wanting that they need for their furniture for this great business; he has as it were committed to them his goods, and has given them in some respects the keys of his stores and treasury; to them are committed the oracles of God and treasure of the gospel. 2. Cor. iv. 7. We have this treasure in earthen vessels. And Chap. v. 18. 19, And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ; and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation, to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed to us the work of reconciliation.
And as the word of God, so the sacraments that he has appointed, and the discipline of his house, he has committed to them, to be administered by them; and has subjected the souls themselves that they have the care of to them, as far as is necessary to put them under the greatest advantage effectually to care for their salvation, and has left a charge to their people to obey them and submit themselves, as in the verse of my text.
I now proceed III. To observe, that the way in which he who has committed souls to ministers, expects they should seek that these purposes may be obtained with respect to them, is by watching for them.
Though great things have been done by Christ to make way for the salvation of those precious souls, and although Christ has furnished ministers with all proper means to keep them; yet they are in such circumstances in this world, that there is need of the exercise of great watchfulness, and the utmost care and diligence, in those that have the care of them, to prevent their being lost: for they are in the midst of snares, and encompassed round with dangers on every side ; they are in the enemy's country, where there are multitudes every where that are strong and subtil, and exceeding blood-thirsty and cruel, that are indefatigably, day and night, seeking the destruction of these souls.
If a prince should commit some great treasure, consisting of most precious jewels, to the care of a subject, to keep for bim, and carry through an enemy's country, and bring home gafe to his palace, and knew that the enemies by the way would be sensible that the treasure was committed to him, and would be aware of the great value of it, and therefore would be exceeding greedy of it, and incessant in their endeavours to get it from him ; would not the prince expect that he, with whom he had entrusted this treasure, should use great care in keeping it ? Would he be esteemed faithful to his trust, in the care of so great a treasure, and in such circumstances, without keeping up a continual watch? They that have the care of a city in time of war, and especially at a time when the city is encompassed by enemies that lay siege to it, are wont, if faithful, to maintain incessant vigilance to defend it: the watchmen of the city in such a case had need to watch strictly, for they have the care of the lives of men. Ministers are from time to time represented in Scripture as the watchmen that have the care of the city of God; as Cant. iii. 3. and v. 7. Isai. lii. 8. and lxii. 6. and in other places. These watchmen have not only the care of the lives of men's bodies, but of their souls, which are infinitely more precious. It is expected of them that they should behave themselves as those that both kept and built the city of Jerusalem, in Nehemiah's time, while they were continually observed by malicious and subtil enemies, that diligently sought by all means to circumvent them, and to destroy the city and people ; who with one hand wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon ; holding spears from the rising of the morning until the stars appeared ; and had a trumpet always at hand to sound, to give warning of any appearing danger, and did not put off their clothes, nor lay up their weapons, day nor night, Neh. iv. from the 16 verse to the end.
Ministers are appointed to be shepherds over Christ's flock; and he commits his flock to their care to keep them, and lead them through a great and howling wilderness, full of hungry wolves and roaring lions. And is there not need of a strict and constant watch in the shepherds in such a case, as they would preserve the lives of the sheep, and lead them to the land of their rest?
I come now to,
IV. The last thing in the doctrinal handling of the text, viz. That ministers hereafter must give account to him that committed men's precious souls to their care.
Christ's committing souls to ministers' care and charge, and betrusting them with them as servants or stewards, necessarily supposes them to be accountable to their master with respect to the charge committed to them.
He that has a treasure committed to him by the owner, and takes the care and charge of it, not as his own possession, but only to improve or keep for an appointed time, for him to whom the proper possession belongs, must return that treasure to the owner when his time is out, and is accountable to him how he has fulfilled that which he undertook; and if any precious jewel be missing, he must give an account of it.-S. must ministers give an account of the souls committed to their care.
The office and work of ministers is not to last always; their care of souls is but for a limited season; and when that is expired, they must return to their master to give an account.
After what manner they must be called to an account, may be shown in these two things,
1. The event of things with regard to the souls committed to them will be inquired into. As there are so many precious souls committed to their care by Christ, so hereafter it will be inquired what is become of those souls. As if a person has a
. number of precious jewels committed to him to keep; when the time of his betrustment is out, and he comes to return the instrusted treasure, the state of it will be examined, that it may be seen whether any jewel be lacking or not; and if any be missing, an account must be given what is become of it. The charge of a minister is in scripture represented by that of a Vol. VII.