Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
The Weak Minister and the Impenitent Hearer
By Thomas Hooker (15861647)
[Born in Leicestershire, England, 1586. Died at Hartford, Conn., 1647. From The Soules Implantation. 1637.]
TOO many of Gods ministers have weak hearts; little affection have they to the people of God, little labor is there in their hearts to pluck men unto heaven. They do not strive with souls as they ought to do, they do not struggle with the hearts of men; if they have their profits and liberties they care not. And hence it is that little good is done by them, they do so marvellously fail in the former particulars. Where is that particular and courageous applying of the truth to mens souls and consciences? Alas, what coverings they have! Friends, they must not be displeased; and great men, they are afraid they should be offended. It is pity but their tongues should cleave to the roofs of their mouths, if they speak any thing the less for these base and by-respects than God reveals and requireth of them. Their flighting and passing by is the reason that men profit so little by their ministry. They are ashamed to tell, and afraid to speak to the hearts of men, and reprove them for those sins which they are not ashamed or afraid to do in the face of the world. They convince not so soundly as they ought to do, they do not gather in those arguments which may make those truths undeniable, and mens consciences at a stand. If they can but carelessly and idly talk out the hour, what becomes of the seed, what becomes of the word, what becomes of mens souls, they care not.
Again, they want that holy, spiritual affection which they should deliver Gods word withal unto his people. This is the sum of all, Ministers they do not deliver the word with a heavenly, hearty, and violent affection; they do not speak out of the abundance of their affections. If they would speak against sin with a holy indignation it would make men stand in awe of sin. They talk of it hourly, and say, It is not good to profane Gods Name and his Sabbaths and to live an ungodly life: but they do not speak from their hearts in this kind. A sturdy messenger, if he come to a mans house to speak with him, he will not be put off, he will take no denial, but he will speak with him if it be possible before he goes away;but send a child of a message to a man, if a servant do but tell him his master is not at leisure, or that he may speak with him another time, he will easily be put off and go away before he hath delivered his message. So it is with a minister that performs his office with a hearty affection. For when a man speaks from his heart (in this case) he will have no answer, he will not be dallied withal, he will take no denial but will have that he came for. If a man should say he is not at leisure to speak with him or to hear him now, he will speak with him another time; he will not go away with this answer, but he will tell him I came to speak with your hearts, and I will speak with your hearts. He will say to the people:
Tell your hearts, you that love the world, and the profits and pleasures thereof (and my heart tells you), did you know the good things that are in Christ Jesus, did you but know what a happy thing it is to have assurance of Gods mercy, you would never love sin, or delight in wickedness as you have done heretofore. I came to speak with your hearts, and will speak with them before we part. Grieve no more for the things of this world, but for your sins. The day is coming when the heavens shall melt with fire, and ye shall hear the voice of the Archangel, saying: Arise ye dead, and appear before the judgment seat of God! where you shall hear that woful and bitter sentence, Away from me all ye workers of iniquity, I know you not! Oh! this may be one day your case. And we that are ministers of God do mourn for you, and tell your souls we must have sorrow from you. We came to speak to your hearts, we came for hearts, and we will have hearts before we go. And this is the first use of the point, to discover unto us what is the reason that the ministers of God do so little good in their places; it is because this power is wanting in them.
The second use discovereth unto us the fearful estate and miserable condition of those that have lived a long time under a powerful ministry, and yet have not found their souls fitted and prepared for the Lord by the same; it is a fearful suspicion that God will never confer any good to that soul. He that hath lived under a powerful ministry many years, and yet is not wrought upon and framed to the truth of God, it can not certainly be concluded, but it is greatly to be suspected that the means will never profit that man. Look as it is with the master-carpenter, when he hath turned every piece of timber, and taken what he will for his turn, he tells them that be under him, Let this be hewed, and this be framed and made fit for the building; afterwards he finds one piece broken, and another cracked, and another knotty. Why what, saith he, here is no squaring of it; these pieces are fit for nothing but for the burning, they are fit for no place in the building. Oh! take heed, when Gods ministers have been cutting and hewing, now exhorting, now persuading, now cutting the heart with reproofs, and yet finds here a cracked heart, and there a stubborn soul that will not be squared to the Word, lest then the Lord should say, These will never be fitted and prepared for me, they are fit for nothing but for the fire. Oh! take heed of it, he that will not be fitted for grace shall be made a fire-brand in hell forever; and therefore go home you that have lived under a powerful ministry, and are not yet prepared, go home, I say, and reason with your own souls and plead with your own hearts, and say:
Lord, why am not I yet humbled and prepared? Shall I stand at this hacking and hewing, and never be framed? Such a man, and such a man, that was stubborn, was wrought upon, the Lord hath brought him upon his knees. There was another drunkard so wicked and so profane, that all the world gave him for lost many days agone, and yet the Lord hath brought him home, and he is become a broken-hearted Christian. Nay, if the devil himself had had those means that I have had and any hope of mercy, he would have been bettered by it; those reproofs, those instructions, those admonitions, which I have had would have done the devil himself good. But what shall I think that am not fitted and prepared for Christ by this great means? Alas! thou mayest justly suspect that God never intends good to thy soul; it is no absolute conclusion, but it is a great suspicion, that those which have lived under a powerful ministry half a dozen years or longer and have got no good, nor profited under the same, it is a shrewd suspicion, I say, that God will send them down to hell. Therefore suspect thy own soul, and say:
Lord, will exhortations ever prevail? Will instructions do me any good? Will terrors and reproofs ever strike my heart? Why I have heard sermons that would have shaken the very stones I trod upon, that would have moved the very seat I sat upon; the very fire of hell hath flashed in my face, I have seen even the plagues of hell! and if terrors can do me good, why not then those exhortations, instructions, admonitions, and reproofs that I have often had? I have had as powerful means as may be, which yet never did me any good. The Lord be merciful to such a poor soul! The Lord turn the heart of such a poor sinner, that he may lay hold of mercy in due time!