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I am afraid it is too frequent for wicked livers, when they apprehend the approaches of death, to send for the minister, in order to receive the communion and absolution as a kind of passport, which they hope will do their business at once, and carry them by a short way to heaven; and indeed this is a very short way, if it would do. But alas ! we do not find in the holy scriptures that the way is quite so easy; on the contrary, we find that repentance and a good life are the only sure foundation of hope and comfort at the hour of death. For this reason a minister ought not to be too ready with his absolutions; nor has he any warrant for it, unless the proofs of repentance be strong, and the sick person humbly and earnestly desire it; in which case only, the rubric directs absolution to be given.

And even then, it will be very proper for the minister to observe, that he has no power to forgive sins absolutely ; but that all that he can do is to declare, for the comfort of the sick, that God forgives him, in case his repentance be sincere, and his heart thoroughly changed.

I confess, that when things are come to the last extremity, repentance is all that is in the power of a dying man, after a bad life : but God only knows, whether it be the mere effect of terror, or whether the heart be so changed as, in case of recovery, would have operated to a virtuous life. Charity, which hopeth all things, will make the best of it; but it is a very poor refuge; and as it would be cruel to refuse a dying man that little comfort which his case may possibly admit, so it would encourage presumption in the living to give too much.

But the case is quite otherwise with regard to a virtuous and godly man in his last moments; here none of these cautions are necessary, but the minister may safely pour the oil of joy and hope with profusion into his soul.

But the visitation of the sick is only an occasional branch of a pastor's duty, and there is another of much greater importance and extent, and that is,

Secondly, His visiting all his parishioners at their houses in a stated and a regular course. By this means only can he learn the true state of their souls, and all their spiritual wants. In the church he is to speak, and they to hear only.; but his familiar conversation will give them an op-portunity of speaking in their turns, and of opening to him their doubts and scruples of conscience; their fears, their temptations, and their ignorance; and he will take fit occasions to admonish and reprove them privately, without exposing them to shame, according to our Saviour's advice. The tenderness and regard to the character and credit of an offender must naturally tend to soften and reclaim him; but if after repeated admonitions he should prove obstinate and incorrigible, then, and not till then, is he to be put to open shame. Presentments, excommunications, judicial censures, and penances, are always to be the last resort, when private admonitions and expostulations have been repeated without effect.

If there be domestic quarrels and dissensions, the discreet advice of the minister may heal them, and restore unity and peace, and mutual affection between husband and wife, parents and children, brethren and sisters. If reciprocal passions, or ill offices, have set neighbours and friends at variance, and given rise to vexatious prosecutions and lawsuits, which are often occasioned by a mere misunderstanding of one another, (or by malicious whispers and insinuations,) he will set things in a better light, and mollify them to a better temper; and bring them to decide their differences by the cheap and Christian way of arbitration, to the saving of families from utter ruin. And indeed I have observed, that when once a minister has, by his discreet, peaceable, and upright behaviour, established himself in the good opinion and confidence of his parishioners, he becomes from that time a general arbiter and judge among them, and all their little strifes are readily submitted to his decision.

By the same means also he will learn if the worship of God be kept up in families, as it ought; he will discover what good books are used among them, and what bad ones, which may tend to corrupt their principles and manners. He will find if seducers have been privately at work in his parish, to practise on the ignorant and unstable, and lead them astray; and this will give him an opportunity to set them right, and fortify them. And I fear there was never more occasion for the vigilance of ministers in this case, than in these days, when the flock of Christ is beset with wolves of various denominations.

To name no more, he will learn from his own eyesight the distresses and wants of the poor families in his parish, which will move him both to extend his own charity, and to solicit that of others, for their relief.

These and a thousand other good ends are to be obtained only by the diligence of a pastor in visiting his parishioners at their houses ; so that if he should content himself with officiating in the church only, and having

barely a face-knowledge of them, he will leave a great part of his duty undone.

It is incredible how far this practice would go towards reforming the people, and especially those of the lower rank; for though he is doing no more than his bare duty, yet they would mistake it for a great honour and condescension on his part, to visit them familiarly in their homely cottages; and by thus gaining their hearts, he would find them soft to his good impressions, and patient under his reproofs.

I hope, therefore, my reverend brethren, that you will be particularly assiduous in this branch of your duty; and that, for the more easy and effectual performance of it, you will divide your respective parishes into convenient districts, to be visited by you in a stated course.

Need I observe to you, in the third and last place, that the example of a virtuous and holy life in a minister will have more effect upon his people, than a thousand discourses from the pulpit, be they never so excellent.

The bulk of mankind are much easier led by the eye than the ear; and though he should preach like an angel, yet they will despise his doctrine, if they do not read it in his life : but when he shews himself in all things a pattern of good works, and presents in his own life a fair copy of all those graces and virtues which he recommends from the pulpit, his people will believe him to be in good earnest, and that his sincere aim is to save their souls as well as his own. His humility, meekness, and forgiveness, his charity and moderation, his temperance and sobriety, his grave, prudent, and peaceable behaviour, his encouragement of religion and devotion in his own family, will procure reverence and authority to his person, attention to his preaching, and a zeal to imitate his virtues : they will think such a labourer worthy of his hire; and he must be of a very perverse temper indeed, who will not cheerfully render him his dues.

I must here make one observation, which most naturally arises out of this head; and that is the indispensable duty of residing on your respective cures; for it is of the nature of examples to be present and before the eye; so that a minister who does not live among his flock can never be an example to them.

I might here mention, as a lower consideration, the convenience of residence to yourselves; not only for the better improvement of your glebes, and the providing of more comfortable habitations for yourselves and successors, and being in the midst of your business; but also for avoiding all pretences of withholding from you your legal dues.

When a minister is not resident, either in person or by his curate, the parishioners are ready to plead, (and indeed with too much colour, that they do not receive the valuable consideration of their tithes.

In strictness of law there is no foundation for this plea, because tithes are not the property of the tenant or the landlord, but free donations to the church by the piety of ancient times; which by unlucky accidents are fallen into the hands of mere laymen, who can do no spiritual service for the same: and in fact all estates subject to tithes were transmitted, or purchased, subject to this incumbrance; for which the purchaser must have paid a greater price, and the farmer a higher rent, if they had been tithe-free. Every man therefore must consider himself not as a possessor in property, but as a trustee of the tenth part of the produce; which he holds in trust for the use of the parish minister; and which he cannot without injustice withhold and apply to his own use, since he has no title to it.

And the case is become the same where there are layimpropriators; and yet these receive their tithes with less grumbling and opposition, though they can neither pray nor preach as a consideration for the same.

The non-residence therefore of the minister, or even his neglects of duty, are a mere pretence set up against paying tithes; and I am afraid that if he would graciously remit his dues, too many of these clamourers would readily dispense with his residence.

But give me leave to observe, on the other hand, that if in law the minister be entitled to his tithes, the parishioners are in good conscience, and by the rules of the gospel, and the will of the donor, entitled equally to his spiritual cares and labours in the execution of his office for the good of their souls. If he reaps their carnal things, it is in consideration that he shall sow unto them spiritual things ; and as he is partaker of the altar, he is required to wait at the altard; and therefore if he proves remiss in the discharge of his duty, if he is not at hand to watch over his flock, to feed and to guard them, he must not

d 1 Cor. ix. 11, 13.

wonder if they are untoward and difficult in the payment of their dues; for though the law be with him, yet they will justly set up the equity of the gospel against him.

I cannot dismiss this general head without putting you in mind of one duty more, which, though it be not properly canonical and within my province, yet is truly of religious consideration.

I am speaking of that provision for your families, by a prudent management of your incomes, which every man is bound by the laws of God and of nature to make. St. Paul's admonition in this case is at least as binding as any canon of our church : If any one provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidele.

And I am sorry to observe, that the memories of many clergymen lie under just reproach for their neglect of this duty, which the laws of God and nature oblige every man to do. If a clergyman happens to have a temporal estate, something will remain for the support of his family who survive him; but where his benefice is his only fund, he must want natural affection and justice, or to suppose

the best, he must be void of all thought, who spends it as fast as it comes in, without laying up some part of it for their support. Whether it be owing to indolence, or bad management, or to idle projects, or whether his income be expended in entertainments and high living, falsely called hospitality, though it may more properly be called pride and ostentation; yet it makes no difference with respect to them, when there is nothing left for their subsistence.

He would disdain to be told, that the only refuge of his widow must be in some charity-house; and that his daughters, after being delicately bred, must be quartered as humble companions upon some good lady; where, if they are treated better than servants in point of ceremony and respect, yet their condition is so far worse, as they serve without wages; or if this should not be their good fortune, they must be exposed to snares and temptations, and at last perhaps fall a prey to some rich invader of their virtue, for the sake of a maintenance : I say, he would disdain to be told this, and yet he is taking the ready way to bring things to this issue. For he well knows that he is only a tenant for life, and that as he spends all while he lives, all his funds must die with him.

How much better would it be for such a one to re

• 1 Timothy v. 8.

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