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Love is the grand secret to make you all happy. Love, however, is a tender plant; a slight blast of unkindness will greatly injure it. If you grieve him through inadvertency, come to an early explanation. If unkindness be repeated, his attachment to you will be weakened, and then yours to him will be the same.

The Obedience of Churches to their Pastors Explained and Enforced
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves for they watch for your souls, as they that
must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." -- Hebrews xiii. 17.
By Andrew Fuller

[To the Baptist Church at Cannon Street, Birmingham, at the ordination of Rev. Thomas Morgan to the Pastoral Office. June 23, 1802.]

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IT is not usual, I believe, for ministers in their ordinary labours to dwell upon the obligations of the people of their charge towards them. They feel, probably, that on such a subject they might be suspected of partiality to themselves; and if such a suspicion were indulged, however just and proper their admonitions might be, they would be but of little use, and might operate to their disadvantage. Nor is it a subject that a humble and holy man would ordinarily choose, even though there were no danger of misconstruction; he had rather inspire in his people the love of Christ and of one another, hoping that if this prevailed, it would constrain them to whatever was proper towards himself. It does not follow, however, that this species of Christian duty ought never to be insisted on the glory of God, the success of the church, and the spiritual advantage of individuals will be found to be involved in it. No man could more strenuously renounce an undue assumption of power than the apostle Paul; in many instances, he forbore to insist upon the authority that Christ had given him; yet, when addressing the churches in the behalf of others, he uniformly insists upon the treatment which private members owe to their pastors, as well as upon other relative duties. To this I may add, if there be any one time in which an exhortation on this subject is peculiarly seasonable, it is when the relation between pastor and people is publicly solemnized. I shall, therefore, proceed to explain and enforce the exhortation which I have read to you.

I. Let us endeavour to ascertain WHEREIN CONSISTS THAT OBEDIENCE AND SUBMISSION WHICH IS REQUIRED OF A PEOPLE TOWARDS THEIR PASTOR. The very terms rule, obey, and submit may be grating in the ears of some; and true it is that there have been great abuses of these things; a great deal of priestly domination has been exercised in the name of Christ. Yet there must be rule in the church of Christ as well as in other societies.
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Without this, it would not be a body, growing up unto him in all things which is the Head, even Christ; but a number of scattered bones. Or, if all aspired to rule and guidance, the question of the apostle would here be applicable -- "If the whole were an eye, where were the hearing? But now hath God set the members, every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." Christian ministers are called overseers, as having the oversight of the flock, and the principal direction of its concerns.

The church of Christ, however, is not subject to a despotic government. Ministers are forbidden to "lord it over God's heritage." The power that was given them, and all other officers, ordinary or extraordinary, -- was for edification, and not for destruction. There are three things which are necessary in order that the authority of a pastor be legitimate and unobjectionable; namely, that he be freely chosen by the church; that the standard by which he rules be not his own will, but the will of Christ; and that the things which he urges on others be equally binding on himself.

First, It is necessary that your pastor be freely chosen by you to his sacred office. If he had been imposed upon you by any human authority, against or without your own consent, I should not be able to prove, from the Scriptures, that you were bound to obey or submit to him. Should it be alleged that pastors are represented as the "gifts of God," and such as the "Holy Spirit hath made overseers;" I should answer, True; but the Holy Spirit performs this work, not immediately, but mediately, by inclining the hearts of his people to choose them. No one, indeed, pretends that it is done immediately. Human choice is, in all cases, concerned; and the only question is, whether it be by that of the people, or of some one, or more, that shall choose on their behalf. The primitive churches elected their own officers. The apostles ordained them; but it was by the suffrage of the people. The power of election was with them; and with them it continued during the purest ages of the church. If the primitive pastors had been chosen by the apostles, it had also been their province to have rejected or silenced them, as occasion should require; but when false teachers arose among the Corinthians and the Galatians, we do not find these churches, not even the purest part of them, applying to the apostle, but the apostle to them, for their removal. The false teachers of the primitive times ingratiated themselves with the people, and despised the apostles; an incontestable proof this, to every one acquainted with human nature, where the powers of election and rejection lay. If your pastor, I say again, had been imposed upon you by any human authority, against or without your own consent, I should not be able to prove, from the Scriptures, that you were bound to obey, or submit to him. But it is not so. You have heard him and known him; and from an observation of his spirit and conduct, and an experience of the advantages of his ministry, you have chosen him to watch over you in the Lord.

Secondly, The rule to which you are required to yield obedience and subjection is not his will, but the will of Christ. Pastors are that to a church which the executive powers, or magistrates, of a free country are to the state -- the organs of the law. Submission to them is submission to the law. If your pastor teach any other doctrine, or inculcate any other duties, than what Christ has left on record, obey him not; but while urging these, it is at your peril to resist him; for, resisting him, you resist him that sent him. It is in this view, as teaching Divine truth and enforcing Divine commands, that the servants of God, in all ages, have been invested with Divine authority. Of the sons of Levi, it was said, they shall teach Jacob "thy judgments," and Israel "thy law;" and, upon this ground, it was added, "Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands;
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smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again.” Here lay the sin of Korah and his company, of Elymas the sorcerer, and of Alexander the coppersmith: they each, by resisting the servants of God in the proper execution of their work, resisted God, and brought upon themselves the sorest of judgments.

Thirdly, The things which he urges upon you are equally binding upon himself. When he exhibits to you the only name given under heaven, among men, by which you can be saved, and charges you, on pain of eternal damnation, not to neglect it, remember his own soul also is at stake. And, when he exhorts and warns you, if he himself should privately pursue a contrary course, he seals his own destruction.

There are, it is true, those who lade men -- with heavy burdens, grievous to be borne, to which they themselves will not put one of their fingers; these, however, are not the commands of Christ. Instead of being the commands of Christ, which are not grievous, except to unholy men, these are merely human traditions; but though they were allowed to be otherwise, the inconsistent conduct of ministers would not exempt either them or you from obligation. Should we enforce the will of Christ upon you, while living in the neglect of it ourselves, woe be unto us! Yet this will fall upon our own heads. If we be wicked, depose us from our office; but while we are in it, let not the word of the Lord be disregarded on our account.

Let me point out a few particulars, brethren, in which it is your duty and interest to obey him whom you have chosen to have the rule over you, and to submit yourselves.

1. With respect to his public ministry. Do not fly in the face of plain-dealing from the pulpit. Good sense, as well as the fear of God, will, I trust, preserve your pastor from dealing in personal reflections, or any thing designed to offend; but do not be unwilling that he should come close to cases and consciences. You may as well have no minister, as one that never makes you feel. I hope the house of God will continue to be to you what it has been -- a rest in times of trouble, a house of consolation; but do not go with a desire merely to be comforted. Go, as well, to learn your failings and defects, and in the hope of having them corrected. It is not the mere hearer, but the doer of the word, that is blessed in his work. I hope you will always exercise your judgments as to what you hear, and compare it with the oracles of God; but if you attend preaching merely as judges of its orthodoxy, you will derive no advantage to yourselves, and may do much harm to others. It is the humble Christian, who hears that he may be instructed, corrected, and quickened in the ways of God, who will obtain that consolation which the gospel affords.

2. With respect to his private visits. You do not expect him to visit you in the character of a saunterer, but of a pastor; and if so, it becomes you to be open to a free exchange of sentiments on your best interests. No minister is always alike prepared for profitable conversation, and some much less so than others; but if he perceive in you a desire after it, it will be much more easily introduced. Be free to communicate your cases to him. It will assist him in his preaching more than a library of expositors; and if, while you are conversing with him, he should be directed to impart to you the mind of Christ, as suited to your particular case, do not treat it lightly, but submit yourselves to it.

3. In presiding in your occasional assemblies. When you meet together as a Christian church, for the adjustment of your concerns, he is entitled to your respect. Every society places so much authority in its president as shall be necessary to check disorderly individuals, and to preserve a proper decorum. It will doubtless become him, especially while he is a young man
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to be gentle and temperate in the exercise of authority; and it will no less become you to submit to it. When churches enter into disputes with heat and bitterness -- when all are speakers, and respect is paid to no one more than to another -- they debase themselves below the character even of civilized societies.

4. In the private reproofs which he may have occasion to administer. You do not wish that your pastor should deal in personal reflections from the pulpit; yet there are cases in which reproof requires to be personal; he must, therefore, if he discharge his duty, be free and faithful in telling you of what he sees amiss in you. It has long appeared to me that there are some species of faults in individual members which are not proper objects of church censure, but of pastoral admonition; such as spiritual declensions, hesitating on important truths, neglect of religious duties, worldly anxiety, and the early approaches to any evil course. A faithful pastor, with an eye of watchful tenderness, will perceive the first symptoms of spiritual disorder, and, by a timely hint, will counteract its operations; whereas if nothing be said or done till the case requires the censure of the church, the party may be excluded, but is seldom recovered. You may easily suppose this to be a self-denying work for your pastor; he had much rather visit you with a smile of affectionate congratulation; yet it may be of the first importance to you and to the church. Do not render this disagreeable part of his work more disagreeable by an irritable and resentful disposition; but receive reproofs with candour. "Correction may be grievous to him that forsaketh the way; but he that hateth reproof shall die."

II. Let us observe THE IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS BY WHICH THIS OBEDIENCE AND SUBMISSION ARE ENFORCED. These you will perceive are partly taken from the regard you bear to yourselves -- "they watch for your souls;" partly from your sympathy with them -- "that they may do it with joy, and not with grief;" and even that part which seems to respect their comfort ultimately concerns your own; for if they discharge their work with grief, "that will be unprofitable for you." Give us your serious and candid attention, brethren, while we review these important motives.

1. Your pastor "watches for your souls." Your salvation, let me presume, will be his great concern; and, while pursuing this, you may well be expected to concur with him, and submit yourselves to him in the Lord. You would submit to a surgeon who was performing an operation to save your life; or to a counsellor who should offer you his advice for the security of your property; or to a commander who should lead you forth to save your country: but these are inferior objects, when compared with your soul. Observe the force of every term.

They "watch." The word literally signifies to keep awake. Here it denotes vigilance. Ministers are as watchmen on the walls or in the streets of a city, by whose care and fidelity the inhabitants enjoy security. Their work is to rise early, to sit up late, and to eat the bread of care; for so it is that God giveth his beloved sleep. Aware of your temptations and dangers, he must be continually on the watch, that he may be ready to give the alarm. He may be thinking, and caring, and praying for you, -- when you think but little of him, and perhaps, in some instances, when you think but little of yourselves. Do not hinder him, but help him in his work.

They watch for you. Recollect that you are watched on all sides, but not in this manner. Satan watches you; but it is that he may seize his opportunity to destroy you. He watches you as a wolf does a sheep-fold; but your pastor, as a faithful shepherd, to protect and save you. The world also will watch you, and that with the eye of an enemy, waiting for your
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halting; but he with the tender solicitude of a father, to do you good. Do not oppose him in this his important work.

They watch for your souls. If your pastor were stationed to watch over your health, property, or life, and should discharge his trust with skill and fidelity, you would think him worthy of your esteem; but it is not for these things that he is principally concerned. He would doubtless be happy to do you good in any way; but neither of these employments is his peculiar province. You employ other persons to watch for you in such matters. Nothing less than your immortal interests must engage his attention. He watches for that compared with which kingdoms and empires are but trifles; for that which if gained, all is gained; and which if lost, all is lost, and lost for ever. Do not resist him in his work, but concur with him.

They watch as those that must give account. How important a station! There is an account for every one to give of himself; but a pastor has not only to do this in common with his people, but must also give account of them. At his hands the chief Shepherd will require it. And what will be the account of your pastor? Will he be able to say, concerning you, "Here I am, and the children whom the Lord hath given me?" Oh that he might! But it is much to be feared that some of you who are this day committed to his charge will in that day be missing! And what account will he then have to give? Will he not have to say, Lord, some of them have neglected thy word; some have resisted it; some have reproached me for preaching it; some have deserted it and turned aside after lying vanities; some, who have continued, have not received the love of the truth, that they might be saved: hearing, they have heard, and not understood; seeing, they have seen, and not perceived; their heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed? And what if, when interrogated, he should not be able to acquit himself? What if it should prove that he did not warn you, nor seek after you, nor care for you? Ah, then you will perish, and your blood will be required at his hand! Who, alas! who is sufficient for these things? At all events, for your own sake, and for his sake, do not hinder him in his work. Woe unto him if he preach not the gospel! and woe unto you if you oppose him in it! Do not object to his dealing faithfully, both in and out of the pulpit, so that it be aimed for your good. Do not hinder him in the work of reproof, by siding with transgressors. In short, if you have any regard to your own souls, or the souls of others, obey the counsels of Heaven, which are communicated to you through his ministry, and submit yourselves.

2. The discharge of this his work will be either joy or grief, according to the spirit of the people among whom he labours. You do not wish, I dare say, to grieve and distress a servant of Christ. Better would it be never to have chosen him than to break his heart; yet such things are!

If, in his public preaching, he have a zealous, modest, attentive, wise, and affectionate people, constant and early in attending, candid and tender-hearted in hearing, and desirous of obtaining some spiritual advantage from all they hear, you cannot conceive what joy it will afford him. He will pray for you, and preach to you, with abundantly the more interest. And this being the case, it may contribute not a little to the success of his labours; for God works not only by the word preached, but by the effects of it in the spirit of believers. The apostle supposes that some, on whom the word itself had no influence, might yet be won by the chaste conversation of the godly females. But if he have a slothful, selfish, cold-hearted, cavilling, conceited, and contentious audience, what a source of grief must it be to him! The meekest of men was overcome by such a people, and
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tempted to wish that God would kill him out of hand, rather than continue to cause him thus to see his wretchedness.

If, in adjusting the concerns of the church, every individual consider that others have understanding as well as himself, and have the same right to be heard and regarded; if all strive to act in concert, and never oppose a measure from humour, but merely from conscience, or a persuasion that it is wrong; such things to a pastor must needs be a source of joy. But if pride and self-will prevail, they will produce confusion and every evil work; and this, if he have any regard to religion or to you, will be the grief of his soul.

If the deacons whom you have chosen to be helpers in the truth be wise, faithful, active, and tenderhearted, ready to stand by their pastor in every right cause, willing to impart the counsel of maturer years, and careful to preserve the purity and peace of the church, his duties will be discharged with joy. But if they mind earthly things, and leave all to him, or though they should be active, yet if it be with the spirit of a Diotrephes, instead of diminishing his load, they will increase it, and render his work a daily grief.

If, in the exercise of discipline, there be a unity of heart, a willingness to follow God’s word, whoever may be affected by it -- if, like the tribe of Levi, you in such matters "know not your father, nor your mother, nor acknowledge your brethren, nor know your own children; but observe God's word, and keep his covenant" -- this, to an upright man, will be a source of joy and solid satisfaction. But if, whenever a censure requires to be inflicted, no unanimity can be obtained -- if regard be had to friends and family connexions, to the setting aside of Christ's revealed will -- nothing will be done with effect. The zeal of a few will be attributed to prejudice; and the person concerned, instead of being convinced and humbled, will be hardened in his sin. Thus the work of the ministry will be a burden of grief.

Finally, If you be a spiritual, affectionate, and peaceable people, your pastor will perform his work with joy; but if you be carnal and contentious -- if there be whisperings, swellings, tumults, party attachments, jealousies, antipathies, scandals – alas! he may sow, but it will be among thorns; he may preach, but it will be with a heavy heart.

3. You cannot cause the work of your pastor to be grievous but at your own expense: it will be "unprofitable for you." It is to no purpose that you have a pastor ordained over you in the Lord, unless his ministry be profitable to you. Every thing, therefore, which promotes this end should be carefully cherished; and every thing that hinders it, as carefully avoided. But profit under a ministry greatly depends, under God, upon mutual attachment. I do not mean to commend that fondness and partiality that would render you the devotees of a man, or incapacitate you for hearing any other preaching than his. They that cannot edify save under one minister give sufficient proof that they do not truly edify under him. But there is an attachment between a pastor and a people that is highly necessary; as, without it, attendance on public worship would, in a great measure, cease to be an enjoyment. This attachment, my brethren, should begin with you, and he cherished by a course of kind and faithful treatment; delicately meeting his wants, gradually inspiring his confidence, tenderly participating in his afflictions, and I may add, if occasion require it, affectionately suggesting to him his faults and defects. By these means, he will insensibly be attached to you, in return; and will prefer preaching at home to all his occasional labours in other places. By an acquaintance with your cases, his preaching will be seasonable and savoury, proceeding from the fulness of his heart. Of such words it may well be said, How good they
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are! But I need not enlarge upon these things to you. Never, perhaps, were they more fully exemplified, than in the person of your late affectionate and beloved pastor. You loved him for the truth’s sake that dwelt in him; and he, on the other hand, was not only willing to impart unto you the gospel of God, but his own soul also, because ye were dear unto him. May the same spirit be cherished between you and your present pastor!

Love is the grand secret to make you all happy. Love, however, is a tender plant; a slight blast of unkindness will greatly injure it. If you grieve him through inadvertency, come to an early explanation. If unkindness be repeated, his attachment to you will be weakened, and then yours to him will be the same. This will be followed by various misunderstandings, slights, distances, and offences, the issue of which may be a rooted antipathy; and when this enters, all profit under a ministry is at an end. If he could preach like an angel, all were in vain, so far as relates to your advantage.

From these remarks, you see and feel, my brethren, that if your pastor perform his work with grief, it will be at your expense; or that every kind of treatment that wounds his spirit undermines your own welfare. Study, therefore, by all means, to render it his joy, which will turn to your account: study, by a constant discharge of kind offices, to endear yourselves and your families to him; by an inviting intimacy in spiritual things, to know and be known by him; and by a holy, humble, and uniform conduct in the world and in the church, to enable him to look the enemies of religion in the face, while he proclaims its holy efficacy.

The reward of a true pastor is in the people of his charge, in their sanctification and salvation. What else is his hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Do not withhold from the labourer his hire! You may be his hope, without being his joy; and his hope and joy for a season, without being his crown of rejoicing in the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming: but need I say that this will be unprofitable for you? If he have a full reward of his labour, you must be his hope, and joy, and crown. Brethren, consider what I have said, and the Lord give you understanding in all things.
[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 196-202. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]

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