THE PASTOR'S FAREWELL TO IHS FLOCK. A VALEDICTORY SEMON, • First Baptist Church and Congregation, DELIVERED AT BEVERLY, APRIL 19, 1840, BY THEIE PASTOR, NATHANIEL W, WILLIAMS PUBLISHED BY REQUEST. SALEM: PRINTED AT THE REGISTER PRESS. 1940. Digitized by tine Internet Arciiive in 2011 witii funding from Boston Public Library http://www.archive.org/details/pastorsfarewelltOOwill 8 £} H M O iV . 2d Corinthians, xiii. 11. — Finally, irethren, farewell. The language of my text is Paul's valedictory to the Church at Corinth. The same would I adopt as my valedictory to you as a Christian Church, and to all who pertain to this congregation. The time has arrived, when it is proper to take my leave of you, never expecting to address you more, as I have done, for a few years past. May God help me to speak and you to hear, so that when we meet before the throne of impartial justice, it may appear that I have spoken, and you have heard, aright. In elucidating the text, it will be proper, to I. Consider the appellation, which the Apostle uses. By nature, all men are brethren, the children of one common Father. But it is in a higher and more spiritual sense, that the Apostle here calls them, "brethren." It is a spiritual relation, a connexion, into which they are brought by grace, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, and made "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." This relation is common and universal a- mong all who are "born of God." All the children of God have a common relationship, and each is ac- knowledged a brother before God. Brotherhood is an endearing relation in this life, but among the saints it holds a superior character, and its endearments are in exact proportion to the degree of holiness, which each one possesses. This is al- icays true in experience, and every brother finds his heart knit to his brethren the more, as his soul be- comes lifted above the Avorld and worldly things ; — and in the same degree too, he feels the enjoyment which intercourse with the pious is adapted to give. What believer has not known the sacred pleasure of associating and conversing with his "brethren in Christ" — what christian has not felt his heart "burn within him," when engaged in holy discourse upon the things of "the kingdom !" Let us now II. Enquire, when it may be said that christian brethren fare well. Farewell^ as used in the text, seems to be a parting expression, as at taking leave of a friend or people. — But as compounded of two words, fare and well, it imports a desire, that those to whom it is addressed, may be happy and prosperous. In this sense it is my design to employ it in this discourse. The question then returns, lohen may it be said that christians fare ivell 1 Is it only when they increase in mimher, loealth, and power — do they fare well, only when the tide of prosperity and popular applause sets strong in their favor, and when worldly influence pro fife rs its aid in their support? No, my brethren, all these things may be received and enjoyed, and yet as a body and as individuals, they may be far from faring well. I remark then, that christians fare well, I. When they are ^^spiritually minded,^' and anxious to become more and more holy. Every christian is a spiritual man and a holy man — but christians do not, in every instance, possess so high a degree of spirituality, as they ought to possess, nor are they as holy as they ought to be. For the more part, even those who are pious, live far, wer^/j far below their privileges, and below the standard o personal piety to which they ought to attain. Many there are who rest contented with the most meagre attainments in grace. Such are persons of litd prayer and self denial, of litde knowledge of divine^ things, a^d possess so litde piety of heart, as scarcely to do any thing which is adapted to promote the pow- er of religion. This, my brethren, accounts for the little success which, for a large part of the time, at- tends the preaching of the Gospel — the church hangs like an incubus upon those who preach the word, and the impenitent seeing the deadness of professed chris- tians, go on in their sins, and pride themselves in be- ing as good as many in the church. When such is the state of christians, can it be said that they are faring ivell? Far from it. Christians fare well only when their minds are interested in spir- itual things — when truth is dear to them — when pious exercises, duties and conversation are more pleasant and engaging to their minds, than other things — and v/hen their desires are continually rising before God, that they may become more pure, and more like God. When such is the religious state of brethren of Christ, the church is like the " vineyards of Engedi " — the "garden of the Lord." Grace being in exercise, peace and joy abound, — each desires to feel the en- joyment of things sacred, and can say, " Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake in thy likeness." 2. Christians may be said to fare zi?^?//, when they are advancing in piety and religious knoivledge. There is such a thing as christians being excited to a lively frame and apparently much engaged and zealous in religion ; but at the same time, they may \ be far from advancing in holiness and the knowledge of Christ. And they may be very loquacious and busy in religion, without any true rising to God and ! aspirations after sacred knowledge. The christian who values religion, not for the ex- citement which it brings, but for its tending to pro- mote practical godliness, is the man who fares well. To illustrate this, we may suppose a man hears a re- port, that a relation in a distant place, has bequeathed him a large fortune. This may excite him and en- gage his attention. But the question arises, whether he really comes into possession of the property, and in what respects he is benefitted. If he really be- 6 come richer and happier, and more useful, it is well, but if it is only in report, what is he the better ? Just so it is in religion. A mere ebullition of feel- ing, is of little worth. There must be that in the mind, which ensures the actual advance in piety of heart, and religious knowledge. In the first experi- ence, or in a few years of experience, no christian can learn and obtain all that is to be learned and obtained of religion. The spiritual man is expected to advaiice and gi'ow in knowledge and holiness, from his first spiritual breath, until the last he draws. Without this, of what avail will it be for him to remain here below — what good will his example do to others ? 3. Christians may be said to fare well, when they are diligent and earnest in prayer. Prayer is a very common topic among christians, and on this account, it may possess but httle interest to such persons, as, like the Athenians, are "always seeking some new thing." But prayer is a very com- mon subject in the Bible, nay, it is the most common, because it is the most important subject in all that re- lates to christian duty. Without prayer, no one can be a christian — with it, every sinner may obtain the blessing of God, in peace, enjoyment and safety to his soul. Without prayer, no christian ever made large at- tainments in the life and power of godliness. With- out /re^'we^i^j/er^ewif, and untiring prayer to Almighty God, the religion of a christian will become dwarfish, — his heart shrivelled — his affections cold and cheerless, and his whole action in rehgion, like the locomotion of one, whose powers are checked by a paralysis. But let this death-like state give place to the pow- er of prayer, and let the soul "wrestle with God" as did Jacob ; then shall he "prevail like Israel," while in answer to his importunity, he feels the power of truth in his heart, and fares locll through the grace of his Redeemer. In such a state, he will "follow on ' to know" and "be able to comprehend with all saints what is the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God," to his exceeding abundant joy in the Lord. 4. Christians fare well, when they are established in the truth. The Bible is the standard of all religious truth. — It reveals every doctrine necessary to our faith and knowledge, and every rule of duty important for us to obey. Herein is taught but one system of truth, and but one code of laws for our faith and duty. — ■ Hence, if the Bible were adopted as the only stand- ard of faith and practice, there could be no diversity of opinion upon doctrine or duty. But when christians become w^orldly-wise, and think they may decide what is right and may square their convictions of duty by their own wishes, without an appeal to the Bible, they are in great danger of wandering from the truth and their duty. Examples of this kind are seen in persons who have lost their balance, and by indulging erroneous opinions and em- bracing false doctrines, are induced to violate their covenant engagements, and associate with the hetero- dox and corrupt. If christians would fare well, they must stand /rm in the truth of the gospel, and like the deep rooted oak, or the sea-girt rock, defy every inducement to swerve from the truth. Temptation to compromise with error, will never be wanting, while sin reigns in The world, and often is so fascinately presented, as al- most to " deceive even the elect of God." But there is one general characteristic in all the great leading er- rors and corruptions of the truth, by which they may 1 be known. It is, that in every instance, error con- i nives at sin under specious names, and seeks to quiet lithe conscience, while forsaking the truth. Let the i christian who would fare well, be aware of every doc- Ijtrine, which is not supported by the Bible, and whose 1 tendency is to unsettle the mind, and lead the heart astray from the great principles of gospel truth and I duty. 5. Christians fare well, when they are united in 8 love. Christian love is the grand constituent of chris- tian characte7\ Without love, how much soever of faith, of benevolence and zeal any man may possess, he is but as " sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal." Love is the essence of religion — " love is of God," for " God is love." When Christ would put Peter to the closest test, by a comprehensive enquiry, he thrice enquired of him, if love had a place in his heart. " Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me ?" If this grace be wanting, all is wanting — if this be in exercise, all the graces of the spiritual man will perform their respective functions. Then it is, the christian fares ivell — he feels, while love possesses his heart, that all is well — he can trust in God, even in the darkest times — he can rejoice and hope in his mercy, and by love, " his cheerful feet in swift obedi- ence move." In the exercise of love, each believer feels a sacred nearness to all who love God — their hearts become like the hearts of David and Jonathan — with each other they wish to live, with each other they wish to die, and with each other, hope to spend eternity. Love to the christian mind, is like steam to the engine. It sets all the graces of the spiritual man in motion. What was it that gave the Ephesian Church so high a character? Was it the soundness of their faith ? No, it was love— love to Christ and love to each other — it was love which made them happy and honorable to God, and induced their ready obedience to Christ. But when they "foi^sook their first love " — the Lord was angry with them, and "removed the candlestick out of his place." But let it not be thought that love consists in a "whining cant" and words of "empty air." A man may utter words as soft as oil, while gall and worm- wood are in his heart. True love is generous and kind, and binds all true hearted disciples in one com- mon bond,' like a " three-fold cord which is not easily broken." Under the influence of genuine love, each brother will desire and rejoice in another's good, and I 9 " do to each other, as he would that others should do to him" — prayer will be prevalent, and the church move forward in peace and power. Without love, the best creed will be an empty form, and all the acts of the church be wanting, in what is chiefly essential to make them effective and useful. Under the influence of love, the minds of christians will commonly be agreed, in all essential points of truth and duty. Or, if they should see some things with different eyes, love will incline them to bear with each other's imperfections and to "agree to disagree," where the Bible gives no definite rule. The same principle will incline them to be faithful to each other. Some persons suppose that when Solomon says, "love covereth ah sins," that every fault should be borne with, without complaint. But this cannot be his meaning, else the exphcit directions of Christ and his Apostles, must be wholly disregarded. Christ and his Apostles, command christians to exhort, to re- prove and rebuke one another, and the church to labor with those who off"end by their sins, and continued neglect of duty, and even to exclude them from their fellowship, if they cannot be reclaimed. David un- derstands this to be the exercise of love, when he says, " Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kind- iness, and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent ioil." Love will induce christian faithfulness, upon the same principle, that one man would warn another, [when he sees him going into imminent danger — for ex- liample. Suppose you w^ere very anxious to visit a icity in which the yellow fever or plague is making fearful ravages, but you are wholly ignorant of it. 'Would it be the part of love for your friends to with- Ihold information of the fact, and not try to dissuade [you from going, lest you should be disappointed of jyour visit ? No, you instantly reply. Just so it is in regard to christian faithfulness. The more you 2 10 love your brethren, the more ready you will be to counsel and admonish them for their faults. Nothino- can be more fatal to christian union, than to cover up sin. If christians would be united in love, let them be affectionately faithful — then they will fare well. 6. Christians may be said to fare well, when they are agreed in efforts to advance the cause of genuine religion. The object of any man's conversion, is not merely to secure his personal enjoyment, nor his personal safety. God has higher designs to answer, than any man's happiness or safety. His own glory is con- cerned, in all that he does, and all he intends to do. It is for God's glory, that his children should continue in the world for a season. Here is the appropriate theatre of their action. Here are materials upon which their energies may be profitably expended, and men are the proper instruments of good to men. Hence Jesus Christ, instead of making preachers of Angels, invested men with his high commission. And not only are preachers to be employed, but every christian has an appropriate part to act, and by the united efforts of the lohole church, is the work of the world's conversion to be carried forward unto com- pletion. Let christians then be agreed to labor in promoting the great cause of religion in the world, but let them labor in their proper places, and they will fare well, for God rewardeth the pious efforts of all his saints. In each of these respects, I can respond to the language of the Apostle, and say, "Finally, brethren, farewell.''^ It is my desire, that tho' some of you have profited so litde by my labors, you may, by some other instrumentality, profit much more, and that you may fare well in each and all the particulars that I have mentioned. From this subject, we may infer that the declen- sion of religion and the loss of spiritual enjoyments, is owing to the deficiencies of christians in their duty. 11 God has instituted means for the improvement, groioth and happiness of his children, no less than he has de- creed the salvation of (hem that believe. And every christian who would enjoy the consolation of the gos- pel, must be "spiritually minded." Strive to be more holy, and daily cultivate all the graces of the spiritual man, and do, as well as get good. Upon a similar principle, all men conduct the af- fairs of life — the principle of labor and profit. Look where you will, you see men carrying out this princi- ple. They labor, not because they love to expend their physical strength, but, for the sake of the reward which they hope to receive. So must the christian labor, to become more holy and more wise in heaven- ly things, and to " enter into that rest which remains for the people of God." If christians would see the church prosper, they must be faithful to their covenant engagements. For how can a church prosper, in which prayer is wanting — or how can a church prosper, whose members are unsound in the truth — who are w^anting in affection for each other, and m judgment upon the duties which 1 are incumbent upon them ? To embrace a large number of members, is far less important than to be j "prayerful and united in sentiment and practice. L Without union, the governmeiit of a church cannot 'be maintained. Offenders will find friends to advo- cate them in doing wrong, and what may be done in 1 one instance, will be claimed in another, till, by par- 1 tiality to one, favor to a second, and the neglect of a third, the church becomes corrupt, discipline is de- stroyed, and members may go w^hen they choose, and do w^hat they please with impunity. I am aware that my views of discipline have, by some, been thought to be severe. But unfortunately, if they are so, I have not been able to carry them into effect. And I give it as my best advice, to the church, that they should copy the example of the Ephesians, who " could not bear them that were evil," whether corrupt in senti- 12 ment, or covenant breakers, or unholy in their walk and conversation in the world. In what remains to be said, I deem it proper to re- fer to the circumstances of our connexion, w^hich have hdid fell), if any parallels — I mean, the facts connected with my being called to your service a second time. Here it is proper for me to refer to my first setde- ment with you. In the year 1816, I was ordained your pastor, and including the time of previous and constant supply, I served the congregation about nine years and a half. The church had been much divided for several years, and consisted, at my settlement, of only one hundred and six members. But it pleased the Lord to shed down the showers of his grace — to unite your hearts, and revive his work, so that about sixty were baptised while I remained. Near the close of the year 1824, I was under the necessity of removing, for the want of adequate sup- port. After an absence of eleven years, in which it pleased God that I should see much of his power and grace, I received the unanimous invitation of this church and society to return. Accordingly I came back in September 1836, leaving a united people and a pleasant situation, much to their grief, and, as it af- terward appeared, to their injury and my own. This, however, I can say, that I acted from a conviction of my duty — that no selfish motive moved me to it, nor can I, to this hour, perceive any thing which induced my compliance with your call, but the strong attach- ment, which I early formed to this place and people. The Society, it is true, was increased during my absence, by the rise of children to manhood, and the church, by the revival of religion under ihe labors of its worthy pastors. But as a congregation, they were, essentially, the same at my return, as when I removed - from them. I entered upon my labors, with the expectation of being at home for the residue of my life, a senti^nent, which many of this congregation, and many other cit- 13 izens of the town, have often expressed to me. Not that I would be a burden to any people, if God should spare me beyond the time of useful labor. I beheve and hold, that every minister who lives beyond his a- bility to be useful, ought to lay down his commission, and if poor, as most ministers are, be provided for by the christian pubhc, till God shall call him home. In returning to you, if I ever had any faith, I came in the full confidence of seeing the fruits of my la- bors, and God has 7iot disappointed my faith. Forty one members have been added to the church — thirty six families to the congregation, and by the blessing of God on your exertions, you have within the same period been able to build this commodious house. I speak not of these things, my friends, as though I, or you, have any thing to boast of, God forbid. Jf I seem to boast, I must say with Paul, "ye have com- pelled me." I speak of them as facts to his praise, to whom alone the glory belongs. And I speak of them to show, that if I have even been the humble in- strument of a little good to this people, the last year has been more blessed, than either of the preceding. And it gives courage to my heart, and raises my un- feigned gratitude to God, that I can now look upon many before me, of former and latter years, and say, to the honor of God'^s free grace, Ye are my epistle, and the seals of my ministry in the Lord, whom I hope to meet, and with whom I hope to dwell, in a purer and happier world than this. Is it now enquired, why it is proposed to dissolve ; this connection ? I reply, the reduction of salary is the ostensible reason. But the real occasion is the opinion of a few individuals, unfavorable to my minis- try, although written and verbal testimony, proves the ' church and society to have been unanimous in my ' call, but three and a half years ago, and that, after ; having known my standing, talents and character as a minister for twenty years. Nor has a single com- plaint been made to me, down to this time. How much in accordance with the "golden rule," the 14 course pursued toward me has been, I leave the pub- lic mind to decide. For myself, I have only to say, that according to my abiUtij, I have not shunned to declare unto you, all the counsel of God, and have ever been ready to serve you in health and in sickness, in prosperity and adversity, by night and by daj?^, and if it has been thought that any family or individual has been neglec- ted, it has been far from my intention so to do. I have been very conscious of many imperfections, in all my labors, and have great occasion to be humbled before God. But this I can claim, that in my return to you, and in my labors among you, I have kept in view the single purpose of doing you good, and not evil — and with full sincerity, may add, that I have been willing to spend and be spent for you and your children. Finally, my brethren and friends, you will, of c'ourse, be loolving, speedily, for a successor. In one word, then, let me advise, that if you are so fortunate as to procure a pastor with all the mental furniture, which highly cultivated minds could desire, to give him your confidence and your prayers, and more than all, to remember that he is a man, and as a man^ he cannot be perfect, and as a man and a minister, he has rights in common with others. Brethren, if you would prosper, settle your trials among yourselves, and prepare yourselves to receive God's blessing ; not by conniving at what is wrong, nor by half quenching the coals of strife ; but fully in- vestigate every subject — dig up the very roots of dis- sension, and wholly extinguish the fire of jealousy, by plain and faithful dealing. To the many, whose hearts now bleed, let me say, Trust in God — be much in prayer — stand fast in the truth — firmly maintain what is right — be prudent and pious. My dear hearers, who have heard the truth from my hps for years, but still remain in your sins, let me say. Yours is a serious case. You are not ignorant o( your duty, nor of God's commands. The threaten- 15 ings of Jehovah's broken law, and the melting strains of Jesus' dying love, have sounded forth, to awaken your slumbering consciences and win your hearts to God. Every expedient has been tried — expostula- tion, entreaty and persuasion— h\xi your rocky hearts have refused to break. Shall it yet be in vain — and must it still be said to you, "O wicked man, thou shalt surely die." Can you, my brother sinner, expect to fare well, while you neglect the great salvation, and the Saviour who bled on Calvary ? No man can fare loell, who is out of Christ. '■Thib; solemn truth does still remain, "The sinner must be born again, "Or down to rain go." Say, sinner, will you reproach me at the judgment day — will you say, I have not invited you to the gos- pel feast? If it be so, /shall not fare well ; but, if I have done my duty to you, my garments will be clean, and your blood will be upon your own heads. My time of preaching to yozi is over; our next meeting, probably, will be before the throne of God, where it will be known how and what I have preached, and with what feelings and desires you have heard. May God have mercy upon you, and may you love and serve him., as the obedient children of his grace -.fare- well. Beloved Children and Youth — Let me say to you, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth." You too, hke many others, may find an I early grave. God gives no lease of life — disease and ji death are fast conquering the millions of our race, ! and the far greater part of those that die, go down to ; the tomb in the morning of hfe. Now, while you are \ young, is the best time to seek your Saviour's love, 1 before the cares and disappointments and woes of life come upon you. And you may remember for |i your encouragement to seek the Lord, that "The flower when offered in the bud, "Is no vain sacrifice.'' y 16 Precious jouth, my heart has been mterested for jour good — for you I have labored — for you I have prayed — and all that I can more say, is, "farewell/' dear youth. As I cast my eye around, I see here and there, an aged traveller, near to eternity. My friends, you are few in number — the sands of your glass are almost run. Yours is a great account, for a long life, and many blessings, and soon you must give it up before your Judge. Let me then, my dear aged friends, ask, how stands it with your immortal souls ? Is ijour peace made with God — are your lamps tnmmed and burning — have you the spirit of adoption — do you feel an evidence to your own souls, that you love God, and are prepared for the abodes of the holy and the happy ? If this is your case, happy are you — soon you will leave a vexing world— soon you will ex- change the sorrows of the world, for the joys of heaven — soon, your deathless spirits will enter upon indescribable joys, and amid the countless throng, adore and praise the Lamb, who died for you, and washed you in his blood. But, my beloved friends, if any of you have hved till this hour in your sins, how fearful is your condi- tion ! Your youth, your middle life, and your old age, all consecrated to the world! Your day of grace is almost passed — heaven or hell, will soon be yours. — Fly, then, fly, I beseech you, to the arms of Jesus — make salvation the great, the only object of your at- tention for the few short days which remain to you — whatever you come short of, see that you fall not short of the pardoning mercy of the Lord. Finally, my christian brethren — my Jellow-sinners — precious youth, and aged friends, farewell. FINIS.