A Solemn Warning to Ministers: Let us consider, what it is to take heed to ourselves…

Taken and adapted from, “THE REFORMED PASTOR.” Written by Richard Baxter.

images (2)See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls.

Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a Savior, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing; and lest you famish yourselves while you prepare food for them. Though there is a promise of shining as the stars, to those ‘who turn many to righteousness,’ that is but on supposition that they are first turned to it themselves. Their own sincerity in the faith is the condition of their glory, simply considered, though their great ministerial labors may be a condition of the promise of their greater glory.

Many have warned others that they come not to that place of torment, while yet they hastened to it themselves…

Many a preacher is now in hell, who hath a hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refuse it themselves; and for telling others those truths which they themselves neglect and abuse? Many a tailor goes in rags, that makes costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to ourselves first, that you he that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and heartily entertain that Savior whom you offer to them. He that bade you love your neighbors as yourselves, did imply that you should love yourselves, and not hate and destroy yourselves and them.

It is a fearful thing to be an unsanctified professor, but much more to be an unsanctified preacher.

Doth it not make you tremble when you open the Bible, lest you should there read the sentence of your own condemnation? When you pen your sermons, little do you think that you are drawing up indictments against your own souls! When you are arguing against sin, that you are aggravating your own! When you proclaim to your hearers the unsearchable riches of Christ and his grace, that you are publishing your own iniquity in rejecting them, and your unhappiness in being destitute of them! What can you do in persuading men to Christ, in drawing them from the world, in urging them to a life of faith and holiness, but conscience, if it were awake, would tell you, that you speak all this to your own confusion? If you speak of hell, you speak of your own inheritance: if you describe the joys of heaven, you describe your own misery, seeing you have no right to ‘the inheritance of the saints in light.’ What can you say, for the most part, but it will be against your own souls O miserable life! That a man should study and preach against himself, and spend his days in a course of self-condemnation! A graceless, inexperienced preacher is one of the most unhappy creatures upon earth and yet he is ordinarily very insensible of his unhappiness; for he hath so many counters that seem like the gold of saving grace, and so many splendid stones that resemble Christian jewels, that he is seldom troubled with the thoughts of his poverty; but thinks he is ‘rich, and increased in goods, and stands in need of nothing, when he is poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.’ He is acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, he is exercised in holy duties, he lives not in open disgraceful sin, he serves at God’s altar, he reproves other men’s faults, and preaches up holiness both of heart and life; and how can this man choose but be holy?

Oh what aggravated misery is this, to perish in the midst of plenty!

To famish with the bread of life in our hands, while we offer it to others, and urge it on them! That those ordinances of God should be the occasion of our delusion, which are instituted to be the means of our conviction and salvation! And that while we hold the looking-glass of the gospel to others, to show them the face and aspect of their souls, we should either look on the back part of it ourselves, where we can see nothing, or turn it aside, that it may misrepresent us to ourselves! If such a wretched man would take my counsel, he would make a stand, and call his heart and life to an account, and fall a preaching a while to himself, before he preach any more to others. He would consider, whether food in the mouth, that goes not into the stomach, will nourish; whether he that ‘names the name of Christ should not depart from iniquity,” whether God will hear his prayers, if ‘he regard iniquity in his heart,” whether it will serve the turn at the day of reckoning to say, ‘Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in thy name,’ when he shall hear these awful words, ‘Depart from me, I know you not,” and what comfort it will be to Judas, when he has gone to his own place, to remember that he preached with the other apostles, or that he sat with Christ, and was called by him, ‘Friend.’ When such thoughts as these have entered into their souls, and kindly worked a while upon their consciences, I would advise them to go to their congregation, and preach over Origen’s sermon on Psalm 50. 16, 17. ‘But unto the wicked God says, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou should take my covenant into thy mouth seeing thou hates instruction, and casts my words behind thee.’ And when they have read this text, to sit down, and expound and apply it by their tears; and then to make a full and free confession of their sin, and lament their case before the whole assembly, and desire their earnest prayers to God for pardoning and renewing grace; that hereafter they may preach a Savior whom they know, and may feel what they speak, and may commend the riches of the gospel from their own experience.

Alas! it is the common danger and calamity of the Church, to have unregenerate and inexperienced pastors…

…and to have so many men become preachers before they are Christians; who are sanctified by dedication to the altar as the priests of God, before they are sanctified by hearty dedication as the disciples of Christ; and so to worship an unknown God, and to preach an unknown Christ, to pray through an unknown Spirit, to recommend a state of holiness and communion with God, and a glory and a happiness which are all unknown, and like to be unknown to them forever. He is like to be but a heartless preacher, that hath not the Christ and grace that he preaches, in his heart. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this! What a poor business is it to themselves, to spend their time in acquiring some little knowledge of the works of God, and of some of those names which the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know God himself, nor exalt him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy!

They do but ‘walk in a vain show’

…and spend their lives like dreaming men, while they busy their wits and tongue about abundance of names and notions, and are strangers to God and the life of saints. If ever God awaken them by his saving grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations, that they will confess they did but dream before. A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are wilful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed, are no better than nonsense. He who overlooks him who is the ‘Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,’ and sees not him in all who is the All of all, doth see nothing at all. All creatures, as such, are broken syllables; they signify nothing as separated from God.


Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Richard Baxter (12 November 1615 – 8 December 1691) was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him “the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen”. After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long and prolific career as theological writer. After the Restoration he refused preferment, while retaining a non-separatist Presbyterian approach, and became one of the most influential leaders of the nonconformists, spending time in prison.

There are three villainies of actual plagiarism –yea, four… Plagiarism in the Pulpit.

Taken from the British Monthly, December, 1903.
Written by Claudius Clear

cartoon-preacher2Sir, “A hot discussion on pulpit plagiarism is going on in America.”

The minister of a leading church delivered a sermon not his own, and was detected. He was popular with his congregation, and some of them defend him in an eccentric way. Thus a leading member says, “As long as he gives us such sermons as that we do not care where he gets them.” Another member speaks of “our able, and we might well say ‘inspired, pastor.’ The preacher himself explains that he has an extraordinary memory, and that when he gave the sermon he was persuaded that he had composed it himself.

He confesses himself “technically to blame,” and affirms that “in a broad way he is not,” because of his mysterious memory. It turns out, however, that in former years he did the same thing –repeated as his own a discourse by Lyman Abbott. The upshot will probably be that the majority of his congregation will sustain him. But the incident will be remembered against him to the last,and whenever he says something unusually good people will wonder where he found it.

There are doubtless some difficulties about the whole question of plagiarism. The charge is sometimes brought with reckless cruelty and injustice. It is quite possible unconsciously to use sentences and phrases that are not one’s own. They linger in the mind, and are not transformed in the period of habitation, as such things usually are. Again and again honest men have preached and printed without quotation marks sentences, and perhaps even paragraphs, which they owe to another, but which they believe belong to themselves.

More often the mind, working upon the materials with which memory supplies it, brings them out in another form, and then all is well. Again, it is difficult to say whether it may not be legitimate to use outlines. I think it is, if the filling up is the preachers own. An ordinary man may, and should, owe much to his reading; but if he has exerted himself in putting the results of that reading into his own style, there is no fault to find. It is in this way that original minds help others which are not original. The very worst preachers one has ever heard could never be accused of plagiarism, for the simple reason that all they said was common property and not worth saying again. Let the preacher read carefully, and apply his mind to the results of his reading, and there will be no trouble.

Generally speaking, a preacher should be as original as a writer. A student of leading articles will see that the weaker derive much from the stronger; but so long as a man may fearlessly put his work in print, he is not to be accused of plagiarism. I will add that those who may detect the young preacher using too much the labours of others will be wise if they hold their tongues. It is very conceivable that, without any conscious dishonesty, the young man may be following too slavishly a model he extravagantly admires. Perhaps it might be friendly to give a gentle hint” and if ever there is justification for anonymous letter writing it is in such a case; but to carry the discovery out into the streets, and thereby put a certain indelible mark on a whole career, is cruel and wicked. Yet I have known it done. I have known the discoverer rub his hands with glee and gloat over the sufferings of his victim.

Those who are tempted to plagiarism should not, perhaps, read much in modern sermons. The sermons that suit the fashion and temper of the hour are seductive to the mind that aspires after originality without the power of attaining it. Thus Phillips Brooks’s sermons have been the undoing of some preachers. They appeal so emphatically to the temper of the hour, alike in their affirmations and their silences; they seem so simple,so natural,and so clear, while yet they follow a path of their own, and are full of surprises of the best kind, that it is hard not to covet them.

On the other hand, from very old writers it is impossible to plagiarise, no matter how extensively they may be employed. So it is good counsel for the young preacher to read great old books of divinity. He will never put the thoughts he finds there into the words of the writer. The mere process of translation makes these thoughts his own. Thus one has made many sermons out of James Hervey’s “Theron and Aspasio.” The keeping of a book for extracts and illustrations, which may be woven into a sermon afterwards, is also perfectly legitimate. There are very few original minds, very few that can kindle their own fires, and there is a vital difference between the plagiarist and the man who is plainly indebted at every turn to the suggestions of others.

The practice of plagiarism is more extensive than may generally be supposed. I have known a canon of the Church of England preach in a great cathedral a sermon written and published by a famous Nonconformist. The sermon was reported, and got into print, and it was through the intervention of the author that the fraud was not exposed. The audacity with which some preachers in prominent pulpits reproduce the most startling and unforgettable thoughts and expressions of other preachers is truly astounding. In one case out of a thousand the matter comes to light. In many cases the thief is detected, but nothing is said in public. Very often there is no discovery.

But even when exposure does not come, there is a moral injury inflicted on the nature that stoops habitually to unworthiness.

Says an American writer: “There are three villanies of actual plagiarism –yea, four: the plagiarist is a living lie; the people are imposed upon; honest men are kept down by plagiarists who are preferred before them; and the man from whom the plagiarist steals, should he repeat his sermon later, is liable to be charged with plagiarizing his own work from the thief.”

A minister in New England used to preach very ordinary sermons, but once every two months or so he would deliver discourses of astonishing power. People used to wait for his great times, and he told them that when he was absorbed by a high theme, it was with him day and night till it culminated, when he preached upon it. During the period of spiritual incubation he had to do the best he could with such themes as he took up from week to week. This was accepted as truth. When the man came to die, an awful darkness was upon his mind. He said that he had lived a hypocritical life; he had stolen the sermons which had brought him so much fame. “I found an old English book that nobody seemed ever to have heard of, and in a time of weakness I committed one of the discourses to memory and preached it. The effect was so great that I seemed to be dragged on to preach another. I made myself believe that I was telling a half-truth when I told the people that I was possessed of a great theme, and it took several weeks to think it out. It did take me that length of time to commit these great sermons to memory. But this was blameworthy self-deception; I cannot die in peace unless you will promise to say at my funeral service that at last I saw myself as I was.” Dr. Buckley, of the Christian Advocate, tells us that at his funeral the circumstances were briefly and sadly stated.

Let every preacher remember that he is far more effective in delivering his own matter, the matter he has got by hard study and by the experience of life, than by delivering sermons which do not fit him.

No doubt an effect may be produced by reading or reciting what has been stolen from others, but it is not the right effect. There is a standing incongruity between the man and his matter. A sermon is strong in proportion as it is the living expression of a true soul. In writing about pulpit plagiarism there is always a danger of being uncharitable, and a very real danger of discouraging the wise and diligent use of books. It may be a far greater sin to take no pains in preparation than to use somewhat too easily the work of other men.

But the preacher, in the end, will be morally and spiritually influential in proportion to his own moral and spiritual health, and the unsophisticated conscience protests in unmistakable voice against pretension and robbery.

I am, sir,yours, etc.,

Claudius Clear