Taken and adapted from, A Soliloquy on The Art of Man-Fishing
Written by Thomas Boston, 1699
Edited for thought and sense.
How can you believe, that receive honor one of another, –and seek not the honor that comes from God only? A grain of faith will cure this lightness of the head and heart.
Consider, 0 my soul, your own vileness? What are you but a poor lump of clay, as to your body, that will soon return to the dust, and be a sweet morsel for the worms that now you tramples upon! Hast you not seen how loathsome the body is many times in life, by filthy boils and other noisome diseases, and after death what an ugly aspect it has? Forget not the sight that you saw once in the churchyard of Dunse, how a body, perhaps sometime beautiful, was like thin mortar, but much more vile and abominable.
The time will come that you will be such yourself. But what are you as to your heart, but a vile, base, and ugly thing, so many filthy idols to be found there, like a swarm of the worst of vermin? Are you not as a cage full of unclean birds! What do you think of yourself. What unbelief saw you there, what baseness of every kind? And what day goes over you, but you see still something in you to humble you? And what are you that God has employed in this work? Those that were sometime your fellows are mean and despised; and will you for all this seek your own glory? Woe unto you if you do so.
Consider, That “Him that honors God, God will honor; but he that despises him, shall be lightly esteemed.” Have respect, O my soul, with Moses, to the recompense of reward, and beware of preferring your own to the interest of Christ, lest you be classed among those that seek their own, and not the things of Christ.
Consider also what Christ has done for you. Forget not his goodness, his undeserved goodness to such a base wretch as you are. Let love to him predominate in you, and you shall then be helped to sacrifice all to his glory.
Christ had the good of men’s souls in his eye. He came to seek and save that which was lost; he came to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel. So he sent out the apostle to open the eyes of the blind, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Follow Christ in this, O my soul, that you mayst be a fisher of men. When you study your sermons, let the good of souls be before you; when you preach let this be your design, to endeavor to recover lost sheep, to get some brands plucked out of the burning; to get some converted, and brought in to your Master. Let that be much in your mind, and be concerned for that, whatever doctrine you preach. Consider, O my soul, for this effect, What the design of the gospel is. What is it but this? This is the finis operis; and if it be not the finis operandis, it is very lamentable. It is the everlasting gospel that Christ has made manifest, declaring the will of God concerning the salvation of man.
Consider wherefore God did send you out. Was it to win a livelihood to yourself? Woe to them that count gain godliness; that will make the gospel merely subservient to their temporal wants. Rather would I perish for want than win bread that way. Well then, was it not to get you mighty labor to gain souls to Christ? Yea, it was. Have a care then that you be not like some that go to a place, being sent thither by their master, but forget their errand, when they come there, and trifle away their time in vanity and fooleries.
Consider the worth of souls. If you remember that, you can not but have an eye to their good. The soul is a precious thing: which appears if you consider,
(1.) Its noble endowments adorned with understanding, capable to know the highest object; will to choose the same; affections to pursue after it, to love God, hate sin, in a word, to glorify God here, and to enjoy him here and hereafter.
(2.) It must live or die for ever. It shall either enjoy God through all the ages of eternity, or remain in endless torments for evermore.
(3.) No worldly gain can counterbalance the loss of it. “What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(4.) It cost Christ his precious blood ere it could be redeemed. It behoved him to bear the Father’s wrath, that the elect should have borne through all eternity; and no less would redeem it. So that the redemption of the soul is indeed precious.
(5.) Christ courts the soul. He stands at the door, and knocks, to get in. The devil courts it with his baits and allurements. And will you, O my soul, be unconcerned for the good of that which is so much courted by Christ and the devil both? Be ashamed to stand as an unconcerned spectator, lest you show yourself none of the Bridegroom’s friends.
Consider the hazard that souls are in. Oh! alas, the most part are going on in the high way to destruction, and that blind-folded. Endeavor then to draw off the veil. They are as brands in the fire: will you then be so cruel as not to be concerned to pluck them out? If so, you shall burn with them, world without end, in the fire of God’s vengeance, and the furnace of his wrath, that shall be seven times more hot for unconcerned preachers than others.
Consider what a sad case you yourself was in, when Christ concerned himself for your good. You were going on in the way to hell as blind as a mole; at last Christ opened thine eyes, and let you see your hazard, by a preacher (worthy Mr. H. Erskine) that was none of the unconcerned Gallios, who spared neither his body, his credit, nor reputation, to gain you, and the like of you. And will you preach unconcerned for others? I should abhor myself as the vilest monster, in so doing. Lord, my soul rises at it when I think on it. My soul hates, and loathes that way of preaching: but without you, I can do nothing. Lord, rather strike me dumb, than suffer me to preach unconcerned for the good of souls; for if dumb, I should murder neither my own soul, nor those of others.
Consider that unconcernedness for the good of souls in preaching, argues,
(1.) A dead lifeless heart, a loveless soul, with respect to Christ. If you have any life or love to Christ, dare you be unconcerned in this matter? Nay, sure, he that has life will move; and he that hath love, will be concerned for the propagating of Christ’s kingdom.
(2.) Unbelief of the threatenings of God especially. For if you believe that the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God, you can not preach to them as if you were telling a tale. If you believe that they must depart into everlasting fire, your heart will not be so frozen as to be unconcerned for them. The sight of it by faith will thaw your frozen heart.
(3.) A stupid heart, and so a hateful frame. Who would not abhor a watchman that saw the enemy coming on, if he should bid them only in the general provide to resist their enemies, or should tell them that the enemy were coming on, so unconcernedly as they might see he cared not whether they should live or perish? And what a hateful stupidity is it in a preacher of the gospel to be unconcerned for souls, when they are in such hazard ?
The devil shames such preachers.
He goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; and they, set to keep souls, creep about like a snail. He is in earnest when he tempts; but such are unconcerned whether people hear, or forbear to hear their invitations, reproofs, etc. Yea, how concerned are the devil’s ministers that agent his business for him ? They will compass sea and land to gain one proselyte. And shall the preachers of the gospel be unconcerned?
If it be so that you be unconcerned for the good of souls, it seems you came not in by the door, but have broken over the wall, and are but a thief and a robber, John 10:1, compared with verse 12, “He that is a hireling, sees the wolf coming, flees, and leaves the sheep, and the wolf catches them.” Verse 15, “The hireling flees, because he is a hireling, and cares not for the sheep.” O my soul, if at any time you find your heart unconcerned in not having the good of souls before you, remember this.
Lastly, you can not expect God’s help, if you forget your errand. Have you not known and experienced, that these two, God’s help in preaching, and a concernedness for the good of souls, have gone with you pari passu?
O my soul, then endeavor to be much in following of Christ this way, setting the good of souls before thine eyes; and if you do so, you mayst be a fisher of men, though you know it not.