RURAL DEANS & RAMBLING BISHOPS
If every parish church were blessed with a gospel minister, there could be little need of itinerant preaching; but since these ministers are thinly scattered about the country, and neighbouring pulpits are usually locked up against them, it behoves them to take advantage of fields or barns to cast abroad the gospel seed. But all are not designed to be rural deans. How are we to judge who are? If you are enabled to preach without notes, feel an abiding desire to spread the gospel, meet with calls for this purpose, comply with the calls, find the word sealed, and, if persecuted and threatened, have the word given for support: where these occur (and these are just my own experience) I have no doubt but such a minister is designed for a rural dean or rambling bishop.
When you open your commission, begin with laying open the innumerable corruptions of the hearts of your audience; Moses will lend you a knife, which may often be whetted at his grindstone. Lay open the universal sinfulness of nature; the darkness of the mind, the forwardness of the will, the fretfulness of the temper, and the earthliness and sensuality of the affections. Speak of the evil of sin in its nature, its rebellion against God as our Sovereign, ingratitude to God as our benefactor, and contempt both of His authority and love. Declare the evil of sin in its effects, bringing all our sickness, pains, and sorrows; all the evils we feel, and all the evil we fear; all inundations, and fires, and famines, and pestilences; all brawls, and quarrels, and fightings, and wars, with death to close these present sorrows, and hell afterwards to receive all that die in sin.
Lay open the spirituality of the law, and its extent, reaching to every thought, word, and action, and declaring every transgression, whether by omission or commission, deserving of death. Declare man’s utter helplessness to change his nature, or to make his peace. Pardon and holiness must come from the Saviour. Acquaint them with the searching eye of God, watching us continually, spying out every thought, word, and action, noting them down in the book of his remembrance, and bringing every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil.
When your hearers are deeply affected with these things (which is seen by the hanging down of their heads), preach Christ. Lay open the Saviour’s almighty power to soften the hard heart, and give it repentance, to bring pardon to the broken heart, a spirit of prayer to the prayerless heart, holiness to the filthy heart,
and faith to the unbelieving heart. Let them know that all the treasures of grace are lodged in Jesus Christ for the use of the poor needy sinners, and that he is full of love as well as power; turns no beggar from his gate, but receives all comers kindly; loves to bless them, and bestows all his blessings tithe-free. Farmers and country people chop at that. Here you must wave the gospel flag, and magnify the Saviour supremely. Speak it with a full mouth (ore rotundo), that his blood can wash away the foulest sins, and his grace subdue the stoutest corruptions. Exhort the people to seek his grace, to seek it directly, seek it diligently, seek it constantly, and acquaint them that all who thus seek shall assuredly find the salvation of God.
Never preach in working hours; that would raise a clamour. Where you preach at night, preach also in the morning; but be not longer than an hour in the whole morning service, and conclude before six. Morning preaching will shew whether the evening took effect, by raising them up early to hear. Expect plain fare and plain lodging where you preach, yet, perhaps, better than your Master had. Suffer no treats to be made for you, but live as your host usually lives, else he may grow weary of entertaining you; and ‘go not from house to house,’ Luke 10.7. If the clergy rail at you where you go, say not a word about it, good or bad. Matt. 15.23. If you dare be zealous for the Lord of hosts, expect persecution and threats, but heed them not. Bind the Lord’s word to your heart. The promise is doubled for your encouragement, Jer. 1.19, 15.20. The chief block in the way will be the prudent Peters, who will beg, intreat, and beseech you to avoid irregularity. Give them the same answer that Christ gave Peter, Matt. 16.23. They savour of the things that be of men: heed them not. When you preach at night, go to bed as soon as possible, that the family may not be kept up, and you may rise early. When breakfast and morning family prayer is over, go away directly, that the house may be at liberty. Do not dine where you preach, if you can avoid it; it will save expense and please the people. If you would do the work for the Lord, as you seem designed, you must venture for the Lord. The Christian’s motto is. Trust and go forward, though the sea is before you, Exod. xiv.15. Do then as Paul did, give up thyself to the Lord; work and confer not with flesh and blood, and the Lord be with thee.