George Herbert on the contempt of pastors

Herbert is clear that pastors are not the most universally loved people. Partly this is because the pastoral vocation (a word I much prefer to “profession”, which gives many ideas and socio-economic aspirations above their station) has always been looked down upon by the world. As Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

However, Herbert reads Titus 2:15, “Let no-one despise you” as a good target for the pastor to aim at, and has advice on how to achieve it. A holy life, a friendly and courteous manner, and the occasional rebuke to those who deserve it, might lessen people’s contempt.

But if not, there are five different ways to handle it when people can barely conceal their dislike of you: humbly (not repaying evil for evil), dismissively (because their opinion of you is less important than God’s), sadly (grieved at the effects of human sin), doctrinally (by pointing out the self-harm of hating others), and/or triumphantly (like the Apostles who counted it all joy to suffer as Christ had done).

Easier said than done perhaps. And the trick is to know which is the most appropriate response at any given time and with each particular person. If anyone lacks wisdom, let them ask God! (James 1:2-5)

CHAPTER 28
The Parson in Contempt

The country parson knows well that both for the general ignominy which is cast upon the profession, and much more for those rules which out of his choicest judgment he has resolved to observe and which are described in this Book, he must be despised —because this has been the portion of God his Master, and of God’s saints his brethren, and this is foretold that it shall be so still until things be no more.

Nevertheless, according to the Apostle’s rule (Titus 2:15) he endeavours that none shall despise him; especially in his own parish he suffers it not to his utmost power; for that, where contempt is, there is no room for instruction.

This he procures, first by his holy and unblamable life, which carries a reverence with it, even above contempt. Secondly, by a courteous carriage, and winning behaviour: he that will be respected, must respect; doing kindnesses, but receiving none; at least of those who are apt to despise. For this argues a height and eminency of mind which is not easily despised, except it degenerate to pride. Thirdly, by a bold and impartial reproof, even of the best in the parish, when occasion requires: for this may produce hatred in those that are reproved, but never contempt either in them or others.

Lastly, if the contempt shall proceed so far as to do anything punishable by law, as contempt is apt to do, if it be not thwarted, the parson having a due respect both to the person and to the cause refers the whole matter to the examination and punishment of those which are in Authority, that so the sentence lighting upon one, the example may reach to all.

But if the contempt be not punishable by Law, or being so, the parson think it in his discretion either unfit, or bootless [pointless] to contend, then when any despises him he takes it either in an humble way, saying nothing at all; or else in a slighting way, showing that reproaches touch him no more than a stone thrown against heaven, where he is, and lives; or in a sad way, grieved at his own and others sins, which continually break God’s laws, and dishonour him with those mouths, which he continually fills and feeds; or else in a doctrinal way, saying to the contemner, “Alas, why do you thus? You hurt yourself, not me. He that throws a stone at another, hits himself,” and so between gentle reasoning, and pitying, he overcomes the evil; or lastly, in a triumphant way, being glad, and joyful that he is made conformable to his Master, and being in the world as he was, has this undoubted pledge of his salvation.

These are the five shields, wherewith the godly receive the darts of the wicked; leaving anger and retorting and revenge to the children of the world, whom another’s ill masters and leads captive without any resistance, even in resistance, to the same destruction. For while they resist the person that reviles, they resist not the evil which takes hold of them, and is far the worse enemy.

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