George Herbert on the pastor understanding the congregation

In a fairly long chapter, Herbert here addresses the chief sin of England: idleness. It is because people are idle and have little to do that they end up drinking too much, sleeping around, and getting into trouble, he says. So it is good for the country, and for their souls, to encourage folks not to be idle, but busy in some employment or other.

In this pursuit, he does not neglect to praise those who bring up children. It is such a great delight he says, though hard work, and we should “take as much joy in a straight-growing child or servant, as a gardener does in a choice tree.” All should have a calling, or be preparing and studying for one. It is the pastor’s job to encourage this, on the basis of Ephesians 4:28 — “Let the thief no longer steal but work, doing something useful with their own hands that they may have something to share with those in need.”

CHAPTER 32
The Parson’s Surveys

The country parson has not only taken a particular survey of the faults of his own parish, but a general also of the diseases of the time, that so, when his occasions carry him abroad, or bring strangers to him, he may be the better armed to encounter them.

The great and national sin of this land he esteems to be idleness — great in itself, and great in consequence. For when men have nothing to do, then they fall to drink, to steal, to whore, to scoff, to revile, to all sorts of gamings. Come, say they, we have nothing to do, let’s go to the Tavern, or to the stews, or what not.

Wherefore the parson strongly opposes this sin, wheresoever he goes. And because idleness is twofold, the one in having no calling, the other in walking carelessly in our calling, he first represents to every body the necessity of a vocation. The reason of this assertion is taken from the nature of man, wherein God has placed two great instruments, reason in the soul, and a hand in the body, as engagements of working. So that even in Paradise man had a calling, and how much more out of Paradise, when the evils which he is now subject unto may be prevented or diverted by reasonable employment. Besides, every gift or ability is a talent to be accounted for, and to be improved to our Master’s advantage. Yet is it also a debt to our country to have a calling, and it concerns the Commonwealth that none should be idle, but all busied.

Lastly, riches are the blessing of God, and the great instrument of doing admirable good. Therefore all are to procure them honestly and seasonably when they are not better employed. Now this reason crosses not our Saviour’s precept of selling what we have [Matthew 19:21], because when we have sold all, and given it to the poor, we must not be idle, but labour to get more, that we may give more, according to St. Paul’s rule (Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). So that our Saviour’s selling is so far from crossing Saint Paul’s working, that it rather establishes it, since they that have nothing are fittest to work.

Now because the only opposer to this doctrine is the gallant, who is witty enough to abuse both others, and himself, and who is ready to ask, if he shall mend shoes or what he shall do? Therefore the parson unmoved, shows that ingenuous and fit employment is never wanting to those that seek it. But if it should be, the assertion stands thus: All are either to have a calling, or prepare for it. He that has or can have yet no employment, if he truly and seriously prepare for it, he is safe and within bounds. Wherefore all are either presently to enter into a calling, if they be fit for it, and it for them; or else to examine with care and advice what they are fittest for, and to prepare for that with all diligence.

But it will not be amiss in this exceedingly useful point to descend to particulars. For exactness lies in particulars. Men are either single, or married: The married and house-keeper has his hands full, if he do what he ought to do. For there are two branches of his affairs: first, the improvement of his family, by bringing them up in the fear and nurture of the Lord; and secondly, the improvement of his grounds, by drowning, or draining, or stocking, or fencing, and ordering his land to the best advantage both of himself, and his neighbours.

The Italian says, “None fouls his hands in his own business.” And it is an honest and just care, so it exceed not bounds, for everyone to employ himself to the advancement of his affairs, that he may have wherewithal to do good. But his family is his best care, to labour Christian souls and raise them to their height, even to heaven; to dress and prune them, and take as much joy in a straight-growing child or servant, as a gardener does in a choice tree. Could men find out this delight, they would seldom be from home; whereas now, of any place, they are least there.

But if after all this care well dispatched, the house-keeper’s family be so small, and his dexterity so great, that he have leisure to look out, the Village or Parish which either he lives in, or is near unto it, is his employment. He considers everyone there and either helps them in particular, or has general propositions to the whole Town or Hamlet, of advancing the public stock, and managing commons or woods, according as the place suggests.

But if he may be of the Commission of Peace, there is nothing to that: no Commonwealth in the world has a braver institution then that of Justices of the Peace. For it is both a security to the King, who has so many dispersed officers at his beck throughout the Kingdom, accountable for the public good; and also an honourable employment of a Gentle, or Noble-man in the country he lives in, enabling him with power to do good, and to restrain all those, who else might both trouble him and the whole state.

Wherefore it behoves all who are come to the gravity and ripeness of judgement for so excellent a place, not to refuse, but rather to procure it. And whereas there are usually three objections made against the place — the one, the abuse of it, by taking petty country bribes; the other, the casting of it on mean persons, especially in some Shires; and lastly, the trouble of it — these are so far from deterring any good man from the place, that they kindle them rather to redeem the dignity either from true faults, or unjust aspersions.

Now, for single men, they are either heirs or younger brothers. The heirs are to prepare in all the aforementioned points against the time of their practice. Therefore they are to mark their father’s discretion in ordering his house and affairs; and also elsewhere, when they see any remarkable point of education or good husbandry, and to transplant it in time to his own home, with the same care as others, when they meet with good fruit, get a graft of the tree, enriching their orchard, and neglecting their house.

Besides, they are to read books of Law, and Justice; especially, the Statutes at large. As for better books of Divinity, they are not in this consideration, because we are about a calling, and a preparation thereunto. But chiefly, and above all things, they are to frequent Sessions and Sizes; for it is both an honour which they owe to the Reverend Judges and Magistrates, to attend them, at least in their Shire; and it is a great advantage to know the practice of the Land. For our Law is Practice. Sometimes he may go to Court, as the eminent place both of good and ill. At other times he is to travel over the King’s Dominions, cutting out the Kingdom into portions, which every year he surveys piecemeal.

When there is a Parliament, he is to endeavour by all means to be a Knight or Burgess there; for there is no school to a Parliament. And when he is there, he must not only be a morning man, but at committees also; for there the particulars are exactly discussed, which are brought from thence to the House but in general.

When none of these occasions call him abroad, every morning that he is at home he must either ride the Great Horse, or exercise some of his military gestures. For all gentlemen that are now weakened and disarmed with sedentary lives are to know the use of their arms: and as the Husbandman labours for them, so must they fight for, and defend them, when occasion calls. This is the duty of each to other, which they ought to fulfil: And the parson is a lover of and exciter to justice in all things, even as John the Baptist squared out to every one (even to soldiers) what to do.

As for younger brothers, those whom the parson finds loose and not engaged into some profession by their parents — whose neglect in this point is intolerable and a shameful wrong both to the Commonwealth and their own house — to them, after he has shown the unlawfulness of spending the day in dressing, complementing, visiting, and sporting, he first commends the study of the Civil Law, as a brave and wise knowledge, the professors whereof were much employed by Queen Elizabeth, because it is the key of commerce, and discovers the rules of foreign nations.

Secondly, he commends mathematics, as the only wonder-working knowledge, and therefore requiring the best spirits. After the several knowledge of these, he advises to insist and dwell chiefly on the two noble branches thereof: of Fortification, and Navigation; The one being useful to all countries, and the other especially to hands.

But if the young gallant think these courses dull, and phlegmatic, where can he busy himself better than in those new plantations and discoveries which are not only a noble, but also as they may be handled, a religious employment? Or let him travel into Germany, and France, and observing the artifices and manufactures there, transplant them hither, as many have done lately, to our country’s advantage.

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