George Herbert on the Pastor’s Library

Some pastors have very interesting libraries. Some like to show them off to others! But when Herbert turns here to speak about the pastor’s library, he is not so much interested in books and learned tomes and how to keep them in good order, but in the pastor’s own life, which is the most vital basis of his sermons to others.

He is especially concerned with repentance, which “consists in a true detestation of the soul, abhorring, and renouncing sin, and turning unto God in truth of heart and newness of life.” It is the first step to pleasing God. And as the pastor learns what it is like for himself, he can teach it to and encourage it in others. Repentance is the pastor’s library.

CHAPTER 33
The Parson’s Library

The country parson’s library is a holy life. For besides the blessing that that brings upon it (there being a promise, that if the Kingdom of God be first sought, all other things shall be added) even itself is a sermon.

For the temptations with which a good man is beset, and the ways which he used to overcome them, being told to another, whether in private conference, or in the church, are a sermon. He that has considered how to carry himself at table about his appetite, if he tell this to another, preaches; and much more feelingly and judiciously than he writes his rules of temperance out of books. So that the parson having studied and mastered all his lusts and affections within, and the whole army of temptations without, has ever so many sermons ready penned, as he has victories.

And it fares in this as it does in medicine. He that has been sick of a consumption, and knows what recovered him, is a physician so far as he meets with the same disease and temper; and can much better, and particularly do it, than he that is generally learned and was never sick. And if the same person had been sick of all diseases, and were recovered of all by things that he knew, there were no such physician as he, both for skill and tenderness.

Just so it is in Divinity, and that not without manifest reason. For though the temptations may be diverse in different Christians, yet the victory is alike in all, being by the self-same Spirit. Neither is this true only in the military state of a Christian life, but even in the peaceable also; when the servant of God, freed for a while from temptation, in a quiet sweetness seeks how to please his God. Thus the parson considering that repentance is the great virtue of the gospel, and one of the first steps of pleasing God, having for his own use examined the nature of it, is able to explain it after to others. And particularly, having doubted sometimes whether his repentance were true, or at least in that degree it ought to be, since he found himself sometimes to weep more for the loss of some temporal things, than for offending God, he came at length to this resolution, that repentance is an act of the mind, not of the body, even as the original signifies; and that the chief thing which God in Scriptures requires is the heart, and the spirit, and to worship him in truth and spirit.

Wherefore in case a Christian endeavour to weep, and cannot, since we are not masters of our bodies, this suffices. And consequently he found that the essence of repentance, that it may be alike in all God’s children (which as concerning weeping it cannot be, some being of a more melting temper than others) consists in a true detestation of the soul, abhorring, and renouncing sin, and turning unto God in truth of heart and newness of life — which acts of repentance are and must be found in all God’s servants. Not that weeping is not useful, where it can be, that so the body may join in the grief, as it did in the sin; but that, so the other acts be, that is not necessary: so that he as truly repents, who performs the other acts of repentance, when he cannot more, as he that weeps a flood of tears.

This instruction and comfort, the parson getting for himself, when he tells it to others, becomes a sermon. The like he does in other Christian virtues, as of faith, and love, and the cases of conscience belonging thereto, wherein (as Saint Paul implies that he ought, Romans 2:21) he first preaches to himself, and then to others.

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