George Herbert on the pastor’s life

Herbert continues his exploration of the ideal minister’s life, by looking today at the pastor’s godliness. He speaks of the country parson, the rural pastor, since that is what he had experience of. But his words are of course much more widely applicable.

Pastors need to be patient in all things. They must also be busily killing their sin, so that they exhibit the most important trait — sober-minded self-control. They should be especially careful not to offend their congregation by the sins which particularly scandalize them: the hard-working poor will be offended by greed and laziness, especially if they have to pay tithes (as was compulsory in those days) to support it. So the pastor should be generous and open-handed.

The pastor should also be careful not to fall into the same sins as their people. “Sins make all equal, whom they find together”, he says. It undermines the pastor’s ability to rebuke people if they themselves are a notorious offender.

Finally, a pastor’s word must be their bond: they must be trustworthy outside the pulpit if they hope to be believed when in it. And they must be decently and straightforwardly dressed and housed, neither extravagant nor smelly!

CHAPTER 3
The Parsons Life

The country Parson is exceeding exact in his life, being holy, just, prudent, temperate, bold, grave in all his ways. And because the two highest points of life, wherein a Christian is most seen, are patience, and mortification — patience in regard of afflictions, mortification in regard of lusts and affections, and the stupifying and deadening of all the clamorous powers of the soul — therefore he hath throughly studied these, that he may be an absolute Master and commander of himself, for all the purposes which God hath ordained him.

Yet in these points he labours most in those things which are most apt to scandalize his parish. And first, because country people live hardly, and therefore as feeling their own sweat, and consequently knowing the price of money, are offended much with any, who by hard usage increase their travail, the country Parson is very circumspect in avoiding all covetousness, neither being greedy to get, nor niggardly to keep, nor troubled to lose any worldly wealth; but in all his words and actions slighting, and disesteeming it, even to a wondering that the world should so much value wealth, which in the day of wrath hath not one dram of comfort for us.

Secondly, because luxury is a very visible sin, the Parson is very careful to avoid all the kinds thereof, but especially that of drinking, because it is the most popular vice; into which, if he come, he prostitutes himself both to shame, and sin, and by having fellowship, with the unfruitful works of darkness, he disables himself of authority to reprove them: For sins make all equal, whom they find together; and then they are worst, who ought to be best. Neither is it for the servant of Christ to haunt inns, or taverns, or ale-houses, to the dishonour of his person and office. The Parson doth not so, but orders his life in such a fashion, that when death takes him, as the Jews and Judas did Christ, he may say as he did,  “Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching” (Mark 14:49).

Thirdly, because country people (as indeed all honest men) do much esteem their word, it being the life of buying, and selling, and dealing in the world; therefore the Parson is very strict in keeping his word, though it be to his own hinderance, as knowing, that if he be not so, he will quickly be discovered, and disregarded: neither will they believe him in the pulpit, whom they cannot trust in his conversation. As for oaths, and apparel, the disorders thereof are also very manifest. The Parson’s yea is yea, and nay nay; and his apparel plain, but reverend, and clean, without spots, or dust, or smell; the purity of his mind breaking out, and dilating itself even to his body, clothes, and habitation.

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