George Herbert on the pastor’s skill in application

Taking up an idea he first mentioned in the last chapter, Herbert here divides the Christian life into two states: war and peace.

Those that are in a state of war, in a battle with particular sins, the pastor needs to strengthen and fortify. Those that are in a state of relative peace, he must warn and encourage not to grow cold.

As part of this discourse, Herbert has some advice for how to deal with doubters, whether atheists or just wavering believers. His arguments from New Testament prophecy are interesting, and particularly make use (as other seventeenth-century preachers did) of the exiled state of the Jewish nation away from Jerusalem, to show that biblical prophecies came true.

CHAPTER 34
The Parson’s Dexterity in applying of Remedies

The country parson knows that there is a double state of a Christian even in this life: the one military, the other peaceable. The military is when we are assaulted with temptations either from within or from without; the peaceable is when the Devil for a time leaves us, as he did our Saviour, and the angels minister to us their own food, even joy, and peace, and comfort in the holy Ghost.

These two states were in our Saviour, not only in the beginning of his preaching, but afterwards also: Matthew 22:35, he was tempted; and Luke 10:21, he rejoiced in Spirit. And they must be likewise in all that are his.

Now the Parson having a spiritual judgement, accordingly as he discovers any of his flock to be in one or the other state, so he applies himself to them. Those that he finds in the peaceable state, he advises to be very vigilant, and not to let go the reins as soon as the horse goes easy. Particularly, he counsels them to two things:

First, to take heed, lest their quiet betray them (as it is apt to do) to a coldness and carelessness in their devotions, but to labour still to be as fervent in Christian duties, as they remember themselves were when affliction did blow the coals.

Secondly, not to take the full compass and liberty of their peace; not to eat of all those dishes at table which even their present health otherwise admits; nor to store their house with all those furnitures which even their present plenty of wealth otherwise admits; nor when they are among them that are merry, to extend themselves to all that mirth, which the present occasion of wit and company otherwise admits; but to put bounds, and hoops to their joys, so will they last the longer, and when they depart, return the sooner. If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged; and if we would bound ourselves, we should not be bounded.

But if they shall fear, that at such or such a time their peace and mirth have carried them further than this moderation, then to take Job’s admirable course, who sacrificed lest his children should have transgressed in their mirth (Job 1:5). So let them go, and find some poor afflicted soul, and there be bountiful and liberal; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Those that the parson finds in the military state, he fortifies and strengthens with his utmost skill. Now in those that are tempted, whatsoever is unruly, falls upon two heads: either they think that there is none that can or will look after things, but all goes by chance, or wit; or else, though there be a great Governor of all things, yet to them he is lost, as if they said, “God does forsake and persecute them, and there is none to deliver them.”

If the parson suspects the first, and finds sparks of such thoughts now and then to break forth, then without opposing directly (for disputation is no cure for atheism) he scatters in his discourse three sorts of arguments: the first taken from Nature; the second from the Law; the third from Grace.

For Nature, he sees not how a house could be either built without a builder, or kept in repair without a house-keeper. He conceives not possibly, how the winds should blow so much as they can, and the sea rage so much as it can, and all things do what they can, and all, not only without dissolution of the whole, but also of any part, by taking away so much as the usual seasons of summer and winter, earing [when wheat or corn begins to form into “ears”, Exodus 34:21 KJV] and harvest. Let the weather be what it will, still we have bread, though sometimes more, sometimes less; wherewith also a careful Joseph might meet.

He conceives not possibly, how he that would believe a Divinity, if he had been at the creation of all things, should less believe it, seeing the preservation of all things. For preservation is a creation; and more, it is a continued creation, and a creation every moment.

Secondly, for the Law, there may be so evident, though unused a proof of Divinity taken from thence, that the atheist or Epicurean can have nothing to contradict. The Jews yet live, and are known: they have their Law and language bearing witness to them, and they to it: they are circumcised to this day, and expect the promises of the Scripture; their country also is known, the places, and rivers travelled unto, and frequented by others, but to them an impenetrable rock, an unaccessible desert. Wherefore if the Jews live, all the great wonders of old live in them, and then who can deny the stretched out arm of a mighty God? Especially since it may be a just doubt, whether, considering the stubbornness of the nation, their living then in their country under so many miracles were a stranger thing than their present exile, and disability to live in their country.

And it is observable, that this very thing was intended by God, that the Jews should be his proof and witnesses, as he calls them (Isaiah 43:12). And their very dispersion in all lands was intended not only for a punishment to them, but for an exciting of others by their sight, to the acknowledging of God and his power (Psalm 59:11). And therefore this kind of Punishment was chosen rather than any other.

Thirdly, for Grace. Besides the continual succession (since the gospel) of holy men who have born witness to the truth (there being no reason why any should distrust Saint Luke, or Tertullian, or Chrysostom, more then Tully, Virgil, or Livy), there are two prophesies in the Gospel, which evidently argue Christ’s Divinity by their success. The one concerning the woman that spent the ointment on our Saviour, for which he told that it should never be forgotten, but with the gospel itself be preached to all ages (Matthew 26:13). The other concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, of which our Saviour said that that generation should not pass till all were fulfilled (Luke 21:32). Which Josephus’s History confirms, and the continuance of which verdict is yet evident.

To these might be added the preaching of the gospel in all nations, (Matthew 24:14), which we see even miraculously effected in these new discoveries, God turning men’s covetousness and ambitions to the effecting of his word. Now a prophecy is a wonder sent to posterity, least they complain of want of wonders. It is a letter sealed and sent which to the bearer is but paper, but to the receiver and opener is full of power. He that saw Christ open a blind man’s eyes, saw not more Divinity than he that reads the woman’s ointment in the Gospel, or sees Jerusalem destroyed.

With some of these heads enlarged and woven into his discourse, at several times and occasions, the parson settles wavering minds. But if he sees them nearer desperation than atheism, not so much doubting a God, as that he is theirs; then he dives unto the boundless ocean of God’s love, and the unspeakable riches of his loving kindness.

He has one argument unanswerable. If God hate them, either he does it as they are creatures, dust and ashes; or as they are sinful. As creatures, he must needs love them, for no perfect artist ever yet hated his own work. As sinful, he must much more love them, because notwithstanding his infinite hate of sin, his love overcame that hate, and with an exceedingly great victory, which in the creation needed not, gave them love for love, even the Son of his love out of his bosom of love. So that man, which way soever he turns, has two pledges of God’s love, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established: the one in his being, the other in his sinful being – and this as the more faulty in him, so the more glorious in God. And all may certainly conclude that God loves them, till either they despise that love, or despair of his mercy: not any sin else, but is within his love. But the despising of love must needs be without it. The thrusting away of his arm makes us only not embraced.

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