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CARE OF THE SOUL
ED AS THE
NE THING NEED FUL
A Sermon preached June 22, 1735,
As I would not willingly incur the censure of being over forward in publishing so plain a sermon on so cominon a subject, I beg leave to inform the reader of the occasion that determined me to do it.
The following discourse was first preached to a very numerous auditory at the funeral of a young person, who being seized on a sudden with a violent and mortal illness, which nevertheless did not destroy the exercise of her reason, was deeply impressed with a sense of her eternal interest, and expressed that sense in a manner which affected me as much as any thing of that nature which I had ever seen; not only recommending the text to me, but also charging this one thing needful on her brother and sisters in my hearing, with a solemnity and earnestness, which I hope neither they nor I shall ever forget. But I imputed the remarkable attention with which the sermon was heard, and the kind notice which was afterwards taken of it by many, to that awful circumstance, rather than to any thing in the discourse itself.
I had afterwards the honour to preach it, with some proper alterations, before some worthy and excellent persons of considerable rank and eminence in life, who are not ashamed publicly to own, that religion is their greatest concern. They were pleased to express such satisfaction in the seriousness and plainness with which this important subject was handled, that they urged me with an earnestness wbich I did not at all expect, to let them have some printed copies of it, that they might disperse them amongst their tenants and servants. I think too highly of these valuable friends to prefix their names to so inconsiderable a performance, which would do a great honour to a book, far superior to any I can ever hope to present them with. But as I am well assured of their continued candour towards me; so I hope the authority of their command, will be allowed as a sufficient apology for this publication.
We are so near the eternal state, and must so soon be silent in the dust, that methinks nothing which looks like a call of providence, directing to any opportunity of doing good to the souls of men, should be neglected. And if these obvious but weighty truths may, through the concurrence of divine grace, be made useful for the conversion of one of the lowest of those for whose service this discourse was asked and transcribed, I shall think this little labour abundantly repaid, even though many others should say, as they probably will, that I have made a little addition to the number of unnecessary books with which the world is already incumbered.
London, July 29, 1735.
Luke x. 42. former Part.-One Thing is Needful.
It was the amiable character of our blessed Redeemer, that he Went about doing good *. This great motive, which animated all his actions, brought him to the house of his friend Lazarus, at Bethany, and directed his behaviour there. Though it was a season of recess from public labour, our Lord brought the sentiments and the pious cares of a preacher of righteousness into the parlour of a friend ; and there his doctrine dropped as the rain, and distilled as the dew, on the little happy circle that were then surrounding him. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, with great delight made one amongst them ; she set herself down at the feet of Jesus, in the posture of an humble disciple; and we have a great deal of reason to believe, that Martha, his other sister, would gladly have been with her there ; but domestic cares pressed hard upon her, and she was cumbered with much serving, being perhaps too solicitous to prepare a sumptuous entertainment for her heavenly master and the train that attended him. Happy are they that in a crowd of business do not lose something of the spirituality of their minds, and of the composure, and sweetness of their tempers ? This good woman comes to our Lord with too impatient a complaint ; insinuating some little reflection, not only on Mary, but on himself too, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help met. Our Lord, willing to take all opportunities of suggesting useful thoughts, answers her in these words, of which the text is a part, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her, q. d. Alas Martha, the concerns of the soul are of so much greater importance than those of the body, that I cannot blame your sister on this occasion : I rather recommend her to your imitation, and caution you, and
all my other friends, to be much on your guard, that in the midst of your worldly cares, you do not lose the sight of that which so much better deserves your attention.
I shall consider these words, One thing is needful, as a kind of aphorism, or wise and weighty sentence, dropped from the mouth of our blessed Redeemer, and evidently worthy of our most serious regard. In handling them I shall,
I. Consider what we are to understand by the one thing here spoken of.
II. Shew you what is intended when it is represented as the one thing needful.
III. I will shew how justly it may be so represented, or prove that it is indeed the one thing needful.
IV. Conclude with some reflections and application.
My friends, the words which are now before us are, to this day, as true, as they were seventeen hundred years ago. Set your hearts to attend to them. Oh that you might, by divine grace, be awakened to hear them with a due regard, and might be so impressed with the plain and serious things which are now to be spoken, as you probably would, if I were speak. ing by your dying beds, and you had the full exercise of your reason, and the near and lively view of eternity!
1. I am briefly to consider what we are to understand by the one thing needful.
Now I answer in a few words, it is the care of the soul, opposed, as you see in the text, to the care, i. e. the excessive care of the body, for which Martha was gently admonished by our Lord. This is a general answer, and it comprehends a variety of important particulars, which is the business of our ministry often to open to you at large : The care of the soul implies a readiness to hear the words of Christ, to set ourselves with Mary at his feet, and to receive both the law and the gospel from his mouth. It supposes that we learn from this divine teacher the worth of our souls, their danger, and their remedy. That we become above all things solicitous about their eternal salvation. That heartily repenting of all our sins, and cordially believing the everlasting gospel, we receive the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness and life, resting our souls on the value of his atonement, and the efficacy of his grace. It imports the sincere dedication of ourselves to the service of God, and a faithful adherence to it, notwithstanding all the oppositions arising from inward corruptions, or outward temp. tations, and a resolute perseverance in the way of gospel depen. dance, till we receive the end of our faith in our complete salva.
tion. This is the one thing needful, represented indeed in various scriptures by various names. Sometimes it is called regeneration, or the new creature, because it is the blessed work of God's efficacious grace. Sometimes the fear of God, and sometimes his love, and the keeping his commandments; and very frequently in the New Testament is called faith, or receiving Christ, and believing on him, which therefore is represented as the great Work of God *; i. e, the great thing which God in his glorious gospel requires, as well as by his Spirit produces in us: Each of these, if rightly understood and explained, comprehends all that I have said on this head. On the whole, we may say, that, as the Body is one, though it has many members, and the soul is one, though it has many faculties ; so, in the present case, this real, vital religion is one thing, one sacred principle of divine life, bringing us to attend to the care of our souls, as of our greatest treasure. It is one thing, notwithstanding all the variety of views in which it may be considered, and of characters under which it may be described. I proceed,
II. To consider what may be intended in the representation which is here made of it, as the one thing needful.
Now I think it naturally includes these three particulars : It is a matter of universal concern, of the highest importance, and of so comprehensive a nature that every thing which is truly worthy of our regard may be considered as included in it, or subservient to it. Let me a little illustrate each of these particulars, reserving the proof of what I now assert to the third general, where it will abundantly appear.
1. The care of the soul may be called the one thing needful, " as it is matter of universal concern."
Our Lord, you see, speaks of it as needful in the general. He says not for this or that particular person ; or for those of such an age, station or circumstance in life, but needful for all. And indeed, when discoursing on such a subject, one might properly introduce it with those solemn words of the psalmist, Give ear, all ye people, hear, all ye inhabitants of the earth, both high and low, rich and poor together t. For it is the concern of all, from the king that sits upon the throne, to the servant that grindeth at the mill, or the beggar that lieth upon the dunghill. It is needful for us that are ministers, for our own salvation is concerned. And woe, insupportable woe will be to our souls, if we think it enough to recommend it to others, to
* John vi. 29,
+ Ps. xlix. 1, %.