’Son of man, I have made thee
a watchman unto the house of
Israel.’—The word of the Lord to Ezekiel.
’They watch for your souls.’—The Apostle to the Hebrews.
There were four shepherds who had the care of Immanuel’s sheep on the Delectable Mountains, and their names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere. Now, in that very beautiful episode of his great allegory, John Bunyan is doing his very utmost to impress upon all his ministerial readers how much there is that goes to the making of a good minister, and how much every good minister has to do. Each several minister must do all that in him lies, from the day of his ordination to the day of his death, to be all to his people that those four shepherds were to Immanuel’s sheep. He is to labour, in season and out of season, to be a minister of the ripest possible knowledge, the deepest and widest possible experience, the most sleepless watchfulness, and the most absolute and scrupulous sincerity. Now, enough has perhaps been said already about a minister’s knowledge and his experience; enough, certainly, and more than enough for some of us to hope half to carry out; and, therefore, I shall at once go on to take up Watchful, and to supply, so far as I am able, the plainest possible interpretation of this part of Bunyan’s parable.
1. Every true minister, then, watches, in the words of the apostle, for the souls of his people. An ordinary minister’s everyday work embraces many duties and offers many opportunities, but through all his duties and through all his opportunities there runs this high and distinctive duty of watching for the souls of his people. A minister may be a great scholar, he may have taken all sacred learning for his province, he may be a profound and a scientific theologian, he may be an able church leader, he may be a universally consulted authority on ecclesiastical law, he may be a skilful and successful debater in church courts, he may even be a great pulpit orator, holding thousands entranced by his impassioned eloquence; but a true successor of the prophets of the Old Testament and of the apostles of the New Testament he is not, unless he watches for the souls of men. All these endowments, and all these occupations, right and necessary as, in their own places, they all are,—great talents, great learning, great publicity, great popularity,—all tend, unless they are taken great care of, to lead their possessors away from all time for, and from all sympathy with, the watchfulness of the New Testament minister. Watching over a flock brings to you none of the exhilaration of authority and influence, none of the intoxication of publicity and applause. Your experiences are the quite opposite of all these things when you are watching over your flock. Your work among your flock is all done in distant and lonely places, on hillsides, among woods and thickets,