The Care of the Soul Urged as the One Thing Needful PDF Print E-mail

George Whitefield
    Luke 10:42 -- "But 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 behavior there. Though it was a season of recess from
   public labor, our Lord brought the sentiments and the pious cares of a
   preacher of righteousness into the parlor of a friend; and there his
   doctrine dropped as the rain, and distilled as the dew, as the little
   happy circle that were then surrounding him. Mary, the sister of
   Lazarus, with great delight made one amongst them; she seated herself
   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, who 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 me." 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." 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 sight of what much better deserves your
   I shall consider these words, "One thing is needful," as a kind of
   aphorism, or wise and weighty sentence, which dropped from the mouth of
   our blessed Redeemer, and is evidently worthy of our most serious
   regard. I shall,
   I. Consider what we are to understand by "The one thing" here spoken of.
   II. Show you what is intended, when it is said to be the one thing needful.
   III. I will show how justly it may be so represented, or prove that it
   is, indeed, the one thing needful. And then conclude with some
   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. O that you may, by divine grace, be awakened to hear
   them with a due regard, and be so impressed with the plain and serious
   things which are now to be spoken, as you probably would, if I were
   speaking by your dying beds, and you had the near and lively view of
   First, I am to consider, what we are to understand by the "one thing
   Now in a few words, it is the "Care of the soul," opposed, as you see
   in the text, to the care, the excessive care of the body; to 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 seat
   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; and
   that we become above all things solicitous about their 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 oppositions arising from inward corruptions, or outward
   temptations; and a resolute perseverance in the way of gospel
   dependence, till we receive the end of our faith in our complete
   salvation. 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 it is called "faith," or "receiving Christ, and
   believing on him," which therefore is represented as the "great work of
   God," John 6:20 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, 
   Secondly, 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, or subservient to it. Let me
   a little illustrate each of these particulars.
   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," Psalm 49:1, 2. 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, and to talk of it in a warm, or an awful manner, in public
   assemblies, or in our private converse, while it does not penetrate our
   hearts, as our own greatest care. Our case will then be like that of
   the Israelitish lord in Samaria, 2 Kings 7:2, who was employed to
   distribute the corn when the siege was raised; though we see it with
   our eyes, and dispense it with our hands, we shall ourselves die
   miserably, without tasting the blessings we impart. It is needful to
   all you that are our hearers, without the exception of one single
   person. It is needful to you that are rich, though it may on some
   accounts be peculiarly difficult for you, even as difficult,
   comparatively speaking, as for a "Camel to go through the eye of a
   needle," Mat. 19:24, yet if it be neglected, you are poor in the midst
   of all your wealth, and miserable in all your abundance; a wretch
   starving for hunger, in a magnificent palace and a rich dress, would be
 less the object of compassion than you. It is needful for you that are
   poor; though you are distressed with so many anxious cares, "what you
   shall eat, and what you shall drink, and wherewithal you shall be
   clothed." Matt. 6:31. The nature that makes you capable of such
   anxieties as these, argues your much greater concern in the "bread
   which endures to eternal life," John 6:27, than in that by which this
   mortal body must be supported. It is needful for you that are advanced
   in years; though your strength be impaired so that the "grasshopper is
   a burthen," Eccl. 12:5, and though you have by your long continuance in
   sin, rendered this great work so hard, that were it less important, one
   would in pity let you alone without reminding you of it; yes, late as
   it is, it must be done, or your hoary heads will be brought down to the
   grave with wrath, and sink under a curse aggravated by every year and
   by every day of your lives. It is needful to you that are young, though
   solicited by so many gay vanities, to neglect it, though it may be
   represented as an unseasonable care at present, yet I repeat it, it is
   needful to you; immediately needful, unless you who walk so frequently
   over the dust of your brethren and companions, that died in the bloom
   and vigor of their days, have made some secret covenant with the grave
   for yourselves, and found out some wonderful method, hitherto unknown,
   or securing this precarious life, and of answering for days and months
   to come, while others cannot answer for one single moment.
   2. The care of the soul is "a matter of the highest importance;" beyond
   any thing which can be brought into comparison with it.
   As Solomon says of wisdom, that "it is more precious than rubies, and
   that all things which can be desired are not to be compared with her,"
   Prov. 3:15. So I may properly say of this great and most important
   branch of wisdom; whatever can be laid in the balance wit it, will be
   found altogether lighter than vanity. This is strongly implied when it
   is said in the text, "one thing is needful;" one thing, and one thing
   alone is so. Just as the blessed God is said to be "only wise," 1 Tim.
   1:17, and "only holy," Rev. 15:4. Because the wisdom and holiness of
   angels and men is as nothing, when compared with his. What seems most
   great and most important in life, what kings and senates, what the
   wisest and greatest of this world are employing their time, their
   councils, their pens, their labors upon, are trifles, when compared
   with this one thing. A man may subsist, he may in some considerable
   measure be happy, without learning, without riches, without titles,
   without health, without liberty, without friends, nay, though "the life
   be more than meat, and the body than raiment," Matt. 6:25, yet may he
   be happy, unspeakably happy, without the body itself. But he cannot be
   so, in the neglect of the one thing needful. I must therefore bespeak
   your regard to it in the words of Moses, "it is not a light thing, but
   it is your life," Deut. 32:47.
   3. The care of the soul is of so comprehensive a nature, that "every
   thing truly worthy of our regard may be considered as included in it,
   or subservient to it.
   As David observes, that "the commandment of God is exceeding broad,"
   Psalm 119:96, so we may say of this one thing needful; or as Solomon
   very justly and emphatically expresses it, "to fear God and to keep his
   commandments is the whole duty of man," Eccl. 12:13. His whole duty,
   and his whole interest; and every thing which is wise and rational does
   in its proper place and connection make a part of it. We should judge
   very ill concerning the nature of this care, if we imagined, that it
   consisted merely in acts of devotion, or religious contemplation; it
   comprehends all the lovely and harmonious band of social and human
   virtues. It requires a care of society, a care of our bodies, and of
   our temporal concerns; but then all is to be regulated, directed, and
   animated by proper regards to God, Christ, and immortality. Our food
   and our rest, our trades and our labors, are to be attended to, and all
   the offices of humanity performed in obedience to the will of God, for
   the glory of Christ, and in a view of improving the mind in a growing
   meekness for a state of complete perfection. Name anything which has
   not reference at all to his, and you name a worthless trifle, however
   it may be gilded to allure the eye, or however it may be sweetened to
   gratify the taste. Name a thing, which, instead of thus improving the
   soul, has a tendency to debase and pollute, to enslave and endanger it,
   and you name what is most unprofitable and mischievous, be the wages of
   iniquity ever so great; most foul and deformed, be it in the eyes of
   men ever so honorable, or in their customs ever so fashionable. Thus I
   have endeavored to show you what we may suppose implied in the
   expression of "one thing being needful." I am now,
   Thirdly, To show you with how much propriety the care of the soul may
   be represented under this character, as the one thing needful, or as a
   matter of universal and most serious concern, to which every thing else
   is to be considered as subservient, if at all worthy of our care and
   There let me appeal to the sentiments of those who must be allowed most
   capable of judging, and to the evident reason of the case itself, as it
   must appear to every unprejudiced mind.
   1. Let me argue "from the opinions of those who must be allowed most
   capable of judging in such an affair," and we shall quickly see that
   the care of the soul appears to them, the one thing needful.
   Is the judgment of the blessed God "according to truth," how evidently
   and how solemnly is that judgment declared? I will not say merely in
   this or the other particular passage of his word, but in the whole
   series of his revelations to the children of men, and the whole tenor
   of his addresses to them. Is not this the language of all, from the
   early days of Job and Moses to the conclusion of the canon of
   scripture. Job 28:21, 23, 28, "If wisdom be hid from the eyes of all
   the living, surely God understandeth the way thereof, he knoweth the
   place thereof;" and if he does, it is plainly pointed out, for "unto
   man he still saith, behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and
   to depart from evil, that is understanding." By Moses he declared to
   the Israelites, that "to do the commandments of the Lord would be their
   wisdom and their understanding in the sight of the nations, who should
   hear his statutes, and say, surely this is a wise and an understanding
   people," Deut. 4:6. When he had raised up one man on the throne of
   Israel, with the character of the wisest that ever lived upon the face
   of the earth, he chose to make him eminently a teacher of this great
   truth. And though now all that he spoke on the curious and less
   concerning subjects of natural philosophy is lost, "though he spoke of
   trees from the cedar to the hyssop, and of beasts, and of fowls, and of
   creeping things, and of fishes," 1 Kings 4:33, that saying is preserved
   in which he testifies, that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of
   wisdom," Prov. 1:7, 9, 10, and those Proverbs, in almost every line of
   which, they who neglect God and their own souls, are spoken of as
   fools, as if that were the most proper signification of the word, while
   the religious alone are honored with the title of wise. But in this
   respect, as attesting this truth in the name of God and in his own, "a
   greater than Solomon is here."
   For if we inquire what it was that our Lord Jesus Christ judged to be
   the one thing needful, the words of the text contain as full an answer
   as can be imagined; and the sense of them is repeated in a very lively
   and emphatical manner, in that remarkable passage wherein our Lord not
   only declares his own judgment, but seems to appeal to the conscience
   of all, as obliged by their own secret convictions to subscribe to the
   truth of it. "What is a man profited, is he gain the whole world, and
   lost his own soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
   Matt. 16:26. If it were once lost, what would he not be willing to give
   to redeem it? But it depends not on the words of Christ alone. Let his
   actions, his sufferings, his blood, his death, speak what a value he
   set on the souls of men. Is it to be imagined, that he would have
   relinquished heaven, have dwelt upon earth, have labored by night and
   by day, and at last have expired on the cross, for a matter of light
   importance? Or can we think that he, in whom "dwell all the treasures
   of wisdom and knowledge, and all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,"
   Coloss. 2:3, 9, was mistaken in judgment so deliberately formed, and so
   solemnly declared?
   If after this, there were room to mention human judgment and
   testimonies, how easy would it be to produce a cloud of witnesses in
such a cause, and to show that the wisest and best of men in all ages
   of the world have agreed in this point, that amidst all the diversities
   of opinion and profession, which succeeding generations have produced,
   this has been the unanimous judgment, this the common and most
   solicitous care of those whose characters are most truly valuable, to
   secure the salvation of their own souls, and to promote the salvation
   of others.
   And let me beseech you seriously to reflect, what are the characters of
   those who have taken the liberty, most boldly and freely to declare
   their judgment on the contrary side? The number of such is
   comparatively few; and when you compare what you have observed of their
   temper and conduct, I will not say with what you read of holy men of
   old, but with what you have yourselves seen in the faithful, active,
   and zealous servants of Christ, in these latter ages, with whom you
   have conversed; do you on the whole find, that the rejecters and
   deriders of the gospel, are in other respects so much more prudent and
   judicious, so much wiser for themselves, and for others, that are
   influenced by them, as that you can be in reason obliged to pay any
   great deference to the authority of a few such names as these, in
   opposition to those to whom they are here opposed?
   But you will say, and you will say it too truly, Though but a few may
   venture in words to declare for the neglect of the soul and its eternal
   interest, that the greater part of mankind do it in their actions. But
   are the greater part of mankind so wise, and so good, as implicitly to
   be followed in matters of the highest importance? And do not multitudes
   of these declare themselves on the other side, in their most serious
   moments? When the intoxications of worldly business and pleasures are
   over, and some languishing sickness forces men to solitude and
   retirement; what have you generally observed to be the affect of such a
   circumstance? Have they not then declared themselves convinced of the
   truth we are now laboring to establish? Nay, do we not sometimes see,
   that a distemper which seizes the mind with violence, yet does not
   utterly destroy its reasoning faculties, fixes this conviction on the
   soul in a few hours, nay, sometimes in a few moments? Have you never
   seen a gay, thoughtless creature, surprised in the giddy round of
   pleasures and amusements, and presently brought not only to
   seriousness, but terror and trembling, by the near views of death? Have
   you never seen the man of business and care interrupted, like the rich
   fool in the parable, in the midst of his schemes for the present world?
   And have you not heard one and the other of them owning the vanity of
   those pleasures and cares, which but a few days ago were every thing to
   them? Confessing that religion was the one thing needful, and
   recommending it to others with an earnestness, as if they hoped thereby
   to atone for their own former neglect? We that are ministers,
   frequently are witnesses to such things as these, and I believe few of
   our hearers are entire strangers to them.
   Once more, what if to the testimony of the dying, we could add that of
   the dead? What if God were to turn aside the veil between us and the
   invisible world, and permit the most careless sinner in the assembly to
   converse for a few moments with the inhabitants of it? If you were to
   apply yourself to a happy Spirit, that trod the most thorny road to
   paradise, or passed through the most fiery trial, and to ask him, "was
   it worth your while to labor so much, and to endure so much for what
   you now possess?" Surely if the blessed in heaven were capable of
   indignation, it would move them to hear that it should be made a
   question. And, on the other hand, if you could inquire of one tormented
   in that flame below, though he might once be "clothed in purple and
   fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day," Luke 16:19. If you could
   ask him, "whether his former enjoyments were an equivalent for his
   present sufferings and despair?" What answer do you suppose he would
   return? Perhaps an answer of so much horror and rage, as you would not
   be able so much as to endure. Or if the malignity of his nature should
   prevent him from returning any answer at all, surely there would be a
   language even in that silence, a language in the darkness, and flames,
   and groans of that infernal prison, which would speak to your very soul
   what the word of God is with equal certainty, though less forcible
   conviction, speaking to your ear, that "one thing is needful." You see
   it is so in the judgment of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,
   of the wisest and best of men, of many, who seemed to judge most
 differently of it, when they come to more deliberate and serious
   thought, and not only of the dying, but of the dead too, of those who
   have experimentally known both worlds, and most surely know what is to
   be preferred. But I will not rest the whole argument here; therefore,
   2. I appeal to the evident reason of the case itself, as it must appear
   to every unprejudiced mind, that the care of the soul is indeed the one
   thing needful.
   I still consider myself as speaking not to atheists, or to deists, but
   to those who not only believe the existence and providence of God, and
   a future state of happiness and misery, but likewise who credit the
   truth of the Christian revelation, as many undoubtedly do, who live in
   a fatal neglect of God, and their own souls. Now on these principles, a
   little reflection may be sufficient to convince you, that it is needful
   to the present repose of your own mind; needful, if ever you would
   secure eternal happiness, and avoid eternal misery, which will be
   aggravated, rather than alleviated by all your present enjoyments.
   1. The care of the soul is the one thing needful, because, "without it
   you cannot secure the peace of your own mind, nor avoid the upbraidings
   of your conscience."
   That noble faculty is indeed the vicegerent of God in the soul. It is
   sensible of the dignity and worth of an immortal spirit, and will
   sometimes cry out of the violence that is offered to it, and cry so
   loud, as to compel the sinner to hear, whether he will or not. Do you
   not sometimes find it yourselves? When you labor most to forget the
   concerns of your soul, do they not sometimes force themselves on your
   remembrance? You are afraid of the reflections of your own mind, but
   with all your artifice and all your resolution can you entirely avoid
   them? Does not conscience follow you to your beds, even if denied the
   opportunity of meeting you in your closets, and, though with an
   unwelcome voice, there warn you, "that your soul is neglected, and will
   quickly be lost." Does it not follow you to your shops and your fields,
   when you are busiest there? Nay, I will add, does it not sometimes
   follow you to the feast, to the club, to the dance, and perhaps, amidst
   all resistance, to the theater too? Does, it not sometimes mingle your
   sweetest draughts with wormwood, and your gayest scenes with horror? So
   that you are like a tradesman, who, suspecting his affairs to be in a
   bad posture, lays by his books and his papers, yet sometimes they will
   come accidentally in his way. He hardly dares to look abroad for fear
   of meeting a creditor or an arrest: and if he labors to forget his
   cares and his dangers, in a course of luxury at home, the remembrance
   is sometimes awakened, and the alarm increased, by those very
   extravagancies in which he is attempting to lose it. Such probably is
   the case of your minds, and it is a very painful state; and while
   things are thus within, external circumstances can no more make you
   happy, than a fine dress could relieve you under a violent fit of the
   stone. Whereas, if this great affair were secured, you might delight in
   reflection, as much as you now dread it; and conscience, of your
   bitterest enemy, would become a delightful friend, and the testimony of
   it your greatest rejoicing.
   2. The care of the soul is the one thing needful, "because without this
   your eternal happiness will be lost."
   A crown of everlasting glory is not surely such a trifle as to be
   thrown away on a careless creature, that will not in good earnest
   pursue it. God doth not ordinarily deal thus, even with the bounties of
   his common providence, which are comparatively of little value. As to
   these, the hand of the diligent generally makes rich, and he would be
   thought distracted, rather than prudent, who should expect to get an
   estate merely by wishing for it, or without some resolute and continued
   application to a proper course of action for that purpose. Now, that we
   may not foolishly dream of obtaining heaven, in the midst of a course
   of indolence and sloth; we are expressly told in the word of God, that
   "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by
   force," Matt. 11:12, and are therefore exhorted to "strive," with the
   greatest intenseness, and eagerness of mind, as the word properly
   signifies, "to enter in at the strait gate," for this great and
   important reason, "because many shall another day seek to enter in, and
 shall not be able," Luke 13:24. Nay, when our Lord makes the most
   gracious promises to the humble petitioner, he does it in such a manner
   as to exclude the hopes of those who are careless and indifferent.
   "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and
   it shall be opened unto you, Matt. 7:7. If, therefore, you do not ask,
   seek, and knock, the door of mercy will not be opened, and eternal
   happiness will be lost. Not that heaven is to be obtained by our own
   good works: no, no; for having done all, we must account ourselves
   unprofitable servants.
   And surely if I could say no more as to the fatal consequences of your
   neglect, than this, that eternal happiness will be lost, I should say
   enough to impress every mind, that considers what eternity means. To
   fall into a state of everlasting forgetfulness, might indeed appear a
   refuge to a mind filled with the apprehension of future misery. But O
   how dreadful a refuge is it! Surely it is such a refuge, as a vast
   precipice, (from which a man falling would be dashed to pieces in a
   moment) might appear to a person, pursued by the officers of justice,
   that he might be brought out to a painful and lingering execution. If
   an extravagant youth would have reason to look round with anguish, on
   some fair and ample paternal inheritance, which he had sold or
   forfeited merely for the riot of a few days: how much more melancholy
   would it be for a rational mind to think that its eternal happiness is
   lost for any earthly consideration whatever? Tormenting thought! "Had I
   attended to that one thing which I have neglected, I might have been,
   through the grace of God in Christ Jesus, great and happy beyond
   expression, beyond conception: not merely for the little span of ten
   thousand thousand ages, for ever. A line reaching even to the remotest
   star would not have been able to contain the number of ages, nor would
   millions of years have been sufficient to figure them down; this is
   eternity, but I have lost it, and am now on the verge of being. This
   lamp, which might have outlasted those of the firmament, will presently
   be extinguished, and I blotted out from amongst the works of God, and
   cut off from all the bounties of his hand." Would not this be a very
   miserable case, if this were all? And would it not be sufficient to
   prove this to be the better part, which, as our Lord observes, can
   "never be taken away?" But God forbid that we should be so unfaithful
   to him, and to the souls of men, as to rest in such a representation
   alone. I therefore add once more,
   3. The care of the soul is the one thing needful, because "without it,
   you cannot avoid a state of eternal misery, which will be aggravated,
   rather than alleviated by all your present enjoyments."
   Nothing can be more evident from the word of the God of truth. It there
   plainly appears to be a determined case, which leaves no room for a
   more favorable conjecture or hope. "The wicked shall be turned into
   hell, even all the nations that forget God," Psalm 9:17. "They shall go
   away into everlasting punishment, Matt. 25:46, into a state where they
   shall in vain seek death, and death shall flee from them. Oh! brethren,
   it is a certain, but an awful truth, that your souls will be thinking
   and immortal beings, even in spite of themselves. They may indeed
   torment, but they cannot destroy themselves. They can no more suspend
   their power of thought and perception, than a mirror its property of
   reflecting rays that fall off its surface. Do you suspect the contrary?
   Make the trial immediately. Command your minds to create from thinking
   but for one quarter of an hour, or for half that time, and exclude
   every idea and every reflection. Can you succeed in that attempt? Or
   rather, does not thought press in with a more sensible violence on that
   resistance; as an anxious desire to sleep, makes us so much the more
   wakeful. Thus will thought follow you beyond the grave, thus will it,
   as an unwelcome guest, force itself upon you, when it can serve only to
   perplex and distress the mind. It will for ever upbraid you, that
   notwithstanding all the kind expostulations of God and man,
   notwithstanding all the keen remonstrances of conscience, and the
   pleadings of the blood of Christ, you have gone on in your folly, till
   heaven is lost, and damnation incurred; and all, for what for a shadow
   and a dream?
   Oh think not, sinners, that the remembrance of your past pleasures, and
   of your success in your other cares, whilst that of the one thing
   needful was forgotten, think not that this will ease you minds. It will
   rather torment them the more. "Son, remember that thou in thy life-time
   receivedst thy good things." Bitter remembrance! Well might the heathen
   poets represent the unhappy spirits in the shades below, as eagerly
   catching at the water of forgetfulness, yet unable to reach it. Your
   present comforts will only serve to give you a livelier sense of your
   misery, as having tasted such degrees of enjoyment; and to inflame the
   reckoning, as you have misimproved those talents lodged in your hands
   for better purposes. Surely, if these things were believed, and
   seriously considered, the sinner would have no more heart to rejoice in
   his present prosperity, than a man would have to amuse himself with the
   curiosities of a fine garden, through which he was led to be broken
   upon the rack.
   But I will enlarge no farther on these things. Would to God that the
   unaccountable stupidity of men's minds, and their fatal attachment to
   the pleasures and cares of the present life, did not make it necessary
   to insist on them so frequently and so copiously!

   I now proceed to the reflections which naturally arise from hence, and
   shall only mention two.
   1. How much reason have we to lament the follow of mankind in
   neglecting the one thing needful.
   If religion be indeed the truest wisdom, then surely we have the
   justest reason to say with Solomon, "the folly and madness is in men's
   hearts," Eccl. 9:3. Is it the one thing needful? Look on the conduct of
   the generality of mankind, and you would imagine they thought it the
   one thing needless: the vainest dream, and the idlest amusement of the
   mind. God is admonishing them by ordinances, and providences, sometimes
   by such as are most awful, to lay it to heart;" he speaks once, yea
   twice, (yes a multitude of times) but man regards not, Job 33:14. They
   profess perhaps to believe all that I have been saying, but act as if
   the contrary were self- evident; they will risk their fouls and
   eternity for a thing of nought, for that, for the sake of which they
   would not risk so much as a hand, or a finger, or a joint, no, nor
   perhaps a toy that adorns it. Surely this is the wonder of angels, and
   perhaps of devils too, unless the observation of so many ages may have
   rendered it familiar to both. And can we, my Christian brethren, behold
   such a scene with indifference? If some epidemical madness had seized
   our country, or the places where we live, so that as we went from one
   place to another, we every where met with lunatics, and saw amongst the
   rest, some perhaps of the finest genius, in the most eminent stations
   in life, amusing themselves with others; surely were we ever so secure
   from the danger of infection or assault, the fight would cut us to the
   heart. A good-natured man would hardly be able to go abroad, or even be
   desirous to live, if it must be amongst so many sad spectacles. Yet
   these poor creatures might, notwithstanding this, be the children of
   God, and the higher their frenzy rose, the nearer might their complete
   happiness be. But alas! the greater part of mankind are seized with a
   worse kind of madness, in which they are ruining their souls; and can
   we behold it with indifference? The Lord awaken our compassion, our
   prayers, and our endeavors, in dependence on divine grace, that we may
   be instrumental in bringing them to their mind, and making them wise
   indeed, that is, wise to salvation!
   2. How necessary is it that we should seriously inquire, how this one
   thing needful is regarded by us!
   Let me entreat you to remember your own concern in it, and inquire --
   Have I thought seriously of it? Have I seen the importance of it? Has
   it lain with a due and abiding weight on my mind? Has it brought me to
   Christ, that I might lay the stress of these great eternal interests on
   him? And am I acting in the main of my life, as one that has these
   convictions? Am I willing, in fact, to give up other things, my
   interests, my pleasures, my passions to this? Am I conversing with God
   and with man, as one that believes these things; as one that has
   deliberately chosen the better part, and is determined to abide by that
   Observe the answer which conscience returns to these inquiries, and you
   will know your own part in that more particular application, with which
   I shall conclude.
   1. Let me address those that are entirely unconcerned about the one
   thing needful.
   Brethren, I have been stating the case at large, and now I appeal to
   your consciences, are these things so, or are they not? God and your
   own hearts best know for what the care of your soul is neglected; but
   be it what it will, the difference between one grain of sand and
   another, is not great, when it comes to be weighed against a talent of
   gold. Whatever it is, you had need to examine it carefully. You had
   need to view that commodity on all sides, of which you do in effect
   say, For this will I sell my soul; for this will I give up heaven, and
   venture hell, be heaven and hell whatever they may. In the name of God,
   brethren, is this the part of a man, of a rational creature? To go on
   with your eyes open towards a pit of eternal ruin, because there are a
   few gay flowers in the way: or what if you shut your eyes, will that
   prevent your fall? It signifies little to say, I will not think of
   these things, I will not consider them: God has said, "In the last days
   they shall consider it perfectly," Jer. 23:20. The revels of a drunken
   malefactor will not prevent nor respite his execution. Pardon my
   plainness; if it were a fable or a tale, I would endeavor to amuse you
   with words, but I cannot do it where souls are at stake.
   2. I would apply to those who are, in some sense, convinced of the
   importance of their souls, and yet are inclined to defer that care of
   them a little longer, which, in the general, they see to be necessary. 
   I know you that are young, are under peculiar temptations to do this;
   though it is strange that the death of so many of your companions,
   should not be an answer to some of the most specious and dangerous of
   those temptations. Methinks, if these were the least degree of
   uncertainty, the importance is too weighty to put matters to the
   venture. But here the uncertainty is great and apparent. You must
   surely know, that there are critical seasons of life for managing the
   concerns of it, which are of such a nature, that if once left, they may
   never return: here is a critical season: "Now is the accepted time, now
   is the day of salvation," 2 Cor. 6:2. "today, if ye will hear his
   voice, harden not your hearts," Heb. 3:7, 8. This language may not be
   spoken tomorrow. Talk not of a more convenient season; none can be more
   convenient; and that to which you would probably refer it, is least of
   all so, a dying time. You would not choose then to have any important
   business in hand; and will you of choice refer the greatest business of
   all to that languishing, hurrying, amazing hour? If a friend were then
   to come to you with the balance of an intricate account, or a view of a
   title to an estate, you would shake your fainting head, and lift up
   your pale trembling hand, and say, perhaps, with a feeble voice, "Alas,
   is this a time for these things?" And is it a time for so much greater
   things than these? I wish you knew, and would consider, into what a
   strait, we that are minister are sometime brought, when we are called
   to the dying beds of those who have spent their lives in the neglect of
   the one thing needful. On the one hand, we fear, lest if we palliate
   [sugarcoat] matters, and speak smooth things, we shall betray and ruin
   their souls; and on the other, that if we use a becoming plainness and
   seriousness, in warning them of their danger, we shall quite overwhelm
   them, and hasten the dying moments, which is advancing by such swift
   steps. O let me entreat you for our sakes, and much more for your own,
   that you do not drive us to such sad extremities; but if you are
   convinced, as I hope some of you may now be, that the care of the soul
   is that needful thing we have represented, let the conviction work, let
   it drive you immediately to the throne of grace; from thence you may
   derive that wisdom and strength, which will direct you in all the
   intricacies which entangle you, and animate you in the midst of
   difficulty an discouragement.
   3. I would in the last place address myself to those happy souls, who
   have in good earnest attended to the one thing needful.
   I hope, that when you see how commonly it is neglected, neglected
   indeed, by many, whose natural capacities, improvements, and
   circumstances in life, appear to you superior to your own; you will
   humbly acknowledge, that it was distinguishing grace which brought you
   into this happy state, and formed you to this most necessary care.
   Bless the Lord, therefore, who hath given you that counsel, in virtue
   of which you can say, "He is your portion." Rejoice in the thought,
   that the great concern is secured: as it is natural for us to do, when
   some important affair is dispatched, which has long lain before us, and
   which we have been inclined to put off from one day to another, but
   have at length strenuously and successfully attended. Remember still to
   endeavor to continue acting on these great principles, which at first
   determined your choice; and seriously consider, that those who desire
   their life may at last be given them for a prey, must continue on their
   guard, in all stages of their journey through a wilderness, where daily
   dangers are still surrounding them. Being enabled to secure the great
   concern, make yourselves easy as to others of smaller importance. You
   have chosen the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; other things,
   therefore, shall be added unto you: and if any which you desire should,
   not be added, comfort yourselves with this thought, that you have the
   good part, which can never be taken away. And, not to enlarge on these
   obvious hints, which must often occur, be very solicitous that others
   may be brought to a care about the one thing needful. If it be needful
   for you, it is so for your children, your friends, your servants. Let
   them, therefore, see your concern in this respect for them, as well as
   for yourselves. Let parents especially attend to this exhortation;
   whose care for their offspring often exceeds in other respects, and
   falls in this. Remember that your children may never live to enjoy the
   effects of your labor and concern to get them estates and portions: the
   charges of their funerals may, perhaps, be all their share of what you
   are so anxiously careful to lay up for them. And O think what a sword
   would pierce through your very heart, if you should stand by the corpse
   of a beloved child with this reflection: "This poor creature has done
   with life, before it learnt its great business in it; and is gone to
   eternity, which I have seldom been warning it to prepare for, and
   which, perhaps, it learned of me to forget."
   On the whole, may this grand care be awakened in those by whom it has
   been hitherto neglected: may it be revived in each of our minds. And
   that you may be encouraged to pursue it with greater cheerfulness, let
   me conclude with this comfortable thought, that in proportion to the
   necessity of the case, through the merits of Christ Jesus, is the
   provision which divine grace has made for our assistance. If you are
   disposed to sit down at Christ's feet, he will teach you by his word
   and Spirit. If you commit this precious jewel, which is your eternal
   all, into his hand, he will preserve it unto that day, and will then
   produce it richly adorned, and gloriously improved to his own honor,
   and to your everlasting joy.
   Which God of his infinite mercy grant, &c.

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