By Dustin Bruce
Gospel preachers are prone to developing a lazy eye when it comes to viewing the present in light of eternity. In a sermon entitled, “How We Should Eye Eternity, That It May Influence Us In All We Do,” the Puritan pastor, Thomas Doolittle (1630–1707) offers a special word to ministers:
When we are to preach to people that must live forever in heaven or hell, with God or devils; and our very preaching is the means appointed by God to fit men for an everlasting state: when we stand and view some hundreds of persons before us, and think, “All these are going to eternity: now we see them, and they see us; but after a little while they shall see us no more in our pulpits, nor we them in their pews… It may be, some of these are hearing their last sermon, making their last public prayers, keeping their last Sabbath; and before we come to preach again, might be gone into another world:” if we had but a firm belief of eternity ourselves, and a real lively sense of the mortality of their bodies and our own…how pathetically should we plead with them, plentifully weep over them, fervently pray for them; that our words, or rather the word of the eternal God, might have effectual operation on their hearts!
Doolittle mentions several ways maintaining an eye on eternity impacts a gospel minister:
First, eyeing eternity leads preachers to be “painful and diligent” in sermon preparation. He elaborates, “Idleness in a shop-keeper is a sin, but much more in a minister; in a trader, much more in a preacher.”
Second, eyeing eternity provokes preachers “into declaring the whole counsel of God.” Doolittle means that preachers should not hesitate to tell men of their sin and evils for fear of offense. Preachers with an eye upon eternity provoke the consciences of men for the gospel so as to say with Paul, “I am pure from the blood of all men.”
Third, eyeing eternity leads preachers to “be plain in speech.” A minister of the gospel must avoid starving those he pretends to feed by the use of lofty expressions. What a tragedy to have some condemned for eternity “because the learned preacher would not stoop to speak…of eternal matters in language that they might have understood.”
Finally, eyeing eternity leads pastors to raise up a new generation of gospel ministers. Doolittle emphasizes, “Those that are now engaged in the work, will shortly be all silenced by death and dust; and how desirable is it that your children and posterity should see and hear others preaching in their room!”
Eyeing eternity carries “influence in all we do.” While this is true for all believers, perhaps it is doubly so for the minister. Preacher, “do ye, while ye are in time, eye eternity in all you do?”
Note: Thomas Doolittle was born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire and experienced conversion under the preaching of Richard Baxter. The actual sermon series used for Doolittle’s conversion would later be published as The Saints Everlasting (1653). Doolittle graduated from Pembroke Hall, Camdridge with a B.A. (1653) and Master’s (1656) and became a noted pastor to St. Alfege, London Wall, until his ejection from the Church of England in 1662. Doolittle then founded the Pioneer Noncomformist Academy, which operated for 35 years and influenced hundreds of students, including Matthew Henry and Edmund Calamy. The resilient nonconformist faced a lifetime of persecution and became the final ejected minister to enter into glory (Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans [Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006], 180–183).
Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a ThM in Church History at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.