The Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter
The content of this book was first prepared way back in 1659. It was not intended to be a book (as far as I can gather), but was a series of messages prepared by Richard Baxter for delivering to a conference of ministers. Ill-health prevented Baxter from ever giving those sermons but such was the author’s belief in the urgent need for his message to be heard, they were published. The title can be a wee bit misleading to current readers – Baxter is not looking to produce the presbyterian/Calvinist pastor, but the term ‘reformed’ in this sense would be how we would use the word ‘revived’. Now we see how relevant to all generations of Christians such a subject is – we sure need revival in the hearts of God’s people.
This is a book that requires committment and perseverance on the part of the reader (350 years does bring with it differences in writing style), but in doing so you will be blessed. What strikes me about Baxter is his passion to see souls converted, in fact he regarded this work as the greatest priority of a preacher/pastor (is it any different for any of us?):
I confess, I am frequently forced to neglect that which should tend to the further increase of knowledge in the godly, because of the lamentable necessity of the unconverted….He that will let a sinner go down to hell for want of speaking to him, doth set less by souls than did the Redeemer of souls…
What I like about Baxter’s style, is that he is not afraid to be very pointed in his application of biblical principles (this can be sore at times):
Every man must render to God the things that are God’s, and that, let it be remembered, is all he is and all he possesses.
The author also very honestly highlights the weaknesses and failures of the preachers of his day. Not surprisingly, there is nothing new under the sun (e.g. pride, laziness, neglecting church discipline etc.). Baxter very strongly advocates ‘personal instruction’ (he specifically names ’catechising’) as an important investment of a pastor’s time – finding this a surer way of helping people to be well grounded in the fundamentals of the faith. I have to say, I think he has a point: I am sometimes surprised at how uncertain some people are about the basic elements of the faith, even though, in some cases, they have been sitting under sound teaching for years (N.B. for such a purpose, you would have to go far to find something better than a good catechism!).
Baxter brings the responsibilities of a church leader into sharp focus – he outlines the privileges of God’s calling to such a position, but uses that to present the full weight of responsibility that goes with it. Some would perhaps describe the style as ‘laying on a guilt-trip’, and this may be so. But on the occasions he caused guilt to arise within me – it was for good reason (and it is often the sort of message that I need).
The copy of The Reformed Pastor which I have is opened with an introduction by J I Packer. He draws the application of Baxter’s work to a series of questions:
(1) Do I believe the gospel Baxter believed (and Whitefield, and Spurgeon, and Paul)? (2) Do I then share Baxter’s view of the vital necessity of conversion? (3) Am I then as real as I should be in letting this view of things shape my life and work? (4) Am I as rational as I should be in choosing means to the end I desire, and am charged to seek? Have I set myself, as Baxter set himself, to find the best way of creating situations in which I can talk to people personally, on a regular basis, about their spiritual lives?
We do live in different days from Richard Baxter, but the fundamental needs of the souls of men and women remain unchanged – how are we allowing God to use us in this vital work?