The Reformed Pastor

Richard Baxter published The Reformed Pastor in 1656 to help pastors do their jobs better. It is still worth reading. Gordon Cheng brings us two short excerpts.

At the heart of the Reformation lay a much bigger and stronger desire than just to shape the events of their time. The desire of the Reformers was to apply the great doctrines of grace, found in the gospel of Christ, to the lives of teachers and hearers. As a result, their writings and the writings inspired by these rediscoveries of the Bible’s truth often have a freshness to them that means they repay reading in every new generation. A good example of that freshness and desire for application is found in Richard Baxter’s rightly famous book, The Reformed Pastor. It was first published in 1656, but like the older more fundamental writings of Luther and Calvin, or like Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, or the published sermons by later preachers like Charles Spurgeon, Baxter’s writing (often with fairly necessary abridging, it has to be said) has been discovered again and again by generations of pastors to their great benefit.

Baxter was concerned that the average minister’s life, doctrine, preaching and discipleship should reflect the gospel at every point. He had a particular concern for personal ministry, and emphasized the duty of the true pastor not only to preach but also to visit every person living in his parish.

The following extracts from The Reformed Pastor help give an insight into why Baxter was so concerned to tell his fellow ministers to look to themselves and the shape of their ministry. His tone in encouraging ministers gives some insight into the depths of his concern for those ministered to.

On Baxter’s reasons for writing not only encouragement but criticism of ministers:

If it should be objected, that I should not have spoken so plainly and sharply against the sins of the ministry, or that I should not have published it to the view of the world; or at least, that I should have done it in another tongue [such as Latin], and not in the ears of the vulgar; especially, at such a time, when Quakers and Papists are endeavouring to bring the ministry into contempt, and the people are too prone to hearken to their suggests—I confess I thought the objection very considerable; but that it prevailed not to alter my resolutions, is to be ascribed, among others, to the following reasons:

  1. When the sin is open in the sight of the world, it is vain to attempt to hide it; all such attempts will but aggravate and increase our shame.
  2. A free confession is a condition of a full remission; and when the sin is public, the confession should also be public. If the ministers of England had sinned only in Latin, I would have made shift to admonish them in Latin, or else have said nothing to them. But if they will sin in English, they must hear of it in English.
  3. Too many who have undertaken the work of the ministry do so obstinately proceed in self-seeking, negligence, pride and other sins, that it is become our necessary duty to admonish them. If we saw that such would reform without reproof, we would gladly forbear the publishing of their faults. But when reproofs themselves prove so ineffectual, that they are more offended at the reproof than at the sin, and had rather that we should cease reproving that that themselves should cease sinning, I think it is time to sharpen the remedy. For what else should we do? To give up our brethren as incurable were cruelly, as long as there are further means to be used. We must not hate them, but plainly rebuke them, and not suffer sin upon them. To bear with the vices of the ministry is to promote the ruin of the Church; for what speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides? And how can we more effectually further a reformation, than by endeavouring to reform the leaders of the church? For my part, I have done as I would be done by. But, especially, because our faithful endeavours are of so great necessity to the welfare of the Church, and the saving of men’s souls, that it will not consist with a love to either, to be negligent ourselves, or silently to connive at negligence in others. If thousands of you were in a leaking ship, and those that should pump out the water, and stop the leaks, should be sporting or asleep, or even but favouring themselves in their labours, to the hazarding of you all, would you not awaken them to their work and call on them to labour as for your lives? Would you not say, ‘The work must be done, or we are all dead men. Is the ship ready to sink, and do you talk of reputation? Or had you rather hazard yourself and us, than hear of your slothfulness?’ This is our case, brethren. The work of God must needs be done! Souls must not perish, while you mind your worldly business or worldly pleasure, and take your ease,or quarrel with your brethren. If your own body were sick, and you will despise the remedy, or if your own house were on fire, and you will be singing or quarrelling in the streets, I could possibly bear it, and let you alone, but, if you will undertake to be the physician of an hospital, or to a whole town that is infected with the plague, or will undertake to quench all the fires that shall be kindled in the town, there is no bearing with your remissness, how much soever it may displease you. Take it how you will, you must be told of it.

On being a minister who is sure of their own salvation

Take heed to yourselves, for you have a heaven to win or lose, and souls that must be happy or miserable for ever; and therefore it concerneth you to begin at home, and to take heed to yourselves as well as to others. Preaching well may succeed to the salvation of others, without the holiness of your own hearts and lives; it is, at least, possible, though less usual; but it is impossible it should save yourselves. ‘Many will say in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?’ to whom he will answer, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’1 O sirs, how many men have preached Christ, and yet have perished for want of a saving interest in him! How many, who are now in hell, have told their people of the torments of hell, and warned them to escape from it! How many have preached of the wrath of God against sinners, who are now enduring it! O what sadder case can there be in the world, than for a man, who made it his very trade and calling to proclaim salvation, and to help others to heaven, yet after all to be himself shut out! Alas! That we should have so many books in our libraries which tell us the way to heaven; that we should spend so many years in reading these books, and studying the doctrine of eternal life, and after all this to miss it!—that we should study so many sermons of salvation, and yet fall short of it! Take heed therefore to yourselves, for your own sakes; seeing you have souls to save or lose, as well as others.


1 Baxter refers here to Matthew 7:22-23.

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