THE REFORMED PASTOR
by Richard Baxter
Of this work as published by the Author,
the following was the title: Gildas Salvianus: The Reformed Pastor, showing
the nature of the Pastoral work; especially in Private Instruction and Catechizing; with
an open CONFESSION of our too open SINS: Prepared for a Day of Humiliation kept at
Worcester, December 4, 1655, by the Ministers of that County, who subscribed the Agreement
for Catechizing and Personal Instruction at their entrance upon that work, By their
unworthy fellow Servant, Richard Baxter, Teacher of the Church at Kederminster.
Of the excellence of this work, it is scarcely possible to speak in too high terms. It is not a directory relative to the various parts of the ministerial office, and in this respect it may, by some, be considered as defective; but, for powerful, pathetic, pungent, heartpiercing address, we know of no work on the pastoral office to be compared with it. Could we suppose it to be read by an angel, or by some other being possessed of an unfallen nature, the reasonings and expostulations of our author would be felt to be altogether irresistible; and hard must be the heart of that minister, who can read it without being moved, melted, and overwhelmed, under a sense of his own shortcomings; hard must he his heart, if he be not mused to greater faithfulness, diligence, and activity in winning souls to Christ. It is a work worthy of being printed in letters of gold: it deserves, at least, to be engraven on the heart of every minister.
But, with all its excellencies, the Reformed Pastor, as originally published by our author, labors under considerable defects, especially as regards its usefulness in the present day. With the view of remedying the imperfections of the original work, the Rev Samuel Palmer, of Hackney, published, in 1766, an Abridgement of it; but though it was scarcely possible to present the work in any form, without furnishing powerful and impressive appeals to the consciences of ministers, he essentially failed in presenting it in an improved form. In fact, the work in its original state was, with all its faults, greatly to be preferred to Palmers abridgement of it: if the latter was freed from some of its defects, it also lost much of its excellence. We may often, with advantage, throw out extraneous matter from the writings of Baxter; but there are few mens works which less admit of abridgement. This sacrifices their fullness and richness of illustration, enervates their energy, and evaporates their power and pathos.
The work which is now presented to the public, is not, strictly speaking, an abridgement. Though considerably less than the original, it has been reduced in size, chiefly by the omission of extraneous and controversial matter, which, however useful it might be when the work was originally published, is for the most part inapplicable to the circumstances of the present age. I have also in some instances changed the order of particular parts. The Motives to the Oversight of the Flock, which our author had placed in his Application, I have introduced in that part of the discourse to which they refer, just as we have Motives to the Oversight of Ourselves, in the preceding part of the treatise. Some of the particulars which he has under the head of Motives, I have introduced in other parts of the body of the discourse, to which they appeared more naturally to belong. But though I have used some freedom in the way of transposition, I have been anxious not to sacrifice the force and fullness of our authors illustrations to mere logical arrangement. Many of the same topics, for instance, are still retained in the Application, which had occurred in the body of the discourse, and are there touched with a masters hand, but which would have lost much of their appropriateness and energy, had I separated them from that particular connection in which they stand, and introduced them in a different part of the work. I have also corrected the language of our author; but I have been solicitous not to modernise it. Though to adopt the phraseology and forms of speech employed by the writers of that age, would be a piece of silly affectation in an author of the present day, yet there is something simple, venerable, and impressive in it, as used by the writers themselves.
While, however, I have made these changes from the original, I trust I have not injured, but on the contrary, improved the work; that the spirit of its great author is so much preserved, that those who are most familiar with his writings would scarcely be sensible of the alterations I have made, had I not stated them in this place. Before I conclude, I cannot help suggesting to the friends of religion, that they could not perhaps do more good at less expense, than by presenting copies of this work to the ministers of Christ throughout the country. There is no class of the community on whom the prosperity of the church of Christ so much depends as on its ministers. If their zeal and activity languish,, the interests of religion are likely to languish in proportion; while, on the other hand, whatever is calculated to stimulate their zeal and activity, is likely to promote, in a proportional degree, the interests of religion. They are the chief instruments through whom good is to be effected in any country. How important, then, must it be to stir them up to holy zeal and activity in the cause of the Redeemer! A tract given to a poor man may be the means of his conversion; but a work such as this, presented to a minister, may, through his increased faithfulness and energy, prove the conversion of multitudes. Ministers themselves are not perhaps sufficiently disposed to purchase works of this kind: they are more ready to purchase books which will assist them, than such as will stimulate them in their work. If, therefore, any plan could be devised for presenting a copy of it to every minister of the various denominations throughout the United Kingdom, what incalculable good might be effected! There are many individuals to whom it would be no great burden to purchase twenty, fifty, or a hundred copies of such a work as this, and to send it to ministers in different parts of the country; or several individuals might unite together for this purpose. I can scarcely conceive any way in which they would be likely to be more useful. To the different Missionary Societies, I trust I may be allowed to make a similar suggestion. To furnish every missionary, or at least every Missionary Station, with a copy of the Reformed Pastor, would, I doubt not, he a powerful mean of promoting the grand object of Christian Missions. Sure I am of this, there is no work so much calculated to stimulate a missionary to holy zeal and activity in his evangelistic labors.
12 March 1829
To my bretheren and dearly-beloved
brethren, the faithful ministers of Christ, in Britain and Ireland, Grace and Peace in
Jesus Christ be increase
The subject of this treatise so nearly concerneth yourselves, and the churches committed to your care, that it emboldeneth me to this address, notwithstanding the imperfections in the manner of handling it, and the consciousness of my great unworthiness to be your monitor.
Before I come to my principal errand, I shall give you an account of the reasons of the following work, and of the freedom of speech I have used, which to some may be displeasing. When the Lord had awakened his ministers in the county of Worcestershire, and some neighboring parts, to a sense of their duty in the work of catechizing, and private instruction of all in their parishes who would not obstinately refuse their help, and when they had subscribed an agreement, containing their resolutions for the future performance of it, they judged it unmeet to enter upon the work, without a solemn humbling of their souls before the Lord, for their long neglect of so great and necessary a duty; and, therefore, they agreed to meet together at Worcester, December 4, 1655, and there to join in humiliation and in earnest prayer to God, for the pardon of our neglects, and for his special assistance in the work which we had undertaken, and for the success of it with the people whom we had engaged to instruct; at which time, among others, I was desired by them to preach. In compliance with their wishes, I prepared the following Discourse; which, though it proved longer than could be delivered in one or two sermons, yet I intended to have entered upon it at that time, and to have delivered that which was most pertinent to the occasion, and to have reserved the rest to another season. But, before the meeting, by the increase of my ordinary pain and weakness, I was disabled from going thither; to recompense which unwilling omission, I easily yielded to the request of divers of the brethren, forthwith to publish the things which I had prepared, that they might read that which they could not hear. If it 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, and not in the ears of the vulgar; especially, at such a time, when Quakers and Papists are endeavoring to bring the ministry into contempt, and the people are too prone to hearken to their suggestions I confess I thought the objection very considerable; but that it prevailed not to alter my resolution, is to be ascribed, among others, to the following reasons:
1. It was a proposed solemn humiliation that we agreed on, and that this was prepared and intended for. And how should we be humbled without a plain confession of our sin?
2. It was principally our own sins that the confession did concern; and who can be offended with us for confessing our own sins, and taking the blame and shame to ourselves, which our consciences told us we ought to do?
3. Having necessarily prepared it in the English tongue, I had no spare time to translate it into Latin.
4. 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.
5. 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. Unpardoned sin will never let us rest or prosper, though we be at ever so much care and cost to cover it: our sin will surely find us out, though we find not it out. The work of confession is purposely to make known our sin, and freely to take the shame to ourselves; and if he that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy, no wonder if he that covereth them shall not prosper. If we be so tender of ourselves, and so loath to confess, God will be the less tender of us, and he will indite our confessions for us. He will either force our consciences to confession, or his judgments shall proclaim our iniquities to the world.
6. 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 than 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 cruelty, as long as there are further means to he 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 endeavoring to reform the leaders of the Church? For my part, I have
done as I would be done by; and it is for the safety of the Church, and in tender love to
the brethren, whom I venture to reprehend not to make them contemptible and odious,
but to heal the evils that would make them so that so no enemy may find this matter
of reproach among us. But, especially, because our faithful endeavors are of so great
necessity to the welfare of the Church, and the saving of mens 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
favoring themselves in their labors, to the hazarding of you all, would you not awaken
them to their work and call on them to labor as for your lives? And if you used some
sharpness and importunity with the slothful, would you think that man was in his wits who
would take it ill of you, and accuse you of pride, selfconceitedness, or unmannerliness,
to presume to talk so saucily to your fellow-workmen, or that should tell you that you
wrong them by diminishing their reputation? 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 slothfullness? 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! Nor must we be silent while men are hastened by you to perdition, and the Church
brought into greater danger and confusion, for fear of seeming too uncivil and unmannerly
with you, or displeasing your impatient souls! Would you be but as impatient with your
sins as with our reproofs, you should hear no more from us, but we should be all agreed!
But, neither God nor good men will let you alone in such sins. Yet if you had betaken
yourselves to another calling, and would sin to yourselves only, and would perish alone,
we should not have so much necessity of molesting you, as now we have: but if you will
enter into the office of the ministry, which is for the necessary preservation of us all,
so that by letting you alone in your sin, we must give up the Church to loss and hazard,
blame us not if we talk to you more freely than you would have us to do. 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, (which yet, in charity, I should not easily do,) 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; and if that will not serve, you must be told of it yet more plainly; and,
if that will not serve, if you be rejected as well as reprehended, you may thank
yourselves. I speak all this to none but the guilty.
And, thus, I have given you those reasons which forced me to publish, in plain English, so much of the sins of the ministry as in the following Treatise I have done. And I suppose the more penitent and humble any are, and the more desirous of the true reformation of the Church, the more easily and fully will they approve such free confessions and reprehensions. But I find it will be impossible to avoid offending those who are at once guilty and impenitent; for there is no way of avoiding this, but by our silence, or their patience: and silent we cannot be, because of Gods commands; and patient they will not be, because of their guilt and impenitence. But plain dealers will always be approved in the end; and the time is at hand when you will confess that they were your best friends. But my principal business is yet behind. I must now take the boldness, brethren, to become your monitor, concerning some of the necessary duties, of which I have spoken in the ensuing discourse. If any of you should charge me with arrogance or immodesty for this attempt, as if hereby I accused you of negligence, or judged myself sufficient to admonish you, I crave your candid interpretation of my boldness, assuring you that I obey not the counsel of my flesh herein, but displease myself as much as some of you; and would rather have the ease and peace of silence, if it would stand with my duty, and the churches good. But it is the mere necessity of the souls of men, and my desire of their salvation, and of the prosperity of the Church, which forceth me to this arrogance and immodesty, if so it must be called. For who, that hath a tongue, can be silent, when it is for the honor of God, the welfare of his Church, and the everlasting happiness of so many souls?
The first, and main point, which I have to propound to you, is this, Whether it be not the unquestionable duty of the generality of ministers of these three nations, to set themselves presently to the work of catechizing, and instructing individually, all that are committed to their care, who will be persuaded to submit thereunto? I need not here stand to prove it, having sufficiently done this in the following discourse. Can you think that holy wisdom will gainsay it? Will zeal for God; will delight in his service, or love to the souls of men, gainsay it
1. That people must be taught the principles of religion, and matters of greatest necessity to salvation, is past doubt among us.
2. That they must be taught it in the most edifying, advantageous way, I hope we are agreed.
3. That personal conference, and examination, and instruction, hath many excellent advantages for their good, is no less beyond dispute.
4. That personal instruction is recommended to us by Scripture, and by the practice of the servants of Christ, and approved by the godly of all ages, is, so far as I can find, without contradiction.
5. It is past doubt, that we should perform this great duty to all the people, or as many as we can; for our love and care of their souls must extend to all. If there are five hundred or a thousand ignorant people in your parish or congregation, it is a poor discharge of your duty, now and then to speak to some few of them, and to let the rest alone in their ignorance, if you are able to afford them help.
6. It is no less certain, that so great a work as this is should take up a considerable part of our time. Lastly, it is equally certain that all duties should be done in order, as far as may be, and therefore should have their appointed times. And if we are agreed to practice, according to these commonly acknowledged truths, we need not differ upon any doubtful circumstances.
I do now, in the behalf of Christ, and
for the sake of his Church, and the immortal souls of men, beseech all the faithful
ministers of Christ, that they will presently and effectually fall upon this work. Combine
for the unanimous performance of it, that it may more easily procure the submission of
your people. I must confess, I find, by some experience, that this is the work that,
through the grace of God, which worketh by means, must reform indeed; that must expel our
common prevailing ignorance; that must bow the stubborn hearts of sinners; that must
answer their vain objections, and take off their prejudices; that must reconcile their
hearts to faithful ministers, and help on the success of our public preaching; and make
true godliness a commoner thing than it has hitherto been. I find that we never took the
best course for demolishing the kingdom of darkness, till now. I wonder at myself, how I
was so long kept off from so clear and excellent a duty. But the case was with me, as I
suppose it is with others. I was long convinced of it, but my apprehensions of the
difficulties were too great, and my apprehensions of the duty too small, and so I was long
hindered from the performance of it. I imagined the people would scorn it, and none but a
few, who had least need, would submit to it, and I thought my strength would never go
through with it, having so great burdens on me before; and thus I long delayed it, which I
beseech the Lord of mercy to forgive. Whereas, upon trial, I find the difficulties almost
nothing (save only through my extraordinary bodily weakness) to that which I imagined; and
I find the benefits and comforts of the work to be such, that I would not wish I had
forborne it, for all the riches in the world. We spend Monday and Tuesday, from morning
almost to night, in the work, taking about fifteen or sixteen families in a week, that we
may go through the parish, in which there are upwards of eight hundred families, in a
year; and I cannot say yet that one family hath refused to come to me, and but few persons
excused themselves, and shifted it off. And I find more outward signs of success with most
that do come, than from all my public preaching to them. If you say, It is not so in most
places, I answer, I wish that the blame of this may not lie much with ourselves. If,
however, some refuse your help, that will not excuse you for not affording it to them that
would accept of it. If you ask me what course I take for order and expedition, I may here
mention, that, at the delivery of the Catechisms, I take a catalogue of all the persons of
understanding in the parish, and the clerk goeth a week before, to every family, to tell
them what day to come, and at what hour, (one family at eight oclock, the next at
nine, and the next at ten, etc.) And I am forced by the number to deal with a whole family
at once; but ordinarily I admit not any of another family to be present. Brethren, do I
now invite you to this work, without the authority of God, without the consent of all
antiquity, without the consent of the Reformed Divines, or without the conviction of your
own consciences? See what the Westminster ssembly speak occasionally in the Directory,
about the visitation of the sick: It is the duty of the minister not only to teach
the people committed to his charge in public, but privately, and particularly to admonish,
exhort, reprove, and comfort them upon all seasonable occasions, so far as his time,
strength, and personal safety will permit. He is to admonish them in time of health to
prepare for death. And for that purpose, they are often to confer with their minister
about the estate of their souls, etc. Read this over again, and consider it. Hearken
to God, if you would have peace with God. Hearken to conscience, if you would have peace
of conscience. I am resolved to deal plainly with you, though I should displease you. It
is an unlikely thing that there should be a heart sincerely devoted to God in that man,
who, after advertisements and exhortations, will not resolve on so clear and great a duty.
I cannot conceive that he who hath one spark of saving grace, and so hath that love to
God, and delight to do his will, which is in all the sanctified, could possibly be drawn
to oppose or refuse such a work as this; except under the power of such a temptation as
Peter was, when he denied Christ, or when he dissuaded him from suffering, and heard a
half excommunication, Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense unto me: for
thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. You have put
your hand to the plough; you are doubly devoted to him, as Christians, and as pastors; and
dare you, after this, draw back, and refuse his work? You see the work of reformation at a
stand; and you are engaged by many obligations to promote it: and dare you now neglect the
means by which it must be done? Will you show your faces in a Christian congregation, as
ministers of the gospel, and there pray for a reformation, and for the conversion and
salvation of your hearers, and for the prosperity of the Church; and when you have done,
refuse to use the means by which all this must be effected? I know carnal wit will never
want words and show of reason, to gainsay that truth and duty which it abhors. It is
easier now to cavil against duty than to perform it: but wait the end, before you pass
your final judgment. Can you make yourselves believe that you will have a comfortable
review of these neglects, or make a comfortable account of them to God? I dare
prognosticate, from the knowledge of the nature of grace, that all the godly ministers in
England will make conscience of this duty, and address themselves to it, except those who,
by some extraordinary accident, are disabled, or who are under such temptations as
aforesaid. I do not hopelessly persuade you to it, but take it for granted that it will be
done. And if any lazy, or jealous, or malicious hypocrites, do cavil against it, or hold
off, the rest will not do so; but they will take the opportunity, and not resist the
warnings of the Lord. And God will uncase the hypocrites ere long, and make them know, to
their sorrow, what it was to trifle with him. Woe to them, when they must account for the
blood of souls! The reasons which satisfied them here against duty, will not then satisfy
them against duty; but will be manifested to have been the effects of their folly, and to
have proceeded radically from their corrupted wills, and carnal interest. Nor will their
consciences own those reasons at a dying hour, which now they seem to own. Then they shall
feel to their sorrow, that there is not that comfort to be had for a departing soul, in
the review of such neglected duty, as there is to them that have wholly devoted themselves
to the service of the Lord. I am sure my arguments for this duty will appear strongest
at the last when they shall be viewed at the hour of death at the day of judgment and,
especially, in the light of eternity .
And now, brethren, I earnestly beseech you, in the name of God, and for the sake of your peoples souls, that you will not slightly slubber over this work, but do it vigorously, and with all your might; and make it your great and serious business. Much judgment is required for the managing of it. Study, therefore, beforehand, how to do it, as you study for your sermons. I remember how earnest I was with some of the last parliament, that they would settle catechists in our assemblies; but truly I am not sorry that it took not effect, unless for a few of the larger congregations. For I perceive, that all the life of the work, under God, doth lie in the prudent effectual management of it, in searching mens hearts, and setting home the truth to their consciences; and the ablest minister is weak enough for this, and few of inferior parts would be found competent to it. For I fear nothing more, than that many ministers, who preach well, will be found but imperfectly qualified for this work, especially to manage it with old, ignorant, dead-hearted sinners. And, indeed, if the ministers be not reverenced by the people, they will rather slight them, and contest with them, than humbly learn and submit to them: how much more would they do so by inferior men? Seeing, then, the work is cast upon us, and it is we that must do it, or else it must be undone, let us be up and doing with all our might. When you are speaking to your . people, do it with the greatest prudence and seriousness, and be as earnest with them as for life or death; and follow it as closely as you do your public exhortations in the pulpit. I profess again, it is to me the most comfortable work, except public preaching, (for there I speak to more, though yet with less advantage to each individual,) that ever I yet did set my hand to. And I doubt not but you will find it so too, if you only perform it faithfully.
My second request to the ministers in these kingdoms, is, that they would at last, without any more delay, unanimously set themselves to the practice of those parts of Church discipline which are unquestionably necessary, and part of their work. It is a sad case, that good men should settle themselves so long in the constant neglect of so great a duty. The common cry is, Our people are not ready for it; they will not bear it. But is not the fact rather, that you will not bear the trouble and hatred which it will occasion? If indeed, you proclaim our churches incapable of the order and government of Christ, what do you but give up the cause to them that withdraw from us, and encourage men to look out for better societies, where that discipline may be had For though preaching and sacraments may be omitted in some cases, till a fitter season, and accordingly so may discipline; yet it is a hard case to settle in a constant neglect, for so many years together, as we have done, unless there were an absolute impossibility of the work. And if it were so, because of our incapable materials, it would plainly call us to alter our constitution, that the matter may be capable. I have spoken plainly afterwards of this, which I hope you will conscientiously consider of. I now only beseech you, if you would give a comfortable account to the chief Shepherd, and would not be found unfaithful in the house of God, that you do not wilfully or negligently delay it, as if it were a needless thing; nor shrink from it, because of the trouble to the flesh that doth attend it; for as that is a sad sign of hypocrisy, so the costliest duties are usually the most comfortable; and you may be sure that Christ will bear the cost.
My last request is, that all the faithful ministers of Christ would, without any more delay, unite and associate for the furtherance of each other in the work of the Lord, and the maintaining of unity and concord in his churches. And that they would not neglect their brotherly meetings to those ends, nor yet spend them unprofitably, but improve them to their edification, and the effectual carrying on the work. Read that excellent letter of Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury to Queen Elizabeth, for ministerial meetings and exercises. You will find it in Fullers History of the Church of England.
Brethren, I crave your pardon for the infirmities of this address; and earnestly longing for the success of your labors, I shall daily beg of God, that he would persuade you to those duties which I have here recommended to you, and would preserve and prosper you therein, against all the serpentine subtlety and rage that are now engaged to oppose and hinder you.
15 April 1656
Your unworthy fellow -servant
INTRODUCTORY NOTETake heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20.28
First, To consider what it is to take heed to ourselves.
Secondly, To show why we must take heed to ourselves.
Thirdly, To inquire what it is to take heed to all the flock.
Fourthly, To illustrate the manner in which we must take heed to all the flock.
Fifthly, To state some motives why we should take heed to all the flock.
Lastly, To make some application of the whole.
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