Trinity College Library (Ireland)

[Adapted from Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory of 1673]

Because God has made available the excellent, holy writings of his servants; and many may have a good book, on any day or at any hour of the week, even those who have no access to a good preacher – I advise all God’s servants to be thankful for so great a gift as books, and to make use of them, and to read much. For reading can be more conducive to knowledge than hearing is, because you may choose what subjects, and the best treatises, you please; and you may read as often as you please; and you may peruse again and again whatever you forget; and you may take your time as you go, to fix it in your mind. And as is the case with very many, reading does more than hearing to move the heart – because lively books may be more easily accessed than lively preachers.

Especially these sorts of men and women should be much in reading:

  1. Mothers and Fathers, or heads of households, who have more souls to care for than just their own.
  2. People who live where there is no preaching; or, where there is only bad preaching. (Bad preaching is even worse than none!)
  3. Infirmed people, servants, and children, who are forced on many Lord’s Days to stay at home, while others have the opportunity to hear the Word preached.
  4. And non-working persons, since they have more leisure than others have.

To all these, but especially to parents, I shall here give a few directions.

Direction 1 – I presuppose that you keep the devil’s books out of your hands and house. I mean graphic romance novels or “love-books”, and the false, bewitching and seducing books of all false teachers; and the railing books by various factions written against each other, on purpose, to teach men to hate one another. For where these are allowed to corrupt the mind, other useful writings are forestalled in their benefits. It is an awful wonder to see how powerfully these kinds of writings poison the minds of children, and of many other empty heads.

Also refrain from books that are written by contemporary “sons of Korah“; those written to breed distastes and discontents in the minds of the people against their governors – both magistrates and ministers. For there is always something, even in the best leaders, for the tongues of seditious men to fasten on, and then to aggravate in the people’s ears and minds; and there is something even in godly people, which tempts them all too easily to become ill-tempered,  then to take aim and take fire, before they are aware of what they are doing. Rarely do most people, even godly people, foresee the evil to which such treachery leads.

Direction 2 – When you read to your family, or to others, let it be seasonably and timely – at a time when silence and participation are most likely to bear fruit; not when children are crying or talking, or servants bustling to disturb you. Distraction is worst in the greatest businesses.

Direction 3 – Choose such books as are most suitable to your condition, or to the spiritual condition of those you read to. It is worse than unprofitable to read books designed for comforting troubled minds to those that are block-headedly self-secure, and who have hardened, obstinate, un-humbled hearts. It is just as bad as a physician giving medicines or remedies that are contrary to a patient’s need, and that would actually nourish the disease! So it is to read books that are too high-a-style, or subject too deep, to dull or ignorant hearers. We use to say: “That which is one man’s meat, is another man’s poison.” It is not enough that the substance is good – but it must be agreeable to the situation for which it is used.

Direction 4 – In a common family, begin with those books which both, and at once, inform the understanding about the fundamentals of the faith and awaken the affections of the heart, such as treatises about regeneration, conversion, or repentance.

Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.

“Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.”

Direction 5 – Next, read over those books which are most suited to the state of young Christians for their growth in grace, and for their exercise of faith, and love, and obedience, and for the mortifying of selfishness, pride, sensuality, worldliness, and other of the most dangerous sins.

Direction 6 – At the same time labor to methodize your knowledge; and to that end read first and learn some short catechism, and then some larger catechism. And let the catechism be kept in memory while you live, and the rest be thoroughly understood.

Direction 7 – Next read (to yourselves or or to your families) some larger expositions of the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments; such as Thomas Watson on the Commandments; that your understanding may be more full, particular, and distinct, and your families may not be limited to a mere general knowledge, which, in truth, is not as valuable as genuine understanding.

Direction 8 – Read often and much those books that direct you in a course of daily communion with God, and a holy ordering of your daily life.

Soul Strength

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?”    ~ Galatians 1:10

At this time of the year many of us see an opportunity for a new start. Whether you are one who makes New Years Resolutions or not, there seems to be a sense of “Do Over” that comes almost as soon as that ball drops in Times Square, and as the pigskin begins to make way for the roundball and puck.

The question cited at the top of this post was posed by the Apostle Paul. His question raises another, more fundamental question: Who are we supposed to live to please? I hope that question will be given consideration in this new year (and every year).

It would not be appropriate to suppose Paul is suggest that receiving affirmation from the people around us is a bad thing. On many occasions Paul expresses his thankfulness for having been well received, for the friendships with many among whom he lived and ministered. So clearly, Paul is not indifferent to the benefits of healthy affirming relationships. Yet I hope Paul’s question will remind us that, as the Westminster Catechism says, “The primary purpose of man is to glorify and enjoy God”. In other words, as good as it is to please those around us, and especially those closest to us, the one we exist to please is the One and only God.  And while earning esteem at work, in your neighborhood, or among family members is often a good thing, Paul reminds us that when pleasing those around us is our driving motivation we are then likely to be out of accord with the very purpose for which we are created – and for which we have been redeemed.

So how do we know when we are falling into this pattern of people pleasing? (Yes, when, not if.)

The great English Puritan, Richard Baxter, provides us with some thoughts, and exhorts us: “See therefore that you live for God’s approval as that which you chiefly seek, and as that will suffice you.”

You may discover yourself by these signs:

1. You will be careful to understand the Scripture, to know what pleases and displeases God

2. You will be more careful in the doing of every task, to fit it to the pleasure of God rather than men.

3. You will look to your hearts, and not only to your actions; to your goals, and thoughts, and the inward manner and degree.

4. You will look to secret duties as well as public, and to that which men do not see as well as those which they see.

5. You will revere your conscience, paying close attention to it, and not slighting it; when it tells you of God’s displeasure, it will disquiet you; when it tells you of His approval, it will comfort you.

6. Your pleasing men will be charitable for their good, and pious (holy) in order to please God, not proud and ambitious for your honor among men, nor impious against the pleasing of God.

7. Whether men are pleased or displeased, how they judge you or what they call you, will seem a small matter to you, as their own interests, in comparison to God’s judgment. You don’t live for them. You can bear their displeasure, and comments, if God is pleased.

These will be your evidences.

Richard Baxter wrote:

A holy life is inclined to be made easier when we know the usual sequence and method of our duties – with everything falling into its proper place.

In other words, our souls flourish most vibrantly when there is a natural rythm to our lives.  These rythms include our daily and weekly routines and practices, as well as the more occasional. Among the more occasional is just getting away from everything and spending a day with the Lord.  Such times of retreat are vital to the renewal of our hearts, especially if our daily lives are packed with a variety of stresses and/or conflicts. 

But what about the regular days? What about times when you cannot get away?  How do we honor God and find refreshment on such ordinary days? How can each ordinary day be of use toward our spiritual renewal?

I am indebted to Baxter for some practical directions about how to spend a day with God without having to go on spiritual retreat. I have adapted his suggestions below:

  • Sleep

Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labour, and not to slothful pleasure.

  • First Thoughts

Let God have your first awaking thoughts; lift up your hearts to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night before and cast yourself upon Him for the day which follows.

Discipline yourself so consistently to this that your conscience may check you when other more common thoughts begin to intrude. Think of the mercy of a night’s rest and of how many that have spent that night in Hell; how many in prison; how many in cold, hard lodgings; how many suffering from agonizing pains and sickness, weary of their beds and of their lives.

Think of how many souls were that night called from their bodies terrifyingly to appear before God and think how quickly days and nights are rolling on! How speedily your last night and day will come! Observe that which is lacking in the preparedness of your soul for such a time and seek it without delay.

  • Prayer

Let prayer by yourself alone (or with your partner) take place before any work of the day.

  • Family Worship

Let family worship be performed consistently and at a time when it is most likely for the family to be free of interruptions.

  • Ultimate Purpose

Remember your ultimate purpose (which is to gloify God by enjoying Him), and when you set yourself to your day’s work or approach any activity in the world, let “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” be written upon your hearts in all that you do.

Do no activity which you cannot entitle God to, and truly say that he is the one who set you about it, and do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify and enjoy Him.

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 10.31

  • Diligence in Your Calling

Follow the tasks of your calling carefully and diligently.

Thus:

(a) You will show that you are not sluggish and a servant to your flesh (which seeks comfort, amusement, and ease), and you will further the putting to death of all the fleshly lusts and desires that are fed by ease and idleness.

(b) You will keep out idle thoughts from your mind, that swarm in the minds of idle persons.

(c) You will not lose precious time, something that idle persons are daily guilty of.

(d) You will be proving obedient to God, when the slothful are in constant sins of omission.

(e) You may have more time to spend in holy duties if you follow your occupation diligently. Idle persons have no time for praying and reading because they lose time by loitering at their work.

(f) You may expect God’s blessing and comfortable provision for both yourself and your families.

(g) it may also encourage the health of your body which will increase its competence for the service of your soul.

  • Temptations and Things That Corrupt

Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you – and watch against them all day long. You should watch especially the most dangerous of the things that corrupt, and those temptations that either your company or business will unavoidably lay before you.

Watch against the master sins of unbelief: hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, flesh pleasing and the excessive love of earthly things. Take care against being drawn into earthly mindedness and excessive cares, or covetous designs for rising in the world, under the pretence of diligence in your calling.

If you are to trade or deal with others, be vigilant against selfishness and all that smacks of injustice or uncharitableness. In all your dealings with others, watch against the temptation of empty and idle talking. Watch also against those persons who would tempt you to anger. Maintain that modesty and cleanness of speech that the laws of purity require. If you converse with flatterers, be on your guard against swelling pride.

If you converse with those that despise and injure you, strengthen yourself against impatient, revengeful pride.

At first these things will be very difficult, while sin has any strength in you.  But once you have grasped a continual awareness of the poisonous danger of any one of these sins, your heart will readily and easily avoid them.

  • Meditation

When alone in your occupations, improve the time in practical and beneficial meditations. Meditate upon the infinite goodness and perfections of God; Christ and redemption; Heaven and how unworthy you are of going there and yet at the same time how awesome God’s love to you.  Remind yourself of the gospel in its various aspects.

  • The Only Motive

Whatever you are doing, in company or alone, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10.31). Otherwise, it is unacceptable to God.

  • Redeeming The Time

Place a high value upon your time. Be more careful of not losing time than you would of losing your money. Do not let worthless recreations, television, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time.

Be more careful to escape that person, action or course of life that would rob you of your time than you would be to escape thieves and robbers.

Make sure that you are not merely never idle, but rather that you are using your time in the most profitable way that you can and do not prefer a less profitable way before one of greater profit.

  • Eating and Drinking

Eat and drink with moderation, and thankfulness for health, not for unprofitable pleasure. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it is prone to be detrimental to your health.

Remember the sin of Sodom: “Look, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease…” ~ Ezekiel 16.49.

The Apostle Paul wept when he mentioned those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their minds on earthly things, being enemies to the cross of Christ” ~ Philippians 3.18-19.  So then, do not live according to the flesh lest you die (Romans 8.13).

  • Prevailing Sins

If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sins in addition to habitual failures, immediately lament it and confess it to God; repent quickly whatever the cost. It will certainly cost you more if you continue in sin and remain unrepentant.

Do not make light of your habitual failures, but confess them and daily strive against them, taking care not to aggravate them by unrepentance and contempt.

  • Relationships

Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as husbands, wives, children, employers, supervisors, employees, pastors, church members, magistrates, citizens.

Remember every relationship has its special duty and its advantage for the doing of some good. God requires your faithfulness in this matter as well as in any other duty.

  • Closing the Day

Before returning to sleep, it is wise and necessary to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins.

This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, whether sin goes down and grace goes up and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death and eternity.

May these directions be engraven upon your mind and be made the daily practice of your life.  If sincerely adhered to, these will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness, and peace in your life.

The following dozen points are about the advantages to us in seeking to please God, instead of living for the approval of other people. They were originally written by the great English Puritan, Richard Baxter.

I have attempted to clean up the language a little, hopefully without dulling the wisdom:

1. If you seek first to please God and are satisfied with that, you have but one to please instead of multitudes; and a multitude of masters are harder pleased than one.

2. And God is one who puts nothing upon you that is unreasonable, as far as quantity or quality.

3. And God is one who is perfectly wise and good, not liable to misunderstand your case and actions.

4. And God is one who is most holy, and is not pleased in iniquity or dishonesty.

5. And He is one that is impartial and most just, and is no respecter of persons. Acts 10:34

6. And He is one that is a competent judge, who is both fit and has authority, and is acquainted with your hearts, with your every circumstance and every reason behind your actions.

7. And He is one who perfectly agrees with himself, and does not subject you to contradictions or impossibilities.

8. And He is one who is constant and unchangeable; He is not pleased with one thing today and another contrary thing tomorrow; nor is He pleased with one person this year, whom he will be weary of the next.

9. And He is one who is merciful, and never requires you to hurt yourselves to please him: Nay, he is pleased with nothing from you except that which tends to your ultimate happiness; and displeased with nothing except that which hurts you or others, just as a father that is displeased with his children whenever they defile or hurt themselves.

10. He is gentle, though just, even when he disciplines you; judging accurately, but not harshly, nor making your actions out to be worse than they are.

11. He is one that is not subject to the irrational passions of men, which blind their minds, and carry them to injustice.

12. He is one who will not be moved by tale-bearers, whisperers, or false accusers, nor can be perverted by any misinformation.

 

I was disappointed recently when I read an old post on the Aquila Report, You Will Hear Crickets.  The author, Anthony Bradley, is a professor of Ethics at Kings College in New York City, and apparently has some aversion to the missional church movement.

Bradley opens his article:

So I’m beginning to wonder if it’s “a wrap” on this whole “missional” movement splash, especially in terms of church planting? I can definitely see the wind being taken out of the sails for some. I’ve been particularly curious about crickets I hear when bringing up a few issues among missional Christians

He then lists four issues that he seems to believe puts a nail in the coffin of this movement.  He even appears to take delight in its reputed demise.

While I have come to understand concerns about some practices and practioners who wear the missional label, I have difficulty understanding why anyone is opposed to the missional movement.   Granted some within this movement, including some prominent faces, may have drifted toward heterodoxy, but Missional is a BIG umbrella.  If the errors of some, even many, gives reason to eschew the basic principles, maybe I should rethink being identified as Presbyterian.  The recent actions of the PCUSA have no doubt caused confusion and concern about what we Presbyterians believe and stand for. 

But I do not think I should stop being Presbyterian simply because some have strayed off course.  I would rather stand firm and not give over the label to those who no longer stand for the principles.  Likewise, I don’t think we need to throw out the baby with the bathwater in attempt to clean up the Missional label.  Rather, I think we should work to reform the movement, bringing all things into conformity with Scripture, all the while remembering the mantra coined by Marco Antonio de Dominis,  often attributed to Augustine, and popularize by Puritan Richard Baxter:

  • In Essential – UNITY
  • In non-Essentials – LIBERTY
  • In All Things – CHARITY

Of Paramount Importance

February 7, 2011

Take a moment to ponder these observations about the paramount importance of God’s Word:

Since there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture than in any other book,  it has more power and ability to convey the Spirit and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts.

Since there is more of God in it, it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer to Him, and make the reader more reverent  and godly.

Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands, and other books used as subservient to it.

The endeavor of the devil… is to keep it from you, which is evidence that reading it is most necessary and desirable, and beneficial to you.

Adapted from the Works of Richard Baxter.

Choosing a Book

February 3, 2011

Richard Baxter wrote:

“Make careful choice of the books which you read.”

Baxter went on to state:

You need a judicious teacher at hand to direct you about what books to use or to refuse, for among good books there are some very good that are sound and lively, and some good but mediocre, and some weak and somewhat dull; and some are very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or incautious, injudicious expressions.  These are fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.

The folks at Together for the Gospel (T4G) have published a series of posts offering counsel for Reading & Studying. While these posts are primarily directed to pastors, the wisdom should be appreciated, and insights appropriated, by anyone serious about growing in grace and godliness.   C.J. Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever serve as the “judicious teachers” Richard Baxter said we need.