Skip to content

More Reformation Pastors Please

I was reminded by a friend that today the Church of England honours Richard Baxter, that tireless puritan of the 17th century.  He's mostly known for his book "The Reformed Pastor."

But how reformational is The Reformed Pastor?

One of the ways of framing the reformation debate is this: the Roman Catholic church had essentially substituted the church for Christ.  Against this the reformers trumpeted Christ alone, etc.  But listen to this excerpt from The Reformed Pastor which my friend read out.  How reformed do you think it is?

‘The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O see, then, that this work be done with all your might!' (p112)


Interestingly Baxter quotes Paul on the same page:

"Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:16)

But it seems to me that Paul is speaking about something with a very different feel to Baxter.  Paul's talking about a completed salvation that has been accomplished upstream which then flows down of its own outgoing nature.  Paul is simply caught up in it.  Like Peter, he cannot help but speak of what he has seen and heard (Acts 3:20).  But it's not the MUST of one who really ought to speak.  It's the MUST of someone who can't help but speak.  And it's not the saving of the world which Paul attempts.  It's simply the witness to it.

I know Baxter did a lot of good.  Thank God for him.  But The Reformed Pastor needs a bit more reformation methinks.

0 thoughts on “More Reformation Pastors Please

  1. hdiehl

    Interesting post. I am currently rediscovering the veins of ore than run through the rocks of the puritans.

    One thing I did discover (I think I heard it from J. I. Packer) is the word "reform" here is a reference to a reformation in conduct or character, and as such not a reference to a theological stance.

  2. Glen

    Yes I heard the same thing from my puritan classes at bible college. I suppose I'm being very slippery in my use of the word here - it's sliding between three uses: reformed as in conduct, Reformed as in Calvinist and reformational as in gospel. It's the latter meaning that needs to thoroughly *reform* (there's a fourth use!) the other two.

  3. John B

    There's two of Baxter's aphorisms that immediately come to my mind whenever his name comes up: "mere Christian" and the "small pepper corn" of personal righteousness. The former summarizes his paleo-orthodoxy, a wholesome influence in the Seventeenth century (and since) stressing that the Christian faith didn't originate in the Sixteenth century; and that the Reformation was a reforming and restoring movement within the catholic church.

    But the "small pepper corn" is very troubling, as it captures Baxter's notion of neonomianism. Since the church is (nearly) redeemed by Christ, we now have a new lease and our rent, which formerly was beyond our means to pay, has now been reduced to just a grain of pepper!

    Baxter's views seem to be very prevalent in practice today, even in churches that don't explicitly accept his doctrinal position. It's common to hear the doctrine of John Owen, while at the same time seeing the pastoral theology of Baxter put into practice in the life of the church.

    But, the rent which in the beginning seems to be just a small peppercorn, grows into such a ponderously large burden that it can scarcely be borne, at least for ministers!

  4. Glen

    Yes John, that pepper corn stuff is worrying indeed. Demi-semi-Pelagnianism is still Pelagianism!

    Hi Kip, yes on the whole, I am in favour of both those verses. ;-)

    Do you mean in particular the language of "saving" your hearers (and therefore watching self and doctrine closely)? Paul uses it quite a bit doesn't he. Even in 1 Corinthians 9 which Baxter goes on to quote (Paul is all things to all men in order to save some).

    But the indicative precedes the imperative. So Paul speaks of necessity having been laid upon the minister (in Timothy's case, the gift given him by laying on of hands). This already has an outgoing, surging Power. So of course I must be diligent in the discharging of this trust. But there seems to be a different flavour to the Reformed Pastor at points. When I read Baxter I get the feeling that necessity is not so much laid on us by God but by a contemplation of the gravity of the task which we must undertake. Paul doesn't say "Phew, what a task we have ahead of us, we'd better get busy." He says "Wow! What a gospel that has been given to us, we must preserve it." Which feels different. To me. But maybe I'm being unfair to Baxter.

  5. Kip' Chelashaw

    I haven't read The Reformed Pastor in a while and I'm away on retreat (before being revd up this Sunday) so can't check it but me thinks you're probably being a tad unfair on Baxter. From what I remember, a recurring motif in TRP is the Ministers need to work hard mindful of the great charge we have received much like Paul does to Timothy in 2 Tim 4 and such like passages.

    PS are you at EMA next week? If you are, can you please bring a few copies (20? 30?) of The Kings English? Many thanks bro.


  6. John B

    Many Lutheran churches commemorate the Cappadocian Fathers as a group on June 14th; and the Episcopal Church commemorates Basil the Great on that date. It is good that the church honors and remembers these great leaders. These sound like choices that would meet with Baxter's wholehearted endorsement!

  7. si

    Thanks for this Glen. I have sensed this for a long time in reading this book. We hold it up as the kind of reformed model of ministry (and it has some great stuff in it) but at the same time I'm always left asking- isn't this book too man centred. We need to rest more in Christ and let him do the work. That does not play down our diligent witness to him. But work becomes a joy and not a burden when it is one of witness. It is a shift of mindset I think.

  8. David Baker

    Glen, I have only just seen this and find it very interesting - esp as I am preaching on 1 Cor 9v16 this Sunday to welcome our new curate...

    I guess I should own up (at least so Kip is aware, as he too is a friend) that I am the friend who read from Baxter at our deanery clergy chapter...

    I wonder if Baxter is really trying to emphasise the solemnity and seriousness of the work as a motivation rather than the labour of it per se, but that may be me trying to be overly generous to him having read that section out!

    Overall however I do like your emphasis on grace very much (was just reading another of your posts earlier this morning relating to prayer)... Have you read Hallesby on Prayer? I wonder what you make of his concept of "helplessness" near the start which I have heard decried (I think by Packer) as belittling the labour and hard work (as he might see it) of prayer? Forgive me if I am digressing unhelpfully...

  9. Glen

    Hallesby on Prayer sounds a good recommendation. Will check it out.

    On Sunday the preacher brought us Mark 4:

    "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces corn--first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

    We need that perspective too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer