Richard Baxter’s “Reformed Pastor” is one of those classic works of the Puritan era. It comes with that trademark double-barrel shotgun of devotional pietism (of the best sort), and dirt-under-the-fingernails practicals. In the first portion Baxter takes aim at a pastor’s motivation for ministry, and the sort of man he ought to be. He forcefully exhorts that it must be a man of purity and holiness, and that his motivations for ministry are the glory of God in the salvation of souls.
The second portion delves into the practicals. Visiting the sick and dying, the sort of preaching to be done, and how to catechize your parish. Though a few centuries old, it still is very helpful, insightful and wise in guiding and shaping a pastor as to the calling God has placed upon him and how to avoid straying from that calling. He certainly doesn’t allow for any sort of willy-nilly neglect of the awesome task of being God’s minister to the saints and reprobates alike. The title may lend you to think that it is only for “reformed” denominations, but it is more aimed at the need for pastors themselves to “reform” their ways of idleness.
A Collection of Quotes
ON A MINISTER’S WILLINGNESS TO WORK FOR LOW WAGES
Must I turn to my Bible to show a preacher where it is written, that a man’s soul is worth more than a world, much more therefore than a hundred pounds a year, much more are many souls more worth? Or that both we and all that we have are God’s, and should be employed to the utmost for his service? Or that it is inhuman cruelty to let souls go to hell, for fear my wife and children should fare somewhat the harder, or live at lower rates; when, according to God’s ordinary way of working by means, I might do much to prevent their misery, if I would but a little displease my flesh, which all, who are Christ’s, have crucified with its lusts?
ON EVANGELISM OF THE UNREGENERATE
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; and less by his neighbor, than common charity will allow him to do by his greatest enemy. O, therefore, brethren, whomsoever you neglect, neglect not the most miserable! Whatever you pass over, forget not poor souls that are under the condemnation and curse of the law, and who may look every hour for the infernal execution, if a speedy change do not prevent it. O call after the impenitent, and ply this great work of converting souls, whatever else you leave undone.
ON EVANGELIZING THOSE NEAR UNTO DEATH
When time is almost gone, and they must now or never be reconciled to God, oh, how doth it concern them to redeem those hours, and to lay hold on eternal life! And when we see that we are like to have but a few days or hours more to speak to them, in order to their everlasting welfare, who, that is not a block or an infidel, would not be much with them, and do all he can for their salvation in that short space? Will it not awaken us to compassion, to look on a languishing man, and to think that within a few days his soul will be in heaven or in hell? Surely it will try the faith and seriousness of ministers, to be much about dying men! They will thus have opportunity to discern whether they themselves are in good earnest about the matters of the life to come. So great is the change that is made by death, that it should awaken us to the greatest sensibility to see a man so near it, and should excite in us the deepest pangs of compassion, to do the office of inferior angels for the soul, before it departs from the body, that it may be ready for the convoy of superior angels to the ‘inheritance of the saints in light.’ When a man is almost at his journey’s end, and the next step brings him to heaven or hell, it is time for us, while there is hope, to help him if we can.
ON RESTRICTING A MINISTER TO TEACH PRINCIPALLY ON THAT WHICH IS OF GREATEST NECESSITY.
Throughout the whole course of our ministry, we must insist chiefly upon the greatest, most certain, and most necessary truths, and be more seldom and sparing upon the rest. If we can but teach Christ to our people, we shall teach them all. Get them well to heaven, and they will have knowledge enough. The great and commonly acknowledged truths of religion are those that men must live upon, and which are the great instruments of destroying men’s sins, and raising the heart to God. We must, therefore, ever have our people’s necessities before our eyes. To remember the ‘one thing needful’ will take us off gauds and needless ornaments, and unprofitable controversies. Many other things are desirable to be known; but this must be known, or else our people are undone for ever. […] All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. This doth best suit a teacher’s ends. He that would be understood must speak to the capacity of his hearers. Truth loves the light, and is most beautiful when most naked.
To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.
ON DEPENDENCE ON CHRIST AND PRAYER IN A MINISTER’S LIFE
Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ. We must go for light, and life, and strength to him who sends us on the work. And when we feel our own faith weak, and our hearts dull, and unsuitable to so great a work as we have to do, we must have recourse to him, and say, ‘Lord, wilt thou send me with such an unbelieving heart to persuade others to believe? Must I daily plead with sinners about everlasting life and everlasting death, and have no more belief or feeling of these weighty things myself? O, send me not naked and unprovided to the work; but, as thou commandest me to do it, furnish me with a spirit suitable thereto.’ Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching: he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent. When our own hearts are so far out of order, and theirs so far out of order, if we prevail not with God to mend and help them, we are like to make but unsuccessful work.
Oh, then, let us hear these arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless: ‘Did I die for these souls, and wilt not thou look after them? Were they worth my blood, and are they not worth thy labor? Did I come down from heaven to earth, “to seek and to save that which was lost;” and wilt thou not go to the next door, or street, or village, to seek them?
ON REPENTANCE & THE SIN OF PRIDE
The sorrow of repentance may exist without a change of heart and life; because a passion may be more easily wrought, than a true conversion. But the change cannot take place without some good measure of the sorrow. Indeed, we may here justly begin our confessions; it is too common with us to expect that from our people, which we do little or nothing in ourselves. What pains do we take to humble them, while we ourselves are unhumbled! How hard do we expostulate with them to wring out of them a few penitential tears, (and all too little) while yet our own eyes are dry! Alas! how we set them an example of hard-heartedness, while we are endeavoring by our words to melt and mollify them! Oh, if we did but study half as much to affect and amend our own hearts, as we do those of our hearers, it would not be with many of us as it is! It is a great deal too little that we do for their humiliation; but I fear it is much less that some of us do for our own, Too many do somewhat for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget that they have souls of their own to regard. They so carry the matter, as if their part of the work lay in calling for repentance, and the hearers’ in repenting; theirs in bespeaking tears and sorrow, and other men’s in weeping and sorrowing; theirs in crying down sin, and the people’s in forsaking it; theirs in preaching duty, and the hearers’ in practising it. […] O that the Lord would lay us at his feet, in the tears of unfeigned sorrow for this sin! Brethren, may I expostulate this case a little with my own heart and yours, that we may see the evil of our sin, and be reformed!
THE FAME OF GODLINESS
Woe to him that takes up the fame of godliness instead of godliness!
ON THE BOLD AND LIVING PROCLAMATION
If we were heartily devoted to our work, it would be done more vigorously, and more seriously, than it is by the most of us. How few ministers do preach with all their might, or speak about everlasting joys and everlasting torments in such a manner as may make men believe that they are in good earnest! It would make a man’s heart ache, to see a company of dead, drowsy sinners sitting under a minister, and not hear a word that is likely to quicken or awaken them. Alas! we speak so drowsily and so softly, that sleepy sinners cannot hear. The blow falls so light that hard-hearted sinners cannot feel. The most of ministers will not so much as exert their voice, and stir up themselves to an earnest utterance. But if they do speak loud and earnestly, how few do answer it with weight and earnestness of matter! And yet without this, the voice doth little good; the people will esteem it but mere bawling, when the matter doth not correspond. It would grieve one to the heart to hear what excellent doctrine some ministers have in hand, while yet they let it die in their hands for want of close and lively application; what fit matter they have for convincing sinners, and how little they make of it; what good they might do if they would set it home, and yet they cannot or will not do it.
ON BLAZING HOT PREACHING
In the name of God, brethren, labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. Remember they must be awakened or damned, and that a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken drowsy sinners.
ON THE SIMPLICITY OF OUR FAITH AS UNITY
When we once return to the ancient simplicity of faith, then, and not till then, shall we return to the ancient love and peace. I would therefore recommend to all my brethren, as the most necessary thing to the Church’s peace, that they unite in necessary truths, and bear with one another in things that may be borne with; and do not make a larger creed, and more necessaries, than God hath done.
ON EVANGELIZING YOUR PARISH
The design of this work is, the reforming and saving of all the people in our several parishes. For we shall not leave out any man that will submit to be instructed; and though we can scarcely hope that every individual will be reformed and saved by it, yet have we reason to hope, that as the attempt is universal, so the success will be more general and extensive than we have hitherto seen of our other labors. Sure I am, it is most like to the spirit, and precept, and offers of the gospel, which requireth us to preach Christ to every creature, and promiseth life to every man, if he will accept it by believing. If God would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, (that is, as Rector and Benefactor of the world, he hath manifested himself willing to save all men, if they be willing themselves, though his elect he will also make willing,) then surely it beseems us to offer salvation unto all men, and to endeavor to bring them to the knowledge of the truth.
We have a base man-pleasing disposition, which will make us let men perish lest we lose their love, and let them go quietly to hell, lest we should make them angry with us for seeking their salvation: and we are ready to venture on the displeasure of God, and risk the everlasting misery of our people, rather than draw on ourselves their ill-will. This distemper must be diligently resisted.
ON A FIRM FAITH IN THE MINISTER
We are so weak in the faith, that this is the greatest impediment of all. Hence it is, that when we should set upon a man for his conversion with all our might, if there be not the stirrings of unbelief within us, whether there be a heaven and a hell, yet at least the belief of them is so feeble, that it will hardly excite in us a kindly, resolute, constant zeal, so that our whole motion will be but weak, because the spring of faith is so weak. O what need, therefore, have ministers for themselves and their work, to look well to their faith, especially that their assent to the truth of Scripture, about the joys and torments of the life to come, be sound and lively.
ON HAVING A SOFT HEART
Oh what a thing is a senseless, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity and hard-heartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our own souls, which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others!
ON QUESTIONS A PASTOR SHOULD ASK HIMSELF
Is this all thy compassion for lost sinners? Wilt thou do no more to seek and to save them? Is there not such and such — oh how many round about thee! — that are yet the visible sons of death? What hast thou said to them, or done for their conversion? Shall they die and be in hell before thou wilt speak to them one serious word to prevent it? Shall they there curse thee for ever that didst no more in time to save them?
ON QUESTIONS A PASTOR SHOULD ASK AN INQUIRING SOUL
Now, though I have no desire, needlessly, to pry into any man’s secrets, yet, because it is the office of ministers to give advice to their people in matters of salvation, and because it is so dangerous a thing to be mistaken as to points which involve everlasting life or everlasting death, I would entreat you to deal honestly, and tell me, Whether or not you ever found this great change upon your own heart? Did you ever find the Spirit of God, by the Word, come in upon your understanding, with a new and heavenly life, which hath made you a new creature? […] Can you truly say, that you have so far taken the everlasting enjoyment of God for your happiness, that it hath the most of your heart, of your love, desire, and care; and that you are resolved, by the strength of Divine grace, to let go all that you have in the world, rather than hazard it; and that it is your daily, and your principal business to seek it? Can you truly say, that though you have your failings and sins, yet your main care, and the bent of your whole life, is to please God, and to enjoy him for ever; and that you give the world God’s leavings, as it were, and not God the world’s leavings; and that your worldly business is but as a traveller’s seeking for provision in his journey, and heaven is the place that you take for your home?