Another month, another Puritan Classic. I have been looking forward to this month's selection, The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter ever since Timmy Brister first suggested the Puritan Reading Challenge at the end of last year. In William Brown's Preface to the 1829 edition he writes of this work:
Could we suppose it to be read by an angel, or by some other possessed of an unfallen nature, the reasons 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 be his heart, if he be not roused 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. (pg. 23)
In his Dedication, Baxter, in defense of making complaints against the church of his day public by publication of this work, states as one part of his defense:
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 cease sinning, I think it is time to sharpen the remedy. (pg. 39)
As J.I. Packer tells us in the Introduction, the "reformed" in the book's title does not mean "Calvinistic in doctrine, but renewed in practice." (pg. 14) In fact, Baxter sometimes had problems with his "Calvinist creds", and also seems to have been a bit of a "colorful character" in his day. Yet, this work, and others, live on and transcend his human frailties. Ministers of diverse traditions have long appreciated The Reformed Pastor, with praise coming not only from his Puritan contemporaries but also from Methodists (both Wesleys), Baptists, and others.
Has there ever been a time in the history of the church when her ministers better need reproof and a renewed faithfulness, diligence, and activity in winning souls to Christ? I know that I sometimes need a swift kick in the pants, and possibly the November's reading will prove to serve that purpose.
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