Archive for the ‘The Reformed Pastor’ Category

As he moves toward the application of his book, Baxter spends a great deal of his time in a large chapter on the subject of ‘humiliation’, or what we would call ‘humility’ in the modern day language. His great fear for himself and for all in pastoral ministry is that we become proud and arrogant as we seek to minister to the soul’s of our people. We must not fall into the trap of urging them on to godliness and humility whilst ignoring the state of our own souls. he puts it like this:

What pains do we take to humble them (our congregations), 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 our own eyes are dry!)’ – p133.

Later, he writes: ‘Too many do somewhat for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget that they have souls of thier own to regard.’ (p134)  All of us in ministry do well to heed these warnings because it is easy to adopt an almost detached, professional air in the ministry and forget that God would minister to our own souls first and foremost if we would let him. ‘It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still, if we have studied and preached ourselves to sleep, and have talked so long against the hardness of heart, till our own has grown hardened under the noise of our own reproofs.’ (p134)

He goes on to talk of PRIDE as one of the worst sins in the life of a pastor. Listen to how he describes it. ‘It fill some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs: it possesseth them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory, or under the progress of their reputation.’ (p137) He is saying that it leads to jealousy amongst men and it is true. I have seen it and experienced it in my own life and ministry. Oh, we say we are happy when a man has a great gift or preaching or teaching or evangelism. We bless the guy publicly, but inside we compare ourselves against him and wonder why we don’t get the same acclaim. We are sinners and pride burns deep within us and no more so than from the pulpit. ‘When the sermon is done, pride goeth home with them, and maketh them more eager to know whether they were applauded (Baxter obviously never visited Edinburgh! We could change that to whether ‘they raised an eyebrow’ here!), than whether they did prevail for the saving of souls.’ (p138). We want to move people, to inspire them, to impress them with our gifts of oratory and biblical logic. Of course we do. ‘If they (the preacher) perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice, as having attained their end; but if they see that they are considered weak or common men, they are displeased, as having missed the prize they had in view.’ (p138)

I don’t know of any man who wants to bore his people, even if he does! That is why pride is an ever present enemy, sat on our shoulders, looking for a new way to ingratiate himself into our lives. We must get to grips with the seriousness of pride in the life of the pastor. I am constantly battling with it in my own life. And it is so easy for it to take root in an inner city setting when we are dealing with such ‘open sinners’. What I mean by that is that it is easy to spot a drunk and a drug addict from 500 paces. Their sin is hanging out all over the place. Pride is a different baby altogether. It is sly and sneaky and hidden from view behind a veneer of respectability. Yet, consider this, Baxter writes: ‘When we are telling the drunkard that he cannot be saved unless he become temperate, and the fornicator that he cannot be saved unless he become chaste, have we not as great reason, if we are proud, to say to ourselves, that we cannot be saved unless we become humble? Pride is, in fact, a greater sin than drunkenness or whoredom; and humility is as necessary as sobriety and chastity.’ (p144-145)

May God help us.

The last time we looked at the manner in which a man must shepherd his flock. This time we look at some of the motivations which drive us to shepherd our local congregations.

1. ‘To be a bishop or a pastor is not to be set up as an idol for the people to bow to, or as idle “slow bellies,” to love to our fleshly delight and ease; but it is to be the guide of sinners to heaven.’ (p125)

Translation: We are not in our positions for the sake of power and control, which is an easy trap for men to fall into. Not many in the UK will fall into the idolatry trap but I saw something perilously close when I was in the states. Nor, are we to be ‘bums’, falling out of bed at all hours of the day and living undisciplined lives. We have a sacred duty to guide people to heaven and we will be judged for it harshly should we neglect our people.

Baxter goes on to say that we must remind ourselves of the task we have as God’s under shepherds, ‘Why, you have undertaken the conduct, under Christ, of a band of his soldiers against principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places. You must lead them on to the sharpest conflicts; you must acquaint them with the enemy’s stratagems and assaults; you must watch yourselves, and keep them watching.’ (p125)

Translation: We are in a state of continuous spiritual warfare and we must lead our people through serious conflicts and difficulties in their lives. We must prepare them for the onslaught of the enemy. We must guard our own hearts and we must constantly encourage them to be aware of their own temptations, lest they fall. There is no harder task than this. Baxter goes on to clarify: ‘Had you but one ignorant old man or woman to teach, what a hard task it would be, even though they should be willing to learn! But if they be as unwilling as they are ignorant, how much more difficult will it prove! But to have such a multitude of ignorant persons, as most of us have, what work will it find us!’ (p125)

Translation: It is proper graft out there! In our day when people are a bit more literate we could be forgiven for thinking it makes a pastor’s life easier. The problem is that people will read ‘The Shack’ but ignore any decent material you suggest to them. People may have had less access to literature back in Baxter’s day but I bet they knew their Bibles. In 2011 people read more, access the internet more and go to every conference going and are still more biblically illiterate and open to heresy than they have ever been. We have much work to do!

2. People will let us down. Consider these words: ‘And when you think your work doth happily succeed, and you have seen men confessing their sins, and promising reformation, and living as new creatures and zealous converts, alas! they may, after all this, prove unsound and false at heart, and such as were but superficially changed and took up new opinions and new company without a new heart.’ (p126)

Translation: The heart is deceitfully wicked. People will come into the church and they will say the right things, parrot the right phrases, sing the songs and look like they have been saved, but their hearts have not really been touched. It breaks your heart.

3. ‘Is it nothing to be brought up to learning, when others are brought up to the cart and plough? and to be furnished with so much delightful knowledge, when the world lieth in ignorance? Is it nothing to converse with learned men, and to talk of high and glorious things, when others must converse with almost nine but the most vulgar and illiterate? But especially, what an excellent privilege it is, to live in studying and preaching Christ?’ (p128)

Translation: What a life we have!! We must count out blessings that the Lord has given us this life as pastors of his sheep, no matter what the difficulties. We have access to so much truth when millions are perishing without it. Sit in your library and check your bookshelves the next time you feel like a little moan to yourself. We have the opportunity to talk and share the faith with other pastors and go to conventions and conferences and learn the things of God. And we do all this for a living! Give thanks for our blessed lives. Remember the following, writes Baxter: ‘Others are glad of the leisure of the Lord’s Day, and now and then of an hour besides, when they can lay hold upon it. But we may keep a continual Sabbath. We may do almost nothing else, but study and talk of God and glory, and engage in acts of prayer and praise, and drink in his sacred, saving truths.’ (p128)

Translation: Remember people are out grafting and we have this amazing privilege to be constantly soaking ourselves in the things of God. Don’t waste it!

4. It is God’s church we are overseeing. ‘Oh what a charge that is to be undertaken…have we the conduct of those saints that shall live forever with God in glory, and shall we neglect them? God forbid!‘ (p130)

Translation: James 3v1.

5. Don’t be a hater, particularly of those who get right up your nose. ‘What! Sirs, shall we despise the blood of Christ? Shall we think it was shed for them who are not worthy of our care?’ p(131)

Translation: Remember, however irritating we find them to be, if they are Christ’s then they were bought with a heavy price. Who do we think we are to withhold care and prayer for those whom Christ died just because they irk us?

May God help us in our task.

Here is the fourth installment of my updating of this immensely challenging book. My comments are in bold.

Having explained the nature of what it means to be an overseer of the flock, he now moves on to talk about the manner in which a man must shepherd his sheep. He has 15 points:

1. ‘The ministerial work must be carried out purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own. Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but it is doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service.’ (p111) This was written in an age where there was probably greater kudos in being a minister than there is in the UK today.  For those of us who do aspire to this great area of service, we must question our motivation and check our hearts at regular intervals. The pastoral ministry is not for those who ‘like being up the front’ or who want a sedate life. It comes with a great cost which must be assessed and counted before stepping up to the plate. Forget the rise of these so-called ‘super pastors’ who jump from conference to conference, churn out books, have mega churches and have an army of twitter followers. Our aim is not to gain what they have but to please God by serving him where we are with all of our might and pray for the growth of his sheep and the salvation of the perishing.

2. ‘The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. Study hard for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow’ (p112) That last line is one of my favourites! Basically, work hard and study hard because what we read, digest, learn and teach has eternal benefits for us and our hearers.

3. ‘The ministerial work must be carried on prudently and orderly. We must not ordinarily go beyond the capabilities of our people.’ (p112) We must teach people the whole counsel of God. Those that are babes need milk and those that are not need meat. Our job is to differentiate and respond accordingly.

4. ‘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. we must therefore have our people’s necessities before our eyes. Life is short, we are dull, and eternal things are necessary, and the souls that depend on our teaching are precious.’ (p113) Please read that last line again because it is just so powerful. Don’t be distracted in the world by silly teachings and vain arguments that take us away from feeding our people. There is lots of rubbish flying on to the bookshelves in Christian circles and our job is not to read every one but to keep an eye on what our people are being polluted by. Do I read Rob Bell? Not really. Why not? Because he is an irrelevance to Niddrie. I might skirt through an article or something for my own interest but I take great care not to be distracted by things which take me away from my main consideration: the flock that God has given to me here. This is not to say we shouldn’t read widely, but we should read wisely. This is what Baxter says: ‘If you are to choose what authors you are to read yourselves, will you not rather take those that tell you what you know not, and that speak the most necessary truths in the clearest manner, though it be in barbarous or unhandsome language, than those that will most learnedly and elegantly tell you that which is false or vain, and “by a great effort” say nothing’ (p114-115) We have precious souls to teach and we should ensure that what we are learning will benefit them and equip them for works of Godly service.

5. ‘All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. If you would not teach men, what do you in the pulpit? If you would, why do you not speak so as to be understood? It is, at best, a sign that a man hath not well digested the matter himself, if he is not able to deliver it plainly to others.’ (p116) Amen to that Richard, me old son! Don’t get me started on this one. Any fool can complicate a sermon, and very often does, but there is great skill in keeping the message understandable. We need more men trained to do this now more than ever in our biblically illiterate age.

6. ‘Our work must be carried on with great humility. We must carry ourselves meekly and condescendingly to all; and so teach others, as to be as ready to learn of any that can teach us.’(p116) We might know a lot of stuff, read a lot of books and speak at the odd convention but we are all still learners. Even the most uneducated person can sometimes teach us a profound truth.

7. ‘There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline.’ (p117) If you shout too much, calm yourself. If you’re too timid, grow a pair. Some people need a hug and some need a boot. The key is balance.

8. ‘We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of the redeemer. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.’ (p117)Passion, passion, passion. Too many sermons are as correct as correct can be but are about as stimulating as a lecture at a toenail clippings collectors convention.

9. ‘The whole of our ministry must be carried on in tender love to our people. we must feel toward our people, as a father toward his children. Most men judge of the counsel, as they judge of the affection of him that gives it: at least, so far as to give it a fair hearing.’ (p117-118) We must speak of our people with warmth to outsiders and we must treat them lovingly however wronged we might sometimes feel by their behaviour and attitudes. People are more likely to listen to the hard words of a person that they know cares for them, mores so than he who comes to them out of cold duty and a superior attitude.

10. ‘We must carry on our work with patience. we must bear with many abuses and injuries from those to whom we seek to do good. We have to deal with distracted men who will fly in the face of their physician, but we must not, therefore, neglect their care.’ (p119) Despite all of our best efforts, people will often misunderstand us, question our motives, abuse our good nature and slander us. But we must persevere as doctors with their patients. They might not like their medicine but we know it is good for them. Patience is the hallmark of a mature shepherd.

11. ‘All our work must be managed reverently, as beseemeth them that believe the presence of God, and use not holy things as if they were common. I hate preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh, or to move their minds with tickling levity, and affect them as stage plays used to do, instead of affecting them with a holy reverence of the name of God.’ (p119-120) We are not in the pulpit to entertain people. Ours is a serious business. We who teach will be judged by God, not on how amusing and erudite we have been, but on how faithful we have been to the ‘whole counsel of God’ taught to our people. Our job is to ensure people leave with a right estimation of God’s awesome holiness, our utter sinfulness and the amazing grace found in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

12. ‘All our works must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of the Holy Ghost.’ (p120)What we do in the service of God must be touched by the Spirit of God. Too many men occupy ministries with little or no effect because they do not know of the power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. They preach and teach and talk about something they have no experience of for themselves. We need God’s Spirit and we must pray for His blessing on all we do.
13. ‘If you would prosper in your work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success.’ (p121)He who desires little gets little. He with small expectations gets what he deserves. If we’re not desperate to see souls saved, then we won’t see them saved. We must desire and expect great things of our God.

14. ‘Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ.’ (p122) We must have our eyes fixed on Christ at all times. We are at our best when we feel weak and hopeless because that is when we realise just how much we are dependent on him.

15. ‘We must be very studious of union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches we oversee. Ministers must smart when the church is wounded. Day and night should they bend their studies to find out means to close such breaches.’ (p123) We must be constantly on the look out for the work of the enemy within our walls as he seeks to bring divisions and rifts. Sin must be dwelt with swiftly and schisms must be reconciled if at all possible. We must be jealous to guard our people. Man, it hurts when things don’t work out. No pastor should seek problems out but he should have the strength and love for his people to deal with them before they get out of hand.

The Nature Of This Oversight

Having encouraged us to take ourselves in hand before we are better able to minister to others, Baxter now goes on to explain what it means to ‘take heed to all the flock.’ Let’s remind ourselves of Acts 20:28 again. I will highlight the part related to today’s study.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,which he bought with his own blood.’

1. ‘It is implied , that every flock should have its own pastor, and every pastor his own flock…When we are ordained ministers without a special charge, we licensed and commanded to our best for all, as we shall have opportunity for the exercise of our gifts: but when we have undertaken a particular charge, we have restrained the exercise of our gifts so specially to that congregation, that we must allow others no more than it can spare of our time and help, except where the public good requireth it..’ (p88)

Translation: The ideal is for every church to have a pastor and every pastor a church. However, when we are without a pastoral ministry, then itinerant speaking is acceptable for the benefit of the wider body and the development of our spiritual gifting. When we settle into one ministry then that is where our focus must be. We must fight the urge to go and make a name for ourselves by joining the ‘speaking bandwagon’ and running around everywhere preaching whilst neglecting our own people. Only accept outside invitations to preach if completely necessary.

2. ‘When we are commanded to take heed to all the flock, it is plainly implied, that flocks must be no greater than we are capable of overseeing or “taking heed” to…If the pastoral office consists i overseeing all the flock, then surely the number of souls under the care of each pastor must not be greater than he is able to take such heed to as is here required.’ (p88)

Translation: Don’t ‘over stretch’ yourself. The eldership must reflect the need and number of the flock so as not to crush one man under the weight of the ministry needs.

Having established these two rules as basic to the pastoral role, Baxter goes on to make several points about what it means in practice to take heed to the flock. Firstly, ‘we should know every person that belongs to our charge; for how can we take heed to them if we do not know them? For if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians…Doth not a careful shepherd look after every individual sheep? And a good schoolmaster after every individual scholar? And a good physician after every individual patient? And a good commander after every individual soldier? Why then, should not the shepherds, teachers, the physicians, the guides of the churches of Christ, take heed to every single individual of their charge?’ (p90-91) He goes on to talk about what this means for those pastors ( who would object to this) who have large churches beyond their scope to do this. Basically, nobody forced you to take the job and being big is no excuse. If it’s beyond you then put structures in place to ensure that all the flock have access to a pastor (elder), otherwise you are neglecting your sacred duty. I personally think that is wise advice for churches of any size!

He moves on to make some points about paying special attention to certain classes of people within our flocks.

1. ‘We must labour, in a special manner, for the conversion of the unconverted…he that seeth one man sick of a mortal disease, and another only pained with the toothache, will be moved more to compassionate the former, than the latter; and will surely make more haste to help him, though he were a stranger, and the other a brother or a son.’ (p94-95)

Translation: We need to really love the lost and not just see them as an uncomfortable sidebar of the job. Lots of pastors I know think that because they have been called to ‘labour in the word’ for the benefit of  ‘the saints’ that this excuses them from evangelism and engaging with the lost. A truly, compassionate pastor (according to Baxter) will feel real empathy and pain over the plight of the lost than over the troubles and worries of a person already going to glory. And then, just when I felt I couldn’t admire him more, he comes up with this little beauty: ‘I confess, I am frequently forced to neglect that which should tend to the further increase of knowledge in the godly, because of the lamentable necessity of the unconverted.’ (p95) Some men like to lock themselves in the study and have no contact whatsoever with the unconverted from day-to-day and week to week. They don’t like to be disturbed from what they see as the real business. And they would probably regard that last quote with some suspicion before seeking our a self justifying response. (Discuss)

2. ‘We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us with cases of conscience…A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies, and he lawyer for their estate.’ (p96)

Translation: We should be available to people outside of the pulpit for counsel and advice. Do our people have a mechanism for responding to the issues brought up, by the work of the Spirit, through the preaching of the Word week by week?

3. ‘We must build up those who are already truly converted.’ (p97)

Translation: None needed. he goes on to say that we must teach and admonish those who have stopped growing, who are fighting secret sins, who are backsliding into worldliness, and those who whilst strong need to be urged to persevere in what they are doing.

4. ‘We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered.’ (p100)

Translation: We must ensure that the blokes are ‘manning up’ with regard to the running of their households. According to Baxter, pastors have no chance of reforming families in this area if the ‘master’ is not pulling his finger out. He offers some practical tips in this area: (a) ‘Get information on how each family is ordered, that you may know how to proceed in your endeavours for their further good.’ (p100) (b) ‘Go occasionally among them, when they are likely to be most at leisure, and ask the master of the family, whether he prays with them, and reads the scripture, or what he doth?’ (p100) (c) Tell the man to get a grip and sort out the areas where he is lacking. (d) ‘See that in very family there are some useful, moving books, beside the BIble.’ (p101) (e) ‘Direct them how to spend the Lord’s Day….how to spend the time with their families.’ (p101)

5. ‘We must be diligent in visiting the sick, and helping them prepare either for a fruitful life, or a happy death.’ (p102)

Translation: None needed. But, again, he goes on to specify what this means in practice. (a) ‘Stay not till their strength and understanding are gone, and the time so short you scarcely know what to do.’ (p103) In other words, where possible, get to people quickly before it is too late. (b) ‘When the time is so short, that there is no opportunity to instruct them in the principles of religion in order, be sure to ply them main points.’ (p103) In other words, don’t faff about when you are running out of time. Make sure they know what is required for salvation and hold out the great promises to come for those that believe. (c) ‘If they recover, be sure to remind them or their resolutions and promises in times of sickness’ (p104)

6. ‘We must reprove and admonish those who live offensively an impenitently.’ (p104)

Translation: We must not be scared to tackle unrepentant sinners, particularly those claiming the title ‘Christian’. This is one of the weakest areas of the modern church.

7. ‘The last part of our oversight, which I shall notice, consisteth in the exercise of church discipline.’ (p104)

Translation: Let’s talk about the thing done least in our churches today. Baxter breaks it down for us: (a) Those who remain unrepentant after being challenged by sin must be publicly rebuked (b) Those who have been publicly rebuked should make a public confession (c) The church must pray for those being disciplined (d) We must encourage and restore repentant sinner but not so soon as to make light of their offence, but not keep them hanging so long as to go into ‘over kill’. (e) If all else fails they must be excluded from the fellowship all together and no members should associate with them.

He goes on to finish this chapter by saying, even in his day, those who engage in such measures are thought of as extremists and disciplinarians. Most of what he says could be written off as ‘old school’ but I think there is much wisdom in the pages of this book which can be of great benefit to the church today.

The Motives To This Oversight

Having shown us in the first part that we need to ‘take heed of ourselves‘, Baxter moves on in chapter 2 to discuss the motives behind this ‘duty’.

1. ‘Take heed of yourselves, for you have a heaven to win or lose…O what sadder case can there be in the world, than for a man, who made it his very trade and calling to proclaim salvation, and to help others to heaven, yet after all to be himself shut out! A holy calling will not save an unholy man.’ (p72)

Translation: We who preach the gospel must know the gospel for ourselves. How scary it is that men and women  up and down the UK stand in pulpits in the name of a gospel they have not understood. Be warned, says Baxter, salvation is only in Christ and hell is full of many a ‘pastor’ who wore a nice suit and had a nice patter in Greek on a Sunday morning.

2. ‘Take heed, for you have a depraved nature and , and sinful inclinations, as well as others. If one thief be in the house, he will let in the rest; because they have the same disposition and design.’ (p73)

Translation: We are worse than we ever dared imagine. Our hearts are black and our thoughts are evil and we must be awake to, and aware of, just how capable of sin we really are. We must guard our hearts constantly against ourselves, or we will be caught unawares.

3. ‘Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will more ply you with temptations than other men. He beareth the greatest malice to those that are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. The devil is a greater scholar than you, a nimbler disputant; he can transform himself into an angel of light to deceive.’ (p74)

Translation: Those engaged in the pastoral ministry will face many and great temptations. Those of us who dare to stand out and speak up for the truths of the glorious gospel will come under savage attack by our enemy. We should never underestimate the devil and think we know better than him, or we are stronger than him, or our faith will overcome his schemes. Pride has destroyed many a ministry.

4. ‘Take heed to yourselves, because there are many eyes upon you, and there will be many to observe your falls. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. And you should thankfully consider how great a mercy this is, that you have so many eyes to watch over you…Do your work as those who remember that the world looks on them.’ (Pp75-76)

Translation: People are watching and waiting for us to trip up. They are looking for any excuse not to believe and to justify their sinful disobedience to God. Our failings give them the perfect cover for their sinful shortcomings. Many find this a pressure but it can be a blessing and spur us on to greater holiness and Christlike obedience in our ministries.

5. ‘Take heed to yourselves, for your sins have more heinous aggravations than other men’s. (1) You are more likely than others to sin against knowledge because you have more than they. (2) Your sins have more hypocrisy in them than other men’s, by how much the more you have spoken against them. (3) Your sins have more perfidiousness in them than other men’s, by how much the more you have engaged yourselves against them.’ (Pp76-77)

Translation: Because of your position, your sins have greater consequences and a higher ‘fallout’ than a normal Sunday Joe. (1) It is worse because you do it knowing more truth. (2) It is worse because you have been engaged in sin whilst at the same time encouraging others to lay it down. (3) It is worse because you have used the pulpit to denounce the very things you have been actively engaged in.

6. ‘Take heed to yourselves, because such great works as ours require greater grace as other men’s.’ (p77)

Translation: If you attempt great things for God then you will require greater grace to receive the strength needed for the task. There is no point engaging in the heat of spiritual battle if you are careless about your soul.

7. ‘Take heed to yourselves, for the honour of your Lord and Master, and of his holy truth and ways, doth lie more on you than on other men. The nearer men stand to God, the greater dishonour hath he by their miscarriages. Why, if one of you that is the leader of the flock, should be ensnared but once into some scandalous crime, there is scarcely a man or woman that seeketh diligently after their salvation,within the hearing of it, but, besides the grief of their hearts for your sin, are likely to have it cast in their teeth by the unGodly about them, however much they may detest it, and lament it.’ (p79)

Translation: When men of our standing fall into serious sin then it is a big deal. God’s name is greatly dishonoured. Not only does it hurt the sheep but it also gives the wolves ammunition to throw it back in the faces of the truly Godly. Our actions have serious and devastating consequences far beyond our own lives.

8. ‘Take heed of yourselves, for the success of all your labours doth very much depend upon this. (1) Can it be expected that God will bless man’s labours, not for God but for himself? (2) Can you think that he is as likely to be as successful as others, who dealeth not heartily and faithfully in his work, who believeth not what he saith, and is not truly serious when he seemeth most diligent? (3) Do you think that it is a likely thing that he will fight against satan with all his might, who is himself a servant to satan? (4) It is not likely that people will regard much the doctrine of such men, when they see that they do not live as they preach. (p80)

Translation: We must be careful that we are motivated by a deep desire to honour God above all else in our work for him. (1) It is too easy to go for applause and the praise of others. God blesses the faithful labourer. (3) We must believe what we say and teach with all of our hearts, otherwise any success we do have will be meaningless in the light of eternity, when God will judge our efforts by an entirely different criteria. (3) We cannot serve two masters and sooner or later our allegiance will come to the fore. (4) Right minded people will soon clue up to the fact that your ministry sucks and you are a liar, because your life does not match up to the package you are selling.

I was really challenged by this chapter. If we want to serve the Lord then we must guard our own hearts first and question our own motivations constantly. May God help all of us to live solely for the glory of His name and His Word.

I am rereading this old Christian classic and I have to say it is immensely challenging and extremely applicable for and any all serious minded followers of Jesus Christ. You may wonder why a book of this title has anything to do with church planting in an inner city housing scheme but I can assure you that it is a treasure trove for those ‘who have ears to hear and eyes to see.’ 

I am going to try and take it a chapter at a time and see if I can offer a modern translation to aid understanding.

Chapter 1: The Oversight Of Ourselves

‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 2:28, NIV)

Baxter’s first chapter is how, as ministers of the gospel, we are to ‘keep watch over ourselves’. He offer us some practical tips:

1. ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the word the necessity of a Saviour, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing; and lest you famish yourselves whilst you prepare food for them.’ (p53)

Translation: Watch yourselves and make sure that what you are preaching is first the experience of your own life. We must be careful in our preparation and studies to be feeding on the Word for ourselves, otherwise we will die of spiritual starvation and our ministries will wither and perish.

2. ‘Preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others….They (people) will likely feel you when you have been much with God; that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears….We (pastors) are the nurses of Christ’s  little ones. If we forebear taking food ourselves, we shall famish them.’ (p61)

Translation: Our preparation must be be bathed in God’s presence. We must feel, believe and live what we are teaching and preaching if we expect God’s Spirit to bless it and the people to ‘hear’ it. Our people will only grow in proportion to our feeding. We can only nourish them properly if we are eating regular, hearty meals.

3. ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine….Oh how curiously I have heard some men preach; and how carelessly have I seen them live! A practical doctrine must be practically preached. We must study as hard how to live well, as to preach well.’ (p63)

Translation: Well done smarty pants, you know your stuff but does your life match up? You can dazzle me with your doctrinal dexterity and theological nous but what good is that if you are cranking one out to late night porn on channel 4. The Christian life is as much walk as it is talk.

4. ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn.’ (p67)

Translation: See translation of part 3! Pastor with humility, remembering your own sinful tendencies and rebuke yourself often.

5. ‘He must not be himself (the pastor) a babe in knowledge, that will teach men all those mysterious things which must be known in order to salvation.’ (p68)

Translation: There is a gift to pastoral ministry that is not to be taken lightly. We must make sure we study hard and do not play guessing games when it comes to handling the word of God. We must persevere in struggles and hardships and these things are not for young children to handle. Experience is a powerful tool in the hands of Godly men.

God help us in these days to live for His glory.