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Richard Baxter

(9 posts)

Worldly Saints

Having completed John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, the next church history book in my queue is Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken. Youve no doubt heard the terms puritan and puritanical used pejoratively; but those who use those words in that way know nothing of the faith and character of the Puritans. In truth, most of us probably know little about them; so when I discovered Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken, I knew I had to get it and put it near the of my to-read stack. The Puritans, as you likely know, were Calvinists. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that truth was extremely important to them. Ryken writes:    The Puritans placed a high premium on religious truth. The intellectual content of a persons faith was not an indifferent matter for them. Thomas Hooker claimed that all truth, though the least that God reveals , is it not better than all the world? John Owen urged Christians to look on truth as a pearl, as that which is better than all the world, bought with any price. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 17. It should not be believed, however, that bare dogma was the sum of the Puritans religion. The possibility that religious belief could be intellectual without touching the heart was very real to them. They were diligent in self-examination (perhaps sometimes too much so) as a defense against that deplorable condition.    The idea of cold or coldness and the synonyms for dull and dullness, were major spiritual aversions for the Puritans. Richard Rogers recoiled from the coldness and half-service . . . Which is in the world. wile Cotton Mather warned, beware of . . . A strong head and a cold heart. Samuel Ward recorded in his diary the self-accusation How on the 15 and 16 of February thou was very dull in Gods service. as a counterpart to these rejections of coldness, zeal and zealous were recurrent positive value-terms in Puritan vocabulary. Spiritual complacency and mediocrity were the greatest of all Puritan aversions. Richard Baxter wrote, As mere idleness and forgetting God will keep a soul as certainly from heaven as a profane, licentious, fleshly life, so also will the usual company of such idle, forgetful, negligent persons as surly keep our hearts from heaven, as the company of men more dissolute and profane. [The Saints Everlasting Rest (Fleming H. Revell, 1962), 125.] Samuel Willard lamented that in New England forwardness and zeal for God is almost out of date while lukewarm-confession is much in credit. Ibid.
continue reading Worldly Saints

The Puritans and Money

The Puritans, as we have seen, were industrious, hard-working people. This has led some to paint them as avaricious, materialistic capitalists. It is true that they were capitalistic, and it is them we have to thank (and thank them, I do) for American free enterprise. But it is not at all fair to call them greedy and materialistic. Their view of wealth was much the same as their view of work: that it was ordained by God, and therefore good in itself.    In affirming the goodness of money, the Puritans found it necessary to defend the legitimate aspects of money against its detractors. William Perkins did so in a sermon an Matthew 6:19-20, in which he listed what Christ did not forbid: Diligent labor in a main vocation, whereby [a person] provides things needful for himself, and those that depend on him. . . . The fruition and possessions of goods and riches: for they are the good blessing of God being well used. . . . The gathering and laying up of treasure is not simply forbidden, for the word of God alloweth herefor in some respect. 2 Corinthians 12:14.    The puritans had no guilt about making money; to make money was a form of stewardship. . . . [Richard Baxter wrote]: If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul, or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose a less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be Gods steward. In the broader context of Baxters writing on economics, this call for efficiency and productiveness is simply evidence of common sense and a strong sense of wishing to be a good steward of Gods gifts. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 58. Likewise, the Puritans defended the concept of private property:    The Puritans defense of private property was an extension of their belief in the legitimacy of money. William Ames wrote that private property is founded not only on human but also on natural and divine right. Elsewhere Ames wrote that there is justice in the lawful keeping of the things we have. when John Hull, one of the first merchant princes of Massachusetts, lost his ships to the Dutch, he took consolation in Gods providence: The loss of my estate will be nothing, if the Lord please join my soul nearer to himself, and loose it more from creature comforts. but when his foreman stole his horses, Hull took the view that I would have you know that they are, by Gods good providence, mine. Ibid., 59. While the puritans believed that hard work was godly, and that the success gained thereby was good, it did not follow that success was an automatic sign of godliness, or that poverty was a sign of wickedness.    If godliness is not a guarantee of success, then the converse is also true: success is not a sign of godliness. This is how the Puritans understood the matter. John Cotton stated that a Christian equally bears good and evil successes as God shall dispense them to him. Samuel Willard wrote, as riches are not evidences of Gods love, so neither is poverty of his anger or hatred. Samuel Hieron said that just as many of Gods beloved servants do feel the smart of poverty, so even the most wicked . . . have a large Portion in this life. Ibid., 60. The Puritans believed that wealth was often a temptation and the cause of spiritual downfall. Yet they did not make a virtue of poverty.    The puritans did not idealize poverty as something to be sought. Contrary to Catholic monastic theory, the Puritans theorized that poverty is no sure way to avoid temptation. Richard Baxter commented: Poverty also hath its temptations. . . . For even the poor may be undone by the love of that wealth and plenty which they never get: and they may perish for over-loving the world, that never yet prospered in the world. Ibid., 61. Further, the puritans believed that poverty existed to display Gods glory, both through the impoverished, and through the wealthy.    The Puritans also rejected the ethic of unconcern that is content to let the poor remain poor. In their view, poverty is not an unmitigated misfortune, but it is certainly not the goal that we should have for people. The rich man by liberality must dispose and comfort the poor, said Thomas Lever in a sermon. God never gave a gift, preached Hugh Latimer, but he sent occasion at one time or another to show it to Gods glory. As if he sent riches, he sendeth poor men to be helped with it. Latimer even went so far as to say that the poor man hath title to the rich mans goods; so that the rich man ought to let the poor man have part of his riches to help and comfort him withal. On the subject of poverty, then, the Puritans taught that it is sometimes the lot of godly and that it can be a spiritual blessing. It is not, however, meritorious in itself, and poor people require the generosity of people who have resources to help them. Ibid.
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A Spiritual Assembly

Six hundred years ago, Jan Hus wrote that neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church, and his predestinate are the body and each one is a member, because his bride is one person with Jesus Christ [The Church, ed. David S. Schaff (Charles Scribners Sons, 1915), 66.]. One hundred years later, Luther echoed those words. That Reformation tradition was carried forward by the Puritans. Leland Ryken writes:    The greatest of all Puritan legacies in regard to ecclesiastical theory was also the most revolutionary in its time. It was the notion that the church is a spiritual reality. It is not impressive buildings or fancy clerical vestments. It is instead the company of the redeemed. The Puritans repeatedly showed their acceptance of Luthers dictum that The church is a spiritual assembly of souls. . . . The true, real, right, essential church is a matter of the spirit and not of anything external. For William Gouge the church consists of those who inwardly and effectively by the spirit . . . believe in Christ. John Hooper denied that the church consists of bishops, priests and such other, affirming rather that it is the company of all men hearing Gods Word and obeying unto the same. Richard Baxter agreed: the church is a holy Christian society for ordinary holy communion and mutual help in Gods public worship and holy living. Implicit in these definitions of the church is a Puritan preference for the invisible church over a type of institutional structure. The church is emphatically not the professional clergy and their rituals. What understand you by the church? asked John Balls Catechism. The answer: by the church, we understand not the pope. . . ; nor his bishops and cardinals met in general council. . . ; but the whole company of believers. If the church is essentially invisible rather than institutional, its head is obviously not a pope or church council, but Christ. The Puritans reiterated this again and again, as when Gouge spoke of that church whereof Christ is properly head. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 115.
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The Puritans on Faith and Reason

The church has always had its anti-intellectual element: people who are drawn toward the mystical, treating faith as blind following, or those who elevate zeal above knowledge. The Puritans had no time for such thinking. For them, faith and reason were not contradictory, but complementary. In the seventeenth century, radical Protestants in England known as sectaries kept up a running attack on the Puritans and others who extolled the value of education and the importance of reason. Their counterparts in America, known as the antinomians, created such a disturbance that the Puritans finally banished them to Rhode Island. One of the antinomians asserted his preference in preaching with the comment, I had rather hear such a one that speaks from the mere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, than any of your learned scholars, although he may be fuller of Scripture. The Puritans overwhelmingly defended the cause of learning and the faculty of reason against such attacks on the mind. For the Puritans, zeal was no substitute for knowledge. John Preston declared, I deny not but a man may have much knowledge and want grace, but on the other side, . . . you cannot have more grace than you have knowledge. Richard Baxter believed that education is Gods ordinary way for the conveyance of his grace, and ought no more to be set in opposition to the Spirit than the preaching of the Word. John Cotton claimed that although knowledge is no knowledge without zeal, yet zeal is but a wild-fire without knowledge. The sectaries and antinomians pictured faith and reason as antagonists. The Puritans rejected the perennial attempt to belittle reason in religious matters. Faith is grounded upon knowledge, said Samuel Willard; though God be . . . seen by an eye of faith, yet he must be seen by an eye of reason too: for though faith sees things above reason, yet it sees nothing but in a way of reason. John Preston wrote that divine grace elevateth reason, and makes it higher, it makes it see further than reason could, it is contrary indeed to corrupt reason, but to reason that is right reason it is not contrary, only it raiseth it higher: and therefore faith teacheth nothing contrary to sense and reason. John Cotton called reason an essential wisdom in us, and William Hubbard, our most faithful and best councilor. The Puritans faith in the authority of the Bible did not lead them to belittle reason as unimportant. Cotton Mather made the profound comment that Scripture is reason in its highest elevation. Harvards first college laws required that students be able not only to read the Scriptures, but also to resolve them logically. A hint of what this entailed is suggested by Richard Baxters description of instances when Christians must use their reason: We must use our best reason . . . to know which are the true Canonical Scriptures . . . , to expound the text, to translate it truly . . . , to gather just and certain inferences from Scripture assertions; to apply general rules to particular cases, in matters of doctrine, worship, discipline, and ordinary practice. William Bridge sounded the authentic Puritan note when he wrote that reason is of great use, even in the things of God. Thomas Hooker was eulogized by his colleague Samuel Stone for making the truth appear by light of reason. Given the forces of anti-intellectualism at work in their own religious milieu, the Puritans could have slipped into a disparagement of reason. Instead they remained defenders of reason and knowledge. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 161162.

The Best News

It is assurance of salvation that enables the saints to suffer persecution and even die for their faith. Assurance should allow any of God’s own to die happily and without fear. ‘When I live in a settled and steadfast assurance about the state of my soul,’ said Bishop Hugh Latimer, ‘then I am as bold as a lion.’ John Bradford, another martyr could say, ‘If Queen Mary gives me my life, I will thank her; if she burns me, I will thank her.’ Nor is it only in days of persecution that Christians have been able to speak in this way. Many believers, when dying, have been as ready as Richard Baxter to affirm that they were ‘almost well’. William White, a country pastor in Virginia, on hearing from his doctor that he had only a few days to live, could declare, ‘That’s the best news I have heard in twenty years.’ A bedridden Methodist woman in Cornwall, and eager for ‘home’, told her attentive daughter that she was too weak to take a drink. ‘Do not say so,’ the daughter urged, ‘you will be down among us again yet.’ To which the response was, ‘You are always a-foreboding!’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 171.
continue reading The Best News

He Holds Forth the Sceptre

Richard Baxter on being heavenly-minded: A heavenly mind is a joyful mind; this is the nearest and truest way to live a life of comfort, and without this you must needs be uncomfortable. Can a man be at a fire and not be warm; or in the sunshine and not have light? Can your heart be in heaven, and not have comfort? [On the other hand] what could make such frozen, uncomfortable Christians but living so far as they do from heaven? . . . O Christians get above. Believe it, that region is warmer than below. . . . There is no man so highly honoureth God, as he who hath his conversation in heaven; and without this we deeply dishonour him. Is it not a disgrace to our father, when the children do feed on husks, and are clothed in rags, and accompany by none but beggars? Is it not so to our Father, when we who call ourselves his children, shall feed on earth, and the garb of our souls be but like that of the naked world, when our hearts shall make of this clay and dust their more familiar and frequent company, who should always stand in our Father’s presence, and be taken up in his own attendance? Sure, it beseems not the spouse of Christ to live among his scullions and slaves, when they may have daily admittance into his presence-chamber; he holds forth the sceptre, if they will but enter. —cited in The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 80–81.
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Lord’s Day 12, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. —Revelation 5:11–14 A Psalm of Praise Richard Baxter (1615–1691) Ye holy angels bright, who stand before God’s throne And dwell in glorious light, praise ye the Lord each one. Assist our song, or else the theme too high doth seem for mortal tongue. Ye blessed souls at rest, that see your Savior’s face, Whose glory, e’en the least, is far above our grace. God’s praises sound, as in His sight with sweet delight you do abound. Ye saints, who toil below, adore your heavenly King, And onward as ye go some joyful anthem sing; Take what He gives and praise Him still, through good or ill, Who ever lives! All nations of the earth, extol the world’s great King: With melody and mirth His glorious praises sing, For He still reigns, and will bring low the proudest foe that Him disdains. Sing forth Jehovah’s praise, ye saints, that on Him call! Him magnify always, His holy churches all! In Him rejoice and there proclaim His holy Name with sounding voice. My soul, bear thou thy part, triumph in God above, And with a well tuned heart sing thou the songs of love. And all my days let no distress nor fears suppress His joyful praise. Away, distrustful care! I have Thy promise, Lord, To banish all despair, I have Thine oath and Word: And therefore I shall see Thy face and there Thy grace shall magnify. With Thy triumphant flock then I shall numbered be; Built on th’eternal Rock, His glory shall we see. The heav’ns so high with praise shall ring and all shall sing in harmony. —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");
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The words of Puritan Richard Baxter (1615–1691) to friends who visited him on his deathbed: You come hither to learn to die. I am not the only person that must go this way. Have a care of this vain, deceitful world, and the lust of the flesh. Be sure you choose God for your portion, heaven for your home, God’s glory for your end, God’s Word for your rule, and then you need never fear but we shall meet again with comfort. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 292.
continue reading Learn to Die

Lord’s Day 30, 2017

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. —Philippians 1:21–26 The Covenant and Confidence of Faith Richard Baxter (1615–1691) Lord, it belongs not to my care Whether I die or live; To love and serve Thee is my share, And this Thy grace must give. If life be long, I will be glad, That I may long obey; If short, yet why should I be sad To welcome endless day? Christ leads me through no darker rooms Than He went through before; He that unto God’s kingdom comes Must enter by this door. Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet Thy blessed face to see; For if Thy work on earth be sweet, What will Thy glory be! My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim; But ’tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him. —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");
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