Friday, July 06, 2007

Packer on Baxter’s Directory





The following lengthy quote is from J. I. Packer’s introduction to Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory.. The task of writing an encyclopedia entry on Baxter has given me opportunity to delve some more into the man who in the eyes of many embodies the oversight of souls. This quote provides a great contrast between the pastoral teaching of Baxter and much of what passes for instruction today.

“From this standpoint it is possible to see clearly the difference between the ‘how-to’ books that today’s evangelicals write for each other and the ‘how-to’ teaching of the Directory, which is so much wiser and digs so much deeper. Our ‘how-to’s’ – how to have a wonderful family, great sex, financial success, in a Christian way; how to cope with grief, life-passages, crises, fears, frustrating relationships, and what not else – give us formulae to be followed by a series of supposedly simple actions on our part, to be carried out in obedience to instructions in the manner of a person painting by numbers or activating a computer. Wisdom in role-play is all; ‘heart-work’ hardly comes into it. This wisdom is in Baxter, too, though usually in a more sober, searching, shrewd form than we superficial moderns attain to; but his ‘how-to’s’ are regularly concerned with the ‘heart-work’ that is involved in doing what has to be done with the glory of God as your goal, and love and compassion for the needy other as your motive, and a passion for holiness as your driving desire, and a vivid sense of spiritual conflict keeping you humbly distrustful of yourself, and constantly watchful against Satan’s devices, and deeply dependent on Christ every moment. Only a little thought about the models of godliness set forth in the Psalms and the moral teachings of the Epistles is needed to convince one that Baxter and the Puritans were right to zero in on the ‘heart-work’ of right action, and that our generation has been terribly wrong to neglect it. Had we remembered that what makes good works good, according to the Scriptures, is a right form, fixed by law and wisdom, allied to right desires, fixed by the gospel, we might have been spared the egocentric, zany, simplistic, degenerate, half-magic-spell type of evangelicalism which is all that the world sees when it watches religious TV or looks directly at the professedly evangelical community. Such evangelicalism neither honors God nor blesses man. Back to Baxter! would make a good and healthful motto for the Christian leadership of our time.”

3 comments:

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Adam Winters said...

Packer's appreciation of Baxter is appropriate yet ironic considering he called him "somewhat of a disaster" theologically in A Quest for Godliness. This is a great example of how we can honor saints for their strengths while at the same time using discernment in regard to their weaknesses.

Ray Van Neste said...

That's right Adam. Baxter's real strength was in practical theology. That is no doubt why what is still in publication is his collected "Practical Works."