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The Reformed Pastor Paperback – July 1, 1974
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About the Author
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) is chiefly remembered for the transformation his pastoral ministry effected on the town of Kidderminster, Worcestershire, during two periods of pastoral ministry there (interrupted by the English Civil War, in which he served as chaplain to the Parliamentary forces) between 1641 and 1661.
Born in Rowton, Shropshire, Baxter attended Wroxeter Grammar School but most of his study was done through his own private reading. He was ordained by John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester, in 1638, and after a short time as a school-master in Dudley, became an assistant minister in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, before moving to Kidderminster in 1641. After leaving there in 1661, he preached in London, but was ejected from the Church of England the following year.
When almost fifty, Baxter married Margaret Charlton, one of his converts, who was in her early twenties. In spite of the difference in ages, they had an excellent marriage, and Margaret shared her husband's passion for Christ and the salvation of souls. Baxter suffered much ill-health, and the last twenty-nine years of his life were further 'embittered by repeated prosecutions, fines, imprisonment, and harassing controversies' (Ryle), but there was some respite with the accession of William and Mary in 1689, just two years before his death.
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Top Customer Reviews
Richard Baxter was famous for two things: being a tremendous pastor to a town in England, and getting constantly into trouble for being so blunt that he would make enemies of his friends. This book is about being a tremendous pastor, and it is very very blunt.
It is an extended lecture he proposed to give to a local ministerial association in 1656. The book uses as its foundation and framework Acts 20:28: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." The book first deals with pastors "taking heed" to their own spiritual state and life, and then turns its attention to taking heed to all the flock.
As to the topic of taking heed to their own spiritual lives, Baxter starts at the beginning, with making sure the reader is truly a Christian, and progresses through disciplines, qualifications, and indwelling sin. He next emphasizes the reasons why a pastor must be rigorous in his own spiritual life. He expounds reasons such as how many eyes are on the man of God, how difficult the work is, and how the honor of Christ depends on it. He reminds his reader of many practical insights, such as "all that a minister does is a kind of preaching" and to avoid the error of men who "study hard to preach exactly, and study little or not at all to live exactly."
After dealing with the pastor's personal life, he tackles the pastor's responsibility to shepherd his congregation. His most radical recommendation, radical back then and almost unthinkable to American churches today, is for a pastor to personally visit and catechize people (for those unfamiliar with the term, it means to teach a list of several hundred questions and answers of basic theology). Specifically, he says a pastor should catechize each and every family, in the pastor's entire town, each and every year. In Baxter's town that meant 2000 people in 800 families, that he and his associate pastor took two full days every week to go through the whole town every year.
He bluntly states, "If the pastoral office consists of 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 as to here is required." Yea, and I'm sure the pastoral staff of most churches personally know every member of their flock. And yes, I know that we consider Sunday School teachers or small group leaders to be "overseeing the flock"- but how many of those leaders in our churches see themselves as shepherds, have been theologically trained and commissioned as overseers, one-on-one ask them regularly about their spiritual life, and are seen by the members of their class or group as having spiritual responsibility over them?
But it was a radical idea even back then, so much so that Baxter takes dozens of pages to specifically give all the reasons why every pastor should devote himself to this universal visitation and dozens more pages to specifically answer a whole series of objections to the work. In short, he says that he had found that an hour of focused questions concerning a person's spiritual state was often more helpful than years of listening to sermons for their spiritual growth. It's hard to argue with that conclusion, and harder to argue with the marked growth (in both numbers and spiritual maturity) that history shows that his church had under his pastorship.
As to objections to why not do it, he says that they all are variations on the theme of "I'm too lazy or greedy" which he viciously attacks as unworthy of any follower of Christ, let alone a pastor. To laziness, he asks "Are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O see, then, that this work be done with all your might!"
To greed, he states that if a pastor has too many families in his church for him to visit individually, then he should hire another pastor out of his own salary to help him. He challenges, "What! Do you call yourselves ministers of the gospel, and yet are the souls of men so base in your eyes, that you had rather they eternally perish, than that you and your family should live in a low and poor condition?" Whoa there, Baxter must have never read Your Best Life Now!
The book is chock full with other helpful insights and wry comments, such as "All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible." "Is it not a pity, then, that our hearts are not as orthodox as our heads?" "It is a contradiction in terms, to be a Christian, and not humble." "We must study how to convince and get within men, and how to bring each truth to the quick." "In the name of God, brethren, labour to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners." And my list could go on and on and on. I have already discussed his specific instructions on personal evangelism in another article.
After reading The Reformed Pastor, I have to agree with Spurgeon, Packer, Dever and all the other big kahunas- this is absolutely essential reading for any man called to the ministry, to pin him against the wall and make him take stock of his ministry, his priorities, and his life before God, and to make him deeply consider about how best to "take heed over" himself and all his flock.
"Why didn't someone show this book to me before?" I thought to myself.
How foolish a young minister is who enters the Gospel ministry having been told of Baxter but who refuses to read Baxter.
This Puritan of Puritans was wonderfully gifted by God to be a real pastor.
The smallness of Baxter's content however, is far exceeded by the substance of his character. It is his character, his pastoral passion for ministry that makes this book the classic it has become. His single-minded devotion to God and his tender, shepherd's heart for his flock have inspired pastors for over 300 years.
This book is not an easy read. The English language has changed substantially over 300 years, and as a result the essence of Baxter's pastoral passion is undoubtedly distorted. Still, this volume IS a classic, and is a must-read for any pastor wanting to refine and/or restore his motivation for ministry.
However, if you are considering purchasing this book, then I would say dont even think twice. Besides the "pastoral epistles" of Paul (1st & 2nd Timothy, and Titus) I know of no other piece of work that will prepare you and teach you the way that those who lead the church ought to be. I would recommend it to anyone who has a heart for the Lords work, not just pastors.
Richard Baxter was a man full of the Holy Spirit. The words in this book will illuminate your soul, and convict you to the point of crying out to God and running to the cross of Christ. It can be a very painful book in many areas because it will cause you to look at yourself and wonder if you are really walking the life that The Lord wants from those who lead his people.
Its very difficult to find the words to describe how incredible this book is. I have to read it in tiny little sections instead of by chapters because there is so much depth to it. and each small section will bring me to tears.
Physically, this book weighs about as much as any other paper back. Spiritualy, you wont be able to lift it off the ground, much less turn a page