I often marvel at how God brought me to faith. I grew up in a nominal Roman Catholic home. My parents divorced before I really knew what divorce was. I remember “the talk” where they broke the news. The parents had corralled me in the living room. Mom and dad disagreed so often that they rarely spoke to me as a unit, so this smelled . . . unnatural. I was seated on a drab brown couch, seven years old and facing south. After they told me, I deliberately feigned denseness as a way to express my anger. “What? Does this mean I’ll have no father?” They tried to explain, that no, I had it wrong. But in my horror and hurt, I was determined to remain clueless as long as possible to draw out this excruciating moment for them. Even seven years olds can understand revenge.
So we are plugging away through Richard Baxter’s The Christian Directory—whacking topics as they, mole-like, poke their little heads up. Our topic today is taken from I.I.I.3, and has to do with the judicious use of our ears. Specifically, is it sensible to take advice from the devil about religion?
Poisonous ideas have always been ready to hand, but never so ready as now. It used to be that one had to scale the mountain and spelunk the cave in order to meet the guru. Today the guru has a Facebook account and uses Google AdWords. If five hundred years ago the marketplace of ideas was the size of a general store in a one horse town, now with globalization and the internet, it is Alibaba.com. It will deliver the epistemological equivalent of ten tons of scrap rubber foam… right to your front door.
This section of Baxter (I.I.I.II) is of particular use to Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians (which includes me)–in short, anyone who believes that not only should believers be baptized, but also their households. Having come to paedo convictions some time ago, I can bear witness to the blessings of raising kids as members of the covenant community. But it has some hazards as well, and we’d be wise to keep watch. Are you a baptist? There is still some love here for you too, in that I hope to provide a bit of a “decoder ring” so you will not be dismayed when talking to your paedo friends, and they start saying things that make you twitch.
Remember that Baxter intends to write a book covering everything. Everything, that is, that has to do with living out the Christian faith. And he means it. As we saw previously, it is quite the project–and to reach the goal he wrote the equivalent of one 50,000 word book per month for a period of two years (except it was not twenty-five small books, but one, huge, 1.25 million word beast of a practical theology text). One can imagine when Baxter finished, his fingers being frozen permanently around his pen. His evenings moonlighting at the piano lounge were gone forever. His fingers were on strike. Continue reading ““Unsaved” Christians?”
Over the last year, we have seen the tyranny of the offended. Students rally against Cecil Rhodes the imperialist, get threatened by sermons on love, and demand “safe-spaces” on campus, where no one would dare challenge their own personal fiction that they are good, beautiful, and of course, above average.Many have progressed beyond thin skin, to dispensing with skin altogether. And now, sensitive to even “micro-aggression,” it hurts even when the wind blows.
We are just beginning Baxter’s Directory, and his first words are to those who do not know God, but want to. Now Baxter is assuming that his non-Christian reader cares enough to actually read his advice to them. Or perhaps he is assuming that his Christian readers will take it in and apply it in their conversations and relationships with unbelieving friends. In any case, Baxter gives Directions to those who desire to be saved. His first can be summarized below:
Direction I: If you really want to be a child of God, work hard to cure your ignorance regarding matters of salvation by seeking to understand the Word of God.
He then goes to talk about how reluctant, and foolish, we are to avoid hearing from God on our spiritual condition. Some make the excuse of not being “book types.” But even the “book types” have excuses–and this touches on the subject of micro-aggression. Their excuse is that hell is a rude topic, and it is even more unmannerly to suggest that anyone as refined as they might go there.
“These honorable, miserable men, will bear no contradiction or reproof: who dare be so unmannerly, disobedient, or bold, as to tell them that they are out of the way to heaven, and strangers to it (that I say not, enemies); and to presume to stop them in the way to hell, or to hinder them from damning themselves, and as many others as they can? They think this talk of Christ, and grace, and life eternal, if it be but serious, (and not like their own, in form, or levity, or scorn) is but the troublesome preciseness of hypocritical, humorous crack-brained fellows…” (C.D. 188.8.131.52); pp. 12-13.
Satan is subtle. Following his logic, it is rude to jar people awake with a fire alarm–much more considerate to let them burn in their beds. It’s rude to point out the bridge is out, and polite to let people enjoy their Sunday drive unmolested. It is cranky to suggest their is something funky in the kool aid, and kind to allow people to enjoy a refreshing beverage as the bodies pile up in Jonestown.
To be saved, we must not only not resent the fire alarm. We must listen for it.
Puritans are notorious for their incomprehensible outlines, with numbers nested in other numbers, producing grandbaby numbers which themselves breed and proliferate. Baxter is slightly less vexing than most, but still is guilty. Because I’d like to provide a tool to navigate Baxter, my intent is to let you know exactly what I am blogging about, summarizing, quoting, or outlining. To accomplish this, I will tag each post to a page # in the Soli Deo Gloria reprint of Baxter’s Directory, as well as use Baxter’s own numbering system (as best I can follow!).
(184.108.40.206) can be translated as:
Part 1: Christian Ethics (the first part of four major sections in the book); Chapter 1; Part 1 (the first of two parts of chapter 1); Direction 1.
Which occurs on pages 11-13.
Pound for pound and word for word, there is no greater extra-biblical resource for practical Christianity than Richard Baxter’s The Christian Directory. Weighing in at 1.25 million words–the equivalent of twenty-five 50,000 word books–this tome intimidates the irresolute. The prose is at times archaic, typeset in a wee font, without a fair margin–there are plenty of reasons many people never bother. But we should bother. It simply is the most compact (yes, considering the scope, “compact”!) treatment of everything having to do with the Christian life ever written.
“Everything having to do with the Christian life”?! Isn’t that a bit overstated? And yet, that was Baxter’s goal. As J. I. Packer points out in his introduction, Baxter believed it was possible to summarize the Christian’s whole duty. Listen to Baxter’s own description:
A Christian Directory:
or, a sum of
Cases of Conscience.
Directing Christians, how to use their knowledge and faith; how to improve all helps and means, and to perform all duties; how to overcome temptations, and to escape and mortify every sin.
Notice his use of “all” and “every.” Would you like to know how to escape and mortify (put to death) every sin? Would you like to learn how to perform all duties, and overcome temptations? Baxter is your man, and he takes pains to deliver the goods in an economy of words. But to cover such diverse subjects as whether the sins you commit while dreaming are actual sins, or what to do if your parents command you to a life of celibacy, or what books to buy if you are broke–and a thousand other practical questions–Baxter must be as terse as he is sweeping. Yes, he wrote the equivalent of twenty-five books in as many months–and by hand, mind you–but he bemoaned that he had to leave his book trimmed of the style that would make it more enjoyable to the reader. I’m glad he kept it tight.
Through all of this, what Baxter does best is keep God right at the very center. And no one examines the heart as thoroughly as our man.
So my goal here is to patiently work my way through Baxter’s Christian Directory, and try to leave summaries and choice quotes here as a little trail of crumbs to lead you back to Baxter. Back to the banquet, where you can scootch up a chair, spread out your napkin, and tuck in.