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.