I have just started reading Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor and will blog my thoughts on some contemporary application as I do.
Writing in 1655, Baxter called the clergy of Worcester and surrounding areas to a prayer meeting to confess their sloth and lack of zeal in not making disciples of Christ of the hundreds of dying and perishing souls in their parishes. Baxter was a leader and began by calling leaders to confession and prayer.
He then gives six reasons why personal, private catechism (from the Greek meaning to instruct) is vital to the work of the gospel. His concern is for the minister to do what God makes clear in scripture, to makes disciples, for the eternal and temporal good of the souls in his care and to be well organised in the giving the majority of his working week to this task. He writes:
The first, and main point, which I have to propound to you, is this, Whether it be not the unquestionable duty of the generality of ministers of these three nations [possibly England, Wales, ans Scotland?] to set themselves presently to the work of catechizing, and instructing individually, all that are committed to their care, who will be persuaded to submit thereunto? I need not here stand to prove it, having sufficiently done this in the following discourse. Can you think that holy wisdom will gainsay it? Will zeal for God; will delight in his service, or love to the souls of men, gainsay it
1. That people must be taught the principles of religion, and matters of greatest necessity to salvation, is past doubt among us.
2. That they must be taught it in the most edifying, advantageous way, I hope we are agreed.
3. That personal conference, and examination, and instruction, hath many excellent advantages for their good, is no less beyond dispute.
4. That personal instruction is recommended to us by Scripture, and by the practice of the servants of Christ, and approved by the godly of all ages, is, so far as I can find, without contradiction.
5. It is past doubt, that we should perform this great duty to all the people, or as many as we can; for our love and care of their souls must extend to all. If there are five hundred or a thousand ignorant people in your parish or congregation, it is a poor discharge of your duty, now and then to speak to some few of them, and to let the rest alone in their ignorance, if you are able to afford them help.
6. It is no less certain, that so great a work as this is should take up a considerable part of our time. Lastly, it is equally certain that all duties should be done in order, as far as may be, and therefore should have their appointed times. And if we are agreed to practice, according to these commonly acknowledged truths, we need not differ upon any doubtful circumstances.
Baxter organised this by appointing the parish clerk to visit each house and book an appoitment to see the vicar for an hour, with the first family booked for an 8am meeting and then one throught the day, on the hour.
I like the way Baxter delegated administration so he could give his energies to teaching and instruction. I also believe that the time for the church to use catechism as an introductory teaching method has returned. The vast majority of people today have little or no biblical knowledge but the classic bible study method assumes a fair amount of basic, Sunday school knowledge, which need to be deepened or corrected. Catechism assumes no prior knowledge. Bible study also requires the new believer to do the work of comprehension of the text before coming to an answer. For the well educated, comprehension is a skill already aquired but for many it is an unfamiliar task and can put an obstacle in the way of knowing the truth.
Baxter continues to urge his clergy brothers to be vigorous, unanimous and united in this work:
And now, brethren, I earnestly beseech you, in the name of God, and for the sake of your people’s souls, that you will not slightly slubber over this work, but do it vigorously, and with all your might; and make it your great and serious business. Much judgment is required for the managing of it. Study, therefore, beforehand, how to do it, as you study for your sermons.
My second request to the ministers in these kingdoms, is, that they would at last, without any more delay, unanimously set themselves to the practice of those parts of Church discipline which are unquestionably necessary, and part of their work. It is a sad case, that good men should settle themselves so long in the constant neglect of so great a duty.
My last request is, that all the faithful ministers of Christ would, without any more delay, unite and associate for the furtherance of each other in the work of the Lord, and the maintaining of unity and concord in his churches. My last request is, that all the faithful ministers of Christ would, without any more delay, unite and associate for the furtherance of each other in the work of the Lord, and the maintaining of unity and concord in his churches.
It must be clear to us all that the Church [of England] today has no less a need for vigour and unity in the task of bringing Christ to the nation.