Feast on the wealth of wisdom from these fellow pastors! Admit yourselves under these doctors of the soul. Take these truths, and boundless more, and press them on your heart, until you see afresh the weight of your calling and the sweetness of your Christ.
We scarcely need to add to the existing praise for the two puritan pastors before us today—Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) and Richard Baxter (1615-1691). We can allow a few old saints to speak for themselves:
“I have made, next to the Bible, Baxter’s Reformed Pastor my rule as regards the object of my ministry”—John Angell James
“…it is a work worthy of being printed in letters of gold; it deserves, at least, to be engraven on the heart of every minister.”—William Brown
And it was Baxter himself who said he wished “all the Independents [were] like Jeremiah Burroughs.”
As these men labored and pastored in the first half of the 17th century, they took great care of souls – their own souls and the souls of their sheep. And, fortunately for us, they wrote and preached about it. And herein lies their benefit to pastors: With clarity, depth, and energy, they press the minister to take seriously their most foundational and necessary responsibilities. To put it plainly, they help us put first things first.
Let me briefly highlight a few of these “first things” by referencing their most influential works, Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor:
Necessity of tending to our own souls.
These men saw that tending to one’s own heart was of first importance to the minister. Baxter writes, “Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing; and lest you famish yourselves while you prepare food for them…Oh what aggravated misery is this, to perish in the midst of plenty!—to famish with the bread of life in our hands, while we offer it to others, and urge it on them!” Likewise, Burroughs writes, “A Christian’s profession is to be dead to the world and to be alive to God, that is his profession, to have his life hid with Christ in God, to satisfy himself in God. What! Is this your profession? And yet if you have not everything you want, you murmur and are discontented. In that you even deny your profession.”
Baxter models the reverence and fervency which ought to mark our ministries.
The Reformed Pastor is an extended exposition of Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Baxter directs his seriousness and zeal toward a few areas in particular: