The Ministry of Writing: A Historical Example and a Word of Encouragement

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Richard Baxter was one of the most voluminous writers in English history. He authored between 141-200 books during his lifetime. As one of his biographers notes, “The influence of is books is incalculable: from the early 1650’s they enjoyed greater sales than those of any other English writer.”1

Although The Reformed Pastor might be his most well-known book today, his Call to the Unconverted was his most immediately successful. Commenting on the spread and influence of The Call to the Unconverted, Baxter noted, “In a little more than a year there were twenty thousand of them printed by my own consent, and about ten thousand since, besides many thousands by stolen impressions… Through God’s mercy I have had information of almost whole households converted by this small book.”2

A Philosophy of Writing

Baxter’s writings were profoundly practical and thoroughly biblical. The urgency and focus that marked his preaching shaped the character of his writing as well. For Baxter, writing was not a means of self-promotion. Rather, he saw it as an essential part of his responsibility to prepare people for eternity. He believed that the Lord uses books to inform the mind, stir the affections, and challenge the will for Christ. He noted,

The reading of the word of God, and the explication and application of it in good books, is a means to possess the mind with sound, orderly, and working apprehensions of God, and of his holy truths: so that in such reading our understandings are oft illuminated with a heavenly light, and our hearts are touched with a special delightful relish of that truth; and they are secretly attracted and engaged unto God and all the powers of our souls are excited and animated to a holy obedient life.3

The writings of Richard Baxter demonstrate his high view of God’s Word. Baxter believed that the Scriptures were the “determining voice” for the Christians’ faith and practice. Therefore, most of Baxter’s writings were simply expositions of Scriptural texts. An evangelist at heart, his favorite Scriptural topic to write about was conversion.

A Contemporary Application

Not all pastors are called of gifted to write in the same way that Baxter wrote. Nevertheless, all pastors can and should encourage their church members to read books that will help shape the mind, affections, and will for Christ. A good book can help extend our pastoral influence and ministry in the lives of people. Pastors should wisely utilize books in their shepherding, equipping, and teaching ministry to the church.

Pastors who do have gifts to write should take advantage of the many venues that exist today to encourage, bless, and strengthen their people through writing. One can only imagine what Baxter might have done if blogging or other modern forms of publishing were available to him during his era. As an extension of our pastoral ministry, our writing should practical, biblical, and beneficial for the people in our churches.

Notes

1 Thomas and Keeble, The Autobiography of Richard Baxter, xiv.

2 Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, I, 114-115

3 Richard Baxter, Select Treatises from the Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 195.

Micah Colbert bio

Micah is the discipleship and outreach pastor at Community of Grace Church in Buffalo, NY. He is also the author of two outreach books: Good News for All Nations and Discovering Hope. Micah enjoys reading, coffee, hearty conversations, and time spent with his wife and four children.

Discussion

The phrase "thoroughly biblical" is perhaps an overstatement. Baxter's views on justification seem to rely on continual obedience to maintain justification. However, his writings are some of the best from the Puritans.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Interesting post on Baxter and justification, for those interested in the doctrinal issues and historical context: https://heidelblog.net/2018/02/richard-baxter-on-initial-and-final-justification-through-faith-and-works/

An excerpt…

For Baxter, Christ must be accepted both as Lord and Savior, which is doubtless true, but notice how he continued. “So consequently sincere obedience has as much to do in justifying us before God as affiance,” i.e., as our engagement with Christ as Lord and Savior. For Baxter, good works could not be mere fruit and evidence of justification. They had to be co-instrumental in our justification.

In thesis 73 (pp. 289–90) he continued to explain the dual instrumentality of faith and works:

1. Faith only justifies as it implies and includes all other parts of the condition of the new covenant: and is so put in opposition to the works of the Law, or the personal Righteousness of the old covenant. 2. Faith only justifies as the great principal master duty of the Gospel, or chief part of its condition, to which all the rest are some way reducible. 3. Faith only does not justify in opposition to the works of the Gospel; but those works do also justify as the secondary, less principal parts of the condition of the Covenant.

Seems like he was trying hard to harmonize Paul’s ‘justified’ with James’ ‘justified,’ by packing them into one concept—rather than simply taking James as using the same word for a different sense.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.