I am rereading this old Christian classic and I have to say it is immensely challenging and extremely applicable for and any all serious minded followers of Jesus Christ. You may wonder why a book of this title has anything to do with church planting in an inner city housing scheme but I can assure you that it is a treasure trove for those ‘who have ears to hear and eyes to see.’
I am going to try and take it a chapter at a time and see if I can offer a modern translation to aid understanding.
Chapter 1: The Oversight Of Ourselves
‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.‘ (Acts 2:28, NIV)
Baxter’s first chapter is how, as ministers of the gospel, we are to ‘keep watch over ourselves’. He offer us some practical tips:
1. ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the word the necessity of a Saviour, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing; and lest you famish yourselves whilst you prepare food for them.’ (p53)
Translation: Watch yourselves and make sure that what you are preaching is first the experience of your own life. We must be careful in our preparation and studies to be feeding on the Word for ourselves, otherwise we will die of spiritual starvation and our ministries will wither and perish.
2. ‘Preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others….They (people) will likely feel you when you have been much with God; that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears….We (pastors) are the nurses of Christ’s little ones. If we forebear taking food ourselves, we shall famish them.’ (p61)
Translation: Our preparation must be be bathed in God’s presence. We must feel, believe and live what we are teaching and preaching if we expect God’s Spirit to bless it and the people to ‘hear’ it. Our people will only grow in proportion to our feeding. We can only nourish them properly if we are eating regular, hearty meals.
3. ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine….Oh how curiously I have heard some men preach; and how carelessly have I seen them live! A practical doctrine must be practically preached. We must study as hard how to live well, as to preach well.’ (p63)
Translation: Well done smarty pants, you know your stuff but does your life match up? You can dazzle me with your doctrinal dexterity and theological nous but what good is that if you are cranking one out to late night porn on channel 4. The Christian life is as much walk as it is talk.
4. ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn.’ (p67)
Translation: See translation of part 3! Pastor with humility, remembering your own sinful tendencies and rebuke yourself often.
5. ‘He must not be himself (the pastor) a babe in knowledge, that will teach men all those mysterious things which must be known in order to salvation.’ (p68)
Translation: There is a gift to pastoral ministry that is not to be taken lightly. We must make sure we study hard and do not play guessing games when it comes to handling the word of God. We must persevere in struggles and hardships and these things are not for young children to handle. Experience is a powerful tool in the hands of Godly men.
God help us in these days to live for His glory.