As he moves toward the application of his book, Baxter spends a great deal of his time in a large chapter on the subject of ‘humiliation’, or what we would call ‘humility’ in the modern day language. His great fear for himself and for all in pastoral ministry is that we become proud and arrogant as we seek to minister to the soul’s of our people. We must not fall into the trap of urging them on to godliness and humility whilst ignoring the state of our own souls. he puts it like this:
‘What pains do we take to humble them (our congregations), while we ourselves are unhumbled! How hard do we expostulate with them to wring out of them a few penitential tears, (and all too little while our own eyes are dry!)’ – p133.
Later, he writes: ‘Too many do somewhat for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget that they have souls of thier own to regard.’ (p134) All of us in ministry do well to heed these warnings because it is easy to adopt an almost detached, professional air in the ministry and forget that God would minister to our own souls first and foremost if we would let him. ‘It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still, if we have studied and preached ourselves to sleep, and have talked so long against the hardness of heart, till our own has grown hardened under the noise of our own reproofs.’ (p134)
He goes on to talk of PRIDE as one of the worst sins in the life of a pastor. Listen to how he describes it. ‘It fill some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs: it possesseth them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory, or under the progress of their reputation.’ (p137) He is saying that it leads to jealousy amongst men and it is true. I have seen it and experienced it in my own life and ministry. Oh, we say we are happy when a man has a great gift or preaching or teaching or evangelism. We bless the guy publicly, but inside we compare ourselves against him and wonder why we don’t get the same acclaim. We are sinners and pride burns deep within us and no more so than from the pulpit. ‘When the sermon is done, pride goeth home with them, and maketh them more eager to know whether they were applauded (Baxter obviously never visited Edinburgh! We could change that to whether ‘they raised an eyebrow’ here!), than whether they did prevail for the saving of souls.’ (p138). We want to move people, to inspire them, to impress them with our gifts of oratory and biblical logic. Of course we do. ‘If they (the preacher) perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice, as having attained their end; but if they see that they are considered weak or common men, they are displeased, as having missed the prize they had in view.’ (p138)
I don’t know of any man who wants to bore his people, even if he does! That is why pride is an ever present enemy, sat on our shoulders, looking for a new way to ingratiate himself into our lives. We must get to grips with the seriousness of pride in the life of the pastor. I am constantly battling with it in my own life. And it is so easy for it to take root in an inner city setting when we are dealing with such ‘open sinners’. What I mean by that is that it is easy to spot a drunk and a drug addict from 500 paces. Their sin is hanging out all over the place. Pride is a different baby altogether. It is sly and sneaky and hidden from view behind a veneer of respectability. Yet, consider this, Baxter writes: ‘When we are telling the drunkard that he cannot be saved unless he become temperate, and the fornicator that he cannot be saved unless he become chaste, have we not as great reason, if we are proud, to say to ourselves, that we cannot be saved unless we become humble? Pride is, in fact, a greater sin than drunkenness or whoredom; and humility is as necessary as sobriety and chastity.’ (p144-145)
May God help us.