In our last post from Baxter, we see that he wrote a treatise to other pastors on how to accomplish the primary task of the pastor: spiritual direction. His theme verse was Acts 20:28:
Take heed therefore to yourselves, unto all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood.
Part of his treatise looks at the first phrase of this charge: to take heed to yourselves. What did Baxter understand this mean for pastors?
What It Means To Take Heed For Yourself
Baxter offers four reasons for self-care:
- We are exhorted to take heed to ourselves, lest we should be void of that saving grace of God which we are offering to others. For it is possible to offer this grace to
others and yet be a stranger to the effectual workings of that Gospel which we preach. W e can proclaim to others the necessity of a Savior, and in our own hearts be neglecting Him. W e miss an interest in Christ and His saving benefits! So let us take heed to ourselves lest we perish, while we call upon others to take heed of perishing! We can starve while we prepare food for others.Believe it, brethren, that God never saved any man for being a preacher. Nor did He reject a man because he was not an able preacher. He saved a preacher because he was a justified and sanctified man. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first. See to it that you be the worshiper which you persuade your hearers to be. Make sure first that you believe what you persuade others daily to believe. Make sure you have heartily entertained the Christ and the Holy Spirit in your own soul before you offer Him to others.
- We are exhorted to take heed to ourselves, lest we live with those actual sins which we may preach against in others. Let us see that we are not guilty of that which we may daily condemn. Take heed then to yourselves, lest you cry down sin and yet do not overcome it in yourself. Yes, it is easier to judge sin than to
- We need to take heed to ourselves that we may not be unfit for the great tasks which we have undertaken to complete. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge who will teach men all those mysterious things that are to be known in order to be assured of salvation. O dear brothers, what men then should we be in skill and in resolution, and in unwearied diligence, that have all this to contend with and to do? Did not Paul cry out, “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Can we then afford to be proud and lazy, as if we were sufficient?
- Take heed to yourselves, lest you exemplify contradictory doctrine. Beware, lest you lay such stumbling blocks before the blind that you occasion their ruin. Beware, lest you undo with your lives, what you say with your tongues. Beware, lest you become the greatest hindrance to the success of your own labors. It is an obvious error for all to see in those ministers of the Church who make such a wide gulf between their preaching and their living. They will study hard to preach exactly, and yet study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough to study how to speak for two hours; and yet one hour seems too much time to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons; yet they think nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions in the course of their lives. Oh how curiously I have heard some men preach, and how carelessly have I seen them live!
Motivations For Taking Heed For Yourself
Baxter then proceeds to offers some motivations for undertaking self-care:
- You have heaven to win or lose yourselves. This is your goal as well as leading souls to everlasting happiness or misery. Therefore, you should begin at home and take heed to yourself first. It is possible for preaching to succeed in the salvation of others without bringing holiness to our own hearts or lives. Many shall say at that day, “Lord, have we not prophesied in your name?” (Matthew 7:22), and they will be answered: “I never knew you; depart from me you who work iniquity” (7:23). How many have preached Christ and yet perished because they lacked a saving interest in Christ!
- Take heed to yourselves, for you have a depraved nature. Your sinful inclinations are like those of everyone else. However much we may preach against sin, it still dwells in us. Those of us that seem strongest— we are really weak. How apt to stumble we are! How small a matter will cast us down! Our pride, worldliness, and many a corrupted vice will spring up that we thought had already been weeded out by the roots. It is vital for us, then, to realize how weak we really are. Then we will be careful with the dieting and exercise of our souls.
- Take heed to yourselves because you have greater temptations and more exposure to them than other men. Weaker gifts and graces may carry a man through a laudable course of life, but it is because he is not so severely tested. Smaller strength may serve for lighter work. But if you venture on great undertakings of the ministry, you will need great resources. We have seen by experience that many men who lived as private Christians with a good reputation and piety have gone under more pressure as they entered more fully into the faith’s labors. And when they were taken up into more responsible positions which overmatched their strength, they found themselves disgraced.
- Take heed to yourselves because the tempter will make his first and sharpest assault on you. If you will in attack, be leaders against him, he will not spare you. He bears the greatest malice against the man who is engaged in working the greatest damage against him.
- Take heed to yourselves also because there are many eyes upon you. So there will be many who observe you fall. If you miscarry, the world will also echo with it.
- Take heed to yourselves, for the souls of your hearers and the success of your labors depend so very much upon it. Generally, God fits men for great work before He makes them His instruments in it. So if the Lord does not soundly work within your own hearts, how can you expect Him to bless your labors to effect it in other hearts? He may do it if He pleases, but you have cause to doubt whether He will. So I will now show you four reasons why he who would serve others must take heed to himself. For seldom will God prosper the labors of unsanctified men.
- How can it be expected that God will bless the labor of a man who instead of serving God is working for his own self-interests? This is the case of every unsanctified man. For none but the upright make God their chief end, or do anything heartily for God’s honor. They make the profession of the ministry merely a trade to live by.
- A pastoral ministry will scarcely be successful if one is not doing his work heartily and faithfully so. How can others believe him when he does not believe what he says and cannot take his own work seriously? How can you call sinners to repentance and to come to God with serious fervor, if you have never repented yourself? How can you ask sinners to take heed of sin and to be directed toward a holy life when you yourself never felt the evil of sin, nor the wrath of holiness?
- Do you think someone can fight against Satan with all his might, who is the servant of Satan himself? Will he do any great harm to the kingdom of the devil when he is himself a member and subject of that kingdom?
- People will not likely have much regard for the doctrine of those who do not live as they preach.
God has promised to his faithful servants that He will be with them, and that He will put His Spirit upon them and His Word into their mouths. God may, and sometimes does, do good to His Church through wicked men, but He does not do so usually or prominently. Rather His normal way is to use His faithful servants.