All our authority is but for our work

Richard Baxter was a pastor in England in the 1600s. One of the great spiritual problems in Baxter’s day was that pastors had long neglected their duty to know their parishioners’ spiritual condition and to teach them privately from house to house; public preaching was what they did and the people had come to expect that this was the sum of a pastor’s duty to them.

What? Pastors coming around to your house and teaching? Sounds foreign, doesn’t it. Invasive. But we have the Apostle Paul’s example in this:

And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. – Acts 20:18-21 NASB

And really, when you think about it, how can a good shepherd go after the sheep that wanders off spiritually without knowing where they all are to begin with?

The Reformed Pastor is a collection of writings that Baxter compiled for an assembly of pastors in England when they came together for a day of humiliation and repentance and vows regarding their duty to catechize and personally instruct.

They had great titles for things back then. The full title of the work was:

Gildas Salvianus: The Reformed Pastor, showing the nature of the Pastoral work; especially in Private Instruction and Catechizing; with an open CONFESSION of our too open SINS: Prepared for a Day of Humiliation kept at Worcester, December 4, 1655, by the Ministers of that County, who subscribed the Agreement for Catechizing and Personal Instruction at their entrance upon that work, By their unworthy fellow Servant, Richard Baxter, Teacher of the Church at Kederminster.

I picked the following passage because of its applicability to any relationship where authority is involved.

For instance, consider how Baxter’s words apply to husband and wife: a husband’s authority is not about his rights; it’s about a husband’s power to fulfill his responsibility to love and care for his wife. Or consider how these words apply to the mother-child relationship, or the relationship between the civil magistrate and the citizen, or professor and pupil. In each case, God grants authority for a purpose. Authority does not equal oppression; oppression is when the one God gives authority to forgets that it was given for a purpose. Authority used rightly provides protection, nurture, and care, whether it is the authority of pastor, husband, mother, civil magistrate, professor, or any other office of authority.

This, then, from The Reformed Pastor

If our people did but know their duty, they would readily come to us, when they are desired, to be instructed, and to give an account of their knowledge, faith, and life; and they would come of their own accord, without being sent for; and knock oftener at our doors; and call for advice and help for their souls; and ask, ‘What shall we do to be saved?’ Whereas now the matter is come to that sad pass, that they think a minister hath nothing to do with them: and if he admonish them, or if he call them to be catechized and instructed; or if he would take an account of their faith and profiting, they would ask him by what authority he doth these things? and think that he is a busy, pragmatical fellow, who loves to be meddling where he hath nothing to do; or a proud fellow, who would bear rule over their consciences; whereas they may as well ask, by what authority he preacheth, or prayeth, or giveth them the sacrament. They consider not, that all our authority is but for our work; even a power to do our duty; and that our work is for them: so that it is but an authority to do them good. They talk not more wisely, than if they should quarrel with a man who would help to quench a fire in their houses, and ask him, by what authority he doth it? Or that would give money to relieve the poor, and they should ask him, By what authority do you require us to take this money? Or as if I offered my hand to one that is fallen, to help him up, or to one that is in the water, to save him from drowning, and he should ask me by what authority I do it? And what is it that hath brought our people to this ignorance of their duty, but custom? It is we, brethren, to speak truly and plainly, who are to blame, that have not accustomed them and ourselves to any more than common public work. We see how much custom doth with the people. Where it is the custom, as among the Papists, they hesitate not to confess all their sins to the priest; but, among us, they disdain to be catechized or instructed, because it is not the custom. They wonder at it, as a strange thing, and say, Such things were never done before. And if we can but prevail to make this duty as common as other duties, they will much more easily submit to it than now. What a happy thing would it be, if you might live to see the day, that it should be as ordinary for people of all ages to come in course to their ministers for personal advice and help for their salvation, as it is now usual for them to come to the church to hear a sermon, or receive the sacrament Our diligence in this work, is the way to bring this about.

–The Reformed Pastor, from a section titled The Duty Of Personal Catechizing And Instructing The Flock Particularly Recommended: Motives From The Benefits Of The Work

This entry was posted in authority, church, humility, love your neighbor. Bookmark the permalink.

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