Mary Ann and I are working on transcribing the Thomas Rutherford abridgement of Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, which leaves in many of the footnotes and tangentials that the standard William Brown abridgement removes.
While speaking to the problem of unregenerate pastors, Baxter goes into this wonderful aside about education and how if it’s separated from knowing God it’s folly, not wisdom:
O that all our students in the university would well consider this! What a poor business it is to themselves to spend their time in knowing some little of the works of God, and some of those names that the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know the Lord himself, exalt him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy. They do but walk in a vain show, and spend their lives like dreaming men, while they busy their wits and tongues about abundance of names and notions, and are strangers to God and the life of saints. If ever God awaken them by his grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations were, that they will confess they did but dream before. A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are wilful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, where God is not studied…We know but little of the creature, till we know it as it stands in its order and respect to God: single letters and syllables unconnected are nonsense. He who overlooks the Alpha and Omega, and sees not the beginning and end, and Him in all, who is the all of all, sees nothing at all. All creatures are, as such, broken syllables: they signify nothing as separated from God. Were they separated actually, they would cease to be, and the separation would be an annihilation; and when we separate them in our fancies, we make nothing of them to ourselves. It is one thing to know the creatures as Aristotle, and another thing to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his physics, so as to understand it rightly. It is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many well understand; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us. When man was made perfect, and placed in a perfect world, where all things were in perfect order and very good, the whole creation was then man’s book, in which he was to read the nature and will of his great Creator; every creature had the name of God so legibly engraven on it, that man might run and read it. He could not open his eyes without seeing some image of God, but nowhere so full and lively as in himself; and, therefore, it was his work to study the whole volume of nature, but first and chiefly to study himself. If man had held on in this prescribed work, he would have continued and increased in the knowledge of God and himself; but when he would needs know and love the creature and himself in a way of separation from God, he lost the knowledge of all, both of the creature, himself; and God, so far as it could beatify, and was worth the name of knowledge; and, instead of it, he has got the unhappy knowledge which he affected, even the empty notions and fantastic knowledge of the creature and himself as thus separated. Thus he who lived to and upon the Creator, now lives to and upon the other creatures and himself; and thus “every man at his best state (the learned as well as the illiterate) is altogether vanity—surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain,” Psa. xxxix, 5, 6. It must be well observed, that as God laid not aside the relation of a Creator by becoming our Redeemer, nor the right of his propriety and government of us in that relation, but the work of redemption stands in some subordination to that of creation, and the law of the Redeemer to the law of the Creator; so also the duties that we owed God as Creator have not ceased, but the duties that we owe to the Redeemer, as such, are subordinate thereto. It is the work of Christ to bring us back to God from whom we fell, and to restore us to our perfection of holiness and obedience; and as he is the Way to the Father, so faith in him is the way to our former employment and enjoyment of God. I hope you perceive what I aim at in all this, viz., that to see God in his creatures, to love him, and converse with him, was the employment of man in his upright state; that this is so far from ceasing to be our duty, that it is the work of Christ to bring us back to it: and, therefore, the most holy men are the most excellent students of God’s works, and none but the holy can rightly study or know them. His works are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein; but not for themselves, but for him that made them. Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush if it be not God by them that you seek after. To see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God appearing to us in his works, and purposely to peruse them for the knowledge of God, this is the true and only philosophy, and the contrary is mere folly, and is called so again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the life of them all, and they are directed to him as their end and principal object.