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August 25, 2013

Richard Baxter was born in Rowton, England in 1615, the only son of Beatrice and Richard Baxter, Sr. His father was converted when Baxter was about 10 years old, which he says God used to prepare his own heart to believe. Eventually, “a prolonged illness and various books—William Perkins’s Works in particularwere the means God used” to confirm Baxter’s conversion.

For his education, Baxter attended Wroxeter grammar school under John Owen. In lieu of going on to study at a university, he continued his learning through private study. 

In 1638 Baxter entered into the ministry as a deacon, and in the years that followed he would go on to hold offices of curate, lecturer (paid preacher), army chaplain, and vicar.

Baxter’s most sustained role was at Kidderminster, where he labored for nearly 20 years. His work was so effective that nearly the whole town was converted. The ministry philosophy behind his work here became the basis for his classic book The Reformed Pastor.

The great religious and political upheavals in 17th century England had their effect on Baxter as they did for so many of his fellow Puritans. The Act of Uniformity removed him from the Church of England when he was nearly 50 years old, and he never again entered the pastorate. He was also jailed on at least two occasions for nonconformist teaching.

Shortly after the Act of Uniformity, Baxter married one of his converts, Margaret Charlton, who at the time was about half his age. Their disparity in years was somewhat controversial, but the evident goodness of their marriage soon put the issue to rest. They lived privately in or near London for the 29 years of their marriage.

In the remaining years of his life, Baxter would preach occasionally, but he devoted the majority of his time to writing, leaving behind, in total, a library of over 150 treatises and countless letters and papers.

He died December 8, 1691 at the age of 76.

Unique Contribution

Perhaps the most unique feature of Baxter’s ministry is the sheer volume and scope of what he wrote. J. I. Packer notes that he was “the most voluminous English theologian of all time”:

In addition to the approximately four million words of pastoral, apologetic, devotional and homiletic writing that are reprinted in his Practical Works he produced about six million more on aspects of the doctrine of grace and salvation, church unity and nonconformity, the sacraments, Roman Catholicism, antinomianism, millenarianism, Quakerism, politics and history, not to mention a systematic theology in Latin…

But he was able to do more than just write a lot. Packer also remarks on the quality of his work:

Whether or not one finally agrees with Baxter’s positions, one finds oneself confronted with the mature judgment of a clear, sharp, well-stocked, wise mind, as distinguished for intellectual integrity as for spiritual alertness. I do not think Baxter was always right, but I see him … as one of the most impressive of Christian thinkers.

This combination in Baxter of broad learning, sound thinking, and spiritual sensibility has led Packer to dub him “a man for all ministries.”

Most Important Works

The Saint’s Everlasting Rest - “An all-time devotional classic on how thoughts of God and heaven can renew the heart for service here below” (Packer).

The Reformed Pastor - A detailed look at the kind of oversight Baxter believes pastors should have over themselves and their flocks.

The Practical Works of Richard Baxter - a compilation of Baxter’s most popular Christian writings. It contains the two titles above, A Christian Directory, A Call to the Unconverted, Dying Thoughts and many more.

August 22, 2013

Bookstores have fallen on hard times. Christian bookstores have fallen on especially hard times. Of all the industries utterly savaged by the rise of the Internet, e-commerce and digital distribution, books and music, the mainstays of Christian bookstores, are right near the top of that list. The consumer’s win has been the bookstore’s loss.

Christian bookstores played an important part in my life and in my spiritual development. When I was in my early teens I suddenly developed a great passion for Christian music. It seems silly now, but that music filled a great need in my life. I had always loved music, and when I became a believer, one of the great spiritual markers was the day I got rid of my “secular” music. It’s not that all of that music was so bad, but that it represented a past I was eager to move beyond. For many years I would listen exclusively to Christian music.

In that day Christian music was available from only one source—the local Christian bookstore. I became a regular at a couple of those stores. In my high school days I would often run off at lunch to see what was new. I still remember being there and waiting on release day for Petra’s Wake-Up Call. They had to crack open some boxes of newly-delivered music until they found it for me. Once it was in my hands I listened to it the rest of the afternoon and all evening long. On Saturdays I would sometimes jump on my bike, or when a little older, I would get into my truck, and ride clear across town to get to the bookstore, to spend time listening to the new and exciting albums, and to rifle through the bargain section. At one point in my life I had hundreds of albums lining my walls.

I developed relationships at these stores; we looked out for one another. I bought their music, and they helped me find what I was after. I was such a consistent customer at one bookstore that they began to loan me pre-release editions of albums that would not be out for another few months. Even today if I play PFR’s album Them, I am instantly transported to my little Chevy S10 pickup truck as I drove all around Southern Ontario from work site to work site. On release day I would return their pre-release album as I bought my own copy of the final product.

For many years Christian bookstores were really music stores to me. But then, as I grew to an adult and began to develop deeper spiritual interests, bookstores began to serve another purpose. Shortly after I got married I was working a job I hated and would often escape at lunch to wander the town. One day I meandered into a Christian bookstore and, instead of looking at the music, looked at the books. I walked away that day with two of them: Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Boice. I knew nothing of either author, and cannot recall why I purchased those books out of the thousands in the store. But today I can see God’s hand in it, as those books utterly transformed me. Two serendipitous purchases at the local Christian bookstore forever changed my life. They put me on the path out of an unhealthy church and into a healthy one, and out of unhealthy doctrine and toward sound doctrine.

August 21, 2013

Christians differ in their attitudes toward alcohol. Some Christians believe that we have freedom to consume alcohol in moderation. Others hold that the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol or that, even in the absence of a clear command to abstain, it is so dangerous and so likely to lead to addiction, that it is downright foolish to drink. Regardless, all Christians hold that drunkenness is a sin and that this sin relates to the loss of control. A drunken man loses his sense and his self-control. As Solomon says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”

On Monday I attempted to anticipate some of the cost to the church if young Christian men continue to spend their youth embroiled in the pursuit of pornography. Solomon warns that pornography is sapping them of their strength. In their strongest and most energetic years, in the years when so many promises and possibilities lie open before them, they are giving it all away to pornography. It saps them of strength and it saps them of life.

In that same passage Solomon asks, “Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” He describes this sexual captivity as a kind of intoxication, a form of drunkenness. Do not give up self-control and throw yourself into the arms of another woman, whether those arms are real or simply pixels on a computer screen. Do not invest your strength where it will be wasted. That is the very height of stupidity.

But it is not only illicit sex that is intoxicating. The same Solomon who would forbid getting drunk on wine or strong drink, and the same Solomon who would describe the stupidity of getting drunk on illicit sex, would command a different kind of intoxication. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love (Proverbs 5:19).”

He does not criticize or downplay the presence of sexual desire and the longing to find sexual fulfillment. Rather, he admits it, celebrates it, and shows that to direct that energy toward adultery, fornication or pornography is to completely misuse it. His solution is simple: Put your sexual desire to the best use of all. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always in her love.” Donald Spence-Jones interprets this way: “The teacher, by a bold figure, describes the entire fascination which the husband is to allow the wife to exercise over him.”

August 19, 2013

Dear Southern Seminary,

If I am reading the seminary calendar correctly, this is the day you begin classes for your fall term. And as you begin your classes once again, I want to send along just a brief note.

I should begin with a word of explanation. A little while ago I signed up for a service to help me organize some of the behind-the-scenes information related to my web site. I generally do not do so well with numbers and graphs and charts, but as I poked around one day, I stumbled across a little graphic that even I could understand. I knew instantly that this mattered, that this would be a defining moment in what I do and in how and why I write. Here it is:

That little graphic displays where the people are located who read articles I wrote over a certain period of time. And right at the top is Louisville, Kentucky. Perhaps this is an unfair leap, but I am assuming a connection to Southern Seminary; a couple of friends down there tell me this is probably a safe assumption.

I don’t know that I can easily explain what it did to me to see that graphic. It meant so much to me because you—seminarians—are some of my favorite people. I consider it a high honor and a high privilege that you read this site. I consider it a challenge as well, because I want this site to be worthy of your time. (And yours, too, if you are at Master’s or RTS or Westminster or Puritan or any of the other seminaries where Christ is held high; you are there in the graph too!).

Here is what I want to tell you as you set out into another year:

August 19, 2013

For months now the question has been in front of me. It has been there in the document I open every day, the document that contains a list of articles to write, and questions to explore. “What will be the cost to the church if young men continue to give themselves to pornography?” What do we, as Christians, stand to lose if so many of our young men continue to spend their teens and twenties in the pursuit of pornographic pleasure?

The question has been on my mind all the more as I’ve begun to scope out a teaching series in Proverbs. Proverbs warns us at many times and in many ways of the “forbidden woman.” This is the woman whose lips drip honey, whose speech is smoother than oil. She is attractive and alluring; she knows just what to say and just what to offer to draw young men after her. And so they follow along behind her, oblivious to the fact that they are following her straight to foolishness, straight to harm, straight to hell.

In days gone by this woman may have been an adulteress or a prostitute. Today she takes the form of pornography. She is calling out to young men, she is offering herself to them, she is displaying all the pleasures she can offer, and they are following along. The Bible is honest and forthright about the cost (Proverbs 5:7-14):

Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.

Solomon says that the young man who follows the forbidden woman gives away his honor and his time, he loses his strength and his labor, and he even calls for consequences to his flesh and body. Ultimately, he calls down public humiliation and divine judgment upon himself. I have been considering one of these more than the others: strength.

We have the better part of a generation of young men who are giving their strength to this forbidden woman.

August 18, 2013

William Perkins was born in 1558 to Thomas and Hannah Perkins in Warwickshire county, England. At the age of 19 he went to Cambridge where he earned his Bachelors and then finished with his Masters in 1584.

He was converted to Christ while at Cambridge and though the details are scarce, one story is that he overheard a woman on the street instruct her child by referring to his drunkenness, which the Lord used to convict and then save him.

After graduation, he remained in Cambridge and served as lecturer (preacher) at Great St. Andrews Church, an influential pulpit just across the street from the college. He also served as a fellow at the college—one who preached, lectured and tutored students, ensuring their academic as well as financial and moral success. For a couple of years he also served as dean of the college.

In 1595 Perkins married a young widow, Timothye Cradock. In the seven years of their marriage, before his death in 1602, they conceived seven children. Three died in infancy, and the last was born after Perkins’ passing.

After his marriage, Perkins continued his preaching ministry at Great St. Andrews. He also invested much of his time in writing, composing almost 50 separate treatises on all manner of biblical, theological, and practical subjects. His works became extremely popular, winning a large audience in England and abroad and being translated into at least 9 other languages.

The depth, clarity, rigor, and scope of Perkins’ teaching made him unusually influential. As a Calvinist, he preached the sovereignty of God, but not in the hotheaded, divisive manner that some before him had. He sought to wed the truths of providence with human responsibility, and to focus on the entire spiritual lives of people and not just their theology. Instead of seeking to reform the Church of England through polity, he sought to bring change from within through biblical teaching, spiritual development, and pastoral care.

Perkins died from complications with kidney stones at the age of 44.

Unique Contribution

Perkins set the standard for what would become English Puritanism. As J. I. Packer writes, “No Puritan author save Richard Baxter ever sold better than Perkins, and no Puritan thinker ever did more to shape and solidify historic Puritanism itself” (Puritan Portraits). Perkins’ example and influence “established mainstream Puritanism as a movement majoring on evangelism and spiritual life, bearing with ecclesiastical inconvenience for the time being in order to fulfil in the Church of England a full-scale soul-saving ministry.”

Most Important Works

The Works of William Perkins (This will soon be available from Reformation Heritage Books)

The Art of Prophesying

The Foundation of Christian Religion Gathered into Six Principles

August 16, 2013

The iPad, and other tablets around it, are coming into their own. As the medium matures, we are discovering new ways to exploit their abilities. One of the encouraging developments is the rise of the premium app. We all love the free or $0.99 app, but there is only so much we can expect for that price. Expectations and deliverables can and should be much higher at $9.99 or $13.99.

I have been exploring some of these premium apps over the past few weeks and have come away both impressed and disappointed. I am impressed by the unique capabilities tablets bring and the ingenuity displayed in exploiting them. We have incredible apps that explore the tiniest and grandest parts of the universe—the elements and the solar systems. Other apps lead us to a deeper appreciation of poetry or music. Yet the best of these apps explore God-given gifts and abilities without reference to God. The best apps are not directed to the best purpose.

The Elements

The Elements: A Visual Exploration is a brilliant app that offers “the universal catalog of everything you can drop on your foot: the elements of your world and the basic stuff of all that is here or there or anywhere.” It offers two pages on each element: The first offers a close-up of that element (when it is visible) along with some of the scientific data; the second offers interesting, witty descriptions of it and how it is used. What it doesn’t offer is reflections on the God who created it all and who displays his glory through it. The app is incredible for what it is, and well worth the money, but it leaves you disappointed that it doesn’t connect the final dot to the Creator.

Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe

Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe received a lot of press when it first hit the app store. The app allows you to watch over two and half hours of video, to see hundreds of beautiful images, and to read much else besides. It offers a tour of the universe, from the subatomic particles to the solar systems. Yet it does so not only without reference to God, but in utter denial of him. God’s Word tells us that the heavens are declaring the glory of God and that the sky above is proclaiming his handiwork (Psalm 19). This app says the heavens are declaring the glory of Chance and the skies above are proclaiming Fate’s handiwork. “We are truly children of the stars, and written into every atom and molecule of our bodies is the history of the Universe, from the Big Bang to the present day.” It is Romans 1:18ff on perfect display. It’s a beautiful app (though difficult to navigate) and full of great information, but also full of the most ridiculous, God-denying nonsense.

Solar System

Solar System is another app that takes us to the edges of our solar system. It is much easier to navigate than Wonders of the Universe and very much like The Elements in its setup. Yet it, too, tells us of a universe without God, a universe that just came to be. This solar system is “the Sun plus a tiny amount of builder’s rubble left over from its birth 4.55 billion years ago.” Yes, the earth is merely builder’s rubble. They even go out of their way to poke at the Bible’s Creation account: “In the beginning, about 4.55 billion years ago, there was a Giant Molecular Cloud.” Again, it’s beautiful and full of great information and amazing interactive graphics, but it also denies the truth that stares us all in the face each and every day.

August 15, 2013

The whole of France is bathed in the blood of innocent people and covered with dead bodies. The air is filled with the cries and groans of nobles and commoners, women and children, slaughtered by the hundreds without mercy.” So read a Genevan diplomatic dispatch from the autumn of October of 1572 in a description of what would come to be known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, one of the most bloody and horrifying episodes in the history of the church.

This awful event is captured in a painting from the era, “Le massacre de la Saint-Barthelemy,” the lone surviving work from artist Francois Dubois, an eyewitness to the massacres. It hangs today in Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, in Lausanne, Switzerland and captures the ugly violence that for a time almost seemed to stamp out the spread of Protestantism in one of Europe’s greatest kingdoms. This, Dubois’ painting, is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we can trace the history of Christianity.

From the first spark of Reformation in the opening years of the sixteenth century, Protestantism spread quickly and within just a few decades, it was a powerful presence through most of Europe. Protestantism gained a significant foothold in France where, by the 1560’s, there may have been upwards of two million Protestants, known as Huguenots. The rise of Protestantism in kingdom dominated by Catholicism brought inevitable political instability and France endured several bloody civil wars. The Catholic factions were led by a succession of weak kings under the influence of the powerful Guise family and dominated by the queen mother, Catherine de Medicis. Meanwhile, the Protestants were led by Gaspard de Coligny along with the Bourbon princes Henri of Navarre and Henri of Conde. These leaders wanted the Protestant churches to receive legal recognition and Huguenots to have freedom of worship. This was, of course, unthinkable to the Guise family and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

On August 18, 1572, prince Henri of Navarre married Margaret of Valois, the sister of King Charles IX. This was a political marriage between a Protestant prince and the sister of the Catholic king and it seemed to portend a new era of peace and stability. Many Protestants were invited to Paris for the ceremony and they both arrived and participated unmolested.

August 12, 2013

FranklinSelf-salvation is sinful man’s most natural inclination. We all know there is something wrong with us, that we are not all we want to be and not all we were meant to be. And left to ourselves we look for that salvation anywhere and everywhere except in the place it can be found—in Jesus Christ.

I recently came upon a great illustration of this in the life of Benjamin Franklin. Come Christmas or birthdays or other occasions, I love to buy my parents biographies; they are adept at finding the most fascinating facts and anecdotes and it was my mother who dug this one up in Walter Isaacson’s life of Franklin.

Franklin was a Deist. He held to the existence of some kind of higher power, but believed that this God had created and then retreated, that he was not personally present in the world. If this is the case, all we can know about divinity and humanity will be revealed through nature and reason. Franklin had no use for Scripture or worship and certainly no use for Jesus Christ beyond personal example.

Franklin believed “The most acceptable service to God is doing good to man.” Yet when he was still young he “came to the conclusion that a simple and complacent deism had its own set of drawbacks. He had converted Collins and Ralph [two friends] to deism, and they soon wronged him without moral compunction.” He began to see that Deism accounted for the existence of a God, but not an ethic that would transform behavior. He wanted to better himself and do good to man, so systematized his approach.

On the pages of a little notebook, he made a chart with seven red columns for the days of the week and thirteen rows labeled with his virtues. Infractions were marked with a black spot. The first week he focused on temperance, trying to keep that line clear while not worrying about the other lines. With that virtue strengthened, he could turn his attention to the next one, silence, hoping that the temperance line would stay clear as well. In the course of the year, he would complete the thirteen-week cycle four times.

He wanted to improve himself, wanted to be good. He was willing to admit fault with himself, rather a rare trait, and to work to improve those shortcomings. And so he arrived at a orderly way of pursuing his goal. He would identify and quantify his faults in order to grow in virtue.

August 11, 2013

Matthew Henry was born in 1662, the same year that the Act of Uniformity barred his father, Phillip, and 2000 other pastors (including Thomas Brooks) from official ministry in the Church of England.

Henry was raised by godly parents in the Puritan way (daily Bible reading, prayer, self-examination, etc.) and always wanted to be a pastor. However, believing there was little chance of ever becoming one, he decided to study law and pursue theological study only on the side. Before long he began preaching on the side as well. This led to him being asked to serve as a local minister, at which point he became ordained as a Presbyterian minister and took up the pastorate in Chester.

That same year, 1687, he married Katherine Hardware. Sadly, she passed away just two years later during childbirth. A year after Katherin’s death he married Mary Warburton. Between them they bore a son, Philip, and eight daughters, three of whom would die in infancy.

Henry was a popular preacher who, by principle, never refused an invitation if he could possible accept it. In addition to his own church, which grew steadily, he took on monthly engagements in five other villages, along with regular visits to preach to prisoners.

After serving for 25 years in Chester, in 1712 Henry accepted an invitation to pastor a church in Hackney, an important congregation near London. Just two years after that transition, in May of 1714, while returning home from a visit to Cheshire, he fell from his horse and passed away the following day. He was 52 years old.

Unique Contribution

Matthew Henry is most remembered today for his Commentary on the Whole Bible. He began work on it in 1704, laboring diligently until his death. In those ten years he completed and published volumes covering Genesis through Acts. After his death, a group of 13 fellow ministers compiled notes from his preaching to complete the Commentary from Romans through Revelation.

The Commentary was and remains so well known because of its ability to apply the Scriptures to life. It “has never been surpassed in its practical emphasis. Its divisions, main points, and practical applications are invaluable,” write Beeke and Pederson (Meet the Puritans). And J. I. Packer concludes,

Simple and practical in style while thoroughly scholarly and well-informed for substance, the Commentary remains an all-time classic, standing head and shoulders above any other popular exposition produced either before or since. (Puritan Portraits)

Indeed. We may at times shun older commentaries in favor of more modern ones, but we lose too much if we forget about Henry’s. He is a master of the pithy phrase and at distilling whole sections of Scripture to one or two pertinent, heart-searching points of application.

If you are going to read just one of his works, make sure you reference his commentary. There is nothing quite like it.

Most Important Works