Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Puritan Evangelism

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm

by Dr. J. I. Packer

M.A., Lecturer at Tyndale Hall, Bristol

In the report of the Archbishop’s Committee on Evangelism, published in 1945 under the title: Towards the Conversion of England, the work of evangelism is conveniently defined as follows: “so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in fellowship of His Church.”

Did the Puritans tackle the task of evangelism at all? At first sight, it might seem not.  They agreed with Calvin in regarding the “evangelists” mentioned in the New Testament as all order of assistants to the apostles, now extinct; and as for “missions,” “crusades” and “campaigns,” they knew neither the name nor the thing.  But we must not be misled into supposing that evangelism was not one of their chief concerns.  It was. Many of them were outstandingly successful as preachers to the unconverted.  Richard Baxter, the apostle of Kidderminster, is perhaps the only one of these that is widely remembered today; but in contemporary records it is common to read statements like this, of Hugh Clark: “he begat many Sons and Daughters unto God;” or this, of John Cotton, “the presence of the Lord…crowning his labors with the Conversion of many Souls” (S.  Clarke, Lives of 52…Divines, pp.131, 222, etc.)  Moreover, it was the Puritans who invented evangelistic literature.  One has only to think of Baxter’s classic Call to the Unconverted, and Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted, which were pioneer works in this class of writing.  And the elaborate practical “handling” of the subject of conversion in Puritan books was regarded by the rest of the seventeenth-century Protestant world as something of unique value.   “It hath been one of the glories of the Protestant religion that it revived the doctrine of Saving Conversion, and of the New Creature brought forth thereby…But in a more eminent manner, God hath cast the honor hereof upon the Ministers and Preachers of this Nation, who are renowned abroad for their more accurate search into and discoveries hereof.”  (T.  Goodwin and P. Nye, Preface to T.  Hooker, The Application of Redemption, 1656).

The truth is that two distinct conceptions and types of evangelism have been developed in Protestant Christendom during the course of its history.  We may call them the “Puritan” type and the “modern” type.  Today we are so accustomed to evangelism of the modern type that we scarcely recognize the other is evangelism at all. In order that we may fully grasp the character of the Puritan type of evangelism, I shall here set it in contrast with the modern type, which has so largely superseded it at the present time.

Let us begin, therefore, by characterizing evangelism of the modern type.  It seems to presuppose a conception of the life of the local church as an alternating cycle of converting and edifying.  Evangelism almost takes on the character of a periodical recruiting campaign.  It is all extraordinary and occasional activity, additional and auxiliary to the regular functioning of the local congregation.  Special gatherings of a special sort are arranged, and special preachers are commonly secured to conduct them.  Often they are called “meetings” rather than “services;” in any case, they are thought of as something distinct in some way from the regular public worship of God.  In the meetings, everything is directly aimed at securing from the unconverted all immediate, conscious, decisive act of faith in Christ.  At the close of the meeting, those who have responded or wish to do so are asked to come to the front, or raise a hand, or something similar, as an act of public testimony to their new resolutions.  This, it is claimed, is good for those who do it, since it helps to make their “decision” definite, and it has the further advantage of making them declare themselves, so that they may be contacted individually by “personal workers.”  Such persons may then be advised and drafted forthwith into local churches as converts.

This type of evangelism was invented by Charles G. Finney in the 1820’s.  He introduced the “protracted meeting,” or, as we should call it, the intensive evangelistic campaign, and the “anxious seat,” a front pew left vacant where at the end of the meeting “the anxious may come and be addressed particularly…and sometimes be conversed with individually.”  At the end of his sermon, he would say, “There is the anxious seat; come out, and avow determination to be on the Lord’s side.”  (See Revivals of Religion, especially chapter xiv).  These were Finney’s much opposed “new measures.”

Now, Finney was a clear-headed and self-confessed Pelagian in his doctrine of man; and this is the reason why his “new measures” were evolved.  Finney denied that fallen man is totally unable to repent, believe or do anything spiritually good without grace, and affirmed instead that all men have plenary ability to turn to God at any time.  Man is a rebel, but is perfectly free at any time to lay down his arms in surrender.  Accordingly, the whole work of the Spirit of God in conversion is to present vividly to man’s mind reasons for making this surrender – that is to say, the Spirit’s work is confined to moral persuasion.  Man is always free to reject this persuasion: “Sinners can go to hell in spite of God.”  But the stronger the persuasion is, the more likely it is to succeed in the breaking down of man’s resistance.  Every means, therefore, of increasing the force and vividness with which truth impinged on the mind – the most frenzied excitement, the most narrowing emotionalism, the most nerve-racking commotion in evangelistic meetings – was a right and proper means of evangelism.  Finney gave expression to this principle in the first of his lectures on Revivals of Religion. “To expect to promote religion without excitements is unphilosophical and absurd…until there is sufficient religious principle in the world to put down irreligious excitements, it is in vain to try to promote religion, except by counteracting excitements…There must be excitement sufficient to wake up the dormant moral powers…”  And, since every man, if he will only rouse up his “dormant moral powers,” can at any time yield to God and become a Christian, it is the evangelist’s work and duty always to preach for immediate decision, to tell men that it is their duty to come to Christ that instant, and to use all means – such as the rousing appeal and the “anxious seat” – for persuading them to do so.  “I tried to shut them up,” he says of a typical mission sermon, “to present faith and repentance, as the thing which God required of them: present and instant acceptance of His will, present and instant acceptance of Christ” (Autobiography, p. 64).  It is hardly too much to say that Finney regarded evangelistic preaching as a battle of wills between himself and his hearers, in which it was his responsibility to bring them to breaking point.

Now, if Finney’s doctrine of the natural state of sinful man is right, then his evangelistic methods must be judged right also, for, as he often insisted, the “new measures” were means well adapted to what he held to be the end in view.  “It is in such practices that a Pelagian system naturally expresses itself if it seeks to become aggressively evangelistic” (B. B. Warfield).  But if his view of man is wrong, then his methods, as we shall see, must be judged disastrous.  And this is an issue of the first importance at the present time; for it is Finney’s methods, modified and adapted, which characterize most evangelism today.   We do not suggest that all who use them are Pelagians. But we do raise the question, whether the use of such methods is consistent with any other doctrine than Finney’s, and we shall try to show that, if Finney’s doctrine is rejected, then such methods must be judged inappropriate and, indeed, detrimental to the real work of evangelism.  It may be said that results justify their use; but the truth is that the majority of Finney’s “converts” backslid and fell away, and so, it seems, have the majority of those since Finney’s day whose “decision” has been secured by the use of such methods.  Most modern evangelists seem to have given up expecting more than a small percentage of their “converts” to survive.  It is not at all obvious that results justify such methods. We shall suggest later that they have a natural tendency to produce such a crop of false converts as has in fact resulted from their use.

The Puritan type of evangelism, on the other hand, was the consistent expression in practice of the Puritans’ conviction that the conversion of sinner is a gracious sovereign work of Divine power. We shall spend a little time elaborating this.

The Puritans did not use “conversion” and “regeneration” as technical terms, and so there are slight variations in usage. Perhaps the majority treated the words as synonyms, each denoting the whole process whereby God brings the sinner to his first act of faith.  Their technical term for the process was effectual calling; calling being the Scriptural word used to describe the process in Rom. 8:30, 2 Th.  2:14, 2 Tim. 1:9, etc., and the adjective effectual being added to distinguish it from the ineffectual, external calling mentioned in Mt. 20:16, 22:14. Westminster Confession, X. i., puts “calling,” into its theological perspective by an interpretative paraphrase of Rom. 8:30: “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism analyses the concept of “calling” in its answer to Q. 31: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

Concerning this effectual calling, three things must be said if we are to grasp the Puritan view:

(i) It is a work of Divine grace; it is not something a man can do for himself or for another.  It is the first stage in the application of redemption to those for whom it was won; it is the time when, on the grounds of his eternal, federal, representative union with Christ, the elect sinner is brought by the Holy Ghost into a real, vital, personal union with his Covenant Head and Redeemer.  It is thus a gift of free Divine grace.

(ii) It is a work of Divine power. It is effected by the Holy Ghost, who acts both mediately, by the Word, in the mind, giving understanding and conviction, and at the same time immediately,with the Word, in the hidden depths of the heart, implanting new life and power, effectively dethroning sin, and making the sinner both able and willing to respond to the gospel invitation.  The Spirit’s work is thus both moral, by persuasion (which all Arminians and Pelagians would allow), and also physical, by power (which they would not).

Owen said, “There is not only a moral, but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit…upon the minds or souls of men in their regeneration…The work of grace in conversion is constantly expressed by words denoting a real internal efficacy; such as creating, quickening, forming, giving a new heart…Wherever this work is spoken of with respect unto an active efficacy, it is ascribed to God.  He creates us anew, he quickens us, he begets us of His own will; but when it is spoken of with respect to us, there it is passively expressed; we are created in Christ Jesus, we are new creatures, we are born again, and the like; which one observation is sufficient to avert the whole hypothesis of Arminian grace.” (Works, ed.  Russell 1,1, II. 369). “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts (persuasion), the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door” (T. Watson, Body of Div., 1869, p. 154).  The Spirit’s regenerating action, Owen goes on, is “infallible, victorious, irresistable, or always efficacious” (loc cit.); it “removeth all obstacles, overcomes all oppositions, and infallibly produceth the effect intended.” Grace is irresistible, not because it drags man to Christ against his will, but because it changes men’s hearts so that they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.” (West.  Conf. X. i). The Puritans loved to dwell on the Scriptural thought of the Divine power put forth in effectual calling, which Goodwin regularly described as the one “standing miracle” in the Church.  They agreed that in the normal course of events conversion was not commonly a spectacular affair; but Goodwin notes that sometimes it is, and affirms that thereby God shows us how great an exercise of power every man’s effectual calling involves. “In the calling of some there shoots up very suddenly an election-conversion (I use to call it so).  You shall, as it were, see election take hold of a man, pull him out with a mighty power, stamp upon him, the divine nature, stub up corrupt nature by the roots, root up self-love, put in a principle of love to God, and launch him forth a new creature the first day … He did so with Paul, and it is not without example in others after him.” (Works, ed.. Miller IX. 279). Such dramatic conversions, says Goodwin, are “visible tokens of election by such a work of calling, as all the powers in heaven and earth could not have wrought upon a man’s soul so, nor changed a man so on a sudden, but only that divine power that created the world (and) raised Christ from the dead.”

The reason why the Puritans thus magnified the quickening power of God is plain from the passages quoted: it was because they took so seriously the Bible teaching that man is dead in sin, radically depraved, sin’s helpless bondslave.  There is, they held, such a strength in sin that only omnipotence can break its bond; and only the Author of Life can raise the dead. Where Finney assumed plenary ability, the Puritans taught total inability in fallen man.

(iii)   Effectual calling is and must be a work of Divine sovereignty. Only God can effect it, and He does so at His own pleasure.  “It is not of him that willith, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).  Owen expounds  this in a sermon on Acts 16:9, “A vision of unchangeable, free mercy in sending the means of grace to undeserving sinners” (XV, I ff.). He first states the following principle: “All events and effects, especially concerning the propagation of the gospel, and the Church of Christ, are in their greatest variety regulated by the eternal purpose and counsel of God,” He then illustrates it.  Some are sent the gospel, some not.  “In this chapter…the gospel is forbidden to be preached in Asia or Bithynia; which restraint, the Lord by His  providence as yet continueth to many parts of the world;” while “to some nations the gospel is sent…as in my text, Macedonia; and England…”  Now, asks Owen, why this discrimination?  Why do some hear and others not? And when the gospel is heard, why do we see “various effects, some continuing in impenitency, others in sincerity closing with Jesus Christ?…In effectual working of grace…whence do you think it takes its rule and determination . . . that it should be directed to John, not Judas; Simon Peter, not Simon Magus? Why only from this discriminating counsel of God from eternity…Acts 13:48…The purpose of God’s election, is the rule of dispensing saving grace.”

Jonathan Edwards, a great Puritan evangelist, often makes the same point.  In a typical passage from a sermon on Rom. 9:18, he lists the following ways in which God’s sovereignty (defined as “His absolute right of disposing of all creatures according to His own pleasure”) appears in the dispensations of grace:” (1) In calling one nation or people, and giving them the means of grace, and leaving others without them. (2) In the advantages He bestows upon particular persons” (e.g. a Christian home, a powerful ministry, direct spiritual influences, etc.); (4) In bestowing salvation on some who have had few advantages” (e.g. children of ungodly parents, while the children of the godly are not always saved); “(5) In calling some to salvation, who have been heinously wicked, and leaving others, who have been very moral and religious persons… (6) In saving some of those who seek salvation and not others (i.e., bringing some convicted sinners to saving faith while others never attain to sincerity) (Works, 1838, II, 849 f.).”  This display of sovereignty by God, Edwards maintained, is glorious: “it is part of the glory of God’s mercy that it is sovereign mercy.”

It is probably true that no preacher in the Puritan tradition ever laid such sustained stress on the sovereignty of God as Edwards.  It may come as a surprise to modern readers to discover that such preaching as his was evangelistically very fruitful; but such was the case.  Revival swept through his church under his ministry, and in the revival (to quote his own testimony) “I think I have found that no discourses have been more remarkably blessed, than those in which the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty, with regard to the salvation of sinners, and his just liberty, with regard to answering prayer, and succeeding the pains, of natural men, continuing such, have been insisted on” (I. 353).  There is much food for thought here.

God’s sovereignty appears also in the time of conversion.  Scripture and experience show that “the great God for holy and glorious ends, but more especially…to make appear His love and kindness, His mercy and  grace, hath ordained it so” that many of His elect people “should for some time remain in a condition of sin and wrath, and then He renews them to Himself” (Goodwin, VI, 85).  It is never man, but always God, who determines when an elect sinner shall believe.  In the manner of conversion too, God is sovereign.  The Puritans taught that, as a general rule, conviction of sin, induced by, the preaching of the Law, must precede faith, since no man will or can come to Christ to be saved from sin till he knows what sins he needs saving from. It is a distinctive feature of the Puritan doctrine of conversion that this point, the need for “preparation”  for faith, is so stressed. Man’s first step toward conversion must be some knowledge, of God, of himself, of his duty and of his sin.  The  second step is conviction, both of sinfulness and of particular sins; and the wise minister, dealing with enquirers at this stage, will try to deepen conviction and make it specific, since true and sound conviction of sin is always to a greater or less degree particularised.  This leads to contrition (sorrow for and hatred of sin), which begins to burn the love of sinning out of the heart and leads to real, though as yet ineffective, attempts to break off the practice of sin in the life.  Meanwhile, the wise minister, seeing that the fallow ground is now ploughed up, urges the sinner to turn to Christ.  This is the right advice to give to a man who has shown that with all his heart he desires to be saved from sin; for when a man wants to be saved from sin, then it is possible for him genuinely and sincerely to receive the One who presents Himself to man as the Saviour from sin. But it is not possible otherwise; and therefore the Puritans over and over again beg ministers not to short-circuit the essential preparatory process.  They must not give false encouragement to those in whom the Law has not yet done its work.  It is the worst advice possible to tell a man to stop worrying about his sins and trust Christ at once if he does not yet know his sins and does not yet desire to leave them.  That is the way to encourage false peace and false hopes, and to produce “gospel- hypocrites.” Throughout the whole process of preparation, from the first awakening of concern to the ultimate dawning of faith, however, the sovereignty of God must be recognised.  God converts no adult without preparing him; but “God breaketh not all men’s hearts alike” (Baxter).  Some conversions, as Goodwin said, are sudden; the preparation is done in a moment.  Some are long-drawn-out affairs; years may pass before the seeker finds Christ and peace, as in Bunyan’s case.  Sometimes great sinners experience “great meltings” (Giles Firmin) at the outset of the work of grace, while upright persons spend long periods in agonies of guilt and terror.  No rule can be given as to how long, or how intensely, God will flay each sinner with the lash of conviction. Thus the work of effectual calling proceeds as fast, or as slow, as God wills; and the minister’s  part is that of the midwife, whose task it is to see what is happening and give appropriate help at each stage, but who cannot foretell, let alone fix, how rapid the process of birth will be.

From these principles the Puritans deduced their characteristic conception of the practice of evangelism.  Since God enlightens, convicts, humbles and converts through the the Word, the task of His messengers is to communicate that word, preaching and applying law and gospel.  Preachers are to declare God’s mind as set forth in the texts they expound, to show the way of salvation, to exhort the unconverted to learn the law, to meditate on the Word, to humble themselves, to pray that God will show them their sins, and enable them to come to Christ.  They are to hold Christ forth as a perfect Saviour from sin to all who Heartily desire to be saved from sin, and to invite such (the weary and burdened souls whom Christ Himself invites, Mt. 11:28) to come to the Saviour who waits to receive them.  But they are not to do as Finney did, and demand immediate repentance and faith of all and sundry.  They are sent to tell all men that they must repent and believe to be saved, but it is  no part of the word and message of God if they go further and tell all the unconverted that they ought to “decide for for Christ” (to use a common modern phrase) on the spot. God never sent any preacher to tell a congregation that they were under obligation  to receive Christ at the close of the meeting.  For in fact only those prepared by the Spirit can believe; and it is only such whom God summons to believe.  There is a common confusion here.   The gospel of God requires an immediate response from all; but it does not require the same response from all. The immediate duty of the unprepared sinner is not to try and believe on Christ, which he is not able to do, but to read, enquire, pray, use the means of grace and learn what he needs to be saved from.  It is not in his power to accept Christ at any moment, as Finney supposed; and it is God’s prerogative, not the evangelist’s, to fix the time when men shall first savingly believe.  For the latter to try and do so, by appealing to sinners to begin believing here and now, is for man to take to himself the sovereign right of the Holy Ghost.  It is an act of presumption, however creditable the evangelist’s motive’s may be.  Hereby he goes beyond his commission as God’s messenger; and hereby he risks doing incalculable damage to the souls of men.  If he tells men they are under obligation to receive Christ on the spot, and demands in God’s name that they decide at once, some who are spiritually unprepared will try to do so; they will will come forward and accept directions and “go through the motions” and go away thinking they have received Christ, when all the time they have not done so because they were not yet able to do so.  So a crop of false conversions will result from making such appeals, in the nature of the case.  Bullying for “decisions” thus in fact impedes and thwarts the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Man takes it on himself to try to bring that work to a  precipitate conclusion, to pick the fruit before it is ripe; and the result is “false conversions,” hypocrisy and hardening.  “For the appeal for immediate decision presupposes that men are free to “decide for Christ” at any time; and this presupposition is the disastrous issue of a false, un-Scriptural view of sin.

What, then, were the principles that should govern evangelistic preaching?  In the first place, the Puritans would insist, it must be clearly understood that evangelistic preaching is not a special kind of preaching, with its own distinctive technique.  It is a part of the ordinary public ministry of God’s Word.  This means,  first, that the rules which govern it are the same rules which must govern all public preaching of God’s Word; and, second, that the person whose task it primarily is is the local pastor.  It is his duty in the course of his public and private ministry of the Word, “diligently to labour for the conversion of souls to God” (Owen).  What God requires of him is that he should be faithful to the content of the gospel, and diligent in imparting it.  He is to seek by all means to make his sermon clear, memorable and relevant to the lives of his hearers; he is to pray earnestly for God’s blessing on his preaching, that it may be “in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power”; but it is no part of his business to study to “dress up” the gospel and make it “appeal” to the natural man.  The preachers calling is very different from that of the commercial traveller, and the “quick sale” technique has no place in the Christian pulpit.  The preacher is not sent of God to make a quick sale, but to deliver a message. When he has done that, his work in the pulpit is over.  It is not his business to try and extort “decisions.” It is God’s own sovereign prerogative to make His Word effective, and the preachers’s behaviour must be governed by his recognition of, and subjection to, Divine sovereignty in this matter.

Does not the abjuring of appeals, and the other devices of high-pressure salesmanship which have intruded into the modern type of evangelism, make the preaching of the gospel a somewhat forlorn undertaking? Not at all, said the Puritan; those who argue so have reckoned without the sovereignty of God.  The  Puritan pastor had the same quiet confidence in the success of his evangelistic preaching as he had in the success of all his preaching.  He was in no feverish panic about it.  He knew that God’s Word does not return void; that God has His elect everywhere, and that through the preaching of His Word they will in due course be called out-not because of the preachers’s gifts and ingenuity, but by reason of God’s sovereign operation.  He knew that God always has a remnant faithful to Himself, however bad the times-which means that in every age some men will come to faith through the preaching of the Word.  This was the faith that sustained such Puritan pioneers as Richard Greenham, who after twenty years of faithful ministry, ploughing up the fallow ground in a Cambridgeshire country parish, could not point to any converts bar a single family.  This was the faith that God honored in Richard Baxter’s Kidderminster ministry, during which, over a period of seventeen years, by the use of no other means but sermons twice a week and catechetical  instruction from house to house, well over six hundred converts were gathered in; of whom Baxter wrote, six years after his ejection, that, despite constant exposure to ridicule and obloquy for their “Puritanism,” not one that I know of has fallen off from his sincerity.   Soli Deo gloria!

The issue with which we are confronted by our study of Puritan evangelism is clear.  Which way are we to take in our endeavours to spread the gospel to-day? Forward along the road of modern evangelism, the intensive big-scale, short-term “campaign,” with its sustained wheedling for decisions and its streamlined machinery for handling shoals of “converts?”  Or back to the old paths of  Puritan evangelism, the quieter, broader-based, long-term strategy based on the local church, according to which man seeks simply to be faithful in delivering God’s message and leaves it to the sovereign Spirit to draw men to faith through that message in His own way and at His own speed? Which is loyal to God’s Word?  Which is consistant with the Bible doctrine of sin, and of conversion?  Which glorifies God? These are questions which demand the most urgent consideration at the present time.

  1. Helpful article that gives insight into the Puritan theology and practice of evangelism. What we learn is that

    (1) The Puritans had a burden to see lost souls converted.
    (2) The Puritans had a well-developed view of the gospel and of conversion.
    (3) The Puritans preached evangelistic sermons.
    (4) The Puritans wrote evangelistic tracts

    What Packer doesn’t develop in any detail is the Puritan view of evangelistic outreach that’s to take place outside the church through the agency of ordinary laypeople. I’m curious to know if the Puritans believed (1) saints as well as ordained preachers were under obligation to evangelize the lost and (2) whether they developed much practical methodology regarding lay-evangelism. To use modern terminology, did the Puritans envision something like a “missional” church?

    Bob Gonzales

    Bob Gonzales

  2. Dr. Packer,
    with all due respect, I’m a bit confused by your promotion of Baxter. In your book, A Quest for Godliness, you wrote:

    Thus Baxter, by the initial rationalism of his ‘political method’, which
    forced Scripture in to an a priori mould, actually sowed the seeds of moralismwith regard to sin, Arianism with regard to Christ, legalism with regard to faith and salvation, and liberalism with regard to God. In his own teaching, steeped as it was in the older affectionate ‘practical’ Puritan tradition, these seeds lay largely dormant, but later Presbyterians, in both England and Scotland reaped the bitter crop. It is sadly fitting that the Richard Baxter Church in Kidderminster today should be Unitarian. What we see in Baxter is an early stage in the decline, not simply of the doctrine of justification among the Puritans, but of the Puritan insight into the nature of Christianity as a whole.

    Why would you promote someone, when you yourself have admitted, have brought on such damage to the Gospel and to the churches? What is foremost important about Puritan Evangelism is preaching/teaching the Gospel correctly and Baxter did NOT get the Gospel right! Whatever was seen and witnessed at Kidderminster, if based on Baxter’s teaching of the Gospel, is “a formed of godliness but denying its power”. The Scriptures commands us to “Have nothing to do with them”. Baxter’s teaching of a “covenantal works” (he really was just a moralist who used covenantal categories) as the gospel, may produce what appears to be upright “Christians”, but believes on a false gospel. Whatever the results were, the doctrines taught to these people matters for the saving of their souls.

    Let’s not be blurry the lines of who was reformed and puritan and who was not. Baxter is not considered reformed, nor puritan, primarily due to his lack of CORRECTLY understanding the VERY foundations of the Gospel — the issues of Justification, Penal Substitution, etc. Every teacher ought to be put under the litmus test of the Gospel before considering other aspects of his teaching to the church — puritan or not!  Baxter failed that test and falls under the judgment of Galatians 1:8-9.  I cannot see Paul the Apostle, in one breathe assign a man to eternal damnation (twice!) for teaching a false gospel, and then turn around and promote the pastoral works of the very same man to his churches!  To do so would be illogical and irresponsible. We cannot afford such a loose approach to theology and its applications — the two are inseparable!

    I think the Banner of Truth was irresponsible when they reprinted parts of Baxter’s works (particularly his pastoral works) and yet not exposing his theological works to unsuspecting readers. There’s a reason why his theological work was never reprinted — because it was HERETICAL! But at the same time (and I say this tongue-in-cheek), I wish they would reprint Baxter’s full theological works, just so people would not be clueless to his theological teachings! I grieve every time I see pastors promoting Baxter’s works, because this goes against the commands of Scriptures that we should have nothing to do with the methodologies/teachings of those who do not preach the Biblical Gospel. When we fail to comply to this command, we are shooting ourselves in the foot! Heed the warnings of Scriptures … and men who have proven themselves to correctly divide the word, ought to act as gatekeepers to the churches! Be careful of who you promote to your sheep! Understand his theological doctrines before you do this. This is your duty as Pastors called by God, to His churches …

    If we want to learn of puritan Evangelism, we ought to look at someone who is Biblically sound — for instance Spurgeon. He is among the few that has been steady and sound in doctrine, and have been quite instrumental by God, in bringing about a revival in London, England. Why not look to Spurgeon as an example?! Why do we praise someone who has not taught the Gospel, but taught a FALSE GOSPEL?!

    As far as missional church … Dr. Gonzales, would you agree that Spurgeon’s church was a missional church?

  3. Bob Gonzales,

    If the answer to your two questions is no, then it would seem to me that the whole notion of a church as “missional” may be somewhat suspect.

    My guess is that the puritans (particularly of the Baptist strip) were concerned in being simply “Biblical” churches, as should we.

  4. The following article doesn’t really answer any of the questions asked in the comments above, but it is another helpful look at the Puritan approach to evangelism:

  5. David,

    By “missional,” I’m referring to a church where the pastors encourage and equip their people to be soul-winners (according to each member’s level of maturity, gift, and opportunities). Nevertheless, I recognize that “missional” may mean different things to different people so I don’t think it’s critical that we employ that terminology.

    Also, my purpose in questioning whether the Puritan pastors and theologians believed that the laity had some responsibility to evangelize beyond simply living a godly lifestyle and whether they trained their people for this task was not to put them down. I think the context in which they ministered was different than ours. Lots of lost people came to church in the days of the Puritans. So it’s not surprising to find great examples of soul-winners among Puritan preachers and evangelistic appeals among Puritan sermons. The article by Packer as well as the one by Errol Hulse, referenced by Barry Wallace, support this.

    My concern is that we as pastors should imitate the Puritans in preaching great evangelistic sermons on Sunday. But we have to do more because we’re not living in a sacral society. The sinners are “out there.” Like Gary Hendrix put it, conducting most our evangelism in the worship service is like fishing in a bathtub. So, I think we need to give greater emphasis than the Puritans had to give on the role of all God’s people (pastors and laypeople) engaging in evangelism outside the walls of the church all seven days of the week.

  6. Dr. Bob,

    Thanks for clarifying on the term “missional.” I think there is a concern for the term as used by the emergents. It is really too bad, for the term is a good one. We are to be missional in how we act and speak. All of us. We [as a church} attempt to stress this along three lines: [1] as a church, [2] as families, and [3] as individuals. We fail. Yet are doing better.

    I also understand that our day differs from 17th century England. Yet, I do believe if we were to examine them further we would find the puritans did “missional” work outside their churches.

    Think of a man such as Joseph Alleine as a single example. He [as you know] was made known through his work Alarm to the Unconverted. He was more known in his day for his love for the poor and visitation of homes within his perish [many of which never attended church]. For example the following was written by “an eye-witness,”

    “He went forth frequently into several places about the country, amongst the poor ignorant people that live in dark corners and had none to take care of them, and both preached to them himself, and stirred up many of his brethren.”

    The same man testifies elsewhere concerning his house visitation [remember, these were houses within his perish, many of which never attended church],

    “He spent five afternoons every week in such exercise, from one or two o’clock, until seven in the evening: in which space of time he would visit sometimes three or four families in an afternoon, and sometimes more, according as they were greater or less.”

    Furthermore, when he was dying [while in Bath, England], we find this account by his wife,

    “While he never attained to so much strength as to be able to walk abroad in the streets without any leading him, or some other, yet he would be employed for his Lord and Master. His chairmen, that used to carry him to the Bath, he appointed to fetch him about three o’clock, who carried him to visit all the schools, alms houses, and the godly poor, especially the widows, to whom he would give money…he also engaged several to send their children once a week to him to be catechized; which they did hearken to him in: and we had about sixty or seventy children every Lord’s-Day to our lodging, and they profited much by his instructions…”

    I think if we considered we would find the puritans to be in everyway an example of evangelism both within and without church. What love for the poor! What love for orphans and widows! What true religion!

    I think we need no other religion, only to take theirs to our day. May the Lord help us.

    Yours truly,
    Mike Waters
    Heritage Reformed Baptist Church

  7. Mike,

    Thanks for your input. I’m genuinely happy to learn of churches like yours that are seeking to be evangelistic or “missional” (properly understood) in the actions and speech of both the pastor and also the people.

    I also appreciate the anecdotes regarding Joseph Alleine. What a great example! I suspect that there were many, many other zealous soul-winners like him among the Puritan pastors.

    But I’m still wondering whether the Puritan pastors and theologians unambiguously taught that (1) saints as well as ordained preachers were under obligation to evangelize the lost and (2) whether they developed much practical methodology regarding lay-evangelism expressed in their preaching or writings.

    I’ve expounded several NT passages elsewhere (“A Biblical Defense of Lay-Evangelism”) which highlight the NT practice and expectation of lay-evangelism. In that study, I note that the Puritan symbols don’t seem to speak to this subject (see Part 1). I’ve conjectured that it may have been due to the fact that they lived in a sacral society in which many of the lost came to church and thus could be evangelized in the church. But since we now live in a post-Christian, non-sacral society, we Reformed Baptists may need to give greater emphasis than did the Puritans on the layperson’s role in evangelistic outreach.

    In suggesting this, I’m not making a definitive judgment about the Puritans’ beliefs or practices. After all, historical theology is not my area of expertise. Nevertheless, I have interacted with a number of men on the Puritan Board, and most of them seemed to think that the Puritan and the biblical view was that evangelism is the responsibility of the ordained men and not the layperson. Laypeople may share their testimony and, if asked, give a reason for their gospel hope. Moreover, they must adorn the gospel with a godly life. But, technically speaking, I was told that we are not to burden the conscience of the layperson a responsibility to evangelize or proclaim the gospel in word. At best, communicating the gospel with the lost with the aim to urge repentance and faith in Christ is the liberty of the lay-believer but not the responsibility. The responsibility, it is argued, resides with those ordained to the task of evangelism (i.e., the pastor, missionary, church-planter).

    What do you think about that, Mike? Are you aware of some Puritan resources that might indicate otherwise?

  8. Dr. Bob,

    Narrowing your question, “whether the Puritan pastors and theologians unambiguously taught, etc…” I think you may have a good point. I will read your posts A Biblical Defense, etc., and think it through. As I said before, I have come to see the work of evangelism on three layers,

    1. Ecclesiastically. That is, the church makes formal attempts at sharing the gospel both locally and abroad [i.e. door to door, book tables, preaching at missions, supporting other churches, starting churches, training men, etc.].

    2. Domestically. That is, families share the gospel in their own neighborhood [i.e. have neighbors over for supper, get involved with neighborhood family activities, etc].

    3. Individually. That is, as individual people. [i.e. sharing the gospel at work, school, befriending the unconverted, etc].

    These all can/should be encouraged by the church. Thus in this sense the church is evangelizing on three fronts.

    I do not want to portray us as an example. Though I do believe the Lord has made this duty/privilege clear to us. We are in the process of deciding practical ways to work out each three in practical ways this summer. Thankfully, I have some young men [and some not-so young men], who keep my feet to the fire on this. We have been negligent in these the last few years [we get busy, with other necessary issues, tending to the flock, etc.]

    It sounds like we are on the same page with this.

    I hope to get to your posts later this week [dv].


  9. Thanks, Mike. From what I can recall of your conversion and subsequent testimony as a church member of the RBC of Holland, you’re have been an example to many of us of sharing the gospel by life and lip. Not all of God’s people have the same level of gift of utterance. But to the degree that we’re able to articulate the truth and in accordance with the opportunities God gives each one of us, we ought to pray for the courage and compassion to share the message that men need most to hear.

    Thanks, brother, for your input and example (both as a layperson and now as a pastor)!

  10. Recently, brother Johnny Farese posted an excerpt from Richard Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest in which Baxter highlights the privilege and the responsibility of all of God’s people to share the gospel with the lost. So here’s at least one Puritan (and perhaps there are others) who saw evangelism not solely as the task of the ordained preacher and not limited to the official ministry of the Word. Here’s the citation from Baxter:

    by Richard Baxter, 1652

    The Duty of Helping Others to Seek the Saints’ Rest

    Has God set before us such a wonderful possession as the saints’ everlasting rest, and made us capable of such unimaginable happiness? Why, then, don’t all of the children of this kingdom exert themselves more to help others to enjoy it? We see the glory of the kingdom, while others around us do not. We see the misery of those that are out of it, while others do not. And yet we will not seriously show them their danger and help to bring them into this eternal life. How few Christians there are who give themselves with all their might to save souls! Considering how important this duty is to the glory of God and the happiness of men, I will first show how to do it.

    Our hearts must be moved by the misery of other people. We must be compassionate towards them. If we earnestly longed for their conversion, and sincerely desired the best for them; it would put us to work, and God would bless such effort.

    We must take every opportunity that we can to instruct others in the way of salvation. Teach them their need of the Redeemer; how Christ mercifully bore their penalty on the cross. Teach them the privileges which believers have in Christ. Show them how wonderful heaven will be. Be sure to urge them to make use of all the ways God has provided for our help—such as hearing and reading the Bible, calling upon God in prayer, and having fellowship with other Christians. Persuade them to forsake sin, avoid temptations and evil companions.

    Aim at the glory of God in another person’s salvation. Don’t do it for your own credit or to attract followers; but do it in obedience to Christ and out of tender love for other people’s souls. Do it promptly too. That physician is no better than a murderer, who negligently delays treating a patient until he is dead or incurable. Let others perceive that it is your desire to help them; that you have no other motive in mind but their everlasting happiness. Say to them, “Friend, you know I have nothing to gain in this. The easiest way to please you and keep your friendship would be to say nothing and leave you alone; but love will not let me see you perish, and remain silent. I only seek your own happiness. You are the one who will gain if you come to Christ.”

    Do it plainly and faithfully. Don’t play down the seriousness of their sins, nor give them false hopes. If you see their situation is dangerous, speak plainly. Say to them, “Friend, if you were ‘in Christ,’ you would be ‘a new creature; old things’ would be ‘passed away, and all things’ would ‘become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17). You would have new thoughts, new friends, and a new life.” Thus you must deal honestly with people, if you ever intend to help them. It is not in pleasing people that you help them.

    Do it seriously, enthusiastically, and effectively. Try to make people know that heaven and hell are not matters to be played with, or dismissed with a few careless thoughts. To avoid extremes, I advise you to do it with discretion. Choose the most appropriate time. Don’t deal with people when they are angry or on the defensive. When the earth is soft the plough will enter. Take a person when he is in trouble, or when he is freshly moved by a sermon. Christian faithfulness requires us to watch for opportunities.

    Let all your words be backed with the authority of God. Let sinners be convinced that you do not speak merely your own thoughts. They may reject your opinions even though they would not dare reject the words of the Almighty. Try to bring all of your conversation to a verdict. God usually blesses those whose hearts are set upon the conversion of their hearers and who therefore seek a decision.

    Be sure your life witnesses as well as your words. Let people see you practicing what you seek to persuade them about. Let them see, by your attitude toward heaven and the world, that you do indeed believe what you would have them believe.

    Besides privately witnessing, you should try to help people through the church. Use your influence to secure faithful ministers, for “how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Many souls may be saved by the ministry which you have helped to secure for the church. What immense good might men of means do, if they would support the ministerial education of carefully chosen youth until they were ready for the ministry. You can also draw people to attend the services where faithful ministers preach the Gospel. Do your part to keep the church and its ministry in good repute, for no one will be affected much by that which he disdains. The apostle urged, concerning those who are over us in the Lord, “to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5:13).

  11. This upcoming reformed Conference at Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London (July 6 thru 8) will also be contrasting Puritan evangelism with modern New Calvinism, by several speakers, including Dr. Beeke and also reformed Baptists:

    Winning and Keeping Souls from the World

  12. Dr. Gonzales,
    I only wish Richard Baxter actually shared the Gospel as the Bible taught it! He taught that man’s good works could earn God’s justification! That’s heretical …


  13. In addition, there really isn’t any “special training” needed for Christians to be “missional”. All he/she has to do is to live the Christian life before a godless society. That’s what Christ meant when he speaks of being salt to the earth or being a light to the world. If as a Pastor you are training your sheep to lead godly lives then their actions will display the Gospel before those they come across. Of course, we give a reason for our belief when asked, but I don’t think we need to be anymore than being ourselves — that is if we are living godly lives. Christ even went on to say in Luke 12:11 that we are not to worry about what to say before unbelievers because the Holy Spirit will direct your words.

    I think the real training lies in — how do we live godly lives. How do we become salt to the earth or light to the world. I think that’s where the problem lies for all Christians. This is how the devil causes us to un-effective for Christ. Don’t worry about the opportunities because it is the Lord who brings those opportunities. He has appointed a time of salvation for each elect … we just need to be ready when He brings it them to us.

    I really wish pastors would look at sound Reformers for instructions. Richard Baxter is NOT reformed by definition; he did NOT know the Gospel. He maligned the atonement, diminished the justice of God and gives too much credit for man to earn God’s justification. Why do we NOT LISTEN to Paul’s instruction on how we should deal with such men … which is to avoid them! Would someone please point a better reformer concerning the matter of evangelism? Surely there is someone else?! What about Whitefield?! Was he not instrumental in the Great Awakening?! Surely there’s something we can learn from him …

    And for Pastors who are fond of Richard Baxter, I would really encourage you to do your homework. Read his theological works; this is your duty to know what he believed before you disperse his practical teachings to your flock. His practical teachings may all sound good … but Richard Baxter is not a believer if he truly believed in the gospel he preached (as we as fought for over many years!) and as such, we should have nothing to do with him. You would be surprise how much he aligned with Rome …

  14. Not to stray too much from the Baxter issue…but, I am not sure if the concept/word “missional” isn’t just the latest flavor of the day. As I understand it, being “missional” is just the price of admission so to speak “a la” Matthew 28:19.

    Why are these labels necessary for churches to qualify what they by nature should be doing as a matter spelled out in scripture?

    The nature of the church will always be under a full frontal assault. We see this played out in many, many fashions today (parachurch organizations not withstanding)

    Perhaps this points to a larger symptom.

    If a church isn’t “missional” then I think we can safely argue that it is most likely not a faithful church (if a church at all).

    Perhaps I am stating the obvious. I weary of the marketing practices. Maybe when it comes right down to it people are getting bored with “just being a church.”

    Catch phrases and labels that state the obvious for the sake of appearing cutting edge are a waste of time.

  15. Christian;
    You said:
    “Perhaps I am stating the obvious. I weary of the marketing practices. Maybe when it comes right down to it people are getting bored with ‘just being a church.’ Catch phrases and labels that state the obvious for the sake of appearing cutting edge are a waste of time.”
    Amen and amen! We all need to spend more time opening the Book, believing it, and doing what it says, and less time trying to reinvent the wheel.

  16. Christian I totally agree with you. The call of the Christian life is to be faithful concerning God’s word. Often times that can be an unglamorous task. But we don’t please ourselves or the people around us, but the Lord who sits up on the Throne. Often times, what pleases the Lord are things unseen by others (Matt 6). No small thing goes unnoticed by the Father and it is for our faithfulness in these matters that we are rewarded. When we do these things we are living the Gospel and for those the Lord appointed to “see”, will see it.

    The article I had referred above (“The Glory of Plodding”), reminds me so much of my 88 year old pastor in Long Island, NY. Sunday after Sunday, he continues to preach the Gospel (I can’t even recall a time when he canceled service because he was sick!) and his congregation remained small (about 17) for a very long period of time — at least in the period of time I was there (until I had to move again). It was only until the recent year that four additional folks showed up at the church door. They only discovered the tiny church when they had drove by one day and somehow the Lord moved them to visit it and haven’t left since then. 😀 So now the congregation comes to about 21 people! And my old Pastor still preaching Sunday after Sunday. What I admire so much about him is, that it’s not about the numbers but about his faithfulness to his calling as pastor as he guards, contends and preaches the truth and shepherds the flock the Lord gave him. The congregation has fluctuated through the years I’m told, but he leaves it to the Lord to determined the numbers, how small it ever be! I think he’s been preaching for over 60 years and he’ll probably go on preaching until the Lord calls him home! He pretty much memorizes his sermon with just a few notes in front of him (he still types with what looks like the first type writer! :D) and he never cease to bring in the Gospel into his sermons. When I think of my old Pastor — I think of “Faithfulness with the things of God”. He is not deterred at how small his congregation is; he is looking at eternity and fixing his eyes on it. When he preaches, it’s like heaven opens … the words he preaches sings with your spirit. I can’t quite describe it — you’re lured by sermon because you hear the Master’s voice in the message. I had sought for a church for sometime when I was out there and I cried when I found this tiny church because it felt like coming home. And I’d imagine he would still be preaching even if only one person arrived at his church! Indeed “faithfulness” describes his life — just like his Lord Jesus … the servant follows after his master …

  17. It was very nice to hear of this example. I have to wonder, sometimes, the sheer magnitude and variety of faithful men I will meet in heaven who labored in such scenarios.

    Men who were content & satisfied with rowing God’s smile.

    Methinks their numbers will only be eclipsed by the innumerable mother’s who labored over their child’s souls faithfully.

  18. Jade/Christian/Dr. Gonzales,

    Dr. Gonzales I have yet to read your previous articles on lay-evangelism (I had to leave town to help with mother). But as I reflected upon the topic of puritan churches being equipped for the work of the ministry, I came to wonder similar things brought out above. Simply because the puritans never preached series of sermons on “How to share the gospel” my question is this, were the typical puritan churches character by an indifferent people?

    It is my assumption that their churches were characterized by people who loved the gospel enough to share it.

    For example, did the puritans preach long series on parenting? Marriage duties? I know they did preach sermons on these, but it seems to me that the largest share of the preaching was an application of the gospel to the whole man. This seems to be what molded their people into good parents, husbands, and “lights” who shared the gospel to their neighbors.

    It has been my experience that most of the time, bad husbands don’t need “marriage counseling” but a clearer view and experience of the gospel. I am not denying the need for instruction on these particular things, yet, it seems in discussing such domestic duties, the gospel is usually [always?] turned to.

    What do we need to be better evangelicals? More steps to share the gospel? Or else, more fire in the soul?

    Here is my question. Simply because the puritans did not preach lengthy series on evangelism, parenting, or duties of husbands, were their churches filled with bad parents, husbands, or those indifferent to the lost?

    Is it possible for our churches to be characterized by “head-heavy” people with little or no compassion for the lost? Yes. But I fear that many of such people have never truly tasted of the things of God.

    It is my humble opinion that one of the topics needed to be preached within our churches, is the gospel. A message that clearly teaches the marks of true grace. A message that sets out a dead and raised Savior. A message that exposes the native depravity of man and the reality of eternal hell. This seems to be the primary message of our puritan forefathers.

    More importantly, it seems to be the message of the inspired prophets and apostles.

    Only asking questions.

    Mike Waters
    Heritage RBC

  19. As I read through this diatribe about Richard Baxter, I wonder if those who label him as heretical have actually studied him at any kind of a level to write a paper on his “heretical” views. I just narrated, for my podcast, his sermon A Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, and the gospel seemed clear enough in it for me. This is what Baxter preached…

    Christ hath freely taken human nature, and made satisfaction for the sins of the world, as full as answereth his ends, and so full that none shall perish for lack of sufficiency in his sacrifice and merits.

    III. Upon these merits Christ hath made a law, or covenant of grace, forgiving all sin, and giving freely everlasting life to all that will believingly accept it….

    IV. The condition of pardon and life is not that we sin no more, or that by any price we purchase it of God, or by our own works do benefit him, or buy his grace; but only that we believe him, and willingly accept of the mercy which he freely giveth us, according to the nature of the gift; that is, that we accept of Christ as Christ, to justify, sanctify, rule, and save us.

    V. God hath commissioned his ministers to proclaim and offer this covenant and grace to all, and earnestly entreat them in his name to accept it, and be reconciled to him; he hath excepted none.

    VI. No man that hath this offer is damned, but only those that obstinately refuse it to the last breath.

    VII. The day of grace is never so passed to any sinner but still he may have Christ and pardon if he will; and if he have it not, it is because he will not. And the day of grace is so far from being passed, that it is savingly come to all that are so willing; and grace is still offered urgently to all.

    The second question that I ask myself as I peruse any critical examination of the puritans and evangelism is “who is leveling the charge?” I would want to know their own track record as a pastor and the fruits of their ministry or are these merely the musings of another academician that has a lot of time on their hands. My records indicate that Thomas Boston, Richard Baxter, and Solomon Stoddard were in their pulpits many years, Solomon Stoddard close to 60. Also I noticed that Stoddard’s congregation was the largest in Mass. running about 600 persons. I think it is fair to red flag evaluations of pastors and theologians whose pastorates are two years in one place, two in another, that I should at least wonder if they are the proper persons to critique puritans pastorates and their methods of evangelism. That is why I have always read Charles Hodge with caution on this subject. If Charles Hodge and Benjamin Warfield write books of Pastor Theology, I have to ask why they are qualified to do so?

    The first generation of Princeton Theologians were at least pastors as well, A Alexander for 20 years, Ashbel Green and Samuel Miller. The second generation was already questioning puritan evangelism. (See John Gerstner’s Rational Biblical Theology where this history is discussed.)

    This statement is going to seem strong, but I am willing to take the slam for it. A lot of modern theologians shouldn’t write so much, they should go away for about 20 years and then when they come and have so much to say about the puritan pastoral office, maybe they can speak out of the matrix of experience and personal example and not appear as just another handful of academicians who
    think the world is in need of their wisdom, or needs them to shed light on what those who actually were in the battle of the pastoral office for years were doing wrong.

  20. Bob: If you will allow me to answer one of your charges because it appears to be based on a lack of knowledge of the facts. You wrote,”Whatever was seen and witnessed at Kidderminster, if based on Baxter’s teaching of the Gospel, is “a form of godliness but denying its power”. The Scriptures commands us to “Have nothing to do with them”

    Which not only implies that Baxter should have been excommunicated, but that the Kidderminster converts were hypocrites. I know that seems harsh, but I do not what other construction to put on this critical statement. If you were to listen to Nate Eshelman’s sermon What Does Kidderminster Have to Do with Los Angeles? – Eshelman graduated from the Puritan Seminary here in G R, you might learn a few historical facts. Baxter and an associate went out on Mondays and Tuesdays and visited about 16 homes on those days. He used the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which would assume that he agreed with it and wanted his attendants to take heed of it.

    I do suppose the judgment of charity would allow us to say that they were getting the same gospel that those who we don’t witness would be getting if we were as diligent as Baxter and actually went door to door. As to denying the power of it, or having a conversion in name only, I think that I would feel safer under the oversight of Richard Baxter knowing that he would never allow me to be assured with a superficial profession, than many pastors in our day who have thrown the doors of membership wide open.

    I know my words here are strong, but I think Mike and I are perplexed at the charges that are being leveled here at those who walked so much closer to God than most of us will ever attain unto. I say this after just narrating chapter 14 of John Owen’s work, Indwelling Sin, called The Power of Sin in the Lives of Professors.

  21. Thomas,

    Three things:

    1) Dr. Bob did not write what you think he did.

    2) Baxter did have some issues with his understanding of justification. Benjamin Keach dealt with this, and so have some of our modern historians. See the Reformed Baptist Theological Review vol II:1

    3) I agree with you completely concerning the Puritans! There is a new season coming of people who do not know the puritans beating up on the puritans. Watch, it will be the RPW, Confessionalism, divine impassibility, means of grace, Sabbath and godliness that will be besmirched in due time.

  22. Thomas,

    You raise some good points. When I first became “Reformed Baptist” we spoke of our puritan forefathers with admiration. It seems now, while men give lip service to appreciating them, I here allot of criticism.

    It is my opinion that they had more right than wrong. Furthermore, what is most needed in our churches is a return to their emphasis and not from it. I fear our churches are increasing looking like the “average evangelical church” with half committed persons, who need everything dumbed-down, visual aids to assist preaching, and small groups replacing public worship.

    These used to concern us but no more! Why not turn back to the old preaching we used to love! That preaching that made much of the law and gospel. That exposed hypocrisy and sought to ensure our people are truly converted. This is what our puritan forefathers did best! Let us not shy from our heritage.

    Do we need to better ourselves in various arears? Yes! But let us not tear down what was good in order to add to it!

    I don’t want to over generalize, but many of the modern Presbyterians [PCA, OPC], can provide a needful warning. Some [many?] have strayed from their puritan roots referring to their confession occasionally and sometimes with distain [I fellowship with dozens thus speak with knowledge]. It almost always starts with the Sabbath and Regulative Principle of Worship. Perhaps their memberships and mission budgets have grown but not true religion [there are many blessed exceptions].

    These [Sabbath and RPW] are essential parts of our confession and essential to being a Reformed Baptist. This name used to have more meaning. Can we be Reformed Baptist without being “puritan?” These are some [not all] of the things that distinguish us from much of the New Calvinism. They are not small issues! Yet in our desire to “fit in” I fear we no longer care!

    I still believe there was no group of men more holy and Biblical outside of the apostles. Our confession is a puritan document. We used to speak of apostolic, reformed, or puritan religion as our pedigree. May in returning to the Scriptures we find our Fathers had some things right [dare I say many things]!

    Hebrews 13:7

    Your humble servant,
    Mike Waters

  23. Hi Thomas,
    I’m afraid you’re misreading who post what again. I was the one who had issues with Baxter … I am Jade, Not Dr. Gonzales. I have also read Baxter’s Reformed Pastor and Saint’s Everlasting Rest. But as responsible Christians, we also should be reading Baxter’s Theological works to know what he believed about the gospel! Doesn’t that matter to you?! Isn’t that the very first test we should have against everything that we read?! This is what Paul and John have instructed us to do, for not everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is Christian. It is our duty as Christians to test these things — so why are you so adamantly against those who have exposed Baxter’s belief about the Gospel … unless otherwise you side with him on that issue also! Now I challenge you to study Baxter’s Amphorism of Justification, his Catholick Theologie and his Confesssion [sic] of his Faith, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification and Salvation and see for yourself if Baxter believes in the same Gospel as we all do … or at least what the puritans believed. And you will find how Baxter aligns more with Rome than the Reformers of his day! Baxter was NOT a puritan, nor a reformer because he does NOT believe in the same foundations of the same Gospel as what the puritans believed! (BTW your earlier quote from Boston of which you posted in another topic of which we debated Baxter — in that quote, Boston was speaking there about unbelievers making up their own covenant — not the New Covenant! Those in the New Covenant rely on the GRACE of God for salvation — not by their good works as Baxter taught!)

    Thomas wrote:
    Which not only implies that Baxter should have been excommunicated, but that the Kidderminster converts were hypocrites. I know that seems harsh, but I do not what other construction to put on this critical statement. If you were to listen to Nate Eshelman’s sermon What Does Kidderminster Have to Do with Los Angeles? – Eshelman graduated from the Puritan Seminary here in G R, you might learn a few historical facts. Baxter and an associate went out on Mondays and Tuesdays and visited about 16 homes on those days. He used the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which would assume that he agreed with it and wanted his attendants to take heed of it.
    I do suppose the judgment of charity would allow us to say that they were getting the same gospel that those who we don’t witness would be getting if we were as diligent as Baxter and actually went door to door. As to denying the power of it, or having a conversion in name only, I think that I would feel safer under the oversight of Richard Baxter knowing that he would never allow me to be assured with a superficial profession, than many pastors in our day who have thrown the doors of membership wide open.
    I know my words here are strong, but I think Mike and I are perplexed at the charges that are being leveled here at those who walked so much closer to God than most of us will ever attain unto. I say this after just narrating chapter 14 of John Owen’s work, Indwelling Sin, called The Power of Sin in the Lives of Professors.

    Thomas, you wouldn’t be perplex had you studied Baxter’s theological works. Please, take the time to seek these UN-reprinted works of Baxter and study them. Also read the article David referred to above. Further, I don’t at all undermined Baxter’s effort … I’m sure he was sincere but Baxter was sincerely wrong about the Gospel! And according to Scriptures concerning those who teach a Gospel different from Biblical teachings, he’s a false teacher. Scripture is very clear about this.
    Baxter’s error was serious enough that it brought out the big guns like John Owen and Benjamin Keach to go against Baxter.  In fact, did you know that among the reasons that inspired Baxter to write Amphorism of Justification was to refute Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ (if you haven’t read that, it’s about the Atonement of Christ), which came out earlier (because Baxter disagreed on Owen’s view of the Atonement)?  If you read Baxter’s Amophrism of Justification, aside from discussing Justification, he speaks about the Atonement — apparently he doesn’t believe in the strict penal substitution the Bible teaches.  He breaks down the righteousness that must be present to earn God’s justification to two parts — legal righteousness and evangelical righteousness.  Baxter believed that Christ atoned for us the legal righteousness, but we must earn for ourselves the evangelical righteousness.  This is why Baxter reasons that it is only at the end of one’s life, one can obtain Justification before God … and not at the point of believing in Christ.  He apparently needs to study the life of Abraham a bit more… Now it makes sense that Baxter was ernest in pushing for others to live a godly life because he believed we must work/earn toward this righteousness to be justified by God! But this is a FALSE Gospel — this is what Paul called, “a form of godliness but denying its power”. Baxter denies the works of Christ to FULLY atone for us! And as such Baxter has maligned the Lord Jesus! Now it’s NOT to say that we should not live holy lives, because it’s the nature of those FULLY purchased by Christ! But it is NOT what justifies us before God. As Scriptures teaches us that all our righteous works are as filthy rags before God’s sight. The REAL puritans understood this! They understood the separation of Justification and Sanctification. This is why many of the reformers disagreed with Baxter because he was reversing the progress of the reformation, which was to recover the Gospel!

    Further, Baxter opposed the Westminster Confession when it was being reviewed because he rejected the articles on Justification and Penal Substitution (and of course about calling the Pope the anti-Christ!). If you need some proof of that here are more comments from Baxter in his theological works:

    Baxter states:

    Yet if Satan, or any other, should falsly accuse us of not performing the conditions of the new Covenant, and so having no part in Christ’s Satisfaction, here we must be justified only by our Faith, or personal Gospel-Righteousness, and not by any thing that Christ hath done or suffered: For in all false accusations we must defend our innocency, and plead not guilty.

    Note, above he believes the actions of believing (faith) is a works toward obtaining self righteousness (we all must earn) … not necessarily the object of that faith (who is Christ).  The Reformers believed that faith was the vehicle toward salvation … but it is the object of that faith that saves us (who is Christ Jesus) …. not faith itself.  

    In another place Baxter writes:

    To conclude: It is most clear in the Scripture, and beyond all dispute, that our Actual, most proper, compleat Justification, at the great Judgment, will be according to our Works, and to what we have done in the flesh, whether Good or Evil: which can be no otherwise then as it was the Condition of that justification.  And so Christ, at that great Assize, will not give his bare Will of Purpose, as the Reason of his proceedings: but as he governed by a Law; so he will judg by a Law: and will then give the Reason of his Publique Sentence from mens keeping or breaking the Conditions of his Covenant; that so the mouths of all may be stopped, and the equity of his judgment may be manifest to all, and that he may there shew forth his hatred to the sins, and not onely to the persons of the condemned; and his Love to the Obedience, and not onely to the persons Justified.

    Among Baxter’s list of doctrinal sins of Protestants, he wrote:

    12. Those that assert Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness in that sense which I have proved to subvert the Gospel.
    13. And those that deny Faith it self to be imputed for righteousness.
    14. And those that deny that there is any personal Evangelical Righteousness in our selves that is any way necessary to our Justification.

    And here’s one that’s unmistakably a damning quote as I have already repeated before, but worth repeating again. Baxter wrote:
    Christ came not to possess God with any false opinion of us; nor is he such a Physician as to perform but a supposed or Reputative Cure: He came not to persuade his Father to judge Us to be Well, because He is Well, nor to leave us uncured, and to persuade God that we are Cured.  It is We that were guilty and unholy; it is We that must be restored unto Righteousness.  If Christ only were Righteous, Christ only would be reputed and judged Righteous, and Christ only would be Happy.  The Judge of the world will not justify the unrighteous, merely because another is Righteous; Nor can the Holy God take Complacency in an unholy sinner, because another is Holy.  Never did the blessed Son of God intend in his dying or merits, to change the holy Nature of his Father, and to Cause him to Love that which is not Lovely, or to Reconcile him to that which he Abhors, as he is God.  We must bear his own Image, and be Holy as he is Holy, before he can Approve us, or Love us in Complacency.

    We are NOT misunderstanding Baxter … certainly there were others greater (and more insightful) than ourselves who saw Baxter’s teachings heretical, like John Owen and Benjamin Keach. Keach himself called Baxter’s teachings pernicious because Baxter convoluted the foundations of the Gospel. And it wasn’t like Baxter was ignorant.  He was in the mist of the great reformation and crossed swords with the giants of the reformation, like John Owen, and yet even after much persuasion by Owen, Baxter was still harden and fully rejected the Gospel as taught in the Bible.  Baxter fought against the progress of recovering the Gospel during the Reformation for most of his life! Please do yourselves a favor and investigate the “Baxterian Controversy” to get the facts! I’d encourage you to do your own research concerning this controversy. Don’t merely rely on Baxter’s pastoral works … dig into what Baxter actually believed about the gospel. And then after you do that, read John Owen’s work on Justification — one of the best puritan writings! He exhaustively explains the TRUE Gospel. Also read Benjamin Keach’s The Everlasting Covenant , among whatever other works of Keach you can get your hands on!

    I know that I might have ruffled some feathers concerning my statements about Baxter, but the more I read of his theological works, the more I have very little sympathy for someone who diminishes the work of Christ on the cross! It impacts the Covenant of Grace and is an insult to the Triune God and as such we should have nothing to do with their work! I don’t care about how many “converts” Baxter reaped. If he taught a false gospel, then he’s a false teacher and he sent those masses to hell if they put their faith in the teachings of Baxter’s false gospel! This is why Paul does not take lightly such false teachings and urged the Galatians to have nothing to do with them! If you study Baxter’s beliefs on the gospel, he actually aligns with the agitators, (whom Paul wrote against in his letter to the Galatians), who promoted a “works righteousness” to be added to what Christ already did on the cross. Baxter falls under the condemnation of Galatians 1:8!

    Now I know there are some who think we can take parts of Baxter’s teachings — that is take the good and reject the bad. Well, if you can’t take my warnings against such practices, maybe it would be better if you took it from someone who has proven to correctly divide the Word of Truth — here’s a paragraph written by James M. Renihan (Dean of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster Seminary in CA) in his article titled “Reforming The Reformed Pastor” found in the Reformed Baptist Theological Review Volume II, No. 1 (of which David Charles and Rich Barcellos have referred to you before concerning Baxter’s theological teachings):

    It must be recognized that Baxter the theologian was first and foremost Baxter the pastor, and that his theological conclusions were the foundation on which his pastoral theology was built.  When, for example, he published his A Christian Directory, almost the first words in his book are these:  “As Amesius’s ‘Cases of Conscience’ are to his ‘Medulla,’ the second and practical part of theology, so is this to a ‘Methodius Theologiae’ which I have not yet published.”   A few paragraphs later, he indicates that the “great work of this treatise” is for “the reducing of theoretical knowledge into serious Christian practice.”  What could be clearer?  In the same way that William Ames completed his Marrow of Divinity with a practical work on Cases of Conscience, so Baxter considered his Directory as the outworking of his Theological Method.  He envisioned no bifurcation between faith and life; rather he worked out an intimate relationship between the two.  Doctrine serves as the basis — it sets the parameters and articulates the theoretical relationships; life takes those foundational principles and acts upon them.  The relationship never ends: faith is fulfilled in practice; duty expresses doctrine.  Baxter the pastor understood that the content of faith is never merely theoretical; Christianity is not a purely notional religion.  To the contrary, every doctrine leads to obedience; how a Christian lives will be based on, governed by, and consistent with the truth he believes.

    For Baxter, pastoral theology is the practice of doctrinal theology, and his practical books were intended to put flesh and bones on the skeleton of doctrine.  It is a mistake to think that one may be separated from the other.  This is why the present study is important.  If Baxter’s doctrinal works are heterodox or worse, do his practical works escape without taint?

    If you can’t heed my words, then heed James Renihan’s warnings. I would strongly encourage you to get a hold of Dr. Renihan’s article …. it’s a MUST READ. He makes a good summary of Baxter’s Amphorism of Justication. Also Dr. Walker’s article is GREAT (He is the expert on Benjamin Keach and wrote a biography on Benjamin Keach) and can be found in RBTR, volume III, No. 1.

    BTW Rich Barcellos … I’m really thankful for your efforts of establishing the Reformed Baptist Theological Review! GREAT ARTICLES! We needed something like this sooo badly! My pastor hopes to subscribe to it! Maybe I’ll give him a subscription as a Christmas gift…. I will pray that your work will continue to be bless of God!

    Finally, Thomas, It is our duty (as Christians) to expose false teachings, to protect the church from straying from the truth. Baxter’s practical teachings were NOT rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Scriptures and because of that, we must stay away from ALL of his teachings. Many will come as counterfeit Christians and we need to smoke out their teachings, out of the church …. hold on to the Gospel and test them against the Gospel and you will be able to detect the counterfeits. The Gospel is the foundation of every teaching that should proceed out of the church. If we can’t get that right, then we are surely on shaky ground. Indubitably Richard Baxter got it wrong ….

    A servant of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior (who FULLY purchased me— praise His name!),

  24. BTW here is also an interesting analysis made by a professor concerning the similarities of N.T. Wright’s theology (New Perspective on Paul — that is NPP) and Baxter’s theology. So this “New” Perspective on Paul is not so new after all — it’s just a repeat of Baxter’s theology.

    Don’t be deceive. The heresy of the gospel that Baxter preached is within the doors of our churches today (if not already within our churches, disguised under NPP)! Do not think that his pastoral teachings has no impact on one’s soteriology. It does. What is at stake? The Gospel!

  25. Mike

    Let me express my hearty agreement to what you write in your last two comments.

    a) You suggest the necessity of preaching the application of the Gospel to every area of life as per the Puritan method. I find the time-honoured method of lingua continua keeps me in check in this regard and from running into hobby-horse preaching, or moralistic topical preaching.

    b) Your observations of the movements within Reformed Christianity are sadly accurate, there is an increasing disdain for the Puritans and Reformers in many areas of church theology and practice. Also history shows where Worship and Sabbath are downgraded, the rest soon follows. This will of course be dismissed as an illegitimate “thin edge of the wedge” argument, “it does not need to go this way”, maybe, but history shows that it always does.

    The RB movement has had and still has weaknesses, we need to improve, we are far from perfect, we need to learn from others, yes even outside out own circles, of course we must receive Scripture as our final authority, but I believe we jettison the historic confessions and the historic practices of those who were soaked in this confessional teaching at our great peril.

  26. Paul,

    Thanks for your encouragement. I want to keep from two errors: [1] denying the need for change when it is legitimate and necessary, and [2] denying our rich heritage which reflects the simplicity of true religion.

    Dear brother, may the LORD help us both.

    Mike Waters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: