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“Is the ship ready to sink, and do you talk of reputation?” - Richard Baxter

Everyone fancies themselves a reformed pastor in Sovereign Grace Ministries.  In fact, everyone going through the Pastors College is required to read The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter.  But reading the book doesn’t make you one.  This excellent treatise only puffs up those who fail to apply its teaching.  Sovereign Grace Ministries is full of slothful pastors who have read the text but not followed its teaching.  If Baxter were alive today, he’d reprove all the pastors who have neglected their “necessary duty to admonish” C.J., Dave, past and present Directors and “publish…their faults.” 

I’m afraid Mickey Connolly would have excommunicated Baxter for being “driven by a sinful lust for vindication and vengeance.”  Dave Harvey would have labeled him a “gossiper and slanderer.”  C.J. would have prayed “God have mercy on his sinful soul.”  And John Loftness would have accused him of “pride, self-conceitedness, or unmannerliness” for “diminishing their reputation.”

The Sovereign Grace ship is sinking and yet all these men are concerned about is the propagation of their unwarranted reputation.  They promote one another.  They highlight their accomplishments.  They commend each other.  They reference their notoriety.  They do not confess their sins!  There can be no godly unity until they are reformed. 

Richard Baxter is from the 17th Century.  He had a mastery of the English language like none of us.  In addition, his old English makes it more difficult for us to follow the meaning of his sentences.  His vocabulary tends to be over our heads (I’ve added some elucidations).  Therefore, this excerpt must be read slowly, studiously, and repeatedly in order to appreciate its full meaning.  I’ve underlined certain statements for focus but the entire selection could easily be highlighted.   Every thought is a gem.

From The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (12 November 1615 – 8 December 1691), pages 39-41.

Too many who have undertaken the work of the ministry do so obstinately proceed in self-seeking, negligence, pride, and other sins, that it is become our necessary duty to admonish them.  If we saw that such would reform without reproof, we would gladly forbear the publishing of their faults.  But when reproofs themselves prove so ineffectual, that they are more offended at the reproof than at the sin, and had rather that we should cease reproving than that themselves should cease sinning, I think it is time to sharpen the remedy.  For what else should we do?  To give up our brethren as incurable were cruelty, as long as there are further means to he used.

We must not hate them, but plainly rebuke them, and not suffer sin upon them [allow them to continue in sin].  To bear with the vices of the ministry is to promote the ruin of the Church; for what speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides?  And how can we more effectually further a reformation, than by endeavoring to reform the leaders of the Church?  For my part, I have done as I would be done by; and it is for the safety of the Church, and in tender love to the brethren, whom I venture to reprehend [find fault, blame, reprimand]— not to make them contemptible and odious, but to heal [end] the evils that would make them so — that so no enemy may find this matter of reproach among us.  But, especially, because our faithful endeavors are of so great necessity to the welfare of the Church, and the saving of men’s souls, that it will not consist with a love [is not consistent with love] to either, to be negligent ourselves, or silently to connive at negligence in others [allow something harmful by remaining silent].  

If thousands of you were in a leaking ship, and those that should pump out the water, and stop the leaks, should be sporting [relaxing or recreating] or asleep, or even but favoring themselves [not working hard] in their labors, to the hazarding of you all, would you not awaken them to their work and call on them to labor as for your lives?  And if you used some sharpness and importunity [an insistent and pressing demand] with the slothful, would you think that man was in his wits who would take it ill [become offended or resentful] of you, and accuse you [the critic] of pride, self-conceitedness, or unmannerliness, to presume to talk so saucily [boldly, audaciously, disrespectfully] to your fellow-workmen, or that should tell you that you [the critic] wrong them by diminishing their reputation?  Would you not say, ‘The work must be done, or we are all dead men.  Is the ship ready to sink, and do you talk of reputation [are concerned about your reputation]?  Or had you rather hazard [endanger] yourself and us, than hear of your slothfulness?  

This is our case, brethren, the work of God must needs be done!  Souls must not perish, while you mind your worldly business or worldly pleasure, and take your ease, or quarrel with your brethren [about their righteous rebukes]!  Nor must we be silent while men are hastened by you to perdition, and the Church brought into greater danger and confusion, for fear of seeming too uncivil and unmannerly [disrespectful] with you, or displeasing your impatient [proud and unteachable] souls!  Would you be but as impatient [disgusted] with your sins as with our reproofs, you should hear no more from us, but we should be all agreed [true unity]!  But, neither God nor good men will let you alone in such sins.

Yet if you had betaken yourselves to another calling, and would sin to yourselves only, and would perish alone, we should not have so much necessity of molesting you [disturbing, interfering with, annoying], as now we have: but if you will enter into the office of the ministry, which is for the necessary preservation of us all, so that by letting you alone in your sin, we must give up the Church to loss and hazard, blame us not if we talk to you more freely [openly, honestly, transparently] than you would have us to do.  

If your own body were sick, and you will despise the remedy, or if your own house were on fire, and you will be singing or quarrelling in the streets, I could possibly bear it, and let you alone, (which yet, in charity, I should not easily do,) but, if you will undertake to be the physician of an hospital, or to a whole town that is infected with the plague, or will undertake to quench all the fires that shall be kindled in the town, there is no bearing with your remissness, how much soever it may displease [offend] you.  Take it how you will, you must be told of it; and if that will not serve, you must be told of it yet more plainly; and, if that will not serve, if you be rejected as well [disciplined or removed from office] as reprehended, you may thank yourselves.  I speak all this to none but the guilty.

And, thus, I have given you those reasons which forced me to publish, in plain English, so much of the sins of the ministry as in the following Treatise [The Reformed Pastor] I have done.  And I suppose the more penitent [sorrowful, broken, contrite] and humble any are, and the more desirous of the true reformation of the Church, the more easily and fully will they approve such free confessions [uncensored reproofs] and reprehensions.  But I find it will be impossible to avoid offending those who are at once guilty and impenitent [unrepentant]; for there is no way of avoiding this, but by our silence, or their patience: and silent we cannot be, because of God’s commands; and patient [humble and teachable] they will not be, because of their guilt and impenitence.  But plain dealers [those willing to bring open rebuke] will always be approved in the end; and the time is at hand when you will confess that they were your best friends.  

But my principal business [open rebuke] is yet behind [completed].  I must now take the boldness [courage], brethren, to become your monitor [one who holds accountable], concerning some of the necessary duties, of which I have spoken in the ensuing [following] discourse.  If any of you should charge me with arrogance or immodesty [pride] for this attempt, as if hereby I accused you of negligence, or judged myself sufficient to admonish you, I crave your candid interpretation of my boldness [point out where I am wrong], assuring you that I obey not the counsel of my flesh herein, but displease myself as much as some of you [sees his own cowardice]; and would rather have the ease [no hassle or pressure] and peace of silence [not get involved in conflict], if it would stand with my duty, and the churches’ good.  But it is the mere necessity of the souls of men, and my desire of their salvation, and of the prosperity of the Church, which forceth me to this arrogance and immodesty, if so it must be called.  For who, that hath a tongue, can be silent, when it is for the honor of God, the welfare of his Church, and the everlasting happiness of so many souls? 


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