Bunyan & Baxter: My Double Puritan Punch

1899-38633I want to double up today on two dead influences because they, for me, serve two sides of the same coin.  Richard Baxter challenges me while John Bunyan comforts me.

Richard Baxter, puritan pastor, challenges me with two books he wrote which have been near my desk since I’ve read them.  These are “The Reformed Pastor” and “Dying Thoughts.”  The Reformed Pastor is a book by a pastor for pastors, calling men “to be that which they persuade their hearers to be.”  I first read this book when I was in seminary and like I said it’s always been close to my desk because it’s fed my soul, challenged my convictions, and dug deeply into my heart.  If you’ve never read “The Reformed Pastor” it is a must read for anyone aspiring to enter ministry or already in it.  “Dying Thoughts” was a different kind of book, especially for Baxter.  Obviously from the name the book it’s clear that it’s full of his “death-bed thoughts.”  Because of this alone it is worth reading.  It is practical and heartfelt, and applicable to anyone in any stage of life regardless of vocation.  10 of 10 die.  One day we will be in this place, I read it to refocus my heart, and when I get to my death bed this book won’t be far away.

John_BunyanJohn Bunyan, another puritan, perhaps more famous than Baxter for his well known book he wrote in prison called “Pilgrims Progress.”  Have you heard of it?  That was a joke 🙂  This book alone is the reason why Bunyan is in the list of those who’ve influenced me.  Whereas the works of Richard Baxter have challenged me, the works of John Bunyan bring much consolation and comfort into my soul.  Why?  Because rather than calling me out for my sin and failures, Christian’s (the main character in Pilgrims Progress) Pilgrimage to the promised land is full of adventure, temptation, failure, success, sin, struggle, perseverance, and ultimately triumph.  One of the best books on the Christian life ever written “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is a MUST READ for every Christian on the planet.  It will be well worth the time needed to dig into it, and you will know Jesus better.

I am eternally grateful for these two men.

Richard Baxter’s brief bio:

Richard Baxter(1615-1691) was a prominent English churchman of the 1600s. He was a peacemaker who sought unity among Protestants, and yet he was a highly independent thinker and at the center of every major controversy in England during his lifetime.

Born in Rowton to parents who undervalued education, Baxter was largely self-taught. He eventually studied at a free school, then at royal court, where he became disgusted at what he saw as frivolity. He left to study divinity, and at age 23, he was ordained into the Church of England. Within the Anglican church, Baxter found common ground with the Puritans, a growing faction who opposed the church’s episcopacy and was itself breaking into factions. Baxter, for his part, did his best to avoid the disputes between Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other denominations, even convincing local ministers to cooperate in some pastoral matters. “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity,” he was fond of saying.

The interest in cooperation was not due to a lack of conviction. On the contrary, Baxter was opinionated in his theology, which was not quite Separatist and not quite Conformist. Among his more than 200 works are long, controversial discourses on doctrine. Still, he believed society was a large family under a loving father, and in his theology, he tried to cut between the extremes. He eventually registered himself as “a mere Nonconformist” (“Nonconformist” was a technical term meaning “not Anglican”), breaking with the Church of England mainly because of the lack of power it gave parish clergy.

Baxter also found himself as a peacemaker during the English Civil Wars. He believed in monarchy, but a limited one. He served as a chaplain for the parliamentary army, but then helped to bring about the restoration of the king. Yet as a moderate, Baxter found himself the target of both extremes. He was still irritated with the episcopacy in 1660, when he was offered the bishopric of Hereford, so he declined it. As a result, he was barred from ecclesiastical office and not permitted to return to Kidderminster, nor was he allowed to preach. Between 1662 and 1688 (when James II was overthrown), he was persecuted and was imprisoned for 18 months, and he was forced to sell two extensive libraries. Still, he continued to preach: “I preached as never sure to preach again,” he wrote, “and as a dying man to dying men.”

Baxter became even better known for his prolific writing. His devotional classic The Saints’ Everlasting Rest was one of the most widely read books of the century. When asked what deviations should be permitted from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, he created an entirely new one, called Reformed Liturgy, in two weeks. His Christian Directory contains over one million words. His autobiography and his pastoral guide, The Reformed Pastor, are still widely read today.

John Bunyan brief bio:

John Bunyan had very little schooling. He followed his father in the tinker’s trade, and he served in the parliamentary army from1644 to 1647. Bunyan married in 1649 and lived in Elstow until 1655, when his wife died. He then moved to Bedford, and married again in 1659. John Bunyan was received into the Baptist church in Bedford by immersion in 1653.

In 1655, Bunyan became a deacon and began preaching, with marked success from the start. In 1658 he was indicted for preaching without a license. The authorities were fairly tolerant of him for a while, and he did not suffer imprisonment until November of 1660, when he was taken to the county jail in Silver Street, Bedford, and there confined (with the exception of a few weeks in 1666) for 12 years until January 1672. Bunyan afterward became pastor of the Bedford church. In March of 1675 he was again imprisoned for preaching publicly without a license, this time being held in the Bedford town jail. In just six months this time he was freed, (no doubt the authorities were growing weary of providing Bunyan with free shelter and food) and he was not bothered again by the authorities.

John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in two parts, of which the first appeared at London in 1678,which he had begun during his imprisonment in 1676. The second part appeared in 1684. The earliest edition in which the two parts were combined in one volume came out in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693. The Pilgrim’s Progressis the most successful allegory ever written, and like the Bible has been extensively translated into other languages.

John Bunyan wrote many other books, including one which discussed his inner life and reveals his preparation for his appointed work is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). Bunyan became a popular preacher as well as a very voluminous author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons. In theology he was a Puritan, but not a partisan. He was no scholar, except of the English Bible, but that he knew thoroughly. He also drew much influence from Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians.

Some time before his final release from prison Bunyan became involved in a controversy with two theologians of his day: Kiffin and Paul. In 1673 he published his Differences in Judgement about Water-Baptism no Bar to Communion, in which he took the ground that “the Church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of the communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint of the word, the Christian that walketh according to his own light with God.” While he agreed as a Baptist that water baptism was God’s ordinance, he refused to make “an idol of it,” and he disagreed with those who would dis-fellowship from Christians who did not adhere to water baptism

Kiffin and Paul published a rejoinder in Serious Reflections (London, 1673), in which they set forth the argument in favor of the restriction of the Lord’s Supper to baptized believers. The controversy resulted in the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists leaving the question of communion with the unbaptized open. Bunyan’s church permitted pedobaptists (those who baptize children, such as the Calvinistic Presbyterian Church) to fellowship and eventually, Bunyan’s church even became a pedobaptist church.

On a trip to London, John Bunyan caught a severe cold, and he died at the house of a friend at Snow Hill on August 31, 1688. His grave lies in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields in London.

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