by Richard Baxter
This classic work gives extensive directions for applying the Scriptures to all areas of life.
Dr. Timothy Keller calls this "the greatest manual on biblical counseling ever produced."
Dr. J.I. Packer says that, next to the Bible, this is the greatest Christian book ever written.
THE Book is so big that I must make no longer Preface, than to give you this necessary, short account, 1. Of the Quality; 2. and the Reasons of this work.
1. The Matter you will see in the Contents: As Amesius's "Cases of Conscience" are to his "Medulla," the second and practical part of Theology, so is this to a "Methodus Theologiæ" which I have not yet published. And 1. As to the method of this, it is partly natural, but principally moral, 'secundum ordinem intentionis,' where our reasons of each location are fetched from the end. Therefore unless I might be tedious in opening my reasons 'à fine' for the order of every particular, I know not how to give you full satisfaction. But in this practical part I am the less solicitous about the accurateness of method, because it more belongeth to the former part (the theory), where I do it as well as I am able.
2. This book was written in 1664 and 1665 (except the ecclesiastic cases of conscience, and a few sheets since added). And since the writing of it, some invitations drew me to publish my "Reasons of the Christian Religion," my "Life of Faith," and "-- Directions for Weak Christians;" by which the work of the two first chapters here is more fully done; and therefore I was inclined here to leave them out; but for the use of such families as may have this without the other, I forbore to dismember it.
3. But there is a great disproportion between the several parts of the book. 1. The first part is largest, because I thought that the heart must be kept with greatest diligence, and that if the tree be good the fruit will be good; and I remember Paul's counsel, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." Nothing is well done by him that beginneth not at home: as the man is, so is his strength, and work. 2. The two first chapters are too coarse and tedious for those of the higher form, who may pass them over. But the rest must be spoken to; to whom that is unprofitable which is most suitable and pleasant to more exercised and accurate wits. The Grand -- Directions are but the explications of the essentials of Christianity, or of the baptismal covenant, even of our relation-duties to God the Father, Son (in several parts of his relation), and of the Holy Ghost. The doctrine of Temptations is handled with brevity, because they are so numerous; lest a due amplification should have swelled the book too much; when a small part of their number maketh up so much of Mr. John Downame's great and excellent treatise, called "The Christian Warfare." The great radical sins are handled more largely than seemeth proportionable to the rest, because all die when they are dead. And I am large about Redeeming Time, because therein the sum of a holy, obedient life is included.
4. If any say, 'Why call you that a Sum of Practical Theology which is but the directing part, and leaveth out the explication, reasons, various uses, marks, motives, &c.?' I answer, 1. Had I intended sermonwise to say all that might well be said on each subject, it would have made many volumes as big as this. 2. Where I thought them needful, the explication of each duty and sin is added, with marks, contraries, counterfeits, motives, &c. And uses are easily added by an ordinary reader, without my naming them.
5. I do especially desire you to observe, that the resolving of practical cases of conscience, and the reducing of theoretical knowledge into serious Christian practice, and promoting a skilful facility in the faithful exercise of universal obedience, and holiness of heart and life, is the great work of this treatise; and that where I thought it needful, the cases are reduced to express Questions and Answers. But had I done so by all, many such volumes would have been too little; and therefore I thought the directing way most brief and fit for Christian practice; for if you mark them; you will find few directions in the book, which may not pass for the answer of an implied question or case of conscience; and when I have given you the answer in a direction, an ingenious reader can tell what question it is that is answered. And so, many hundred cases are here resolved, especially in the two first parts, which are not interrogatively named.
6. And I must do myself the right as to notify to the reader, that this treatise was written when I was (for not-subscribing, declaring, &c.) forbidden by the law to preach, and when I had been long separated far from my library and from all books, saving an inconsiderable parcel which wandered with me, where I went; by which means this book hath two defects: 1. It hath no cases of conscience, but what my bare memory brought to hand: and cases are so innumerable, that it is far harder, methinks, to remember them, than to answer them; whereby it came to pass that some of the ecclesiastical cases, are put out of their proper place, because I could not seasonably remember them. For I had no one casuist but Amesius with me. But (after about twelve years separation), having received my library, I find that the very sight of Sayrus, Fragoso, Roderiquez, Tolet, &c. might have helped my memory to a greater number. But perhaps these will be enough for those that I intend them for. 2. And by the same cause the margin is unfurnished of such citations as are accounted an ornament, and in some cases are very useful. The scraps inserted out of my few trivial books at hand being so mean, as that I am well content (except about Monarchy, Part IV.) that the reader pass them by as not worthy of his notice.
And it is likely that the absence of books, will appear to the reader's loss in the materials of the treatise; but I shall have this advantage by it, that he will not accuse me as a plagiary. And it may be some little advantage to him, that he hath no transcript of any man's books, which he had before; but the product of some experience, with a naked, unbiassed perception of the matter or things themselves.
7. Note also, that the Third and Fourth Parts are very defective of what they should contain, about the power and government of God's officers in church and state; of which no readers will expect a reason but strangers, whose expectations I may not satisfy. But as I must profess, that I hope nothing here hath proceeded from disloyalty, or disrespect to Authority, Government, Unity, Concord, Peace or Order; or from any opposition to Faith, Piety, Love, or Justice; so if unknown to me, there be any thing found here that is contrary or injurious to any one of these, I do hereby renounce it, and desire it may be taken as 'non-scriptum.'
II. The Ends and Uses for which I wrote this book are these: 1. That when I could not preach the Gospel as I would, I might do it as I could. 2. That three sorts might have the benefit, as followeth.
1. That the younger and more unfurnished, and unexperienced sort of ministers, might have a promptuary at hand, for practical resolutions and directions on the subjects that they have need to deal in. And though Sayrus and Fragoso have done well, I would not have us under a necessity, of going to the Romanists for our ordinary supplies. Long have our divines been wishing for some fuller casuistical tractate: Perkins began well; Bishop Sanderson hath done excellently 'de juramento;' Amesius hath exceeded all, though briefly: Mr. David Dickson hath put more of our English cases about the state of sanctification, into Latin, than ever was done before him. Bishop Jeremy Taylor hath in two folios but begun the copious performance of the work. And still men are calling for more, which I have attempted: hoping that others will come after, and do better than we all.
If any call it my pride, to think that any ministers or students are so raw as to need any thing that I can add to them, let him but pardon me for saying that such demure pleadings for a feigned humility, shall not draw me to a confederacy with blindness, hypocrisy, and sloth, and I will pardon him for his charge of pride.
It is long ago since many foreign divines subscribed a request, that the English would give them in Latin a Sum of our Practical Theology, which Mr. Dury sent over, and twelve great divines of ours wrote to Bishop Usher (as Dr. Bernard tells you in his Life), to draw them up a form or method. But it was never done among them all. And it is said, that Bishop Downame at last undertaking it, died in the attempt. Had this been done, it is like my labour might have been spared. But being undone, I have thus made this essay. But I have been necessitated to leave out much (about Conversion, Mortification, Self-denial, Self-acquaintance, Faith, Justification, Judgment, Glory, &c.), because I had written of them all before.
2. And I thought it not unuseful to the more judicious masters of families, who may choose and read such parcels to their families, as at any time the case requireth. And indeed I began it rudely, with an intention of that plainness and brevity which families require; but finding that it swelled to a bigger bulk than I intended, I was fain to write my "Life of Faith," as a breviate and substitute, for the families and persons that cannot have and use so large a volume: presupposing, my "-- Directions for sound Conversion," for "Weak Christians," and for "Peace of Conscience," printed long ago.
3. And to private Christians I thought it not in vain, to have at hand so universal a directory and resolution of doubts; not expecting that they remember all, but may on every occasion, turn to such particulars as they most need.
But I must expect to be assaulted with these objections: and it is not only profane deriders and malignant enemies, that are used by satan to vilify and oppose our service of God.
Object. I. 'You have written too many books already. Who do you think hath so little to do as to read them all? Is it not pride and self-conceitedness to think that your scribblings are worthy to be read? and that the world hath need of so much of your instructions, as if there were no wise men but you? You have given offence already by your writings; you should write less, and preach more.'
Answ. 1. I have seldom, if ever, in all my ministry, omitted one sermon for all my writings. I was not able to live in London, nor ride abroad; but through God's mercy I seldom omitted any opportunities at home.
2. And if I preach the same doctrine that I write, why should not men be as angry with me for preaching it, as for writing it? But if it be good and true, why is it not as good to preach by the press, to many thousands, and for many years after I am dead, as to preach to a parlour full for a few hours? Or why is not both as good as one?
3. I will not take the reverend objector to be ignorant, that writing, and publishing the word of God by it, is preaching it, and the most public preaching; and hath the example of the Apostles and Evangelists, as well as speaking. And one is no more appropriate to them than the other: though the extraordinaries of both be proper to them. And do you not perceive what self-condemning contradiction it is, at the same time to cry out against those that dissuade you from preaching, or hinder you, and tell you it is needless, and you are proud to think the world needeth your preaching, and yet yourselves to say the very same against your brethren's preaching by the press? I know an ignorant, illiterate sectary might say, 'Writing is no preaching; and you are called to preach, and not to write.' But I must reverence you more than to suppose you so absurd. Other men forbid you but less public preaching, and you reproach me for more public preaching: that is the difference. How hard is it to know what spirit we are of? Did you think that you had been patrons of idleness, and silencers of ministers, while you declaim so much against it? Your pretence that you would have me preach more, is feigned. And are you sure that you preach oftener than I do? When I persuaded ministers heretofore to catechise and instruct all their parishes personally, family by family, you said it was more toil than was our duty. And now you are against much writing too; and yet would be thought laborious ministers.
And as to the number and length of my writings, it is my own labour that maketh them so, and my own great trouble, that the world cannot be sufficiently instructed and edified in fewer words. But 1. Would not all your sermons set together be as long? And why is not much and long preaching blamable, if long writings be? 2. Are not the works of Augustine, and Chrysostom, much longer? Who yet hath reproached Aquinas or Suarez, Calvin or Zanchy, &c. for the number and greatness of the volumes they have written? Why do you contradict yourselves by affecting great libraries? 3. When did I ever persuade any one of you, to buy or read any book of mine? What harm will they do to those that let them alone? Or what harm can it do you for other men to read them? Let them be to you as if they had never been written; and it will be nothing to you how many they are. And if all others take not you for their tutors, to choose for them what books they must read, that is not my doing, but their own. If they err in taking themselves to be fitter judges than you, what tendeth most to their own edification, why do you not teach them better? 4. Either it is God's truth, or error, which I write. If error, why doth no one of you shew so much charity, as by word or writing to instruct me better, nor evince it to my face, but do all to others by backbiting? If truth, what harm will it do? If men had not leisure to read our writings, the booksellers would silence us, and save you the labour; for none would print them. 5. But who can please all men? Whilst a few of you cry out of too much, what if twenty or a hundred for one be yet for more? How shall I know whether you or they be the wiser and the better men?
Readers, you see on what terms we must do the work of God. Our slothful flesh is backward, and weary of so much labour: malignant enemies of piety are against it all. Some slothful brethren think it necessary to cloke their fleshly ease by vilifying the diligence of others. Many sects whom we oppose, think it the interest of their cause (which they call God's cause), to make all that is said against them seem vain, contemptible, and odious; which because they cannot do by confutation, they will do by backbiting and confident chat. And one or two reverend brethren, have, by the wisdom described exactly, James 3:15, 16, arrived at the liberty of backbiting and magisterial sentencing the works of others (which they confess they never read), that their reputation of being most learned, orthodox, worthy divines, may keep the chair at easier rates, than the wasting of their flesh in unwearied labours to know the truth, and communicate it to the world. And some are angry, who are forward to write, that the booksellers and readers silence not others as well as them.
Object. II. 'Your writings differing from the common judgment, have already caused offence to the godly.'
Answ. 1. To the godly that were of a contrary opinion only. Sores that will not be healed, use to be exasperated by the medicine. 2. It was none but healing, pacificatory writings, that have caused that offence. 3. Have not those dissenters' writings more offended the godly that were against them? They have but one trick, to honour their denial, which more dishonoureth it, even by unsanctifying those that are not of their minds. 4. If God bless me with opportunity and help, I will offend such men much more, by endeavouring further than ever I have done, the quenching of that fire which they are still blowing up; and detecting the folly and mischief of those logomachies by which they militate against love and concord, and inflame and tear the church of God. And let them know that I am about it. But some pastors as well as people, have the weakness to think that all our preachings and writings must be brought under their dominion, and to their bar, by the bare saying that 'We offend the godly,' that is, those of their opinion, which they falsely call by the name of scandal. 5. But I think they will find little controversy to offend them in this book.
Object. III. 'You should take more leisure, and take other men's judgment of your writings before you thrust them out so hastily.'
Answ. 1. I have but a little while to live, and therefore must work while it is day. Time will not stay. 2. I do shew them to those that I take to be most judicious, and never refused any man's censure; but it is not many that have leisure to do me so great a kindness. But that I commit them not to the perusal of every objector, is a fault uncurable, by one that never had an amanuensis, and hath but one copy, usually. 3. And if I could do it, how should I be sure that they would not differ as much among themselves, as they do from me? And my writings would be like the picture which the great painter exposed to the censure of every passenger, and made it ridiculous to all, when he altered all that every one advised him to alter. And, to tell you the truth, I was never yet blamed by one side as not sufficiently pleasing them; but I was blamed also by the contrary side, for coming so near them: and I had not wit enough to know which party of the accusers was the wiser? And therefore am resolved to study to please God and conscience, and to take man-pleasing, when inconsistent, for an impossible and unprofitable work; and to cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils, whose thoughts all perish as he passeth off the judicature of his stage, to the judicature of God.
Object. IV. 'Your ecclesiastical cases are dangerously reconciling, tending to abate men's zeal against error.'
Answ. The world hath long enough escaped the danger of peace and reconciliation. It had been well if they had as long escaped the danger of your conceited, orthodox strife, which hath brought in confusion and all evil works. I take it to be a zeal effectively against love, and against unity, and against Christ, which, with the preachers of extremes, goeth under the name of a zeal against error, and for truth.
Object. V. 'Are all these numerous -- Directions to be found in Scripture? Shew us them in Scripture, or you trouble the church with your own inventions.'
Answ. 1. Are all your sermons in the Scripture? And all the good books of your library in the Scripture? 2. Will you have none but readers in the church, and put down preachers? Sure it is the reader that delivereth all and only the Scripture. 3. Are we not men before we are Christians? And is not the light and law of nature, divine? And was the Scripture written to be instead of reason, or of logic, or other subservient sciences? Or must they not all be sanctified and used for divinity? 4. But I think that as all good commentaries, and sermons, and systems of theology, are in Scripture, so is the -- Directory here given, and is proved by the evidence of the very thing discoursed of, or by the plainest texts.
Object. VI. 'You confound your reader by curiosity of distinctions.'
Answ. 1. If they are vain or false, shame them by detecting it, or you shame yourselves by blaming them, when you cannot shew the error. Expose not yourselves to laughter by avoiding just distinction to escape confusion; that is, avoiding knowledge to escape ignorance, or light to escape darkness. 2. It is ambiguity and confusion that breedeth and feedeth almost all our pernicious controversies; and even those that bring in error by vain distinction, must be confuted by better distinguishers, and not by ignorant confounders. I will believe the Holy Ghost, 2 Tim. 2:14, 15, 16 that logomachy is the plague by which the hearers are subverted, and ungodliness increased; and that orthotomy, or right dividing the Word of Truth is the cure. And Heb. 5:14. Discerning both good and evil, is the work of long and well exercised senses.
Object. VII. 'Is this your reducing our faith to the primitive simplicity, and to the creed? What a toilsome task do you make religion by overdoing? Is any man able to remember all these numberless -- Directions?'
Answ. 1. I pray mistake not all these for articles of faith. I am more zealous than ever I was for the reduction of the Christian faith to the primitive simplicity; and more confident that the church will never have peace and concord, till it be so done, as to the test of men's faith and communion. But he that will have no books but his creed and Bible, may follow that sectary, who when he had burnt all his other books as human inventions, at last burnt the Bible, when he grew learned enough to understand, that the translation of that was human too.
2. If men think not all the tools in their shops, and all the furniture of their houses, or the number of their sheep, or cattle, or lands, nor the number of truths received by a learning intellect, &c. to be a trouble and toil, why should they think so of the number of helps to facilitate the practice of their duty? If all the books in your libraries make your studies on religion toilsome, why do you keep them? and do not come to the vulgar religion, that would hear no more but 'Think well, speak well, and do well,' or 'Love God and your neighbour, and do as you would be done by.' He that doth this truly, shall be saved. But there goeth more to the building of a house, than to say, Lay the foundation, and raise the superstructure: universals exist not but in individuals; and the whole consisteth of all the parts.
3. It is not expected that any man remember all these -- Directions. Therefore I wrote them, because men cannot remember them, that they may upon every necessary occasion, go to that which they have present use for, and cannot otherwise remember.
In sum, to my quarrelsome brethren I have two requests, 1. That instead of their unconscionable, and yet unreformed custom of backbiting, they would tell me to my face of my offences by convincing evidence, and not tempt the hearers to think them envious. And 2. That what I do amiss they would do better: and not be such as will neither laboriously serve the church themselves, nor suffer others; and that they will not be guilty of idleness themselves, nor tempt me to be a slothful servant, who have so little time to spend; for I dare not stand before God under that guilt. And that they will not join with the enemies and resisters of the publication of the Word of God.
And to the Readers my request is, 1. That whatever for quantity or quality in this book is an impediment to their regular, universal obedience, and to a truly holy life, they would neglect and cast away. 2. But that which is truly instructing and helpful, they would diligently digest and practise; and I encourage them by my testimony, that by long experience I am assured, that this PRACTICAL RELIGION will afford both to church, state, and conscience, more certain and more solid peace, than contending disputers, with all their pretences of orthodoxness and zeal against errors for the truth, will ever bring, or did ever attain to.
I crave your pardon for this long apology: it is an age where the objections are not feigned, and where our greatest and most costly services of God, are charged on us as our greatest sins; and where at once I am accused of conscience for doing no more, and of men for doing so much. Being really
A most unworthy servant of so good a Master,