THE OVERSIGHT OF OURSELVES – By: Richard Baxter
- It is a fearful thing to be an unsanctified professor, hut much more to be an unsanctified preacher. Doth it not make you tremble when you open the Bible, lest you should there re d the sentence of your own condemnation? When you pen your sermons, little do you think that you are drawing up indictments against your own souls! When you are arguing against sin, that you are aggravating your own! When you proclaim to your hearers the unsearchable riches of Christ and his grace, that you are publishing your own iniquity in rejecting them, and your unhappiness in being destitute of them! What can you do in persuading men to Christ, in drawing them from the world, in urging them to a life of faith and holiness, but conscience, if it were awake, would tell you, that you speak all this to your own confusion? If you speak of hell, you speak of your own inheritance: if you describe the joys of heaven, you describe your own misery, seeing you have no right to ‘the inheritance of the saints in light.’ What can you say, for the most part, but it will be against your own souls O miserable life! that a man should study and preach against himself, and spend his days in a course of self-condemnation! A graceless, inexperienced preacher is one of the most unhappy creatures upon earth and yet he is ordinarily very insensible of his unhappiness; for he hath so many counters that seem like the gold of saving grace, and so many splendid stones that resemble Christian jewels, that he is seldom troubled with the thoughts of his poverty; but thinks he is ‘rich, and increased in goods, and stands in need of nothing, when he is poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.’ He is acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, he is exercised in holy duties, he liveth not in open disgraceful sin, he serveth at God’s altar, he reproveth other men’s faults, and preacheth up holiness both of heart and life; and how can this man choose but be holy? Oh what aggravated misery is this, to perish in the midst of plenty! – to famish with the bread of life in our hands, while we offer it to others, and urge it on them! That those ordinances of God should be the occasion of our delusion, which are instituted to be the means of our conviction and salvation! and that while we hold the looking-glass of the gospel to others, to show them the face and aspect of their souls, we should either look on the back part of it ourselves, where we can see nothing, or turn it aside, that it may misrepresent us to ourselves! If such a wretched man would take my counsel, he would make a stand, and call his heart and life to an account, and fall a preaching a while to himself, before he preach any more to others. He would consider, whether food in the mouth, that goeth not into the stomach, will nourish; whether he that ‘nameth the name of Christ should not depart from iniquity,” whether God will hear his prayers, if ‘he regard iniquity in his heart,” whether it will serve the turn at the day of reckoning to say, ‘Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in thy name,’ when he shall hear these awful words, ‘Depart from me, I know you not,” and what comfort it will be to Judas, when he has gone to his own place, to remember that he preached with the other apostles, or that he sat with Christ, and was called by him, ‘Friend.’ When such thoughts as these have entered into their souls, and kindly worked a while upon their consciences, I would advise them to go to their congregation, and preach over Origen’s sermon on Psalm 50. 16,17. ‘But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant into thy mouth seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.’ And when they have read this text, to sit down, and expound and apply it by their tears; and then to make a full and free confession of their sin, and lament their case before the whole assembly, and desire their earnest prayers to God for pardoning and renewing grace; that hereafter they may preach a Savior whom they know, and may feel what they speak, and may commend the riches of the gospel from their own experience. Alas! it is the common danger and calamity of the Church, to have unregenerate and inexperienced pastors, and to have so many men become preachers before they are Christians; who are sanctified by dedication to the altar as the priests of God, before they are sanctified by hearty dedication as the disciples of Christ; and so to worship an unknown God, and to preach an unknown Christ, to pray through an unknown Spirit, to recommend a state of holiness and communion with God, and a glory and a happiness which are all unknown, and like to be unknown to them for ever. He is like to be but a heartless preacher, that hath not the Christ and grace that he preacheth, in his heart. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this! What a poor business is it to themselves, to spend their time in acquiring some little knowledge of the works of God, and of some of those names which the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know God himself, nor exalt him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy! They do but ‘walk in a vain show,’ and spend their lives like dreaming men, while they busy their wits and tongue about abundance of names and notions, and are strangers to God and the life of saints. If ever God awaken them by his saving grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations, that they will confess they did but dream before. A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are wilful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed, are no better than nonsense. He who overlooketh him who is the ‘Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,’ and seeth not him in all who is the All of all, doth see nothing at all. All creatures, as such, are broken syllables; they signify nothing as separated from God. Were they separated actually, they would cease to be, and the separation would be an annihilation; and when we separate them in our fancies, we make nothing of them to ourselves. It is one thing to know the creatures as Aristotle, and another thing to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his Physics so as to understand it rightly. It is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many apprehend; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us.
**From Chapter 1, section 1, point 1 – (Taking heed to ourselves).