I’ve recently begun reading Baxter’s monumental “A Christian Directory, Or A Sum Of Practical Theology And Cases Of Conscience.” It may take me the rest of my life to read it, but I am thankful for the knowledge and encouragement I have already gained. It is a four volume work with its first volume on Ethics, then they follow with Economics (not what you think), Ecclesiastics, and Politics. He begins the volume on Ethics (or the life of holiness) with a number of arguments to the unconverted as to why they should care about the state of their life and eternal destiny before God. His evangelistic method in that section was enlightening and encouraged me in how to witness more faithfully to God and men’s souls.
But here, I wanted to quote in full a brief section in which he next lays out the road map of spiritual growth for the converted. He describes the means God gives and we must use to progress spiritually. I hope it will be a help to you, and may the Lord provide you with each of these means and the grace of His Spirit to use them cheerfully and constantly!
Engage thyself in the cheerful, constant use of the means and helps appointed by God, for thy confirmation and salvation.
He can never expect to attain the end, that will not be persuaded to use the means. Of yourselves you can do nothing. God giveth his help, by the means which he hath appointed and fitted to your help. Of the use of these, I shall treat more fully afterwards; I am now only to name them to thee, that thou mayst know what it is that thou hast to do.
- That you must hear or read the word of God, and other good books which expound it and apply it, I showed you before.
The new-born christian doth incline to this, as the new-born child doth to the breast; 1 Pet. ii. 1, 2, "Laying aside all malice, and guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." Psal. i. 2, 3, the blessed man's "delight is in the law of the Lord, and therein doth he meditate day and night."
- Another means is the public worshipping of God in communion with his church and people.
Besides the benefit of the word there preached, the prayers of the church are effectual for the members; and it raiseth the soul to holy joys, to join with well ordered assemblies of the saints, in the praises of the Almighty. The assemblies of holy worshippers of God, are the places of his delight, and must be the places of our delight. They are most like to the celestial society, that sound forth the praises of the glorious Jehovah, with purest minds and cheerful voice. "In his temple doth every one speak of his glory," Psal. xxix. 9. In such a choir, what soul will not be rapt up with delight, and desire to join in the concert and harmony? In such a flame of united desires and praises, what soul so cold and dull that will not be inflamed, and with more than ordinary facility and alacrity fly up to God?
- Another means is private prayer unto God.
When God would tell Ananias that Paul was converted, he saith of him, "Behold, he prayeth," Acts ix. 11. Prayer is the breath of the new creature. The spirit of adoption given to every child of God is a spirit of prayer, and teacheth them to cry, "Abba, Father," and helpeth their infirmities; when they know not what to pray for as they ought, and when words are wanting, it (as it were) intercedeth for them with groans, which they cannot express in words, Gal. iv. 6; Rom. viii. 15, 26, 27. And God knoweth the meaning of the Spirit in those groans. The first workings of grace are in desires after grace, provoking the soul to fervent prayer, by which more grace is speedily obtained. "Ask," then, "and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you," Luke xi. 9.
- Another means to be used is confession of sin; not only to God,
(for so every wicked man may do, because he knoweth that God is already acquainted with it all, and this is no addition to his shame: he so little regardeth the eye of God, that he is more ashamed when it is known to men,) but in three cases confession must be made also to man. 1. In case you have wronged man, and are thus bound to make him satisfaction: as if you have robbed him, defrauded him, slandered him, or borne false witness against him. 2. In case you are children or servants, that are under the government of parents or masters, and are called by them to give an account of your actions: you are bound then to give a true account. 3. In case you have need of the counsel or prayers of others, for the settling of your consciences in peace: in this case, you must so far open your case to them, as is necessary to their effectual help for your recovery; for if they know not the disease, they will be unfit to apply the remedy. In these cases, it is true, that "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but he that confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy," Prov. xxviii. 13.
- Another means to be used, is the familiar company and holy converse with humble, sincere, experienced christians.
The Spirit that is in them, and breatheth and acteth by them, will kindle the like holy flames in you. Away with the company of idle, prating, sensual men, that can talk of nothing but their worldly wealth, or business, or their reputations, or their appetites and lusts; associate yourselves with them that go the way to heaven, if you resolve yourselves to go in it. O what a deal of difference will you find between these two sorts of companions! The one sort, if you have any thoughts of repentance, would stifle them, and laugh you out of the use of your reason, into their own distracted mirth and dotage: and if you have any serious thoughts of your salvation, or any inclinations to repent and be wise, they will do much to divert them, and hold you in the power and snares of Satan, till it be too late: if you have any zeal, or heavenly-mindedness, they will do much to quench it, and fetch down your minds to earth again. The other sort will speak of things of so great weight and moment, and that with seriousness and reverence, as will tend to raise and quicken your souls; and possess you with a taste of the heavenly things which they discourse of; they will encourage you by their own experiences, and direct you by that truth which hath directed them, and zealously communicate what they have received: they will pray for you, and teach you how to pray: they will give the example of holy, humble, obedient lives, and lovingly admonish you of your duties, and reprove your sins. In a word, as the carnal mind doth savour the things of the flesh, and is enmity against God, the company of such will be a powerful means to infect you with their plague, and make you such, if you were escaped from them; much more to keep you such, if you are not escaped: and as they that are spiritual, do mind the things of the Spirit, so their converse tendeth to make you spiritually-minded, as they are, Rom. viii. 7, 8. Though there are some useful qualities and gifts in some that are ungodly, and some lamentable faults in many that are spiritual; yet experience will show you so great a difference between them in the main, in heart and life, as will make you the more easily believe the difference that will be between them in the life to come.
- Another means is serious meditation on the life to come, and the way thereto; which though all cannot manage so methodically as some, yet all should in some measure and season be acquainted with it.
- The last means is, to choose some prudent, faithful guide and counsellor for your soul, to open those cases to which are not fit for all to know, and to resolve and advise you in cases that are too hard for you: not to lead you blindfold after the interest of any seduced or ambitious men, nor to engage you to his singular conceits, against the Scripture or the church of God; but to be to your soul, as a physician to your body, or a lawyer to your estates, to help you where they are wiser than you, and where you need their helps. Resolve now, that instead of your idle company and pastime, your excessive cares and sinful pleasures, you will wait on God in the seasonable use of these his own appointed means; and you will find, that he hath appointed them not in vain, and that you shall not lose your labour.