How to Get the Most Out of Church - Baxter
Sunday, June 14, 2009 -
When I was only 24 years old, pastoring a little church in Lanigan, Saskatchewan, I came across a massive, intimidating book. It was the size of a phone directory - will over a thousand pages of small, dense print. I used it for months to hold the window open in my cramped, un-airconditioned office.
Then, one memorable day, perhaps out of sheer boredom, I opened it up and came, either by happy fluke or the hand of God, upon these exhortations from Richard Baxter’s work, written for new converts, “A Christian Directory,” in 1664. Here’s what he said about how to get the most out of church; Ponder these words all summer long:
“Remember the Lord’s Day before it comes, and prepare for it, and prevent those distractions and disturbances that would hinder you, and deprive you of the benefit:
a) ‘Six days you must labor and do all you have to do’ - Despatch all your business, that you may not have it then to hinder and disturb you on the Lord’s day.
b) Shake off thoughts of worldly things, and clear your mind of either worldly delights or cares.
c) Call to mind the doctrine taught last Lord’s Day that you may be better prepared to receive the next.
d) Go seasonably to bed the night before that you may not be constrained to lie long the next morning, or be sleepy on the Lord’s day.
e) Let your meditations be preparatory for the Lord’s day. Repent of sins of the week past as particularly and seriously as you can, and seek for pardon and peace through Christ, that you come not with guilt or trouble upon your conscience before the Lord.
f) Enter the holy assembly with reverence and joy, and compose yourselves as those that come to treat with the living God about the matters of eternal life. And watch your hearts that they wander not, nor sleep not, nor slight the sacred matters which you are about.
g) Before you leave God’s house allow for a season of meditation to call over what you have heard, and urge it on your hearts, and beg God’s help with the improvement upon it.
h) When hypocrites and disgruntled Christians are quarreling with the imperfections of the speaker, or the congregation, or mode of worship, take no part. Rather, make it your diligent endeavor to watch your heart and benefit from what you have learned in worship.
i) Run not to church as the ungodly do, with a carnal heart, that never sought God before you went, nor considered what you go about, as if all your religion were to make up a number of minutes in church, and you considered not that God must be worshiped equally at home
j) Enter the sanctuary not superstitiously. Not as if bending the knee, and mumbling over a few prayers with a careless and ignorant mind, and spending an hour there carelessly would in any way save your soul.
k) If you come to God’s house at all, come at the very beginning, that you may show your attendance upon God a priority and your esteem for all His worship. This is how you show that you prefer public worship and that private needs and business will not keep you away.
I) If the ministry is weak, be the more careful against prejudice and sluggishness of heart, lest you lose all benefit. Mark the Word of God as much as you can, even if it is only read, and lay it up in your heart. Remember, Christ went into the synagogues, where even bad and wicked men did read the law of Moses. Every sentence of Scripture hath a divine excellency, and therefore had we nothing but the reading of it, and that by a bad man, a holy soul will find profit in it.
m) When you meet with a word or thought in a service, sermon or prayer that you do not like, let it not stop you, and hinder your fervent and peaceable proceeding in the rest, as if you must not now join in that which is good because you have found some mixture of fault in it. Rather, go on in the good which you hear, and thank God that He pardons the infirmities of others as well as your own.
n) Take heed of a customary, formal, senseless heart that tolerates itself from day to day, to do holy things in a dry, common manner, and with a common, dull, and careless mind; for this is to profane all religion. Call in your thoughts when they attempt to wander, stir up your heart when you feel it dull. Remember what you are about, and with Whom it is that you have to do, and that you tread on the dust of them who had such opportunities before you which are now all gone, and so soon will yours. You hear and pray for more than your life, therefore do it not as in carelessness or sleep.
o) Do everything in God’s house in faith and hope. Believe what you may receive from God in prayer, and by the obedient hearing of His Word. Who would not go cheerfully to a king if he promised to grant what you asked of him. Has God not promised you more than kings can give? Oh, it is an unbelieving and despairing heart that turns all into dead formality!
p) Quickly apply the Word to your heart in all its usefulness. Ask as you go from church, ‘How does this concern me? This reproof, this counsel, this comfort, this exhortation, this direction? Remember as much as you can, and especially to apply it to your immediate use. Get it home so deep into your heart that it may not easily slide away. Root it close to your life by application as you go.
q) Above all, take heed lest any wilful sin should escape the power of the Word, and should as a matter of course, go away with you from God’s house as it came in. ‘He that turns his ear away from the law, even his prayer is an abomination.’
Look therefore to your heart and your life when you go to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to offer the sacrifice of fools who think by sacrifice and external worship to get pardon for an unholy life, and to reconcile God to them while they remain in their sins, not knowing that they are only adding to and deepening their iniquity.
As ever you care what becometh of your souls, take heed lest sin grow more bold under prayers, and grow familiar and contemptuous of sermons and teaching, and lest you keep a custom of religious exercises and willful sins. For oh, how these do harden the heart and wound the hearer!
r) Stir up your hearts in a special manner to the greatest enthusiasm and joy in speaking praises and singing to God. The Lord’s day is a day of joy and thanksgiving, and the praises of God are the highest and holiest employment upon earth. And if ever you should do anything with all your might, and with a joyful and triumphing frame of soul, it is this.”