Those Thick, Long, Intimidating Books
The Puritans wrote hefty, lengthy, thick books. Many of them sit on my shelves, and I've read quite a few. But their length can be intimidating, even to the most voracious reader. One of these tomes that has been collecting dust in my study for years is Richard Baxter's The Christian Directory, which Tim Keller calls "the greatest manual on biblical counseling ever produced."
It contains well over 1000 (mostly) double-columned pages with fine print, and according to J. I. Packer, contains a 1.25 million (yes million!) words. So, I'm pretty sure I'll never finish this book, or come anywhere near.
But that's not keeping me from benefiting. Over the past month or so I've picked it up a few times and each time I do, I profit. Fully ten percent of the book contains Baxter's "General Grand Directions for Walking with God, in a Life of Faith and Holiness: containing the Essentials of Godliness and Christianity," which can be particularly helpful in sketching out a scheme for spiritual growth and vitality for any believer's life.
Seventeen "Grand Directions for Walking with God"
There are seventeen of these grand directions, and most of them are then further subdivided into any number of other propositions, directions, questions, answers, and more. But, as with the entire volume, one doesn't have to read every word of these grand directions (I haven't) to benefit. In fact, just the directions themselves, without exposition, are helpful, in giving a comprehensive summary of Christian duties which arise from Christian doctrines.
Here they are:
1. Labour to understand well the nature, grounds, reason, and order of faith and godliness; and to believe upon such grounds, so well understood, as will not suffer you to stagger, or entertain a contrary to belief.
2. Diligently labour in that part of the life of faith, which consisteth in the constant use of Christ, as the means of the soul's access to God, acceptance with him, and comfort from him: and think not of coming to the Father, but by him.
3. Understand well what it is to believe in the Holy Ghost; and see that he dwell and operate in thee, as the life of thy soul, and that thou do not resist or quench the Spirit, but thankfully obey him.
4. Let it be your chiefest study to attain to a true, orderly, and practical knowledge of God, in his several attributes and relations; and to find a due impression from each of them upon your hearts, and a distinct, effectual improvement of them in your lives.
5. Remember that God is your Lord or Owner: and see that you make an absolute resignation of yourselves, and all that you have, to him as his own; and use yourselves and all accordingly; trust him with his own; and rest in his disposals.
6. Remember that God is your sovereign King, to rule and judge you; and that it is your rectitude and happiness to obey and please him.
7. Continue as the covenanted scholars of Christ, the Prophet and Teacher of his church, to learn of him by his Spirit, word, and ministers, the farther knowledge of God, and the things that tend to your salvation; and this with an honest, willing mind, in faith, humility, and diligence; in obedience, patience, and peace.
8. Remember that you are related to Christ as the Physician of your souls, and to the Holy Ghost as your Sanctifier. Make it therefore your serious study, to be cured by Christ, and cleansed by his Spirit, of all the sinful diseases and defilements of your hearts and lives.
9. Spend all your days in skillfull, vigilant, resolute, and valiant war against the flesh, the world, and the devil, as those that have covenanted to follow Christ the Captain of your salvation.
10. Your lives must be laid out in doing God service, and doing all the good you can, in works of piety, justice, and charity, with prudence, fidelity, industry, zeal, and delight; remembering that you are engaged to God, as servants to their lord and master; and are entrusted with his talents, of the improvements whereof you must give account.
11. Let it be most deeply engraven on thy heart, that God is infinitely good and amiable; thy grand Benefactor and Father in Christ; the end of all that thou art and hast; and the everlasting rest and happiness of thy soul: see therefore that thy inflamed heart be entirely and absolutely offered up unto him by the mediation of his Son, to love him, to trust him, to delight in him, to be thankful to him, to glorify him, and through faith to long for the heavenly glory, where all this will be done perfectly forever.
12. Trust God with that soul and body which thou hast delivered up and dedicated to him; and quiet thy mind in his love and faithfulness, whatever shall appear unto thee, or befall thee in this world.
13. Diligently labour that God and holiness may be thy chief delight: and this holy delight may be the ordinary temperament of thy religion.
14. Let thankfulness to God thy Creator, Redeemer, and Regenerator, be the very temperament of thy soul, and faithfully expressed by thy tongue and life.
15. Let thy very heart be set to glorify God, thy Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; both with the estimation of thy mind, the praises of thy mouth, and the holiness of thy life.
16. Let your life on earth be a conversation in heaven, by the constant work of faith and love; even such faith as maketh things future as now present, and the unseen world as if it were continually open to your sight; and such love as makes you long to see the glorious face of God, and the glory of your dear Redeemer, and to be taken up with blessed spirits in his perfect, endless, love and praise.
17. As the soul must be carried up to God, and devoted to him, according to all the foregoing directions, so must it be delivered from carnal selfishness, or flesh-pleasing, which is the grand enemy to God and godliness in the world; and from the three great branches of this idolatry, viz. the love of sensual pleasures, the love of worldly wealth, and the proud desire and love of worldly honour and esteem: and the mortifying of these must be much of the labour of your lives.
Conclusion: Grace Plus Effort = Greater Holiness, Deeper Joy
Now, perhaps just reading this table of contents was a tiring exercise for you. In fact, I'll bet most readers skipped part, or even most, of this list to get to this concluding paragraph! And I'll also bet that this exhaustive and exhausting series of directions leaves you feeling more than a bit overwhelmed, thinking: "if that's what it requires to walk with God, then I'm sunk! I just don't have the time or energy for this." I can relate.
But I'd also suggest that this very attitude may lie at the root of our low levels of holiness and happiness in our Christian lives. We don't want to put effort into it. And so talk about grace is more attractive to us than talk about effort and we do all that we can to sidestep lists of requirements, directions, and rules. Again, I understand. Really, I do.
But I'm also learning something from these Puritans, who tower like Redwood trees (Packer's image) above me in my sagebrush-like (short, shrubby, and dry) spirituality. I'm learning that grace + effort = both greater holiness and deeper joy.
And that leads me to end with Baxter's beginning to this 100,000 word series of exhortations on walking with God. As you read this, keep in mind that when Baxter says "habit" he means an inward principle or inclination. He said.
"Habits are for use: grace is given you, not only that you may have it, but also that you may know how to use it . . . It is grace in exercise that you must discern; and habits are not perceived in themselves, but by their acts; and the more lively and powerful the exercise is, the more easily is grace perceived: so that this is the nearest and surest way to a certainty of our own sincerity . . . He that useth grace most and best, hath most grace; and he that hath most, and useth it most, may most easily be assured that he hath it in sincerity and truth."