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Monday, May 5, 2014

Richard Baxter on the Decline of Doctrine, Formalism and Dead Religion

Richard Baxter (1615-1691), under the heading of Christian Ethics in his Christian Directory writes,

"How apt men are to corrupt and debase all duties of religion, is too visible in the face of the far greatest part of the Christian world.  Throughout both the eastern and western churches, the papists, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Abassines, and too many others, (though the essentials of religion through God's mercy are retained, yet,) how much is the face of religion altered from what it was in the days of the apostles!  The ancient simplicity of doctrine is turned into abundance of new or private opinions, introduced as necessary articles of religion:  and, alas, how many of them false!  So that Christians, being too proud to accept of the ancient test of Christianity, cannot now agree among themselves what a Christian is, and who is to be esteemed a Christian; and so they deny one another to be Christians, and destroy their charity to each other, and divide the church, and make themselves a scorn by their divisions to the infidel world:  and thus the primitive unity, charity, and peace is partly destroyed, and partly degenerate into the unity, charity, and peace of several sects among themselves.  The primitive simplicity in government and discipline, is with most turned into a forcible secular government, exercised to advance one man above others, and to satisfy his will and lusts, and make him the rule of other men's lives, and to suppress the power and spirituality of religion in the world.  The primitive simplicity of worship is turned into such a mask of ceremony, and such a task of formalities and bodily exercise, that if one of the apostolical Christians should come among them, he would scarce think that this is the same employment which formerly the church was excercised in, or scarce know religion in this antic dress.  So that the amiable, glorious face of Christianity, is so spotted and defiled, that it is hidden from the unbelieving world, and they laugh at it as irrational, or think it to be but like their own:  and the principal hinderance of the conversion of heathens, Mahometans, and other unbelievers, is the corruption and deformity of the churches that are near them, or should be the instruments of their conversion.  And the probablest way to the conversion of those nations is the true reformation of the churches, both in the east and west:  which, if they were restored to the ancient spirituality, rationality, and simplicity of doctrine, discipline and worship; and lived in charity, humility and holiness, as those whose hearts and conversations are in heaven, with all worldy glory and honour as under their feet; they would then be so illustrious and amiable in the eyes of heathens and other infidels, that many would flock into the church of Christ, and desire to be such as they:  and their light would so shine before these men, that they would see their good works, and glorify their heavenly Father, and embrace their faith."

"The commonest way of the degenerating of all religious duties, is into this dead formality, or lifeless image of religion.  If the devil can but get you to cast off the spirituality and life of duty, he will give you leave to seem very devout, and make much ado with outward actions, words and beads; and you shall have so much zeal for a dead religion, or the corpse of worship, as will make you think that it is indeed alive.  By all means take heed of this turning of the worship of God into lip-service.  The commonest cause of it is, a carnality of mind (fleshly men will think best of the most fleshly religion); or else a slothfulness in duty, which will make you sit down with the easiest part.  It is the work of a saint, and a diligent saint, to keep the soul itself both regularly and vigorously employed with God.  But to say over certain words by rote, and to lift up the hands and eyes, is easy:  and hypocrites, that are conscious that they are void of the life and spirituality of worship, do think to make all up with this formality, and quiet their consciences, and delude their souls with a handsome image...."

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