“The ship is ready to sink”

by monax

From the introduction of Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, 15 April 1656:

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Too many who have undertaken the work of the ministry have so obstinately proceeded in self-seeking, negligence, pride, and other sins, that it has become our necessary duty to admonish them.

If we saw that such men would reform without reproof, we would gladly forbear the publishing their faults. But when reproofs themselves prove so ineffectual, so that they are more offended at the reproof than at the sin, and would rather that we cease reproving them than cease sinning themselves, I think it is time to sharpen the remedy. For what else should we do? To give up our brothers as incurable would be cruelty, as long as there are further means to he used.

We must not hate them, but plainly rebuke them, and not permit sin to continue upon them. To bear with the vices of the ministry is to promote the ruin of the Church; for what speedier way is there for the depravity and undoing of the people of God, than to permit the depravity of their guides? And how can we more effectually further a reformation, than by endeavoring to reform the leaders of the Church?

For my part, I have done as I would have done to me; and it is for the safety of the Church, and in tender love to the brothers, whom I venture to reprehend—not to make them contemptible and odious, but to heal the evils that would make them so—and to do this so no enemy may find this matter of reproach among us. But, especially, because our faithful endeavors are so greatly necessary to the welfare of the Church, and saving of men’s souls; to be negligent ourselves, or to silently ignore negligence in others would not be consistent with love toward either.

If thousands of you were in a leaking ship, and those that should pump out the water, and stop the leaks, were at play or asleep, or merely favoring themselves in their labors, to the hazard of you all, would you not awaken them to their work and call on them to labor so as to save your lives?

And if you used some sharpness and importunity with the slothful, would you think someone had his wits who would take offense at you, and accuse you of pride, self-conceit, or bad manners, to presume to talk so saucily to your fellow-workmen, or who would tell you that you wrong the slothful by diminishing their reputation? Would you not say, “The work must be done, or we are all dead men. The ship is ready to sink, and do you talk of reputation? Or would you rather place yourself and us in hazard, than hear of your slothfulness?”

This is our case, brothers. The work of God must be done! Souls must not perish while you mind your worldly business or worldly pleasure, and take your ease, or quarrel with your brothers! Nor may we be silent while men are hastened to perdition by you, and while the Church is brought into greater danger and confusion, out of the fear of seeming too uncivil and unmannerly with you, or displeasing your impatient souls!

If you would only be as impatient with your sins as you are with our reproofs, you would hear no more from us; we would all be agreed! But, neither God nor good men will let you alone in such sins. Yet if you had undertaken another calling, and sinned only to yourselves, and perished alone, we would not have so much need to molest you as now we have: but you have entered into the office of the ministry, which is for the necessary preservation of us all.

By letting you alone in your sin, we must give up the Church to loss and hazard. So do not blame us if we talk to you more freely than you would have us do. If your own body were sick, and you will despise the remedy, or if your own house were on fire, and you were singing or quarreling in the streets, I could possibly bear it, and let you alone, (yet, in charity, I could not easily do that). But, if you will undertake to be the physician of a hospital, or to a whole town infected with the plague, or you undertake to quench all the fires that are kindled in the town, there is no bearing with your remissness, however much it may displease you.

Take it how you will, you must be told of it; and if that does not work, you must be told of it more plainly; and, if that will not work, and you feel rejected as well as reprehended, then you may thank yourselves. I speak all this to none but the guilty.

And, thus, I have given you those reasons which forced me to publish, in plain English, so much of the sins of the ministry as I have in the following Treatise. And I suppose the more penitent and humble someone is, and the more he desires the true reformation of the Church, the more easily and fully he will approve such free confessions and reprehensions. But I find it impossible to avoid offending those who are at once guilty and impenitent; for there is no way to avoid this except by our silence or their patience: and we cannot be silent because of God’s commands; and they will not be patient because of their guilt and impenitence. But plain dealers will always be approved in the end; and the time is at hand when you will confess that plain dealers were your best friends.

But my principal business is yet to come. I must now take the boldness, brothers, to become your monitor, concerning some of the necessary duties of which I speak in the ensuing discourse. If any of you would charge me with arrogance or immodesty for this attempt, as if I accused you by this of negligence, or judged myself sufficient to admonish you, I crave your candid interpretation of my boldness. I assure you that I do not obey the counsel of my flesh in this, but I displease myself as much as some of you; and I would rather have the ease and peace of silence, if it were compatible with my duty and the churches’ good.

But the mere necessity of the souls of men, and my desire for their salvation, and for the prosperity of the Church, force me to this arrogance and immodesty, if it must be called that. For who with a tongue can be silent when it is for the honor of God, the welfare of his Church, and the everlasting happiness of so many souls?

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Christian Classics Ethereal Library link to complete text in various free formats

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related post: “the final triumph of love” ~Richard Wurmbrand

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