Posts tagged with: richard baxter

Readings in Social Ethics: Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682; repr. 1830), part 1 of 3. References below are to page numbers.

On Good Works:

  • A condemnation of selfishness: “It is a sign he is a branch cut off and withered who careth little for any but himself” (292).

  • The orderliness of subsidiarity obligations: “But as all motion and action is first upon the nearest object, so must ours; and doing good must be in order: first we must begin at home and with our own souls and lives; and then to our nearest relations, and friends, and acquaintance, and neighbours; and then to our societies, church, and kingdom, and all the world. But mark that the order of execution, and the order of estimate and intention, differ. Though God set up lights so small as will serve but for one room, and though we must begin at home, we must far more esteem and desire the good of multitudes, of city, and church, and commonwealth; and must set no bounds to our endeavours, but what God and disability set” (294).
  • The need for discernment and prudence in Christian charity: “In such cases there is need of great prudence and impartiality to know whether the good or the evil do preponderate; and a great part of the actions of our lives must be managed by that prudence, or else they will be sinful” (295).
  • God brings good even out of the evil of selfishness: “A narrow-spirited, selfish man, will serve others no further than it serveth himself, or, at least, will stand with his own safety or prosperity. He will turn as the weathercock, and be for them that are for his worldly interest. I confess that God oft useth such for common good: but it is by raising such storms as would sink them with the ship, and leaving them no great hope to escape by being false, or by permitting such villanies as threaten their own interest” (298).
  • Again, the need for wisdom in loving others is emphasized: “He that will do much good in the world, must be furnished with considerable abilities, especially prudence and skill in knowing when, and to whom, and how to do it. Without this, he will do more harm than good” (299).
  • Good works are oriented towards the ultimate good of the soul. The composition of human nature, body and soul, determines the relationship between material and spiritual assistance: “Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies, in order to the greater good of souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul” (303).
  • This prioritization of the spiritual over the temporal necessitates the use of the sort of prudential wisdom and reasoning Baxter praised earlier: “All men are sensible of pain or pleasure, good or evil, to the flesh, before they are sensible what is necessary for their souls. You must therefore speak on that side which can hear, and work upon the feeling part, if you will do good” (303).

I ran across this review essay by J. Daniel Hammond responding to S.J. Peart and D. Levy’s The Vanity of the Philosopher: From Equality to Hierarchy in Postclassical Economics over at SSRN, “In the Shadows of Vanity: Religion and the Debate Over Hierarchy.”

In Hammond’s words, he wants to fill in a gap in Peart’s and Levy’s account: “The purpose of this paper is to make a start at casting light on the role of religion in the debate over race and hierarchy in 19th century England.”

One of the key turning points in Hammond’s argument is the following supposition: “Catholicism may have played a larger role in the debates over racial hierarchy than would be suggested by the Roman Catholic proportion of the English population and clergy.” Rehearsing the history and nature of the English reformation, Hammond, who is an economist at Wake Forest, writes that in the late nineteenth century, religious liberty for Catholics in Britain increased.

Here’s where Hammond’s analysis gets somewhat strange. He writes that “the brotherhood of the entire human race was a Catholic doctrine. This principle is repeated over and over in papal encyclicals, and having been forcibly removed from the Catholic Church by the English reformers under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, the English people were for 300 years outside the ambit of the Catholic magisterium.”

Hammond relates a litany of papal statements against slavery. His conclusion: “If Englishmen were to conclude that slavery was wrong, or that African Blacks and Irish were their brothers, this would be on grounds other than exhortation from the Catholic Church. Not being in communion with the Church of Rome, Anglicans were without doctrinal protection from the very human temptation to treat only those humans who are like us as our brothers.” This absence of Catholic influence on Britain apparently opened up the nation to increasing support for racism.

Although Anglicans and British Protestants were not influenced to any great extent by papal teachings, it does not follow that they “were without doctrinal protection” from racist social forces.

Let me give just one example. The Puritan Richard Baxter, writing in the late 17th century, articulates an argument for the essential similarity shared by all human beings.

He writes, “It’s well known, That the Natives in New England, the most barbarous Abassines, Gallanes, &c. in Ethiopia, have as good natural Capacities as the Europeans. So far are they from being but like Apes and Monkeys; if they be not Ideots or mad, they sometime shame learned men in their words and deeds.”

Indeed, given the appropriate occasions for the actualization of their capacities, these people have proven themselves capable of the equal intellectual feats. After all, says Baxter, “I have known those that have been so coursly clad, and so clownishly bred, even as to Speech, Looks, and Carriages, that Gentlemen and Scholars, at the first congress, have esteemed them much according to your description, when in Discourse they have proved more ingenious than they. And if improvement can bring them to Arts, the Faculty was there before.”

While the “brotherhood of the entire human race” is a Catholic doctrine, it is certainly not exclusively a Catholic doctrine, as cases like Baxter and William Wilberforce show. Hammond’s instinct to better integrate religious contexts into the historical account is laudable. The execution of this idea could be done in a much more nuanced and historically responsible way, however.

Speaking of Christian education, here are some relevant thoughts plucked out of Richard Baxter’s most excellent treatise, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682):

A general observation about the importance of knowledge:

Goodness will never be enjoyed or practised without knowledge. Ignorance is darkness, the State of his Kingdom, who is the Prince of darkness, who by the works of darkness leadeth the blind World to utter darkness: God is the Father of Lights, and giveth wisdom to them that ask and seek it: He sent his Son to be the Light of the World: His Word and Ministers are subordinate Light: His servants are all the Children of Light: Ignorance is virutally Errour, and errour the cause of sin and misery. And men are not born wise, but must be made wise by skilful diligent teaching: Parents should begin it: Ministers should second them: But alas! how many Millions are neglected by both? And how many neglect themselves when Ministers have done their best? Ignorance and errour are the common Road to wickedness, misery and hell.

Regarding the contemporary situation in Britain:

I think we have Grammar Schools enough. It is not the knowledge of Tongues and Arts, and Curious Sciences which the common people want, but the right understanding of their Baptismal Covenant with God, and of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Decalogue and Church Communion. A poor honest man, or a good woman, will Teach Children thus much for a small stipend, better than they are taught it in most Grammar Schools; And I would none went to the Universities without the sound understanding of the Catechism: Yea, I would none came thence or into the pulpit without it.

How to further engage the education of children:

When you have got them to read, give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their Consciences: Such books are good Catechisms: Many learn the words of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Commandments and Catechism, by rote, and never understand them, when a lively book that awakeneth their Consciences, bringeth them to sensible consideration, and to a true understanding of the same things, which before they could repeat without sense or favour. It is the Catechistical truths which most of our English Sermons press. And the lively pressing them maketh them pierce deeper than a Catechism.

How to meet the financial obligations to educate the Christian youth:

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every years rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, the knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

My wife and I recently had occasion to discuss and decide how we would like our child to be cared for if we were both to pass away. Godly education was a top concern. Baxter often emphasizes the importance of determining how your inheritance should be spent. It’s true that the responsibility of stewardship is not dispensed with at your death. With that in mind, let’s conclude with this quote from Cyprian of Carthage on the responsibilities of parenting:

Neither should you think that he is father to your children who is both changeable and infirm, but you should obtain Him who is the eternal and unchanging Father of spiritual children. Assign to Him your wealth which you are saving up for your heirs. Let Him be the guardian for your children; let Him be their trustee; let Him be their protector, by His divine majesty, against all worldly injuries. The state neither takes away the property entrusted to God, nor does the exchequer intrude on it, nor does any forensic calumny overthrow it. That inheritance is placed in security which is kept under the guardianship of God. This is to provide for one’s dear pledges for the coming time; this is with paternal affection to take care for one’s future heirs, according to the faith of the Holy Scripture, which says: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed wanting bread. All the day long he is merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” And again: “He who walketh without reproach in his integrity shall leave blessed children after him.” Therefore you are an unfair and traitorous father, unless you faithfully consult for your children, unless you look forward to preserve them in religion and true piety. You who are careful rather for their earthly than for their heavenly estate, rather to commend your children to the devil than to Christ, are sinning twice, and allowing a double and twofold crime, both in not providing for your children the aid of God their Father, and in teaching your children to love their property more than Christ.

The Friday morning plenary address at last week’s Assembly of World-Wide Partners was given by Ruth Padilla deBorst, a 15-year veteran of work with Christian Reformed World Missions. Padilla deBorst’s talk focused on relations between the global north and global south, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century.” In the following I’ll summarize her talk and intersperse the summary with some of my own reflections. One general comment, with Acton University beginning today: the valuable uniqueness of a conference like Acton U comes into sharp relief given the economic, political, and ideological attitudes on display at an event like the Assembly of World-Wide Partners. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, May 24, 2007
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“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13 TNIV).

I’ve been working on a paper on vocation the last few days, and ran across that verse. One of the complaints against the theological grounding of vocation has been the claim that there is no biblical justification for speaking about calling as referring to anything but our call to conversion.

The passage in Galatians 5 may make that connection between the general vocation and the particular calling, albeit implicitly.

I also ran across this quote by Richard Baxter, dating from 1682 and his treatise, How to Do Good to Many:

Every Soul you convert, every brick that you lay in the building tendeth to make up the House and City of God. But as all motion and action is first upon the nearest object, so must ours; and doing Good must be in order: First we must begin at home with our own Souls and lives, and then to our nearest Relations, and Friends, and Acquaintance, and Neighbours, and then to our Societies, Church and Kingdom, and all the world. But mark that the order of execution, and the order of estimation and intention differ. Tho God set up Lights so small as will serve but for one room, and tho we must begin at home, we must far more esteem and desire the good of multitudes, of City and Church and Commonwealth; and must let no bounds to our endeavours but what God and disability let.

In Baxter’s case, the relative valuation of the soul over the body is clear, so that material concerns must always be oriented toward the spiritual.

There are details about how you can sponsor a child to receive an education at the new Christian Primary School in Kabala, Sierra Leone at the project’s blog. The school is an effort pursued by Fraser Valley Christian High School in Surrey, British Columbia, in conjunction with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone.

I have mentioned the new school in a previous Acton Commentary. The cost of sponsoring a child is $200. Some more details about the education offered by the school follows:

The school offers grade 1-4 education to start. They will have certified Christian teachers who will be teaching the Sierra Leone government core curriculum and like our Canadian Christian Schools will integrate Biblical worldview and values into all they do. The biggest advantage to these children will be the low teacher/student ratio of no more than 35:1. By African standards this is simply amazing and will make all the difference in the child’s education.

Check out the school’s blog for more information about how to sponsor a child and answers to some other frequently asked questions.

I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Baxter lately, and one of the things he emphasizes in many of his writings is the importance of a good, basic education. So, for instance, he writes in his treatise, How to Do Good to Many, that in order to “promote knowledge of necessary truth,” we need to first “set up reading schools.”

Once people are literate, we should “give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their consciences.”

He continues,

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every year’s rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, for knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

It’s within our ability to put not only books in the hands of those who need them, but to provide children in Sierra Leone with the education to make proper use of such books. It would be hard to find a better way to spend $200.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
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Words of prudential wisdom from Richard Baxter:

‘In doing good prefer the souls of men before the body, ‘cæteris paribus.’ To convert a sinner from the error of his way is to save a soul from death, and to cover a multitude of sins [James v. 20],’ —And this is greater than to give a man an alms. As cruelty to souls is the most heinous cruelty, (as persecutors and soul-betraying pastors will one day know to their remediless woe,) so mercy to souls is the greatest mercy. Yet sometimes mercy to the body is in that season to be preferred (for every thing is excellent in its season). As if a man be drowning or famishing, you must not delay relief of his body, while you are preaching to him for his conversion; but first relieve him, and then you may in season afterwards instruct him. The greatest duty is not always to go first in time; sometimes some lesser work is a necessary preparatory to a greater; and sometimes a corporeal benefit may tend more to the good of souls than some spiritual work may. Therefore I say still, that prudence an an honest heart are instead of many directions: they will not only look at the immediate benefit of a work, but to its utmost tendency and remote effects.

The Christian Directory, Part I, Christian Ethics, Chapter III, Grand Direction X, Direction X, p. 328.