The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, Updated and Abridged by Tim Cooper

Tim Cooper, professor of church history at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has done us a great service by updating and abridging Richard Baxter’s classic pastoral text, The Reformed Pastor.

Originally published in 1656, The Reformed Pastor is Baxter’s exposition of Acts 20:28 (“Take heed unto yourselves and all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood”). Baxter delivered these words to his fellow local pastors as they renewed their commitment to a “reformed” pastoral ministry (i.e., one that was re-formed to the original shape of the New Testament). Baxter reminds his fellow pastors of the seriousness of their calling, invites them to confess their neglect, and calls for a new resolve to their work, with a particular emphasis on the ministry of home visitation.

Whether or not one will agree with all the particulars of Baxter’s application of Acts 20, namely the specific form he says home visitations ought to take, his voice continues to serve a clarion call to the essential work of pastoral ministry: take heed of the flock. The message of The Reformed Pastor seems needful all the more as much of modern American evangelicalism seems to clamor for the opposite—”big box” megachurches where most pastors and congregants often remain relatively unknown to each other, churches that pursue production value, programs, and metrics over actual disciple-making, and thus pastors who are expected to be more like corporate CEOs than true shepherds.

“In the history of pastoral life, certain books stand out as classics that must be read by anyone who is serious about this utterly vital sphere of the Christian world. … Among this select group is Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. It can be a daunting read, for Baxter demands much of anyone who would seek to serve as a pastor to the souls of men and women and children. Daunting though it is, it is a must-read. For here we find not only a book that has influenced generations since it was first published but a work that sets forth the high calling of being a minister of the gospel. The latter is not in vogue today for a number of reasons, and to some extent we are reaping the fruit of our failure to highly prize pastoral leadership. May the reading of this new edition, rightly abridged, serve to rekindle among God’s people a prizing of the pastorate and a prayer for those who serve in it. May it be a key vehicle to help refocus the passions and goals and energies of those currently serving as shepherds of God’s people!”

Michael A. G. Haykin

Tim Cooper has sought to make this classic text a great deal easier to read by updating much of Baxter’s seventeenth-century language. Also, by eliminating Baxter’s redundancies, he’s reduced the book’s length to 30,000 words, down from its original 160,000, presenting the best of Richard Baxter’s timeless advice, while making it all the more accessible to a new generation of pastors.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Chad Van Dixhoorn

Chapter 1: Take Heed unto Yourselves
Chapter 2: Take Heed unto All the Flock
Chapter 3: The Ministerial Work
Chapter 4: What a Subtle Enemy Is This Sin of Pride!
Chapter 5: Many Things Sadly out of Order
Chapter 6: Reasons Why You Should Take Heed unto All the Flock
Chapter 7: The Greatest Benefits of Our Work
Chapter 8: Many Difficulties We Will Find
Chapter 9: Some May Object
Chapter 10: The Best Directions I Can Give

Appendix 1: The Catechism
Appendix 2: Book Outline

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.