Baxter as Beethoven

April 21, 2006

When Brahms was asked why it took him so long to publish his first symphony (he had been working on it for years), I believe he said something about hearing the footsteps of Beethoven behind him.  Beethoven was such a titanic figure, founder of the "modern" symphony, revered by Brahms, that he could hardly be persuaded to publish his own first symphony.  When he was 43, he finally did.

I’m almost 46 and have still not published my first symphony, and don’t plan to anytime soon.  But for those of us who are pastors, Richard Baxter is the Beethoven-like figure of pastoral visitation.  His great reputation, rumors of his practices, pieces of his plans haunt our memories.  So, can we learn anything from his practices?  What did he do?

Richard Baxter had a specific area (the parish of St.Mary’s in the town of Kidderminster) which he was responsible for.  He mapped out the whole parish with the plan to interview and catechize every member of every household.  He hired an assistant pastor to help him with this work.  2 of his 5 weekdays, Baxter would try to see 7 families, and his assistant would try to see 7.  The assistant would go to their homes, those to see Baxter would come to him.  He carefully examined their knowledge of the catechism.  Then he would talk to each individual personally.  The results, by God’s grace, were stunning.

Now, a question for YOU LIG:  Would you call such pastoral visitation part of the "ordinary means" that are set out for us as pastors to use with the members of our congregations?  Maybe Paul’s practice mentioned in Acts 20:20?  Al, CJ, any thoughts? 

Is Baxter’s practice here the incarnation of the pastor’s conscience?  It is, I think, for this pastor.  And my practice for 12 years here so far has shown that I’m neither a Beethoven nor a Brahms.  Still, God has been so faithful.

Looking forward to seeing you all in Louisville!