I’ve been reading The Practical Works of Richard Baxter. It is so lengthy and theologically rich that I’m confident I won’t make it through this before Jesus returns. But I am enjoying what I have read thus far.
In one particular section Baxter discusses the controversy of his day concerning good works. The papists, says Baxter, attempt to “persuade their ignorant disciples, that we account them vain and needless things”.
Almost 400 years later I believe the words of Baxter concerning good works need to be recovered. In our day I believe the charge could be made that we view good works as vain and needless things. The Puritans, like Baxter, believed much differently.
What are good works?
According to Baxter good works are “all actions internal and external, that are morally good”. But we can, says Baxter, extend that a bit and say that they are all works that are done in loving service to our Master; namely, the Lord Jesus.
I’ve summarized and contemporized these a bit but I believe it is faithful to the original. Here are 13 truths about the Christian and good works that should be considered in our day:
- God does not need the service of any creature.
- In terms of the law, no sinner can do any works which shall be deemed “good”.
- Christ has fulfilled the law of works, as to merit for us
- The redeemed are not masterless, but are governed by the Lord.
- Christ did not redeem us from the necessity of good works but died to restore us to a capacity and ability to perform them.
- Good works in their due subordination to God’s mercy and Christ’s merits and grace, are necessary and rewardable.
- God doesn’t need our works but he is pleased by them
- It is no dishonor to God that creatures should be praised for their good works.
- Just as God gives light to the world through the sun, so also he does good works in the world through his servants.
- He is most indebted to God, that is most exercised in good works. In other words, the more good works we see in our life the more we can attribute to the work of His grace.
- The obligation to good works is essential to us as servants of the Lord.
- Not the same works are required of all, nor in the same degree; but according to every man’s talent and opportunities.
- God looks to the heart more than to external action.
(Taken from The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, p.111)
One other note from Baxter…
There is quote running around from Tim Keller that I continue to see time and again. It is something to the effect of us needing to even repent of our good works. In the context, I know that Keller means that when we come to Christ we must repent of our self-righteous efforts to please God apart from Christ. To that, I give a hearty “Amen!”
But I’ve noted that some stretch this quote a bit much–as if believers have no ability to produce good works and that we must repent of even the good things we do. I’m not sure the Puritans would agree. I found this quote from Baxter (on point #9 above) interesting:
Christ was far from their opinion that think all good works that are attributed to good men are dishonorable to God.