[This study continues our reprint of Chapter 2 from Richard Baxter's classic tome A Christian Directory.7 This chapter consists of twenty directions to (as Mr. Baxter says) "young Christians or beginners in religion, for their establishment and safe proceeding." Though these studies were written specifically for "young" Christians, I think that you will find (as I did), there is much in here worthy of meditation for those who have been walking with God for many years.]--Ed.
Take heed of being religious only in opinion, without zeal and holy practice; or only in zealous affection, without a sound, well grounded judgment; but see that judgment, zeal, and practice be conjunct.
To change your opinions is an easier matter than to change the heart and life. A holding of the truth will save no man, without a love and practice of the truth. This is the meaning of James 2, where he speaketh so much of the unprofitableness of a dead, unaffected belief, that worketh not by love, and commandeth not the soul to practice and obedience. To believe that there is a God, while you neglect Him and disobey Him, is unlikely to please Him. To believe that there is a heaven, while you neglect it, and prefer the world before it, will never bring you thither. To believe your duty, and not to perform it, and to believe that sin is evil, and yet to live in it, is to sin with aggravation, and have no excuse, and not the way to be accepted or justified with God. To be of the same belief with holy men, without the same hearts and conversations, will never bring you to the same felicity. "He that knoweth His master's will and doth it not" shall be so far from being accepted for it that he "shall be beaten with many stripes" (see Luke 12:47). To believe that holiness and obedience is the best way, will never save the disobedient and unholy.
And yet if judgment be not your guide, the most zealous affections will but precipitate you; and make you run, though quite out of the way, like the horses when they have cast the coachman or the riders. To ride post when you are quite out of the way, is but laboriously to lose your time, and to prepare for further labour. The Jews that persecuted Christ and His apostles, had the testimony of Paul himself, that they had a "zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2). And Paul saith of the deceivers and troublers of the Galatians, (whom he wished even cut off), that they did zealously affect them, but not well (see Gal. 4:17). And he saith of himself, while he persecuted Christians to prison and to death, "I was zealous towards God as ye are all this day" (Acts 22:3,4). Was not St. Dominick that stirred up the persecution against the Christians in France and Savoy, to the murdering of many thousands of them, a very zealous man? And are not the butchers of the Inquisition zealous men? And were not the authors of the third Canon of the General Council at the Lateran, under Pope Innocent the Third, very zealous men, who decreed that the pope should depose temporal lords, and give away their dominions, and absolve their subjects, if they would not exterminate the godly, called heretics? Hath not zeal caused many of latter times to rise up against their lawful governors? and many to persecute the church of God, and to deprive the people of their faithful pastors without compassion on the people's souls? Doth not Christ say of such zealots, "The time cometh, when whosoever killeth you, will think He doth God service" (John 16:2); or offereth a service acceptable to God. Therefore Paul saith, "It is good to be zealously affected always in a good matter" (Gal. 4:18); showing you that zeal indeed is good, if sound judgment be its guide. Your first question must be whether you are in the right way? and your second, whether you go apace? It is sad to observe what odious actions are committed in all ages of the world, by the instigation of misguided zeal! And what a shame an imprudent zealot is to his profession! While making himself ridiculous in the eyes of the adversaries, he brings his profession itself into contempt, and maketh the ungodly think that the religious are but a company of transported brain-sick zealots; and thus they are hardened to their perdition. How many things doth unadvised affection provoke well-meaning people to, that afterwards will be their shame and sorrow?
Labour therefore for knowledge, and soundness of understanding; that you may know truth from falsehood, good from evil; and may walk confidently, while you walk safely; and that you become not a shame to your profession, by a furious persecution of that which you must afterwards confess to be an error; by drawing others to that which you would after wish that you had never known yourselves. And yet see that all your knowledge have its efficacy upon your heart and life; and take every truth as an instrument of God, to reveal Himself to you, or to draw your heart to Him, and conform you to His holy will.