I am reading Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor and really enjoying it. In the first section, the section I read today, Baxter discusses the nature of a pastor’s self-oversight. One of the most striking aspects of this section was Baxter’s call for what I will term “God-centered study.” Here are some representative quotes:
“A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are wilful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed, are no better than nonsense” (pp. 56-7 of Banner of Truth, 2001).
“It is one thing to know the creatures as Aristotle, and another thing to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his Physics so as to understand it rightly. It [physics] is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many apprehend; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us” (p. 57).
“Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. To see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works – this is the true and only philosophy; the contrary is mere foolery, and is so called again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the end, the object, and the life of them all” (p. 58).
“If you see not yourselves, and all things, as living, and moving, and having being in God, you see nothing, whatever you think you see” (p. 59).
It is important to recognize that Baxter is not denigrating physics or Aristotle or study per se; rather, he is arguing for the folly of pursuing these things apart from God. Still, on my first reading I wondered if Baxter had gone a bit too far. I am wary of the danger of anti-intellectualism among Christians, and the failure to appreciate the wisdom and intelligence God gives to all people through his common grace. But as I reflected on the doctrine of God as Creator, what Baxter is saying here made more and more sense to me. If it is true that God is the Creator of all things, that all things that are good and beautiful are only good and beautiful insofar they participate in His goodness and beauty, that God is Infinite and fills all things such nothing can so much as exist outside of His will and purpose – if all this is true, then how should it not be foolish to study created things apart from Creator? It would be like reading a book without thinking about the fact that it has an author.
It is common for Reformed Christians to state, in relation to apologetics, that all truth is God’s truth; if this is true, it is no less true that all beauty is God’s beauty: every painting, every sunset, every story, every tree, every happy moment, is a reminder of God. The only normal way to live must be to live with what Piper calls “radical God-centeredness.”
A Concluding Prayer:
Oh Lord, let me know nothing, except as I know it in you. Let me love nothing, except as I love it for you. Let me be nothing, except as I am it for you.