Clean Contrary

Not a blanket-endorsement of Richard Baxter (which is known to all who are acquainted with how I’ve berated poor Mister Baxter in previous posts). Baxter, in his Directory, writes:

Direct, xvi. ‘Make careful choice of the books which you read. Let the Holy Scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and next them, the solid, lively, heavenly treatises, which best expound and apply the Scriptures; and next those, the credible histories, especially of the church, and tractates upon inferior sciences and arts : but take heed of the poison of the writings of false teachers, which would corrupt your understandings: and of vain romances, playbooks, and false stories, which may bewitch your fantasies, and corrupt your hearts.”

“To a very judicious, able reader, who is fit to censure all he reads, there is no great danger in reading the books of any seducers : it doth but shew him how little and thin a cloak is used to cover a bad cause. But, alas I young soldiers, not used to such wars, are startled at a very sophism, or at a terrible threatening of damnation to dissenters (which every censorious sect can use), or at every confident, triumphant boast, or at every thing that hath a fair pretence of truth or godliness. Injudicious persons can answer almost no deceiver which they hear: and when they cannot answer them they think they must yield, as if the fault were not in them but in the cause, and as if Christ had no wiser followers, or better defenders of his truth than they. Meddle not, therefore, with poison, till you better know how to use it, and may do it with less danger, as long as you have no need.”

“As for play-books, and romances, and idle tales, I have already shewed in my ‘Book of Self-Denial,’ how pernicious they are, especially to youth, and to frothy, empty, idle wits, that know not what a man is, nor what he hath to do in the world. They are powerful baits of the devil, to keep more necessary things out of their minds, and better books out of their hands, and to poison the mind so much the more dangerously, as they are read with more delight and pleasure: and to fill the minds of sensual people with such idle fumes, and intoxicating fancies, as may divert them from the serious thoughts of their salvation: and (which is no small loss) to rob them of abundance of that precious time, which was given them for more important business; and which they will wish and wish again at last that they had spent more wisely. I know the fantastics will say, that these things are innocent, and may teach men much good (like him that must go to a whore-house to learn to hate uncleanness; and him that would go out with robbers to learn to hate thievery). But I shall now only ask them as in the presence of God:

1. Whether they should spend that time no better? 2. Whether better books and practices would not edify them more? 3. Whether the greatest lovers of romances and plays be the greatest lovers of the book of God, and of a holy life? 4. Whether they feel in themselves that the love of these vanities, doth increase their love to the Word of God, and kill their sin, and prepare them for the life to come? Or clean contrary? And I would desire men not to prate against their own experience and reason, nor to dispute themselves into damnable impenitency, nor to befool their souls by a few silly words, which any but a sensualist may perceive to be mere deceit and falsehood. If this will not serve, they shall be shortly convinced and answered in another manner.”