There is much wisdom to be gleaned here, both in how we live and in how we shepherd the souls of people. When you think of the pastoral role in terms of “preparing the saints to leave this world in peace when their time comes”, you automatically leave behind much of what goes under the name of pastoral ministry today. We need this perspective simply to understand the Bible and to persevere, but also to shape us into shepherds guiding souls to the Celestial City rather than hawkers of just one more bauble to add to life.
“Third, these Puritans were great hopers. One notable strength of the Puritans, setting them far apart from Western Christians today, was the firmness of their grip on the biblical teaching about the hope of heaven. Basic to their pastoral care was their understanding of the Christian’s present life as a journey home, and they made much of encouraging God’s people to look ahead and feast their hearts on what is to come. The classic works here are Richard Baxter’s massive Saints’ Everlasting Rest, written to show how the hope of glory, analysed by biblical study and internalised by meditation, should give believers energy and direction for present living, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, both parts of which reach their climax with triumphant passages through Jordan to the celestial city. The vividness of the vision of heaven in both Baxter and Bunyan is remarkable by any standards; sanctified imagination gives concreteness and colour to theological perception, resulting in extraordinary power to convey the flow of glory to the Christian heart. The Puritan point, which was first, of course, a New Testament point, was that Christians should know what their hope is and draw from it power to resist whatever discouragements and distractions present circumstances may produce. The unreadiness of pain and death that Western Christians too often reveal today contrasts unhappily with the realism and joyful hope that the Puritan masters inculcated in order to prepare the saints to leave this world in peace when their time came.” (334)