Burkitt’s Address to Family Governors

William Burkitt (1650-1703) was a vicar and lecturer in Dedham, England. He first published his Expository Notes on the New Testament in 1794. They went through numerous editions and are still in print today, as well as being available on CD-rom. Burkitt’s notes were written “with practical observations on the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, wherein The Sacred Text is at Large recited, the Sense Explained, and the Instructive Example of the Blessed Jesus, and his Holy Apostles, to our Imitation Recommended.” In 1844, one American reviewer wrote, “The humble Christian who wishes to understand the Gospel and to make it the foundations of his hopes for eternity will find the book one of his best and closest companions.” Burkitt was known for his concern for the Christian education of the young people, and he designed his notes to be used by families during their daily devotions, which were still a regular part of the Christian’s day well into the 19th century. Following is Burkitt’s address to “family governors” on the use of this volume.


Particularly Those of My Charge

As religion did always consist in an imitation of God, and in a resemblance of those excellencies which shine forth in the best and most perfect Being, so we may imitate him now with more ease and greater advantage, since his Son was manifest in the flesh, and dwelt among us: For he was pleased to become man, on purpose to shew us how we might become like to God, by a daily imitation of his holiness. And it is most certain, that God our Father will never own any of us for his children, unless he sees upon us the air and features, the impresses and resemblance of Christ our elder Brother.

This consideration hath induced me to set the example of the Holy Jesus before myself and you, in these plain, practical notes upon the Holy Evangelists, which contain remarks upon the history of our Saviour’s life, doctrine, and miracles, and of his death, resurrection, and ascension: to the intent that the temper of our minds, and the actions of our lives, may be a lively transcript of the mind and life of our blessed Redeemer: that we may admire and imitate his unspotted purity, his condescending humility, his fervent charity, his patience under sufferings and reproaches, his readiness to forgive injuries, and his entire resignation to the Divine Will in all conditions of life whatsoever: that so following our Lord and Master in all the steps of an imitable virtue, and setting his example continually before us, we may be daily correcting and reforming our lives by that glorious pattern: for without present likeness to him, we have no grounds to hope that we shall hereafter live with him.

A true compassion for your souls, and a fervent desire to further their salvation from the press as well as from the pulpit, has put me upon redeeming time for this work.

I must acknowledge my constant preaching three times a week unto you (besides occasionals) and visiting as often a scattering parish from house to house amongst you (which I have always accounted a most important part of my duty) would allow me but little, too little time, for such a work as this, which I heartily wish had fallen on the shoulders of some that had more leisure, and greater abilities for writing on this noble and lofty subject, which even to eternity can never be exhausted. But this much I can truly say, that earnestly imploring divine assistance, I have done what I could; my work has been my recreation, and the Lord accept it, and succeed it.

And I have this observation to ground my hope of acceptance and success upon, that Almighty God has in all ages rendered those labours of his servants (how mean soever in themselves) most acceptable and useful, which have been employed in the profitable explication of any part of the Holy Scriptures; as if He, who imprinted such majesty upon the text, delighted also to reflect an honour upon the interpreters thereof.

My design in preparing and giving these notes into your hands, is to oblige you to read a part of the Holy Scriptures in your families every day; and to invite you thereunto, the sacred text is here at large recited, and controversies declined.

And I do most affectionately request you, not to suffer the holy word of God, which is in your hands, to lie by you as a neglected book; but daily to read it in and to your families, with a simplicity of mind to be directed and instructed by it.

All the return I desire from you for this my labour of love, is your living in a daily imitation of that grand pattern of holiness and obedience, which is here set before you, and in every page recommended to you; and that we may continue to strive together in our prayers one with another, for that grace which may enable us to the faithful discharge of our respective duties towards God, towards each other, and all mankind; and that the happy union and unanimity which hath hitherto been amongst us, may continue and increase still with us, to the glory of God, the honour of our holy religion, the present benefit and comfort, and the eternal joy and rejoicing, both of ministers and people, in the day of the Lord Jesus: which, as it is the fervent prayer, so it shall be the constant endeavour of your unworthy minister, whose highest ambition it is to serve you in the faith and fellowship of the gospel, whilst I am,