Old Testament Study:
A Classic Study:
Patience in Affliction
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A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
[Here, we continue a reprint of excerpts from Richard Baxter’s work entitled Obedient Patience. In each article, Mr. Baxter gives advice on how to be patient through a specific type of affliction.]—Ed.
When God Seemeth Not to Bless Means to Us:
Preaching, Praying, etc. - II
[This study is continued from last month’s study. In this study, Mr. Baxter has been exhorting us to patience when our prayers seem not to be answered. In this section, he has been teaching us about prayer. Specifically, he has told us: 1. What kind of means prayer is (“Not a purchasing means, nor a meriting by giving God anything which may benefit Him; nor doth it work any change on God; but it procureth blessings by the fitting the petitioner to receive them”); 2. What prayer it is that is such a means (“Prayer that is not dissembled; Prayer of sincere, yet weak Christians; Fervent and faithful prayers of men of eminent faith and holiness”). In this issue, he will go on to tell us: 3. What may be expected by means of prayer, and what not. 4. Prove that prayer is not in vain, nor God’s promises to it broken; 5. Why you should be patient under God’s denials.]—Ed.
3. Now I will tell you what grant of prayers you may or may not expect from God:
(i) The attaining of salvation, or our ultimate end, every true Christ doth pray for, and shall obtain.
(ii) The obtaining of all those means which are of absolute necessity to salvation, every true Christian prayeth for, and shall obtain; such as are our part in the merits and intercession of Christ, the pardon of sin as to the damning punishment, the necessary grace of the Spirit, deliverance from the dominion of sin: these we may be sure of.
(iii) There be some subordinate means so ordinarily needful, though not absolutely necessary, that we must pray for them with great earnestness, and may pray for them with great hope, though not with certainty of obtaining them; such are the use of Bibles, the benefit of a faithful minister, sacraments, Christian society, time of preparation for a comfortable death, etc.
(iv). There are some things which seem better to selfish persons, and to flesh and blood, than indeed they are, and are of very mutable, various use; sometimes they are good for us, and at other times hurtful; to one man they are good, and to another bad: such are outward prosperity, wealth, honor, ease, health, friends, and life. God best knoweth both to whom these things are good, and when, and how far, and how long; and because we know not, we cannot tell when, and how far, and to whom God will give them, when we pray for them; but we must ask in hope, according to our best understanding, and willingly leave all to the wisdom and will of God.
(v). There are some things which would be certainly good for us if we had them, which sin maketh us unfit to receive, or, as the Scripture speaketh, “unworthy of”, not only in the sense of the law of works, as all are, but even of the law of grace, or God’s ordinary gospel dispensation. Such are greater measures of grace, and of victory over sin, assistance in duty, and the enjoyment of the best means, and freedom from some temptations and affliction. Guilty, culpable Christians of the worst sort, that have less faith, and desire, and obedience than better men, cannot expect that in that condition their prayers should prevail as much as better; and that God should not punish them by any correction, or deny them greater grace and glory.
(vi). A strong Christian who hath before lived by faith, in a holy, fruitful life, and overcome the strong temptations of flattering prosperity, and fetched most of his daily comforts from the hopes of heaven, may expect with high probability, though not with absolute certainty, that God should give him in answer to his prayers, an answerable victory over all the temptations of adversity, and deliver him from such sufferings as else would be to his great hurt than good.
(vii). Those that God called to propagate the gospel by the attestation and seal of miracles, had answerable faith and grant of their prayers.
4. By thus much you may see, that while prayer and hope are guided by God’s word of precept and promise, they are far from being in vain: and though He give us not all that we desire, He giveth us all that we ought to desire absolutely, and all that we should conditionally desire, if we have the condition. For:
(i). Prayer goeth to Him that can easily give us whatever we need, without loss, or cost, or difficulty; to Him who is fuller of goodness than the sea of water, or the sun of light. And if the sun be an intellectual, free agent, it should in reason be no hard matter to believe that it is willing to give us light.
(ii). We come not to God before He calleth us: He hath commanded us to ask: it is in His own appointed way and means that we wait for mercy.
(iii). Sincere prayer cometh from God, and therefore is acceptable to Him. It is His Spirit that giveth us holy desires, and teacheth us what and how to ask; and causeth us to believe and hope for mercy. And God despiseth not His Spirit’s work. If it cause us but to groan out sincere desires, He knoweth the meaning of them.
(iv). In prayer we retire from ourselves to God. We exercise repentance in humble confession: we acknowledge our insufficiency, emptiness, and unworthiness, and so are the fitter, as beggars, to receive the gifts of His free grace.
(v). True prayer disposeth us to the right use of all that God shall give, and that is the way to obtain our desire. Prayer confesseth sin, and implieth that we take heed of sinning for the time to come: it confesseth unworthiness, and therefore implieth a promise to be thankful. It trusteth to God, and seeketh all of him, and therefore implieth our purpose to live to Him and please Him.
(vi). We go to God in the name of Christ, and have a Mediator whom He heareth always. We plead His worthiness, and that by His own command.
(vii). And prayer hath many promises from God, who is faithful, and never break His promise. “Ask, and ye shall receive” (Matt. 7:7).
(viii). Lastly, though we have not all that we would have, yet experience greatly encourageth us to pray, and tells us that prayer hath prevailed with God.
I know that the devil and unbelief has many dissuading objections. Such as:
Objection 1. That God is not moved by our words, much less by long prayers.
Answer. But our hearts are moved while just desire is excited and exercised, and thereby made fitter to receive God’s gifts. We pull the boat to the shore, and not the shore to the boat, when we lay hold on the shore and pull at it. If this reason were good, all means in the world were vain as well as prayer. If we do good, and obey God, and forsake sin, if it were to perfection, all this maketh no change in God: shall we therefore conclude, that it is vain, and no means of His acceptance and blessing. Your eating, and drinking, and trading, and ploughing, and sowing, and study, and travels, make no change in God: are they therefore all in vain? And will He give you all that you want without them? Changes are made upon the receiver, not on God.
Objection 2. God knoweth what we want without our prayer, and He knoweth our desires.
Answer. What though you know what a beggar wants, or what your child wants, will you think him a fit receiver who thinks himself too good to ask, or thinks you must give him all without asking? Is it not God Himself that hath bid you pray, and are His terms too hard? Have you less need than Christ Himself had, who spent whole nights in prayer?
Objection 3. Many live in prosperity that never pray, and many in adversity that pray.
Answer. Dives lived in prosperity (see Luke 14), and so did Herod and Pilate, and so do many Turks and heathens: is Christianity therefore in vain? And will you be contented with the portion of such men? Go into the sanctuary and see their end. Are those now in prosperity who are in hell with devils, past help and hope? Prayer is not to make us richer and greater in the world than other men, but to make us better, and obtain salvation. Do you judge of men by their case in this world or the next? And are those men prosperous, who are the slaves of the flesh, and the world, and the devil? And are they not better, who are secured of the love of God?
5. But I will next tell you what cause you have of patience, even when God seemeth to deny your prayers.
(i). It is an unspeakable mercy that He will not deny us anything that is necessary to our salvation. Is that man miserable, and should he murmur, who is a child of God, a member of Christ, and an heir of heaven; and is pardoned, sanctified, and shall be saved? Is there not enough in Christ and heaven to satisfy you?
(ii). God gave you mercy, yea, invaluable mercy, before you asked it; He gave you your being and reason unasked; He gave the world a Savior unasked; He gave you Christian parents, teachers, and books unasked; and He gave you His first grace unasked, and many a deliverance since. Therefore if He deny you what you ask, it is not because He is backward to give.
(iii). If it be any outward thing that He denieth you, bethink you whether God or you be fitter to dispose of such. Have you more authority and right? He owed you nothing: If He have given you long ago, be thankful for that, though it be past; it was freely given. And who is wiser, and better knoweth how to use you and all men? Is it God or you? Who is better, or unlikelier to choose amiss?
And again, remember how great a sin it is to grudge at God for His government of the world, and to desire to depose Him, and to dispose of anything ourselves. Is this your subjection and submission to His will? Did not Christ by His example teach you better, when He said, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39)? And, “if this cup may not pass from me unless I drink it, Thy will be done,” (Matt. 26:42). Man’s duty, holiness, interest, and rest, lieth in bringing over his own will entirely to the will of God, and his sin and misery in resisting it.
(iv). Either you are sure that what you ask is best for you, or not. If it be wealth or health, you are not sure; more perish by prosperity than by adversity. I before told you that men are condemned for loving somewhat more than God, and holiness, and heaven, and preferring it in their choice. And do you think men are liker to overlove sickness, and poverty, and crosses, more than health, and wealth, and pleasure? And would you have God give you that which is worst for you, only because you pray for it or would have it? You will not do so by your child, no nor by your swine, lest he burst his belly.
But if it be grace, and that which you are sure is best for you, your first duty is to examine whether there be not some great impediment in yourselves that is the cause of God’s denial. Do you go to the root of your old sins in your penitent confession? Do you hide no secret guilt or sin, and deal too gently with it? Do you humble yourself to those that you have wronged by word or deed? Do you make just restitution, so far as you are able, to all that you have defrauded? Do you not dally with temptation, and willfully renew your guilt? Do you not over-much hanker after worldly prosperity, or some sinful pleasure? Do you not willfully omit some certain duty to God or man, in your relation or converse, and look after none but yourself, and live unfruitfully to others, your children, servants, and neighbors? If conscience find such guily as this, presently endeavor faithfully to amend it, and then beg God’s further grace, and you shall find him not unwilling to give it you.
But if none of this be the case, but you have the testimony of your consciences, that excepting your unwilling imperfections and infirmities, in simplicity and godly sincerity you have your conversation in the world, and endeavor true obedience to Christ; then you may be sure that God hath denied you no grace essential to Christianity, and necessary to salvation.
(v). And as to increase of grace and higher measures, remember that even the desire of it is an unspeakable mercy: for the desire of perfection is the mark of sincerity, and so of salvation. Be thankful to God for those desires. But this is the affliction next to be spoken to more distinctly.