A Classic Study:
Patience in Affliction
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A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
[In each article, Mr. Baxter gives advice on how to be patient through a specific type of affliction.]—Ed.
The Common Sin and Misery of the World,
and Fewness of Wise and Godly Men
A heavier trial of our faith and patience yet is, the misery of this world by the universal corruption of mankind, the prevalency of most odious wickedness, and paucity of wise and godly men: that at thousands of years after the creation, most of the earth seemed forsaken of God; five parts of six being heathens and infidels; and the sixth part, the far greatest part being ignorant of God. And of the church-goers, so few that so much as seem to be practicers of the Christian faith and hope, but most live in worldliness and sensuality, if not also in enmity to serious piety, and persecution of all that practice what themselves profess.
This is a manifold and grievous trial to our faith: while Satan taketh advantage of it to make us doubt whether man was made for another life, when his nature seemeth to have no inclination to it, but rather to abhor it: and to doubt how Christ is the Savior of the world, and died for all, and would have all to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, when so few of the world shall be saved, and so many kingdoms and ages damned; when we ourselves can scarce bear the pain of the stone or colic patiently, or the miscarriage or misery of a child or friend. And it maketh it the harder to us to perceive the goodness, love, and amiableness of God, who can convert and save the world, and will not.
Note these things:
1. We are fully certain of God’s perfect goodness by all His works; it being equal to His greatness; and therefore no argument can be of force against a certain truth: nothing can be true that is inconsistent with so sure and great a truth.
2. God’s goodness is infinite in act, in His blessed self-love: no finite creature is an object fit to demonstrate infinite love in perfect act, nor capable of it.
3. It is certain de facto that God hath made toads, serpents, dung, and puts sensitive nature in men and brutes to great pains and death; therefore it is certain that all this is consistent with God’s perfect goodness.
4. God’s love to His creatures is His beneficence or complacence. He was no ways bound to make all His creatures equal, nor to give as much to a fly or flea as to a man, nor to a man as to an angel, or to the sun: nor is it required that He complacentially esteem any creature better than it is.
5. It is no way unusual that God should make a middle rank of active natures between necessitated brutes and immutable confirmed spirits, even a rank of intellectual free agents to be governed morally by laws, in a life of trial, with a power of self-determining as to their wills, and to leave them to their own determined choice, decreeing accordingly to judge them; yet resolving to secure the salvation of some. If it be not against God’s goodness to make brutes that have no intellects nor capacity of glory, it is not contrary to it to make intellectuals merely capable, and leave them to their free wills.
6. While we are thankful for God’s mercies to His peculiar people, the church, we must not, as some peevishly and rashly do, deny what He doth for the rest of the world. He uses them not according to the terms of the first law, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die” (Gen. 2:17). Rather, “He leaveth not Himself without a witness while he winketh at their ignorance” (Acts 14:17); in that, He giveth them abundance of temporal mercies, fruitful lands and seasons, health and time, and punisheth them not as they deserve: so that “that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it to them: for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse, because, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God” (Rom. 1:19–21). “Who hath made of one blood all nations of men, to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, that they should seek the Lord, if haply they may feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:25–27). “And in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of Him; for He is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). And Noah, that believed the warning of God, “and prepared the ark, being moved by fear, became an heir of the righteousness of faith” (Heb. 11:7). “God will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing do seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God. For as man as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the ; (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile either accusing or excusing one another); in the day when God, shall judge the secrets of men according to my gospel” (Rom. 2:6-16).
The world is not left in despair as devils, under the sentence of the broken law of innocence, but is under the edition of the law of grace which was made to Adam and Noah, and is used on terms of mercy and forgiveness, or else they should not receive all the mercies as they do: they are all obliged to repent in hope, and to use some means for recovery and salvation: and God under the law proclaimeth Himself to be “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness an truth, keeping mercy for thousands forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear,” etc. (Ex. 34:5–7). God would be no otherwise known to any men on earth.
And how far men keep or break this law of grace, their Judge best knoweth: but we know that they shall be judged according to the law that they are under, and the measure of talents delivered to them: to whom much is given, of them much is required. Melchizedec was king of Jerusalem, even of righteousness and peace; and Job and his friends seem to have been great men of several countries; in Nineveh they “believed God, proclaimed a fast, and God saw their works, that they turned from their evil ways, and God repented of the evil” etc., (Jonah 3:5). “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name shall be” (or “is”) “great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be” (or “is”) “offered to my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be” (or “is”) “great among the heathens, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 1:11).
John and Christ preached repentance and remission of sin, before they preached that Jesus was the Christ: and the very apostles that dwelt with Christ and followed Him, did not believe till after His resurrection, that He must be crucified and die for our sins, and rise again, and ascend and intercede in heaven, etc. They were fools, and slow of heart to disbelieve all that the prophets had spoken, how that Christ ought to suffer such things, and so to enter into His glory (see Luke 14).
We are too like the Jews, who were so proud of their peculiarity, that they deceitfully took their outward privileges to signify much more for them than they did: as if all the rest of the world had been quite forsaken and had been no people of God because they had not their covenant of peculiarity; whenas indeed their peculiarity was mostly typical, in that they were a type of the peculiar church under the gospel, and that Christ was to be a Jew according to the flesh; even as their law and the righteousness of it was excellent as typical, and as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, though it was called faulty, and was to be done away, that a better covenant might take place. God promised Abraham temporal greatness, viz. that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and he should have a land that flowed with milk and honey. And all this was made good: but in such good as this, how small was the portion of the Israelites! How small and poor their land and kings, in comparison to the Romans, Turks, Chinese, Indians, etc.! The whole land of the twelve tribes, not so big as England; and they lived most in vexation or captivity by the Philistines or others, till David conquered, and Solomon reigned in peace and luxury; and no longer did David’s line reign over any more than two of the twelve tribes, and those ere long went into captivity: so that the glory of the Jews’ kingdom was the divinity of their typical law, and that the Messiah, and the original of the gospel church, was to spring from them.
“What advantage then hath the Jew, and what profit is there of circumcision? Much in every way; chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1–2). And the Christian church hath now the said oracles and the covenant of peculiarity in a more excellent kind than ever the Jews had: but let us not follow them in our pride, lest we follow them in destruction; for if we be worse than others, we shall suffer more than others, as our light was greater. Though we only are the church and the peculiar people, the rest of mankind are part of the kingdom of the Redeemer, who “died, rose, and revived, to this end, that He might be Lord of the dead and the living” (Rom. 14:9–10). “For all power is given Him in heaven and earth; and He is head over all to the church” (Eph. 1:22–23). And our covenant of peculiarity is no repeal of the old law of grace made to mankind in Adam and Noah by God the Redeemer, who ruleth all upon terms of mercy and grace; and was known accordingly as a merciful, pardoning God, before He was incarnate or known as such: and so is still known, when as incarnate He is not known; and it is past doubt, that as much of His grace and mercy of redemption went before His incarnation, so much of it still extendeth further than the knowledge of His incarnation; as the light of the sun is not utterly gone, when clouds keep it unseen, and before it riseth, and after it is set.
And as to the question, “How many among the uncalled world do fear God and work righteousness, and are accepted of Him?” Who art thou that judgest another’s servant? To his own master he stand or falls: only I repeat, that Abraham, the father of the faithful, who “saw Christ’s day,” thought that there had been “fifty righteous persons in Sodom”; a city so bad, that fire from heaven must consume it. And all history tells us, that in all countries there are pious, virtuous persons, who are hated and derided by the sensual herd, yea, and persecuted in most places. This much I think needful to be considered, that we wrong not God, and ourselves, and others, by clouding His mercy and goodness, and making difficulties to our faith and love.
7. And again, and again, I repeat, that no man is fit to judge diminutively of God’s mercy and love, who knoweth not what he saith (and yet speaketh against a certain truth). But they that say, more are damned than are glorified, know not what they say: for it is visible, that all the earth is to the rest of the world, no bigger than an inch to all England, that I say not, to all Europe: and we see that each region hath inhabitants connatural here below (water, earth, air). And we see that the superior regions are most glorious as well as vast: and I think, that few men of sense do think, that sun, moon, and stars, and all the orbs, are made for no higher use than to shine upon or serve this dirty world of earth: so that again I say, that hell is like the gallows, and earth like the jail, to a whole kingdom or vast empire: and it is no sign of a bad prince, to have one gallows and one jail in his dominions.
8. And we must remember that though hell be but one word, it signifieth divers degrees of punishment: and Christ, who best knew, tells us, that they who “knew not their Lord’s will, shall be beaten with few stripes”: and even to “Sodom in the day of judgment it shall be easier” than to those that refuse the gospel: and it is an airy, active life of misery that the devils themselves have now.
9. And we see by the pain and death of brutes, that God doth lay such pain and death on them without desert by any sin: and is it any diminution of his goodness to lay more on sinful man? All confess that He might have killed and annihilated us without our sin: He that gave a man life freely for thirty, fifty, sixty years, was not bound to continue it forever. And He that made toads and snakes might have made us such; and yet it is certain, that most men had rather endure any tolerable degree of pain, than either to be annihilated or made toads or snakes: and we cannot certainly tell how far those pains may be called tolerable, which Christ calleth by the name of “easier and few stripes”.
10. It is most certain that when we come to heaven, we shall be fully reconciled to all God’s dealings, and rejoice in the glory of His holiness and justice, and see no cause to think diminutively of His goodness and grace.
11. And in the mean time, let us rejoice that He hath made us vessels of mercy, and that He hath endued so many thousands on earth with His grace and that the heavenly church is so great and glorious: there will be no want of number there.
12. And as to the temptations hence to unbelief, consider, that the heavenly hopes, and desires, and lives of all the godly, do prove that God intendeth them for heaven; all the work of His sanctifying Spirit is not delusion: and the fear and hope that human nature hath of another life, doth show that we have another to expect: and that the wicked have no such heavenly desire, doth but show, that they are uncapable of heavenly felicity, but not that all others are so too.