A Classic Study:
Patience in Affliction
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A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
[In each article, Mr. Baxter has been giving advice on how to be patient through a specific type of affliction.]—Ed.
No Probability That Ever the World
Should Be Much Better
It adds much to the trial of our faith and patience, that there is no apparent means of deliverance, nor probability, in the eye of reason, that ever the world should become better, but it groweth worse and worse. This case indeed is a great trial of our faith and patience: but let us consider,
1. That this world was never intended to be the place of our felicity or long abode, but only, as is aforesaid, as the womb where we are conceived and formed for a better world; or as the wilderness to the Israelites, where they were to be tried by difficulties in their way to the land of promise: or as a winter journey through dirty or craggy ways homeward. And what if this womb, this wilderness, these ways never amend? What man is so weak as to be discouraged, because posterity is like to find the ways as foul or rough as he has done? Or because the deserts of Libya, or Arabia, or the dangerous passages over the Alps, will be no better to the next generation than they are to this? It is indeed the desire of every true Christian that the world were better; and these desires are not vain; they show the honesty of them that wish it: but God will not do all that He hath made it our duty to desire. We must desire the conversion and salvation of many that will never will be converted and saved.
2. God will give us all that we desire, but it is not on earth. If we did still see by the faith the greater, perfect, glorious, which we are near, it would quiet us against all our perplexing doubts and troubles in this world. All is well in heaven, even better than we can desire: there is no ignorance, no infidelity, no atheism, no wars, no sects, no cruelties, no contentions; reformation is there perfect, and the church all holy.
3. In all reason our affections should be but proportioned to their objects. It is our duty to mourn for the miserable world, and the corrupt state of the church on earth; but seeing the heavenly glory incomparably exceedeth the world's misery, our joy should be far greater to think of heaven, than our jail is compared to all this kingdom, yea, to all the kingdoms on earth; and it is our duty to be sorry, if those in prison do not amend and that those must die that are condemned. But should we not more rejoice, if it went as well as we could wish it with all the rest of the kingdom, or of the world. Heaven, which is many thousand times bigger than earth, hath nothing but perfect felicity and glory, perfect knowledge, love, and joy.
4. And this earth shall serve to all God's ends. He will gather all His chosen; and He will be glorified in His providence towards the rest. Out of this Bedlam Christ bringeth many to saving wisdom; and out of this jail God's mercy taketh many sons to glory: He reprieveth all, and pardoneth all that are penitent believers; and traitors and enemies are reconciled to Him by Christ, and being justified with peace with God. God placed man in an earthly paradise as a passage to a heavenly; and man’s own willful sin and folly turned his paradise into a prison and it is now a house of correction, where God joineth instruction, and by the book and rod doth teach His chosen saving wisdom: and as the Isrealites in the wilderness had their suitable mercies for their forty years; and as Jeremy led the captive Jews to build. and plant, and marry in Babylon, and pray for its peace, as the place in which their own peace must be had, till seventy years were past (which is the age of man), so God here giveth us great mercies suitable to our wilderness and captive state; and when a little is over, we shall have better than we could here believe. And though I would not cherish that sinful desire, which would have that on earth which is proper to heaven, now have I skill enough in the exposition of hard prophecies to make a particular determination about the thousand years reign of Christ on earth before the final judgment, yet I may say, that I cannot confute what such learned men as Mr. Mead, Dr. Twisse, and others (after the old fathers) have hereof asserted. And I am certain that Christ teacheth us all to pray that God’s name may be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; and that He appointeth us to use no prayer or means in vain. And many are ready to believe the old saying, that as the world was made in six days, and the seventh was made a day of holy rest, and a day with the Lord is as a thousand years; so after six thousand of sin and sorrow, a thousand years of holy rest follow. Of this I am uncertain: but I believe there will be a new heaven and earth, in which will dwell righteousness. We must not look for too great matters in a sinful, cursed earth. We would fain have all the blessedness of heaven, but are loathe to die, and therefore would have it here on earth; and the rather because as hearsay without sight doth not give a man a satisfactory conception we would have of heaven. But death is the wages of sin, and die we must; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Him who hath overcome him that hath the power of death, by the fear of which we are kept in bondage” (see Rom. 6:23; Heb. 2:14-15). And we may rejoice by an implicit trust to Christ, in the hope of that glory which we can in the flesh have no explicit idea or conception of; where will be no sin, no death, no fear, no imperfection, no unbelief, or censorious distaste at any of God’s words or works; but beatifying vision, and fullness of everlasting joy in glory.
And against this and other objections, you must still remember that a suffering condition is not so bad for the church on earth, as unbelief and flesh would make you think. For,
1. A fleshly prosperity is too brutish and short to be true felicity. It is the portion of the wicked, and the occasion of their deceit and ruin (see Ps. 17:14; Luke 12:15,20,21). And is the church less happy, because it is saved from so dangerous temptations?
2. Forget not the invaluable riches of the church, in its lowest state. Their God, their Christ, their Comforter, the promises, and all suitable providences fitted to their good, are a thousandfold greater riches and honour, than all the kingdoms and power of the ungodly world.
3. The church in its most depressed state, hath impregnable strength and safety; their God is invincible; their Saviour is the rock which the gates of hell shall not prevail against (see Matt. 16:18).
4. When they are most scorned and contemned, and used as fools and rogues, and as the basest and most odious of mankind; they are the members of Christ, the children of God, and bear the image, and are the charge of angels, and passing to a crown of glory. And what is dishonor from man, as set against such honors with God and all the blessed? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “The reproach of Christ is greater riches than worldlings’ treasure,” (Heb. 11:26; see also Eph. 2:7; 5:25,27; 1:22, 23; 3:10).
5. Remember that the far greatest part of the church, even all since the creation, are in possession of heaven already, and it is but a small remnant as the gleanings, that are here yet behind; read the description of them in Heb. 12:22,23. Christ is not ashamed to call them brethren (see Heb. 2:11); and useth them as such: in His Father’s house He hath many mansions for them (see John 14:1-3). And if you saw all those millions in heaven with Christ, could you for shame grudge that the few behind are passing thither through temptation and tribulation? Or that it must be as by swimming, or on broken pieces of the ship, that they must come all safe to land? (See Acts 27). If all be well in heaven, grudge not at the way: these things are never the worse or most uncertain in themselves, for being unseen.
6. And how great security hath God given the church of all this heavenly glory promised. Can we fear that Christ will be defeated of the great design of man’s redemption, and reigning in the new Jerusalem, which He is to be its light instead of the sun?
7. And doth not God love His church much better than we do; and better know how to deal with it, and all the world? Shall we, blind sinners, who do nothing thoroughly well, be afraid, lest God will miscarry, or do anything amiss?
8. The church must have its purgatory on earth: and prosperity filleth it with hypocrites who corrupt it; and adversity must refine from such dross.
9. Particular Christians are better by affliction; and what else is the church but particular Christians? God will not leave out temptations to the damning love of the world too strong.
10. The church must be conformed to its Head, who suffered, and then entered into glory.
11. While all individuals are sinful and imperfect, what wonder if all the church do suffer by it?
12. Most graces must shine and increase by exercise; like some jewels that must be rubbed: as fire in a flint, or steel, that must be called into sight by violence. We are but common men in appearance, till somewhat more than common work or suffering call us out, and show our difference from hypocrites.
These and many such considerations before intimated may convince us that the worse state of the church or world is no just cause of censuring God’s providence, not of discouragement or impatience to any true believer: but still in patience we may possess our souls.