[Here we continue our reprint of Chapter 2 from Richard Baxter's classic tome A Christian Directory.3 This chapter consists of twenty directions to (as Mr. Baxter says) "young Christians or beginners in religion, for their establishment and safe proceeding." Though these studies were written specifically for "young" Christians, I think that you will find (as I have), there is much in here worthy of meditation also for those who have been walking with God for many years.]--Ed.
Direction IX - Warnings Concerning Ill Effects of Affliction
Take heed lest any persecution or wrong from others, provoke you to any unwarrantable passions and practices, and deprive you of the charity, meekness, and innocency of a Christian; or make you go beyond your bounds, in censuring, reviling or resisting your rulers, who are the officers of God.
Persecution and wrongs are called temptations in Scripture because they try you, whether you will hold your integrity. As many fall in such trials, through the fear of men, and love of the world, and their prosperity; so when you seem most confirmed against any sinful compliance, there is a snare laid for you on the other side, to draw you into passions and practices that are unwarrantable.
Those that are tainted with pride, uncharitableness, and schism, will itch to be persecuting those that comply not with them in their way; and yet, while they do it, they will most cry out against pride, uncharitableness and schism themselves. This is, and hath been, and will be too ordinary in the world. You may think that schism should be far from them, that seem to do all for order and unity. But never look to see this generally cured, when you have said and done the best you can: you must, therefore, resolve, not only to fly from church division yourselves, but also to undergo the persecutions or wrongs of proud or zealous church dividers. It is great weakness in you, to think such usage strange: do you not know that enmity is put, from the beginning, between the woman's and the serpent's seed? And do you think the name or dead profession of Christianity doth extinguish the enmity in the serpent's seed? Do you think to find more kindness from proud, ungodly Christians, than Abel might have expected from his brother Cain? Do you not know that the Pharisees (by their zeal for their pre-eminence, and traditions, and ceremonies, and the expectation of worldly dignity and rule from the Messiah) were more zealous enemies of Christ than the heathens were? and that the carnal members of the church are oft the greatest persecutors of the spiritual member? "As then he that was born after the flesh, did persecute him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now," (Gal. iv. 29), and will be. It is enough for you, that you shall have the inheritance, when the sons of the bondwoman shall be cast out. It is your taking the ordinary case of the godly for a strange thing that makes you so disturbed and passionate, when you suffer: and reason is down, when passion is up. It is by overwhelming reason with passion and discontent, that "oppression maketh" some "wise men mad," (Eccles. vii. 7); for passion is a short, imperfect madness. You will think in your passion, that you do well, when you do ill; and you will not perceive the force of reason, when it is never so plain and full against you. Remember, therefore, that the great motive that causeth the devil to persecute you is not to hurt your bodies, but to tempt your souls to impatience and sin: and if it may be said of you as of Job: "In all this Job sinned not," (Job. 1:22), you have got the victory, and are "more than conqueror" (Rom viii. 37-39).
Doth it seem strange to you that "few rich men are saved," when Christ telleth you it is "so hard" as to be " impossible with men"? (Luke xviii. 27; Mark x. 27). Or is it strange that rich men should be the ordinary rulers of the earth? Or is it strange that the wicked should hate the godly, and the world hate them that are "chosen out of the world"? What of all this should seem strange? Expect it as the common lot of the faithful, and you will be prepared for it.
See therefore that you "resist not evil" (Matt. v. 39), by any revengeful, irregular violence. "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, and not resist, lest they receive damnation," (Rom. xiii. 1-3). Imitate your Lord, that "when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not, but committed all to Him that judgeth righteously; leaving us an ensample, that ye should follow in His steps," (Pet. ii. 21, 22). An angry zeal against those that cross and hurt us is so easily kindled and hardly suppressed, that it appeareth there is more in it of corrupted nature than of God. We are very ready to think that we may "call for fire from heaven" upon the enemies of the gospel; but "you know not what manner of spirit ye are then of" (Luke ix. 55). But Christ saith unto you, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. v. 44, 45). You find no such prohibition against patiently suffering wrong from any. Take heed of giving way to secret wishes of hurt to your adversaries, or to reproachful words against them: take heed of hurting yourself by passion or sin, because others hurt you by slanders or persecutions. Keep yourself in the way of your duty, and leave your names and lives to God. Be careful that you keep your innocency, and in your patience possess your souls, and God will keep you from any hurt from enemies, but what He causes to work for your good. Read Ps. 37. "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him: fret not thyself because of Him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pan. Cease from anger and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil" (Ps. 37. 5-8).
When you are repenting of or avoiding any extreme, do it not without sufficient fear and caution of the contrary extreme.
In the esteem and love of God, your ultimate end, you need not fear overdoing: nor anywhere, when impediments, and backwardness or impotency do tell you that you can never do too much. But sin lieth on both sides the rule and way: and nothing is more common, than to turn from one sin to another, under the name of duty or amendment. Especially this is common in matter of opinion. Some will first believe, that God in nothing else but mercy and after, take notice of nothing but his justice. First, they believe that almost all are saved, and afterwards, that almost none; first, that every profession is credible, and next, that none is credible without some greater testimony; first, that Christ satisfied for none at all that will not be saved, and next, that he died for all alike; first, that none are now partakers of the Holy Spirit, and next, that all saints have the Spirit, not only to illuminate and sanctify them by transcribing the written word upon their hearts, but also to inspire them with new revelations instead of Scripture... Now, they are for legal bondage, and anon for libertinism; today for liberty in religion to none that agree not with them in every circumstance, and tomorrow for a liberty for all; this year, all things are lawful to them, and the next year, nothing is lawful, but they scruple all that they say or do. One while, they are all for a worship of mere show and ceremony; and another while, against the determination of mere circumstances of order and decency, by man. One while, they cry up nothing but free grace; and another while nothing but free will. One while, they are for a discipline stricter than the rule; and another while, for no discipline at all. First, for timorous compliance with evil and afterwards, for boisterous contempt of government. Abundance of such instances we might give you.
The remedy against this disease is to proceed deliberately, and receive nothing and do nothing rashly and unadvisedly in religion. For, when you have found out your first error, you will be affrighted from that into the contrary error. See that you look round about you, as well, to the error that you may run into on the other side, as into that which you have run into already. Consult also with wise, experienced men; and mark their unhappiness that have fallen on both sides; and stay not to know evil by sad experience. True [balance] is the only way that is safe: though negligence and lukewarmness be odious, even when cloaked with that name.