A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
Unkindness and Injury of Friends and Relations
Another case that calls for patience is the unkindness of friends, and their injurious dealing with us. Husband and wife often prove burdens and continual griefs to one another. Parents and children prove worse than strangers. Those that we have obliged by our benefits are ungrateful, and those untrustworthy whom we have trusted.
1. It must be so: man will be man, uncertain and untrustworthy. David and Paul say that all men are liars; that is, such as will deceive those that too much trust them. They are all sinful, ignorant, erroneous, mutable, and selfish: if interest, change, or temptations come, there is no hold of them, if God do not hold them up. Did you not know man till now?
2. It is God’s just rebuke for your too much trust in man, and for your erroneous overvaluing man: and it is His merciful remedy to drive you home from man to God. This deceit and failing of your friends is part of the curse pronounced: "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert." But, "blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters," etc. (Jer. 17:5, 6).
3. The failing of man doth but tell us what we are ourselves, even untrustworthy and mutable as other men. It should help to humble us for the badness of our nature, and drive us to seek to Christ for His confirming grace, and not to trust ourselves too far.
4. And it should call us to examine whether we never wronged and deceived others. Have we not put the best side outward, and seemed better to our friends than we are? Have we not been less helpful, friendly, and comfortable to them, than we promised, or than we should have been, and deceived their expectations? Have we not by our failings or provoking harshness been their grief? Or worse, have we not pleased them in their sin, and been temptations and snares to their souls?
5. Is there any friend that is nearer to you than yourselves? And is there any that hath hurt you half so much as you have done yourselves? Alas! How little suffer we by friends or foes, in comparison of what we suffer by ourselves!
6. Christ went before us in this kind of suffering, to teach us what to expect from men. Peter denied Him with cursing and swearing, and that after warning and contrary protestations; and all His disciples forsook Him and fled. And yet He forsook not them, but died for them, and as soon as He was risen, kindly comforteth them, "Go tell my brethren, and tell Peter, I go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
7. Were your friends so much obliged to you, as you were to God and to your Saviour? Or did they ever promise and vow more to you, than you did in your baptism to Christ? And have you faithfully performed all your vows, and answered all your obligations? Did you ever oblige any by such benefits as God hath bestowed upon you? No, not by the thousandth thousandth part. And have not you more unthankfully injured God, than ever any friend did injure you? Let this then provoke you to repentance.
8. If it be an unkind husband or wife; first see that you be innocent, and give no provocation. If you have deceived them by seeming better than you are, or if you be a burden to them, no wonder if they deceive you and be a burden to you. And next, remember that you had your choice, and that after time of deliberation. If you have by blind love, or passion, or covetousness, or causeless haste, deceived yourselves, repent, and make the best of it for the future that you can. Sin will not be without its sting.
9. If you love God and them, why are you not more grieved that they wrong God, and that they hurt themselves, than that they wrong you and deal unkindly by you. They do a thousandfold more wrong to Christ, and more hurt to their own souls, than they can do to you.
10. I fear most of us too little consider that friends overkind, and so overloved, are oft more dangerous than the unkind, yea, than enemies. To be crossed by them may many ways do us good, but to overlove them, hath more danger and hurt than I will now digress to mention. Corrupted love is the sinfullest and worst affection.
11. And why do you not consider the benefit and comfort which you have had by your friends, as well as the injuries? What if they now deal unkindly by you? Have they not many years been kind and useful to you? And should that be forgotten? And if you compare them, was not the kindness longer and greater than the unkindness? If Job say, "Shall we receive good at the hands of God and not evil," we may much more say so of men.
12. Perhaps God permitteth it, that you may be the less grieved to part with them at death. I have noted it in some of my nearest acquaintance that have lived in the greatest endearedness, that a little before death some unkindness hath fallen out between them, perhaps else death would have torn their hearts more grievously than that unkindness did. When God would separate Paul and Barnabas for his work, a little dissension became the cause. And when Paul was to be offered up, almost all his old companions forsook him (see II Tim. 4:16). Who would have thought that David should ever have dealt so unkindly with Mephibosheth; but his prosperity was less sweet and ensnaring by it.
13. It is purposely to keep us from heart idolatry, and drive us to God our surest Friend, that He permitteth friends to fail us. It is not them, but God, that we live upon, and that we must trust to, if we would not be deceived: it is not they, but Christ, that is our treasure. God never dealt unkindly with us. He hath promised that He will never fail us nor forsake us. Paul said: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me, yet the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me" (II Tim. 4:16). David’s lovers and friends stood aloof from him, when God was his hope. "I looked on my right hand and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord, I said, ‘Thou art my refuge and my portion’" (Ps. 38:11,15; 14:4,5).
14. I confess that the case of a bad, or unsuitable and unkind husband or wife, is a very sharp trial. They are near you, even in your bosom, bed, and heart: they are still with you, and a contentious woman is as a continual dropping, saith Solomon. To have a discontented, displeasing, angry, provoking person always with one to the death, is a greater affliction than any that ordinarily cometh from enemies. But yet let such consider, 1. That it is a just chastisement for their sin, and may help to a more deep repentance. 2. As it is a great and constant trial, so it calleth for great and constant patience, and exercise of grace: and what is more likely to increase grace than great and constant exercise? 3. It is a great and constant preservative against the flatteries of this world, or building a palace or fool’s paradise on earth; it is a daily voice to such, saying, "This is not your rest; look and long for better company and friends." 4. And as near as wife or husband is, God is much nearer to us, even within us; and should make us rejoicingly forget all other joys or sorrows, in comparison of Him.
15. The same I say of wicked children: the affliction is grievous; but, 1. It calleth men to examine how they have discharged their duty to them. Have you lovingly, familiarly, and unweariedly instructed them, exhorted and admonished them? Have you not thrust them into company, callings, or places of temptations, for a little worldly wealth, or learning, or reputation? Yea, have you kept them from temptations by prudent watchfulness and convincing dissuasions? Have you taught them as is required? Or have you not slubbered over so great a duty; and looked God should save them merely for being yours? 2. But remember, that all the children of God in glory will be dear and comfortable to you, as if they had been all your own.