A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615Ė1691)

[Here, we continue a reprint of excerpts from Richard Baxterís work entitled Obedient Patience. In each article, Mr. Baxter gives advice on how to be patient through a specific type of affliction.]óEd.

Injuries from Malicious Enemies - I

Another trial which requireth patience is injuries from malicious enemies: either personal enemies, or those who hate and persecute us for our duty. As to the former sort, personal enemies, consider:

1. We have the greater reason to be patient, when we consider what poor and worthless worms we are; and that enmity and injury against such low and little creatures is a smaller fault than if it were against nobler or more excellent beings. We make no great matter of beating a horse or dog. Though this must not diminish their repentance, it must diminish our impatience.

2. And we are so bad that we give occasion of hatred and hard thoughts of us to our enemies; and though this justify not their mistakes, who take us to be worse than we are, yet it commandeth us who tempt them to it, the more patiently to bear it. They mistake us mostly by thinking that the same sins that are in us are predominant, and in a greater measure than they are. They call us erroneous, proud, hypocrites, covetous, unpeaceable, etc. And when we know there is in us some error, some price, hypocrisy, and the rest, the conscience of this must make us the easier bear with and forgive the false accusers that charge us with more than we are guilty of.

3. And when we consider we were enemies to God, and have far more wronged Him by sin than any can wrong us, and yet He forgiveth us; it must teach us to forgive the wrongs and enmity of others. Yea, God hath made our forgiving others a condition of His full forgiving us; and we cannot pray to Him for forgiveness, and consequently not expect it, on any lower terms; yea, we must learn of God to love our enemies, and pray for them, and do them good, and not seek revenge and satisfaction.

4. Which of us hath done no wrong to others? Have we unjustly censured none, nor spoken evil of them, or been angry, or reviled them without just cause? Have we never tempted any to sin, nor encouraged them in it, nor omitted any duty which we owed them? If we have, we may see Godís justice permitting injuries against us, as an equal castigation.

5. However, conscience tells us that we have deserved a thousandfold worse from God: and He useth to make the sins of men the instruments of His punishments on earth. God punished David by the permitted sins of Absalom and Shimei (though He caused not the sin). And David the more patiently endured it, as acknowledging the providence of a correcting God.

6. Is it your own fault if all your enemiesí wrongs do you not much more good than hurt. God hath told you how so to improve them; and if you do, you may well be patient with that which is your benefit and advantage; yea, and thankful too, which is more than patient. But if you do not so improve them, you have more to be grieved for than your injuries, even your own sin and omission, which loseth so gainful an advantage.

7. If they repent, God will forgive them all their greater wrong against Him (oh what a deal doth He forgive at once to a converted sinner!), and then surely you will easily forgive your mite. But if they repent not, instead of impatience and revenge, pity them, and lament their case; for they will suffer more than you can now desire: would you have them suffer more than hell?

8. Your happiness and all your great concerns are out of the power of all your enemies: it is but matters of little moment that they can touch you in. They cannot take away your God, your Saviour, your Comforter, your glory; no, nor the least of your graces. They cannot deprive you of your knowledge, or of love to God, of faith, or hope, or peace of conscience, or joy in the Holy Ghost. They cannot bring back the guilt of any pardoned sin, nor cast you into hell.

9. And if impatience open the door of your heart, which your enemies could bring no nearer you than your estate, your ears, or your flesh at most, it is not they but yourselves that are your chief tormenter. And will you torment yourselves because another wrongeth you?

10. Do you not observe how sin hath set all the world in a state of enmity to God, and all that is holy, and to the way of their own salvation? And that all the unsanctified world is in a war against God and goodness, under the unknown conduct of the devil? And do you make a great matter then of some petty injury or enmity to you? This is more foolishly selfish, than if you should complain of a soldier for taking a pin off your sleeve, when an army is plundering all the town, and setting all the country on fire, and murdering your neighbours before your face.

So much for patience in case of personal enmity and injury.

II. But if it be in the case of persecution for your duty to God, impatience then is far more culpable. In this case I premise this advice.

1. Search diligently lest some personal crimes of your own be in the cause, as well as your religion. Sometimes the sinful miscarriages of Christians doth provoke the adversaries to think the worse of their way of religion for their sakes, and so to persecute them for truth duty, but provoked to it by former sin. In this case your first duty is to repent of the sin which first provoked them, and openly confess it and lament it: for while you remain impenitent, and hide or justify your gross iniquity, you harden them that afflict you, and you provoke God to let them loose. Especially when you can aggravate all the miscarriages of your persecutors, and cannot bear so much as the naming of your own sin, but take it for enmity or injury to be called to repent.

If it be any sin of ours that hath made us stink in the nostrils of our persecutors, we cannot comfortably suffer or expect deliverance, till we repent.

2. Let us search, with the severest suspicion and impartiality, that it be indeed truth and duty, and not error and sin, for which we suffer. I doubt not but men may be persecutors and injurious, who do but afflict men for sin and error, when it is done for such as are but those tolerable infirmities, which all Christians in one kind or other are liable to; or when the punishment is greater than the fault deserveth; and when it is done in malice against the piety of the persons, or tendeth to the hinderance of piety, and injury of the church of God. But yet the guilt of his persecutors is no justification of anyone that suffereth for his sin or error, nor should abate, but increase his repentance, in that he occasions by his scandal the sin and misery of his persecutors. Peter justly calleth us to make sure that none of us suffer as evil-doers, much less as impenitent persons that cannot endure to hear of it. I am one that have been first in all the storms that have befallen the ministry these twenty years past (to look no further back); and yet my conscience commandeth me to say, as I have oft done, that many through mistake, I am persuaded, now suffer as evil-doers for a cause that is not good and justifiable. For the great difference among sufferers proveth that some must needs be mistaken.

3. If we be sure that our cause is good, let us also make sure that we use it well. A good cause may be abused. Let us see,

(1). That we mix no error with it.

(2). That we do not manage it partially and uncharitably; that we make not the contrary worse than it is.

(3). That we delight not to represent our adversaries more odiously than there is cause.

(4). That we deny no just honour or obedience to our governors.

(5). That we show not the same spirit of persecution which we exclaim against, by differing from them only in the manner of expression. If they unjustly say that men are so bad as to be unworthy of Christian communion, you agree in unjust condemning others, and only wrong them several ways.

(6). Let us see that while we are restrained from some part of our work, we neglect not that which none forbiddeth us.

Are we not shamefully guilty in this? None forbiddeth ministers to catechise those that are under sixteen years of age, or to teach them by preaching, or to pray with them, and yet that is commonly neglected. None forbid us to confer daily with our ignorant or vicious neighbours to try if we can convert them, nor to win them by kindness, as Christ went to publicans and sinners. None forbid religious people to catechise and teach their families, and read good books to them, and pray with them, and openly sing the priases of God, as Daniel openly prayed in his house, to be examples to ungodly families about them. And yet how much is this neglected! And a dumb and negligent father and master of a family will condemn himself by speaking against dumb and negligent ministers, and against those that restrain him from some public duties. Some think that if a law were made (which God prevent) against all catechising and teaching menís families, and against praying and singing the praises of God, it would by opposition stir up some to do it better, that now neglect it, so prone are they to that which is forbidden.

(This article will continue in the next issue.)

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