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.

 

Oppression and Injustice by

Men of Wealth and Power - I

Another case that requireth patience is oppression by men of wealth and power in the world, and injustice of ungodly governors. Justice is so much due to all mankind, and injustice so odious, that we are ready to take it the more heinously when we cannot have our right. Oppressing landlords raise their rents to such a height, that poor men, with the most tiring care and labour, can hardly live. And some rich men do think that their wills must be poor menís rule, and that they must deny them nothing that they command; as if the poor were slaves, that had no property or benefit of the law. And worst of all when in too many nations on earth, rulers are unjust, and haters of just and upright men, and either break all bounds of law to ruin them, or else turn the law itself against them; and when they justify the wicked, and condemn the innocent, yea, when piety, and honesty, and conscience, are made the most intolerable crimes, and filthiness and sensuality do pass for works of one that may be trusted; these cases call for extraordinary patience, and it is the more grievous because that magistracy is a special ordinance of God, and the image of His supereminence and governing power shineth in it: and to have Satan get possession of it, and turn it against God Himself who made it, and make that the plague and calamity of mankind, which was instituted for order, justice, and defence, and the upholding of goodness, and suppression of sin, this is a most grievous case. The same I say of cruel masters tyrannizing over their servants, and wicked parents oppressing virtue in their children. Here patience is of great necessity.

And, 1. We must here be very careful to distinguish between true power and its abuse, and not to think evil of power itself because it is abused. And this must be the more carefully studied, because here practically to distinguish is exceeding difficult. For the best things when corrupted, are the worst. It is hard to love rain and waters in a deluge, when it drowneth the country, men and beasts. One that had seen the fire of London, or yesterday the burning of Wapping, might be tempted to take first to be more terrible than amiable. If physicians killed twenty for one they cured, men would grow into a dread or hatred of their profession: and as to rulers, judges, and all sorts of magistrates, the case is the same. They are Godís ordinances (in general) and good in themselves, and if well used would be the great blessing of the world; Godís ordinary means to protect the innocent, encourage the godly, and bring ungodliness to shame; to keep rich men from oppressing the poor, and the unruly multitude from popular rage against their neighbours or superiors; to keep up equity and justice, and to frustrate treachery, perjury, and fraud; in a word, to be Godís ministers or officers for the common good, and to see His laws obeyed by the subjects, being themselves the most zealous in obeying them, and to be a terror to blasphemers, fornicators, murderers, theives, oppressors, and other evil-doers, and a praise and defence to them that do well.

There are two cases which are no better than ruin to mankind; that is, to have no government, and to have utter tyranny, which designeth the undoing of the subjects, souls and bodies, by forcing them to sin against God to their damnation (as far as force can do it), or commonly to die as martyrs, and which is used to subvert the government of God, and to set up wickedness and will, and to destroy the common welfare.

And there are two cases which are such as we must submit to. One is the tolerable injustice and oppression of ungodly rulers, who will kill, and ruin, and persecute some particular innocent men, but yet are for the common peace and welfare, and do more good by their government than hurt by their abuse. These must be patiently endured, so far as the evil cannot lawfully be remedied. The other sort is the defective government of good rulers, who endeavor the common good, and promote piety, and suppress sin, but with such mixture of failings as follow their personal imperfections, and with such blots as David had in the case of Mephibosheth and Uriah, and as Ada had, that oppressed many of the people, and as Constantine had in the case of Crispus and Athanasius, and as Theodosius senior had in the case of the Thessalonians, and as Theodosius junior and Anastasius had in the case of the Eutychians, and as even our King Edward VI had about the death of the Duke of Somerset, and he about his brotherís death. Grotius owneth the old saying, that the names of all good kings may be written uno annulo, in one ring: I think that is too hard a censure. But even the best are men: and as a physicianís faults, though few, cost the patient dearer than all their neighborsí faults do; so a princeís faults, though he be extraordinary good, may cost a kingdom dearer than the faults of thousands else. Yet these honest princes are so great blessings to the world, and so rare, that it is a happy nation that hath no worse, and must be very thankful to them.

But there is a fifth sort imaginable in Eutopia, and those men of so perfect wisdom and goodness, as that all their government is just. Short of heaven, there is little hope of this, unless there be a golden age to come, or such a reign of Christ for a thousand years as some describe, which is but the reign of wisdom, justice, piety, and love. But when God hath some great blessing for a land, He useth to raise up rulers better than the rest of the nations have: and when sin provoketh Him, He removeth them quickly from an unworthy land, as He did Josiah, and our King Edward VI and Jovian in the Roman Empire. Yea, sometimes a wicked people and clergy prevail against a godly king, as they did against Ludovicus Pius in France.

2. Because bad rulers are a great national judgment, it calleth a land to search after and repent of national sins; for it is for such that this calamity usually cometh. When Gildas describeth the horrid wickedness of the British kings, he describeth the great wickedness of the clergy and people as the deserving cause. And no wonder, when in the days of Hezekiah and Josiah, though the kings were excellently good, yet the unreformed, obstinate clergy and people so provoked God that He would not spare them, but cast them off into captivity and ruin. But usually God gratifieth their pernicious desires, and giveth them such bad kings as they would have, as He did Saul, Jeroboam, etc., and permits people to please themselves to death.

3. Take heed that selfishness and error cause you not to judge worse of governors than they are, and to take just restraint or punishment, for oppression, and to think all unjust that is displeasing to you. This error is common to the selfish, partial sort of men, that judge men and actions by self-interest.

4. Take heed lest over-much love to your estates or liberties make some injustice and injuries done you, by rich men or rulers, to seem much greater than they are, and it be your vice that rendereth them insufferable.

(This study will continue in the next issue)

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