A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
Oppression and Injustice by
Men of Wealth and Power - II
(This continues the article started in the previous issue.)
You will better be able to bear your oppressions by considering these things:
1. God permitteth it for your sin, or for your trial; therefore be humbled under it as God’s hand, and bear it obediently till He deliver you.
2. If wealth and power be so liable to make men oppressors, do not you desire them, but thank God for a safer station, and bear that which keeps you from it.
3. The sin of oppression is a far greater evil than the suffering of the oppressed; therefore rather pity them as miserable, than yourselves.
4. Consider how much more many millions have suffered by oppressions, than ever you did, or are like to do. How many thousands were killed and ruined by Alexander! How many thousands by Julius Caesar! How many thousands in many Roman civil wars, under Antony, Marius, Scylla, Sejanus, etc.! How many churches corrupted and persecuted by Constantius, Valens, Gensericus, Hunnericus, etc.! What a multitude did Justinian murder in Egypt, in blind zeal for Christ! How few ages have escaped the guilt of innocent blood! How many thousands did the pope’s cause slay in the Palestine wars, and in the Italian frequent wars, and the rebellions against the emperors Fredericks, Henrys, etc.! How many thousand Christians, Albigenses, Waldenses, and Bohemians, did they murder! How many destroyed in Piedmont, Rhetia, and Germany! How many thousands murdered at once in France, and oft besides! What dreadful work hath the inquisition made in Flanders, Holland, Spain, and Italy? What a dreadful case was Ireland in, when two hundred thousand protestants were murdered, and thousands were stripped and utterly undone! Queen Mary’s bonfires were sharper than we have yet felt. While Satan in all ages fills the world with wars and blood, a little tolerable oppression by landlords or inferior rulers, should not be over-tenderly and impatiently complained of, by tenants, servants, or any others.
5. Innocency is a sound and healthful state, and can bear much: Peter bids servants be patient when they suffer undeservedly; but it is not thankworthy to be patient when they are beaten for their faults. Peace of conscience maketh all sound within; and then a man may bear the more easily all that befalleth him from without: when he can say, ‘It is not for my sins’, he may comfortably commit his cause to God.
6. Whoever oppresseth you, God will never do you wrong, and it is His hands that your great concerns are in: He will use you with merciful justice, yea, and deliver you from all the oppressions of men.
He suffereth men of the world to oppress the just, that they may be driven to Him by prayer and faith, and may be saved from damning worldly love, and God may have the glory of their deliverance. How great a part of the Psalms are written upon the occasion of oppression, plots, and cruelties of wicked enemies! And what abundance of promises of deliverance from such are recorded in the sacred Scriptures!
7. Patience and faith are a thousand times better than money, or liberty, or anything that oppressors can take from you: do you but take the advantage of oppression to exercise these, and all is turned to your exceeding gain.
8. In this also nothing befalleth you, but what Christ foretold you of, and taught you in what manner to bear. The prosperity, power, and oppression of the wicked had almost stumbled David himself, till he went into the house of God, and understood their end: they are like gallants sporting and feasting in a sumptuous house, which is to be blown up or set on fire before the frolic is well ended, and then who would be found among them? He will think himself happy that can say, I was none of them: yea, in judgment, how fain would they, as Pilate, wash their hands from innocent blood! And even of omissions, much more of oppressions, say, "Lord, when saw we thee hungry, naked, in prison," etc. Christ hath foretold you of all this, and taught you to love your enemies, and bless them that curse you, and pray for them that hate and persecute you, and turn the other cheek to him that striketh you, and go two miles with him that commandeth you to go one, and give him your coat that sueth you for another garment: that is, rather suffer, than seek private revenge; yea, or seek to right yourselves, when it will do more hurt to the souls of others by scandal, or alienation, or exasperation, than it will do good.
Righting oneself against injuries, especially of powerful oppressions, will cost one more than patient putting up all will do. As I went along the street, a tory in Latin reviled me, and struck me on the head with his staff; I took little notice of him, and went on my way, and the hurt was small: I saw another stricken, and he struck again, and it raised a tumult, and he and others were sorely hurt, and went to law after for reparation.
He that cannot bear one blow, must bear many; and he that cannot bear to be oppressed in his estate, perhaps may lose his liberty or life; we live in a world of wicked men; and the wicked will do wickedly: and two rogues by perjury may take away the lives of the most innocent and excellent members of the commonwealth or city! And what conscience do such wretches make of a malicious oath, that use to adorn their sentences with vile talk and direful oaths?
Is not your oppressions a reproof for your unthankfulness, that God, by wonderful restraint, hath saved your lives from perjury and oppression so long? Is it not a wonder of providence that perjury hath murdered no more?
And why should all this seem strange or intolerable to us, when Christ doth so often tell us, that rich men are usually the worst, and that he sent out his apostles as lambs among wolves? And when we know how Christ and His apostles were used by the rulers and teachers of the people; yea, and Christians after them, in most ages to this day?
9. Consider how great the temptations are, of men that are in power, wealth, and pleasure; and then you will pity them, and pray for them. Who knoweth what you would have done yourselves, if you had their temptations? They have a stronger worldly interest to tempt them against that law of Christ, which calls them another way, than other men have. They have more full and constant provision for all the desires of the flesh. They are more than any other men assaulted by subtle, designing seducers, who have their worldly ends (on church pretences usually) to attain by their seduction. They are more in danger of the infectiousness breath of flatterers, and the false accusers of godliness and good men, than any others: they use to be of faithful and plain-dealing friends and monitors, and truth is usually kept far from them, and out of such a hearing as is needful for conviction. And to live continually under such dangerous temptations, needeth more than man for their preservation, from deceit, and sin, and the ruin of themselves and hurt of others.
10. Our obedience to God is far from a tried praise-worthy degree, if it costs us little or nothing; and doubtless Christ will bear all your charges. Oh what an excellent servant is that, who will cheerfully do all his duty to an unjust and abusive master! What an excellent child is that, who useth all due reverence, obedience, love, and patience, to a froward, harsh, yea, and a malignant father; not disobeying God, nor hazarding his soul by willful sin, or forsaking godliness, and yet not dishonouring his parents, or disobeying them in any lawful thing! What an excellent wife is that, who constantly and patiently performeth all loving and cheerful duty, to an abusive, furious, drunken, profane, malignant husband! This requireth abundance more grace, than to live in cheerful love and duty, to a godly, tender, loving husband. The former sort is called more acceptable to God, and the latter sort of duty is no glory (see I Pet. 2:20). To suffer for sin is indeed a bitter suffering, even for that which is worse than suffering. "It is better, if the will of God be so, that we suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing: for Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust," (I Pet. 3:17,18). "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed all to Him that judgeth righteously," (I Pet. 2:21-23). O follow this excellent example: there lieth more of Christianity in learning of Christ to suffer from foolish, wicked men, than most will think of.
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance" (Col. 3:22). "Not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward" (I Pet. 2:18). These are the excellent precepts of Christ.
It is therefore inconsiderately said by many, ‘If I had deserved such usage, I could have borne it.’ As if suffering without sin were not a lighter burden than sin and suffering for it. The oppressor hurts himself a hundred times more than he can hurt you (if you do no worse to yourself than he doth), as guilt of oppression is a cause to such to weep and howl for the miseries that shall come upon them: their riches are corrupted, and their gold and silver cankered, and the rust of them shall eat their flesh as fire, and they heap up treasure for the last days. The cries of the poor labourers oppressed by them are entered into the ears of the Lord. "They live in pleasures and wantonness on earth, and nourish their hearts in feasting and fullness, and condemn and kill the just, who resist them not. Be patient therefore, brethren, to the coming of the Lord," (James 5:5-7). God will speedily avenge His elect that cry to Him, though now He delay (see Luke 18).