A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615Ė1691)
False Accusations, Defamations,
Another case that needeth patience is false accusation, defamation, and taking away our good name; when innocent men are proclaimed to be guilty of odious crimes, which they detest far more than their accusers do; yea, when the most conscionable men, that most fear all sin, are defamed by their teachers themselves, as well as by the brutish rabble, to be the worst of men in the land, unfit for human converse, or to be members of any society, and unworthy to live, at least out of jails. Sin is so much worse than poverty, or any bodily suffering, that the imputation of it unjustly seemeth a greater trial than to be taken for a beggar, or a leper. But the great trial is when godly magistrates or ministers of Christ are taken for rogues, traitors, schismatics, unconscionable villains, by which their endeavors for the souls of men are rendered useless: and worst of all, when a malignant generation shall make the generality of men fearing God, and living religiously, to be taken for the most wicked, dangerous hypocrites in the land. By this, young and unexperienced persons, and the ignorant multitude, are brought to a contempt or hatred of serious, practical religion, and made the enemies of their best friends, and of the means of their own salvation.
In this sad case, we must not on pretence of patience, and contempt of honour, be insensible of the snares that are laid by Satan to deceive the multitude, and undo souls; nor of the heinous wrong that is done to Christ, and the Christian religion and name. Yea, this horrid crime, when it is common, doth so much threaten the destruction of a land, and the removal of the gospel, that it should make us all mourn and earnestly pray, that God would not leave so bad a people that say, "Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." What wonder if Christ give up that land to darkness, and deceit, and Satan, and take away His gospel, when the practice of it is made a common scorn, and taken for an intolerable evil? When Godís peculiar people were delivered into captivity, the reason is given, "All the chief of the priests and the people transgressed very much, and the Lord sent His messengers, because He had compassion on His people, and His dwelling-places; but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, till the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, and there was no remedy" (II Chron. 36:14, AV). "I will get me to the great men, and speak to them; for they have known the way of the Lord. But these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds: therefore a lion shall slay them" etc. (Jer. 5:5, AV).
When Christ and His apostles were taken for intolerable, God would tolerate the nation no longer, but gave them up to the cruellest destruction that hath been heard of in the world, and the remnants of them are scattered, cursed people in all countries to this day. When they cried of such as Paul, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, it is not fit that he should live" (Acts 22:22); God concluded, "Away with such a wicked nation, scatter them as cursed over the earth.". They that will themselves escape the destruction in such a land, must mourn and cry for all its abominations (see Ezek. 9:4); and must grieve for the reproach of the solemn assemblies (see Zeph. 3:18). And a Noah, Daniel, or Job in it, may save none but their own souls.
But yet as our reputation is but our own personal interest, whether we are defamed for the common cause of conscience and obedience to God, or whether it be by any private, malicious slander against ourselves, we may bear it patiently.
For, 1. What is our reputation, but the thoughts and words of men concerning us? And how small a matter is this as to ourselves! If they think well of you, you are never the better; and if they think ill of you, you are not the worse. If you be poor or sick, or pained, will it ease you, or make you rich, for men to think and say that you are well or rich? And if you be rich and well, will it make you poor or sick for men to think or say that you are so? And as the thoughts of men alter not your state, so what is man that his thoughts should be so much regarded by you? Thoughts are such unseen, transitory actings of the mind, that we have much ado to make men believe that there is any law for them, or any great sin in them, or that God Himself regardeth them. And when a man is asleep, or thinks of other things, those thoughts are all laid by: and he must quickly die, and lie in darkness; and then what are his thoughts, or what is it to you what that rotten carcass lately thought of you when it lived?
2. The usual cause of impatience under personal disgrace and slander, is pride in ourselves, which is a matter of a thousandfold more hurt and grief than the loss of our reputation is. Pride is an overvaluing our reputations or honour with men; a desire to be better thought of than we deserve, as to greatness, wisdom, or goodness; or else an over-great esteem and desire of that reputation, which is indeed our due. Did you not overvalue it, you could easilier spare it, and bear the loss of it. O fear the devilish sin of pride a thousandfold more than any dishonour! A truly humbled soul can easily bear the words and thoughts of men, as to its own interest; for he knoweth his own failings, and liveth not on man.
3. If you will not be hypocrites, let there be some proportion between your confessions to God, and your sense of the accusations and reproaches of men. In prayer you study enlarged confessions, and how much evil do you (truly) say of yourselves. And if another should wrongfully add somewhat more, methinks you might endure it. Is it not an incongruous thing to hear one in prayer an hour together on a day of humiliation accuse himself of the breach of every one of the ten commandments; or for troubled, fearful persons, in all their discourse with ministers or friends, to accuse themselves as utterly graceless, and resist all that can be said to the contrary; and yet for the same persons to be disquieted and impatient, if another accuse them over-much, yea, or less than they accuse themselves? There is some hypocrisy in this.
4. Praise is a more dangerous thing to us than dispraise; and therefore our friends usually hurt us more than our enemies. Flattery is pleasing to nature, and dispraise displeasing; but it is pleasing things only that are overloved, and things overloved that undo the soul. Praise is the usual fuel of pride, and pride the ready way to ruin; but dispraise calleth us to examine and judge ourselves, and is a help to humiliation. And though praise be due to all that is good, and other men owe it to wise and good men; yet the wisest and best are so apt to be tickled and pleased with it, that they seldom escape some degree of proud infection by it.
5. It is Godís judgment to which we stand or fall. If He calls us His children, it is a small matter what men call us. If He justifieth us, who is He that shall condemn us? As Paul saith, "It is a small matter to me to be judged of man" (or at manís bar, or day); "I have one that judgeth me, even the Lord," (I Cor. 4:3, AV). Why should he make a great matter what men think or say of him, who believeth that he must live or die forever, as God shall judge him, and not as men judge him?
6. The thoughts and words of men do not so much as touch our skin. If they be let into our hearts, and made our pain, it is not they, but ourselves that do it.
7. What kind of men be they that slander, reproach, and scorn men for their duty to God or man? Are they not miserable fools, led blindfold towards hell in Satanís chains? And are we not happy and safe in Christís justification? And will a lord or prince be cast down if a bedlam shall revile him, or because a child of seven years old thinks meanly of him? How easily do learned men bear the contempt of the unlearned, and great men bear the obloquy of beggars? It is not wise or godly men that dishonour you for being wise and godly; but only the ignorant and ungodly that speak against that which they never knew.
8. If it be for your obedience to God, the reproach is more against Him than you: it was He, and not you, that made the law which you obey. He that accuseth anyone for obeying his father, master, or prince, doth most accuse them that commanded him. If it be a fault and dishonour to mind heaven above earth, and to obey God and His word before man, it is long of God that so commanded us, and not of us. And if they accuse God, be sure He is sufficient to confute them, and to defend Himself; He will stop the mouths of all blasphemers, and you may boldly trust Him if you suffer for Him, and your cause is His. A barking dog may sooner stop the course of the sun, than a blasphemer conquer God.
9. Yea, it is one of the greatest honours in the world to be dishonoured for God. You are deepliest engaged for His cause and He for you: you are principal soldiers in His army; for suffering is the victory of the soldiers of Christ. If Godís name, and cause, and interest, and promise cannot put honour on you, nothing can.
10. The reproacher more dishonoureth himself than you. It is a dishonour indeed to be a false accuser, but none to be a patient sufferer.
11. And though we be not guilty of what malicious liars accuse us, we are guilty of many other sins, which God may correct us for by their tongues.
12. Christ went before us in this kind of suffering. "He made Himself of no reputation, but endured the cross, despising the shame. He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself," (Heb. 12:2, etc.). He that came into the world to destroy the works of the devil, and to save men from sin, was said to be a sinner, and to have a devil, and to do His miracles by the devilís help. They accused Him to be a glutton and a wine-bibber, and a Sabbath-breaker, and a familiar with publicans and sinners, and a despiser of traditions and ceremonies and church government, and a usurper, and a traitor against Caesar, and a blasphemer against God; and that it might be believed, crucified Him as such between malefactors, as worse than Barabbas, a murderer, and fastened His accusation on His cross, and to this day they call Him a deceiver. And His apostles were accordingly accused: Paul was called a pestilent fellow, a mover of sedition, that taught men against Caesar and the law, and turned the world upside down, not worthy to live upon the earth. The apostles were made a gazing-stock, the scorn of men, the filth and offscouring of all things. And did we not resolve to follow Christ and them, and to bear this cross?
13. But oh what a joyful support to us should it be, to foresee by faith the approaching day when all this will be set right, and godliness will be a dishonour no more; when Christ will come to be glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that now believe (See II Thess. 1:10,11); and when these accusers and slanderers will all be silenced, confuted, and confounded: and sin will be an everlasting shame. Oh what a change will that day make! Then who will have the honour and glory, and who will be cast out as the dung?
Objection: But odious lies are divulged, printed, and believed of me, and strangers and posterity will not know but all is true.
Answer: And what if it be so? It toucheth you not now; and neither your body in the grave will feel it, nor your soul in heaven. "Be patient, brethren, to the coming of our Lord" (James 5:7, AV). Lies and false history are the devilís way, by which he deceiveth most of the world. It is little thought by the readers how much history is falseÖ. And in the mean time, the wicked will believe the father of lies, and we cannot help it. But the faithful honour upright men not the less, but the more, for calumnies which they endure; and had they not been prone to over-honour them, holidays and relics had not been used as they are.
Let it be your care to give the liars no occasion by your sin; and then mourn for the success of Satan, but joyfully wait for the judgment of God.