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.

The Loss of Teachers,

and Suitable Means of Grace and Salvation

Another great affliction which requireth patience is the loss of the sound and serious preaching of the gospel, by the death, or banishment, or silencing of our teachers, while our own great wants and weaknesses call for the best assistance. The soul being more precious than the body, the welfare of it is more valuable, and its loss and famine more lamentable: and we see that God ordinarily worketh according to the aptitude of means; and when He taketh away such needful means, it is a sad degree of His own forsaking us, and denying to us further grace. Alas! How bad are we under the best helps, and how dark and doubting under the most clear, convincing teaching, how cold and dull under the most warm and lively ministry! And what shall we then be, if God remove our teachers from us? May we not turn cold, and dull, and worldly, and deceived, under cold, dull, deceiving, worldly pastors? And now grow careless of our own souls, under those that are careless of their own and ours? If in the communion of wise and holy Christians, we found it hard to grow in grace, may we not fear declining when we are separated from such, and dwell as Lot in Sodom, and must converse with worldly or malignant men?

As to the sad case, 1. You may have the greater comfort, because you make not light of the affliction: and may be the more patient believingly, because you are not patient as contemptuous unbelievers. The patience of carnal men under such a loss is a greater evil than the loss itself; and the patience of faith is a greater good than the helps which you lose. Had you been so blind, and dead, and bad, as to let go the gospel, and be easily quiet and content, as long as you enjoy your honour, wealth, and ease, this had been a far greater misery than a want of teachers; as a mortal sickness which causeth loathing and indigestion, is worse than the hardest fare with appetite and health. Thank God that you are sensible of your loss.

2. If you are true Christians you have the law and gospel written upon your hearts, whence none can by violence take it from you. You may lose the provision of your house, and the food on your tables; yea, and cast up that which you have eaten; but if it be digested and turned into your flesh and blood, it is not so easily taken from you. O bless God, that before He took away the means, He did convert you by them, and taught you effectually before He took away your teachers. When the word was digested and turned into knowledge, faith, repentance, desire, obedience, patience, hope, and love, neither men nor devils can take it from you; your heart, where it is sown and rooted, is not within their reach, unless you will give them the key, and foolishly betray yourselves. When God hath made you His habitation by His Spirit, and Christ dwelleth in your hearts by faith, and the kingdom of God and life eternal is begun within you, the loss of your outward helps will not undo you. I am not imitating them that tell you that all men have sufficient light within them, or that call you to undervalue the word written and preached, on pretence of that sufficiency, as if you need no other notice of God and Christ, but to be told that He is in you. But yet rejoice that God is within you, though all these outward means were gone: that is, that your faith and love have within you such an object to live upon as your Father, Saviour, and Sancitifier, and such an agent as the Spirit to actuate all. When they silence your teachers, burn your books, shut up your church doors, they cannot shut out the Spirit of Christ, nor deprive you of its life, and light, and love.

3. If men take away the means forementioned, they do not therefore take away all. [1]. You have all Godís works to view and study: sun and stars, heaven and earth, sea and land, cities and country, fields and meadows, beasts and men, good and bad. And you are taught already by the gospel, to see not only the great Creator in all these, but also the gracious Redeemer, purchasing, upholding, and using all as delivered to him for the good of his elect.

[2]. You have the daily use of meditation, as on all the works of God, so also on Christ and the gospel which you have learnt; yea, and of the joys of heaven.

[3]. You have daily and hourly leave to open your case to God; you have access to Him by Christ in prayer, thanksgiving, and joyful praise. If you have but an appetite, you have here a continual feast, which you may enjoy in every place; in your closet, in the fields, in a prison.

[4]. It is very likely that you may save your Bibles, and other good books, and so have Godís word still at hand. It was written in Hebrew and Greek, but God hath used man to translate and unseal it to you; and you may choose your time, and choose the subject which you would read: and the writings of your teachers are usually more accurate than their speaking; and at a cheap rate you may have choice and excellent helps. And you may read them in your families, to your children and servants, and set up many teachers for one. Undervalue not these remaining helps.

[5]. And if God continue to you in the public assemblies but sound doctrine and lawful communion, do not say all means are gone. If it be but the reading of the holy Scriptures, and singing psalms, and praying, no worse than is expressed in the liturgy of this nation, it is a mercy not to be despised. It was but a little part of the New Testament which was contained in Peterís speech, which converted three thousand (see Acts 2); and but a little part which was in the words of Paul, which the Gentiles desired might be again spoken to them the next day; and but a little part which Paul wrote to any one church, when he required them to read it publicly, and to read that to one church which was written to another. Christís own sermon (see Luke 4), and that to His disciples (see Matt 5) were but a little of what bare reading now can tell us. Ezra was put to spend much of the day in a pulpit, to read the law, and make them understand the reading: that is, when by their captivity they had lost the language in which the law was written, he was fain to read it in Hebrew, to translate it by word of mouth, and turn the Hebrew into the Chaldean tongue which they understood. This was far less than the bare reading of both Law and Gospel already translated does for you. The quantity of one or two of our chapters were received in the days of the apostles with great joy, to the conversion of many souls. And in Queen Maryís days, some poor women would hire a boy secretly in a corner to read to them a little of the English Bible, yea, of the Primer. But the full soul loathes the honeycomb, when to the hungry every bitter thing is sweet.

There are some ignorant Christians that think it enough to charge anything in worship or religion to be unlawful because it is human, the work of man. It is likely, these will not be grieved that their teachers are silenced, for they were men. And as men have written some forms of prayer, so they are men that have written the many hundred holy books that are now among us. And preaching and praying are the words and works of men. The singing psalms were turned into metre by men: yea, all your English Bibles were made English by men, and you read and hear no English words but the words of men, though they signify the word of God. The dividing of the Scripture into chapters and verses is the invention and work of men. And I think they were but men that taught you to speak and read. God worketh by man on man, as sociable, fit instruments: and if you despise all in religion that is the work of man, you will despise the word and work of God, and show that you are less than men.

(This study will continue in the next issue.)

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