Old Testament Study:
A Classic Study:
Patience in Affliction
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A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
[Here, we continue a reprint of Richard Baxter’s work entitled Obedient Patience. In each article, Mr. Baxter gives advice on how to be patient through a specific type of affliction.]—Ed.
Weakness of Grace, Knowledge, Faith,
It is one of the greatest burdens to an upright soul, to be kept under spiritual languishing and weakness, and to have but a low degree of grace: When knowledge is so small that it will not free us from daily uncertainties about truth, and duty, and sin, and all that plead for their several opinions perplex us; and Scripture seemeth unintelligible to us, and we do but grope after God as in the dark, and are overwhelmed with strange, unsatisfied thoughts of God, and of Christ, and of the world which we are going to; when faith is so weak that we trust Christ for heaven and earth with fear, and unquietness, and distrust, and can scarce tell whether our faith overcome the world, and our trusting Christ for heaven would make us forsake earth and life, rather than hazard it by willful sin; when doubts and fears do tell us that we have little faith.
What a calamity is it when our hopes of heaven do so little rejoice us, that every worldly suffering seems strong enough to quell and quench our joy! Yea, we have more dread than desire, more trouble than joy, when we think of dying, and of the next life!
What a calamity it is, when our love to God, and Christ, and glory, is so small that we are in fear that we love more this body, and worldly prosperity, and pleasure; when all the thoughts of God’s essential goodness, His love and mercy to us and others, and all the wonderful love and mercy of our Redeemer, and all the mercies on earth, and promises of heaven, will scarce warm our hearts with love and thankful joy in God! And yet we can easily love, and overlove, our flesh, our house, our lands, our friends, and fanciful amorousness is a common disease.
What a calamity is it that we have no more government of our thoughts to keep out covetousness, pride, and lust, and to cast out Satan’s abominable temptations. And that when we know that God trieth us to exercise our patience, we can no better overcome fear, anger, grief, and discontent. Should we be patient under all this want of grace?
Answer. This is to me the greatest burden in this world, and I suppose it is so to all sound Christians, as to considerate trouble of mind, though loss of friends or bodily pains may stir up more passion. That which was before said about uncertainty of salvation must be taken in about this case.
And, 1. Let us make sure of our sincerity before we talk of imperfections; if we can know that we have the truth of special grace, we may know what to say to the case of our infirmities. And for that, still remember what I said before about the sincerity of faith. If you have so well thought of this world and the next, and of Christ, that you are soundly resolved to trust Christ for grace and glory, to the forsaking of all that stands against it, you have saving faith and title to salvation. I opened it before to you by two similitudes, of a patient that practically trusteth his physician, and a poor prisoner that practically trusteth one that promiseth him a lordship in a foreign land. Though you venture with fear and trembling, if you will venture all on Christ, and leave all for Him so far as He requireth you, it is saving faith. Practically trust Him and He will save you.
2. When you have gotten thus far, remember that as you were born in sin, so you too long lived in it. Sin had a long time to darken your understandings, and harden your hearts, and corrupt your wills, and set you at a greater distance from God: and do you think all this must be undone and cured very easily, and in a moment, or as soon as you desire it? It is an unspeakable mercy that it is so far cured, as that you are translated from death to life, and made new creatures, and the heirs of heaven, and moreover, that Christ hath undertaken the perfect cure in His time and way. Grace somewhat imitateth nature: you were not born as soon as conceived, nor were you at ripe age as soon as born. Your growth and strength came by degrees in time; you had not your learning all at once, but by long study. You get not your riches by trading or labor in a few days; your land brings not fruit to perfection as soon as it is sowed, nor your trees as soon as they are grafted or planted: and must not so great a work as the cure and sanctifying of a soul, be done by such degrees?
3. And consider that you must not be mere patients, but also agents in the increase of your grace and strength. It must be had by exercise; the frequent acts must increase the habits, and God will not do it all without you: He hath appointed you means to use, and will try and exercise your obedience therein. As He giveth not life and strength to those that will not take their food, nor the fruit of the earth without our labor, so neither hath He promised to give more grace, save in the patient use of the means which He hath appointed. Time, means, and diligence are needful.
4. And alas! Most Christians are too slothful, and use means negligently, and then look that God should give them as much grace, at their mere wish and prayer, as if they were laborious and diligent. And too many do venture on sin, and so keep under grace by graceless living.
5. And some unskillfully use means for one sort of grace when it is another that they most need, and should use the means accordingly. When they should excite and feed their faith, and hope, and holy love, by the consideration of God’s truth and goodness, and His love in Christ, and by heavenly doctrine and thoughts endeavor to get a heavenly mind, some study small controversies, and some perplex themselves with scruples about duties and sins of their own making, and some plunge themselves into confounded and bewildering thoughts, and think over again all Satan’s temptations; and some only strive to get a more passionate weeping sorrow; and much neglect all serious endeavors for a believing, loving, joyful soul.
6. You must remember that many Christians grow in grace and do not know it, but think that they go backward, or have none, because they do not sufficiently observe wherein the nature of sanctification doth principally consist: some lay it on passion, and some on memory, and some on the belief of their own sincerity, justification, and salvation, and some on words and free expression, whereas it chiefly consisteth in the estimation of the judgment, the resolution of the will, and the obedience of our lives. If you esteem God’s grace and glory better, and sin worse, and the world to be good or bad as it serveth grace or sin, then you grow in understanding. If you are more firmly resolved to place your hopes, and make your choice according to this estimation, and to please God, and secure grace and glory, whatever it cost you, and to avoid willful sin, which is your danger, and to use the world for holy ends, especially if you love wisdom, and holiness, and justice better, and hate sin more than you did heretofore, then your will doth grow in grace. And if you show this will and choice in more obedience of life, avoiding known sin more, and endeavoring to do good, and devoting yourselves more entirely to God, then you grow in holiness of life. Though your memories grow weaker, and though your holy passions and feeling should grow less, and are less able for long meditation, or to keep an order or steadiness in your thoughts, and though your holy passions and feelings should grow less, and are less able for long meditation, or to keep an order or steadiness in your thoughts, and though you want words in prayer and discourse, and though fears, and peevish angriness, and troubling thoughts should by weakness or temptation get more advantage of you, yet all this stands with rootedness and growth in grace.
7. Forget not what you were heretofore. Had you not formerly a higher esteem of worldly things, and less fear of sinning, than you have now? Growth in grace may be like the growth of your trees, or corn or flowers, or the shadow on your dial. You do not see these grow or move; but if you come after a sufficient time, you may see that they are grown. We are bigger at age than in childhood, and yet we never saw ourselves grow: it is by insensible degrees. Strong Christians have more knowledge than they had, and a more fixed resolution for God and heaven, and a greater contempt of worldly vanity, and victory over our fleshly desires and willful sin, though they perceive not how these grow.
8. Be thankful that you desire to be better. Those desires (as is aforesaid) prove sincerity, and are the earnests of what you do desire, and are a greater blessing than all the riches of the world. God that gave them you will not see them lost. The grace which we have on earth is a desiring, seeking grace. Desires are our best evidence here: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness”, for they shall be satisfied hereafter. We must know the difference between earth and heaven: it is there that we shall have all that we desire. Here desiring and seeking is our work: perfection is the prize and crown, which is not to be had till we have done our race and warfare. The womb is but the place of preparation for what is to be enjoyed in the open world; and no great matters are there to be expected. We must not look for more on earth than its part.
9. And when all is done, God is a free agent, and giveth His grace in such variety as He pleases, and doth not give to all alike. As He freely diversifieth nature and common gifts, so doth He several degrees of grace. It is an unspeakable mercy to have so much as shall save us from the hell we deserve, and give us right to life eternal, though we yet are faint through weakness, and have not the strength and comfort which we desire.
10. And though we have yet much corruption left uncured, we have helps appointed us to overcome them; and the exercise of grace against all such enemies is much of its glory, and showeth its amiable worth; as darkness sets out the worth of light, and sickness of health, and death of life. Diseases occasion the honor of our physician. Where sin hath abounded, grace hath superabounded. The whole need not the physician. We must have daily use for Christ, both to pardon us and to cure us. God could have prevented Adam’s fall, but He hath permitted it, and permitteth all the sin in the world, though He cause it not: and He knoweth how to use it to His glory. All souls in heaven were once sinful, saving Christ’s: we must daily be washed in His blood. We shall never perform a duty so innocently as to need no Savior and pardoning grace. Where there is no enemy, there is no war; and where there is no war, there is no victory; and where there is no victory, there is no triumph.
11. And that God who freely pardoned all our reigning sins before conversion, will surely pardon all our mere infirmities, when we renew our faith and our repentance. He that through Christ can forgive such as were enemies, will forgive a son: and being reconciled by Christ’s death, we shall be saved by His life.
Not that any of these considerations should reconcile us to sin, or abate our hatred of it; it must be our grief that anything should cleave to us which is hateful to God, which killed Christ, and which is so contrary to holiness and heaven; but use no such impatience as hindereth the sense of the love of God, or the grace of Christ, or the thankful acknowledgment of His mercy. Fight against sin as well as you can, and serve your Lord as well as you are able: but do not sit down and cry because sin is too strong for you, and because you can serve God no better. Complain to Christ in order to beg His help and grace; but use not complaint instead of endeavor.
Thank God that you are weary of sin, and say with Paul, “O wretched man! Who shall deliver me?”, so you will but say next, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (see Rom. 7:24-25). And now that you are weary and heavy laden, come to Christ for ease and rest. And remember, that (when you were ungodly) you could once have endured sin without weariness. Who heard you then impatiently cry out against it? Yea, you were loth to think of leaving it. And look about you on the multitude of the ungodly, and you shall see how far they are from being impatient with their sin, though it be mortal; when they can scarce be patient towards him that would but save them from it. They grudge at God because He will not give them leave to sin, and not because He doth not cure them. Oh how contrary is the impatience of saints and wicked sinners!
12. While you remember what grace you want, remember also both what you have received, and what is promised you, that thankfulness and hope may keep you from discouragement. You are not cured, but you are alive; and Christ hath promised you a cure. In many things we all offend (see James 2:2). “He that saith he hath no sin, is a liar” (I John 1:8). Paul tells us that he had not obtained perfection, but he rejoiced that he was pressing towards the mark (see Phil. 3:12,13). “We may rejoice that our Captain hath overcome the world” (John 16:33). “And he will shortly bruise Satan under our feet” (Rom. 16:20; 7:25). Christ, who cured all bodily diseases on earth, will cure spiritual blindness, lameness, and deadness too, if we have but grace enough to go to Him for more.
13. Lastly, the more weary you are of sin and weakness, and the more desirous you are to know God better, and love Him more, and praise Him with greater cheerfulness and joy, the more you should long to be with Christ. Heaven will deliver you from all imperfection, from all darkness, unbelief, and dullness; from all sad, uncomfortable thoughts, and from all both alluring and molesting temptations. Oh that we could believe that more strongly, and then our honest impatience with sin and imperfection would but quicken us to the means of our deliverance, and help our joy in the foresight of that blessed change, which will leave no matter of discontent, and will give us more than we could here desire.
But to those who are overmuch dejected at their imperfections, and remaining faults, I add these cautions. 1. See that it be not the disgrace, or the outward troublesome fruits of your sin which grieve you more than the sin itself.
2. Take heed lest, while you complain of your badness, there be no secret pride and hypocrisy to make you angry with those that think you but as bad as you call yourself. It is an odd kind of contradiction, at once to be impatient because we are so bad, and also impatient with them that take us to be so; and not to endure another to say that of us which we say ourselves.
3. The worse you take yourselves and your sins to be, the more you should esteem and desire a Savior and His grace to heal you, and rejoice that a full remedy is at hand, and freely offered you; and be the more thankful for that mercy which is given, and which is promised to so unworthy sinners.
4. Show your impatience with sin and wants by hating sin, and diligent using the means of cure, and not by idle, discouraged, despairing complaints.
5. Remember that our Head is perfect for us: His merits and righteousness are perfect; He is fully perfected in glory; and is it nothing that He is related to us, as our Surety, Savior, and Head? He hath His glory for our good.
6. Remember that no sin or imperfection shall condemn us, but that which we had rather keep than leave, and love more than hate it; and that all things are tolerable which will end in heaven. We groan, being burdened both with sin and sorrow in the flesh; but we wait for full deliverance from the bondage of our corruption, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.