A Classic Study:
Patience in Affliction
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A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615Ė1691)
[In each article, Mr. Baxter gives advice on how to be patient through a specific type of affliction.]óEd.
The Divisions of Christians
The sad distempers and divisions of Christians, and the hurt they do to the World, and to one another, and the dishonorable state of the Church
Another exercise of our patience is, the great imperfection, scandals, and divisions of Christians, and the hurt they do to one another, and to the world, and the dishonorable broken state that they are in.
It is a doleful case to think, how narrow, and low, and corrupt a state the Church was in for four thousand years before Christís incarnation:† how small it was for the two first centuries; how quickly shameful heresies did corrupt it; how lamentably they multiplied even under persecution;† how quickly the advanced, enriched clergy were corrupted; what odious schisms they made in the Church; how they grieved the hearts of peaceable princes, who with all their power were unable to keep even common love and peace among the prelates, and to get them to live but as quietly with each other as the heathen did.† What a shame is it to think, how the majority carried it in their most famous councils; and into how many sects the church was broken, and that so many hundred yearsí experience does not end or heal their rents.† To read the doleful divisions and cruelties by various sects, and the bloody feuds.† What clamors!† What preaching!† What writings!† What railings!† What diabolical slanders and persecutions of one another!† To see how ignorant the most zealous Christians are in many places, and, alas! even the teachers of them; and how contentious and prone to sects and bitter censures, and to justify unjustifiable things, and to make odious one another, and to speak evil of the things they understand not, and to be most confident unto rage, where they are most mistaken!† To hear how confidently contrary sides appeal to God, and father all their cause on Him!† How confidently and religiously they seem to die, who are executed for contrary causes!† To read every weekís newsbooks, whose studied work is, with the greatest wit, and vehemency, and gross lies, to draw Christians to hate and destroy each other; and while they cry up love and peace, for the same men so to fight against it, worse than all their public enemies, so that there appeareth no hope of saving the land; yea, the most upright Christians from the lies, rage, and malice of professed Christians.† So that men seem incarnate devils.
And, alas!, the few sincere souls live below the holy joy which their Christian faith and hope bespeaketh, in too much fear and grief, or tenderness of the body.† How can patience endure to see all this?
The case is doleful; but, 1. Remember that all this doth but tell us what sin is, and what it hath done to mankind, and yet men will hardly believe that it is so bad.
2.† All this may help you to believe that there is a hell and devils, that God is not to be accused of it, when sin itself is so much of misery and hell.
3. All this doth most notably set forth the excellency of wisdom, godliness, and justice, when the contraries are so odious.† It is not godliness, truth, or justice, but the want of them in whole or part, which is the cause of all this evil.† Do but think if all England, or all the world, were but such as those few humble, holy, charitable, peaceable, patient Christians, which you and I know!† Oh what a quiet and blessed land and world would it then be!† I know the places where they live in so great holiness, love, and peace, that it is a great delight to live among them.† Were all such as some of my beloved friends and daily companions are, and have been, it would be such a resemblance of heaven, as would leave no room for the sad complaint of this objection.† And by this we see what an excellent thing true faith and godliness is in itself.† And though in the same persons there be the remnants of ignorance, error, and sin, which are a trouble to others and themselves, this is because that grace is yet imperfect, but its excellence appeareth in being contrary to sin, and so far subduing it, and keeping it as fire in the chimney, from doing that mischief which reigning sin doth:† and making men so good and useful, notwithstanding their remaining faults.
4.† And in a life of trial which prepareth us for the reward, it is no wonder if there be somewhat left for all grace to oppose, and exercise itself against.† What war, what victory is there where there is no enemy?†† And what crown?
5.† The church is Christís hospital, and is it a wonder that all are sore and sick?† We are here under His cure:† He hath done much already, more than all the world could do, in the work of true regeneration and sanctification:† He hath broken the head of the serpent, and the heart of sin.† And it is dying daily more and more, and it is not the imperfection that must cause us to undervalue so great a work.
6.† Christ knoweth His own grace in all believers, even the weakest, notwithstanding all their faults and follies; and He loveth His own, while He hateth their sin, much more than any man can do: and He pardoneth their remaining infirmities, and loveth their persons, and calleth them His brethren, and so must we.† If Christ can pardon sin, and love the uprightness of the imperfect, we must imitate Him.
7.† As we must live in constant need of our Creator for our daily bread, or life, or preservation, so must we live in daily need of the pardoning and healing grace of our Redeemer:† as once creating puts us not into a state of self-sufficiency and independence, so neither doth once redeeming us.† And the daily benefit of a Saviorís pardon, and healing grace, is our daily comfort.
8.† As I told you before about the imperfection of each oneís grace, God will have a difference between earth and heaven, and what we want here, we shall there have in perfection; even greater perfection than we can here believe.
9.† The faults of all Christians teach us all to think humbly of ourselves, and also not to overvalue imperfect man, nor to trust the best too far; nor to take all for true or good, which they do or teach; but to walk cautiously with all men, and to put our whole trust in God alone.
10.† And the worse we all are, the more we discern the freeness of Godís love and grace, and the great cause of thankfulness that we have for all our mercies.
11.† And when we see that the best on earth are so imperfect, it should help us all to long for heaven; where there is no ignorance or error, no sin, no malice, no proud censoriousness, no divisions, but God is joyfully praised by all, as with one soul, one mind, one love, one mouth.
12.† In all ages and countries where the Church hath been most degenerate, God hath had many that have maintained their integrity, and have not consented to the corruptions and contentions of the times, nor run into the guilty of the ambitious clergy, or of unruly heretics; and a few such as are His jewels, are worth many of the earthly, drossy world.
13.† And what wonder is it if nominal Christians that are real hypocrites and wicked men, be haters and persecutors of the just, and the plagues of the world, and the chiefest instruments of the devil on earth.† Certainly the false profession of Christianity is so far from making men good, and saving them, that it sublimateth their wickedness, and makes them the worst and most miserable of men.
14.† It somewhat tendeth to allay the fears of weak Christians who think that their faults are inconsistent with sincerity, when they see that so many of all sorts are so faulty:† they see what Godís mercy beareth with in all.
15.† And it is no real cause of dishonor to charity; for no enemy can find any fault in that.† There is no sin against God or man, which Christ hath not forbidden, and is not more against than the most forbidden, and is not more against than the most righteous alive is; it is therefore utter impudence, to charge those faults of men on Christ, which He forbiddeth and abhorreth.† What would they have Him to do more to signify His hatred of sin, than to condemn it, and prepare hell for all that live and die impenitent?† And Himself to die, rather than it shall go unpunished, even in those that are forgiven?† And to do so much as He hath done to destroy it?
16.† And if the wicked will perish by the scandal which they take at Christiansí faults, their impudence maketh their damnation just.† It were else easy for them to see a difference between the imperfections of a saint, and the wickedness of a beastly or malignant sinner:† and they should rather gather, that if the faults of serious believers are odious, their own reigning sin is much more so; and therefore this should hasten their repentance.
17.† And oh how desirable should the common sin, and ignorance, and divisions in this world make Christís appearing and glorious kingdom to us, when the whole Church shall be presented spotless, and beautiful in holiness and love, and Christ will be glorified in His saints, and admired in all believers!† The holy city of God, the Jerusalem above, hath nothing but perfect amiableness, concord, love and joy, where all are, though many, yet but one.