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Thoughts on Contentment, and Zeal for Truth and Righteousness

October 15, 2019 2 comments

As I look back now on the last several years and God’s amazing work of Providence, I consider two issues that need balance:  godly contentment on the one hand, and the desire for what is right and true on the other; or, experiencing true contentment and gratitude to God for what He has done, while recognizing the evil in the world, including the major problems that occur at local churches among professed believers; rejoicing in the Lord in spite of the evil, recognizing what part each of us is responsible for– and leaving the rest, including the hearts and repentance of others, in God’s hands.  It is also the call to keep the long-term perspective, that we and everything around us are completely in God’s care and control, while still living in a very broken world.

I’ve seen God answer and resolve a situation that had continued for many years, something that appeared to be an unchanging, insurmountable circumstance (that I was just going to have to live with).  The original (major) issue has indeed been answered (along with many other unexpected blessings, side benefits);  as typically happens, one set of problems has been replaced with another, different set—albeit the new situation is more tolerable, a lesser degree of suffering and affliction.

A thousand years is as one day to God, and yet we get impatient when we don’t see change and results immediately.  Through this, though, I’ve come to realize that God is more interested in the process of our sanctification, our spiritual growth and maturity, our becoming more Christ-like, than in providing the immediate “fix” to our problems:  even when those problems involve truth and righteousness.  Yes, God is also very concerned about truth and righteousness as well – and yet there is His forbearance, that He puts up with so much evil and wickedness in the world, and He does not always change hardened hearts, even those of professed believers in a local church.  Reference 1 Corinthians 11, that there must be differences to show who has God’s approval.

Again I’m reminded of the reality that throughout church history, a lot of what happens within the professing visible church is a great disappointment.  Yet God allows it to occur, allowing wicked and unjust rulers within the church as well as in the secular government.  The churches in the 1st century were far from perfect; Christ had charges to bring against several of them (Revelation 2-3).  Many Christians today do not live near any decent church, and with others God has so ordered the circumstances to include attending less-than-ideal churches.  God’s word even addresses that point: the exhortation in Rev. 2:24-25

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.

and Malachi 3:16-18

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

It also comes back to the handling of desires that are normal and good in themselves, such as the desire to attend a biblically solid, strong Reformed church.  Yet when God decrees otherwise, to then accept the negative answer and be content in God’s will, and to “hold fast what you have until I come.”  (Along the way comes the discovery, too, one that Spurgeon noted as well:  when God does not answer a prayer in one way, He provides the blessing in a different, unexpected way.)  Where possible, to push for change (so much as it lies within our own power to do so), yet still being thankful and praising God in the trial, as Habakkuk prayed and praised God, even though God’s answer wasn’t what he wanted.  Any desire that is proper in itself, becomes sinful (an inordinate desire) when placed above God and His will.  Here I also think about Daniel and his friends living in Babylon.  No doubt they would have preferred to be back in their homeland, to worship God at the temple.  Perhaps while in exile they experienced early-synagogue-type worship with other deported Jews, but maybe not.  All we are told about are the persecution experiences and Daniel’s private worship, how he worshiped in his own home.

I have also found my recent studies, such as Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home  very instructive, with a lot of great practical advice for dealing with less-than-ideal situations.  For instance, Baxter wrote at length about cases where spouses are not equally yoked, along with application to recognize what things we as individuals are responsible for versus what things are beyond our control, even describing some extreme (real or hypothetical) situations of his day.

A few selections:

if the husband is ignorant or is unable to instruct his wife, she is not bound to ask him in vain to teach her what he does not understand.  Those husbands who despise the Word  of God and live in willful ignorance do not only despise their own souls but their families also… for God has said in his message to Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed”

. . .

and the woman if she follows him must leave all those helps and go among ignorant, profane, heretical persons or infidels.

Answer: If she is one who is likely to do good to the infidels, heretics, or bad persons with whom they must converse.. or if she is a confirmed, well-settled Christian and not very likely, either by infection or by want of helps, to be unsettled and miscarry, it seems to me the safest way to follow her husband.  She will lose God’s public ordinances by following him, but it is not imputable to her, as being outside her choice.  She must lose the benefits and neglect the duties of the married ordinance if she does not follow him….

… What if a woman has a husband who will not suffer her to read the Scriptures or go to God’s worship, public or private, or who beats and abuses her….

The woman must at necessary seasons, though not when she would, both read the Scriptures and worship God and suffer patiently what is inflicted on her.  Martyrdom may be as comfortably suffered from a husband as from a prince.  But yet if neither her own love, duty, and patience, nor friends’ persuasion, nor the magistrate’s justice can free her from such inhumane cruelty as quite disables her for her duty to God and man, I do not see why she may not depart from such a tyrant.

Regarding things in our power to change, versus what is not in our power, he lists several limitations, when something is not in our power to change:

First, it is not lawful either in family, commonwealth, church, or anywhere to allow sin or to tolerate it or to leave it uncured when it is truly in our power to cure it.  … It is not in our power to do that which we are naturally unable to do.  No law of God binds us to impossibilities.  …

When the principal causes do not cooperate with us, and we are but subservient moral causes.  We can but [attempt to] persuade men to repent, believe, and love God and goodness.  We cannot save men without and against themselves.  Their hearts are out of our reach; therefore, in all these cases we are naturally unable to hinder sin.

Those actions are out of our power that are acts of higher authority than we have.  A subject cannot reform by such actions as are proper to the sovereign or a layman by actions proper to the pastor, for want (lack) of authority.

This section lists many other scenarios, as pertaining to authority, or what a superior forbids us to do, and even cases where “great and heinous sins may be endured in families sometimes to avoid a greater hurt and because there is no other means to cure them.”

Experience through the difficulties, along with wisdom gleaned from books such as the Puritans (including the above writings from Richard Baxter), are the things that God uses in our lives as we prayerfully look to Him for guidance every day, as we learn to keep the proper balance and to praise and thank God while desiring a change in the circumstances.  Above all, we pray the Lord’s Prayer and for His will to be done in and through the situations.

Suffering, Affliction, Regrets — and the Larger Perspective

September 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Continuing through the collection of free used books received, I’ve started reading Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home —  a recent publication with modernized language and introduction by J.I. Packer, covering a portion of Baxter’s Christian Directory from the 17th century.  Even in the current form, it’s not always the easiest to follow, as it describes situations unfamiliar to us, in the Puritan-era writing style (wordiness).  This selection from his larger work includes chapters on marriage, children, family worship, and several other topics — Baxter’s wisdom and guidance to Christian laypeople regarding their daily life and life decisions.  As a guide to those facing such decisions it excels, well describing the hardships to be experienced from a wrong choice, descriptions of the experiences that others have had to “learn the hard way.”

A sampling from the first chapter, Directions About Marriage:

If you should marry one who proves to be ungodly, how exceeding great would the affliction be!  If you loved such persons, your soul would be in continual danger by them; they would be the most powerful instruments in the world to pervert your judgements, to deaden your hearts, to divert you from a holy life, to kill your prayers, to corrupt your lives, and to damn your souls.  If you should have the grace to escape the snare and save yourself, it would be by so much the greater difficulty and suffering since the temptation is greater.  What a heartbreak it would be to converse so nearly with a child of the Devil; it is like living forever in hell.  The daily thoughts of it would be a daily death to you.

Another short sample, a description of an ungodly person:

To habitually prefer things temporal before things spiritual in the predominant acts of heart and life is the certain character of a graceless soul.

Thus is the ideal (Baxter’s “Directions About Marriage”), and when followed to prevent poor life-decisions, all is well.  Yet as I have observed, in the Christian life and experience in this fallen world, those who “get it right” and make wise relationship choices on the front end will experience some other type of suffering and disappointment later in life—perhaps with children, or health, or financial or many other possibilities.

But what about those on the other side, who have already made poor decisions?  Here we must turn to other wise counsel, regarding the sovereignty of God.  Ed Welch in Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness (see this previous post), well stated an important point to continually remember:

Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing His good plans even through our poor choices, it is easy to lose sight of this reality.  When we do, we can feel as if an unwise decision has forever doomed us to a path that is second best. … in view of God’s sovereign control, God will accomplish His purposes in our lives even when we make decisions we later regret.

Indeed, when the Bible speaks of “all these things,” or “in all things,” and the trials and tribulations of the Christian life, those trials can include the problems noted above that may come to those who at least have their “relationship-act together”; yet for some the trial does include relationship difficulty, even within marriage.  Here I also recall the great application from past Tabletalk devotionals, in this previous post, and relating to the “day to day” life experienced by Abraham and Sarah, by Isaac and Rebekah, and then Jacob.

Another book I’m reading ties into this in a rather unexpected way:  The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien  (a past Kindle deal); this book’s main focus is on Tolkien’s letters as related to his writings of The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings.  I first read it 15-20 years ago from the library, but through the years since and the maturing process of life, I now notice another aspect brought out: Tolkien’s own personal trials and difficulties in the day to day of life, during the years while he was still (slowly) writing the Lord of the Rings.  The letters reveal a life with its share of great afflictions and trials—along with hope, the times of looking beyond the present life to the glory yet to be revealed.

In a letter from August 31, 1938, he even notes that he had come close to a breakdown:

I am not so much pressed, as oppressed (or depressed).  Further troubles which I need not detail have occurred, and I collapsed (or bent) under them.  I have been unwell, since I saw you—in fact I reached the edge of a breakdown, and was ordered by the doctor to stop short.  I have done nothing for a week or two—being in fact quite unable.

Elsewhere, in writing and providing wisdom to one of his then-young adult sons regarding marriage (from the human side of events), he offered this:

Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.

And to another son during the son’s experiences in World War II:

If you cannot achieve inward peace, and it is given to few to do so (least of all to me) in tribulation, do not forget that the aspiration for it is not a vanity, but a concrete act.

As I’ve seen before, so again: a complete, well-rounded perspective regarding life in this fallen world requires multiple inputs, and truth, love, and encouragement come to us in many different ways, including from reading many different books and even types of books.