Richard Baxter is one of God's choice servants and teachers of God's Word. Baxter knew the danger of trying to please men while trying to serve God. In our time and culture this tension is heightened and intensified by two key things: 1. the politically charged society with evangelicals trying to divorce the gospel from confronting the cultural ills plaguing us today; and 2. the emergent church that seeks to redefine the terms and truths on most if not all essentials of the faith. Their new kind of Christianity is not a generous orthodoxy, but a generous heresy.
Pride is the most dangerous and injurious of all sins. Pride will rob God of His glory, cause man to compromise his testimony, truth and life, and will reduce us to be ineffectual for the cause of Christ. As Charles Bridges so aptly says, "Pride is self contending with God for preeminence."
Mr. Baxter gives us twenty-two reasons and warnings against being men-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. This is food for the starving soul; balm for a wayward heart; and a hoe to plow up the fallow ground of a dorment life.
We may please others in respect to being servants of all and a sign of humility before the Lord:
1 Cor. 10:33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.
But our chief aim each day is not to live for teh approval of men, but for God alone:
Gal. 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.Now I know that some will even try and twist the title of this article to justify a spirit of being unteachable or of pride. One mark of our times is that people seem to be unteachable, unwilling to consider that the direction of their ministry, church, or life could be missing the mark of sound doctrine and godly practice. This article is not designed to pacify or condone those kinds of hardened attitudes; but is to soften them. We need to adhere to the wisdom of others; to honor the leadership of our churches; to listen to biblical instruction by those who know us well, and to seek out godly counsel and wisdom on all issues of life. But we are not to make it our first-love to people please, but rather to glorify the Lord and keep Him preeminent in all things.
Col. 1:10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
May Baxter's powerful words cause us all, especially in the arts and blogosphere, to honor the Lord Jesus and please only Christ. May we "let goods and kindred go," count our lives as nothing, "not loving our life even unto death," and heed the warning of the words of our Lord, "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:43).
"For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
His Unworthy Servant in His Unfailing Love,
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
by Richard Baxter
1. Remember what a multitude you have to please;
and when you have pleased some, how many more will be still unpleased, and how many displeased when you have done your best. Alas! we are insufficient at once to observe all those that observe us and would be pleased by us. You are like one that hath but twelve pence in his purse, and a thousand beggars come about him for it, and every one will be displeased if he have it not all. If you resolve to give all that you have to the poor, if you do it to please God, you may attain your end, but if you do it to please them, when you have pleased those few that you gave it to, perhaps twice as many will revile or curse you, because they had nothing. The beggar that speeds well will proclaim you liberal, and the beggar that speeds ill will proclaim you niggardly and unmerciful; and so you will have more to offend and dishonour you, than to comfort you by their praise, if that must be your comfort.
2. Remember that all men are so selfish, that their expectations will be higher than you are able to satisfy.
They will not consider your hinderances, or avocations, or what you do for others, but most of them look to have as much to themselves, as if you had nobody else to mind but them. Many and many a time, when I have had an hour or a day to spend, a multitude have every one expected that I should have spent it with them. When I visit one, there are ten offended that I am not visiting them at the same hour: when I am discoursing with one, many more are offended that I am not speaking to them all at once: if those that I speak to account me courteous, and humble, and respectful, those that I could not speak to, or but in a word, account me discourteous and morose. How many have censured me, because I have not allowed them the time, which God and conscience commanded me to spend upon greater and more necessary work! If you have any office to give, or benefit to bestow which one only can have, every one thinketh himself the fittest; and when you have pleased one that hath it, you have displeased all that went without it, and missed of their desires.
3. You have abundance to please that are so ignorant, unreasonable, and weak, that they take your greatest virtues for your faults, and know not when you do well or ill;
and yet none more bold in censuring than those that least understand the things they censure. Many and many a time my own and others' sermons have been censured, and openly defamed, for that which never was in them, upon the ignorance or heedlessness of a censorious hearer; yea, for that which they directly spoke against; because they were not understood: especially he that hath a close style, free from tautology, where every word must be marked by him that will not misunderstand, shall frequently be misreported.
4. You will have many factious zealots to please, who being strangers to the love of holiness, Christianity, and unity, are ruled by the interest of an opinion or a sect;
and these will never be pleased by you, unless you will be one of their side or party, and conform yourself to their opinions. If you be not against them, but set yourselves to reconcile and end the differences in the church, they will hate you as not promoting their opinions, but weakening them by some abhorred syncretisms. As in civil, so in ecclesiastical wars, the firebrands cannot endure the peaceable: if you will be neutral, you shall be used as enemies. If you be never so much for Christ, and holiness, and common truth, all is nothing, unless you be also for them, and their conceits.
5. Most of the world are haters of holiness, and have a serpentine enmity to the image of God, being not renewed by the Holy Ghost;
and will not be pleased with you, unless you will sin against your Lord, and do as they do. I Pet. iv. 3-5, "Walking in lasciviousness lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries, wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you; who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead." You must be counted as Lot among the Sodomites, a busy fellow that comes among them to make himself their judge, and to control them, if you tell them of their sin. You shall be called a precise, hypocritical coxcomb, (or somewhat much worse,) if you will not be as bad as they, and if by your abstinence (though you say nothing) you seem to reprehend their sensuality and contempt of God. Among insane you must play the insane, if you will escape the fangs of their revilings. And can you hope to please such men as these?
6. You shall have satanical God-haters, and men of seared and desperate consciences to please, that are malicious and cruel,
and will be pleased with nothing but some horrid iniquity, and the damning of your own souls, and drawing others to damnation. Like that monster of Milan, that when he had got down his enemy, made him blaspheme God in hope to save his life, and then stabbed him, calling it a noble revenge, that killed the body and damned the soul at once. There are such in the world, that will so visibly act the devil's part, that they would debauch your consciences with the most horrid perjuries, perfidiousness, and impiety, that they may triumph over your miserable souls. And if you think it worth the willful damning of your souls, it is possible they may be pleased. If you tell them, we cannot please you, unless we will be dishonest, and displease God, and sin against our knowledge and consciences, and hazard our salvation, they will make but a jest of such arguments as these, and expect you should venture your souls and all upon their opinions, and care as little for God and your souls as they do. Desperate sinners are loth to go to hell alone; it is a torment to them to see others better than themselves. They that are cruel and unmerciful to themselves, and have no pity on their own souls, but will sell them for a whore, or for preferment, and honour, or sensual delights, will scarce have mercy on the souls of others: Matt. xxvii. 25, "His blood be on us, and on our children."
7. You will have rigorous, captious, uncharitable, and unrighteous men to please, who will "make a man offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought, and watch for iniquity," Isa. xxix. 20, 21.
That have none of that charity which covereth faults, and interpreteth words and actions favourably, nor none of that justice which causeth men to do as they would be done by, and judge as they would be judged; but judging without mercy, are like to have judgment without mercy. And are glad when they can find any matter to reproach you: and if once they meet with it (true or false) they will never forget it, but dwell as the fly on the ulcerated place.
8. You will have passionate persons to please, whose judgments are blinded, and are not capable of being pleased.
Like the sick and sore that are hurt with every touch; and at last, saith Seneca, with the very conceit that you touched them. How can you please them, when displeasedness is their disease, that abideth within them, at the very heart?
9. You will find that censoriousness is a common vice, and though few are competent judges of your actions, as not being acquainted with all the ease, yet every one almost will be venturing to cast in his censure.
A proud, presumptuous understanding is a very common vice; which thinks itself presently capable of judging, as soon as it heareth but a piece of the ease, and is not conscious of its own fallibility, though it have daily experience of it. Few are at your elbow, and none in your heart, and therefore know not the circumstances and reasons of all that you do, nor hear what you have to say for yourselves, and yet they will presume to censure you, who would have absolved you, if they had but heard you speak. It is rare to meet even with professors of greatest sincerity, that are very tender and fearful of sinning, in this point of rash, ungrounded judging, without capacity or call.
10. You live among unpeaceable tattlers and tale carriers, that would please others by accusing you.
Who is it that hath ears that hath not such vermin as these earwigs busy at them? Except here and there an upright man, whose angry countenance hath still driven away such backbiting tongues. And all shall be said behind your backs, when you are uncapable of answering for yourselves. And if it be a man that the hearers think well of, that accuseth or backbiteth you, they think it lawful then to believe them: and most that are their friends, and of their party, and for their interest, shall be sure to be thought so honest as to be credible. And it is not strange, for a learned, ingenious, yea, a godly person to be too forward in uttering, from the mouth of others an evil report, and then the hearer thinks he is fully justified for believing it, and reporting it again to others. David himself by the temptation of a Ziba, is drawn to wrong Mephibosheth the son of his great deserving friend, 2 Sam. xvi. 3. No wonder then if Saul do hearken to a Doeg, to the wrong of David, and murder of the priests. Prov. xviii. 8, "The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds." Prov. xxvi. 20, "Where no wood is, the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer the strife ceaseth." And when these are still near men, and you far off, it is easy for them to continue the most odious representation of the most laudable person's actions in the world.
11. The imperfection of all men's understandings and godliness is so great, that the differences of judgment that are among the best, will tend to the injury and undervaluing of their brethren.
One is confident that his way is right, and another is confident of the contrary: and to how great contendings and injuries such differences may proceed, he that knoweth not in this age, shall not know for me. We need not go to Paul and Barnabas for an instance (that was a far lighter case); nor to Epiphanius, Jerome, and Chrysostom; nor to those ages and tragedies of contending bishops, that in the eastern and western churches have been before us: every one thinking his cause so plain, as to justify himself, in all that he saith and doth against those that presume to differ from him. And surely you may well expect some displeasure, even from good and learned men, when the church have felt such dreadful concussions, and bleedeth to this day, by so horrid divisions, through the remnants of that pride and ignorance which her reverend guides have still been guilty of.
12. You have men of great mutability to please; that one hour may be ready to worship you as gods, and the next to stone you, or account you as devils, as they did by Paul, and Christ himself.
What a weathercock is the mind of man! especially of the vulgar and the temporizers! When you have spent all your days in building your reputation on this sand, one blast of wind or storm at last doth tumble it down, and all your cost and labour are lost. Serve men as submissively and carefully as you can; and after all, some accident or failing of their unrighteous expectations may make all that ever you did forgotten, and turn you out of the world with Wolsey's groans, "If I had served God as faithfully as man, I had been better rewarded, and not forsaken in my distress." How many have fallen by the hands or frowns of those whose favour they had dearly purchased, perhaps at the price of their salvation! If ever you put such confidence in a friend, as not to consider that it is possible he may one day prove your enemy, you know not man; and may perhaps be better taught to know him, to your cost.
13. Every man living shall unavoidably be engaged by God himself, in some duties which are very liable to misconstruction, and will have an outside and appearance of evil, to the offence of those that know not all the inside and circumstances.
And hence it comes to pass, that a great part of history is little worthy of regard; because the actions of public persons are discerned but by the halves by most that write of them. They write most by hearsay; or know but the outside and seemings of things, and not the spirit, and life, and reality of the case. Men have not the choosing of their own duties, but God maketh them by his law and providence: and it pleaseth him oft to try his servants in this kind: many of the circumstances of their actions shall remain unknown to men, that would justify them if they knew them, and account them as notorious, scandalous persons, because they know them not. How like to evil was the Israelites' taking the goods of the Egyptians! and how likely to lay them open to their censure! So was Abraham's attempt to sacrifice his son: and so was David's eating the shew-bread, and dancing almost naked before the ark; Christ's eating and drinking with publicans and sinners, Paul's circumcising Timothy and purifying in the temple; with abundance such like, which fall out in the life of every christian. No wonder if Joseph thought once of putting Mary away, till he knew the evidence of her miraculous conception; and how liable was she to censure, by those that knew it not! Oh, therefore, how vain is the judgment of man! And how contrary is it frequently to the truth! And with what caution must history be read! And oh how desirable is the great day of God, when all human censure shall be justly censured!
14. The perverseness of many is so great, that they require contradictions and impossibilities of you, to tell you that they are resolved never to be pleased by you.
If John use fasting, they say, "he hath a devil," if Christ come "eating and drinking," they say, "Behold a gluttonous person, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners," Matt. xi. 18, 19. If your judgment and practice be conformable to superiors, especially if they have admitted of a change, you shall be judged mere knaves and temporizers: if they are not, you shall be judged disobedient, refractory, and seditious. If you speak fair and pleasingly, they will call you flatterers and dissemblers: if you speak more freely, though in a necessary case, they will say you rail. If I accept of preferment, they will say, I am ambitious, proud, and worldly: if I refuse it, (how modestly so ever,) they will say, I am discontented, and have seditious designs. If I preach not when I am forbidden, I shalt be accused as forsaking the calling I undertook, and obeying man against God: if I do preach, I shall be accounted disobedient and seditious. If a friend or kinsman desire me to help him to some place or preferment which he is not fit for, or which would tend to another's wrong, if I should grant his desire, I shall be taken for dishonest, that by partiality wrong another; if I deny it him, I shall be called unnatural or unfriendly, and worse than an infidel. If I give to the poor as long as I have it, I shall be censured for ceasing when I have no more: they that know not whether you have it to give or not, will be displeased if you do not; and if many years you should maintain them freely, it is all as nothing as soon as you cease, either because your stock is spent, or because some other is made the necessary object of your charity. If you be wronged in your estate, if you go to law, they will say, you are contentious; if you let go your estate to avoid contention, they will say, you are silly fools or idiots. If you do any good works of charity to the knowledge of men, they will say, you are hypocrites, and do it for applause; if you do it secretly, that no one know of it, they will say, you are covetous, and have no good works, and though you make a greater profession of religion, you do no good; and others shall be censured so also for your sakes. If you be pleasant and merry, they will censure you as light and vain: if you be more grave and sad, they will say, you are melancholy or discontent. In a word, whatever you do, be sure by some it will be condemned; and do or not do, speak or be silent, you shall certainly displease, and never escape the censures of the world.
15. There is among men so great a contrariety of judgments, and dispositions, and interests, that they will never agree among themselves;
and if you please one, the rest will be thereby displeased. He that you please is an enemy to another; and therefore you displease his enemy by pleasing him. Sometimes, state differences divide kingdoms into parties, and one party will be displeased with you if you be of the other, and both if you are neuters, or dislike them both; and each party think their cause will justify any accusations they can charge you with, or odious titles they can give you, if not any sufferings they can bring upon you. Church differences and sects have been found in all ages, and you cannot be of the opinion of every party; when the world aboundeth with such variety of conceits, you cannot be of all at once. And if you be of one party, you must displease the rest; if you are of one side in controverted opinions, the other side accounteth you erroneous: and how far will the supposed interest of their cause and party carry them! One half of the Christian world, at this day, condemneth the other half as schismatical at least, the other half doing the like for them. And can you be papists, and protestants, and Greeks, and every thing? If not, you must displease as many as you please. Yea, more; if mutable men shall change never so oft, they will expect that you change as fast as they, and whatever their contrary interests require, you must follow them in; one year you must swear, and another you must unswear all again: whatever cause or action they engage in, be it never so devilish, you must approve of it and countenance it, and all that they do you must say is well done. In a word, you must teach your tongue to say or swear any thing, and you must sell your innocency, and hire out your consciences wholly to their service, or you cannot please them. Micaiah must say with the rest of the prophets, "Go, and prosper," or else he will be hated, as not prophesying good of Ahab but evil, I Kings xxii. 8. And how can you serve all interests at once? It seems the providence of God hath, as of purpose, wheeled about the affairs of the world, to try and shame man-pleasers and temporizers in the sight of the sun. It is evident then, that if you will please all you must at once both speak and be silent, and verify contradictions, and be in many places at once, and be of all men's minds, and for all men's way. For my part, I mean to see the world a little better agreed among themselves, before I will make it my ambition to please them. If you can reconcile all their opinions, and interests, and complexions, and dispositions, and make them all of one mind and will, then hope to please them.
16. If you excel in any one virtue or duty, even that shall not excuse you from the contrary defamation, so unreasonable are malicious men.
Nothing in the world can secure you from censorious, slanderous tongues. The perfect holiness of Jesus Christ could not secure him from being called a gluttonous person and a wine-bibber, and a friend of publicans and sinners. His wonderful contempt of worldly dignities and honours, and his subjection to Caesar, could not secure him from being slandered and crucified as Caesar's enemy. The great piety of the ancient Christians excused them not from the vulgar calumny, that they met together for filthiness in the dark, nor from the cry of the rabble, Tollite impios, "Away with the ungodly," because they were against the worshipping of idols. I have known those that have given all that ever they had to the poor except their food and necessaries, and yet (though it was to a considerable value) have been reproached as unmerciful, by those that have not had what they expected. Many a one hath been defamed with scandalous rumours of uncleanness, that have lived in untainted chastity all their lives. The most eminent saints have been defamed as guilty of the most horrid crimes, which never entered into their thoughts. The principal thing that ever I bent my studies and care about, hath been the reconciling, unity, and peace of Christians, and against unpeaceableness, uncharitableness, turbulency, and division; and yet some have been found, whose interest and malice have commanded them to charge me with that very sin, which I have spent my days, my zeal, and study against. How oft have contrary factions charged me with perfectly contrary accusations! I can scarce remember the thing that I can do in all the world, that some will not be offended at; nor the duty so great and clear, that some will not call my sin; nor the self-denial so great, (to the hazard of my life,) which hath not been called self-seeking, or something clean contrary to what it was indeed. Instead therefore of serving and pleasing this malicious, unrighteous world, I contemn their blind and unjust censures, and appeal to the most righteous God.
17. If you have a design for a name of honour when you are dead, consider what power a prevailing faction may have to corrupt the history of your life, and represent you to posterity perfectly contrary to what you are;
and how impossible it is for posterity to know whose history is the product of malicious, shameless lies, and whose is the narrative of impartial truth. What contrary histories are there of particular persons and actions written by men of the same religion: as of Pope Gregory VII and the emperors that contended with him; and about Pope John, and many the like eases, where you may read scores of historians on one side and on the other.
18. Remember that the holiest saints or apostles could never please the world, nor escape their censures, slanders, and cruelties, no, nor Jesus Christ himself.
And can you think by honest means to please them better than Christ and all his saints have done? You have not the wisdom that Christ had to please men, and to avoid offence. You have not the perfect innocency and unblamableness that Christ had, you cannot heal their sicknesses and infirmities, and do that good to them to please and win them, as Jesus Christ did; you cannot convince them, and constrain them to reverence you by manifold miracles, as Jesus Christ did. Can you imitate such an excellent pattern as is set you by the holy, patient charitable, unwearied apostle Paul? Acts xx.; 1 Cor. iv. ix.; 2 Cor. iv. v. vi. x. xi. xii. If you cannot, how can you please them that would not be pleased by such unimitable works of love and power? The more Paul "loved" some of his hearers, "the less he was beloved," 2 Cor. xii. 15. They used him "as an enemy for telling them the truth," Gal. iv. 16. Though he "became all things to all men," he could "save but some," nor "please but some," I Cor. ix. 22. And what are you that you should better please them?
19. Godliness, virtue, and honesty itself will not please the world, and therefore you cannot hope to please them by that which is not pleasing to them.
Will men be pleased by that which they hate? and by the actions which they think accuse them and condemn them? And if you will be ungodly and vicious to please them, you sell your souls, your conscience, and your God, to please them. God and they are not pleased with the same ways. And which do you think should first be pleased? If you displease him for their favour, you will buy it dearly.
20. They are not pleased with God himself; yea no man doth displease so many and so much as he.
And can you do more than God to please them? Or can you deserve their favour more than he? They are daily displeased with his works of providence: one would have rain, when another would have none. One would have the winds to serve his voyage, and another would have them in a contrary end. One party is displeased, because another is pleased and exalted; every enemy would have his cause succeed and the victory to be his, every contender would have all go on his side. God must be ruled by them, and fit himself to the interest of the most unjust, and to the will of the most vicious, and do as they would have him, and be a servant to their lusts, or they will not be pleased with him. And his holy nature, and his holy word, and holy ways, displease them more than his ordinary providence. They are displeased that his word is so precise and strict, and that he commandeth them so holy and so strict a life, and that he threateneth all the ungodly with damnation: he must alter his laws, and make them more loose, and fit them to their fleshly interest and lusts, and speak as they would have him, without any difficulties, before they will be pleased with them (unless he alter their minds and hearts). And how do you think they will be pleased with him at last, when he fulfils his threatenings? when he killeth them, and turneth their bodies to dust, and their guilty souls to torment and despair?
21. How can you please men that cannot please themselves?
Their own desire and choice will please them but a little while. Like children, they are soon weary of that which they cried for: they must needs have it, and when they have it, it is naught, and cast away; they are neither pleased with it, nor without it. They are like sick persons that long for every meat or drink they think of, and when they have it they cannot get it down; for the sickness is still within them that causeth their displeasure. How many do trouble and torment themselves by their passions and folly from day to day! And can you please such self-displeasers?
22. How can you please all others, when you cannot please yourselves?
If you are persons fearing God and feel the burden of your sins, and have life enough to be sensible of your diseases, I dare say there are none in the world so displeasing to you, as you are to yourselves. You carry that about you, and feel that within you, which displeaseth you more than all the enemies you have in the world. Your passions and corruptions, your want of love to God, and your strangeness to him and the life to come, the daily faultiness of your duties and your lives, are your daily burden, and displease you most. And if you be not able, and wise, and good enough to please yourselves, can you be able, and wise, and good enough to please the world? As your sins are nearest to yourselves, so are your graces; and as you know more evil by yourselves than others know, so you know more good by yourselves. That little fire will not warm all the room, which will not warm the hearth it lieth on.