As we continue this occasional series of principles suggested by Richard Baxter for those who would like to avoid fomenting division in the church, he has some questions for the clergy of his day, and perhaps of ours, concerning their attitudes towards those from whom they differ

Principle IV
If others shew their weakness by any unreasonable opinions or divisions, show not your greater weakness by passionate, impatient or uncharitable criticism of them: especially when self-interest provokes you.

None usually are so spleenishly impatient at the weakness of Dissenters or Separatists as their Pastors are. And what is the cause? Is it because the Pastors abound in Love for the souls of those who offend, or those who are endangered by them? If so, I have no more to say to them. But when we see that the honor and self-interest of the Pastors is most deeply concerned in the business, and that they are carried by their impatience into more uncharitable behavior than the others are by their separation from them; and when we see that they put up with such sins as this in themselves; and that they can bear with such sins in people with plenty of patience when their own self-interest does not raise their passions; in such cases we have reason enough to fear that pride and selfishness have too great a part in much of the schism in the world.

Parents must not be so patient with sin, as to leave their children uncorrected: But correction must not be the effect of impatience, but of Love and Wisdom and dislike of sin, and must be chosen and measured so as to cure it. It’s one thing to be angry on God’s behalf against sin, and it’s another thing to be angry on our own behalf because our wills and interests have been challenged: And it’s one thing to correct so as to achieve a cure, and another thing to exact revenge.

Is it seemly for those who are the fathers of the flock and should excel their people in Love and lowliness, in patience and gentleness and meekness, to be so proud and passionate, as to storm against conscientious persons, because they reject our Ministry, and submit to others who are as able and as faithful and more profitable to them than we? When we can more easily bear with a swearer or drunkard or the families that are prayerless and ungodly, than with the most religious, because they do not choose our Ministry, but prefer some others as more edifying? When we can bear with them that have no understanding or seriousness in Religion at all, but make the world or their lusts their idols, but cannot bear with the weak irregularities of the most upright and devout? And to shew the height of our pride, we still are confident that we are the persons only that are in the right, and therefore that all are in the right that follow us, and all are in the wrong that turn away from us; That it is Unity and duty to follow us and adhere to us, and all are Schismaticks who forsake us and choose others. And thus the selfishness and Pride of the Pastors, making an imprudent and impatient stir against all who dislike them, and applauding all however bad who adhere to them and follow them, is as great a cause of the disorders of the Church, as the weakness and errors of the people.

Language modernised a bit; originally published in 1670.

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