“The greatest honor…is to be like Jesus Christ, and to excel in charity”: Baxter’s List of Motivations and Practical Tips for Loving All People

In my previous article, I showed that the Puritans believed that loving all people was a hallmark of the Christian faith. Though some may be surprised that these summative and forceful statements came from the Puritans, many would not be surprised to hear that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. However, actually doing this in real life is hard. After a recent youth group lesson on healing broken relationships by killing hate and anger in one’s own heart, one teenage girl in my group exclaimed, “but it’s so hard!” It’s hard because relationships with spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, employers, coaches, and teachers change over time, and it’s hard because pride can blind us from seeing that love is not the ball in someone else’s court, but our own court. Though Owen and Howe provide lots of good practical instructions, Baxter’s lists of motivations and practical tips in his Christian Directory (1673) are extremely thorough and varied, helping readers navigate their complicated relationships and root out their own sin. Some may have minor theological or practical qualms with one or two points, but it is clear that Baxter did the hard work of thinking deeply about God’s Word, human nature, and life on this earth, and has a lot of wise advice. Overall, he divides the topic of loving others into several categories including neighbors, Christians, intimate friends, and enemies, as well as doing acts of charity. Only some of his motivations and tips are listed below; click here to read more for free online, starting in chapter 27.

Loving Your Neighbors

First, Baxter claims that your neighbor includes every person on earth. Then, he exposits Jesus’s description of the second greatest command (i.e., love your neighbor as yourself) by saying, “you must love [another] according to his true worth, without the diversion and hindrance of selfishness and partiality.”[1]Here are just some of his motivations for loving your neighbor, and tips for doing it:

Motivations:

  1. they are already loved by God, who hates sin and loves the good he is doing even more than Christians do
  2. they are “intelligent, and capable of knowing [God], of loving him, and of serving him”
  3. love pleases God, prevents sin, makes your life sweet, and thus is in your own interest[2]

Tips:

  1. look for God’s image and the good in them
  2. study Christ who is the “the lively pattern of love”
  3. keep reasons to love at the front of your mind
  4. think about why they are loved
  5. think about why God commands love[3]
  6. don’t nit-pick faults or spend time with people who do (which is like “hear[ing] a sermon against charity”)
  7. don’t make up commands that God did not give
  8. don’t let problems build up between you and them[4]

Loving Fellow Christians

First, Baxter addresses the question of who is a true believer. Though we cannot see the root of faith in a person’s heart, we can see the fruit, and should therefore base the genuineness of a person’s profession of faith on this, including their conversion stories and understanding of salvation. However, visible members of a church should be considered genuine Christians unless there is obvious hypocrisy. Overall, “every man must be loved as he is” but not equally, in that a godly person has more in them to love than an ungodly person.[5]Some motivations and tips Baxter lists are:

Motivations:

  1. shared relation to God
  2. shared holiness
  3. shared trials
  4. shared destination

Tips:

  1. love Christ and you will be lead to love his members
  2. pay more attention to the good they do than the bad[6]
  3. encourage them to do good
  4. talk about good things with them
  5. anticipate the perfecting of their good as they mature in godliness
  6. think about the perfect fellowship you will have together in heaven

Loving Intimate Friends

Motivations for loving your friends are mostly obvious, since a friend is usually someone you want to be with and bless. But Baxter gives some needed clarification on how to have godly friendships that simultaneously make the most of God’s gift of community, but also guard against idolatry and selfishness. He explains that though it is lawful to have “an earnest desire to be loved by others . . . especially by some one person above all other,”[7]this should not be an inordinate or selfish love (e.g., because the person is rich) but a love according to the worth of you and your friend, and for your friend’s edification and happiness, despite the fact that it benefits you too. Having a bosom friend is good because it brings joy, helps you understand yourself, and because “no man is sufficient for himself” but needs a helper.[8]However, loving someone too much is unwise. In Baxter’s words, it is “an error of judgment and of will, to suppose any one better than he is (yea, perhaps than any creature on earth is) and so to love him.”[9]Here are some of his tips on how to love friends:

Tips:

  1. be open with them and tell them your secrets, unless it will harm them or yourself
  2. talk in plain sincerity
  3. be faithful and help your friend recognize their faults instead of flattering them
  4. understand the best of them and help them improve it
  5. be patient with their infirmities and don’t expect them to be perfect
  6. don’t talk about them behind their back
  7. don’t let your friendship keep you from loving others
  8. talk about God and heaven

Loving Your Enemies

Baxter first clarifies that an enemy is not any person who has at one time spoken badly about you, and warns that you should not be quick to label someone an enemy in your life. However, if you think you have an enemy, you cannot justify any hatred of that person. In fact, Christians are even called to love enemies of God in that they “must hate their sin, and love their humanity and all that is good in them, and wish their repentance, welfare and salvation.”[10]This love does not give opportunity for more sin, but helps the enemy repent because “usually kindness tendeth to convince and melt an enemy, and to hinder him from doing hurt.”[11]Though it may seem right to defend one’s honor by not loving an enemy, this is actually an atheistic idea rather than a Christian one because “the greatest honor [for the Christian] is to be like Jesus Christ, and to excel in charity.”[12]

Motivations:

  1. you imitate God
  2. you prove that you love for the sake of another and not yourself
  3. you use an effective way to win that person to God

Tips:

  1. “study, search, and hearken after all the good which is in your enemies”
  2. think about how your enemies are able to be better
  3. don’t hide love for your enemies but show it in to them through actions
  4. meet their physical needs, but most importantly point them to God
  5. don’t be a stranger but cultivate familiarity because it has the power to bring reconciliation[13]

Doing Works of Charity

Finally, Baxter gives specific motivations and tips for doing works of charity:

Motivations:

  1. you act like God, since he sends good things
  2. it is an honourable employment
  3. it is profitable to other people
  4. it shows evidence of your faith
  5. you give back to God what he has given you
  6. you also need help from others

Tips:

  1. prioritize works that promote conversion, education, physical needs (of the poor), and family, good people, and friends (though you cannot neglect what comes second to these)
  2. don’t let selfishness make you lavish stuff upon your kids
  3. consider works of charity a main external part of your religion, not just a side-gig (this includes keeping track of it like you would your other daily business)
  4. be thrifty with your own stuff
  5. don’t delay any good you can do
  6. trust God for your own provision
  7. if you can’t fill a specific need, convince someone else to
  8. don’t listen to a doctrine that is an enemy of good works

 

Baxter movingly sums up these practical instructions in a sermon called What Light Must Shine in Our Works. Loving other people is hard because our relationships are complicated and hatred is easy, but Baxter gives us the pep talk we need by saying it is our honor and duty:

It is the Christian who doth truly love his neighbor as himself; who loveth the godly as his co-heirs of heaven, and loveth the ungodly with a desire to make them truly godly; who loveth a friend as a friend, and an enemy as a man that is capable of holiness and salvation; it is he that liveth, walketh, speakteth, converseth, yea suffereth, which is the great difficulty in love, and is, as it were, turned, by the love of God shed abroad upon his heart, into love itself; who doth glorify God in the world, and glorify his religion, and really rebuke the blasphemer, that derideth the Spirit in believers, as it were but a fanatical dream.[14]

 

[1]Richard Baxter, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed., William Orme (James Duncan: London, 1830), 6:426.

 

[2]Ibid., 6:433.

 

[3]Ibid., 6:432.

 

[4]Ibid., 6:432–433.

 

[5]Ibid., 6:439, 441.

 

[6]Reflecting on his youth Baxter admitted, “I did not sufficiently discern then how much in most of our controversies is verbal and upon mutual mistakes . . . I have perceived that nothing so much hindereth the reception of the truth as urging it on men with too harsh importunity, and falling too heavily on their errors.” Richard Baxter, J. M. Lloyd Thomas, N. H. Keeble, The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (London: Dent, 1985), 103.

 

[7]Ibid., 6:453.

 

[8]Ibid., 6:455.

 

[9]Ibid., 6:459.In other words, it is “an irrational act . . . to love any one farther than reason will allow us, and beyond the true causes of regular love.” Ibid., 6:459.

 

[10]Ibid., 6:470.

 

[11]Ibid.

 

[12]Ibid., 6:471.

 

[13]Ibid., 6:475.

 

[14]Ibid. 17:203.

 

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