Directions for the Poor – Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter (d. 1691)

Taken from Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory, Part II: Christian Economics, XXVII: “Directions for the Poor.”

There is no condition of life so low or poor, but may be sanctified, and fruitful, and comfortable to us, if our own misunderstanding, or sin and negligence, do not pollute it or embitter it to us: if we do the duty of our condition faithfully, we shall have no cause to murmur at it. Therefore I shall here direct the poor in the special duties of their condition; and if they will but conscientiously perform them, it will prove a greater kindness to them, than if I could deliver them from their poverty, and give them as much riches as they desire. Though I doubt this would be more pleasing to the most, and they would give me more thanks for money, than for teaching them how to want it.

Direct. I. Understand first the use and estimate of all earthly things: that they were never made to be your portion and felicity, but your provision and helps in the way to heaven.[100] And therefore they are neither to be estimated nor desired simply for themselves, (for so there is nothing good but God,) but only as they are means to the greatest good. Therefore neither poverty nor riches are simply to be rejoiced in for themselves, as any part of our happiness; but that condition is to be desired and rejoiced in, which affords us the greatest helps for heaven, and that condition only is to be lamented and disliked, which hinders us most from heaven, and from our duty.

Direct. II. See therefore that you really take all these things, as matters in themselves indifferent, and of small concern to you; and as not worthy of much love, or care, or sorrow, further than they conduce to greater things. We are like runners in a race, and heaven or hell will be our end; and therefore woe to us, if by looking aside, or turning back, or stopping, or trifling about these matters, or burdening ourselves with worldly trash, we should lose the race, and lose our souls. O sirs, what greater matters than poverty or riches have we to mind! Can those souls that must shortly be in heaven or hell, have time to bestow any serious thoughts upon these impertinencies? Shall we so much as “look at the temporal things which are seen, instead of the things eternal that are unseen?” 2 Cor. iv. 18. Or shall we whine under those light afflictions, which may be so improved, as to “work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?” ver. 17. Our present “life is not in the abundance of the things which we possess,” Luke xii. 15; much less is our eternal life.

Direct. III. Therefore take heed that you judge not of God’s love, or of your happiness or misery, by your riches or poverty, prosperity or adversity, as knowing that they come alike to all,[101] and love or hatred is not to be discerned by them; except only God’s common love, as they are common mercies to the body. If a surgeon is not to be taken for a hater of you, because he lets your blood, nor a physician because he purges his patient, nor a father because he corrects his child; much less is God to be judged an enemy to you, or unmerciful, because his wisdom and not your folly disposes of you, and proportions your estates. A carnal mind will judge of its own happiness and the love of God by carnal things, because it savors not spiritual mercies: but grace gives a christian another judgment, relish, and desire; as nature sets a man above the food and pleasures of a beast.

Direct. IV. Steadfastly believe that God is every way fitter than you to dispose of your estate and you.[102] He is infinitely wise, and knows what is best and fittest for you: he knows beforehand what good or hurt any state of plenty or want will do you: he knows all your corruptions, and what condition will most conduce to strengthen them or destroy them, and which will be your greatest temptations and snares, and which will prove your safest state; much better than any physician or parent knows how to diet his patient or his child. And his love and kindness are much greater to you, than yours are to yourself; and therefore he will not be wanting in willingness to do you good: and his authority over you is absolute, and therefore his disposal of you must be unquestionable. “It is the Lord: let him do what seems him good,” 1 Sam. iii. 18. The will of God should be the rest and satisfaction of your wills, Acts xxi. 14.

Direct. V. Steadfastly believe that, ordinarily, riches are far more dangerous to the soul than poverty, and a greater hindrance to men’s salvation. Believe experience; how few of the rich and rulers of the earth are holy, heavenly, self-denying, mortified men! Believe our Savior, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God,” Luke xviii. 24, 25, 27. So that you see the difficulty is so great of saving such as are rich, that to men it is a thing impossible, but to God’s omnipotence only it is possible. So 1 Cor. i. 26, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” Believe this, and it will prevent many dangerous mistakes.

Direct. VI. Hence you may perceive, that though no man must pray absolutely either for riches or poverty, yet of the two it is more rational ordinarily to pray against riches than for them, and to be rather troubled when God makes us rich, than when he makes us poor. (I mean it, in respect to ourselves, as either of them seems to conduce to our own good or hurt; though to do good to others, riches are more desirable.) This cannot be denied by any man that believes Christ: for no wise man will long for the hindrance of his salvation, or pray to God to make it as hard a thing for him to be saved, as for a camel to go through a needle’s eye; when salvation is a matter of such unspeakable moment, and our strength is so small, and the difficulties so many and great already.

Object. But Christ doth not deny but the difficulties to the poor may be as great. Answ. To some particular persons upon other accounts it may be so; but it is clear in the text, that Christ speaks comparatively of such difficulties as the rich had more than the poor.

Object. But then how are we obliged to be thankful to God for giving us riches, or blessing our labors?[103] Answ. 1. You must be thankful for them, because in their own nature they are good, and it is by accident, through your own corruption, that they become so dangerous. 2. Because you may do good with them to others, if you have hearts to use them well. 3. Because God in giving them to you rather than to others, doth signify (if you are his children) that they are fitter for you than for others. In Bedlam and among foolish children, it is a kindness to keep fire, and swords, and knives out of their way; but yet they are useful to people that have the use of reason. But our folly in spiritual matters is so great, that we have little cause to be too eager for that which we are inclined so dangerously to abuse, and which proves the bane of most that have it.

Direct. VII. See that your poverty be not the fruit of your idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, pride, or any other flesh-pleasing sin.[104] For if you bring it thus upon yourselves, you can never look that it should be sanctified to your good, till sound repentance have turned you from the sin: nor are you objects worthy of much pity from man (except as you are miserable sinners). He that rather chooses to have his ease and pleasure, though with want, than to have plenty, and to want his ease and pleasure, it is pity that he should have any better than he chooses.

1. Slothfulness and idleness are sins that naturally tend to want, and God hath caused them to be punished with poverty; as you may see, Prov. xii. 24, 27; xviii. 9; xxi. 25; xxiv. 34; xxvi. 14, 15; vi. 11; xx. 13. Yea, he commands that if any (that is able) “will not work, neither should he eat,” 2 Thess. iii. 10. In the sweat of their face must they eat their bread, Gen. iii. 19; and “six days must they labor and do all that they have to do.” To maintain your idleness is a sin in others. If you will please your flesh with ease, it must be displeased with want; and you must suffer what you choose.

2. Gluttony and drunkenness are such beastly devourers of mercy, and abusers of mankind, that shame and poverty are their punishment and cure. Prov. xxiii. 20, 21, “Be not among winebibbers, among riotous eaters of flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty, and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” It is not lawful for any man to feed the greedy appetites of such: if they choose a short excess before a longer competency, let them have their choice.

3. Pride also is a most consuming, wasteful sin: it sacrifices God’s mercies to the devil, in serving him by them, in his first-born sin. Proud persons must lay it out in pomp and gaudiness, to set forth themselves to the eyes of others; in buildings, and entertainments, and fine clothes, and curiosities: and poverty is also both the proper punishment and cure of this sin: and it is cruelty for any to save them from it, and resist God, that by abasing them takes the way to do them good, Prov. xi. 2; xxix. 23; xvi. 18.

4. Falsehood also, and deceit, and unjust getting, tend to poverty; for God doth often, even in this present life, thus enter into judgment with the unjust. Ill-gotten wealth is like fire in the thatch, and brings ofttimes a secret curse and destruction upon all the rest. The same may be said of unmercifulness to the poor; which is oft cursed with poverty, when the liberal are blessed with plenty, Prov. xi. 24, 25; Isa. xxxii. 8; Psal. lxxiii. 21, 22, 25, 26, 34, 35.

Direct. VIII. Be acquainted with the special temptations of the poor, that you may be furnished to resist them. Every condition hath its own temptations, which persons in that condition must specially be fortified and watch against; and this is much of the wisdom and safety of a christian.

Tempt. I. One temptation of poverty will be to draw you to think higher of riches and honors than you ought; to make you think that the rich are much happier than they are. For the world is like all other deceivers; it is most esteemed where it is least known. They that never tried a life of wealth, and plenty, and prosperity, are apt to admire it, and think it braver and better than it is. And so you may be drawn as much to over-love the world by want, as other men by plenty. Against this remember, that it is folly to admire that which you never tried and knew; and mark whether all men do not vilify it, that have tried it to the last: dying men call it no better than vanity and deceit. And it is rebellious pride in you so far to contradict the wisdom of God, as to think most highly of that condition which he hath judged worst for you; and to fall in love with that which he denies you.

Tempt. II. The poor will also be tempted to over-much care about their wants and worldly matters;[105] they will think that necessity requires it in them, and will excuse them. So much care is your duty, as is needful to the right doing of your work. Take care how to discharge your own duties; but be not too careful about the event, which belongs to God. If you will care what you should be and do, God will care sufficiently what you shall have.[106] And so be it you faithfully do your business, your other care will add nothing to the success, nor make you any richer, but only vex and disquiet your minds. It is the poor as well as the rich, that God hath commanded to be careful for nothing, and to cast all their care on him.

Tempt. III. Poverty also will tempt you to repining, impatience, and discontent, and to fall out with others; which because it is one of the chief temptations, I will speak to by itself anon.

Tempt. IV. Also you will be tempted to be coveting after more:[107] Satan makes poverty a snare to draw many needy creatures to greater covetousness than many of the rich are guilty of; none thirst more eagerly after more; and yet their poverty blinds them, so that they cannot see that they are covetous, or else excuse it as a justifiable thing. They think that they desire no more but necessaries, and that it is not covetousness, if they desire not unnecessary things. But do you not covet more than God allots you? and are you not discontent with his allowance? And doth not he know best what is necessary for you, and what superfluous? What then is covetousness, if this be not?

Tempt. V. Also you will be tempted to envy the rich, and to censure them in matters where you are incompetent judges. It is usual with the poor to speak of the rich with envy and censoriousness; they call them covetous, merely because they are rich, especially if they give them nothing; when they know not what ways of necessary expense they have, nor know how many others they are liberal to, that they are unacquainted with. Till you see their accounts you are unfit to censure them.

Tempt. VI. The poor also will be tempted to use unlawful means to supply their wants.[108] How many by the temptation of necessity have been tempted to comply with sinners, and wound their consciences, and lie and flatter for favor or preferment, or to cheat, or steal, or over-reach! A dear price! to buy the food that perishes, with the loss or hazard of everlasting life; and lose their souls to provide for their flesh!

Tempt. VII. Also you will be tempted to neglect your souls, and omit your spiritual duties, and, as Martha, to be troubled about many things, while the one thing needful is forgotten; and you will think that necessity will excuse all this; yea, some think to be saved because they are poor, and say, God will not punish them in this life and another too. But alas, you are more inexcusable than the rich, if you are ungodly and mindless of the life to come. For he that will love a life of poverty and misery better than heaven, deserves indeed to go without it, much more than he that prefers a life of plenty and prosperity before it. God hath taught you by his providence to know, that you must either be happy in heaven, or no where;—if you would be worldlings, and part with heaven for your part on earth, how poor a bargain are you like to make! To love rags, and toil, and want, and sorrow, better than eternal joy and happiness, is the most unreasonable kind of ungodliness in the world. It is true, that you are not called to spend so many hours of the week days in reading and meditation, as some that have greater leisure are; but you have reason to seek heaven, and set your hearts upon it, as much as they; and you must think of it when you are about your labor, and take those opportunities for your spiritual duties which are allowed you. Poverty will excuse ungodliness in none! Nothing is so necessary as the service of God and your salvation; and therefore no necessity can excuse you from it. Read the case of Mary and Martha, Luke x. 41, 42. One would think that your hearts should be wholly set upon heaven, who have nothing else but it to trust to. The poor have fewer hindrances than the rich, in the way to life eternal! And God will save no man because he is poor; but condemn poor and rich that are ungodly.

Tempt. VIII. Another great temptation of the poor, is to neglect the holy education of their children; so that in most places, there are none so ignorant, and rude, and heathenish, and unwilling to learn, as the poorest people and their children: they never teach them to read, nor teach them any thing for the saving of their souls; and they think that their poverty will be an excuse for all; when reason tells them, that none should be more careful to help their children to heaven, than they that can give them nothing upon earth.

Direct. IX. Be acquainted with the special duties of the poor; and carefully perform them. They are these:

1. Let your sufferings teach you to contemn the world; it will be a happy poverty if it do but help to wean your affections from all things below; that you set as little by the world as it deserves.

2. Be eminently heavenly-minded; the less you have or hope for in this life, the more fervently seek a better.[109] You are at least as capable of the heavenly treasures as the greatest princes; God purposely straightens your condition in the world, that he may force up your hearts unto himself, and teach you to seek first for that which indeed is worth your seeking, Matt. vi. 33, 19-21.

3. Learn to live upon God alone; study his goodness, and faithfulness, and all-sufficiency; when you have not a place nor a friend in the world, that you can comfortably betake yourselves to for relief, retire unto God, and trust him, and dwell the more with him.[110] If your poverty have but this effect, it will be better to you than all the riches in the world.

4. Be laborious and diligent in your callings: both precept and necessity call you unto this; and if you cheerfully serve him in the labor of your hands, with a heavenly and obedient mind, it will be as acceptable to him, as if you had spent all that time in more spiritual exercises; for he had rather have obedience than sacrifice; and all things are pure and sanctified to the pure; if you cheerfully serve God in the meanest work, it is the more acceptable to him, by how much the more subjection and submission there is in your obedience.[111]

5. Be humble and submissive unto all. A poor man proud is doubly hateful; and if poverty cure your pride, and help you to be truly humble, it will be no small mercy to you.[112]

6. You are specially obliged to mortify the flesh, and keep your senses and appetites in subjection; because you have greater helps for it than the rich; you have not so many baits of lust, and wantonness, and gluttony, and voluptuousness as they.

7. Your corporal wants must make you more sensibly remember your spiritual wants; and teach you to value spiritual blessings: think with yourselves, if a hungry, cold, and naked body, be so great a calamity, how much greater is a guilty, graceless soul, a dead or diseased heart! If bodily food and necessaries are so desirable, oh how desirable is Christ and his Spirit, and the love of God and life eternal!

8. You must above all men be careful redeemers of your time; especially of the Lord’s day; your labors take up so much of your time, that you must be the more careful to catch every opportunity for your souls! Rise earlier to get half an hour for holy duty; and meditate on holy things in your labors, and spend the Lord’s day in special diligence, and be glad of such seasons; and let scarcity preserve your appetites.

9. Be willing to die; seeing the world gives you so cold entertainment, be the more content to let it go, when God shall call you; for what is here to detain your hearts?

10. Above all men, you should be most fearless of sufferings from men, and therefore true to God and conscience; for you have no great matter of honor, or riches, or pleasure to lose: as you fear not a thief, when you have nothing for him to rob you of.

11. Be specially careful to fit your children also for heaven: provide them a portion which is better than a kingdom; for you can provide but little for them in the world.

12. Be exemplary in patience and contentedness with your state: for that grace should be the strongest in us which is most exercised; and poverty calls you to the frequent exercise of this.

Direct. X. Be specially furnished with those reasons which should keep you in a cheerful contentedness with your state; and may suppress every thought of anxiety and discontent.[113] As, 1. Consider as aforesaid, that that is the best condition for you which helps you best to heaven; and God best knows what will do you good, or hurt. 2. That it is rebellion to grudge at the will of God; which must dispose of us, and should be our rest. 3. Look over the life of Christ, who chose a life of poverty for your sake; and had not a place to lay his head. He was not one of the rich and voluptuous in the world; and are you grieved to be conformed to him? Phil. iii. 7-9. 4. Look to all his apostles, and most holy servants and martyrs. Were not they as great sufferers as you? 5. Consider that the rich will shortly be all as poor as you: naked they came into the world, and naked they must go out; and a little time makes little difference. 6. It is no more comfort to die rich than poor; but usually much less; because the pleasanter the world is to them, the more it grieves them to leave it. 7. All men cry out, that the world is vanity at last. How little is it valued by a dying man! and how sadly will it cast him off! 8. The time is very short and uncertain, in which you must enjoy it; we have but a few days more to walk about, and we are gone. Alas, of how small concern is it, whether a man be rich or poor, that is ready to step into another world! 9. The love of this world drawing the heart from God, is the common cause of men’s damnation; and is not the world liker to be over-loved, when it entertains you with prosperity, than when it uses you like an enemy? Are you displeased, that God thus helps to save you from the most damning sin? and that he makes not your way to heaven more dangerous? 10. You little know the troubles of the rich. He that hath much, hath much to do with it, and much to care for; and many persons to deal with, and more vexations than you imagine. 11. It is but the flesh that suffers; and it furthers your mortification of it. 12. You pray but for your daily bread, and therefore should be contented with it. 13. Is not God, and Christ, and heaven, enough for you? should that man be discontent that must live in heaven? 14. Is it not your lust, rather than your well-informed reason, that repines? I do but name all these reasons for brevity: you may enlarge them in your meditations.


[100]   Prov. xxviii. 6; Jam. ii. 5.

[101]   Eccles. ii. 14; ix. 2, 3.

[102]   Psal. x. 15; 1 Sam. ii. 7.

[103]   Saith Aristippus to Dionysius, Quando sapientia egebam, adii Socratem? nunc pecuniarum egens, ad te veni. Laert. in Aristip.

[104]   1 Cor. vii. 35.

[105]   Luke x. 41.

[106]   Matt. vi.; 1 Pet. v. 7; Phil. iv. 6.

[107]   Prov. xxiii. 4.

[108]   Prov. xxx. 8, 9; John vi. 27.

[109]   Phil. iii. 18, 20, 21; 2 Cor. v. 7, 8.

[110]   Gal. ii. 20; Psal. lxxiii. 25-28; 2 Cor. i. 10.

[111]   Eph. iv. 28; Prov. xxi. 25; 1 Sam. xv. 22; 2 Thess. iii. 8, 10.

[112]   Prov. xviii. 23.

[113]   Phil. iv. 11-13; Matt. v. 3; 1 Sam. ii. 7; Matt. vi. 25, &c; Psal. lxxviii. 20; Numb. xiv. 11; Matt. xvi. 9; Job xiii. 15; Eccl. v. 12; 1 Cor. vii. 29-31; Psal. lxxxiv. 11; xxxvii. 25; x. 14; lv. 22; Rom. ix. 20; Psal. xxxiv. 9, 10; Rom. viii. 28; Heb. xiii. 5.


About John Boruff

John Boruff is a husband, father, blogger, and insurance agent.
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