Directions Against Man-pleasing

Taken and adapted from, “The Sin of Man-Pleasing or that overvaluing the Favor and Censure of Man, which is the Fruit of Pride, and a great cause of Hypocrisy; or, Directions against Idolizing Man.”
Written by, Richard Baxter


As in other cases, so also in this…

…iniquity consists not simply in the heart’s neglect of God, but in the preferring of some competitor, and prevalence of some object which stands up for an opposite interest. And so the obeying man before God and against him, and the valuing the favor and approbation of man before or against the approbation of God, and the fearing of man’s censure or displeasure more than God’s, is an idolizing man, or setting him up in the place of God. It turns our chief observance, and care, and labor, and pleasure, and grief into this human fleshly channel, and makes all that to be but human in our hearts and lives, which (objectively) should be divine. Which is so great and dangerous a sin, partaking of so much impiety, hypocrisy, and pride, as that it deserves a special place in my directions, and in all watchfulness and consideration to escape it.

As all other creatures, so especially man, must be regarded and valued only in a due subordination and subserviency to God. If they be valued otherwise, they are made his enemies, and so are to be hated, and are made the principal engine of the ruin of such as overvalue them. See what the Scripture says of this sin: Isaiah 2: 22, “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” Matt. 23: 9, “And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father which is in heaven.” ver. 8, “And be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your Master even Christ: but he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” Jer. 20: 15, “Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm.” Psalm 118: 6, 8, 9, “The Lord is on my side, I will not fear what man can do unto me. It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man,-yea, in princes.” Job 32:21, 22 “Let me not accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man: for I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my Maker would soon take me away.” Job 21:4, “As for me, is my complaint to man? “Gal. 1:10, “Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be a servant of Christ.” I Cor. 4:3, “But with me it is a very small thing to be judged of you, or of man’s judgment.” Luke14: 26, “If a man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” “Blessed are ye when man shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven,” Matt. 5:11- 12. “Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers,” Eph. 6: 6; Col. 3:22. 1Thess. 2:4, “So we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who tries our hearts.” Jude 16, “Having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” This is enough to show you what Scripture says of this inordinate man-pleasing, or respect to man: and now I shall proceed to direct you to escape it.

Do Not Run to the Opposite Extreme

Understand well wherein the nature of this sin consists, that you may not run into the contrary extreme, but may know which way to bend your opposition. I shall therefore first show you, how far we may and must please men, and how far not.

The Proper Respect We are to Have Towards Men

1. Our parents, rulers, and superiors must be honored, obeyed, and pleased in all things which they require of us, in the several places of authority which God hath given them over us; and this must be not merely as to man, but as to the officers of God, from whom, and for whom, (and not against him,) they have all their power, Rom. 13; Exodus 20: 12; Titus 3”1; I Pet. 2:13; 2 Pet. 2:10.

2. We must in charity, and condescension, and meekness of behavior, seek to please all men in order to their salvation. We must so thirst for the conversion of sinners, that we must become all things (lawful) to all men, that we may win them. We must not stand upon our terms, and keep at a distance from them, but condescend to the lowest, and bear the infirmities of the weak; and in things indifferent not take the course that pleases ourselves, but that which, by pleasing him, may edify our weak brother. We must forbear and forgive, and part with our right, and deny ourselves the use of our christian liberty, were it as long as we live, if it be necessary to the saving of our brethren’s souls, by removing the offense which hinders them by prejudice. We must not seek our own carnal ends, but the benefit of others, and do them all the good we can.

3. As our neighbor is commanded to love us as himself, we are bound by all lawful means to render ourselves amiable to him, that we may help and facilitate this his love, as it is more necessary to him than to us: for to help him in obeying so great a command must needs be a great duty. And therefore if his very sin possess him with prejudice against us, or cause him to distaste us for some indifferent thing, we must as far as we can lawfully, remove the cause of his prejudice and dislike; though he that hateth us for obeying God, must not be cured by our disobeying him. Wee are so far from being obliged to displease men by surliness and morosity, that we are bound to pleasing gentleness, and brotherly kindness, and to all that carriage which is necessary to cure their sinful hatred or dislike.

4. We must not be self-conceited, and prefer a weak, unfurnished judgment of our own, before the greater wisdom of another; but in honour must prefer each other: and the ignorant must honour the knowledge and parts of others that excel them, and not be stiff in their own opinion, nor wise in their own eyes, nor undervalue another man’s reasons or judgment; but be glad to learn of any that can teach them, in the humble acknowledgment of their own insufficiency.

5. Especially we must reverence the judgment of our able, faithful teachers, and not by pride set up our weaker judgment against them, and resist the truth which they deliver to us from God. Neither must we set light by the censures or admonitions of the lawful pastors of the church: when they are agreeable to the word and judgment of God, they are very dreadful. As Tertullian says, If any so offend as to be banished from communion of prayer, and assembly, and all holy commerce, it is a judgment foregoing the great judgment to come. Yea, if the officers of Christ should wrong you in their censures by passion or mistake, while they act in their own charge about matters belonging to their cognizance and judgment, you must respectfully and patiently bear the wrong, so as not to dishonor and contemn the authority and office so abused.

6. If sober, godly persons, that are well acquainted with us, do strongly suspect us to be faulty where we discern it not ourselves, it should make us the more suspicious and fearful: and if judicious persons fear you to be hypocrites, and no sound Christians, by observing your temper and course of life, it should make you search with the greater fear, and not to disregard their judgment. And if judicious persons, especially ministers, shall tell a poor, fearful, doubting christian, that they verily think their state is safe, it may be a great stay to them, and must not be slighted as nothing, though it cannot give them a certainty of their case. Thus far man’s judgment must be valued.

7. A good name among men, which is the reputation of our integrity, is not to be neglected as a thing of nothing; for it is a mercy from God for which we must be thankful, and it is a useful means to our successful serving and honoring God. And the more eminent we are, and the more the honor of God and religion is joined with ours, or the good of men’s souls depends on our reputation, the more careful we should be of it; and it may be a duty sometimes to vindicate it by the magistrate’s justice, against a slander. Especially preachers (whose success for the saving of their hearers depends much on their good name) must not despise it.

8. The censures of the most petulant, and the scorns of enemies, are not to be made light of, as they are their sins, which we must lament; and they should provoke us to a more diligent search, and careful watchfulness over our ways. Thus far man’s judgment is worthy.

Signs of Living to Please God

See therefore that you live upon God’s approval as that which you chiefly seek, and will suffice you: which you may discover by these signs.

1. You will be most careful to understand the Scripture, to know what pleases and displeases God.

2. You will be more careful in the doing of every duty, to fit it to the pleasing of God than men.

3. You will look to your hearts, and not only to your actions; to your ends, and thoughts, and the inward manner and degree.

4. You will look to secret duties as well as public and to that which men see not, as well as unto that which they see.

5. You will reverence your conscience, and have much to do with it, and will not slight it: when it tells you of God’s displeasure, it will disquiet you; when it tells you of his approval, it will comfort you.

6. Your pleasing men will be charitable for their good, and pious in order to the pleasing of God, and not proud and ambitious for your honor with them, nor impious against the pleasing of God.

7. Whether men be pleased or displeased, or how they judge of you, or what they call you, will seem a small matter to you, as their own interest, in comparison to God’s judgment. You live not on them. You can bear their displeasure, censures, and reproaches, if God be but pleased. These will be your evidences.