A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
Under the Sentence of Death
The next case that requireth obedient patience is, the sentence of death.
Briefly, consider this:
1. He that would not die (when he knoweth that there is no other way to paradise) would have no more than he shall possess on earth: which he may easily know is transitory vanity, mixed with so much vexation, more than most of the brutes themselves have, as would make man as unhappy a wight as they, if not much more. Man’s nature, which abhorreth death, doth abhor the ending of its being, activity, and delights: and will any man’s reason then direct him to choose such an end of all, and to despair of ever having any life, activity, or pleasure after this? Doubtless nothing but hell is more contrary to our interest; and our interest, if known, will be our desire and choice. Who would willingly be as brutes?
2. If it be such brutish unbelief and desperation which maketh death frightful, as if there were no better to be had, reason should make such inquiry and search, whether there be no hopes; and if this be but faithfully done, the light of nature and the gospel will confute such desperation, and give man the joyful prospect of happy immortality. It is the darkness of ignorance, error, and unbelief, that makes us fear that which should be our joyful hope.
3. But if it be the fear of hell or future punishment that makes us afraid of death (as, alas, to most there is greater cause than they will believe), such fear, should drive men presently to the remedy. We are not in hell, where there is no hope, but on earth, where mercy is ready to save us, and seeketh to us, and beggeth our acceptance. If you fear death and hell, fly presently to Christ for grace; repent unfeignedly of all the sin which is your danger: give up your souls to be saved by Christ on His own reasonable terms, and then you may boldly and joyfully hope that He will save them. All your fears, if you will truly repent and trust in Christ, may be turned into assurance of salvation, and glad desires to be with Him!
4. Did we not all our lifetime know that we must die? And should a man therefore live in continual terror? If not, how little doth the case and reason differ at the last, from that which he was all his life in?
5. All that have been born into this world since it was made have quickly passed out again. Death is as common as birth. And hath God made all mankind to live in continual terror, so much more miserable than the brutes, that know not that they must die? Shall I wish alone to be exempted from the case of all mankind?
6. Yea, all the saints that ever were on earth (save Enoch and Elijah) died. All that are in heaven have gone this way before me. Faith can see beyond the gulf or stream, which they are safely wafted over, and see them stand and joyful on the shore of glory. And should I not long to be with so desirable company?
7. Do we believe in Christ, that He hath done and suffered all that He did, to purchase heaven for us, and His intercession and grace is to bring us to it; and when all is done, would we not come there, and had we rather stay in a sinful, malignant, vexatious earth?
8. Are we in good earnest when we pray, and labour, and suffer for heaven, and make it the end of all our religion and obedience, and make that the business of our lives, and yet would we not go to that which we spend our lives in seeking?
9. If our fears be unreasonable, necessitated by nature, against the convictions of faith, even those fears should make us desire death, as that which faith tells us will end them all, and be our only full deliverance.
10. Is it not unnatural, and contrary to the very interest and tendency of all our faculties, to fear and flee from that which is our felicity and joy? Doth our heavenly state differ from the best on earth, more than a kingdom from a prison; and shall we fear it, as if it were evil, and fly from the only hope and happiness of souls?
Quest. These reasons to godly men are undeniable; but the fears of death will not yield to reason: have you no other way or remedy against it?
Ans. Souls are wrought upon by soul-operations and remedies. But further,
1. When fear cometh from natural averseness to die, and strangeness to the state of separated souls, and to some unrevealed things of the unseen world, it is wisdom to cast those dark and unknown frightful things quite out of our thoughts, and quietly to shut our eyes against them. When I was young, I was wont to go up the Wrekin-Hill with great pleasure (being near my dwelling) and to look down on the country below me, and see the villages as little things; but when I was weak with age and sickness, the last time I went up, if I did but cast my eye downwards, my spirits failed, and I was ready to fall down in sudden death. Were I chained fast to the top of a high spire-steeple, I am sure that I could not fall, and yet I am confident that one look down would suddenly kill me. What then should I do? As on the hill I fixed my eyes on the earth at my feet, till I came down; so I would in such a height, either look only upward, or shut my eyes, and take heed of looking down to the earth: so do here. If faith and reason tell you that death is not to be so feared, and that all your hope and comfort must be beyond, and that you are safe in God’s promise, and in the hand of Christ—but yet the thoughts of a grave, and the separation from the body, and of all that is unknown to us in the next world, is frightful to you—shut your eyes, and think not on those things. Wink, and say, they belong not to my thoughts.
But then join the other remedies. 2. Look upwards, and dwell on the delightful thoughts of all that revealed joy and glory, which is ready to receive us, and of the company that is there, that hope and desire may conquer fear.
3. And especially trust Jesus Christ with your departing souls, and trust Him quietly and boldly, as to all that He hath revealed, and you know; and as to all that is unrevealed and unknown, He is fully able, wise, and willing. Trust Him, for He commandeth it. Trust Him, for He never deceived any. He hath saved all departed souls, that ever truly and obediently trusted Him. Cast away all distrusting, caring, fearing thoughts, that would take His work out of His hand. Against all such even wink, and trust Him. It is His part and not yours to know fully what He will do with you, and to receive you into His prepared mansions, and to justify you against the accusations of Satan, and the guilt of pardoned sin; and to bring you into the Jerusalem above, and present you spotless to His Father. Cast therefore all these cares on Him, who hath promised to care for you. Commit yourselves to Him, and trust Him with His own, which He hath wonderfully purchased. Suspect not His power, skill, or will, and beg His grace to increase your faith, that you may not fear nor faint, through self-caring and unbelief.