A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615Ė1691)
Under the Sufferings and Death of Friends
Another case which requireth obedient patience is the sufferings and death of friends, whether near us, as wife, husband, children; or more remote, as those that have been most kind to us, most faithful to God, or most useful to the church.
It is not only lawful, but a duty, to be duly sensible of such a loss: to be void of natural affection, and to bear all menís sufferings too easily, saving their own, is the odious quality of the basely selfish.
And alas! Many good Christians are yet with greater reason grieved for the death of wicked children or relatives, lest they be in helpless misery: and some parents mourn for their dead infants, as doubting of their salvation.
Something should be said against impatience in every one of these several cases: 1) Of children; 2) Of ungodly kindred; 3) Of some dear friend, who died in pain or misery; 4) Of some pillars in church or state.
I. Of childrenóFaithful parents have no just cause to be impatient at the death of infants. For,
1. For my part, I think that God hath promised their salvation.
2. And they are taken out of a dangerous and troublesome world. What abundance of sad thoughts must they have undergone, and what abundance of temptations, and what abundance of sufferings of many kinds, if they had lived till old age? Had it been but the fear of dying, to escape it is no contemptible mercy. To be at the harbour so easily and quickly, while others must be tossed many score years on so tempestuous and dangerous a sea, is a matter of rejoicing. And though confirmed grace be never lost, such as I, who incline to think that the grace given to the infants of believers as such is as losable as Adamís, or the angels that fell, was, must with Augustine take it for a mercy that their possible apostasy is by death prevented. For my own part, when I see how many children of excellent men prove wicked, and scourges to the church, and what a miserable world it is that we are in, even sunk into darkness, wickedness, and self-destruction, like the suburbs of hell, I have many times rejoiced, but never grieved, that I never had a child. And why then should I mourn if I had one, and God had quickly taken him away?
II. Of ungodly kindredóI confess the death of ungodly kindred is a humbling case: to think where they are, as Godís word tells us of all the unconverted and unholy, and to think that they are past all help and hope, remediless forever. But yet we have all this to command our patient submission to God.
1. God, who is absolute Lord of his creatures, is wiser and more merciful than we, and doeth all well, and to His glory. And His will is still fulfilled, which is the end of all. And if we knew what He knoweth, we should rest satisfied in His works, as better than our will and way would have been.
2. When we come to heaven we shall be fully reconciled to all the severest providences of God: for our mind and will shall be conformed to Godís.
3. We should rejoice with the blessed, as well as be sorrowful with the miserable. And oh! What worlds of glorious angels and spirits are there for us to rejoice with, which in proportion should quite overbalance our sorrow for the damned.
4. The destruction of the wicked should call us to think how unspeakably we are beholden to God for ourselves, and so many of our friends, and all the faithful, that He did not forsake us, and cut us off in our impenitent state.
5. What are your kindred, that they should be more lamented than all the rest of the ungodly world? How incongruous had it been for you to cry and mourn inordinately for the death of some one person, when the plague lately took away in the city a hundred thousand! And when the world lieth in heathenism, infidelity, ignorance, and ungodliness, is it congruous for you to be over-troubled for one, because he is akin to you?
III. Of some dear friend, who died in pain or miseryóBut suppose the case be the death of some dear friend of ours. When we think of the great pain in which they died, or of the grave where now they lie corrupting, or of our former familiarity, our present losses, we are apt to over-grieve. But,
1. We always knew that they must die. Do not as many die as are born?
2. We had a long time to prepare each other for our parting, and doth it now come as an unexpected thing? What else did we live together for, but to help each other to prepare for death?
3. Should we not be thankful to God for the use and comfort of them so long?
4. Is it not a matter of greater joy, than our loss should cloud, that they have ended all their work and suffering, and have safely escaped all their enemies and dangers, and are past all fears and sorrows, and are everlastingly delivered from all the guilt and power of sin, and have the end of all their faith and patience, their work and hope, and are triumphing with Christ and all the blessed in heavenly endless joy and glory? Do we believe this, and yet do we not rejoice with them, but mourn as those that have so such faith or hope?
5. And as to their late pains, it is none when it is past: I would not now wish myself that I had never felt the pain that is past; much less do they wish it that are with Christ! And yet we are apter to keep imprinted on our minds the groans and dying sorrows of our friends, than all the former comforts of their lives, or all the joy that they have now with Christ, and shall have forever.
6. Though natural affection be laudable, usually much faultiness showeth itself in our over-much sorrow: 1. It showeth that we prepared not for it as we ought to do. 2. It showeth that we have too great a love still for this world and present life. 3. And that our belief of heaven and the blessedness of the spirits of the just with Christ, is very weak, and too little effectual. 4. And it showeth that we expect a longer life on earth ourselves, than we have just cause to do. If we knew we should die the next day or week, it would be folly to mourn for our parting from a friend that died but the day before. Would we not have their company? And where can we have it but where we are to be ourselves? And are we so sottish as to forget how quickly we must follow them and be gone? If we love their company, we should rejoice that we shall quickly meet them, and live with Christ and them forever. I have oft thought (and mentioned it) how like it was to this our folly, when I have seen a man fetch his beasts home out of pasture, and when one hath gone through the gate, another hath looked and mourned after him, not knowing that he was presently to follow. Alas! It is want of conversing by faith with the saints above, which maketh us overgrieve for the miss of them here below.
And as to the loathsomeness of the grave and rottenness, it is the fruit of sin, and we always knew that flesh was corruptible. It is made of that which lately stood on our tables, the flesh of sheep, and beasts, and swine, and birds, etc., turned into the flesh of man: and before that, it was grass growing for the food of cattle in the fields. But the soul corrupteth not; and if it change the rags of flesh, for a building in the heavens, why should we repine at this? The soul is the man; and God will change these vile bodies, and make them incorruptible, and spiritual, and immortal, like to the glorious body of Christ (see Phil. 3:19,20).
IV. Of some pillars in church or stateóBut our sorrows seem to be more justifiable, when we mourn for the loss of the pillars or useful servants of the church. Their death is the loss of souls, yea, of many, and a sign of Godís displeasure to a land. But as to this also:
1. Magistrate, and ministers, and all, are mortal; they have their work and time, and then they must go home. They came not to abide on earth, but to do their message and be gone. When they have faithfully finished their course, they must go to their Masterís joy, that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.
2. Thank God for the good He hath done by them, and pray for a succession of more. God will not serve Himself here by one generation only: as the same rose or other flowers, which you get this year, will not serve you for the next; nor the same fruit or crop of corn, but every year must bring forth its own fruit; so must it be with serviceable men. Elisha must have his time and part, as Elijah had; and a David, Solomon, Hezekiah, or Josiah, live not here always. Every generation must have its proper servants, work and honour. If some have till evening borne the burden and heat of the day, allow them their rest, and let others work the folowing day.
3. And God hath the fullness of the Spirit in Christ, to send forth our successors: and He is the Lord of the church, and knoweth what is best, and what the people are fit to receive. Christ lived on earth to no great age, and He tells His apostles, that it was expedient for them that He go away, that the Comforter might come (see John 16:7). God will choose His own servants, and their times, and we must submit to His disposal.
4. Paul was permitted at Rome to dwell two whole years in his own hired house, and receive all that came to him; preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. But I have been permitted above fifty years to preach the same gospel, though long a law, and bishops, and justices did forbid me (save that for nine or ten years, they confined my vocal preaching to my house). James was cut off near the beginning of his apostleship: Stephen was sooner cut off than he. Some excellent ministers hath God taken away young.
5. Christ is more worthy of their company than we are. Heaven is more worthy of them than earth, than those that hate them and abuse them; "Of whom the world was not worthy," (Heb. 11:28). The world knoweth not the worthy of a saint, or how to use him, or what use to make of him.
6. We know not from what approaching evil God in mercy taketh them away. We have lately lamented the death of many excellent persons, magistrates and ministers; but the storms that are now assaulting us tell us that it was a seasonable and merciful change to them. Christ saith, "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I go to the Father" (John 14:28). They mourn not for their own removal: would you wish them here again from heaven? You do not mourn that Christ, and Abraham, and David, and the apostles are gone to heaven; nor that Lazarus changed his beggary for Abrahamís bosom; nor that the martyrs are gone thither. The ancient churches were wont with thankfulness to recite the names of their departed pastors in their liturgies, and to keep days of thanksgiving (which we call holy-days) in memorial of their martyrs. They may say as Christ, "Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children", for those that must endure the storms that are coming upon us, and must be sifted by Satan and his ministers, to try whether their faith and constancy will fail. Christ purchased them for heaven, and He will have them there. It is His will and prayer, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may see the glory which Thou hast given me," (John 17:24)óa better sight than we see here, when we are laid among malefactors in jails, or scorned for preaching. "If our hopes were in this life only, we were of all men most miserable": and do we love them so little as to wish them with us in so miserable a life? Is vanity and vexation, and the portion of the wicked, better than the Jerusalem above? Our cows, and sheep, and hens, etc., when they have bred up their young ones at great pains and love, must part with them for us to kill and eat, yea, and with their own lives also: and shall we grudge that our friends and we must die to go where God will have us? If God should not take our friends or us till our wills consented, I doubt we should stay here too long, unless pain constrained us to consent; but God is fittest to choose the time. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of all His saints" (Ps. 116:15). "Even the hairs of their head are numbered" (Matt. 10:30). It is not then for want of love to them that they are taken away by death. "They rest from their labour and their works follow them" (Rev. 14:13). Were we not fools and slow of heart to believe what the gospel saith of blessed souls, we should know that they ought to suffer with Christ, and then to reign with Him, as He suffered, and then entered into His glory.
And, as David said of his child, we shall come to them, but they shall not return to us.