Richard Baxter on Death

By Samuel M. Frost, Th. D.

Richard Baxter, Reformed Minister in the 17th century, and highly regarded as an original thinker, wrote, “What is the saints’ everlasting rest? It is the perfect, endless enjoyment of God by the perfected believers, to which their souls arrive at death. Further, it is that eternal enjoyment of God to which both soul and body arrive most fully after the resurrection and final judgment.”  The “rest” spoken of in Hebrews, for example, is entering heaven upon death.  This is what it meant in the OT, as well as in the NT.  The saints, so argued John Owen, the great Puritan theologian.  When Abel, Abraham, and Naaman died, their spirits entered heaven to be at rest with God, and to await Baxter’s “further…arrive most fully after the resurrection.”  This is a shattering understanding of current gnostic trends, even found in the Reformed faith.

Baxter wrote, “If grace makes a Christian differ so much from what he was, as to say, “I am not the man I was,” how much more will the resurrection make us different. Our senses shall exceed what we now experience. God will fill up, with Himself, the expanded capacity of our glorified senses. Certainly the body would not be raised up and continued if it were not to share in the glory.”  He urged the Christian to constantly “think on these things”. 

In a marvelous passage, “Christ’s great work of raising the body from the dust and uniting it again with the soul. Unbelief may ask, “Shall all these scattered bones and dust become a man?” Let me with reverence answer for God. Is it not as easy to raise the dead as to make heaven and earth out of nothing? Look not on the dead bones and dust and difficulty, but at the promise. Contentedly commit these bodies to a prison that shall not long contain them. Let us lie down in peace and take our rest; it will not be an everlasting night, nor endless sleep. Lay down cheerfully this clod of mortality; you shall undoubtedly receive it again as immortal. Lay down freely this earthly body; you shall receive it again, a heavenly body. Though you be separated from it in weakness, it shall be raised again in mighty power; “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet—for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). “The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Triumph now, O Christian, in these promises; you shall surely triumph in their performance. The grave that could not keep our Lord, cannot keep us. He arose for us, and by the same power will cause us to arise.”  Read this again and again.  It is the mark of pure doctrine, holy doctrine.  It is the Truth.

Reader, if you are a humble, sincere believer, and are waiting and longing for this rest, you will soon see and experience the truth of all this. You will then have such an understanding of this blessed state as to know that all I have written falls short of the whole truth a thousand-fold. In the meantime, let this much kindle your desires and revive your service.”  Again, for Baxter, “entering” this rest is, in the first place, dying and being with the Lord in heaven.  We “wait” and “long” for this rest in heaven while we are here on earth.  It is in the hope of entering this rest we trod and persevere.  It is in the faith that propels us towards this hope, because we see it in the realization of Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, who has, in body and soul of a man, entered into the fullness of this rest.  And, with this, even in death and being with the Lord in heaven, as glorious as that is, “Further, it is that eternal enjoyment of God to which both soul and body arrive most fully after the resurrection and final judgment.”  Indeed, “if the dead are not raise, then Christ has not been raised”, for the resurrection of the human bones, and body of the Nazarene, born in Bethlehem, born of a woman as you and I were, is for the stated purpose of raising the saints in the same manner.  As for the doubts that creep in from our own flesh, and Satan, read the above again.  “Look not on the dead bones and dust and difficulty, but at the promise.”  O’ dearest Father, instill in us faith in what the world and our senses say, “impossible!”  Rid us of attempts of vain reasonings from “what we see” to replace what you have promised: resurrection of this body!  Rid us from error that seeks to unite your promise of resurrection, yet divorced from the object of your promise: the raised body from the casket, the tomb, the catacomb, the shipyard, desert, the battle grounds, the dust, the dung, and the sea; scattered as it is, but known unto you in each piece, particle and cell.  Let us not doubt, but let us say: every illness I may face, every cancer in this body that racks my spirit, every cut, bruise, and every gash, slice, and disturbance of body I feel, and moan, and groan in prayer this day, and yesterday; every prayer for healing over those saints I have ached with them, shall be healed in this very body, answering my prayers, giving to me all that I have asked for in your name, according to your will.  There is NO prayer, dear saint, that shall be NOT ANSWERED, if you have asked it in his name!  Cancer!  Be gone!  FOREVER!  Heart attack?  God shall give you a new heart!  Loss of limbs?  No more!  Your raised body shall have all things in perfection, for by his stripes, you shall be entirely, completely healed!  Your cancer?  A mere blip on the road to perfection.  Let these thoughts OUTWEIGH all else!

Study frequently, study thoroughly this one word—eternity…. O that the saved soul would study it. I think it would revive him in his devotion. “Unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim. 1:17).  Indeed, Mr. Baxter!  Study this word to show yourself approved.  William Jay, another Presbyterian Minister in England in the 19th century, urges us not to avoid thinking of our own mortality, but to contemplate in light of Jesus’ immortality in body and soul, for in spirit we receive rest upon death, and in resurrection we receive eternal immortality and life to live on earth forever with all the saints.  It is this lack of vision that should be countered daily in our congregations!  The world’s woes?  Destined to end!  Nations against nations?  Destined to perish!  Wars, earthquakes, famines?  All shall “be no more”!  Rebuke those who say otherwise!  Correct those who say, “heaven only” is the place of the Glory of Christ!  Nay, the Glory of Christ shall fill all things, in heaven, and on earth!  If your view of the manifestation of Christ’s glory does not include this body, this creation, this earth, then I say with all boldness: your Christ is far too small, weak, and puny.  Your Christ has been replaced with a Christ invented by flesh, limited by flesh, framed by the reasoning, not of Scriptural revelation, but by explaining away through figures of speech what God shall manifest from heaven on earth in Christ!

Sometimes trouble helps a person turn to God. Sickness says, “See if your wealth or pleasures can help you! Can they keep your departing soul in your body? Cry aloud to them, and see if they can substitute for God!” O how this gets through to the sinner. Common sense admits the truth, and even the flesh is convinced of its own insufficiency.”  Baxter’s words here say enough!  No man escapes death.  Even now, as William Jay tells us, death is slowing you down, creaking your bones, corrupting your eyes, and making feeble your muscles.  The casket awaits you.  The dirt is calling your name.  The death of most of us will be a sleep in the dust of the earth in terms of “us” as our bodies.  Those who are living at the time of the shining of the brightness of God’s Light, which was “in the beginning” and universally shining over all that can be shone upon at once, who remain until he shines in this Light, “the manifestation of his presence” made known to all in an instant, shall pass from death to life “in a flash”, forgoing the sleep in the dust, but not forgoing the need to die, in order to be “changed” along with those who have slept.  Paul’s mind was so attune to that “day”, that he even worked out what it would be like when the last day, the glorious appearance of Christ in the Divine Light of the Creator flashes, removing all darkness where it may be found.  Certainly, not all can sleep in the dust, or be attended over in a funeral, lying in a casket.  That Day will find many unsuspecting, “eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, conducting business, being in the fields, planting and sowing.”  In short, “the living, those remaining” who have not “fallen asleep” in the dust.  All die, and Paul announces that we “die daily” (death is always at work in our sinews), but “we shall not all sleep” (be attended to at a funeral).  That Day will come “like a flash”.

Preach, Mr. Baxter: “Besides, we are not capable of rest upon this earth. Can a soul that is so weak in grace, so prone to sin, have full contentment and rest in such a condition? What is soul rest but our freedom from sin and imperfections and enemies? He that observes the works of the Lord, may easily see that the purpose of these things is to break down our idols, to make us weary of the world so that we will seek our rest in Him. God will not change the course of justice, to give you rest before you have worked, nor the crown of glory until you have overcome. There is reason enough why our rest should remain until the life to come. Take heed, then, Christian reader, how you dare to desire a rest on earth, or to murmur at God for your troubles and toil in the flesh.

“Do the wrongs of the wicked weary you? Do the evils of the times provoke you? It must be so while you are absent from your rest. Do your own sins and bad tempered emotions weary you? May this make you more willing to go to God for your rest. And if not, then may you become even more weary until God’s rest seems more desirable.

I have just one more thing to add before I close this chapter—that the souls of believers in heaven do enjoy unimaginable blessedness and glory, even while they remain separated from their bodies until the resurrection.”  OH that we need such Preachers today!!!

We have not yet come to our resting place. How foolish it is to expect it here. What Christian doesn’t deserve this correction? All of us would like continual prosperity, because it is so pleasing to the flesh; but we don’t consider how unreasonable such a desire is. When we enjoy lovely homes, money, property, and income, or even the necessary means which God has appointed for our spiritual welfare, we are inclined to seek rest in these enjoyments. Do we not desire earthly delights more than God himself? If we lose them, it troubles us more than our loss of God. Is it not enough that these things can be aids on our way to heaven, but must they become our heaven itself? Christian reader, I would rather make you aware of this sin than of any other sin in the world, if I could; for God has a complaint against us on this very point. In order to do this, I urge you to consider THE REASONABLENESS OF PRESENT TROUBLES, and THE UNREASONABLENESS OF RESTING IN PRESENT ENJOYMENTS, and also our unwillingness to die in order that we may possess eternal rest (words in CAPS are his).”  Mr. Baxter’s spirit is in heaven, as we speak.  He is at rest from his labors.  He is with the other spirits “made perfect” in that heavenly city, with that great cloud of witnesses above us, in intercession for us, pleading for the persecuted saints who also must die as many souls in heaven have, beheaded, eaten by lions, starved in jails,  shot in the head, and ran through with a blade.  They plead, “How long, until you avenge our blood!?”  This is a holy prayer, a holy and pure plea to God and the Lamb to speed up and end such monstrosity as killing the saints for their testimony of the Christ’s love and mercy to this world!  And, yet, Christ, the Lamb, endows them with rest: “rest…until all who are to be slain for me are slain.  Those who have slain them, shall receive their full due.  In time.”  God is not pacing the throne room in anxiety over the world’s evil.  He sits on the throne noting the day he has set in which his Son shall judge the world for each and every evil with full and just recompense to be met to the fullest satisfaction of Justice.  This Justice to come shall satisfy every word said today about “injustice!”  Every word will be silenced against cruel acts, and the cruel actors, even the cruelest and most sick of acts and actors.  These acts shall be fully repaid, silencing all who rail now against God as being “unjust”, who use such injustice and evil in the world now as an excuse against the kindness of God, to not believe in God, and to mock his followers.  Your cry now of ‘why is there evil in the world if God is so good?’ shall be most assuredly answered in full.  Your situation is, are you the one that is part of the cruelty, that promotes the cruelty in your denial of God’s kindness and patience that would lead you to repentance from sin?  Your denial of God is the cruelest lie that promotes others who equally say, “there is no God!  I can kill anyone at will for my own pleasure!  I can rape!  I can steal!  I can cheat, and lie!  There is no God who shall judge me!”  Yes, you, in your unbelief, gives the cruel man every excuse he needs for his cruelty.  And, yes, you both shall stand before God to see whether your name is written in the Book of Life!  Justice will be served for both, for both have perpetuated the lie and the crime, being partners in the most cruelest acts ever committed.

Mr. Baxter continues, “Is it possible that we can truly believe that death will transfer us from misery to glory, and yet be so reluctant to die? Though there is much faith and Christianity in our mouths, yet there is also much faithlessness and atheism in our hearts. That is the main reason we are so unwilling to die.”  These words bring trembling to my heart.  Why do we, as Presbyterians, have a “Confession of Sin” in our Order of Worship each Sunday?  Listen to our Confession: “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”  There are many more written in different words, and this one is universal from the Book of Common Prayer.  It is Reformed.  It is Biblical.  “Why, I have not sinned.  Jesus has forgiven me of all my sins, past, present and future!”  Yet, did not your Lord teach you pray, daily, “forgive us our trespasses?”  Didn’t he? He did!  What?  Do you claim that you know every time you offend the Holiness of God’s Character, in every thought not his, every word not his, and every act not his?  You have no ignorance at all in your fleshly capacity and thinking when it comes to what measures up to the perfection of Christ?  You are aware, immediately, of the slightest error you commit?  I cannot, a mortal, claim such knowledge!  I repeat the Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.  I ask in his Name, and I receive in his Name the healing of His mercy and forgiveness obtained in the blood.  If we say, “well, I am not perfect”, then you must be yet imperfect, and if imperfect, then sinner you are!  Why can’t the Christian just pray once, “God, forgive me of all sins, past, present, and future”, then call it a day, never to ask ever more?  But, Jesus says “taught them to pray, daily, Our Father….”  My rest from sin comes when I am with him in heaven.

Let Mr. Baxter’s words confirm my own: “If there is such a wonderful rest remaining for us, why don’t we think about it more? Has the eternal God provided us such a hope, and promised to take us up to dwell with Himself; and is it not worth thinking about? Do we believe this, and yet forget it and neglect it? Why does God condemn earthly-mindedness and command, “Set your affection on things above”? (Col. 3:2). If God says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15), why then do we make earth our principal concern? Where is the Christian whose concentration is really on his rest? What is the matter—are we so full of joy that we need no more?” 

Richard Baxter’s little book here should be on the shelf of every saint, every pastor and elder, and every teacher.  Mr. Baxter was not perfect in his theology, or words, or doctrine.  He erred in interpretation, and certainly erred in the fact that he was not perfect.  Such is the state as we find ourselves in this life, in this age, and in this flesh and body, where our spirits are still so entangled with its need for sanctification and life, to be in need of daily renewal and generation of the Spirit, Who as God, is bringing us to God through constant life giving perfection; until we can say, “fulfilled!” to the promise of Isaiah: “You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (26.19). Born again anew, afresh, entirely, lacking nothing in body and soul.  And, as such, conversely, and only because of the Spirit’s work, we occasionally “hit” upon the light of Truth, though in a mirror darkly.  Here, Mr. Baxter has hit upon truth.  A truth universally seen, derived from the Bible.  Baxter does not let his emotions, or his own feeble reasonings contradict the Light of the Truth of the Word.  Rather, he submits his emotions to it, his feelings to it, and his heart to it.  He lets it interpret his experience, rather than letting his experiences interpret it, or how he thinks it should read.  Pray that the Lord of the Harvest send us more men and women of like passion!

[Baxter’s (1615-1691) work, The Saints Everlasting Rest (1650) is referenced in this piece. It is a classic work, a must read].

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