Reproving Our Unwillingness to Die
Is there a rest remaining for the people of God? Why then are we so reluctant to die and to depart from here so that we may possess our rest? If I may judge others’ hearts by my own, we are exceedingly guilty in this point. We linger, like Lot in the city of Sodom, until God, being merciful, comes to pluck us away against our wills (Gen. 19). Because we are apt to make light of this sin and to plead our common nature, let me here set before you its aggravations and propound some further considerations that may be useful to you and myself against it.
First, consider what gross infidelity lurks in the bowels of this sin: either pagan unbelief of the truth of that eternal blessedness and of the truth of the Scripture that promises it to us, or at least a doubting of our own interest in this rest, or usually somewhat of both of these. Though most Christians feel more deeply their lack of assurance, yet I suspect their doubt of the truth of our rest is the master sin and of greatest force in this business. Oh, if only we truly believed that the promise of this glory is the word of God and that God truly means as he speaks and is fully resolved to make it good; if only we truly believed that there is indeed such blessedness prepared for believers as the Scripture mentions, surely we would be as impatient of living as we are now fearful of dying.
As the weakness of our faith is demonstrated in our unwillingness to die, so also is the coldness of our love. If we love our friend, we love his company. His presence is comfortable; his absence is troublesome. When he goes from us, we desire his return; when he comes to us, we welcome him with gladness; when he dies, we mourn—and usually overmourn. And would these not be our desires after God if we really loved him? If I delight merely in some garden, walk, or gallery, I would often be in it. If I love my books, I often and almost unweariedly read them. The food that I love I often feed on; the clothes that I love I often wear; the recreations that I love I often use; the business that I love I am much employed in. Can I love God above all these and yet have no desires to be with him? Is it not more likely a sign of hatred than of love when the thoughts of our appearing before God are our most grievous thoughts and when we take ourselves as undone because we must die and come to him? I would hardly take him for a true friend who was as content to be absent from me as we usually are to be absent from God.
It appears we are little weary of sinning when we are so unwilling to be freed from sin by dying. If we took sin to be the greatest evil, we would not be willing to remain in its company for so long. If we looked on sin as our cruelest enemy and on a sinful life as the most miserable life, surely we would then be more willing of a change. But oh, how far removed our hearts are from our doctrinal profession! We brand sin with the most odious names that we can imagine, and all far short of expressing its real vileness, but when the approach of death puts us to the trial, we prefer to continue with these abominations rather than enjoy the presence and enjoyment of God.
Oh foolish, sinful heart! Have you not been for long enough a sink of sin, a cage of all unclean lusts, a fountain incessantly streaming forth the bitter and deadly waters of transgression, and are you not yet weary? Have you not yet transgressed in sin, provoked your Lord, or abused his love for long enough? Would you yet grieve the Spirit more, sin against your Savior’s blood, increase your own wounds, and still lie under your grievous imperfections? Foolish sinner! Who has wronged you: God or sin? Who has wounded you and caused your groans? Who has made your life so woeful? Is it Christ, or is it your corruption? And are you yet so loath to think of parting from it?
Ah, foolish, wretched soul! Does every prisoner not groan for freedom, every slave desire his jubilee, every sick man long for health, and every hungry man for food, and do you alone abhor deliverance? Does the sailor not long to see the land, does the farmer not desire the harvest, does the laborer not seek his pay, does the traveler not yearn to be at home, does the runner not long to win the prize, does the soldier not desire to win the field? And yet are you loath to see your labors finished, to receive the end of your faith and sufferings, and to obtain the thing for which you live? Are not all your sufferings, griefs, and groans only dreams? If they are, we should not be afraid of waking. The world’s delights are mere dreams and shadows. All its glory is like the light of a glowworm or a wandering fire that yields only a tiny light and very little comforting heat in all our doubtful and sorrowful darkness. Or has the world in these its latter days laid aside its ancient enmity? Has it become of late more kind? Has it left behind its thorny, tearing nature? No, we may reconcile ourselves to the world (at our peril), but the world will never reconcile itself to us. Oh foolish, unworthy soul, who would rather wander in this land of darkness, in this barren wilderness, than be at rest with Jesus Christ! If you well knew what heaven is and what earth is, it would not be so.
The Lord Jesus was willing to come from heaven to earth for us, and will we be unwilling to remove from earth to heaven for ourselves and him?
Consider how we wrong the Lord and his promises, and disgrace his ways in the eyes of the world. It makes the weak ones stagger when they see those who have professed to live by faith and boasted of their hopes in another world so reluctant to lose their hold on present things and go to that glory they talked and boasted about. It confirms worldly sinners in their unbelief and sensuality and makes them conclude, “Surely if these professors really expected so much glory and made so light of the world as they say, they would not themselves be so loath of a change.” Oh, how are we ever able to repay the wrong we do to God and poor souls by this scandal? On the other hand, what an honor to God, what a strengthening to believers, what a conviction to unbelievers it would be if Christians answered their professions and cheerfully welcomed the news of their rest.
Our reluctance to depart clearly shows that we have been careless loiterers, that we have spent too much time to little purpose, and that we have neglected a great many warnings. Have we not had all our lifetime to prepare to die, so many years to make ourselves ready for one hour, and are we still so unready and unwilling? Could we have had more frequent warnings? We have seen death raging in towns and fields, so many hundred a day dead of the pestilence, so many thousands slain by the sword, and did we not realize that death would reach to us at last? How many ailments have vexed our bodies? We have passed through frequent languishing, consuming weaknesses, wasting fevers, pain, and trouble—even, it seemed, to the point of death. What were all these but so many messengers sent from God to tell us we must shortly die? They were a lively voice bidding us, “Delay no more, but make ready.” And are we still unready and unwilling after all this? Oh careless, dead-hearted sinners, unworthy neglecters of God’s warnings, faithless betrayers of our own souls!
The Lord Jesus was willing to come from heaven to earth for us, and will we be unwilling to remove from earth to heaven for ourselves and him? He submitted to a different kind of change from what ours will be. He chose to clothe himself with the garments of flesh, to take on himself the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7), to come from the bosom of the Father’s love, and to bear the wrath that we should have borne. He came from heaven down to our hell, from the height of glory to the depth of misery, to bring us up to his eternal rest. Will we really, after all this, be unwilling to die?
Yet do not mistake me in all that I have said. I do not deny that it is lawful and necessary for a Christian to desire God to delay his death for a further opportunity of gaining assurance and also to be serviceable to the church a little longer. But this has little to do with those who are always delaying and never willing, whose true concern is death itself rather than the unseasonableness of dying. Though such desires are sometimes lawful, yet they must be carefully bounded and moderated, which is why I gave the former considerations. The best view is that of Paul’s: to be torn between the two, desiring to depart and to be with Christ and yet to remain for as long as God will have us so that we may do the church the utmost service (Phil. 1:23–25). But alas, we are seldom like Paul. Our desires run in only one direction, and that is for the flesh, not the church. Our concern is only the fear of dying.
This article is adapted from The Saints' Everlasting Rest: Updated and Abridged by Richard Baxter.
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