(These posts are based upon Richard Baxter’s Dying Thoughts, as printed in the Banner of Truth version (itself, an abridgment of Baxter’s original). The book may be found here: http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/item_detail.php?4952. These posts track the order of Baxter’s thoughts and contain some quotations from Baxter — but his original will be different in many respects. While I am reading Baxter 300 years later — and will be in another 300 years (should the Lord tarry) — my notes on his work will be rather transitory. Thus, guide yourself accordingly. They will be useful for my own teaching. The best good they could do you would be to direct to Baxter.)
Richard Baxter, Dying Thoughts
What is Desirable in this Present Life
A man born is like a candle, he flare up at the beginning – but its end always stands firm. As Solomon notes in Ecclesiastes, the life of a man or beast, wise or fool will all end; thus, all life is vain. Where it not for hope, what happiness would their be? Life would be one of troubles:
For affliction does not come from the dust,
nor does trouble sprout from the ground,
but man is born to trouble
as the sparks fly upward.
Obviously Baxter does not reject any incidental pleasures — indeed he will affirm as such. But all pleasures and loves are infected with decay — only a fool would have no realization of such:
9 All you beasts of the field,
come to devour-
all you beasts in the forest.
10 His watchmen are blind;
they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
they cannot bark, dreaming,
lying down, loving to slumber.
11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;
they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
they have all turned to their own way,
each to his own gain, one and all.
12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
great beyond measure.” Isaiah 56:9-12
Just as the certainty of the coming judgment should have alerted Israel’s leaders, even so the certainty of death should awaken the heart:
12 In that day
the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and mourning,
for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
13 and behold, joy and gladness,
killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
14 The LORD of hosts
has revealed himself in my ears:
“Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you
until you die,” says the Lord GOD of hosts. Isaiah 22:12-14
Thus, can there be nothing in this life promises any good to a human being? That a Christian knows of more than the end of life is itself a good, ‘Though even in this life, as related to a better and as we ourselves are exercised about things of a higher nature than the men of the world” (2).
However, the fact and hope of life after a world of death, does count this present life as of no account, “Even in this world short of death, there is some good so much to be regarded as may justly prevail with believers to prefer it before the present hasting of their reward” (3).
What then is the good of this life? First, God has willed that we live — and so we must. That, by nature of the one who willed, must be a good.
Second, our life now determines and prepares for our to come, “Heaven is won or lost on earth; the possession is there, but the preparation is here.” And thus all of our work which can be done only here, must be done here, “All that we ever do for salvation, must be done here” (4). Moreover, there is work for others to be done. We cannot simply think that this life is simply a life given for our own escape and to hell with the rest. Thus, for even eternal matters — if you will — this life, and our being in this world are of the gravest importance.
Christianity can never be rightly understood as a selfish endeavor for my own soul to escape this world. Conversely, we cannot think that ignoring the world to come will make us better for this world: to fail on either account would be to live beyond reality. A rightly lived life must take hold of both ends firmly.
Baxter gives quaint advice on how to hold both ends in right tension:
A man that travels to the most desirable home, has a habitual desire to it all the way; but his present business is his journey, and therefore his horse, inns and company, his roads and fatigues may employ more of his thoughts, and talk and action than his home (6).
The metaphor is apt for it corresponds to reality. As such, it helps to hold the ends of life in right relation: All our work must be toward home — and yet we must take care to our journey. We would be foolish to build a home in the airport terminal rather than make the flight home. A fool would think a hotel home. And yet in our hurry to be home, we may not think our present circumstance to be despised.
Our Lord appointed our present circumstance. The Lord determined the lay of the land. The people about us are people for whom Jesus lived and died; these are the people God has commanded us to love. For many of these people, the time at present will be the only time we possess to express that love of Christ.
Indeed, fleeting life and the overwhelming fact of judgment and eternity make this time more precious and more important.