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Mr. RICHARD BAXTER, the author of the Saints’ Rest; so well known to the world by this and many other excellent and useful writings, was a learned, laborious, and eminently holy divine of the last age. He was born near Shrewsbury in 1615, and died at London in 1691.
His ministry, in an unsettled state, was for many years employed with great and extensive success both in London and in several parts of the country; but he was no where fixed so long, or with such entire satisfaction to himself, and apparent advantage to others, as at Kidderminster. His abode there was indeed interrupted, partly by his bad health, but chiefly by the calamities of a civil war; yet in the whole it amounted to sixteen years; nor was it by any means the result of his own choice, or that of the inhabitants of Kidderminster, that he never settled there again, after his going from thence in 1660. Before his coming thither, the place was overrun with ignorance and profaneness; but, by the Divine blessing on his wise and faithful cultivation, the fruits of righteousness sprung up in rich abundance. He at first found but a single instance or two of daily family prayer in a whole street; and on his going away but one family or two could be found in some streets that continued to neglect it. And on Lord’s days, instead of the open profanation to which they had been so long accustomed, a person in passing through the town in the intervals of public worship, might overhear hundreds of families engaged in singing psalms, reading the Scriptures and other good books, or such sermons as they had taken down while they heard them from the pulpit. His care of the souls committed to his charge, and the success of his labors among them, were truly remarkable; for the number of his stated communicants rose to six hundred, of whom he himself declared there were not twelve concerning whose sincere piety he had not reason to entertain a good hope. Blessed be God, the religious spirit which was thus happily introduced, is yet to be traced in the town and neighborhood in some degree; (O that it were in a greater!) and in proportion as that spirit remains, the name of Mr. Baxter continues in the most honorable and affectionate remembrance.
As a writer, he has the approbation of some of his greatest contemporaries, who best knew him, and were under no temptation to be partial in his favor. Dr. Barrow said, “His practical writings were never mended, and his controversial ones seldom confuted.” With a view to his casuistical writings, the honorable Robert Boyle declared, “He was the fittest man of the age for a casuist, because he feared no man’s displeasure, nor hoped for any man’s preferment.” Bishop Wilkins observed of him, “that he had cultivated every subject he had handled; that if he had lived in the primitive times, he would have been one of the fathers of the church; and that it was enough for one age to produce such a person as Mr. Baxter.” Archbishop Usher had such high thoughts of him, that by his earnest importunity he put him upon writing several of his practical discourses, particularly that celebrated piece, his Call to the Unconverted. Dr. Manton, as he freely expressed it, “thought Mr. Baxter came nearer the apostolical writings than any man in the age.” And it is both as a preacher and a writer that Dr. Bates considers him, when, in his funeral sermon he says, “In his sermons there was a rare union of arguments and motives to convince the mind and gain the heart. All the fountains of reason and persuasion were open to his discerning eye. There was no resisting the force of his discourses, without denying reason and divine revelation. He had a marvellous facility and copiousness in speaking. There was a noble negligence in his style, for his great mind could not stoop to the affected eloquence of words; he despised flashy oratory, but his expressions were clear and powerful; so convincing the understanding, so entering into the soul, so engaging the affections, that those were as deaf as adders who were not charmed by so wise a charmer. He was animated with the Holy Spirit, and breathed celestial fire, to inspire heat and life into dead sinners, and to melt the obdurate in their frozen tomb. His books, for their number, (which it seems were more than one hundred and twenty,) and variety of matter in them, make a library. They contain a treasure of controversial, casuistical, and practical divinity. His books of practical divinity have been effectual for more numerous conversions of sinners to God, than any printed in our time; and while the church remains on earth, will be of continual efficacy to recover lost souls. There is a vigorous pulse in them, that keeps the reader awake and attentive.” To these testimonies may not improperly be added that of the editors of his practical works in four folio volumes; in the preface to which they say, “Perhaps there are no writings among us that have more of a true Christian sprit, a greater mixture of judgment and affection, or a greater tendency to revive pure and undefiled religion; that have been more esteemed abroad, or more blessed at home, for awakening the secure, instructing the ignorant, confirming the wavering, comforting the dejected, recovering the profane, or improving such as are truly serious, than the practical works of this author.” Such were the apprehensions of eminent persons who were well acquainted with Mr. Baxter and his writings. It is therefore the less remarkable that Mr. Addison, from an accidental and very imperfect acquaintance, but with his usual pleasantness and candor, should mention the following incident: “I once met with a page of Mr. Baxter. Upon the perusal of it I conceived so good an idea of the author’s piety that I bought the whole book.”
Whatever other causes might concur, it must chiefly be ascribed to Mr. Baxter’s distinguished reputation as a preacher and a writer, that, presently after the Restoration, he was appointed one of the chaplains in ordinary to King Charles II. and preached once before him in that capacity; as also that he had an offer made him, by Lord Chancellor Clarendon, of the bishopric of Hereford, which, in a respectful letter to his lordship, he saw proper to decline.
The Saints’ Rest is deservedly esteemed one of the most valuable parts of his practical works. He wrote it when he was far from home, without any book to consult but his Bible, and in such an ill state of health as to be in continual expectation of death for many months; and therefore, merely for his own use, he fixed his thoughts on this heavenly subject, “which,” says he, “hath more benefitted me than all the studies of my life.” At this time he could be little more than thirty years old. He afterwards preached over the subject in his weekly lecture at Kidderminster, and in 1650 published it; indeed it appears to have been the first that ever he published of all his practical writings. Of this book Dr. Bates says, “It was written by him when languishing in the suspense of life and death, but has the signatures of his holy and vigorous mind. To allure our desires, he unveils the sanctuary above, and discovers the glories and joys of the blessed in the Divine presence, by a light so strong and lively, that all the glittering vanities of this world vanish in the comparison, and a sincere believer will despise them, as one of mature age does the toys and baubles of children. To excite our fear, he removes the screen, and makes the everlasting fire of hell so visible, and represents the tormenting passions of the damned in such dreadful colors, as, if duly considered, would check and control the unbridled, licentious appetites of the most sensual wretches.”
Heavenly rest is a subject in its own nature so universally important and interesting, and at the same time so truly engaging and delightful, as sufficiently accounts for the great acceptance which this book has met with; and partly, also, for the uncommon blessing which has attended Mr. Baxter’s manner of treating the subject, both from the pulpit and the press. For where are the operations of Divine grace more reasonably to be expected, or where have they, in fact, been more frequently discerned, than in concurrence with the best adapted means? And should it appear that persons of distinguishing judgment and piety have expressly ascribed their first religious impressions to the hearing or reading the important sentiments contained in this book; or, after a long series of years, have found it both the counterpart and the improvement of their own divine life; will not this be thought a considerable recommendation of the book itself?
Among the instances of persons that dated their true conversion from hearing the sermons on the Saints’ Rest when Mr. Baxter first preached them, was the Rev. Thomas Doolittle, M. A. who was a native of Kidderminster, and at that time a scholar about seventeen years old, whom Mr. Baxter himself afterward sent to Pembroke Hall, in Cambridge, where he took his degree. Before his going to the university, he was upon trial as an attorney’s clerk, and under that character, being ordered by his master to write something on a Lord’s day, he obeyed with great reluctance, and the next day returned home, with an earnest desire that he might not apply himself to any thing, as the employment of life, but serving Christ in the ministry of the Gospel. His praise is yet in the churches, for his pious and useful labors as a minister, a tutor and a writer.
In the life of the Rev. John Janeway, Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, who died in 1657, we are told that his conversion was, in a great measure, occasioned by his reading the Saints’ Rest. And in a letter which he afterwards wrote to a near relative, speaking with a more immediate reference to that part of the book which treats of heavenly contemplation, he says, “There is a duty, which, if it were exercised, would dispel all cause of melancholy: I mean heavenly meditation and contemplation of the things to which the true Christian religion tends. If we did but walk closely with God one hour in a day in this duty, O what influence would it have upon the whole day besides, and, duly performed, upon the whole life! This duty, with its usefulness, manner, and directions, I knew in some measure before, but had it more pressed upon me by Mr. Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest, a book that can scarce be overvalued, and for which I have cause for ever to bless God.” This excellent young minister’s life is worth reading, were it only to see how delightfully he was engaged in heavenly contemplation, according to the directions in the Saints’ Rest.
It was the example of heavenly contemplation, at the close of this book, which the Rev. Joseph Alleine so frequently quoted in conversation, with this solemn introduction, “Most divinely says that man of God, holy Mr. Baxter.”
Dr. Bates, in his funeral sermon, dedicated to Sir Henry Ashurst, says to that religious gentleman and most distinguished friend and executor of Mr. Baxter, “He was most worthy of your highest esteem and love; for the first impressions of heaven upon your soul were in reading his invaluable book of the Saints’ Everlasting Rest.”
In the life of the Rev. Matthew Henry we have the following character given us of Robert Warburton, Esq. of Grange, the son of the eminently religious Judge Warburton, and the father of Mr. Matthew Henry’s second wife. “He was a gentlemen that greatly affected retirement and privacy, especially in the latter part of his life; the Bible and Mr. Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest used to lie daily before him on the table in his parlor; he spent the greatest part of his time in reading and prayer.”
In the life of that honorable and most religious knight Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, we are told that “he was constant in secret prayer and reading the Scriptures; afterwards he read other choice authors; but not long before his death he took a singular delight in reading Mr. Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest and preparations thereunto; which was esteemed a gracious event of Divine Providence, sending it as a guide to bring him more speedily and directly to that rest.”
Besides persons of eminence, to whom this book has been precious and profitable, we have an instance, in the Rev. James Janeway’s Token for Children, of a little boy, whose piety was so discovered and promoted by reading it, as the most delightful book to him, next to the Bible, that the thoughts of everlasting rest seemed, even while he continued in health, to swallow up all other thoughts; and he lived in a constant preparation for it, and appeared more like one that was ripe for glory, than an inhabitant of this lower world. And when he was in the sickness of which he died before he was twelve years old, he said, “I pray, let me have Mr. Baxter’s book, that I may read a little more of eternity before I go into it.”
Nor is it less observable that Mr. Baxter himself, taking notice, in a paper found in his study after his death, what a number of persons were converted by reading his Call to the Unconverted, accounts of which he had received by letter every week, expressly adds, “This little book, the Call to the Unconverted, God hath blessed with unexpected success, beyond all that I have written, except the Saints’ Rest.” With an evident reference to this book, and even during the life of the author, the pious Mr. Flavel affectionately says, “Mr. Baxter is almost in heaven—living in the daily views and cheerful expectation of the saints’ everlasting rest with God; and is left for a little while among us, as a great example of the life of faith.” And Mr. Baxter himself says, in his preface to his Treatise of Self-Denial, “I must say, that of all the books which I have written, I peruse none so often for the use of my own soul in its daily work, as my Life of Faith, this of Self-Denial, and the last part of the Saints’ Rest.” On the whole, it is not without good reason that Dr. Calamy remarks concerning it, “This is a book for which multitudes will have cause to bless God for ever.”
This excellent and useful book now appears in the form of an abridgment and therefore, it is presumed, will be the more likely, under the Divine blessing, to diffuse its salutary influence among those that would otherwise have wanted opportunity or inclination to read over the larger volume. In reducing it to this smaller size, I have been very desirous to do justice to the author, and at the same time promote the pleasure and profit of the serious reader. And I hope these ends are in some measure answered; chiefly by dropping things of a digressive, controversial, or metaphysical nature; together with prefaces, dedications, and various allusions to some peculiar circumstances of the last age; and particularly by throwing several chapters into one, that the number of them may better correspond with the size of the volume; and sometimes by altering the form, but not the sense, of a period, for the sake of brevity; and when an obsolete phrase occurred, changing it for one more common and intelligible. I should never have thought of attempting this work, if it had not been suggested and urged by others; and by some very respectable names, of whose learning, judgment and piety I forbear to avail myself. However defective this performance may appear, the labor of it (if it may be called a labor) has been, I bless God, one of the most delightful labors of my life.
Certainly the thoughts of everlasting rest may be as delightful to souls in the present day, as they have ever been to those
of past generations. I am sure such thoughts are as absolutely necessary now; nor are temptations to neglect them either fewer
or weaker than formerly. The worth of everlasting rest is not felt, because a thousand trifles are preferred before it. But
were the divine reasonings of this book duly attended to, (and O that the Spirit and grace of the Redeemer
may make them so!) then an age of vanity would become serious; minds enervated by sensuality would soon resume the strength
of reason, and display the excellence of Christianity; the delusive names of pleasure would be blotted out by the glorious
reality of heavenly joy upon earth; every station and relation in life would be filled up with the propriety and dignity of
serious religion; every member of society would then effectually contribute to the beauty and happiness of the whole; and
soul would be ready for life or death, for one world or another, in a well-grounded and cheerful persuasion of having
secured a title to that rest which remaineth to the people of God.
B.F. KIDDERMINSTER, Dec. 25th, 1758.
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