Placeholder ImageAbout the Author

Richard Baxter (1615-91) was one of the greatest of the English Puritan pastors and authors, most associated with the church at Kidderminster which he pastored for twenty years until he and other “nonconformists” were forced from their official ministry by an act of Parliament.  Of his ministry there, it is said that “He found the place a desert and left it a garden,” and when George Whitefield came to Kidderminster 100 years later, he said to a friend, “I was greatly refreshed to find what a sweet savor of good Mr. Baxter's doctrine works and discipline remain to this day.”  Baxter was a passionate preacher, who “preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”  A man of extraordinary diligence despite his lifelong ill health, he was a prolific author, even more so than his contemporary John Owen, often writing while imprisoned for the faith.  He was especially concerned not with theory but with practical divinity.  In addition to his A Call to the Unconverted, which had a profound effect on both Spurgeon and Whitefield, he is most noted for his devotional work, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, and for his passionate call for the spiritual and moral reformation of ministers, The Reformed Pastor, which has remained a classic for over 300 years.

A Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Live,

And accept of MERCY, while MERCY may be had;
as ever they will find MERCY, in the Day of their EXTREMITY
from the Living God.

Part 4

by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

"Say to them, 'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.  Turn, Turn from your evil ways!  For why should you die, O house of Israel ."  Ezekiel 33:11


Table of Contents

Preface by the Author

Sermon 3:  God’s Condescension in His Offer of Forgiveness

Sermon 4:  Man’s Willfulness in His Own Damnation

Sermon 3
God’s Condescension
in His Offer of Forgiveness

Doctrine 6. The Lord condescends to reason the case with unconverted sinners, and to ask them why they will die.  A strange argument it is, both as to the subject of the controversy, and as to those involved in the dispute.  (1) The issue or question put forth is, “Why will wicked men damn themselves?” Or, “Why will they die rather than turn?” What good reasons would they have for so doing?  And (2) The parties in dispute are God and man; the most holy God, and wicked, unconverted sinners. 

1.  It is true because they will follow the road that leads to hell, even though they are told by God and man where it leads, and where it ends; and though God has so often professed in His Word that if they stay on that road they will be condemned, and that they will not be saved unless they turn. "'There is no peace,' Says my God, 'for the wicked'" (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21).  "The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace" (Isaiah 59:8).  They have the Word and the oath of the living God to tell them that, if they will not turn, they will not enter into his rest.  And yet wicked they are, and wicked they will be, let God and man say what they will; fleshly they are, and fleshly they will be, worldlings they are, and worldlings they will be, though God has told them that “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4), and that "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).  Consequently, though these people are not desirous of hell itself, and do not for its own sake love the pain which they must endure there, they are willing to be damned and to walk on the road to hell, and thus to love the certain cause of their torment.

2. The wicked also show their willingness to die because they will not use those means that God has provided for their salvation. He who will not eat may as well say plainly that he will not live, unless he can tell how to live without food; he who will not leave on his journey may as well say plainly he will not get to his destination; he that falls into the water and will not come out or allow another to help him out, may as well say plainly that he will be drowned. Likewise, if you are carnal and ungodly, and will not be converted or use the means by which you should be converted, but think it more of a bother than is necessary, you may as well say plainly that you will be damned. For if you have found out a way to be saved without conversion, you have done that which was never done before.

3. Yet, this is not all, but the wicked are unwilling even to partake of salvation itself. Though they may have some desire for something which they call "heaven," yet heaven itself, understood as the Bible describes it, they do not desire; in fact, their hearts are quite against it. Heaven is a state of perfect holiness, and of continual love and praise to God and the wicked have no heart for this. Even the imperfect love, praise, and holiness which is attained here on earth they have no desire for, much less of that which is so much greater.  The joys of heaven are of so pure and spiritual a nature that the heart of the wicked cannot desire them.

Second, let us consider the parties involved in this dispute.   As strange as it is people should be such enemies to themselves that they would willfully cast away their own souls, so is it a matter of wonder that God should stoop so low as to plead His case with man, and that man should be so strangely blind and stubborn as to argue back and resist God, even when his own salvation is at stake!  No wonder they will not hear us who are mere men, when they will not hear the Lord himself, as when He says in Ezekiel 3:7 when He sent the prophet to the Israelites, "But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted."  No wonder they can plead against a minister or a godly neighbor, when they will plead against the Lord himself, even against the plainest passages of His Word, and think they have reason on their side!  When they wearied the Lord with their words, they said, “In what way have we wearied Him?” Mal. 2:17.  The priests who despised His name dared to ask, “In what way have we despised your name?” And when they polluted His altar and made the temple of the Lord contemptible, they dared to say, “In what way have we polluted you?” (Malachi 1:6-7).  But “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?” Isaiah 45:9.

Question:  Why is it that God will reason His case with man?

Answer 1.  Because human beings, being reasonable creatures, are to be dealt with as such, and by reason to be persuaded and overcome.  God has therefore endowed them with reason, that they might use it for Him. One would think a reasonable creature should not go against the clearest and greatest reason in the world, when it is set before him.

Answer 2.  So that at least, people will see that God required nothing of them that was unreasonable, but that whatever hinders them from turning, God has all the right reason in the world on His side.  Therefore, they have good reason to obey Him, and no good reason  to disobey, and so even the damned will be forced to justify God, and confess that it was only reasonable that they should have turned to Him; and they will be forced to condemn themselves and confess that they had little reason to cast themselves away by neglecting His grace in the day He visited them.


 He calls upon you to turn, and you will not; He asks you do it now, even while it is called today, and you delay, and think there is more time to think it over.  He says it must be a total change, and that you must be holy, and new creatures, and born again; and you think less may be sufficient, just enough to patch up the old man, without becoming new. Who is in the right now? God or you?  God calls on you to turn, and to live a holy life, and you will not:  at least, by seeing your disobedient lives, it appears you will not. If you are willing, why don't you do it? Why have you not done it all this while?  Your wills have the control of your lives, and thus we may certainly conclude, when we do not see you turn, that you are unwilling to turn. And, why will you not? Can you give any reason for it that is worthy to be called a reason?
I, who am nothing but a worm, and of a shallow capacity, challenge the wisest of you all to reason the case with me, while I plead my Maker’s cause.  And I need not be discouraged, when I know I plead the cause that God pleads, and contend for Him who will have it His way in the end.  If I had nothing but the following two general grounds against you, I am convinced that you have no good reason on your side:

1.  No reason that is against the God of truth and reason can be a good one.  What is contrary to the sun cannot be called "light." No creature has any knowledge that isn't from God, and therefore none can be wiser than God. It is a fatal presumption for the highest angel to consider himself equal with his Creator. If that is the case, what is it for a lump of dirt, an ignorant sot, who doesn't even know himself, or his own soul, who knows only little about the things which he sees, to set himself against the wisdom of the Lord? It is one of the fullest discoveries of the horrible wickedness of carnal men, that so silly a mole dares to contradict his Maker, and call in question the Word of God; that those people in our churches who are so ignorant they cannot give us a reasonable answer concerning the very principles of religion, are yet so wise in their own conceit, that they dare question the plainest truths of God, and contradict them and argue against them, and will believe God's truths no farther than what agrees with their foolish wisdom!

2. Because I know God must be right, I know the case man argues against Him is so shallow and offensive that no one can have reason for holding to it.  Is it possible that a man will seek out any lowly reason to break his master’s laws and argue to dishonor the Lord of glory and to abuse the Lord that bought him? Is it possible that one can have any good reason to damn his own immortal soul?  Mark the Lord’s question: “Turn, turn, for why should you die?” Is eternal death a thing to be desired? Are you in love with hell? What reason do you have willfully to perish? If you think you have reason to sin, should you not remember that “the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and think whether you have any reason to undo yourselves, body and soul, for ever?  You should ask not only whether you love the snake, but whether you love the sting! 

Objection 1.  "If none shall be saved except those who are converted and sanctified in the ways you talk of, then heaven would be empty!"

Objection 2.  "I am sure if people like me go to hell, we shall have plenty of company."

Answer.  And will that be of any comfort to you? Or do you think you may not have company enough in heaven? Will you be damned because you fear lack of company? Or do you not believe that God will execute his threatnings, because there will be so many who are guilty? All these are silly, unreasonable conceits.

Objection 3. "But all men are sinners, even the best of us."

Answer.  But all are not unconverted sinners. The godly do not live in gross sins; in fact, their very weaknesses are their grief and burden, which they daily long, and pray, and strive to be rid of. Sin does not have dominion over them.

Objection 4.  "I do not see any professors who are any better than others; they are ambitious, and oppressive, and as covetous as any."

Answer.  Whatever hypocrites are, it is not so with those who are sanctified. God has thousands and tens of thousands who are otherwise.  Though the malicious world accuses them of things which have never entered into their hearts and which they can never prove. And often they charge them with heart-sins, which no one can see but God, because they can't charge them with any wickedness they aren't guilty of themselves.

Objection 5.  "But I am not a whoremonger, or a drunkard, or an oppressor, and so why would you call me to be converted?"

Answer.  Is it not "harm" to neglect the Lord who made you, and the work for which you came into the world, and to prefer the creation more than the Creator of it, and to neglect the grace that is daily offered you?  It is the depth of your sinfulness to be insensible of it! The dead do not feel that they are dead, but if suddenly you were made alive, you would see more wrong in thyself, and marvel at yourself for making such light of it.

Objection 7.  "I think you make men insane under the pretence of converting them.  It racks the brains of sinful people, to think so much on matters too high for them."

Answer 1.  Can you be more insane than you are already?  Or at least, can there be a more dangerous madness than to neglect your everlasting welfare, and willfully undo yourselves?

Answer 2. A person is never well in his wits until he is converted; he never knows God, or sin, or Christ, or the world, or himself, or what his proper business is on earth, until he is converted.  The scripture say that the wicked are "unreasonable men” (2 Thessalonians 3:2), and that "the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 1:20 and Luke 15:17.  It is said of the prodigal son, “when he came to himself,” he resolved to return.  It is a strange world, when people will disobey God, and run to hell for fear of being out of their wits.

Answer 3.  What is in the work Christ calls you to that would drive a man out of his wits? Is it the loving of God, and calling upon Him, and comfortably thinking of the glory to come, and the forsaking of our sins, and loving one another, and delighting ourselves in the service of God? Are these things that should make a man insane?

Answer 4.  When you say that these matters are too high for you, you accuse God of wrongdoing for giving us his word, and commanding us to meditate on it day and night. Are the thoughts that we are made for, and which we live for, too high for us to meddle with? This is plainly to make us inhuman, and to make animals of us, as if we should meddle with no higher matters than those that belong to flesh and earth. If heaven is too high for you to think on and plan for, it will be too high for you ever to possess.

Answer 5. If God sometimes allows weak-headed people to be distracted by thoughts of eternal things, even though they misunderstand them and proceed without a guide, then of the two, I would rather be this one, than one of the mad unconverted world, who consider earthly distractions to be their wisdom.

Objection 8. "I don't think God cares so much what people think, or speak, or do, as to make so great a matter of it."

Answer.  It seems, then, that you take the Word of God to be false, and if so, then what will you believe?  If you don't believe the Scriptures, use your own reason: for you see that God thinks so highly of us that He condescends to make us, and to preserve us, and uphold us each day, and to provide for us.  Think of it in human terms:  Will anyone buy a clock or watch, and look at it every day, and not care whether it runs true or false? Surely, if you do not believe that the eye of God is observing your hearts and lives, can you then believe or expect Him to relieve you when troubles come?  If God has cared as little for you as you imagine, you would never have lived until now, for a hundred diseases would have competed as to which should be the first to destroy you, and the devils would have haunted you, and taken you away alive, as the big fish devour the smaller one, and as ravenous animals devour others. You cannot think God made man for no purpose or use; and, if He made him for any, surely it was for Himself. And do you think He does not care whether his purposes are accomplished, and whether we do the work that we are made for?

Objection 9. "It would be a better world if people did not make such a fuss about religion."

Answer 1. It has always been our tendency to praise the times that are past. That world that you speak of also thought it was a better world in their forefathers’ days, and so did they of their forefathers. This is an old custom, because we all feel the evil of our own times, but we do not see as clearly that which was before us.

Answer 2. Perhaps you speak as you think: those who love the world think the world is at its best when it is agreeable to their minds, and when they have the most mirth and worldly pleasure. And I don't doubt that the devil, as well as you, would say that it was a better world in less Christian times, for then he had more service and less disturbance. But the world is at the best when God is most loved, regarded, and obeyed. And how else would you know when the world is good or bad, but by this?

Objection 10.  "There are so many ways and religions that we don't know which to be of, and therefore we will stay as we are."

Answer.  Because there are many religions, will you stay in a way that you may be sure is wrong? None are farther out of the way than worldly, fleshly, unconverted sinners; for not only are they in error in their opinions, but in the very scope and drift of their lives. If you were going on a journey that your life depended on, would you stop or turn again, because you came to some side roads, or because you saw some travelers go one way, and some another way, and some perhaps break over the road barrier, and some miss the way completely?  Or would you not rather be more careful to ask what is the right way?

Objection 11.  "I do not see that it goes any better with those who are so godly than with others; they are as poor, and in as much trouble as others."

Answer.  True, and perhaps even more so, when God deems it fitting. But the godly do not consider earthly prosperity to be their wages.  They have laid up their treasure and hopes in another world, or else they are not true Christians.  The less they have, the more is laid up in heaven, and they are content to wait till then.

Objection 12.  "When you have said all that you can, I am resolved to hope well and trust in God, and do as well as I can, and not make so much fuss."

Answer 1.  Is it doing as well as you can when you will not turn to God, but your heart is against His holy and diligent service?  That may be as well as you desire it, but that is to your misery.

Answer 2.  My desire is that you should hope and trust in God: But what is it that you would hope for?  Is it to be saved, if you turn and be sanctified? For this you have God’s promise, and therefore I beg you to hope for it, and do not give up hope. But if you hope to be saved without conversion and a holy life, this is not to hope in God, but in Satan, or yourselves, for God has given you no such promise, but has told you the opposite.  It is Satan and self-love that has made you such promises, and raised you to such hopes. 

Answer. To name them only in a few words, the causes are these:

1.  People are naturally in love with the world and their flesh, and their nature is as much an enmity to God and godliness as the nature of a serpent is to a man: And when all we can say goes against the habitual inclination of their natures, it is no surprise when our words cannot prevail with them.

2. They are in darkness, and do not know the very things they are hearing. Like one who was born blind, and hears someone speak strongly in favor of the light: what will hearing do unless he sees it? They do not know what God is, or the power of the cross of Christ, or the spirit of holiness, or what it is to live in love by faith.  They do not know the certainty, and suitableness, and excellence of the heavenly inheritance. They do not know what conversion and a holy mind and conversation are, even when they hear of them. They are in a mist of ignorance. They are lost and bewildered in sin, like a man who has lost himself in the night, and does not know where he is or how to come to himself again until the daylight recovers him.

3. They are willfully confident that they do not need conversion but some partial reform, and that they are on the way to heaven already, and are converted when in truth they are not. And, if you meet someone who is quite out of the right way, you may fervently call on him to turn back again, but he will not believe that he is out of the way.

4. They are slaves to their own flesh, and drowned in the world, which they rely on to make provision for their flesh. Their lusts, and passions, and appetites have distracted them and gotten such control over them that they cannot muster the strength to deny them, or consider any other alternative.  So that the drunkard says, “I love a cup of good drink, and I cannot do without it.” The glutton says, “I love good cheer, and I cannot do without.” The fornicator says, “I love to have my lust fulfilled, and I cannot abstain.” And the gamester loves to have his sports, and he cannot stay away.  Thus, they have become captivated slaves to their flesh, and their very willfulness has become an impotency; and what they don't desire to do, they say they cannot do. And the worldly man is so taken up with earthly things, that he has neither the heart, nor mind, nor time, for heavenly things; and as in Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis chapter 41, when “The lean cattle ate up the fat ones,” so this lean and barren earth eats up all the thoughts of Heaven.

5. Some are so carried away by their evil companions that they develop cynical thoughts of a godly life by repeatedly hearing their friends speak against it.  Furthermore, they think they may take the same risks the others are taking, and so they hold on in their sinful ways; and when one is cut off and cast into hell, and another snatched away from among them to the same condemnation, it doesn't daunt them much, because they do not see where their friends have gone. Poor wretches!  They hold on in their ungodliness, for they don't know that their companions are now lamenting it in torments!  In Luke 16, the rich man in hell desired for someone to warn his five brothers, lest they should come to his place of torment. It was as if he knew their minds and lives, and knew that they were coming to where he was with little thought that he was already there.  Alas, they would not even have believed one who would have told them so! 

6. Moreover, they have a subtle, malicious enemy, the devil, whom they cannot see, and who plays his game in the dark; and it is his principal business to hinder their conversion and keep them where they are, by persuading them not to believe the Scriptures, or not to trouble their minds with these matters; or by persuading them to think ill of a godly life, or to think it is much ado about a small matter, and that they may be saved without conversion, and without all this stir; and that God is so merciful that He will not damn anyone such as they, or at least, that they may stay a little longer, and take their pleasure, and follow the world a little longer, and then let it go, and repent afterwards.  And by such deluding lies as these, the devil keeps most people in his captivity, and leads them to his misery.

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