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 1

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 4
Man’s Willfulness in His Own Damnation

Doct. 7. That if, after all, these souls will not turn, it is not God's fault that they are condemned, but their own.  They die because they will die, that is, because they will not turn.

Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares.  She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words:  "How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.  Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.  Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.  Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD.  They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke.  Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies.  For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil."


1. From this you may see not only what blasphemy and impiety it is to lay the blame of man’s destruction upon God, but also how unfit these wicked wretches are to bring in such a charge against their Maker. They cry out upon God, and say He does not give them grace, and His threatenings are severe, and God forbid that all who are not converted and sanctified should be damned! They think it is harsh punishment for a short sin to have an endless suffering; and if they are damned they say they cannot help it. In the mean time, they are busy working out their own destruction, even cutting the throat of their own souls, and will not be persuaded to stop their hands. They think God would be cruel to damn them, and yet they are so cruel to themselves that they will run into the fires of hell.  Even when God has told them it is soon before them, neither entreaties, nor threatenings, nor anything that can be said will stop them. We see them almost undone; their careless, worldly, fleshly lives tell us they are in the power of the devil; and we know if they die before they are converted, all the world cannot save them.  Indeed, knowing the uncertainty of their lives, we are afraid every day lest they drop into the fire. And therefore, we plead with them to at least pity their own souls, and not to undo themselves when mercy is at hand, and still they will not hear us. We beg them to cast away their sin and come to Christ without delay, and to have some mercy on themselves, but they will have none of it. And yet they think that God must be cruel if he condemns them.

Objection.  But we cannot convert ourselves until God converts us, for we can do nothing without His grace:  "So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Romans 9:16).

Answer.  God has two degrees of mercy to show: the mercy of conversion first, and the mercy of salvation last.  The latter He will give to no one but those who do "will" and "run," and He has promised it to them only. Thus, conversion is to make willing those who are unwilling; and though your own willingness and endeavors do not deserve His grace, yet your willful refusal deserves that it should be denied to you. Your disability is your very unwillingness itself, which does not excuse your sin, but makes it greater. You could turn if you were but truly willing; and, if your wills themselves are so corrupted that nothing but effectual grace will move them, you have the more cause to seek for that grace and yield to it, and use the means God has provided to encourage you to seek conversion, and not neglect it or set yourself against it. Do what you are able first, and then complain to God for denying you grace, if you have a reason left to stand on.

Answer.  The dispute about free will is beyond your capacity; therefore, I will trouble you with no more about it except to say this: Your will is naturally free, that is, it is a self-determining faculty, but it is viciously inclined, and opposed to doing good.  Therefore we see, by sad experience, that it does not have a virtuous moral freedom, and that it is the wickedness of it which deserves the punishment. And I ask you to let us not fool ourselves with opinions; let the case be your own. If you had an enemy so malicious that he fell upon you, and beat you every time he met you, and took away the lives of your children, would you excuse him because he said, “I do not have a free-will; it is my nature, and I cannot choose unless God gives me grace”?  If you have an employee who robs you, will you take such an answer from him? Might not every thief and murderer, who is brought before the law, give such an answer? “I have no free will; I cannot change my own heart! What can I do without God’s grace?” And will they therefore be acquitted with such a defense?  If not, why then do you think you will be acquitted for a course of sin against the Lord?

4. Lastly, we have learned that the greatest enemy to man is himself, and that the greatest judgment in this life that can befall him is to be left to himself;  Thus, the great work that grace has to do is to save us from ourselves.  Likewise, the greatest accusations and complaints of men should be against themselves; the greatest work we ourselves have to do is to resist ourselves; and the greatest enemy that we should daily pray about, and watch and strive against, is our own carnal hearts and wills.  Therefore, the greatest part of your work, if you will do good to others and help them to heaven, is to save them from themselves, even from their blind understandings, corrupted wills, perverse affections, violent passions, and unruly senses. I only name all these for brevity sake; and leave them to your further consideration.

Concluding Thoughts

First, I will add a few more words which I hope will convince you of my arguments.

2. It is evident that you are your own destroyers, in that you are so ready to entertain almost any temptation that is offered you. Satan is always ready move you to any evil, and you are always ready to hear and to do as he would have you. If he would tempt your understanding to error and prejudice, you yield. If he would hinder you from good resolutions, it is soon done. If he would cool any good desires or affections, it is as good as done. If he would kindle any lust or vile affections in you, it is soon done. If he will put you on to evil thoughts, or deeds, he needs not a rod or spur to accomplish it. If he would keep you from holy thoughts, words and ways, you need little encouragement to obey him. You rarely examine his suggestions, or resist them with any resolution, or cast them out as he casts them in, or quench the sparks which he endeavors to kindle; but you set in with him, and meet him half-way, and embrace his notions, and tempt him to tempt you. And it is so easy for him to catch such greedy fish that are ranging for a bait, that he needs little more than a bare hook.

3. It is also evident that you are your own destroyers in that you resist all who would help to save you and do you good, or hinder you from undoing yourselves. God would help and save you by His word, but you resist it because it is too strict for you. He would sanctify you by His Spirit, yet you resist and quench it. If anyone reproves you for your sin, you fly in his face with evil words; and if he tries to tell you of your present danger and draw you to a holy life, you give him little thanks, but tell him to mind his own business, and will not turn when you are persuaded. If ministers offer to privately instruct and help you, you will not come to them, for your un-humbled souls feel little need of their help; if they would train you in the doctrines of the faith, you consider yourselves too old, though you are not too old to be ignorant and unholy. Whatever they can say to you for your own good, you are so conceited and wise in your own eyes, even in the depth of ignorance, that you will regard nothing that does not agree with your present opinions, but you will contradict your teachers, as if you were wiser than they.  You resist all they can say to you, by your ignorance, unwilfulness, and foolish arguments, and shifting evasions, and unthankful rejections, so that no good that is offered can find any welcome acceptance with you.

4. Furthermore, it is evident that you are self-destroyers in that you manage to blame your sin and destruction even on the blessed God himself. You don't like His justice, but take it for cruelty; you don't like His holiness, but are ready to think He is like yourselves; you don't like His truth, but would try to prove His threatnings to be false. His goodness, which your words seem most highly to approve, not only do you resist, lest it lead you to repentance, but you abuse even to the strengthening of your sin, as if you might sin freely because God is merciful, and because His grace so much abounds.

5.  Alas, you seek destruction from the blessed Redeemer, and death from the Lord of life Himself! And nothing more emboldens you in sin than the belief that Christ has died for you, as if now the danger of death were over, and you can boldly venture forth in it as if Christ were servant to Satan and your sins, and must wait upon you while you are abusing Him.  And because He has become the physician of man's souls, and is able to save to the utmost all that come to God by him, you think He must allow you to refuse His help, and throw away His medicines, and that He must save you whether you will come to God by him or not. By this thinking, a great part of your sins are occasioned by your bold presumption upon the death of Christ; not considering that He came to redeem his people from their sins, and to sanctify them a peculiar people to Himself, and to confirm them in holiness to the image of their heavenly Father, and to their living Head (Matthew 1:21; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Colossians 3:10-11; Philippians 3:9-10).

6. You also obtain your own destruction from all the providences and works of God. When you think of His eternal foreknowledge and decrees, it serves only to harden you in your sin, or possess your minds with quarrelling thoughts, as if his decrees might spare you the labor of repentance and a holy life, or were the cause of sin and death. If He afflicts you, you complain, but if He prospers you, you forget Him even more, and have even fewer thoughts of the afterlife to come. If wicked people prosper, you forget the final end that will set all reckonings straight, and are ready to think it is as good to be wicked as godly; and thus you draw your death from all.

7. And likewise you do from all the creatures and mercies of God to you. He gives them to you as the tokens of His love, and abilities for His service, but you turn them against Him to the pleasing of your flesh. You eat and drink to please your appetite, and not for the glory of God, or to enable you to perform His work. Your riches draw your hearts from heaven (Philippians 3:18). Honors and applause puff you up, and if you have wealth and strength, it makes you more secure, and causes you to forget your final end. You abuse others' mercies also, to your own destruction. If you see their honors and dignity, you are provoked to envy them. If you see their riches, you are ready to covet them. If you look upon their beauty, you are stirred up to lust. Even godliness itself is an eyesore to you.

8. The very gifts that God bestows on you, and the ordinances of grace which He has instituted for His church, you turn into sin.  If you have better gifts than others, you grow proud and self-conceited. If you have only common gifts, you take them for special grace. You consider the basic essentials of your duty to God as principles so lofty that you excuse yourselves for not obeying them. Your prayers are turned into sin, because you regard iniquity in your hearts (Psalm 66:18). Your prayers are abominable, because you turn away your ear from hearing the law (Proverbs 28:9), and you are more ready to "offer the sacrifice of fools," thinking you do God some special service, than to hear His word and obey it (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

9. The people you converse with, and all their actions, you also make the occasions of your sin and destruction. If they live in the fear of God, you hate them.  If they live ungodly, you imitate them. If there are many wicked, you think you may more boldly follow them. If the godly are few, you are the more emboldened to despise them. If they walk carefully, you think they are too precise: if one of them falls in a particular temptation, you stumble over them, and turn away from holiness because you say that others are imperfectly holy.  If a hypocrite is exposed, you say they are all alike, and think yourselves as honest by comparison.  It seems that a professing Christian can scarcely slip into even the slightest sin but that, because he cuts his finger, you think you may boldly cut your throats.

Second, it seems now, considering what has been said and upon an examination of your own ways, that you should judge what you have done, and be ashamed and deeply humbled by it.  If you are not, I pray that you will consider the following truths:

1. To be your own destroyers is to sin against the most basic drive of our natures, that of self-preservation, by which everything naturally inclines to its own happiness, welfare, or perfection. And will you set yourselves to your own destruction?  Even Jesus, when He commanded you to love your neighbors as yourselves, supposed that you naturally love yourselves. But if you love your neighbors no better than yourselves, it seems you would have the whole world to be damned.

2. How severely do you cross your own intentions! I know you do not intend your own damnation, even when you are in the process of procuring it. You think you are merely doing good to yourselves by gratifying the desires of your flesh: but, alas, it is as the scratching of an itching wild-fire, which only increases the problem. If indeed you would have pleasure, or profit, or honor, seek them where they are to be found, and don't hunt after them along the way to hell!

3. What a pity it is that you would do that against yourselves which none else on earth or in hell can do! If all the world were combined against you, or all the demons in hell were combined against you, they could not destroy you without your own consent, nor could they make you sin against your own consent. And will you be worse than demons to yourselves, when you run into sin, and run from godliness, and refuse to turn at the call of God, and thus do more against your own souls than men or devils could do besides? If you were to determine within yourselves and bend your wits to do yourselves the greatest mischief, you could not devise to do greater.

4. You are false to the trust that God has given you. He has entrusted you to not neglect your own salvation, and commanded you to "guard your hearts with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23), and can you say that you have done these?

5. You even forbid all others to pity you when you will have no pity on yourselves.  If you cry to God in the day of your distress for mercy, mercy, can you expect anything other than that he should thrust you away, and say, “No, you would not have mercy on yourselves.  Now, who brought this upon you but your own willfulness?” And if your brethren see you in everlasting misery, how should they pity you who were your own destroyers, and would not be persuaded from it?

6. It will forever make you your own tormentors in hell to think that you brought yourselves willfully to that misery. O what a torturing thought it will be forever to think within yourselves that this was your own doing – that you were warned of this day, and warned again, but you willfully sinned, and willfully turned away from God! That you had time as well as others, but you abused it! That you had teachers as well as others, but you refused their instructions!  That you had holy examples, but you would not imitate them. That you were offered Christ, and grace, and glory, as well as others; but you had more thought for your fleshly pleasure. That you had in your hands the purchase price for wisdom, but you did not have the heart to pay the price (Proverbs 17:16).  O that your eyes were open to see what you have done in the willful wronging of your own souls, and that you could better understood the words of the Lord in Proverbs 8:33-36:  "Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it.  Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.  For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the LORD;  But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death."

Direction 1.  If you will be converted and saved, labor to understand the necessity and true nature of conversion:  consider for what, and from what, and to what, and by what you must turn. Consider in what a lamentable condition you are in until the hour of your conversion, and that it is not a state to be rested in. You are under the guilt of all the sins that you ever committed, and under the wrath of God, and the curse of His law.  You are bond-slaves to the devil, and employed daily in his work against the Lord, against yourselves, and against others.  You are spiritually dead and deformed, devoid of the holy life, and of the nature and image of the Lord. You are unfit for any holy work, and do nothing that is truly pleasing unto God. You are without any promise or assurance of His protection, and live in continual danger of His justice, not knowing what hour you may be snatched away to hell, and most certain to be damned if you die in that condition. And nothing short of conversion can prevent it. Whatever civilities, or reforms, or virtues, are short of true conversion will never procure the saving of your souls. Keep the true sense of this natural misery, and so of the necessity of conversion on your hearts.  And then you must understand what it is to be converted: it is to have a new heart or disposition, and a new conversation.

Question 1.  For what must we turn?  For these ends, which you may attain:

1.  In this life, you shall immediately be made living members of Christ, and have an interest in Him, and be renewed after the image of God, and adorned with all His graces, and made alive with a new and heavenly life, and saved from the tyranny of Satan and the dominion of sin, and be justified from the curse of the law, and have the pardon of all the sins of your whole lives, and be accepted of God, and made His sons, and have liberty to call Him Father, and go to him by prayer, in all your needs, with a promise of acceptance.   You shall have the Holy Spirit to dwell in you, to sanctify and guide you; you shall have part in the brotherhood, communion, and prayers of the saints; you shall be fitted for God’s service, and be freed from the dominion of sin, and be useful and a blessing to the place where you live, and shall have the promise of this life, and that which is to come. You shall want nothing that is truly good for you, and your necessary afflictions you will be enabled to bear.  You may have some taste of communion with God in the Spirit, especially in all holy ordinances, where God prepares a feast for your souls.  You shall be heirs of heaven while you live on earth, and may foresee by faith the everlasting glory, and so may live and die in peace.  And you shall never be so low but that your happiness will be incomparably greater than your misery.  How precious is every one of these blessings, which I do but briefly name, and which in this life you may receive.

2.  At death, your souls shall go to Christ, and at the judgment day both soul and body shall be justified and glorified, and enter into your Master’s joy, where your happiness will consist in these particulars:

Question 3.   To what end must we turn?  To God as your end, to Christ as the way to the Father; to holiness, as the way appointed you by Christ; and to the use of all the helps and means of grace afforded you by the Lord.

Question 4.  By what must we turn?  By Christ, as the only Redeemer and Intercessor; and by the Holy Ghost, as the sanctifier; and by the Word, as His instrument or means; and by faith and repentance, as the means and duties on your part to be performed. All this is necessary if you would be converted.

Direction 3.  If you will be converted and saved, give attention to the Word of God, which is God's ordinary means to bring about the conversion of souls. Read the Scriptures and other holy writings that apply it, and regularly attend on the public preaching of the Word. As God will lighten the world by the sun, and not by Himself alone without it, so will he convert and save men by his ministers, who are the lights of the world (Acts 26:17-18, Matthew 5:14). When he had miraculously humbled Paul, he sent him to Ananias (Acts 9:10). And when he had sent an angel to Cornelius, it was to tell him to send for Peter, who was to tell him what to believe and do.

Direction 4.  Present yourselves to God in a course of earnest, constant prayer. Confess and lament your former lives, and beg His grace to illuminate and convert you. Plead with Him to pardon what is past, and to give you His Spirit to change your hearts and lives, and lead you in his ways, and save you from temptations.  Do this work daily, and be not weary of it.

Direction 5.  Immediately give over your known and willful sins. Make a stand, and go that way no farther.  Be drunk no more, and even avoid the place and occasion of it. Cast away your lusts and sinful pleasures, and abuse others no more; and, if you have wronged any, restore to them as Zacchaeus did. If you will commit again your old sins, what blessings can you expect on the means for conversion?

Direction 6.   Immediately, if possible, change your company if it has been evil. By this I mean not your necessary relations, but your unnecessary sinful companions, and join yourselves with those that fear the Lord, and speak to them of the way to heaven (Acts 9:19, 26, Psalm 15:4).

Direction 7.   Give yourselves up to the Lord Jesus as the physician of your souls,” that He may pardon you by His blood, and sanctify you by His Spirit, by His Word and ministers, the instruments of the Spirit. He is the way, the truth, and the life; there is no coming to the Father but by Him (John 14:6).  “There is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved” (Acts 4:12). Study therefore His person and nature, and what He has done and suffered for you, and what He is to you, and what He will be, and how He is fitted to the full supply of all your necessities.

Direction 8.  If you mean indeed to turn and live, do it speedily and without delay. If you are not willing to turn today, you are not willing to do it at all.  Remember that you are all this while under the guilt of many thousand sins, and under God’s wrath, and you stand at the very brink of hell; there is a mere step between you and death. And this is not a case for a man in his wits to be quiet in. Rise up therefore immediately, and flee as for your lives, as though your house were on fire over your heads.  O if you only knew what continual danger you live in, and what daily unspeakable loss you sustain, and what a safer and sweeter life you might live, you would not stand trifling, but turn now. Multitudes who willfully delay are undone, even when they are convinced that it must be done. Your lives are short and uncertain, and what a case are you in if you die before you thoroughly turn! You have stayed too long already, and wronged God too long; sin gains strength and rooting while you delay. Your conversion will grow harder and more doubtful. You have much to do, and therefore do not put it off to the last, lest God forsake you, and give you up to yourselves, and then you are undone for ever!

Direction 9.  If you will turn and live, do it unreservedly, absolutely, and universally.  Do not think to merely give in to Christ, and divide your heart between Him and the world, and to part with some sins, and keep the rest; to let go only those which your flesh can spare. This is nothing but self-delusion; you must in heart and resolution forsake all that you have, or else you cannot be his disciples (Luke 14:26, 33). If you will not take God and heaven for your portion, and lay all below at the feet of Christ, but you must also have your good things here, and have an earthly portion, and God and glory are not enough for you, it is in vain to dream of salvation on these terms, for it will not be. Even if you seem ever so religious, if it is only a carnal righteousness, and the flesh’s prosperity, pleasure, and safety are still favored over your devotedness to God, this is as certain a way to death as open profaneness!

Direction 10.  If you will turn and live, do it resolvedly, and do not stand still deliberating, as if it were a doubtful case. Do not stand wavering, as if you were yet uncertain whether God or the flesh is the better master; or whether heaven or hell is the better end; or whether sin or holiness is the better way.  Be not one day of one mind, and the next day of another; but resolvedly give up yourselves, and all you have to God.  Now, even while you are reading or hearing this, resolve. Before you sleep another night, resolve. Before you stir from the place you are in, resolve. Before Satan has time to take you off, resolve. You never turn indeed until you do resolve, and that with a firm unchangeable resolution.

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