Page images

2. Live in communion with a suffering Christ: study well the whole life and nature of his sufferings, and the reason of them, and think how desirable it is to be conformed to him. Thus, look to Jesus, that for the joy that was set before him, despised the shame, and endured the cross, and the contradiction of sinners against himself. Dwell upon this example, that the image of a humbled, suffering Christ being deeply imprinted on thy mind, may draw thy heart into a more just relish of à mortified state. Sure he is no good Christian that thinks it not better to live as Christ did, (in holy poverty and sufferings in the world,) than as Cresus, or Cæsar, or any such worldling and selfpleaser lived. Die daily by following Jesus with your cross, and when you a have a while suffered with him, he will make you perfect, and receive your spirits, and you shall reign with him : it wonderfully prepareth for a comfortable death to live in the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. He is most likely to die quietly, patiently, and joyfully, that can first be poor, be neglected, be scorned, be wronged, be slandered, be imprisoned, quietly, patiently, and joyfully. If you were but at Jerusalem, you would, with some love and pleasure, go up Mount Olivet, and think ‘Christ went this very way. You would love to see the place where he was was born, the way which he went when he carried his cross, the holy grave where he was buried, (where there is a temple which pilgrims use to visit, from whence they use to bring the mark as a pleasing badge of honour,) but how much more of Christ is there in our suffering for his cause and truth, and in following him in a mortified, self-denying life, than in following him in the path that he hath trodden upon earth? His enemies saw his cross, his grave; his mother, his person. This did not heal their sinful souls, and make thein happy; but the cross that he calleth us to bear is a life of suffering for righteousness' sake; in which he commandeth us to rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, because our reward is great in heaven, though all manner of evil be spoken of us salsely by men on earth. (Matt. v. 11, 12.) This is called a being partakers of Christ's sufferings, in which we are commanded to rejoice, “ that, when his glory shall be revealed, we may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter iv. 13.) And as “the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth by Christ.” (2 Cor. i. 5.) Till we come up to a life of willing mortification, and pleased, contented suffering with Christ, we are in the lower form of his school, and, as children, shall tremble

at that which should not cause our terror; and, through misapprehensions of the case of a departing soul, shall be afraid of that which should be our joy. I am not such an enemy to the esteem of relics, but if one could show me the


stocks that Paul and Silas sat in when they sung psalms in their imprisonment, (Acts. xvi.) I could be contented to be put (for the like cause) into the same stocks, with a special willingness and pleasure, how much more should we be willing to be conformed to our suffering Lord in a spirit and life of true mortification ?

3. Hold communion also with his suffering members : desire not to dwell in the tents of wickedness, nor to be planted among them that flourish for time, that they may be destroyed for ever. (Psalm scii. 6,7.) I had rather have Bradford's heart and faggot than Bonner's bishopric. It was holy Stephen, and not those that stoned him, that saw heaven opened, and the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, (Acts vii. 56,) and that could joyfully say, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He liveth not by faith (though he may be a hanger-on that keepeth up some profession for fear of being damned) who chooseth not rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, and esteemeth not the very reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of the world, as having respect to the recompense of reward. (Heb. xi, 25, 26.)

4. Live as if heaven were open to your sight, and then doat upon the delights of worldlings if you can. Then love a life of fleshly case and honour, better than to be with Christ, if you

But of this I have spoken at large in other writings. Christian, make it the study and business of thy life to learn to do thy last work well, that work which must be done but once; that so death, which transmits unholy souls into utter darkness and despair, may deliver thy spirit into thy Redeemer's hands, to be received to his glory, according to that blessed promise, John xii. 26. And while I am in the flesh beg the same mercy

for Thy brother and companion in tribulation, And in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,

RICHARD BAXTER London, Jan. 31, 1661.



ACTS vii. 59.

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

The birth of nature, and the new birth of grace,

in their measure resemble the death of saints, which is the birth of glory, It is a bitter-sweet day, a day that is mixed of sorrow and joy, when nature must quit its familiar guest, and yield to any of these changes. Our natural birth is not without the throes, and pain, and groanings of the mother, though it transmit the child into a more large, and lightsone, and desirable habitation. Our spiritual birth is not without its humbling and heartpiercing sorrows; and when we are brought out of darkness into the marvellous light, we leave our old companions in displeasure, whom we forsake, and our flesh repining at the loss of its sensual delights. And our passage into glory is not without those pangs

and fears which must needs be the attendants of a pained body, ready to be dissolved, and a soul that is going through so strait a door into a strange, though a most blessed place; and it leaveth our lamenting friends behind, that feel their loss, and would longer have enjoyed our company, and see not (though they believe) the glory of the departed soul. And this is our case that are brought hither this day, by an act of Providence sad to us, though joyous to our departed friend; by a voice that hath called her into glory, and called us into this mourning plight : even us that rejoice in the thoughts of her felicity, and are not so cruel as to wish her again into this corruptible flesh, and calamitous world, from the glorious presence of the Lord ; and yet should have kept her longer from it, for our own and others' sakes, if our wisdom had been fit to rule, or our wills to be fulfilled, or if our prayers must have been answered, according to the measure of our failing apprehensions, or precipitant desires. But folly must submit to the

incomprehensible wisdom, and the desire of the creature must stoop to the will of the Creator. The interest of Christ must be preferred when he calleth for his own, and our temporary interest must give place : flesh must be silent and not contend, and dust must not dare to question God; he knoweth best when his fruit is ripe, and though he will allow our moderate sorrows, he will not so much damnify his saints as to detain them with us from their joyful rest till we are content to let

them go.

Thus also did blessed Stephen depart from glory to glory; from a distant sight of the glory of God, and of Jesus standing at his right hand, into the immediate presence and fruition of that glory. But yet he must pass the narrow port; enraged malice muist stone him till he die, and he must undergo the pains of martyrdom before he reach to the glory which he had seen. And when he was arrived in safety, he leaveth his brethren scattered in the storm, and devout men make great lamentation at his burial. (Acts viii. 2.) Though it is probable by the ordinary acceptation of the word ävàpes củhabers, that they were not professed Christians, but devout proselytes, (such as Cornelius and the Æthiopian eunuch were,) that buried and thus lamented Stephen, as knowing him to be an excellent person, cruelly murdered by the raging Jews, yet their example, in a case 'not culpable, but commendable, may be imitated by believers, upon condition that, with our sense of the excellency of the persons,

and of our loss by their removal, we exceed them that had but a darker revelation in our joyful sense of the felicity of the translated souls.

The occasion of the death of this holy man was partly that he surpassed others, as being full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost; and partly that he plainly rebuked the blind and furious persecuting zeal of the Jews, and bore a most resolute testimony of Christ. It is an ill time when men must suffer because they are good, and deserve not suffering, but reward ; and they are an unhappy people that have no more grace or wit but to fight against heaven, and set themselves under the strokes of God's severest justice, by persecuting them that are dear to Christ, and faithfully perform their duty. It is no strange thing for the zeal and interest of a faction to make men mad; so mad as implacably to rage against the offspring of heaven, and to hate men because they are faithful to their great Master, and because they are against their faction; so mad as to think that

the interest of their cause requireth them to destroy the best with the greatest malice, because they stand most in their way, and to forget that Christ, the revenger of his elect, doth take all as done to him that is done to them ; so mad as to forget all the terrible threatenings of God, and terrible instances of his avenging justice against the enemies of his servants, whom he taketh as his own, and to ruin their own reputations by seeking to defame the upright, whose names God is engaged to honour, and whose righteousness shall shine forth as the sun, when foolish malignity hath done its worst. When Christ had pleaded bis cause effectually with Saul, that was one of the persecutors of Stephen, he maketh him confess that he was Wepitoãs empeceivóuevos, exceedingly, excessively, or beyond measure mad against the Christians.

But this blessed protomartyr, in despite of malice, doth safely and joyfully pass through all their rage to heaven. By killing him they make him more than conqueror, and send him to receive his crown. And he shuts up all the action of his life in imitation of his suffering Lord with a twofold request to heaven, the one for himself that his spirit may be received, the other for his persecutors, that this sin may not be laid to their charge ; (Acts vii. 59, 60;) for so you may find Christ did before him, " Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and, “ Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke xxiii. 34, 46.) Only Christ directeth his prayer immediately to the Father, and Stephen to Christ, as being one that had a mediator, when Christ had none, as needing none, and being row bearing witness, by his suffering, to Christ, and therefore it was seasonable to direct his prayer to him, but especially because it was an act of mediation that he petitioneth for, and therefore directeth his petition to the mediator.

This first request of this dying saint, which I have chosen to handle, as suitable and seasonable for our instruction at this time, in a few words containeth not a few exceeding useful, wholesome truths.

As, I. It is here plainly intimated that Jesus Christ is exalted in glory, in that he hath power to receive departed souls.

II. That Christ is to be prayed to, and that it is not our duty to direct all our prayers only to the Father. Especially those things that belong to the office of the mediator, as interceding for us in the heavens, must be requested of the mediator. And those things which belong to the Father to give for the sake of

« PreviousContinue »