Richard Baxter gives us great help in his directions for a peaceful death, as he encourages and instructs us to think God’s thoughts after him and so face death with His peace. These are an abridged version with the main points. The English is a bit old fashioned, but this is a good thing, which helps us slow down as we read and so to really take in what Baxter wants for his anxious flock.
Comfort is not desirable only as it pleases us, but also as it strengthens us, and helps us in our greatest duties. And when is it more needful than in sickness, and the approach of death? I shall therefore add such directions as are necessary to make our departure comfortable or peaceful at the least, as well as safe.
Direct. II. Misunderstand not sickness, as if it were a greater evil than it is; but observe how great a mercy it is, that death has so suitable a harbinger or forerunner: that God should do so much before he takes us hence, to wean us from the world, and make us willing to be gone; that the unwilling flesh has the help of pain; and that the senses and appetite languish and decay, which did draw the mind to earthly things: and that we have so loud a call, and so great a help to true repentance and serious preparation! Ordinarily it is a mercy to have the flesh brought down and weakened by painful sickness, to help to conquer our natural unwillingness to die.
Direct. III. Remember whose messenger sickness is, and who it is that calls you to die. It is he, that is the Lord of all the world, and gave us the lives which he takes from us… You cannot deny him to be the disposer of all things, without denying him to be God: it is he that loves us, and never meant us any harm in any thing that he has done to us; that gave the life of his Son to redeem us; and therefore thinks not life too good for us. Our sickness and death are sent by the same love that sent us a Saviour, and sent us the powerful preachers of his word, and sent us his Spirit, and secretly and sweetly changed our hearts, and knit them to himself in love; which gave us a life of precious mercies for our souls and bodies, and has promised to give us life eternal; and shall we think, that he now intends us any harm? Cannot he turn this also to our good, as he has done many an affliction which we have complained about?
Direct. IV. Look by faith to your dying, buried, risen, ascended, glorified Lord. Nothing will more powerfully overcome both the poison and the fears of death, than the believing thoughts of him that has triumphed over it. Is it terrible as it separates the soul from the body? So it did by our Lord, who yet overcame it.
Direct. V. Choose out some promises most suitable to your condition, and roll them over and over in your mind, and feed and live on them by faith.
Direct. VI. Look up to God, who is the glory of heaven, and the light, and life, and joy of souls, and believe that you are going to see his face, and to live in the perfect, everlasting fruition of his fullest love among the glorified.
Direct. VII. Look up to the blessed society of angels and saints with Christ, and remember their blessedness and joy, and that you also belong to the same society, and are going to be numbered with them. It will greatly overcome the fears of death, to see by faith the joys of them that have gone before us; and withal to think of their relation to us; as it will encourage a man that is to go beyond sea, if the far greatest part of his dearest friends be gone before him, and he bears of their safe arrival, and of their joy and happiness.
Direct. VIII. That sickness and death may be comfortable to you, as your passage to eternity, take notice of the seal and earnest of God, even the Spirit of grace which he has put into your heart. That which emboldened Paul and such others to groan after immortality, and to “be most willing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord,” was because God himself “wrought or made them for it, and given them the earnest or pledge of his Spirit,” 2 Cor. 5:4,5,8.
Direct. X. When you see any of this evidence of your interest in Christ appeal to him to acquit you from all the sin that can be charged on you; for all that believe in him are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” Rom. 8:1. Whatever sin a penitent believer has committed, he is not chargeable with it; Christ has undertaken to answer for it, and justify him from it; and therefore look not on it with terror, but with Penitent shame, and believing thankfulness, as that which shall tend to the honour of the Redeemer, and not to the condemnation of the sinner. He has borne our transgressions and we are healed by his stripes.
Direct. XI. Look back upon all the mercies of your lives, and think whence they came and what they signify. Love tokens are to draw your hearts to him that sent them; these are dropped from heaven, to entice you thither! If God has been so good to you on earth, what will he be in glory! If he so blessed you in this wilderness, what will he do in the land of promise! It greatly emboldens my soul to go to that God, that has so tenderly loved me, and so graciously preserved me, and so much abounded in all sorts of mercies to me through all my life. Surely he is good that so delights to do good! And his presence must be sweet, when his distant mercies have been so sweet! What love shall I enjoy when perfection has fitted me for his love, who has tasted of so much in this state of sin and imperfection! The sense of mercy will banish the fears and misgivings of the heart.
Direct. XIII. Remember that all mankind are mortal, and you are to go no other way than all that ever came into the world have gone before you (except Enoch and Elias).
Direct. XIV. Remember both how vile your body is, and how great an enemy it has proved to your soul; and then you will the more patiently bear its dissolution. It is not your dwelling-house, but your tent or prison, that God is pulling down. And yet even this vile body, when it is corrupted, shall at last be changed “into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body, by the working of his irresistible power,” Phil. 3:20,21. And it is a flesh that has so rebelled against the spirit, and made your way to heaven so difficult, and put the soul to so many conflicts, that we should more easily submit it to the will of justice, and let it perish for a time, when we are assured that mercy will it last recover it.
Direct. XV. Remember what a world it is that you are to leave, and compare it with that which you are going to; and compare the life which is near an end, with that which you are next to enter upon… Is a wicked world, a malicious world, a cruel world, an implacable world, more pleasing to us, than the joy of angels, and the sight of Christ, and God himself in the majesty of his glory? Has God on purpose made the world so bitter to us, and permitted it to use us unjustly and cruelly, and all to make us love it less, and to drive home our hearts unto himself? And yet are we so unwilling to be gone?
Direct. XVI. Settle your estates early, that worldly matters may not distract or discompose you. And if God has endowed you with riches, dispose of a due proportion to such pious or charitable uses, in which they may be most serviceable to him that gave them you. Though we should give what we can in the time of life and health, yet many that have but so much as will serve to their necessary maintenance, may well part with that to good uses at their death, which they could not spare in the time of their health: especially they that have no children, or such wicked children, as are like to do hurt with all that is given them above their daily bread.
Direct. XVII. If it may be, get some able, faithful guide and comforter to be with you in your sickness, to counsel you, and resolve your doubts, and pray with you, and discourse of heavenly things, when you are disabled by weakness for such exercises yourselves. Let not carnal persons disturb you with their vain babblings. Though the difference between good company and bad, be very great in the time of health, yet now in sickness it will be more discernible. And though a faithful friend and spiritual pastor be always a great mercy, yet now especially in your last necessity. Therefore make use of them as far as your pain and weakness will permit.
Direct. XVIII. Be fortified against all the temptations of Satan by which he uses to assault men in their extremity: stand it out in the last conflict, and the crown is yours.