Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
Excerpt from “A Call to the Unconverted”
By this I have said, you may see what it is to be wicked, and what it is to be converted; which, I think, will be yet plainer to you, if I describe them as consisting of their several parts: and for the first, a wicked man may be known by these three things.
First, he is one who places his chief content on earth, and loves the creature more than God, and his fleshly prosperity above the heavenly felicity: He savours the things of the flesh, but neither discerns nor savours the things of the Spirit: though he will say that heaven is better than earth, yet does he not really so esteem it to himself. If he might be sure of earth, he would let go heavens and had rather stay here than be removed thither. A life of perfect holiness, in the sight of God, and in his love and praises for ever in heaven, does not find such liking with his heart, as a life of health, and wealth, and honour here upon earth. And though he falsely profess that he loves God above all, yet indeed he never felt the power of Divine love within him, but his mind is more set on the world, or fleshly pleasures, than on God. In a word, whoever loves earth above heaven, and fleshly prosperity more than God, is a wicked, unconverted man.
On the other side, a converted man is illuminated to discern the loveliness of God; and so far believes the glory that is to be had with God, that his heart is taken up to it, and set more upon it than on anything in this world. He had rather see the face of God, and live in his everlasting love and praises, then have all the wealth or pleasure of the world. He sees that all things else are vanity, and nothing but God can fill the soul; and therefore, let the world go which way it will, he lays up his treasures and hopes in heaven, and for that he is resolved to let go all. As the fire mounts upward, and the needle that is touched with the loadstone still turns to the north, so the converted soul is inclined unto God. Nothing else can satisfy him; nor can he find any content and rest but in his love. In a word, all that are converted do esteem and love God better than all the world; and the heavenly felicity is dearer to them than their fleshly prosperity.
Secondly, a wicked man is one who makes it the principal business of his life to prosper in the world, and attain his fleshy ends. And though he may read and hear, and do much in the outward duties of religion, and forbear disgraceful sins; yet this is all but upon the by, and he never makes it the trade and principal business of his life to please God, and attain everlasting glory, and puts off God with the leavings of the world, and gives him no more service than the flesh can spare; for he will not part with all for heaven.
On the contrary, a converted man is one who makes it the principal care and business of his life to please God, and to be saved, and takes all the blessings of this life but as accommodations in his journey towards another life, and uses the creature in subordination unto God; he loves a holy life, and longs to be more holy; he has no sin but what he hates and longs, and prays, and strives to be rid of. The drift and bent of his life is for God; and if he sin, it is contrary to the very bent of his heart and life, and therefore he rises again, and laments it, and dares not willfully live in any known sin. There is nothing in this world so dear to him, but he can give it up to God, and forsake it for him and the hopes of glory.
Thirdly, the soul of a wicked man did never truly discern and relish the mystery of redemption, nor thankfully entertain an offered Saviour, nor is he taken up with the love of the Redeemer; nor willing to be ruled by him as physician of his soul that he may be saved from the guilt and power of his sins and recovered unto God; but his heart is insensible of this unspeakable benefit, and is quite against the healing means by which he should be recovered. Though he may be willing to be carnally religious, yet he never resigns up his soul to Christ, and to the motions and conduct of his word and Spirit.
On the contrary, the converted soul having felt himself undone by sin, and perceiving that he has lost his peace with God, and hopes of heaven, and is in danger of everlasting misery, does thankfully entertain the tidings of redemption, and believing in the Lord Jesus as his only Saviour, resigns up himself to him for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He takes Christ as the life of his soul, and lives by him, and uses him as his salve for every sore, admiring the wisdom and love of God in this wonderful work of man's redemption. In a word, Christ does even dwell in his heart by faith, and the life that he now lives is by the faith of the Son of God, who has loved him, and gave himself for him. Yea, it is not so much he that lives, as Christ in him.
You see now in plain terms from the word of God, who are the wicked, and who are the converted. Ignorant people think that if a man be no swearer, nor curser, nor ruder, nor drunkard, nor fornicator, nor extortioner, nor wrong any body in their dealings, and if they come to church, and say their prayers, these cannot be wicked men. Or, if a man who has been guilty of drunkedness, or swearing, or gaming, or the like vices, do but forbear them for the time to come, they think that this is a converted man. Others think, if a man who has been an enemy and scorner at godliness do but approve it, and join himself with those who are godly, and be hated for it by the wicked as the godly are, that this must needs be a converted man. And some are so foolish as to think they are converted by taking up some new and false opinion, and falling into some dividing party. And some think, if they have but been affrighted by the fears of hell, and had convictions and gripes of conscience, and thereupon have purposed and promised amendment, and taken up a life of civil behaviour, and outward religion, that this must needs be true conversion. And these are the poor deluded souls that are likely to lose the benefit of all our persuasions; and when they hear that the wicked must turn or die, they think this is not spoken to them; for they are not wicked, but are turned already. And therefore it is that Christ told some of the rulers of the Jews, who were more grave and civil than the common people, that "publicans and harlots do go into the kingdom of God before them." Not that a harlot, or gross sinner can be saved without conversion: but because it was easier to make these gross sinners perceive their sin and misery, and the necessity of a change, when the more civil sort do delude themselves by thinking that they are converted already, when they are not!
O sirs, conversion is another kind of work than most are aware of. It is not a small matter to bring an earthly mind to heaven, and to show man the amiable excellence of God, till he be taken up in such love to him that can never be quenched; to break the heart for sin, and make him fly for refuge to Christ, and thankfully embrace him as the life of his soul; to have the very drift and bent of the heart and life changed; so that a man renounces that which he took for his felicity, and places his felicity where he never did before, and lives not to the same end, and drives not on the same design in the world, as he formerly did. In a word, he that is in Christ is a " new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." (2 Cor. 5:17). He has a new understanding, a new will and resolution, new sorrows, and desires, and love, and delight; new thoughts, new speeches, new company, (if possible) and a new conversation. Sin, that before was a jesting matter with him, is now so odious and terrible to him that he flies from it as from death. The world, that was so lovely in his eyes, does now appear but as vanity and vexation: God, that was before neglected, is now the only happiness of his soul: before he was forgotten, and every lust preferred before him, but now he is set next the heart, and all things must give place to him; the heart is taken up in the attendance and observance of him, is grieved when be hides his face, and never thinks itself well without him. Christ himself, that was wont to be slightly thought of, is now his only hope and refuge, and he lives upon him as on his daily bread; he cannot pray without him, nor rejoice without him, nor think, nor speak, nor live without him. Heaven itself, that before was looked upon but as a tolerable reserve, which he hoped might serve his turn better than hell, when he could not stay any longer in the world, is now taken for his home, the place of his only hope and rest: where he shall see, and love, and praise that God that has his heart already. Hell, that did seem before but as a bugbear to frighten men from sin, does now appear to be a real misery that is not to be ventured on, nor jested with. The works of holiness, of which before he was weary, and thought to be more than needful, are now both his recreation, and his business, and the trade that he lives upon. The Bible, which was before to him but almost as a common book, is now as the law of God; as a letter written to him, and subscribed with the name or the Eternal Majesty; it is the rule of his thoughts, and words, and deeds; the commands are binding, the threats are dreadful, and the promises of it speak life to his soul. The godly, that seemed to him but like other men are now the most excellent and happy on earth. And the wicked that were his playfellows are now his grief; and he that could laugh at their sins is readier now to weep for their sin and misery, and to say with those of old, (Psalm 16:3; 15:4; Phil. 3:18) "But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight." "In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honors them that fear the Lord: he that swears to his own hurt, and changes not." "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ." In short, he has a new end in his thoughts and a new way in his endeavors, and therefore his heart and life are new. Before, his carnal self was his end, and his pleasure and worldly profits and credit were his way; and now God and everlasting glory are his end, and Christ, and the Spirit, and word, and ordinances. Holiness to God, and righteousness and mercy to men, these are his way. Before, self was the chief ruler, to which the matters of God and conscience must stoop and give place; and now God, in Christ, by the Spirit, word and ministry, is the chief ruler, to whom both self and all the matters of self must give place. So that this is not a change in one, or two, or twenty points, but in the whole soul, and in the very end and bent of the conversation. A man may step out of one path into another, and yet have his face the same way, and be still going toward the same place; but it is another matter to turn quite back, and take his journey quite the contrary way, to a contrary place. So it is here; a man may turn from drunkenness, and forsake other gross disgraceful sins, and set upon some duties of religion, and yet be still going to the same end as before, loving his carnal self above all, and giving it still the government of his soul; but when he is converted, this self is denied, and taken down, and God is set up, and his face is turned the contrary way: and he that before was addicted to himself and lived to himself is now, by sanctification, devoted to God, and lives unto God. Before, he asked himself what he should do with his time, his parts, and his estate, and for himself he used them; but now he asks God what he shall do with them, and use them for him. Before, he would please God so far as might accord with the pleasure of his flesh and carnal self but not to any great displeasure of them; but now he will please God, let flesh and self be never so much displeased. This is the great change that God will make upon all that shall be saved.
What state is my soul in? Am I converted, or am I not? Was ever such a change or work done upon my soul? Have I been illuminated by the word and Spirit of the Lord to see the odiousness of sin, the need of a Savior, the love of Christ, and the excellence of God and glory? Is my heart broken or humbled within me for my former life? Have I thankfully entertained my Savior and Lord that offered himself with pardon and life for my soul? Do I hate my former sinful life and the remnant of every sin that is in me? Do I fly from them as my deadly enemies? Do I give up myself to a life of holiness and obedience to God? Do I love it and delight in it? Can I truly say that I am dead to the world, and carnal self; and that I live for God and the glory which he has promised? Has heaven more of my estimation and resolution than earth? And is God the dearest and highest in my soul? Once I am sure I lived principally to the world and flesh, and God had nothing but some heartless services, which the world could spare, and which were the leavings of the flesh. Is my heart now turned another way? Have I a new design and a new end, and a new train of holy affections? Have I set my hopes and heart in heaven? And is it not the scope, and design, and bent of my heart, to get well to heaven, and see the glorious face of God, and live in his love and praise? And when I sin, is it against the habitual bent and design of my heart? And do I conquer all gross sins, and am I weary and willing to be rid of my infirmities? This is the state of converted souls. And thus it must be with me, or I must perish. Is it thus with me indeed, or is it not? It is time to get this doubt resolved, before the dreadful Judge resolve it. I am not such a stranger to my own heart and life, but I may somewhat perceive whether I am thus converted or not. If I be not, it will do me no good to flatter my soul with false conceits and hopes. I am resolved no more to deceive myself, but endeavor to know truly whether I be converted or not: that if I be, I may rejoice in it, and glorify my gracious Lord, and comfortably go on till I reach the crown: and If I am not, I may set myself to beg and seek after the grace that should convert me, and may turn without any more delay. For, if I find in time that I am out of the way, by the help of Christ I may turn and be recovered; but if I stay till either my heart be forsaken of God in blindness or hardness, or till I be caught away by death, it is then too late. There is no place for repentance and conversion then. I know it must be now or never.
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