By Richard Baxter
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AUTHOR; AND The great Success which attended the CALL when first published.
IT may be proper to prefix an account of this book given by Mr. Baxter himself, which was found in his study after his death, in his own words:
"I published a short treatise on conversion, intitled, A Call to the Unconverted. The occasion of this was my converse with bishop Usher, while I was at London. who, approving my method and directions suited for peace of conscience, was importunate with me to write directions suited to the various states of Christians, and also against particular sins: I reverenced the man, but disregarded these persuasions, supposing I could do nothing but what is done better already: but when he was dead, his words went deeper to my mind, and I purposed to obey his counsel; yet, so as that to the first sort of men, (the ungodly), I thought vehement persuasions meeter than directions only; and so for such I published this little book, which God hath blessed with unexpected success, beyond all the rest that I have written, except "The Saint's Rest." In a little more than a year, there were about twenty thousand of them printed by my own consent, and about ten thousand since; beside many thousands by stolen impressions, which poor men stole for lucre sake.--Through God's mercy, I have information of almost whole households converted by this small book, which I set so light by; and, as if all this in England, Scotland, and Ireland, were not mercy enough to me, God (since I was silenced) hath sent it over on his message to many beyond the seas; for when Mr. Elliot had printed all the Bible in the Indian language, he next translated this my "Call to the Unconverted," as he wrote to us here.--And yet God would make some farther use of it; for Mr. Stoop, the pastor of the French Church in London, being driven hence by the displeasure of his superiors, was pleased to translate it into French. I hope it will not be unprofitable there, nor in Germany, when it is printed in Dutch."
It may be proper further to mention Dr. Bates' account of the author, and of this useful Treatise.--In his sermon at Mr. Baxter's funeral, he thus says: "His books of practical divinity have been effectual for more conversions of sinners to God than any printed in our time: and while the church remains on earth, will be of continual efficacy to recover lost souls.--There is a vigorous pulse in them, that keeps the reader awake and attentive."--His Call to the Unconverted, how small in book, but how powerful in virtue! Truth speaks in it with that authority and efficacy, that it makes the reader to lay his hand upon his heart, and find that he hath a soul and a conscience, though he lived before as if he had none. He told some friends, that six brothers were converted by reading that Call, and that every week he received letters of some converted by his books. This he spake with most humbled thankfulness, that God was pleased to use him as an instrument for the salvation of souls."
Self-denial and contempt of the world were shining graces in him. I never knew any person less indulgent to himself, and more indifferent to his temporal interest.
His patience was truly Christian; he was tried by many afflictions. We are tender of our reputation. His name was obscured under a cloud of detraction: many scandalous darts were thrown at him. He was accused for his Paraphrase upon the New Testament, and condemned, unheard, to a prison, where he remained some years; but he was so far from being moved at the unrighteous prosecution, not he joyfully said to a constant friend, "What could I desire more of God, than having served him to my power, I should be called to suffer for him!"
His pacific spirit was a clear character of his being a child of God. How ardently he endeavoured to cement the breaches amongst us is publicly known. He said to a friend, "I can as willing be a martyr for love as for any article of the creed."--It is strange, to astonishment, that those who agree in the substantial and great points of the reformed religion, and are of different sentiments only in things not so clear, nor of that moment as those wherein they consent, should be of opposite parties.
Death reveals the secrets of the heart; then words are spoken with most feeling and least affectation. This excellent saint was the same in his life and death: his last hours were spent in preparing others and himself to appear before God. He said to his friends that visited him, "You come hither to learn to die, I am not the only person that must go this way: I can assure you, that your whole life, be it ever so long, is little enough to prepare for death. Have a care of this vain deceitful world and the lusts of the flesh: Be sure you choose God for your portion, heaven for your home, God's glory for your end, his word for your rule, and then you need never fear but we shall meet with comfort."
Never was penitent sinner more humble and debasing, never was a sincere believer more calm and comfortable. He acknowledged himself to be the vilest dunghill-worm (it was his usual expression) that ever went to heaven; he admired the divine condescension to man, after saying "Lord, what is man? what am I? a vile worm to the great God!" Many times he prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" and blessed God, that that he was left upon record in the Gospel as an effectual prayer: He said, "God may justly condemn me for the best duty I ever did; and all my hopes are from the free mercy of God in Christ," which he often prayed for.
After a slumber he awaked and said, "I than rest from my labour." A minister then present said, "and your work follow you." To whom he replied "No works! I will leave out works, if God will grant me the other."--When a friend was comforting him with the remembrance of the good many had received by his preaching and writings, he said, "I was but a pen in God's hand, and what praise is due to a pen?"
His resigned submission to the will of God, in his sharp sickness, was eminent. When extremity of pain constrained him earnestly to pray to God for his release by death, he would check himself: "It is not fit for me to prescribe;" and said, "when thou wilt, what thou wilt."
At another time he said, "That he found great comfort and sweetness in repeating the words of the Lord's prayer; and was sorry that some good people were prejudiced against the use of it; for, there were all necessary petitions for soul and body contained in it."
At other times he gave excellent counse1 to young ministers that visited him, and earnestly prayed to God to bless their labours, and make them very successful in converting many souls to Christ; and expressed great joy that they were of moderate peaceful spirits.
During his sickness, when the question was asked, how he did, his reply was, "almost well," His joy was most remarkable when in his own apprehension death was nearest; and his spiritual joy was at length consummate in eternal joy.
Thus lived and died that blessed saint.--I have, without any artificial fiction in words, given a sincere short account of him. All our tears are below the just grief for such an invaluable loss. It is the comfort of his friends that he enjoys a blessed reward in heaven, and hath left a precious remembrance on earth.
Now, blessed be the gracious God, that he was pleased to prolong the life of his servant, so useful and beneficial to the world, to a full age: that he hath brought him slowly and safely to heaven.
I shall conclude this account with my own deliberate wish: "May I live the remainder of my life as entirely to the glory of God as he lived; and when I shall come to the period of my life, may I die in the same blessed peace wherein he died: may I be with him in the kingdom of light and love for ever."
I shall also add Dr. Calamy's account of this Treatise; his words are thus: "In 1657, Mr. Baxter published a Call to the Unconverted; a book blessed by God with marvellous success, in reclaiming persons from their impieties. Twenty thousand of them were printed and dispersed in little more than a year. It was translated into French, and Dutch, and other European languages; and Mr. Elliot translated it into the Indian language; and Mr. Cotton Mather, in his life, gives an account of an Indian prince, who was so well affected with this book, that he sat reading it, with tears in his eyes, till he died."