Resources | Directions for a Peaceful Departure

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.

Follow Your Lord and His Saints Into Death

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 who has triumphed over it. He died to teach us to submit to death boldly, in faith. He was buried to teach us not to fear a grave too much. He rose again to conquer death for us and to assure those who rise to newness of life that they shall be raised at last by His power into glory. Being made partakers of the first resurrection, the second death shall have no power over believers. He lives as our head, that we might live by Him; and that He might assure all those that are here risen with Him and seek first the things that are above that though in themselves they are dead, yet their “real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory” (Col. 3:3-4). What a comfortable word He gives us: “Since I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

Death could not hold the Lord of life; nor can it hold us against His will, who has the “keys of death and the grave” (Rev. 1:18). He loves every one of His sanctified ones much better than you love an eye, or a hand, or any other member of your body, which you are not willing to lose if you are able to save it. When He ascended, He left that comforting message for His followers in John 20:17, “go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Oh what a joyful thought it should be to a believer to think when he is dying that he is going to his Savior, and that our Lord is risen and gone before us, to prepare a place for us, and take us to Himself in due time. He is your Head and Savior, who loves you better than you love yourselves, who appears continually on your behalf before God, and will one day receive your departing souls. It is into His hand that you must then commend them, as Stephen did (Acts 7:59).

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. One sight of God by a blessed soul is worth more than all the kingdoms of earth. It is pleasant to the eyes to behold the sun; but the sun is utter darkness compared to the radiance of His glory.

Look up to the blessed society of angels and saints with Christ, and remember their blessedness and joy; know that you also will belong to the same society and one day will be departing to be numbered with them. We greatly overcome the fear of death by seeing in faith the joys of those who have gone before us. There God will be all in all to us as the only sun and glory of the world; and yet we shall have pleasure, not only to see our glorified Redeemer, but also to converse with this heavenly society, and to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God, and to love and praise Him in consort and harmony with all those holy, blessed spirits.

Shall we be afraid to follow where the saints of all generations have gone before us? Shall the company of our best, and most, and happiest friends be no inducement to us? Though it must be our highest joy to think that we shall dwell with God and next that we shall see the glory of Christ, it is no small part of my comfort to consider that I shall follow all those holy persons whom I once conversed with that are gone before me.

The Holy Spirit, Our Comfort

That sickness and death may be comfortable to you as your passage to eternity, take notice of the seal and earnest of God- the Holy Spirit, full of grace, whom He has put into your heart. The very love of holiness and holy persona and your desires to know God and perfectly love Him do show that heavenly nature or spirit with you, which is your surest evidence for eternal life. That spirit was sent from heaven to draw up your hearts and fit you for it; God does not give you such natures, and desires, and preparations in vain. God would not have given us a heavenly nature or desire if He had not intended us for heaven.

Look also to the testimony of a holy life, since grace has employed you in seeking after the heavenly inheritance. It is unlawful and perilous to look after any works or righteousness of your own; as to imagine that you are innocent, or have fulfilled the law, or have made God a compensation by your merits or sufferings; but yet you must judge yourselves on your sick beds as near as you can as God will judge you. If you say, “But I have been a grievous sinner!” I answer, so was Paul that yet rejoices after in this evidence! Are not those sins repented of and pardoned? If you say, “My whole life has been ungodly, till now at last that God has humbled me.” I answer, it is not the length of time, but the sincerity of your hearts and service that is your evidence. If you came in at the last hour and now you are faithfully devoted to God, you may look with comfort on this change at last, though you must look with repentance on your sinful lives.

Anticipate Your Freedom from Sin

Remember that all mankind is mortal and you are to go the same way that all men who ever came into the world have gone before you (except Enoch and Elias). Remember both how vile your body is and how great an enemy it has proved to your soul; and then you will all 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 glorious bodies like His own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control,” (Phil. 3:20-21). While you are here, you are yourselves defiled; you cannot be free from sin even for a day or even an hour! So is it not a mercy to be delivered from it? You are here every day lamenting your darkness and unbelief and separation from God. How often have you prayed for a cure for all of this! And now would you not have it, when God would give it to you?

Has God on purpose made the world so bitter to us, and permitted it to use as 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? Be fortified against all of 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.

Adapted from Richard Baxter’s sermon, “Directions for a Peaceful Death” as part of our sermon series, “A Theology of Death.” Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was an English Puritan church leader and theologian.