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Baxter’s A Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Repent is a brutal little book. Not brutal in style like Owen.
Baxter’s is an unflinching prosecutor of the wicked. A man who approaches their conversion and condemnation like their life depended on it.
Which it does.
The Quick and Dirty
The book starts off with a bang. The subtitle reads:
To all unsanctified Persons that shall read this Book; especially of my Hearers in the Borough and Parish of Kiaderminster.
Did you catch that? Heathens.
Mr. Baxter is pulling no punches. He’s levelled his scope. And is ready to fire.
That pleased this curmudgeon to no end. I can’t tell–
What’s that? It doesn’t say heathens? It says hearers?
(This reviewer did think for a long time that is exactly what it said. Did I show my hand? Cooler heads need to prevail.)
A Call to the Unconverted is broken down into an introduction and three sermons.
In my opinion the introduction is crown jewel of the book (which I will explain below), while the sermons are robust. However, they read like transcripts.
Then there are the questions. Four hundred and eighty-three in ninety-one pages. That is only five questions a page, but they are not evenly distributed that way.
They come in packets. Like a jack hammer.
Let’s get started.
Introduction to A Call to the Unconverted
The firs thing that Baxter does is define “the call,” and it is this: warning sinners to repent from their sins and misery and to turn to Jesus who bought them with His blood and is offering them everlasting glory with God.
One reason this section is golden is Baxter’s compassion for the lost comes through in his intensity of language. He suggests that he speaks as someone who has come back from the dead–and knows the awful fate that awaits the wicked.
Note his language. He mentions the “everlasting plagues prepared for the final neglectors of salvation.” He sees the “dreadful day at hand, when your sorrows will begin, and you must lament all this with fruitless cries in torment and desperation; and then the remembrance of your folly will tear your hearts, if true conversion now prevent it not.”
This section is also golden because of Baxter’s relentless laying on of sinners.
At one point he makes a list of the troubles that wicked people cause and the wreckage they leave behind: family and friends, civil and religious .
This is not a seeker-sensitive sermon. It reminds me of Yochelson’s approach to reforming criminals: never yielding one inch to their self-pity or lame excuses.
All their misery and torment (past, present and future) is all on their head–and their head alone. And Baxter is going to let them know that.
He appeals to them “As a thief, that sits merrily spending the money in an alehouse which he hath stolen, when men are riding in post-haste to apprehend him, so it is with you.”
And therefore he high commanded us to call after you, and tell you how you lose your labour, and are about to lose your souls, and to tell you what greater and better things you might certainly have, if you would hearken to his Call.
You will not find an appeal to Francis of Assisi or a suggestion that people don’t care what you know until they know you care.
Baxter cares. For what truly matters. And he speaks as one who cannot sleep until he warns the wicked.
Baxter’s first sermon tackles a tough question. One you know the unconverted are asking: Who sends the wicked to hell?
Baxter points out this is a natural question to ask:
If we saw a man killed and cut in pieces we would presently ask, “Oh! who did this cruel deed?” If the town was wilfully set on fire, you would ask, “what wicked wretch did this?” So when we read that most will be firebrands of hell for ever, we must needs think with ourselves, how comes this to pass? and who is it long of? who is it that is so cruel as to be the cause of such a thing as this?
Our instinct is to blame God. He is sovereign. All powerful. Provident and all-knowing. Should he not catch the blame for sending the wicked to hell?
And is he not merciful? Would he dare “damn men everlastingly for so small a thing as a sinful life?”
Baxter’s response is unequivocal: you will never know how evil sin is until you fully comprehend the excellencies of the God to whom you have sinned.
And does it not seem right to punish the child for foul language, excommunicate the parishioner for blasphemy or the criminal for theft? Thus it is right that the wicked are punished for their sin against God.
But who are the wicked?
The wicked man is someone who “places his chief content on earth, and loveth the creature more than God, his fleshly prosperity above the heavenly felicity.”
The wicked man believes his purpose on life is to maximize his present pleasure and to neglect the sweet gift of redemption.
Contrast this to the converted: “the drift and bent of his life is for God.” If he sins, he laments. He loves God more than the world.
In this chapter Baxter attempts to reason with the unconverted, answering objections and bringing arguments. This section is loaded with questions. And he reasons from the Bible.
But, for a man to forsake the Lord that made Him, and to run into the fire of hell, when he is told of it, and intreated to turn that he may be saved; this is a thing that can have no reason in the world, that is reason indeed, to justify or excuse it. For heaven will pay for the loss of any thing that we can lose to get it; but nothing can pay for the loss of heaven.
In his reasoning with the wicked, Baxter realizes the madness in their rejection of redemption. Why do they run toward evil when they are warned of the consequences. The rapid-fire questions only intensify his concern:
Mark the Lord’s question, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” Is eternal death a thing to be desired? Are you in love with hell? What reason have you wilfully to perish? If you think you have reason to sin, should you not remember that “death is the wages of sin,” Rom. vi. 23.
So, in the end, it is their refusal of redemption that send so many to hell:
But yet, for all that, it is most true which God here teacheth us, that the cause, why the wicked die and are damned, is, because, they will die and be damned. And this is true in several respects.
It is just as if you would say, “I will drink this poison, but you I will not die. I will cast myself headlong from the top of a steeple, but yet I will not kill myself.—100I will thrust this knife into my heart, but yet I will not take away my life. I will put this fire into the thatch of my house, but yet I will not burn it.”—Just so it is with wicked men; they will be wicked, and they will live after the flesh and the world, and yet they would not be damned.
The wicked, and their wicked acts, say, “We will be damned.” Yet the preacher still pleads with them.
Sermon three can be summed up in this line:
O wilful miserable sinners! It is not God that is cruel to you; it is you that are cruel to yourselves.
Baxter attempts to persuade the wicked to turn and repent by indicating the ways in which repentance will bring happiness, namely the promise of living in a renewed creation with Christ forever in an incorruptible body free of pain and sorrow.
And the clincher: in spite of your degree of wickedness, God has offered a free pardon of all your sins: “he hath written this in his word, and sealed it by his Spirit, and sent it by his ministers; they have made the offer to you, (many a time) and called you to accept it, and to turn to God.”
The preacher is simply fulfilling that role.
Baxter’s Introduction is written to be read. His sermons, to be heard. But that doesn’t explain why they lack the concrete and creative language seen in the Introduction.
I could re-read the Introduction every day. The sermons once a year (that’s still pretty good).
And Compared to Chandler’s Explicit Gospel, Baxter’s is not fully informed. It is focused upon the sinner repenting in the face of impending doom. Creation doesn’t come into play nor does consummation.
It is simply an unapologetic declaration of the consequences of sin. One that should not be ignored.
Have you read Call to the Unconverted? Am I on or off target? Do you want to read it now? Any other suggestions? I’m listening.