13. Citizen of Heaven

Set your mind on the things above,not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God

Colossians 3: 2 & 3

but now I had rather read, hear or meditate, on God and Heaven, than on any other Subject: for I perceive that it is the Object that altereth and elevateth the Mind…that it must animate all our other Duties; and fortifie us against every Temptation and Sin…

Richard Baxter1

These words, penned near the end of Richard Baxter’s life provide us with the key to the incredible depth of his devotional life and, in turn, his success as a pastor. Like another noted psalmist and shepherd who lived in Jerusalem thousands of years ago, Baxter delighted in meditating upon God, His Word, and majestic throne room. He really did know God.

Baxter counted himself blessed to realize at an early age what Paul meant when he instructed the believers at Colossae to “…keep seeking the things above, where Christ is…”2 As a young army chaplain, the rigour of weeks of travel on horseback and sleeping out of doors, along with hours of preaching and personal pastoral care, stretched Baxter’s frail body to the breaking point. He experienced a complete breakdown in 1647. In “a cold and snowy season” Baxter began to bleed from the nose until he had lost nearly two quarts of blood. His physician’s questionable countermeasures further weakened his body to the point that he was physically unrecognizable to his friends. He was left languishing for five months in the homes of friends with no book but the Bible, spending hours in heavenly meditation to prepare for his certain death.

Not one to waste time, he began writing down his meditations for the benefit of others after his death. Weeks passed and Baxter slowly recovered. His notes became a series of sermons and eventually evolved into The Saints’ Everlasting Rest , his first published work and an enormous bestseller.

From that time forward, Baxter vowed to spend at least one hour of every remaining day in meditation upon the scenes and activities in heaven described in the Scriptures. All other duties might be crowded out of his busy day, but he jealously guarded his hour enjoying the benefits of his membership in the family of God and citizenship in His heavenly dominion. Afterwards, he felt resuscitated, reoriented, and invigorated for the accomplishment of his myriad tasks. This heavenly meditation was not optional; Baxter needed to know God intimately:

Frequency in heavenly contemplation is particularly important to prevent a shyness between God and thy soul. Frequent society breeds familiarity, and familiarity increases love and delight, and makes us bold in our address. The chief end of this duty is, to have acquaintance and fellowship with God…3

The Bible was the object of his meditation, for he knew that it is “our Belief of the Truth of the Word of God, and the Life to come, which is the Spring that sets all Grace on Work…” Conversely, he noted, “I observed easily in my self that if at any time Satan did more than at other times weaken my Belief of Scripture, and the Life to come, my Zeal in every religious Duty abated with it and I grew more indifferent…”4

Baxter’s “love and delight” in God was the firm foundation which prevented him from becoming bitter from pain and persecution, stuffy from years of learning, and haughty or proud from his great achievements. His devotional life seemed to radiate until those around him were affected in the same way. Time spent with his Father made Baxter a man of prayer and praise and his “heavenly mindedness” was a powerful influence upon God’s people as well. If one is to be an effective, dynamic Christian leader, then this principle, illustrated in Richard Baxter, must be embodied in us. Our private, hidden relationship with our Heavenly Father will deeply impact the lives of those in our charge; positively or negatively..

The once depraved town of Kidderminster slowly came to admire and imitate the very man they once ridiculed in effigy at their riotous fairs. Particularly conspicuous was their faithfulness in prayer, both public and private. In a day when most prayers were recited from the Book of Common Prayer, Baxter preferred to pray “without a form” because “it is easier to me to pray or preach six hours in freedome, about things which I understand, than to pray or preach the tenth part of an hour in the fetters of a form of words which I must not vary.”5 His example inspired others to pray from their hearts, too.

It is impossible to overlook Baxter’s excitement in detailing a number of answers to the prayers of his neighbors, “a few humble Weavers and other Tradesmen only, and no Minister with them…”

Many a time have I been brought very low, and received the Sentence of Death in my self, when my poor, honest, praying Neighbours have met, and upon their fasting and earnest Prayers I have been recovered.6

Baxter’s catalogue began with his recollection of an event which seemed to begin an outpouring of miraculous, merciful answers to prayer. A tumor appeared on one of his tonsils, which began growing larger and “hard like a Bone.” After treating it for a few months with both remedies and entreaties, Baxter was suddenly stricken in his conscience that he had never publicly thanked God for His faithfulness in delivering him so many times from past illnesses. After preaching on God’s promises of hearing and answering our prayers, the tumor suddenly vanished.7

Besides the answered prayers in his own life, he writes of “A grave and honest Widow, Mrs. Giles,” whose son was given to severe epileptic seizures. All of the physician’s efforts were in vain, so the people of Kidderminster came together for a day of fasting and prayer. The young man was “suddenly cured, and never had a Fit since to this Day…”

And, then there was Richard Cook who “fell quite Mad” for over ten years. Some men of Kidderminster decided to fast and pray for Mr. Cook in his home, but Baxter sought to discourage them. He had no hope that Mr. Cook would be cured and feared the men would lose faith and abandon prayer altogether. However, “…some of these Men would not be dissuaded, but would Fast and Pray at his House with great importunity; and Many months they continued it (once a Fortnight, or thereabouts)…” Eventually, Mr. Cook recovered, to Baxter’s surprise and wonder! He never again doubted his Father’s promise to hear and answer the requests of his humble children.

Baxter appears to have related well to the adolescents in the parish and his influence upon “the younger sort” was truly remarkable. Each Saturday evening, a number of the young people of Kidderminster met privately in homes. They discussed the sermon from the previous Lord’s Day, prepared themselves for the next, and joined together in intercessory prayer for three hours. These meetings and the movement of the Holy Spirit which followed, prepared the spiritual soil for a revival in Kidderminster which produced delicious fruit for generations to come.

The spiritual depth and commitment of these young Christians at Kidderminster should cause us to wonder if we are not selling our own children short, by seeking to attract them too often with “teen” activities? Is it possible that young Christians in our modern world may actually have the same deep desire to know God intimately, to come together in prayer, and to understand His Word as those at Kidderminster did 300 years ago? Perhaps our “pop-Christian” traditions are simply a prop for our lack of belief, that the Holy Spirit can lead our children to live a godly life.

Baxter’s “love and delight” in God was also apparent in public worship on Sunday mornings. This is one of the few areas in which Baxter broke ranks with his Puritan brethren, when most sought to make public worship a plain and solemn affair, removing organs from chapels and limiting singing to the Psalms, without accompaniment.

Central to the Puritan service was the “regular prophesying” or preaching, by a man of God. Frederick Powicke points out that the Puritans were right in insisting upon this regular teaching from God’s Word “…which the Church and State so shortsightedly tried to suppress. It was their vital point of difference from the ceremonialists…” But, “The result in many cases was a degradation of the idea of worship from which the Churches, that boast a Puritan descent, have not yet recovered.”8 Baxter, however, held a much loftier view of the place of praises sung to music in public worship. He was no “dry as dust” preacher:

For myself I confess that Harmony and Melody are the pleasure and elevation of my Soul, and have made a Psalm of Praise in the holy Assembly the chief delightful Exercise of my Religion and my Life.9 Methinks, when we are singing the praises of God in the great assemblies with joyful and fervent spirits, I have the liveliest foretaste of heaven upon earth…10

Baxter was the quintessential Puritan pastor, earnest for souls and a serious preacher. However, on the Lord’s Day he was anything but gloomy and he made the lively worship of the Savior the focus of all activity. The order of service at St. Mary’s chapel in Kidderminster shows that Baxter followed the general form adopted by most churches in England with one notable exception; More time was devoted to prayer and the singing of praises. In fact, addressing other ministers, Baxter suggested that they teach more often during the week, so that their Sunday sermon may be shortened and the greater part of the service spent in singing “Psalms and solemn Praises to our Redeemer.”11

In answer to those who limited singing to the Psalms, Baxter pointed out that there was nothing unscriptural “if Hymns and Psalms of Praise were new invented, as fit for the state of the gospel, Church, and Worship…as David’s Psalms were fitted to the former state and infancy of the Church.”12  God has given Christians a new song, reasoned Baxter, so it was only fitting that new hymns be written, praising God for his acts of deliverance in more recent memory.

It is common for the church in each age to question those aspects of the Sunday assembly which may appear tedious and unimportant. Those of us who lament that our own worship is lifeless and irrelevant, would be wise to examine our attitude in light of Baxter’s directions for worship, composed over 300 years ago. The coming together of the church is to be approached with an spirit of celebration:

The Lords day is a day of Joy and Thanksgiving, and the Praises of God are the highest and holyest employment upon Earth. And if ever you should do any thing with all your might, and with a joyful and triumphing frame of soul, it is this.

The thankful and praiseful Commemoration of the work of mans Redemption, is the special work of the day: and the celebrating of the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ…was part of these laudatory exercises and used every Lords day by the Primitive Church…13

Yes, Baxter longed for eternity in heaven, to be employed in praising and worshipping God. What Christian does not? But, Baxter had a divine impatience and he would not be put off until death to experience God’s presence. He recognized that an eternity of praise and worship begins the moment a sinner comes to Christ and is set free.

By contrast, Baxter’s heavenly life makes even the most pious among modern Christians appear as spiritual dwarfs. Yet, the importance of daily praise and meditation was not immediately recognized even by Baxter himself. While still in his thirties, Baxter had written many times of the necessity of praising God daily and he pleaded “…let praises have a larger room in thy duties…”14 However, nearly twenty years later, he was compelled to confess:

Then I was little sensible of the greatness and excellency of Love and Praise; though I coldly spake the same words in its commendations… But my Conscience now looketh at Love and delight in God, and praising him, as the top of all my Religious Duties, for which it is that I value and use the rest.15

How often have we resolved to spend more “quiet time” with our Lord or exhorted others with Paul’s words to the Colossians to meditate upon heavenly things, when we ourselves are strangers to any such practice. In Christ, we really are citizens of heaven, yet most of the time we seem to remain earthbound and distant from God. Perhaps the pace of our frantic world blurs our vision, so that we count meditation as inactivity. We suppose our time would be better spent in some good enterprise.

People are no different now than in Baxter’s day, when he made this observation of Christians and their neglect of genuine, Biblical meditation:

It is confessed to be a duty by all, but practically denied by most. Many that make conscience of other duties, easily neglect this. They are troubled if they omit a sermon, a fast, or a prayer, in public or private, yet were never troubled that they have omitted meditation perhaps all their life… though it be that duty by which all other duties are improved…16

If we hope to improve our skills at shepherding God’s flock, we must first spend time in intimate communion with the Chief Shepherd. How can we expect to minister God’s loving care to others if we remain strangers to Him?

This, then, is the key to Baxter’s earnestness and success and it can be ours, as well; He took to heart Paul’s “short sermon” to the Ephesian elders and lived it out moment by moment, day by day. Before caring for others, he first learned to “keep watch” over himself. Yes, Richard Baxter loved to preach of the grace and mercy of God. He was careful to painstakingly teach the way of salvation and a holy life in Christ. He delighted in his time spent studying God’s word. He counted shepherding God’s flock as the most exalted work a man could do on earth. But, above all else, he loved God. It was his deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ, the one who paid the price to redeem him, which made the fallen world tolerable and the difficult work pleasant. Baxter was an energetic, effective shepherd in spite of constant trouble and countless sorrows because he “set his mind on things above” and brought heaven down to earth for others to see and hear and touch. His heavenly life spanned over half a century, yet he influenced thousands for eternity.

Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:20 & 21

Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim tidings of His salvation from day to day. Psalms 96:2

I was once wont to meditate most on my own heart, and to dwell at home, and look little higher… yet I see more need of a higher work; and that I should look often upon Christ, and God, and Heaven, than upon my own Heart. At home I can find Distempers to trouble me, and some Evidences of my Peace: but it is above that I must find matter of Delight and Joy, and Love and Peace itself. Richard Baxter17

God is the same God in heaven as on earth, but I shall not be the same man. Richard Baxter18

A holy love, like that in heaven, must be studiously fetched from heaven, and be kindled by the foresight of what is there, and what we shall be there for ever. Faith must ascend and look within the vail. Thou, my soul, must not live a stranger to thy home and hopes, to thy God and Savior. The fire that must warm thee is in heaven, and thou must come near it, and open thyself to its influence, if thou wilt feel its powerful efficacy. Richard Baxter19

The countries far north are cold and frozen, because they are distant from the sun. What makes such frozen, uncomfortable Christians, but their living so far from heaven? And what makes others so warm in comforts, but their living higher, and having nearer access to God? Richard Baxter20

Lord, tune my soul to thy praises now, that sweet experience may make me long to be where I shall do it better! Richard Baxter21

You can now purchase the updated and improved second edition right here: Good Mr. Baxter: Sketches of effective, Gospel-centered leadership from the life of Richard Baxter

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  1. Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London: 1656), Part 1, 129 []
  2. Colossians 3:1 []
  3. Richard Baxter The Saints’ Everlasting Rest 343-4 []
  4. Richard Baxter Reliquiae Baxterianae Part 1, 23 []
  5. Geoffrey F. Nuttall Richard Baxter (Stanford University Press: Stanford, 1965) 50 []
  6. Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London: 1656), Part 1, 80 []
  7. Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London: 1656), Part 1, 81 []
  8. Frederick J. Powicke A Life of the Reverend Richard Baxter (1615-1691) (Houghton Mifflin Company: New York, 1924) 48 []
  9. Richard Baxter cited in Geoffrey F. Nuttall Richard Baxter 51 []
  10. Richard Baxter Dying Thoughts: The Christian’s Hope for the Life Hereafter (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1976) 97 []
  11. Richard Baxter cited in Frederick J. Powicke A Life of the Reverend Richard Baxter (1615-1691) 96 []
  12. Richard Baxter cited in Geoffrey F. Nuttall Richard Baxter 52 []
  13. Richard Baxter cited in Geoffrey F. Nuttall Richard Baxter 51 []
  14. Richard Baxter The Saints’ Everlasting Rest 332 []
  15. Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae , Part 1, 129 []
  16. Richard Baxter The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Evangelical Press: Ann Arbor, 1978) 338 []
  17. Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae , Part 1, 129 []
  18. Richard Baxter Dying Thoughts: The Christian’s Hope for the Life Hereafter (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1976) 87 []
  19. Richard Baxter Dying Thoughts: The Christian’s Hope for the Life Hereafter (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1976) 89 []
  20. Richard Baxter The Saints’ Everlasting Rest 280 []
  21. Richard Baxter Dying Thoughts: The Christian’s Hope for the Life Hereafter (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1976) 97 []

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