We must be diligent in visiting the sick, and helping them to prepare either for a fruitful life or a happy death. Though this should be the business of all our lives and theirs, yet doth it, at such a season, require extraordinary care both of them and us. When time is almost gone, and they must now or never be reconciled to God, oh, how doth it concern them to redeem those hours and to lay hold on eternal life! And, when we see that we are like to have but a few days or hours more to speak to them in order to their everlasting welfare, who, who is not a block or an infidel, would not be much with them and do all he can for their salvation in that short space?
Will it not awaken us to compassion to look on a languishing man and to think that, within a few days, his soul will be in heaven or hell? Surely it will try the faith and seriousness of ministers to be much about dying men! They will, thus, have opportunity to discern whether they themselves are in good earnest about the matters of the life to come. So great is the change that is made by death that it should awaken us to the greatest sensibility to see a man so near it, and should excite in us the deepest pangs of compassion to do the office of inferior angels for the soul before it departs from the body, that it may be ready for the convoy of superior angels to the “inheritance of the saints in light” [Colossians 1.12]. When a man is almost at his journey’s end, and the next step brings him to heaven or hell, it is time for us, while there is hope, to help him, if we can. – Richard Baxter (1615-1691), from The Reformed Pastor (1656)
(“Reformed” is used here in the sense of “revived” or “rejuvenated”.)