« Bavinck, Herman Baxter, Richard Bayle, Pierre »

Baxter, Richard

BAXTER, RICHARD: One of the greatest of English theologians; b. at Rowton (42 m. n.e. of Shrewsbury), Shropshire, Nov. 12, 1615; d. in London Dec. 8, 1691. Though without a university education, and always sickly, he acquired great learning.

Ministry at Kidderminster.

In 1633 he had a brief experience of court life at Whitehall (London), but turned from the court in disgust and studied theology. In 1638 he was ordained by the bishop of Worcester and preached in various places till 1641, when he began his ministry at Kidderminster (18 m. s.w. of Birmingham), as "teacher." There he labored with wonderful success so that the place was utterly transformed. When the Civil War broke out (1642) he retired temporarily to Gloucester and then to Coventry because he sided with the parliament, while all in and about Kidderminster sided with the king. He was, however, no blind partizan and boldly spoke out for moderation and fairness. After acting as an army chaplain he separated from the army, partly on account of illness, and returned to Kidderminster.

In London.

In the spring of 1660 he left Kidderminster and went to London. He preached before the House of Commons at St. Margaret's, Westminster, Apr. 30, 1660, and before the lord mayor and aldermen at St. Paul's, May 10, and was among those to give Charles II welcome to his kingdom. Charles made him one of his chaplains and offered him the bishopric of Hereford, which he declined. He was a leader on the Non-conformist side in the Savoy Conference (1661) and presented a revision of the Prayer-book which could be used by the Non-conformists. He also preached frequently in different pulpits. Seeing how things were going, he desired permission to return to Kidderminster as curate, but was refused. On May 16, 1662, three days before the Act of Uniformity was passed, he took formal farewell of the Church of England and retired to Acton, a west suburb of London. From this time on he had no regular charge and until the accession of William and Mary in 1688 he suffered, like other Non-conformist preachers, from repressive laws often rigorously and harshly enforced. On Sept. 10, 1662, he married Margaret, daughter of Francis Charlton, of Shropshire, twenty-four years his junior, who possessed wealth and social position, and made him a devoted helpmeet, cheerfully going with him into exile and prison and spending her money lavishly in the relief of their less fortunate fellow sufferers. She died June 14, 1681, and Baxter has perpetuated her memory in a singularly artless but engaging memoir (London, 1681).


During all these years on the verge of trouble because he persisted in preaching, he was actually imprisoned only twice, once for a short period, and again from Feb. 28, 1685, to Nov. 24, 1686. The judge who condemned him the second time was George Jeffreys, who treated him with characteristic brutality. The charge was that in his Paraphrase of the New Testament (1685) Baxter had libeled the Church of England. But insult, heavy and indeed ruinous fines, enforced wanderings, anxiety as to personal safety, and imprisonment had no power to daunt Baxter's spirit. He preached constantly to great multitudes, and addressed through his writings a still vaster throng. The Toleration Act of 1688 ended his sufferings and he died in peace.


Baxter was one of the most voluminous of English authors, and one of the best. But there is no complete edition of his 108 treatises, only of his practical works. A few of his works are in verse (Poetical Fragments, reprinted, London, 1821), though he has small claim to be called a poet, and one familiar hymn ("Lord, it belongs not to my care") has been manufactured out of a longer one of his. The after-world knows him by reputation as the author of The Reformed Pastor (1656), a treatise on pastoral theology still usable; A Call to the Unconverted to turn and live and accept of mercy while mercy may be had, as even they would find mercy in the day of their extremity; from the Living God (1657), uttered as a dying man to dying men and impressive to-day; but chiefly because of The Saints' Everlasting Rest: or a treatise of the blessed state of the Saints in their enjoyment of God in glory. Wherein is shewed its excellency and certainty; the misery of those that lose it, the way to attain it, and assurance of it; and how to live in the continual delightful foretaste of it, by the help of meditation. Written by the author for his own use, in the time of his languishing, when God took him off from all publike imployment; and afterwards preached in his weekly lecture (1650). The "Saints' Rest" gained a reputation it has never lost, but the 648 pages of the original edition have proved too many for posterity and the work is read nowadays, if at all, only in an abridgment of an abridgment. The best brief characterization of this faithful, fearless, and gifted religious teacher is on his monument at Kidderminster, erected by Churchmen and Non-conformists, and unveiled July 28, 1875: "Between the years 1641 and 1660 this town was the scene of the labours of Richard Baxter, renowned equally for his Christian learning and his pastoral fidelity. In a stormy and divided age he advocated unity and comprehension, pointing the way to everlasting rest." In many respects Baxter was a modern man.

His Theology.

Baxter's theology was set forth most elaborately in his Latin Methodus theologiæ Chriatianæ (London, 161681); the Christian Directory (1673) contains the practical part of his system; and Catholic Theology (1675) is an English exposition. His theology made Baxter very unpopular among his contemporaries and caused a split among the Dissenters of the eighteenth century. As summarized by Thomas W. Jenkyn, it differed from the Calvinism of Baxter's day on four points: (1) The atonement of Christ did not consist in his suffering the identical but the equivalent punishment (i.e., one which would have the same effect in moral government) as that deserved by mankind because of offended law. Christ died for sins, not persons. While the benefits of substitutionary atonement are accessible and available to all men for their salvation; they have in the divine appointment a special reference to the subjects of personal elation. (2) The elect were a certain fixed number determined by the decree without any reference to their faith as the ground of their election; which decree contemplates no reprobation but rather the redemption of all who will accept Christ as their Savior. (3) What is imputed to the sinner in the work of justification is not the righteousness of Christ but the faith of the sinner himself in the righteousness of Christ. (4) Every sinner has a distinct agency of his own to exert in the process of his conversion. The Baxterian theory, with modifications, was adopted by many later Presbyterians and Congregationalists in England, Scotland, and America (Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, and many others).

Bibliography: Baxter's Practical Works were collected by W. Orme and published is 23 vols., London, 1830; vol. i contains Orme's Life and Times of Richard Baxter, published separately in 2 vols., the same year; a table of the contents of this edition of Baxter's works is found in Darling's Cyclopædia Bibliopraphica, pp. 205–208, London, 1854; the Practical Works appeared also in 4 vols., ib. 1847; and Select Practical Writings, ed. L. Bacon, 2 vols., New Haven, 1844. An Annotated List of the Writings of R. Baxter is appended to the ed. of What Must we do to be Saved? by A. B. Grosart, London, 1868. The chief source for a life is the autobiographical material left to M. Sylvester, who published it as Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, London, 1696, abridged by E. Calamy, 1702, this enlarged and republished in 2 vols., 1713. A notable paper on Baxter by Sir James Stephen, originally published in the Edinburgh Review, is to be found in his Essays, vol. ii, London, 1860. Among the biographies may be mentioned A. B. Grosart, Representative Nonconformists, II, Richard Baxter, ib. 1879; G. D. Boyle, Men Worth Remembering, Richard Baxter, ib. 1883; J. Stalker, Richard Baxter, Edinburgh, 1883; DNB, iii, 429–437; J. H. Davies, Life of Richard Baxter, London, 1887. The account of his trial is given by Macaulay in his History of England, vol. ii. Consult also Baxter's Making Light of Christ, with an Essay on his Life, Ministry and Theology, by T. W. Jenkyn, London, 1848.

« Bavinck, Herman Baxter, Richard Bayle, Pierre »
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