Baxter, Richard

, an eminent nonconformist divine, was born Nov. 12, 1615, at Rowton, near High Ercal, in Shropshire. He was unlucky as to his education, by falling into the hands of ignorant schoolmasters; neither had he the advantage of an academical education, his parents having accepted of a proposal of putting him under Mr. Wickstead, chaplain to the council of Ludlow: but this did not answer their expectation; Mr. Wickstead was not a scholar, and consequently took little pains with his pupil; the only benefit he reaped was the use of an excellent library, with which he endeavoured to supply the place of a regular education. When he had remained in this situation about a year and a half, he returned to his father’s, but immediately after, at the request of lord Newport, he taught for six months in the free-school of Wroxeter.

In 1633, Mr. Wickstead persuaded him to lay aside his studies, and to think of making his fortune at court. Mr. Wickstead, we have said, was not a scholar, nor certainly a judge of character, when he fancied he saw the materials of a courtier in Richard Baxter’s mind. Baxter, however, who probably did not know what a courtier was, came to Whitehall, and was recommended to sir Henry Herbert, master of the revels, by whom he was very kindly received; but, in the space of a month, being tired of a court life, he returned to the country, where he resumed his studies, and Mr. Richard Foley of Stourbridge got him appointed master of the free-school at Dudley, with an assistant under him. During this time he imbibed many of those sentiments of piety, neither steady, nor systematic, which gave a peculiar bias to his future life and conduct, not only towards the church, but towards his brethren, the nonconformists. In 1638, he applied to the bishop of Winchester for orders, which he received, having at that time no scruples about conformity to the Church of England. The “Et caetera” oath was what first induced him to examine into this point. It was framed by the | convocation then sitting, and all persons were thereby enjoined to swear, “That they would never consent to the alteration of the present government of the church by archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, &c.” There were many persons who thought it hard to swear to the continuance of a church government which they disliked; and yet they would have concealed their thoughts, had not this oath, imposed under the penalty of expulsion, compelled them to speak. Others complained of the “Et caetera,” which they said contained they knew not what. Mr. Baxter studied the best books he could find upon this subject, the consequence of which was, that he utterly‘ disliked the oath.

Before this, however, he seems to have been in some measure, prepared for dissent, and Mr. Calarny has given us an account of the means by which he first came to alter, his opinions, which is too characteristic of the man to be omitted. “Being settled at Dudley, he fell into the acquaintance of several nonconformists, whom though he judged severe and splenetic, yet he found to be both godly and honest men. They supplied him with several writings on their own side, and amongst the rest, with Ames’s Fresh Suit against Ceremonies, which he read over very distinctly, comparing it with Dr. Burgess’s Rejoyncler. And, upon the whole, he at that time came to these conclusions; Kneeling he thought lawful, and all mere circumstances determined by the magistrate, which God in nature or scripture hath determined on only in the general. The surplice he more doubted of, but was inclined to think it lawful: and though he intended to forbear it till under necessity, yet he could not see how he could have justified the forsaking his ministry merely on that account, though he never actually wore it. About the ring in marriage he had no scruple. The cross in baptism he thought Dr. Ames had proved unlawful; and though he was not without some doubting in the point, yet because he most inclined to judge it unlawful, he never once used it. A Form of Prayer and Liturgy he judged to be lawful, and in some cases lawfully imposed. The English Liturgy in, particular he judged to have much disorder and defectiveness in it, but nothing which should make the use of it in the ordinary public worship to be unlawful to them who could not do better. He sought for discipline in the Church, and saw the sad effects of its neglect j but he was | not then so sensible as afterwards, that the very frame of diocesan prelacy excluded it, but thought it had been chargeable only on the personal neglects of the bishops. Subscription he began to think unlawful, and repented his rashness in yielding to it so hastily. For though he could use the Common-prayer, and was not yet against diocesans, yet to subscribe ex animo, that there is nothing in the three books contrary to the word of God, was that which he durst not do, had it been to be done again. So that subscription and the cross in baptism, and the promiscuous giving the Lord’s supper to all comers, though ever so unqualified, if they were not excommunicated by a bishop or chancellor who knows nothing of them, were the only things in which as yet he inclined to nonconformity, and even in these he kept his thoughts to himself. He continued to argue with the nonconformists, about the pointy they differed in, and particularly kneeling at the Sacrament, about which he had a controversy with some of them, which they did not think it proper to continue anyfarther. He also, with equal candour and spirit, reproved them for the bitterness of their language against the bishops and churchmen, and exhorted them to patience and charity.

In 1640, he was invited to be minister at Kidderminster, which he accepted; and had been here two years when the civil war broke out. He was a favourer of the parliament, which exposed him to some inconveniences, and obliged him to retire to Gloucester; but being strongly solicited, he returned to Kidderminster. However, not finding himself safe in this place, he again quitted it, and took up his residence at Coventry, where he lived in perfect quiet, preaching once every Sunday to the garrison, and once to the town’s people, and contending warmly against the Anabaptists. After Naseby fight, he was appointed chaplain to colonel Whalley’s regiment, and was present at several sieges, but was never in any engagement, although a story was afterwards raised that he had killed a man in cool blood, and robbed him of a medal. This was first told by Dr. Boreman of Trinity college, Cambridge, and became very current until Mr. Baxter refuted it in his “Catholic Communion,1684. In 1647 he was obliged to leave the army, by a sudden illness, and retired to sir Thomas Rouse’s, where he continued a long time in a languishing state of health. He afterwards returned to | Kidderminster, where he continued to preach with great success. He is said to have impeded, as far as was in his power, the taking of the covenant, and what was called the engagement, and hoth spoke and wrote against the army marching to Scotland to oppose Charles II. And when Cromwell gained the superiority, Mr. Baxter expressed his dissatisfaction to his measures, hut did not think proper to preach against him from the pulpit: once indeed he preached Before the protector, and made use of the following text: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions amongst you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” He levelled his discourse against the divisions and distractions of the church. A while after Cromwell sent to speak with him: when he began a long and serious speech to him of God’s providence in the change of the government, and how God had owned it, and what great things had been done at home and abroad in the peace with Spain and Holland. Mr. Baxter told him, “It was too great condescension to acquaint him so fully with all these matters, which were above him: but that the honest people of the land took their ancient monarchy to be a blessing, and not an evil; and humbly craved his patience, that he might ask him, how they had forfeited that blessing, and unto whom that forfeiture was made r” Upon this question Cromwell became angry, and told him, “There was no forfeiture, but God had changed it as pleased him;” and then he reviled the parliament, which thwarted him, and especially by name four or five members, Mr. Baxter’s particular acquaintances, whom he presumed to defend against the protec tor’s passion. A few days after he sent for him again, under pretence of asking him his opinion about liberty of conscience; at which time also he made a long tedious speech, which took up so much time, that Mr. Baxter desired to offer his sentiments in writing, which he did, but says, he questions whether Cromwell read them.

Mr. Baxter came to London a little before the depositioa of Richard Cromwell, and preached before the parliament the day preceding that on which they voted the king’s return. He preached likewise before the lord mayor at St. Paul’s a thanksgiving sermon for general Monk’s success. Upon the king’s restoration he was appointed one of his | chaplains in ordinary, preached once before him, liad frequent access to his majesty, and was always treated by him with peculiar respect. He assisted at the conference at the Savoy, as one of the commissioners, and drew up a reformed Liturgy, which Dr. Johnson pronounced “one of the finest compositions of the ritual kind he had ever seen.” He was offered the bishopric of Hereford by the lord chancellor Clarendon, which he refused, and gave his lordship his reasons for not accepting of it, in a letter; he required no favour but that of being permitted to continue minister at Kidderminster, but could not obtain it. Being thus disappointed, he preached occasionally about the city of London, having a licence from bishop Sheldon, upon his subscribing a promise not to preach any thing against the doctrine or ceremonies of the church. May 15, 1662, he preached his farewell sermon at Blackfriars, and afterwards retired to Acton in Middlesex. In 1665, during the plague, he went to Richard Hampden’s, esq. in Buckinghamshire; and when it ceased, returned to Acton. He continued here as long as the act against conventicles was in force, and, when that was expired, had so many auditors that he wanted room: but, while thus employed, by a. warrant signed by two justices, he was committed for six months to New Prison gaol; having, however, procured an habeas corpus, he was discharged, and removed to Totteridge near Barnet. In this affair, he experienced the sincerity of many of his best friends. As he was going to prison, he called upon serjcant Fountain for his advice, who, after perusing the mittimus, said, that he might be discharged from his imprisonment by law. The earl of Orrery, fche earl of Manchester, the earl of Arlington, and the duke of Buckingham, mentioned the affair to the king, who was pleased to send sir John Baber to him, to let him know, that though his majesty was not willing to relax the law, yet he would not be offended, if by any application to the courts in Westminster-hall he could procure his liberty; upon this an habeas corpus was demanded at the bar of the common pleas, and granted. The judges were clear in their opinion, that die mittimus was insufficient, and thereupon discharged him. This exasperate;! the justices who committed him; and therefore they made a new mittimus in order to sent him to the connty-gnol of Newgi-te, which he avoided by keeping out of the way. After the indulgence in 1672, he returned to London, and | preached on week-days at Pinner’s hall, at a meeting in. Fetter-lane, and in St. James’s market house and the times appearing more favourable about two years after, he built a meeting-house in Oxenden-street, where he had preached but once, when a resolution was formed to take him by surprise, and send him to the county gaol, on the Oxford act; which misfortune he escaped, but the person who happened to preach for him was sent to the Gate-house, where he was confined three months. After having been three years kept out of his meeting-house, he took another in Swallow-street, but was likewise prevented from preaching there, a guard having been placed for many Sundays to hinder his entrance. Upon the death of Mr. Wadsworth, he preached to his congregation in South wark.

In 1632, he was seized by a warrant, for coming within five miles of a corporation and five more warrants were served upon him to distrain for 195l. as a penalty for five sermons he had preached, so that his books and goods were sold. He was not, however, imprisoned on this occasion, which was owing to Dr. Thomas Cox, who went to five justices of the peace, before whom he swore that Mr. Baxter was in such a bad state of health, that he could not go to prison without danger of death. In the beginning of 1685, he was committed to the king’s bench prison, by a warrant from the lord chief justice Jefferies, for his paraphrase on the New Testament; and on May 18, of the same year, he was tried in the court of king’s bench, and found guilty. He was condemned to prison for two years; but, in 1686, king James, by the mediation of the lord Powis, granted him a pardon; and on Nov. 24, he was discharged out of the king’s bench.*


As this trial was the most remarkable transaction in Mr. Baxter’s life, and one of the most characteristic of Jefferies’s arbitrary disposition, we are persuaded our readers will not complain of the length of this note. On the 6th of May, Mr. Baxter appeared in the court of king’s bench, and Mr. Attorney declared he would file an information against him. On the 14th, the defendent pleaded not guilty, and on the 18th, Mr. Baxter being much indisposed, and desiring further time than to the 30th, the day appointed for the trial, he moved by his counsel that it might be put off; on which the chief justice answered, “I will not give him a minute’s more time to spare his life. We have had to do with other sorts of persons, but now we have a saint to dealt with, and I know how to deal with saints as well as sinners. Yonder stands Oates in the pillory (as he actually did in the New Palace yard), and he says, he suffers for the truth, and so does Baxter; but if Baxter did but stand on the other side of the pillory with him, I would say two of the greatest rogues and rascals in the kingdom stood there.” On the 30th of May, in the afternoon, he was brought to his trial before the lord chief justice Jefferies at Guildhall. Sir Henry Ashurst, who could not forsake his own


and his father’s friend, stood by him all the while. Mr. Baxter came first into court, and with all the marks of serenity and composure waited for the coming of the lord chief justice, who appeared quickly after with great indignation in his face. He no sooner sat down, than a short cause was called, and tried; after which the clerk began to read the title of another cause. You blockhead you (says Jefferies), the next cause is between Richard Baxter and the king: upon which Mr. Baxter’s cause was called. The passages mentioned in the information, were his paraphrase on Matth. v. 19. Mark ix. 39. Mark xi. 51. Mark xii. 38, 39, 40. Luke x. 2. John xi. 57. and Acts xv. 2. These passages were picked out by sir Roger L’Estrange, and some of his fraternity. And a certain noted clergyman (who shall be nameless) put into the hands of his enemies some accusations out of Rom. xiii. &c. as against the king, to touch his life; but no use was made of them. The great charge was, that in these several passages he reflected on the prelates of the church of England, and so was guilty of sedition, &c. The king’s counsel opened the information at large, with its aggravations. Mr. Wallop, Mr. Williams, Mr. Rotherham, Mr. Atwood, and Mr. Phipps, were Mr. Baxter’s counsel, and had been feed by sir Henry Ashnrst. Mr. Wallop said, that he conceived the matter depending being a point of doctrine, it ought to be referred to the bishop, his ordinary; but if not, he humbly conceived the doctrine was innocent and justifiable, setting aside the inuendos, for which there was no colour, there being no antecedent to refer them to (i. e. no bishop or clergy of the church of England named), he said the book accused, i. e. The Comment on the New Testament, contained many eternal truths; but they who drew the information were the libellers, in applying to the prelates of the church of England, those severe things which were written concerning some prelates who deserved the characters which he gave. My lord (says he), I humbly conceive the bishops Mr. Bax-. ter speaks of, as your lordship, if yon have read church history, must confess, were the plagues of the church and of the world. “Mr. Wallop,” says the lord chief justice, “I observe you are in all these dirty causes; and were it not for you gentlemen of the long robe, who should have more wit and honesty than to support and hold up these factious knaves by the chin, we should not be at the pass we are.” My lord, says Mr. Wallop, I humbly conceive, that the passages accused are natural deductions, from the text. “You humbly conceive,” says Jefferies, “and I humbly conceive: Swear him, swear him.” My lord, says he, under favour, I am counsel for the defendant; and, if I understand either Latin or English, the information now brought against Mr. Baxter upon such a slight ground, is a greater reflection upon the church of England, than any thing contained in the book he is accused for. Says Jefferies to him, “Sometimes you humbly conceive, and sometimes you are very positive: You talk of your skill in church history, and of your understanding Latin and English; I think I understand something of them as well as you; but, in short, must tell you, that if you do not understand your duty better, I shall teach it you.” Upon which Mr. Wallop sat down. Mr. Rotheram urged, that if Mr. Baxter’s book had sharp reflections upon the church of Rome by name, but spake well of the prelates of the church of England, it "was to be presumed that the sharp reflections were intended only against the prelates of the church of Rome. The lord chief justice said, Baxter was an enemy to the name and thing, the office and person of bishops. Rotheram added, that Baxter frequently attended divine service, went to the sacrament, and persuaded others to do so too, as was certainly and publicly known; and had, in the very book so charged, spoken very moderately and honourably of the bishops of the church, of England. Mr. Baxter added, My lord, I have been so moderate with respect to the church of England, that I have incurred the censure of many


of the dissenters upon that account. “Baxter for bishops” says Jefferies, “that’s a merry conceit indeed; turn to it, turn to it.” Upon this Rotherham turned to a place where it is said, “That great respect is due to those truly called to be bishops among us,” or. to that purpose. “Ay,” saith Jefferies, this is your Presbyterian cant; truly called to be bishops; that is himself, and such rascals, called to be bishops of Kidderminster, and other such places: bishops set apart by such factious, snivelling Presbyterians as himself; a Kidderminster bishop he means: According to the saying of a late learned author, and every parish shall maintain a tithe-pig Metropolitan.“Mr. Baxter beginning to speak again, says he to him, Richard, Richard, dost thou think we will hear thee poison the court, &c. Richard, thou art an old fellow, an old knave; thou hast written books enough to load a cart, every one as full of sedition (I might say treason) as an egg is full of meat. Hadst thou been whipped out of thy writing trade forty years ago, it had been happy. Thou pretendest to be a preacher of the gospel of peace, and thou hast one foot in the grave; ‘tis time for thee to begin to think what account thou intendest to give. But leave thee to thyself, and I see thoul’t go on as thou hast begun; but, by the grace of God, I will look after thee. I know thou hast a mighty party, and I see a great many of the brotherhood in corners, waiting to see what will become of their mighty don, and a doctor of the party (looking to Dr. Bates) at your elbow; but, by the grace of Almighty God, I’ll crush you all.“Mr. Rotherham sitting down, Mr. Atwood began to shew, that not one of the passages mentioned in the information ought to be strained to that sense which was put upon them by the inuendos, they being more natural when taken in a milder sense, nor could any one of them be applied to the prelates of the church of England without a very forced construction. To evidence this, he would have read some of the text: But Jefferies cried out, You shall not draw me into a cou venticle with your annotations, nor your snivelling parson neither. My lord, says Atwood, I conceive this to be expressly within Roswell’s case, lately before your lordship. You conceive, says Jefferies, you conceive amiss; it is not. My lord, says Mr. Atwood, that I may use the best authority, permit me to repeat your lordship’s own words in that case. No, you shall not, says he: You need not speak, for you are an author already; though you speak and write impertinently. Says Atwood, I cannot help that, my lord, if my talent be no better; but it is my duty to do my best for my client. Jefferies thereupon went on, inveighing against what Atwood had published; and Atwood justified it to be in defence of the English constitution, declaring that he never disowned any thing that he had written. Jefferies several times ordered him to sit down, but he still went on. My lord, says he, I have matter of law to offer for my client; and he proceeded to cite several cases, wherein it had been adjudged that words ought to be taken in the milder sense, and not to be strained by inuendos. Well, says Jefferies, when he had done, you have had your say. Mr. Williams and Mr. Phipps said nothing, for they saw it was to no purpose. At length, says Mr. Baxter himself, My lord, I think I can clearly answer all that is laid to my charge, and I shall do it briefly. The sum is contained in these few papers, to which I shall add a little by testimony. But Jefferies would not hear a word. At length the chief justice summed up the matter in a long and fulsome harangue. ” ’Tis notoriously known,“says he, ”there has been a design to ruin the king and the nation. The old game has been renewed, and this has been the main incendiary. He is as modest now as can be; but time was, when no man was so ready to bind your kings in chains, and your nobles in fetters of iron; and to your tents, O Israel. Gentlemen, for God’s sake don’t let us be gulled twice in an age, &c." And when he concluded, he told the jury, that it they in their consciences be-


lieved he meant the bishops and clergy of the church of England, in the passages which the information referred to, they must find him guilty; and he could mean no man else; if not, they must find him not guilty. When he had done, says Mr. Baxter to him, Does your lordship think any jury will pretend to pass a verdict upon me, upon such a trial? “I’ll warrant you, Mr. Baxter,” says he, “don’t you trouble yourself about that.” The jury immediately laid their heads together at the bar, and found him guilty, As he was going from the bar, Mr. Baxter told my lord chief justice, who had so loaded him with reproaches, and yet continued them, that a predecessor of his had had other thoughts of him: Upon which he replied, “That there was not an honest man in England but what took him for a great knave.” He had subpoenaed several clergymen, who appeared in court, but were of no use to him, through the violence of the chief justice. The trial being over, sir Henry Ashurst led Mr. Baxter through the crowd (I mention it to his honour), and conreyed him away in his coach.

After which he retired | to a house in Charterhouse-yard, where he assisted Mr. Sylvester every Sunday morning, and preached a lecture every Thursday. | Mr. Baxter died Dec. the 8th, 1691, and was interred in Christ-church, whither his corpse was attended by a numerous company of persons of different ranks, and many | clergymen of the established church. He wrote a great number of books. Mr. Long of Exeter says fourscore; Dr. Calamy, one hundred and twenty; but the author of a note in the Biographia Britannica tells us he had seen an. hundred and forty-rive distinct treatises of Mr. Baxter’s: his practical works have been published in four volumes folio. Of these his “Saint’s Everlasting Rest,” and his “Call to the Unconverted,” are the most popular, but excepting the last, we know not of any of his works that have been reprinted for a century past, doubtless owing to his peculiar notions on points about which the orthodox dissenters are agreed. Bishop Burnet, in the History of his own times, calls him “a man of great piety” and says, “that if he had not meddled with too many things, he would have been esteemed one of the most learned men of the age; that he had a moving and pathetical way of writing, and was his whole life long a man of great zeal and much simplicity, but was unhappily subtle and metaphysical in every thing.” This character may be justly applied to Mr. Baxter, whose notions agreed with no church, and no sect. The consequence was, that no man was ever more the subject of controversy. Calamy says that about sixty treatises were opposed to him and his writings. What his sentiments were, will appear from the following sketch, drawn up by the late Dr. Kippis. “His Theological System has been called Baxterianism, and those who embrace his sentiments in divinity, are styled Baxterians. Baxterianism strikes into a middle path between Calvinism and Arminianism, endeavouring, in some degree, though perhaps not very consistently, to unite both schemes, and to avoid the supposed errors of each. The Baxterians, we apprehend, believe in the doctrines of election, effectual | calling, and other tenets of Calvinism, and, consequently, suppose that a certain number, determined upon in the divine counsels, will infallibly be saved. This they think necessary to secure the ends of Christ’s interposition. But then, on the other hand, they reject the doctrine of reprobation, and admit that our blessed Lord, in a certain sense, died for all; and that such a portion of grace is allotted to every man, as renders it his own fault, if he doth not attain to eternal happiness. If he improves the common grace given to all mankind, this will be followed by that special grace which will end in his final acceptance and salvation. Whether the Baxterians are of opinion, that any, besides the elect, will actually make such a right use of common grace, as to obtain the other, and, at length, come to heaven, we cannot assuredly say. There may possibly be a difference of sentiment upon the subject, according as they approach nearer to Calvinism or to Arminianism. Mr. Baxter appears likewise to have modelled the doctrines of justification, and the perseverance of the saints, in a manner which was not agreeable to the rigid Calvinihts. His distinctions upon all these heads we do not mean particularly to inquire into, as they would not be very interesting to the generality of our readers. Some foreign divines, in the last century, struck nearly into the same path; and particularly, in France, Mons. le Blanc, Mr. Cameron, and the celebrated Mons. Amyrault. For a considerable time, the non-conformist clergy in England were divided into scarcely any but two doctrinal parties, the Calvinists and the Baxterians. There were, indeed, a few direct Arminians among them, whose number was gradually increasing. Of late, since many of the dissenters have become more bold in their religious sentiments, the Baxterians among them have been less numerous. However, they are still a considerable body; and several persons are fond of the name, as a creditable one, who, we believe, go farther than Mr. Baxter did. The denomination, like other theological distinctions which have prevailed in the world, will probably, in a course of time, sink into desuetude, till it is either wholly forgotten, or the bare memory of it be only preserved in some historical production.1

. Biog. Brit.—Life by Sylvester, fol. written by himself, and containing a history of his tunes.—Abridgement of ditto by Calamy.—Long’s Review of his life, 8vo.—&c. &c.