Richard Baxter (1615-1691), one of the great English pastors and theologians. Though without a university education, and always sickly, he acquired great learning. 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 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.
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 regarded by many as one of the best. But there is no complete edition of his 108 treatises, only of his practical works. He is most known 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 shown 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 public employment; 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.
- The above sections extracted and edited from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
Richard Baxter held to a form of Amyraldism, a less rigorous more moderate form of Calvinism which rejected the idea of a limited atonement in favor of a universal atonement similar to that of the Arminians. He devised an eclectic middle route between Reformed, Arminian, and Roman doctrines of grace: interpreting the kingdom of God in terms of contemporary political ideas, he explained Christ's death as an act of universal redemption (penal and vicarious, but not substitutionary), in virtue of which God has made a "new law" offering pardon and amnesty to the penitent. Repentance and faith, being obedience to this law, are the believer's personal saving righteousness. This particular doctrine is called neonomianism and is sometimes referred to as "Baxterianism."
- The Richard Baxter Homepage
- Fire and Ice
- Sermons by Richard Baxter and others in the Reformed Church
- Phillip Johnson on the order of decrees for information about Baxter's stance on the atonement.