Baxter, Richard a celebrated Nonconformist divine, born at Rowton, in Shropshire, Nov. 12th, 1615, of pious and excellent parents. His early education was obtained under indifferent masters, so that he never in after life became an accurate scholar, although his unrivalled industry and talent made him a widely-learned man. Though not a graduate of either university, he was ordained by Mornborough, bishop of Worcester, and in 1640 became vicar of Kidderminster. He devoted himself to his work, and his labors were eminently successful. Not satisfied with correcting the more flagrant offenses of the inhabitants, he visited them at their houses, gave them religious instruction in private, and became their friend as well as their pastor. By these means he wrought a complete change in the habits of the people. His preaching was acceptable to all ranks. Wherever he went, large audiences attended him; and, notwithstanding his feeble health, he preached three or four times a week. During the civil wars Baxter held a position by which he was connected with both the opposite parties in the state, and yet was the partisan of neither. His attachment to monarchy was well known; but the undisguised respect paid by him to the character of some of the Puritans made him and others, who were sincerely attached to the crown, objects of jealousy and persecution. During an ebullition of party excitement Baxter spent a few days in the Parliamentary army, and was preaching within sound of the cannon of the battle at Edge Hill. Not considering it safe to return to Kidderminster, he retired to Coventry, where he lived two years, preaching regularly. After the battle of Naseby in 1645, he passed a night on a visit to some friends in Cromwell's army, a circumstance which led to the chaplaincy of Colonel Whalley's regiment being offered to him, which, after consulting his friends at Coventry, he accepted. In this capacity he was present at the taking of Bridgewater, the sieges of Exeter, Bristol, and Worcester, by Colonels Whalley and Rainsborough. He lost no opportunity of moderating the temper of the champions of the Commonwealth, and of restraining them within the bounds of reason; but as it was known that the check proceeded from one who was unfriendly to the ulterior objects of the party, his interference was coolly received. After his recovery from an illness which compelled him to leave the army, we find him again at Kidderminster, exerting himself to moderate conflicting opinions. The conduct of Cromwell at this crisis exceedingly perplexed that class of men of whom Baxter might be regarded as the type. For the sake of peace they yielded to an authority which they condemned as a usurpation, but nothing could purchase their approbation of the measures by which it had been attained and was supported. In open conference Baxter did not scruple to denounce Cromwell and his adherents as guilty of treason and rebellion, though he afterward doubted if he was right in opposing him so strongly (see Baxter's Penitent Confessions, quoted in Orme). The reputation of Baxter rendered his countenance to the new order of things highly desirable, and accordingly no pains were spared to procure it. The protector invited him to an interview, and endeavored to reconcile him to the political changes that had taken place; but the preacher was unconvinced by his arguments, and boldly told him that "the honest people of the land took their ancient monarchy to be a blessing and not an evil." In the disputes which prevailed about this time on the subject of episcopal ordination, Baxter took the side of the Presbyterians in denying its necessity. With them, too, he agreed in matters of discipline and church government. He dissented from them in their condemnation of episcopacy as unlawful. On their great principle, namely, — the sufficiency of the Scriptures to determine all points of faith and conduct, he wavered for some time, but ultimately adopted it in its full extent. Occupying as he did this middle ground between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians, it was not very obvious with which of the two parties he was to be classed. Had all impositions and restraints been removed, there is every reason to suppose that he would have preferred a moderate episcopacy to any other form of church government; but the measures of the prelatical party were so grievous to the conscience that he had no choice between sacrificing his opinions or quitting their communion. He was, however, compelled to quit the army finally, in consequence of a sudden and dangerous illness, and returned to Worcester. From that place he went to London to have medical advice. He was advised to visit Tunbridge Wells; and after continuing at that place some time, and finding his health improved, he visited London just before the deposition of Cromwell, and preached to the Parliament the day previous to its voting the restoration of the king. He preached occasionally about the city of London, having a license from Bishop Sheldon. He was one of the Tuesday lecturers at Pinners' Hall, and also had a Friday lecture at Fetter Lane. In 1662 he preached his farewell sermon at Blackfriar's, and afterward retired to Acton in Middlesex. In 1676 he built a meeting-house in Oxendon Street, and, when he had but once preached there, the congregation was disturbed, and Mr. Sedden, then preaching for him, was sent to the Gatehouse, instead of Baxter, where he continued three months. In 1682 Baxter was seized, by a warrant, for coming within five miles of a corporation, and his goods and books were sold as a penalty for five sermons he had preached. Owing to the bad state of his health, he was not at that time imprisoned, through the kindness of Mr. Thomas Cox, who went to five justices of the peace and made oath that Baxter was in a bad state of health, and that such imprisonment would most likely cause his death. In 1685 he was sent to the King's Bench by a warrant from the Lord Chief Justice Jeffries for some passages in his Paraphrase on the New Testament; but, having obtained from King James, through the good offices of Lord Powis, a pardon, he retired to Charter- house Yard, occasionally preached to large and devoted congregations, and at length died, December 8th, 1691, and was interred in Christ Church.
Baxter's intellect was rather acute than profound. He was one of the most successful preachers and pastors the Christian Church has seen. His mind was rich, discursive, and imaginative; qualities which fitted him admirably, in conjunction with his deep and ardent piety, to write books of devotional and practical religion. His Saint's Rest abounds in eloquent and powerful writing; perhaps no book except Kempis and Pilgrim's Progress has been more widely read or more generally useful.
Baxter's theology was of no school, but, on the whole, eclectic and undecided. In his Methodus Theologiae and Universal Redemption he sets forth a modified scheme of the Calvinistic doctrine of election. But the real author of the scheme, at least in a systematized form, was Camero, who taught divinity at Saumur, and it was unfolded and defended by his disciple Amyraldus, whom Curcellaeus refuted. SEE AMYRAUT; SEE CAMERO. Baxter says, in his preface to his Saint's Rest, "The middle way which Camero, Crocius, Martinius. Amyraldus, Davenant, with all the divines of Britain and Bremen in the Synod of Dort, go, I think is nearest the truth of any that I know who have written on these points."
(1.) Baxter first differs from the majority of Calvinists, though not from all, in his statement of the doctrine of satisfaction: "Christ's sufferings were not a fulfilling of the law's threatening (though he bore its curse materially), but a satisfaction — for our not fulfilling the precept, and to prevent God's fulfilling the threatening on us. Christ paid not, therefore, the idem, but the tantundem, or aequivalens; not the very debt which we owed and the law required, but the value (else it were not strictly satisfaction, which is redditio aequivalentis [the rendering of an equivalent]): and (it being improperly called the paying of a debt, but properly a suffering for the guilty) the idem is nothing but supplicium delinquentis [the punishment of the guilty individual]. In criminals, dum alius solvet simul aliud solvitur [when another suffers, it is another thing also that is suffered]. The law knoweth no vicarius pence [substitute in punishment]; though the lawmaker may admit it, as he is above law; else there were no place for pardon, if the proper debt be paid and the law not relaxed, but fulfilled. Christ did neither obey nor suffer in any man's stead, by a strict, proper representation of his person in point of law, so as that the law should take it as done or suffered by the party himself; but only as a third person, as a mediator, he voluntarily bore what else the sinner should have borne. To assert the contrary (especially as to particular persons considered in actual sin) is to overthrow all Scripture theology, and to introduce all Antinomianism; to overthrow all possibility of pardon, and assert justification before we sinned or were born, and to make ourselves to have satisfied God. Therefore, we must not say that Christ died nostro loco [in our stead], so as to personate us, or represent our persons in law sense, but only to bear what else we must have borne."
(2.) This system explicitly asserts that Christ made a satisfaction by his death equally for the sins of every man; and thus Baxter essentially differs both from the higher Calvinists, and also from the Sublapsarians, who, though they may allow that the reprobate derive some benefits from Christ's death, so that there is a vague sense in which he may be said to have died for all men, yet they, of course, deny to such the benefits of Christ's satisfaction or atonement which Baxter contends for: "Neither the law, whose curse Christ bore, nor God, as the legislator to be satisfied, did distinguish between men as elect and reprobate, or as believers and unbelievers, de presenti vel de futuro [with regard to the present or the future]; and to impose upon Christ, or require from him satisfaction for the sins of one sort more than of another, but for mankind in general. God the Father, and Christ the Mediator, now dealeth with no man upon the more rigorous terms of the first law (obey perfectly and live, else thou shalt die), but giveth to all much mercy, which, according to the tenor of that violated law, they could not receive, and calleth them to repentance in order to their receiving farther mercy offered them. And accordingly he will not judge any at last: according to the mere law of works, but as they have obeyed or not obeyed his conditions or terms of grace. It was not the sins of the elect only, but of all mankind fallen, which lay upon Christ satisfying; and to assert the contrary injuriously diminisheth the honor of his sufferings, and hath other desperate ill consequences."
(3.) The benefits derived to all men equally, from the satisfaction of Christ, he thus states: "All mankind, immediately upon Christ's satisfaction, are redeemed and delivered from that legal necessity of perishing which they were under (not by remitting sin or punishment directly to them, but by giving up God's jus puniendi [right of punishing] into the hands of the Redeemer; nor by giving any right directly to them, but per meram resultantiam [by mere consequence] this happy change is made for them in their relation, upon the said remitting of God's right and advantage of justice against them), and they are given up to the Redeemer as their owner and ruler, to be dealt with upon terms of mercy which have a tendency to their recovery. God the Father and Christ the Mediator hath freely, without any prerequisite condition on man's part, enacted a law of grace of universal extent in regard of its tenor, by which he giveth, as a deed or gift, Christ himself, with all his following benefits which he bestoweth (as benefactor and legislator); and this to all alike, without excluding any, upon condition they believe and accept the offer. By this law, testament, or covenant, all men are conditionally pardoned, justified, and reconciled to God already, and no man absolutely; nor doth it make a difference, nor take notice of any, till men's performance or nonperformance of the condition makes a difference. In the new law Christ hath truly given himself with a conditional pardon, justification, and conditional right to salvation, to all men in the world, without exception."
(4.) But the peculiarity of Baxter's scheme will be seen from the following farther extracts: "Though Christ died equally for all men, in the aforesaid law sense, as he satisfied the offended legislator, and as giving himself to all alike in the conditional covenant, yet he never properly intended or purposed the actual justifying and saving of all, nor of any but those that come to be justified and saved; he did not, therefore, die for all, nor for any that perish, with a degree of resolution to save them, much less did he die for all alike, as to this intent. Christ hath given faith to none by his law or testament, though he hath revealed that to some he will, as benefactor and Dominus Absolutus [absolute Lord], give that grace which shall infallibly produce it; and God hath given some to Christ that he might prevail with them accordingly; yet this is no giving it to the person, nor hath he in himself ever the more title to it, nor can any lay claim to it as their due. It belongeth not to Christ as satisfier, nor yet as legislator, to make wicked refusers to become willing, and receive him and the benefits which he offers; therefore he may do all for them that is fore-expressed, though he cure not their unbelief. Faith is a fruit of the death of Christ (and so is all the good which we do enjoy), but not directly, as it is satisfaction to justice; but only remotely, as it proceedeth from that jus dominii [right of dominion] which Christ has received to send the Spirit in what measure and TO WHOM HE WILL, and to succeed it accordingly; — and as it is necessary to the attainment of the farther ends of his death in the certain gathering and saving of THE ELECT."
(5.) Thus the whole theory amounts to this, that, although a conditional salvation has been purchased by Christ for all men, and is offered to them, and all legal difficulties are removed out of the way of their pardon as sinners by the atonement, yet Christ hath not purchased for any man the gift of FAITH, or the power of performing the condition of salvation required; but gives this to some, and does not give it to others, by virtue of that absolute dominion over men which he has purchased for himself, so that, as the Calvinists refer the decree of election to the sovereignty of the Father, Baxter refers it to the sovereignty of the Son; one makes the decree of reprobation to issue from the Creator and Judge, the other from the Redeemer himself. The Baxterian theory, with modifications, is adopted by many of the English and American Congregationalists, New School Presbyterians, and United Presbyterians of Scotland.
Baxter's chief English works are,
1. A Narration of his own Life and Times: —
2. The Saint's Everlasting Rest: —
3. A Paraphrase on the New Testament: —
4. A Call to the Unconverted (of which twenty thousand copies were sold in one year, and which has been translated into every European language): —
5. Dying Thoughts: —
6. The Poor Man's Family Book: —
7. The Reformed Pastor.
He also wrote several books in Latin; among them—
1. Epistola de generali omnium Protestantium unione adversus Papatum —
2. Dissertatio de baptismo Infantum e Scriptura demonstrato —
3. Catechismus Quakerianus: —
4. De Regimine Ecclesiae: —
5. De Republica Sancta (against the Oceana of Harrington): —
6. De Universali Redemptione, contra Calvinum et Bezam: —
7. Historia Conciliorum, etc. etc.
In all, he is said to have composed one hundred and forty-five works in folio, and sixty-three in 4to, besides a multitude of more trifling writings. The list prefixed to Orme's Life of Baxter includes 168 treatises. His Practical Works were reprinted in 1830 (London, 23 vols. 8vo); his controversial writings have never been fully collected, and many of them are very scarce. His fame chiefly rests on his popular works, and on his Methodus Theologies and Catholic Theology, in which his peculiar views are embodied. Baxter left behind him a Narrative of the most Memorable Passages of his Life and Times, which was published in a folio volume after his death (1696) by Sylvester, under the title Reliquiae Baxterianae. It is here that we find that review of his religious opinions written in the latter part of his life, which Coleridge speaks of as one of the most remarkable pieces of writing that have come down to us. See Fisher's articles in Bibl. Sacra, 9, 135, 300; and reprint of Baxter's End of Controversy in Bibl. Sacra, April, 1855; see also Sir James Stephen, Essays, 2, 1; Orme, Life and Times of Baxter (Lond. 1830, 2 vols. 8vo); Watson, Theol. Institutes, 2, 410; Nicholls, Calvinism and Arminianism, p. 714; Edin. Rev. 70. 96; Gerlach, Rich. Baxter nach seinem Leben und Wirken (Berl. 1836); Tulloch, English Puritanism (Edinb. 1861); English Cyclopaedia, s.v.; Watson, Dictionary, s.v.; Christian Review, 8, 1; Wesley, Works, 3, 568, 635; Allibone, Dictionary of Authors, 1, 147.