A Biography of Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

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Richard Baxter was born on November 12, 1615, in Rowton, Shropshire, England.[1] His parents were Richard and Beatrice. Baxter’s life as a kid was not that decent. His basic education was a disappointment; he had four different schoolmasters who were oblivious, two of whom were immoral.[2] Still, Baxter’s spirituality was not left out. Richard, his father, was Baxter’s model in spirituality. In fact, at the age of fifteen, with the influence of his father, Baxter recognized that books were a great help for his conversion and assurance; he said, “It pleased God to awaken my soul.”[3]

Moreover, his conversion was sparked through reading books that God used to awaken his soul. After reading Edmund Bunny’s Resolution, he was not sure if he already experienced true conversion. Baxter said,

The same things which I knew before came no now in another manner, with Light, and Sense and Seriousness to my Heart. This cast me first into fears of my Condition; and those drove me to Sorrow and Confession and Prayer, and so to some resolution for another kind of Life: And many a day I went with a throbbing Conscience, and saw that I had other Matters to mind, and another Work to do in the World, than ever I had minded well before.[4]

Baxter further noted, “yet whether sincere conversion began now, or before, or after, I was never able to this day to know.”[5] It was only until Baxter read Richard SibbesThe Bruised Reed and the Smoking Flax which was bought by his father from a peddler that gave him an assurance of conversion. Baxter described his conversion as “the most blessed work, and the day of conversion the most blessed day, that this world is acquainted with.”[6]

Baxter’s Ministry

Baxter entered the ministry as the vicar at Kidderminster’s parish for more than fifteen years beginning in 1641–with an interruption caused by the civil war. He maintained a non-conformist position throughout his life; refusing to conform to the Act of Uniformity 1662. He then left the Church of England on May 25 of the same year before the Act was fully enforced. Months after, Richard Baxter married Margaret Charlton on September 10. Baxter was forty-seven years old and Margaret Charlton, twenty-six years old, when they were married; Samuel Clarke presided over their marriage.[7] Yet, the couple only had nineteen wonderful years together; Margaret died in 1681.

Baxter was ordained into the Church of England in 1638 after studying divinity.[8] He served for nine months in Dudley as a schoolmaster while he also preached on Sundays. Consequently, Baxter went to Bridgnorth as a curate for almost two years.

It was in 1641 where he became the Vicar of Kidderminster’s parish. His first pastorate was not easy. Hans Boersma noted, “Partly this was due to the inhabitants of the town who ‘proved a very ignorant, dead-hearted people’”[9] He had difficulty to win the townspeople’s hearts, yet, months later, he was doing well to build a close relationship with them because of his persuasive pastoral work.

After fifteen months, civil war broke out and Baxter needed to leave Kidderminster from 1642 through 1646. During these years, Baxter served as a chaplain for some of Oliver Cromwell’s forces.[10] Baxter served briefly as a chaplain in the parliamentary army.

Upon his return to Kidderminster, people were mad at him for assisting Cromwell’s parliament since most people in Kidderminster were royalists. Providentially, Baxter was able to work it out with his parishioners and served for another fourteen years. Furthermore, during his last ministerial years, Baxter helped to bring about the restoration of the king in 1660.

When the monarchy was restored, Baxter was appointed as one of King Charles II’s chaplains. “But, due to the Act of Uniformity 1662 his position was short-lived. Baxter was neither willing nor conscientiously able to obey the act,” Timothy Miller noted.[11] He left the Church of England then he was later silenced as part of the ejected ministers.

In his silent years, Baxter continued preaching at various churches, one at St. Brides, another church at Milk street, and at Blackfriars. Miserably, in 1669, Baxter was charged for illegally preaching which led to his imprisonment for six months in Clerkenwell.[12] After Baxter was released, he was granted a license in 1672 through the Royal Declaration of Indulgence for non-conformists. Still, during these years, Baxter suffered much persecution and seizures of his possessions.

In 1685, James II succeeded Charles II, yet there was a problem, James was a faithful Roman Catholic. Why is this a problem? Baxter recognized papists as his main enemy. True enough, this led Baxter to be imprisoned for another eighteen months in the same year.

After his release, Baxter focused on his writing ministry with several preaching appointments. In the Glorious Revolution (1688–89), William and Mary era came which brought the Toleration Act that made Baxter to minister freely until his death in 1691.[13] Baxter’s prominence came with several theological issues thrown against him which are as follows, improved Amyraldianism, a political theological framework, non-conformity, and his willingness to cater to different views.

Mere Catholic Christian

As said, Baxter was a non-conformist throughout his ministry. N. H. Keeble noted, “Many Puritans, statesmen, and Anglicans described him as a moderate Calvinist and a moderate Arminian; even placed him between Quakers and Roman Catholics.”[14] He served as a chaplain for the parliamentary army, but then helped to bring about the restoration of the king. Yet as a moderate, Baxter found himself the target of both extremes.[15]

Concerning baptism, Baxter was a proponent of infant baptism with a modified Augustinian view. However, Baxter was willing to have church communion with the Baptists or Anabaptists since infant baptism is nonfundamental and a complicated issue. Boersma noted, “there is no question that Baxter is willing to maintain communion with antipedobaptists.”[16] Baxter said, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”[17]

Still, at the end of the day, Baxter called himself a “mere Christian.” Baxter noted, “I am a Christian, a mere Christian, of no other religion; and the church that I am of is the Christian church…call me a Catholic Christian,” not as Roman Catholic but as part of, “the body of Jesus Christ on Earth.”[18]

Baxter died on December 8, 1691 in London. In his last years, notably, he was an inexhaustible author, writing almost two hundred works while being a prominent preacher.[19] This was evidenced by the multitude of people who attended his funeral, wherein both conformists and non-conformists gave their respect to this great minister. George Earys noted, “Never had there been such a private funeral.”[20]


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[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Richard Baxter,” Encyclopædia Britannica, January 08, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Richard-Baxter.

[2] N. H. Keeble, The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (J. M. Lloyd Thomas, 1974; repr., London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1974), 3.

[3] Keeble, The Autobiography, 7. Cf. Hugh T. Kerr and John Mulder, eds. Conversions: The Christian Experience (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 29-33.

[4] Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae: or, Narrative of His Life and Times (London: Matthew Sylvester, 1696), I, 3. Cf. Timothy K. Beougher, Richard Baxter and Conversion: A Study of the Puritan Concept of Becoming a Christian (Scotland, UK: Mentor Imprint, 2007), 21.

[5] Richard Baxter, The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (Bedford St., London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1931), 7.

[6] Richard Baxter, “A Treatise of Conversion,” in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, vol II (1657; London: George Virtue, 1838), 399.

[7] J. William Black, “Richard and Margaret,” in Christianity Today, Christian History Issue 89: Richard Baxter and English Puritans (2006), https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-89/richard-margaret.html

[8] Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Richard Baxter.”

[9] Hans Boersma, Richard Baxter’s Understanding of Infant Baptism (Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ: Hans Boersma, 2002), 2.

[10] Jordan Ballor, ed., Introduction to How to do Good to Many: The Public Good is the Christian’s Life by Richard Baxter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian’s Library Press, 2018), viii.

[11] Timothy Miller, “Mere Christianity: An Examination of the Concept in Richard Baxter and C. S. Lewis,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 20 (2015):66.

[12] Keeble, The Autobiography, 207-10.

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[13] Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Richard Baxter.”

[14] N. H. Keeble, Richard Baxter: Puritan Man of Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 22-23.

[15] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Richard Baxter: Moderate in Age of Extremes,” in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000; Christianity Today, Inc.), 87, Kindle.

[16] Boersma, Richard Baxter, 50.

[17] Richard Baxter, preface to The True and Only Way of Concord of All the Christian Churches the Desirableness of it, and the Detection of False Dividing Terms (London: Printed for John Hancock, 1680; Text Creation Partnership), accessed May 18, 2020, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A27054.0001.001/1:1?rgn=div1;view=toc. Original words: “Si in Necessariis sit Vnitas; in non-necessariis Libertas, In utris{que} Charitas, optimo certe loco essent res nostrae.”

[18] Richard Baxter, Church-History of the Government of Bishops and their Council Abbreviated (London: John Kidgell, 1680), xv, accessed May 13, 2020, https://archive.org/details/churchhistoryofg00baxt/page/n23/mode/2up. Cf. Keeble, Richard Baxter, 23-24.

[19] Miller, “Mere Christianity,” 66.

[20] George Earys, Richard Baxter and the Revival of Preaching and Pastoral Service (London: National Council of Evangelical Free Churches, 1912), 126.

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Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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