Richard Baxter

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter (November 12?, 1615 - December 8, 1691) was an English Puritan church leader, divine scholar and controversialist, called by Dean Stanley "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen".

He was born at Rowton, in Shropshire, at the house of his maternal grandfather. His ancestors had been gentlefolk, but his father's lifestyle had lost him his place in society. About the time of Richard's birth, however, he turned over a new leaf. Richard's early education was poor, being mainly in the hands of the local clergy, themselves virtually illiterate. He was helped by John Owen, master of the free school at Wroxeter, where he studied from about 1629 to 1632, and made fair progress in Latin. On Owen's advice he did not proceed to Oxford (a step which he afterwards regretted), but went to Ludlow Castle to read with Richard Wickstead, the council's chaplain there. Despite Wickstead's neglect, Baxter took advantage of the great library at the castle.

He was reluctantly persuaded to go to court, and he went to London under the patronage of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, with the intention of doing so, but soon returned home, resolved to study divinity. He was confirmed in the decision by the death of his mother After three months spent working for Owen as a teacher at Wroxeter he read theology with Francis Garbet, the local clergyman. In about 1634, he met Joseph Symonds and Walter Cradock, two famous Nonconformists who influenced him considerably. In 1638 he became master of the free grammar school at Dudley, where he commenced his ministry, having been ordained and licensed by John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester. His success as a preacher was at first small; but he was soon transferred to Bridgnorth (Shropshire), where, as assistant to a Mr Madstard, he established a reputation for conscientiousness.

He remained at Bridgnorth for nearly two years, during which time he took a special interest in the controversy relating to Nonconformity and the Church of England. He soon became alienated from the Church on several matters; and after the requirement of what is called "the et cetera oath," he rejected episcopacy in its English form. He became a moderate Nonconformist; and continued as such throughout his life. Though regarded as a Presbyterian, he was not exclusively tied to Presbyterianism, and often seemed prepared to accept a modified Episcopalianism. All forms of church government were regarded by him as subservient to the true purposes of religion.

One of the first measures of the Long Parliament was to reform the clergy; with this view, a committee was appointed to receive complaints against them. Among the complainants were the inhabitants of Kidderminster. The vicar (Dance), agreed that he would give 60 a year, out of his income of 200, to a preacher who should be chosen by certain trustees. Baxter was invited to deliver a sermon before the people, and was unanimously elected as the minister. This happened in April 1641, when he was twenty-six. His ministry continued, with many interruptions, for about nineteen years; and during that time he accomplished many reforms in Kidderminster and the neighbourhood. He formed the ministers in the country around him into an association, uniting them irrespective of their differences as Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Independents. The Reformed Pastor, a book published in relation to the general ministerial efforts he promoted, drives home the sense of clerical responsibility with extraordinary power. Even today his memory is preserved as that of the true apostle of the district. The interruptions to which his Kidderminster life was subjected arose from the condition of things occasioned by the English Civil War. Baxter blamed both parties, but Worcestershire was a Royalist county, and a man in his position was, while the war continued, exposed to annoyance and danger in a place like Kidderminster.

He therefore moved to Gloucester, and afterwards (1643-1645) settled in Coventry, where he preached regularly both to the garrison and the citizens. After the Battle of Naseby he took the situation of chaplain to Colonel Edward Whalley's regiment, and continued to hold it till February 1647. During these stormy years he wrote his Aphorisms of Justification, which on its appearance in 1649 excited great controversy. Baxter joined the Parliamentary army in an attempt to counteract the growth of the sectaries in that field, and maintain the cause of constitutional government in opposition to the republican tendencies of the time. He regretted that he had not previously accepted Oliver Cromwell's offer to become chaplain to the Ironsides, being confident in his power of persuasion under the most difficult circumstances. His success in converting the soldiery to his views was limited, but he preserved his own consistency and fidelity. He did not hesitate to urge what he conceived to be the truth upon the most powerful officers, any more than he hesitated to instruct the camp followers. Cromwell avoided him; but Baxter, having to preach before him after he had assumed the Protectorship, chose for his subject the old topic of the divisions and distractions of the church, and in subsequent interviews argued with him about liberty of conscience, and even defended the monarchy he had subverted. There is a striking proof of Baxter's insight into character in his account of what happened under these circumstances.

Of Cromwell he says, "I saw that what he learned must be from himself." It is worthy of notice that this intercourse with Cromwell occurred when Baxter was summoned to London to assist in settling "the fundamentals of religion," and made the memorable declaration, in answer to the objection that what he had proposed as fundamental "might be subscribed by a Papist or Socinian,"--"So much the better, and so much the fitter it is to be the matter of concord." In 1647 he was staying at the home of Lady Rouse of Rouse-Lench, and there, in much physical weakness, wrote a great part of his famous work, The Saints' Everlasting Rest (1650). On his recovery he returned to Kidderminster, where he also became a prominent political leader, his sensitive conscience leading him into conflict with almost all the contending parties in state and church.

After the Restoration in 1660 Baxter, who had helped to bring about that event, settled in London. He preached there till the Act of Uniformity took effect in 1662, and looked for such terms of comprehension as would have permitted the moderate dissenters with whom he acted to have remained in the Church of England. In this hope he was sadly disappointed. Church leaders did not wish for such comprehension, and their objective in negotiation was to excuse their own breach of faith. The Savoy conference resulted in Baxter's Reformed Liturgy, though it was cast aside without consideration. The same reputation which Baxter had obtained in the country he secured in London. The power of his preaching was universally felt, and his capacity for business placed him at the head of his party. He had been made a king's chaplain, and was offered the bishopric of Hereford, but he could not accept the offer without assenting to things as they were. After his refusal he was not allowed, even before the passing of the Act of Uniformity, to be a curate in Kidderminster. Bishop Morley even prohibited him from preaching in the diocese of Worcester. Baxter, however, found much consolation in his marriage on September 24 1662 with Margaret Charlton, a woman likeminded with himself. She died in 1681.

From 1662 until the indulgence of 1687, Baxter's life was constantly disturbed by persecution of one kind or another. He retired to Acton in Middlesex, for the purpose of quiet study, but was placed in prison for keeping a conventicle. Baxter procured a habeas corpus in the court of common pleas. He was taken up for preaching in London after the licences granted in 1672 were recalled by the king. The meeting house which he had built for himself in Oxendon Street was closed to him after he had preached there only once. In 1680, he was taken from his house; and though he was released that he might die at home, his books and goods were seized. In 1684, he was carried three times to the sessions house, being scarcely able to stand, and without any apparent cause was made to enter into a bond for 400 in security for his good behaviour.

But his worst encounter was with the chief justice, Sir George Jeffreys, in May 1685. He had been committed to the king's bench prison on the ridiculous charge of libelling the Church in his Paraphrase on the New Testament, and was tried before Jeffreys on this accusation. The trial is well known as among the most brutal perversions of justice which have occurred in England, though it must be remembered that no authoritative report of the trial exists. If the partisan account on which tradition is based is to be accepted, it would appear that Jeffreys himself acted like an infuriated madman. Baxter was sentenced to pay 500 marks, to lie in prison till the money was paid, and to be bound to his good behaviour for seven years. Jeffreys is even said to have proposed he should he whipped behind a cart. He was now seventy, and remained in prison for eighteen months, until the government, vainly hoping to win his influence to their side, remitted the fine and released him.

Baxter's health had grown even worse, yet this was the period of his greatest activity as a writer. He wrote 168 or so separate works, which are learned, elaborate, and varied. Such treatises as the Christian Directory, the Methodus Theologiae Christianae, and the Catholic Theology, might each have represented the life's work of an ordinary man. His Breviate of the Life of Mrs Margaret Baxter records the virtues of his wife, and reveals Baxter's tenderness of nature.

The remainder of his life, from 1687 onwards, was passed peacefully. He continued to preach and to publish almost to the end. He was surrounded by friends, and respected by the religious world. His saintly behaviour, his great talents, and his wide influence, raised him to a position of unequalled reputation. He helped to bring about the downfall of James II and complied with the Toleration Act under William and Mary. He died in London, and his funeral was attended by churchmen as well as dissenters. A similar tribute of general esteem was paid to him nearly two centuries later, when a statue was erected to his memory at Kidderminster in July 1875; this still stands.

Baxter had an unconquerable belief in the power of persuasive argument. He thought everyone was amenable to reason--bishops and levellers included. Nevertheless, he was not a quarrelsome man. His dogmatism and his liberality sometimes came into collision. His popularity as a preacher was great; but he often shut himself up with his books. He was singularly fitted for intellectual debate, but his devotional tendency was equally strong. Some of his writings are obscure, yet he could write at a popular level without loss of meaning. His Reasons for the Christian Religion remains a classic. His Poor Man's Family Book is a manual worthy of its title. His Saints' Everlasting Rest is a masterpiece of style. Perhaps no thinker has exerted so great an influence upon nonconformity as Baxter did, and did so in every form of development, doctrinal, ecclesiastical and practical. He belonged to a distinct class of the Christian ministry--that which aspires after scholarly training, prefers a broad to a sectarian theology, and adheres to rational methods of religious investigation and appeal. He had a hatred of fanaticism, and could barely tolerate Quakerism. Isaac Barrow said that "his practical writings were never minded, and his controversial ones seldom confuted," and John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, asserted that "if he had lived in the primitive time he had been one of the fathers of the church."


Our most valuable source is Baxter's autobiography, called Reliquiae Baxterianae or Mr Richard Baxter's Narrative of the most memorable Passages of his Life and Times (published by Matthew Sylvester in 1696). Edmund Calamy abridged this work (1702). The abridgment forms the first volume of the account of the ejected ministers, but whoever refers to it should also acquaint himself with the reply to the accusations which had been brought against Baxter, and which will be found in the second volume of Calamy's Continuation. William Orme's Life and Times of Richard Baxter appeared in 2 vols. in 1830; it also forms the first volume of "Practical Works" (1830, reprinted 1868). Sir James Stephen's interesting paper on Baxter, contributed originally to the Edinburgh Review, is reprinted in the second volume of his Essays. More recent estimates of Baxter are those given by John Tulloch in his English Puritanism and Its Leaders, and by Dean Stanley in his address at the inauguration of the statue to Baxter at Kidderminster (see Macmillan's Magazine, xxxii. 385).

There is a portrait of Baxter in the Williams library, Gordon Square, London.


pt:Richard Baxter


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools