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Richard Baxter

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Subject: Hyper-Calvinism, History of the Puritans from 1649, History of the Calvinist–Arminian debate, Saints' Rest, Puritans
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Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter
Born 12 November 1615
Rowton, Shropshire
Died 8 December 1691 (aged 76)
Nationality English
Occupation church leader, theologian, controversialist, poet
Religion Puritan

Richard Baxter (12 November 1615 – 8 December 1691) was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer,[1] theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long and prolific career as theological writer. After the Restoration he refused preferment, while retaining a non-separatist Presbyterian approach, and became one of the most influential leaders of the Nonconformists, spending time in prison.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Early ministry, 1638–1660 2
    • Dudley and Bridgnorth 2.1
    • Kidderminster 2.2
    • The English Civil War 2.3
    • Return to Kidderminster 2.4
  • Ministry following the Restoration, 1660–1691 3
    • Legal troubles 3.1
  • Later writings and last years 4
  • Theology 5
  • Legacy 6
    • Literary Legacy and Mentions 6.1
    • Monuments 6.2
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

Baxter was born at Rowton, Shropshire, at the house of his maternal grandfather (probably on 12 November 1615),[2] and baptised at its then parish church at High Ercall.[3] In February 1626 he was removed to his parents' home (now called Baxter's House) in Eaton Constantine.[3] 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, chaplain to the Council of Wales and the Marches.[2]

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.[2]

After three months spent working for the dying Owen as a teacher at Wroxeter, Baxter read theology with Francis Garbet, the local clergyman,[2] adding to his reading (initially in devotional writings, of John Sprint and John Burges. In about 1634, he met Joseph Symonds (assistant to Thomas Gataker) and Walter Cradock, two Nonconformists.[5][2]

Early ministry, 1638–1660

Dudley and Bridgnorth

In 1638, Baxter 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, in Shropshire, where, as assistant to a Mr Madstard, he established a reputation for vigorously discharging the duties of his office.[2]

Baxter 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 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.[2]


One of the first measures of the St Mary and All Saints' Church, Kidderminster. This happened in April 1641, when he was twenty-six.[2]

Title page of a 1657 edition of The Reformed Pastor.

His ministry continued, with many interruptions, for about 19 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 was a book which Baxter published in relation to the general ministerial efforts he promoted.[2]

The English Civil War

On the outbreak of 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.[6][5] Of numerous critics[1] the one with whom Baxter engaged most closely was Christopher Cartwright.[8]

Baxter's connexion with the Parliamentary army was a very characteristic one. He joined it that he might, if possible contract the growth of sectaries in that field, and maintain the cause of constitutional government in opposition to republican tendencies of the time. He regretted that he had not previously accepted Oliver Cromwell's offer to become chaplain to the Ironsides. 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 of the church, and in subsequent interviews argued with him about liberty of conscience, and even defended the monarchy he had subverted. This contact with Cromwell occurred when Baxter was summoned to London to assist in settling "the fundamentals of religion".[6][5]

In 1647, Baxter was staying at the home of Lady Rouse, wife of Sir Thomas Rouse, 1st Baronet, of Rous Lench in Worcestershire. There, though debilitated by illness, he wrote the most of a major work, The Saints' Everlasting Rest (1650).[6][5] During this period he was also an energetic campaigner for the establishment of a new University in Shrewsbury but lack of funding prevented success.

Return to Kidderminster

On his recovery he returned to Kidderminster, where he also became a prominent political leader. His sensitive conscience led him into conflict with almost all the contending parties in state and church.[6] An all-day debate on 1 January 1650, with John Tombes at Bewdley ended in confused disorder.[9]

Ministry following the Restoration, 1660–1691

18th-century engraving of Richard Baxter, after a 17th-century portrait by John Riley.

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 1662 took effect, 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. The goal of comprehension was obstructed by forces on both sides: by conforming churchmen and dissenters alike. The Savoy Conference resulted in Baxter's Reformed Liturgy, though it was cast aside without consideration. Baxter continued to advocate for a comprehensive "national church", off and on, until his death.[6]

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

  • Self-Denial one of the sermons of Richard Baxter
  • Plain Scripture Proof of Infants Church-Membership and Baptism by Richard Baxter (1656)
  • Five Disputations of Church-Government, and Worship by Richard Baxter (1659)
  • A Saint or a Brute: The Certain Necessity and Excellency of Holiness by Richard Baxter (1662)
  • The Life of Faith by Richard Baxter (1670)
  • Reliquiæ Baxterianæ: or, Mr. Richard Baxter's Narrative of the Most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times by Richard Baxter (1696)
  • An Abridgement of Mr. Baxter's History of His Life and Times: With an Account of the Ministers, &c. who Were Ejected at the Restauration, of King Charles II... and the Continuation of Their History to the Passing of the Bill Against Occasional Conformity, in 1711 by Edmund Calamy (1713)
  • The Reformed Pastor; A Discourse on the Pastoral Office by Richard Baxter, ed. Samuel Parker (1808)
  • , Volume IA Christian Directory: Or, A Body of Practical Divinity and Cases of Conscience by Richard Baxter (Richard Edwards, 1825)
  • , Volume IIA Christian Directory: Or, A Body of Practical Divinity and Cases of Conscience by Richard Baxter (Richard Edwards, 1825)
  • , Volume IIIA Christian Directory: Or, A Body of Practical Divinity and Cases of Conscience by Richard Baxter (Richard Edwards, 1825)
  • , Volume IVA Christian Directory: Or, A Body of Practical Divinity and Cases of Conscience by Richard Baxter (Richard Edwards, 1825)
  • , Volume VA Christian Directory: Or, A Body of Practical Divinity and Cases of Conscience by Richard Baxter (Richard Edwards, 1825)
  • The Description, Reasons and Reward of Walking With God: On Genesis V.24 by Richard Baxter (J. Owen, 1825)
  • Memoirs of Margaret Baxter: Daughter of Francis Charlton and Wife of Richard Baxter (Richard Edwards, 1826)
  • A Call to the Unconverted. To Which Are Added Several Valuable Essays by Richard Baxter, with an Introduction by Thomas Chalmers (1829)
  • , Volume IThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume IIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume IIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume IVThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume VThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume VIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume VIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XIIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XVThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XVIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XVIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XVIIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XIXThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XXIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XXIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume XXIIIThe Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (1830)
  • , Volume IThe Life and Times of the Rev. Richard Baxter: With a Critical Examination of His Writings by William Orme (1831)
  • , Volume IIThe Life and Times of the Rev. Richard Baxter: With a Critical Examination of His Writings by William Orme (1831)
  • , Volume ISelect Practical Writings of Richard Baxter, ed. Leonard Bacon (1831)
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Individual works

External links

(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


For a small selection of Baxter's hymns, see his Cyberhymnal page.

For Baxter's involvement in the Great Ejection and the persecution of puritans, see .

For more on Baxter's autobiography and its historical usefulness, see .

Further reading

  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:  Endnote:
    • Encyclopædia Britannica's most useful source was 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 the Younger abridged this work (1702). The abridgment forms the first volume of the account of the ejected ministers; the reply to the accusations which had been brought against Baxter is 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 paper on Baxter, contributed originally to the Edinburgh Review, is reprinted in the second volume of his Essays. Estimates of Baxter were 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).
  1. ^ .
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Chisholm 1911, p. 551.
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b c d  
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Chisholm 1911, p. 552.
  7. ^ .
  8. ^  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Baxter, Richard, William Orme. The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter. Vol. 1. London: James Duncan, 1830, p. 239.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Jackson 1908, p. 16.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Eliot, George (1860), "Chapter 12: Mr and Mrs Glegg at Home", Mill on the Floss; Book 1.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^ Pevsner, Nikolaus (1968), The Buildings of England: Worcestershire, p. 207
  20. ^ Tomkinson, Ken, and Hall, George (1975), Kidderminster Since 1800, pp. 209–10
  21. ^ a b


  1. ^ John Tombes, Thomas Tully, and John Wallis.[7]


Baxter House, a boarding house at Old Swinford Hospital school in Stourbridge, is named after him. In Kidderminster, Baxter College (formerly Harry Cheshire High School), and a public park, Baxter Gardens, are both named after him. Until July 2011, Baxter's name was given to one of the six houses (the others Acton, Clive, Darwin, Houseman and Webb) at The Priory School, Shrewsbury. The houses were initially named after historical persons, but subsequently changed to tree names.

The Baxter Monument in Rowton, Shropshire (the village of his birth) is a squat stone obelisk with a bronze plaque on which is written "Richard Baxter great divine author and eminent citizen of the 17th century. Son of Richard Baxter and Beatrice née Adney born here in Rowton AD 1615. Died in London 1691".[21] It resides on a triangle of grass at the centre of the village and is probably of late 19th century construction. It was designated a Grade II listed structure in 1983.[21] There is a portrait of Baxter in Dr Williams's Library, Gordon Square, London.

The Baxter Monument is a Grade II listed structure in Kidderminster.[18] This tribute of general esteem was erected nearly two centuries after Baxter's death, sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock and unveiled 28 July 1875. Originally in the Bull Ring, it was moved to its present site outside St Mary's parish church in March 1967.[18][19][20]

The Richard Baxter Monument in the civic parish of Wolverley and Cookley (neighbouring Kidderminster) was built around 1850 in memory of Baxter. It is a Grade II listed structure and resides on a hilltop on Blakeshall Common.[17]

Baxter's House in Bridgnorth is still standing near the High Street with a name plaque on the front.


Richard Baxter Statue at St Mary's Church, Kidderminster

Max Weber (1864–1920), the German sociologist, made significant use of Baxter's works in developing his thesis for "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" (1904, 1920). Robert K. Merton (1910–2003), founder of the sociology of science and well known for the so-called Merton Thesis, also followed Weber in making use of Baxter's Christian Directory as "a typical presentation of the leading elements in the Puritan ethos."[16]

In Mill on the Floss Richard Baxter's "Saints Everlasting Rest" is listed as one of aunt Glegg's books.[15]

Baxter's influence in New England is referenced in the first chapter of the 19th century devotional work "I Will Be A Lady – a book for girls" by Mrs. Tuthill.

In 1674, Baxter cast in a new form the substance of Arthur Dent's book The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven under the title, The Poor Man's Family Book. In this way, Arthur Dent of South Shoebury was a link between Baxter and another great Puritan John Bunyan.

Geoffrey Nuttall lists 141 books written by Baxter in his biography of Baxter, published in 1965.[14]

Literary Legacy and Mentions

Richard Baxter is commemorated in the Calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America with a feast day on 8 December, but his feast day in the Church of England's Calendar of Saints is 14 June.


  1. The atonement of Christ did not consist in his suffering the identical but the equivalent punishment (i.e., one which would have the same effect in moral government) as that deserved by mankind because of offended law. Christ died for sins, not persons. The benefits of substitutionary atonement are accessible and available to all men for their salvation.
  2. The atonement is not limited to a select few, but is available to all who will believe in Christ.
  3. The righteousness that is imputed to the believer in the work of justification is not the righteousness of Christ, but is by virtue of the faith of the believer himself in Christ.
  4. Every sinner has a distinct agency of his own to exert in the process of his conversion, which is to believe in Christ.

Baxter's theology was set forth most elaborately in his Latin Methodus Theologiæ Christianæ (London, 1681); the Christian Directory (1673) contains the practical part of his system; and Catholic Theology (1675) is an English exposition. His theology made Baxter very unpopular among his contemporaries and even into the next century caused a split among the Dissenters.[13] As summarised by Thomas W. Jenkyn, it differed from the Calvinism on four points:[13]

Baxter insisted that the Calvinists of his day ran the danger of ignoring the conditions that came with God's new covenant. Justification, Baxter insisted, required at least some degree of faith as the human response to the love of God.

Richard Baxter rejected the idea of a limited atonement in favour of a universal atonement. Interpreting the kingdom of God in terms of Christ as Christus Victor and Rector of all men, Baxter explained Christ's death as an act of universal redemption (penal and vicarious, though substitutionary in explication), in virtue of which God has made a new covenant offering pardon and amnesty to the penitent. Repentance and faith, being obedience to this covenant, are the conditions of salvation.


The remainder of his life, from 1687 onwards, was passed peacefully. He died in London and his funeral was attended by churchmen as well as dissenters.[6]

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, including major treatises such as the Christian Directory, the Methodus Theologiae Christianae, and the Catholic Theology. His Breviate of the Life of Mrs Margaret Baxter records the virtues of his wife and tenderness which otherwise might not have been known.[6] A slim devotional work published in 1658 under the title Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Live[12] formed one of the core extra-biblical texts of evangelicalism until at least the middle of the 19th century.

Later writings and last years

But his worst encounter was with the King's Bench Prison on the charge of libelling the Church in his Paraphrase on the New Testament, and was tried before Jeffreys on this accusation. No authoritative report of the trial exists; if the partisan account on which tradition is based is accepted, Jeffreys was infuriated. 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 be whipped behind a cart. Baxter was now approaching 70 years old, and remained in prison for 18 months, until the government, hoping to win his influence, remitted the fine and released him.[6]

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.[6]

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.[6]

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.[6]

Legal troubles

On 10 September 1662,[10] Baxter married Margaret Charlton, a woman like-minded with himself. She died in 1681 and Baxter wrote the words for the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright[11] in that year.[6]


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