Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Richard BaxterPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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AMONGST the countless number of human beings, who have succeeded one another on the bustling theatre of this world, acted their various parts and disappeared, how few have had their names and virtues transmitted to posterity. Even amongst those who have made the greatest figure in life, or had the greatest applause after their death, the far greater part have owed their distinction to the root from whence they sprung, to the fortunate circumstances of their lives, the influence and interest of their friends, and other external causes and happy coincidents not to be accounted for; while the great mass of mankind either pass off in unnoticed silence, or, having exercised their talents to the hurt of society, and the disgrace of humanity, are stigmatized, and hung up in the annals of human transactions for a terror to succeeding generations. There have, nevertheless, been in every age some few individuals, who, by their remarkable endowments, have broke through all the difficulties that stood in their way, and without the aid of parentage, patronage, or pecuniary resources, have, by their meritorious exertions for the good of mankind, dissipated every, cloud that envy or malice could raise to obscure their worth, and left behind them memorials to emblazon the annals of time. Such blessings have some men been to the world, that every attempt to detract from their merits has recoiled on their detractors, and marked them with indelible disgrace.
In this distinguished class of individuals, Mr. Richard Baxter, the subject of this memoir, holds a prominent place. His soul was too great for a useless or inactive life. His piety and integrity were too conspicuous to justify even a suspicion, that he could pervert his uncommon abilities, or use his great interest in promoting principles which his conscience did not allow. His origin was low, and his descent obscure. He had no external advantages to raise and distinguish him; but found his progress opposed by a host of difficulties, some of them apparently insurmountable; yet his personal merit has procured him a name, which, while it eclipses the fame of his detractors, will outlive all their calumnies.
He was born at Rowton, near high Ercal in Shropshire, on the 12th of November 1615, in the house of Richard Adency, his grandfather on the mother’s side, where he spent his infancy, which was remarkable in nothing but a pious inclination. At the age of ten year’s he was taken home to his father’s house at Baton Constantine, a village about five miles from Shrewsbury, where he passed away his childhood and youth; which, upon after reflection, he found to correspond with the declaration of the wise man—” Childhood and youth are vanity.” His father was a freeholder of Shropshire, who made no great figure in the world. His estate was small, and so encumbered with debt, that in order to clear it, he was shut up to the most parsimonious economy. This circumstance prevented his son from receiving a regular and liberal education. For want of better instructors, he fell into the hands of the readers in the village where he resided. His teachers were both lewd and ignorant; for learning was in a very low and languishing state in that remote corner of the land at the period we are speaking of; nor could much improvement be expected from such ignorant and indifferent instructors. His greatest help, in grammatical learning, he received from Mr. John Owen, master of the freeschool at Wroxeter, with whom he continued till he had been for some time captain of his school, and advanced as far as he was qualified to forward him.
No man could be more desirous of academical instruction; yet of this he was wholly deprived, in consequence of an observation of Mr. Owen’s, when he was leaving his school, “That it might perhaps be better for him to go and live with Mr. Wickstead, chaplain to the council at Ludlow, who had authority from the king to keep one to attend him.” Mr. Baxter was exceeding sorrowful at the proposal; but his parents were so highly pleased to have their son so near at home, that he was obliged, though with great reluctance, to acquiesce. But Mr. Wickstead was no great scholar himself; and though in other respects he used Mr. Baxter well, he took no pains to instruct him; so that the only advantage he had in this place was the free use of an excellent library, and abundance of time to study; which he improved to the utmost of his power. Here, however, he spent a year and a half; and having returned to his father’s house, he was soon after, at the request of Lord Newport, engaged to supply the place of Mr. Owen, who had fallen into a consumption, of which he died. Strongly inclined to the ministry, he was anxious to obtain the necessary qualifications for that sacred office; and disappointed in his hopes of a university education, he now applied himself to a rigid course of study, under the direction of Mr. Francis Garbett, minister of Wroxeter; and with his assistance, ran through a course of philosophy. His industry, at this time, was constant and severe; but the delicacy of his frame greatly retarded his progress. He endeavored to manage his studies in divinity with the occasional advice of several neighbouring ministers, with whose help he was making hopeful progress, till a new motion was made, which had well nigh turned his thoughts to a very different course of life.
When about eighteen years of age, Mr. Wickstead persuaded him to abandon all thoughts of the church, to leave the country for the court, and make interest for some office, by which he would have an opportunity of rising in the world. The thing was pleasing to his parents; and by their instigation, he came up to Whitehall, with a recommendation to Sir Henry Herbert, then master of the revels. He was courteously received, and kindly entertained; but found nothing desirable in a court life, but much that made him very uneasy; and in a month’s time he resolved to leave those scenes of dissipation and courtly insincerity for the country, where he resumed his former course of studies; which he now prosecuted with more indefatigable ardor than can be well imagined, till, at the earnest solicitation of Mr. Richard Foley of Stourbridge, he accepted the mastership of a freeschool, which that gentleman had lately erected at Dudley, haying an usher under him. By this time God had fitted him for great, service in his church, by bringing him to more than ordinary seriousness. While teaching the freeschool at Dudley, he read a variety of practical treatises; which were the means of impressing his mind with the importance of religion, to which he was not a little quickened by the weakness of his body, and a bad state of health, which he then believed would carry him off in less than a twelvemonth.
We are informed by Dr. Calamy, “That from twenty-one to twenty-three years of age he was constantly under the apprehension of death, and greatly exercised about the concerns of his soul; which created in him an earnest desire to instruct ignorant, presumptuous, and profane persons in the important truths that concern the salvation of their souls. In the meantime, the ridicule and censure he was likely to draw down upon himself, for entering into the ministry without an academical education, with all its attendant honors, but especially the awful responsibility attached to the pastoral office, greatly discouraged him; yet the prospect of an early removal to another world, together with a strong desire of being serviceable to the souls of perishing men, by turning them into the paths of righteousness, overpowered all these apprehensions. Having his views thus fixed upon the ministry, he applied to Dr. Thornborough, bishop of Winchester, for holy orders; which, after examination, he received, having as yet no conscientious scruples with regard to conformity to the church of England.
With regard to this controversy, he had consulted the neighboring ministers, who furnished him with Downham, Sprint, and Dr. Burgess, who had all written in defense of conformity; but they could furnish him with none who had taken up the other side of the controversy, all of whom they represented as mean scholars, whose arguments were weak and inconclusive; whereupon his mind was satisfied, that church conformity was both lawful and expedient, and that the conformists had the better cause. With this conviction he subscribed, without the least scruple, as is usual at the time of his ordination.
Being settled at Dudley, he preached both in the town and neighboring villages, where he became acquainted with several nonconformists, whom he considered too censorious and bitter in their animadversions against the conformists, although he found them honest and godly people. From them he had the perusal of several writings on their own side of the question; and, amongst the rest, Ames’ fresh Suit against the Ceremonies; which he carefully read, and compared with Dr. Burgess’ Rejoinder; and, upon the whole, at this time came to the following conclusions: “That kneeling was lawful—of the surplice he had some doubts, but was rather inclined to consider it no sufficient objection; for although he was determined never to use it, till under a necessity of so doing, he could not perceive how he could justify himself in forsaking his ministry merely on that account. Of the ring in marriage he had not the least scruple. The cross in baptism, he conceived, had been sufficiently proven by Dr. Ames to be unlawful; and with this conviction, never once used that ceremony. The English Liturgy, in particular, he thought very defective, and in great disorder, though not to a degree that should render it unwarrantable to such as could not be better furnished. To a form of prayer, and a liturgy as such, providing the matter therein contained were sound, he had no great objection.” He looked for discipline in the church, and lamented the neglect of it; but at this time was not so sensible as afterwards, that the very frame of diocesan prelacy, more than even the negligence of the bishops, either excluded or prevented it from being exercised. Subscription he began to consider unlawful, and repented his rashness in submitting, till he had more maturely examined the contents of those books which he had been called to subscribe. For although he could use the Common Prayer, and had not as yet wholly renounced diocesan prelacy, still to subscribe Ex Anlmo, that there is nothing in the three books contrary to the word of God, was what he would by no means have done, had he taken the same view of the matter at the time of subscription; so that subscription, the cross in baptism, and the promiscuous admission to the Lord’s supper of all comers, who had not been excommunicated by a bishop or chancellor, who knew nothing of their life and qualifications, were all to which he was yet disinclined to conform.
While he continued at Dudley, he had a numerous auditory, and a very tractable people to deal with; but within nine months, he was induced to remove to Bridgenorth, the second town in Shropshire, as assistant to Mr. William Madstard, where he was indulged in all his scruples, and put upon no work to which he had any conscientious objection; which, with the prospect of peace and quietness, were the only inducements he had for leaving his former charge.
He was scarcely well settled in this place till he was disturbed with the et cetera oath, which was framed by the convocation then sitting. But the act of swearing to a blind et cetera, which might be legally altered by the king, and, of course, might, in process of time, become an oath of rebellion, he could by no means agree to. It was an oath, besides, that must have prevented every swearer from making any attempts at church reformation. It was, moreover, an encroachment on the privileges of parliament to have such an oath imposed without their consent. The neighboring ministers, somewhat alarmed, met together to consult what was best to be done on this threatening occasion; when some were for quietly acquiescing, but a much greater number were for standing up against it. This put Mr. Baxter on a more close and critical investigation of the divine right of episcopacy; in the course of which, having read Bucer, Parker, and Baynes, which he compared with the reasons of bishop Downam, he was convinced, that though all kinds of episcopacy was not flatly condemned by the scriptures, the English diocesan form of it was calculated to corrupt both the churches and ministry, and to exclude all true church discipline, by substituting a heterogenial thing, the offspring of an interested clergy, in its place; so that this very oath, which had been imposed for the express purpose of subjugating the nation for ever to the diocesans, was the means of alienating the mind of Mr. Baxter, and thousands beside him, from their oppressive government.
Many, who before this went quietly on with their own business, and left the bishops to their own measures, were,: by the terror of this oath, roused from their indifference to look about them, and consider what they were doing. New animosities were engendered amongst the contending parties, by the unceasing debates which this unreasonable and impolitic oath had occasioned, and its opposers became more and more friendly to the cause of nonconformity, and more conciliated to its defenders, till that which was designed for their ruin ultimately proved their greatest advantage.
While the church of England was thus divided on the question of conformity, the church of Scotland was also in a flame. That nation, which had been accustomed to a Presbyterian government in the church, had first a more moderate system of episcopacy imposed upon them than that exercised in England; under which, though they felt uneasy, yet they had continued quiet, and, generally speaking, orderly, till the English Prayer Book, with some trifling alterations, together with the English Ceremonies, were very unceremoniously enforced upon the nation.
The first public reading of this new Service book occasioned an insurrection in Edinburgh, and roused such an indignant feeling throughout the nation, that, in spite of all the care and industry of the earl of Traquhair, the king’s commissioner, the number of the malcontents still increased, till, the greater part of the nobility falling in with them, they got the whole power of the nation into their own hands. At the same time the king imposed a tax on his English subjects, called shipmoney, on pretence of strengthening the navy; which, being done without the consent of parliament, gave general dissatisfaction. A universal murmuring was thus created through the whole kingdom, more especially amongst the country nobility and gentry, who considered this arbitrary transaction as trenching upon the fundamental laws of the country, the privileges of parliament, and the established rights of individual property.
The universal cry raised by these measures, and the fears of the people at this period, were, “That if parliaments and property were once destroyed, the constitution would, from that moment, be dissolved; so that no man could have the least security, either for property, liberty, or life, save the precarious and capricious pleasure of the king, whose will would be the supreme law.” Numbers refused to pay this shipmoney tax, and were thereupon distrained. Mr. Hampden and the Lord Sey brought it to a trial at law; in which Mr. Oliver, St. John, and others, defended the cause of the people. The twelve judges were consulted, and all, with the exception of judges Button and Crook, gave their opinion in favor of the king; which, of course, occasioned a still greater noise.
The Scots, soon after this, entered England with an army, encouraged, it is said, by many of the English nobility, who could not perceive by what other means they might force the king to call a parliament to rectify the disorders of the state. The earls of Essex, Warwick, Bedford, Clare, Bolingbroke, Mulgrave, and Holland, with the lords Sey and Brook, are reputed by some to have been concerned in forwarding this measure. But Heylin says, “That the Scots, after they had entered the country, not the first, but the second time, persuaded these noblemen, that the liberties of England depended upon their defending the powers and privileges of their parliament; which moved them at last to petition the king, that he would be graciously pleased to call his parliament together to settle the increasing disorders both of the church and state.”
The king met the Scots at Newcastle; a pacification was concluded, and an English parliament called; on which the Scotch army returned home. This parliament, however, soon displeased the king; on which account it was dissolved, and a fresh war undertaken against the Scotch; to the expense of which, besides others, the papists made liberal contributions. The Scottish nation loudly complained that this unnecessary war was the effect of popish counsels; and calling their army again to the field, they marched into, England. The English once* more petition for a parliament, and once more it is resolved on, and put into execution; but neither the Scottish nor English armies were disbanded. Thus, what was afterwards called the long parliament, had its origin; a parliament the* most active, successful, and celebrated of any that ever sat in England.
This parliament being met, they commenced their labors with the reformation both of church and state. Long and energetic speeches were made against shipmoney, against the judges that approved of the measure, the et cetera oath, and the convocation of bishops who formed it; also against my lord Strafford, archbishop Laud, and other evil counselors. There, was an astonishing harmony amongst the members; for, at this time, as the king had imposed the shipmoney on the commonwealth, and at the same time permitted the bishops to impose upon the church their intolerant acts of conformity, and suspension for want of supercanonical obedience; so the parliament, consisting of two parties, the one strongly attached to civil, and the other to ecclesiastical liberty, they, by uniting their endeavors, their influence, and their votes, carried every thing before them:.
No sooner was the disposition of the majority of this parliament made known throughout the kingdom, than complaints and petitions, respecting grievances, both civil and ecclesiastical, were poured into the house from every quarter of the kingdom, and great things, such as heretofore had been considered impossible, were effected in a very short time. An act was now passed against the high court of commission and the civi! power of churchmen; another, that the parliament should not be dissolved without its own consent; and a third, for triennial parliaments; and it length the king was even forced to withdraw his protection from the lord deputy Wentworth, whom the parliament had charged with treason, and almost every thing assumed a new appearance. Amongst a mass of other important matters, a reformation of the clergy was resolved on, and a committee appointed to hear petitions and complaints against them; upon which multitudes from every corner of the country came up with complaints against their ministers; some for being insufficient, some erroneous, some for imposing illegal innovations, and other some for scandalous lives. Mr. John White was chairman of this committee, and published the evidence and decisions against two hundred scandalous ministers, which, Mr. Calamy tells us, were filled with most abominable particularities, which had better been concealed than published,” to become the sport of papists, atheists, and other profane persons. Among the numerous complaints laid before this committee, the town of Kidderminster presented a petition, charging their vicar, and his two curates, with insufficiency for their offices; and the vicar, conscious of the fact, compounded the business, by allowing £ 60 per annum, out of: something less than £200, which the living was worth, to support a preacher, who was to be chosen by fourteen of the trustees. The preacher, thus to be chosen to have permission to preach whenever he pleased; while the vicar was to read the common prayer, ‘and perform such parts of the service as the preacher might consider matter of scruple for all which he gave a bond of £500. This arrangement being completed, the trustees invited Mr. Baxter to give them a sermon; which he did so much to their satisfaction, that he was unanimously chosen to be their minister. ‘He spent two years at Kidderminster, before the commencement of the war, and fourteen after. He found the place like a piece of dry and barren ground, ignorance and profanity greatly abounding, both in the town and surrounding country; but by the blessing of heaven on his labors, it soon assumed the appearance of paradise, flourishing in all the fruits of righteousness. Rage and malice at first gave him considerable opposition; but it soon passed over, and, by the divine blessing, his unwearied labors amongst the people had an unprecedented success.
Before his coming to Kidderminster, that town was notable for the vanity of its inhabitants. They had a yearlyshow, wherein they were wont to exhibit the forms of giants, and other antic devices, in their gaudy processions. Mr. Baxter gave them no disturbance; yet the more vicious had still some, scurvy thing to vent against him in some, part of their exhibitions. Some time after his entering on this charge, the parliament sent down an order to demolish the statues or images of any of the three persons of the Trinity, or of the Virgin Mary, which might be found in churches, or crosses in churchyards. The churchwarden was about to proceed in that business, when, lo, in an instant, men from every quarter appeared, with such weapons as came first to hand, in order to protect their images; and Mr. Baxter was blamed for all; but, by a happy providence, he was gone about a mile into the country, by which he escaped their rage and deadly resentment. Next Lord’s day Mr. Baxter dealt plainly with, them, pointed out the enormity of their offence, and told them, since they seemed determined to shed his blood, he would leave them, and so prevent them from the commission of such a heinous transgression. The poor creatures were quite ashamed of themselves; for, after all, they were sorry to think of parting with him.
Mr. Baxter was not so discouraged by this riot, but that lie set about his labors with still more determined resolution: On two days of every week, he and his assistant took between them fourteen families for private conference and catechizing. He spent about an hour with each family, and lest their bashfulness might make it disagreeable, or the ignorance observed might be sent abroad, none else were admitted. In his pulpit services he had a diligent and attentive auditory. Though, the church was capacious, and very commodious, his congregation was soon augmented to that degree, that five additional galleries were added for their accommodation.
Before the civil war, the riotous rabble had boldness enough to make serious godliness a common scorn, and stigmatize all who seemed conscientious in the performance of family worship, with the name of precisians, puritans, and roundheads. If they met together for prayer, or left an ignorant or drunken clergyman to hear a godly minister in a neighboring parish, the bishop’s spies watched over them, and the high commission court grievously afflicted them. After the war, the case, in this respect, was considerably altered. Piety was not only at full liberty, but countenanced, encouraged, and protected from insult. On the whole, Mr. Baxter found so much of the Spirit of God accompanying his labors at Kidderminster, and ,lad such an affectionate regard to the loving people of this’ place, that no preferment in the kingdom could have induced him to make an exchange. The civil war now began to rage and the blood of the nation was pouring out; so that the languishing state seemed almost incurable. The arbitrary measures of the king, and their rigid execution, had thrown the whole into commotion and universal discontent. The common cry, at this time, was for the execution of justice upon delinquents. The favorites, and special advisers of the king, were of course alarmed for their own safety; and having no hope of forgiveness from the people, they urged him on to a war, that proved his undoing. The lord keeper Finch, and secretary Windbank, fled the country. The judges, who advised the legality of shipmoney, were accused in parliament, and some of them imprisoned. The earl of Stratford and archbishop Laud were committed to the tower, charged with high treason. The trial of deputy Wentworth was strongly opposed and protracted by the king, who did every thing in his power to stop the prosecution; which considerably divided the parliament. The lords Falkland, Digby, and other men of note, were for gratifying his majesty in this particular, and saving his deputy; but others cried aloud for justice—insisting, that, as a conspiracy the most formidable had been set on foot for subverting the fundamental laws of the kingdom and the liberty of the people, and deputy Wentworth being at the head of that conspiracy, if, said they, this greatest of crimes pass unpunished, it will naturally encourage other enemies of the state to perpetrate similar acts of treason, and thereby hazard the repose of the nation, and even the existence of the constitution. These debates were attended with much heat and party feeling; but the heat soon subsided, and the parliament became more unanimous, and at last resolved to defend their privileges, and those of the people, at all hazards. The king had a considerable party, composed of state politicians and friends to the ecclesiastical hierarchy, who jointly exerted themselves against the parliament; but the country party, depending on the assistance of all truehearted Englishmen, should matters come to an extremity, carried every thing with a high hand. About this time the London apprentices carried up a petition to Westminster in a body; and falling in with some of the bishops by the way, who were passing to the House in their coaches, these apprentices, forgetting the rules of common civility, raised the shout of no bishops, and rudely laughed them to scorn. Whereupon these, with other ecclesiastics, in a pretended fright, met together, and declaring themselves deterred from attending their duty in parliament, by clamor and tumults, protested against any law that might be enacted in their absence. This protest, however, was so resented by parliament, that those who subscribed it were voted delinquents, and sent to prison for thus attempting to destroy the power of parliament. The London petitions were carried up by great numbers of the petitioners; which occasioned such scuffles and tumults, that the king began to consider himself unsafe, either in the city or its vicinity. The two armies of Scots and English were still in the north, undisbanded for want of money to pay them off. The English army, wanting their pay, were discontented; and becoming mutinous, a scheme was laid to march them suddenly to London, and disperse the parliament. But tins being discovered, several of the principal officers were examined, who confessed that some near the king had treated with them about marching the army to London. When this was published, it convinced the greater part of the members, that the king, while he amused them with promises, only waited for an opportunity to ‘bear them down by force, and use them at his pleasure. All the measures of the king were laid with so little judgment, and managed with so little address, that they made the parliament more and more popular, while they rendered his intentions extremely suspicious. Being at last advised no longer to stand by and see himself affronted by his parliament, the king took an unprecedented step, by suddenly entering the House, with a company of armed cavaliers, and demanding five of the members whom he charged with high treason; but having got previous notice, they had retired to the city. The House was hereupon alarmed; and considering, that if their lives and liberties were thus to be menaced by the sword, unless their proceedings were merely the echo of the royal will, they deserved not the name of an English parliament, but a bunch of slaves. This rash measure of the court was accordingly voted a breach of privilege, and the effect of evil counsel; which vote they published, to awaken the people to rescue them, as if they were in imminent danger.
But there was nothing that wrought upon the people so effectually as the Irish massacre and rebellion. The Irish papists having raised an unexpected insurrection throughout the whole kingdom, and seized upon almost all the places of strength, on the 23d October 1641, so that Dublin, which was to have been surprised on the same night, was saved almost by a miracle. In this massacre and rebellion they murdered 200,000 persons, in the most wanton, cruel, and barbarous manner ever recorded in history; besides an incredible number whom they had stripped naked, chiefly women and children, and setting fire to their dwellings, left them to perish with cold and hunger. Some thousands of whom, however, escaped to Dublin, and afterwards to England, where they begged their bread through the country, and terrified the inhabitants with the dreadful detail of their sufferings, and the destruction of their murdered countrymen. The Irish declared that they had the king’s commission for what they did; which many, by taking all circumstances into consideration, were ready to believe, and all England was struck with terror, lest, having destroyed the protestants in that country, they should come over, and, united with the English Catholics, also murder the protestant inhabitants. Such was the alarm at this time, that when the rumor of a plot, discovered at London, was circulated, the poor people, over all the kingdom, were ready to run to arms, or hide themselves, from the terrible apprehension that the papists were coming to cut their throats.
The parliament, under all their embarrassments, were nevertheless anxious to send aid to Dublin in its extreme distress. The king was equally anxious to go thither to head the army himself; but the parliament were too well acquainted with his intention to suffer him, well aware that he would join his own army with that of the Irish, and direct his vengeance against them and the measures they were carrying on. In the meantime, the handful that was still remaining in Dublin defended themselves with desperate courage and resolution; but conscious that, without help from England, they must soon be overcome, they most earnestly entreated the parliament to consider. The importance of the place, which, as matters then stood, was, in reality, the bulwark of England, as well as that of Ireland. For, say they, the Irish papists have threatened, that so soon as they clear their hands of the scattered remnant here, they will pass over to England, and deal with the protestants and parliament there. These threatenings, with the dreadful account of 200,000 murdered protestants, and the horrid detail of their unprecedented barbarities, inclined a very large proportion of the English nation to the opinion, that the parliament ought, on such a dangerous crisis, to put the nation in a posture of defense, by arming the inhabitants. Accordingly, they forthwith appointed lord lieutenants for the militia. The king did the same, and both published their declarations, justifying their cause. The parliament appointed the earl of Essex for general. The king went to Nottingham, where he set up his standard, and collected about him 2000 men, and the city of London and vicinity quickly furnished a gallant army for the earl of Essex. To defray the expense of this army, the citizens poured in their money and plate, and the ladies their rings and jewels.
In this contest between the king and parliament, particularly after the battle of Edgebill, the generality of the nobility took part with the king, and joined the royal standard at Oxford. A great part of the lords, and many of the commons, also joined him; and unless in the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire, a great proportion of the knights and country gentlemen also adhered to the royal cause; most of their tenants followed their example, as did the most of the poorer sort throughout the nation. A few of the nobles, a larger share of the gentry, and the greatest number of the tradesmen in corporations, especially in the manufacturing towns, the freeholders also, and men of middle fortunes, for the most part ranged themselves on the side of the parliament; who, moreover, might reckon on the friendship of the far greater part of those, who, throughout the nation, were inclined to sobriety and religious strictness. The enemies of profanity and loose living, both ministers and people, adhered to the parliament.—On the other hand, such as were addicted to swearing, gaming, and drinking, to dancing, and other tolerated recreations on the Lord’s day, and fond of running down all whom they considered more religious and circumspect in their lives than themselves, both priests and people, these, all along, adhered to the king; and in so doing, determined the choice of almost all sober and honest men for the parliamentary cause. The silencing of vast numbers of godly and laborious preachers, and filling their places by ignorant, scandalous, and careless men, who were a disgrace to the gospel of Christ, had also the effect of alienating the minds of many from the cause of the king and his bishops. The high church party as loudly complained of the nonconformists, calling them, in derision, puritans, hypocrites, rebels, and roundheads, with other epithets of disgrace. The constitutional government of the kingdom, by kings, lords, and commons, being a mixed government, and, of course, not arbitrary, the friends of the parliament justified their opposition to the king, by saying, if the king’s commissions be more powerful than the laws, which have been enacted with the consent of the three branches of the legislature; then must the king be an arbitrary despot, and the people no longer his subjects, but his slaves. In support of this reasoning, they quoted Barclay, Grotius de Jure, Belli et Pads, Hooker, and Bilson, all of whom admit of the propriety, nay, the necessity of resisting unlawful acts of power in cases similar to those in which they were unhappily involved. The king urged, that the power of calling forth the militia belonged to him; and the parliament admitted the fact; but urged the necessity, as things then stood, of his relinquishing for a time that part of his prerogative, unless the kingdom were to be given up to murdering papists and delinquents; for although he had the right to command the militia of the country by his kingly prerogative, yet was it obvious, he had only a right to use them against the enemies of the commonwealth, but not to overawe the other branches of the legislature, which his evil counselors had already urged, and advised him to attempt.
The king marched from Nottingham to Shrewsbury, and filled up his army from Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and Wales; and the earl of Essex marched with a gallant army to Worcester, the several regiments of which were accompanied by some of the most popular divines as chaplains. On the 23d October 1642, the parties came to a trial of strength at Edgehill, where the king’s army was worsted, and retreated to Oxford; and Essex towards Coventry, to refresh his troops which most of all tended to strengthen the parliament, and ruin the king, was the want of discipline in his army, the encouragement given to the debauched rabble, to insult, plunder, and threaten the puritans wherever they came; filled the parliamentary army with men of piety and principle, and manned their garrisons with the plundered and insulted inhabitants, who had no mind to meddle with the war, till driven from their ruined abodes by military insolence or popular outrage.
Mr. Baxter had all along endeavored to heal the breach, and cement the jarring interests in the nation, till at last he began, to be attacked on both sides, by one party for not going the full length they desired, by the other for having gone any length at all in the cause of church and state reformation; which they considered were altogether unnecessary, under so pious a king, and such primitive and apostolic bishops. In his politics, Mr. Baxter, while endeavoring to steer clear of all the slavish principles of absolute monarchy, also opposed the confounding notions of democratical projectors. He was alike inimical to the arbitrary encroachments of assuming prelates, and the uncharitable and dividing principles of the sectarians. This exposed him to the malignity of each party, and created him much trouble. His conscience, in the meantime, was satisfied with the measures he had taken, and he had no doubt but posterity, after the heat of these contentions was over, would form a more favorable opinion of his conduct than many of his contemporaries, who were actuated by malice, fury, and blind bigotry, in the censures they passed upon him.
He adhered to the cause of the long parliament, so far as he conceived their cause and procedure were justifiable; but neither hope nor fear could either draw or drive him into any measure that his conscience did not recognize. On occasion of the Irish massacre, parliament passed an order, that all the people should take a protestation to defend the king’s person, honor, and authority, the power and privileges of parliaments, the liberties of the subject, and the protestant religion, against the common enemy. With this measure Mr. Baxter readily agreed, and joined with the magistrates in offering the protestation to the people. Soon after this the king’s declarations were also read in the marketplace at Kidderminster, and the commission of array set on foot. The lord Howard, who bad been appointed, by parliament, lieutenant for the militia of the county of Worcester, not appearing, the rabble grew so riotously outrageous, that a sober man, of acknowledged piety, could no longer hope to remain in the place with safety. The word was, Down with the roundheads; so that, in many places, a stranger, with short hair, and a civil habit, could no sooner make his appearance, than down with the roundheads was vociferated, and he was knocked down on the street, where none durst appear in his defense.
To avoid uproars of this description, Mr. Baxter was advised to withdraw from Kidderminster for some time, in hopes that matters would become more orderly. He took their advice, and retired to Gloucester, where he found a civil, courteous, and religious people, differing as much from those of Worcester, as if they had lived under another government. Here, having remained about a month, his friends at Kidderminster desired his return, lest the people might interpret his absence the effect of guilt or disloyalty. He returned, and found the drunken rabble still boisterously threatening’ all sober and sincere people; and crying out, “we will do the puritans’ business by and by.” They were like mastiffs newly let loose from the chains, flying in the face of every thing sacred or civil; which: obliged him again to withdraw. He spent a few days with the earl of Essex’ army, then about Worcester, till the approach of the king’s army caused them to remove. On the following Lord’s day he preached at Alcester; and during sermon, the report of the cannon informed them that the armies were engaged; and this, the battle of Edgehill, began the war. Towards evening the fugitives assured them that all was lost on the parliament’s side; but, soon after, another account stated, that while prince Rupert’s men were plundering the Waggons of Essex’s left wing, which they had routed, the right wing and center prevailed against the rest of the king’s army, and ultimately carried the day. Next morning Mr. Baxter went to see the field, and found Essex in possession of the ground, with the royal army facing him on a hill about a mile distant, and about a thousand dead bodies in the field between them.
At this time Mr. Baxter was at a loss what course to take to live at Kidderminster was both dangerous and uncomfortable, owing to the passing and repassing of the soldiers, who were ready to “lay their hands upon whatever came in their way. But having nothing whereon to subsist’ elsewhere, in a place of safety, the choice was difficult. At length he resolved to go to Coventry, where Mr. Simon King, with whom he was acquainted at Bridgenorth, was minister. There he was determined to remain till the war was ended. So little was he or the country acquainted with war, that they never doubted but a few days, or at least a few weeks, and another battle would bring things to a point. But having remained with Mr. King about a month, and’ peace appearing farther distant than ever, he began to consider how he could make some provision for himself, that he might not be burdensome to his friend. In the meantime, the governor and committee of the city of Coventry desired him to stay with them, and lire in the governor’s house, and preach to the soldiers. The offer was so well suited to his necessities, that He accepted it till he could find it safe to return to his charge. In this situation he preached once a week to the soldiers, and once; to the citizens, without taking any remuneration for dither, save his diet. He had a very judicious auditory. Many pious and worthy gentlemen were his constant hearers. There were at this time also about thirty worthy ministers, who, like himself, had retired here for safety. He was thankful for the quietness, safety, and sober, wise, and religious company he enjoyed in this place; where he pursued his studies, for a whole year, as quietly as in the time of peace. By this time, the war, in place of drawing towards an end, had spread into the remotest corners of the land. But some Shropshire gentlemen having resolved to settle a garrison at Wem, about eight miles from Shrewsbury, in their own county, and Mr. McWorth. Mr. Hunt, and others, pressing him to go with them, he went; and having remained with them about two months, and redeemed his father from prison, he returned to Coventry, and settled in his former place and employment, following his studies for another year.
But the earl of Newcastle had overpowered lord Fairfax hi the north; and the queen having brought over from the continent a considerable reinforcement of popish soldiers, which, with other concurring circumstances, rendered the king’s party formidable, the parliament were glad to request the aid of the Scotch nation; and an alliance being formed by the solemn league and covenant, the Scotch raised an army, and marching into England, cleared the north; but afterwards lay still, and did no service, but became burdensome. This was occasioned by the policy of Cromwell and his party, who were jealous of the power of the Presbyterians, and purposely kept them without pay, and without marching orders. After the great battle of Naseby, which was not far from Coventry, Mr. Baxter went to the army to visit some of his acquaintances. ‘He staid a night with them, and got such intelligence respecting the state of the parties, as utterly astonished him. He found plotting heads at work to subvert both church and state. Independency and anabaptistry greatly prevailed, antinomianism and Arminianism were also prevalent; while the followers of Thomas More had made a shift to unite these opposite extremes. Many of the officers and soldiers were honest and orthodox men. But a few self conceited, proud, and hotheaded sectaries, had got into the highest places, and were Cromwell’s great favorites; and by their ardor and activity, bore down the rest, or carried them along with them, determined not only to put down the ‘bishops, but also whoever stood in their way. Cromwell and his council, however, were for a universal toleration. Mr. Baxter, on discovering the situation of the army with respect to sentiments of religion, could not help regretting, that the ministers, who at first attended the different regiments, had mostly left them after the battle of Edgehill, and betaken themselves to an easier and quieter mode of life. He even reflected upon himself for refusing an invitation from Cromwell to be chaplain to his troop, which was to be a gathered church. He regretted that he had not then gone with them, while the fire was confined, as it were, into one spark; but captain Evanson assured him it was not yet too late to do essential service in the army; That the regiment to which he was attached was one of the most religious, valiant, and successful in the army, and that they were in as much danger of being carried away with the present tide of sectarianism as any; and therefore he pressed him to come among them. Although Mr. Baxter was loath to leave his studies and quiet situation, to go into an army so circumstanced; yet considering that the public good required him, he gave the captain some encouragement; which he told to colonel Whalley, an orthodox man, who invited Mr. Baxter to be chaplain to his regiment. This invitation, after consulting with some friendly divines, he accepted.
He marched with the army to the west, against lord Goring and was at the taking of Bridgewater, and the siege of Bristol and Sherbon castle. He was also three weeks at the siege of Exeter; but colonel Whalley being ordered, with a party of horse, to keep in the garrison of Oxford till the army could come to besiege it, he accompanied him thither. He was with him also six weeks before Banbury castle, and eleven at the siege of Worcester. Here the sectarians at head quarters, becoming jealous of colonel Whalley, he lost the government of this city, which he had so bravely reduced, and all on account of his chaplain. When Worcester siege was over, he went to Kidderminster to visit his flock; who thinking now that the country was cleared of the royal army, he should remain with them; but being advised by the ministers, who still remained at Coventry, he returned to the army; but was soon after obliged to leave it, owing to a bleeding at the nose, whereby he lost about a gallon of blood. He now retired to Sir Thomas Rouse’s, where he languished long, expecting that a dropsy, with which he was threatened, would soon end his days. By this providence, God unavoidably prevented him from making a last and more determined endeavor to reclaim the army to moderate principles, and, if possible, prevent the anarchy, which every thinking person, at all acquainted with what was going forward in the army, might have clearly anticipated—But the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
Mr. Baxter, who having the best opportunities of being well informed with respect to the sectaries of this period, says, in general, concerning them, “That they were fond of division, separation, and party making; though many of. them were raw and illiterate, yet were they apt to be puffed up with their own little degrees of knowledge and dexterity of management, insomuch that they refused all terms of concord and unity, and carried it so loftily, that they became the pity of understanding men. These sectaries, especially Anabaptists, seekers, and Quakers, used to select the most able, laborious, and pious ministers for the marks of their obloquy and reproach, and that because they were the most powerful opposers of their designs, and counteracted their warmest endeavors to propagate their opinions amongst the people. The shafts of their calumny were directed against the same men, at whom the libertines of the royal army had all along pointed their malicious irony and unmerited ridicule, with this difference only, that they did it more profanely, and more hypocritically, than these, in that they said, let the Lord be glorified, let the gospel be propagated, and sinners converted to God. They pretended to be regulated in their opinions solely by the word of God, and the internal light of the Spirit; yet seldom stuck at any thing that promised to promote their cause, and most implicitly agreed with, and advocated whatever their faction in the army had resolved on. If they pulled down the parliament, imprisoned its faithful members, killed the king, cast out the rump, set up Cromwell, set up his son, and again pulled him down; in all these things the Anabaptists, and many of the independents, followed them, and even their pastors were for the most part ready to lead them on to concur.
It is no doubt true, that similar accusations have often been laid against many that have been guilty of no such things; and therefore, says Mr. Baxter, “some will be offended at me, and charge me with the faults I reprehend. But shall none be reproved because some are slandered? Shall hypocrites he freed from conviction and censure because wicked men call the godly hypocrites and bigots? The scriptures have not spared the greatest and best of God’s children—witness Noah, Lot, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Peter—but has marked out their sin and shame to all generations. And yet we find (such is the human heart) that it will rise into indignation against him who has honesty enough to tell them, or their party, of their errors and misdoings, or call them to repentance and moderation. And, alas! many, who there is good reason to believe are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, cannot be exempted from this animadversion. The poor church of Christ, the sober, sound, and religious part in particular, are, like their persecuted Master, crucified between two thieves, the profane and formal persecutors on one hand, and the fanatic division courting sectaries on the other, have, in all ages, been grinding the seed of the church as corn between two millstones.”
Many new sects also sprung up in these times. Sir Henry Vane had a sect of new disciples, which originated under him in New England while governor in that province. Their notions were then raw and undigested. His coming over to England proved a great calamity to his native country. Being chosen a member of parliament, he was at first very active in bringing delinquents to punishment, and became the principal man who drove on the parliament against the king. Being of ready parts, great subtlety, and unwearied industry, he labored, with considerable success, to win others, in parliament, city, and country, to his opinions. To most of the changes that took place, he was that in parliament which Cromwell was in the army. His great zeal to enflame the country, and encourage the sectaries, especially in the army, rendered him highly popular amongst their parties. But his unhappiness lay in his want either of ability or inclination clearly to express his sentiments. Few therefore understood them; and the lord Brook, who was methodising his notions, was slain before he had brought them into order and maturity. Mr. Sterry was thought to be of his mind; but he also was so famous for mystical obscurity in his sermons, that he was considered too high for this world, and too low for the world to come. Sir Henry spoke sufficiently plain on almost every other subject. The two works in which he was most successful, were his Earnest Plea for Universal Liberty of Conscience, and his treatise against the magistrates having any power or authority to intermeddle with the concerns of the church. He went hand in hand with Cromwell while the protector continued a republican; but changing his opinion towards monarchy, when he supposed the ferment of the nation was wearing off, and there were some hopes that he might be acceptable to the people as their royal master, there was no remedy but Sir Henry and he must part, as their waylay no longer in the same direction.
After Cromwell’s death he got Sir Arthur Hazlcrigg to be his close adherent in politics, and reestablished the rump, set up a council of state, and had the power, in a great measure, in his own bands. When thus in the height of his power, he formed the scheme of a popular government, and, with some of his adherents, drew up a model of his new commonwealth.
It grieved Mr. Baxter to the heart to see a kingdom thus tossed about, and the ministers of religion, and the attained reformation, which had been the labor of so many years, trodden under foot, and parliaments and piety made a scorn; while few had any doubt but he, was the moving cause of all these changes. Mr. Baxter, therefore, in writing against the papists, took occasion to vindicate the protestant religion and the reformation, by showing, that the protestants, and particularly the Presbyterians, abhorred the transaction that terminated the life of the king, and charged it upon Cromwell’s army and the sectaries, among whom he named the Vanities, as having their full share of guilt and responsibility. Mr. Baxter’s writing against him had the effect of lessening his reputation, and convincing many, that Cromwell, who knew Vane best, spoke the truth when he called him a juggler. On the restoration, he was called to account for the part he had acted under Cromwell, when he spoke so boldly in justification of the parliament, and the part he himself had acted, that the king, who had no intention against his life, was so provoked, that he changed his mind —had him tried and beheaded on Tower Hill. When brought to the scaffold, he began to address the people so heroically, that the drums were beat to prevent them from hearing. No man ever died with more apparent fortitude and fearless resolution, though he had always been considered a timorous man; so that his death procured him more applause than all the actions of his life. Mr. Baxter had not been long returned to Kidderminster, when he was drawn into a dispute with Mr. Tombs, Anabaptist minister at Bewdley, where they disputed the right of infants to baptism, from nine in the morning till five in the afternoon, before a crowded congregation. This dispute had the effect of reducing Mr. Tombs’ congregation to twenty members, and of satisfying the people of Kidderminster, and the adjacent country, many of whom were in doubt which side to choose. When the army was about to march against the Scotch, Mr. Baxter wrote letters to several of the soldiers, pointing out the sin and absurdity of imbruing their hands in the blood of those people, of whose piety they had no reason to doubt, especially after they had so frequently boasted of their own Christian benevolence and love to the saints. When Cromwell had got the ascendant, sober people were much divided in their opinions in what manner they ought to conduct themselves; some were for opposing his usurped power, others for acquiescing with, and submitting to, that authority, which, at the time, alone could save the country from anarchy; others took a middle course, and quietly submitted to the power they could not control. This was Mr. Baxter’s method, who seasonably and moderately condemned the usurpation, and the deceit and hypocrisy by which it was brought about; but did not think it his duty to rave against the usurper, the rather because he seemed to approve of a holy life, and, on the whole, offered to do good, and promote the gospel, and the interest of godliness, more than any. had done before him. In the instrument, whereby Oliver was announced protector, it was declared, that all should have liberty for the exercise of their religion, who professed their faith in God by Jesus Christ. These words appeared, to some of the members of parliament, to import the fundamentals of the Christian faith; it was therefore agreed, that all should have a due share of religious liberty who professed the fundamentals. A committee was accordingly appointed to state what they considered essential articles, and Mr. Baxter was appointed a member, who labored to confine their scheme into as narrow a compass as could comprehend what was indispensably necessary for a test in the toleration thus to be grunted. His opinion was, that no more was necessary than what is contained in the baptismal covenant, I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and give up myself in covenant to him, and renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh.” This committee, after long debating, condescended upon a printed document of twenty propositions to lay before the parliament; but before this could be effected, the House of Commons was dissolved, so that all they had done came to nothing. Truth was one of the great object of Mr. Baxter’s constant pursuit. He spared no pains if happily he might contribute to either, watching for the fittest opportunities for dealing with the different parties, into which the nation was soon happily divided. He drew up overtures of peace and reconciliation, hoping he might thereby help to pave the way for a more charitable spirit, when the happy juncture arrived, although his labors for the present should prove abortive. Besides his labors amongst the protestants, he wrote three disputations against the papists; after which, the Windingsheet of Popery, and then the Key to the Catholic to open up the Jugglings of the Jesuits. He also managed several particular debates with different Romanists, such as, W. Johnson, alias Terret, and others, which, added to his laborious diligence in the pastoral office, and his numerous practical writings, it will he difficult for any person to conceive, how a man, of such bodily weakness, constantly subjected to divers infirmities, should be capable of doing so much service; but a heart, overflowing with love to God, and burning with zeal for his glory, and the best interests oh his fellow creatures, carried him through, and made him the wonder of the age he lived in.
On the restoration of Charles the II, the expectations of men were various. The moderate Episcopalians thought of a reconciliation with the Presbyterians; the more politic part were pretty certain, that their ancient power, honor, and emoluments, would be restored to them. But many of the Presbyterians were in great hopes of favor, and their hopes seemed to be well founded. They had an assurance from Charles himself, in his declaration from Breda, addressed to all his loving subjects, April 4th, 1660; in which were these words—” We do declare a liberty to tender consciences; and that no man shall be disquieted, or called in question for differences of opinion which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom.” To cherish these hopes amongst the people, it was found convert* en a first to appoint ten or twelve of the Presbyterian divines “chaplains in ordinary to his majesty, though never preached before him but Mr. Calamy, Dr. Reynolds, Mr. Baxter, Dr. Spurstow, and Mr. Woodbridge, one sermon each, The king at first offered his best endeavor to reconcile the contending parties, advising each side to narrow their pretensions; but after much baffling on the part of the Episcopal thing came to no termination; and in place of Marty to tender consciences, the year following upwards of two thousand nonconforming divines in the kingdom of England were in one day expelled from their flock, and their places filled, in a great many wolves with ministers unqualified for the service of religion; they were insufficient, others by scandalous lives, and not a few by their unfaithful opinions. In the meantime, Mr. Baxter would have willingly preached at Kidderminster in the low capacity of a curate; but this was refused him, though the lord Clarendon had promised to have him settled there as he desired. He had also been offered the bishopric of Hereford by his lordship; but this he could not conscientiously accept, and finding himself disappointed, he preached occasionally about the city, having procured a license from bishop Shelden, on his subscribing a promise not to preach against the doctrines or the ceremonies of the church. He was appointed one of the commissioners at the Savoy, and chosen by his brethren to draw up the reformed liturgy, then the subject of discussion. At this meeting he was also appointed, by the nonconformist divines, to answer the objections of the bishops; but all was to no purpose, the thing ended in smoke. Mr. Baxter preached his farewell sermon on the 15th May 1662, being three months before Bartholomew’s day, when the nonconformists were all silenced. His reason, for this was, partly because the lawyers interpreted one clause of the act as putting an end to the lectures at that time, and partly also, that he wished all his brethren in the nation to understand, that he, for one, had no mind to conform to the church under such a severe test as had been imposed upon them.
These ejected ministers continued almost ten years in a state of silence and obscurity, and Mr. Baxter retired to Acton in Middlesex, where he prosecuted his studies. Every Lord’s day he attended the parish church, and spent the test of the day in his family, with a few poor neighbors who attended him. During the time that the plague was raging in the country, he retired to Richard Hampden’s, Esq. in Buckinghamshire; and after it had ceased, he returned to Acton, where he found the churchyard like a ploughed field with new opened graves; but his own house uninfected, and part of his family that he had left, all well.
September 2d, 1666, began that dreadful fire, that, in the space of three days, laid one of the fairest cities of the world in ashes. Mr. Baxter lived quietly at Acton so long as the act against conventicles was in force; after which his auditors increased till he had not room to accommodate them; but his popularity offended the present incumbent, who stirred up the king against him, by representing him as a preacher of treason; in consequence of which he was imprisoned for six months.
In 1671 Mr. Baxter lost the greater part of his fortune, by the king shutting up the exchequer, in which he had deposited eight thousand pounds. After the indulgence in 1672, he returned to London, and was one of the Tuesday lecturers at Pinner’s Hall, and had a Friday’s lecture at Fetterlane. For some time he preached only occasionally on the Lord’s day; but afterwards more regularly at St. James’ Markethouse. He was apprehended when preaching in Mr. Turner’s spot afterwards released, owing to a deficiency of the warrant. On the times becoming apparently less severe, he built a meetinghouse in Oxendon Street; where he had only preached one sermon, till a scheme was laid to apprehend him by surprise, and confine him in the county jail on the Oxford act; but being apprised of their intention, he made his escape. The person, however, who preached for him on that day, was committed to the Gatehouse prison, where he had to remain for three months. It was twelve months after this before he durst preach in his own meetinghouse. In the interim he hired another in Swallow Street; but here again he was disappointed, by a guard being placed around the premises, for many Sabbaths, to prevent him from entering. But on the death of Mr. Wadsworth, he found an opportunity to exercise his talent, by preaching to his congregation for a number of months. In the year 1682 be suffered more for his nonconformity than he had hitherto done. He was surprised in his own house by a number of constables and officers, with a warrant to seize his person for coming within five miles of a corporation, with five additional warrants to distrain for £195, the penalty for five sermons he had preached, or was charged with preaching. At this juncture he was in a sad state of health; notwithstanding which, he was going along with them with the greatest resignation, leaving all he had at their pleasure. But happily Dr. Cox saw them pasting, and forced him back to his bed; while he went before five justices, and made oath, that if Mr. Baxter was committed to prison, it would be at the hazard of his life. The justices thereupon agreed not to commit him till the king’s pleasure was further known. The king consented not to imprison him; but to let him’ die in his own house. The officers, however, executed their warrants on his property, consisting of books and goods, though he made it appear that they were none of his. They even sold the bed from under him, were he lay sick, apparently unto death. But Mr. Baxter had friends who did not desert him in the day of his distress; but came forward, and generously paid down the money at which the goods had been apprized; which he afterwards repaid them. Such was, at this time, the administration of justice, that all this was done without his having the least knowledge of any accusation against him, without being summoned, or having appeared before any justice to answer for himself, or being confronted with his accusers, or knowing who they were.
During 1683 Mr. Baxter was obliged to keep himself in great obscurity; yet, in the course of the year, he had a remarkable testimony of sincere esteem, and unbounded confidence, from the Rev. Mr. Mayot, a clergyman of the church of England, who, by his will, devoted his estate to charitable purposes, and gave to Mr. Baxter £ 600, to be distributed by him to sixty poor ejected ministers—adding, he did it, not because they were nonconformists, but because many such were poor and pious. But the king’s attorney hearing of the legacy, sued for it in chancery, and the lordkeeper, North, passed a verdict, forfeiting the amount to the king. It was accordingly paid into chancery, and, as providence ordered, kept in safety till the accession of king William, when the commissioners of the great seal restored it to Mr. Baxter, who distributed it according to the intention of the donor. In 1684 he was carried from his house, when he was scarcely able to stand on his legs, and bound in the penalty of £400 to keep the peace, and brought up twice afterwards, though he had been confined to his bed the greater part of the time.
In the beginning of 1685, Mr. Baxter was confined in the king’s bench prison, by a warrant from the lord chief justice Jefferies, for his Paraphrase on the New Testament, and tried on the 18th of May, in the same year, in the court of king’s bench; where he was found guilty, and, on the 29th of June following, received a very severe sentence. This trial was by far the most remarkable incident of his life. We shall therefore give the substance of it. On the 6th of May, being the first day of the term, Mr. Baxter appeared in Westminster Hall, where an information was ordered to be drawn up against him. On the 14th he pleaded not guilty; and on the 18th of the same month, being much indisposed, he moved, that he might have longer time allowed him; but it was denied. He moved for it by his counsel; but Jefferies cried out in a passion, “I will not give him another minute to save his life. We have had to do, says he, with another description of persons, but now we have a saint to deal with, and I know how to deal with saints as well as with sinners. Yonder, says he, stands Oates in the pillory, who, says he, suffers for the truth, and so says Baxter; but were Baxter placed on the one side of the pillory, while he stands on the other, I would say that two of the greatest rogues and rascals in the kingdom stood there.” On the 30th of May he was brought up to his trial before the lord chief justice Jefferies at Guild Hall. Sir Henry Ashurst, who could not think of abandoning his own and his father’s friend in the day of his distress, stood by him all the while. Mr. Baxter entered the court with the greatest composure, and waited for the lord chief justice, who soon made his appearance, with indications of rage in his countenance. He was no sooner seated on the bench, than a short cause was called and tried; and the clerk Laving begun to read the title of another, Jefferies cried out, “You blockhead you! the next cause is between Richard Baxter and the king.” Mr. Baxter’s cause was accordingly brought forward. The passages on which he was libeled were, his Paraphrase on Mat. v. 19. Mark ix. 39. xi. 31. and xii. 38, 39, 40. Luke x. 2. John xi. 57. and Acts xv. 2. These passages bad been selected by Sir Roger L’Estrange and some of his companions. The most important charge, or that on which his lordship chiefly animadverted, was, that in these several passages he reflected on the bishops of the church of England, and was therefore chargeable, with sedition. The king’s counsel opened the information with all its aggravating circumstances. Mr. Wallop, Mr. Williams, Mr. Rotherham, Mr. Atwood, and Mr. Phipps, had been retained as counsel for Mr. Baxter, by his friend Sir Henry Ashurst. Mr. Wallop said, “He conceived the matter depending, being a point of doctrine, ought to be referred to his ordinary; and if not, he humbly conceived the doctrine was innocent and justifiable, setting aside the innuendos, for which there was not the least color, seeing they had no referable antecedent, no bishop or clergyman of the church of England having been named. That the book in question, namely, Mr. Baxter’s Paraphrase, contained many precious and irrefragable truths: But the libelers, by applying the severe things to the bishops of the church of England, which Mr. Baxter intended for bishops who had richly deserved the characters he has given them, as your lordship, if you are a reader of church history, must be well aware of, had endeavored to turn an indispensable duty into a crime punishable by the laws of fte land,” “Mr. Wallop (said Jefferies), I observe you are always in these dirty causes; and if it were not for you gentlemen of the long robe, who ought to have more wit and honesty than support and hold up these factious knaves by the chin, we should not be at the pass we are.” “My lord (said Mr. Wallop), I humbly conceive the passages accused are natural deductions from the text.” “You humbly conceive, and I humbly conceive. Swear him, swear him.” “My lord (says he), under favor, I stand here counsel for the defendant; and if I understand either Latin or English, the information now brought against Mr. Baxter, on so slender ground, is a much greater reflection on the bishops and church of England than all that the book contains, for which my client is accused.” “Some times (says Jefferies) you very humbly conceive, at other times you are very positive. You talk of your skill in church history, and of your knowledge in Latin and English—I think I should know something of them as well as you; but, in short, if you do not understand your duty better, I shall take the liberty to instruct you.” Mr. Wallop sat down. Mr. Rotherham rose, and urged, “That as Mr. Baxter, in the book libeled upon, had spoken well of the prelates of the church of England, and made some sharp reflections on the bishops of Rome by name, it was to be presumed the passages accused were only applicable to the bishops of the Romish, and not of the English church.” Mr. Baxter said, “My lord, I have been so very moderate with respect to the church of England, that I have incurred the displeasure of not a few of the dissenters on that very account.” Mr. Rotherham added, “That Mr. Baxter frequently attended divine service in the church, went to the sacrament, and persuaded others to do so; and that even in the book so charged, he had spoken very moderately and honorably of the bishops of the church of England.” “Baxter for bishops! (exclaimed Jefferies) that’s a merry conceit, truly. Turn up, turn up the passage.” Rotherham turned up a place, where it is said, “That great respect is due to those truly called to be bishops among us.” “Aye (says Jefferies), this is your Presbyterian cant. Truly called to be bishops, that is himself, and such rascals, called to be bishops of Kidderminster and other places— bishops set apart by such factious sniveling Presbyterians as himself. ‘Tis a Kidderminster bishop he means.” Mr. Baxter again attempting to speak—“Richard, Richard, (said Jefferies), dost thou think I will hear thee poison the court. Richard, thou art an old fellow, and an old knave—thou hast written books sufficient to load a cart, every one of them as full of se dition (I might say treason) as an egg’s full of meat. Hadst he been whipped out of thy writing trade forty years ago, it had been happy for England. Thou pretendest to be a preacher of the gospel of peace, and thou hast one foot in the grave, it is time to begin to think what account thou intendest to give; but leave thee to thyself, and I see thou’lt go on as thou hast begun; but, by the grace of God, I shall look after thee. I know thou hast a mighty party, and I can see a great many of the brotherhood in corners, and no less than a doctor of the party (looking at Dr. Bates) at thine elbow, to see what will become of their mighty don; but, by the grace of Almighty God, I will crush you all.” Mr. Rotherham sitting down, Mr. Atwood began to show, that none of the passages, mentioned in the information, ought to be strained to the sense put upon them by the innuendos, nor could any one of them be applied to the bishops of the church of England without an obviously forced construction. In proof of which, he attempted, to read from the text and context, when Jefferies cried out, “You shall not draw me into a conventicle with your annotations, nor your sniveling parson neither.” “My lord (said Atwood), I conceive this to be within Rosswell’s case, lately tried before your lordship.” “You conceive’ (said Jefferies), but you conceive amiss—It is not.” “Then (said Atwood), that I may use the very best authority, permit me to quote your lordship’s own words on that case.” “No (says Jefferies), you shall not—Sit down!” Mr. Williams and Mr. Phipps said nothing, finding it to no purpose to attempt speaking. At last Mr. Baxter said, “My lord, I think I can clearly answer all that has been brought against me, and I shall do it briefly. The sum is contained in these papers; to which, with your permission, I shall add a little by way of testimony.” Jefferies would not hear a word; but summed up the matter in a long and fulsome harangue. The jury, without leaving the box, laid their heads together, and found him guilty. On July the 29th he had judgment given against him; which was, to be fined in five hundred marks, and lie in prison till it was paid, besides giving security of good behavior for seven years; He was pardoned however, by the king, and had the fine remitted when the toleration came forth; which the king afterwards granted on purpose to unfetter his Roman catholic partisans. In consequence of which, he was liberated in November the 24th, 1686.
After this Mr. Baxter contented himself with the situation of an assistant to Mr. Silvester; in which capacity he labored for four years and a half, when he became so weak, that he was chiefly confined to his room; nor even then did he cease from his usefulness, so far as it was in his power to do good in his own house. He opened his doors morning and evening to all who chose to come and join with him in family worship, to whom he expounded the scriptures with great seriousness and freedom. But his distemper increasing, he was first confined to his chamber, and soon after to his bed, where he felt the approaches of death, which generally reveals the secrets of the heart. But Mr. Baxter was the same in his life and his death. His last hours were employed in preparing others, as well as himself, for appearing before their Judge.
To his friends, who visited him, be said, “You are come, I see, to learn to die; but, be assured, I am not the only person that must travel this road; and let me tell you, that whatever may be the length of your lives, you will find them short enough to complete your preparations for this important journey. Guard yourselves against the snares and bewitching temptations of this vain, this deceitful, and transitory world. Make choice of God for your portion, his glory for your chief end, his word for the rule of your lives and conversation, and heaven for your everlasting home; and fear not but we shall meet again in joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Being asked how it was with his inward man, he said, “I bless God I have a well grounded assurance of eternal happiness, and I have great peace and comfort within; but flesh, said he, must perish, and we must’ feel the anguish of its dissolution; and though my judgment submits to the will of our heavenly Father, still sense compels me to groan.” He gave excellent counsel to some young ministers who visited him, and prayed to God to bless their labors, and make them successful in converting many souls to Christ. He often prayed that God would be merciful to this miserable and distracted world, and preserve his church from the power and malice of her enemies. And having thus spent a long and laborious life in the service of his adorable Master, and followed him through good and bad report, he rested from his labors on the 8th of December 1691, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. His mortal remains were interred in Christ Church, whither they were attended by a most numerous company of all ranks and qualities, particularly ministers, some of whom were conformists, who thought it necessary to pay him that last office of respect. There were two discourses delivered on occasion of his funeral, one by Dr. Bates, and the other by Mr. Silvester, which were afterwards published.
Few men have had a larger share of bodily weakness and infirmities than this good man; which circumstance, as hinted before, cherished the peculiar seriousness of his spirit, and seemed for ever to whisper in his ear, “Whatsoever thine hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.” It induced him to set about every part of his work as one j list on the point of entering into another world. Being at one time visited with an unusual bodily distemper, which threatened to end his days, and ruminating on the promises of the gospel for comfort under his affliction, his faith was powerfully assailed with doubts respecting the truth of the scriptures, and the immortality of the soul. Some such thoughts had often, before this, run across his mind, which he had always repelled as unworthy of consideration. On this occasion, however, they stuck so close, that he found it impossible to get rid of them without examining the matter to the very foundation; and that he might satisfy himself with regard to the grounds on which Christianity was erected, and that his faith might be indeed his own, he gave a candid hearing to all that could be said against it.
In this important inquiry he began with the foundation of all religion, the existence of a God. The stupendous works of nature convinced him of the power, wisdom, and goodness of the all powerful Worker; so that he looked upon the man as destitute of reason, who questioned whether there was a God, or dreamed that the worlds were formed by a conflux of inert atoms, or that reason could spring from that which was utterly destitute of reason, or that man, or any inferior creature, was, or could be, independent; or yet that all the wisdom, goodness, and power observable, wherever we turn our eyes, could have found their way thither without a cause transcendently superexcelling all that it had caused in the world. Being firmly fixed in this leading point, he could easily perceive, that this God, being our Creator, must necessarily be related to us as our owner, governor, and benefactor, and that we therefore stand in the relation of his subjects and beneficiaries. Hence the duties arising out of these relations become as discernible to the reason of man, as the relations on which they are founded; so that godliness is a duty so undeniably required in the law of nature, and so discernible by reason itself, that nothing but unreasonableness can contradict it. With this view of the matter, Mr. Baxter could not conceive it possible, that this God would suffer his children to be losers by their love, gratitude, and dutiful regard towards him, or that persons should be the more miserable by how much the more faithful they were. Observing the prosperity of wicked men, and the afflictions, disgrace, and persecutions attending on many, whose lives are patterns of virtue and benevolence, he perceived the possibility, nay, the strong probability, of a life to come, wherein virtue should find its reward, and evil its demerit. He saw, moreover, that a strange and universal enmity existed between the earthly and the heavenly mind, fulfilling the prediction of the Holy Scriptures, Gen. iii. 15.; and observing that no other religion in the world could stand in competition with Christianity. That heathenism and mahometanism, kept up by tyranny and brutal ignorance, blush to stand at the bar of reason; while Judaism is but Christianity in embryo; and pure deism, its more plausible competitor, has been so discarded in almost every nation, that nature seems to have made her own confession, that without a mediator there is no access to God, and that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Neither could he conceive that God would make use of a deceiver for such a visible reformation of the nature of man. He observed an admirable suitableness, in the office of Christ, to the purposes of God, and the felicity of men, and how appropriately supernatural revelations take their place in subserviencey to natural religion. Satisfied, at last, that the Holy Scriptures are the wisdom and power of God to every one that believeth, he remarked, that nothing can be so firmly believed as that concerning which men have been some time in doubt; and that it is a belief of the truth of revelation, and the life to come, that sets all the graces in motion; and with, or without which, they flourish or fade, are accelerated or stand still.
Mr. Baxter found, that the temper of his mind altered something similar to the alterations which age gradually made on that of his body. When he was young, he felt himself more fervent, vigorous, and affectionate, in preaching, conversation, prayer, and other religious exercises, than he could often attain to in his advanced age; but then he found his judgment more solid and unwavering. In youth he was much quicker in comprehending, and could, with greater facility, manage things suddenly presented; but age and experience enabled him better to discriminate between truth and error, and to discover a multitude of common mistakes which had passed unnoticed in the early part of his life. In his youth he was fond of controversy, and ready to conclude, that conciliators were but ignorant men, who, wishing to please all, pretended to reconcile the world upon principles which they did not understand. By long experience, however, he could perceive, that, the amiableness of peace and Christian harmony apart, the advocates of reconciliation generally possessed greater light, and more substantial argument, than either of the contending parties.
In his younger years Mr. Baxter was as much enamored with the style of an author as with his arguments, and considered that the former gave no small degree of energy to the latter. But at length he became indifferent to all these rhetorical ornaments in the investigation of truth, convinced that it stands in no need of such meretricious embellishments, but is best discovered in its naked simplicity. His opinion of mankind also greatly altered with his increasing knowledge of the world. He found few men so good when be came near them, as he had apprehended they were while at a distance, and but few so bad as the malicious and censorious world are apt to represent them; and though, in some individuals, he found human nature transformed into a nearer likeness to devils than he at one ‘period thought possible, yet even in the wicked he found there was generally more for grace to take advantage of, and more to witness for God and godliness, than he once could believe there had been. Finding, by experience, what cruelty, injustice, and other audacious crimes, have often lurked under, the cloak of a zealous profession of religion, set off with great powers of utterance, he became careless of these tinsel evidences in estimating the worth of an individual, conscious that great piety, and true devotion, are often concealed under the simple garb of unassuming modesty. As Mr. Baxter advanced in years, lie became more liberal in his sentiments concerning Christian communion. He was not for robbing Christ of any part of his flock, by cutting them off from the communion of the church for matters of indifference; but still the necessity of church discipline appeared to him more and more indispensable for nothing, he conceived, could be more derogative to the cause of Christianity, than a church composed of members, who, for want of proper discipline, must ultimately become as vicious as pagans and mahometans, and differ from their assemblies only in ceremony and name. In a word, his soul was more afflicted with the thoughts of a miserable world, and more desirous of propagating the gospel among the savage nations, though he was not inclined to pass sentence of damnation on all those who had never heard of the Saviour, as he had been in the days of his youth.
Mr. Baxter was fond of a quiet and retired life, and yet it was not in his power to conceal his worth from observation and respect. My lord Brogbill, afterwards earl of Orrery, lord president of Munster, greatly valued him, and entertained him most respectfully at his house. While he continued there, he became acquainted with the learned and pious archbishop Usher, and their mutual visits were frequent. He had occasion to be often with the lord chancellor Clarendon, who carried it with a great show of respect towards him; and at his earnest and repeated solicitations, did an essential service to New England. The matter is this:
Air Elliot having learned the American language, and converted many of the barbarous natives to Christianity, was anxious to settle regular churches among them. In order to this, it was necessary first to build houses to draw them together, and provide a maintenance for ministers to preach among them, and school roasters to instruct their children. For this purpose Cromwell set on foot a general collection throughout the whole kingdom. The people gave liberally to so good a work, and the money was put into the hands of a corporation, who purchased seven or eight hundred pounds worth of land yearly, which was appropriated to the service of the gospel in those parts. ‘ The land was purchased from au officer of the king’s army, a papist, who, upon th& restoration of the king, seized on the land, and would neither restore it nor the purchase money—pretending that, the corporation having been appointed by Cromwell, the transaction was illegal and void. Mr. Baxter urged lord Clarendon on the subject, who, after a year’s delay, got the matter happily adjusted; and Mr. Baxter soon after received letters of hearty thanks from the governor and court of New England, also from Mr. Elliot and Mr. Norton, acknowledging the signal service he had done them.
After Mr. Baxter was silenced with the rest of his brethren, he had letters from foreign divines full of respect, soliciting his correspondence; which, for fear it might be misinterpreted by government, he was obliged to decline. In even the worst times he had several at court, and about the king, who were very respectful to him. While living at Acton, he had the pleasure of free conversation with that mirror of justice, and ornament of his country, the worthy Sir Matthew Hale, lord chief baron of the exchequer, who lived in his neighborhood. Their conversation turned chiefly upon the main points of religion, the immortality of the soul, the certainty of a future state, etc. Sir Matthew greatly lamented the extremities of the times, and the violence of some of the clergy, and was very desirous of such abatements as might admit all useful persons. He manifested his respect to Mr. Baxter, during the time he was in prison upon the Oxford act, by passing an honorable encomium upon his character, both for piety and learning, before all the judges; and, as a mark of his esteem, left him a small legacy in his will. The earl of Balcarras, who was driven from Scotland by Cromwell, and afterwards attended at court, very highly respected Mr. Baxter, after having read his works, which he was induced to do by the recommendation of the earl of Lauderdale. Balcarras was considered the head of the Presbyterians at this time; but a misunderstanding having taken place between him and lord Clarendon, he was dismissed the court, and soon after died of a consumption; but lady Balcarras was nothing behind her husband in her respects to this distinguished divine.
But in the whole course of his life, Mr. Baxter had no friend whom, he move valued, or by whom he was more beloved, than Henry Ashurst, commonly called alderman Ashurst, one of the most exemplary persons for eminent sobriety, self-denial; piety, and Christian benevolence, that London could at any time boast of. In short, few men have ever had more written against them, by the different denominations, nor more false reports circulated concerning them, than Mr. Baxter; for holding some peculiar opinions, living and dying he was respected and admired by men of moderate principles, while he was slighted and reproached by zealots of almost every denomination.
As a writer, few men have written more, or to better purpose. His books, for number and variety of matter, might form a library. They contain a treasure of controversial, casuistical, positive, and practical divinity. Such at least was the opinion of the judicious Dr. Bates; nor was he alone of this sentiment. The excellent bishop Wilkins did not hesitate to assert, “That he bad cultivated every subject he had handled;” and the learned and ingenious Dr. Barrow gives this as his judgment concerning them, “That his practical works were never mended, and his controversial ones seldom confuted.” Mr. Calamy tells us, “That the books he wrote amounted to more than one hundred and twenty,” and an Editor, who published a Life of Mr. Baxter says, “He has seen one hundred and forty-five distinct Treatises, whereof four were folios, seventy-three quartos, forty-nine octavos, and nineteen twelves and twenty fours, besides single sheets, separate Sermons, and at least twenty-five Prefaces to other men’s works.”