Page images





Richard Baxter's devotional and practical works' old non-conformist. Sacred principles are immortal; have long and deservedly occupied a very elevated they live and abide for ever. In the bosoms of station among the standard works of British theology. this latter class of men, piety and patriotism main“The tooth of time, the progress of events, and the tained a fervent heat, and diffused a cheering and modern “march of mind,' have neither rendered them salutary radiance in dark and troublous times. They antiquated, nor thrown them materially into the were the · Elijahs' and · Elishas' of their age—they shade. They possess the seeds of sanctified genius, were men of faith and prayer—they were England's and the imperishable principles of spiritual grandeur, glory and strength-though, during the turmoil, they and permanent moral worth. ·After upwards of a were sometimes treated as the filth of the world, century and a half, the works of the author continue and as the offscouring of all things. They planted, í to praise him in the gates. They form the best and watered, and watched, and trained the tree of biographical monument of their author's unparalleled civil freedom and religious liberty, under the shade industry and well-earned fame. The call for works of which we can now securely sit, and eat the fat, of this kind by the reading and religious public, is, and drink the sweet, and send portions to our more in our apprehension, “a token for good. It indicates distant and destitute brethren of mankind, - for whom an improved and improving taste among the pious nothing is prepared.' portion of our population, for the solid, substantial, Baxter's Call to the Unconverted has obtained a staple nourishment, of the ancient puritanic and non- range of circulation, and a degree of popularity, little conformist school. While they could descend to inferior to the Pilgrim's Progress, or Paradise Lost. feed the 'babes in Christ with the unmixed milk of It has come into thousands and tens of thousands of the word,' they could also cover the gospel board the cottages of our British peasantry. With many with strong meat, suited to men of full age, even the author's name has become familiar as household those who, by reason of use, had their senses exer- words. His Reformed Pastor has found its way into cised to discern both good and evil.'

the libraries and hands of hundreds, or thousands, of In the age and country in which we live, there is ministers. Its pungent pathetic appeals to the cona numerous class of readers who love to luxuriate in sciences of the torpid, the languid, and the lukewarm, the antiquarian lore of the olden times, especially have been productive of the most salutary effects, when it is presented to the imagination in the plastic first upon the pastors, and then upon the people. drapery of novels, poetry, plays, and border tales,’ | Baxter's Saints' Rest has long and deservedly been which record the costumes, the customs, the habits, a favourite with decided Christians of all denominaand modes of thought and expression, and the val- tions. His Dying Thoughts, though, perhaps, less orous deeds of our great-grandfathers on the flood known, have gilded the gloom of many a sick chamand the field. These are run upon, like paintings ber, and cheered and charmed the desponding spirits of the Flemish and Italian schools. They are many of many a dying penitent, and taught him to repose of them fancy pictures of men and manners; and, his hopes upon the riches of revealed mercy. Many perhaps, owe more than two-thirds of their interest other treatises of Baxter's devotional and practical to the ingenuity of the literary artist. It is well that works, though less known than the above, are not there is another, and pretty numerous class of readers, less valuable, and calculated, by the Divine blessing, who prefer dealing in the facts and principles of an- to prove highly beneficial to various classes of readers. tiquity, and who can appreciate sound sense and the present edition of his Devotional and Practical sterling piety under a plain puritanic garb; who can Works, which this brief biographical sketch is inrecognise the advocate of civil and religious liberty, tended to precede, will place the best productions of and the unflinching friend of grace, and truth, and the author's prolific pen before the reader in a pleasgospel holiness, under the antiquated costume of an ing and portable form, in a style of typographical


[merged small][ocr errors]

execution, agreeable, if not alluring to the eye, and croachments of arbitrary power, and to give a saluat such a moderate cost as to place them within the tary impulse and a safe direction to the public mind reach of those who relish such massy and pathetic in Great Britain, through a considerable portion of productions of “the olden times.' They will amply the seventeenth century, the name of Richard Baxreward the serious and inquisitive reader.

ter ranks not among the least. He was born on the An author whose writings we have frequently 12th of November, 1615, at Rowtan, near High perused with ardour and interest, with pleasure and Ercal, in Shropshire. His father was also named profit—who has informed our judgment—corrected Richard Baxter. He was a sober, respectable, and our errors_dispelled our darkness, and dissolved our rather religiously disposed man, who had a small doubts—who has warmed our hearts, invigorated our freehold estate at Eaton-Constantine, about five miles hopes, and taught us how to live with credit and from Shrewsbury. His mother's name was Adeney, comfort, and die in peace and safety—it is natural and a native of the same county. The early part of for us to wish to know something of his private char- his infancy was spent under the roof of his maternal acter, his public life, his labours, and his latter end. grandfather. While yet in childhood, his father We wish to have some personal intimacy with the conceived that he saw some buds of early piety, and man, and to see the Christian in his every day attire. fondly hoped that young Richard was "sanctified Baxter, who was copious as the Nile on almost every from the birth.' subject which he treated, has left ample materials in The state of religion and morals at that period in his · Life and Times,' which exhibit a full-length the country and neighbourhood, was extremely low; portrait of the man and his communications. The nor was he more favourably situated with respect to • Reliquæ Baxterianæ,' or his autobiography of “The his schoolmasters. They were neither distinguished most remarkable Passages of his Life and Times,' for learning nor morals. The genius and industry though prolix, has all the charms, and some of the of the youth, however, surmounted these untoward defects, of this species of writing. Silvester and circumstances. The father's small estate did not afCalamy, his early biographers, have adjusted and ford sufficient resources for enabling him to send his wrought up these materials to great advantage. The son to the university; but he placed him for a time abridgment by the one, and the original by the other, under private tutors, who were alleged to have percontain a mine of matter, though some parts of it formed their duty to their pupil very imperfectly. are rather tedious, and of minor importance. The Young Baxter's thirst for information, his native arpatient, laborious student, and the black-letter men dour of mind, and untiring application, however, of antiquarian taste, who form only a minority of the conquered most of the difficulties which he encounreading republic, may love such a repast in the an- tered. Though Baxter never enjoyed the mental tiquated style. Something was still required to be discipline of an academical life, nor realized the litedone, to compress and modernise the work—to lop rary and varied advantages of a university course, off extraneous and redundant matter—to separate yet he happily escaped many of the snares and tempthe alloy, and preserve every particle of the solid tations incident to such a situation, at a very critical gold—and present the interesting life and eventful period of life; and by the pure dint of invincible aptimes of Richard Baxter to the public, in a more plication, and the elastic spring of his opening genius, readable dress and attractive form. This has been he acquired more varied and substantial knowledge executed with much sound judgment and critical of men and things—of books and systems—of prinskill, by Baxter's last biographer, the late Rev. William ciples and character, than thousands who have, for Orme of Camberwell, and author of the Life of John ten or fifteen years, breathed the air of academic Owen, D.D., &c. It is a work of singular and su- groves. At a very opportune period of his early perior excellence. For more than half a century, life, he had access to an excellent library, which Baxter occupied an ample and elevated space in the proved of incalculable service to him. At the request public eye. He lived in critical and stormy times. of Lord Newport he went to Wrexeter, where he He stood high in an age pre-eminently distinguished taught in a free school for six months. by great and good men, of intellectual power and In 1633, before Baxter had completed his teens, high character. His biographer had drunk deeply he was persuaded, by a Mr Wickstead, to wave the into the spirit of the nonconformist age. He was studies in which he was then engaged, and try his familiar with the facts, and details, and contested fortune at court. He accordingly went to Whiteprinciples of that eventful period of our civil and hall. He carried with him recommendations to Sir ecclesiastical story. He could appreciate the work, Henry Herbert, master of the revels, by whom he and delineate the character, of such a man as Bax - was cordially received. Our author was then only ter; and by his candour and critical sagacity, exhibit eighteen, a period of life when the fascinations and "the lights and shades' in his character, and the ex- blandishments of a court are very apt to exert a cellencies and defects of his elaborate writings. He powerful influence over the youthful imagination. has done so with great propriety, force, and feeling, To what pitch of political power his extraordinary and has presented us with a likeness, as large as life, talents and constitutional ardour might have raised of the intellectual and moral character of Richard him, as a senator or statesman, we know not; but Baxter. All we can contemplate here is a miniature it soon became apparent that the Lord designed him sketch in profile. Our chief difficulties are selection for purer and nobler employment. The dissolute and compression.

character of the court of Charles I., in which the Among the great and good men whom Divine pro- Book of Sports had been concocted, where interludes vidence raised up, and qualified to counteract the en. and plays were more relished than serious piety, and

puritanism was as much disliked and shunned as the He received a license to teach a school at Dudley, plague--presented a tainted moral atmosphere very where he also, for a short season, preached the gosuncongenial to Baxter's then existing state of mind. pel with much acceptance, and some success.

It was A single month sufficed him of a court life. It was while here that he became acquainted with some nonnot his proper element; and he left Whitehall with conformists. His first impressions of them were, disgust. Like Moses, he .chose rather to suffer af- that they were splenetic, and that their strictures fliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the were too severe against the bishops; yet he averred, honours and emoluments of a court, and the plea- that “he found them to be both godly and honest sures of sin for a season. He had respect to the men. They furnished him with several writings recompence of reward,' and endured as seeing Him upon their own side of the question, and amongst who is invisible.' Though Baxter's religious char- others, with Ames' Suit Against Ceremonies, acter had been at that period but partially developed, which he read with care, comparing it with Dr Burand his religious principles were by no means ma- ges's Rejoynder. The former work shook his faith tured, yet some of the books which he had read with in the divine right of modern Episcopacy, and seveinterest and profit, such as Burney's Resolution, ral of its ceremonies, and made him feel, that he Sibb's Bruised Reed, Perkins on Repentance, on had acted either ignorantly, or rashly, in taking orLiving and Dying Well, &c., had been the means, ders before he had maturely weighed what his oaths under the Divine blessing, of generating in his mind and subscription implied. His active mind ultimately the principle of vital piety.

took a wider range of reading upon both sides. This An incipient desire for the work of the ministry' rather increased than diminished his scruples with had early taken possession of Baxter's mind. It is respect to some parts of the church service. After frequently a feeling consequent upon conversion to labouring for nine months in Dudley, he removed to God. It is often secretly cherished long before it is Bridgenorth, and became assistant to Mr William openly avowed, or the ulterior steps towards its at- Madstone, an aged minister, who treated him with tainment are distinctly defined to the mind of the much respect and cordiality. He performed those subject. This predilection, and the severe affliction parts of the church service himself, of the scriptural of his mother, will partly account for his rapid re- authority of which Baxter's conscience had begun to moval from court. He resumed his studies with in- entertain serious scruples. At first a considerable creased intensity. His mother died, under deep excitement was produced by his ministrations in his distress, in May following, 1634. His own health new sphere of labour, and some portion of fruit apwas also greatly shaken. The Lord was training peared. Though then in the ardour of youth, his him for future usefulness in the furnace; and in- soul burning with zeal, and his heart melting with genuously as he confessed, and deeply as he de- compassion for perishing sinners—though his aim plored, the defects of his early education_his want was simple, and his eye single, yet the excitement of a regular academical training--and the honours subsided, and he was made to feel that his “suffiand advantages of a course at the university, as ap- ciency' and his success alike, were ‘of the Lord.' parently interposing insurmountable obstructions About this time arbitrary power and ecclesiastical to his most sanguine wishes; yet all the while his tyranny were making rapid inroads upon the civil heavenly Father was proving, and tempering, and liberties of the subjects, and recklessly invaded the training him in the furnace, ultimately to make him “a sacred rights of conscience. What in our ecclesiasworkman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly divid- tical annals is called the et cætera oath, came to be ing the word of God,' and that · he might be able to imposed about this period. It had been devised as comfort others, who are in any trouble, with the a kind of test, and enacted as a clap-trap. Such same consolations wherewith he had been comforted crooked carnal policy generally overshoots the mark of God. What he lacked, or lost in the acquisition —it defeats the very object which it seeks to secure. of languages, literature, and mathematical science, he Many men of principle, who “feared an oath,' and gained in experimental piety, close communion with could afford to keep a conscience,' were justly God, and the acquisition of those spiritual attain- stumbled and startled at such an imposition, which ments which so pre-eminently fitted him for the ef- was little short of the Romish claim to infallibility. ficient discharge of the pastoral functions, and for This famous, or rather, infamous oath, induced Baxdoing the work of an evangelist.'

ter and many more to study the authority of English When Baxter arrived at the age of twenty-one, Episcopacy, and the arrogant claims of the hierarchy, his health and strength were very much wasted. He more carefully than ever. The clause at which his apprehended that he could not survive above a year conscience revolted runs in these terms:— Nor will or two; and though deeply sensible of his deficiencies, I ever give my consent to alter the government of yet seeing numbers perishing around him for lack of the church by archbishops, bishops, deans, and archknowledge— feeling the frailty of his frame—a fervent deacons, &c., as it stands now established, and as by desire to be useful to souls-and conceiving that right it ought to stand. Expulsion from the altars he possessed some portion of the powers of persua- of the church was the stern penalty of not swallowsion, he took orders in the Church of England from ing this oath. If a church rule her sons with a rod the bishop of Worcester. His family connections,' of iron, and seek to bind them to her interests, as and personal predilections, were then all in favour slaves, in chains of brass, she is not to wonder at the of the church. He had then read but little, and alleged weakness of the men who demur at her manstudied less, of the subject of church government dates; but she ought to blush at her own wickedand discipline, or of the nonconformnist controversy. 'ness in seeking to rivet human fetters upon Christ's

open door,

free men. In some instances they might have si- | pre-eminent degree, did the work of an evangelist;' lently submitted to parts of the principle in detail; it was here that he displayed the unexampled dilibut deliberately to swear to it by compulsion and gence of the Christian pastor; it was here that he penalty, changed the complexion of the case. fed the church of God' with the kindness of a fa

An interesting era in the life of Baxter now oc- ther, and the tenderness of a mother, which he had curred. In the year 1640 he received an invitation purchased with his own blood;' it was here that he by the bailiff and principal inhabitants of Kiddermin- received many for his joy and crown;' it was chiefly ster, to come and preach the gospel among them. in this favoured spot that he immortalized his own He embraced it. His salary was £60 per annum. name, and has given all but permanent celebrity to He who holds the key of David set before him an the place, having identified it, in the associations of

The vicar and his two curates had been the reading and religious public, with the Northampaccused by them as incompetent for the functions of ton of America. the offices which they nominally, but inefficiently Baxter had scarcely got the fallow-ground fully filled. Probably under the dread of formal inquiry, broken up at Kidderininster, after two years' active and the scrutiny of parliamentary triers, the vicar labour, when the civil war broke out. The tide of consented to grant the above allowance to an accept- party feeling ran very high. The country became able preacher. As he was a man who neither had divided between the King and the Long Parliament. capacity nor inclination to preach—seldom gave them The cavaliers, or royalists, as they styled themselves, a sermon but once a quarter and was a noted fre- rallied round the standard of the King; and the quenter of ale-houses and as the curates he em- friends of liberty and serious piety generally sided ployed were of the same stamp, it is very likely, in with the Parliament. Baxter ranked among the latthe then existing state of the country, they would ter. His residence at Kidderminster was interrupted feel perfectly willing to keep the peace with one of by the civil war. Persons who dared to leave the such devotedness of heart to his proper work, and beaten track, or deviate from the forms of the Esenergy and decision of character, as Richard Baxter. tablished Church, were suspected by the royalists,

The moral change produced by the labours of and treated by the rabble, as enemies to the King, Baxter formerly, and latterly at Kidderminster, was, and hostile to the church. Mr Baxter became a perhaps, without a parallel in Great Britain. It pre- marked man by the king's troops. Without the resented a noble field for unfolding the sleepless ener- straints of military discipline, having little pay and gies and the indefatigable labours of the man of no principle, they were allowed to pillage and plunGod. It seemed a spot selected by heaven for a der the puritans, as fair game, with perfect impunity. spiritual experiment. By the Divine blessing it suc- Having suffered in his person, his family, and proceeded to an astonishing extent. By his labours and perty, in the most rude and barbarous manner, he prayers, his ' teaching and preaching publicly, and was induced, for a time, to retire from his favourite from house to house, the moral wilderness and so- field of labour. litary place were inade glad. This once dreary and In order to avoid such annoyances, he was percheerless desert assumed the fragrance of Carmel, suaded to retire to Coventry, where he might remain and the fertility of Lebanon. He early felt a pre- with safety. That place had been garrisoned by dilection to the people and the place. It was just Parliament; and there he found thirty other minissuch a field as suited Baxter's genius and taste; ters, who, for similar reasons, had sought refuge unthough, with the exception of a very small remnant der the wing of the garrison • from the face of the of pious persons, who were ready to enter into his spoilers. He remained there for two years, as •in sentiments, sympathies, and plans, the minds and strong hold,' and preached once every Lord's day to morals of the overwhelming majority of the people the garrison, and once to the inhabitants of the town. were very few removes from a state of pure heathen- However unfavourable a season of civil commotion ism; but bad as they were, they were in a more is for the preaching and patient hearing of the tidings hopeful state than those among whom he had la- of pardon and peace among men embroiled in a cis il boured, and recently left, at Bridgenorth. They had contest, yet, in other respects, there seems to be an sunk into the arms of carnal security, and into a sys- imperious call for the still small voice of mercy' tem of selfishness, under a sound and awakening min- during the solemn pauses between contending paristry. To the great body of Baxter's new charge, ties, and the relentless ravages of the sword, In the gospel was quite a new thing. They had not this new and strictly militant sphere of labour, Baxpreviously heard it, nor were they hardened in the ter did not forget the apostolic charge: • Preach the guilt of having rejected it. The few praying people word; be constant in season and out of season; rewho were there, had longed for it, and prepared the prove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and docway for it. When the poor and the needy seek trine.' After the decisive action of Naseby, and water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for the favourable aspect of affairs to the Parliamentary thirst, I the Lord will hear, I, the God of Israel, will men, Baxter accepted the appointment of chaplain to not forsake them: I will open rivers in high places, Whalley's regiment of dragoons. The extravagant and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make notions which obtained at that time in the army upon the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land subjects of religion and politics, required a man of springs of water. ... That they may see, and know, sound judgment, to check party feeling, repress enand consider, and understand together, that the hand thusiasm, and lay before the opening and inquisitive of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Is- minds of these patriotic men, the sacred and subroel has created it.' It was here that Baxter, in a stantial principles of Divine revelation. This B2xter laboured to perform, without fear or flattery, with forms an important chapter in his Life and Times, some considerable degree of success. After follow- and throws a considerable portion of light upon the ing the camp for some time, he left the army early state of parties during an eventful crisis of our ecclein the year 1657. A profuse bleeding at the nose, siastical annals. Marking their discussions and deand several alarming symptoms, compelled him to cisions, as an attentive and impartial observer, staretire to the house of Sir Thomas Rouse, in which tioned on an elevated neck of neutral territory, he he continued for some time in a very precarious state has expressed his opinions of the men, and the matof health. On his recovery, he returned again to ters of discussion, with candour and freedom; and Kidderminster-he resumed his labours among the although it would be quite incompatible with the repeople of his choice—and remained their faithful, af- stricted limits of this brief sketch, in which our author fectionate, and successful pastor, during the lapse of was a spectator rather than an actor, to enter into fourteen additional years. During the sixteen years those lengthened details, yet we presume a few senof his energetic and devoted ministrations in this fa- tences by such a writer as our author, upon the prinvoured spot—while the country was convulsed with ciples, spirit, and character of the parties who coma civil war—while he was the subject of no ordinary posed this far-famed Assembly, will be gratifying to share of personal afflictions, and incessant bodily in the reader. For more ample details, we would refirmities_while he had an ample share of the trials fer him to the Life and Times, or Orme's Life of incident to a life of fearless, active benevolence in Baxter. 'the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ'--yet he Respecting the High Church party, he thought was honoured, under God, to effect an astonishing that they made too light of the power of the minisspiritual change in the minds and morals of the try, church, and excommunication—that they made people. The wide moral wastes were brought under church communion more common to the impenitent a process of successful cultivation—"Zion's wilder than Christ would have it that they made the ness was made like Eden, and her desert like the church too like the world, by breaking down the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness were found hedge of spiritual discipline, and laying it almost comtherein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.' The mon with the wilderness; and that they misunderbright visions of ancient prophecy were palpably stood and injured their brethren, affirming that they realized: • Instead of the thorn there came up the fir claimed, as from God, a coercive power over the tree; and instead of the briar there sprang forth the bodies and consciences of men. ... I utterly disliked myrtle tree; and it became to the Lord for a name, their extirpation of the true discipline of Christ, not and an everlasting sign that should not be cut off.' only as they omitted or corrupted it, but as their

It was during the time Baxter was at Coventry principles and church state had made it impracticable. that the celebrated Westminster Assembly of Di- They thus altered the nature of churches, and the vines was convened by order of Parliament. Though ancient nature of bishops and presbyters. They set not himself a member of that body, he had paid par- up secular courts-vexed honest Christians—counticular attention to their proceedings; he was well tenanced ungodly teachers-opposed faithful minisacquainted with the principles, characters, talents, and ters—and promoted the increase of ignorance and various parties who composed it; and in his Life and profaneness.' * Times, has given a pretty full and candid account of As to the Presbyterians, he says :- I saw, too, their deliberations and chief transactions. Had he that in England, the persons who were called Presbeen a member, he would in all probability have been byterians were eminent for learning, sobriety, and a leading man among the Presbyterian party, or those piety; and the pastors so called were those who went who wished to introduce a species of mudified Epis- through the work of the ministry in diligent and secopacy. In doctrinal sentiments, he substantially rious preaching to the people, and edifying men's accorded with the pious of all parties; but upon the souls, and keeping up religion in the land. ... But I constitution, discipline, and government of the church, disliked their order of lay elders, who had no ordiit is questionable if he would have agreed entirely nation, or power to preach and administer sacrawith any one of them. He decidedly disliked the ments; for though I grant that lay elders, as the chief Erastianism of some of the high church party; he of the people, were often employed to express the disapproved of the intolerant spirit of some of the people's conduct, and preserve their liberties, yet Presbyterians; and though he eulogised the piety these were no church officers at all, nor had any and talents of the leading men among the Indepen-charge of private oversight of the flocks. I disliked, dents, who formed but a fractional part of the Assem- also, the course of some of the more rigid of them, bly, yet he blamed them for bigotry—ranked them who drew near to the way of prelacy by grasping at and the Baptists among the minor sectaries—thought a kind of secular power, not using it themselves, but them too strict and exclusive in their discipline and binding the magistrate to confiscate or imprison men, membership--would allow the civil magistrate no merely because they were excommunicated, and so power in the church- and conceived that they car-corrupting the true discipline of the church, and ried the principles of religious liberty and the in- turning the communion of the saints into the comviolable right of conscience to an unreasonable ex- munion of the multitude, who must keep in the church tent. He has, however, given a more impartial ac- against their wills, for fear of being undone in the count of the character and proceedings of the West- world; whereas a man whose conscience cannot feel ininster Assembly, than has been given either by a just excommunication, unless it be backed with Lord Clarendon, Baillie, or Milton.

confiscation or imprisonment, is no fitter to be a memBaxter's details of this celebrated convocation ! * Lisc, part ii. pr. 139, 140. Ormc's life, chap.iv. l'r'. 72, 73.

« PreviousContinue »