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Page Baxter, the author of Prefaces to many Books by others-Leaves vari
ous Treatises in Manuscript-His extensive Correspondence still preserved-Letter to Increase Mather-Account of Transactions with his Booksellers-Concurrence of Opinions respecting him as a Writer -- Barrow — Boyle - Wilkins - Usber - Manton-Bates-Dod. dridge — Kippis -Orton – Addison - Johnson — Granger - Wilberforce-His own Review of his Writings-Its characteristic candour and fidelity-The magnitude of bis Labours as a Writer-The number and variety of his Works His Readiness-His Style-Sometimes injudicious, both in his Writings and bis Conduct-Deficient in the full statement of Evangelical Doctrine--Causes of this DeficiencyConclusion .. . ... .. .... . ........ 763
Chronological List of the Works of Baxter .......... 793
LIFE AND TIMES
Birth of Baxter—Character of his Father —Low State of Religion—Baxter's first religious Impressions—Hi? early Education—Progress of his religious Feelings—Residence at Ludlow Castle—Escapes acquiring a Taste for Gaming—Returns Home—Illness and its Effects—Nature and Progress of his Education—Its Defects—Troubled with Doubts—Distress of Mind—Diseased Habit of Body—Goes to Court—Remarkable Preservation—Death of his Mother—His Attachment to the Ministry—His Conformity—Becomes acquainted with the Nonconformists—Ordained to the Ministry.
The excellent person whose life and writings constitute the subject of the following memoirs, was the son of Richard Baxter, of Eaton-Constantine, in Shropshire. His mother's name was Beatrice, a daughter of Richard Adeney, of Rowton, near High-Ercall, the seat of Lord Newport, in the same county. At this place Richard Baxter was born, on the 12th a of November, 1615; and here he spent, with his grandfather, the first ten years of his life.
His father was a freeholder, and possessed of a moderate estate; but having been addicted to gaming in his youth, his property became so deeply involved, that much care and frugality were required to disencumber it at a future period of his life. Before, or about the time that Richard was born, an important change took place in his father. This was effected chiefly by the reading of the Scriptures, as he had not the benefit of christian association, or of the public preaching of the Gospel. Indeed, the latter privilege could scarcely then be enjoyed in that county. There was little preaching of any kind, and that little was calculated to injure, rather than to benefit. In High Ercall, there were four readers in the course of six years; all of them ignorant, and two of them immoral men. At Eaton-Constantine, there was a reader of eighty years of age, Sir William Rogers, who never preached; yet he had two livings, twenty miles apart from each other. His sight failing, he repeated the prayers without book, but to read the lessons, he employed a common labourer one year, a tailor another; and, at last, his own son, the best stage-player and gamester in all the country, got orders, and supplied one of his places. Within a few miles round were nearly a dozen more ministers of the same description: poor, ignorant readers, and most of them of dissolute lives.b Three or four, who were of a different character, though all conformists, were the objects of popular derision and hatred, as Puritans. When such was the character of the priests, we need not wonder that the people were profligate, and despisers of them that were good. The greater part of the Lord's-day was spent by the inhabitants of the village in dancing round a may-pole, near Mr. Baxter's door, to the no small distress and disturbance of the family.
* It seems rather singular that Baxter should be guilty of a mistake respecting the day of his own birth. There is, however, a discrepancy between the date here given by himself, and that in the parish register. The following extract from it, made by my friend Mr. Williams, of Shrewsbury, shows that either Mr. Baxter or the parish clerk must have made a mistake. "Richard sonne and heyr of Richard Baxter of Katon Constantyne and Beatrice his wife, baptized the sixth of November, 1615." If he was baptised on the sixth, he could not be born on the twelfth! But perhaps sixth is a mistake in the register for sixteenth. VOL. I. B
To his father's instructions and example, young Richard was indebted for his first religious convictions. At a very early pe riod, his mind was impressed by his serious conversation about God and the life to come. His conduct in the family also, and the manner in which he was reproached by the people as a Puritan and hypocrite, gave additional effect to his conversation. Parents should be careful what they say in the presence of children, as well as what they say to them; for if occasional addresses are not supported by a regular train of holy and consistent conduct, they are not likely to produce salutary effect. There must have been some striking indications of religious feeling in Baxter, when a child; for his father remarked to Dr. Bates, that he would even then reprove the improper conduct of other children, to the astonishment of those who heard him.0 The account, too, which he gives of the early visitings of his conscience, shows that something was operating in him, the nature and design of which he did not then fully understand. He was addicted, during his boyhood, to various evils—such as lying, stealing fruit, levity, pride, disobedience to parents. These sins made him occasionally very uneasy, even in his youth, and cost him considerable trouble to overcome. It would be improper, however, to attach much importance to these uneasy feelings, as such emotions have frequently been experienced in early life, yet never followed by any evidence of decided change of character. It is only when they continue, or are afterwards accompanied by an entire change of life, that they ought to be considered as of heavenly origin. This was happily the case in the present instance. Baxter's early impressions and convictions, though often like the morning cloud and early dew, were never entirely dissipated; but at last fully established themselves in a permanent influence on his character.
b In his Third Defence of the Cause of Peace, Baxter gives the names of all the individuals above referred to, with additional circumstances of a disgraceful nature in the history of each. The statement is a very shocking our, even in the most mitigated form in which I could pre-ent it; but justice to Baxter and to his account of the times, required that the facts should not be withheld. They give a deplorable view of the state of the period, aud show, very powerfully, the necessity of some of the measures which were pursued at a future period for the purification of the church.
His early education was very imperfectly conducted. From six to ten years of age, he was under the four successive curates of the parish, two of whom never preached, and the two who had the most learning of the four drank themselves to beggary, and then left the place. At the age of ten he was removed to his father's house, where Sir William Rogers, the old blind man of whom we have already spoken, was parson. One of his curates who succeeded a person who was driven away on being discovered to have officiated under forged orders, was Baxter's principal schoolmaster. This man had been a lawyer's clerk, but hard drinking drove him from that profession, and he turned curate for a piece of bread. He only preached once in Baxter's time, and then was drunk '. From such men what instruction could be expected? How dismal must the state of the country have been, when they could be tolerated either as ministers or teachers! His next instructor, who loved him much, he tells us, was a grave and eminent man, and expected to be made a bishop. He also, however, disappointed him; for during no less than two years,he never instructed him one hour; but spent his time, for the most part, in talking against the factious Puritans. In his study, he remembered to have seen no Greek book but the New Testament; the only father was Augustine de Civitate Dei; there were a few common modern English works, and for the most of the year, the parson studied Bishop Andrews' Sermons.d
* Funeral Sermon for Baxter.
Of Mr. John Owen, master of the free-school at Wroxeter, he speaks more respectfully. To him he was chiefly indebted for his classical instruction. He seems to have been a respectable man, and under him Baxter had for his schoolfellows the two sons of Sir Richard Newport, one of whom became Lord Newport; and Dr. Richard Allestree, afterwards a distinguished loyalist, for which he was made Regius Professor of Divinity, at Oxford, and Provost of Eton College.*5 When fitted for the University by Owen, his master recommended that instead of being sent to it, he should be put under the tuition of Mr. Richard Wickstead, chaplain to the Council at Ludlow, who was allowed by the king to have a single pupil. From him, as he had but one scholar, to whom he engaged to pay particular attention, much was naturally expected. But he also neglected his trust. He made it his chief business to please the great and seek preferment; which he tried to do by speaking against the religion and learning of the Puritans, though he had no great portion of either himself. The only advantage young Baxter had with him, was the enjoyment of time and books.
Considering the great neglect of suitable and regular instruction, both secular and religious, which Baxter experienced in his youth, it is wonderful that he ever rose to eminence. Such disadvantages are very rarely altogether conquered. But the strength of his genius, the ardour of his mind, and the power of his religious principles, compensated for minor defects, subdued every difficulty, and bore down with irresistible energy every obstacle that had been placed in his way. As the progress of his religious character is of more importance than that of his learning, it is gratifying that we are able to trace it very minutely.
d Apology for the Nonconformist Ministry, p. 58. • Alhcu. Oxon. vol. ii. p. 605.