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The Life and Times of the Rev. Richard Baxter ; with a critical Ex
amination of his Writings. By the Rev. William ORME. Two volumes, 8vo.
Who has not heard the name of RICHARD BAXTER! Entering upon the career of his public life at a time of violent civil and religious commotion in England--taking a deep interest and frequently a very active part in the various transactions which at that eventful period agitated the kingdom-possessing naturally a bold and penetrating mind-having his heart deeply imbued with religious truth and richly laden with the graces of the Holy Spirit-an intellect highly cultivated by various reading and close observation-Baxter occupied a high and commanding position in society and made a very conspicuous figure in the age in which he lived ; and likewise did much toward softening
1 the rigor of the times and in diffusing among his countrymen the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our earliest recollections of religious impressions are associated with the writings of Baxter, particularly his Saints' Everlasting Rest. It was, therefore, with no small gratification that we saw announced the work placed at the head of this article. There is, indeed, no period of English history more replete with incidents of an interesting character, or more prolific with important events, than the age in which Baxter flourished ; and perhaps no one man in the religious world at that time stamped the image of his own mind on a great variety of subjects more impressively than he did. Active, conscientious, deeply religious, bold and fearless, acute and penetrating, he turned his attention to every subject which then agitated the public mind, and employed his pen in defence of whatever he considered important in the cause of civil and religious emancipation.
The tide of the reformation which ebbed and flowed with the rise and fall of Protestant influence in the civil government-commencing Vol. IV.-April, 1833.
its flow in upon the kingdom during the reign of the haughty and libidinous Henry VIII., and advancing gradually and smoothly through the few days of Edward VI.-ebbing back again during the bigoted reign of “ bloody Mary”—then rising higher with the elevation of Elizabeth to the throne of the Tudors-standing nearly still throughout the reign of James I. of England—and rather receding during the misrule of the first days of Charles I.—but contending with a strong counter current toward the end of his reign ; which was checked by the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the commonwealth :-Amidst these contending fluxes and refluxes arose Richard Baxter out of the troubled waters. He was no indifferent spectator of the contending elements. And though baffled in his attempts to hush the tempest, which was still raging with violence, by the wand of his tongue and pen, his indefatigable efforts did much in tempering down the fury of the blast and calming the raging of the foaming billows.
It is indeed consoling to reflect that amidst so much turmoil and animosity as characterized that factious age—amidst such a vast variety of religious and political sects and opinions as sprung into existence during that period of strife and vexation,—such a man as Baxter should have been raised up—a man whose soul was elevated so far above the level of most of his cotemporaries, and who was equal to the task of grappling with all those jarring interests, and patiently enduring
the contradiction of sinners against himself,' and of steering a steady course along the channel of truth and holy obedience.
The present work consists of two octavo volumes, the first of which is devoted chiefly to a narration of the events of Baxter's life, and the second to a review of his voluminous writings. The narration embraces a great variety of events in which Baxter had less or more to do, the details of which, in the volume before us, are very instructive and interesting.
It seems that Richard Baxter was born on the 12th of November, in the year 1615, in Rowton, near High-Ercall, where he spent the first ten years of his life with his grandfather. The following account of the parish in which Baxter was born and educated will show the low and degraded state of religion at that time, and teach us how highly we ought to prize the privileges which we now enjoy :
• 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 laborer 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. 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 maypole, near Mr. Baxter's door, to the no small distress and disturbance of the family.' (p. 10.)
Notwithstanding the general prevalence of this sort of profligacy among almost all orders of people, it appears that the father of young Baxter was religious, and that from him Richard received his first religious convictions which, though he was addicted to those vices so incident to youth, made lasting impressions upon his young and flexible mind. But the following account of his education will reflect no credit on the age in which he lived, much less on those to whom such an important charge was committed :
• 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 disma! 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
studied Bishop Andrew's Sermons.' (p. 11.)
Baxter was afterward put under the tuition of Mr. John Owen, master of the free school at Wroxeter, of whom he speaks very respectfully; but his education on the whole was much neglected through the culpable carelessness of those to whom it was committed. Hence says his biographer :
Considering the great neglect of suitable and regular instruction, both secular and religious, which Baxter experienced in bis youth, it is wonderful that he ever rose to eminence. Such disadvantages are very rarely altogether conquered. But the strength of his genius, the ardor 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.
The convictions of his childhood were powerfully revived when about fifteen years of age, by reading an old torn book, lent by a poor man to his father. This little work was called “Bunny's Resolution,” being written by a jesuit of the name of Parsons, but corrected by Edmund Bunny. Previously to this he had never experienced any real change of heart, though he had a sort of general love for religion. But it pleased God to awaken his soul, to show him the folly of sinning, the misery of the wicked, and the inexpressible importance of eternal things. His convictions were now attended with illumination of mind, and deep seriousness of heart. His conscience distressed him, led him to much prayer, and to form many resolutions; but whether the good work was then begun, or only revived, he never could satisfactorily ascertain. This is a circumstance of little importance. Regeneration can take place but once, but more conversions than one are required in many an individual's life. If we are assured that the great change has really been effected, the time and circumstances in which it occurs are of small moment.
Another work, which was very useful to him at this time, is better known; “ The Bruised Reed,” by Dr. Richard Sibbs ; a book which has passed through many editions, and has been honored to do good to many. Here he discovered more clearly the nature of the love of God, and of the redemption of Christ; and was led to perceive how much he was indebted to the Redeemer. Till these things are understood, and their influence felt, no man can be considered as converted. The works of Perkins “On Repentance,” on “Living and Dying well,” and “On the Government of the Tongue,” also contributed to instruct and improve him. Thus by means of books, rather than of living instruments, God was pleased to lead him to Himself. His connections with men tended to injure and to stumble him rather than to do him good. Among the things he mentions which had no tendency to promote his spiritual profit, was his confirmation by Bishop Morton, to whom he went when about fourteen, with the rest of the boys. He asked no questions, required no certificate, and hastily said, as he passed on, three or four words of a prayer, which Baxter did not understand. The careless observance of the forms of religion, whether these forms be of human or Divine ordination, is never defensible: and must always have a hardening effect on the mind.' (pp. 12, 13.)
As he was early led to turn his thoughts to the Christian ministry, he directed his attention to that course of study which should best qualify him for this holy work. The following account of those early studies, and of the defectiveness of his general education, will be read with lively interest :