Richard Baxter, an English nonconformist clergyman and theological writer, born at Row-ton, Shropshire, Nov. 12, 1615, died in London, Dec. 8, 1691. His early bias was toward religious meditation and exercises of piety; and this bias was confirmed by his research in the library of Mr. Wickstead, chaplain of the Ludlow council. A brief trial of life at court confirmed him in his determination to become a preacher; and after a short interval of teaching, during which his preparatory studies were diligently prosecuted, he was ordained at Dudley, at the age of 23. Two years later he became the minister of the important town of Kidderminster, where he was held in high esteem, notwithstanding his refusal to take the ecclesiastical oath. In the civil wars which soon after broke out, he took sides with the parliament, was chaplain in Whalley's regiment, and led for some years an unsettled life. He had no sympathy with the assumption of supreme power by Cromwell, and advocated the return of Charles II. to his father's throne. In return for his services to the cause of legitimacy, he was made one of the chaplains of the restored monarch, and was offered a bishopric, which his conscientious scruples about conformity compelled him to decline.
His favor with the king, however, could not shield him from persecution. He was prohibited from preaching, accusations of heresy were multiplied against him, and after numerous arrests he was brought at last, at the age of 70, before the tribunal of Judge Jeffreys, on charges of sedition and hostility to the episcopacy, found-ed on passages in his "Paraphrase on the New Testament." In the trial Jeffreys was a pros-center as well as judge, abusing the prisoner, insulting his counsel, and imposing a fine of 500 marks, the defendant to lie in prison till the tine was paid, and to be bound to good behavior for seven years. Unable to pay the fine, he was committed to the king's bench prison, where he was confined 18 months, when his fine was remitted, and he was pardoned through the mediation of Lord Powis. Baxter, though a royalist in his principles and the advocate of an established church, was yet in his tastes and temper sternly puritan. He was a foe to all dissoluteness of life, to all arbitrary measures, to every kind of tyranny and oppression. His opposition to absolute power was uncompromising, and neither fear nor favor could bring him to yield it.
He was a mediator among the sects; yet his views were so sharp and positive that he became, in spite of ids desire, the founder of a school of theology which still continues to bear his name. Baxter's love for theological subtleties, not less than his restless promptness in taking hold of every subject of religious concern, involved him in perpetual controversy. He had many and noble friends, but he made a multitude of enemies both in church and state. His works, in every form, from bulky folios to pamphlets, number not less than 168 titles. Most of them are written in English; yet the Methodus Theologitt', issued in 1674, showed a fair mastery of the Latin tongue. His treatises on "Universal Concord" and "Catholic Theology" failed to produce that harmony among sects which was the purpose of their publication. Baxter was a fearless metaphysician; yet that he was credulous of strange tales, and ready to believe marvels, is shown in his treatise "Certainty of the World of Spirits." The three works by which Baxter is best known arc his "Saint's Everlasting'Rest," his "Call to the Unconverted," and his autobiography, published five years after his death ("Reliquim Baxterianat: A Narrative of his Life and Times," folio, 1696; edited by Dr. Calamy, 4 vols. 8vo, 1713). The first two of these works have a popularity which remains still undiminished.
Doctrinally, these celebrated works arc more liberal than his treatises of divinity. His works have been collected in 23 vols. 8vo, and his "Practical Works" in 4 vols., the latter many times reprinted.