Page images

fections: And a little before his death, said, “ He believed “ they were more expressive of kindness to him, than the “ Christian converts were to the apostle Paul, by what “ appears in his writings."

While he remained at Kidderminster, his illustrious worth was not shaded in a corner, but dispersed its beams and influence round the country. By his counsel and excitation, the ministers in Worcestershire, episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational, were united, that, by their studies, labours, and advice, the doctrine and practice of religion, the truth and holiness of the gospel, might be preserved in all the churches committed to their charge. This association was of excellent use, the ends of church government were obtained by it, and it was a leading example to the ministers of other counties. Mr. Baxter was not above his brethren-ministers, by a superior title, or any secular advantage, but by his divine endowments and separate excellencies, his extraordinary wisdom, zeal, and fidelity: He was the soul of that happy society.

He continued among his beloved people, till the year 1660, when he came to London. A while aiter the king's restoration, there were many endeavours used in order to an agreement between the episcopal and presbyterian ministers. For this end several of the bishops elect, and of the ministers, were called to attend the king at Worcester IIouse: There was read to them a declaration drawn up with great wisdom and moderation by the Lord Chancellor the Earl of Clarendon. I shall only observe, that in reading the several parts of the declaration, Dr. Morley was the principal manager of the conference among the bishops, and Mr. Baxter among the ministers: And one particular I cannot forget : it was desired by the ministers, that the bishops should exercise their church power with the counsel and consent of presbyters. This limiting of authority was so displeasing, that Dr. Cosins, then elect of Durham, said, If your Majesty grant this you will unbishop your bishops. Dr. Reynolds upon this produced the book, entitled, The Portraiture of his sa

cred llajesty in bis Solitude and Sufferings,' and read the following passage: • Not that I am against the ' managing of this presidency and authority of one man • by the joint counsel and consent of many presbyters :

I have offered to restore that, as a fit means to avoid · those errors, corruptions, and partialities, which are • incident to any one man: Also to avoid tyranny, ' which becomes no Christians, least of all church-men.


Besides, it will be a means to take away that burden and odium of affairs, which may lie too beavy on one man's shoulders, as indeed I think it did formerly on the bi

shop's here.' The good doctor thought, that the judgment of the king's afflicted and enquiring father, would have been of great moment to incline him to that temperament: But the king presently replied, “ All that is in

that book is not gospel.' My Lord Chancellor prudently moderated in that matter, that the bishops, in weighty causes, should have the assistance of the presbyters.

Mr. Baxter considering the state of our affairs in that time, was well pleased with that declaration. He was of Calvin's mind, who judiciously observes, upon our Saviour's words, That the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend: Qui ad extirpandum quicquid displicet præposterè festinant, anteverlant Christi judicium, et ereptum angelis officium sibi temerè usurpant.* Besides, that declaration granted such a freedom to conscientious ministers, that were unsatisfied as to the old conformity, that if it had been observed, it had prevented the doleful division that succeeded after. But when there was a motion made in the House of Commons, that the declaration might pass into an act, it was opposed by one of the Secretaries of State, which was a sufficient indication of the king's averseness to it.

After the declaration, there were many conferences at the Savoy between the bishops and some doctors of their party, with Mr. Baxter and some other ministers for an agreement, wherein his zeal for peace was most conspicuous ; but all was in vain. Of the particulars that were debated, he has given an account in print.

Mr. Baxter after his coming to London, during the time of liberty, did not neglect that which was the principal exercise of his life, the preaching the gospel, being always sensible of his duty of saving souls. He preached at St. Dunstan's on the Lord's Days in the afternoon. I remember one instance of his firm faith in the divine providence, and his fortitude when he was engaged in his ministry there. The church was old, and the people were apprehensive of some danger in meeting in it: And while Mr. Baxter was preaching, something in the steeple fell down, and the noise struck such a terror into the people, that they presently, in a wild disorder, ran out of the church; their eagerness to haste away, put all into a tumult: Mr. Baxter, without visible disturbance, sat down in the pulpit: After the hurry was over, he resumed his discourse, and said to compose their minds, “ We are in the service of God to prepare our“ selves, that we may be fearless at the great noise of 6 the dissolving world, when the heavens shall pass away, " and the elements shall melt with fervent heat ; the earth also, " and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up," 2 Pet. iii. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.


* They that make too much basté to redress at once all things that are a miss, anticipate the judgment of Christ, and rasbly usurp the office of the angels.

After St, Dunstan's church was pulled down in order to its rebuilding, he removed to Black-Friars, and continued his preaching there to a vast concourse of hearers till the memorable Bartholomew.

In the year 1661, a parliament was called, wherein was passed the act of uniformity, that expelled from their public places about two thousand ministers. I will only take notice concerning the causes of that proceeding, that the old clergy from wrath and revenge, and the young gentry from their servile compliance with the court, and their distaste of serious religion, were very active to carry on and complete that act. That this is no rash imputation upon the ruling clergy then is evident, not only from their concurrence in passing that law, for actions have a language as convincing as that of words, but from Dr. Sheldon then Bishop of London, their great leader ; who when the Lord Chamberlain, Manchester, told the king, while the act of uniformity was under debate, " That he was afraid the terms of it were • so rigid, that many of the ministers would not comply ( with it;' he replied, • I am afraid they will.' This act was passed, after the king had engaged his faith and honour, in his declaration from Breda, to preserve the liberty of conscience inviolate, which promise opened the way for his restoration; and after the royalists here had given public assurance, that all former animositiés should be buried, as rubbish under the foundation of an universal concord. Mr. Baxter, who was involved with so many ministers in this calamity, and was their brightest ornament, and the best defence of their righteous, though oppressed cause, made two observations upon that act and our ejection

The one was, that the ministers were turned and kept out from the public exercise of their office in that time of their lives that was most fit to be dedicated and em

ployed ployed for the service and glory of God, that is between thirty and sixty years, when their intellectual and instrumental faculties were in their vigour. The other was in a letter to me after the death of several bishops, who were concurrent in passing that act, and expressed no sorrow for it: His words were, " For ought I see, the “ bishops will own the turning of us out, at the tribunal " of Christ, and thither we appeal.”

After the act of uniformity had taken its effect, in the ejection of so many ministers, there was sometimes a connivance at the private exercise of their ministry, sometimes public indulgences granted, and often a severe prosecution of them, as the popish and politic interest of the court varied. When there was liberty, Mr. Baxter applied himself to his delightful work, to the great advantage of those who enjoyed his ministry. But the church party opposed vehemently the liberty that was granted.' Indeed such was their fierceness, that if the dissenting ministers had been as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves, they could not escape their censures. The pulpit represented them as seditiously disaffected to the state, as obstinate schismatics; and often the name of God was not only taken in vain, but in violence, to authorize their hard speeches, and harder actions, against them. Some drops of that storm fell upon Mr. Baxter, who calmly submitted to their injurious dealings. I shall speak of that afterward.

In the interval, between his deprivation and his death, he wrote and published most of his books, of which I will give some account.

His books, for their number and variety of matter in them, make a library. They contain a treasure of controversial, casuistical, positive, and practical divinity: Of them I shall relate the words of one, whose exact judgment, joined with his moderation, will give a great value to his testimony; they are of the very reverend Dr. Wilkins, afterward Bishop of Chester : He said, That • Mr. Baxter had cultivated every subject he handled; and . if he had lived in the primitive times he had been one of • the fathers of the church. I shall add what he said with admiration of him at another time, " That it was • enough for one age to produce such a person as Mr. • Baxter. Indeed he had such an amplitude in his thoughts, such vivacity of imagination, and solidity and depth of judgment, as rarely meet together. His inquiring mind was freed from the servile dejection and

bondage bondage of an implicit faith. He adhered to the Scriptures, as the perfect rule of faith, and searched whether the doctrines, received and taught, were consonant to it. This is the duty of every Christian, according to his capacity, especially ministers, and the necessary means to open the mind for divine knowledge, and for the advancement of the truth. He published several books against the papists, with that clearness and strength, as will confound, if not convince them. He said, " He “only desired armies and antiquity against the papists :" Armies, because of their bloody religion so often exenplified in England, Ireland, France, and other countries. However they may appear on the stage, they are always the same persons in the tyring-room: Their religion binds them to extirpate heretics, and often over-rules the milder inclinations of their nature: Antiquity, because they are inveigled with a fond pretence to it, as it it were favourable to their cause. But it has been demonstrated by many learned Protestants, that the argument of antiquity is directly against the principal doctrines of popery, as that of the supremacy, of transubstantiation, of image-worship, and others.

He has wrote several excellent books against the impudent atheism of this loose age. In them he establishes the fundamental principle, upon which the whole fabric of Christianity is built ; that after this short uncertain life, there is a future state of happiness or misery equally eternal, and that death is the last irrevocable step into that unchangeable state. From hence it follows, by infallible consequence, that the reasonable creature should prefer the interest of the soul before that of the body, and secure eternal life. This being laid,' he proved the Christian religion to be the only way of fallen man's being restored to the favour of God, and obtaining a blessed immortality. This great argument he manages with that clearness and strength, that none can refuse assent unto it, without denying the infallible principles of faith, and the evident principles of nature.

He also published some warm discourses, to apologize for the preaching of dissenting ministers, and to excite them to do their duty. He did not think that the act of uniformity could disoblige them from the exercise of their office. It is true, magistrates are titular gods, by their deputation and vicegerency, but subordinate and accountable to God above. Their laws have no binding force upon the conscience, but from his command ; and if contrary to his laws, are to be disobeyed. The ministers


« PreviousContinue »