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LIFE AND WRITINGS
WORKS ON THE EVIDENCES OF RELIGION.
Introductory Observations on the Theological Literature of the period
Arrangement of this part of the Work-Importance of the Evidences of Religion- Unreasonableness of Infidelity'-Dedication to Broghill-1tended as a Reply to Clement Writer-Nature and Plan of the Work* Reasons of the Christian Religion 'View of the Work- More Reasons for the Christian Religion '- Intended as a Reply to Lord Herbert-On the Immortality of the Soul'-Notice of First Attack in English on this Doctrine-Glanvil-Dr. Henry More-Baxter's Notions of the Soul's Iinmateriality— Certainty of the World of Spirits '-Singular Nature of this Book-Remarks on Witchcraft and Apparitions—Baxter, the First Original Writer iu Euglish on the Evidences of Revelation-Mornay-Grotius —Bishop Fotherby-Stillingfieet-Concluding Observations.
Having completed the regular memoir of Baxter's public and private life, we now proceed to what may be regarded as the second part of this work, an historical and critical account of his very numerous writings. These occupied the principal part of his time for many years, and by these he will continue, though dead, to profit the church of God for ages to come. I have previously avoided almost every thing respecting his works, but the enumeration of them in the respective periods in which they appeared. To have noticed them in connexion with his life and times, would either have been destructive of the continuity of the narrative, or to avoid this, the account must have been so brief and general, as greatly to destroy its interestI have,
therefore, reserved the consideration of his writings till the close of his life, that I might give them an entirely distinct department.
The remark which is commonly made respecting authors, that they are chiefly to be known by their writings, is only to a limited extent applicable to Baxter. The former part of this work shows, that independently of his writings, he would have been known to posterity as one of the most considerable men of his times, in the class to which he belonged. He took an active part in all those transactions that distinguished the religious body with which he was connected, and whose affairs often involved the politics and interests of the nation at large. His influence among his brethren throughout the country, the respect in which he was held by the government, his popularity as a preacher, and the sufferings which he endured, all prove that his title to celebrity does not exclusively rest on his published works. He was not a mere recluse student, or a professional writer ; but an active, laborious, and public-spirited man.
Still, the writings of Baxter, which formed so important a portion of those labours in which he so long engaged, were regarded by himself as among the chief means of his usefulness, and furnish us with such a comprehensive view of his mind, that they are justly entitled, in a life of him, to the most ample consideration, By their means, too, his usefulness has been extended and perpetuated beyond the period of his own existence, and far beyond the immediate sphere of his personal labours.
Baxter lived at a time when the literature of Great Britain was influenced in an extraordinary degree by the peculiar circumstances of a civil and ecclesiastical nature, which then occurred; after it had made considerable progress in some departments, but before it had acquired that fixed character, and definite form, which it assumed in the course of the following century, For a long period after the Reformation, the chief subject which
occupied the attention of the theological writers of England was the Popish controversy. They judged it then necessary to act. both offensively and defensively towards the church of Rome; to maintain the grounds on which the reformed church separated from that corrupt system; and to show that its doctrine, ceremonies, and genius, were all at variance with Christianity. English divinity was then also a new thing; hence it became of more importance to supply a wholesome pabulum, than to expend much labour in dressing it; to furnish the converts from Rome with food of such a quality as would most effectually preserve them from longing after the delicacies of the imperial strumpet,
Out of the controversy, respecting the principles of the Reformation, arose the puritanical and the nonconformist debates. Many, from the beginning, were not content to stop at Canterbury; they conceived that the principles of the Reformation required them to proceed further; they wished to divest themselves of every rag and relic which had belonged to the mother of abominations; and sought to save their souls, not merely by a speedy, but by a far-distant flight from her. Hence the questions about imposition, ecclesiastical authority, church government, forms and vestments. The influence of the court, which was never reformed, except in name, and the timid and worldly policy of church rulers, were constantly opposed to too wide a separation from Rome.
From this state of things sprang the nonconformist separation from the Anglican church, and the numerous discussions which occupied so large a portion of our theological literature down to the times of Baxter. No period of rest and liberty had really been enjoyed. The public mind had come to no settled conclusions on many important points. Debates on matters apparently trifling, were often fiercely maintained, because they implied a diversity of opinion on other things of far more importance than themselves.
Where much oppression was exercised on the one hand, and much suffering endured on the other; in the one case a constant struggle to maintain authority, and in the other to secure existence; it would be vain to expect the refinements and delicacies of literature. Biblical science, profound and elegant thcological disquisition, the exercises of taste and fancy, in reference to religion, could not flourish in such circumstances. Among the Puritans and Nonconformists, especially, these things are not to be looked for. They were men born to suffering and to combat. Accustomed to the din of war from their infancy, they insensibly acquired its language, and something of its spirit. Their polemics were a part of their existence; their sufferings sometimes chastened, but more frequently roused their spirits. Hence they studied not so much the polish of the weapon as its temper; and were more careful to maintain their sentiments, than fastidious in the mode of expressing them.
Their writings were, from these circumstances, in a great measure, limited to two departments, practical and controversial; the former including all that was felt to be necessary for the support of the Christian life in times of peculiar distress and peril; the latter, all that was deemed necessary in self-defence or vindication, or for the promotion of those principles, on account of which they were exposed to great tribulation. In both these departments they almost exhaust the subjects which they discuss. They brought forward both argument and consolation in masses. They had neither time nor disposition to prune or abridge. It was often necessary to meet the adversary with the weapon which could be immediately seized, or most effectively employed; and as the appetite for instruction was voracious, the supply was required to be abundant, rather than of the finest quality.
“ The agitated state of surrounding circumstances gave them continual proof of the instability of all things temporal; and inculcated on them the necessity of seeking a happiness which