Baxterianism – A Warning
December 1991 marked the 300th anniversary of the death of the famous Puritan Richard Baxter.
There has been much about this man in contemporary Christian magazines, but not a word of warning.
Professed “Calvinist” articles and reviews have been completely silent about the errors which were mixed with Richard Baxter’s teaching. There has been nothing but praise.
Our godly forefathers, in our Gospel Standard Articles, felt it needful to write against “Baxterianism.” Neither “Arminianism” nor “Wesleyianism” are mentioned, but “Baxterianism” is.
Perhaps the strongest adulation for Richard Baxter follows the re-publication of four volumes of his works.
These are being sold by the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and Dr, Peter Masters writes:
“To have such a set completed is, for the lover of outstanding theological books, the great event of the year.”
He writes of Volume 2 as “a wonderful volume” and volume 3 as “a superb volume” and states:
“The blessing and benefit of these great works to all is enormous.”
Again, there is not a word of warning as to where Baxter went astray…
…What then is wrong with Richard Baxter’s teaching?
It concerns the great doctrine of justification, what one man called “the article by which a church stands or falls.”
Strangely, though in 1992 Evangelical leaders are silent, the late Dr. Lloyd Jones felt compelled to speak out against Baxter’s teaching on justification, saying that “he went hopelessly astray on this.”
In a word Richard Baxter taught that the death of Christ purchased a more leniant covenant. As no one can keep the law of works, Christ has (to use Baxter’s terms) procured a lower market; the price is not so high. In other words, Christ has relaxed the terms.
All that is asked is that the sinner have faith in Christ and he is justified.
How different from the apostle’s insistence that the law cannot abate one of it’s claims, and that our only hope is in Christ fulfilling the law by His perfect obedience and then bearing the curse.
This, and this alone, is the ground of justification – Christ’s righteousness imputed to the sinner.
But Richard Baxter goes on to put such emphasis upon works that he implies that in the long run you are justified by your conduct and behaviour and sanctification. So (to quote Dr. Lloyd Jones) he “virtually taught that men were justified by their own actions.”
Obviously there is much upon which we do not agree with Dr. Lloyd Jones – but he was concerned about the false teaching on justification , which strikes at the heart of the gospel. (For the above we have made great use of Dr. Lloyd Jones’s lectures on justification.)
We pass over Richard Baxter’s intemperate attacks on the early baptists and in closing quote our article 28 (which deals with another point): “We reject the doctrine called ‘Baxterianism’; that is to say that while all the elect shall assuredly be saved there is a residuum of grace in Christ for the rest, or any of the rest, if they will only accept it.”
We just cannot understand why professed calvinist writers, in all that is being said at present about Richard Baxter, have not issued a warning concerning the points where he went astray from the truth.
By B. A. Ramsbottom
Gospel standard magazine – April 1992.