A Puritan biography made more poignant by the author's unveiling of his grief, edited and accompanied by a contemporary theologian's reflections on death.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)|
About the Author
J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best-seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.
Richard Baxter(1615-1691) was a leading English Puritan churchman, theologian, and writer. He authored nearly 170 works, including the 1,143-pageChristian Directory,Methodus Theologiae Christianae, andCatholic Theology.
Read an Excerpt
Richard (1615-91) — evangelist, pastor, and tireless writer of devotional and controversial theology — and Margaret (1636-81), his wife, were Puritans. That means they were gloomy, censorious English Pharisees who wore black clothes and steeple hats, condemned all cheerfulness, hated the British monarchy, and wanted the Church of England and its Book of Common Prayer abolished — right?
Wrong — off track at every point! Start again.
Richard and Margaret came of land-owning families. Adult members of these families were called gentlemen and gentlewomen; they formed England's aristocracy, as distinct from the laborers, tradesmen, and professionals (lawyers, physicians, clergy, and educators). Richard's father, Richard Baxter senior, was a very minor gentleman with a small, debt-laden estate at Eaton Constantine in Shropshire. Margaret's father, Francis Charlton, Esquire, was a more significant gentleman, a leading justice of the peace and a wealthy man. Margaret grew up in Apley Castle, less than four miles from Eaton Constantine. One of the traumas of her childhood was the demolition of the castle by Royalist troops in 1644 during the Civil War.
Richard first met Margaret when she came to Kidderminster (in Worcestershire, next county to Shropshire) to be with her godly mother, now Mrs. Hanmer. Having been widowed a second time, Margaret's mother had moved there to receive the benefit of Richard's magnificent ministry. Kidderminster was an artisan community of some eighteen hundred adults, with weaving as its cottage industry. Half the town crowded into church every Sunday, and many hundreds had professed conversion.
Margaret was a frivolous, worldly minded teenager when she arrived, and at first she disliked both the town and the piety of its inhabitants. But a sermon series on conversion that Baxter preached in 1657 set her seeking a change of heart and a total commitment to devoted, penitent, Christ-centered worship and service of God. In due course she found herself assured of her sincerity in this commitment, and thus of her new birth, pardon for sin, and title to glory. Eagerly she took her place among Baxter's working-class converts. But then she sickened, and for months seemed to be mortally ill with lung problems that nothing would relieve. Special intercession with fasting for her life by Baxter and his inner circle of prayer warriors resulted, however, in a sudden cure "as it were by nothing" — a healing that today would be called miraculous, one of several such in Kidderminster in Baxter's time.
Mrs. Hanmer's home was a large, war-damaged house alongside the churchyard, where she "lived as a blessing amongst the honest poor weavers ... whose company for their piety she chose before all the vanities of the world." It is clear that Pastor Richard was often in her home, and Margaret, who found it difficult to discuss her spiritual problems with her mother, depended heavily on him for what we would call spiritual direction. One thing led to another, and when in April 1660, right after the day of thanksgiving for Margaret's healing, he left for London for an indefinite period to play his part in the forthcoming restoration of the Church of England, she found herself wanting to follow him. Soon her mother and she had relocated in London where Mrs. Hanmer died of fever in 1661.
Baxter omitted from his memoir of Margaret "the occasions and inducements of our marriage," but it is not hard to put two and two together. By the end of 1661 Baxter, who had always urged that the combined claims of marriage and parish were more than any clergyman could really meet, knew that his Kidderminster ministry was over, that there was no prospect of future parochial ministry for him, and thus that his case for clerical celibacy no longer applied to himself. Facing a future in which he expected writing to be his main ministry, he needed a home and someone to look after both him and it — for, by his own admission, he knew little of matters domestic and did not want to be bothered with them.
Meantime, now that her mother was dead, Margaret was alone in the world, and it seems clear that she knew she wanted to be Baxter's wife, just as more than a century before, Katherine von Bora had wanted to be Luther's. It is a natural guess that Mrs. Hanmer let it be known that she would like such a marriage to happen. Who knows what she said to Baxter when he was with her in what from the start she expected to be her last illness? At all events, an official license was issued on April 29, 1662, and the ceremony took place on September 10, after "many changes ... stoppages ... and long delays." Then followed nineteen years of happy life together, till Margaret died.
And what about their Puritanism? Both were confessedly Puritans to their fingertips. The Puritanism of history was not the barbarous, sourpuss mentality of time-honored caricature, still less the heretical Manicheism (denial of the goodness and worth of created things and everyday pleasures) with which some scholars have identified it. It was, rather, a holistic renewal movement within English-speaking Protestantism that aimed to bring all life — personal, ecclesiastical, political, social, commercial, family life, business life, professional life — under the didactic authority and the purging and regenerating power of God in the Gospel to the fullest extent possible. This meant praying and campaigning for thorough personal conversion, consecration, repentance, self-knowledge, and self-discipline; for more truth and life in the preaching, worship, fellowship, pastoral care, and disciplinary practice of the churches; for dignity, equity, and high moral standards in society; for philanthropy, generosity, and a Good Samaritan spirit in face of the needs of others; and for the honoring of God in home life through shared prayer and learning of God's truth, maintaining decency, order, and love, and practicing "family government" (a Puritan tag phrase) according to the Scriptures.
The "heart-work" that was central to Puritan piety — self-examination, self-condemnation, self-motivation, self-dedication, and the continual focusing of faith, hope, and love on the Lord Jesus Christ — had nothing morbid or self-absorbed about it; it was simply the inner reality of disciplined devotion. As Baxter himself never tired of urging, cheerfulness and joy — set in a frame of faith, humility, watchfulness, and obedience ("duties") — are of the essence of the true Christian life. This was the Puritanism that Richard and Margaret sought to live out.
The Puritans called for the sanctifying of all relationships as an integral part of one's service to God. The rule for sanctifying anything was Scripture. What was the Puritan ideal for holy wedlock? "The serious divine Richard Baxter is united in marriage to a young Puritan lady of aristocratic birth, a woman of fine mind, deep spiritual experience and kindred Puritan sympathy." What did they understand themselves to be taking on?
The question is not hard to answer, for the evidence is plentiful and homogeneous. Abundant printed treatises and wedding sermons all tell the same story. The Puritans do not appear as post-Christian moderns whose thinking stops short at physical attraction, sexual satisfaction, and parental fulfillment (cuddles, orgasms, and babies, to put it bluntly). Nor do they appear as Victorian sentimentalists, dwelling entirely on the beauty of rose-colored rapport between souls, with bodies right out of the picture. W. J. Wilkinson sounds very Victorian when he writes of Richard and Margaret as "two souls who love God and love each other with that sublime, spiritual beauty in which souls are wed, which gives orientation to life and is eternal," and quotes Browning to ram the idea home.
To be sure, there is real truth in the Victorian vision, just as there is real truth in the physicality of the modern conception, but neither perspective is theological enough to find the Puritan wavelength.
Nor, again, do the Puritans appear as eighteenth-century evangelicals, ruthlessly denying that the "foolish passion which the world calls love" should influence the godly man's choice of a wife. "I know you must have love to those that you match with," writes Baxter, and his only proviso is that it must be "rational" love that discerns "worth and fitness" in its object, as distinct from "blind ... lust or fancy." So how, in positive terms, did the Puritans conceive of marriage? They saw it as a gift, a calling, a task, and a lifelong discipline, and programmed themselves for it accordingly. What this meant is well shown us in Richard's own monumental Christian Directory, to which we now turn.
First published as a three-inch-thick folio in 1673, this work is rather more than a million words long. Its title page reads: A Christian Directory: or A Sum of Practical Theology, and Cases of Conscience. Directing Christians How to Use their Knowledge and Faith; How to Improve All Helps and Means, and to Perform All Duties; How to Overcome Temptations, and to Escape or Mortify Every Sin. In Four Parts. I. Christian Ethics (or Private Duties). II. Christian Economics (or Family Duties). III. Christian Ecclesiastics (or Church Duties). IV. Christian Politics (or Duties to Our Rulers and Neighbors). (Remember that in the days before dust jackets and blurbs, title pages had to be fulsome, since it was only there that a prospective buyer could find information as to what was in the book.)
Richard's magnum opus should be better known than it is, for it is truly a landmark, a full-scale compendium of Puritan moral and practical theology in all its many-sided devotional, pastoral, life-embracing, and community-building strength. Part II of this magisterial distillation of Puritan wisdom is subtitled "The Family Directory, Containing Directions for the True Practice of All Duties Belonging to Family Relations, with the Appurtenances." Here Richard discusses, among other things, first, how a man should determine before God whether and whom to marry, and, second, the "duties" (mutual obligations) of husband and wife within the marriage relationship. These sections are of special interest, not only because Baxter is here creaming off the wisdom of a century of Puritan discussion as tested and verified in a busy fifteen-year pastorate, but because he wrote them in 1664-65, two or three years into his own marriage, the experience of which was bound to color his thinking. What, now, does he have to say?
"Marriage," declares the Westminster Confession, XXI:2, "was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the church with a holy seed, and for preventing of uncleanness." Baxter assumes this throughout. Who then should marry? Minors for whom marriages were arranged by their parents; persons with incontinent hearts, as directed in 1 Corinthians 7:9; and any in whose case it appears "that in a married state, one may be most serviceable to God and the public good." But go into it with your eyes open! "Rush not into a state of life, the inconveniences of which you never thought on." Baxter lists twenty "inconveniences," of which the most striking are these:
Marriage ordinarily plungeth men into excess of worldly cares....
Your wants in a married state are hardlier supplied, than in a single life. ... You will be often at your wit's end, taking thought for the future....
Your wants in a married state are far hardlier borne than in a single state. It is far easier to bear personal wants ourselves, than to see the wants of wife and children: affection will make their sufferings pinch you. ... But especially the discontent and impatiences of your family will more discontent you than all their wants....
By that time wife and children are provided for, and all their importunate desires satisfied, there is nothing considerable left for pious or charitable uses. Lamentable experience pro-claimeth this. ...
And it is no small patience which the natural imbecility [weakness] of the female sex requireth you to prepare. ... Women are commonly of potent fantasies, and tender, passionate, impatient spirits, easily cast into anger, or jealousy, or discontent. ... They are betwixt a man and a child. ... And the more you love them, the more grievous it will be to see them still [constantly] in discontents....
And there is such a meeting of faults and imperfections on both sides, that maketh it much the harder to bear the infirmities of others aright. ... Our corruption is such, that though our intent be to help one another in our duties, yet we are apter far to stir up one another's distempers....
There is so great a diversity of temperaments and degrees of understanding, that there are scarce any two persons in the world, but there is some unsuitableness between them. ... Some crossness there will be of opinion, or disposition, or interest, or will, by nature, or by custom and education, which will stir up frequent discontents....
And the more they [husband and wife] love each other, the more they participate in each other's griefs....
And if love make you dear to one another, your parting at death will be the more grievous. And when you first come together, you know that such a parting you must have; through all the course of your lives you may foresee it.
If, having weighed all this, you are still clear that you should marry, choose a God-fearing person of a temperament compatible with your own lest you "have a domestic war instead of love," advises Baxter. Look for "a competency of wit; for no one can live lovingly and comfortably with a fool," and also for "a power to be silent, as well as to speak; for a babbling tongue is a continual vexation." Richard's feet were always on the ground, and the wisdom of what he says here is obvious.
The mutual duties of husband and wife are listed as love; cohabitation ("a sober and modest conjunction for procreation: avoiding lasciviousness, unseasonableness, and whatever tendeth to corrupt the mind, and make it vain and filthy, and hinder it from holy employment"); fidelity; delight in each other; the practice of quietness and peace ("Agree together beforehand, that when one is in the diseased, angry fit, the other shall silently and gently bear, till it be past and you are come to yourselves again. Be not angry both at once"); spiritual support; care for each other's health and good name; and help in all relevant forms. Elsewhere Richard boils the matter down with beautiful simplicity in question and answer, as follows:
I pray you, next tell me my duty to my wife and hers to me.
The common duty of husband and wife is,
1. Entirely to love each other ... and avoid all things that tend to quench their love.
2. To dwell together, and enjoy each other, and faithfully join as helpers in the education of their children, the government of the family, and the management of their worldly business.
3. Especially to be helpers of each other's salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations; to join in God's worship in the family, and in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death, and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal.
4. To avoid all dissensions, and to bear with those infirmities in each other which you cannot cure: to assuage, and not provoke, unruly passions; and, in lawful things, to please each other.
5. To keep conjugal chastity and fidelity, and to avoid all unseemly and immodest carriage [conduct] with another, which may stir up jealousy; and yet to avoid all jealousy which is unjust.
6. To help one another to bear their burdens (and not by impatience to make them greater). In poverty, crosses, sickness, dangers, to comfort and support each other. And to be delightful companions in holy love, and heavenly hopes and duties, when all other outward comforts fail.
Such was the vision for marriage with which Richard and Margaret were armed when they covenanted together to be man and wife. As with so much else in historic Puritanism, one cannot but be struck by the mature, thoughtful, farseeing, fact-facing realism of the whole approach, and recognize the contrast with the starry-eyed, shortsighted, self-absorbed goofiness — there really is no other word for it — that marks so many dating and mating couples today. If all spouse-hunting young people were counseled in Baxterian terms regarding marriage, some marriages would never happen, and much of the misery of present-day marriage breakdown would be avoided.
Richard and Margaret themselves, as we shall see, were what we would call "difficult" people, individual to the point of stubbornness, temperamentally at opposite extremes, and with a twenty-year age gap between them. Moreover, they were both frequently ill and were living through a nightmarishly difficult time for persons of their convictions. For Richard, who was officially regarded as the leader and pacesetter of the Nonconformists, legal harassment, spying, and personal sniping were constant, making it an invidious thing to be his wife. Yet cheerful patience, fostered by constant mutual encouragement drawn from the Word of God, sustained them throughout, and their relationship prospered and blossomed. They demonstrated not only the grace of God but also the realistic wisdom of the down-to-earth ideal of marriage by which they lived.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Grief Sanctified"
Copyright © 2002 J. I. Packer.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: To the Reader,
PART ONE Great Gladness: Margaret with Richard,
PART TWO Great Goodness: Richard Recalls Margaret,
To the Reader,
1 Of Her Parentage and the Occasion of Our Acquaintance,
2 Of Her Conversion, Sickness, and Recovery,
3 Of the Workings of Her Soul In and After This Sickness,
4 Some Parcels of Counsel for Her Deliverance from This Distressed Case, Which I Find Reserved by Her for Her Use,
5 Her Temper, Occasioning These Troubles of Mind,
6 Of Our Marriage and Our Habitations,
7 Of Her Exceeding Desires to Do Good,
8 Of Her Mental Qualifications and Her Infirmities,
9 Of Her Bodily Infirmities and Her Death,
10 Some Uses Proposed to the Reader from This History, as the Reasons Why I Wrote It,
Appendix: Two Poems from Poetical Fragments (1681),
PART THREE Great Sadness: Richard Without Margaret,
The Grieving Process,
Epilogue: To the Reader, Once More,