The Deviancies of Richard Baxter

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Puritan Board Freshman
What are the ways in which the Puritan, Richard Baxter, veered off from confessional Protestantism?

I found the ff., but perhaps you can add more:

The Enigma of Richard Baxter*|*Meet The Puritans

"Although an English Puritan (that is, a minister in the Church of England who would not conform to episcopacy), Richard Baxter (1615-91) alarmed many fellow Puritans by revising and rejecting key features of Reformed theology. Baxter first labeled as 'mere Christianity' turned out to be another set of doctrines that were diametrically opposed to the confessions he had subscribed. Many today think that Baxter is the original source of our maxim, because he appealed to it to justify his program. Where churches had agreed in representative assemblies on what Scripture teaches, Baxter’s spirit is in many ways that of modern evangelicals. 'Essentials' are whatever I think they are; church dogmas are the letter without the Spirit. The most important doctrines are the ones that all professing Christians can agree to, which of course leaves out doctrines like original sin and the sovereignty of God’s grace in election, justification, the new birth, and preservation of the saints. Professing Christians disagree over the sacrifice of the mass, purgatory, merits, and ultimate authority in the church, so these matters must also be excluded from any list of essentials—or 'mere Christianity.'


First, who decides what essentials and non-essentials are? Rejecting the Anglican and Puritan consensus on justification, Baxter forged under this banner what fellow-Puritans branded as 'neo-nomianism': that is, turning the gospel into a new law. Yet in doing so, Baxter thought he could unite not only Protestants (Arminians, Lutherans, and Calvinists) with each other, but also with Rome. So he definitely had a horse in this race.

It’s clear enough from Baxter at least that 'essentials' didn’t include what the Reformation confessions regarded as essential. Before long, the great Puritan and Oxford vice-chancellor John Owen was warning of his erstwhile friend’s creeping Socinianism (basically, Unitarianism). Whether or not this is a fair judgment of Baxter, many leading Arminians in Holland and England regarded the Trinity as a 'non-essential' and then, within one generation, many of Baxter’s sympathizers were in fact Unitarian." — Michael S. Horton, Westminster Seminary California
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Puritan Board Graduate
What are the ways in which the Puritan, Richard Baxter, veered off from confessional Protestantism?

Baxter's view of Justification was unorthodox.

We are justified by sincere obedience to Christ, as the secondary part of the Condition of our Justification

Our full justification, and our Everlasting Salvation have the same conditions on our part. But sincere Obedience is without doubt, a Condition of our Salvation: therefore also of our Justification
-Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification, with their Explication Annexed (London 1649) 125.

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Bob nailed it. In the Confessional Presbyterian Journal # 3, there is a very helpful article entitled John Brown of Wamphray, Richard Baxter and the Justification Controversy by Bruce R. Backensto. I remember reading it years ago and thinking how contemporary the issues were with NAPARC embroiled in how it was dealing with the Federal Vision Controversy.

John Brown of Wamphray represents the orthodox Reformed view and the issue is this: what is the nature of that faith, which is an instrument by which we lay hold of Christ's righteousness. Remember, faith is not the ground of our salvation. The ground or the basis of our salvation is Christ and His righteousness. How does an unworthy sinner lay hold of that righteousness and is saved therein?

In the Reformed view, the faith that clings simply unto Christ is enough to unite a man unto Christ once that faith is borne from above in even its most immature form. That is to say that faith may be assailed or waiver or be immature but its simple nature is that if it truly clings to Christ, however imperfectly, it is salvific. It is the cry of the father of demoniac who pleads to Christ: "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief!" It's the pitiable cry of a beggar knowing that he has nothing in him to save Himself and even fears that his heart may wander but that his grip upon the Savior is not what will save him but, rather, the strong grip that the Savior has on him.

Baxter, however, had a view of faith that said that imperfected faith is no saving faith. That is to say that it is a faith that has undergone years of trials and steadfastness that ultimately justifying. In other words, it is no longer faith that unites to Christ and grounds the weak sinner that he is justified but it is continued faithfulness that justifies.

It's easy to miss how dangerous this is and how far off the mark because it sounds so much like the idea that a faith that justifies is accompanied by fruit. But what the Scriptures testify is that a faith that justifies unites the believer unto Christ and fruit necessarily follows. The fruit does not justify but union with Christ, which is brought about by faith. Whenever fruit becomes the means or the ground of justification is when the equation has gotten all messed up.
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