Richard Baxter and antinomianism
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In the following pages the soteriological and literary career of Richard Baxter (1615- 1691) is charted vis-a-vis seventeenth-century English Antinomianism, an increasingly marginalised doctrine of justification by faith alone without works through the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer. Whereas historians have previously seen this doctrine as a by-product of high Calvinism, this thesis argues that it found its origins in Luther; and where they contend that the Antinomians (such as Tobias Crisp or John Saltmarsh) were radical subversives, this thesis responds by demonstrating their conservative aspirations. Antinomianism provides a valuable marker with which to measure Baxter's progress through the seventeenth century. Essentially, this thesis explains why his personality and convictions reacted so heatedly to Antinomianism; it establishes the pattern whereby his fear of Antinomianism waxed and waned on three occasions throughout his life; it accounts for his fear, by linking it to the context of the 1640s, where law and obedience seemed everywhere under threat; it assesses the nature of his various attempts to eradicate Antinomian doctrine wherever he found it; and, finally, it describes the effect of his encounters with Antinomianism on his own soteriology. None of this has ever been explored in detail. This study draws on a wide range of published and private source material, by Baxter, the "Antinomians" and their opponents alike. It begins by surveying Baxter's enormous historiography; it then sets Antinomianism in its historical context, before distilling the personal reasons why Baxter found it so objectionable. Its second half surveys Baxter's career in the light of Antinomianism, describing its recrudescence in the later seventeenth century and Baxter's attempts to beat it back. Ultimately, it seeks to show why Antinomianism is a valuable spotlight that throws new illumination on both Richard Baxter and his seventeenth-century English world.