there was nothing to hinder Baxter's rising there. He allowed himself to be over-persuaded–his parents unfortunately having seconded the tutor in this instance–and went up to the court, with a letter of introduction to Sir Henry Herbert, then master of the revels. He ingenuously confesses that, whilst he was cordially welcomed, a month at Whitehall with the court sufficed to disgust him with a courtier's life.
The departure from the court was probably hastened by a message of the illness of his mother. He set out for Eaton-constantine, and arrived there after a hair's-breadth escape from a great danger to find her in extremity of suffering. She lingered through the winter and spring, and died on 10 May 1634. On thus returning home he further found his former schoolmaster (Owen) dying of consumption. At the request of Lord Newport he undertook the charge of the school till the event of the illness was seen. Within three months Owen died, and Baxter, being freed, went to live with his father. About a year subsequent, his father married Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Hunks. She proved a true helpmeet, living to the advanced age of ninety-six, and long surviving her husband and stepson.
As was inevitable, his leaving of the court and his mother's deathbed revived his original intention of becoming a minister of the gospel. Accordingly, he put himself for further instruction in theology under the Rev. Francis Garbet, the parish clergyman of Wroxeter. There his studies were much interrupted by his continued ill-health (violent cough and spitting of blood). Yet he pursued with earnestness his theological reading and examinations. He sharpened his intellectual acuteness by prolonged acquaintance with the schoolmen, especially Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and with Durandus and Ockham, and innumerable other volumes, that afterwards loaded his margins.
Thus far he had been an unquestioning conformist. His parents and relatives on both sides, and his second mother, were all conformists. His circle of friends and associates hitherto were also conformists. His reading, voracious though it was, ran in the same grooves. His theological tutor (Garbet) was a stout churchman, and supplied him with the great church defences of Hooker and Downham, Sprint and Burgess, and others who had opposed nonconformity (Apology for Nonconformists, p. 59). It also happened that the only nonconformist minister known to him (Barnell of Uppington), while a blameless and good man, was no scholar.
But about his twentieth year he came to know two subsequently eminent nonconformists–Joseph Symonds, assistant to Gataker, at Rotherhithe, London, and Walter Cradock, one of the early silenced and ejected (1634), and their associates. These he met in and near Shrewsbury. Their fervent piety and faithful preaching greatly attracted him. But what mainly determined his closer examination of their grounds for remaining out of the pale of the national church was the relentless 'silencing' and persecution as of personal enemies, to which the nonconformists were exposed by bishops who were themselves anything but apostolic. Still, he had no scruples about subscription when he thought of ordination.
In 1638 Foley of Stourbridge recovered some lands at Dudley which had been left for charitable purposes, and adding something of his own, he built and endowed a new schoolhouse. Thereupon he offered to make Baxter head master, with an usher under him. This offer he accepted. Accompanied by his friend Foley and another, James Berry, he repaired to Worcester and was ordained by Bishop Thornborough, and received a license to teach the school at Dudley. His first public sermon was preached in the Upper Church of Dudley. He also speedily went round about the neighbouring villages. He does not claim that he made any very great impression on his hearers. His sickliness possibly weakened his 'pleasant and moving voice.' When he had become famous, the people of Dudley and the villages were proud of the inauguration of so marvellous a ministry among them.
While in Dudley the evangelical nonconformists of the place were his intimate and 'most inward' friends. They furnished him with a number of books and manuscripts on the matters in debate between them and the church, or of primitive episcopacy over against that of the national church.
The result of his scrutiny of the literature of both sides was that, in part, Baxter was established in his conformity, and in part constrained to become a nonconformist. Kneeling he thought lawful; wearing the surplice doubtful; the cross in baptism unlawful; a liturgy lawful, and might be lawfully imposed; but his own church's liturgy confused and defective.
What most of all offended his conscience was the want of discipline, as shown by the 'promiscuous giving of the Lord's Supper to drunkards, swearers, and all who had not been excommunicated by a bishop or his chancellor.' Second only to this was his sense of rashness in subscription; for though