The Antinomians have long been positioned on the fringe of mid-seventeenth-century English religion, placed there by detractors like the theologian Richard Baxter (1615-1691).
This study considers the intellectual career of Baxter from the vantage point of his deep hostility to Antinomian doctrine - a doctrine that both contemporaries and historians have judged to be subversive, immoral and radical. Baxter's antipathy towards the Antinomians is all the more intriguing given his initial support of the doctrine.
Cooper examines the reasons for this shift of opinion, arguing that Baxter's hostility had much to do with the context of the English Civil War.
Drawing out long-hidden revelations buried deep within Baxter's correspondence, Cooper demonstrates that he blamed the Antinomians for the war and that they provided a means of channelling his anxiety. The Antinomian debate serves as a case study of the structure of seventeenth-century English polemic which essentially refused any middle ground to an opponent.
Thus Baxter and others portrayed the Antinomians as more radical than they ever really were.
This study of Baxter's thought provides a window on the colour and drama of his seventeenth-century English world.