Richard Baxter, the source of the phrase
Mere Christianity is the title C. S. Lewis chose for his collected BBC radio talks of the years 1941-1944 as edited and published in 1952. In the preface to that book, Lewis only refers in a general way to “Baxter” as the source of this phrase:
... I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in ... controversial matters than in the defence of what Baxter calls “mere” Christianity.
The precise source of the phrase is mentioned by Walter Hooper in his note to a letter of Lewis to the Church Times published on 8 February 1952 (Collected Letters, vol. III, p. 164). In addition to Hooper’s note, any casual internet search now soon reveals this source; see, for example, a page on the Discovery Institute’s website. It is Richard Baxter’s Church-History of the Government of Bishops and Their Councils abbreviated (1680) – a passage toward the end of the introductory essay “What History is Credible, and what not”.
What remains to add is a fuller presentation of this essay.
The above link leads you to a PDF (and other formats)
of the original complete 488-page Church-History at the
Internet Archive. The essay is part of the preliminary sections without page numbers; counting from the first text page it
covers pages 7-16 (or [vii]-[xvi]).
Here is a PDF only containing the essay, followed by a transcript of the relevant passage:
History is Credible, and what not”
It should be noted that Baxter’s spelling poses one critical problem for electronic searching as he wrote MEER for MERE.
Earlier instances of Lewis using the phrase
C. S. Lewis began using the phrase in writing some ten years before he published Mere Christianity. It appears in
– The Screwtape Letters (1942), first lines of Letter 25:
The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity.
– A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942), chapter XIII, end of second paragraph:
We know from [Milton’s] prose works that he believed everything detestable to be, in the long run, also ridiculous; and mere Christianity commits every Christian to believing that “the Devil is (in the long run) an ass”.
– “On the Reading of Old Books” (1944)
A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light ... The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.
– a brief essay first published in 1990 as “Christian Reunion: An Anglican speaks to Roman Catholics” and probably written in 1944:
I know no way of bridging this gulf. Nor do I think it the business of the private layman to offer much advice on bridge-building to his betters. My only function as a Christian writer is to preach “mere Christianity” not ad clerum but ad populum.
– a letter (mentioned above) to the Editor of Church Times, 1 February 1952:
To a layman, it seems obvious that what unites the Evangelical and the Anglo-Catholic against the “Liberal” or “Modernist” is something very clear and momentous, namely, the fact that both are thoroughgoing supernaturalists ... This unites them not only with one another, but with the Christian religion as understood ubique et ab omnibus. ... Perhaps the trouble is that as supernaturalists, whether “Low” or “High” Church, thus taken together, they lack a name. May I suggest “Deep Church”; or, if that fails in humility, Baxter’s “ Mere Christians”?
Posted on 27 March 2012 by Arend Smilde, Utrecht, The Netherlands