Richard Baker (1568–1645) in Debtors Prison

Richard Baker
[ABOVE—Sir Richard Baker went to prison for debt. From the frontpiece of the Chronicles of the Kings of England, 1643. Public domain.]

In Sir Richard Baker, we see a Christian prisoner jailed for debt. He had made himself responsible for debts owed by his wife’s family. Unable to pay, he lost his property and died in debtor’s prison (Fleet Prison) on 18 February 1645 after ten years of incarceration. He spent those years in writing meditations on the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as a chronicle of English history that went through several editions.

Here are selections from his comments on the Lord’s Prayer.

We may know what it is to do God’s will in earth as it is in heaven: by the which St. John tells of the four and twenty elders, “That they cast down their crowns before the throne of God, saying, Thou art worthy, O God, to receive glory, and honor, and power:” for so we must do by our wills, which are indeed our crowns: cast them down, and resign them up to God; but cast them down, not cast them away; resign them, but yet retain them; for without wills of our own, we can never do God’s will. Unwilling service is never acceptable: as St. Paul saith, “If I do it willingly, I have a reward;” and thus, if we can have wills of our own, and yet not do our own wills, if we can willingly renounce our own wills, and take God’s will in their room, and make it our own will: we shall then do with our wills, as the elders did with their crowns; and then we shall do God’s will as it is done in heaven.

God gives us our bread when He gives the earth strength to bring forth bread: God gives us our bread when He sends seasonable weather to gather in our bread: God gives us our bread when He grants us peace and quiet to eat our bread: God gives us our bread when He gives us health and strength to earn our bread: and if we could reckon up all the ways of God giving us our bread, we should find them to be more than the very grains of corn of the bread we eat.

By this petition then it appears that every man commits sin, because every man is here enjoined to ask forgiveness. But are there not the just? Yes, but they were just before God in His mercy, not in His justice; before God as a father, not as a judge; before God in Christ, not in themselves. And,in a word, to make good David’s words— they are just before God, not by their not committing, but by God’s not imputing, sin unto them. . . . But seeing God hath forgiven our sins already in Christ, what need we to trouble God or ourselves to ask forgiveness again, as though our words could do more than Christ’s deeds? but is it not as when a king proclaims a general pardon to all offenders, yet none shall have benefit by it but only such as sue it forth and fetch it out; so God indeed hath granted a general pardon to all sinners in the merits of His Son, but none shall have benefit by it but such only as sue it forth by the tongue of faith and fetch it out by the feet of charity, and this is the tongue of faith when we say, “Forgive us our trespasses.” These are the feet of charity, when we “Forgive them that trespass against us.”