Richard Baxter – inspires us to seek personal conversations about Christ
1615 – 1691
The Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter was born in Rowton, England in 1615. He attended Wroxeter grammar school where he studied under the great theologian, John Owen. Instead of going on to study at a university, he continued his learning through private study. In 1638 Baxter entered Church of England ministry in which he served as curate, lecturer (paid preacher), army chaplain, and vicar. Baxter’s most sustained role was at Kidderminster, where he laboured for 20 years so effectively nearly the whole town was converted to following Jesus Christ!
The great religious and political upheavals in 17th century England impacted Baxter as they did so many ‘Puritans’ (those rigorously committed to preaching and living by God’s Word in the Bible – often unfairly presented today as boring and severe, they were deeply spiritual and developed a wonderfully wholesome pattern of family life). The Act of Uniformity 1662, which demanded adherence to the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for everyone with a government or church position, effectively expelled all Puritans (who in good conscience could not use some liturgies e.g. the questionable Order of Baptism), including Baxter, from the Church of England, and he never again entered the pastorate. He was jailed on at least two occasions for nonconformist teaching.
One feature of Baxter’s ministry was the sheer volume and quality of what he wrote. J. I Packer notes he was “the most voluminous English theologian of all time”: In addition to approximately four million words of pastoral, apologetic, devotional and homiletic writing that are reprinted in his Practical Works, he produced about six million more on aspects of the doctrine of grace and salvation, church unity and nonconformity, the sacraments, Roman Catholicism, antinomianism, millenarianism, Quakerism, politics and history, not to mention a systematic theology in Latin…
But perhaps the famous and influential feature of Baxter’s ministry was his practice of systematically visiting all the homes in the town where he lived to offer Biblical counselling, encouragement and correction in the Christian faith to all who welcomed it. He is regarded by many as the preeminent example in English Christianity of the individual disciple-making practiced by Jesus Christ in addition to his preaching and small group work.
The combination in Baxter of broad learning, sound preaching and pastoral commitment led Packer to dub him “a man for all ministries.”