Richard Baxter December 8 Priest, Theologian



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Richard Baxter December 8

Priest, Theologian

Richard Baxter was one of the outstanding Puritan leaders in the Church of England in the seventeenth century. He was born in 1615 in Rowton, Shropshire, to a farming family. Although an able pupil, Richard was persuaded not to go to university, a decision he later regretted. He gained some further education at Ludlow Castle, and then in London under the patronage of Sir Henry Herbert. Richard was disgusted by the frivolity of the court and returned home to study theology, where he came in contact with Nonconformist opinions. He was ordained in 1638 and became curate to the rector of Kidderminster in 1641, a position he retained until 1660.

He proved to be an energetic and faithful parish priest. He visited his parishioners assiduously. While some of them found his forthright advice and admonitions unpalatable, he ministered with remarkable success among the hand-loom weavers of the district. The parish grew and the church had to be enlarged. In his sermons he set a pattern for evangelical preaching in the next century, with an emphasis on personal conversion and commitment to Christ.

In the turbulent religious debates of the Commonwealth period in England, Baxter adopted a non-partisan approach, ignoring denominational differences where possible. He continued to support the idea of a national Church of England, but was highly critical of the episcopate of the day. In his classic, The Reformed Pastor, he advocated small episcopal units in which the clergy could meet for mutual support. The work drew on his own careful pastoral practice. He spent some time in the parliamentary army during the civil war. Though a Puritan, his sense of moderation led him to be critical of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), and of Oliver Cromwell. He disliked the sectarian tendencies then in evidence. In 1647 he left the army and wrote his devotional classic, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. The work breathes a spirit of deep piety and warm moderation. He also wrote a number of hymns, of which “Ye holy angels bright” is probably now the best known.

At the Restoration in 1660, Baxter supported the return of Charles II and offered a reformed Puritan liturgy to the Savoy Conference of 1661 on the Prayer Book. The Restoration however was determinedly traditional and had no interest in Baxter’s broad sympathies. When offered the bishopric of Hereford, Baxter declined it in protest at the sweeping powers of the Restoration episcopate. His writings caused some concern in official circles, and the authorities forbade his return to Kidderminster and banned him from preaching. Baxter spoke at public gatherings, and was imprisoned, suffering also at the hands of the notorious Judge Jeffreys. He took part in the overthrow of James II, welcomed William and Mary, and warmly supported the Toleration Act of 1689. He died in 1691.

For Liturgical Use

Richard Baxter was born in Shropshire in 1615, and after ordination in 1638 became curate of Kidderminster in 1641. He developed strong Puritan sympathies, though he continued to support the idea of a national church. He proved himself a devoted and dedicated parish priest. He wrote extensively about his ideas on proper pastoral work and provided a model of evangelical preaching for conversion and commitment. At the Restoration in 1660 he was offered the bishopric of Hereford, but declined. He then suffered persecution for his Puritan views of a broad-based reformed church. He died in 1691.



Sentence

Deliverance for the righteous comes from the Lord; the Most High is their stronghold in time of trouble. Psalm 37:39



Collects

Everloving God,

we thank you for Richard Baxter,

your steadfast, earnest shepherd;

give us grace to serve you with single-mindedness,

and, like him, patiently to endure adversity and suffering,

to the glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Eternal living Spirit in the church,

praise to you for Richard, the careful scholar,

the dedicated preacher, the patient sufferer;

may we too be willing to talk and listen to anybody,

be they bishop or leveller.

Psalms 13 42

Readings

1 Kings 19:15-18 The faithful remnant

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 Stand firm

John 15:15-21 Fruit that will last



Post Communion Sentence

Happy are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Revelation 22:14

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