I have described Richard Baxter as a 17th century Renaissance man. More accurately, he was an English puritan pastor and writer. But that description doesn’t do him justice. According to Baxter scholars, J.I. Packer and Timothy Beougher, “Baxter has been called the greatest of all English preachers, the virtual creator of popular Christian literature, and the most successful preacher and winner of souls and nurturer of won souls that England has ever had.”
They go on to point out that,
“As Puritanism’s leading writer on practical, devotional, moral, and apologetic themes, Baxter produced over 140 books marking out various aspects of the path of truth and holiness.”
I have sometimes called Baxter a Renaissance man because of the wide interests about which he wrote. “Baxter penned treatises on grace and salvation, apologetics, …antinomianism, the sacraments, millenarianism, ethics, nonconformity, devotion, conversion, politics, and history, not to mention systematic theology.” In fact, Ian Murray points out that, ”Baxter was a many-faceted man. He was both an evangelist and scholar; a speaker and an author, a poet and a possessor of a keen analytical mind.” He wrote about such things because, like most of the puritans of his day, he saw all of life as an integrated whole, centered upon and held together by the Creator and Lord of it all. And because that's true, all of life was to have God's glory as its goal.
How important was he in his day? John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester concluded, “If [Baxter] had lived in the primitive time he would have been one of the fathers of the church.” A biographer of Baxter says about him that "he came “nearer the apostolical writings than any man in the age.”
How important is Baxfor today? Why would I choose Richard Baxter as my “patron saint?” Because I believe captured as well as anyone the "every sphere of life kingdom-mindedness" of Christian discipleship that is taught in Scripture, required to understand and live out as faithful followers of the Lord Jesus and Christ. Such a view captured captured my heart and mind almost twenty years ago and has held sway in my life and ministry ever since. As I've already said, Baxter understood that all of life (every sphere) must be faithfully integrated because Christ is the Lord over all of life. Packer writes,
“The sheer brilliance of Baxter’s achievement in crystallizing a proper form for the life of faith on a canvass as broad as life at a very high level of intelligent, Bible-based, theologically-integrated wisdom, and with unfailing compressed clarity, is dazzling to the mind. Baxter had a high view of “the unity of human life before the Lord.”
Packer continues by emphasizing that there is no world-denial with Baxter. Instead, what Baxter calls for
“is the sanctification of all life through bringing all its manifold activities into the unity of a single overmastering
purpose – loving God, and laying hold of eternal life in its fullness. That can be put the other way round, by saying that what Baxter calls for is a branching out of the converted Christian’s heart’s desire, to know and love and please God, into biblically informed and situationally appropriate action in every department of life.”
Richard Baxter has shaped my faith and ministry and many ways. I give thanks to God for his faithful witness.
Grace and Truth,