Introducing Richard Baxter
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 call 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.”
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, “he came nearer the apostolical writings than any man in the age.” How important is he for today? Packer and Beougher tell us:
“As two students of Baxter who cannot be sufficiently thankful for the impact [Baxter] has made in our lives, we would say to every believer, get to know Baxter, and stay with Baxter. He will always do you good”
Why would I choose Richard Baxter as my “patron saint?” Because he captured as well as anyone the worldview–focus (or the, “every sphere kingdom-mindedness”) of Christian discipleship that has captured my heart and mind. He understood that all of life (every sphere) must be faithfully integrated because Christ is the Lord of all of life. Packer puts it this way,
“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 says 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 life and witness.
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