It is God's great mercy to mankind, that he will use us all in doing good to one another; and it is a great part of his wise government of the world, that in societies men should be tied to it by the sense of every particular man's necessity; and it is a great honour to those that he maketh his almoners, or servants, to convey his gifts to others; God bids you give nothing but what is his, and no otherwise your own but as his stewards. It is his bounty, and your service or stewardship, which is to be exercised.
Richard Baxter is recognized by many as the most prolific theological writer of the 17th Century. He wrote 140 books, many of them while serving in the pastorate. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, called Richard Baxter's A Christian Directory, "The greatest manual on Biblical counseling ever produced." Baxter's work is considered a treasured instruction on the habits of Christian love and holiness. William Orme, a 19th Century Scottish minister, was able to compile 23 volumes of Baxter's more practical theological works. Baxter's practical emphasis on things like pastoral counseling, the family, discipleship, and church discipline makes his writing especially relevant today. Max Weber believed Baxter embodied the Protestant ethic.
Baxter was born in a rural part of England in Rowton, Shropshire, and had far from the privileged education many of the most notable religious leaders of his era enjoyed. He studied to become a preacher and aligned himself with the English nonconformists and Puritan sects. While he was considered a moderate and peacemaker among Protestants, given his stance towards non-separation of the Anglican Church, he also was persecuted for his faith and spent time in prison.
Baxter was plunged into the English Civil War and found himself embroiled in the era's most notable religious controversies. He was expelled from Kidderminster, where he served as a pastor, because of the raging conflict. He soon advocated for and served as a chaplain for military troops during the war. His commitment to ministry and the heart of his flock is even more impressive given the rampant corruption of churches in 17th Century England. Baxter penned these words regarding Philippians 1:23 in his work The Saints Everlasting Rest:
My Lord, I have nothing to do in this World, but to seek and serve thee; I have nothing to do with a Heart and its affections, but to breathe after thee. I have nothing to do with my Tongue and Pen, but to speak to thee, and for thee, and to publish thy Glory and thy Will. What have I to do with all my Reputation, and Interest in my Friends, but to increase thy Church, and propagate thy holy Truth and Service? What have I to do with my remaining Time, even these last and languishing hours, but to look up unto thee, and wait for thy Grace, and thy Salvation?
Baxter also endlessly praised the value of work and spoke out against a spirit of dependency and sloth. "An idle beggar will accuse you of uncharitableness, because you maintain him not in sinful idleness, he declared. He praised the value of wealth but reminded those "the more you have, the more you have to give account for." In his humility, Baxter called himself a "mere Christian," a phrase that would later resonate with C.S. Lewis. An inscription of a statue of Baxter that stands today in Kidderminster reads: "Between the years 1641 and 1660 this town was the scene of the labors of Richard Baxter, renowned equally for his Christian learning and his pastoral fidelity. In a stormy and divided age, he advocated unity and comprehension, pointing the way to everlasting rest."
Hero of Liberty image attribution: Robert White [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons PD-1923