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The Zeal Of Richard Baxter
10.08.2021 Erroll Hulse
Religion
Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter was born in 1615. Unlike almost all the better known English Puritan ministers he did not enjoy an education at Oxford or Cambridge Universities. He attended the modest Donnington Free School. Thereafter he was self taught. An avid reader he studied widely in a variety of subjects. In this way he became a man of exceptional knowledge and debating ability. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Worcester in 1638. For a brief time, 1641-1642, he worked as lecturer and curate at Kidderminster. In 1642 the country was embroiled in civil war. Richard served as a chaplain in the Parliamentary army until 1647 and then returned to Kidderminster as vicar. He served there until 1661. These fourteen years, aged 32 to 46, were remarkable because of the spiritual transformation wrought in the town. So blessed was that place that Kidderminster became a landmark in English evangelical history.

Toward the end of his time in Kidderminster a widow by the name of Mary Hanmer came to stay in the town in order to benefit from Baxter’s ministry. She was accompanied by her sixteen year old daughter Margaret who was worldly and indifferent to the gospel. Over the next four years Margaret was affected by the ministry and at the age of twenty was converted. She had in the process fallen in love with Richard who regarded celibacy as ideal for a minister. This he proclaimed with enthusiasm, a view in strong contrast with the English Puritans who affirmed strongly the biblical doctrine of marriage and the family. When Richard left Kidderminster to live in London in 1660 where he used what influence he could exert to gain a fair deal for the Puritans, Mary and her daughter Margaret followed him and lived nearby. The Act of Uniformity passed by Parliament in 1662 was rigid and violently against the consciences of the Puritans. 

It drove them out of the Church of England. About 2,000 Puritan ministers suffered the loss of their livings in what is historically called the Great Ejection. This of course included Baxter. Richard’s life was devastated. Now his raison d’être was cruelly stripped away. He was a natural pastor – without a parish; a born preacher – without a pulpit. His justification for celibacy was gone. He married Margaret on 19th September 1662. Now Margaret was always there for him; comforting him, caring for him in his frequent illnesses, shouldering all the practical concerns of his life. Living with Margaret was the chief consolation enjoyed by Baxter during the following grim years. The rest of Baxter’s life was one of harassment. He was imprisoned for about a week in Clerkenwell in 1669 and for 21 months at Southwark 1685-1686. He never enjoyed robust health and had to contend with serious bouts of illness.

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