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Richard Baxter

1615-1691


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RICHARD BAXTER was born in Rowton, England. His parents were poor, his early education was limited. Later he attended school at Wroxeter and read with Richard Wickstead at Ludlow Castle. His eager mind found abundant nourishment in the large library of the castle. Later, he was persuaded to enter court life in London, but returned home to study theology. While reading theology with the local clergyman, he met Joseph Symonds and Walter Cradock, two famous nonconformists, whose piety and fervor influenced him considerably.

In 1638 he was appointed master of the free grammar school, Dudley, in which place he commenced his ministry, having been ordained and licensed by John Thornborough, bishop of Worcester. His early ministry was not successful, but during these years he took a special interest in the controversy relating to nonconformity and the Church of England. Rejecting episcopacy, he soon became alienated from the Church, and known as a moderate conformist. In April 1641 at twenty-six, he became pastor in the village of Kidderminster and remained there for nineteen years, accomplishing an unusual work of reformation in that place. His ministry was interrupted often by civil war. At one time he served as chaplain of the army.

After the Restoration in 1660, Baxter went to London and ministered there as chaplain to King Charles II until Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity, which required all clergymen to agree to everything in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Baxter refused and lost his position as chaplain and Bishop of Hereford. In addition he was prohibited from preaching in his parish of Kidderminster, and from 1662 to 1687 he was continually persecuted. He retired to Acton in Middlesex for the purpose of quiet study and writing. While there he was arrested and imprisoned for conducting a conventicle. His most memorable words at this time were: "I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men."

In 1685 he was accused of libeling the Church of England in one of his books. His trial is regarded by many historians as one of the most brutal perversions of English justice in history, and he was again imprisoned. During the years of oppression, his health grew worse, yet these were his most productive years as a writer. His books and articles flooded England.

Finally in 1691 ill health, aggravated by eighteen years in prison, caused his death. He had preached before the king, the House of Commons, the Lord Mayor of London; his prolific pen had produced one hundred and sixty-eight theological and devotional works. His saintly behavior, great talents, wide influence, added to his extended age, had raised him to a position of unequaled reputation as the "English Demosthenes" in the conflict for liberty of conscience.