Richard Baxter

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11–12)

If you queue around the Kidderminster ring road, you eventually come across a church with a large statue at the front. This figure, finger pointing to the heavens, is Richard Baxter who died on this day in 1691.

Baxter was a child of Shropshire, born in Rowton which is to the north-east of Shrewsbury. After schooling, he ended up as an eighteen year old in London with Sir Henry Herbert as a patron. And who was Sir Henry Herbert you might ask? He was Master of the Revels to Charles I, a role which - I am sure - kept him busy.

Whilst Charles enjoyed his revels, Baxter did not. He went back home to study divinity, and ended up being ordained in 1638, and started serving in Bridgnorth as assistant minister. In 1641 he went to Kidderminster, and there followed an extraordinary ministry. The town was full of weavers and contained two thousand souls, souls which he took seriously. He visited, and encouraged families to have daily devotions in their homes. In fact he would spend a total of two hours a year in each home, teaching the inhabitants the faith. The outcome of this? Each of the two services he held each Sunday was attended by over a thousand.

In 1660, when Charles II came to the throne, Baxter was offered the post of Bishop of Hereford. And turned it down flat. In return he was barred from Kidderminster, and not allowed to hold church office. In 1662, he was one of the two thousand Anglican Clergy dismissed from the church in what has become known as the ‘Great Ejection’. Oh! how the Church of England ejected its spiritual vitality!

Although you may not know it, you are probably familiar with one of Baxter’s works. He wrote “Ye Holy Angels Bright”. Persecuted he many have been, and unceremoniously dumped out the Church of England, but we still sing his hymn. I count that as a little victory!

a God merciful and gracious

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:5–6) - If you see God as gracious and merciful, you necessarily see yourself as one who is in need of grace and mercy. Grace is undeserved, and so is mercy. That’s what makes them such a magnificently overwhelming gift.

… slow to anger …

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6) - That is the purpose of the patience, it is a merciful slowness to anger. Judgment is coming, but there is time to seek God’s mercy. Judgement is coming, but the judge has provided a way through. Christ awaits, arms outstretched. Will you repent?

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