2. Disciple

Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.

Matthew 16: 24 & 25

And I saw that Christ did bring up all his serious and sincere Disciples to real Holiness and to Heavenly mindedness, and made them new Creatures, and set their Hearts and Designs and Hopes upon another Life; and brought their Sense into subjection to their Reason, and taught them to resign themselves to God, and to love him above all the World. Richard Baxter1

Richard Baxter’s godly life and his incredible achievements flowed almost endlessly from two Spiritual qualities; A love for the gospel, the message of God’s love to man, and an incredible earnestness in serving his Savior. His love for the gospel was rooted in a real and lively relationship with the God who had saved him from the power of sin and the flames of hell. For Baxter, the natural response of a disciple of Christ is selfless service, leading others to the One who is able to save them, as well.

While Baxter, the theologian, writer, and churchman, has been the study of historians for three hundred years, it is Baxter the disciple of Jesus which has fascinated Christians of every nation and every station in life. Baxter spent much time contemplating his spiritual state throughout his life, always examining himself to see whether he was “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). In his autobiography he recounts his conversion, beginning with his first pangs of guilt and the realization that he was a sinner. He records the initial stirrings of the Spirit, his calling upon Jesus as his mediator and he details how God gave him assurance of salvation, resolving his distressing doubts and questions. It is this real-life, authentic faith in God, which his contemporaries found so familiar and compelling in Baxter, the pastor.

His story begins in 1615 at Rowton in Shropshire, England during the reign of James I (b. 1566 – d. 1625). The gambling habits of his father had saddled the family with debt. But, by the time Richard was born, his condition had improved to a “Competent Estate of a Freeholder, free from the Temptations of Poverty and Riches.”2  This turn of events was brought about by the conversion of Baxter’s father:

it pleased God to instruct and change my Father, by the bare reading of the Scriptures in private, without either Preaching, or Godly Company, or any other Books but the Bible: And God made him the Instrument of my first Convictions, and Approbation of a Holy Life…3

The Baxter family lived in a county where there was “but little Preaching at all” and most of the clergy, by Baxter’s account, were ignorant, immoral, drunkards.4  Those ministers in the surrounding area who took the Bible seriously, teaching their flocks from the Word of God and urging them to a life of holiness, were denounced as “Puritans.” Young Richard, having no first-hand knowledge of these pastors, was inclined to believe the worst about them, until he heard his own father ridiculed:

only for reading Scripture when the rest were Dancing on the Lord’s Day, and for praying (by a Form out of the end of the Common-Prayer Book) in his House, and for reproving Drunkards and Swearers, and for talking sometimes a few words of Scripture and the Life to come, he was reviled commonly by the Name of Puritan, Precision, and Hypocrite…5

Richard’s father introduced him to the Bible at a young age and he developed a great love of Scripture, “though all that time [he] neither understood nor relished much the Doctrinal Part, and Mystery of Redemption.” Although young Richard’s love of the Scriptures did not spring from a complete understanding, he recognized later the source of his affection for the Bible:

there is in a spiritual heart a co-naturality to the Word of God, because this is the seed which did regenerate him. The Word is that seal which made all the holy impressions that are in the hearts of true believers, and stamped the image of God upon them…6

As a boy, he greatly feared sinning and its consequences, but had not experienced God’s grace and the power of His Spirit. In his own account, he confesses to being “addicted” to a detailed catalog of sins, including irreverence towards his parents, pride in his intellect, the reading of romances, lying, and plundering his neighbor’s pear and apple orchards. For years, it seems he was troubled by his powerlessness over sin. Then, at the age of fifteen:

it pleased God of his wonderful Mercy to open my eyes with a clearer insight into the Concerns and Case of my own soul, and to touch my heart with a livelier feeling of things Spiritual…and shew me the folly of Sinning, and the misery of the Wicked, and the unexpressible weight of things Eternal, and the necessity of resolving on a Holy Life…7

Baxter’s awakening began with the reading of Bunny’s Resolution, a tattered old book, which he borrowed from the elderly reader in his parish. Since there was little preaching on Sundays, Richard continued privately to study the Bible and pray out of the prayer book. He also spent time in books which gave him ” a livelier apprehension of the Mystery of Redemption” and sense of gratitude toward Jesus Christ. “And thus” writes Baxter “(without any means but Books) was God pleased to resolve me for himself.”8

For some time, however, Baxter experienced doubts concerning his salvation. He was troubled by his hard heartiness and the fact that, although he was a Christian, he would occasionally commit sins “deliberately and knowingly.”

Most disturbing was the fact that he could not “distinctly trace the Workings of the Spirit” or the time of his conversion, as a number of contemporary writers had described. But, the study of God’s Word and years in the company of “some Reverend and peaceable Divines [ministers]” caused him to understand “that the Soul is in too dark and passionate a plight at first, to be able to keep an exact account of the order of its Own operations.”9 Although some may know the day and hour of their salvation, “God breaketh not all Men’s hearts alike.”10

Baxter’s youthful doubts never troubled him again, but in his mid 20’s he faced the most serious challenge to his faith; One which is all too common in the lives of Christian leaders. He writes:

 I was now assaulted with more pernicious Temptations; especially to question the certain Truth of the Sacred Scriptures; and also the Life to come… Though formerly I was wont when any such Temptation came, to cast it aside, as fitter to be abhorred than considered of, yet now this would not give me satisfaction; but I was fain to dig to the very Foundations, and seriously to examine the Reasons of Christianity, and to give a hearing to all that could be said against it, that so my Faith might be indeed my own. And at last I found that…Nothing is so firmly believed, as that which hath been sometime doubted of.11

These periods of uncertainty passed, but Baxter gained valuable wisdom and insight which would be a source of blessing to others. As Paul exclaimed:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3 & 4)

So, Baxter would draw upon the solace he received from the Lord to encourage others. He records:

 It much increased my peace when God’s Providence called me to the comforting of many others that had the same Complaints: While I answered their Doubts, I answered my own; and the Charity which I was constrained to exercise for them redounded to my self, and insensibly abated my Fears, and procured me an increase of quietness of Mind.12

Baxter’s proven faith, practically applied to every situation in his difficult life, yielded the earnestness for which he was famous. He can rightly be considered the embodiment of the Puritan ideal of submitting everything to God’s will.

For English Puritans, eternity was always close at hand. Whether pestilence and disease, or the shifting winds of ecclesiastical and political change, the Puritan had to be ready to face God in a moment’s notice. J.I Packer paints this picture of a life of uncertainty and frightening realism:

The Puritans experienced systematic persecution for their faith; what we today think of the comforts of home were unknown to them; their medicine and surgery were rudimentary; they had no aspirins, tranquillisers, sleeping tablets, or anti-depressant pills, just as they had no social security or insurance; in a world in which more than half the adult population died young and more than half the children born died in infancy, disease, distress, discomfort, pain and death were their constant companions.13

This produced in the Puritan a spirit of urgency and diligence which, in turn, gave them a deep appreciation for even the most mundane aspects of everyday life. This Puritan worldview, in which the wasting of time was a serious sin, is notably absent in much church leadership today. While we do not seem to live in the imminent peril which they did nor appreciate the value of time, we would be wise to consider the observation of James:

 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)

God was pleased to make Baxter aware of his own mortality and future estate while he was yet in his teens:

For being in expectation of Death, by a violent Cough, with Spitting of Blood, &c. of two years continuance, supposed to be of a Consumption [tuberculosis], I was yet more awakened to be serious, and solicitous about my Soul’s everlasting State…and since then I have found that this method of God’s very wise, and no other was so like to have tended to my good.14

Baxter was plagued by sickness to the degree that he was “seldom an hour free from pain”15 from the age of twenty-one to his death at seventy-six. Headaches and toothaches were a daily occurrence. Nosebleeds of up to a pint a day were also common to Baxter. But, rather than hindering him, this condition filled him with an urgent desire to accomplish as much good as possible in the time remaining. In fact, Baxter praised God that, while he was seldom free from pain, he “…was never one hour Melancholy…” His only complaint was his inability to work because of his loss of “…time in the Morning, for want of being able to rise early…”16

It seemed that Baxter never expected to live through the next winter. But, rather than being consumed by fear or self-pity, he could only think of “…such ignorant, presumptuous, careless Sinners as the World aboundeth with.”17  He committed himself to sharing Christ’s love with anyone who would listen to him. He feared his lack of formal academic honors would hinder him, but “…resolved that if one or two souls only might be won to God, it would easily recompense all the dishonour which for want of Titles I might undergo from Men!”18

Baxter’s illness was not the only motive for his diligence in ministry. He was firmly convinced that the Holy Spirit was the one who had made him an overseer.19  And, he knew he was involved in spiritual warfare, contending for each soul under his charge:

O brethren, what a world of wickedness have we to contend against in one soul: and what a number of these worlds! And when you think you have done something, you leave the seed among the fowls of the air; wicked men are at their elbows to rise up and contradict all you have said. You speak but once to a sinner, for ten or twenty times that the emissaries of Satan speak to them.20

Baxter’s earnestness is clearly seen in this exhortation to his fellow pastors:

 Let us, therefore, rouse ourselves to the work of the Lord, and speak to our people as for their lives, and save them as by violence, ‘pulling them out of the fire.’ Satan will not be charmed out of his possession: we must lay siege to the souls of sinners, which are his garrison, and find out where his chief strength lieth, and lay the battery of God’s ordnance against it, and ply it close, till a breach is made…”21

The thoughts conveyed in these words of Baxter’s seem foreign and unfamiliar to our modern minds. He seems so…well, so serious! But, why? Is it because Richard Baxter was some sort of fanatic or extremist? Are these simply the outdated notions of a Puritan?

No. Baxter was motivated by the same Spirit Who caused Peter, the apostle, to exhort his fellow elders to “…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness…” ((1 Peter 5:2)) Perhaps, the sad truth is we are out of touch with the Spirit Who inspired Peter and energized Baxter.

J.I. Packer is one who has found much in the biographies and writings of the Puritans worthy of imitation. He sums up the effect that Baxter, in particular, has had upon him in these words:

Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did, and we lose out as a result….Reckoning with death brought appreciation of each day’s continued life, and the knowledge that God would eventually decide, without consulting them, when their work on earth was done brought energy for the work itself while they were still being given time to get on with it. As I move through my own seventh decade, in better health than can possibly last, I am more glad than I can say for what Puritans like Bunyan and Baxter have taught me about dying; I needed it, and the preachers I hear these days never get to it, and modern Christian writers seem quite clueless about it – save for C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams…22

It is true that many of us may, by the grace of God, live to a ripe old age, free from persecution or serious illness. But, rather than sink into complacency or squander the precious time God has given us, let us follow Paul’s command to the Romans, to lead with diligence. It is, after all, our “spiritual service of worship.”23

Catch the urgency of Richard Baxter:

O brethren, what a blow we may give to the kingdom of darkness, by the faithful and skilful managing of this work! If, then, the saving of souls, of your neighbours’ souls, of many souls, from everlasting misery, be worth your labour, up and be doing!24

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28 & 29

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test..2 Corinthians 13:5

but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:32

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3

Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man. Proverbs 6:6-11

I must say to the Praise of my most wise Conductor, that time hath still seemed to me much more precious than Gold or any Earthly Gain… Richard Baxter25

Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently, faithful in his Master’s work. Richard Baxter26

If you are ministers of Christ indeed, you will long for the perfecting of his body, and the gathering in of his elect; and you will ‘Travail as in birth’ till Christ be formed in the souls of your people.   Richard Baxter27

He who everyday reminds himself that he is dying, despises the present and hastens to things to come. Much more he who feels himself to be in the very act of dying. Cyprian28

What have we our time and strength for, but to lay them out for God? What is a candle made for, but to be burned?   Richard Baxter29

What are the forty years of my life that are past? Were everyday as long as a month, methinks it were too short for the work of a day.   Richard Baxter30

All Christians are Disciples or Schollars of Christ, the church is his School; we are his Ushers, the Bible is his Grammar.   Richard Baxter31

It’s true that Mirth is very desirable to nature: And God is not against it, but much more for it than sinners will believe; But it is a rational Mirth which beseemeth a rational Creature; and such as he can justifie, and as will make him better, and tends to felicity, and everlasting mirth. Richard Baxter32

You can now purchase the updated and improved second edition right here: Good Mr. Baxter: Sketches of effective, Gospel-centered leadership from the life of Richard Baxter

3. Student >

  1. Baxter Reliquiae Baxterianae, Part 1, 23 []
  2. Ibid., Part 1, 1 []
  3. Ibid., Part 1, 2 []
  4. Ibid., Part 1, 1 & 2 []
  5. Ibid., Part 1, 3 []
  6. Baxter The Reformed Pastor 121 []
  7. Ibid., Part 1, 3 []
  8. Ibid., Part 1, 4 []
  9. Ibid., Part 1, 6 []
  10. Ibid., Part 1, 7 []
  11. Ibid., Part 1, 21 & 22 []
  12. Ibid., Part 1, 9 []
  13. J.I. Packer A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL, 1990) 13 []
  14. Ibid., Part 1, 5 []
  15. Ibid., Part 1, 80 []
  16. Ibid., Part III, 60 []
  17. Ibid., Part 1, 12 []
  18. Ibid., Part 1, 12 []
  19. Acts 20:28 []
  20. Baxter Reliquiae Baxterianae, Part 1, 125 []
  21. Baxter The Reformed Pastor 149 []
  22. J.I. Packer A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL, 1990) 14 []
  23. Romans 12:1,2 & 8 []
  24. Baxter The Reformed Pastor 176 []
  25. Baxter Reliquiae Baxterianae Part 1, 21 []
  26. Baxter The Reformed Pastor []
  27. Ibid., 176 []
  28. Cited in The Reformed Pastor 103 []
  29. Ibid., 218 []
  30. Ibid., 219 []
  31. Cited in N.H. Keeble, Richard Baxter: Puritan Man of Letters, Oxford, 1982, 44 []
  32. N.H. Keeble, Richard Baxter: Puritan Man of Letters, Oxford, 1982, 105 []

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