Happy Birthday Dick Baxter!

My pal Dan reminded me this week that November 12 was the 390th birthday of Richard Baxter. I can’t believe I didn’t have that marked on the calendar. I am known to refer to Baxter as “my old friend, Dick Baxter,” because I feel that I came to know him personally over the past fifteen years.

Back around 1990, a friend asked me to research and write a brief biography of Richard Baxter for his publishing company, highlighting the puritan’s abilities as a pastor and evangelist. He was looking for a book, which could be read in one or two sittings, spurring church leaders on to energetic, effective ministry in their local congregations. I was happy to do it and my life is much richer from the experience.

As in my research of the Baha’i movement during the 1980s, I experienced a number of “research miracles.” On one occasion, I submitted an inter-library loan request for Baxter’s autobiography, Reliquiae Baxterianae, because I was planning a vacation to Boston and I suspected there was a large collection of his works at Harvard and, possibly, other libraries. This was the olden days, before the Internet was public and even if you couldn’t get the book through loan, they would provide you with a printout of holdings, where copies of rare books could be found.

A card arrived in the mail from our local library weeks later informing me that my book was in. I thought to myself, “I’m not expecting a book on loan.” When I showed up, the librarian hefted onto the counter an original 1696 edition of Reliquiae Baxterianae — 1200+ pages in folio, printed in a small typeface and language of the period. I asked if there was a place I could sit down with it and how long I could access it at the library. She said, “there are no restrictions on it…you can take it home.” No way! Yes way. I was enraptured, handling the coarse 300-year-old pages in a volume that looked as if it had never been handled.

My book was never published, so I edited it for the web and created a site, Richard Baxter: Mere Christian. Most Christian readers do not realize that the title of C.S. Lewis’ apologetic, Mere Christianity, was borrowed from Baxter. Responding to an inquirer, trying to make sense of the warring factions during the tumultuous restoration of Charles II, Baxter responded that he did not align himself with any division of the church, but considered himself a “mere Christian.”

So, why would anyone in this century be interested in Richard Baxter? For starters, he played a central role in nearly every major political and religious controversy during the reign of both Charles I and Charles II, as well as the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.

I think the average American would be suprised to learn how profoundly those controversies affected the beginnings of this nation, influenced US history and continue to color our culture, for both good and bad, right up to the present.

Although the book focuses on the pastoral activities of Baxter, readers may find anecdotes or information, which will show them facets of the puritan movement, which have been overlooked either through simple neglect or outright prejudice in modern portrayals of the period.

Finally, Baxter lived an incredibly productive and energetic life, while in the grip of unbearable physical suffering and ill health, during unstable and dangerous times.

Is this book for you? Read the first chapter, “Good Mr. Baxter.” It will take just a few minutes and I’m certain you will want to read more about this eccentric country preacher.

10 Comments

  1. said:

    Bo, I’ve never read this book but I just read a few chapters and I think I’ll keep on reading it.

    November 15, 2005
    Reply
  2. said:

    …My pal Dan reminded me this week

    Can I have your pal Dan’s phone number?

    November 15, 2005
    Reply
  3. said:

    That was awesome about the library and you taking the book home.

    You have me hook, line and sinker….I am off to check it out. Thanks for sharing this with me and I look forward to learning more.

    Nov 12 has personal meanings for me too…a very dear friend’s b’day that died 5 yrs ago….and a new friend I have just met. (smiling)

    November 15, 2005
    Reply
  4. said:

    Thanks, Levi! May I suggest you read it just before going to bed, to usher you off to dreamland?

    Sadie, as Stimpy would say, “It’s private.”

    Suzie – I’m sorry to hear about your friend… this life is a real mix, isn’t it? Hope the book works for you… thanks for giving it a look-see.

    November 15, 2005
    Reply
  5. said:

    Thank you for the links…I enjoyed reading your other site very much and checking the others too. My grandfather was born 1884 and he was a traveling holiness preacher across country.

    I am a Christian, very spiritual but not religious. I was raised Baptist and Catholic…so I guess I am in between the two. (smiling)Bible based is how my family leans now. My father now is Baptist (GA) and my Mother changed to Catholic (AL)…just the opposite of when I was a child.

    November 16, 2005
    Reply
  6. GvDan said:

    I have read your book, it was inspireing. I loved it and even though I have not read many books, I think it would be a great edification to the church, especially the leaders. Thanks for writing it and encouraging me with it big brother.

    November 16, 2005
    Reply
  7. GvDan said:

    Sadie lou, -want to ge some coffee sometime?

    November 16, 2005
    Reply
  8. Hi, Bo. I came across your Baxter bio months ago. I loved it and recommended it to many of my friends. I think you’ve provided a great service to the Christian community with the site.

    November 16, 2005
    Reply
  9. I still have to read Mere Christianity. Love Narnia, but never read any of Lewis’s religious books.

    November 16, 2005
    Reply
  10. said:

    gvdan–
    Yes Please. *wink*

    ZS–Oh trust me, The Chronicles of Narnia are religious…

    November 16, 2005
    Reply

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