December 8: Richard Baxter, Pastor and Writer, 1691
December 8, 2010 10 Comments
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About this commemoration
Richard Baxter was born in Shropshire in 1615 and educated in the local schools. He was ordained in 1638 and spent the early years of his ministry as a schoolmaster and curate, becoming a chaplain to the parliamentary army at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Although aligned with the Puritan cause, Baxter was a moderate and stood against the excessive destructiveness of Cromwell’s legions.
In 1647, Baxter became the Vicar of Kidderminster. It was there that his pastoral ministry thrived. He set up new patterns for parish catechesis, increased the size of parish buildings to welcome the larger numbers coming to hear him preach, and pioneered a style of pastoral ministry that has enriched the Anglican tradition to this day. Baxter provides his own narrative of his pastoral work in his book The Reformed Pastor, of 1656.
When episcopacy was re-established in England after the Civil War, Charles II offered Baxter an appointment to the see of Hereford. Although more moderate than many, Baxter’s Puritan convictions kept him from accepting the post, a decision that made it impossible for him to continue as a priest of the Church of England.
Baxter is remembered in the history of the Book of Common Prayer for the role he played at the Savoy Conference of 1661. There he argued for the changes that needed to be made in the next prayer book from the vantage point of the Puritans, the so-called “Exceptions.”The resulting 1662 Prayer Book shows few of the marks of Baxter’s agenda, but his strong advocacy of the Puritan position certainly influenced the shape of the revision.
From 1662 until his death in 1691, Baxter resided in the environs of London. The re-establishment of the monarchy in the state and episcopacy in the church unfortunately made Baxter, remembered for his moderate Puritan posture, a target of unkindness and petty revenge.
A profound example of Baxter’s deep joy and piety can be found in the words of the hymn Ye holy angels bright (The Hymnal 1982, #625).
I We offer thanks, most gracious God, for the devoted witness of Richard Baxter, who out of love for thee followed his conscience at cost to himself, and at all times rejoiced to sing thy praises in word and deed; and we pray that our lives, like his, may be well-tuned to sing the songs of love, and all our days be filled with praise of Jesus Christ our Lord; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
II We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the devoted witness of Richard Baxter, who out of love for you followed his conscience at cost to himself, and at all times rejoiced to sing your praises in word and deed; and we pray that our lives, like his, may be well-tuned to sing the songs of love, and all our days be filled with praise of Jesus Christ our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Preface of a Advent
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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