Today marks the 400th birthday of Richard Baxter. It’s impossible to measure the influence of this English Puritan over four centuries. His works remain in print and are widely read, which shouldn’t surprise us. J. I. Packer considers him “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist, and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced,” listing Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (1656) as one of the top five books that have influenced him most.
I first read The Reformed Pastor as a high school student aspiring to pastoral ministry. Yet being a young Reformed idealist who thought he had theology figured out, I didn’t grasp the gravity of Baxter’s warning to pastors that they must first be regenerate before offering the gospel to others:
Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach . . . and lest you famish yourselves while you prepare food for them.Of course Reformed pastors are saved, I thought; why else would they be pastors? Now nearly two decades later, with experience in the trenches of local church ministry and with countless seminarians and Christian workers, I’ve come to appreciate Baxter’s sobering admonition as I consider my own soul and the souls of others. I’ve also learned he was using the term “reformed” to mean “renewed” and not, as I assumed, something relating to Calvinist doctrine. And I later discovered Baxter’s theology was more controversial than I imagined. As tall as he stood among the Puritans, he was, as Packer puts it, “big enough to have big faults and make big errors.” Read more
The Complete Works of Richard Baxter