Volume Four of The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter contains the second part of A Christian Directory. In this volume, perhaps more explicitly than anywhere else, Baxter links practical Christian ethics with the doctrine of justification, earning Baxter the reputation of a maverick among prominent Protestant theologians in the decades following the Reformation.
Baxter writes extensively on family life, marriage, and social relationships—all in relation to the church. He gives practical advice about how to conduct family devotions, how to provide for a child’s education, how to wisely spend time, and how to maintain a stable and sustainable household. Yet his ethics remain connected to theology, because a stable family and a well-ordered society provide the best context for a right relationship with the church and a right relationship with God.
This volume also includes Baxter’s works on liturgical topics, such as the place of prayer in public worship and the benefits of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
“‘The husband must so unite authority and love, that neither of them may be omitted or concealed, but both be exercised and maintained.’” (Page 142)
“ ‘You must be holy persons, if you would be holy governors of your families.’” (Page 94)
“Remember that justice commandeth you to love one that hath, as it were, forsaken all the world for you, and is contented to be the companion of your labours and sufferings, and be an equal sharer in all conditions with you, and that must be your companion until death. It is worse than barbarous inhumanity to entice such a one into a bond of love, and society with you, and then to say, you cannot love her.” (Page 118)
“Take more notice of the good, that is in your wives, than of the evil. Let not the observation of their faults make you forget or overlook their virtues.” (Page 118)
“‘The husband is to excel the wife in knowledge, and be her teacher in the matters that belong to her salvation.’” (Page 143)
…The most prominent English churchman of the 1600s.
—Christian History, a magazine affiliated with Christianity Today
…We must learn from the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter…to redouble our efforts to find strength from spiritual joy.
[Baxter’s] words have hands and feet. They climb all over you; they work their way into your heart and conscience, and will not be dislodged.
Look at Richard Baxter… what a flashing diamond was he! Even swearers on the ale-bench could not but know that he was a heaven-born spirit.
I was greatly refreshed to find what a sweet savor of good Mr. Baxter’s doctrine, works, and discipline remain to this day.
Richard Baxter was born on November 12, 1615 in Shropshire, England. Although his childhood education was poor, he studied under John Owen between 1629 and 1632, and was converted at the influence of The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes.
After his mother died, Baxter began to study theology, and studied with both John Owen and Francis Garbet. He was ordained in 1638 by John Thornborough and quickly established his reputation as a preacher and pastor. He became involved the Nonconformity Movement—a movement which resisted the governance of the Church of England, and he renounced his ordination.
In April, 1641, Baxter began his ministry at Kidderminster, which lasted nineteen years. In addition to his ministry as a preacher and pastor, Baxter initiated many social reforms which earned him a reputation among Presbyterians and Episcopalians as a theological uniter. He wrote The Reformed Pastor during his ministry in Kidderminster.
Baxter moved to Gloucester and Coventry in 1643 to avoid the Civil War, and became chaplain in the army. He returned to London in 1660 where he preached regularly and became politically influential. In 1685, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for his Paraphrase on the New Testament, a charge later rescinded by the government.
Baxter wrote prolifically throughout this lifetime. He is well known for his works on the Roman Catholic Church, his works on conversion, his 4-volume Christian Directory, and A Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Live. Baxter provoked theological controversy for his ecumenism—in stark contrast to the religious warfare of his time—and his rejection of limited atonement. He believed that repentance and obedience affect the outcome of salvation, and that right belief is intricately connected to Christian ethics. Baxter’s covenant theology also contributed to the rise of Puritanism.
Richard Baxter died on December 8, 1691. His last words were, “I have pain…but I have peace.”