In today’s sermon, I quote the Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter (1615-1691). At the age of 26, he was called to the small village church at Kidderminster—not too dissimilar in size or religiosity to our own town, Emporium—where he pastored for 19 years. Kidderminster was a village of approximately 3,000 people. When he started there he found, “an ignorant, rude and reveling people for the greater part…and yet among them a small company of converts, who were humble, godly, and of good conversations” [lifestyle]. Through his effective ministry, over 1,000 souls packed the church over his time there.
Not long after having been called to Kidderminster, civil war broke out in England and Baxter was forced to leave for a time. The English Civil War was not fought over land or slavery or to preserve it’s union; it was fought over who had the right to rule: the king or Parliament. The village of Kidderminster belonged to a county that remained loyal to the king. Several, to include Richard Baxter, were Puritans (a reform movement within the Church of England), who supported Parliament. During his time away, he became a chaplain in the Parliamentary army.
During that time, he became deathly ill, nearly died, yet wrote one of his most famous books, The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, wherein he mediated upon the theme of heaven. It is a highly commendable book. Later on, the ministry philosophy behind his work became the basis for his most prodigious work, The Reformed Pastor—a book that has had great influence upon my ministry. Baxter later supported the king’s return to power, believing that the king would maintain religious liberty. But the king forced uniformity around the Church’s Book of Prayer, which Baxter could not submit to. He spent the remainder of his life marginalized, ejected from his pulpit, and even spending time in prison. Unity can only come through the Spirit, yet Baxter remained eager for it (Eph 4:3) just as we’re called to.