A Man for All Ministries -- By: James I. Packer

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 01:1 (Winter 1992)
Article: A Man for All Ministries
Author: James I. Packer


A Man for All Ministries

James I. Packer

Richard Baxter 1615–1691

I

The seventy-six years of Richard Baxter’s life spanned an era in English history that was, to an extraordinary degree, tragic, heroic, and pathetic. It was a time of revolution and counter-revolution in church and state, of brutal religious persecution and fierce controversy in print about almost everything. It was also a time of disruptive socio-economic shifts which nobody at the time understood, of widespread bad health, growing towns innocent of hygiene, and nightmarishly primitive medicine. In short, it was a time of hardship for just about everyone. And at the head of the list of factors that led to the tragedies, the heroisms, and the miseries stood rival understandings of Christianity. That is a sad thing to have to say, but it is true.

Had you been a Christian of consistent principles, whatever they were, living through those seventy-six years, you, too, would have had a rough ride. If you had been a Roman Catholic, you would have been an object of general distaste in the community all the time, constantly suspected of being a political subversive. Had you been a High Anglican, wedded to the Prayer Book, the ministry of bishops, and the royal supremacy in church and state, you would have watched your side lose the Civil War in the 1640’s. You would have wept over the (to you) traitorous act of executing the king for treason against his people. You would have seen both Prayer Book and episcopacy at one stage outlawed by the Parliament, and if you had been a clergyman you would have lost your living for the best part of twenty years before the Restoration in 1660. And if, like Baxter, you had been a Puritan, practicing and propagating the religion of St. Augustine on the basis of the theology of John Calvin, you would have had to endure the Arminianizing of Anglican leadership for two decades before the Civil War, the ejecting of almost 2,000 Puritan-type clergy from English

parishes at the Restoration, the consequent Anglican slide away from the gospel, and the great persecution of Protestant nonconformists that put tens of thousands in jail for not using the Prayer Book in their worship of God during the quarter century before toleration came in 1689. Whatever your principles, you would have experienced much unhappiness during those years.

A moment ago I called Richard Baxter a Puritan. Since that word still carries prejudicial overtones for many, as it did throughout Baxter’s own life, I had better say at once that my reason for using it is simply that it was as a Puritan that Baxter saw himself. Noting, in 1680 that two of his opponents in print had ca...

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