Who was the greatest English preacher of them all? Some claim that distinction for 17th-century British Puritan Richard Baxter. And yet for ten of his best years, Baxter’s voice was stilled, his sermons silenced, and his pulpit empty.
Baxter’s life spanned the 17th century. He was born in 1615 and lived during the churning days of England’s Civil War, the beheading of King Charles I, and the Commonwealth under Cromwell. The Puritans, at the heart of these events, found the political tide turning against them in 1660. Charles II restored the monarchy and shortly afterward Baxter (45 years old at the time) and 2,000 other Puritan preachers were ejected from their pulpits. Baxter was arrested, spent several spells in prison, lost most of his possessions, and suffered repeatedly from various illnesses including a constant cough, frequent nosebleeds, migraine headaches, digestive ailments, kidney stones, gallstones, and an ongoing battle with tuberculosis.
For ten years Baxter was away from his pulpit, unable to legally proclaim the Word of God. But he was a man of prayer, and from his sufferings came some of the most powerful books ever written, including the Saints’ Everlasting Rest, The Reformed Pastor—and 138 others!
Finally his “exile” ended. We read in his diary about November 19, 1672: “The 19th of November was the first day, after ten years’ silence, that I preached in a tolerated public assembly, though not yet tolerated in any consecrated church, but only, against law, in my own house.”
If only tape recorders had been invented—to have heard Baxter’s powerful voice after ten years of pent-up prayer, meditation, study, and passion! “Study hard,” Baxter once wrote, “for the well of spiritual knowledge is deep, and our brains are shallow.”
Baxter studied hard and labored tirelessly until he passed to the saints’ everlasting rest in 1691 at age 76.
Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds. … I command you to preach God’s message. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 17.