St. Mary and All Saints, Kidderminster
Richard Baxter - Preacher Teacher Pastor 1615-1691
Richard Baxter - A man ahead of his time in how he thought. Today, as in the past, his reputation has encouraged pilgrims to travel from all over the world to visit the places where he lived and preached.
Who was Richard Baxter?
The Early Years
Richard was the son of a poor Shropshire gentleman. In later life he said that as a boy, he had ‘lied, scrumped and gambled’. He confessed that he had also been addicted to apples and pears once making himself sick on a ‘surfeit of fruit and cheese’. At the age of 23, a more mature Richard, was appointed as a schoolteacher in Dudley. At the same time he was ordained as a clergyman and preached his first sermon at St. Thomas’ in the town. In 1639 he moved to Bridgnorth where he became curate at St. Leonard’s Church. His cottage can still be seen opposite the church.
The Kidderminster Years
For twenty years Richard made his home in Kidderminster as ‘preacher’ at St. Mary’s. He was invited by a group of disgruntled church members who were very put out by the infrequent preaching of the Vicar! They were puritans, not ‘kill joys’, but Christian men and women who passionately wanted to live every moment of their lives in the presence of God and to the glory of God. They were hungry for sound teaching which they were not getting. They would not be disappointed by Richard Baxter!
Richard Baxter – Preacher
Richard immediately made an impression. His preaching must have been electrifying because new galleries had to be installed in St. Mary’s Church to accommodate the crowds. He preached with conviction and many lives were touched.
Richard Baxter – Pastor
In Richard’s day Kidderminster was a small, dark, town of some 5,000 people. It was notorious for ignorance and immorality -especially drunkenness- of the inhabitants! After 14 years, during which Richard visited every home, everything was changed. A friend said, ‘The bad were changed to good and the good to better’. People even spoke of Kidderminster as ‘a colony of heaven’. ‘….when I came thither first, there was about one family in a street that worshipped God and called on His name, and when I came away there were some streets where there was not past one family in the side of a street that did not do so’.
Richard Baxter – Author
During his years in Kidderminster, Richard wrote some of his most famous books and hymns including the classic ‘The Saints Everlasting Rest’ which continues to inspire and console. Hymns such as ‘Ye Holy Angels Bright’ are still much loved today and sung in our churches. His books have never been out of print and ‘The Reformed Pastor’ is still used today in the training of pastors and ministers.
The Dangerous Days
Richard’s time in Kidderminster coincided with the bloody Civil War which would lead to Oliver Cromwell’s coming to power and England’s transformation into a republic. Richard was caught up in all the event’s of the day, even serving for a time as chaplain to one of the regiments of Cromwell’s New Model Army. When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 new rules governing church life and organisation were imposed. Richard was unhappy with these and went into self-imposed ‘exile’ after preaching his last sermon in Kidderminster.
Sometime after his departure from Kidderminster, the world was amazed to hear that Richard Baxter had married! His wife, Margaret Charleton, was much younger. It was a marriage that brought them both great joy. It was also a new kind of marriage as Richard and Margaret lived as equals as well as partners. When she died at the age of 45 Richard was heartbroken.
The last thirty years of Richard’s life were spent in London. He pursued his vision of a Church big enough to welcome everyone and allow people to have different opinions. He wrote furiously and preached tirelessly. Often he was persecuted. Even worse, when King James II came to the throne Richard was put on trial before the notorious Judge Jeffreys who dismissed him as ‘a Rogue and Knave’. Richard was fined 500 marks and sent to prison.
The Last Days
Richard died, aged 76, on December 8th 1691 and was buried beside his beloved Margaret in Christ Church, Newgate, London, a church that no longer stands. As he lay dying he said "I have pain: there is no arguing against sense; but I have peace. I have peace." "Keep us, O Lord, while we tarry on this earth, in a serious seeking after You, and in an affectionate walking with you, every day."
with thanks to S. Bullock and I. Baggott