In his autobiography, nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon records a conversation he had with his wife one Sunday evening: “My dear, I fear I have not been as faithful in my preaching today as I should have been. I have not been as much in earnest after poor souls as God would have me be! Go to the study and fetch down [Richard] Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, and read some of it to me. Perhaps that will quicken my sluggish heart.”

Spurgeon was far from the only one helped by the seventeenth-century British Puritan’s writings. Baxter has been called the greatest of all English preachers, the virtual creator of popular Christian literature, and “the most successful preacher and winner of souls and nurturer of won souls that England has ever had.” He was also at the center of some of his day’s most heated ecclesiastical debates. In this three-hundredth anniversary year of his death, Baxter’s achievements—and his character, theology, and ministry—provide arresting examples for us to follow.

Baxter the Man

Any understanding of Baxter’s influence must begin with a look at the man himself. Indeed, like all the Puritans, he believed that what a person is—his character—is basic to what he does.

In Baxter’s case, Puritanism formed his basic identity. Noting that two of his literary opponents had called him (in Latin) a dyed-in-the-wool Puritan who oozed Puritanism from every pore, he commented, “Alas I am not so good and happy” (that is, fortunate). While he was what we would nowadays call an ecumenical Christian, sympathetically alert to the main Christian traditions of his day, his supreme ambition was to embody ideal Puritanism, which ...

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