Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long and prolific career as theological writer.
He was a peacemaker who sought unity among Protestants, and yet he was a highly independent thinker and at the centre of every major controversy in England during his lifetime. Born in Rowton, on 12th November 1625, to parents who undervalued education, Baxter was largely self-taught. He eventually studied at a free school, then at royal court, where he became disgusted at what he saw as frivolity. He left to study divinity, and at age 23, he was ordained into the Church of England. Within the Anglican church, Baxter found common ground with the Puritans, a growing faction who opposed the church's episcopacy and was itself breaking into factions. Baxter did his best to avoid the disputes between Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other denominations, even convincing local ministers to cooperate in some pastoral matters. "In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity," he was fond of saying.
Baxter was opinionated in theology, which was not quite Separatist and not quite Conformist. Among his many works are long, controversial discourses on doctrine. He believed that society was a large family under a loving father, and in his theology, he tried to cut between the extremes. He eventually registered himself as "a mere Nonconformist", a technical term meaning "not Anglican", breaking with the Church of England mainly because of the lack of power it gave to parish clergy.
Baxter also found himself as a peacemaker during the English Civil Wars. He believed in monarchy, but a limited one and served as a chaplain for the parliamentary army. He helped to bring about the restoration of the king and, as a moderate, Baxter found himself the target of each extreme. He was still against the episcopacy in 1660, when he was offered the bishopric of Hereford, so he declined. As a result, he was barred from office and not permitted to return to Kidderminster, nor preach. Between 1662 and 1688 when James II was overthrown, he was persecuted, imprisoned for 18 months, and forced to sell two extensive libraries. Still, he continued to preach: "I preached as never sure to preach again," he wrote, "and as a dying man to dying men."
Baxter became even better known for his prolific writing. His devotional classic, The Saints' Everlasting Rest, was one of the most widely read books of the century. When asked what deviations should be permitted from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, he created an entirely new one, called Reformed Liturgy, in two weeks. His Christian Directory contains over one million words. His autobiography and his pastoral guide, The Reformed Pastor, are still widely read today. He died on 8th December 1691.