Baxter received tutoring from different local clergy and was eventually ordained by the Bishop of Worcester. In conversations with several dissenting ministers in the 1630s, Richard Baxter began to move away from some of the superstitions and appurtenances of established Anglicanism. Baxter developed a preaching style that was at once fervent and evangelistic, distinguishing him from the typical Anglican rector. As assistant pastor, he was excused from duties he considered unlawful. In 1641 Baxter was invited to become lecturer at St. Mary’s in Kidderminster, with a congregation of three thousand; so powerful did Baxter’s ministry there become that one observer commented that “among the moral (much less the godly) were to be counted on ten fingers, ere very long a passing traveler along the streets at a given hour heard the sounds of praise and praise in every household.”
When the English Civil Wars began, Baxter sided with Parliament in a largely loyalist county, so he moved near a garrison of Parliamentary troops and preached to them every Sunday, and to the townsmen later the same day. Oliver Cromwell’s Cavalry officers asked the Kidderminster pastor to become the pastor of their troop, as if a church, an offer Baxter rejected as unbiblical. He continued serving as army chaplain on campaign and eventually developed a severe illness, he thought would likely prove fatal. Baxter retired from the service to seek recovery. In that time he wrote the first of his 168 books, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, which proved to be a Christian classic, still in print. Richard survived his illness and served his Kidderminster Church with untiring zeal from 1647-1660, catechizing, with an assistant, eight hundred families every year, beside all his preaching duties and writing.
St. Mary’s Church in Kidderminster
At the urging of Archbishop James Ussher, he “produced a directory for afflicted consciences, appealing to the unconverted and to all ranks of professing Christians,” which became a popular work known as A Christian Directory. He remained a critic of Cromwell and other Independents, especially the radicals that had come out of the war. He preached before the Lord Protector but their relationship remained cool. As a moderate, Baxter was among the preachers called by Parliament to welcome the return of Charles II to the throne; he became one of only four men who preached before the King. Baxter rejected a bishopric and was expelled from his pulpit in the 1662 Act of Conformity imposed on all the Puritan preachers.