Richard Baxter at Puritan meeting (1660-1661)

Baxter was a strong advocate for unity in the Body of Christ. Not only must he have had in mind what Jesus said in John 17:21 but he also grew up and lived in a time of great division both politically and within the Church. In 1652 he called together the ministers in Worcestershire, of whatever denomination, to meet so that they could work together for the benefit of the people. Many of the ministers in the county came together once a month and even ministers from surrounding counties would join them. This was the time before the restoration of the King and the High churchmen in 1660 when there was largely a freedom to worship as you wanted. According to Baxter, the Association meetings were of ‘considerable great benefit and comfort to us.’ He discovered that similar meetings were going on in Cumberland and Westmorland and then many other counties, desiring unity, began to associate with them. The Spirit of God was working in the land but freedom of worship ended in 1662 with the Act of Uniformity and the move towards unity ended.

Baxter also worked tirelessly for unity in the nation. At the restoration of Charles II he was made one of the Chaplains to the King and at this time the King asked some of the Nonconformist leaders, including Baxter, to come to an agreement about Church government. At this time Charles II was talking about his desire for freedom to worship and he said he wanted the Nonconformists to come to agreement with the Episcopal Bishops. They met at Sion College for two or three weeks and then came up with proposals for the King. They were expecting to have a counter-proposal from the Bishops but this never happened, instead they were later called to the Bishop of London’s residence to meet with a selection of Bishops. Unfortunately, although Baxter had a great intellect and a massive desire for unity, he did not have the gift of tact and he was often prone to speak out exactly how he felt, a tendency that made him unpopular with his friends as well as those that opposed him. This weakness was to be a problem in all his work for unity and the Worcestershire Association was his only success in this area. He did recognise this weakness and asked his colleagues to be excused from these discussions but they insisted he took part in them. To be fair the Bishops had no intention of allowing the Nonconformists any say in Church government, but Baxter’s involvement did not help and the discussion ended with no agreement. However, the King recognised his worth and offered him the Bishopric of Hereford but he could not accept without agreement on Church Government.

Additional Information

Sion College used to be across London Wall. The old London Wall used to be behind the church ruins located close to this spot.