a history of the english baptists
A.D. 1685 - 1700
JAMES, the Duke of York, succeeded to the throne, and began his reign with a frank and open declaration of his religion. The first Lord’s day after his accession he went publicly to mass, and obliged Father Huddlestone, who attended the late king in his last hours, to declare to the world that he died a Roman Catholic.
The parliament fell in with all the king’s measures; and to gratify his passion of revenge against those who had been averse to his accession on account of his religion, they presented an address to his majesty, May 27, to desire him to issue forth his royal proclamation to put the penal laws into execution against dissenters from the church of England The opposition to them now became as severe as it ever had been in the late king’s reign, and the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth gave the court a plausible reason for carrying it to the greatest extremity. There is no doubt but many dissenters engaged in this ill-timed and ill-fated expedition, which terminated in the destruction of almost all who engaged in it. Amongst those of the Baptist denomination who were actively employed, were the grandfather and father of the late Dr. Gifford of Eagle Street, London. In a copy of the Western Martyrology which belonged to him, and which is now in the library at Bristol, is the following account in the Doctor’s hand-writing.
“The Rev. Andrew Gifford (my grandfather) was with several others in the city of Bristol deeply engaged in the affair of the Duke of Monmouth. He collected a considerable sum, and provided ammunition. And when the Duke came near the city, be sent his son Emanuel to Knowl Castle, a mile out of the city, to invite the Duke and his friends in; assuring him that there were many friends and supplies provided, and that a part of the city walls was undermined to let them in with ease and safety. But the Duke of Beaufort, the Lord Lieutenant, having set fire to a ship in the harbour, and sent the Duke of Monmouth word that if he attempted the city he would burn it down, the Duke, seeing the flames, called a council of war, in which it was resolved to prevent the city from being destroyed. And thus being betrayed by those about him, especially Lord — , he desired my father to return, his thanks to his friends, but, the council having determined otherwise, he should remove into the west, and earnestly desired my father to accompany him; which my father, perceiving that the Duke was betrayed, civilly refused, telling him he must now return as his commission was at an end. Accordingly he rode round near Caynsham bridge; but as he was going through Kingswood a friend met him, and asked him what he did there, telling him the plot was discovered, and that his errand to the Duke of Monmouth was publicly known, and a troop of horse was tent out to take him, and therefore bid him shift for his life. On hearing this he took off the saddle and bridle and turned his mare loose in the wood, and hid himself in a great bush near the high-way side, where he had not been more than a, quarter of an hour before the troop came by swearing if they could catch the heretical dog they would cut him as small as herbs for the pot; but missing their prey, a little before night they returned the same way, on which my father caught his mare, and as soon as it was dark returned home safe and kept out of the way for some time. He was a melancholy witness of the sufferings of five or six executed without Radcliff-Gate on the account of it, but lived to share in the joy of the Prince of Orange’s arrival. The first news of whose embarkation at Helveotsloys was brought to Bristol by his brother Samuel Gifford, who sailed the very night before the prince; who entreated him to be his pilot through the channel, which he excused himself from lest it should ****** his cargo.”
This circumstance accounts for the virulence with which Jefferies addressed the Grand Jury at Bristol in his return from the Western Campaign. “Certainly (said he) they had and must have great encouragement from a party within, or else why should their design be on this city? — Gentlemen, I tell you, I have the Kalender of this city here in my hand; I have heard of those that have searched into the very sink of a Conventicle to find out some sneaking rascal to bide their money. Come, come, gentlemen to be plain with you, I find the dirt of the ditch is in your nostrils. — It seems the Dissenters and Phanaticks fare well amongst you, by reason of the favour of the magistrates; for example, if a dissenter who is a notorious and obstinate offender, comes before them to be fined, one Alderman or other stands up, and says, he is a good man, (though three parts a rebel) well then for the sake of Mr. Alderman he shall be fined but five shillings. &c.” The six persons who suffered on Radcliff Hill were, Richard Evans, John Tinckwell, Christopher Clerk, Edward Tippot, Philip Cambridge, and John Tucker, alias Glover.
In a work published by Mr. Hercules Collins of Wapping, in the year 1691, he remarks,
“It is well known that many good men of most persuasions, of the church of England, Presbyterians, Independants, and Baptists, were zealously concerned in the Duke of Monmouth’s time, and many fell. But know that victory is no argument of the best cause, nor best men; nor a defeat an argument of a bad cause, and bad men. No better men in the world than some who fell in the Duke’s cause, in the west; yet by the hands of one of the most debauched armies that ever was in the world.” —
No greater stigma attaches to the adherents of the Duke of Monmouth, than would have attached to those of the Prince of Orange had he been equally unsuccessful.
Amongst the Baptists that fell, we are
acquainted with two persons who, on account of their
connections, deserve a place in our work. These were Mr.
Benjamin and Mr. William. Hewling, two brothers, whose characters, and tragical end made a very great impression on the minds of the people of England. Noble, in his history of the Protectoral house of Cromwell, gives the following account of them,
“These two amiable but unfortunate gentlemen were the only sons of Mr. Benjamin Hewling, a Turkey merchant of good fortune in London, who happily for himself died before them. After their father’s death they were most carefully brought up by a tender mother, and their maternal grandfather, Mr. William Kiffin, who though very much advanced in years, as well as his wife, survived them both. The Hewlings and Kiffins were protestant dissenters, and the latter, if not the former, were Anabaptists.”
The excellent Mr. William Kiffin has left a manuscript account of his life, written when he was in his 77th year, for the use of his descendants, in which he has given a particular account of his grandsons. From this manuscript we extract the following information respecting them. —
“Not long after the king died and James II. coming to the crown, the summer after his coming the Duke of Monmouth with a party came over with a few armed men that landed at Lyme, and I having a young grandson, William Hewling, at board and school in Holland, came over with him, although unknown to me or any of his friends, he being about the age of nineteen years.
— And his eldest brother, Benjamin Hewling, conversing with those that were under great dissatisfaction, seeing popery encouraged and religion and liberty like to be invaded, did furnish himself with arms, and went to the said Duke and in the first fight, being afterwards both taken prisoners, were brought to Newgate, which to me was no small affliction. And it being given out that the king would make only some few that were taken examples, and the rest would leave to his officers to compound for their lives; I endeavoured with his mother to treat with a great man, and agreed to give three thousand pounds for their lives. But the face of things were soon altered, so that nothing but severity could be expected, and indeed we missed the right door; for the Lord Chief Justice finding agreements made with others, and so little to himself, was the more provoked to use all manner of cruelty toe the poor prisoners, so that few escaped. Amongst the rest these two young men were executed. But how graciously the Lord shewed himself to them, both in their behaviour before their trial and at their deaths, the consideration thereof to such as please to peruse it; I think it may be of use to leave to you and to your children, and to such as may read the same which is as followeth.
“The gracious dealings of God manifested to
some in dying hours have been of great advantage to those living
that have heard the same, giving them occasion thereby to
reflect on their own state, and, to look after the things of
their peace before they be hid from their eyes; also a great
encouragement to strengthen the faith of those that have
experienced the grace of God to them.
“To that end ‘tis thought necessary, by parents especially, to preserve to their children that rennin, those blessed experiences that such have had which God hath taken to himself.
“Here therefore is presented a true account of the admirable appearances, of God towards two young men; Mr. Benjamin Hewling, who died when he was about twenty-two years of age, and Mr. William Hewling, who died before he arrived to twenty years. They engaged with the Duke of Monmouth, as their own words were, for the English liberties, and the protestant religion, and for which Mr. William Hewling was executed at Lyme, the 12th of September 1685; and Mr. Benjamin Hewling at Taunton, the 30th of the same month; and however severe men were to them, yet the blessed dispensation of God to them was such, as hath made good his word, that out of the mouth of babes he hath ordained strength, that he may still the enemy and avenger.
“After the dispersing of the Duke’s army they fled and put to sea, but were driven hack again, and with the hazard of their lives got ashore (over dangerous rocks) where they saw the country filled with soldiers, and they being unwilling to fall into the hands of the rabble, and no way of defence or escape remaining to them, they surrendered themselves prisoners to a gentleman whose house was near the place where they landed at, and were from thence sent to Exeter goal, the 12th of July, where remaining some time, their behaviour was such, that (being visited by many) caused great respect towards them, even of those that were enemies to the cause they engaged in, and being on the 27th of July put on board the Swan Frigate, in order to their bringing up to London, their carriage was such as obtained great kindness from their commander, and all other officers in the ship, and being brought into the river, Captain Richardson came and took them into custody, and carried them to Newgate, putting great irons upon them, and put them apart from each other, without giving liberty for the nearest relation to see them, notwithstanding all endeavours and entreaties used to obtain it, though in the presence of a keeper; which though it did greatly increase the grief of relations, God, who wisely orders all things for good to those he intends grave and mercy to, made this very restraint, and hard usage a blessed advantage to their souls, as may appear’ by their own words, when after great importunity and charge, some of their near relations had leave to speak a few words to them before the keeper, to which they replied, they were contented with the will of God whatever it should be. Having been in Newgate three weeks, there was order given to carry them down into the west, in order to their trial; which being told them they answered, they were glad of it; and as they went out of Newgate several that beheld them, seeing them so cheerful, said, surely they had received their pardon, else they could never carry it with that courage and cheerfulness. Although this must be observed, that from first to last whatever hopes they received from, friends, they still thought the contrary, never being much affected with the hopes of it, nor cast down, nor the least discouraged at the worst that man could do. In their journey to Dorchester, the keepers that went with them have given this account of them, that their carriage was so grave, serious, and Christian, that made them admire to see and hear what they did from such young men.
“A near relation that went into the west to see the issue of things, and to perform whatsoever should be necessary for them, gives the following account — At Salisbury, the 30th of August, I had the first opportunity of conversing with them I found them in a very excellent composure of mind, declaring their experience of the grace and goodness of God to them in all their sufferings, in supporting and strengthening them and providing for them, turning the hearts of all in whose hand’s they had been both at Exon and on shipboard, to shew pity and to favour them; although since they came to Newgate they were hardly used, and now in their journey loaded with heavy irons and more inhumanly dealt with. They with great cheerfulness professed that they were better and in a more happy condition than ever in their lives, born the sense they had of the pardoning love of God in Jesus Christ to their souls, wholly referring themselves to their wise and gracious God to chuse for them life or death, expressing themselves thus: “Any thing what pleaseth God, what he sees best, so be it. We know he is able to deliver; but if not, blessed be his name; death is not terrible now, but desirable.” Mr. Benjamin Hewling particularly added, “As for the world, there is nothing in it to make it worth while to live, except we may be serviceable to God therein.” He afterwards said, “Oh! God is a strong refuge: I have found him so indeed!”
“The next opportunity I had was at Dorchester, whither they were both carried, and remained together four days. By reason of their strait confinement, our conversation was much interrupted; but this appeared, that they had still the same presence and support from God, no ‘way discouraged at the approach of their trial, nor at the event of it, whatever it should be.
“The sixth of September, Mr. Benjamin Hewling was ordered to Taunton to be tried there. Taking my leave of him, he said, Oh! blessed be God for afflictions. I would not have been without them for all this world.
“I remained still at Dorchester to wait the issue of Mr. William Hewling, to whom, after trial, I had free access, and whose discourse was much filled with admirings of the grace of God which had been manifested towards him in calling him out of his natural state. He said, God by his Holy Spirit did suddenly seize upon his heart when he thought not of it, in his retired abode in Holland, as it were secretly whispering in his heart, Seek ye my face, enabling him to answer his gracious call and to reflect upon his own soul shewing him the evil of sin and the necessity of Christ, from that time carrying him on to a sensible adherence to Christ for justification and eternal life. Hence he found a spring of joy and sweetness beyond the comforts of the whole earth: He also said that he could not but admire the wonderful goodness of God in so preparing him for what he was bringing him to, which then he thought not of; giving him hope of eternal life before he called him to look, death in the face, so that he did cheerfully resign his life to God before be came, having sought his guidance in it; and that both then and now, the cause did appear to him very glorious, notwithstanding all he had suffered in it, or what he farther might suffer; although for our sins, God hath withheld these good things from us. But he said, God carried on his blessed work on his own soul in and by all his sufferings; and whatever the will of God were, life or death, he knew it would be best for him.
“After he had received his sentence, when he returned to prison, he said, Methinks I find my spiritual comforts increasing ever since my sentence. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. It is God that justifieth; who shall condemn?
“When I came to him the next morning, when he had received news that he must die the next day, and in order to it was to be carried to Lyme that day, I found him in a more excellent, raised, and spiritual frame than before. He was satisfied, he said, that God had chosen best for him. He knows what the temptations of life might have been. I might have lived and forgetten God; but now I am going where I shall sin no more. Oh, it is a blessed thing to be freed from sin, and to be with Christ! Oh, how great were the sufferings of Christ for me, beyond all I can undergo! How great is that glory to which I am going; it will soon swallow up all our sufferings here!
“While he was at dinner, just before his going to Lyme, he dropped many abrupt expressions of his inward joy, such as these: Oh, the grace of God; the love of Christ! Oh, that blessed supper of the Lamb; to be for ever with the Lord! He farther said, When I went to Holland, you knew not what snares, sins, and miseries I might have fallen into, nor whether we should ever meet again: but now you know whither I am going, and that we shall certainly have a joyful meeting. He said, pray give my particular recommendations to all my friends, with acknowledgments for all their kindness. I advise them all to make sure of an interest in Christ, for he is the only comfort when we come to die.
“One of the prisoners seemed to be troubled at the manner in which they were to die: to whom he replied, I bless God that I am reconciled to it all. Just as he was going to Lyme, he wrote these few lines to a friend, being hardly suffered to stay so long — I am going to launch into eternity, I hope and trust, into the arms of my blessed Redeemer; to whom I commit you, and all my dear relations. My duty to my dear mother, and love to all my sisters, and the rest of my friends.
“As they passed through the town of Dorchester
to Lyme, multitudes of people beheld them with great
lamentations, admiring his deportment at his parting with his
sister. Passing on the road; his discourse was exceedingly
spiritual, taking occasion from every thing to speak of the
glory they were going to. Looking at the country as he passed,
he said, This is a glorious
creation: but what then is the paradise of God to which we are going! It is but a few hours, and we shall be there, and be for ever with the Lord.
“ At Lyme, just before they went to die, reading John 14:8. he said to one of his fellow sufferers, Here is a sweet promise for us: I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you.’ Christ will be with us to the last. One taking leave of him, he said, Farewell till we meet in heaven. Presently I shall be with Christ. Oh, I would not change condition with any one in this world! I would not stay behind for ten thousand worlds!
“To another who asked him how he did, he said, Very well, blessed be God. And farther asking him whether he could look death in the face with comfort now it approached so near, he said, Yes, I bless God I can with great comfort. God hath made this a good night to me: my Comforts are much encreased since I left Dorchester. Then taking leave of him, he said, Farewell, I shall see you no more. To which he replied, How, see me no more? Yes, I hope to meet you in glory. To another who was by him to the last, he said, Pray remember my dear love to my brother and sister, and tell them I desire they would comfort themselves that I am gone to Jesus, and we shall quickly meet in Sion above.
“Afterwards he prayed for about three quarters of an hour with the greatest fervency, exceedingly blessing God for Jesus Christ, adoring the riches of his, grace in him, in all the glorious fruits of it towards him, praying for the peace of the church of God and of these nations in particular; all with such eminent assistance of the Spirit of God as convinced, astonished, and melted into pity the hearts of all present, even the most malicious adversaries, forcing tears and expressions from them; same saying they knew not what would become of them after death, but it was evident he was going to great happiness.
“When just departing out of the world, with a joyful countenance he said, ‘Oh, now my joy and comfort is that I have a Christ to go to;’ and so sweetly resigned his spirit to Christ, on the 12th of September, 1685.
“An officer who had shewn so malicious a spirit as to call the prisoners devils, when he was guarding them down, was now so convinced that he afterwards told a person of quality that he never was so affected as by his cheerful carriage and fervent prayer, such as he believed was never heard, especially from one so young; and said, I believe, had the lord chief justice been there, he would not have let him die.
“The sheriff having given his body to be buried, although it was brought from the place of execution without any notice given, yet very many of the town, to the number of two hundred, came to accompany him; and several young women of the best of the town — laid him in his grave in Lyme church-yard, Sep. 13, 1685.
“After which his sister wrote this following letter to her mother: — Although I have nothing to acquaint my dear mother withal, but what is most afflictive to sense, both as to the determination of God’s will and as to my present apprehension concerning my brother Benjamin who still remains; yet there is such an abundant consolation mixed in both, that I only wanted an opportunity to pay this duty; God having wrought so glorious a work on both their souls, revealing Christ in them, that death is become their friend. My brother William having already with the greatest joy declared to those that were with him to the last, that he would not change conditions with any that were to remain in this world, and he desired that his relations would comfort themselves that he is gone to Christ. My brother Benjamin expects not long to continue in this world, and is quite willing to leave it when God shall call, being fully satisfied that God will chuse what is best for him and for us all. By these things God doth greatly support me, and I hope you also, my dear mother, which was and is my brother’s great desire, There is still some room to pray for one; and God having so answered, though not in kind, we have encouragement still: to wait on him.
“When I came to Taunton to Mr. Benjamin Hewling,
he had received the news of his brother’s being gone to die with
so much comfort and joy, and afterwards of the continued
goodness of God in encreasing it to the end, expressed himself
to this effect — We have no cause to fear death, if the presence
of God be with us, there is no evil in it, the sting being taken
away. It is nothing but our ignorance of the glory the saints
pass into by death which makes it appear dark to ourselves or
our relations: if in Christ, what is this world that we should
desire an abode in it? It is all vain and unsatisfying, full of
sin and misery. — He also intimated his own cheerful
expectations soon to follow, discovering then and all along
great seriousness and sense of spiritual and eternal things,
complaining of nothing in his present circumstance but want of a
place of retirement to converse more uninterruptedly with God
and his own soul, saying that his lonely time in Newgate was the
sweetest in his whole life. He said God had some time before
struck his heart, when he thought of the hazard of his life, to
some serious sense of his past life, and the great consequences
of death and eternity, shewing him that they were the only happy
persons that had secured their eternal state; the folly and
madness of the ways of sin and his own thraldom therein; with
his utter inability to deliver himself, also the necessity of
Christ for salvation. He said it was not without terror And
amazement for some time the sight of unpardoned sin with
eternity before him. But God wonderfully opened to him the
riches of free grace in Christ Jesus for poor sinners to flee
to, enabling him to look alone to a crucified Christ for
salvation. He said his blessed work was in some measure carried
on upon his soul amidst all his business and hurries in the
army, but never sprung forth so fully and sweetly till his close
confinement in Newgate. There he saw Christ and all spiritual
objects more clearly, and embraced them more strongly: there he
experienced the blessedness of a reconciled state, the
excellency of the ways of holiness, the delightfulness of communion with God, which remained with deep and apparent impressions on his own soul, which he frequently expressed with admiration of the grace of God towards him. Perhaps my friends, said he may think this the saddest summer of my life; but, I bless God, it hath been the sweetest and happiest of it all nay, there is nothing else that deserves the name of happiness. I have in vain sought satisfaction from the things of this world, but I never found it. But now I have found rest, for my soul in God alone.
Oh how great is our blindness by nature; till God opens our eyes we can see no excellency In spiritual things, but spend our precious time in pursuing shadows, and are deaf to all the invitations of grace and glorious offers of the gospel. How just is God in depriving us of that we so much slighted and abused. Oh, his infinite patience and goodness, that after all he should sanctify any methods to bring a poor sinner to himself! Oh, electing love, distinguishing grace! What great cause have I to admire and adore it! — What an amazing consideration is the suffering of Christ for sin to bring us to God! His suffering from wicked men was exceeding great: but alas, what was that to the dolours of his soul under the infinite wrath of God! This mystery of grace and love is enough to swallow up our thoughts to all eternity.
“As to his own death he would often say, He saw no reason to expect any other. I know God is infinitely able to deliver, and am sure he will do it, if it be for his glory and my good. In which I bless God, I am fully satisfied. It is all my desire that he would choose for me, and then I am sure it will best, what ever it be. For truly unless God have some work for me to do in the world for his service and glory, I see nothing else to make life desirable. In the present state of affairs, there is nothing to cast our eyes upon but sin, sorrow, and misery; and were things ever so agreeable to our desires, it is but the world still, which will never be a resting place. Heaven is the only state of rest and happiness: there we shall be perfectly free from sin and temptation, and enjoy God without interruption for ever.
“Speaking of the disappointment of their expectations in the work they had undertaken, he said with reference to the glory of God, the prosperity of the gospel, and the delivery of the people, of God, we have great cause to lament it; but for that outward and prosperity which would have accompanied it, it is of small moment in itself. As it would not satisfy, so neither could it be abiding; for at longest, death would have put an end to it all. Also adding, nay, perhaps we might have been so foolish as to be taken with part of it, to the neglect of our eternal concerns; and then I am sure our present circumstances are incomparably better.
“He frequently expressed great concern for the
glory of God, and affection to his people, saying, If my death
may advance. God’s glory, and hasten the deliverance of his
people, it is enough. Saying it was a great comfort to him to
think of so great a privilege as that of having an interest in
all their prayers. In his converse he particularly delighted in
those persons in whom he saw most
holiness shining: also great pity to the souls of others, saying that the remembrance of our former vanity may well cause compassion towards others in that state in his converse he prompted them to seriousness, telling them that death and eternity were such weighty concerns, that they deserved the utmost attention of our minds; for the way to receive death cheerfully is to prepare for it seriously; and if God should, please to spare our lives, surely we have the same reason to be serious, and spend our remaining days in his fear and service. He also took great care that the worship of God which they were in a capacity of maintaining there, might be duly performed; as reading, praying, and singing of psalms, in which he evidently took great delight.
“For those three or four days before their deaths, when there was a general report that no more should die, he said, I do not know what God hath done contrary to our expectations: if he doth prolong my life, I am sure it is all his own, and by his grace I will wholly devote it to him. But on the 29th of September, about ten or eleven at night, we found the deceitfulness of this report, they being then told that they must the next morning, which was very unexpected as to the suddenness of it. But herein God glorified his power, grace, and faithfulness, in giving suitable support and comfort by his blessed presence, which appeared upon my coming to him at that time and finding him greatly composed. He said, Though men design to surprise, God doth and will perform his word, to be a very present help in trouble.
“The next morning, when I saw him again, his
cheerfulness and comfort were much encreased, waiting for the
sheriff with the greatest sweetness and serenity of mind;
saying, Now the will of God is determined, to whom I have
referred it, and he hath chosen most certainly what is best.
Afterwards, with a smiling countenance, he discoursed of the
glory of heaven, remarking with much delight the third, fourth,
and fifth verses of the twenty-second of the Revelations: And
there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of the
Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him, and they
shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads;
and there shall be no night there, and they shall need no candle
, nor light of the sun; and they shall reign for ever and ever.
Then he said, Oh, what a happy state is this! Shall we be loth
to go and enjoy this? He then desired to be read to him 2. Cor.
5. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle
were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with
hands, eternal in the heavens , &c. His hope and comfort
still encreasing, with the assurance of an interest in that
glorious inheritance to the possession of which he was now
going, he said; death was more desirable than life, and he had
rather die than live any longer here. — As to the manner of his
death, he said, When I have considered others under these
circumstances, I have thought it very dreadful; but now God hath
called me to it, I bless him that have quite other apprehensions
of it. I can now cheerfully embrace it as an easy passage to
glory; and though death separates from the enjoyment of each
other here, it will be but for a very short time; and then we
shall meet in such enjoyments as now we cannot conceive, and for
ever rejoice in each other’s happiness. — Then reading the
and musing with himself, he intimated the great comfort which God conveyed to his soul in it; saying, Oh, what an invaluable treasure is this blessed word of God! In all conditions here is a store of strong consolation. One desiring his bible, he said, No: this shall be my companion to the last moment of my life. Thus praying together, reading, meditating, and conversing of heavenly things, they waited for the sheriff, who when he came, void of all pity or civility, hurried them away, scarcely suffering them to take leave of their friends. Notwithstanding this, and the doleful mourning of all about them, the joyfulness of his countenance was encreased. Thus he left the prison, and thus he appeared in the sledge, where they sat about half an hour before the officers could force the horses to draw; at, which they ere greatly enraged, there being no visible obstruction from weight or way. At last the mayor and sheriff haled them forwards themselves, Balaam like, driving the horses.
“When they came to the place of execution, which was surrounded with spectators, many that waited their coming, said, that when they saw him and them come with such cheerfulness and joy, and evidence of the presence of God with them, it made death appear with another aspect. — They first embraced each other with the greatest affection; then two of the elder persons praying audibly, they joined with great seriousness. Then he required leave of the sheriff to pray particularly; but he would not grant it, and only asked him, whether he would pray for the king. He answered, I pray for all men. He then requested that they might sing a hymn. The sheriff told him it must be with the rope about their necks; which they cheerfully accepted, and sung with such heavenly joy and sweetness that many who were present said, it both broke and rejoiced their hearts. Thus in the experience of the delightfulness of praising God on earth, he willingly closed his eyes on a vain world, to pass to that eternal enjoyment, on September 30, 1685.
“All present of all sorts were exceedingly affected and amazed. Some officers who had before insultingly said, Surely these persons have no thoughts of death, but will find themselves surprised by it, now acknowledged that they saw he and they had something extraordinary within, which carried them through with so much joy. Others said that they were so convinced of their happiness that they would be glad to change conditions with them. The soldiers in general, and all others, lamented exceedingly, saying, It was so sad a thing to see them so cut off that they scarcely knew how to bear it. Some of the most malicious in the place, from whom nothing but railing was expected, said, as they were carried to their grave in Taunton church; The persons have left sufficient evidence that they were now glorified spirits in heaven. A great officer also in the king’s army has often been heard to say, If you would learn to die, go to the young men of Taunton. — Much more was uttered by these good men, which showed the blessed frame of their hearts, to the glory of divine grace. But this is what occurs to memory Mr. Benj. Hewling, about two hours before his death, wrote the following letter, which shewed his great composure of mind.
“That news which I know you have a great while feared, and we expected, I must now acquaint you with; that not-withstanding the hopes you gave in your two last letters, warrants are come down for my execution, and within these few hours I expect it to be performed. Blessed be the Almighty God, who gives comfort and support in such a day! How ought we to magnify his holy name for all his mercies, that when we were running on in a course of sin he should stop us in full career, and show us that Saviour whom we had pierced, and out of his free grace enable us to look upon him with an eye of faith, believing him able to save to the utmost all such as come to him! Oh, admirable long suffering patience of God; that when we were dishonouring his name, he did not take that time to bring honour to himself by our destruction! But he delighteth not in the death of a sinner, but had rather he should turn to him and live: and he hath many ways of bringing his Own to himself. Blessed be his holy name, he has taught my heart in some measure to be conformable to his will, which worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, which maketh not ashamed. I bless God that I am not ashamed of the cause for which I lay down my life; and as I have engaged in it, and fought for it, so now I am going to seal it with my blood. The Lord will still carry on the same cause which hath been long on foot; and though we die in it and for it, I question not but in his own good time he will raise up other instruments more worthy to carry it on to the glory of his name, and the advancement of his church and people.
“Honoured mother, I know there has been nothing left undone by you or my friends for the saving of my life, for which I return many hearty acknowledgements to yourself and to them all; and it is my dying request to you and them, to pardon all undutifulness and unkindness in every relation. Pray give my duty to my grandfather and grandmother; service to my uncles and aunts; and my dear love to all my sisters; to every relation and friend a particular recommendation. Pray tell them all how precious an interest in Christ is when we come to die, and advise them never to rest in a Christless state. For if we are his, it is no matter what the world do to us: they can but kill the body, and blessed be God, for the soul is out of their reach. I question not but their malice wishes the damnation of that, as well as the destruction of the body, which has too evidently appeared by their deceitful flattering promises.
“I commit you all to the care and protection of
God, who has promised to be a Father to the fatherless, and a
husband to the widow, and to supply the want of every relation.
The Lord God of heaven be your comfort under these sorrows, and
your refuge from those miseries which we may easily foresee
coming upon poor England, and the poor distressed people of God
in it. The Lord carry you through this vale of tears with a
resigning submissive spirit; and at last bring you to himself in
glory where I question not but you will meet your dying son.
Mr. Kiffin adds to this statement, “Only for myself it was a great comfort to me, and is to observe what testimony they left behind of that blessed interest they had in the Lord Jesus, and their humble and holy confidence of their eternal happiness.
“One thing I think it necessary to observe, that at the trial of William Hewling, the Lord Chief Justice Jefferies was pleased in public court, to tell him, that his grandfather did as well deserve that death, which he was like to suffer as they did. Which I mention to that end, that thereby it may be seen what an eye they had upon me for my ruin, if the Lord who hath watched over me for good, had not prevented.”
The relation who attended them in the west, and from whom Mr. Kiffin received, his account, was their sister, Hannah Hewling, who, about a year afterwards, married Major Henry Cromwell, and who died in 1731. When all other means had failed, she determined to present a petition to the King. For this purpose she was introduced by Lord Churchill, afterwards Duke of Marlborough: while they waited in the antichamber for admittance, standing near the chimney-piece, Lord Churchill assured her of his most hearty wishes of success to her petition. “But, madam, (said he) I dare not flatter you with any such hopes, for that marble is as capable of feeling compassion as the king’s heart.” This declaration of Lord Churchill, adds no small credibility to Jefferies’ report of the king’s obdurate cruelty.
“It has been said in most of the accounts which have been published, that lord chief justice Jefferies always treated Hannah Hewling according to his usual custom, with the greatest brutality; but this is not true: for Jefferies always treated her with the greatest politeness and respect. This instance however does not much soften the horror of his general character. Jefferies had a relation from whose fortune he had formed great expectations; and as this relation was an intimate acquaintance of the Hewlings, he exerted himself very warmly with him on their behalf. He repeatedly protested to the chief justice,”
that the continuance of his friendship, together with every benefit he might hope to result from it, depended entirely on his using every endeavour to save the Hewlings. This Jefferies declared that he did; but he always declared that the king was inexorable.
“When Jefferies was afterwards a prisoner in the tower, he complained to Dr. Scott, author of The Christian Life, and who visited him under his confinement, of his hard fate. ‘I was hated (said he) by the kingdom for doing so much in the west, and I was ill received by the king for not having done more,’ He used almost the same words when he was applied to for the Hewlings. Burnet says, ‘the king took pleasure to relate the cruelties of Jefferies in the drawing-room to foreign ministers, and at his table called it Jefferies’ campaign.’ At the return of this infamous wretch, he created him a baron and peer of England, as a reward for his faithful services.
“For many reasons it would be improper (adds Noble) to omit what Mr. Hewling Luson has said of these two young men. The two unfortunate brothers, Benjamin and William Hewling, were the only males of their name, and of their family, which was in the highest esteem and popularity among the staunch whigs and dissenting protestants, at that time so numerous and respectable in the city. Their parts were excellent, and their education was the best that could be given them; their morals were spotless, their piety exemplary; their zeal against popery, the ardour of their courage in the field, and the manly meekness, and devout resignation of their deportment to the last, under their sufferings, concurred with their youth, the one twenty-one and the other not quite twenty, and the uncommon beauty and gracefulness of their persons, to place them the first in the list which was at that time called the Western martyrology, and to render the severity of their fate most pitied of any who fell a sacrifice to the popish vengeance of James, though there were some other sentences, much more unjust.”
We conclude this account with the sentiments of Mr. Benjamin Keach concerning them, who, from his intimate acquaintance with their grandfather, was well qualified to describe their characters. In his poem, entitled Distressed Zion relieved, dedicated to King William and Queen Mary, in 1689, he has this lamentation as the language of Zion.
“Now stop mine eyes, for fear your floods
The king apprehending that many of the rebels had got to London and were concealed there, was desirous of finding out the persons who harboured them, as he declared he would sooner pardon the rebels than these. One of the persons who suffered on this account was of the Baptist denomination. Bishop Burnet gives the following account of this matter.
“There was in London (says he) one Gaunt, a woman that was an Anabaptist, who spent a great part of her life in acts of charity, visiting the jails, and looking after the poor of what persuasion soever they were. One of the rebels found her out, and she harboured him in her house, and was looking for an occasion of sending him out of the kingdom. He went about in the night, and came to hear what the king had said. So he by an unheard of baseness went and delivered himself, and accused her that had harboured him. She was seized on, and tried. There was no witness to prove that she knew the person she harboured was a rebel, except he himself. Her maid witnessed only that he was entertained at her house: but though her crime was that of harbouring a traitor, and was proved only by this in-famous witness, yet the judge charged The jury to bring her in guilty, pretending that the maid was a second witness, though she knew nothing of that which was the criminal part. She was condemned and burnt, as the law directs in the case of women convicted of treason. She died with a constancy, even to cheerfulness, that struck all who saw it. She said, charity was a part of her religion as well as faith: this at worst was feeding an enemy. So she hoped that she had reward with him for whose sake she did this service, how unworthy soever the person was who made so ill a return for it. She rejoiced that God had honoured her to be the first that suffered by fire in this reign, and that her suffering was a martyrdom for that religion which was all love. Penn the quaker told me that he saw her die. She laid the straw about her, for burning her speedily, and behaved herself in such a manner that all the spectators melted in tears.”
She was executed according to her sentence, at Tyburn, Oct. 23, 1685, and left the following paper written with her own hand, and delivered it to Captain Richardson, then keeper of Newgate.
“Not knowing whether I shall be suffered, or able, because of weaknesses that are upon me, through my hard and close imprisonment, to speak at the place of execution, I have written these few lines to signify that I am reconciled to the ways of my God towards me; though it is in ways I looked not for, and by terrible things, yet in righteousness; for having given me life, he ought to have the disposing of it when and where he pleases to call for it. And I desire to offer up my all to him, it being my reasonable service, and also the first terms which Christ offers, that he who will be his disciple must forsake all and follow him. Therefore let none think hard, or be discouraged at what hath happened unto me; for he doth nothing without cause in all that he hath done unto me; he being holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works, and it is but my lot in common with poor desolate Zion at this day. Neither do I find in my heart the least regret for any thing I have done in the service of my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, in securing and succouring any of his poor sufferers that have shewed favour, as I thought, to his righteous cause; which cause though it be now fallen and trampled on, yet it may revive, and God may plead it in at another time more than ever he hath yet done, with all its opposers and malicious haters. And, therefore let all that love and fear him not omit the least duty that comes to hand or lies before them, knowing that now Christ hath need of them, and expects they should serve, him. And I desire to bless his holy name that he hath made me useful in my generation, to the comfort and relief of many desolate ones; that the blessing of many who were ready to perish hath come upon me, and I have helped to make the widow’s heart leap for joy. And I bless his holy name that in all this, together with what I was charged with, I can approve my heart to him, that I have done his will, though it doth cross man’s. The scriptures which satisfy me are these:
Hide the outcasts; bewray not him that wandereth. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee: be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler — Thou shouldst not have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress. Isaiah 16:3, 4. Obadiah 1:12, 13, 14. But men say you must give them up, or die for it. Now whom to obey judge ye. So that I have cause to rejoice and be exceeding glad, in that I suffer for righteousness sake, and that I am counted worthy to suffer for well doing; and that God hath accepted any service from me, which hath been done in sincerity, though mixed with manifold infirmities, which be hath been pleased for Christ’s sake to cover and forgive.
“And now as concerning my crime, as it is now called; alas, it was but a little one, and such as might well become a prince to forgive.” But he that shews no mercy shall find none; and I may say of it in the language of Jonathan, I did but taste a little honey, and lo, I must die for it! I did but relieve an unworthy, poor, distressed family, and lo, I must die for it. Well, I desire in the lamb-like nature of the gospel to forgive those that are concerned; and to say, Lord, lay it not to their charge! But I fear he will not; nay, I believe, when he comes to make inquisition for blood, it will be found at the door of the furious judge [Withers]; who because I could not remember things, through my dauntedness at Burton’s wife and daughters witness, and my ignorance, took advantage of it, and would not hear me when I had called to mind that which I am sure would have invalidated the evidence. And though he granted something of the same kind to another, he denied it to me. At that time my blood will also be found at the door of the unrighteous jury, who found me guilty upon the single oath of an outlawed man; for there was none but his oath about the money, who is no legal witness, though he be pardoned, his outlawry not being reversed, also the law requiring two witnesses in point of treason. As to my going with him to the place mentioned, namely, the Hope, it was, by his own word before he could be outlawed, for it was about two months after his absconding. So that though he was in a proclamation, yet not high treason, as I am informed; so that I am clearly murdered. And also bloody Mr, Atterbury, who hath so insatiably hunted after my life, though it is no profit to him, yet through the ill will he bears me left no stone unturned, as. I have ground to believe, till he brought it to this, and shewed favour to Burton, who ought to have died for his own fault, and not to have bought his own life with mine. Captain Richardson, who is cruel and severe to all under my circumstances, did at that time without any mercy or pity, hasten my sentence, and held up my band that it might be given. All which, together with the great one of all [James II] by whose power all these and multitudes more of cruelties are done; I do heartily and freely forgive as against me; but as it is done in an implacable mind against the Lord Jesus Christ, and his righteous cause and followers, I leave it to Him who is the avenger of all such wrong, and who will tread upon princes as upon mortar, and be terrible to the kings of the earth.
“Know this also that though you are seemingly fixed, and because of the power in your hands are weighing out your violence, and dealing with a spiteful mind because of the old and new hatred, by impoverishing and every way distressing those you have got under you; yet unless you can secure Jesus Christ, and also his holy angels, you shall never do your business, nor shall your hand accomplish your enterprize. He will be upon you ere you are aware; and therefore that you would be wise, instructed, and learn, is the desire of her that finds no mercy from you!
“P. S. Such as it is, you have from the hand of her who hath done as she could, and is sorry she can do no better; hopes you will pity, and consider, and cover weaknesses and shortness, and any thing that is wanting; and begs that none may be weakened or stumble by my lowness of spirit, for God’s design is to humble and abase, that he also may be exalted in that day. And I hope he will appear in a needful time and hour, and it may be he will reserve the best wine till the last, as he hath done for some before me. None goeth a warfare at his own charges, and the spirit blows not only where and when it listeth; and it becomes me who have so often grieved it and quenched it, to wait for and upon his motions, and not to murmur; but I may mourn, because through the want of it I honour not my God nor his blessed cause, which I have so long loved and delighted to serve; and repent of nothing but that I have served it and him no better.”
In a work entitled A display of Tyranny, there are some remarks upon the trial of this good woman which are highly creditable to her character.
“Were my pen (says the author) qualified to represent the due character of this excellent woman, it would be readily granted that she stood most deservedly entitled to an eternal monument of honour in the hearts of all sincere lovers of the reformed religion. All true christians, though in some things differing in persuasion from her, found in her a universal charity and sincere friendship, as is well known to many here, and also to a Multitude of the Scotch nation, ministers and others, who for conscience sake were thrust into exile from prelatic rage. These found in her a most refreshing refuge. She dedicated herself with unwearied industry to provide for their supply and support, and therein I do incline to think she outstripped every individual, if not the whole body of protestants in this city. Hereby she became exposed to the implacable fury of the bloody papists, and those blind tools who co-operated to promote their accursed designs; and so there appeared little difficulty to procure a jury, as there were well prepared judges, to make her a sacrifice as a traitor to holy church.”
Mrs. Gaunt was executed on the same day as Alderman Cornish, who on account of his having zealously opposed the exclusion bill in the late reign, was obnoxious to the court. Mr. Keach in the before-mentioned poem, takes notice of this event. Distressed Zion is introduced as saying,
“Who can forbear to weep, or who forbear to
The prosecution of the dissenters was still carried on with all imaginable severity, and great were the oppressions of those who frequented separate meetings both in London and the country. The justices and clergy were equally diligent in their several parishes. The spiritual courts were again opened. Injunctions were sent out by the bishops under the seal of their offices to all ministers in their dioceses strictly to enjoin and require all church-wardens to present those who came not to church, or that received not the sacrament the preceeding Easter. These were published on Lord’s-day, July 4, 1686, in Hertfordshire, within the diocese of Lincoln, and in Essex within that of London, and in several other places. “So terrible were these times (says Neal) that many families and ministers removed with their effects to New EngIand.” The king took large strides towards asserting absolute power, in which he was supported by the judges, who all but one gave it as their opinion,
“(1.) That the laws of England were the king’s
Thus the laws of England were given up at once into the hands of the king by the voice of his judges.
This point being secured, his majesty began to espouse the cause of the nonconformists.
“All on a sudden (says Burnet) the churchmen were disgraced, and the dissenters in high favour. Lord chief justice Herbert, went the western circuit after Jefferies, and was now made lord chancellor, and all was grace and favour to them. Their former sufferings were much reflected upon and pitied; every thing was offered that might alleviate them; their ministers were encouraged to set up their conventicles, which had been discontinued or held very secretly for four or five years; intimations were given every where that the king would not have them nor their meetings disturbed.”
This mark of royal favour appears to have produced the effect designed on some of the dissenters. An address was presented from some of the Baptists in London to the king by the following ministers; namely, Messrs. Coxe, Collins, Jones, Plant, and Dennis, and signed by three others. It was said to contain these passages:
“That they made their very thankful acknowledgements for his majesty’s gracious pardon to all his subjects; that they were deeply sensible thereof, that they would be very obedient subjects, and venture their lives and fortunes for his majesty.”
This address was shewed to many of the courtiers by the king while the petitioners were on their knees, at which they were very merry. The king answered them by saying, “That if they carried themselves loyally, they should find protection.” From this it was credibly reported that the Baptists had an assurance that they might not only have a pardon for what was past, but a patent to give them impunity for keeping meetings or conventicles in their own way, behaving themselves peaceably.
To carry the king’s designs into effect, a Dispensation or License office was instituted, where all who applied might have indulgences on paying only fifty shillings for themselves and their families. Many who had been prosecuted for keeping conventicles took out those licences, which not only stopped all processes that were commenced, but gave them liberty to go publicly to meetings for the future.
A curious circumstance of this kind took place at Abingdon, where there were many Baptists who had been greatly persecuted and forced to shut up their meeting. The pastor at this time was Mr. Henry Forty, who will be noticed in another part of our work. We are not furnished with the names of the persons who were implicated in this affair, but seven of the Baptists had been indicted at the assizes, on the 23rd of Elizabeth, for not going to church, and others were presented in the spiritual courts for not receiving the sacrament at Easter. Their trial came on at the assizes in July 1686, before Mr. Justice Holloway and Mr. Justice Luwick. Their offences were greatly aggravated by the Recorder, Mr. Finmore, and their enemies were certain of convicting them. But the dissenters’ counsel, Mr. Medlecot, who had been lately turned out of the recordership of the town, and had formerly received many rebukes from the lord chancellor who probably had displaced him, brought them out of their difficulty. When he stood up on their behalf, the court said, “Are you detained by these people?” Yes, said Mr. Medlecot. Judge Holloway being on the bench, the court answered, “We thought so;” and looked very sourly upon him. Mr. Medlecot replied, “Your lord-ship has served them more effectually than I.” At this his lordship was much offended. “And they give you greater thanks,” added Mr. Medlecot; “for your lordship and my lords the judges have declared his majesty a sovereign prince; that the laws are his laws; that he might dispense with them when it was necessary; that he was judge of that necessity; and he has thought it necessary in the case of these defendants.” He then produced a patent under the broad seal.
These people expecting no mercy from the court, had applied to an attorney and told him their case, and said they had heard that Mr. Brent had obtained dispensations for others, and hoped he would be ready to do the like for them. The attorney told them to get their case signed by two justices of the peace of the county; but as they knew none sufficiently friendly, he got it done for them by two justices who knew nothing about them. The attorney being acquainted with Mr. Brent, sent it up to London to him, and he procured the dispensation from his majesty, who was pleased to grant them his pardon for crimes past, and a patent under his broad seal. This was commanded to be produced and shewed to the clerk of the assizes, and to be recorded by the clerk of the peace and the surrogates of the spiritual courts. All further prosecutions founded on any penal statutes in ecclesiastical matters were immediately to cease.
The dispensation being produced in court, most of those who were present were filled with consternation; their colour changed, and they hung down their heads with grief. The defendants were discharged by public proclamation in the court, and set at liberty on Saturday, July 10, 1686. The very same evening they prepared and cleaned their old meeting-house; and the next day, both in the morning and afternoon, many hundreds assembled very quietly and without any disturbance. The patent, which extended to these twenty five persons and their whole families, cost about twenty-six pounds.
The state of things was now very peculiar; the hierarchists severely persecuting the dissenters, and the king granting dispensations under his broad seal. Thus cross winds sometimes raise waves which break the force of each other, and thereby the vessel is preserved.
The patent granted on this occasion being curious, and as we do not recollect seeing any copy of it published, it is subjoined for the gratification of the reader.
“We whose names are hereunto subscribed do certify that A. B. C. to the best of our knowledge have demeaned and behaved themselves peaceably and quietly towards his late majesty King, Charles II., and his present majesty King James II., and their governments.
“Given under our hands and seals this day of July 1686, by two justices of the peace in the county of Berks.
“J. R. Whereas our most dear brother the late
king deceased had signified his intentions to his
attorney-general for the pardoning such of his subjects who had
been sufferers in the late times of usurpation and rebellion for
their loyalty, and whose parents and nearest relations had then
been sufferers for the same cause, or who had themselves
testified their loyalty and affection to the government; and
were presented, indicted, and convicted for not taking or
refusing to take the oath of allegiance or supremacy, or one of
them; or had been prosecuted upon the prerogative writ called
the long writ of the exchequer for the penalty of twenty pounds
per mensem, or upon outlawries or writs de excom cap, or other
processes for the causes aforesaid; or for not coming to church
or receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s supper according to the
usage of, the church of England, or by reason of their
convictions of recusancy or exercise of their religion, or who
were otherwise prosecuted as recusants, or imprisoned for any of
the crimes aforesaid; and for the doing thereof our said brother
in divers counties had given orders. Now in pursuance of these
gracious intentions of our said most dear brother, and for that
the persons hereunto annexed have produced unto us, certificates
of their services and sufferings of themselves, their parents,
and nearest relations; our will and pleasure Therefore is that
the persons mentioned in the said schedule, their wives,
families and servants shall not in any sort be prosecuted and
molested for any of the causes above mentioned. Wherefore we
recommend and direct you and every one of you in your respective
places to forbear all prosecution against the said persons,
their wives families, and servants, and every of them, and that
you cause all processes and proceedings whatsoever so commenced
and issued, or to be commenced or issued against the said
persons, their wives, families, servants, and every of than, for
the causes aforesaid, to be wholly superseded, discharged, or
stayed; and they and every one of them absolutely discharged and
set at liberty until our royal will and pleasure be further
known or signified unto you respectively. And for doing these,
and for the entry and enrolment thereof with you respectively,
shall be into you and every of you respectively a sufficient
“Given at our court at Windsor, the 7th of July, in the second year of our reign, 1686.
By his Majesty’s command:”
“To all archbishops and bishops, their chancellors and commissaries; and to all archdeacons and their officials, and all others exercising any ecclesiastical jurisdiction and to our judges and justices of assize, of gaol delivery, justices of the peace, sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs, and all other persons whom it may in any wise concern.”
In 1687, the king was resolved to humble the church of England, because many of that community were not willing to go all the lengths he wished, though they had constantly professed the doctrines of nonresistance and passive obedience. For this purpose he began to flatter the dissenters with promises of his favour, and endeavoured by his agents to persuade them to accept the kindness of the king, and to concur with him in his designs.
Though the dissenters had been so much oppressed, yet they were a powerful and respectable class of the people; and notwithstanding so many of them had left the country, they were still very numerous. Burnet says,
“The dissenters at this time were divided into four main bodies; the Presbyterians, the Independants, the Anabaptists, and the Quakers. The former had not the visible distinction of different rites; and the dispute about the constitution and subordination of churches, which had broken them when power was in their hands, was now forgotten in, their depressed condition; so that they were looked upon as one body, and were above three parts in four of all the dissenters. The main difference between these was, that the presbyterians seemed reconciliable to the church; for they loved episcopal ordination and a liturgy, and upon some amendments seemed disposed to come into the church; and they liked civil government, and limited monarchy. But as the Independants were for a commonwealth in the state, so they put all the power of the church in the people, and thought that their choice was an ordination, nor did they approve of set forms of worship. Both were enemies to the high form of prerogative which the king was assuming, and were very averse to popery. They generally were of a mind as to accepting the king’s favour, but were not inclined to take the papists into a full toleration; much less could they be prevailed on to concur in taking off the tests. The Anabaptists were generally men of virtue and of universal charity; and as they were far from being on any treating terms with the church of England, so nothing but a universal toleration could make them capable of favour or employment. The Quakers had set up such a visible distinction in the matter of the hat, and saying thou and thee , that they had all as it were a badge fixed upon them, so that they were easily known. Among these, Penn had the greatest credit, as he had free access at court. To all these it was proposed that the king intended to settle the minds of the different parties in the nation, and to enrich it by enacting a perpetual law that should be passed with such solemnities as had accompanied the Magna Charta; so that not only penal laws should be for ever repealed, but that public employments should be opened to men of all persuasions, without any oaths limiting them to one sort or party of men. There were many meetings among the leading men of the several sects.”
In April 1687, the king published a declaration of toleration, and indulgence of liberty of conscience to all persona dissenting from the church of England.
“His majesty now made the cruelty of the church (says Burnet) the common subject of discourse. He reproached them for setting on foot so often a violent persecution of the dissenters. He said, he had intended to have set on this toleration sooner, but that he was restrained by some of them who had treated with him; and had undertaken to show favour to those of his religion, provided they might be still suffered to vex the dissenters. He named the persons who had made those propositions to him in which be suffered much in his honour: for as the persons denied the whole thing, so the freedom of discourse in any such treaty ought not to have been made use of to defame them.”
“Upon this (adds the bishop) a new set of addresses went round to the dissenters; and they who had so long reproached the church of England as too courtly in their submissions and flatteries, seemed now to vie with them in these abject strains. Few however concurred in these addresses, and the persons who brought them up were mean and inconsiderable; yet the court was lifted up with it. The king and his priests were delighted with these addresses out of measure: they seemed to think that they had gained the nation, and had now conquered those who were hitherto their most irreconcileable enemies.”
Some of the Baptists in London were delighted with this declaration of indulgence, and caught greedily at the bait without discerning the book. It must however be acknowledged that liberty of conscience upon any terms could not fail to be grateful to persons who had been so long and so cruelly oppressed. The address they presented to the king contains some strong expressions: they say,
“It is the sense of this invaluable favour and
benefit derived to us from your royal clemency that compels us
once more to prostrate ourselves at your majesty’s feet with the
tender of our most humble thanks for peace and liberty. Such
demonstrations as these of your majesty’s tender care of the
prosperity and quiet of your peaceable subjects will absolutely
command the hearts of them all.”
This address was presented on Thursday,
March 23, 1687, by Mr. Coxe, and four or five more of that
society, through the Earl of Sunderland.
From this statement it appears that the body of the Baptists were not implicated in the address, nor even all of that denomination in London, as might have been concluded from the account given of it by Neal; who, on mentioning this circumstance, speaks of “the London Anabaptists in general.” This mistake was neither common to them as a body, not peculiar to them as Baptists, for some of all the demominatians manifested the same folly of tacitly acknowledging a power in the king which he did not possess, and which tended to encourage a system of government that might afterwards have been employed to their destruction, if circumstances had not prevented.
The dissenting ministers in general, though they did not join in these addresses to the king, yet seem to have gladly availed themselves of this indulgence, and to have made use of the, liberty it afforded them of worshipping God. “The Baptists,” it is said in a manuscript before me, “have returned to their great meeting places, and taken others as large as they can procure.” How, many great meeting places they had at this time is not known; but that in Devonshire Square, which is now occupied by the congregation of Mr. Timothy Thomas, had been opened the, year before. In the same M.S. it is said,
“Tuesday, March 1, 1686, Mr. Kiffin opened his meeting place; and he and others preached at it, and psalms were sung there. At this time also the Baptists in the city in general had procured licences, and kept public and numerous meetings.”
As a considerable degree of odium has attached to those who fell in with the dispensing power which the king assumed, it seems desirable that this matter should be set in a fair point of view. That the Baptists in London were divided in opinion on this matter we have asserted and are happy to have it in our power to prove it. In the M. S. of Mr. William Kiffin we find the following statement. After having concluded the account of his grandsons, he adds,
“This great storm being over it did in a great measure effect that which was intended by them; for although now there appeared no difficulty in the way, but popery might be set up, and that there would be little or no stop to that design, means were used with the members of the house of commons to promise upon the sitting in parliament to take off the Parliament Tests, which was the only hinderance to Roman catholics being chosen parliament men. They did generally refuse the making any such promise; and die insolency of the papists in their meetings, which now began to be more and more public, did so much alarm both the ministers, of the church of England and also all true Protestants in general, that the interest of popery rather abated, and dissatisfactions grew.
“Therefore a new project was set on foot to engage the Protestant Dissenters, by giving them the liberty of their meetings, and promising them equal authority in the nation with other men; but this was in the tail of it to engage them thereby to promote the taking off the Test, and strengthen the papist interest by setting the Protestant Dissenters against the Protestants of the church of England. This plot being carried on with all diligence, took with, several dissenters, but indeed they were but few, and for the generality, of the meaner sort, William Penn being indeed the head of that party. I thought it my duty (adds Mr. Kiffin) to do all I could to prevent those dissenters of my acquaintance from having any hand therein. But from the sense they had of their former sufferings, and the hopes of finding all things as was promised, I could not prevail.”
We are at a loss to account for Mr. Kiffin’s declaration that the persons who presented this address were of the meaner sort; when it is recollected that Dr. Coxe, Mr. William a Collins, Mr. Thomas Plant, Mr. Benjamin Dennis, and others, who were certainly persons of great respectability. It is probable however that they were but few, compared with those who objected to the measure. From their established reputation, however, we must give them full credit for the purity of their intentions: no doubt but they thought that the parliament would confirm the king’s declaration. However this was, it is certainly proper they should be heard in their own defence. In a work entitled, The mischief of persecution, published in 1688, by Mr. Plant and Mr. Dennis, they say,
“Since his gracious majesty, by the goodness of God; had published his royal declaration, for liberty of conscience, and upon such grounds and reasons as we conceive are unanswerable, outdoing all kings and princes, not only in the fact of his clemency, but in the reason of it: and as it is that which will be to his immortal, honour, so we hope, that it will have that perfection by law, that may for ever deliver this nation from the convulsions and evils it has laboured under in former years, and render us so happy, as not any more so much as to dispute, whether persecution be agreeable to the divine law.
“We confess we most willingly fall in with his majesty’s gracious designs, and shall to our utmost endeavour carry them on, not knowing a greater service we can be capable of, rendering to God, to our prince, our country, our religion; we certainly believe, that if once we were on even grounds with our fellow subjects, it will be easy to let them see the goodness and benefit of liberty of conscience, and how just it is, that religion should be left to him who is the object of it, to correct the errors of men about it, and we have not only the authority of scriptures and right reason, but also the suffrage of his gracious majesty to this assertion.
“We conclude, humbly imploring the divine
person and councils of the king, by whom we sit under our vine
and fig-tree, and pray he may live to see the top stone of this
glorious fabric of liberty of conscience laid, and that he and
his people may long live to enjoy the blessings of it, and that
piety to God, and that charity to men, which we believe are
natural fruits of this liberty, may flourish in this kingdom.”
The work from whence this is an extract, was published a few months before the glorious revolution; and bears on the title page the imprimatur of, we suppose, the king’s licenser of the press, as follows. — [May 7, 1688. This may be printed. C. N.] Happily for the nation the prayers and designs of these good men to promote liberty of conscience were answered in a’ way which they little expected. The king lived to see the top stone of this glorious fabric laid, or at least to hear of it, when he was reduced to such circumstances, that he had no power to prevent it, nor to destroy it.
In August this year, the king resolved to change the magistracy in most of the cities, He began with London. He not only changed the court of aldermen, but the government of most of the companies of the city. Amongst the new aldermen we find the name of Mr. Kiffin, who is called in the list, “Captain Kiffin,” probably from his having been a captain of a merchant ship in his younger years. There is an interesting and affecting story related in reference to this affair, in Noble’s history of Cromwell, which is as follows.
“Kiffin was personally known both to Charles and James; and when the latter of these princes, after having arbitrarily deprived the city of the old chatters, determined to put many of the dissenters into the magistracy; under the rose he sent for Kiffin to attend him at court. When he went thither in obedience to the king’s commandment, he found many lords and gentlemen. The king immediately came up to him, and addressed him with all the little grace he was master of. He talked of his favour to the dissenters in the court style of this season, and concluded with telling Kiffin that he had put him down as an alderman in his new charter. ‘Sire,’ replied Kiffin, ‘I am a very old man, and have withdrawn myself from all kind of business for some years past, and am incapable of doing any service in such an affair to your majesty in the city. Besides, Sire — the old man went on, fixing his eyes stedfastly on the king, while the tears ran down his cheeks — ‘the death of my grandsons gave a wound to my heart which is still bleeding, and never will close but in the grave.’
“The king was deeply struck by the manner, the freedom, and the spirit of this unexpected rebuke. A total silence ensued, while the galled countenance of James seemed to shrink from the horrid remembrance. In a minute or two, however, he recovered himself enough to say, ‘Mr. Kiffin, I shall find a balsam for that sore,’ and he immediately turned about to a lord in waiting.”
Mr. Kiffin, from the humility which he appears to have constantly manifested, takes no notice of his waiting on the king, but the manner in which he relates this affair deserves a place in our work. “In a little time after (says Mr. Kiffin) a great temptation attended me, which was a commission from the king, to be one of the aldermen of the city of London; which as soon as I heard of it, I used all the means I could to be excused, both by some lords near the king, and also by Sir Nicholas Butler, and Mr. Penn, but all in vain. I was told that they knew I had an interest that would serve the king, and although they knew that my sufferings had been very great, in cutting off my two grand children, and loosing their estates, yet it should be made up to me both in their estates, and also in what honour and advantage I could reasonably desire for myself.
“But I thank the Lord those proffers were no snare to me. Being fully possessed in my judgment that the design was the total ruin of the protestant religion, which I hope I can say, was and is dearer to me than my life. I remained without accepting the office from the time I received the summons to take it, above six weeks, until the lord mayor, Sir John Peake, in court said, I ought to be sent to Newgate, and in a few days after, I understood it was intended to put me into the crown office, and to proceed with all severity against me. Which, when I heard, I went to the ablest council for advice, (one that is now a chief judge in the nation) and stating my case to him, he told me my danger was every way great, for if I accepted to be an alderman, I ran the hazard of five hundred pounds, and if I did not accept, as the judges then were, I might be fined by them ten, or twenty, or thirty thousand pounds, even what they pleased. So that I thought it better for me to run the lesser hazard of 1500 which was certain, than be exposed to such fines as might be the rum of myself and family. Yet did I forbear taking the place of alderman for some time, when the alder-men then sitting agreed to invite the king to dinner on the lord mayor’s day, and laid down fifty pounds each alderman to defray the charge; which made some of them the more earnest for my holding, and they were pleased to tell me I did forbear to excuse my fifty pounds! But to prevent any such charge against me, I desired a friend to acquaint my lord mayor and the court, that I should deposit my £50 with them; yet delaying accepting the office, which I accordingly sent them. When the lord mayor’s day came, and the dinner prepared for the king, I the next day understood, that there were invited to the feast the Pope’s Nuncio, and several other priests that dined with them, which had I known they had been, invited I should hardly have parted with my £50 towards that feast; but the next court day I came to the court, and took upon me the office of alderman. In the commission I was also a justice of the peace and one of the lieutenancy; but I never meddled with either of those places, neither in any act of power in that court, touching causes between man and man, but only such things as contented the welfare of the city, and good of the orphans, whose distressed condition called for help, although we were able to do little towards it. We had frequently orders from the king to send to the several companies to put out great numbers of livery men out of the privilege of being livery men, and others to be put in their rooms; most of which that were so turned out were protestants of the church of England. There has been a list of 700 at a time to be discharged although no crime laid to their charge; that all men might see to what a deplorable state this city was like to be in, had not the Lord by an eminent hand of providence prevented; for hearing of the preparations making by the Prince of Orange, the several charters to the companies were again restored to their former liberties”
From these hints of Mr. Kiffin respecting the favour shown to dissenters, and the opposition made to the episcopalism, it is very evident that had they been so disposed, they had it in their power to have distressed the church party. —
“And it may be (says Neal) they could have turned the scale against them, if they had given way to revenge, and fallen in heartily with the king’s measure. They were strongly tempted on all sides The king preferred them to places of profit and trust, and gave them all manner of countenance and encouragement, while the churchmen loaded them with promises of what great things they would do for them as soon as it was in their power. But alas, no sooner was the danger over than the majority of them forgot their vows in distress.”
The next year was a memorable one for England, and especially to the protestant dissenters, who were by the events which occurred, delivered from all the misery and oppression they had so long endured. On November the 5th, the Prince of Orange landed at Torbay; and in a very little time the body of the nation discovered their inclination so evidently, that the king lost both head and heart at once. The city of London was in confusion. Reports were spread that the Irish would cut all the throats of the protestants all over the nation in one and the same night, which awakened the fears of the people, and put them all night upon their guard. When this fright was over, the mob rose and pulled down the popish mass-houses, and burned the materials in the streets. Father Petre, with the priests and jesuits who had swarmed about the court, disappeared, and retired into foreign parts, and several of the king’s arbitrary ministers absconded. Jefferies was taken at Wapping in a sailor’s habit, and would have been torn in pieces by the mob, if he had not been conducted by a strong guard to the tower, where he died before he came to his trial. Soon after, the tyrant James being left almost alone, departed the kingdom, and tied to France. The throne was declared abdicated; and on February 13, 1688-9, William and Mary were proclaimed king and queen of England, to the joy of the nation.
One of the first measures of government was to pass the Act of Toleration, the Magna Charta of the Protestant Dissenters, by which they were relieved from all pains and penalties for separating from the church of England. Thus a stable foundation was laid for the preservation of their liberties, and an effectual restraint imposed upon their enemies, who wished to destroy their privileges.
Liberty being thus afforded to all denominations of dissenters, the Baptists seem to have taken immediate steps to improve their privileges by enquiring into the state of this churches, and to have adopted means to promote their prosperity. To convene a general meeting of the Particular Baptist churches, a circular letter was sent; signed by some of the London ministers. The following is a copy of that scent to the church at Luppitt, in Devonshire, the place where the present church, at Upottery then met.
London, Jul. 22, 1689.
“To the Church of Christ in Luppitt, kind Salutations.
“WE the elders and ministering brethren of the churches in and about London, being several times assembled together to consider of the present state of the baptized congregations not only in this city, but also in the country, cannot but first of all, adore the divine wisdom and goodness of Almighty God, in respect of his late most gracious providence, for our deliverance from that dismal dispensation, which threatened us from the continual and unwearied attempts and designs of the enemy of our sacred religion and civil liberties; by which means our sinking and drooping spirits are again revived, and our earnest hopes and long expectations raised, and afresh quickened, in respect of the more full and perfect deliverance of the church of God, and his more glorious appearance, for the accomplishing of those gracious promises and prophecies contained in the holy scripture relating to the latter days.
“But, in the second place, we cannot but bewail the present condition our churches seem to be in; fearing that much of that former strength, life, and vigour, which attended us is much gone; and in many places the interest of our Lord Jesus Christ seems to be, much neglected which is in our hands, and the congregations to languish, and our beauty to fade away (which thing, we have some ground to judge, you cannot but be sensible of as well as we); and from hence we have been put upon most mature and serious considerations of such things that may be the cause thereof, and amongst others are come to this result: That the great neglect of the present ministry is one thing, together with that general unconcernedness there generally seems to be, of giving fit and proper encouragement for the raising up an able and honourable ministry for the tune to come; with many other things which, we hope, we are not left wholly in the dark about, which we find we are not in a capacity to prevent and cure (as instruments in the hand of God, and his blessing attending our christian endeavours) unless we can obtain a general meeting here in London of two principal brethren (of every church of the same faith with us) in every county respectively. We do therefore humbly intreat and beseech you, that you would be pleased to appoint two of your brethren — one of the ministry, and one principal brother of your congregation with him — as your messengers; and send them up to meet with the rest of the elders and brethren of the churches in London, on the 3rd of September next; and then we hope we shall have that before us, and be also helped to consider such things that may much tend to the honour of God, and further the peace, well-being, establishment at present, as also the future comfort of the churches. We hope you will readily, notwithstanding the charge, comply with our pious and christian desire herein; and in the mean time, to signify your intentions forthwith in a letter; which we would have you direct to our reverend and well beloved brethren, Mr. H. Knowles, or Mr. W. Kiffin. This is all at present from us, your brethren and labourers in God’s vineyard, who greet you well in our Lord Jesus Christ, and subscribe ourselves your servants in the gospel.
“Brother Kiffin lives in White’s alley, Little Moorfields.
This letter was attended with considerable effect. The ministers, or messengers, of more than a hundred churches assembled at the time proposed. The meetings, which were continued for eight or nine days, were peculiarly solemn and interesting; and the business transacted was of real importance to the welfare and prosperity of the churches. The greatest order and unanimity was preserved, as they all appear to have been animated and governed by the apostolic injunction, “Let us therefore follow after the things that make for peace; and the things wherewith one may edify another.”
The transactions of this Assembly are related by themselves in a pamphlet entitled, The Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly of Divers Pastors, Messengers, and ministering, Brethren, of the Baptized Churches, met together in London, from September 3-12, 1689, from divers parts of England and Wales; owning the doctrine of personal election and final perseverance; ‘sent from, and concerned for, more than one hundred congregations of the same faith with themselves.
THE GENERAL EPISTLE TO THE CHURCHES.
UNTO THE CHURCH OF GOD, MEETING IN — SEND GREETING.
Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ!
IT doth not a little affect our souls, to see how ready you were to comply with that Christian and pious invitation you had, to send one or two worthy brethren, as your messengers, to meet with the rest of us in this great assembly; for which we return you our hearty thanks: hoping, that not only we, and the churches of the saints to whom we are related, at this present time will have cause to bless, praise, and magnify the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort and consolation upon this account; but that the ages to come may have some grounds to rejoice and praise his holy name, through a divine blessing upon our consultations. Our endeavours in this assembly were chiefly to consider of the present state and condition of all the congregations respectively under our care and charge; and what might be the causes of the spiritual decay, and loss of strength, beauty and glory, in our churches: and to see (if we might be helped by the Lord herein) what might be done to attain to a better and more prosperous state and condition.
First, And now, brethren, in the first place, with no little joy we declare unto you how good and gracious the Lord has been to us, in uniting our hearts together in the spirit of love, and sweet concord in our debates, consultations, and resolves, which are sent unto you; there being scarcely one brother who dissented from the assembly in the sentiments of his mind, in any one thing we have proposed to your serious considerations, either in respect of the cause of our witherings, or what we have fixed on as a means of recovery to a better state, if the Lord will.
Second, And therefore, in the second place, be it known unto you, that we all see great cause to rejoice and bless God, that after so dismal an hour of sorrow and persecution, in which the enemy doubtless designed to break our churches to pieces, and not only us, but to make the whole Sion of God desolate, even so as she might become as a plowed field; the Lord was pleased to give such strength and power in the time of need, to bear up your souls in your testimony for Jesus Christ, that your spirits did not faint under your burdens in the time of your adversity; so that we hope we may say, in the words of the church of old, Though all this is come upon us, yet we hope not forgotten thee , neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way. Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death, Psalm 44:17, 18, 19. Yet nevertheless we fear Christ may say, I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love, as he once charged the church of Ephesus, and may possibly most churches in England; it is therefore good to consider from whence we are fallen, and repent and do our first works, Revelation 2:5.
We are persuaded one chief cause of our decay is want of holy zeal for God, and the house of our God; few amongst us living up, we fear, to what they profess of God, nor answering the terms of that sacred covenant they have made with him; the power of godliness being greatly decayed, and but little more than the form thereof remaining amongst us. The thoughts of which are enough to melt our spirits, and break our hearts to pieces, considering those most amazing providences of the ever blessed God under which we have been, and more especially now are exercised, and the many signal and most endearing obligations he is pleased to lay us under. The spirit of this world, we clearly discern, has got too, too much into the hearts of most Christians and members of our churches, all seeking their own, and none, or very few, the things of Jesus Christ; if, therefore, in this there be no reformation, the whole interest of the blessed Lord Jesus will still sink in our hands, and our churches will be left to languish, whilst the hands of poor ministers become as weak as water, and, sorrow and grief seize upon their spirits.
Thirdly , We cannot but bewail that great evil, and neglect of duty in many churches concerning the ministry.
1. In that some, though they have brethren competently qualified for the office of pastors and deacons, yet omit that sacred ordinance of ordination, whereby they are rendered uncapable of preaching and administering the ordinances of the gospel so regularly, and with that authority which otherwise they might do. Those who have failed herein, we desire would, in the fear of God, lay it to heart and reform.
2. In neglecting to make [due] gospel-provision for their maintenance, according to their abilities; by which means many of them are so incumbered with worldly affairs, that they are not able to perform the duties of their holy calling, in preaching the gospel, and watching over their respective flocks.
Fourthly, We find cause to mourn, that the Lord’s day is not more religiously and carefully observed, both in a constant attendance on the word of God in that church to which members do belong, and when the public worship is over, by a waiting on the Lord in family duties, and private devotion.
But because we have sent unto you the whole result of this great assembly particularly, we shall forbear to enlarge further upon these causes of our withering and decays.
One thing you will find we have had before us, and come to a resolve about, which we are persuaded will prove an exceeding great blessing and advantage to the interest of Jesus Christ in our hands; and if the Lord enlarge all our hearts, give a revival to the sinking spirits of the mourners in Sion, and to languishing churches too, which is that of a general or public stock or fund of money to be raised forth-with. First, by a free-will offering to the Lord: and secondly, by a subscription, every one declaring what he is willing to give, weekly, monthly, or quarterly to it.
And now, brethren, we must say, the Lord
is about to try you in another way, than ever you have been
tried to this day, because till now no such thing was settled
amongst us, and so not propounded to you. It will be known now,
whether you do love Jesus Christ, and his blessed interest,
gospel and church, or no; whether you love him more than son or
daughter. Oh that you would at this time shew your zeal for God,
and let all men see the world is not so in
your hearts, but that Jesus Christ hath much room there: ‘Tis to be given towards God’s holy temple, to build up his spiritual house, which hath a long time lain as waste. Remember how willingly the Lord’s people offered upon this account formerly; ‘tis some great as well as good thing the Lord, and we his poor and unworthy servants and ministers, do expect from you. God has wrought a great work for us; Oh let us make some suitable return of duty to him, and act like a people called, loved, and saved by him. Shall so much be spent needlessly on your own ceiled houses, on costly attire and dresses, and delicious diet, when God’s house lies almost waste? We are therefore become humble supplicants for our dear Master, and could entreat you on our bended knees, with tears in our eyes, to pity Sion, if it might but move your heart to Christians bounty and zeal for her and the Lord of Hosts. We fear God did let in the enemy upon us, to consume us, and waste our substance, because to this day we hive withheld it from him, when his cause, gospel, and churches, called for more than ever yet you parted with; and that a blast has been upon our trades and estates, for our remissness in this matter. May we, not say, Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home the Lord did blow upon it! Why, because, saith God, of mine house that is waste, and ye run every one to his own house. Haggai 1:9. But if now we reform our doings, and shew our zeal for Christ and his gospel, and love to him, and act as becomes a willing people professing his name, you will see you will be no losers by it; For I will, saith the Lord, open the windowes of heaven, and pour out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Malachi 3:10. If the worth of souls, the honour of God, the good of the church, the glorious promulgation of the gospel in the nation, the credit of your profession, your own peace, and the weight of eternal glory be upon your spirits, we doubt not but you will give evidence of it at this time; and so shall you build the old waste places, and raise up the foundations of many generations, and be the repairers of the breaches, and restorers of paths to dwell in. Isaiah 58:12.
We, to these great and good ends; have thought upon and appointed a solemn day to fast and mourn before the Lord, and to humble ourselves, and seek his face, that a blessing may attend all that we have done, and you with us may yet further do for his holy name’s sake.
A general Fast appointed in all the Congregations on the 10th of October next, 1689, with all the causes and reasons thereof:
The main and principal evils to be bewailed and mourned over before the Lord on that day, are as follow:
First, Those many grievous
backslidings, sins, and provocations, not only of the whole
nation, but also of the Lord’s own people, as considered in our
public and private stations; particularly that great decay of first love, faith and zeal for the ways and worship of God; which hath been apparent, not only in our churches, but also in private families.
Secondly, That this declension and backsliding hath been, we fear, for a long series of time, and many sore judgments God has brought upon the nation; and a strange death of late come upon the Lord’s faithful witnesses, besides divers painful labourers in Christ’s vineyard called home, and but few raised up in their stead; little success in the ministry; storms of persecution having been raised upon us, a new war commenced by the beast, (through the divine permission of God, and hand of his justice,) to a total overcoming, to appearance, the witnesses of Christ in these isles; besides his more immediate strokes by plague and fire, etc. God blasting all essays used for deliverance, so that we were almost without hope; therefore, our sins that provoked the righteous and just God to bring all these evils upon us, we ought to bewail and moan for before him. But withal not to forget his infinite goodness, who, when he saw that our power was gone, and that there was none shut up or left, that he should thus appear for our help and deliverance, in a way unexpected and unthought of by us.
Thirdly, The things we should therefore in the next place pray and cry to the Lord for, are, that he would give us true, broken, and penitent hearts, for all our iniquities, and the sins of his people, and wash and cleanse away those great pollutions with which we have been defiled; and also pour forth more of his Spirit upon us, and open the mysteries of his word, that we may understand whereabouts we are, in respect of the latter time, and what he is doing, and know our work, and that a blessing may attend all the churches of his saints in these nations, and that greater light may break forth, and the glory of the Lord rise upon us, and that the word may not any more be as a miscarrying womb and dry breasts, but that in every place multitudes may be turned to the Lord, and that love and sweet concord may be found among all the Lord’s people in these nations, that the great work begun therein so unexpectedly, may go on and be perfected to the praise of his own glory.
Likewise to put up earnest cries and supplications to the Lord for the lineal seed of Abraham, the poor Jews, that they may be called, and both Jews and Gentiles be made one sheepfold, under that one shepherd Jesus Christ.
These are some of the things we have thought good to lay before you, and which we hope we shall be helped with you to spread before the Lord on that day, with whatsoever else you or we may be helped to consider of; hoping you will not forget your pastors and ministers in your prayers, and what we have been enabled to come to a resolve about, so that all may be succeeded with a glorious blessing from the Almighty; that the present churches, and those saints who shall come after us, may have cause to praise his holy name: Which is the unfeigned prayer and desire of us, who subscribe ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
In the name and behalf of the whole assembly.
Memorand. ‘Tis agreed to by us, that the next general assembly be’ held at London, on that day which is called Whitsun-Monday, 1690.
NARRATIVE OF THE PROCEEDINGS, &C.
WHEREAS we the Pastors and Elders of the
several churches in and about London, did meet together, and
seriously take into our consideration the particular states of
the baptized churches among ourselves; and after a long
persecution, finding the churches generally under great decays in the power of godliness, and defects of gifts for the ministry; also, fearing that the same decays and defects might be among the churches of the same faith and profession throughout England and Wales, many of their ministers being deceased, many have ended their days in prison, merry scattered by persecution to other parts, fail distant from the churches to which they did belong: from a due sense of these things did, by a letter dated July 29, 1689, write to all the afore-said churches throughout England and Wales, to send their messengers to a general meeting at London, the third of the seventh month, 1689. And being met together, the first day Was spent in humbling ourselves before the Lord, and to seek of him a right way, to direct into the beat means and method to repair our breaches, and to recover ourselves into our former order, beauty, and glory. In prosecution thereof, upon the fourth day of the same month, we, the Elders, ministring Brethren, and Messengers of the churches in and about London; and Elders, ministring Brethren, and Messengers of the several churches from several parts of England and Wales, hereafter mentioned; being again come together, after first solemnly seeking the Lord by prayer, did conclude upon these following preliminaries, and lay them down as the foundation of this our assembly, and rules for our proceedings; wherein all the messengers of the churches afore-said, in city and country, as well for the satisfaction of every particular church, as also to prevent all mistakes, misapprehensions and inconveniencies that might arise in time to come concerning this general assembly, do solemnly and unanimously profess and declare:
1. That we disclaim all manner of superiority and superintendency over the churches, and that we have no authority or power to prescribe or impose any thing upon the faith or practice of any of the churches of Christ. Our whole intendment is to be helpers together of one another, by way of counsel and advice, in the right understanding of that perfect rule which our Lord Jesus, the Bishop of our souls, hath already prescribed, and given to his churches in his word, and therefore do severally and jointly agree,
2. That in these things wherein one church differs from another church in their principles or practices, in point of communion, that we cannot, shall not impose upon any particular church therein, but leave every church to their own liberty to walk together as they have received from the Lord.
3. That if any particular offence
doth arise betwixt one church aid another, or betwixt one
particular person and another, no offence all be admitted to be
debated among us, till the rule Christ hath given, in this
matter, be first answered, and the consent of both parties had,
or sufficiently endeavoured.
4. That whatever is determined by us in any case, shall not be binding on any one church, till the consent of that church be first had, and they conclude the same among themselves.
5. That all things we offer by way of counsel and advice, be proved out of the word of God, and the scriptures annexed.
6. That the breviates of this meeting be transcribed, and sent to every particular church with a letter.
7. That the messengers that come to this meeting, be recommended by a letter from the church to which they belong, and that none be admitted to’ speak in this assembly, unless by general consent.
The letters from several churches being read, the meeting was dish till next day, and concluded in prayer.
September 5, 1689.
After solemn seeking the. Lord, all the Elders, ministring Brethren, and Messengers aforesaid, considered, debated, and concluded, that a public fund or stock was necessary, and came to a resolve in these three questions:
1. How to raise it?
1. That it should be raised by a free-will offering. That every person should communicate, for the uses hereafter mentioned, according to his ability, and as the Lord shall make him willing and enlarge his heart; and that the Churches severally among themselves do order the collection of it with all convenient speed, that the ends proposed may be put into present practice.
2. That for the constant carying it on, there be an annual collection made in the several churches, of a half-penny, penny, two-pence, three-pence, four pence, six-pence per week, more or less, as every person shall be willing; and that every congregation do agree among themselves to collect it, either weekly, monthly, or quarterly, according to their own convenience; and that ministers be desired to shew a good example herein. Exodus 35:4, 5. 1 Chronicles 29:14. Malachi 3:10. Haggai 1:9. 2 Corinthians 8:11, 12.
3. That every particular church do
appoint their deacons, or any other faithful brethren, to
collect, and to acquaint the church with the sum collected, and
remit it quarterly into the hands of such persons as are
hereafter nominated and
appointed to receive it at London; the first quarterly payment to be made on the 5th of December next.
4. That the persons appointed to receive all the aforesaid collections, he our honoured and well-beloved brethren, whose names we have sent you in a printed paper by itself, all living in aid about London; and when any of these afore-said brethren die, then the major part of the survivors of them shall nominate and appoint another brother in his stead, to be confirmed or refused at the next general meeting of this assembly. And that the said nine brethren shall disburse it from time to time for the uses hereafter mentioned, according to the satisfaction they, or the major part of them, shall have from the information and testimony of any two churches in this assembly, or from the testimony of any particular ass sociation of churches in the country, or from the satisfaction they shall have by any other means whatsoever.
Q. 2. To what uses this fund or public stock shall be disposed of? Resolved,
1. To communicate thereof to those churches that are not able to maintain their own ministry, and that their ministers may be encouraged wholly to devote themselves to the great work, of preaching the gospel.
2. To send ministers that are ordained, or at least solemnly called to preach, both in city and country, where the gospel hath, or hath not yet been preached, and to visit the churches and these to be chosen out of the churches in London, or in the country; which ministers are to be approved of, and sent forth by two churches at the least, but more if it may be.
3. To assist those members that shall be, found in any of the aforesaid churches that are disposed for study, have an inviting gift, and are sound in fundamentals, in attaining to the knowledge and understanding of the, languages, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. These members to be represented to the nine brethren in London, by any two of the churches that belong to this assembly.
Resolved, the money collected be returned, as is expressed in a printed paper before mentioned, to one of the nine brethren mentioned in the said paper.
Resolved and concluded, that every quarter
of a year an account shall be taken by those nine brethren in
London, nominated in the printed paper aforesaid; of all the
receipts and disbursement belonging to this aforesaid fund or
stock: and an account signed by them, or the major part of them
shall be transmitted to one church in every county, and from
that church be communicated to all the rest of the churches
aforesaid within the same county with all convenient speed. The
first account to be made, and sent the 5th of January next.
Resolved, that what charges soever the said nine brethren are at in the service of this assembly, shall be discharged out of the aforesaid stock.
The questions proposed from the several churches, debated, and resolved.
Q. Whether it be not expedient for churches that live near together, and consist of small numbers, and are not able to maintain their own ministry, to join together for the better and more comfortable support of their ministry, and better edification one of another.
A. Concluded in the affirmative.
Q. Whether it is not the duty of every church of Christ to maintain such ministers as are set apart by them, by allowing them a comfortable maintenance according to their ability?
A. Concluded in the affirmative, 1 Corinthians 9:9-14. Galatians 6:6.
Q. Whether every church ought not to endeavour not only to provide themselves with an able ministry for the preaching of the word, but also to set apart to office, and in a solemn manner ordain such as are duly qualified for the same?
A. Concluded in the affirmative. Acts 14:23. Titus 1:5.
Q. Whether baptized believers are not at liberty to hear any sober and pious men of the Independent and Presbyterian persuasions, when they have no opportunity to attend upon the preaching of the word in their own assembly, or have no other to preach unto them.?
A. Concluded in the affirmative. Acts 18:24, 25, 26.
Q. Whether the continuing of gifted brethren many yetis upon trial for eldership, or any person for the office of a deacon, without ordaining them, although qualified for the same, be not an omission of an ordinance of God?
A. Concluded in the affirmative.
Q. What is the duty of church members when they are disposed to marry, with respect to their choice?
A. To observe the apostle’s rule, to marry only in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 7:39.
Q. Whether when the church have agreed Upon the keeping of one day, weekly, or monthly, besides the first day of the week to worship God, and perform the necessary services of the church, they may not charge such persons with evil that neglect such meetings, and lay them under reproof, unless such members can shew good cause for such their absence?
A. Concluded in the affirmative,
Q. What is to be done with those persons that will not communicate to the necessary expences Of the church where of they are members, according to their ability?
A. Resolved, that upon clear proof, the persons so offending, as aforesaid, should be duly admonished; and if no reformation appears, the church ought to withdraw from them, Ephesians 5:3. Matthew 25:42. 1 John 3:17.
Q. What is to be done with those persons that withdraw themselves from the fellowship of that particular church whereof they are members, and join themselves to the communion of the national church?
A. To use all due means to reclaim them by instruction and, admonition; and if not thereby reclaimed, to reject them. Matthew 18:17. Luke 9:62. Hebrews 10:38. Jude 1:19.
Resolved, that the like method to be taken with those that wholly forsake the fellowship of that congregation to which they have solemnly given, up themselves.
Q. Whether believers were not actually reconciled to God, actually justified, and adopted, when Christ died?
A. That the reconciliation, justification, and adoption of believers, are infallibly secured by the gracious purpose of God, and merit of Jesus Christ. Yet none can be said to be actually reconciled, justified, or adopted, untill they are really implanted into Jesus Christ by faith; and so by virtue of this their union with him, have these fundamental benefits actually conveyed unto them. And this, we conceive, is fully evidenced, because the scripture attributes all these benefits to faith as the instrumental cause of them, Romans 3:25, 5:1, 11. Galatians 3:26. And gives such representation of the state of the elect before faith, as is altogether inconsistent with an actual right in them. Ephesians 2:1, 2, 3, 12.
Q. Whether it be not necessary for the Elders, ministring Brethren, and Messengers of the churches to take into their serious consideration those excesses that are found among their members, men and women, with respect to their apparel?
A. In the affirmative — That it is a shame for men to wear long hair, or long perewigs, and especially ministers, 1 Corinthians 11:14. or strange apparel, Zephaniah 1:8. That the Lord reproves the daughters of Zion, for the bravery, haughtiness, and pride of their attire, walking with stretched out necks, wanton eyes, mincing as they go, Isaiah 3:16. As if they affected tallness, as one observes upon their stretched-out necks; though some in these times seem, by their high dresses, to out do them in that respect. The apostle Paul exhorts, in 1 Timothy 2:9, 10, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety: not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but with good works, as becometh women professing godliness . And 1 Peter 3:3, 4, 5. Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel ; but the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is , in the sight of God, of great price: for after this (fashion, or) manner, in old time, the holy women who trusted in God adorned themselves. And therefore, we cannot but bewail it with much sorrow and grief of spirit, that those brethren and sisters, who have solemnly professed to deny themselves, Matthew 16:24, and who are by profession obliged in duty not to conform to this world, Romans 12:2, should so much conform to die fashions of this world, and not reform themselves in those inclinations that their natures addicted them to in days of ignorance; 1 Peter 1:14. From these considerations, we earnestly desire that men and women whose souls are committed to our charge, may be watched over in this matter, and that care be taken, and all just and due means used, for a reformation herein; and that such who are guilty of this eying sin of pride, that abounds in the churches as, well as in the nation, may be reproved; especially considering what time and treasure is foolishly wasted in adorning the body, which would be better spent in a careful endeavour to adorn the soul; and the charge laid out upon those superfluities, to relieve the necessities of the poor saints, and to promote the interest of Jesus Christ. And though we deny not but in some cases ornaments may be allowed, yet whatever ornaments in men or women are inconsistent with modesty, gravity, sobriety, and prove a scandal to religion, opening the mouths of the ungodly, ought to be cast off, being truly no ornaments to believers, but rather a defilement; and that those ministers and churches who do not endeavour after a reformation’ herein, are justly to be blamed.
Q. Whether it be not the duty of all Christians, and churches of Christ, religiously to observe the Lord’s’ day, or first day of the week, in the worship and service of God, both in public and private?
A. It is concluded in the affirmative: — Because we find that day was set apart for the solemn worship of God, by our Lord Jesus, and his holy apostles, through the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
1st. Because it appears that the Son of God, who was manifested in the flesh, had authority to make as change of the solemn day of worship, being Lord of the Sabbath. Matthew 12:8.
2dly. It is manifested that our
blessed Lord, and Saviour arose on that day, as having completed
and confirmed the work of our redemption, Matthew 28:1. Luke
24:1. John 20:1. whereby he laid the foundation of the
observation of that day.
3dly. Our Lord Jesus did then, on that day most plainly and solemnly appear to his disciples, teaching and instructing them, blessing them, and giving them their commission, breathing on them the Holy Ghost. Luke 24:13, 27, 36. John 20:19-23. — Moreover on the next first day of the week, he appeared to them again, giving them a further infallible proof of his glorious resurrection: and then convinced the apostle Thomas, who was absent the first day before, but was now with them, John 20:26. Whereby it appears he sanctified and confirmed the religious observation of that day by his own example.
4thly. Our Lord and Saviour remained with his disciples forty days after his resurrection, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, Acts 1:3. And we question not lint he then gave command about the observation of this day.
5thly. For a further confirmation hereof, it appears that after his ascension, when his disciples or apostles, were assembled together solemnly with one accord, on the day of Pentecost, which by all computation, was the first day of the week: recorded, Acts 2:1, 2. — He then poured out his Holy Spirit in a marvellous and an abundant measure upon them.
6thly. Accordingly, afterwards, we find this day was solemnly observed by the churches, as appears, Acts 20:7. where we have the churches assembling on that day plainly asserted, with the solemn duties then performed, which were preaching and breaking of bread; and all this recorded as their usual custom which could be from no other cause but divine and apostolic institution. And it is most remarkable, and worthy the most serious observation of all the Lord’s people, that although the holy apostles, and others that were preachers of the gospel, took their opportunities to preach the word on the Jewish sabbath-day, and on other days of the week as they had convenient seasons afforded; yet we have no example of the churches then assembling together to celebrate all the ordinances of our Lord Jesus peculiar to them, but on the first day of the week which manifest practice of theirs is evidently as plain a demonstration of its being a day set apart for religious worship, by the will and command of our Lord Jesus, as if it had been expressed in the plainest words. Forasmuch as they did nothing in those purest primitive times in the sacred worship of God, either as to time or form, but by a divine warrant front the holy apostles, who were instructed by our Lord Jesus, and were guided in all those affairs by his faithful and infallible Holy Spirit.
7thly. In like manner the solemn ordinance of collection for the necessities of the poor saints, was commanded to be performed on that day, 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. by an apostolic ordination; which without question, by reason of their observing that day for their holy assembling and worship, was then required.
Lastly. It is asserted by all the considerate and able expositors of the holy scriptures, that the denomination or title of Lord’s day, mentioned Revelation 1:10. was attributed to the first day of the week, as the usual distinguishing name given to that solemn day by the Christians, or churches, in the primitive times; and as being a day to he spent wholly in the service and worship of the Lord, and not in our own worldly and secular affairs, which are lawful to be attended unto on other days of the week.
From all which, laid together and considered, we are convinced that it is our duty religiously to observe that holy day in the celebration of the worship of God.
Q. Whether the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit be not sufficient to the making and continuing of an honourable ministry in the churches?
A. Resolved in the affirmative, Ephesians 4:8, 9. 1 Corinthians 12:7.
Q. Whether it be not advantageous for our brethren now in the ministry, or that may be in the ministry, to attain to a competent knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin tongues, that they may be the better capable of defending the truth against opposers?
A. Resolved in the affirmative.
Q. Whether an elder of one church may administer the ordinance in other churches of the same faith?
A. That an elder of one church may administer the ordinance of the Lord’s supper to another of the same faith, being called so to do by the said, church; though not as their pastor, but as a minister, necessity only being considered in this case.
We the Ministers and Messengers of, and concerned for, upwards of one hundred baptized congregations in England and Wales, denying Arminianism, being met together in London from the third of the seventh month to the eleventh of the same, 1689, to consider of some things that might be for the glory of God, and the good of these congregations; have thought meet, for the satisfaction of all other Christians that differ from us in the point of Baptism, to recommend to their perusal the confession of our faith, which we own, as containing the doctrine of our faith and practice; and do desire that the members of our churches respectively do furnish themselves therewith.
Moreover, this assembly do declare their approbation of a certain little book, lately recommended by divers elders dwelling in and about the city of London, entitled, The Ministers Maintenance vindicated. And it is their request, that the said treatise be dispersed among all our respective congregations; and it is desired that some brethren of each church take care to dispose of the same accordingly.
The elders and messengers of the assembly, in consequence of illiberal aspersions cast upon their connections, concluded the narrative of 1689, declaring their abhorrence of the late king’s absolute and dispensing power, as well as their united and most hearty determination “to venture their all for the protestant religion, and the liberties of their native country:” “And we do,” say they, “with great thankfulness to God, acknowledge his special goodness to these nations, in raising up our present king William, to be a blessed instrument in his hand, to deliver us from popery and arbitrary power; and shall always, as in duty bound, pray that the Lord may continue him and his royal consort long to be a blessing to these kingdoms; and shall always be ready to the utmost of our ability, in our places, to join our hearts and hands, with the rest of our protestant brethren; for the preservation of the protestant religion, and the liberties of the nation.
The persons appointed to receive all the
collections made in the respective congregations for the general
fund or public stock, are our honoured and well-
beloved brethren, Mr. William Kiffin, Mr. Robert Bristow, Mr. Morice King, Mr. John Leader, sen. Mr. Isaac Marlow, Mr. John Skinner, Mr. Richard Hallowell, Mr. John Collet, and Mr. Edward Harrison.
Resolved, That the money be remitted from the country, to our beloved brother Mr. Edward Harrison, (one of the mine brethren before mentioned,) living at the sign of the Hen and Chickens, in Cheapside, London; with another letter signifying the same, to our beloved brother Mr. Morice King, living at the sign of the Mermaid in Lawrence Lane, Silkman, another of the nine brethren aforesaid.
We, whose names Are subscribed, testify, that the persons aforenamed were unanimously chosen by the whole Assembly, September 12, 1689.
To preserve all the conciseness which is possible, we print the list which was published in 169, with that for this year. The reader is desired to remark that those churches distinguished by an asterisk are Welsh Churches.
AN Account of the several Baptized Churches in
England and Wales , owning the Doctrine of Personal Election and
Final Perseverance, that sent either their Ministers or
Messengers, or otherwise communicated their state, in our
General Assembly at London, on the 3d and 4th, and so on to the
11th day of the 7th month, called September, 1689.
Hearty thanks ere returned to you for your great love and charity towards our poor brother, Richard Dorwood, upon the account of his loss by fire.”
The next meeting was held at the time appointed, viz, from June 9th to the 16th 1690, and a general epistle was addressed to the churches. This account we have not seen, nor have we been able to procure it. Part of the address was published in the Baptist Register some years since, but for some reason which is not mentioned, it was left unfinished.
There was also a meeting in the next year 1691, and the account of their proceedings was published under the title of A Narrative of the general assembly of the elders and messengers of the Baptized churches, sent from divers parts of England and Wales, which began in London June 2, and ended on the 8th of the same month, 1691, Owning the doctrines of personal election and final perseverance. The following is their general epistle to the churches.
“Dearly beloved Brethren,
THE God of all grace hath brought us into a near and spiritual relation to you, and you have such a rooted interest in our hearts, that through grace we shall always be ready to lay out ourselves to the utmost of our capacity to promote the eternal well-being and happiness of your souls. Our sighs, groans, and prayers in secret, and our labours in public in all the holy administrations of the house of God, are sincerely directed to that end. God is our witness, who hath called us out to this service, in pursuance of his own glory, and his gracious design towards you. And whereas you have freely chosen us as your messengers, and entrusted us with power to consider, discourse about, and conclude upon those things proposed to us, in order to the general good of those churches to which we respectively belong, we have addressed ourselves to this work with earnest supplication to the Father of lights for his special assistance and direction therein: and we are not without some good assurance that he bowed his ear to us, in regard of that harmony and good agreement which was observable in most of our debates and conclusions. And though we can impose nothing upon you, yet hereby is derived a greater authority unto what was concluded, and it deserves to be so much the more regarded by you. We do heartily wish that you would look back to those things which you were formerly pressed and exhorted to in the two last assemblies of your messengers, for the promoting of the glory of God and your own good: and although we have not found the full end of our endeavours in all things answered, yet we bless God in many things we have, which gives us encouragement to hope that we may have some success in this; and we unfeignedly desire the thorough reformation, the happy settlement, and the firm peace and well-being of all those Christian churches we are immediately concerned with.
“One thing formerly pressed upon you was a liberal contribution by a free-will offering, and quarterly subscriptions or collections, towards raising a public stock for ends and uses fully known to you. And we return you our hearty thanks for what you have already done, and doubt not but thereby fruit will abound to your account in the day of Christ; and we hope you will not grow weary in well-doing, having the promise of God that you shall then reap. Many things might be urged to quicken you in this good work whereby several labourers in the Lord’s vineyard have been already relieved, several pious and hopeful young men have been assisted in their acquirement of learning, and some have been sent forth to visit the churches, to give their helping hand in order to their settlement according to the rule of the gospel. But we hope that this disposal of your money according to your intention may render motives of that kind unnecessary. However, that we may not be wanting in a matter of this nature, wherein the honour of God, the keeping up his public worship in the world, the edification of churches, and the conversion of the residue of God’s chosen is so much concerned, we shall humbly take the boldness to press you to a further progress therein; and the rather because several of our fellow-christians, who after us fall into this method, have far exceeded us. And why should not the glory of Christ and the advancement of his kingdom be as dear to us as to them? We hope it is, and therefore will not despair of prevailing with you.
“If any churches or members, on a review of what is past, shall be sensible of their own defect, we desire it may be made up, lest others should be discouraged, and the work in a little time cease. Things of this nature never prosper well without a free and cheerful concurrence of all conjointly concerned therein according to their ability; and should we find such a concurrence generally, it would be matter of great rejoicing to us, and be esteemed as a remarkable effect of the spirit of love which is diffused throughout all the members of Christ’s mystical body.
“To further such a concurrence, let us consider —
(1.) From whom we have received all that we enjoy, and what promises of future supplies we have through grace an interest in —
(2.) That we are but stewards of what we have, and that God can by his secret and just providence soon take away our stewardship, if we are not found faithful therein —
(3.) That the end of what we have is the honour of God. Proverbs 3:9 —
(4.) That the keeping up God’s public worship, which is inclusive of all the ends proposed by this public stock, is a principal way of honouring God; and all other ways of expending what we have are inferior to this —
(5.) That giving in this way will be a great evidence of the sincerity of our profession, and will be a great comfort in the latter end. — Other things of this nature might be added; but we hope that God’s grace will carry you beyond all that our arguments cart amount to, as was of old exemplified in the churches of Macedonia. 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2.
“In the next place, we would desire you who live in the country to send up your particular messengers to this general meeting, that we may have the more abundant evidence of your approbation of that good work intended and carried on therein; and let not the incident charges you are thereby exposed to be a discouragement to you, we being persuaded that our friends in the city, who are not liable to such charges, will make a compensation by a more liberal contributing to the public stock.
“To conclude: dear brethren, we commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them who are sanctified; amongst whom we desire to be found, who subscribe ourselves your brethren in the faith and the fellowship of the gospel,
June 8, 1691.”
It appears that at this time the churches in the different parts of England and Wales had been formed into distinct associations. Of these we have the following account,
The association of the churches in London, Middlesex, Kent, and Essex.
The association of the churches in Somerset, Dorset, Wilts, Gloucestershire, and Bristol.
The association of churches in Abingdon, &c.
The association of churches in Norfolk, Suffolk, &c.
The western association of churches.
The association of churches in Newcastle, Yorkshire, Northumberland, and Cumberland.
The association of churches in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire.
The association in Stepton and Haddenham.
Stepton, alias Steventon, and Haddenham.
The association in South Wales, Monmouthshire, and part of Herefordshire.
Association of churches in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, and part of Herefordshire.
The business attended to appears to have related principally to the establishment of a general fund, for the assistance of poor churches, and for the encouragement of young men to apply themselves to the work of the ministry. To carry this into effect they say,
“We the said Elders and Messengers of the churches of Jesus Christ assembled together, having it under our consideration how much the name of God, the honour of the gospel, and the good of all the churches to which we belong are concerned in our perseverance in these good things resolved upon in our former general assemblies, do agree and resolve unanimously, for the better increase and continuance of the fund, to propound it to you and exhort all our churches and members, with all our Christian friends and well-wishers thereto, to a liberal and cheerful contribution as God hath blessed them in the good things of this life.”
“1. By bringing in their free-will offerings
with all readiness of mind, as a sacrifice with which God is
well pleased —
2. By the continuance of their quarterly subscriptions, according as God shall bless them —
3. By a liberal Contribution quarterly, which we unanimously agree to promote in all our churches and assemblies, to this end that all whom God hath blessed with ability and a ready mind may have opportunity to shew their good will for promoting those great and good things for which this fund is raised; viz. the support of such ministers as the churches are not able to supply with what is necessary to their comfortable subsistence, so that they may he encouraged to take the better care of their own charge, and to preach the gospel where a door is open; and also godly young men, members of the churches whom God hath gifted, and are approved of, may be instructed in the knowledge of the tongues in which the holy scriptures were written.
“And we judge it not reasonable that they who contribute nothing to the fund should desire any thing out of it. Therefore it is expected that those churches which are poor should make their collections for the uses aforesaid, and raise what they can, be it more or less. Moreover we judge that those who have subscribed either to the free-will offering or other contributions for the uses aforesaid, ought in conscience to perform what they have thereby engaged to do: for although, before it was their own, yet after their subscribing it remains so no longer. Acts 5:5. “It is further agreed, that what is or shall be gathered by the free-will offerings not yet paid in, and what is collected or to be collected by subscription, as also what shall be gathered by the first public quarterly collection by all the churches in London and the country, shall be paid in by the twenty-ninth of September next, with a signification of what use or uses they design the money for.
“For the better encouragement of this good work, it is agreed asfollows —
(1.) That the trustees put clown the particular uses assigned to every particular sum as in the last narrative expressed —
(2.) That the sums given to the same use be put together and kept in a distinct account by itself, by brother King and brother Harrison —
(3.) That the money given to one use be not disposed of to another — Also that no money should be paid to or disbursed out of the, fund but what is agreed on by this present assembly, until this assembly shall by the good providence of God meet again in London in 1692.”
The meeting appointed was held the next year in London, from May 3-24, when the associated churches consisted of a hundred and seven. To promote their unity and comfort it was thought expedient —
“(1.) That whereas for some years past, the
churches have had several associate and county meetings, and one
general one in London annually, it is now proposed to divide
this general meeting into two, and to keep one in the west and
another in the east; that in the west to be at Bristol, and the
other in London. It desired that all the churches will send
messengers once a year, as
may be most for their conveniency; and that either from their particular churches, or those that live remote from such association as they think meet to keep —
(2.) That the meeting at Bristol be kept annually at the time called Easter, and that at London at the time called Whitsuntide —
(3.) That two messengers be sent down from London every time to that at Bristol, and also two sent up from that at Bristol to London for the maintaining of general communion —
(4.) For the better keeping up of the fund, that this method be observed; that all churches make quarterly collections in what way they think best for the encouragement of the ministry, by helping those ministers that are poor, and to educate brethren that may be approved to learn the knowledge of those tongues wherein the scriptures are written —
(5.) That these assemblies are not to be accountable to one another any more than churches are —
(6.) That no churches make appeals to them to determine matters of faith or fact, but propose or query for advice —
(7.) That after both the meetings in the west and east have been held, a general narrative be printed and sent to all the churches, of such matters as may be of general use.”
It had long been a subject of much controversy amongst the churches, and the occasion of great troubles and disorders, whether the praises of God should be sung in the public assemblies It was now agreed by those who had written on both sides of the question, to refer the matter to the determination of seven of the brethren nominated by this assembly; and for that end the following question was put to both parties; viz.
“Whether you are willing to be determined by the said brethren, and resolve to do what they shall determine, in order to the removing of all those reflections that are written in all the books printed on both sides about the controversy of singing, &c. The matters to be debated and determined are only respecting reflections and matters of fact.”
This question was fully agreed to by. Mr. William Kiffin, Mr. John Man, Mr. George Barrette, Mr. William Collins, Mr. Benjamin Keach, Mr. Richard Steed, and Mr. Thomas Hollowell, the persons who were engaged in the controversy.
The seven ministers to whom this decision was referred were Mr. Andrew Gifford, of Bristol, Mr. Edward White of Eversholt, Bedfordshire; Mr. Henry Austin of Norwich; Mr. Robert Keate of Wantage, Berks. Mr. John Wills of Allestrey, Derbyshire; Mr. Samuel, Rattail of Plymouth; and. Mr. John Scott.
The determination that was read to both
parties in the assembly, May 24, 1692, was as follows: —
“Beloved and honoured in the Lord for your work’s sake!
WE your unworthy brethren whom you have chosen to examine and determine the matter aforesaid, so far as we know our own hearts, have singly, without respect of persons, judged as for the Lord and unanimously concluded, that those persons who have been concerned in this controversy have on both sides erred in most of the particulars that have been laid before us. If we have been partial in any thing, it is only, for which we beg your pardon, that we lay your evils before you in easy terms, from the confidence that the grace of God will help you much more to aggravate them in your own souls; especially when you compare how unlike to Jesus Christ, and the holy commands he hath given for brotherly love, your treatment hath been one towards another; who when he was reviled, reviled not again. 1 Peter 5:22; 23.” And how far short in this controversy you have come in answering that character which the Spirit of God gives of true charity. 1 Corinthians 13:4. Had the things wherewith you charge each other been true, we humbly conceive you should have taken those rules which Christ hath prescribed in a more private debate, way, and method, that would not have reflected upon your holy profession and the name of God, to convince one another of your errors; and that the ways you have taken to discover the nakedness of your brethren have been irregular, and tended rather to beget greater offences and stumblings, than convincing, healing, and recovering. Ham, for discovering the nakedness of Noah, was cursed of God. To proclaim one another’s errors is from the evil one: and to give our enemies occasion to rejoice over our failings, is forbidden to be told in Gath and Askelon. 2 Samuel 1:20. You know who has said that the issue of biting will be to devour one another, if God prevent not. We grieve to think what dishonour your methods will bring to the name of God, what reproach to your holy profession, stumbling to sinners, and devisions among the churches of Christ. Therefore as brethren, partakers of the same grace, we humbly exhort you, and pray God to make you all sensible of your errors, and humble you for them; and that as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you, so you for his name’s sake may forgive one another. And as he is pleased to make you sensible of your errors, acknowledge them one to another, and give us cause of great rejoicing who have been grieved while searching into your uncharitable, unsavoury censures, reflections, and reproaches, which you have in your books loaded one another with, and through temptation have been prevailed upon to take wrong measures and misrepresentations of one another within yourselves. And therefore in the name of the Lord and for his sake we entreat and determine that you proceed no longer in such methods.
“We have also considered and determined, for the prevention of any farther reproach and dishonour that may come upon the name of the Lord and your holy profession, that nothing will prove more effectual to this end than that all persons concerned on both sides of this controversy be desired, and we do desire and determine that they should can in and bring all the books hereafter mentioned into the assembly, or to whom they shall appoint, and leave them to their disposal. And if any do persist in this reproachful method, we do seriously deliver it as our sense that such persons as sow offences, discords, and devisions, among the churches of Christ, should he marked. We could entreat you upon our kneel, could we prevail in this matter, that you would join together to keep the unity of the Spirit, and our holy profession, in the bond of peace.
“Moreover we entreat and determine that it be inserted in the narrative that none of the members of the churches do buy, give, or disperse any of those books aforesaid, nor any other that have those uncharitable reflections in them against their brethren, and that no person do hell or give them to Others. The names of the books, some of which we have seen, and all others that have such reflections though not seen, are — A sober reply to Robert Steed’s epistle — Truth soberly defended — A serious answer, &c. — Truth cleared, or a brief narrative of the rise, &c.”
It must not be supposed by our readers that this general assembly, consisting of a hundred and seven churches, contained all the Baptist churches in England. These were particular Baptist churches; that is to say, they were Baptist churches which rejected the opinions of Arminius. We have found in the course of our history that there were many hundreds of Baptists in Kent; and these were almost all of, them general Baptists, or Arminians, who did not own “the doctrines of personal election and final perseverance,” which doctrines were held by those of whom we have been speaking. That the general Baptists were very numerous in many of the counties is evident from their petition presented to Charles II., which was owned and approved by upwards of twenty thousand. Neither is it to be supposed that this general assembly included the whole of the Particular Baptists, as it is well known there were many churches in Bedfordshire, founded principally by the labours of Mr. John Bunyan, which were not included in it, there being but two churches in this county mentioned in the account. The cause of this was doubtless the difference of sentiment on the subject of communion at the Lord’s table, as these latter did not make baptism on a profession of faith essential to church fellowship, which the former did. Mr. Bunyan wrote in defence of the principle on which their churches were founded; and some other eminent Baptists, as Mr. Henry Jessey and Mr. Vavasor Powel, were of the same sentiment. Mr. Kiffin, Mr. Danvers, and Mr. Deane, wrote on the opposite side; and from the complaints of Mr. Runyan, it should seem, with some bitterness and acrimony. Such things ought certainly to be avoided, as injurious to the argument on either side, and utterly inconsistent with the benevolent spirit of the gospel.
There is no doubt but that in this year
the western churches, agreeably to the resolution of the
assembly the year before, had met in association at Bristol. Be
that however as it may, some of them met at Frome on the 29th of
March 1692. A manuscript Circular Letter of that date, addressed
to the Baptized churches
in the west, and signed by Robert Cox, Roger Cater, Richard Gay, Richard Itterly, William Cray, Lancelet Spurrier, Thomas Whinnell, which is in the handwriting of Mr. Andrew Gifford, is in the possession of the author. It contains the following minute. “Our next association meeting, if God permit, is to begin on the Easter Tuesday, in the morning, at Westbury, at brother Cator’s house, in the year 1693.”
From this it is evident, that the Western churches met at different places according to the arrangement of 1691, previously to their general assembly at Bristol, to which all the churches in the West sent their representatives. To this meeting at Easter 1693, two persons were sent from London, and to the general assembly held in London at Whitsuntide, two were sent from Bristol. The proceedings of both these assemblies were published under the title of A narrative of the proceedings of the Elders, Messengers, and ministering Brethren of divers baptized churches in England and Wales, holding the doctrines of particular election and final perseverance, in their general assembly at Bristol on the 19th of the second month, called April, 1693, and continued to the 21st of the same. Also containing the proceedings of the general assembly held in London the sixth day of the fourth month, called June, and continued till the 12th the same.
The address from the assembly of Bristol is as follows: The elders and messengers of the several churches of Christ met together at Bristol, from the 19th of the second month to the 22nd of the same, to the respective churches of the same association.
“Dearly beloved and longed after in the Lord,
“The comfortable account we have given and
received from most of the churches, their increase and peace
among themselves; as also the comfortable union and sweet and
amicable communion we have had together in this present
assembly, give great cause of rejoicing in the Lord: and we
desire that you also may be made partakers of the same joy. But
we are greatly grieved that upon any pretence whatever, any one
of the churches of Jesus Christ, should withhold its help in the
work of the Lord, in such a working day and dispensation,
wherein our Lord hath given us an opportunity to promote his
interest. Were our hearts enlarged, fitted for his service, and
suitable to our opportunity, how glorious and inviting might the
house of the Lord be in our day! But oh! we mourn that we can do
no more, and that there should be any found among ourselves to
weaken our hands. The security, jealousies, divisions, and
worldliness of some in pursuing their own things, and building
their own houses, say the time is not come, the time that the
Lord’s house should be built, as they did Haggai 1:2. Yet
certainly it is a time, if not the time, for building: And as we
doubt not but God will take pleasure and delight in them that
bring the least stick from the mountain to the building of his
house, ver. 8. in like manner (to bear with our plainness) we
fear a blast from
the Lord will be Upon those that bring not their offering to the house of the Lord, ver. 6, 9, 10, 11. And therefore as fellow-servants and labourers in the Lord’s vineyard, we humbly exhort you with the same prophet in the 5th verse, to consider your ways. We think there is great need of awakening and stirring up our own spirits as well as yours. God’s judgments are abroad, though his salvation is yet at home; peace in the gates of Sion, and peace within our borders. The Lord grant that through a cold, lukewarm careless, divided, uncharitable, indifferent frame of spirit, we may not provoke him to take away peace, and the gospel of peace from our nation, and cause us to fed those judgments which we do not fear (that have fallen terribly upon other parts) because of the house of the Lord that lies waste. If God doth enlarge your hearts to give to the fund, declare your use, and send by your next messenger, and it shall be disposed accordingly. Herewith we have sent you our breviates. Your messengers can give you a further account of our proceedings. The God of all grace give peace, rule amongst you, dwell with you, and richly supply all your wants. This is the earnest desire of
Your brethren waiting for the consolation of Israel. Signed by us in the name of the whole.
“The breviate of the proceedings of the Elders and Messengers of several churches met together at Bristol the 19th of the second month, 1693, and continued to the 22nd of the same.
“The first day was improved in solemnly seeking the face of God in prayer, for counsel, advice, and guidance in our whole work.
“The second day — After seeking the Lord, the letters from the several churches were read, and a particular relation of the state of all the churches was given in by their several messengers. Some questions were proposed, and the meeting was dismissed with the blessing of God.”
Q. Whether a gifted brother may, administer in all names?
A. That no private brother (however gifted) if not solemnly called to ministerial office, and separated thereto, ‘ought to administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper.
Q. Whether a brother called to the office of elder by the suffrage of the
church, may not administer all ordinances, though he be not immediately ordained by the laying on of the hands of the elders?
A. In the affirmative.
Whereas we have head of some persons, who being vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds, do presume to preach publicly without being solemnly called and appointed by the church thereto, and some to administer all ordinances,
We advise and desire, that every particular church would do what in them lies to discountenance this practice, and to prevent all such from exercising their pretended gift, it being contrary to Romans 10:15. And also that they would not send forth nor suffer any person among themselves, to preach publicly, of whose qualifications they have not had sufficient trial, and whom they have not called thereto; that the name of God may not be dishonoured, the peace of the churches disturbed, nor the reputation of the ministry blemished.
That we may remove all jealousies, and give satisfaction to all our brethren, that there is no intention or design in this assembly, in relation to the education of youth, to promote human learning or acquired parts above, or to make them equal with the gifts of the Spirit, and the teachings thereof in and by his word, we do unanimously declare: —
1. That we abhor such a principle and practice, being satisfied and assured, that the gift for edification is a distinct thing from acquired parts; and that men may attain the greatest degrees in human learning, and yet notwithstanding be ignorant of Christ, and his glorious gospel.
2. That God does sometimes bestow greater gifts, for the edification of his church, on some who have not attained the knowledge of the tongues, than he doth on some others who have; and that the churches of Jesus Christ should improve what gifts they have, and pray for more.
3. That it is a great snare and very dangerous for any persons to think they can comprehend the great mysteries of the gospel, called the hidden wisdom of God, 1 Corinthians 2:7, 8. which he reveals unto his people by his Spirit, ver. 10. with their human learning, or worldly wisdom, 1 Corinthians 1:19, 20, 21.
4. That they greatly abuse their knowledge of the tongues, who are puffed up thereby to lean upon it, and to despise their brethren, who have the gift for edification, though they have not the same acquired abilities.
5. That the knowledge of the tongues is not in itself essential, or absolutely necessary to constitute a minister of the gospel; nor the greatest degree thereof, without the gift for edification, a sufficient qualification for the ministry; neither.
6. Dare we to limit the Holy One, who bestows the gift for edification upon the learned, as well as the unlearned, and who chooseth some of the wise, prudent, learned, though not many, 1 Corinthians 1:26. And that when the knowledge of the tongues and the gifts of the Spirit meet together, and the knowledge of the tongues is made use of in subserviency to the gifts of the Spirit, they ought so much the more to be esteemed as they are made more useful, being beneficial for the conviction of gainsayers, by supplying apt words to convey the truths of the gospel into the understanding of their bearers. Yet when learned Paul plants, and eloquent Apollos waters, it God only who can give the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:6. It is not the gifts of either the learned or the unlearned, but the blessing of God upon the gift of both, that makes successful; that no flesh should glory in his presence, but that he that glorieth may glory in the Lord.
Concluded, that brother Gifford, and brother Fownes, be appointed messengers from this assembly to the general assembly meeting at London upon the time called Whitsuntide.
That the time called Easter next, be the time for this assembly to meet at Bristol: and that the third day of that week be appointed as a day of prayer, and that one of our London brethren do preach at the close of it.
A Narrative of the General Assembly holden in London the sixth day of the fourth Month, called June, and continued until the twelfth day of the same, 1693.
The general Epistle to the Churches.
Dearly beloved in our Lord Jesus.
THE great God who hath given us a being in this world, and through our blessed Lord Jesus delivered us when fallen into a miserable state by sin, calls for all both of nature and grace to be employed for his glory; and our continual study should be, how we should give up both soul and body a living sacrifice to him: his service is both our duty and reward, the highest honour and happiness of our nature both here and to eternity. It exceedingly becomes us who are the redeemed of the Lord to say so, and to render the glory of it to him, both in purity of doctrine concerning the grace of redemption, and in holiness of life.
The former your confession of faith has published to the world, which will be a standing monument to your honour in ages to come, as in this age it hath much taken away your reproach amongst all sorts of Protestants. That which remains is a life thoroughly suited to your doctrine, and in this you and we have need to be continually put in mind, that our conversation be as becomes the gospel.
Satan endeavours, if he cannot corrupt our
heads with false doctrine, to defile our conversation either
with a worldly and sensual frame, or to fill us with a spirit of
contention and bitterness among ourselves; or towards other
saints that differ from us. The holy apostle hath counselled us
against his toils, and warned us to look to ourselves, lest any
root of bitterness spring up in us. Brethren, ye carry about you
the relics of the old man, a body of sin and death, against
which as against the evil angels you must maintain a continual
war. We have reason, we humbly think, thus to caution you,
because we fear, nay too much experience, that this day of
liberty, though it hath eased us of the yoke of persecution,
hath set the devil upon other methods, and given a lure to our
corruptions through our want of watchfulness, which too
evidently appears in the decay of piety and charity among us,
and a general minding of our own things, not the things of
Christ; together with fears and jealousies one of another on
account of our assembling these two or three years last past
together, and the methods that have been taken for the promotion
of the truths of God professed by us, and the assisting of the
churches of God with our humble advice and counsel, things so
excellent in their own nature: and although in our acting in the
first assembly security was given, whereby the power of the
churches was fully preserved, yet a great declining appears,
both with respect to your sending messengers to this assembly,
and to that which met at Bristol; and also with respect
to that which was one end of it, the fund for the maintenance of
necessitous ministers and brethren gifted to preach the gospel,
and also for the educating of young melt of inviting gifts for
the ministry in learning; a thing of that use and advantage,
that time will fully shew The benefit of it, and confirm the
arguments that have been used for it. Against this a mighty wind
hath been raised, both in this city and all the churches of our
way in the nation, as if from hence would follow a neglect of
gifts already in the churches, where there is not the advantage
of learning: and although this objection was obviated in the
beginning, yet in what follows in this narrative you will see it
again removed, if possible, out of the way.
Dear Brethren, we must say, if this day of liberty be lost with trifling and quarrelling amongst ourselves, or from a covetous spirit in us this work of the Lord be hindered, the account will be dreadful, and the next generation may reflect back with grief upon us, that we did not what we could for the service of God and of truth in our generation.
We have cause to bless God that we are on the side of truth; but if we do not labour to clothe and nourish it by the blessings God hath given us, it may suffer exceedingly.
There are human ways and means wherein we may be serviceable to truth, and God will require it at our hands if we fail in the performance of them. David blessed God that he and his people had a heart to offer willingly to the service of the temple.
Many worthy ministers have been assisted hitherto by the Fund, and some young men brought up who are likely to be exceedingly useful in their generation, and may in a few years standing shew that the methods designed were not only religious but very prudent.
Brethren, let not this work die in your hands; send cheerfully your messengers the next year either to Bristol or London, and there at least they will behold the good fruit of their fund: and if God please, we purpose here to follow their steps, hoping you will countenance and encourage what yon can.
The elders and messengers met at London the 6th day of the month called June, and continued to the 12th of the same.
The first day was spent in prayer to God for counsel and direction in matters that should lie before them, and for; blessing on the churches.
The second day was spent in reading the
letters, and taking an account of the state of the churches from
their messengers, to whom, in answer to divers questions which
they propounded, the advice and resolution of the elders and
messengers were given. And with respect to the orderly management of matters, it was resolved
1st. That every one have his liberty to speak without interruption.
2nd. That if any be of a different opinion from what is proposed, he may have liberty to speak his opinion, and argue with Christian charity.
The proceedings of the assembly at Bristol were read by their messengers, and assented to.
3d. Concluded, that the fund be continued and upheld, according to a former agreement Anno Dom. 1691, and that the money given for the poor ministers of Christ shall be continued, and the money given for the educating of young men of inviting gifts for the ministry in the knowledge of the tongues be appropriated to them.
4th. That a Catechism be drawn up, containing the substance of the Christian religion, for the instruction of children and servants, and that brother William Collins be desired to draw it up.
5th. That the confession of faith of the baptized churches, of the last impression, be translated into Latin with all convenient speed.
6th. That the next meeting of elders and messengers be at London, beginning at the time called Whitsuntide, the 2nd day of the week, and that the next day be kept in prayer.”
By comparing the names of persons who attended these meetings it appears, that Mr. Richard Adams and Mr. Benjamin Dennis went from London to Bristol; and that Mr. Andrew Gifford and Mr. George Fownes were deputed by the Bristol assembly to attend the assembly in London.
The next year the Bristol assembly met according to appointment. We have before us an account of their proceedings in manuscript; but we presume it was never printed. It is as follows: —
“The messengers of the several churches
hereafter named, viz. of the churches of Sudbury, Plymouth, Looe,
Southwick, Calne, Haycombe, Westbury, Melksham, Bridgewater,
Taunton, Bristol, Bradford, Lanow, and in the counties of
Carmarthen, Cardigan, Pembroke, Brecknock, Monmouth, and
Glamorgan, met together at Bristol the 16th of the second month,
The first day was spent in solemnly
seeking the face of God for Wisdom, counsel, and direction, and
concluded with a sermon suitable to the occasion.
On the end day, (being the 11th of the end month, 1694,) after seeking the Lord, the letters from the several churches were read, and an account was taken from the messengers of the state of the churches, and several cases were considered, and questions answered, &e. These proceedings, with a letter to the churches, were sent to London, addressed as follows: —
To our Honoured and beloved Brethren William Kiffin, and William Collins, to ‘be communicated to the assembly of messengers held in London at the time called Whitsuntide.
THE assembly held in Bristol at the time called Easter desired us to acquaint you, that they were grieved because you, who some few years ago did zealously promote such associations for the general good of the churches and the glory of Christ, have declined They willingly joined with you, and would still, were you willing. You know how often the country sent to London, whilst you have sent but once to the country, and are weary: Nevertheless to shew their desire of communion with you, they ordered us to send you a copy of their epistle, and of the account of the meeting, both which they sent to the churches that sent them. More-over they desire you will remember your agreement at your last assembling, and minuted in the narrative that brother Collins should draw up a catechism, and that it should be printed, a thing so needful and useful that the country have been longing to have it, and are troubled at the delay of it, and earnestly desire that you will hasten the printing of it. They suppose that the greatness of the number that will be sold will pay the cost. There had need be thousands of them printed, pray let it be done, and sent abroad to the churches. They think you cannot do any thing that will be of more general use.
With the tender of our hearty respects to you, and our earnest desires for the revival of that good work which has been began by you, we remain,
Your unworthy brethren, &c.”
From this it appears that the zeal of the
London churches had greatly declined: It is with pleasure we
copy the following extract, because it is honourable to the
churches in the West. “We greatly rejoice to find the several
churches to which we stand related, manifesting so much hearty
and cordial love and good will to our associations, and that our
last narrative from this assembly hath been so useful in
removing the jealousies and misapprehensions that divers
persons, and some churches, had concerning our designs in
bringing up several young men, who were gifted brethren, to the
knowledge of the tongues in which the holy scriptures were
written; a work for God in our generation, which we hope not
only the churches in this day will have cause to bless God for,
but also the generations to come.
This letter was signed by
The next meeting to be at Bristol, and to begin on Tuesday in the week called Easter 1695.
From this period we apprehend the general assembly was discontinued in London, as we hear no more of any correspondence between Bristol and London, nor of any meeting at the latter place. We have in our possession in manuscript, nearly all the Circular Letters of the Bristol association from the year 1692 to 1730. That for the year 1696 is missing; but we know on the authority of Mr. Thomas’s M.S. that it assembled in that year, as some questions were proposed to it by a church in Wales.
Either in this year or the following, the Western churches changed the time of their meeting from Easter to Whitsontide, at which last time their annual association still continues to be held.
The letter for the year 1697 is so excellent, and contains so much information concerning the state of religion among our churches, that we shall give it at large.
“The elders and messengers of the baptized
congregations usually meeting in Haycombe, Southwick,
Trowbridge, Bridgewater, Taunton, Westbury, Broadmead, and
Fryers, at Bristol, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Pembrokeshire,
Malmsbury, Loughwood and Lyme, and Aberystwith in Monmouthshire;
and at Norton in Kilmington: assembled at Bristol the 25th 26th
and 27th of May, 1697. — To the respective churches whereunto we
stand related, with the mulitiplication of all grace and peace
from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dearly beloved and longed for in our
dearest Lord Jesus.
“WE return you hearty thanks for sending your messengers to associate with us, and for thereby giving us an opportunity of being acquainted with your state, and of using our joint endeavours for the promoting of the interest of our blessed Lord among you. We hope (through grace) the divine presence has not been altogether wanting in our assembly, but that we have felt some sweet breathings of the Holy Spirit, have experienced some guidance in our consultations and debates, and have been blessed with a joyous preservation in love, peace, and unanimity. Our hearts have been made glad, with the account we have received from some churches of the peacefulness of their state, and of their happy increase by reviving additions; but we have been also saddened by an account of the declining disturbed condition of others. We rejoice with thankfulness that the holy God hath not totally withdrawn himself, and left his churches wholly destitute of any intimations of his favourable presence. But there is just occasion for bitter lamentation to observe how mach his glory is departed. We are indeed favoured with a day of gospel liberty, and with a plentiful enjoyment of the means of grace. But alas! where is the answerable fruits? God reasonably expects we should bring forth the, fruits of faith, love, zeal, joy, peace, meekness, humility, patience, self-denial, weanedness from the world, longing desires after, and dilligent preparations for the glorious appearing of our beloved Lord; with the growth and increase in all these since the means of greace are abundantly afforded us. But behold, (and Oh that our eyes may suitably affect our hearts!) instead of these blessed fruits of the Spirit, the cursed fruits of the flesh seem to load our branches. What worldliness, pride, hypocrisy, formality, spiritual sloth, lukewarm indifference, sensuality, addictedness to pleasures, earthliness, jarrings, animosities, contentious, and unchristian carriage are to be found among us! Oh! foolish people and unwise, thus ungratefully to requite our good and gracious Lord. Are these the returns of love and praise, the revenues of honour and of glory, which we owe unto his great name? We may surely say, It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed; that our candlesticks are not removed, and that God hath not pulled down the hedge of his protection, and let in the wild boars of the forest upon us. We yet enjoy the day of his patience; he is waiting upon us to be gracious unto us; he calls after us by his word and awakening rebukes; and he seems unwilling to be gone: Oh! that we may not by our incorrigibleness, and by our continued provocations, drive him away! For woe, woe, will be indeed unto us, when the Lord departs from us. But shall we, ran we contentedly let him go? God forbid! Let us then stir up ourselves to take hold of him, let us heartily mourn over, humble ourselves for, and implore his gracious forgiveness of, and let us speedily and impartially put away from us, far from us, those things which are an offence onto him, which grieve his Holy Spirit, and which are dishonourable to his sacred Name. Let us diligently, cheerfully, and resolvedly, set about our duty to him. Let us remember from whence we are fallen, and, repent, and do our first works. Let our too much forsaken closets be again frequented, our frequent and humble supplications, spiritual meditations, heart searching examinations, be revived there. Let our families be filled with the savour of God, and our children brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Let not our places be empty in the assemblies to which we stand related, nor filled up only with proud, vain, lifeless, covetous, formal professors. Let every one in his station heartily aspire after the power of godliness, which is now in a languishing state, mid endeavour to recommend the ways of God to others, by adorning in all things the doctrine of God and our Saviour; being rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, walking inoffensively to saints and sinners; shewing forth the praise worthy virtues of that God, by whom we profess to have been called out of darkness into his marvellous light, living in love, and peace, and this is the way to enjoy the God of love and peace amongst us: that we may all thus do, you have our hearty prayers to the God of all peace, and we desire yours. And referring you to your messengers for an account of our proceedings, we subscribe ourselves your affectionate, though unworthy brethren and servants for the Lord’s sake.
Agreed, that the next association be held at Taunton in the Whitsunweek 1698. The Tuesday to be improved in prayer with a sermon in the close to be preached by our brother Gifford.
Signed by us in the name of the whole.
We have not the letter of the next year,
but it should seem the assembly met at Taunton both then and in
July 1699. The address to the churches is very serious, but has
many of the complaints of the letter of 1697. Differences
existed too in some of the churches, which they attempted to
reconcile. One resolution respecting singing in the public
worship of God we shall notice.
“In reply to the church at Bampton, we humbly think those who are not for the practice of singing after the Lord’s supper may, without wrong to their own consciences, leave those to their liberty who are for singing, to stay and sing in the same place where the supper is administered, after those who are not for singing are gone, and this we think will be much more honourable to the name of God and our holy profession than to send away dissatisfied members by recommendation.”
It was also resolved
“to associate at Exon on Easter Tuesday in the year 1700, and that the messengers of every church do provoke the particular church to which they belong to send to the association what they do collect for the fund, and to assign the particular uses, whether towards the more comfortable encouragement of ministers, or the education of
“Agreed also, that there be an association at Bristol, beginning on Tuesday in the Whitsun-week in the said year 1700; and that two persons be approved and sent from the association at Exon above-mentioned to meet with them at Bristol.
“Agreed also, that there be a general association meeting together at Taunton, to begin on Thursday in the week after Whitsuntide in the year 1701, and that both the particular meetings in association at Exon and Bristol be omitted for that year. That brother Whinnell be appointed to preach at Exon; brother Davison at Bristol; and brother Buttall at Taunton.”
This letter was signed in the respective hand-writings of the following ministers: —
We have the proceedings of the association
the next year at Bristol; and also of the general meeting the
year 1701, at Taunton. We insert the first of these, but
must (for the present at least) omit the other, on account of its exceeding the period to which we confine our history.
“The messengers of the several churches of Jesus Christ meeting severally at Caine, Malmsbury, Westbury-Lye, Junisvach, Abcrystwith, Glaudcor, Lanwenarth, King’s Stan-Irv, Trowbridge, Southwick, Fryers and Broadmead in Bristol; home, and brother Sparling with the members under his care, being met together in the city of Bristol the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of the third month 1700; to the churches to which they belong.
Beloved in our Lord Jesus,
WE thankfully acknowledge the great mercy and goodness of our God in giving us liberty and opportunity to meet together to consult his glory, and the good of his Zion. And truly, brethren, we have great cause of joy and rejoicing that we hear that any of the churches of Jesus Christ are in peace, and do prosper in grace, in gifts, and in converts: we can truly say, would it were the state of all the churches! But alas! whilst we are endeavouring to rejoice in the goodness of God, and in the prosperity of some, our spirits are overwhelmed with sorrow in considering the heart-breaking estate and the dismal circumstances of others. The several cases laid before us do too plainly discover what sad work the devil, the world, and unmortified corruptions, do make amongst some that fear the Lord in truth. And to speak plainly brethren, it is to us a sad intimation of the presence and glory of God being withdrawn from his people; and a dreadful prognostic of judgments impending: and what can we expect will be our portion, without speedy repentance and timely reformation; but judgments far worse than hither-to any of our eyes have seen? If God has given us liberty of conscience, is it a suitable return to him that we should defile our own, and offend the consciences of others? If we have peace without, is it a right improvement of it to fall upon and devour each other within? What can we expect but either to be devoured of each other, or (if mercy prevent not by restraining our fury) that our gracious and tender Father should take the rod in his hand, and part and chastise his contending children?
“Brethren, you are not only our joy, but our
charge, our flocks, over whom God hath made us overseers, and of
whose souls we must give an account to the chief and great
Shepherd at the last day. That we may give up our accounts with
joy and not with grief, having the testimony of your consciences
in conjunction with our own that we have been faithful; we, as
your watchmen, seeing your danger and knowing your sin, do now
again, as in times past, blow the trumpet and wart you that we
may free ourselves from your blood: pray see that you are not
self-destroyers. Read at your leisure Ezekiel chap. 33. There
you may see the duty of a faithful watchman, and what will be
the reward of the man that is faithful to his charge, together
with the happiness of the people or individual that obey, and
the misery of those that will not take timely admonition. It is,
beloved, the groans of the spouse of Christ; it is the smart of
the gaping wounds of the dear Lord Jesus; it is the
languishing state of the interest of our
blessed Lord; it is the zeal we have for the name of Christ, and
the affection which we bear to your souls, that engage us thus
to express ourselves to you. We need not tell you what is your
disease; that is plain; but give us leave to suggest to you the
causes, and the method of cure. You read that by pride comes
contention. Pride, brethren, lies at the foundation of all your
quarrels: Subdue then your pride and humble yourselves, and
condescend to each other, and your contest will soon be at an
end. We beseech you to take the apostle’s advice, “Submit
yourselves one to another; be clothed with humility; and put on
meekness and lowliness of mind, which are of great esteem in the
sight of God.” He will then look upon you with a favourable
regard, he will walk with you, he will accept sacrifice from
you; yea, he will dwell with you, and you shall dwell with him
for ever. Need we say you want love to each other, and therefore
cannot bear with, nor forbear each other? Love is a virtue that
will do much for peace; it is so far from working ill, that it
will not so much as think ill. “Be ye therefore followers of God
as dear children; walk in love, and ye shall not fulfil the
lusts of the flesh.” Take the beloved apostle’s advice, “Little
children, love one another,” and you will thereby appear to be
true disciples of Jesus Christ. Let your love be without’
dissimulation; let it be with a pure heart fervently. Sympathize
with each other’s infirmities; consider each other’s
temptations: forgive each other’s sinful provocations, and we
doubt not but with the Lord’s blessing these things will
reconcile you at present, and prevent your future divisions.
Brethren, give us leave to provoke you to love and good works:
remember the love of Jesus Christ: let it constrain you to
forgive and undergo any thing rather than crucify him afresh. Do
not grieve nor quench the Spirit of grace, whereby you may be
scaled unto the day of redemption. Do not stumble any in, or out
of, the ways of God. Let not the way of God be evil spoken of
through you. Do not grieve any faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
Keep your garments from being spotted with the flesh. Give no
offence to Jew or Gentile, or to the church of Christ: walk
worthy of the Lord to all well pleasing, being fruitful in every
good word and work. Hereby you will glorify your heavenly
Father, and give to others occasion so to do in the day of their
visitation. We might propose many things to encourage you, but
we will leave that to your particular servant, and not so much
as mention what will be the benefits your souls would enjoy in
life and at death, if you me found in a conscientous discharge
of your duty in this matter. Brethren, to provoke you, (not to
glory) we say, that through the goodness of God; the debating of
your unhappy differences and divisions hath made no discord nor
division amongst us; but that we have done it with calmness of
spirit, with moderation, and with mutual forbearance. And we
entertain great hope, that as the God of, peace hath been with
us in consulting, so the blessing of God will follow the advice
given, and you will do all in your power to keep the unity of
the spirit in the bond of peace. May the breaches in Zion be all
made up: may peace and prosperity be always within her walls:
may the number of her converts be great may her gifts encrease,
and may her graces flourish: may her weak souls be strengthened:
may her disconsolate and her tempted be succoured; and may
her backsliding and apostatizing children be restored. May your souls in particular thrive, and may your comforts and enjoyments be great: may you be rich in good works, and lay up for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come. May you be followers of us, and of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. These things are the sincere desire of your servants for Christ’s sake.
Memorandum — It is desired that the messengers of every church do provoke the particular churches belonging to the association; and that in subscribing to the fund, the particular uses be expressed of each subscription, whether it he for the support of poor ministers, or for the education of young brethren. The next association is to be after Whitsun-week.
The following remarks which Crosby makes on the Baptists in general, can only be true respecting the connection which the Particular Baptists in London had with those in the country.
“The inconvenience attending the general assemblies of the Baptists by the great distance of some who were to attend them, and the churches being settled in peace and unity, brought the baptized churches into other methods of regulating themselves; so that instead of meeting annually in general bodies, they met together some of them at appointed times, to consult about such things as might have a tendency to the well-being and good of the whole, and communicated by letters to each other their proceedings and agreements.”
From the letters of the Western association we learn what was the state of things among the Particular Baptists at this period. It is very affecting to observe what were the consequences of that ease and prosperity which they now enjoyed. We may take up the lamentation of the prophet Amos, and say, “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.” Persecution for twenty-eight years winnowed the churches, and kept them free from hypocrites mid formal professors. Afflictions kept under the corruptions of the people of God, and preserved them from biting and devouring one another. But when the political horizon was cleared, when the sun of prosperity arose upon the nation, and when the sword of oppression was wrested from the hand of the persecutor; then pride, covetousness, worldly mindedness, and the lust of dominion prevailed, and nothing but distraction and misery appeared in many, if not in most of our churches. It is however a consoling reflection, that this spirit was not manifested by the ministers and pastors. These seem to have acted in perfect harmony does it appear that the discontinuance of the general assembly of all the churches was owing to the ministers in London; it is more probable that it arose from their being unable to prevail on their churches to act in conformity to their wishes. We hear no complaints of their assuming any authority over each other. It is impossible to discover that any one of them thought himself entitled to more honour than his brethren in any of their meetings. Their names are signed indiscriminately, without any regard to seniority or to station. The meetings at London and Bristol, for the, short period they continued, prove that Ephraim did not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim. Neither do we meet with complaints that any one of the churches had imbibed any error in doctrine. As yet the confession of faith recommended by the Assembly in 1689, was the standard of doctrine for all our churches. The baneful seeds of Arianism had not yet been sown in the churches of this kingdom. With this the Western churches were afterwards much infected, and by it some of them were destroyed. The faithfulness of the ministers too deserves notice, and is worthy the imitation of their successors: unaffected by the reproaches cast on them for attempting to provide for a learned and useful ministry, they steadily pursued their object. This proves, that what-ever were the wises which prevented the full accomplishment of this design, the ministers were always exceedingly desirous of promoting the improvement of those gifts which the great head of the church had bestowed for the edification of his people: Covetousness among the hearers prevented that which it was in the hearts of the ministers to carry into full effect.
But here we have to introduce an honourable exception. This is Mr. Edward Terrill, the founder of the Bristol Education Society. The Estate which he bequeathed at his death in 1686, to the pastor of the church in Broadmead Bristol, laid the foundation of that institution where so many excellent men have been instructed in the way of God more perfectly.
It is not known where the students were
educated before the year 1710, when Mr. Caleb Jope was chosen by
the church in Broadmead to assist Mr. Kitterell the pastor, and
to educate young men for the ministry. That there were some
educated before this period is expressly asserted. It is
probable that they were placed with different learned ministers,
of whom there were many at that time in the denomination, in the
same way that the students of the London Education Society have
been for several years past.
After giving so full an account of the Particular Baptist churches, it will be necessary to give what information we possess respecting the churches of the General Baptists.
From their origin to about this time they had uniformly agreed with the Particular Baptists, except with regard to the doctrines of discriminating grace.
A few years after the Revolution, at one of their General Assemblies, an event took place which led to consequences that were very injurious to that denomination. We mean the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the imbibing of depreciating views of the person of Christ. The history of this affair is thus related by Crosby.
“Mr. Joseph Wright of Maidstone brought a charge against Mr. Matthew Caffin of Horsham, and insisted on his being excluded both from the assembly, and from all communion with the Baptist churches; and in proof of his charge, alleged several things he had heard from him in private conversation; and in particular, that he had, started such objections to certain material parts of the Athanasian creed as amounted to a direct denial both of the divinity and humanity of Christ. Mr. Caffin’s answer to these charges was to this effect. He readily acknowledged that there were some propositions in that creed which were above his understanding, after the most diligent and impartial examination; and therefore he never had nor could as yet receive it as the standard of his faith. He insisted upon it that the holy scriptures contained all that could be necessary for a Christian to believe and profess; that if be were from hence catechised ever so severely, he should not decline a free and open declaration of his sentiments, alleging his belief in Christ as the Word in the beginning of the creation of God, and that he was in the highest imaginable sense God, consistently with that most established truth, that there can be but one absolutely supreme God. He thought Christ was the God over all intended by St. Paul, which he could understand conformably to our Lord’s own declarations concerning himself. That as to his flesh, he believed Christ was the seed of the woman, the son and offspring of David, conceived indeed miraculously, but born of Mary in the same natural way as other children. That it had been his honour and delight to honour his Saviour, both as God and man, to the highest degree of thought. That he had never disturbed the minds of any Christians about unrevealed sublimities, but was willing every one should have the same liberty of judgment that he claimed for himself. That he was far enough from perfection of knowledge; but as his friends well knew, he was always open to conviction, and thankful for every addition of further light.’
“This defence (says Crosby) gave a general
satisfaction of the assembly, which was then very numerous; and
Mr. Wright as much discountenanced for his unbecoming
reflections and want of charity.”
Some time after, at a general assembly held at Aylesbury, Mt. Wright and some other minister who is not mentioned, exhibited a charge of a similar nature against Mr. Caffin, but was again disappointed, as the assembly was determined to maintain unity and friendship with Mr. Caffin though he might vary in some abstruse unrevealed speculations.
These disappointments caused Mr. Wright to leave the assemblies, and protest against them all.
“Yet (says Crosby) the seeds of contention he had sown, sprung up, and brought forth such bad fruit as had like to have been of ill consequence. The churches in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire exhibited the like charge to the assembly against Mr. Caffin, and moved that he might be brought to judgment. Mr. Caffin laboured with great meekness and condescension to explain himself, and recover their good opinion, but with little success. So that after their repeated complaints, the assembly agreed that the next year his case should be fully examined. This was to be at Whitsuntide in the year 1700.
“The general assembly at that time being met, and Mr. Caffin being present, to prevent confusion and tedious debate, they appointed a committee of eight persons, four on the side of the complainants, to rotifer with Mr. Catlin, and to draw up some expedient to be assented to and signed, which might be a sufficient ground of union. This was done, read several times, and signed by those present, and was as follows, according to the account published by the complainants.
“According to the trust reposed in us, we offered to the assembly that it be agreed to, That Christ, as he was the Word, is from the beginning; but in time that Word took oh him the seed of Abraham, and as such is Emanuel. God with us, or God manifest in the flesh: and as he is the Word he is one with the Father and the Holy Ghost. As he was God manifest in the flesh, so he is the Jesus who tasted death for every man. And further: whereas there have been and still are debates about the Most High God, we conceive that he is one infinite, unchangeable, eternal Spirit, and comprehensible Godhead, and doth subsist in the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.
“In the assembly’s journal, the following clause, which the publishers omitted, is inserted, viz. That the defence which brother Matthew Caffin has made, together with his acknowledgments, are to the satisfaction of the assembly.
“At the next general meeting was presented a long letter from the churches in the county of Northampton, complaining that Mr. Caffin was not tried according to their satisfaction: After debating deliberately upon it, it was put to the vote and carried by a great majority, that the declaration which Mr. Caffin had made, and his signing the aforesaid expedient, was sufficient and satisfactory. This however was not sufficient: many of the churches withdrew, and called the assembly Caffinites. For several years the separation continued; but at length, after sonic essays for a friendly union, it was accomplished; and they united upon the sure foundation of forbearance and charity, adhering to the scriptures only as the complete and only rule of faith and practice.”
The sentiments of Mr. Caffin are more particularly mentioned by Crosby in another part of his work. He says,
“He could easily understand and heartily assent to all that the scriptures did say concerning either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but he used to Complain that be did not know what to do when told that he must perish everlastingly; unless he believed that the Son is both co-eternal with the Father and also begotten of him. That the Father, Son, and Spirit, must each by himself be acknowledged to be God, to be Almighty, one Incomprehensible, and one Eternal. What others could do he knew not, nor did he envy their penetration; but whenever he went about to understand this scheme, he could not help running into the express Contradiction of three eternal almighty persons, and but one such person; that each by himself is God, and yet that each by himself is not God, because there are not three Gods, and but one only. Nor was it easy to him to apprehend how a perfect God, and a perfect man, though ever so closely united, can be any other than two persons, and two Christs, instead of one.”
We are surprised that Crosby should bring such heavy charges against Mr. Joseph Wright. He charges him with
“having much injured his friend Mr. Matthew
Caffin, who in the freedom of conversation, had intimated some
doubts respecting the Athanasian Creed; with putting the worst
sense on his private discourses, and charging his opinions as
blasphemous and heretical: and finally, with bringing those
charges against him at the general assemblies.”
It is rather extraordinary too that,
notwithstanding Mr Wright is represented as having acted so
injuriously to his friend, Crosby should in another part of his
work represent him as “a man of great piety, learning, and
usefulness, who promoted the cause of the Baptists very much.”
He has however inadvertently borne an honourable testimony to
his worth, by proving that he preferred the cause of God and
truth to any considerations of private friendship, or popular
odium, in opposing the decisions of the assembly.
It appears to us that Mr. Caffin was an artful person, who, under the pretext of opposing the human explanations of divine and inexplicable subjects, and the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian creed, intended to represent the scriptural doctrines of the Trinity, and of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, as absurdities which it was irrational for a Christian to believe.
We have inserted his sophistical representation of these sublime mysteries, because the nature of our work seems to require it; but we think it necessary to make some remarks on it, that our readers may be preserved from the infection of the Socinian heresy.
The doctrine of the Trinity, or of three divine persons, or distinct subsistences, in the one Jehovah; as well as that, of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ; are matters of pure revelation, which the scriptures plainly assert, but do not attempt to explain; and which all those who receive the scriptures as inspired truth are bound to believe, whether they can comprehend them or not. Had there been no mysteries in divine revelation, there would have been no analogy in that respect between it and the works of creation; and human reason, unassisted by the Holy Spirit, would have’ been able to comprehend those things which are the objects of that faith which is the effect of the operation of God. Mr. Catlin indeed said, that he could easily understand and heartily assent to all that the scriptures did say concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But what did he mean by saying that he understood those things? Did he mean that he perfectly comprehended them? If so, he had by searching found out God, even the Almighty unto perfection! But we presume that neither Mr. Caffin, nor any of those who have adopted his creed, would venture to say that they could understand so as to comprehend either the Eternity, the Omnipresence, or the Omnipotence of Jehovah; and yet these things must be believed and professed by them, if they would avoid the imputation of being Atheists!
Did not Mr. Caffin know that the
Scriptures expressly attribute to the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit, Omnipotence, Incomprehensibility, and Eternity;
whilst at the same time they maintain that there is but one
Divine Being? What do the Trinitarians do more? They do not
believe that three eternal persons are but one person; nor that
each by himself is God, and yet that each by himself is not God;
as Mr. Caffin erroneously supposed. Is there no difference
between believing that the one divine Being subsists in three
persons, and believing that these three persons are only one
person? The latter proposition is contrary both to reason and
scripture; whilst the former, at the same time that it is
founded upon scripture, is not contrary to reason, although it
is beyond the power of reason to comprehend it, in which respect
it resembles the mysteries of natural
religion, the other mysteries of revealed religion, and the mysteries of creation and providence.
reason fails with all its powers,
At this period the Baptists both general and particular who were agreed in the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of the son of God &c, appear to have been on the most friendly terms. Their different sentiments on the doctrine of Election and Perseverance prevented the union of their churches, but did not prevent their friendly correspondence and intercourse on other occasions. A circumstance which will produce evidence in support of this opinion we shall proceed to mention, in which ministers of both denominations were engaged.
About three months after the revolution there was a public dispute held at Portsmouth between the Baptists and the Presbyterians on the subject of Baptism. The literary champions on the side of the Baptists were Dr. William Russel who was a General Baptist minister of London; Mr. John Williams of East Knoyle, Wiltshire; and Mr. John Sharpe of Frome, who were Particular Baptists. For the Presbyterians Were Mr. Samuel Chandler of Fareham; Mr. Leigh of Newport; and Mr Robinson of Hungerford. The last mentioned person was moderator on the side of the Presbyterians, and Mr. Sharpe on that of the Baptists.
It appears that this debate was held by royal authority. King William had been applied to by the Honourable Major General Earl, governor; Colonel John Gibson, lieutenant governor, of his majesty’s, garrison of Portsmouth; and by the worshipful Henry Seager Esq. Mayor, to grant leave to the Presbyterians “publicly to vindicate the common cause of the reformed churches” and to settle the wavering amongst them in the belief and practice of those truths which tended very much to the advancement of early piety and religion.”
With this request his majesty graciously complied, and ordered all officers civil and military to attend for the preservation of peace and good order.
The parties accordingly met at the Presbyterian meeting-house in High-Street, Portsmouth, on February 22nd 1698-9. The dispute began between the hours of nine and ten in the morning, and continued till between six and seven in the evening in the presence of the above mentioned gentlemen and a large concourse of people.
Before the debate commenced Mr. Chandler
delivered the following “Prologue.”
“IT is not out of pride or vanity that I now appear in this place upon this occasion. Most of you know, and I suppose many of you have heard, that in the course of my lecture here, I have been discoursing of the principles of religion: and having explained the Creed and the Lord’s prayer, did undertake to treat the doctrines of the sacraments, particularly that of Baptism. Those that then heard know, that I spake with a great deal of modesty, calling those who deny Infant baptism by no harder name than mistaken brethren; when I was unavoidably engaged in this disputation by a bold and confident challenge given me, which I knew not how to refuse, unless I would betray that truth which I believe to be the truth of the gospel. They themselves not being able to answer the arguments I then used, have cried out, Men of Israel come and help; and therefore have sent for this gentleman from London. Now I desire that all things may be managed with the greatest fairness and calmness, that we may debate of these matters as Christians, that nothing may be done which is tumultuous or disorderly. And as we have the favour of the government both civil and military, so that we may give them no occasion to repent of giving this liberty. And I hope that we shall all of us be willing to submit to the truth as it is revealed in the gospel, and lay ourselves open to conviction. I have no more to add, but desire all of you to join with me in this one request, That God would grant that truth may prevail.”
We should have been pleased could we have laid that there was nothing tumultuous or disorderly in the course of the debate, but it appears to us from the accounts which were published by both the parties that there were both, and that there was but very little fairness and calmness manifested. We shall not undertake to decide on which side the victory lay. The Presbyterians however claimed it, by an advertisement which appeared in a public newspaper, called the Post-man, February 25, 1698-9. This was as follows.
“Portsmouth, February 29. Yesterday the dispute between the Presbyterians and Anabaptists was held in the Presbyterian-meeting house. It began at ten of the clock in the morning, and continued till six in the afternoon, without any intermission.
“The theme of the dispute was the subjects of baptism, and the manner in which it is to be performed. Russel and Williams were the opponents for the Anabaptists, and Mr. Chandler and Mr. Leigh defendants for the Presbyterians. Mr. Sharpe moderator for the former, and Mr. Robinson for the latter.
“Mr. Russel opposed Infant baptism with all the
subtilty and sophistry of the schools; and it was answered with
good reason and learning. Upon the whole it was the opinion of
all the judicious auditory, the Presbyterians sufficiently
defended their doctrines, and also worsted their adversaries,
when they cane to assume the place of opponents.”
It afterwards appeared that this was sent by Colonel John Gibson the Lieutenant Governor, who gave Mr. Chandler? liberty to publish a certificate signed by his own, hand. Jane 9, 1699. In this he declares
“I say, the above advertisement was inserted, as above, by my direction. I do also own, I was then, and am still of the same opinion as mentioned in the above said advertisement.”
On this statement we merely remark, that giving the, Lieutenant Governor all credit for having published his own opinion; upon the subject, it did not necessarily follow that all the judicious auditory were of the same opinion.
But the Presbyterians did not stop here, but says Dr. Russel,
“We being silent, and not using the same methods as they did to squirt out foolish advertisements in common newspapers, these men grew confident; and upon the first of April following, in the Flying Post, they published a long story full of untruths and silly squint-eyed reflections, not becoming their learning or profession and all to support a sinking interest. But it appeared so manifestly partial, that there seemed to be but little credit given to it, except by a few of their own party.”
Dr. Russel complains exceedingly of the unkind and illiberal treatment which he met with from the Poedobaptists; which we conclude all impartial persons would admit was not without cause, if they could see what Mr. Chandler published as Some just reflections on Dr. Russel’s pretended Narrative.
The circumstances which led to this debate are related by both parties. From those accounts it appears that Mr. Bowes, a minister of the General Baptist church in St. Thomas’s street, Portsmouth, and Mr. John Webber, pastor of a Particular Baptist church at Gosport, had publicly opposed Mr. Chandler while he was endeavouring to answer the objections of the Baptists. When a public debate was agreed on, Mr. Bowes proposed Mr. Matthew Caffin on the side of the Baptists; but Mr. Webber objected to this on account of Mr. Caffin’s errors respecting the person of Christ: they both agreed in the choice of Dr. Russel.
The consequences of this disputation
proved how vain it was to attempt settling such a difference in
sentiment in such a way. We are happy to add that this was the
last public debate on the subject of baptism in this kingdom:
and also, while we deplore the strifes which it produced among
brethren, that it was the occasion of several persons being
fully convinced of the propriety of the Baptists’ sentiments,
and did in a few days after submit themselves to be dipped in
water. Thus the prayer in which Mr. Chandler wished the people
to join him, “That God would grant that truth may prevail,” was
answered, in a way which, it is likely neither himself or his
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