ENGLISH BAPTISTS, THEIR ORIGIN, PERSECUTION AND PROGRESS.
The Beginning of Baptist History in England
The persecution of the Baptists in the Netherlands caused many of that sect to flee to England for refuge. We are indebted to Cramp for the information that "At London, on the third of April, 1575, a small congregation of Dutch Baptists convened in a private house outside the city gate, was interrupted while at worship by a constable and twenty-five persons were taken before a magistrate, who committed them to prison. When brought to trial they were urged to recant, and after enduring much torture, five of them consented. Later on fifteen of the rest were sent out of the country; of the remaining five, one died under the rigors of his imprisonment, two were burned at the stake and the other two were finally released. Thus begins the history of Baptists and their persecutions in England. But prior to this time, about 1618, an English Baptist church had been organized in Holland by John Smyth, who died soon after this time. This church was composed of 38 members, and had been scattered before the death of Smyth, but sometime about 1611, Thomas Helwys, who had been a prominent member thereof, returned to England when he established the first Baptist church on English soil. Within the next thirty years forty-four Baptist churches had been formed in England. These churches were solid in principle and polity and were objects of great persecution. In proof of such claim we cite the following from the confession of 1644:
English Baptists for liberty of conscience
"The Supreme Magistracy of this Kingdom we acknowledge to be King and Parliament and concerning the worship of God, there is but one lawgiver which is Jesus Christ. So it is the magistrate's duty to tender the liberty of men's conscience, (which is the tenderest thing unto all conscientious men, and most dear unto them, and without which all other liberties will not be worth the naming, much less the enjoying), and to protect all under them from all wrong, injury, oppression and molestation. And we cannot do anything contrary to our understandings and consciences, so neither can we forbear the doing of that which our understandings and consciences bind us to do. And if the magistrates should require us to do otherwise, we are to yield our persons in a passive way to their power, as the saints of old have done."
But these were sentiments and convictions that brought down upon them the heavy hand of Charles I. Indeed Baptists suffered to the greatest degree until the Long Parliament, from which time they had a measure of peace, not that they had their civil rights, but conditions made a semi-toleration the best policy. A better condition prevailed during the Protectorate. We quote from Vedder's Short History: "During the Protectorate a fair measure of religious liberty prevailed. Cromwell himself came nearer than any public man of his time to adopting the Baptist doctrine of equal liberty of conscience for all men. He came, at least, to hold that a toleration of all religious views such as existed among Protestants, that is to say, was both right and expedient."
When in the year 1660 Charles Stuart came to the throne of his fathers, and when the Fifth Monarchists made an insurrection Baptists were wrongfully accused of being in the conspiracy, and as a result became again subjects of bitter persecution. Among those to suffer imprisonment was the great Baptist preacher, John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress and The Holy War.
The Act of Toleration slow growth Wm.Carey
The passage of the Act of Toleration about 1689, brought with it a measure of pardon which was new to English Baptists, but for many years their growth was by no means commensurable with their opportunity, yea, for fifty years they seemed not to have increased to any appreciable degree. This is partially explained by the general antipathy to religion that prevailed in England during this period. The following from Vedder's short history tells of the revival which followed: "In the year of 1738 at the meeting of a Society in London, John Wesley, felt, as he tells us, for the first time, 'I'd trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. Soon England was shaken by the preaching of immediate justification by faith, and the second Reformation had begun and Baptists participated in the general awakening. Then began a new era in their history, an era of growth, of zeal, of missionary activity that has continued to the present, and has given them a leading place among the non-conformists of England." Thus the opportunity for service, and how marvelously did God manifest himself among the people in the work of Wm. Carey, who in his great sermon at the Nothingham Association in 1792. "Expect great things from God; and attempt great things for God," was the sentiment with which he inspired the English Baptists to the organization of "The English Baptist Missionary Society" which, after much prayer and effort, sent him a missionary to India. Here God used him to the glory of his cause, and he became the "father of modern missions."
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