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CHAPTER XVIII

BAPTISTS IN THE GREATER BRITAIN

THERE are traditions among the Welsh Baptists of an ancient origin, and some of their historians have not hesitated to claim for them an antiquity reaching back to the days of the apostles. When such claims are submitted to the ordinary tests of historic criticism, however, they vanish into thin air. Baptist history in Wales, as distinguished from tradition, begins with the period of the Commonwealth. The most moderate and judicious of the Welsh Baptist writers, Rev. Joshua Thomas, says that the oldest church in the principality is one formed at or near Swansea, in Glammorganshire, in 1649.1 But one church now in existence, the Wrexham, in Denbighshire, claims an earlier date, 1630; and as a few years ago it was content with the year 1635 as the true date of its origin, it is probable that neither is matter of record.

The honor of organizing this first Baptist church in Wales belongs to John Myles. He was born about 1621, and matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1636. Whether he ever took orders in the Church of England is not positively known, but it is probable that he did. At any rate, he began to preach the gospel about 1645, and by 1649 was so highly esteemed as to be named one of the Triers for Wales during the Protectorate. In that year, a few baptized believers were gathered, and they continued to increase until the Restoration, when Myles and most of the church emigrated to the colony of Massachusetts.

The man to whom the Baptist cause in Wales owes most in its early years is Vavasor Powell. He was born in 1677, and was descended from a Radnorshire family of great antiquity and distinction. It is not known where he received his education, but it is certain that he became a scholar of notable attainments and that he early obtained preferment in the Established Church. He was led to entertain Puritan sentiments by intercourse with some of that persuasion, and by the rcading of their literature, and in 1642 came to London and joined the Parliamentary party. lie was for a time settled at Dartmouth, in Kent, where his ministry was very fruitful, but calls from his native Wales led him to return thither, which he did in 1646, bearing with him the highest testimonials as to his piety and gifts, signed by Charles Herte, prolocutor, and seventeen other divines of the Westminster Assembly.

Precisely when Powell became a Baptist is not known, but it must have been before 1655, for in that year Thurloe speaks of him as "lately rebaptized."2   It is probable that most or all of the churches he established were of mixed membership. He favored the practice of open communion also. From these lax practices the Welsh Baptists were soon emancipated, and became what they still are, notable for the consistency and zeal with which they advocate and maintain the distinctive principles of their denomination. The zeal and eloquence of Powell exceeded his consistency; he was a most laborious and successful evangelist throughout the principality, and by the Restoration he had established some twenty churches, of which some had from two hundred to five hundred members. He died in 1670. He has been called the Whitefield of Wales, and his abundant and fruitful labors seem well to merit such a title.

But eight of the existing churches of Wales were founded in the seventeenth century, and before the Act of Toleration only thirty-one were added to the number.  From the passage of that Act, however, the growth of Baptists in the principality has been rapid, especially since 1810. The formation of Associations began in 1799, and the Baptist Union of Wales was organized in 1867.

More potent than the influence of organization in the promotion of this growth has been a succession of godly and eloquent Baptist preachers. One of the most celebrated of these was Christmas Evans, so named because he was born on the 25th of December, 1766. In spite of poverty and many difficulties, he obtained a good elementary education, and shortly after his conversion and baptism was ordained to the ministry at the age of twenty-two. We may judge of the state of affairs in Wales at the time, when we are told that after he had been nearly ten years in the ministry and was highly esteemed, he was paid by two churches that he served, the salary of seventeen pounds a year! Nevertheless, he continued to labor, not only as pastor of churches, but as evangelist in general to Wales, until he rested from his labors in 1838. In a ministry of half a century he had preached all over his native country, with great power, and with equal eloquence and originality.

Through the efforts of such men, the Baptist cause has made rapid progress in Wales throughout the nineteenth century, which saw at its close eight hundred and thirty-five churches and a membership of one hundred and six thousand five hundred and sixty-six (including Monmouthshire). Though for a time Arminian doctrines threatened to make serious inroads, the Welsh Baptists have as a whole remained ardent Calvinists down to the present time. Of their churches two hundred and fiftynine maintain services in the English language, and of these quite a proportion—some say nearly half—have adopted the open communion practices of their neighbors in England. This is especially true of churches in the large towns. The churches that adhere to their native language also adhere to the well-established principles and practices of the faith.

The Baptist churches of Scotland do not pretend to any great antiquity. The oldest church now existing was founded in Keiss, in Caithnesshire, in 1750. It was formed upon the estate of Sir William Sinclair, who was immersed in England, and became a preacher of the truth on his return. The next oldest churches are in Edinburgh. The Bristo-place church was constituted in 1765, by Rev. Robert Carmichael, originally of the Church of Scotland, then a Glasite and later an Independent preacher, who finally rejected the doctrine and practice of infant baptism, and going to London for the purpose, was baptized by Doctor Gill. The other church owes its origin to Archibald McLean, who also began his career in the Scotch church and then became a Glasite, having been at one time a member of Mr. Carmichael’s church. Not long after his former pastor, he also became a convert to Baptist views, and sought baptism on personal profession of faith. Besides these churches, one in Glasgow claims the date of 1768 for its foundation, and two in Paisley are said to have been organized in 1795. There are no other Baptist churches in Scotland formed earlier than 1803.

Archibald McLean almost deserves to be called the founder of the Scotch Baptist churches. He was born in 1733, received the rudiments of a classical education, from which he afterwards advanced by his own exertions to considerable learning, and became a printer at Glasgow. He had in early life been much influenced by the preaching of Whitefield, and was finally constrained himself to become a preacher. He was even more influential by pen than by voice, and his collected writings in six volumes are still a monument to his industry and solidity of mind. His membership for a time in a Glasite or Sandemanian church had important consequences. It was the special endeavor of that peculiar sect to return as far as possible to apostolic simplicity, and to make the churches of to-day an exact reproduction of those of the New Testament. From many of his Sandemanian notions McLean never freed himself, and the Baptist churches of Scotland have perpetuated not a few of these notions, such as insisting on having a plurality of elders in every church, on the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the like. Later investigations of the New Testament period have disclosed the fact, apparently not suspected by McLean and men of his time, that no single form of organization was common to all the churches of that period, and that it is unsafe to assert a practice found in a single church to be necessarily the norm for all other churches through all time.

Next to McLean, possibly the Baptists of Scotland owe most to the brothers Haldane, Robert (1764 -1864) and James Alexander (1768 -1851). Both were educated for the navy and served for some years with distinction. Robert inherited a large fortune and retired to his estate at Airthrey, where he became much interested in religion, and finally sold his estate, that he might have means to carry out his projects. James likewise be. came interested in religion, and retired from service to become a preacher. In 1799 he was ordained pastor of an Independent church in Edinburgh, for which his brother built him in 1801 a fine edifice, known as the Tabernacle. Other congregations were established. in Glasgow, Dundee, and other cities.

The Haldanes had been bred in the Church of Scotland, but these churches were Independent or Congregational, and this movement was watched with great interest by the English Independents. There was much dissatisfaction at this time with the State church system in Scotland, and the prospects of Congregationalism seemed bright. In 1808, however, both brothers became convinced that infant baptism is not scriptural, and resolved to teach and maintain believers’ baptism. This was the signal for the temporary disruption of their movement, but James continued his work in Edinburgh and evangelistic tours throughout the kingdom, while his brother’s purse3 was at his service always. For fifty years this eloquent preacher held his own with the great pulpit lights of Edinburgh, and during his time of service thirty-eight Baptist churches were founded—about one-third of the total number in Scotland at the present time. The formation of the Baptist Home Mission Society for Scotland in i8i6 must be credited with a part of this growth, no doubt, though its work has been chiefly in the highlands and among the islands. In 1856 the Scottish churches united in the Baptist Association of Scotland, which was dissolved in 1869, when the Baptist Union of Scotland took its place. There were, at the beginning of this century, one hundred and twenty-two Baptist churches in Scotland, having sixteen thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine members. We can fix the beginning of Baptist churches in Ireland within a few years. The oldest church there was formed in Dublin by Thomas Patience, assistant pastor to Kiffen in London. It claims the date of 1640 for its birth, but this is obviously absurd, since Kiffen became pastor of the newly formed church in Devonshire Square, London, in that year. There is no reason to suppose that the church antedates the conquest of Ireland by Cromwell in 1649, and in fact our earliest knowledge of such a church is 1653. There are but two other churches now existing which date back to the seventeenth century, and but one other that is so old as the closing decade of the eighteenth—for one hundred and forty-three years not a single church seems to have been formed, at least not one that is now in existence. Comment is almost needless.

Baptist churches have ever found Ireland an uncongenial soil; and after more than two centuries of struggle there are little more than two dozen churches of the faith in the island. To have produced the illustrious scholar, Alexander Carson, is the chief contribution to Baptist progress of our Irish brethren, and one of which a larger body might be proud. He was born in County Tyrone, in 1776. Early in life he became a believer in Christ, and later was graduated with the first honor at the University of Glasgow. lie became pastor of a Presbyterian church at Tubbermore, Ireland, and while in that service came to see from his study of the original Scriptures that the churches of the New Testament were congregational, not presbyterial, in polity; and that they were composed of baptized believers only. There were few Baptist churches in Ireland, there was no society to which he could appeal for support; of his salary of one hundred and forty pounds he received one hundred pounds from the royal treasury. If he became a Baptist he must not only sever all connection with old friends, but risk starvation. He did what he felt to be clearly is duty, was baptized, and began to preach to such as would listen. He soon gathered a church, and lived to see it grow to five hundred members, many of whom walked from seven to ten miles in order to attend its services.

Doctor Carson was an industrious student, and became a great scholar; but for his inability to sign the Confession of Faith he might have been professor of Greek in the University of Glasgow. His work on baptism was a complete reply to all the objections that had been raised by the ignorant and prejudiced against the teaching and practice of Baptists regarding this ordinance of Christ. Every contention of his has since been am;iy sustained by the scholarship of the world—not by Baptist scholarship alone, but by Pedobaptist.

There were in Ireland at the close of the nineteenth century thirty-one Baptist churches, with two thousand six hundred and ninety-six members.

The capture of Quebec, in 1759, marks the beginning of Protestant conquest in Canada. Baptists were among the first to profit by the new order of things under the Baptist rule. In the following year Shubael Dimock emigrated from Connecticut and settled in Nova Scotia. He had separated from the churches of the Standing Order, and for holding unauthorized religious meetings had suffered both corporal punishment and imprisonment. His son Daniel had gone even further and denied the scripturalness of infant baptism. These new settlers were accompanied by a Baptist minister, the Rev. John Sutton, who remained in the province about a year, baptizing Daniel Dimock and some others. Daniel Dimock baptized his father about 1775, but so far as is known no Baptist church was organized. A visit to the province in 1761 by the Rev. Ebenezer Moulton, of Massachusetts, is said to have been followed by conversions and baptisms ai Yarmouth and Horton, a church being formed at thi latter place about 1763, of both Baptists and Congrega tionalists. This minister was the ancestor of Mrs McMaster, the founder of Moulton College.

It was in 1763 that the first real foothold was gained in Canada by the Baptists. Members of the Second Church in Swansea, Mass., and of two or three neighboring churches, to the number of thirteen, constituted a Baptist church, chose the Rev. Nathan Mason as their pastor, and emigrated in a body to Sackville, then in Nova Scotia, but since 1784 in the province of New Brunswick. They remained for eight years, during which sine their numbers had increased to sixty; then, for some reason, the original immigrants returned to Massachusetts, and the church became scattered and finally ceased to exist. A new organization was, however, formed in the same place in 1799.

Up to the year 1775, therefore, the net progress of the Baptists had been small; there was a handful of believers, scattered here and there, but not a single church had been able to maintain an existence. In that year Henry Alline was converted and became an evangelist of the Whitefield type, traveling up and down Nova Scotia and preaching the gospel with great power. He was a Congregationalist, and many of his converts formed churches of that order, but in a number of instances Baptist churches trace their origin to this revival of religion.

The first of these was constituted of ten members, October 29, 1778, at Horton, and remains to this day not only the oldest but one of the strongest churches in the province. The Rev. Nicholson Pearson was chosen pastor, and in the two following years fifty-two were added to the church. This growth in numbers, however, was in part accomplished by the adoption of open commuon and mixed membership. Congregationalists being admitted to full fellowship on equal terms with baptized believers. It was not until 1809 that the Horton church became what we understand by the phrase, a Baptist church. The practice of mixed membership, or at any rate of open communion, was general among the Baptist churches of this province until the early years of the last century, they having gradually felt their way toward their present position. The Horton church is notable for having had but three pastors in the first century of its existence: Rev. Nicholas Pearson, from 1778 to 1791; Rev. Theodore Seth Harding, from 1795 to 1855, when he was succeeded by Rev. Stephen W. De Blois, who was still pastor at the celebration of the centenary. Churches were organized rapidly between 1780 and 1800, inclttding those of Lower Granville, Halifax (1795), Newport (1799), Sackville (1799), as well as Annapolis and Upper Granville, Chester, Cornwallis, Yarmouth, and Digby, the dates of whose organizations are unknown. Of these churches the First Halifax seems to have been the only one that admitted to membership only baptized believers; and it is doubtful whether even that church practised restricted communion during this period. In this respect the early history of the Baptists of Canada differs widely from that of the first Baptist churches in the United States.

The first Baptists of Lower Canada seem to have arisen among a settlement of American Tories, not far from the Vermont line. Elders John Hebbard and Ariel Kendrick, missionaries of the Woodstock Association, of Vermont, visited them in 1794, and their preaching was followed by an extensive revival. A few years later, Rev. Elisha Andrews, of Fairfax, Vt., visited these people at their request, baptized about thirty converts, and organized the Eaton church. A number of other churches were soon afterward formed in this region, several of which were for a time affiliated with the Richmond Association, of Vermont. The Domestic Missionary Society of Massachusetts, and other like New England or ganizations, paid much attention to this field, frequently sending missionaries thither. The beginnings in Upper Canada seem to have been practically simultaneous, but quite without concert, with those in the lower province. In 1794 Reuben Crandall, at that time a licentiate, settled on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, in what is now Prince Edward County, and the following year he had gained converts enough to organize the Hallowell church. Of this body there now remains no authentic record, but another church formed at Haldimund in 1798 proved more permanent, and is now in its second century of vigorous life. Other ministers from "the States" followed, and other churches were gathered in like manner. About the year 1800, Titus Fitch, another licentiate, located in Charlotteville township, where his labors resulted in the formation of a church of thirty members in 18o4. It appears to have been the fashion in those days when a young licentiate was not called by a church, for him to go out in the region beyond and call a church—a fashion that may be commended to the rising ministry of our day for their imitation.

It will therefore be seen that the first Baptist churches of Canada, in all its provinces alike, for the most part owe their origin either to colonies from the United States or to the labors of missionaries from this country. The most marked exception is found in the group of churches that compose the Ottawa Association that, together with their pastors, were largely composed of Scotch immigrants, and trace their line of descent as Baptists to the labors jn Edinburgh of the brothers Haldane. Baptist growth was slow up to 1830, and has never been rapid in Quebec, whose population is so largely French and Catholic. It was likewise retarded unduly by various internal disagreements, chief of which was the question of close or open communion. The great majority of Canadian Baptists have, for a generation, belonged to the Regular or strict-communion wing of the denomination.

Alexander Crawford, a Scotchman, and one of the Haldane missionaries, was the first (1814) to preach and baptize according to the New Testament order in Prince Edward’s Island, and the first churches adhered rigidly to the practice of the Scotch Baptists. In 1826 the first church was formed at Bedeque that was from the beginning associated with the churches of the Maritime Provinces, though most of the others fell into line eventually. The differences between the churches of Scotch origin and the other Baptists of the provinces were numerous; the former insisted strenuously on a plural eldership, on the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and especially that members of the church should not marry those who belonged to other denominations. A domestic and foreign missionary society was formed in 1845, and the Island Baptist Association in i868. The latter organization was especially useful in promoting denominational advance. From thirteen churches and six hundred members it has grown to twenty-five churches and over two thousand members.

The first union of these Baptist churches was formed in 1800, at Granville, by ten churches, under the title of the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Baptist Association. In one respect it differed from other bodies of this kind, though in the main it pretended to "no other powers than those of an advisory council"; for more than a quarter of a century it assumed the function of examining and ordaining catididates for the ministry—the sole instance of the kind, it is believed, in the history of Baptists. In 1809 the practice of open communion was discontinued by the associated churches. Four churches withdrew from fellowship with the others for a time, but afterwards returned. By 1821 the growth of this body led to its division, for greater convenience, into two Associations, one for each province. The Nova Scotia Association, in turn, was divided, in i8~o, into the Eastern, Central, and Western Associations. The New Brunswick Association, in 1847, divided into Eastern and Western Associations; a Southern Association was organized in 1850; and in i868 the Prince Edward’s Island Association assumed an independent existence. These successive developments of organization are landmarks of denominational growth, indicating, better than statistics, the progress of the churches in numbers and spiritual efficiency. At present these Associations represent three hundred and ninety-nine churches, with fortyfour thousand eight hundred and forty-one members.

In Ontario and Quebec the growth has been equally marked. The first organization of the churches of Upper Canada was the Thurlow Association (afterward the Haldimand), formed in 18o3; the Eastern and Grand River Associations followed, in 1819; and others at frequent intervals thereafter. In Quebec the progress was slower; the earliest churches, as we have seen, remained affiliated with Vermont Associations. It was not until 1830 that a Baptist church was established in Montreal, and not till 1835 that the Ottawa Association was formed. In 1845, the Montreal was formed from the Ottawa. The Baptist churches of these provinces now number four hundred and thirty, with forty thousand two hundred and seventy members, and report three thousand five hundred and eight baptisms for 1900. In the last decade these churches have increased in membership twenty-eight per cent., while those of the Maritime Provinces in the same period have gained less than ten per cent. If these rates are maintained another decade, the churches of Ontario and Quebec will be considerably stronger, numerically, at least, than their elder sisters.

Early in their history the Baptists of the Maritime Provinces acknowledged the obligations of the Great Commission, and to the best of their power fulfilled them. A missionary society was formed as early as 1815 in Nova Scotia, and a similar organization followed in New Brunswick in 1820. Both of these societies vigorously prosecuted work at home and abroad for many years. In 1846 these societies were consolidated into one, known as "The Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces." Each Association in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward’s Island is entitled to send two delegates to each meeting of this body, and each contributing church may send one member. Two Boards for Home and Foreign Missions direct the Convention’s aggressive work, in addition to which there are Boards for Ministerial Education and Ministerial Relief; while close relations are maintained with Acadia College by nominating every three years six new members of its Board of governors.

The Canada Baptist Missionary Society was organized in June, 1837, through the agency of the Ottawa Association, and its headquarters were in Montreal. After some years of checkered existence, it finally succumbed to the stress of the communion controversies. In spite of its disclaimers, it was suspected of being too friendly to open communion, and lost the support of the strict communionists. The latter finally formed the organizations in which they could have more confidence: the Western Canada Baptist Home Mission Society, in 1854, and the Foreign Mission Society of Ontario and Quebec, in 1866. The latter was for the first seven years of its life an auxiliary of the American Baptist Missionary Union, but since 1873 has been independent, and maintains a flourishing mission among the Telugus. Home mission work among the Indians has been a special feature of the Canadian Baptist missionary enterprises. The Grand Ligne Mission among the French Catholics, founded in 1835, was for a time undenominational and independent, but for more than fifty years has been cartied on under Baptist auspices, though Pedobaptists have also, to some extent, promoted the work. It is said that more than five thousand have been brought to the knowledge of the truth through this mission, many of whom are unofficial missionaries among their own people in Canada and New England.

In 1888 a bill was passed by the Dominion Parliament consolidating all the previously existing societies (except the Grand Ligne Mission), including some not named above, into "The Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec." Five Boards—Home Mission, Foreign Mission, Ministerial Superannuation and Widows’ and Orphans’, Publication, Church Edifice—conduct the work formerly done by these various societies, and the churches thus have direct relations with a single delegated body, which is their agent in all general denominational work. This seems to be almost an ideal method of organization, and must be a powerful promotive of denominational unity and efficiency. Since 1881 Manitoba and the Northwest has had a separate Convention.

In 1828, when the Baptists of Nova Scotia had but twenty-nine churches and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two members, they established an academy at Horton; in 1838 they established Acadia College; and in t86i a seminary for young women. The three institutions are still prosperous, and have together about three hundred and thirty students. The institutions fire governed by a Board of trustees appointed by the Convention of the Maritime Provinces. The New Brunswick Baptists established an academy at Frederickton, which ceased to exist some years ago; it had a successor at St. Martins, with better prospects of permanence for a time, but that has also succumbed. The Baptists of Quebec were unfortunate in their sole educational venture, that of establishing a college at Montreal. It was founded in 1838, and after a few years erected a fine stone building, which proved too costly an enterprise. After struggling vainly with debts for some years, in 1849 it was found necessary to sell the property, liquidate the debts, and let the college perish. Many causes contributed to its downfall, its location being perhaps the chief.

The Baptists of Ontario have been more fortunate, in part perhaps by reason & greater prudence. They established a college at Woodstock about 1860, with both an arts and a theological department. Many of the most useful ministers of the Dominion, and some in the United States, received their training there. In 1880, the liberality of the late William McMaster founded the Toronto Baptist College, a theological seminary at first, to which the theological department of Woodstock was transferred. The new institution was enlarged later into McMaster University, an arts department being established in connection with the theological, and Woodstock being voluntarily reduced to the grade of an academy and feeder of the university. A college for women, known as Moulton College, has since been established by Mrs. McMaster (n? Moulton), and is affiliated with the university. The result of these new enterprises has been a great stimulus of interest in education among Canadian Baptists. The new century opened with an enrolment of over four hundred students in the three institutions. The gross assets amount to about nine hundred thousand dollars, making available for the three schools an income of about forty thousand dollars.

But little material is accessible for the history of the Baptists of Australasia. Rev. John Saunders, a Baptist minister, who had established two churches in London, became very desirous of preaching to the convicts and planting a Christian church at Botany Bay. He formed the Bathurst Street Church, Sidney, in 1834. His arduous labors finally broke his health, but a worthy successor was found in Rev. James Voller, by whose effort an Association was formed, that in 1891 reports twenty-six churches and one thousand four hundred and sixty-one members. The Baptist church in Melbourne, Victoria, was organized in 1845 by Rev. William Ham, and the cause has prospered continuously. There are now forty-four churches and four thousand five hundred and fifty-eight members. In South Australia the first Baptist church to be established was the Hinders Street Chapel of Adelaide, which dates from iS?. Progress here has been hindered by an excess of the spirit of independency and too little co-operation, but there are fifty-two churches and three thousand six hundred and sixty-five members. The Wharf Street Chapel in Moreton Bay, Queensland, was built in 1856, after Rev. B. G. Wilson had preached there for several years, and from this the Baptists of the colony have increased to twenty-seven churches and two thousand one hundred and seventy members. During the past few years there has been a slight loss here.

From New Zealand are reported twenty-eight churches and two thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight members; and besides the work among the white people a mission is maintained among the Maoris, of whom there are still about fifty thousand. The Baptist cause here owes its present prosperity largely to the labors of Rev. D. Dolomore, who went thither in 1851. The first church was organized in 1854, and from that time growth was steady, especially in the southern section. A Baptist Union was formed about 1880, which has been a great help to the churches, especially in uniting them in missionary efforts. Work was begun by the Baptists in Tasmania in 1834, but there have been meager results here, in spite of many years of hard labor, there being at resent but nine churches and five hundred and seventy-four members.

 

1 There is a tradition of an earler chnrch of Welsh Baptists at Olcbon, in Herefordshire (1633), but no record survives to prove that such a church ever existed

2 State Papers," IV., 373.

3 Within fifteen years he is known to have given away $350,000: and it is said that during his life he educated 349 ministers, at a cost of $100,000.

 
 
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