Smyth and the General Baptists.


Although as we have seen, there were a few General Baptist churches in existence as early as the days of Henry the Eighth, the modern General Baptists rightly regard John Smyth as the father and founder of their denomination. They trace their history rather to his efforts, and to the labours of those who were his immediate successors, than to the churches at Eythorne or Bocking. A brief story of his life will, therefore, not be out of place in these sketches.


Among the hundreds in England who felt the weight of the oppressive ecclesiastical laws of the Stuarts was John Smyth, the Vicar of Gainsborough. Puritan rather than Anglican, Smyth was yet ready to enter the lists against the Brownists, who were numerous in that part of the country. His defence of the use of the Lord's Prayer earned for him the praise of Bishop Hall. By degrees, however, Smyth became dissatisfied with the discipline and ceremonies of the Established Church, and held a dispute on the subject with Mr. Hildersham and other divines. Further enquiries followed. His former doubts were confirmed; and, like an honest man, Smyth gave up his benefice, and all the social and ecclesiastical advantages of his position. Such was the general opinion of his integrity and his gifts, that he was at once invited to become the pastor of one of the Brownist churches in Lincolnshire. Robinson, the father of the English Independents, and Clifton, were co-pastors of another Brownist church in the same region. Owing to repeated harass from the High Court of Commission, Smyth, Robinson, Clifton, and their respective flocks, decided to seek in Holland the liberty they could not obtain at home. Accordingly, in 1606, the voluntary exiles started for Amsterdam, Smyth acting as the leader. He was Robinson's "guide," "general," and "oracle," according to Bishop Hall; and Ephraim Pagitt, in his scurrilous book, Heresiography, describes Smyth as "one of the grandees of the separation."


Once in Amsterdam, Smyth and his fellow exiles joined the English Church, of which Johnson was the pastor, and Ainsworth the teacher. Free to pursue his religious enquiries unmolested, Smyth now devoted himself to a diligent study of the sacred Scriptures. New light broke in upon his mind, of which he was not slow to speak. The New Testament churches, with their simple order and discipline, seemed strangely unlike the half Jewish society at Amsterdam, with which he was united. He felt, moreover, that he could no longer hold the doctrines of personal election and reprobation. His faith was also shaken in some other points "assuredly believed among" the Amsterdam Separatists. He had ceased to be a Calvinist, and had become an Arminian. Much talk arose about these changes in his opinions. Meanwhile, Smyth adopted new views on the subject of baptism.


The last question came up in reviewing his dissent from the Establishment. He and his Brownist friends had rejected the ordination of the State Church, but they still retained her baptism. Smyth now made the subject his special study, and was speedily led to adopt believers' baptism as alone consistent with New Testament teaching. With his usual frankness he openly and zealously advocated his new opinions.


This was more than the charity of his associates could bear. Arminianism was bad enough; but believers' baptism was worse; at least so thought Robinson, Clifton, and others. Smyth, and those who sympathized in his opinions, were cut off from the church. A bitter controversy broke out; and his former friends presently showed that though they had themselves fled from persecution, they had not yet learnt the true nature of Christian liberty. Freedom meant, thinking as they thought; and when once Smyth boldly announced his difference of opinion, they placed him beyond the pale of charity. He was charged with "murdering the souls of babes and sucklings, by depriving them of the visible seals of salvation." Every kind of reproach and abuse were heaped upon the man whom all had once held in loving esteem. He was declared to be "of wolfish nature," "a brute beast," and one "whom God had stricken with blindness."


Smyth was not the man to be shaken from any position he had deliberately taken by any such harsh and unchristian treatment. By lip and by pen he steadily continued to teach the opinions he had accepted, after a careful and reverent study of the Scriptures. Men flocked about him, as men always will flock about any teacher who speaks with the emphasis of personal conviction. A religious society was gathered, of which John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were the pastors. This happened about two years after the Brownist exiles reached Amsterdam. How large this church afterwards became is matter of doubt; but an enemy of that little band, distinguished by his rancorous spirit, declares that "Smyth and his disciples did at once, as it were, swallow up all the separation besides."


There is some obscurity as to the kind of baptism first adopted by Smyth. He and Helwys baptized each other, and afterwards baptized the rest of their company. But until recent times it was held that this baptism was by immersion. Dr. Muller thinks, however, that facts contradict the long-prevalent tradition. He assures us that the branch of the Mennonite church with which Smyth and his friends were afterwards associated, never administered baptism in any other way than by affusion or by sprinkling. Moreover, a letter from Lubbert Gerritt, one of the Mennonites, who interested himself in Smyth and his party, distinctly states as a reason for their acceptance by the Dutch association of churches, that, "inquiring for the foundation and forms of their baptism, we have found that there was no difference at all, neither in the one thing nor the other, between them and us." It is equally plain, however, from Smyth's letter to Clifton, and from Smyth's pamphlet occasioned by the correspondence, that he rejected the baptism of infants as unscriptural. "True baptism," says Smyth, "is of new creatures, of new-born babes in Christ. False baptism is of infants born after the flesh." But, whatever doubt may hang over the mode of baptism at first adopted by Smyth and his friends, there is little doubt that they afterwards adopted baptism by immersion.


Smyth has been charged with being "of an unsettled head," because he desires in the preface to one of his books, that his last writings may always be taken for his present judgment. But the deplorable ignorance of the times, the gradual development of truth in his own mind, and the fact that he wrote against captious opponents, are a sufficient justification of this request. Nothing can be more trenchant than Smyth's reply to the charge of fickleness made by the writers of his own day. "It may be thought most strange," says Smyth, "that a man should ofttimes change his religion; and it cannot be accounted a commendable quality in any man to make many alterations and changes in such weighty matters as are cases of conscience. This must needs be true, and we confess it, if one condition be admitted, that the religion which a man changeth be the truth. For, otherwise, to change a false religion is commendable, and to retain a false religion is damnable. For a man, if he be a Turk, to become a Jew; if a Jew, to become a Papist; if a Papist, to become a Protestant, are all commendable changes, though they all befall one and the same person in one year; nay, if it were possible, in one month. So that, to change religion is not evil simply; and, therefore, that we should fall from the profession of Puritanism to Brownism, and from Brownism to true Christian baptism, is not simply evil or reprovable in itself, except it can be proved that we have fallen from true religion. If we, therefore, being formerly deceived in the way of Paedo-baptistry, do now embrace the faith in the true Christian and Apostolic baptism, then let no man impute this as a fault in us."


It is no part of our plan to offer any general defence of Smyth's opinions, and the opinions themselves will be best learnt from his Confession, probably, as Dr. Evans thinks, "the first Baptist creed of modern times." We may be pardoned, however, for calling attention here to the true apprehension by Smyth of the duties of the civil magistrate in religious matters. "The magistrate, by virtue of his office, is not to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, nor to compel men to this or to that form of religion or doctrine; but to leave the Christian religion to the free conscience of every one, and to meddle only with political matters. Christ alone is the King and Lawgiver of the Church and the conscience."


Smyth and his disciples were called by their former friends heretics and free-willers; but not a syllable is breathed by his bitterest opponent against his reputation. His unblemished character during the time of holding the Gainsborough benefice, earned for him the general esteem of all parties. His personal excellence whilst with the Brownists in England, and afterwards with the Separatists in Holland, none were disposed to question. Nor did the keenest eyes of the men, who had every opportunity of observing his conduct after he became a Baptist, detect anything with which to upbraid him, except the fearlessness of his spirit, and the boldness with which he advocated what he deemed to be scriptural truth. Cotton Mather's reflections on Smyth's dying steadfastness in his opinions must therefore be taken for what they are worth. "Sad and woeful" might be to Mather, "the memory of Mr. Smyth's strong consolations on his death bed," which were "set as a seal to Smyth's gross and damnable Arminianism and enthusiasm;" but the regret of modern readers will be, that so little is known respecting the life and death of this fearless and faithful student of the Scriptures. Smyth died in Holland in 1612.


Thomas Helwys retained the sole pastorate of the Baptist church after John Smyth's decease. But in 1614, he and his friends began to think that they had been actuated by cowardice rather than prudence in escaping to Holland out of the reach of persecution; and believing, moreover, as they afterwards wrote, "that fleeing on account of persecution had been the overthrow of religion in this island," they heroically returned to England. A church was formed in London. Smyth's Confession, and other pamphlets advocating their opinions were published. Many converts were thus won to their faith "a multitude of disciples," says one of their opponents notwithstanding the persecutions they had to endure.


The labours of Helwys, Morton, and other disciples of John Smyth, ultimately led to the formation of the denomination of General Baptists. Truths Champion, an able defence of their principles, by Morton, next to Smyth's Confession, and Helwys's pamphlet, helped most widely to diffuse their opinions. A copy of Morton's book was found in Colchester, at the beginning of the Civil War. It dropped out when an old wall was being demolished.



Spilsbury and the Particular Baptists.


In 1616 an Independent church was gathered in London. Mr. Henry Jacob was its first pastor, and Mr. John Lathrop the second. During the pastorate of Mr. Lathrop some of the members began to think that the church was not adhering very strictly to the first principles which led to their separation from the Established Church, and had, moreover, come to regard adult baptism as the only baptism warranted by Scripture. They therefore asked to be allowed to withdraw, in order to form themselves into a society more in harmony with their own views. Two things weighed with their old friends in acceding to their wishes: the receders were acting according to the dictates of their consciences, and the original church had now grown too large to meet together, in those perilous days for Dissenters, without molestation. The separation took place in Sept., 1633, and the new church met at Wapping, at that time a pleasant suburb of London. The little society, which did not then consist of many more than a score members, called Mr. John Spilsbury to the pastorate.


Five years after the above date (1638), a further secession from the original church strengthened their hands. Among the seceders were William Kiffin and Thomas Wilson. Kiffin, to whose pen we are indebted for the account of the origin of this first Calvinistic Baptist church in England, thus speaks of the reasons which led to his joining Mr. Spilsbury:--"I used all endeavours, by converse with such as were able, and also by diligently searching the Scriptures, with earnest desires to God that I might be directed in a right way of worship; and, after some time, concluded that the safest way was to follow the footsteps of the flock, namely, that order laid down by Christ and His apostles, and practised by the primitive Christians in their time, which I found to be, after conversion they were baptized, added to the church, and continued in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, arid breaking of bread, and prayers."


Very little has been preserved respecting Mr. Spilsbury, except that he was a man of reputation among his brethren. His name appears in the Confession of Faith, published by seven churches in London, in 1644. About eight years afterwards some persecuted Baptists in Massachusett's Colony, addressed a letter "unto our well-beloved John Spilsbury, William Kiffin, and to the rest that in London stand fast in the faith, and continued to walk steadfastly in that order of the Gospel which was once delivered to the saints by Jesus Christ." The following year (1653), Mr. Secretary Thurloe received a letter from Henry Cromwell, referring to the agitation among the Anabaptists in Ireland, who had become Fifth Monarchy men, and objected to the title of Lord Protector being given to Oliver Cromwell, thinking it applicable to God alone. "All are quiet here," says Henry Cromwell, "except a few inconsiderable persons of the Anabaptists' judgment, who also are very well contented; but I believe they will receive much satisfaction from a letter very lately come to their hands from Mr. Kiffin and Mr. Spilsbury, in which they have dealt very homely and plainly with those of that judgment here." These two facts reveal the estimate in which Mr. Spilsbury was held in America and in Ireland. His name appears in the Declaration against Venner's Rebellion in 1662; but in no public document after that date. It is therefore probable that Mr. Spilsbury was removed by death soon after the restoration of Charles the Second.


A quotation from Luke Howard's Looking-glass for Baptists, although containing the opinion of one who had renounced his Baptist sentiments, and had become a Quaker (a very common thing in the days of the Civil War and the Commonwealth), is not without interest. "In the years 1643-1644 the people called Baptists began to have an entrance into Kent; and Ann Stevens, of Canterbury, who was afterwards my wife, being the first that received them there, was dipped into the belief and church of William Kiffin, who then was of the opinion commonly called the Particular Election and reprobation of persons; and by him was also dipped Nicholas Woodman, of Canterbury, myself, and Mark Elfrith, of Dover, with many more, both men and women, who were all of the opinion on that particular point, and who reckoned themselves of the seven churches in that day, who gave forth a book, called The Faith of the Seven Churches, which was then opposite to the Baptists that held the General, as is still the same. At which time there was great contest between those Baptists, the General, as Lamb, Barber, and those who held the universal love of God to all, and Kiffin, Patience, Spillman (Spilsbury), and Collyer, and those that held the Particular Election; so that if any of the Particular men or women of the seven churches aforesaid did change their opinions form the Particular to the General, that then they were to be baptized again; because, they said, you were baptized into a wrong faith, and so into another Gospel, using that saying, ‘If any man bring any other Gospel than that which we have received, let him be accursed.' Whereupon several denied their belief and baptism, and were baptized again into the General opinion, or belief. But Nicholas Woodman aforesaid, with Mark Elfrith, with all of them in Kent, except Daniel Cox, of Canterbury, which never baptized any, held their baptism in the Particular, but changed their opinion to the General, and some to free-will, and the mortality of the soul, and many other things."



The Six-Principle Baptists.


The churches which held to the "six principles" were never very numerous; but any review of English Baptists would be incomplete which omitted all reference to them.


The General Assembly, which met in London 1689, adopted, as their distinguishing principles, personal election and final perseverance. But some Baptist Churches in London refused to subscribe to these opinions and others as persistently declined to sign any terms of human composition. These churches were, however, agreed in accepting the six principles enumerated in Hebrews vi. 1, 2: repentance, faith, baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life. The churches holding these opinions decided upon having a small assembly of their own; accordingly, in March 1690, the elders, ministers, and representatives of five churches, all situated in London, met at White Street meeting, Moorfields. They agreed that, "for the preservation of a cordial union among themselves, all the five parts should, once every year, meet together at one place to celebrate our Lord's death in the Supper; only, whereas, many of our brethren which belong to Goodman's Field's meeting, differing from the other parts in the matter of the Lord's Supper, they were to have liberty to absent themselves from that general meeting, if they pleased."


The five churches comprising this small Assembly were White Street, or White's Alley, Moorfields; Rupert Street, Goodman's Fields; Glasshouse Yard, Goswell Street; Fair Street, formerly Dock Head, or Shad Thames; and Duke Street, Southwark. To these five churches were afterwards joined the churches meeting in Dunning's Alley, Bishopgate Without; St. John's Court, Hart Street, Covent Garden; and High Hall, West Smithfield. This last church was gathered by Dr. William Russell, an equally valiant opponent of "conjoint singing" and "Sabbatarian Baptists." Mr. John Griffith, the first pastor of the Dunning's Alley Church, combated some of the opinions held by the Calvinistic Baptists, and in one chapter of a treatise on "Final Perseverance," deals rather harshly with "fourteen absurdities naturally flowing from the doctrine of the impossibility for believers to fall finally from grace."


It has been common to describe these six-principle Churches as General Baptists; but at the time of their union, they were actually composed of persons holding Arminian and Calvinistic sentiments. After some years the Calvinistic ministers and members withdrew from them, and the few churches that remained were thenceforward known only as General Baptist Churches. Some "six-principle" churches still exist in Rhode Island.



The Seventh-Day Baptists.


This was a smaller society than the six-principle Baptists; but like them, it has preserved a few churches to represent its opinions, even in our own day. They derived their designation from the fact that they kept the Seventh day as the Sabbath. They objected to the reasons generally urged for keeping the first day of the week, and contended that the change from the seventh day to the first was originated by Constantine. "God," said they, "hath required the observance of the seventh or last day of every week to be observed by mankind universally for the weekly Sabbath. This command is perpetually binding upon man till time shall be no more. This sacred rest of the Seventh-day Sabbath is not (by Divine authority) changed from the seventh and last, to the first day of the week; nor do the Scriptures anywhere require the observance of any other day of the week for the weekly Sabbath, but the seventh day only."


The founder of this section of the Baptist body was Rev. Francis Bampfield, M.A., an excellent and pious minister. He was a graduate of the University of Oxford, and began his public life as a minister of the Establishment in Dorset. Here his devotion to the duties of his sacred office, his zeal for the promotion of true piety, his care for the poor and the infirm, won for him golden opinions among his parishioners. At the outbreak of the civil war, Bampfield was a zealous Royalist. He hesitated about paying the taxes imposed by the Parliamentarians, and he publicly read the Book of Common Prayer longer than any other clergyman in Dorset. For his zeal in the cause of the Established Church, he had already been given a prebend's stall in Exeter Cathedral. At length his opinions underwent an entire change, and he confessed that the Church of the State needed a second reformation. To the best of his ability he now sought to make the teaching of Christ his only rule. In 1653, he subscribed to the Commonwealth. Two years after this date he removed to Sherborne, where he remained the faithful pastor of a necessitous people until the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662.


Now began Mr. Bampfield's troubles After resigning his living, he still continued to preach in his own house. He was apprehended while thus conducting a service, and hurried off to Dorchester jail. Nothing daunted, he preached the following Sunday in the prison yard, numbers of the towns people crowding in the open space outside the prison and within earshot of his voice. Released for a time, Bampfield was again lodged in Dorchester jail, and remained there eight wearisome years. But they were not years of idleness. He preached in prison nearly every day, and gathered a church within its very walls. Set at liberty in 1675, he still went on with his preaching, was again seized, and this time, as he was apprehended in Wiltshire, was lodged in Salisbury jail. On account of the heavy fine imposed upon him, this imprisonment lasted a year and a half. On his release, he came to London, and soon after avowed himself a Sabbatarian Baptist. A Church was formed in March, 1676, of persons holding similar views, and "that eminently pious minister of Christ," as the original Church-book declares, "Mr. Francis Bampfield," became their pastor, as he had already been their teacher. "We laid our Church state," the record continues, "upon the only sure foundation, and agree to form and regulate it by the only certain rule and measure, expressing the nature of the constitution of their Church in the following terms:–‘We own the Lord Jesus Christ to be the one and only Lord and Lawgiver to our souls and consciences. And we own the Holy Scriptures of truth as the one and only rule of faith, worship, and life; according to which we are to judge of all cases.'"


The original meeting-place of this Church was Pinner's Hall, Broad Street, London; but as this place was well known, neither Mr. Bampfield nor his friends were allowed to remain long without molestation. On 17th February, 1682, the church assembled in the forenoon at their usual hour for worship, and Mr. Bampfield had already commenced his sermon, when in rushed a constable, staff in hand, several men with halberts following at his heels. The constable commanded Bampfield, in the King's name, to cease and come down. Bampfield replied that he was discharging his office in the name of the King of kings. "I have," said the constable, "a warrant from the Lord Mayor to disturb your meeting." "I have a warrant from Jesus Christ," rejoined Mr. Bampfield, "who is Lord Maximus, to go on." Mr. Bampfield now began to resume his discourse, when the constable ordered one of his halberdiers to pull him down. The preacher and six of his people were taken before the Lord Mayor, were fined ten pounds each, and were set at liberty. Nothing daunted, they met again in the afternoon; and would have proceeded with the service, but for the interruption of a constable and his minions. The service was resumed in Mr. Bampfield's own house, whither a large company followed him. A third interruption occurred on the following Saturday, when the congregation had already been assembled for some time. Mr. Bampfield was praying when the constable entered, and did not cease until one of the officers pulled him out of the pulpit. As he was led through the crowded streets to the Lord Mayor, Bampfield carried his Bible in his hand. Some of the spectators sneered at him as "a Christian Jew," bit others exclaimed,"See how he walks with his Bible in his hand, like one of the old martyrs!"


He was remanded to the Sessions, and he and three others were committed to Newgate. On the 28th March the Recorder read out the sentence: "that they were out of the protection of the King’s Majesty, that all their goods and chattels were forfeited; and they were to remain in goal during their lives, or during the King’s pleasure." Mr. Bampfield would have spoken in reply, but a great uproar arose as soon as he began to speak. "Away with them!" cried some angry voices. Others shouted, "Put them away from the bar. We will not hear them." They were thus being rudely clamoured down, without any attempt to check it on the part of the court, when Mr. Bampfield, seizing a moment's silence that occurred in this uproar, exclaimed, "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness. The Lord be judge in this case!" Thus appealing from the unjust earthly judge, to the Judge of all the earth, Bampfield was hurried back to Newgate. A man naturally of delicate frame, the hardships of his various imprisonments began to tell on his health. He had lived the full period allotted by the Psalmist to man, but the enfeebled state of his body, in consequence of his long and rigorous imprisonments, and the harsh treatment which obliged him to remain, at his last trial, for ten long hours in a cold and loathsome bail dock, hastened his end. He died on 16th Feb, 1683-4, much lamented by his fellow prisoners, as well as by his many friends and acquaintances. His body was interred, amidst a large concourse of spectators, in the burial ground behind the Glasshouse-yard chapel, Goswell-street, London.


There are two congregations of Seventh-day Baptists in England, one meeting in Mill-yard, Whitechapel, and the other somewhere in the country; but in America the Seventh-day Baptists are numerous.



The Scotch Baptists.


The section of the Baptist denomination known as the Scotch Baptists, "took its rise in 1765," and mainly owes its existence and increase to the zeal and ability of one devoted man--Mr. Archibald McLean. He had been an earnest and conscientious member of the Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, of which Rev. John Maclaurin was the minister; but having read Rev. John Glas's Testimony to the King of Martyrs, his faith was shaken in the propriety of national establishments of religion. This change led to his withdrawment from the Presbyterian Church in 1762, and to his uniting with a small society of Glasites, or as they are better known in Scotland, the Sandemanians. A difference between himself and this church in a case of discipline ended in a speedy separation from them; and in 1765 he became a Baptist. The last change in his opinions originated in this way:--Mr. Robert Carmichael, his friend (an Independent minister who had just removed from Glasgow to Edinburgh), and himself had talked together on the subject of infant baptism. Both felt at a loss to find Scriptural warrant for it, but not wishing to relinquish their belief hastily, it was agreed that each of them should carefully consult the New Testament on the subject, and communicate their thoughts upon it to each other. Mr. McLean was the first to arrived at the conclusion that the baptism of infants had no foundation in the Word of God. He hastened to state his reasons for this to Mr. Carmichael, and after some few months, Mr. Carmichael adopted Baptist opinions. In May 1765, Mr. Carmichael and some of his friends who sympathised with his views, withdrew from the Independent Church, and in October of the same year Mr. Carmichael came to London, and was baptized in Barbican by Dr. Gill. Before the close of the year the seceders and Mr. McLean were baptized by Mr. Carmichael. In 1766 Mr. McLean published some letters in Mr.Glas's Dissertation on Infant Baptism, which awakened great attention in Scotland. The following year he removed to Edinburgh, where he became the overseer of the extensive printing establishment of Messrs. Donaldson and Company, and in June he was unanimously elected by the small Baptist Church in that city, as Mr. Carmichael's colleague.


The church in Edinburgh now rapidly increased. Churches were also formed in Glasgow, Montrose, Dundee, and other towns in Scotland. Mr. Carmichael removed to Dundee, and Mr. William Braidwood, a convert from the Independents, became joint elder with Mr. McLean of the Church in Edinburgh. Mr. McLean continued to superintend the extensive concern of Donaldson's printing office for eighteen years, and during the same period was a zealous and faithful elder of the original Scotch Baptist Church. The further spread of the distinctive principles of the Scotch Baptists, not only in Scotland but in England; the pressure of work which was thus thrown on Mr. McLean, not only in answering numerous letters of enquiry, in settling points of difference that arose in some of the new churches, but also "in setting societies in order, and in ordaining elders over them;" the difficulty of attending conscientiously to his duties as overseer of a large printing office and of meeting these various religious claims upon his leisure time together with the fact that his health was beginning visibly to suffer, led the Church at Edinburgh to urge upon him the relinquishment of his secular work, and the acceptance of such a salary from them as they were able to offer. He agreed to their request in 1785, and now devoted himself with renewed energy to the duties of his sacred office. Year after year, in addition to the oversight of all the Churches of the Scotch Baptist persuasion, pamphlet after pamphlet appeared from his unwearied and prolific pen. Some of his publications were greatly admired for their simplicity, their earnestness, and their eminently Scriptural character by many devout men of other Christian denominations. Mr. McLean took a lively interest in furthering the regard of his own people to the Baptist Missionary Society, and both by lip and by pen helped greatly to extend in Scotland a desire to co-operate in this great work.


About the middle of Nov. 1812, he was seized with dimness in one of his eyes, and sought relief in the application of electricity, with but little result. He still continued his labours in the Church, and preached as usual on Lord's-day, Dec. 6th. On the 21st of the same month he fell asleep, in the eightieth year of his age.


The opinions of the Scotch Baptists will be best given in McLean's own words:


"As to their principles," says Mr. McLean, "they refer to no human system as the unexceptionable standard of their faith. They think our Lord and His Apostles used great plainness of speech in telling us what we should believe and practise; and thence they are led to understand a great many things more literally and strictly than those who seek to make the religion of Jesus correspond with the fashion of the time, or the decent course of the world. . . Though they hold the doctrine of particular election, God's unchanging and everlasting love, and of the perseverance of the saints: yet they think it dangerous to comfort people by these considerations when they are in a backsliding state. In this case they think the Scripture motives to fear are most useful, and ought to have their full force, even the fear of falling away, and coming short of heavenly rest. They think it also unsafe, in such a case, to draw comfort from the reflection of our having once believed, it being their opinion, that we must be reduced to the mere mercy of God through the atonement which gave us relief at the first.


"Their Church order is strictly congregational, and so far as they can discern, upon the Apostolic plan, which is the only rule they profess to follow. A plurality of elders or pastors in every church, is a distinguishing feature in their order; at the same time when, from a deficiency of gifts, this cannot at first be attained, they proceed with the setting a church in order by the ordination of one, although they consider a church incomplete without a plurality. The nature of their union requires that they should be strict and impartial in discipline, both to preserve purity, and keep clear the channels of brotherly love, that it may circulate freely through the body.


"They continue steadfast every first day of the week, in the Apostle's doctrine, that is, (1) in hearing the Scriptures read and preached; (2) in fellowship or contribution; (3) in breaking of bread or the Lord's Supper; (4) and in prayers, and singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The prayers and exhortations of the brethren are also admitted in their public meetings. (5) They observe the love-feast, and upon certain occasions (6) the kiss of charity; and also (7) the washing of one another's feet, when it is really serviceable as an act of hospitality They (8) abstain from eating blood and things strangled ; that is, flesh with the blood thereof, because these were not only forbidden to Noah and his posterity when the grant of animal food was first made unto man, but also under the Gospel they are most solemnly prohibited to the believing Gentiles, along with fornication and things offered to idols.


"They think that a gaudy external appearance in either sex, be their station what it may, is a sure indication of the pride and vanity of heart. That women professing godliness are not to adorn themselves with plaited or broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but with modest outward apparel, as well as with the inward ornaments of the mind; also, that it is a shame for a man to have long hair, however sanctioned by the fashion.


"As to marriage, though they do not think either of the parties being an unbeliever, dissolves that relation, when once entered into; yet they hold it to be the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord.


"They also consider gaming, attending plays, routs, balls, and some other fashionable diversions, as unbecoming the gravity and sobriety of the Christian profession.


"As to their political sentiments they consider themselves bound to be subject to the powers that be in all lawful matters, to honour them, pray for them, and pay them tribute, and rather to suffer patiently a good conscience than in any case to resist them by force. At the same time they are friendly to the rational and just liberties of mankind, and think themselves warranted to plead, in a respectful manner, for any just and legal rights and privileges which they are entitled to, whether of a civil or religious nature."



The New Connexion of General Baptists.


Towards the middle of the Eighteenth century the General Baptists of England had become largely tainted with anti-Trinitarian opinions The natural result was, the decay and extinction of many churches. Thomas Grantham announced, in the Declaration presented to Charles the Second that there were over twenty thousand persons in England who then held General Baptist opinions. In days of George the Second that number had greatly diminished; and since that period there has been a gradual decrease of churches who claim any historic connection with churches founded in the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts.


The New Connexion of General Baptists sprang into existence in 1770, and as a protest against the anti-Trinitarian opinions of the older body. Its origin is partly due to the labours of certain earnest and godly men in Leicestershire, and partly to the herculean labours of a convert from Wesleyanism in Yorkshire, Dan Taylor, of Wadsworth, near Hebden-bridge. The centre of the Leicestershire Society was Barton-in-the-Beans, a small hamlet two miles from Market Bosworth, the scene of the defeat and death of Richard the Third, the last of the Plantagenets. The Barton Society had been in existence some years before Dan Taylor made its acquaintance, and had churches affiliated with it at Melbourne, in Derbyshire, at Keyworth and Loughborough, Leicestershire, and at Kirkby-Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire. Abraham Booth was at this time pastor of the latter church.


In the year 1764, a young man, about five-and-twenty, rather under the average size of men, strongly built, and with a frame that exhausting labour in a coal mine had rather more firmly knit than wasted, took an active part in digging out from a quarry blocks of stone which were intended to be used in the erection of a new place of worship. He had already drawn out the plan itself of the building. He now vigorously helped to reproduce the plan on the steep side of a romantic valley. All worked with a will, inspired by the example of the man who was at once preacher, architect of his own chapel, and mason. The edifice was at length complete; when to crown his other labours and hasten on the work, he carried, on his own stalwart shoulders, from the old meeting place to the new one, the pulpit in which he was henceforth to labour. This was Dan Taylor, justly regarded as the father and founder of the New Connexion of General Baptists.


The place of worship which Taylor had thus energetically assisted to build, was incumbered with a debt, which pressed heavily on the handful of people at Birchcliffe, as his new chapel was called. He therefore set off in quest of funds. The man who the year before had walked a hundred and twenty miles in the depth of winter in search of Baptists, and had contentedly slept one night under a hay-rick, was just the man to carry his point, whatever it might be. He travelled into the Midland Counties as far as Loughborough, and here first made the personal acquaintance of the people with whom for many years afterwards his own life and labours were closely entwined.


The following year Dan Taylor attended the General Assembly of the old General Baptist churches in London, as the representative of the Lincolnshire branch of their churches. During the next four years the divergence in doctrine between himself and this older body became more and more distasteful, and he and the Lincolnshire churches withdrew from them, and made oyertures to the five Midland churches to join together in forming a new religious organization. The overtures were cordially received, and a preliminary meeting was held at Lincoln in 1769. Early in the following year, the first annual meeting met in London, under the title of "The Assembly of Free Grace General Baptists." Of the nineteen ministers who were present at that meeting, eight belonged to the churches which Dan Taylor had found in the Midland Counties six years before, and ten were ministers of churches connected with the older denomination. Dan Taylor, though reckoned as one of this older religious body, had only become associated with them through his acquaintance and official relation with the Lincolnshire branch of their churches.


Henceforth the two currents of religious activity intermingled; but while that current was broader which flowed out from the Leicestershire spring, the current was more rapid and energetic--a kind of moral and religious eagre--which arose in the northern county. In other words, Dan Taylor now became the ruling spirit of the whole community. He was their great organiser, their controversialist, their oracle. Taylor made the first attempts to give the General Baptists of the New Connexion a literature of their own, an attempt which was very little appreciated, partly owing to the foolish prejudice against all literature among the members, who comprised the early churches of the denomination He presided for fifteen years over their Institution for the Education of Ministers. Several of his sons-in-law took prominent places in the New Connexion, and one of them afterwards followed his steps as editor of the magazine of the denomination, and tutor of the college. He assisted at no less than thirty-eight ordinations, was chairman of their annual meetings for nearly half a century, and was one of their most frequent and popular preachers, and the writer of many of its Circular Letters. No man did more to extend the denomination he so dearly loved; and the work which he did at Birchliffe in 1764, was the work which, in a different fashion, and on a larger scale, he did afterwards for the whole Connexion. The life of Dan Taylor is the history of the New Connexion of General Baptists for more than half a century. He died in London, December 1816, aged 78, and was buried in Bunhill Fields.


Nothing is more surprising than the amount of work Dan Taylor was able to accomplish, and unless he had been a rigid economist of time, notwithstanding his natural robustness, he could not have got through half his work. Moreover, there was never any period of his life, when his time was fairly his own; now it was largely engrossed by a school, now by a farm, now by a shop, and now by the training of young ministers. Three or four times a year he made special preaching journeys, and before his removal from Halifax to London he had travelled twenty-five thousand miles in, preaching the Gospel. He rarely preached, on these special Journeys, less than nine times in the week. His love for the Scriptures was a distinguishing trait in his character. Fearing that his sight was altogether failing, he determined to commit the whole of the Bible to memory; and had actually accomplished part of his design, when his recovery dissipated his apprehensions."


There are six articles of faith which were propounded by Dan Taylor, as the basis of union in 1770, and which will be found in a later part of this volume. We prefer to insert here the exposition of their opinions by the Rev. Dr. Underwood, of Chilwell College, Nottinghamshire. It is given in a paper read before the first autumnal session of the Baptist Union at Birmingham, Oct. 1864. Dr. Underwood says:--


"Although I have no commission from any of my associated brethren to confess what they believe, I do not hesitate to present a summary of the sentiments which I think to be those of the denomination generally. To us there is one God, of whom are all things, and we for Him.' But we hold that in this one God there are three subsistents, ‘called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,' who have proper Deity in themselves, and full communion with one another. Whether each of these subsistents should be called a person, and the whole three a Trinity, has been questioned by some; but as the Father is said to be ‘a person,' and as the Son is said to be ‘the express image of His person,’ and as the Spirit is neither Father nor Son, many of us feel no scruple in speaking of the Trinity, and in saying that there are three persons in one God.


"We maintain the proper Divinity and perfect humanity of Christ, teaching that Christ is God, that Christ was man, and that He was God and man in one person, ‘plain to be distinguished, impossible to be divided.' We maintain the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, and that it is His office to enlighten, convict, and renew the sinner, and to sanctify, confirm, and comfort the saint.


"Concerning man, we believe that he was formed in the moral image of his Maker, but that he lost his original by one act of disobedience; that from that act, which constituted the ‘fall' of man, the whole race inherit an evil nature--are prone to sinful deeds--and do, on attaining the age of accountability, willfully rebel against God. But while we believe that the moral stain contracted by the first transgression has been transmitted to all their posterity, we do not believe that the guilt of their offence is imputed to any of their descendants.


"We believe that the death of Christ was voluntary and vicarious, and that in connection therewith His obedience and sufferings constitute the real atonement, satisfying the Divine law, reconciling the offended God to man, and the offended man to God; that the whole world, being guilty before God, is under condemnation to eternal death, yet that all penitents who trust in Christ have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.


"But the distinguishing tenet from which we take our name, General, which was prefixed to our ancient deeds, covenants, which we have inserted in many of our title-deeds, and which we would gladly proclaim on the housetops, is--the love of God in Christ to all mankind.


"On the liberty of man to choose the life or the death, the blessing or the curse, set before him, we have so strongly spoken as to provoke opponents to call us ‘Free-willers. But . . . the first meeting which was held by the founders of the denomination called itself an Assembly of Free Grace General Baptists;' and that this was a proper appellation may be seen from what all our predecessors have said in their Confessions . . . .


"Our ecclesiastical polity is in close agreement with other Congregationalists. . . . In former days pastors and deacons were set apart to their duties by counsel and prayer with the imposition of hands; but now the choice of deacons is sometimes not a very spirited proceeding, and the ordination solemnity, in the case of pastors, is supplanted too often by a semi-social hybrid called ‘the recognition tea-meeting.'


"In the matter of communion, our practice is far from being uniform. Until within a very few years nearly all our churches were close and strict; but now some are so open as to allow any person professing godliness to sit with them at the Lord's table. Several other churches invite those to participate who are known to be in actual membership with Pædobaptist communities; while the rest, and the majority, hold to the early custom of confining the privilege to those who had been ‘buried with Christ in baptisim.'


"Since the founding of the Connexion each church now belonging to it has been admitted on its own application; but before the vote for admission is taken in the Annual Association, such application is accompanied by the recommendation of the district conference. The Association is an assembly of ministers who are members ex officio, and of representatives who are sent by the churches in a certain ratio. This assembly rotates, and is never held in one place oftener than once in seven years. The affiliated churches are expected to contribute to the support of the institutions of the Body, such as the Home and the Orissa Missions, and the College. If any church declines to render this support to any one of these institutions, the power of speaking or voting on questions relating thereto is forfeited. The Association acknowledges the perfect independence of the churches, and scrupulously avoids all synodic action which could infringe their freedom. But if any church should deny the right of the ministers and representatives to interfere with it in the event of its departure from the Christian faith and morality, such a church would be marked and admonished; and if it continued contumacious, it would be cut off. In like manner, any minister convicted of flagrant heresy, or gross moral pravity, even if his people should adhere to him, would be openly disowned, and his name would be removed from the yearly ministerial list."