AMONG the mighty men whose character, career, piety learning and usefulness, have illustrated the annals of Christianity and adorned the pages of Baptist history, stands prominent if not preeminent, Abraham Booth, for thirty-seven years the pastor of the Prescott Street Baptist church, Goodman Fields, London, and the author of works which will live through all time.
One hundred and twenty years ago there lived in a little village of Nottinghamshire, England, a poor man who had struggled up to his obscure and humble position through difficulties which might well appal the bravest of souls. He had not yet reached the meridian of life; but seven children were dependent upon his daily toil for their bread. He was now the pastor of a small Baptist church which met in an out of-the-way place in the village. The battle of life to this man seemed terrible and continuous. Any hope to attain position among his fellow men outside of his small audience at Button Ashfleld, was unreasonable. To get bread for his family, and give his unpaid services on Sunday to the instruction of his fellow-workmen, who could brave the odium poured upon them by the "churchmen " and the wicked — this was all the prospect before him. Nor did his great soul look for any great things beyond this. To fit himself for this responsible work — to be able by divine aid to lead these few higher and higher among the mountains of God's truth and point out to them the hidden springs of living water — in other words, to be an able minister of Jesus Christ, and accomplish all that was possible in his circumstances for the cause of Christ — was his holy and soul-propelling ambition. He had consecrated all his powers to this service — such as it was. To work for his Master and be a blessing to his fellow-men, in the location and circumstance where his lot was cast, was his sole purpose, and before the fixed intense light of this resolve the dark cloud brightened into a pillar of fire, guiding him onward.
He had no early advantages. When he entered on his work as a minister, he could barely read and write. He had neither companionship nor facilities to encourage or aid him. But in the strength of that manly purpose, sustained by gracious influences from on high, he broke through the environments of ignorance that hedged his soul, and forcing his way into the mental armory, fitted himself with weapons for the noble and triumphant struggle. He studied grammar as he worked at his hand-loom in his little chamber, with his children around him; and sometimes when his true wife attended to outside domestic concerns, he rocked the cradle with one foot, worked.the treadle with the other, and kept his eye and his mind on the book before him. Such is the force of purpose when deliberately formed in a true, manly soul. What may we not expect of this poor toiling weaver with his poverty and his penury and his little Bapiist church!
Abraham Booth is now known wherever the religious literature of the English language has reached, and the eloquent Dr. Chalmers, the prince of scholars and orators, felt himself honored in being selected by the Tract Society of England to write an introduction to a book written in that same village by this poor weaver. "Booth's Reign of Grace" has passed through hundreds of editions and has been translated into numerous languages, and will continue to be a blessing to God's people to the end of time.
Booth was converted among the General Baptists. These people were then, as they are not at the present day, low Armimiins. Booth imbibed their principles; but the study of God's Word, and deep reflection upon his own nature as depraved and destitute of anything pleasing to God, led him to abandon his legalism and grasp the grand doctrine of salvation entirely by grace alone. This led him to define the meaning of this term as, "The eternal and absolute free favor of God manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy." Such he says is the eternal origin, such the glorious basis of our salvation. The indelible motto inscribed on all the blessings of the unchangeable covenant is, TO THE PRAISE OF THE GLORY OF HIS GRACE.
His thoughts were penned at first with no thought of their publication. But the theme expanded before the toiling, earnest weaver, and in the loom of his mind, with more rapidity than in the one plied by his hands, was being woven his glorious work, The Reign of Grace. At length it found a volume, and the almost illegible manuscript closed with these almost inspired words:''To conclude: From this imperfect and brief survey of The Riegn of Grace; from this feeble attempt to illustrate its power and majesty, we may learn, that the free favor of God, manifested in our salvation, is a theme so copious and so sublime, that all which can be said by the most evangelical and eloquent preachers; all that can be written by the most accurate and descriptive pens; all that can be conceived by the most excursive and sanctified imagination among the sons of men, must come infinitely short of a full display. Yes, after all that is imagined, or can be sung by angels or men, by seraphs or saints, in the church below or in the choirs above, the charming subject will remain unexhausted to eternity. For the riches of Christ are unsearchable, and the grace of God is unbounded. Who, then? —
But how shall this poor man ever get the work in print. The Baptists of that day were of all other classes of religionists most despised — not even excepting the Quakers. And this man had no position, even among the Baptists. It is a wonderful record, if we think of it, how the Lord opened a way for its permanent circulation.
'Who shall fulfill the boundless song?
What vain pretender dares?
The theme surmounts an angel's tongue,
And Gabriel's harp despairs.'"
Lady Huntingdon is a name familiar to most readers. She was a woman of large fortune and devoted, earnest piety. All she had — her wealth, her position, and her energies — were consecrated to the work of evangelizing England. The societies gathered by Whitfleld and his co-laborers were known as the Lady Huntingdon connection. She built for them their houses of worship; she supported the families of their preachers; she educated their young preachers; she founded their schools and provided for their poor. She was as noble a type of Christian womanhood as adorns the pages of English history, and her name is still held in grateful remembrance by her nation in which are so many memorials of her beneficence."In the 'Life and Times of the Countess of Huntingdon,' volume II. p. 24, occurs this passage: 'About this time the late Rev. Abraham Booth attracted the notice of some persons eminent in the religious world. He was pastor of a small congregation of the Particular Baptist denomination, at Button Ashfield, in Nottinghamshire, where he composed a work entitled, The Reign of Grace, which contained the substance of a great number of his sermons, preached first to the church over which he presided, and at other places. The manuscript had been recommended to the Rev. H. Venn, who, hearing a pleasing account of Mr. B.'s life anil ministry, desired to peruse it, though he entertained no raised expectations concerning it; but to my great surprise (says Mr. V.) there appeared to me in it the marks of a genius, joined with the feelings of a Christian heart; a vigor of style much above what is common in our best religious writers; in his reasoning, clearness and force, and in his doctrine an apostolic purity. I flatter myself also that this work will prove both so pleasing and useful to men of an evangelical taste, that some better situation may be found for Mr. B. — a situation proper for a man whom God hath endowed with abilities, and a taste for good learning; so that he shall be no more subject to the necessity of manual labor."In a letter to Lady H. from Mr. Venn, an Episcopal divine of great piety, he says: "The author is very poor, has seven children,
and was never taught more than to read and to write." Yet this is the man who wrote the vindication of the Baptists — whose vast learning and research have placed him in the front rank of the great scholars of the eighteenth century. What cannot fixed purpose do when sanctified by grace.
The work met with general approbation and had a ready sale. Some of the members of Prescott Street Baptist Church, Goodman's Fields (then destitute of a pastor), having read the book invited its author to preach on trial for them. He was soon called to the pastorship of the church. And now came to view an incident in Booth's life unnoticed hitherto, which displayed the deep convictions and uncompromising courage of this man of God in an aspect truly sublime. The settlement of a pastor in England is usually, and was invariably in the last century, a regular ordination. A charge is delivered; the statement of the candidate and a confession of his faith is given by him; then follows a sermon and a charge to the candidate. On the occasion of Booth's ordination over the Prescott Street Church, Lady Huntingdon, who had so befriended him, was present. It is stated in the historic notice to the "Reign of Grace," "Lady Huntingdon, at the time in London, was present on the interesting occasion, and ever afterward maintained a friendly intercourse with Mr. Booth."
Will not the strict Baptist, on this occasion, avoid giving offense to a deeply pious and venerable woman who was a Pedo-baptist? Will he openly state that nothing was baptism but immersion? Will he in no uncertain tones affirm that immersion and church fellowship are essential preliminaries to the Lord's Supper? What a temptation to cover up and hide in ambiguous phrases the stern principles of the Gospel in regard to church ordinances. But listen to his noble statement: "I believe that baptism is an immersion in water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, . . . and is previously necessary to the Lord's Supper."
What say English open communionists to this? And yet Lady Huntingdon, and Vicar Venn also, "ever afterwards maintained a friendly intercourse so with Mr. Booth," and I donbt not held him in far higher respect than they would have done had he lowered the law and told them that though Christ's command was to be immersed, each one might decide for himself compliance with the Divine injunction.
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository and Home Circle, April, 1889, No. LXVII, No. 3, pp. 241-245 - via Google Books. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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