This church is rather more ancient than the one at Bromsgrove, having been commenced in 1646 or 1648 by the celebrated clergyman of Bewdley, the Rev. John Tombes, B.D., who in all probability was also the founder of the churches at Leominster, Hereford, and other places. “Of the professed Anabaptists" says Mr. Wall in his defence of Infant Baptism, “Mr. Tombes was a man of the best parts in our nation, and perhaps in any.” The Lords in their conference with the Commons on the “Occasional Conformity” bill, call him “a very learned and famous man." This eminent man was born at Bewdley in 1603, and having made rapid proficiency in his University studies
at Oxford, he became lecturer at Magdalen Hall at the early age of 21 years. While engaged in these duties, and reading extensively for their proper discharge, he began to suspect the validity of infant-baptism. He was a powerful and popular preacher wherever he laboured, which he did at Worcester, Leominster, Bristol, and in London, where he was chosen lecturer by the Templars. He held a private meeting in 1643, with the most learned of the London ministers, to whom he proposed his doubts concerning infant baptism, but received no satisfactory reply. In the same year he communicated his scruples to the Westminster Assembly of Divines, in an elaborate argument in Latin, but no reply was made by that body. At Leominster he was plundered by the King's forces “of almost all he had in the world,” and again at Bristol, where he narrowly escaped a still greater calamity. In 1645 he returned to his native place, where he boldly avowed his sentiments on Baptism, and soon after formed the above church. The popularity he acquired as a preacher speedily raised him into notice, and the fearless fidelity with which he taught and practised the principles of believers' baptism soon brought him into collision with Richard Baxter, who at that time was minister in the neighbouring town of Kidderminster, and who it appears, challenged him to a public disputation. This took place at Bewdley on January 1st, 1649, before a. crowded multitude, whom the celebrity and known ability of the disputants had brought together, from the whole neighbourhood. It commenced before ten in the morning, and lasted without intermission to between four and five in the afternoon. The representations of the combatants themselves, are mixed up, on both sides, with too much warmth of temper, and with too many personalities, to be implicitly relied on; but an impartial historian, in the person of Wood, the Oxford writer, remarks on this controversy that, “All scholars then and there present, however, who knew the way of disputing and managing arguments, did conclude that Tombes got the better of Baxter, by far." Mr. Tombes held three other public disputes, one at Ross, one at Abergavenny, and one at Hereford; and in 1653 he was chosen, on account of his character and learning, one of the “Tryers.” He subsequently retired to Salisbury, where he died, May 25, 1676, aged 78 years.
Among the “twenty” baptized believers, whom Mr. Tombes formed into a separate church at Bewdley, were Mr. Richard Adams, Mr. John Eccles, and Captain Roylston. These brethren, having ministerial gifts, were early employed as assistant ministers in the church. Of the last but little is known; Mr. Adams, after being ejected from Humberstone, in Leicestershire, withdrew to London, and succeeded Mr. Daniel Dyke, at Devonshire-square. He was, says Dr. Calamy, “a man of great piety and integrity," and lived to a very great age. Mr. Eccles became the successor of Mr. Tombes at Bewdley, in 1650, but, on account of preaching at Bromsgrove also, he went to live in the latter town about 1651. In 1658 the church proposed to join the Association, but both it and the one at Gloucester, that had made a similar proposal, were recommended first to ascertain if there was an agreement in doctrine between themselves and the Association, and then, if they were found to agree, to renew the application at some future meeting. It does not appear certain that the application was repeated during that generation, and there is no evidence of the Bewdley church having actually joined the Association until the year 1718. The two churches at Bewdley and Bromsgrove continued united down to 1670, when the latter became a separate society, with Mr. Eccles for its pastor. But by whom he was succeeded at Bewdley is not quite certain, for no pastor’s name occurs until 1700, when a Mr. Clark appears to have filled that office. But the period of his settlement, how long he remained, and whither he departed, are not clearly known. It is, however, probable that he went to Netherton, in compliance with the earnest request of that church in 1712, a copy of whose letter on that occasion is inserted in the Appendix. He was succeeded by Mr. Thompson, whose connection with the church was evidently an unhappy one. His ordination (referred to in the History) was considered by the Association quite irregular, and a blessing did not follow this first equivocal step, for he soon sunk into most pernicious error. In the Bewdley Letter to the Association in 1719, there is an account of the steps taken by the church in accordance with the advice of the Association given them in the previous year,* and they say, “We have,
* In that Association Letter (1718) there is a special postscript addressed to the Bewdley church, in which besides the advice tendered, the brethren remark, “The christian and regular steps you have taken for his (Thompson‘s) conviction and recovery, we heartily commend you for, and approve of the method you have taken, the which, though not successful, is but what is an ordinary concomitant of heresy and pernicious errors, viz. to be attended with wilful obstinacy."
according to your advice, proceeded against Mr. Thompson as follows. On the 8th of June (1718) we sent two members to ask him if he continued in the same mind with respect to the error he was charged with, which he answered in the affirmative; and to acquaint him that then we did intend to cut him off from the church on the second day of July next ensuing, if we did not hear from him in that time. And accordingly he was cut off on the day above mentioned, we not hearing from him till after it was done; then he sent a threatening letter to the church, wherein he banter’d at the Holy Trinity in Unity, and at us for holding it." - Mr. Thompson remained in Bewdley some time after his exclusion, and occasioned much annoyance to the church. But in 1720 they were relieved by his departure to South Collingham, in Nottinghamshire.
In 1718, and, as it would appear, immediately on Mr. Thompson's exclusion, Mr. James Kettilby, a young member of the church and an occasional preacher, was engaged as a supply. After an extended probation of near eight years’ duration, he became pastor, and was ordained May 20, 1725. He was a sound, judicious, humble minister, but never popular. His ministry, which may be characterized as having been more solid than successful, was continued at Bewdley for more than 50 years; and after a life of holiness and zeal in his Master’s service, he ended his days in the scene of his labours, in 1767, in the 71st year of his age. His eldest son Joshua also entered the ministry, and his son-in-law, Mr. John Allen. The former ultimately settled at Tottlebank, in Lancashire, where he died; and the latter, after an unsettled course, emigrated to America.
After being about three years dependent on “supplies,” the church invited Mr. Blackshaw, from Cheshire, to become their pastor. He was ordained in 1774, and continued with them a few years, during which his ministry was useful, when he left for Leicester in 1779. In 1781 Mr. John Pyne, of Shrewsbury, became the pastor, but finding the Church too poor to support a minister he left for Bristol in 1788. For some two or three years Mr. Baylis supplied the church. In 1793 Mr. George Williams, of Wolverhampton, became the supply, and subsequently the pastor. He was ordained in 1794, but soon found the church too poor to support a minister with a large family, and returned to his trade in 1799. The church remained destitute for some time, when, after a due trial of their gifts, two of their own members were chosen, in 1802, to be joint ministers. These were Mr. George Brookes (a deacon), and Mr. Thomas Griffin, whose joint services continued, with the utmost harmony, until 1808, when Mr. Griflin left to form and superintend the church at Kidderminster. Mr. Brookes then became sole pastor, was ordained in 1813, and for 29 years continued to break the bread of life to the people, with a consistency and holy integrity that endeared him to all who knew his character. Having considerable property, his entire ministry was perfectly gratuitous. Nor was this all, but when, through increasing infirmity, he being then 75 years of age, he could no longer discharge the duties of the pastor, he appropriated near two thousand pounds to the support of the cause at Bewdley, the interest of which was to be devoted to the maintenance of the minister. He also provided about 700 volumes of suitable books for the use of the resident minister, and devoted other sums of money for various purposes in connection with the Baptist interest both at Bewdley and Kidderminster. He was an eminent man of God, - thoroughly devoted to the cause of his own denomination, - and anxious in a high degree to secure, if possible, its perpetuity. He died in 1844, after a ministry of more than forty-two years.
The next pastor was Mr. W. E. White, from Horton College, Bradford. He was ordained July 26, 1843, and resigned his pastorate on the same date in 1846. He was succeeded by Mr. G. Cozens, formerly of Brettell Lane, who remained to the close of 1854. The present minister is Mr. J. Bailey, from Raglan, but formerly of the Darkhouse, Coseley. His ministry commenced in February, 1855. The present number of members is seventeen. May this small number be speedily increased to one more worthy the name and standing of this venerable church!
N.B. The church absented itself for a time from the Association, and was received again in 1844.
[From The History of the Midland Association of Baptist Churches, 1855, pp. pp. 56-60. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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