Hitherto the Baptists had suffered from the arbitrary power of Protestant and Popish sovereigns and their ready tools;
they were now to have a taste of Presbyterian oppression. Presbyterianism was in the ascendant at the outbreak of the Civil War, and retained its predominance among the Parliamentarians for some years. The Presbyterian ministers began to clamour for the suppression of the Sectaries, as they styled the Baptists and Independents. "If you do not labour," said Calamy, in a sermon preached before the House of Commons in 1644, "according to your duty and power to suppress the errors and heresies that are spread in the kingdom, all these errors are your errors, and these heresies are your heresies. They are your sins; and God calls for a Parliamentary repentance from you this day. You are the Anabaptists, you are the Antinomians, and it is you that hold all religions should be tolerated." "Is it persecution," said Dr. Burgess, in another sermon before the House the year after (April 30th, 1645), "Is it persecution and anti-Christianism to engage all to unity and uniformity? Doth Paul bid the Philippians beware of the concision? Doth he beseech the Romans to mark those that cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrines they have received, and avoid them? Doth he, in writing to the Galatians, wish 'I would they were even cut off that trouble you?' And is it such an heinous offence now for the faithful servants of Christ to advise you by the same course? Good heavens!" Even Baxter said, "I abhor unlimited liberty and toleration of all, and think myself easily able to prove the wickedness of it."
The same year that Dr. Burgess preached his sermon, Parliament, now filled with Presbyterians, passed an ordinance, which ran as follows: — "That no person shall be permitted to preach, who is not ordained a minister of this (the Presbyterian) or some other Reformed Church; and it is earnestly desired that Sir Thomas Fairfax take care that this ordinance be put in execution in the army." The savage and bitter Edwards, author of Gangræna, not content with retailing every silly and damaging story to the discredit of Baptists that any gossips
might bring him, calls upon the magistrates "to declare that Anabaptists who go dipping persons in cold water in winter, whereby persons fall sick, &c., should be proceeded against as vagrants and rogues, that go from country to country;" that in the event of "any falling sick upon their dipping, and die," the Anabaptists, who administered the rite, "should be indicted upon the statute of killing the King's subjects, and be proceeded against accordingly." But whatever note might be taken by the Presbyterian admirers of Edward's scandalous suggestions, the ordinance of the Parliament was not allowed to remain a dead letter. Thomas Lamb was one of the earliest to feel its severity.
Lamb was a native of Colchester, and, in the earlier part of the reign of Charles the First, had been dragged in chains from that city to London by the emissaries of Laud, being cited to appear before the Star Chamber. The fanatical and persecuting Archbishop asked him, "If he had dared to administer the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper?" Lamb pleaded the right of an Englishman not to bear witness against himself, and refused to answer. He was rudely ordered back to prison during the pleasure of the Court, and for some months remained in custody. His devoted wife besieged the Court with her prayers for her husband's liberation, not merely for her own sake, but for the sake of her eight young children. "Take that troublesome woman away!" shrieked out the Archbishop to the court officers; and Mrs. Lamb was forcibly ejected from the Star Chamber. It is not known by what means he regained his liberty; but such was his zeal in his Master's service, that though he had been in all the gaols in and about London on account of his recusancy, he no sooner regained his liberty than he instantly returned to his pastoral and itinerating labours. He was wont to say, that no man was fit to preach Christ's Gospel who was not also ready to die for it the moment he had done. Animated by such quenchless zeal and fearless courage, he speedily gathered about him a Christian community,
which usually met in Bell Alley, Coleman-street, London. A flourishing church was already in existence at the beginning of the quarrel between King Charles and his Parliament. The congregation was large, and the yard of the chapel was not unfrequently crowded with eager listeners. The church became a missionary centre, and labourers went forth into Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and other counties. Conspicuous among these itinerating preachers was Henry Denne, formerly a clergyman at Pyrton, in Hertford, a man of great decision and courage, and very largely successful.
Soon after the ordinance against unlicensed preachers was enacted by Parliament, the Lord Mayor of London sent officers to arrest Lamb and his assistants. Their arrival at Bell Alley Chapel was the signal for a great tumult, and provoked, in their hearing, some not very complimentary language. When Mr. Lamb had succeeded in repressing the agitation of his friends, he spoke courteously to the officers, asked permission to continue the service, and pledged his word that at six o'clock the same evening he himself and the young preacher, whose discourse they had interrupted, should both appear before the Lord Mayor. The officers then retired, and the service proceeded. Punctually to the time both Mr. Lamb and his young help-fellow made their appearance.The Lord Mayor began by calling their attention to the recent ordinance of Parliament.
He then asked the young man, "Why do you preach? and where is your warrant?"
"The Lord hath opened my mouth," he replied, "and I must show forth His praise."
The Lord Mayor suggested that he might do this by a right discharge of his duties as a private Christian."
Lord Mayor - "How long have you been a preacher?"
Mr. Lamb's Assistant - "Ever since I was baptized."
Lord Mayor (whose thoughts were running on infant baptism) - "Hath your mouth been open ever since your infancy?"
Mr. Lamb's Assistant - "My infant baptism was no baptism. I have not been baptized more than six months."
It was now Mr. Lamb's turn to be questioned. "Have you not transgressed an ordinance of Parliament?" asked the Lord Mayor.On further inquiry, Mr. Lamb frankly acknowledged that he and his friends did not regard infant baptism as valid. The two men were bound over to appear before a Committee of Parliament. A brief hearing before that Committee decided their case, and both were hurried off to prison. They were afterwards released by the intercession of powerful friends, and again returned with fresh zeal and boldness to their work.
"No," said Lamb, quoting the precise words of the Ordinance itself, "I am a preacher called and chosen by as reformed a church as any in the world."
It was during the time immediately following his release, that Thomas Lamb baptized the wife of a man who was a bitter enemy of the Baptists. The ordinance was administered in the Old Ford river, near Bromley, a spot commonly selected for that purpose by Thomas Lamb and his friends. The husband was among the crowd of spectators, hiding under his coat a heavy stone, which he intended to throw at Mr. Lamb whilst he was standing in the river, ready to administer the rite of baptism. But the fervent prayer of the preacher touched his heart, the stone was permitted to slide noiselessly to the ground, and tears filled the eyes of the softened and penitent husband: he was himself the next person baptized by Mr. Lamb in the Old Ford river.
[From John J. Goadby, Bye-Paths in Baptist History, 1871; reprint, 1987, pp.82-86. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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