The brothers and sisters of Richord had been led to attend the Wesleyan Chapel, and several had become believers in Jesus. These brothers and sisters highly respected John, but at the same time entertained a great dislike to his religious views. The consequence was that many of John's courting visits were converted into theological discussions. The farmer's kitchen witnessed some severe contests on subjects such as Wesley and Toplady in no Christian spirit discussed. The hottest of the conflict, however, was generally on the subject and mode of baptism. "Early to bed and early to rise" was the maxim acted upon by the North Devon farmers in the year 1800; but so interesting and earnest became at times the discussion on the above subject that more than once John was leaving the house at eleven o'clock p.m. for his two miles' walk. Richord on these occasions was a quiet listener. She had given her heart to John, and whatever might have been her private convictions, she would not add one to the number of John's opponents - for he had to confront the whole single-handed. Whether John's antagonists were in knowledge a match for him we are not prepared to say, though we know that his tactics were good, for he made up his mind, he tells us, to 'keep cool, however hot others became, and to adhere to Scripture only, whatever others might do.' John says that he 'felt he should never lead them to adopt his views; all he hoped was to lessen the bitterness of their opposition, by convincing them that he had some countenance from Scripture for the opinions he held.' John's surprise was great therefore, when two of the brothers, a sister, Richord, and a servant-man, expressed their desire to be baptized in the same way and in the same stream in which John had confessed his faith in Christ.
Just at this period, Opie Smith, Esq., of Bath, had sent a Baptist minister to labour at Great Torrington. This was about twenty miles from Mockham Barton. After a conference with Mr. Gould it was decided that the minister should be seen, and his services secured. This was done, and the day of baptism fixed.
Great was the commotion when John was immersed - greater by far was the commotion now. Not one man, but three men and two women, were about to submit to the rite. This was something extraordinary. It was a shame - indecent - wicked! It was a heresy that must not be permitted, for every person so baptized was an addition to the Anabaptist power that had supposedly committed such fearful deeds in other places. The farmers in their ignorance, and the peasants in their prejudice, were determined to make opposition. The clergyman consulted with the churchwardens, and the churchwardens with the parishioners; and it was decided that the clergyman should close the church in the afternoon of the day on which the baptism was to take place, in order that he might be at liberty to denounce the errors and expose the doings of these fanatics. For a fortnight little else was talked about. Far and wide the clergyman's resolution was known. The day of baptism, therefore, drew to this quiet hamlet multitudes from towns ten and fifteen miles away.
The persons about to be baptized spent much of the preceding fortnight in earnest prayer that God would be their helper. Every day in Mr. Gould's kitchen they knelt together. The men had no fears but the two sisters shrank from the expected storm. On the day of baptism, the old farmer, grey and bent by age, looking forward every day to his call upwards, felt an inspiration girding him with unusual strength, and he felt no fear. Just before leaving the house he opened the Bible, and with a tremulous voice, but rejoicing heart, he read: 'Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.' "Friends," said the old man, "God so speaks to each of us today."
Mary was too feeble to face the crowd so that she remained at home. The minister, with Mr. Gould leaning on his arm, carrying his Bible, led the way; these were followed by John and Richord, then William Quick and his sister Mary, and then Richard Quick and the man-servant. The appearance of the group was most impressive. The old man was bareheaded, and the two sisters were dressed in neat white garments. The crowd made way as they approached and no wonder. Wicked must that man have been who could put a finger upon the old man! For miles his worth was known, though for his religious views he had suffered much. The waterside was reached without any opposition and the minister commenced by asking the vast assembly to listen to him for a few minutes. This some were not inclined to do; and shouts and sneers, false charges, and indecent remarks began to multiply on every side. Some of the rougher sort began to crowd around the persons to be baptized, while others threw stones and dogs into the stream. The uproar every moment increased, the two sisters were becoming very tremulous when the old farmer - perceiving that something must be done, and done quickly, if the baptism is to take place - stepped upon a hillock, and raising his bent form and lifting up his right hand, and looking towards heaven, he said, "O Lord in our helplessness defend us, in our weakness strengthen us, in our fear encourage us." The crowd around no sooner saw the old man in prayer than the uproar quietly died away, and ceasing to pray, he said: -
"Neighbours and fellow-farmers, for many, many years I have been in your midst. I am now old and grey, and shall soon pass into another world. Let me ask, is there anyone here I have wronged? or can anyone say that in the day of distress I have been backward to help? In my religious views I have differed from you; but whatever may have been said about my views, have they made me a drunkard, a thief, dishonest, cruel, or in any way a wicked man? They have sustained me through life - taught me to sympathize with the distressed - led me to pray for my neighbours - and cause me at this moment to desire that all in this field may reach heaven at last. I have suffered much because I differ from you, and many times I have had to read, for my own comfort, words Jesus uttered: 'Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake! Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.' Friends, I feel the power of these words today. I am prepared, if necessary, still to suffer; but will you inflict the suffering? I ask you, as a neighbour, for that liberty you would all wish to enjoy. Let us in peace carry out our convictions, leaving it to God to reward or punish us for so doing. Neighbours, I appeal to you for your protection; you will not _______"
Here the old man gave way to tears.
These few words, and the tears of the old farmer, did much. Numbers were moved, and began to think and feel that to interrupt the service was wrong. At this juncture the clergyman stepped forward and charged Mr. Gould with 'having introduced Dissenters and dangerous views into the parish, and that he alone was responsible for the scene then witnessed. He hoped, therefore, that he would even then think better of it, and return without adding to the number of a sect so deluded and wicked as the Anabaptists.'
"Sir," said the minister, "will you allow me to ask you a few questions, in the presence and hearing of these people?"
"I have not come here to be questioned," said the clergyman, "but to protest against such doings in my parish."
"Pardon me, sir; but should you, considering the circumstances in which we are placed, refuse to answer questions, and protest without knowing why we so baptize?"
"I protest as the clergyman of this parish, against such teachers as you are, and against all that is not taught by the Church."
"Will you allow me, sir, to show from Scripture why we come here to teach, and why we baptize by immersion believers in Christ only?"
"I shall allow nothing of the kind. I have come here to fulfil a duty and have done it; your guilt will rest upon your own head."
Having so said the clergyman took his departure.
The minister then appealed to the throng, and asked if they would listen while he attempted to show, from Scripture, why they differed from the clergyman.
Many voices shouted, "Yes." Others said, "We thought the clergyman had come to convince you of your error; he said he would." "Let us hear what you have to say," shouted others.
The minister then endeavoured to show from Scripture, why they came to the river to baptize, and closed by an earnest appeal to all to seek mercy, and thus escape "the wrath to come." Closing his address, he said: "Now, friends, shall we do what we believe to be right? Shall we attend to this ordinance in peace?"
There was only one who ventured a reply, and he a strong ploughman. This man felt much what had been said and he replied by saying, "You shall."
The group of believers were then baptized with little interruption. Before leaving the field, a service was announced for six o'clock in the evening. Persons who belonged to hamlets and villages in the immediate neighbourhood remained. The minister embraced the opportunity, from John 3. 16, to preach salvation through the Lord Jesus; and it was literally true, that "Many who came to scoff, remained to pray."
Soon after their baptism they became scattered, taking up their abode in different villages, but not one was called to leave the North of Devon. In every place they sought to spread the light, and in more than one place they have left the footprints of their piety, which time will never wear out. Many of their children are treading in their steps, carrying out their principles, and seeking to honour God.
[From John Winzer, by Samuel Newman, pp. 39-45. From chapter 7 entitled "Discussions and Results." Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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