DEAR SIR, THE following account of seven Baptist Churches in the North of France, written by one of their pastors in answer to a letter from me, will, I doubt not, interest all your readers. They constitute a light in a dark place; for spiritually dark it is, though not without the ceremonies of religion, and the name of Christianity. I have endeavoured, in translating the letter for your use, to render all the expressions as literally as the idiomatic peculiarities of the two languages will admit, in order to give as correct an impression as possible of the simplicity and piety of the writer. I must own to you, that this communication is sent, not merely for the purpose of imparting information or exciting sympathy, but to induce a benevolent expression of feeling on behalf of these poor and worthy people. Happy shall I be to receive and transmit any donations that christian friends may think proper to send me for their relief; and I trust that this appeal will not be in vain.
I am, yours respectfully,
F. A. Cox.
To the Rev. Dr. Cox, Hackney.
Most honoured Brother in Christ. I have received with the greatest delight and gratitude your interesting letter of the 14th (August),
by which you manifest the concern you take in our little flocks in the North of France. For this reason I hasten to write to you, and to give you as exactly as possible the information which you request.
There are, as you have been told, six churches in the department of the north, whose only desire it is to be perfectly conformed to the primitive churches, founded by the apostles of the Lord. They have no other hope, and no other confidence than in the propitiatory victim, given by the Father in Jesus his well beloved Son, sacrificed for the ransom of the guilty; no other discipline than that of the word of God; no other head than Christ their Lord and Saviour; and they baptize with water believers only, by immersion, and not according to the custom of sprinkling - not receiving infants to baptism.
One of these churches is situated at Nomain, near Orchics, one at Aix, near Nomain, one at Lannoy, near Lille, one at Baisieux, at the distance of a league from Lannoy, one at Saulzoir, near Valenciennes, and one at Reumont, near Cambresy. There is also a church at St. Vast, near Guievy, which I forgot, making seven.
With regard to their origin, I will begin with that of Nomain; for that was, if I may so express it, the first whence it pleased the Lord to take many a spark to kindle the flame in the various places where churches now exist. This church is the fruit of the evangelical labours of the Rev. M. Pyt, minister of the Holy Gospel at Bayonne; it took its rise from a Protestant church fallen into decay, as many of the churches of France were at that time. Some having been affected with the word of truth, and acknowledging the difference between the primitive churches and that to which they belonged; and besides perceiving the errors that were spread abroad in doctrine, in sentiment, and in discipline, and that this church was any thing but christian; they determined to form a church on the foundation and plan of the apostles. The beloved M. Pyt aided them in their resolutions, but left too soon. They had, at first, no pastor; only those who had received more light and more gifts, devoted themselves to exhortation, to teaching, and even to the administration of the holy supper. In this state of things, seeing that a door was opened in these parts, M. Pyt employed our brethren J. B. Ladam and Ubald Wacquier, to distribute the book of life in the villages of the department, and to proclaim the Saviour to every one willing to hear.
It is not necessary to inform you how many methods Satan employed to check the free progress of the Gospel, and to discourage those who were newly converted. The government, prejudiced by the pastors of the French church, wished to scatter them, but in vain; they were the objects of contempt, raillery, derision, and even of public hatred; but so far from being intimidated, they were emboldened, and saw only in the conduct of their adversaries an exact fulfilment of the words of their divine Master and Saviour.
It was about eighteen months after the rise of this church, that it pleased the Lord to draw me from my reprobate state, as though he snatched a brand from the fire that consumed it, and for this purpose made use of dear Ubald Wacquier and Ladam. 1 had been seven years a Roman Catholic in a village in a small district of Nomain, and it was then I heard, for the first time, the Gospel of peace. I need not here give you a detail
of my conversion, but merely say, that about two years afterwards the question arose respecting the organization of this church of which I was pastor.
The two brethren, Wacquier and Ladam, having been interdicted from continuing their vocation of (Bible) hawkers, being encouraged by the Continental Society, devoted themselves to the preaching of the Gospel, both to Catholics and Protestants. It was through their ministry that the believers at Saulzoir were united into a church, part of whom were also the fruit of M. Pyt's labours.
Brother Ladam went to preach the Gospel at Reumont, and at the end of about two years a church was organized there; now, not the least flourishing in the north, but on the contrary, it is one of the most interesting for its zeal and for the number of its members. This church, like that of Saulzoir, derived its origin from the Protestant Church. During this period brother Wacquier visited and preached the Gospel in the various churches of M. Calany, in the department of L'aime; among others at Parfonderal, at Landouzy, and at St. Richomont, where there are many Christians, and some of them Baptists, but are not organized into a particular church. Afterwards brother Ladam and brother Wacquier preached the Gospel at St. Vast, where a Catholic family was converted to the Lord; and to this family have been added other Catholics, and many Protestants from Quiery; so that a church has existed there about a year.
At this time (it is now five years ago) I was led by my secular vocation, on which I entirely depend for a livelihood, to Boubaix, a town about three quarters of a league from Lannoy. I took up my abode with a Protestant of the latter place. At that time I had leisure in the evenings, and preached the Gospel to all the Protestants who were willing to frequent our little daily meetings, for they were almost every day; but it was seldom that we could finish the evening without having some discussions on the fundamental points of salvation, such as justification by faith alone, the free gift of the grace of God, the total depravity of the human heart, regeneration, election, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, &c. I was also very often attacked on the subject of baptism, and the holy supper. This continued for about a year without any thing seeming to result; but at the end of that time, I discovered with joy, that there were some who loved the truth.
Up to this period, I returned every Saturday to spend the Sunday at Nomain; but at length, seeing a door was opened at Lannoy, we determined that I should spend one Sunday at Nomain and one at Lannoy, which I did; and with the consent of M. de Felice, pastor of that church, I established among them three meetings in the Temple;* one on the Wednesday of each week, and two on the Sunday; one in the morning before the usual service, and one in the afternoon. In these meetings on the Sunday, I had verses of Scripture repeated, which I had given out for meditation during the week, and each one stated what he understood by them. This method continued about nine months, and I can say truly, that this kind of meeting has produced, under the blessing of the Lord, the happiest results, so that the hearers increase and strengthen in the knowledge of the truth. After some time, many of those who had
* The term usually applied in France to the Protestant places of worship.
believed, perceived the disorders which prevailed in this church, and on Christmas-day in particular, when the pastor distributed the supper, those who had been awakened, manifested their disapprobation by not approaching the table; upon which the pastor exclaimed with a loud voice from the pulpit, that they were sectaries, schismatics, mystics, &c. One of the readers being a converted man, suppressed the formularies of prayer, in order to pray extemporaneously, and for sermons that were not evangelical substituted some that were; so that real believers were at the point of directing the worship without any interference of the worldly people, when M. de Felice, being indignant at this, wrote against us to the prefect, in consequence of which a prohibition was issued under pain of forfeiture against any individual who should fulfil any function in the church without an authority in writing from the pastor. The pious, seeing themselves deprived of their greatest means of edification, were constrained to withdraw from the multitude to unite together and edify each other.
In this state of things, I married, and took up my residence at Nomain; and as I was forced to go to Boubaix, to improve my business, and being also unable to be as useful in the church of Nomain as I could have desired, whilst I was only at these places every fifteen days and that merely on Sunday, and moreover, perceiving how essentially useful I might be to the brethren at Lannoy, we determined, my wife and myself, to fix our dwelling there; to which the church of Nomain encouraged us, conceiving it was most advantageous for the general good. I continue to pay them a visit whenever I can snatch an opportunity. In this manner, being fixed at Lannoy, I have continued to preach the gospel there, aided by some brethren who are best able to do so; and as some of them make excursions from time to time into the neighbouring villages to preach the gospel, this church is almost doubled; and it was not till after an interval of a year and a half, that is, from the time of leaving the national temple, that we were organized into a church.
The church of Baissievx is composed of some Protestant families, who also belonged to the national congregation at Lannoy, and when the disturbance broke out with the believers at Lannoy they declared themselves more openly for the gospel, and then only sought for the means of assembling together. As I was very much engaged with the believers at Lannoy, the brethren Ladam and Ubald Wacquier bestowed all their attention on the establishment of this church, and met there. After some months it was organized; 1 served it, and administered the holy supper every three weeks. A few Catholics have joined them.
The church of Aix, near Nomain, consists of Protestants who composed part of the national congregation of Nomain, and who were led by the Baptists of that place to the knowledge of the truth about two years ago. This church is not yet organized, the sacraments not being at present administered, nor any pastor chosen, only that some of the brethren, a little more gifted and pious, hold meetings together.
Such then, my dear brother, is the origin of the churches of the north, so far as I am acquainted with it. I have said more about that of Lannoy, because every thing passed under my own eyes.
With regard to the progress of
these churches, they are tolerably successful, though not so remarkably so as could be wished: altogether, they are generally speaking increased one-half since their foundation, and I can assure you, that not a month passes, in which one or another of them does not reckon new converts. They have moreover made great progress in knowledge; but I ought to say, we do not advance so much in love and holiness; still we are not entirely discouraged, and hope that He who has begun the good work, will complete it.
The spiritual condition of these churches is in some respects favourable, in others unfavourable. They enjoy the advantage of being free, and able mutually to exhort, encourage, and edify one another. They are delivered from every human yoke, and are perfectly at rest with regard to the civil authorities. But the worst of it is, that the pastors who serve these churches are all obliged by their temporal circumstances, to employ their whole time in gaining a subsistence, and not one of them is able, without injury to his family, to spend a single day in visiting the families of his people to ascertain the state of each. And not only can they not visit, but what is still worse, they cannot study the word of God; and I know by my own experience how distressing and painful it is to be absorbed by the various concerns of life without the means of disengaging oneself, and being delivered up to all the anxieties that such a vocation imposes.
I have no difficulty in living, for my secular calling furnishes what is sufficient for the support of my family, and I could even be at leisure one day in the week and maintain it; yet I may tell you, that among all my brethren, no one is more of a slave than myself. I can scarcely read a chapter in a day, being superintendant of 40 persons, for whom I am responsible, and having to arrange my cotton weaving. All this occupies my whole time in such a manner, that I can scarcely dispose of one quarter of an hour for meditation. Judge then, dear brother, of my situation, how often I am barren and wretched; and how little inclination for going to nourish others on the Sunday. O could I but enjoy my evenings; but so far from it I labour till ten, and then, overcome with fatigue, I am little disposed to meditation. I have been earnestly praying the Lord for these three years since I have been occupied in this manner, that he would condescend to relieve me speedily from this slavery, and afford me the means of being useful to his church; and I hope this desired moment will arrive, for he knows that it is the desire to glorify him, that has induced me to act as I have done: I trust therefore, that he will devise the means of fulfilling the wish of his servants, and that of his church.
There are, in each of the churches, children in part poor, who are destitute of elemental education, having no other instruction than the Sunday school, which each pastor conducts if he can devote the time.
With regard to the temporal con dition of these churches, it is by no means comfortable; on the contrary, if that of Nomain is excepted, where there are some good farmers who live at ease, all the other Christians are in the departments of cotton weaving, who, in consequence of the bad state of commerce, cannot gain a living; for their earnings are reduced one-half; so that it is almost impossible to tax themselves to aid their teachers. Such, my very dear brother, is the state of the churches in the
north, so far as I am acquainted with them; but as I have not had leisure for the last three years to visit either Saulzoir, Reumont or St. Vast, I cannot give you much information about them. I visit Nomain and Aix every three months, as they are only at the distance of a quarter of a league. These churches go on well. On the Monday of Whitsun-week I baptized at Nomain; and as a degree of indifference prevailed on this subject, I strenuously insisted on this commandmentof our Lord. Since then I have had the pleasure of baptizing ten persons from Lannoy and the neighbourhood. I conclude by recommending each of these little churches to your earnest prayers; and I entreat you to write to me. I shall always receive your counsels and encouragements with the greatest joy and gratitude. I trust you will pardon any deficiencies of style, and consider that 1 have had no other opportunity of study than meditation at the feet of the Saviour.
I am, in the bonds of our common Master and Saviour, your servant and brother in Christ,
[From The Baptist Magazine, 1829, pp. 97-102. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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