We give an account of some of the distinguished and noble men who suffered during the reigns of Charles II., and James II., and yet lived to see the dawn of religious freedom.
One of these was William Kiffin, who though a most faithful subject and law abiding citizen, was compelled to feel the heavy hand of these monarchs simply because he was a Baptist. We have some account of his life from his own pen. He was a merchant prince of London, and at the same time a prince among preachers. Ivimey calls him, "The Father of the Particular Baptists." His fortune was gained honestly by trade with Holland, and not as many were gained in his day, as well as in ours, by dishonest means.
Mr. Kiffin was born in London, in 1616, and was converted in early life. He had the plague when 9 years old. At first joined the Independents, but afterward withdrew, along with many others, and united with the First Particular Baptist church, Mr. Spilsbury’s people. Soon after 1640, he withdrew from this church, because he would not agree with them as to the propriety of suffering ministers to preach amongst them who had not been immersed.1
Mr. Kiffin was instrumental in forming, along with others, the Devonshire Square church, of which he was chosen pastor, in which position he remained for sixty years, to the time of his death.
1 Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, I, pp. 296, 297.
It was his to be tried both by adversity and prosperity, having not only riches, but the honors of the world bestowed upon him. He was well known to kings James and Charles. On one occasion, Charles sent to borrow of him, $200,000. Mr. Kiffin knowing well the unprincipled character of the king, sent word that he had not so much money at his command, but if his majesty would accept it, he would make him a present of $40,000. Charles accepted the gift, and Mr. Kiffin in referring to the transaction, said that he had saved $160,000. Possessed of great influence at court, he used it, as well as his wealth, for the protection of his oppressed brethren. Lord Arlington told him that his name was in every list of disaffected persons fit to be secured; "yet the king would never hear anything against me," he remarked. This did not save him, however, from frequent arrest and imprisonment. But the Lord always raised up friends for him, and Mr. Kiffin regarded his deliverances, as merciful providences. Soon after he was converted he was stoned as he was leaving church; but some time after, he was called upon to visit a dying man, who sent for him to confess that it was he who had stoned him.
He was arrested while attending meeting at Southwark, charged with preaching treason from the pulpit. This was before the differences arose between the king and the parliament. During his imprisonment, some brutal prisoners were hired to kill him, but were diverted from their purpose by his kindness to them. Again he was charged with conspiring with others to overthrow the state. At another time he was charged by the Duke of Buckingham with hiring two men to assassinate the king. He had some difficulty to establish his innocence, but he finally did. After his affliction in the death of his sons the laws were put into execution against dissenters, and Mr. Kiffin was arrested, and prosecuted by persons who were
anxious to secure the fine, which was two hundred dollars. He put this sum into the hands of an officer, but succeeded through some errors in the proceedings in defeating the informers on the trial. The trial cost him one hundred and fifty dollars, but he did not have to pay the fine. This result discouraged the informers from proceeding against other brethren. But his enemies were determined to entrap him,. They attended his meetings and secretly kept a record of them, and finally prosecuted him for them all at once, attempting to have him fined $1,500.00. But he again defeated them at law through errors in the records, and they were compelled to abandon the suit.
In addition to these troubles and in the midst of them, Mr. Kiffin was called to pass through deep afflictions in his family. His oldest son, who was about twenty years of age, was called away from earth to heaven. His obedience to his parents and forwardness in the ways of God, were such as made him very amiable in the eyes of all who knew him. His death was a great affliction to his parents. His second son, who possessed a feeble constitution, was sent abroad to travel according to his desire. The father engaged the services of a young minister to accompany his son, and especially to guard him against the corrupting influences of the popish religion. This young minister, though his expenses were paid, deserted his charge, who soon after, at Venice, got into a dispute with a Romish priest. The priest for revenge destroyed him with poison. Mr. Kiffin felt himself greatly supported and comforted by his heavenly Father and ever acknowledged God's providence and mercy.
Dr. Cramp says, "Here is a fine trait of the good old Protestantism. William Kiffin would not have acted like some of the moderns who scrod their children to Roman
[a picture is on p. 141]
Catholic schools. So solicitous was he for his sons preservation from the insidious error, that he was content to incur a double expense on his tour, rather than risk his spiritual safety. All honor to him."
Only three years after this, he was called to bear a still greater affliction. His wife died October 2, 1682. His own words show how noble a woman she was, and how highly he esteemed her. He says: "It pleased the Lord to take to himself my dear and faithful wife, with whom I had lived forty-four years; whose tenderness to me and faithfulness to God, were such as cannot by me be expressed, as she constantly sympathized with me in all my afflictions, and I can truly say, I never heard her utter the least discontent under all the providences that attended myself or her. Eying the hand of God in them she was a constant encourager of me in the ways of God. Her death was the greatest sorrow to me that I ever met With in the world."2 But a two-fold sorrow came upon him only the next year, and that too without his wife to help him bear the crushing weight. Two of his grandsons, Benjamin and William Hewlings, who with their widowed mother had found a home in Mr. Kiffin's family, joined the ill-fated expedition of the Duke of Monmouth, who claimed the throne of his father Charles II., and as King James was a tyrant and a papist, these young men, who loved liberty, were induced to join the duke's ranks. But the enterprise ended in disaster and ruin. The two Hewling brothers were taken prisoners and condemned to death. They were both young men of great beauty and grace of person, heirs to a large fortune and the last male descendents of their family. But better than all this they possessed superior talents, excellent moral character, eminent piety, and were
2 Ivimey's II, 318.
devoted Baptists. Earnest petitions from their mother and from Mr. Kiffin were presented for their lives, but in vain, King James would not be moved.
They were executed separately. But the bearing of both the young martyrs, was characterized by a sublime heroism. Both lay down their lives with heavenly resignation and joy. The people and officers who witnessed their triumphant death, were convinced of their piety and were deeply affected. Some of the officers were heard to say, that they would have been glad to change conditions with those young men. Many persons who witnessed the scene said it both broke and rejoiced their hearts. From the noble bearing of these and other Christian young men who died as martyrs for liberty it became a common saying, "If you would learn how to die, go to the young men of Taunton."
In carrying out his purposes the king sought to gain the good graces of Mr. Kiffin by appointing him, under the new charter, to the office of alderman of the city of London. He sent for Mr. Kiffin to attend him at court. When he went thither in obedience to the king's commandment he found many lords and gentlemen. The king came up to him and addressed him with all the little grace he was master of. He concluded by telling Mr. Kiffin that he had put him down as alderman. This would have been regarded by most men as a great honor, but Mr. Kiffin replied; "Sire, I am a very old man, and have withdrawn myself from all kind of business for some years past, and am incapable of doing any service, in such an affair, to your majesty in the city. Besides Sire," the old man went on, fixing his eyes steadfastly on the king, while the tears ran down his cheeks, "the death of my grandsons gave a wound
to my heart which is still bleeding, and will never close but in the grave." The king was deeply struck by the manner, the freedom, and the spirit of this unexpected rebuke. A total silence ensued, while the fallen countenance of James seemed to shrink from the horrid remembrance. In a minute or two, however, he recovered himself enough to say: "Mr. Kiffin, I shall find a balsam for that sore," and immediately turned about to a lord in waiting.3 Mr. Kiffin at first declined to accept the appointment, because he believed that the king’s design was to overthrow the Protestant religion. But he was induced afterward to accept it in order to escape the severe penalties to which he would have subjected himself by an absolute refusal. After fulfilling the duties of his office for about nine months, he was discharged, very much to his relief. He lived to an honored and useful old age, and died in the year 1701, in his eighty-sixth year.
3 Ivimey's, I, 473.
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