William Kiffin is the last we shall name of the Baptist worthies of this period. His is a truly honorable name. He was one of the merchant-princes of London, and had won his wealth by honest industry. He sought also to win souls with wisdom and earnestness, answerable to the greatness of the undertaking. Like Mordecai of old he was "accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed" (Esther 10:3).
William Kiffin was a native of London. He was born in the year 1616. When he was nine years of age, he lost both his parents by the Plague, which at that time raged violently in London, and was himself "left with six plague sores" upon him, so that "nothing but death was looked for" by his friends. It pleased God to restore him and to bless him with long life. His conversion took place in early youth. The instructive and powerful ministry of those times was the means of implanting conviction in his soul, and ultimately of establishing him in the faith. An extract from his autobiography may be here cited: -- "At the end of the year 1632, it pleased God to bring Mr. John Goodman to London. I attended upon his ministry and found it very profitable. Delivering his judgment about the way of God’s dealings in the conversion of sinners, he showed that the terrors of the law were not of necessity to be preached to prepare the soul for Christ, because in the nature and tendency of them they drove the soul further off from Christ; answering very many objections and Scriptures produced by other ministers to prove the contrary. This was of great use to me, so far as to satisfy me that God hath not tied Himself to any such way of converting a sinner, but according to His good pleasure took several ways of bringing a soul to Jesus Christ. I had for some time seen the want of Christ, and believed that it was by Him only I must expect pardon; and had also seen the worth and excellencies that were in Him above all other objects; so that I now felt my soul to rest upon and to trust in Him."1
Again: "About this time  I became acquainted with several young men that diligently attended the means, to whom it had pleased God to make known much of Himself and His grace. These, being apprentices as well as I, had no opportunities of converse but on the Lord's-days. It being our constant practice to attend the morning lecture, which began at six o'clock, both at Cornhill and Christ Church, we appointed to meet together an hour before, to spend it in prayer and communicating what experiences we had received from the Lord to each other; or else to repeat some sermon we had previously heard. After a little time, we also read some portion of Scripture, and spake from it according as it pleased God to enable us. In these exercises I found very great advantage, and by degrees did arrive to some small measure of knowledge, finding the study of the Scriptures very pleasant and delightful to me; which I attended to as it pleased God to give me opportunities."2
The young man became an independent inquirer, prepared to follow the leadings of truth, regardless of consequences. Observing that some excellent ministers had gone into voluntary banishment rather than conform to the Church of England, he was induced to examine the points in dispute between that Church and her opponents, and this issued in his joining the Nonconformists. He had been five years a member of the Independent church, then under the care of Mr. Lathorp, when, with many others, he with¬drew, and joined the Baptist church, the first in England of the Particular Baptist order, of which Mr. Spilsbury was the pastor. Two years after that, in 1640, a difference of opinion respecting the propriety of allowing ministers who had not been immersed to preach to them (in which Mr. Kiffin took the negative side), occasioned a separation. Mr. Kiffin and those who agreed with him seceded, and formed another church, which met in Devonshire Square. He was chosen pastor, and held that office till his death, in 1701, -- one of the longest pastorates on record.
Mr. Kiffin was extensively engaged in mercantile pur¬suits, trading chiefly with Holland, and acquired large pro¬perty. His standing in society, and his well-known integrity of character, gave him influence, and he often exerted it for the protection and relief of sufferers. It was much in his favour, too, in those changeful and stormy times, that he stood aloof from all political agitation. He never troubled himself with party disputes, nor interfered in the intrigues and cabals of politicians. He was a good citizen of the Commonwealth; he submitted to the Protectorate; he honored the King. His policy was, and so he advised his brethren, to yield obedience to the existing government, in things civil, whatever might be the form of that government. Hence he was held in high esteem by all parties, and great deference was shown him.
Charles II was always in want of money, and cared not by what means it was obtained. It is said that on one occasion he sent for Mr. Kiffin, and asked the loan of forty thousand pounds. The Baptist merchant replied that he had not then so large a sum at his command, but that, if his Majesty would accept ten thousand pounds as a gift, he was heartily welcome. The King took the money, and Kiffin, as he was accustomed to say, saved thirty thousand pounds by his liberality; for Charles would have forgotten to pay the debt.
Several attempts were made to involve the good man in trouble. He was summoned before the Lord Mayor, during the Protectorate, for preaching against infant baptism, but the prosecution was not pressed: had it been, Cromwell would probably have quashed it. On some occasions, after the Restoration, he endured brief imprisonments, pending investigation. At one time, he was charged with uttering treasonable words in a sermon; at another, by means of a forged letter, with being privy to an insurrectionary design; at another, with having hired two men to kill the King. But his innocence was so clearly apparent that he escaped. Doubtless it was by "the good hand of God" upon him. "My Lord Arlington hath told me," he observes, "that though, in every list of disaffected persons brought him, who ought to be secured, my name was always amongst them, yet the King would never believe anything against me; my Lord Chancellor also (the Earl of Clarendon) being very much my friend."3
In 1679, when the Conventicle Act was renewed in a severer form, an attempt was made to bring Mr. Kiffin under its lash. "It pleased the Lord," he says, "that the laws now began to be put in execution against Dissenters; and, as I was taken at a meeting, I was prosecuted, for the purpose of recovering from me forty pounds. This sum I deposited in the hands of the officer; but finding some errors in the proceedings, I overthrew the informers on the trial. Though the trial cost me thirty pounds, it had this advantage — that many poor men who were prosecuted upon a similar charge were by this means relieved, the informers being afraid to proceed against them."4
Four years after, they tried again, but with no better success. "It pleased the Lord, presently after the death of my wife, that I was again prosecuted by the informers for three hundred pounds, the penalties of fifteen meetings. They had managed this matter so secretly, as to get the record in court for the money; but, finding there were some errors also in that record, they moved the court, judge Jenner being on the bench, to amend the record. Some of my friends who were in court, moved that I might be heard before the order was made. In this way I came to the knowledge of the prosecution, and having employed able counsel, they pleaded that the record could not be mended; and, after several hearings before the court, the informers let the suit fall."5
Had there been more Kiffins in England at that time, the informers' trade would have been less gainful. Persecutors reveled in ill-gotten riches. They will at length appear before a "judgment seat" where there will be found no "errors in the record."
A portion of Mr. Kiffin's domestic history is thus narrated: — "It pleased God to take out of the world to Himself my eldest son, which was no small affliction to me and my dear wife. His obedience to his parents and forwardness in the ways of God were so conspicuous as made him very amiable in the eyes of all who knew him. The grief I felt for his loss did greatly press me down, with more than ordinary sorrow; but in the midst of my great distress, it pleased the Lord to support me by that blessed word being brought powerfully to my mind (Matthew 20:25), 'Is thine eye evil, because I am good? Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own?' These words did quiet my heart, so that I felt a perfect submission to His sovereign will, being well satisfied that it was for the great advantage of my dear son, and a voice to me to be more humble, and watchful over my own ways.
"My next son being but of a weak constitution, and desirous of traveling, I sent him with the captain of a ship, an acquaintance, who was bound to Aleppo. Fearing that in his voyage and travels he was in danger of being corrupted by those of the Popish religion, I sent a young man, a minister, with him, to defend him from anything of that kind. But I was greatly prevented, for this minister left him and the ship at Leghorn, and went to Rome; by which means I was, to my sorrow, disappointed. On my son’s return home, when at Venice, he met with a popish priest, and being forward to discourse with him about religion, the priest, to show his revenge, destroyed him by poison. As to the minister's name, I forbear to mention it, he being yet alive. 'I pray God that this sin may not be laid to his charge.'"6
Here is a fine trait of the good old Protestantism. William Kiffin would not have acted like some of the moderns, who send their children to Roman Catholic schools. So solicitous was he for his son's 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; and honored let him be, too, for his forbearance. The name of the minister who so unaccountably deserted his charge will never be known on earth. Kiffin would not expose him to obloquy, though he richly deserved it. Kiffin was a disciple of the "meek and lowly" One.
About three years after the last-mentioned affliction, the good man lost his wife, who died October 2nd, 1682. He records the event in his usual strain. "It pleased the Lord," he says, "to take to Himself my dear and faithful wife, with whom I had lived nearly 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. I can truly say, I never heard her utter the least discontent under all the various providences that attended either me or her; she eyed the hand of God in all our sorrows, so as constantly to encourage me in the ways of God: her death was the greatest sorrow to me that ever I met with in the world."7
We have given a full account in a previous section of the affliction that befell Mr. Kiffin in the death of his grandsons, the Hewlings. That wound was never healed; it smarted till his dying day.
In 1687, James II published a "Declaration of liberty of conscience," assuming for that purpose a power to dispense with the laws of the land by an exercise of the royal prerogative. Some of the Dissenters, and among them a few Baptists, were so delighted at the prospect of freedom and equality, that they gratefully accepted the proffered boon, and presented addresses to the King on the occasion, expressing in strong terms their sense of obligation to him. But Mr. Kiffin and the majority of his brethren were not to be beguiled. They saw that the measure was wholly unconstitutional, since laws can neither be made, repealed, nor suspended, but by the united legislature; and they were convinced that James's real design was to bestow political power on the Roman Catholics, and ultimately to make Popery rampant. They abstained, therefore, from any demonstration, and awaited the issue of events.
When the King deprived the City of London of its charter, and displaced its magistrates, Mr. Kiffin was appointed one of the new aldermen. His account of the transaction is as follows: -- "A little time after, a great temptation attended me, which was, a commission from the King to be one of the aldermen of the City of London. I used all the means I could to be excused by some lords near the King; and also by Sir Nicholas Butler, and Mr. Penn, but all in vain. They said that they knew I had an interest that would serve the King; and although they knew my sufferings had been very great, by the cutting off my two grandsons, and losing their estates, yet it should be made up to me, both as to their estates, and also in what honour and advantage I could reasonably desire for myself."
"But I thank the Lord those proffers were no snare to me, being fully possessed in my judgment that the design was the total ruin of the Protestant religion, which, I hope I can say, was and is dearer to me than my life. I remained without accepting the office, from the time I received the summons to take it, about six weeks, until the Lord Mayor, Sir John Peake, in court said, I ought to be sent to Newgate; and in a few days after, I understood it was intended to put me into the Crown Office, and to pro¬ceed with all severity against me. Which, when I heard, I went to the ablest counsel for advice (one that is now a chief judge in the nation), and stating my case to him, he told me my danger was every way great; for if I accepted to be an alderman, I ran the hazard of five hundred pounds [that being the penalty for taking office without first receiving the Lord's Supper according to the forms of the Church of England]; and if I did not accept, as the judges then were, I might be fined by them, ten, or twenty, or thirty thousand pounds, even what they pleased. So that I thought it better for me to run the lesser hazard of five hundred pounds, which was certain, than be exposed to such fines as might be the ruin of myself and family. Yet did I forbear taking the place of alderman for some time, when the aldermen then sitting agreed to invite the King to dinner on the Lord Mayor's Day, and laid down fifty pounds each alderman to defray the charge; which made some of them the more earnest for my holding, and they Were pleased to tell me I did forbear [in order] to excuse my fifty pounds. But to prevent any such charge against me, I desired a friend to acquaint my Lord Mayor and the court, that I should deposit my fifty pounds with them, yet delaying accepting the office — which I accordingly sent them. When the Lord Mayor's Day came, and the dinner prepared for the King, I the next day understood that there were invited to the feast the Pope's nuncio, and several other priests, that dined with them, which, had I known they had been invited, I should hardly have parted with my fifty pounds towards that feast; but the next court-day I came to the court and took upon me the office of alderman. In the commission I was also a justice of the Peace and one of the lieutenancy; but I never meddled with either of those places, neither in any act of power in that court, touching causes between man and man, but only such things as concerned the welfare of the city, and the good of the orphans, whose distressed condition called for help, although we were able to do little towards it . . . Having been in that office about nine months, I was discharged from it, to my very great satisfaction . . . My reason for giving this brief account of these things is, that you all may see how good the Lord hath been to prevent those designs, then in hand, to destroy both our religion and our liberties, and I heartily desire that both myself and all others concerned may acknowledge the great goodness of God therein, that He may have the glory of all our delivering mercies." Thus wrote the Christian patriot. We see here the meek dignity of religion.
Mr. Kiffin died December 29, 1701, in the eighty-sixth year of his age.
He was generally regarded as the chief man in the denomination. That is, his excellent character, and the position which he occupied, gave him influence among his brethren, and rendered his advice and co-operation desirable. His name is connected with all the public proceedings of the body for half a century. If the Court wished to conciliate the Baptists, application was made to Kiffin. If country churches required aid or counsel, they seemed naturally to ask his interference, and fully confided in his discretion and integrity, knowing that he would honestly endeavour to do right.
He was an eminently good man. We cannot but admire the quiet composure and filial submission of soul with which he recorded even the most painful events of his life. "It pleased the Lord" — such was the habitual expression of his views and feelings. Whether the reference was to mercy or to judgment — to manifestations of blessing — to persecuting malice — to domestic sorrow — to storms and perils — or to joyful deliverance — still, the language was the same — "It pleased the Lord." Thus he possessed his soul in patience, and "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." _________________
1. Joseph Ivimey's Life of Kiffin, p. 9.
2. Ibid, p. 13.
3. Life, 46.
4. Ibid, p. 58.
5. Life, p. 59.
6. Life, 56.
7. Life, p. 58.
[J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871; rpt. 1987, pp. 391-400. - jrd]
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