Brief Memoirs of the English Baptists
From the death of James I. to the Restoration of Charles II.
MARCH 27th, 1625, Charles the first, only surviving son of James the first, succeeded to the crown of England, on the demise of his father, and was crowned at Westminster the second of February following.
William Laud, a proud and furious bigot, was in particular favour with his Majesty, who advanced him to the see of London, and at last to the archbishopric of Canterbury. This imperious zealot persuaded his sovereign to pursue measures which contributed to his ruin. Encouragement was given to vulgar sports on sabbath day afternoons, Dissenters were prevented from emigrating to America, the Scots ordered to use the liturgy of the church of England, and the Irish Papists suffered to murder two hundred thousand protestants in cold blood! The penal statutes against the puritans in England were severely executed, and oppressive taxes imposed upon the people at large.
In the worst times, believer's baptism had its proselytes, and now its advocates became more numerous than ever. Until the year 1633 the Baptists for the most part continued intermixed among other protestant dissenters, and shared with them in their persecutions; but now they began more particularly to separate themselves, and form distinct societies of those of their own denomination.
On the 12th of September this year, a Baptist church was formed in London, who chose Mr. John Spilsbury for their pastor, and the same year another church was formed at Olchor in Wales, whose pastor was Mr. Howell Vaughan, and the year following another church was formed in Crutched Friars, London, of which Captain Spencer was a chief promoter.
In 1639, the war between the king and his parliament commenced, which for a short time put a stop to the hot persecutions of the dissenters, but many of them soon found their sorrows return. January 18th, 1641, about 80 people, Baptists and others, who met for divine service in Southwark, and accused of holding unlawful sentiments, were discovered and taken by Sir John Lenthal, Marshal of the King's Bench, and committed to prison. The next morning six or seven of them were by an order of government carried up to the house of Lords, examined strictly concerning their principles, and treated with considerable respect. Some of the Lords enquired where they met, and the next sabbath four of the Peers went to their meeting and staid during the whole of the service. Two sermons were preached, the Lord's supper administered, and a collection made for the poor, to which the noblemen contributed liberally, and at their departure signified their satisfaction in all they had heard and seen.
Some of the greatest writers for reformation at this time, particularly Lord Brook, Bishop Taylor, and Dr. Hammond, spoke favorably of the opinions of the Baptists, and thereby promoted their cause; but their adversaries Dr. Featly, Mr. Baxter, Dr. Wall, and others, sadly bewailed their increase and prosperity. In 1642 a public dispute took place between Dr. Featly and four Baptist ministers in Southwark, upon the subject of believer's baptism, during which dispute, the doctor appeared much more capable of pouring slander upon his opponents, than defending his infantile operations. About this time, another Baptist Church was gathered in London by Mr. Hanserd Knollys, and several books were written by our brethren in defence of their principles. It may be proper to observe here, that there have been two parties of the Baptists ever since the beginning of the reformation. Those who have held the doctrine of particular redemption and therefore called Particular Baptists, and those that have held universal redemption and are stiled General Baptists. In 1643 some of our particular brethren published a confession of their faith in 52 articles.*
In 1645 the parliament seized the reigns of government, put down episcopacy, set up Presbyterianism, and would have had the whole nation become Presbyterians! The Westminster assembly of divines, and Presbyterian ministers in town and country, as far as
* Crosby, volume 1. p. 170.
in them lay, opposed liberty of conscience and a general toleration of different opinions in matters of religion. The ministers in Lancashire published a paper signed by eighty four of them, in which are these expressions. “A toleration would be putting a sword in a madman's hand; a cup of poison into the hand of a child, a letting loose of madmen with firebrands in their hands, and appointing a city of refuge in men's consciences for the Devil to fly to, a laying of a stumbling block before the blind, a proclaiming liberty to the wolves to come into Christ's fold to prey upon the lambs: neither would it be to provide for tender consciences, but to take away all conscience!!* * The Baptists especially were inveighed against, particularly by a Mr. Edwards, Lecturer of Christ Church, who wished the parliament would forbid all dipping, and take some severe course against all dippers, as the senate of Zurich did. The precedent he refers to is an edict, published at Zurich in the year 1534, making it death for any to baptize by immersion, upon which law, some Baptists were tied back to back, and thrown into the sea, others were burnt alive, many starved to death in prison.+ These proceedings against religious liberty, so far prevailed with the managers of affairs as to occasion several laws to be made for suppressing all that would not come into the Presbyterian establishment. Many people of different denominations were persecuted, and several Baptist ministers sent to prison for preaching and baptizing.
April 26, 1645, an ordinance of parliament was made for silencing all preachers that were not ordained ministers either in the English or in some of the foreign protestant churches. But as this ordinance did not fix the crime upon those that took upon then to preach without ordination, but such as should admit them so to do; nor impower magistrates to take the offenders into custody, they could do but little with it. Therefore on the 26th of May, 1646, the lord mayor, court of aldermen and common council of London presented a petition to Parliament in which they desired some strict and speedy course might be taken for suppressing all Baptists, and other sectaries, and that no person disaffected to Presbyterian government might be employed in any place of public trust. This petition backed by the instigations of other illiberal people, had its effect. On the 26th of December following, another oppressive ordinance of parliament was made to explain and amend the former. In this the commons declared, they would proceed against all preachers that were not ordained as they had before appointed and all ministers or others that should publish or maintain, by preaching or otherwise, anything against their church government, and ordered all magistrates and officers in the army, to prevent offences against this law, apprehend offenders, and give notice thereof to parliament that thereupon course might be speedily, taken for a due punishment to be inflicted upon them!
* Crosby, 190.
+ + Idem, 183.
The Baptists were as much aimed at, and as many of them prosecuted by this law as any others called sectaries, yet by some means or other, they obtained a great indulgence from Parliament about a year after. On March the 4th, 1647, a declaration of the Lords and Commons was published, very much in their favor,* but to the shame of this very Parliament, about a year afterwards, a more severe law passed against heresy and error, than any that has been made in England since the Reformation. It was entitled, “An ordinance of the lords and commons assembled in parliament for the punishment of blasphemers and heresies.” In this there is first a catalogue of heresies, any of which, whosoever did maintain and publish with obstinacy therein, he was to suffer the pains of Death, as in case of felony, without benefit of clergy. Among the errors specified are these, “That the baptizing of infants is unlawful, or that such baptism is void, and that such persons ought to be baptized again, and in pursuance thereof shall baptize any person formerly baptized.” “That the church government by presbytery is antichristian, or unlawful, &c.+ By this ordinance, all the Baptists, and all in England except rigid Presbyterians are expressly condemned, and probably a violent persecution would have followed, if the confusions of the times, and the great numbers of dissenters had not prevented.
January 30, 1649, king Charles was beheaded. In 1650, the Baptist churches at Ilston, Llanafan, and Hay, including Olchor, in Wales, formed themselves into an association to assist each other and promote the cause of religion. We are not certain that there was at this time any such union of Baptist churches in England. It does not appear that the churches which had agreed in publishing a confession of their faith, did otherwise form themselves into an association. In 1653, the English, Scotch, Irish and Welsh Baptist churches, began an epistolatory correspondence with each other with a view to their mutual religious prosperity and usefulness. On the 12th of December, in the same year, Oliver Cromwell was made protector for life of the three kingdoms, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Oliver was an Independent, and by his elevation to supreme power, an end was put to the Presbyterian establishment. His first parliament advised him to encourage a godly ministry in these nations, to provide a confession of faith for his people, and not suffer any by words or writing to revile or reproach the said confession! Thus as in former days, the church was to be formed of a rib of the state, and they twain were to be one flesh and one spirit, and dwell together in court wedlock until death might them part. And what presumption might thus join together, no man, by reason, or scripture, or justice, or righteousness, was to attempt to put asunder! However, the protector was a man of more moderation
* Crosby, vol. I, p. 196.
+ Idem, 197.
than his counsellors, and therefore did not altogether follow their advice. The Presbyterians were deprived of power, but were allowed more religious liberty than they had afforded the independents the private meetings of the Episcopalians were conniyed at, and though the Baptists were frowned upon, reviled and persecuted, yet they were not destroyed, banished, or shut up in dungeons, as they before had been. Oliver died September the 3rd, 1658, in the 60th year of his age, and fifth of his protectorate. His morals were regular, he promoted men of character and ability to places of public trust, sought the good of the nation, added to its renown, and with all his faults was one of the greatest men of his age. His son Richard succeeded him in his office, but finding his station very perplexing and unpleasant, he resigned it by writing under his hand April 22, 1659, spent the remainder of his life in peaceful retirement at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, and died July 12, 1712, aged 82.
The Nation tired of change, considered the restoration of monarchy, the most likely means of securing public tranquility. The matter was agitated in parliament, a day of solemn fasting and prayer appointed, but while they fasted an prayed, they neglected watchfulness. The very next day, May 1, 1660, they voted home the king without conditions! And to their unwatchfulness in so doing may be imputed many of the errors of his reign.
If we enquire, what part our brethren took in public affairs in these times of confusion, the following extracts will inform us. Captain Richard Dean, in his Letter to Dr. Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, having spoken of the increase of the Baptists in the year 1649, says “In that time did this opinion spread itself into some of the regiments of horse and foot, in the army; and in 1650 and afterwards, some professing this opinion were called from their private employments and promoted to commands at sea. Among others, Captain Mildmay, to command the admiral flagship, under the late Duke of Albermarle, when he was one of the generals at sea. Captain Pack, to command the flagship under Sir George Ascue, Rear Admiral; Sir John Harman, to command the admiral flagship under his Royal Highness the Duke of York. But notwithstanding this sect had that countenance given them, as I have mentioned by such as had the principal management of affairs; yet this sect in general, as they have published in their apologies, were the least of any sort of people concerned in any vicissitudes of government that happened among us. And although in and after the year 1649, their numbers did increase, insomuch that the principal officers in diverse regiments of horse and foot, became Baptists; particularly in Oliver Cromwell's own Regiment, when he was general of all the parliament's forces; and in the Duke of Albermarle's
own regiment of foot when he was general of all the English forces in Scotland; yet by the best information I could have, there were not at any time, before the year 1649, twenty Baptists in any sort of command in the whole army; and until after the year 1648 there were no more than two; viz. Mr. Laurence, and Mr. John Fieuners, one of the Lord Say's sons, who made profession of this opinion, chosen into the house of Commons; and both these did in that year, and in the lifetime of king Charles the first, as I have been credibly informed, voluntarily depart from that parliament, as not approving of their proceedings against the person of the king.*
An address, with propositions annexed to it, sent by the Baptists to Charles the II, then at Bruges, a short time before his restoration, closes with these words, “We have presumed in all humility to offer to your majesty these few propositions, hereunto annexed. to which, if your majesty shall be pleased to condescend, we do solemnly protest in the presence of Almighty God, that we will hazard our lives, and all that is dear unto us, for the restoring and re-establishing your majesty in the throne of your father. –
The annexed propositions are, 1. To call a lawful parliament. i. Secure the just and natural rights of the people. 3. Allow liberty of conscience. 4. Abolish tythes [tithes=‘taxes’], and find some other way for the maintenance of the national ministry. 5. Grant a general amnesty.+ These propositions contain sound speech, that cannot be condemned. May we and all our Baptist brethren, be followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
“Jesus hear our humble prayer!
Tender Shepherd of thy sheep!
Let thy mercy and thy care
All our souls in safety keep.”
(To be continued) ===========
[From The Baptist Magazine, 1810, Volume II, pp. 277-282. From Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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