[From the 1760s to the 1790s] the backsliding and coldness had affected all religious communities in England. Had it not been for the merciful revival which accompanied the labors of Whitefield and the Wesleys, evangelical truth would have well nigh died out. Those extraordinary men were raised up for a glorious purpose. The effects of their ministry were felt by all denominations. The churches began to arise and shake themselves from the dust. A new order of things may be dated from the commencement of their itinerancy, indicating
a gradual return to apostolical simplicity and fervor. Christian ministers preached differently; if they uttered the same truths, there was more affection and power in the utterance. Some of them found that an addition to their creeds was necessary, to bring them into accordance with the heavenly standard, and Christian churches saw that there were duties incumbent on them, which they could not neglect without incurring guilt.
The restorative process did not take effect among the Baptists so soon as in some other denominations; but at length they also felt its influence, and then it was not long before improvement was discernible, as the statistical returns show. Another circumstance tended to bring it
about: some excellent ministers in the central counties had long seen and lamented the prevalence of unscriptural opinions, and striven against the stream; they now saw a turn in their favor and wisely resolved to avail themselves of it. Robert Hall, of Arnsby, father of the great Robert Hall, delivered a sermon before the Northamptonshire Association, at its annual meeting in 1779, founded on Isaiah lvii:14: - "Cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people." In compliance with the urgent request of his brethren, the discourse was shortly afterward presented to the public, in an enlarged form, under the title of, Help to Zion's Travelers; or, An Attempt to Remove various Stumbling-blocks out of the Way, relating to Doctrinal Experimental, and Practical Religion. This instructive and useful book had a wide circulation. It corrected the religious sentiments of many, moulding them after the divine model, and was thus peculiarly serviceable to the cause of truth.
From that time we may discern religious progress. Thoughtful concern for the souls of others began to manifest itself. A monthly prayer-meeting for the revival of religion and the spread of the gospel was instituted in 1784. William Carey meditated on the state of the world, and longed to evangelize it. His Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathen was published in 1791. That paved the way for the missionary enterprise; but our fathers did not rush into it unadvisedly or in haste. They thought and prayed, and marked the leadings of the divine will, prepared to follow the light. God educated them for the work, and so, when they engaged in it, it was not so much to undertake a project as to develop a principle, trusting in the promises of Him who has said of his Word, "It shall not return unto me void."
Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliffe were "men that had
understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do." When they saw that the time was come, they prepared to rouse the people. To this their discourses (delivered at a meeting of ministers at Clipstone, Northamptonshire, in 1791) mainly contributed. Fuller preached from Haggai i. 2, on "The Pernicious Influence of Delay;" Sutcliffe from 1 Kings xix.10, on "Jealousy for the Lord of Hosts." Decisive action followed shortly afterward.
On the 2nd of October, 1792, twelve ministers, deputed by the Northamptonshire Association, met in the house of Mr. Beeby Wallis, Kettering, and, after lengthened and prayerful discussion, adopted a plan of a mission, and formed a society, designated "The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel amongst the Heathen." The names of the twelve were, John Ryland, Reynold Hogg, John Sutcliff, Andrew Fuller, Abraham Greenwood, Edward Sharman, Joshua Burton, Samuel Pearce, Thomas Blundel, William Heighton, John Eayres, Joseph Timms. Their joint contributions amounted to L13 2s. 6d.
William Carey immediately offered himself as a missionary. Mr. John Thomas, who had already performed some Christian labor in Calcutta, while practising there as a surgeon, and was then in England, joined him. They sailed from England June 13, 1793; John Fountain followed them in 1796; and in 1799 Messrs. Ward, Brunsdon, Grant, and Marshman were added to the little band. Difficulties and trials of no ordinary character oppressed the work for several years. At length the mission found a home at Serampore, under the protection of Denmark, to which country Serampore then belonged. There, on the 16th of May, 1800, the first sheet of the Bengali New Testament, translated by Carey, was put to press. Thus was a solid foundation laid, on which a fair and noble superstructure was afterward erected.*
* See Dr. Cox's History of the Baptist Missionary Society.
It is observable that, five years after the institution of the Missionary Society, the claims of home began to be deeply felt. Christians saw that, if one thing was to be "done," the other was not to be "left undone." The Baptist Home Missionary Society was founded in 1797.
The denomination had been gathering strength for several years. In 1763 the number of churches was 200. In 1790 there were 326 churches in England, and 56 in Wales, besides the churches of the General Baptists, the number of which is not given.
[From J. M. Cramp D.D., Baptist History, 1871, reprint, 1987. The title was supplied and the document scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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