In no country have the principles of our faith as Baptists been more generally understood and more bravely defended than in the little principality of Wales. It is commonly believed that all through the dark reign of popery in the seclusions of her valleys and in the fastnesses of her mountains there were those who preserved the ancient purity of doctrine and worship. The general quickening of religious thought, which was one of the distinguishing features of the Reformation, was, however, the beneficent agency in facilitating their emergence into the clear light of historic recognition. The earnest study of the sacred oracles at this time caused numbers of the most learned and God-fearing of the sons of the Established Church to declare themselves converts to the Baptist faith. Such men as Penry, Wroth, Erbury, and Vavasor Powell became leaders of mighty influence. They suffered much for the principles which they professed and preached. Vavasor Powell was a preacher of extraordinary power. Fluent in both Welsh and English, and withal enriched with a cultivated mind, he reached all classes and commanded all hearts. He was immured in about thirteen prisons, in one of which he died on the 27th of Septembcr, 1670.
The ministry of these distinguished Reformers and others of the same type was abundantly fruitful, in spite of the most persistent opposition from every form of worldly power. The seed sprinkled with tears and blood could not fail to grow and flourish. Churches sprang into existence in different parts of the land, and the waters of many a rural stream bore witness to the joyful obedience of hundreds who had been brought to the knowledge of the truth.
The first churches in Wales after the Reformation were missionary centres of wide-reaching activity. In addition to one or more pastors they frequently had numerous assistants. Although separated by immense distances, and that at a time when roads were frequently impassable, there was scarcely a village or neighborhood throughout the length and breadth of the land where the gospel of salvation was not occasionally preached. It is said that Christmas Evans traversed Wales forty times from north to south, preaching the gospel, in the course of his fruitful ministry. Every renowned preacher of the past century gave a large portion of his time to evangelistic work. The religious status of the Welsh people is largely attributable to this liberal diffusion of stimulating and enlightening thought. The rugged heroes of the past century, who with self-sacrificing devotion exposed themselves to every form of indignity and to all the rigors of a variable climate that they might make known the saving truths of the gospel, are worthy of being held in everlasting remembrance.
The influence which the Welsh Baptists have exerted upon the religious thought and life of this country demands special recognition. They have contributed more than any other people who have sought a home in this Western world to the spread of our principles, and to the integrity of our denominational life. Much of the formative work in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania was done by them. The first Baptist church in this country was established in Providence, R. I., by a Welshman. The first Baptist church in what is now the State of Massachusetts was founded by a Welshman. The first Baptist church now in Pennsylvania, the mother of the Philadelphia Association and of many churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, kept its records, in the Welsh language for many years, and its first Bible, which is treasured by the American Baptist Historical Soeiety, was in Welsh. The Welsh Tract church, which was the first holding our faith in Delaware, and for many years a most influential community, was formed in Wales, came out to this country as a body, and, after remaining a short time at Lower Dublin, settled permanently in Delaware. There is not a State in the Union where Welshmen have not had an honored part in furthering Baptist interests. In many instances they have given direction and energy to our denominational life when as yet it could hardly be said to have an organized existence. In not a few neighborhoods, in addition to those already mentioned, where our name is now a power and blessing, they were the fearless pioneers. The superstructure of our Baptist faith owes much of its present strength and grandeur to the solid foundation-work in which they had so large a share.
Roger Williams, the fearless champion of civil and religious liberty, whose teaching and example did so much to introduce into the Constitution of this country its distinguishing excellence; John Miles, who exerted such a powerful influence upon Baptist progress in the early days of our history; Dr. Samuel Jones, of Lower Dublin, and the venerable Isaac Eaton, first master of Hopewell Academy; Abel Morgan and Morgan Edwards, distinguished as writers and preachers; David Thomas, the veteran preacher of Virginia and Kentucky; David Jones, Horatio Gates Jones, and John Williams, of New York, all men of might in their day, were Welshmen or the immediate descendants of Welshmen.
There are in Wales at the present time nearly 500 Baptist churches, with a membership aggregating between 60,000 and 70,000. The practice of restricted communion is universal save in a few English churches in the large centres of population. =========
[From William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; rpt. 1988, pp. 1229-1230. — jrd]
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