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but were also loaded with all the opprobrium which fell on the opinions deemed heretical, and were often reproached both from the pulpit and the
press, with being Pelagians, Socinians, Arminians, Soul Sleepers, and the like. To vindicate themselves from these reflections, and to shew their general agreement with other Protestants, in all points EXCEPTING BAPTISM, they published a Confession of their Faith. It was the first that had been issued by the English Baptists. It passed through several editions in 1644 and 1646, one of which was licensed by authority, and dedicated to the High Court of Parliament.
They declare that, “This Confession of our Faith we send forth to speak the truth for us, and to make our innocency to appear; desiring that the same light may guide others also to the same way of truth and obedience, both to God and to the magistrate, who is the minister of God to us for good. We take no thought for ourselves, for the Lord our God is all-sufficient; but we desire and pray that you may do nothing against Christ, neither in his members, nor his ordinances, that there may be no wrath upon you from the Lord, but that you knowing the innocent, and protecting them according to the will of God, may for the same be famous unto all generations, and the memorial of your names may be precious among the saints till the coming of King Jesus.”
In their address to the reader they say, "by reason of the many accusations that are cast upon us, although they cannot prove the things whereof we are accused, yet the generality of the people are incensed against us, and are encouraged and set on by such, to seek out the place of our meetings, which are the more private, not because they are private, but because we have not any more public places; but if any shall please to procure us larger places to meet in, we are willing to embrace them with thankfulness and joy.” “Therefore,” say they, "to free ourselves and the truth we profess from such unjust aspersions, that it may be at liberty, though we are in bonds, we have published a brief Confession of our Faith.” “ And lest this should be thought to be the judgment of some particular persons, this is done by the consent and appointment of seven congregations or churches in London, with the names of some of each of them subscribed in behalf of the whole. And although we be distinct in our meetings for conveniency, yet we are one in faith, fellowship, and communion, holding Jesus Christ for our head and lawgiver, under whose rule and government we desire to walk, and to follow the Lamb wheresoever he goeth, that, when our Lord and King shall call us to account we may be found ready and worthy to be received into our Master's joy. Until which time we desire to spend these few days we have here to remain, to the glory of God, the honour of the gospel, the
saint's comfort, and our country's good, to our own account at the great day when Christ shall come in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Subscribed by us, in behalf of seven congregations or churches of Christ, in London ; as also by a French congregation of the same judgment:
“John Spilsbury, Samuel Richardson, WAPPING ; William Kiffin, Thomas Patience, DEVONSHIRE SQUARE ; Hansard Knollys, Thomas Holms, GREAT ST. HELENS; Paul Hobson, Thomas Goare, CRUTCHED FRIARS,—There are also the Baptist Churches that met in COLEMAN STREET, in BISHOP'S GATE, also at THE GLASS HOUSE, BROAD STREET. The other names attached to the Confession of Faith are Thomas Gunn, John Mabbitt, Benjamin Cockles, Thomas Kelikoh, Thomas Munden, George Tipping, and Dennis Le Barbier and Christopher Duret, the two latter being connected with a French Church of “the same faith and order." The previous six names were associated with the three Baptist Churches to which no names are attached, nor is there sufficient proof to connect them respectively therewith.
Such were the sentiments declared by the seven particular Baptist Churches in vindication of their faith and practice. This is noticed at some length as manifesting the feeling displayed by their opponents, and also the spirit and temper by which they endured so much contumely and reproach.
It should be remarked, that from the beginning of the Reformation the Baptists were divided into TWO PARTIES, on account of their peculiar doctrinal views. Those were considered as Particular Baptists who embraced what is termed the Calvinistic scheme of doctrine, viz., of personal election and particular redemption.
The General Baptists are distinguished for their receiving the Arminian tenets, or Universal redemption-distinctions which exist at the present day.
It would exceed the length of this sketch far beyond allowable limits to notice the various controversies which took place about this period. Amidst the conflict of opinion, and the hostility of the ruling powers, Baptists greatly increased.
With the design of crushing Dissenters, it was enacted in 1640 that “all ecclesiastical persons within their several parishes and jurisdictions shall confer privately with Popish recusants; but if private conference prevail not, the church must and shall come to her censures; and to make way for them, such persons shall be presented at the next visitation who come not to church, and refuse to receive
the holy eucharist, or who either hear or say mass; and if they remain obstinate after citation, they shall be excommunicated. But if neither conference nor censures prevail, the church shall then complain of them to the civil power; and this sacred synod does earnestly entreat the reverend justices of assize to be careful in executing the laws, as they will answer it to God."
The synod further declares, that “the canon above-mentioned against Papists shall be in full force against all Anabaptists, Brownists, Separatists, and other sectaries, as far as they are applicable.”
In 1642 the civil wars commenced, and the nation was thrown into a state of political convulsion, during which the Presbyterians possessed full ecclesiastical rule.
Many of the Baptists suffered persecution at this time. In 1641, the opposition and cruel measures of the High Commission Court, and the Star Chamber, was terminated by Act of Parliament, the chief engines which had been the occasion of ruining the liberties and estates of many religious families. About this period Baptists began to increase very rapidly. Taking advantage of the liberty which the confusion of the times, if not the disposition of the rulers, gave them, they were not backward in asserting and vindicating their sentiments, both by preaching and writing, and also by public discussion; these consequently provoked their adversaries, and many pamphlets were written against them.*
In 1645, an ordinance was passed, that "no person should be permitted to preach who is not ordained a minister in the Presbyterian or some other Reformed Church; and it is earnestly desired that Sir Thomas Fairfax take care that the ordinance be put in execution in the army.” Here is exhibited Presbyterian liberality. There is no doubt the act was passed against tolerating sectaries, as they called the Baptists and Independents, against which it appears to be principally directed.
The spirit of intolerance may be further learned from these times, under the power of the Presbyterians.
On May 26, 1645, the Lord Mayor, Court of Aldermen, and Common Council, presented a petition to Parliament, commonly called “THE Crty REMEMBRANCER,” in which they desired that
some short and speedy course might be taken for the suppression of all private and separate congregations ; that all Anabaptists, Brownists, heretics, schismatics, blasphemers, and ALL OTHER SECTARIES, who conformed not to the public discipline established, or to be
* Neal, vol. 2, pp. 348, 349.
established, by Parliament, might be fully declared against, and some effectual course settled for proceeding against such persons ; and that no person disaffected to Presbyterial government set forth, or to be set forth, by Parliament, might be employed in any place of
This remonstrance was supported by the whole Scotch nation, who acted in concert with their English brethren, as appears by a LETTER OF THANKS to the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council, from THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, dated June 10, 1646. Thus much for the tender mercies of the Presbyterians of that day. The Parliament, however, DISMISSED the petition, with a promise to take the particulars into consideration.
For the first time, in the course of the running commentary which has been offered upon the history of those who have entertained Baptistical sentiments, there is at length A FAVOURABLE reference made to them. Neal observes—“It is a little remarkable, that in the year 1647, CONSIDERABLE FAVOUR WAS MANIFESTED TOWARDS THE BAPTISTS." Perhaps this arose from the policy of Cromwell wishing to counteraet the overgrown power of the Presbyterians, or from some of his officers, and other persons of considerable influence, who had embraced their sentiments and may have employed their interest on behalf of the Baptists of that period.
This is manifested in a declaration of the Lords and Commons, published, March 4, 1647. It runs thus :—“The name of Anabaptist hath indeed contracted much odium, by means of the extravagant opinions of some of that name in Germany, tending to the disturbance of the government, and the peace of all the states, which opinions and practice we abhor and detest; but for their opinions against the baptism of infants, it is only a difference about a circumstance of time in the administration of an ordinance, wherein in former ages, as well as in this, learned men have differed both in opinion and practice; and though we would wish that all men would satisfy themselves and join with us in our judgment and practice on this point, yet herein we hold it fit that men should be convinced by the Word of God, with great gentleness and reason, and NOT BEATEN OUT OF IT BY FORCE.”
It must be said, that a Christian spirit pervades this parliamentary assertion of the principles therein declared.
Alas ! however, for the inconceivables of humanity, and the fickleness of legislative opinion and feeling, will it be believed ? But history has recorded it, notwithstanding the publication of the preceding declaration, a law was passed in the following year, May 2,
1648, more severe than any that had been made in England since the Reformation. It was entitled, “An Ordinance of THE LORDS AND COMMONS assembled in Parliament for the punishment of blasphemies and heresies."
One article was, “ Whoever shall say that the baptism of infants is unlawful, or that baptism is void, and that such persons ought to be baptized again and in pursuance thereof, shall baptize any person formerly baptized, or shall say the church government by presbytery is anti-christian, or unlawful, shall, upon conviction by the oath of two witnesses, or by his own confession, be ordered to renounce his said error in the public congregation of the parish where the offence was committed ; and in case of refusal he shall be committed to prison, till he find sureties that he shall not publish or maintain the said errors any more.
It is plainly to be perceived by this ordinance, that the Baptists were more particularly referred to, of whom there were not a few thousands in England at this time. Doubtless this severe law would have been followed by a violent persecution on the part of the Presbyterians, had not the confusion of the times, and the great number of Dissenters prevented.
Amidst the political contentions of this period, Charles I. was removed, 30th January, 1649.
In 1653, Cromwell was placed at the head of affairs, under the title of Lord Protector.
In reviewing the different periods tɔ which necessary reference must be made in pursuing the subject, it is not easy to avoid mixing up historical incidents that may not appear to be exactly within the scope of the general design proposed in this sketch.
The period of the Commonwealth was one of peculiarly stirring interest, and it is gratifying to find that the Baptists occupied a position honourable alike to their principles and profession. A short reference will, in some degree, exhibit that position amidst the clashing conflict of parties under the Protectorate.
It is scarcely necessary to enter into detail as to political events, the history of the Baptists and the progress of their sentiments being more the object at present proposed. It may be noted that until the year 1648, two only of the Baptist persuasion, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. John Fiennis (son of Lord Say,) were members of the House of Commons; and in that year, before the death of the King, they withdrew from the Parliament, because they disapproved of its proceedings, and lived in retirement for about six
* Crosby, vol. 1, p. 208.