A Welsh Succession of Primitive Baptist Faith and Practice
Elder Michael N. Ivey
PART ONE: Origin of the English Baptist
I. General Baptists
II. Particular Baptists
III. London Confessions of Faith
…..A. 1644 Confession
…..B. 1689 Confession
IV. Ancient Baptist Succession in Wales
V. Old Baptist Church at Olchon
VI. The Midland Association
PART TWO: Baptist Succession in America
VII. The American Link
VIII. The Separate Baptists
…..A. Fellowship and Union with the Regular Baptists
…..B. Separate Baptist Faith and Practice
IX. The Kehukee Association
…..A. Reformation of the Kehukee Association
X. Succession to the Twentieth Century
PART THREE: Historic Confessions of Faith
XI. Three Primitive Baptists Confessions of Faith
XII. 1655 Midland Confession
XIII. 1777 Kehukee Association Articles of Faith
XIV. Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association
XV. Comparative Observations
A work such as this one is usually preceded with preface and introduction. However, it is my personal experience, in eagerness to „get into” a book, I often pass them by and start immediately with chapter one. I suspect my own reading habits are sometimes shared by others. But, despite my own poor reading patterns, I encourage perusers to take time to read the preamble of this treatise.
Credibility is a major concern in the presentation of any historical work, particularly when it involves church history. Since this effort explores Primitive Baptist church succession, I feel compelled to inform the reader of my methods of research and making conclusions so they are not mislead. We all know we cannot believe everything we read. Written accounts of history are not excluded from academic skepticism. It is not that historians are intentionally dishonest; rather, often they do not have complete information or understanding. This has certainly been my case. Therefore, I cannot claim every assumption is correct, nor every conclusion satisfactory. My research was not exhaustive. Financial and geographic limitations compelled me to rely on local libraries, and the generous kindness of several Elders who loaned me books. My efforts were far from perfect. Thus, they cannot be considered the final word on this subject.
Though certain limitations restricted the scope of this treatise, I was not cavalier in gathering information. I tried to be scrupulous in the selection of reference material. Because some Baptist histories were written with the intent of denominational promotion, with almost every event and character it is possible to find a historian who has written the exact opposite of other historians. For this reason I have been conscientious in my efforts to require multiple sources for each salient point I present. At times, when I believe some piece of information is both well known and commonly accepted, I have left out footnotes to save space. Also, in some cases I quote only one source. However, whenever I suspected some finding has the potential of raising eyebrows I have quoted multiple sources.
I make this point, in part, to caution the skeptic. Historical research is not valid unless multiple sources can back up a claim. I demand this standard for myself. I expect it from my critics. Little is accomplished when brethren of divergent opinions succumb to the temptation of trading quotes. I do not do it in matters of theology and I will not engage in this practice in matters of academic exploration. However, I welcome those who wish to investigate the body of this work with their own research. I have made it easy for you by supplying my sources.
My intent in writing is to present the reader with information which I found to be unavailable elsewhere as a single body of work. Further, I wish to offer observations and conclusions I have developed for myself over these two years spent researching and compiling this information. I do not present this work as a comprehensive study of the subject of Primitive Baptist origin and succession. It is a view of my own insights and understandings based upon certain events in history uncovered by my limited research. I have tried very hard to be honest and objective.
This labor has been a great source of joy for me. It provided many hours of entertainment during days which otherwise may have been spent in wasted activity. I leave it to your judgment as to whether the time was wasted.
The research was not always easy. At times it proceeded very slowly, then some bit of information was found which moved me quickly ahead. Frequently, I was at a loss as to where to look for some piece of information, or even what the next piece of the puzzle should be. Occasionally, upon finding some unexpected bit of information, I was compelled to restudy previous sources from a different perspective. Sometimes an avenue of study would open which had so many side streets of information that fully pursuing its complete course was almost overwhelming.
I found information which directly contradicted other sources. One such case is the religious identity of Valentine Wightman. Every source I found, except one, stated he was a Calvinist; the latter source identified him as a Six Principle Arminian. At this point I thought my findings of an American link to the Midland Association was invalid. However, upon more careful scrutiny, I discovered the author assumed all Six Principle Baptists were Arminians. I knew this was not so. In fact, the sixth principle, laying on hands on the newly baptized, was an error in practice which existed among the Primitive Baptists in Wales in the early seventeenth century. Though other sources note he was a Calvinist, their description of his theology cannot be accepted at face value. His theological legacy suggests he was a Primitive. Incorrect identification of Primitives as Calvinists is a common trap most religious historians seem to fall into.
The experience of collecting and compiling all the information required to compose these few pages can best be described as both tedious and exciting, slow and swift, frustrating and exhilarating, but always joyful.
God’s providence was apparent to me throughout the course of research. At times it was so evident I could almost feel his hand guiding mine as I searched through library stacks, directing me to some obscure book which I discovered contained a vital piece of information. It is not expedient for me to cite the times I found my research was at an apparent dead end, only to pick up some unlikely source and turn directly to the information I needed.
However, the most extraordinary evidence of God’s providence is the circumstance which moved Linda and me from California, where this study could not have been successfully concluded, to Texas. I found vital information at the Southwestern Baptist Seminary Library and book store in Fort Worth. God did not move a mountain to place us in Texas; however, he did move a large corporation! He also gave me the time to make this study, by circumstances I shall not discuss. He is such a tender and merciful God.
But kind reader, do not mistake providence for inspiration. While God apparently intended this research to occur and it be presented, the purity of His desire is surely tarnished by the failings of my efforts. I make no claims beyond a simple conviction that God manifested an approving countenance during the two-year course of research and study.
Writing Baptist history is difficult. Writing Primitive Baptist history is almost impossible, for two reasons. In the first case, most early Baptist history was written by our enemies. In the second, almost all Primitive Baptist history was written by our enemies, or those who were simply ignorant of our beliefs. In both cases, this has led to misidentification, misrepresentation, or both. In the case of Primitive Baptist history, often the only clues in searching for linkage were in the common use, from century to century, of disparaging names we have been called, as you will shortly find.
In researching ancient and old Baptist history, the problem is mis-identification. Most historians identify ancient Baptists based solely upon their beliefs in the ordinance of baptism. Perhaps in the broadest sense this is a correct association. However, if such a singular criterion is used in the distant future to identify 20th century Baptists, then many non-Baptist religions will be listed as Baptists. Perhaps some of this can be blamed on a lack of detailed information concerning ancient doctrinal beliefs; but none-the-less, the practice of combining groups under the Baptist banner which have obviously different practices and doctrinal tenets, simply because they share the principles of believers baptism and baptism by immersion, is troublesome.
This practice makes research very tedious for it cannot be assumed that all whom historians call Baptists or Anabaptists were in reality what they are called. Such is the case of the fanatic sect which captured Munster in Westphalia. Every historian I read refers to this group as Anabaptist. However, research reveals they never were affiliated with any of the main bodies of Anabaptists in Europe. They were a splinter group which left Luther’s Catholic reformation movement because of a belief in believers baptism. They had no connection with the Lollards, Waldensian, Huguenots or Mennonites.
The tendency of historians to lump religious groups together based upon minimal similarities makes study of Primitive Baptist history extremely difficult. Once research moves beyond fellowship connections found in associational minutes, Primitive Baptists tend to be identified with Particular Baptists. This occurs for two reasons. First, ancient Primitive Baptists, because they were subjects of constant persecution, were inclined to look upon any other body of Baptist dissenters as allies in Christian fellowship. This is as it should have been. However, because they sometimes worshipped together and corresponded, it is assumed by historians they were part of other Baptists groups. But, distinctions are apparent, even when they fellowshipped with other groups. Their doctrine was different and they practiced closed membership and communion. Further, primitives consistently made the point they were not reformed or reformers. These facts distinguish primitives from all other Baptists. Nevertheless, the fact of incorrect identification is found in the many erroneous explanations of what the Primitives believed, which brings us to the second problem.
Most historians are unaware of distinctions between primitive and Particular Baptists, and those who do notice subtle distinctions fail to understand their significance. When theological distinction is made, unless the historian was a primitive, it is usually incorrect. Sometimes the description is generally accurate; but, invariably, the writer will editorialize his interpretation of doctrinal applications with observations which are erroneous.
This work relies upon distinctions of primitive and reformed doctrine to identify groups. Specifically, Baptists which believed in election and predestination, and also believed that a saving faith is imparted prior to actual new birth in regeneration, I identify as holding to reformed theology. In the case of the Particular Baptists, based upon Article XXIV of the 1644 London Confession and Articles X and XIV of the 1689 Confession, as these several articles appear to be statements of Calvin’s theology as expressed in his Institutes of Christian Religion Book 2, Chapter 2, Number. 6 and Book 3, Chapter 11, Numbers 16, 17, they are identified as Baptists of reformed theology. Baptists which believed in election and predestination, but also believed new birth precedes faith, are identified as Baptists of primitive theology. They are not reformed.
However, such distinctions are not always clear. From the beginning, there were some among the Particulars, such as Benjamin Cox, who were primitives in their theology. Conversely, there were those among the primitives, such as William Carey, who embraced Calvin’s reformed theology. For this reason, I make distinctions in this work based upon identifying documents rather than affiliations. I rely upon confessions of faith, articles of faith, statements of belief and circular letters as documents which reveal a group’s belief relative to faith and new birth.
This is necessary because of a unique phenomenon which occurred during the reformation, Baptist groups with variant theologies first fellowshipped, then generally merged together. Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century primitives and reformed Particular Baptists in England often worshipped together. This general merger resulted in primitives in Northern England, the Midlands and Wales adopting the London Confession and losing their distinct identity as primitives. By the early nineteenth century the merger was nearly complete. The result was loss of the primitive faith in England.
Mergers also occurred in America. However, here the result was different. Though the London Confession was sometimes retained, as in the case of the Separate and Particular Baptist union in the Virginia Association, generally, when a merger did occur, the doctrine of the London Confession was lost over a period of time. In most instances of merger the London Confession was never adopted and primitive doctrine dominated. Over time, this resulted in the Particular or Regular Baptist losing their distinct identity. Thus, in America, primitive doctrine came to be the prevailing theology of those Baptists which held to the tenets of election and predestination. In 1638 primitive doctrine was the doctrine of Dr. John Clarke, pastor of Newport Baptist Church in Rhode Island, the first Baptist church constituted in America. It was also believed by the Separate Baptists led by Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall according to their statement of belief in 1758.
Because Primitives believed in election and predestination, but did not believe in gospel instrumentality in regeneration (saving faith), they are often referred to as hyper-Calvinists. Of course, they weren’t. The inclination of historians to identify them as extremist Calvinists, not only exacerbates the problem of correct identification, it also tends to hide their history by folding it into the history of more visible reformed Baptists such as the Particulars. For this reason, distinctions in Primitive Baptist history are often missed or ignored. Therefore, a study of their history includes searching for similar misnomers, consistently incorrect statements of their beliefs and practices, and similar disparaging descriptions. This tends to make researching Primitive Baptist history a bit of a treasure hunt.
Another aspect of research, which at times required cautious discernment, is the use of different names for a single group or the same name for different groups. For instance, while no distinction is made in this work between Regular Baptists and Particular Baptists, today they are not always the same group. The Regular Baptists in the 17th and 18th centuries were quite different from those who are called Regular Baptists in 20th century America. For this work the criteria for using the names Regular and Particular is point of origin. If a group claimed common origin with the writers of the first or second London Confession, I interchangeably call them Regular or Particular Baptists.
Along this same line, sometimes different groups used the same name to identify themselves. This is the case with the Separate Baptists. The adjective „Separate” denotes a common origin as opposed to common theology. Separate Baptists were people who left the Puritan Congregationalist Church and joined some group of Baptists or started their own Baptist denomination. There were three major divisions of Separate Baptists plus several subdivisions. The major divisions includes those who joined the General Baptists, those who joined the Particular Baptists, and those who became Primitive Baptists. Subgroups included Seventh Day and Six Principle Baptists. There were also Seventh Day Particular Baptists; and, Six Principle Baptist subgroups were found variously among the General, Particular and Primitive Baptists. (Six Principle Baptists practiced „Laying on of hands” as part of the ordinance of baptism. They took their name from the six principles of doctrine set forth in Hebrews 6: 1-2).
To add to all this name confusion, some groups have multiple names. This practice was the case with the Regular Baptists, as noted above. It was also the case with the Church of England, Independents, Separatists, and Presbyterians. If all of this is confusing to the reader, you have my sympathy.
Finally, not all writers of Baptist histories agree. Most often their disagreements are minor and due to incomplete information. However, in some few instances, I suspect varying accounts of history are the result of denominational prejudice. Sometimes histories were written with a polemic attitude, to indict some group or defend oneself. The phenomenon of revisionist histories reached almost epidemic proportion with works written in the period immediately following the mission/anti-mission divisions of the 19th century. I have tried to pick through this category of histories. If I could not find generally collaborative accounts, I tended to reject them.
I am compelled to give thanks to God for the extrordinary providence of His support and for of all His saints who assisted in this effort.
Many wrote or called to express their support of my efforts. Their kind words and enthusiasm often came at times of great discouragement. The love of their caring support was an elixir to my soul.
I give thanks for those who gave me access to the treasures of their libraries. The staff of the Webb Robbins Library at Southwest Baptist Seminary Fort Worth, Texas was always very helpful. They gave me complete access to their facilities, including the rare books archives. Also, several of God’s saints within the Primitive Baptist family were very generous in lending me reference works from their personal libraries. Several times I was loaned rare books. I know the sacrifice that is required for one to lend to another a valuable and much loved book. I thank God for your generosity.
Several sent funds to help with the costs of printing. Others offered to print the book at their own expense. Still others assisted by finding a printer within my budget. Such an outpouring of generousity is very touching. I thank God for you. I pray that you will find this work worthy of your confidence.
I give thanks to God for His tender mercies. I cherish the memories of the many hours He allowed me to spend with Him, in prayer and meditation, during the course of research and writing.
Finally, I give thanks for my wife, Linda, for her loving encouragement and patience. Without her faithful support this book could not have been written.
This book is dedicated to my Lord and Master, with whom I spent many hours during its preparation, and to my loving wife, Linda, with whom I did not.
Elder Michael Ivey
Fort Worth, Texas
This book began as a simple desire to understand a seeming inconsistency which I believed existed in Primitive Baptist history relative to the question of our succession as Christ’s church. I could not resolve the differences I perceive between Primitive Baptist Confessions of Faith and the 1689 London Confession of Faith. I heard various arguments relating to differences in language, but did not accept them because the King James Version of the Bible is written in the same language and is readily understandable. I was given an explanation that the London brethren were attempting to escape persecution and so, wrote an „acceptable” confession. This did not seem to make sense to me since the church has always been a dissenting body from popular religion and always suffered persecution for her convictions. It did not seem reasonable that men who came to Baptist conviction knowing full well the persecution they must suffer would suddenly lay their convictions aside to avoid persecution.
My problem with resolving the language of the London Confession to Primitive Baptist faith was centered around the concepts of saving faith, and gospel agency as it is described in Articles 10 and 14 of the 1689 edition. In part these articles state:
Article 10, Part 1. Those whom God hath predestinated unto Life, he is pleased, in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call by his word, and Spirit, out of that state of sin, and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and Salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his Almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his Grace.
Article 14, Part 1. The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also and by the administration of Baptism, and the Lords Supper, Prayer and other means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened.
The archaic language and punctuation of the London Confession, to some measure, leaves the meanings of the these articles open to interpretations. However, inclusion of proof texts seem to indicate the London brethren believed in gospel agency, or instrumentality, in regeneration. Particularly, the use of II Thessalonians 2:13-14 as a proof text for Article 10 led me to conclude the authors believed that gospel utility includes its employment as a verbal instrument of effectual calling in regeneration. In addition, the use of Romans 10:14-17 to define the Ministry of the Word in Article 14 caused me to believe they were writing of the preached word, despite the use of capital punctuation. If I understand what they wrote, it is: The divine influence of faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe and thereby save their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily produced by the agency of the preached word.
My perplexity concerning the meanings of these articles was heightened when I read a copy of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith. I discovered the language of Article 10, parts 1 and 3 in the two Confessions is identical. Also, I found the only difference in the language of Article 14, part 1 is the London Confession substituted the phrase, „by the administration of Baptism, and the Lords Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God” for the Westminster phrase „by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer.” Apparently, the only hesitance the Particular Baptists had with this part of the article of the Westminster Confession was the latter’s reference to baptism and the Lord’s supper as sacraments. The only other difference I found was incidental punctuation and capitalization. At first, I thought capitalization had some significance, but upon closer review I discovered the original transcript of the London Confession used capitalization indiscriminately. Therefore, I was unable to determine any significance for capitalized words.
Knowing that Presbyterian Calvinism teaches a principle of gospel agency in regeneration using the same two articles to set forth their position, I became convinced the early Particular Baptists also must have believed the same.
As I continued to ponder these things, it came to my attention that certain brethren, who no doubt are struggling with these same questions, are teaching gospel agency in regeneration and citing an historic perspective of church succession through the Particular Baptists as a point to support their theology. Simply put, they assert Primitive Baptists abandoned their true beliefs in the 19th century, claiming that until then all orthodox churches subscribed to the tenets of the 1689 London Confession of Faith. They reason abandonment of the London Confession occurred gradually through minor deviations in theology, which developed as an extremist response to anti-missionary, anti-Arminian sentiments. They have asserted that gospel means, or agency in regeneration is first, a bible doctrine and second, an historic belief of the Primitive Baptists owing to our historical connection to the London Confession.
I knew this could not be the case. I have read articles of faith written prior to the 19th century, which do not support gospel means. I have read Elder Wilson Thompson’s autobiography in which a detailed narrative is given of his opposition in 1858 to this doctrine. And, I have read the sermons of Elder Greg Thompson in which he valiantly proclaims God’s sovereignty in regeneration and refutes the notions of gospel instrumentality in regeneration. Further, careful restudy of this issue led me to believe the bible void of a doctrine which invokes the gospel in any way to any degree as a requisite principle of new birth.
All this deepened my desire to know more about the circumstance of the writing of the London Confession. I did not initiate this study to find some non-London Confession succession of the church; rather, my intent was simply to understand how the 1689 London Confession came to such wide acceptance among the Baptists. Also, from a historical perspective, I was anxious to know what events caused the Primitive Baptists to leave it. What I found was a Baptist succession which does not embrace the London Confession or, for some, has only coincidental contact.
The following pages are the results of my study. It is not exhaustive, neither is it infallible. It is simply an expression of my research and observations.
I have been asked why the line of succession this work claims is not listed elsewhere. My answer is, I do not know; perhaps it does exist elsewhere. However, I did not find it in any of the major works of Baptist history. Bits and pieces, sometimes hints, were found in the works of Crosby, Armitage, Underhill, Jones, Benedict and Hassell. But I could find no place in their works where these renowned Baptist historians suggested a consistent Welsh line of succession (though most note the existence of Baptists in England as early as 600 A.D.). Neither did I find a Welsh succession in the works of modern Historians such as Lumpkin, Torbet, or Armstrong. (Modern historians generally deny the existence of an unbroken succession of the church from Christ). Dr. Roy Mason does mention the existence of ancient Christians in Wales in his history, but he mostly quotes the work of Dr. John Christian. However, when all the pieces were placed together, a Welsh succession of the church unfolded.
I do not claim that such renowned historians were dishonest, or even incorrect. Each wrote books which greatly contribute to our understanding of Baptist history. However, in each case it is apparent their focal perspective was different from mine. They wrote to present a panoramic landscape of Baptist history. I have sketched a crude portrait.
The absence of an assimilated account of Welsh succession is troublesome to me. However, such a void probably resulted from the obscurity of many of the documents used by Welsh Baptist historians. Both Joshua Thomas and Jonathan Davis, who will be quoted often in the course of this work, were Welshmen. Much of their original research involved Welsh documents and manuscripts. Because of the obscurity of the Welsh language outside of Wales, it is reasonable to conclude that much of this information was hidden from both early and modern historians. I do not claim that Thomas and Davis are major historians. Their work is perhaps of little interest to those who are not specifically researching Welsh Baptist history. Also, with the exception of the Welsh Tract Church in America, most historians have considered Welsh Baptist history to be of little consequence. The Welsh Baptists were an obscure people.
Welsh Baptist history, like all early Baptist history, is sometimes difficult to discern. Many lines of fellowship, when they did exist, are now obscured by the loss of records and passing of time. I make this point to caution the reader about making assumptions. Because a single line of Baptist Succession is found in Wales, it cannot be assumed that all Welsh Baptists were primitives. We know this is not so. For instance Vavassor Howell, who will be more fully introduced in due time, was a prominent Welsh preacher. He was called by admirers the Welsh George Whitfield. Howell was reformed. His theological origin was with the Church of England. He held close fellowship with the Particular Baptists in London. Also, because of the proximity of Wales to Oxford and Bristol, locations of Anglican colleges of theology, during the reign of James many of the Calvinistic Anglican bishops which left the Church of England and turned to the Baptists were Welshman. Wales enjoyed a tremendous increase in Baptist Churches during this time.
Lines of fellowship are obscured by time and, perhaps, were obscure in many instances from the beginning. The denominational polarizations which exist today among Baptists were less acute in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Evangelists and other itinerant Baptist ministers were welcomed to preach wherever a Baptist congregation was gathered. Often these congregations were without pastors because of constant persecutions. (They preached courageous ministers who came their way.) Thus, a church which for centuries was primitive in faith one day would find herself with a reformed Pastor. This happened very often. The result of this was by the late eighteenth century most of the Baptist churches in Wales were either General or Particular Baptist. English persecution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did more than martyr God’s saints. It obscured Baptist succession.
Nothing is written between the lines of this work. I have not exercised subtlety in expressing myself. If I believe something I have said it. Therefore, the reader should not try to read things into my writing. This work is not a direct or indirect attack upon anything or anybody.
Because I have suggested there is a Welsh succession of the church does not, in the least, threaten a European succession through the Apostle John and Polycarp. I am not trying to replace one succession with another. It would be presumptuous for me to discount the numerous accounts of Anabaptist activity in Europe. Not only so, it weakens my own claims. This work contains a discussion of fellowship between the two groups.
Neither am I attacking our forefathers who met in Fulton, Kentucky, in 1900. To the contrary, I thank God for their efforts. These brethren were evidently struggling with the same issues, concerning the London Confession, with which I have struggled. They give historic precedence to my struggle. They arrived at a solution which satisfied themselves and their congregations. I applaud their efforts and its outcome. However, we cannot assume their solution is the last word on the matter. If they felt at liberty to scrutinize the London Confession from a theological perspective, is it not our privilege to scrutinize it from an historical vantage? I do not see the result of my work as confrontational towards theirs, rather as a complimentary addendum. Theological truths must always take precedent over historical perspective. But when theology and history agree, historical perspective compliments truth.
The Fulton brethren exercised their theological perspective of truth by adding footnotes to the London Confession. I have now come along and offered my applause for their work. I say to them, bravo! History affirms that your concerns were valid and your corrections accurate. Brethren in years past made the same corrections. It proves that the truths you penned at the bottom of the page are the same truths held by Old Baptists through the years. My work is merely an appreciative reaction to yours, a standing ovation.
This treatise is divided into three sections. The first chapters deal with the origins of the English Baptists. There is a brief discussion of the two London Confessions. This section also contains a summary of the ancient history of the Welsh Baptists. There is a chapter which discusses the early history of Olchon Primitive Baptist Church. It concludes with a description of the history and theology of the Midland Association.
Part Two begins with a discussion of the American Link of primitive Baptists succession. It includes a narrative of the circumstances surrounding the constitution of Newport Baptist Church. The ministries of Elders John Clarke and Obadiah Holmes are examined.
Next, there are several chapters dealing with the Separate Baptists. It discusses their transition to Baptist sentiment. A brief discussion of Elder Shubal Stearns is included. A narrative of the evangelical accomplishments of Elder Stearns and the Separate Baptists of North Carolina is inserted. It links the Separate Baptists to the Kehukee Association. The early history of the Kehukee Association is included along with the writers’ impressions as to causes of their irregularities in faith and practice.
The last section is an investigation of the theology of the Midland, Kehukee and Sandy Creek Associations’ Confessions of Faith. The content of each confession is examined. The Midland and Kehukee are compared and contrasted to the 1644 London Confession and the Philadelphia Confession respectively. A comparative examination of the three confessions is then discussed.
PART ONE: Origin of the English Baptists
With the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 the Puritans, who were Calvinists in their doctrinal sympathies, had reason to hope the severe persecution they were suffering would end with the ascension of James I. James was raised and educated in Scotland under the watchful tutorage of Presbyterian clergy. His avowed admiration and attachment to the Kirk and the pure doctrine and practice of Calvinist Presbyterianism gave reason for such hope.
However, James proved to be a disastrous disappointment to all non-conformists. Once crowned, he succumbed to the persuasive abilities of Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bancroft, Bishop of London. The praise and adoration which James received from these Anglican notables was in contrast to his rigid and stiff necked Calvinist mentors in Scotland, where Andrew Melville had once chastised the young royal to his face by calling him „God’s silly vassal.” The appeasement of James’ colossal vanity lead to the edict of the Hampton Court Conference in which dissenters were given to expect nothing but rigorous persecution from their arrogant king.
This new round of persecution, with little expectation of early abatement, resulted in the migration of many dissenters to Holland. Among those who fled James’ renewed oppression was a congregation of Brownists, or Separatists Puritans from Gainsborough led by John Smyth, an ex-Anglican clergyman. Their removal from England to Holland occurred around 1608. In Amsterdam they were joined by another group led by John Robinson, who later moved his congregation to Leydon and is noted as one of the Pilgrim Fathers.
In his book Shapers of Baptist Thought, James Tull makes a distinction between Independents and Separatist within the Puritan movement. He notes Independents wished to reform the Church of England, while the Separatists believed the Established Church was beyond reformation. They believed true reformation could only occur through a presbyterian polity directed from Geneva. However, the majority in both groups were Calvinists. In a sense, Independents were dissenters within the Church of England while Separatists were dissenters from without, having been either excommunicated or voluntarily separated from the Anglican body.
After arriving in Amsterdam, Smyth gradually came to the conclusion that the baptismal practice of his Calvinist Puritanism was not scriptural. Believing that pedobaptism was false, he persuaded his congregation to declare themselves not a church and disband. He then baptized himself by immersion and afterward baptized his entire congregation. Thus immersed, they proceeded to reconstitute themselves as a church, based upon believers baptism and baptism by immersion. It is from this act that historians conclude Smyth’s group became a Baptist church.
Shortly after this reformation, Smyth initiated conversations regarding the possibility of joining a nearby Dutch Waterlander Mennonite Church, since they were no longer Puritan Separatists because of their rejection of pedobaptism. Because of the irregularity of their baptisms, the Mennonites were understandably reluctant to admit Smyth’s group into their body. Their reluctance might also have stemmed from the fact that Smyth was a Calvinist while the Waterlanders, though Mennonites, were Arminians. However, it appears Smyth soon changed his coat and became an Arminian, urging his church to submit to baptism by the Waterlander Mennonites. Though he died before the merge occurred, a remnant of his followers finally joined the Mennonites.
Smyth’s willingness to abandon his Calvinist theology attests to the pliability of his doctrinal convictions. However, Smyth must have realized that by rejecting pedobaptism he had separated his group from the Puritan movement. Evidently he felt baptism by immersion was important enough to warrant separation from his Puritan brethren. As to church identity, lacking any other direction of affiliation, evidently he willingly surrendered his Calvinism in order to gain identity with the Waterlander Baptists.
Smyth’s desire to join the Mennonite congregation caused a split in his congregation, led by John Helwys. The split was not over the Arminian theology of the Waterlanders; rather, Helwys’ group was uniformly satisfied with their reformation baptisms at the hand of Smyth and would not submit to rebaptism by the Mennonites. This group started a separate church, complete with an Arminian Confession of faith. Composed by Helwys in 1610 before leaving Holland, it is written in the new church’s name and contains twenty-seven articles. According to William L. Lumpkin, „Mennonite influence is readily seen in the confession for it shows a departure from the hitherto markedly consistent Calvinism of the Separatist movement.” Helwys included articles relating to general atonement for all believers, justification by faith as received through the gospel, and a tenet which stated saints may fall from grace through disobedience and unbelief. Article five deals with predestination. In part, it reads; „That God before the foundation of the world predestinated that all that believe in him shall be saved and all who believe not in him shall be damned, all which he knew before. And this is the Election and reprobation spoken in the Scripture, concerning salvation, and condemnation, and not that God hath Predestinated men to be wicked, and to be damned, for God would have all men saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, and would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance.” From this article alone there can be no doubt that the Helwys group were Arminian Baptists. It was this Confession of Faith, with its high Arminian doctrine, which Helwys brought back to England.
In 1612 or 1613 Helwys and his followers returned to England. As stated, during their exile in Holland, Smyth’s group underwent certain doctrinal changes resulting from their affiliation with the Dutch Mennonites. Though Smyth left as a staunch Calvinist Separatist, the portion of his congregation led by Helwys, which later came back to England, returned as strict Arminians However, Smyth’s transition from Calvinist to Arminian was in keeping with his constant search for religious satisfaction. His theological journey, which started with Anglican Episcopalianism, ended with Dutch Waterlander Mennonite Arminianism. According to Baptist historian A. C. Underwood, Smyth’s theological wanderings resulted in the founding of the Arminian General Baptist denomination. He wrote of Smyth, „….he stands at the fountain head of consecutive Baptist history. He may be regarded as the father and founder of the original Baptist of England and of the General Baptists in particular. After the lapse of three hundred years he must be placed in the vanguard of what is now the ecumenical communion.”
When Helwys and his group returned to England, they returned as a church. This group is uniformly credited by Baptist historians as the founding congregation of the Arminian General Baptist assembly in London. The group left England in 1608 as Calvinist Separatists and returned in 1613 as Arminian Baptists. Thus, the heritage of this persuasion of Baptist conviction is first, based upon a belief in baptism by immersion and believers baptism; next, founded by spontaneous reformation and self-baptism; and last, upon the Peligian philosophies of James Arminius as they were embraced by the Waterlander Dutch Mennonites. The origin of this denomination’s Baptist identity begins with seventeenth century reformation. If succession is carried any further back it leads these Baptists to Anglican, then Catholic succession.
Elder Sylvestor Hassell makes the following statement concerning the origin of Particular Baptists. „In 1633, September the 12th, the first Particular Baptist, or Calvinist, or Predestinarian English Baptist Church was founded in London, under the pastoral care of John Spilsbury, from those members of an Independent Church who rejected infant baptism; it was called Bond Street Church, and was in the parish of Wapping, London.” Elder Hassell provides no further information as to the origin of this church so far as succession is concerned.
A more detailed account of the origin of Particular Baptists is Found in Underwood’s History of the English Baptist. Though similar in outcome the circumstance is slightly different. First noting this group has its origin with Puritan and Pilgrim Father John Robinson, it reads, „In 1616 Henry Jacob and some of the exiled Independents returned to England from the Netherlands and began work in London. In 1633, John Spilsbury and a few others left this church, apparently because they had come to oppose infant baptism.”
Robert Torbet provides additional details. His account indicates some twenty years after the Helwys group returned to England a friendly division occurred. In September 1633, by honorable dismissal, several members separated themselves from Helwys’ congregation and formed an independent church constituted on Calvinist principles. Shortly thereafter John Spilsbury was elected their pastor. Within a few years this congregation came to be known as Regular or Particular Baptists. Their name was adopted based upon their belief in particular redemption.
Torbet’s account also explains an apparent link up of the former Smyth and Robinson groups. He cites the presence of Lathrop as an early leader of the group formed in 1616. From this it may be assumed that the two groups merged when John Lathrop and his group left the fledgling General Baptist congregation. Thus, his reference to two branches under Henry Jacob may result from these separate origins, prior to a merger under the leadership of John Lathrop. One group was initially led by Henry Jacob, out of Robinson’s Independents. The other group was led by John Lathrop, formerly with Helwys’ General Baptist congregation, out of John Smyth’s Separatists.
Torbet agrees with Underwood that Jacob was an Independent who left Robinson and returned to England in 1616. He gives the line of succession this way. The Particular Baptist were first recognizable as a separate group, with their own doctrine and practice, in 1638. They were first Independent Puritan Calvinists led by Henry Jacob. The church was aptly called Jacob Church. In 1622 Jacob moved to Virginia, where he died in 1624. After Henry Jacob, John Lathrop was pastor until his imprisonment in 1632. After his release from prison, he and about thirty members of his congregation fled to New England. The group which remained in England were led by two pastors. Cromwell’s humorously named parliamentarian „Praise-God” Barebone led half the church which met in his house, Lock and Key, on Fleet Street. Henry Jessey cared for the other half. At this point, both Jessey and Barebone were still Puritan pedobaptists. In time Jessey came to accept believer’s baptism and was baptized by Hansard Knollys who at the time was an Independent in sentiment, believing in baptism by immersion, but still a bishop with the Church of England.
B. R. White, in his work, English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, notes that both Kiffin and Spilsbury were original members of the Jacob group, which was an outgrowth of the John Robinson Independents group.
In 1633 the Jessey group experienced a friendly split when Spilsbury and a small band left over the issue of baptismal authority. They did not object to infant baptism; however, they rejected the authority of Anglican Church baptism. In rejecting Anglican baptismal authority, the group made a transition from Independents to Separatists. (It is perhaps at this point where the former Helwys and Lathrop groups joined company.) They organized a separate church under the leadership of Samuel Elton. In 1638 another group left Jessey’s church. This group believed only regenerates are qualified candidates for baptism. They are the first group out of Jessey’s church to reject pedobaptism. William Kiffen was part of this group. Meanwhile, Spilsbury was chosen to replace Elton as pastor of the original group dismissed in 1633 from the Jessey’s congregation. These two groups merged in 1638.
Thomas Crosby cites the earlier date, 1633, as the point at which the Particular Baptists were recognizable as a distinct denomination. Certainly, the group which later fully embraced the tenets of believers baptism and baptism by immersion is first seen as a congregation in 1633; however, at that time they still accepted the practice of pedobaptism. The doctrinal sentiment of the group which left Jessey in 1633 cannot be proven to be Baptist before 1638, after they merged with Kiffin. Spilsbury must have come to Baptist sentiment concerning believers baptism and baptism by immersion before he merged with Kiffin; but, according to Torbet, when Spilsbury left the Jessey church he was still a pedobaptist. The first documented evidence of his change in sentiment was after he merged with Kiffin in 1638. However, in practice, this group did not become a true Baptist Church until believers baptism and baptism by immersion became requirements for membership, which did not occur until 1641. According to Kiffin’s manuscript, a group of members of this newly amalgamated congregation became convinced that baptism by aspersion (sprinkling or pouring) was unscriptural. This new view is known to have been held by Spilsbury, Kiffin and Richard Blunt, plus some few others. Blunt knew of Mennonites in Rhwynsburg, in the Netherlands, who practiced baptism by immersion. Because he spoke Dutch, in 1641 he traveled to Holland, where according to Kiffin’s manuscript, he was kindly received and given letters for the new London congregation. It is believed the letters he received contained arguments in support of believers baptism and baptism by immersion.
Kiffin’s manuscript, as paraphrased by Crosby, seems to demonstrate the Particular’s desire to understand the proper mode and seek proper administration of the ordinance of baptism. „They could not be satisfied about any administrator in England to begin this practice; because tho’ some in this nation rejected baptism of infants, yet they had not as they knew revived the ancient custom of immersion.”
Though the context of Thomas Crosby’s History of the English Baptists seems to imply that Blunt was baptized while in Holland, Crosby does not say so outright. He continues Kiffin’s narrative in his own words, but makes no specific reference to Blunt being baptized while in Holland. „But hearing that some in the Netherlands practiced it, they agreed to send over one Mr. Richard Blount, who understood the Dutch Language: That he went accordingly, carrying letters of recommendation with him, and was kindly received by the church there, and Mr. John Batte, their teacher: That upon his return he baptized Mr. Samuel Blacklock, a minister, and these two baptized the rest of their company, whose names appear in the manuscript, to the number of fifty-three.”
Neither does the continuation of Kiffin’s original manuscript say Blunt was baptized in Holland. Regarding Blunt’s return and the subsequent baptismal service, Kiffin wrote, „1640. 3rd Mo.; The church became to (sic) by mutual consent just half being with Mr. P. Barebone, & ye other halfe with Mr. H. Jessey. Mr. Richard Blunt with him being convinced of Baptism yt also it ought to be by dipping in ye Body into ye Water, resembling Burial & rising again 2 Col. 2:12. Rom 6:4, had sober conference about it in ye Church, & then with some of the forenamed who also ware so convinced. And after prayer & Conference about their so enjoying it, none having then to practiced it in England to Professed Believers & hearing that some in ye Netherlands had so practiced they agreed and sent over Mr. Rich. Blunt (who understood Dutch) with letters of Commendation, and who was kindly accepted there, and returned with letters from them Jo: Batte a Teacher there and from that Church to such as sent him.
1641, They proceed therein, viz. Those Persons that ware persuaded Baptism should be by dipping ye Body had met in two Companies, and did intend so to meet after this, all these agreed to proceed alike togeather And then Manifesting (not by any formal Words a Covenant); wch word was scrupled by some of them, but by mutual desires and agreement each testified:
Those two Companyss did set apart one to Baptize the rest; so it was solemnly performed by them.
Mr. Blunt baptized Mr. Blacklock yt was a Teacher amongst them, and Mr. Blunt being Baptized, he & Mr. Blacklock Baptized ye rest of their friends that ware so minded, & many being added to them they increased much”
From this account, together with Burrage’s corrected reading of Kiffin’s manuscripts, several historians understand that Mr Blunt baptized Mr Blacklock and Mr Blacklock baptized Mr Blunt, and the two proceeded to baptize the rest of the congregation; which was evidently composed of two companies or churches.
William A. Whitsitt concurs with Burrage’s interpretation, concluding that Blunt was not baptized in Holland. He places the occurrence of the reformation baptismal service at the earliest in 1641.
B. R. White also agrees with Burrage and Whitsitt, maintaining that Particular Baptist transformation from Puritan Calvinist Separatists to Baptists was accomplished by self-baptism. He wrote, „Blunt baptized himself.” He bolsters this assertion with an article written by Thomas Killcop in 1642. Killcop was a member of Spilsbury’s congregation. However, his assertion may be incorrect due to misinterpretation of Killcop’s article.
The article was published as a response to the Independents’ criticisms of the Particular Baptists for practicing self-baptism. Killcop’s article does not specifically deny that Blunt baptized himself after returning from Holland; however, neither does he admit that Blunt baptized himself. His defense of reinstitution of immersion and believers baptism is based upon a principle that God is able to spontaneously raise up a true witness. He wrote to the Independents, „every scripture which gives you warrant to erect a church state, gives us the same warrant to erect baptism since the one cannot be done without the other, for none can put on Christ (that is visibly by outward profession) but such as are baptized into Christ.
White noted the simplicity of Killcop’s argument: „If scripture gave authority for the vital act of the reconstruction of the church it must surely do so for the smaller act of reconstituting the church ordinance of baptism.”
Neither did John Spilsbury’s response to the controversy deny self-baptism as a method for restoring the primitive ordinance; but, like Killcop, neither does he specifically support self-baptism. He addressed his argument from the attitude of assembled believers authority, noting that when God himself calls together a congregation as an assembled church, uniting them to Christ and each other, they are authorized by Christ to choose a member or members to perform baptisms. Spilsbury wrote; „as occasion offers and authorizes him or them to administer baptism upon the whole body and so upon themselves in the first place as part of the same.” He continued a defense of the Particular’s origin by asserting, „wheresoever a church doth rise in her true constitution, there are her ordinances and also power to administer the same; and where a thing is wanting there must be of necessity a beginning to reduce that thing again into being.”
Torbet does not believe Blunt was baptized in Holland. He makes this assertion based upon the fact that the Dutch Baptists to whom he traveled seeking instruction were Arminian Collegiant, or Rhwynsburg Mennonites. He reasons the Collegiants would not have accepted Blunt as a candidate for baptism because he did not believe their doctrine, being a Calvinist. Conversely, he asserts that Blunt would not have offered himself for baptism at the hands of Arminians. Torbet lists Shakespeare’s Baptist and Congregational Pioneers, pages 180-183, Kiffin’s original manuscript, and Burrage’s Early English Dissenters, Vol II pgs. 302 – 305, as his sources for this information.
While Kiffin’s manuscript includes both Blunt and Blacklock in the list of new members in his account of the original baptismal service, his wording is vague. It does not specifically state if members were baptized or otherwise received. However, as this was a reconstitution of their church it is reasonable to assume the list is of those who covenanted together. The inexplicit language of the document, in part, may be due to the fact that Kiffin was not present when the baptismal service occurred. He may have been in prison for preaching without proper authorization.
Spilsbury and Knolly’s names are absent from the list; however, it is known they were both identified with the group both before and after the baptismal service. Knollys was in Holland and Germany in self-exile during this period of the new church’s history. It is unknown why Spilsbury is not included in the original membership list. A possible explanation is that Kiffin’s membership list is actually a list of only those who were baptized that day. Spilsbury is believed to have been previously baptized by Knollys.
The wording of Kiffin’s manuscript suggests there may have been some present who did not submit to baptism. Kiffin’s statement, „he & Mr. Blacklock Baptized ye rest of their friends that ware so minded,” could infer that some were not „so minded” and were not baptized by Blunt or Blacklock. It may be that Spilsbury, like Jessey, had already been baptized by Knollys. As believers baptism and baptism by immersion are clearly stated motives and principles of the formation of the Particular Baptists it seems unlikely they would admit or retain members who were unbaptized. This leads to the probability of other occasions of baptisms.
It cannot be disputed that early Particular Baptists believed in a principle of spontaneous reconstitution of the church. Both Killcop and Spilbury use this tenet as an argument in support of original baptism. In 1646 Hansard Knollys replied to a work written by John Saltmarsh which was critical of the Baptists’ requirement of baptism by immersion. Saltmarsh believed baptism was Spiritual only, therefore mode was of no consequence. Knollys’ reply reveals belief in a principle of mediation of baptismal authority directly from Christ. He believed that the commission to baptize is received directly from Christ without the necessity of a succession of authority; stating, „one can baptize as warrantably in his name as could any of his disciples.”
It may be that Blunt was baptized in Holland, as Crosby so infers. It is certain he and Mr. Blacklock baptized several of their friends upon Mr. Blunt’s return from Holland. The possibility of some not being baptized by Blunt or Blacklock is suggested by the writings of Killcop and Spilsbury. Also, Crosby’s assertion that some Particulars practiced what he called „last method of restoring baptism.” infers some were not baptized in the formal constitution of the church. He claims there was a general acceptance, among early English Baptists, of a practice of unbaptized persons baptizing.
Crosby asserts the early Particular Baptists believed in two methods of instituting a „reformation.” He states both were acceptable to the English Baptists „at their revival of immersion in England.”
1. The regular baptism method. „The former of these (methods) was, to send over to the foreign Anabaptists, who descended from the antient Waldenses in France or Germany that so one or more receiving baptism from them might become a proper administrator of it to others. Some thought this the best way and acted accordingly, as appears from Mr. Hutchinson’s account in the epistle of his treatise of the Covenant of Baptism.”
2. The Anti-succession method. „But the greatest number of the English Baptists, and the more judicious, looked upon all this as needless trouble, and what proceeded from the old Popish Doctrine of right to administer the sacraments by an uninterrupted succession, which neither the Church of Rome, nor the Church of England, much less the modern dissenters, could prove to be with them. They affirmed therefore and practiced accordingly, that after a general corruption of Baptism, an unbaptized person might warrantably baptize, and so begin a reformation.”
It is interesting that Crosby quotes Spilsbury to support his argument that some early English Baptist practiced the anti-succession method of restoring baptism.
It must be noted that Crosby is very careful to distinguish between self-baptism and „the last method of baptism.” He first denies that John Smyth baptized himself; then, discounts the significance of his self-baptism, if it did occur. He wrote, „But enough of this. If he were guilty of what they charge him with ‘tis no blemish upon the English Baptists; who neither approved of any such method, not did they receive baptism from him.” In his denial he is critical of self-baptism as a valid reinstitution of the ordinance. This seems a bit strange in light of his support of last method baptism. However, if his reference to „an unbaptized person” refers to Hansard Knollys, who baptized Jessey and Spilsbury, it may be that Crosby somehow gave authority to this form of reinstitution of baptism, as part of a spontaneous reformation of the church, but distinguished the „second method” from self-immersion as practiced by Smyth. Perhaps Crosby viewed Knollys, Spilsbury and Kiffen as reformed Baptists who received their baptismal authority as God called ministers of the gospel, upon the merit of restoration of the true mode of baptism.
Despite the reasoning of several historians, since the matter cannot be factually settled, this writer chooses to follow Crosby’s lead and assume Blunt was baptized while in Holland and had authority to baptize others; and, that his baptism represents a succession of the ordinance. It seems extremely unlikely he would travel to the Continent only to receive instructions concerning immersion. The phrase in Kiffin’s manuscript concerning Blunt’s reception in Holland, „who was kindly accepted there,” could indicate he was accepted for baptism. Also, denominational lines were not well drawn in that day. It is conceivable the Arminian Collegiant Baptists in Rhwynsburg were willing to baptize Blunt despite his Calvinist sentiments. The theological lineage of this particular congregation of Mennonites is unknown, therefore it cannot be concluded their own origin is outside a line of baptismal succession.
The 1644 and 1646 editions of the London Confession tend to support the notion that some Particulars did not recognize baptismal authority through a ministerial succession by laying on of hands. This is an important point for the Particular Baptists for two reasons. First, if baptismal authority requires a continuous succession by laying on of hands then spontaneous reinstitution of the ordinance cannot be recognized as a valid method of reformation of the church. Second, there is no evidence that Blunt or Blacklock were ordained ministers with a succession back to Christ at the time of the baptismal service.
The 1644 edition of the London Confession, concerning baptismal authority, states „The persons designed by Christ, to dispense this Ordinance, the Scriptures hold forth to be a preaching Disciple, it being no where tied to a particular Church, Officer, or person extraordinarily sent, the Commission enjoining the administration, being given to them under no other consideration, but as considered disciples.” In 1646 the meaning of this statement was given more clarity. It shows that a principle of succession of baptismal authority evidently was not supported by the early Particular Baptists. It reads, „The person designed by Christ to dispense Baptism, the Scriptures hold forth to be a Disciple; it being nowhere tied to a particular Church officer, or person extraordinarily sent, the Commission enjoining the administration, being given to them as considered Disciples, being men able to preach the Gospel.” Neither article mentions the need for the ordination of the administrator of baptism.
Crosby, nor any subsequent historians, present evidence that Blunt and Blacklock were authorized to baptize others through a succession of laying on of hands from Christ, as ordained ministers. No mention is made concerning Blunt being ordained in Holland. This may account for the position taken in their Confession concerning baptismal authority. At such an early date, it was too soon to impose a principle of baptismal authority. Whatever the reason for omission of this principle from the 1644 Confession, it is also conspicuously absent from the 1689 Confession.
Again, the Particular’s belief in a principle of God directly granting baptismal authority may explain the absence of the principle of ministerial succession by the laying on of hands. In reading several accounts of Reformation thinking, the principle of spontaneous baptismal authority is noted. As we have stated, the principle is; God, at any time, may reform his church to its primitive faith and practice. It supports a notion that the church can become so corrupted with error that God will go outside her authority to raise a witness. When this occurs it is presumed the ordinances of the church are reinstated in primitive form, baptism being one of these. Thus, God will call men, giving them divine authority outside the succession of ordination by laying on of hands, to reinstate the ordinances. Reformation defenders use John the Baptist as a scriptural example of this principle. They mistakenly presume John was reforming the visible church from Mosaic law service to Christian dispensation. They note that John was not ordained. Also, they reason his baptisms were valid because he baptized the Savior. From their writings and practice, it appears some Particular Baptists accepted this reasoning.
Extension of the Particular Baptist’s belief in a spontaneous reinstitution of Baptism, by direct authority from God rather than ministerial succession, brings into question the whole issue of church succession. If the ordinances of the church are spontaneously re-instituted, logic dictates that the church itself is re-instituted. Reinstitution of the church is reformation. Perhaps this is the reason the Particular Baptists referred to themselves as reformed and Protestants. It may also explain why their writers referred to their church as a denomination.
In every account of the origin of the Particular Baptists there is a common thread of historical detail: Particular Baptist origin is closely associated with the Anglican Calvinism of the Independents and Separatists. As former reformed Anglican Independents and Separatists, their doctrinal culture was Puritan Calvinism.
Several historical accounts examining the Particular Baptists’ baptismal link to European Anabaptists have been presented. They question whether the short visit of Mr Blunt to Rhwynsburg included his baptism. Most conclude he was not.
Whether or not Blunt was baptized in Holland, his visit does not substantiate an undeniable claim of church succession for three reasons. First, no claim of succession was made by Particular Baptists at the time of their formation. Second, even if Blunt was baptized in Holland it was into an Arminian fellowship. Third, there is no evidence of an orderly succession of administration of baptism by Blunt and Blacklock because there is no evidence they were authorized to administer baptism to others through the ministerial succession of laying on of hands by a presbytary. However, despite assumptions of irregularities made by several historians, of Blunt and Blacklock’s baptismal authority, Blunts trip to Holland is very important because it demonstrates the Particular’s interest in baptismal authority. Crosby’s description of the first method of restoration of baptismal authority, „to send over to the foreign Anabaptists, who descended from the antient Waldenses in France or Germany that so one or more receiving baptism from them might become a proper administrator of it to others,” may be a specific reference to Mr. Blunt’s trip to Holland.
Also, all of these difficulties can be surmounted if one assumes a church can, for a time, be in error and yet retain her identity as Christ’s church. Scripture undeniably reveals this potentiality. It was certainly the condition with the seven churches of Asia as their cases are described in Revelations. Until the candlestick was removed identity remained. None but God can know with certainty if Blunt’s visit to Holland and the subsequent baptisms of Blacklock and his fellow saints represents a succession of the church. Therefore, despite all the unorthodox events which led to the establishment of the Particular Baptists in London, only God may rightly judge whether these brethren constituted themselves as Christ’s bride. However, their subsequent history presents a strong case they did and charity demands we consider it so.
Had these brethren searched for a continuous Baptist succession in England, it was to be found in Northern England, near the Welsh border, at ancient Hill Cliffe Baptist Church in Warrington, where Lancaster and Chester Counties meet. It was not necessary for Blunt to travel to Holland to learn about baptism. The earliest baptisms by the pastors of Hill Cliffe were performed in historical antiquity. The constitution of this oldest continuing Baptist Church is unknown, but legible markers in the graveyard date back to 1357 A. D.. Some markers are believed to be older, but centuries of erosion have rendered them illegible. Local tradition asserts this ancient church was always Baptist. In 1800 when the meeting house was rebuilt, the ancient baptistery, carved from stone, was discovered and excavated. It is described as large enough to immerse an adult.
The earliest pastor of record at Hill Cliffe was Elder Weyerburton, of the Cheshire family of Warburtons. The beginning of his pastoral care is unknown, but he remained pastor of Hill Cliffe until his death in 1594. When Mssrs. Kiffin and Spilbury were first learning of the necessity of believers baptism and baptism by immersion, Elder Tillman was pastor at Hill Cliffe. He could have instructed them more perfectly concerning Baptist succession and baptismal authority. Had they known of Elder Tillman and Hill Cliffe Church they could have received baptism from one who claimed his authority through a continuous succession of the church.
In 1642 the Particular Baptists numbered fifty-three and were meeting in two congregations. By 1644 the group expanded to seven churches. In 1644, to clarify the mode and authority of baptism, Spilsbury and Kiffen inserted a tenet of baptism by immersion in their new Confession of Faith.
London Confessions of Faith
In his church history, Elder Sylvester Hassell notes the partial intent of writing the original London Confession was an attempt to appease Baptist detractors. He wrote, „In 1644 they numbered seven churches in London, and forty-seven in the country; and the same year, three years before the Westminster Confession; in answer to the calumnies of Daniel Featley, an Episcopalian clergyman, the seven London churches published, in fifty-two Articles, a Confession of Faith, showing that, in all important doctrinal principles, the Baptists agreed with the „orthodox Reformed Churches.” The rapid increase in congregations of General and Particular Baptist churches around the London area attracted the attention of Anglican critics. It is presumed by Lumpkin that, in part, the impetus for writing the first London Confession of Faith in 1644 resulted from the publications of several particularly scurrilous works which attacked both the Particular and General Baptists. These works included A Short History of the Anabaptist of High and Low Germany (1642) and A Warning for England, especially for London 1644. However, the final provocation for the London Particular Baptists was the appearance of a booklet entitled A Confulation of the Anabaptists and All others who affect not Civil Government 1644. This latter work identified the fledgling Baptist movement of the General and Particulars with the political excesses of a small sect Anabaptists in Munster, Westphalia. The Munster group, which was actually a dissenting sect of Lutherans, was accused of massacring the population of Munster in 1526. Rumors of this event rapidly spread, and because the sect had separated from Luther’s movement over the latter’s practice of infant baptism, all other Anabaptist groups were commonly identified with their excesses. In response to these vicious and untrue attacks, Spilbury requested a general meeting of the Elders of the seven Particular Baptist Churches in London for the purpose of composing a formal Confession of Faith.
It is supposed that slanderous writings against the Baptists were in response to several articles and books, written by General Baptist authors, which dealt with the issue of limitation of civil authority as it relates to matters of religious conscience. In particular, works by Leonard Busher and John Milton stirred great anti-Baptist sentiment in the Anglican Church. Busher’s book Religious Peace, or, A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, which was addressed to the King, denied civil jurisdiction in matters of religion. This was viewed by the Anglican Church as a direct attack on her comfortable position as the Established Church of England. The issue of religious freedom, a Baptist principle, was falsely identified with the radical revolutionist excesses of the Munster Lutheran sect. Thus, slanderous accusations ranging from seditious treason, to murder, to cannibalism were hurled at the upstart General and Particular Baptists in England.
In a desire to reveal the orthodoxy of their faith and practice, and also to demonstrate their separate identity from the General Baptists, to whom the attacks were specifically aimed because of Busher and Milton’s General Baptist affiliations, the Particular Baptist met in London in 1644 and composed their Confession of Faith.
Each of the seven churches sent two delegates, except Spilsbury’s, which sent three. The Confession is considered by Lumpkin to be an expansion of the Separatist Confession of 1596 which he believes was used as a model. He links this document to Separatism because of the background of some of the signataries. Former Separatists included Spilsbury, Kiffin, Killcop and probably others.
B. R. White agrees with Lumpkin’s assessment of the Confession. His analysis of this document begins with this statement. „The 1644 Confession (revised in 1646) was far from being a creation ex nihilo since twenty-six of its fifty-three articles repeated the teaching, often with only the smallest verbal modifications, of the corresponding sections in the Separatist Confession of 1596.”
Historian Robert B. Hannen notes several remarkable similarities between the first London Confession and the Aberdeen Confession, written in 1616. A work by Daniel Featley titled The Dippers dipt. (1645) offers an explanation for the similarities. Featley asserted that a Scot, whose name is now unknown, joined the London Particular Baptist in 1642. From this fact, Robert B. Hannen suspects this man brought a copy of the Aberdeen Confession to the attention of the leaders of the seven churches.
In all, there were five versions of this first London Confession, the last published in 1653 at Leith in Scotland. The 1646 edition had three printings. This suggests widespread acceptance of the document among Particular Baptists.
When compared to the 1689 Confession the first London document is said to present a more accurate biblical perspective of God’s law. The editors of Backus Books Publishers, who reprinted the 1646 edition of the London Confession with Benjamin Cox’s Appendix, offer this observation. „There are other baptistic statements of faith already available in our day, such as the Second London Confession of 1689, which is a modification of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646. Although these confessions agree on the fundamentals of Christian faith, there is a distinctive New Covenant emphasis concerning biblical law in the 1644 and 1646 editions of the First London Confession that is regretfully lacking in the Old Covenant emphasis of the Westminster and Second London Confessions. This difference has far reaching theological implications.”
In the general conference of 1646 Elder Benjamin Cox, pastor of Abington Church, presented an appendix to the Confession. The existence of this document indicates that at least one church in London, of the original seven, considered the Confession either too vague or else inaccurate in presenting the doctrine of regeneration. Lumpkin describes Cox’s work as characterizing a „higher Calvinism than the second edition.”
Particularly, Elder Cox took exception to the Pelagian implications of Gospel agency in regeneration. In article seven of his appendix he wrote;
Though we confess that no man doth attain unto faith by his own good will; John 1:13, yet we judge and know that the Spirit of God doth not compel a man to believe against his will, but doth powerfully and sweetly create in a man a new heart, and make him to believe and obey willingly, Ezekiel 36:26,27; Psalms; 110:3. God thus working in us both to will and to do, of His good pleasure, Philippians 2:13.
I have been unable to find any evidence that the Cox appendix was ever formally accepted and added to the first London Confession. From this, it may be assumed that others were satisfied with the positions taken in the Confession and saw little need to adjust it doctrinal tenor.
Apparently, the distinguishing theology of the First London Confession did not go unnoticed by the Arminian General Baptists. Elder Cox’s appendix is, for the most part, a polemic response to Arminian theology. The content and tone of his work indicates the General Baptists were not pleased with the appearance of the London Confession. Until 1644 John Helwys’ very Arminian 1610 Confession was the principle statement of Baptist theology in England. The London Confession served to undermine the influence of the Helwys document. It revealed that his 1610 Confession was not endorsed by a significant portion of the Baptist community in London.
A little known fact about the 1644 Confession may offer another plausible explanation for its adoption. In 1647, after two revisions, in which some wording was changed to remove the sting of certain criticisms being hurled by Kiffin’s old enemy Daniel Featley, the London Confession was accepted by Parliament and the Particular Baptists were granted toleration. However, official toleration was lost when Charles II ascended to the throne in 1660.
The London Confession of 1689 (which was originally written is 1677) was the Particular Baptist’s second great document.
By 1688, when the call went out for a Particular Baptist General Convention, the political climate in England had changed several times. During the forty-four years separating the adoption of the two Particular Baptist Confessions, a civil war occurred, a King was executed, democratic process was instituted and derailed, the Anglican church underwent reformation and a new King was crowned. Also, the cause of religious freedom suffered setbacks resulting in a systematic and legislated policy which is best described as an almost perpetual increase in intensity of persecution of dissenters.
In 1642 civil war erupted in England. Royalist Cavaliers were opposed by the „roundheads” of Oliver Cromwell’s populist army. The final result of this disturbance was execution by beheading of Charles I in 1649. Long Parliament subsequently appointed Cromwell Lord High Protectorate of England. During the conflict non-conformists of every religious persuasion joined Cromwell’s army. The Baptists, in particular, were well represented. Cromwell’s chief-of-staff, together with many officers were Baptist preachers. For this reason, together with the fact that Cromwell personally held the principle of religious freedom, at the conclusion of hostilities the Baptists were optimistic about their future safety from religious persecution. Their optimism soon turned to dismay.
As Cromwell’s administration grew in bureaucracy, it became increasingly autocratic. This was particularly the case in matters of religion, where despite a reformation of the Church of England which placed Presbyterian clergy at its head, an appetite for complete religious conformity still gnawed at the leadership. Fresh outbreaks of religious persecution occurred against the Baptists by these Calvinist brethren who now controlled the Church of England. According to James Tull the newly empowered Presbyterians held precisely the same views as their Anglican counterparts concerning religious conformity. „The Presbyterians intended for the church to be a national church, embracing the whole population in its membership. Dissent was not to be allowed; membership was compulsory. Everyone was to have his children baptized and to pay tithes. On this point there was to be little difference from the church as already established.”
After Cromwell’s death, Parliament initiated discussions with Charles II regarding the terms of his return to England and ascendancy to the throne. In 1660 Charles returned to power. His return marked the beginning of a new era of Baptist persecution which was both systematic and terrible.
In 1662 The Act of Uniformity was passed. This act required use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in all religious meetings under penalty of loss of position for the Anglican clergy who refused and fines and/or imprisonment for the leaders of Non-conformist congregations. The result of this act was two-fold. First, because the book was essentially Catholic Episcopalian and many preachers in the Established Church were by then Calvinists, it is estimated that approximately two thousand Anglican bishops left the Established Order and joined nonconforming congregations. Second, fines and imprisonments were systematically imposed upon non-conforming violators.
The Uniformity Act was quickly followed by other means of legislated persecution which included reinstitution of The Conventicle Act in 1664. This law forbade nonconformist religious gatherings of more than four persons over the age of sixteen.
Next, the Five-mile Act was passed in 1665. It prohibited nonconforming ministers from preaching within five miles of any city or village which sent members to Parliament or which had an Established Church within its boundaries. It also denied dissenters the right to teach in any public or private schools.
In 1670 another Conventicle Act was passed. While this law did not carry a death penalty for repeat offenders, as did the original Conventicle Act, it was particularly cruel in that it allowed the Crown to seize all property of repeat offenders. Also, this law was very effective because it allowed informers to keep one third of everything seized.
The second Conventicle Act was followed by the Test Act of 1673. This law barred nonconformist from holding civil or military office.
The Test Act was followed by The Clarendon Code, which renewed the severest forms of persecution.
The tyranny of these laws resulted in fines, public beatings, imprisonment and capital execution for dissenters. Offenders where often tortured to death. Executions were carried out by hanging, beating, beheading, impaling, dismembering, and burning. It is estimated that the malicious treatment of non-conformers (of which Baptists suffered more than any others owing to their public support of principles of religious liberty) resulted in persecution of more than seventy-thousand saints, of whom eight thousand perished. The sum total of fines levied and collected is calculated to be in excess of two-million pounds sterling, as calculated in 1850.
It was amid this climate of religious persecution that a small window of liberty briefly opened. In 1689, with the ascension of William and Mary to the throne, a new Act of Toleration was passed. This act, while not guaranteeing religious freedom, did allow provisions for non conformers to worship in peace. However, it required that all dissenting religious bodies submit a statement of their creed for approval by the Crown. Actually, approval by the crown was in form only, the substance of approval came after review by a body of bishops and archbishops of the Church of England.
When this newest Act of Toleration passed on May 24, 1689 the Particular Baptists were ready to take full advantage. On September 3, 1689 they met in a general convention for the purpose of ratifying a confession of faith which would be acceptable to the Crown, and thus provide for official tolerance of their Churches. Representatives of some one-hundred congregations met in London and adopted the 1689 London Confession.
For reasons not entirely made clear, the London brethren did not use their 1644 Confession as a model for the 1689 document. Their stated reasons were its poor circulation among the Baptists and a general lack of familiarity with this earlier document among the attendants of the convention. However, their stated reason seems a bit strange since the first Confession underwent five printings in three editions and was distributed throughout England, Wales and Scotland.
The draft finally presented to the Crown is a second edition of the 1677 London Confession, which was principally written by Mr William Collins. According to Lumpkin, this document is a modified version of the Presbyterian’s 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith.
Pope A. Duncan agrees with Lumpkin’s assessment. He describes the second London Confession as a purposeful attempt to align the Particular Baptists with reformation Protestantism. He wrote, „Baptists in the seventeenth century stood squarely in the Protestant tradition insofar as the great majority of their doctrines were concerned. What they had to say about most of the classic tenets of the faith differed almost none at all from those of the other Protestant churches of England. Indeed, the widely used „Second London Confession” purposely used the order and often the very words of the Westminster Confession in order to demonstrate the agreement of Baptists with classical Protestantism. Thus, with regard to such articles as those dealing with the holy Scripture, the Trinity, Christ, the Holy Spirit, faith, justification, sanctification, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment, one could note no significant differences between Baptist thought and that of other Protestant Christians of England. In fact, there was essential agreement on most doctrines.”
The Baptists’ motivation for adopting a confession similar to the Westminster creed may relate to the rise in political prominence of the Presbyterians. For a brief period, from 1650 to 1660 the Presbyterians actually held official recognition as the Established Church of England. However, with the return of Charles II, Anglican Episcopalians regained command of the Established Order. Despite losing control, the Presbyterians remained strong. They retained their official status in Scotland. In England their members still controlled a significant voting block in Parliament. Further, many Anglican clergymen remained Calvinists. Observing their successful defiance of the Uniformity and Conventicle Acts in particular, no doubt, the London Baptist believed close alignment with the powerful Presbyterians would make it politically difficult for the Crown to reject their petition for official tolerance. Thoughts of continued persecution, with a possible means of avoidance at hand, apparently induced the Baptists to identify themselves more closely with this powerful group.
The London Particular Baptists were not the first to think of closer alignment with the Presbyterians. Separatist Puritan Congregationalists had already allied themselves politically by identifying themselves doctrinally with the Presbyterians. In 1658 they adopted the Savoy Confession, a close copy of the Westminster Confession, as their doctrinal creed.
The Baptists, yet suffering terribly at the hand of the Crown, eventually realized that neither the Presbyterians nor Congregationalists were suffering the same frequency and intensity of torment. Perhaps fully understanding the political reality of their circumstance they assembled in 1689 in a General Convention and officially adopted Collin’s very Westminsterish confession.
The desire of these tortured brethren to align themselves with the Presbyterians is evident throughout the document. However, nowhere is it more apparent than in the preamble of the 1677 first edition, which reads in part, „…our hearty agreement with them (Presbyterians and Congregationalists) in the wholesome protestant doctrine, which with so clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted.” The preamble of the second edition of 1688, as adopted in 1689, is less direct but equally obvious in pointing readers to its similarities with the Presbyterian and Congregationalist creeds. It reads, „…And finding no defect in this regard in that fixed on by the Assembly, and after them by those of the Congregational way, we did readily conclude best to retain the same order in our present Confession.” Assembly and Congregational, both capitalized, refer to the Presbyterians and Congregationalists respectively. Further this statement indicates the London Confession was written, as much as possible, with the same topical format as the Westminster Confession.
In 1677 Collins reworked of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, to better apply to Baptist sentiment. Significant changes to the Westminster Confession included deletion of an article which identified the right of civil authority to keep peace in the church, and the section on Covenants in Chapter VII, sections 2,3,5,6. Changes were made which deal with church government. Reference to the Lord’s supper and baptism as sacraments was dropped. Despite these several changes the order of the two confessions is nearly identical. The subject order of Articles one through nineteen is identical. Numerous phrases, often paragraphs, and occasionally whole articles are identical in wording.
In the London Confession an article titled „Of the Gospel, and of the extent of the Grace thereof” is inserted as Article Twenty. After Article twenty, the subject order continues to be identical through Article Twenty Seven of the London Confession. The name of Article Twenty-Eight is different. In the Westminster, which lists it as Article Twenty-Nine, the title is „of the Sacraments.” The London Confession refers to this article as „of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” The order continues the same with the exception that the London Confession omits Articles Thirty and Thirty-One of the Westminster Creed. These two article deal with church government and are titled „of Church Censure” and „of Synods and Councils.”
In his book, Baptist Confessions of faith, W. L. Lumpkin provides a moderately detailed comparison of the London and Westminster Confessions. He found the language of the two confessions is often identical. Their similarity is so considerable it is difficult to conclude anything other than the London Confession is a modification of the Westminster Confession with certain additions and deletions.
Lumpkin also provides a sketch of a political climate of almost continuous religious persecution of the Baptists which motivated the London brethren who, when a brief window of religious tolerance opened, were encouraged to seek official tolerance from the Crown; and therefore, penned a confession which aligned them theologically with the more numerous and politically favored Calvinist Presbyterians.
We must not think harshly of these tortured brothrens’ willingness to seize this opportunity to gain official tolerance. None today have lived under constant threat of imprisonment or worse for practicing their religion. None have seen their pastors drawn upon the rack and quartered. None have gone to their meeting house and found their pastor’s head mounted on a pike in the church yard.
Also, it is reasonable to conclude that the 1689 London Confession accurately represents the beliefs of its ratifiers and their congregations. To think otherwise is to accuse the Particular Baptists of surrendering conscience to political opportunity. Such a possibility flies in the face of all they suffered prior to 1689. Liberty of Conscience was, from the beginning, a fundamental tenet of the Particular Baptists. It seems highly unlikely these courageous brethren would have abandon certain elements of their doctrine simply to gain religious toleration.
With regard to gospel instrumentality in regeneration, there is evidence that at least some of the early leaders of the Particular Baptists held Calvinist Presbyterian religious views. Hansard Knollys expressed his support for this tenet in an exposition of the work of the ministry, to preach the gospel, in relation to God’s sovereignty in regeneration. He declared, „I say then when they (ministers) have done this, they must leave the issue to the Lord, who onely (sic) makes this ministry powerful to whom he pleaseth, giving them repentance…enabling them to believe in him unto remission of sins and everlasting life. And surely God hath appointed the Ministry, especially for this end, that by means thereof he might worke faith in all those whom he hath ordained unto eternal life.”
Knollys demonstrated a position which balanced gospel agency and election in a sermon titled The World that Now is, and the World that is to Come. He stated, „If the sinner be willing to open the door of his heart, Christ will come in by his holy Spirit and He will communicate of his Grace to his soul. Not that you can do those things of your selves; I have told you, without Christ you can do nothing, John 15.5. But it is your duty to do them and it is the Free Grace of God, to work in you to will and to do, according to his good pleasure, Phil. 2.12,13. That he so working in you, you may work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Elder Cox’s appendix suggests that in 1646 not all Particulars Baptists embraced certain principles of Calvinism. But, adoption of the overtly Calvinistic tenets of the 1689 Confession indicates if dissenting arguments were presented at the general conference, they were not publicly acknowledged. Inclusion of Chapter Ten, parts one and three, which deals with gospel instrumentality in the effectual call, and Chapter fourteen, part one, which describes saving faith through a concert of divine impartation and rational belief of the gospel, together with supporting scriptural references, all serve to demonstrate the commitment the conferees had to Calvin’s doctrine. By expressing the heart of Calvin’s theory of regeneration in their Confession they moved away from those brethren who held to primitive faith. This tends to indicate the theology of the 1689 Confession went beyond political expediency and embraced conscience. These brethren were Calvinists with regard to Gospel agency. It must be assumed they heartily believed what they wrote into their Confession.
Ancient Baptist Succession in Wales
Perhaps because of their Separatist origins, the Particular Baptists of London and vicinity suffered from certain doctrinal lapses concerning communion and baptism. Throughout the latter years of the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth they debated the issues of mixed memberships and open communion. In fact, after careful consideration of the 1644 Confession, a Particular Baptist council ruled that its authors purposely left the question of open communion unanswered. Therefore, they concluded that their intent was to permit open communion.
The positions of Killcop, Spilsbury and Knollys concerning baptismal succession have already been noted. Crosby’s History of the English Baptist indicates an attitude of ambiguity existed among some Particular Baptists toward the principle of baptismal succession.
In all, it appears from the statements of early Particular Baptist leaders that baptism by immersion, upon a profession of faith, was the determining feature of church fellowship. Evidently it was their position that baptismal authority need not be through succession from Christ; rather, at any time, God allowed groups to assign this authority to one of their members and thereby institute a new beginning of church identity and authority. Thus, reformation did not require church succession for authority to baptize.
Jonathan Davis, in his book A History of the Welsh Baptists, published in 1835, notes the Particular Baptists were in controversy over the practice of laying on of hands on newly baptized members. Also, W. Gwynn Owen’s book reveals the practice of fellowship with the General Baptists led to associational amalgamation between the two bodies of Baptists.
Such practices were in contrast to the early Baptists of Wales in the Midlands, who claimed their succession of Baptist heritage through the mother church in Olchon Valley located on the Wales/England border, which is part of that area of Britain known as the Midlands. Their ancient Baptist heritage included principles of closed membership and communion. They were not reformed, claiming a succession to Christ through the Apostle Paul. Former pastor of Olchon Baptist Church, John Howells, states the ancient Britons of Wales, around Olchon, maintained an unbroken chain of succession from Christ. „The true apostolic succession is to be found here, and here only, in the history of the genuine Baptists. From Paul, downwards, to this day, they have never failed as a visible body of believers, witnessing for the truth as it is in Jesus, and in maintaining the like faith and practice, continuing constant, in season and out of season, in spite of bonds, imprisonments, the fiery stake, the headsman’s axe, the hangmans cord, the assassin’s sword, the damp, dark, dreary, and undrained dungeon, the racking tortures of the inquisition, the perverted Roman church. There has been all along the blood-tinged ages of martyrdom an uninterrupted preservation of the primitive creed and ritual of the church of the Pentecost, so signally inaugurated in the upper room in Jerusalem. There is no missing link in this celestial chain from age to age of the remnant according to the election of grace. One of those important and super-eminent links in the „Catena” of Orthodox Christian Church history is the ancient church and chapel of Olchon. It goes back behind Luther and the Protestant Reformation. The genuine Baptist Church needed no reformation, for it never deformed or degenerated itself. Its unquenchable and sparkling transparency motto ever has been and still is, the incorruptible Word that liveth and abideth forever.”
Jonathan Davis notes the ancient Baptists of Wales did not practice open membership or communion. He cited their relative isolation as the reason for their purity of doctrine and practice. He wrote of the Welsh brethren around Olchon, „We know that at the reformation, in the reign of Charles the first, they had a minister named Howell Vaughan, quite a different sort of a Baptist from Erbury, Wroth, Vavasor Powell and others, who were the great reformers, but had not reformed so far as they ought to have done, in the opinion of the Olchon Baptists. And was not to be wondered at; for they had dissented from the Church of England, and probably brought some of her corruptions with them, but the mountain Baptists were not dissenters from that establishment. We know the reformers were for mixed communion, but the Olchon Baptists received no such practices. In short, these were plain, strict Apostolic Baptists. They would have order and no confusion, the word of God their only rule.”
Several historians, cite an ancient presence of Baptists in Wales. In the introduction to Orchard’s History, J. R. Graves wrote; „Welsh Baptists contend that the principles of the gospel were maintained pure and unalloyed in the recesses of their mountainous principality all through the dark reign of popery. God had a regular chain of true and faithful witness in this country, in every age, from the first introduction of Christianity.”
„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 the fastnesses of her mountains, there were those who preserved the ancient purity of doctrine and worship.”
„There is much evidence that the Baptists of England and Wales date back to very early times.”
Jonathan Davis places Christianity in Wales prior to the reformation with this colorful description of the Vale of Carleon, which is the location of Olchon. „It is well known to all who are acquainted with the history of Great Britain, that Carleon, in South Wales, was a renowned city in past ages……The vale of Carleon is situated between England and the mountainous part of Wales, just at the foot of the mountains. It is our valley of Piedmont; the mountains of Merthyn Tydryl, our Alps; and the crevices of the rock, the hiding-places of the lambs of the sheep of Christ, where the ordinances of the gospel, to this day, have been administered in their primitive mode, without being adulterated by the corrupt church of Rome. It was no wonder that Penry, Wroth and Erbury, commonly called the first reformers of the Baptist denomination in Wales, should have so many followers at once, when we consider that their field of labors was the vale of Carleon and its vicinity.”
Formal records of the origin of Christianity in Wales are lost in antiquity. However, a single legendary account is generally cited by Welsh Baptist historians. The following description of the ancient roots of the Welsh Baptists is taken from History of the Welch Baptists, by Jonathan Davis, written in 1835. „About fifty years before the birth of our Savior, the Romans invaded the British Isles, in the reign of the Welch king Cassebellun; but having failed, in consequence of other and more important wars made peace with them, and dwelt among them many years. During that period many of the Welsh soldiers joined the Roman army, and many families from Wales visited Rome; among them there was a certain woman named Claudia, who was married to a man named Pudence. At the time, Paul was sent a prisoner to Rome, and preached there in his own hired house, for the space of two years, about the year of our Lord 63. Pudence and Claudia his wife, who belonged to Caesar’s household, under the blessing of God on Paul’s preaching, were brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and made a profession of their Christian religion. These together with other Welshmen, among the Roman soldiers, who had heard that the Lord was gracious, exerted themselves on behalf of their countrymen in Wales, who were at that time idolaters.” Davis continues, „How rapidly did the mighty gospel of Christ fly abroad! The very year 63, when Paul, a prisoner, was preaching to a few individuals, in his own hired house in Rome, the seed sowed there is growing in the Isle of Britain.”
The Apostle Paul concludes his second epistle to Timothy with greetings from some of the saints gathered with him in Rome. Among those mentioned are Pudence and Claudia. Paul’s mention of these Welsh Christians casts some doubt as to their being in Wales in 63 A. D. since it is believed Paul wrote II Timothy in 66 A.D.. However, the identities of Pudence and Claudia are well documented. Claudia was the daughter of Welsh King Caratacus. Pudence was Claudia’s husband. Armitage believed he was a Roman Senator.
Seventeenth century historian Edward Stillingfleet, in Orgines Britannice: or, the Antiquities of the British Churches, provides specific details of the identity of Pudens and Claudia and their involvement with Christianity in first century Rome and Britain. Quoting Moncaeius de Incunah he wrote, „That Claudia, mentioned by St. Paul, was Caractacus’ daughter, and turned Christian, and after married to Pudens, a Roman senator; whose marriage is celebrated by Martial in his noted epigrams to that purpose.” Stillingfleet continued his assessment of Claudia’s role in the spread of Christianity to Britain quoting from Antiquities Britannicae; „That in so noble a family, the rest of her kindred who were baptised with her might be the occasion of dispersing Chritianity in the British nation.”
T. Rees, in his History of Non-conformity in Wales, states that Bran Fendigaid (Bruno the blessed), a Prince of Wales, was a Christian, who, along with other Christians, returned from Rome to Wales around 60 A. D.. According to Rees, they brought with them ministers of the gospel, who introduced Christianity to Wales, establishing a link of succession from Christ.
William Cathcart, in his book The Ancient British and Irish Churches, also claims an ancient beginning for Christianity in the British Isles. He quotes the work of second century historian Tertullian to substantiate his assertion. „In whom other than Christ, who has already come, do all the nations believe? For in him have believed the most diverse people; Pathians, Medes, Elamites; those who inhabit Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia; the dwellers of Pontus, Asia and Pamphylia; those occupying Egypt, and inhabiting the region of Africa beyond Cyrene, Romans and natives, even Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, and other nations; nay, the different tribes of the Getulians, and many territories of the Moors, all parts of Spain, the different peoples of Gaul, and part of BRITAIN not reached by the Romans but subjugated by Christ. In all these the name of Christ who has already come, reigns.”
In 180 A. D. Faganus and Damicanus, who in Davis’ words „were born in Wales but born again in Rome, and there became eminent ministers of the gospel,” returned to Wales to assist their brethren. In citing their successes Davis wrote. „Though the gospel had been preached in the island since the year 63; yet, as God had not departed from his general way of disseminating his truth among the children of men, by beginning with small things in order to obtain great things, hitherto it had been the day of small things with our forefathers, the inhabitants of the ends of the earth. But now Zion’s tent stretched forth; she broke forth on the right hand and on the left.”
About 285 A. D. the Welsh Baptists suffered their first large scale persecutions. As Satan had been negligent of his usual policy of immediate persecutions against those newly turned to the Savior, he assaulted this small band of isolated Christians with intense hatred and destruction. During the reign of Roman Emperor Dioclesian, in the tenth persecution, the first martyrdoms on Welsh soil occurred. The elimination of Christianity in Wales was ordered.
Alban was the first Briton to fall in death for Christ. He was executed for providing shelter to a Christian bishop. Next to Alban were two of Christ’s bishops, Aaron and Julius, who lived at Carleon, South Wales. With their deaths the reign of terror expanded. A command went out that every Christian be slain. Orders were given to burn all their meeting houses and writings. But persecution did not stop the spread of Christianity, for as quickly as one saint fell another stepped forward to carry forward the blood stained banner of King Immanuel.
The first Christian emperor was a Welshman. Though of Roman descent, Constantine was also Welsh. His mother was Helena the daughter of Coelgodebog Earl of Glouchester, his father Constantius, the Roman ruler of Britain. As a youth, Constantine resided in Wales, where his mother instructed him in the ways of Christ. Concerning Helena’s dedication to Christ, Cathcart rote, „She was a devoted Christian, and there is some reason for supposing that she exerted and influence over both her husband and son in favor of christians, which prompted them to the toleration of their opinions.” Thus, it was by a Welshman that Christianity drew the attention of all the world. However, it is a saying with English historians, and here it very accurately applies; when princes engage in religion they either do to much for it or too much against it.
Not all Welsh Christians were orthodox. The father of perhaps the greatest perversion of the doctrines of Christ was a Welshman. His Welsh name was Morgan. He is the father of free willism. Davis notes, „the Welshmen, for a considerable time, had a sort of a religious quarrel with one of their countrymen, of the name of Morgan, known abroad as Pelagius.”
Davis quotes historical records which note the massacre of more than 1200 Welsh Baptists around 600 A.D. by Saxons under command of the papist monk, Austin. Because of previous successes among the pagan Saxons of England Austin ventured into Wales to spread Roman Catholicism. He requested a meeting with the leaders of the Baptists. Being agreeable to meet and discuss matters of religion, the Welsh brethren sent some twelve-hundred of their preachers and delegates to meet with Austin near Hereford, on the English border, near the cleft of Black Mountain, in a valley called Olchon. Once they assembled the papist asserted that baptism was the means of salvation, and insisted the Welsh brethren surrender their children and infants to Catholic baptism. To this the Elders utterly refused, at which point Austin ordered the Saxons, who had accompanied him to Wales, to attack the unarmed Baptists. In one day, at the hands of one Catholic monk and four-hundred Saxon malefactors, some twelve-hundred of God’s humble servants fell in defence of Christ’s cause.
Very little written history remains of the Welsh Baptists during the dark ages of Catholic occupation up to the reformation of the English Catholics by Henry VIII. However, some few accounts exist which testify that Christ’s little band of Welsh Baptists remained as true witnesses of the glory and graciousness of God. The remnants of history which remain are mostly centered around the vale of Olchon.
Old Baptist Church at Olchon
Elder Joshua Thomas’ book The American Baptist Heritage in Wales details the existence of an ancient Christian enclave at Olchon, in Wales, near the Midlands of England. He notes the presence of a gathered congregation is documented back to the sixth century. Welsh historian John Howells cites historical accounts of Baptist activity in the Valley of Olchon back to the first century.
Olchon church was located in the vale of Black Mountain on the border of Hereford, Monmouth and Brecknock counties on the Welsh/English border. It’s location is significant in that civil jurisdiction did not extend beyond county or parish lines. Therefore, when one county persecuted the church the congregation simply moved their worship services to the adjacent county. The Black Mountains area is described by Thomas as rugged and remote, similar to the area surrounding the Piedmont Valley. He ascribes God’s providence for the geographic location of the church in contributing to her longevity and purity doctrine.
The following description of the location of Olchon Church is taken from A Brief History of the Old Baptist Church at Olchon, written by John Howells. „Olchon is on the Welsh border. It is situated in the County of Hereford. The ruins of the oldest Chapel belonging to the Primitive Baptists stand on the banks of the swift flowing stream from which the narrow and romantic Valley of the Olchon takes it’s name. There is another old Baptist chapel in a state of rapid decay at Ilston, in the peninsula of Gower, in the County of Glamorgan. But the Mother Church doubtless was this one at the Gellis, the old historians called it, from the woods that fringe the steep hill-sides between here and the picturesque little town familiarly known as the Welsh Hay. Near to the old ruin in the which now more than three hundred years ago our Baptist forefathers worshipped, on the hill above it, to the westward is Capel-y-fin or the boundary Chapel, so named because of the junction at this singular place of the three Counties of Brecknock, Monmouth, and Hereford.”
Howells contiues his eyewitness narrative with a description of the ruins of the ancient Olchon Baptist meeting house. „Olchon is nearly midway between Abergavenny and Hay. It is situated in a narrow glen at the foot of Black Hill on one side, and the Black Mountains on the other side. It is near to the Western Bank of the Olchon rivulet. The new chapel has been built on the eastern side of this impetuous stream, on an elevated spot not far from where stands the ancient sacred and venerable remains of the medieval hollowed edifice. Here pure and undefiled religion was preserved in its primitive priority, and here the apostolic and pentecostal faith was enshrined in uncorrupted and unalloyed simplicity, and handed down to us in virgin simplicity and unpolluted integrity, when nearly the whole of Christendom besides was enshrouded in Popish perversity and anti-christian thraldom. Here was Olchon preserved intact and untampered with the divine ark of the new Covenant of Grace.”
Olchon is believed to be the location of the oldest church in Wales. Her congregation of shepherds, farmers, merchants and occasional nobility moved their meeting place frequently, often worshipping at night to avoid discovery. As she was an ancient church, and do to constant fear of persecution, records of her organization do not exist until about 1600.
Elder Thomas states that Dr. Thomas Bradwardine was born in the county of Hereford, near Olchon. He believed that the famous theologian, mathmetician and Philosopher sometimes attended services there, though his visits were infrequent because because of the press of his busy life.
Thomas also states that Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into the English language, lived near Olchon in 1371. He also lists Walter Brute as an early preacher in this ancient church. He gives the following account of how Brute came to Olchon. „Now to me it appears very probable Wycliffe received much of his light in the Gospel from Bradwardine and his writings, and Brute from Wycliffe and others; and he began to sow the seed of reformation in and about Olchon, and of Believers Baptism, among other doctrines; and that long before the beginning of the Reformation began by Luther, King Richard II directed a letter to the nobility and gentlemen of the county of Hereford, and to the Mayor of the city, charging all to persecute Brute, accused of preaching heresy, in the diocese and places adjacent; and also of keeping conventicles.” (Conventicles were unauthorized religious meetings).
Along with these notable men Elder Thomas includes Tyndale. He notes that Tyndale lived in the area, and as a non-conformist, possessed strong Baptist sentiments, though he probably did not attend services frequently. It was Elder Thomas’ opinion, shared by other Welsh historians, that the ancient Baptists of Olchon influenced Tyndale’s religious beliefs. He notes the Tyndale family name was associated with the Baptists around Olchon.
Elder Thomas presents Olchon not only as the location of the mother church in Wales, but as the virtuous bride of Christ who welcomed all struggling pilgrims who happened her way. He believed Walter Reynard (Walter Lollard) was given refuge there. While it cannot be proven Lollard actually went to Olchon, it is known that the European Anabaptist went to Wales. Elder Thomas notes that Lollard was aware of the existence of Olchon before arriving in Wales. Upon returning to Europe, Lollard was captured and burned alive, in Cologne, in 1322.
Crosby records Lollard residing in Britain for some period of time. „In the time of Edward II, about the year 1315 Walter Lollard, a German Baptist preacher, a man of great renown among the Waldenses, came into England; he spread their doctrines very much in these parts, so that afterwards they went by the name Lollards.”
Lollard’s appearance in Wales cannot be interpreted as the point of introduction of Baptist sentiment to English soil. There were too many previous sightings. An accurate characterization of his sojourn in the Vale of Olchon is fellowship. Lollard accepted refuge from, and worshipped with, his Welsh Baptist brethren. His presence, and acceptance in Wales solidifies the view that the Anabaptists of the European Continent and the Isle of Britain share a common origin. It was not Polycarp, or even Paul or John. It was the upper room in Jerusalem. Their common link and basis for church fellowship was the Savior, Jesus Christ.
There is agreement among Davis, Thomas, Howells and Fox that martyred Sir John Oldcastle, Lord of Cobhan, had a country home named Olchon Court, to which he fled in 1391 when he first learned of a plot against him. He was accused of „Lollardism” in 1393 and ordered to be arrested and transported to London. It is probable that Lord Oldcastle was an Old Baptist Minister. Davis notes the Baptists sometimes met in the chapel at Olchon Court where Oldcastle preached.
John Howells provides this account of Sir John’s Baptist activity. „Not far from the gradually crumbling and rapidly decaying sanctuary stands another renowned and remarkable ruin, namely, the Herfordshire County Seat of Sir John Oldcastle, styled also as Lord Cobhan. Sir John Oldcastle in all probability was baptised in the rivulet that rushes contiguously by the aforesaid rustic, secluded, and verable old Chapel, in which afterwards he would be admitted by the Holy Elders and pious brethren into the Christian fellowship of the only true and scripturally constituted Apostalical Church.” In his book, John Wycliff and his English Precursors, Professor Lechler writes; „Sir John Oldcastle, ‘the good Lord Cobham,’ as he was affectionately termed by the poor and simple, was a firm adherent of the Lollards, whose preachers he welcomed to his seat at Cowling Castle, in Kent, and refused to surrender to the command of the authorities.”
Because of their friendship since childhood, while Henry IV was alive Lord Cobhan was not actively pursued despite his Baptist sentiments. However, with the ascension of Henry V to the throne, Sir John’s standing with the crown changed for the worst. He was vigorously pursecuted because of his religious views. Howells notes; „His espousal to the tenets and practices of the Lollards, somewhat estranged him from the favour and affection of the Kingly court of St. James, and Windsor Castle. Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, aided and abetted by the other Popist Prelates, hunted his life to destroy it. They poisoned the mind and envenomed the heart of the young episcopally subservient Monarch against him.”
In 1411 John Oldcastle was arrested and held in the Tower of London. During this period, a group of Baptists, called Lollards, gathered in the town of St Giles’s Fields to offer their support for Sir John. King Henry, convinced by Archbishop Chichely that an uprising was about to occur, sent soldiers to apprehend the gathered Baptists. Thirty-nine were captured. He ordered all thirty-nine to be burned or hanged.
About the same time, Sir John escaped from London Tower and returned to Wales. A reward of one-thousand marks was set for his arrest. He evaded capture for several years while Richard was distracted with war in France. Finally, in 1417 he was apprehended at Olchon Court, carried to London, and ordered to be hanged as a traitor and burned as a heretic.
His sentence was carried out literally. Professor Lechler provides a detailed narrative of his execution. „He was placed upon a sledge and dragged through the town of St. Giles Fields. On arriving there he was taken down from the sledge, and immediately falling on his knees, he began to pray to God for the forgiveness of his enemies. His prayer ended, he rose, and, addressing the assembled multitude, warned them to obey God’s commands written down in the Bible, and always to shun such teaching as they saw to be contrary to the life and example of Christ. He was then suspended between two gallows by chains, and the funeral pile was kindled beneath him, so that he was slowly burned. So long as life remained in him he continued to praise God and commend his soul to His divine keeping.”
Lechler describes those to whom Sir John Oldcastle preached as, „earnest, obscure men, mostly poor, often illiterate, who yet prized the teaching of Holy Scripture, silently testifying against the corruptions of the professed Church of Christ, and so preparing the mind and heart of the people to welcome the Reformation of the sixteenth century.”
An explanation should be noted as to why there are no church records for Olchon Church prior to about 1600. Elder Joshua Thomas states that at one point in his search for records he was sent to an ancient home in Hay, near the church. It had belonged to a Mr. John Rys Howell, who was occasional assistant to the minister. Mr. Howell had sailed to America but returned to Wales in his last days, where he died in 1692. Elder Thomas was instructed that Mr. Howell possessed an ancient trunk filled with manuscripts and records. He received this information about 1770. In 1775 he located the house and trunk just as described, but was too late. The trunk was full of decaying scraps of paper. Every document Mr. Howell had so carefully placed for safe keeping was destroyed by age.
Though it cannot be proven conclusively, Elder Thomas presents a good case, suggesting that John Perry was from around Olchon and probably preached there. Although there is some discussion among historians regarding Mr. Perry’s identity as a Baptist, Elder Thomas cites A. Wood, a contemporary of Perry, who in Ath. Oxom plainly stated Mr. Perry „was a notorious Anabaptist, of which party he was the Coryphous (or leader).” This is supported by the writings of another of Perry’s antagonists, a Mr. Strype, who charged him with practicing anabaptism. So it would seem evident by the accusations of two contemporaries of Perry that he was an Anabaptist and probably a preacher for the Baptists. It is asserted by Thomas that he lived near the vale of Olchon. He was executed for his dissenting activities in 1593 at age 34.
We have previously noted Elder Howell Vaughn as pastor of Olchon. He is the first pastor of record, though certainly not the first of memory. His earliest appearance as pastor at Olchon is set around 1633. It is known he was already Pastor of this body when Erbury and Vavassor Powell dissented from the established church and came to the Baptists. The following excerpt provides a brief sketch of Elder Vaughn. „Howell Vaughn commenced preaching we know not, neither can we find when or where he was ordained. But however, we find him the pastor of the church at the time of the reformation. He was not a learned man, like Erbury, Wroth, and Powell, as he never had a college education; but he was a plain, conscientious, and godly man, remarkably well versed in scripture. He was a very good preacher, well calculated to feed the church of God with knowledge and understanding. The church under his pastoral care, though small at first, in short time increased most wonderfully.”
Davis lists two men as the Elders at Olchon from 1660 to 1688. They are Thomas Perry and John Rees Howell. The men served together, with Elder Perry serving from 1641 until his death in 1709, and Elder Howell co-pastoring from 1645 to 1699 when he died. This was a terrible time of persecution for the old mother church of Wales. Her congregation was frequently forced to flee for refuge to Black Mountain. Davis describes their sundry meeting places during this dark age of Baptist persecution. „But for twenty-eight years, in the reign of Charles the second, the church had to meet in the most secret places by night, somewhere in the woods, or on the Black Mountain, or the rough rock. They were obliged to change the place every week, that their enemies might not find them out. Often the friends of the infernal foe diligently sought them, but found them not. While the wolves were searching in one mountain the lambs were sheltering in the rock of another.” Davis continues the narrative with a description of Black Rock. „The safest place they ever found, was in the woods, under a large rock, called Darren Ddu, or the Black Rock. It is a most dreadful steep, and the roughest place we have ever seen. Thus, the Primitive Baptists of Olchon found their, cleft of the rock, where often they fled for refuge.” (That we latter day primitives might diligently seek God, as our cleft of the rock, and flee to him for refuge from Satan’s subtle though equally destructive assaults).
Olchon was a member of the Abergavenny Association, constituted in 1653. A sad note in the history of this old association was introduction of a practice of „laying on of hands” on newly baptized members. According to Davis, this practice first came to the Welsh Baptists in 1654. It was brought from Glazier’s Hall Church in London by Messrs. Ryder and Hopkins. Davis notes that in 1654 this practice occurred in Wales „for the first time since the introduction of Christianity into the Isle of Britain.” In the mid seventeenth century „Laying on of hands” on newly baptized members became a practice in several churches due to incorrect interpretation and application of Acts 19:6. It was practiced in either of two ways. In some cases, after a person was baptized, the administrator would lay his hand upon the individual and pray they receive the Holy Ghost. Another practice was for the entire congregation to pass by the newly baptized person and lay their hands on him. Both modes of this unorthodox custom were practiced in America, beginning in Newport, Rhode Island. However, though the practice resulted in some intrachurch divisions, apparently, it was not a test of interchurch fellowships. Beginning in the mid 18th century it was gradually eliminated from American primitive Baptist practice.
We have described the faith and order of the Primitive Baptists of Olchon. We have detailed their reluctance, as late as 1654, to open their communion; that Howell Vaughn would not accept the irregularity of open communion, which was evidently an acceptable practice among at least some of the London Particular Baptists. (We here also note how Olchon sent no representatives to subsequent meetings of the London Confession Conferences, held regularly for several years after the 1644 Confession was signed, and none to the 1689 Conference). The writer will now attempt to satisfy those who must have a clear expression of the beliefs of the Olchon Baptists.
The Midland Association
A line of fellowship between Olchon and the Midland Church at Leonminster will give us an understanding of the doctrinal sentiments of the ancient Welsh church, based upon the Loenminster’s membership in the Midland Association. Fellowship is acceptable proof of common theology since it is documented that Olchon Church was very strict in matters of faith and practice.
Elder Joshua Thomas served Olchon Church from 1746 to 1754. In 1754 he left Olchon, accepting the pastoral care of neighboring Leonminster Church. Leonminster Church joined the Midland Association in 1658. Elder Thomas’ ministry at both churches and membership in the Midland Association together with his continued frequent visitations to Olchon Church testify to the fact that Olchon held general agreement to the doctrinal principles of the Midland Confession of Faith. Therefore, it may be concluded that the content of the 1655 Midland Confession satisfied the strict creed of faith and order to which the Olchon Church continuously held from her ancient origin to the establishment of fellowship with the brethren of Midland Association in 1658 and beyond. But the link of Baptist succession between the Welsh Baptists at Olchon and the Midland Association in even more distinguishable.
Several churches of the Midland Association, including Hereford, Tewksbury, Moreton and Leonminster shared common origin with Olchon and, perhaps, considered her their mother church. Hereford, in particular, is located very near Welsh Hay (within a few miles) and was one of the meeting places of Olchon Church. She eventually became an arm of Olchon and finally a sister church. For unknown reasons, in 1657 Hereford transferred her membership from the Abergavenny Association, where she shared affiliation with Olchon, to the Midland Association. However, it should not be considered that some tension existed; neither association gives any indication of a problem.
Though the old records are destroyed, it is a reasonable conclusion that Leominster was a daughter or grand-daughter church of Ancient Olchon, as it was customary for a single church to extend arms into nearby locals where members lived. Both Davis and Thomas indicate the spread of members of Olchon extended north beyond Hay and, therefore, probably to nearby Leonminster.
Also, Tewksbury Church, a charter member of the Midland Association, is but a few miles to the east of Black Mountain and very near Llanigon, which was an arm, then sister church, of Olchon. In addition, it is probable that Alcester, Warwick, Derby and Burton churches, all members of the Midland Association, were daughters or grand-daughters of Olchon. Thus. through the mother church at Olchon, the Welsh and Midland Baptists claim a common ancient Baptist origin which predates the European reformation by some fifteen hundred years.
The seven original churches of the Midland Association were Warwick, Derby, Burton (sometimes called Burton by the Water), Moreton, Tewksbury, Hooknorton and Alcester. It is not known which of these seven churches is the oldest. However, it is known that a Baptist congregation was meeting in Burton prior to 1612, for their preacher was burned at the stake that year.
In 1612, the year John Helwys returned from Holland to London with his new General Baptist group, Elder Edward Wightman of Burton was arrested as a repeat offender, for preaching „Anabaptist heresies.” He was taken to nearby Lichfield where his case was heard. He was convicted of Anabaptist heresy and, being the leader of Anabaptist dissenters, was executed by burning at the stake. In charging Wightman, the authorities displayed the normal pattern of exaggeration and falsehood. As previously with Sir John Oldcastle, Elder Wightman was accused of everything from claiming he was Christ, to sedition. Among the charges, he was accused of Anabaptist activities. This is an important point and probably the sole reason he was arrested and executed. Anabaptist activity was a very specific charge. It meant he was teaching people of the necessity of believers baptism and baptism by immersion, and evidently baptizing.
The seven Midland Churches met together on March 3, 1655 at Warwick for the purpose of writing Articles of Faith. The document was copied and carried by the respective messengers back to their home churches for approval. With all seven churches approving, they met again on April 26, 1655 at Moreton and convened as an association. Their first item of business was to write a constitution. In their constitution they formally agreed to their new Articles of Faith, declaring it their duty „to hold communion with each other, according to the rule of His word; and so to be helpful each to the other.” Next, they wrote a covenant in which they agreed to hold to the principle of closed communion. They noted that each church would remain independent in matters of church discipline. They agreed to support each other by sending „gifted brethren” to preach to sister churches of the association. They agreed to „watch over each other, and considering each other for good, in respect of purity of doctrine, exercise of love, and good conversation, being all members of the same body of Christ.” From this statement it may be concluded the Midland Churches agreed to form an association based upon principles of common doctrine, Christian charity and godly living. Thus, common faith and practice and unfeigned love were the basis of their fellowship.
The next meeting of the association was at Warwick where queries were answered. The questions answered concerned marriage, members who refused to pray when called upon, and unlicensed preaching. To the latter they answered, „we judge it unlawful for any church member to go forth to preach in the world without the approbation of the church.” This response indicates the associations orderliness of ordaining Elders in response to their divine call. They would not tolerate unauthorized preachers going forth from them and presumably did not tolerate the same coming to them. One significant trait of the Midland churches, as with their nearby Welsh sisters, was their independence from the London churches during the seventeenth century. As we have noted, they opposed an open communion, which was sometimes practiced in the London churches. Further, it appears from Davis’ statements concerning the practice of open communion that the ordinances of the church are where these brethren drew the line of fellowship. According to Davis, Powell, Wroth, Erbury and Penry were all allowed to preach in the Welsh churches; however, it appears they were not allowed to commune. The statement of the Midland Association Constitution regarding closed communion may be similarly interpreted.
However, the most significant indicator of the Midland Association’s independence and theological distinction from the London Particular Baptists is their Confession of Faith. While the 1644 London Confession is termed mildly Calvinistic by Lumpkin, the Midland brethren penned a confession which closely resembles eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century Primitive Baptist Confessions.
Article eight of the Midland Confession plainly marks a divergent theology from the tenets of Calvinism. However, according to Lumpkin and Tull, it was actually a response to the growing number of free will Arminian Baptist churches appearing in the mid-seventeenth century. The Midlands, in particular, experienced a considerable increase in Baptist churches which professed the tenets of semi-pelagian Arminianism. However, the wording of the article also contradicts Calvin’s modified pelagian theories of divine impartation of a saving faith before regeneration. It reads:
8. That all men until they are quickened by Christ are dead in trespasses; and therefore have no power of themselves to believe savingly. But faith is a free gift of God, and the mighty work of God in the soul, even like the rising of Christ from the dead. Therefore (we) consent not with those who hold that God hath given power to all men to believe to salvation.
By stating that man is dead and has no power to believe savingly of himself, they removed precursor faith as an instrument of justification prior to actual regeneration. Their order is new birth, belief. They indicated that men who are dead in trespasses and sin cannot believe until they are quickened. This principle eliminates requisite gospel agency in regeneration. Calvinism teaches belief is in reaction to a concerted medium of the Holy Ghost and the gospel; whereby one believes and is justified, and after being justified is born again. This distinction separates primitive faith from Calvinism.
With inclusion of article eight in their Confession of faith, the Midland brethren denied the Arminian tenet of free-willism. However, it is both ironic and significant; it also distinguished the theology of the Midland Churches from all who subscribed to a theology of saving faith through the concerted agency of the Holy Ghost and the gospel. They rejected the theory of saving faith in response to Arminian teachings; but, in so doing, they also rejected the Calvinistic notions of gospel instrumentality in regeneration. Their statement regarding the relationship of regeneration and faith is an acceptable representation of what orthodox twentieth century Primitive Baptists believe.
An interesting aside to the writing of the Midland Confession of faith is the involvement of Benjamin Cox who was Pastor of Abington Church in London. As already mentioned, he attended the 1646 ministerial conference of the London Confession where, not fully satisfied with the language of the 1644 Confession, he presented a twenty-two point appendix to the 1646 edition. At the request of Warwick Church Cox attended the first session of the Midland Association as a corresponding messenger from Abington Church. It may be supposed this request was the result of his authorship of the proposed appendix. It may also explain the markedly polemic tenor of the Midland Confession. It is reasonable to believe, as an invited representative to the Midland Association, Elder Cox’s views were given significant consideration.
We have already presented his statement concerning regeneration. His views concerning communion are also significant. They are in line with the practice of the Midland and Welsh brethren and apparently more conservative than the sentiments of some of his London brethren. Addendum Twenty notes a requirement for closed communion. In part Elder Cox wrote: „yet in as much as all things ought to be done decently, but also in order, and the Word holds forth this order, that disciples should be baptized, and then be taught to observe all things (that is to say, all other things) that Christ commanded the Apostles, and accordingly the Apostles first baptized disciples, and then admitted them to the supper.”
Lumpkin asserts the Midland Confession is modeled after the 1644 London Confession. He believes Daniel King’s friendship with the Particular Baptists in London establishes an argument for his assertion. Further, he notes certain similarities. However, none of these claims explain the differences between the two documents, which will be discussed in greater detail in Part Three of this work. With Elders King and Cox present, both having access to the London Confession, if the Midland Brethren had fully endorsed the London document, it seems reasonable they would have adopted it, in some form, as their confession. They did not. Lumpkin’s conclusion, that the Midland Confession is modeled after the 1644 London Confession, is probably the result of his lack of familiarity with primitive Baptist doctrine. It is probable he mistakenly presumed these primitive Baptists were Calvinists. His error is understandable assuming he was not versed in the doctrinal distinctions of the two theologies.
The Midland Baptists have been variously characterized by Underhill, Tull, Gwynn Owen and perhaps other Baptist historians as hyper-Calvinists. This term implies they went farther with the doctrine of regeneration than did Calvin. Specifically, the distinction between Calvinism and High-Calvinism relates to the instrumentality of the gospel in regeneration. It is a name that is routinely applied to modern Primitive Baptists.
The English Baptist historian A. C. Underwood identified Midlands England as a stronghold of hyper-Calvinism. He identified John Gill as a proponent of this theology. Further, he stated in his History of the English Baptists that it was principally through the influence of Andrew Fuller and William Carey that the „winter of hypercalvinism” finally came to an end for the Midland Baptists.
In A Memorial of the 250th Anniversary of the Midland, now the West Midland Association 1655 to 1905, J. Gwynn Owen notes opposition in the 1770s and 80s by certain older ministers of the association to the promotion of manmade institutions such as Sunday Schools and Missionary Societies. These innovations were introduced to the Midlands by Elders Fuller and Carey who were members of the Association. In explaining their opposition to Fuller and Carey’s ideas, Owen wrote of the older ministers, „These revered seniors were more or less bound by the doctrines of a higher Calvinism than now influences theology.”
An example of the intensity of disturbance the proposed schemes caused is found in an exchange between William Carey and the senior Elder John Ryland (who ordained Carey) during a ministerial conference held at Northhampton. Carey suggested, as a topic for discussion, the need for missionary efforts to deliver the gospel to save heathens in foreign countries. To this Elder Ryland, who was chairing the conference, responded, „Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do so without your help or mine.” Elder Ryland’s statement indicates his position concerning gospel instrumentality. Though he only included himself and Carey, his dismissal of Carey’s topic for discussion may be interpreted as theological disagreement over the issue of Calvin’s doctrine of gospel instrumentality in the regeneration of sinners. He evidently did not believe that hearing the gospel was a requirement for regeneration, or a stipulation of election.
Indicating enthusiastic support for gospel instrumentality together with its trappings of Sunday schools and Missionary societies, Owen is generally unsympathetic toward the doctrines held by Elder Ryland and the other „revered seniors” among the ministry of the Midland Association. By the time Owen wrote his memorial work the Midland Association had progressed from primitive to Calvinist to Arminian in theology. Therefore, Owen deserves commendation for resisting temptations to write a revisionist history which would not accurately present the original doctrine of the Midland Association and the strain which introduction of gospel agency caused.
Owen erroneously labels the beliefs of the original Elders of the Midland as High Calvinism. However, he accurately presents their doctrinal position concerning the relationship of gospel agency and new birth with the following statement. „For the logical High-Calvinist could find no scope in his rigorous creed for the operation of any human agency in winning the unconverted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God saves all who are predestinated, and no man can help or hinder His sovereign and effectual grace.”
Owen’s assessment of the original beliefs of the founders of the Midland Association suggests they were primitives, not high Calvinists. Further, his statement concerning the younger generation of preachers implies that gospel instrumentality in regeneration was newly introduced and represented a doctrinal departure from the original beliefs of the Midland brethren. „The younger generation of ministers, like Fuller of Kettering; Carey of Moulton; Sutcliffe of Olney and the younger Ryland, being more open to conviction, and less wedded to the old, rigid creed, began to advocate a modification of the old views, and to adopt as the basis of their ministry a moderate Calvinism which permitted them to appeal to the unconverted.”
Thus, with the passing of such stalwarts as Elder John Ryland the next generation of ministers pursued new theologies, leading their brethren away from true and historic doctrines of grace which had been held by the Baptists of Wales and the Midlands for almost 1700 years.
In the late 1780’s the younger generation of preachers, Led by the younger Ryland, initiated efforts to have the 1655 confession removed from the heading of Midland Association circular letters. Eventually they were successful. By the early 1800s the excesses and errors of Calvinism, introduced through the single false doctrine of gospel instrumentality in regeneration, served to establish Sunday schools and missionary societies in the churches. This once doctrinally pure group of churches, with roots of ancient origin, finally amalgamated with Arminian General Baptist churches in 1851 as the West Midland Association. Thus, the error of Calvin’s gospel instrumentality theory finally led them into Arminianism.
The account of the Churches of the Midland Association was repeated many times among the primitive churches of England and Wales. By the late eighteenth century most were fully merged and identified with Calvinist Particular Baptists. Despite this phenomenon the distinct identity of faith and practice of the primitives was not lost. Before they were completely integrated with the Particulars, some of their numbers migrated to America.
James E. Tull, in his book Shapers of Baptist Thought, notes that departure from what he misterms hyper-Calvinism began in the Midlands as early as 1770. He further notes that Andrew Fuller’s first pastorate was a church which originally held to hyper-Calvinist (his term) beliefs. He lists John Owens, the Wesleys and Dan Taylor as principle influences of Fuller’s theological sentiments. None of these men were ever Baptists.
Tull presents a moderately detailed, though prejudicial, description of the theology of the Midland Baptists. His description of circa 1770 Midland Association doctrine resembles present day Primitive Baptist doctrine. He begins, „The enervating effect of hyper-Calvinism stemmed from a rigid view of the doctrine of election. This view held that God had decreed before the world began who would be saved and who would be lost. Therefore, it was conceived to be both useless and highly presumptuous to invite men to repent and believe.”
Speaking of the duty of reprobates according hyper-Calvinist theology, so called, Tull continued: „It was not, therefore, their duty to repent, to have faith, to pray…..It was not their duty, because these were gifts of divine grace, not human attainments. Closely related to the belief that faith was not a duty was the belief that a warrant was necessary to believe. A warrant was an evidence or a sign of a work of divine favor in the soul. Conviction of sin, with its accompanying mental distress, was such a sign or warrant. Such a warrant and the faith which followed were implanted in the heart at the initiative of divine grace, and they could not be initiated by the sinner.”
Further analysis of Tull’s opinions of hyper-Calvinism reveals the Midland brethren believed in justification by declared righteousness and imputation to Christ, in the atonement, of the sins of the elect.
Tull’s conclusions must be read with a jaundiced eye. His Arminian prejudices shout from the pages. However, despite his derogatory, often erroneous and mostly overstated conclusions, he did manage to state correctly a few salient points of the doctrines of grace which serve to reveal similarities between Midland and Primitive Baptist doctrine.
Henry Veddar, writing of the mission/anti-mission divisions used the phrase hyper-Calvinism to describe a group who terminated fellowship with the Regular Baptists. His brief editorial describes and identifies these hyper-Calvinists. „There were also a number of Calvinistic Baptists bodies that for one reason or another, decline fellowship with the Regular Baptists. A considerable number of Baptists in the early part of this century separated from the other churches on account of doctrinal and practical differences. Holding to hyper-Calvinistic theology, they were opposed to missions, Sunday schools, and all contrivances which seem to make the salvation of man depend on human effort. They call themselves Primitive Baptists, and have been known as Anti-Mission, Anti-Effort, Old, and Hardshell Baptists.”
The terms hyper-Calvinist and high-Calvinism as used by Veddar, Underhill, Tull, Owen and others are misnomers which continue to be applied to Primitive Baptists today. However, primitive faith is not hyper-Calvinist nor is its doctrine accurately described as high-Calvinism. Primitive faith does not move beyond Calvin because primitive Baptists never embraced Calvin’s theology. The doctrine of primitive faith is not an extension, expansion nor elevation of Calvin’s doctrine. Primitives were never Calvinists nor was their doctrine ever Calvinistic.
Further, Calvin never embraced Baptist theology. He was a self-declared reformer who never believed nor taught Baptist doctrine, rejecting outright the doctrines of believers baptism only and baptism by immersion. Some of his tenets approximate primitive doctrines; but, when taken on the whole, there are substantial distinctions in key principles between Calvinism and primitive faith. However, it is clear from the statements of Owen and Veddar that orthodox Primitive Baptists yet cling to what they described as the old, rigid creed of High-Calvinism, of which the doctrines of grace are accurately stated in the 1655 Midland Confession of Faith.
PART TWO: Baptist Succession in America
The American Link
The earliest presence of Anabaptists in America is unknown. However, gathered congregations began appearing as early as the 1630s. Further, there is evidence that Baptists were having some influence upon some members of the Puritan Established Church in Massachusetts Colony.
In 1637 Boston was seven years old and boasted a population of more than one-thousand. The Colony had adopted Puritan Congregationalism as the Standing Order. As such, the First Church of Boston was was served by Rev. John Wilson and Rev. John Cotton as pastor and teacher, respectively.
About this time, certain members began to question the rigidity of the doctrine of works taught by the Puritans. Several women members, led by Mrs. Anne Hutchinson began meeting on the first Monday each month to discuss matters of religion. Eventually men began frequenting the meetings. Leading members of the community became regular attenders of the informal discussions. Those in attendance began to question the disparity between the doctrines of Puritan Congregationalism and Bible teachings relating to the doctrine of regeneration and evidences of grace. These monthly discussions soon led to a schism in the church. Those who opposed Congregational teachings identified themselves as followers of the Covenant of Grace. Those who opposed their views, while holding to the Congregational position were described as followers of a Covenant of Works. The Covenant of Works faction also referred to the Covenant of Grace group as Antinomians. It was to this climate of religious controversy that Elder John Clarke arrived in Boston in the fall of 1637.
Dr. Clarke was born of Thomas and Catherine Cook Clarke on October 3, 1609 in Westhorpe, Suffolk County England. He was one of eight children. With the exception of one sister who died in infancy, and a younger brother, William, all of his siblings followed him to America, settling in and around Newport, Rhode Island. He was raised in a moderately wealthy family. Though his parents both died in 1627, they left enough financial support to see to his education. He was educated as a physician, receiving instruction both in England and on the European Continent. He concluded his formal education at the University of Leydon, in Holland in 1635. Records indicate the graduation of „Johannees Clarcq” on July 17, 1635.
When Elder Clarke arrived in Boston, from England, in November 1637 he was already a Baptist. The exact date and circumstance of his conversion to Baptist sentiment is unknown. It is presumed by several historians that he converted to Baptist faith while at university in Holland. Some believe he became a baptist and was ordained as a minister in England, before he traveled to Holland. However, though his early history is at best, obscured, a great deal is known about his theological persuasions from the time of his arrival in America. From the very beginning of his residency in the New World Elder Clarke demonstrated sound and settled Baptist sentiment. There is no evidence he entertained either Congregational or Anglican sentiment after his arrival. Also, unlike Roger Williams, Elder Clarke’s life history provides no hint that he was in the midst of a „theological journey” when he arrived in America. The church he constituted in 1638, he continued to pastor throughout his ministry except for the years he served as Rhode Island’s Ambassador to England.
Dr. Comfort Edwin Barrows, in footnoting the diary of Elder John Comer wrote the following concerning Elder Clarke’s theology. „John Clarke was a broad-minded, level-head, strong man; a man of God. In his doctrinal and practical views he was remarkably in accord with the Regular Baptists of the present time in this country.” (Dr. Barrows mistakenly characterized John Clarke’s theology as that of the Regular Baptists. We shall presently demonstrate that his theology was primitive).
Upon arriving in Boston, Elder Clarke quickly realized the climate of religious oppression in the Massachusetts Colony was not favorable toward Baptists. Soon after his arrival, the Antinomians (so-called by their enemies) were excommunicated from the Established Church. Clarke was suspected of siding with the Covenant of Grace dissenters, though he had not taken any position nor made any statements critical of the Congregationalists. Nevertheless, he was disarmed by the local magistrate. The harsh treatment of dissenters, together with his own shabby welcome in Boston convinced him he should find residence elsewhere.
Evidently, even before leaving Boston, the Covenant of Grace dissenters organized themselves into a gathered body. This group cannot be properly considered a church until sometime later. However, Elder Clarke’s statement in his booklet Ill News from New England indicates their organization together with Clarke’s position of respected advisor. It reads, „In the year 1637 I left my native land, in the ninth month of the same I (through mercy) arrived in Boston. I was no sooner on shore, but there appeared to me differences among them touching the covenants, and in points of evidencing a man’s good estate; some prest hard for the Covenant of Works, and for sanctification to be the first and chief evidence; others prest as hard for the Covenant of Grace that was established upon better promises, and for the evidence of the Spirit, as that which is a more certain, constant and satisfactory witness. I thought it not strange to see men differ about matters of Heaven, for I expect no less upon Earth. But to see that they were not able so to bear with others in their different understandings and consciences, as in these uttermost parts of the world to live peaceably together, whereupon I moved the latter, for as much as the land was before us and wide enough with the profer of Abraham to Lot, and for peace sake, to turn aside to the right hand or to the left. The motion was accepted and I was requested with some others to seek out a place.” Elder Clarke’s statement, that he „moved” (made a motion) and „the motion was accepted,” indicates the Boston Covenant of Grace dissenters had organized themselves enough to practice democratic process.
His words also tell something of his own theology. Clearly, he preferred the Covenant of Grace position over the Covenant of Works position. The distinction he makes between the two is at the heart of the variance between Calvinism and sovereign grace theology. The Congregationalists were Calvinists of the strictest sort. Their Covenant of Works position stressed their belief in a strict doctrine of progressive sanctification, where works alone are depended upon as evidences of grace. This contrasts with the Covenant of Grace position endorsed by Clarke, which allows that the obedience of good works is an evidence of grace, but places greater certainty in the motive for obedience; which is, the love of God shed abroad in the heart of everyone who is born again. Elder Clarke believed good works follows grace, but he relied upon the testimony of the „Spirit bearing witness with our spirit” as a constant and satisfactory witness of new birth. His statement indicates he was a primitive Baptist with respect to this doctrine of grace. He believed in a heart felt religion. Because of this belief, he and the group which followed him to Rhode Island were labeled Antinomians, invoking a description which, beginning in Paul’s day (Romans 3:8) up to the present time, the primitive church has suffered.
Elder Clarke led his small congregation to the Island of Aquidneck, which they subsequently purchased from local native Americans. They established a village which they named Newport. Adquidneck was later named Rhode Island.
The first fully organized Baptist Church was gathered in Newport, Rhode Island in the early months of 1638. This early date is substantiated by several sources. Although Benedict cites 1644 as the earliest date of this church, he is mistaken. Elder Clarke’s tombstone attests to the earlier date of organization. It reads:
To the Memory of Doctor John Clarke, one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Newport, its first pastor, and munificent benefactor; He was a native of Bedfordshire, England, and a practitioner of physic in London. He, his associates, came to this Island from Mass., in March 1638, O. S. and on the 24 of the same month obtained a deed thereof from the Indians. He shortly after gathered the church aforesaid and became its pastor; in 1651, he with Roger Williams, was sent to England, by the people of Rhode Island colony, to negotiate the business of the Colony with the British Ministry. Mr. Clarke was instrumental in obtaining the charter of 1663 from Charles II, which secured to the people of the State free and full enjoyment of judgment and conscience in matters of religion. He remained in England to watch over the interests of the Colony until 1664. Mr. Clark and Mr. Williams, two fathers of the colony, strenuously and fearlessly maintained that none but Jesus Christ had authority over the affairs of conscience. He died April 20, 1676, in the 66th year of his age, and is here interred.
William Cathcart, in Baptist Encyclopedia pages 240 and 840 wrote; „A church was gathered in 1638, probably early in the year, of which Mr. Clarke became pastor or teaching elder. He is mentioned (in 1638) as „preacher to those of the island” as „their minister” as „elder of the church there” by Mr. Lechford writing in 1640, after having made a tour through New England, that „at the island……there is a church where one Master Clarke is pastor.”
The date of the constitution of Newport Church is significant. It occurred three years before the baptismal service in London which transformed the Spilsbury congregation from Separatists to Baptists. Thus, three years before the group that later became identified as Particular Baptists actually adopted Baptist faith and practice, there was a fully functional, orderly Baptist Church on American soil. The Newport Church was not constituted as a Particular or Regular Baptist Church because Particular Baptist identity did not exist in 1638. In faith and practice, the Newport Church was primitive Baptist, as we shall shortly disclose.
In 1650 Obadiah Holmes, after being excommunicated from the Puritan Congregationalist Church and banished from Plymouth Colony, arrived in Rhode Island at Newport. His exclusion and banishment stemmed from his strong support of believers baptism and baptism by immersion, both Baptist tenets.
Holmes journey to Baptist sentiment and residency in Newport began upon his arriving in America in 1639. Initially, he and his wife Katherine joined the Puritan Congregationalists in Salem. Observing their harsh judgement and treatment of dissenters, in contrast to Christ’s message of love, Holmes became dissatisfied with the practice of the Established Church. Further, upon study of the word of God he came to realize that baptism represented the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Not only so, his study of theology led him into the doctrines of grace; whereby he concluded, „that there is no preparation necessary to obtain Christ…. Nothing can be done by man; there is nothing that he can do to bring down salvation from heaven to earth. For what has to be done has already been done and done by God, not by man.”
In 1643 Holmes moved from Salem to Rehoboth, part of Plymouth Colony. Though the climate there was equally harsh toward Baptist sentiment, he initially received better treatment and was elevated to the status of freeman. While residing in Rehoboth he heard the doctrines of grace preached for the first time. In 1649, Newport Church extended an arm to Rehoboth sending Elder Clarke to minister to the small congregation of Baptists gathered there. Later, this group formally organized into a church. Holmes joined them in 1650. No doubt, feeling a burden to preach the gospel and desiring to learn at the feet of Dr. Clarke, Holmes move to Newport. In 1651 he moved his family and, with his wife Katherine, united with Newport Church. The same year he was ordained to the work of the ministry.
Later in 1651 Elder Holmes took occasion to accompany Elder Clarke and John Crandall to Lynn, Massachusetts to visit a shut-in member of Newport Church. As they bowed in prayer, in the home of Brother Witter, the local sheriff burst in and arrested the three for holding an unlawful worship service. They were brought before a local magistrate where a mock trial was held. All three were found guilty, though they were denied the right of counsel, the right to face their accusers, and no witnesses were presented against them. Elder Clarke was fined twenty pounds, Elder Holmes thirty and Crandall five. Elders Clarke and Holmes were given a choice of paying their fines or being „well whipped.”
The fines and beatings were mild compared to the intense hatred the authorities and local clergy of the Established Church held against the Elders and their doctrine. The governor of Massachusetts, John Endicott, in frustration at the courts inability to cite a single law which the three had broken (the incident occurred during the time of the first Act of Toleration), finally expressed his true sentiments and, no doubt, those of the Established Puritan Church. Elder Clarke later wrote of Endicott’s outburst. „None were able to turn the law of God or man by which we were condemned. At length the Governor stepped up, and told us we had denied infant’s baptism, and, being somewhat transported, told me I had deserved death, and said he would not have such trash brought into their jurisdiction.”
John Crandall paid his fine and returned to Newport. Declaring their innocence, Elders Clarke and Holmes refused to pay their fines, which prolonged their imprisonment. After about three weeks Elder Clarke was released. Various reasons for his release are offered by different historians. In point, however, they all agree that Elder Clarke did not pay his fine. Some suggest that friends paid it. One account notes an unknown gentleman who could not stand to see another gentleman publicly flogged.
Another account suggests that Elder Clarke was released in order to avoid a public debate of believer’s baptism and baptism by immersion. During his trial Elder Clarke challenged Mr. Howell to a debate of these issues. Apparently, there was considerable support among the populace that the debate occur. It is surmised Mr. Howell, knowing he could not successfully defend his position of pedobaptism, arranged Elder Clarke’s release to avoid the debate. Elder Clarke offered to return to Massachusetts to debate Howell, but Govenor Endicutt refused to guarantee he would not again be arrested and imprisoned.
It is known that Elder Clarke had every intention of suffering the pain and humiliation of a public beating rather than consenting to the injustice of the Massachusetts judiciary. One account of the affair states that he stood stripped to the waist and was tied to the whipping post before being suddenly released.
It is probable the real object of the irrational rage of the magistrates and clergy of Massachusetts was Obadiah Holmes. Having been previously excommunicated from the Puritan Established Church and banished from the Colony of Massachusetts, his presence was viewed as an affront to both religious and civic authority. He was to be taught a lesson, as an example to warn others of the severe consequences of excommunication and banishment.
Accordingly, on September 5 he was taken from his cell and brought to the public whipping post to be beaten. The post was located behind the Old State House in Boston, at the corner of State and Devonshire Streets. Once there, Elder Holmes asked Rev. Nowell, of the Puritan Congregational Church, who evidently was in charge of the beating, for permission to speak. Eyewitnesses reported the following exchange.
Nowell: It is not now a time to speak.
Holmes: I beg you. Give me leave to speak a few words. Seeing I am to seal what I hold with my blood, I am ready to defend it by the Word.
Nowell: There is no time for dispute.
Holmes: I desire to give an account of the Faith and Order I hold.
H. Flint: Executioner, Fellow do thine office, for this fellow here would but make a long speech to delude the people.
Holmes: That which I am about to suffer for is the Word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ.
Nowell: No! It is for your error, and going about to seduce people.
Holmes: Not for error! In all the time of my imprisonment, which of all your ministers, in all that time came to convince me of error? And what was the reason the public dispute was not granted?
Nowell: It was Clarke’s fault that he went away and would not dispute.
Flint: (To Executioner) Do your office!
Holmes: (while his clothes are being ripped away from him) I am now come to be baptized in afflictions by your hands, that so I may have further fellowship with my Lord. I am not ashamed of His sufferings for by His stripes am I healed.
Elder Holmes was beaten with thirty lashes. The Executioner spat upon his hands, and with a scourge of three leather straps, he beat Elder Holmes until his back was laid open to the bone, his flesh raw and bleeding. The beating complete, Elder Holmes was untied from the whipping post and led back to his cell. As he was led away he turned to his executioner and said, „Sir, you have struck me as with roses.”
Thirty lashes was a most severe sentence. The normal punishment of whipping for criminals found guilty of the worst crimes, such as rape, robbery and counterfeiting was ten lashes. From such harsh treatment, as was the case with Apostle Paul’s beatings, it must be surmised the true purpose of Elder Holmes persecution was to maim or perhaps kill him. Like Paul, Obadiah Holmes was delivered by the grace of God; and, henceforth bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ. Elder Holmes was the first Baptist in America who was so punished for conscience sake. With his beating the pattern of persecution, which Baptists fled England to escape, continued in America. He was among the first of many in America who suffered fines, imprisonment, public ridicule, banishment and beatings for conscience sake.
Later, he recalled his condition of spirit and mind both before the beating. He wrote, „I betook myself to my chamber, where I might communicate with my God, commit myself to Him, and beg strength from Him. I was caused to pray earnestly unto the Lord, that He would be pleased to give me a spirit of courage and boldness, a tongue to speak for Him, and strength of body to suffer for His sake, and not to shrink or yield to the strokes, or shed tears, lest the adversaries of the truth should thereupon blaspheme and be hardened, and the weak and feeble-hearted discouraged; and for this I besought the Lord earnestly. At length He satisfied my spirit to give up, as my soul so my body to Him, and quietly leave the whole disposing of the matter to Him. And when I heard the voice of my keeper come for me, and, taking my Testament in hand, I went along with him to the place of execution.” Concerning his pain during the beating, Elder Holmes said, „in a manner I felt it not.”
Many would surmise that the harsh treatment Elder Holmes received in Boston would have ended any thoughts he had of preaching in Massachusetts in the future. However, heeding the call of God alone, this venerable old servant returned several times to preach the gospel and baptize believers. He was arrested again, but never again beaten or fined.
Elder Holmes returned to Newport to recover from his ordeal. He continued there the rest of his life, assisting Elder Clarke and serving as pastor in Clarke’s absence.
In late 1651 Elder Clarke sailed to England to administer the affairs of Rhode Island. He remained as the Colony’s representative to the Crown for twelve years. During this time Elder Holmes served as interim pastor of Newport Church. He was ably assisted by Elder Mark Lucar, who was a charter member of Mr. Spilsbury’s church in London, being baptized with fifty-two others in 1641 at the Particular’s inaugural baptismal service.
The primitive Baptists of Newport maintained a cordial correspondence with the Particular Baptists in London. Numerous examples of their friendly relations are contained in letters written by both Elder Clarke and Elder Holmes. One such letter was written to Mssrs. Spilsbury and Kiffen by Elder Holmes shortly after his beating. In it he mentions Elder Clarke’s impending journey to London, noting they will soon be able to hear Elder Clarke’s account of the ordeal. The introduction of Elder Holmes letter suggests the close fellowship he felt toward the brethren in London. He began the correspondence, „Unto the well beloved brethren John Spilsbury and William Kiffen, and the rest that in London stand fast in the faith, and continue to walk steadfastly in that order of Gospel which was once delivered unto the saints by Jesus Christ; Obadiah Holmes, an unworthy witness that Jesus is Lord, and of late a prisoner for Jesus’ sake at Boston, sendeth greetings.”
In 1676, after the deaths of both Clarke and Lucar, Elder Holmes served as sole pastor of Newport Church. He continued at that post until his own death in 1682.
I have been unable to attain a copy of the original Articles of Faith of Newport Church. Also, though Dr. Clarke’s history and affiliations provide many examples of his belief in the doctrines of election and predestination, I have been unable to find any writings by the good doctor which actually spell out his doctrinal sentiments. However, Elder Holmes, who was co-pastor at Newport Church with Dr. Clarke, left a statement of his beliefs in the form of a personal confession of faith. He wrote the document at the request of his brother in England. It is included in a compilation of several letters and documents which, in sum, are titled The Last Will and Testament of Obadiah Holmes.
From Elder Holmes confession of faith it may be concluded he held firmly to the doctrines of sovereign grace. Not only so, but his theology is best described as primitive, rather than reformed. Elder Holmes was not a Calvinist.
On the subject of election he wrote: „God in His own time chose a people to Himself and gave them His laws and statutes in a special manner, though He had always His chosen ones in every generation.” Concerning the salvation of the elect he wrote: „I believe that God has laid the iniquity of all His elect and called ones upon Him (Christ).”
Concerning perseverance he wrote: „I believe that all those that are in his covenant of grace shall never fall away or perish, but shall have life in the Prince of life: the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Concerning new birth he wrote: „I believe that no man can come to the Son but they that are drawn by the Father to Him, and they that come He will in no wise cast away. I believe none has power to choose salvation or to believe in Christ, for life is the gift only of God.”
Elder Holmes divided the functionality of the gospel into two categories. He wrote it „begets souls to the truth” and „feeds the church.” He explains the instrumentality of the gospel with two separate articles In neither article does he intimate the gospel is in any way linked functionally to regeneration.
The first statement resembles the primitive belief that God must aid preachers with liberty of explanation and hearers with liberty of comprehension for the doctrines of grace to be understood and accepted as truth. „I believe the precious gift of the Spirit’s teaching was procured by Christ’s ascension and given to men, begetting souls to the truth and for the establishment and consolations of those that are turned to the Lord.”
His second statement explains a principle of sufficiency of the scriptures to sustain believers faith in every circumstance. „I believe that as God prepared a begetting ministry even so does He also prepare a feeding ministry in the church, who are a people called out of the world by the word and Spirit of the Lord, assembling themselves together in a holy brotherhood, continuing in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.”
Evidently, Elder Holmes was a millennialist. Concerning the resurrection of the just he wrote: „I believe the promise of the Father concerning the return of Israel and Judah, and the coming of the Lord to raise up the dead in Christ, and to change them that are alive that they may reign with him a thousand years, according to the Scriptures.”
Excluding his millennial reign theory, Elder Holmes’ confession of faith is orthodox in all other areas. It demonstrates a clear understanding of both eternal salvation and gospel deliverance. It plainly distinguishes new birth as a precursor to acceptance, or rational belief, in Christ. His handling of regeneration, together with his definitions of the functionality of the gospel indicates Elder Holmes was not reformed, despite his earlier exposure to Puritan Congregationalism. One must wonder if the harshness of Puritan Calvinism compelled him to look beyond the reformer’s theology until he found in the scriptures and by Dr. Clarke’s preaching a primitive doctrine, which „begot” his soul to gospel truth, which is the faith once delivered.
A partial chronology of pastorship of Newport Baptist Church, after Elder Holmes death includes:
Richard Dingley 1690 – 1711
William Peckman 1711 – 1734
John Comer 1726 – 1729 (co-pastor)
In 1656 the Second Baptist Church was organized in Newport. Its organization was the result of a disagreement as to the necessity of laying on of hands on newly baptized members. The original church allowed the practice, but did not require it. The latter group, led by William Vaughn, believed laying on of hands was a requirement of the ordinance of baptism. Though the membership of Second Church apparently had a basic disagreement with those of First, as to the means necessary to initiate church fellowship, it did not seem to affect interchurch fellowship. It appears they continued fellowship with one another, sat in each others ordinations and exchanged pulpit duties. There is no doubt this issue resulted in a division of the First Church; however, it appears the split was friendly.
The Baptists were still a very small group in New England as late as 1700. The gospel had not spread much beyond Rhode Island. However, Baptist preachers had ventured into Connecticut where they gained a few converts. A group of Baptist converts in Groton Connecticut began to hold regular meetings. They petitioned Connecticut’s General Court for official tolerance, but received no response from the ruling body. Despite failure to gain official tolerance, they interpreted the General Court’s silence as unofficial consent. They formally organized themselves into a Baptist Church in 1705.
The new church sent for a young preacher from North Kingston, Rhode Island to serve as their pastor. His name was Valentine Wightman. He was a great-grandson of Elder Edward Wightman, of Burton, England, who was the last person burned at the stake in England. Burton Church was a charter member of the Midland Association in 1655.
Edward Wightman, was executed at Lichfield in Staffordshire, near Burton in 1612. Descendants who followed him as ministers of the Gospel included his son John (1598-1662), grandson George (1632-1722), and great-grandson Valentine (1687-1747). Armitage also identifies Timothy, Gano and Daniel Wightman. Timothy was Elder Valentine’s son. Gano is probably John Gano Wightman, also Elder Valentine’s son. Daniel is believed to have been his brother.
Elder Valentine was named after his uncle, who was an indentured servant to a Mr. Richard Smith in Providence, Rhode Island. After working off his indebtedness, the senior Wightman proved himself a highly regarded citizen of Rhode Island as both a jurist and indian interpreter. He was a close acquaintance of Roger Williams. Elder Valentine was also a nephew by marriage to Katherine Williams Wightman, Roger Williams sister. Her husband was Ralph, a brother to George Wightman, Elder Valentine’s father.
Little is known about Valentine Wightman’s ministry. It is known he was a „Six Principle” Baptist. From this, some have tried to build a case that Elder Wightman was Arminian in his theology. He was identified as a Six Principle because he practiced „laying on of hands” on the newly baptized. There were Six Principle Baptists among the Arminian Baptists. However, as we have noted, Jonathan Davis stated in his History of the Welsh Baptists that this practice was introduced in 1654 into the churches of the Midlands and Wales, which held to a sovereign grace primitive faith.
Elder Wightman re-instituted singing hymns as part of the worship service. He wrote a short defense of the practice which was widely distributed. His work in this area is credited for the adoption of singing in many Baptist churches.
Groton church experienced a division over doctrinal issues in 1765, during the pastorship of Timothy Wightman. The defecting group ordained Silas Burris as their preacher. They practiced open communion. The Groton Conference, a mostly Arminian group of Baptist churches, is named after this latter church. The mother church did not join the Conference.
Because of Elder Wightman’s religious heritage, together with what is known about those with whom he had fellowship, and those to whom he passed his theological lineage, it is reasonable to assume Valentine Wightman was a primitive Baptist of the order of the Midland Association and the Old Baptists of Olchon and vicinity. His original membership was with the second Newport Church. This church was not Arminian during the time of his membership, neither was North Kingston where he later held membership. Also, Swanzy Church, constituted by John Miles, was six principle, as was Rehoboth, constituted by Dr. John Clarke. Neither of these churches were Arminian in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In fact, by 1750 the practice of laying on of hands on those newly baptized was a common practice among both primitive and Particular Baptists.
Armitage describes Elder Wightman as calm and discrete. He is said to have had the respect of the Authorized Congregationalist clergy in Groton. He possessed sound learning, great zeal and deep piety, according to Armitage. He was a strict observer of scriptural authority and a powerful preacher. The blessings of these traits allowed him to exercise tender care with his new flock, which increased greatly during the forty-two years of his pastorship.
The above description of Elder Valentine’s demeanor and pastoral care should not be taken as evidence he escaped persecution. He did not. While there is no record he was ever imprisoned or publicly beaten, he did not escape punishment. Shortly after moving to Groton, Elder Wightman was arrested as an illegal alien. Like most New England townships, Groton had a law that prospective citizens must first receive permission from the Selectmen of the township before establishing residency in the town. The stated purpose of the ordinance was to prevent derelicts from becoming a financial burden to the community. However, the law was often used to keep out all sorts of undesirables, including religious dissenters.
Elder Wightman appeared in New London before Richard Christopher, Justice of the Peace. He was fined eleven pounds, plus cost of prosecution. He appealed the fine because the amount exceeded Christopher’s authority to levy fines, but lost the appeal. He refused to pay the fine; and, there is no record it was ever paid. Eventually, Elder Wightman was forced to post a two-hundred pound bond in order to stay in Groton. The bond was paid by William Stark, a member of Groton Church. The prosecution and bond could have been avoided had Elder Wightman been able to receive permission to stay in Groton. But permission was only granted by either the ruling of the town’s Selectmen or by popular vote of its citizens. It is evident from the fact that a bond was posted he was unable to obtain permission either way.
Elder Wightman shared fellowship with Rehoboth Church, which was constituted as an arm of the first Newport Church. He also fellowshipped Elder John Comers, who, for a time, was co-pastor of First Newport Church. In November, 1726, while Elder Comer was still co-pastor at First Newport Church, he made the following entry in his diary. „Monday. This day I preached at New London, Mr. Stephen Gorton’s Ordination sermon, from 2 Cor. 2:16, and assisted in conjunction with Mr. Jno Moss and Mr. Valentine Wightman. There was a large auditory.” This entry indicates Elder Wightman was in a succession of interchurch fellowship which included Elders John Clarke and Obadiah Holmes. Elder Wightman was in direct fellowship with those Baptists in America which first, by date of their organization, and second, by statement of their beliefs, were primitive Baptists.
As has been noted, beginning with Elder John Clarke, the churches and Elders of this succession had frequent and numerous contact with the Particular Baptists in England, and later, with the Regular Baptists in America. However, their friendly relations with the Particulars does not mean these brethren were themselves Particular Baptists. Their succession was primitive. Newport Baptist Church was constituted, fully embracing the principles of believers baptism and baptism by immersion, four years before the first baptismal service was held by the Particular Baptists in London.
The reader may trace this American succession through Dr. Clarke back to the primitive Baptists of England, or perhaps Holland. (When or where Elder Clarke was baptized and ordained is unknown. However, he was already an ordained Baptist Elder when he arrived in America in 1637). His succession includes the Lollards (so called) in England through the Welsh Anabaptists or the Lollards in Europe through the Dutch Anabaptists. In either case, a direct succession exists back to Jesus Christ. Both successions embrace pre-reformation, primitive Baptist, faith and practice.
Elder Valentine Wightman is a link in the succession of the primitive Baptists from the Lollards of the Midlands of England to America. His family’s religious heritage was primitive Baptist. Also, his fellowship with Newport, North Kingston and Rehoboth Churches shows that he supported and taught the same principles of belief as John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes and John Comer who themselves were primitive Baptists. Like both his great-grandfather Edward Wightman, who was executed in 1612 for his primitive Baptist beliefs, and John Clarke, who established the first Baptist church in America, Valentine Wightman is a link in the chain of succession of the primitive Baptists.
Elder Wightman baptized and ordained Elder Wait Palmer, who was pastor of the Baptist Church in Tolland, Connecticut. In 1751 Elder Palmer baptized and ordained Elder Shubal Stearns, who came to the Baptists from the Separatists. He was a „New Light” convert of the „Great Awakening” revival of George Whitfield.
The Separate Baptists
The American succession of faith and practice of the Primitive Baptists can be traced through Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptists. The Separate Baptists received their name as an indirect result of the Great Awakening, which had its beginnings in New England around 1734. Its evangelical appeal was the result of years of religious decline, which was the outcome of the Established Congregationalist Church. Because all citizens were compelled to join at birth, and many could not claim an experience of grace, by 1720 the Congregationalists claimed a large class of what they termed „inferior” members. These members possessed limited rights and privileges of church membership. However, various schemes were launched in attempts to revive the ailing denomination, by vitalizing the membership of inferior members. First they were allowed into communion. Next, they were allowed to hold certain church offices. Finally, it was agreed that „inferior” members, those who made no claim as to an experience of grace, could be ordained to the clergy. None of the Congregationalists schemes were successful. They continued to suffer from lax discipline and defections. In 1734 Jonathan Edwards was blest to participate in a short revival in religion. His relentless preaching stirred some enthusiasm which resulted in short lived religious renewal among the Congregationalists in Massachusetts and Connecticut. However, one positive outcome of Edward’s zeal and the slight renewal of interest in religion was the arrival of George Whitfield in America in 1740.
From the moment the world famous Whitfield landed on American soil, at Newport, in September 1740, huge crowds gathered to hear him preach. The effect was electrifying. Whitfield recorded in his journal, „many wept exceedingly, and cried out under the Word, like persons that were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” Wherever Whitfield preached, thousands rejoiced. The heartfelt religion which spontaneously burst forth was in great contrast to the stern and stoic form of religion practiced by the Calvinist Puritan Congregationalists of the Established Church. New converts in Congregational churches soon became uneasy by the coldness and hostility of unawakened members.
Whitfield revival converts came to be known as „New lights.” Traditionalists in the Puritan congregations were called „Old lights.” In such a climate of contrast, it was only natural the New lights began leaving the old state church to form their own congregations. By 1744 these informal congregations began assuming identities as churches. Those who left the old church and formed into new churches became known as Separates.
In 1745 Whitfield returned to America. His return was not welcomed by many of the Established Churches. However, the Separates greeted him enthusiastically. Because of their fervent support and attendance, the Separate Churches received most of the benefit from Whitfield’s second revival tour. Three men of note who joined the Separates during the 1745 revival were Isaac Backus, Daniel Marshall and Shubal Sterns. All three would later join the Baptists, bringing with them their enthusiastic belief in evangelical revival.
The Established Congregational Church may have accepted the existence of the awakened New Light churches but for the fact that the New Lights kept a „closed communion” and would not accept letters of dismissal from the Congregationalists. Even at this early date, the New Lights recognized the need for church order. The Separates brought these practices with them when they joined the Baptists.
Elder Sylvester Hassell provides a brief introduction of the Separates as Baptists. He notes, „These Separates first arose in New England, and made their way eventually, into the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Elders Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall were among those evangelical ministers whose labors were greatly blessed in the States above named.”
Elder Lemuel Burkitt, in his history, written in 1806, notes; „The Separates first arose in New England, where some pious members left the Presbyterian, or the Standing Order, on account of their formality and superfluity, viz. 1. Because they were too extravagant in their apparel. 2. Because they did not believe their form of Church government to be right. But chiefly because they would admit none to the ministry only men of classical education,and many of their ministers, apparently, seemed to be unconverted. They were then called Separates Newlights. Some of these were baptized and moved into the southern provinces, particularly Elders Shubal Sterns and Daniel Marshall, whose labors were wonderfully blest in Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. Many souls were converted, and, as the work progressed, many churches were established in Virginia and some in North Carolina.”
Elder Burkitt continues his somewhat detailed and flattering description of the Separates by describing their preachers as extremely pious and zealous men. He characterized the effect of their evangelical zeal with this quote; „and such a work appeared to be amongst the people that some were amazed, and stood in doubt, saying what means this?” He notes, „The distinction between them and us, was they were called Separates and the Philadelphia, the Charleston, and the Kehukee Associations were called Regular Baptists.”
As Elder Burkitt’s narrative suggests, the Separates discovered many Baptist practices with which they concurred. They approved of the Baptists practice of democracy in church government, simplicity of their order of worship, believers baptism and ordaining men to the ministry based upon a divine call as demonstrated by qualification of their gifts through preaching.
Baptist Elders crossed into Connecticut to preach for Separate Congregations. Slowly the Separates began to leave the doctrines of pedobaptism and join Baptist churches. At one point Elder Backus, who himself left the Separates and was baptized and ordained by the Baptists, was heard to say that all the Separate churches would soon become Baptists.
During this migration of gospel conversion, Shubal Stearns, a prominent Separate preacher, joined the Baptists and was baptized and ordained in 1751 by Elder Waitt Palmer at Tolland, Connecticut. Elder Palmer had been baptized and ordained by Valentine Wightman.
It was through the evangelical activities of Elder Stearns and his brother-in-law, and brother in the ministry, Daniel Marshall, that primitive Baptist faith and practice was carried to the Kehukee brethren of North Carolina. In 1755 Stearns joined Daniel Marshall in Virginia. Marshall had been baptized earlier at the Particular Baptist Church at Mill Creek in Opekon, Virginia. Stearns was on his way to North Carolina at the request of friends, who petitioned him to come and help with the pathetic spiritual destitution of the area. Marshall and Stearns left Opekon in the summer of 1755, traveling two hundred miles to Sandy Creek, North Carolina.
Upon arriving at Sandy Creek, Stearns and his small congregation built a meeting house. Elder Stearns immediately began his evangelical activities. People from neighboring farms began attending the frequent services held in the new meeting house. Elder Stearns’ heartfelt and powerful delivery was a display of religious fervor many had never heard nor seen. They could not decide which was more remarkable, his delivery or the content of his sermons of God’s sovreign grace. Both had a very positive effect. There was an outpouring of the Spirit of God and revival began. Word of the lively meetings at Sandy Creek soon reached other settlements. Stearns received invitations to visit in those areas. He gave preference to invitations from the most neglected areas, having a desire to preach to the poorest folk. He accepted no salary for his services, relying on the providence of God through the generosity of His Saints. In 1757 an arm of Sandy Creek Church was extended to Abbott’s Creek.
The Spirit of revival heightened dramatically the next year. An arm was extended to Deep River. After his own ordination, Daniel Marshall pushed the revival northward into Virginia, taking with him James Reed, William and Joseph Murphy, and Dutton Lane all newly ordained young preachers. He also traveled south, to Georgia, establishing churches there.
Within three years after their arrival, Stearns and Marshall witnessed a tremendous increase among the Baptists. Beginning with only sixteen members at Sandy Creek, there were now three churches with a combined membership of nine-hundred. More preachers were ordained. John Newton, Joseph Breed, Ezekiel Hunter, Charles Markland, Nathaniel Powell and James Turner were all preaching the gospel. The revival which began at Sandy Creek spread in every direction. In 1758 the Sandy Creek Association was organized.
The first session of Sandy Creek Association met in June 1758. According to Lumpkin „the meeting did not bother with organizational procedures and transaction of business. It did not even go so far as to elect a moderator, although everyone looked to Elder Stearns as the man in charge. The order of the day was preaching and exhorting, singing and recounting successes.”
The meeting further energized the Baptists. Preachers were stirred to greater zeal. Many visitors, who attended the association out of curiosity, went away convicted by the message of man’s depraved nature and God’s free grace. New invitations came from every direction for preachers to be sent. Ingathering occurred in great numbers.
Elders Dutton Lane, baptized and ordained by Elder Stearns, found Virginia to be his field of labor. The first Separate Baptist church in Virginia was constituted in August 1760. Elder Lane served as pastor. According to Elder Robert Semple, in his history, Rise and Progress of the Baptist of Virginia, „The church prospered under the ministry of Mr. Lane, aided by the occasional visits of Mr. Marshall and Mr. Stearns.”
Initially the Virginia churches were members of the Sandy Creek Association. However, because of the difficulty of travel and since the Sandy Creek Association had grown quite large, with churches in South Carolina and Virginia, at the 1770 session it was unanimously agreed to divide into three associations.
In 1771 the first session of the Virginia Separate Baptist Association was held. The new association contained fourteen churches. Very quickly, the association grew to more than fifty churches. It eventually divided into districts which later became independent associations. Associations which originated from the Virginia include Dover, Goshen, Culpepper, Albemarie, Middle District, Appomattox, Roanoak, Meherrin, Strawberry, New River, Halston, Mountain and Accomac.
The Separates organized churches in Tennessee. In 1771 a small group from Sandy Creek Church moved west, settling on Boone’s Creek in Washington County. However, the churches were soon broken up by the Indian War of 1774. Though no church records are still in existence, correspondence from sister churches in North Carolina identifies the name of one of these pioneer churches as Buffalo Ridge. About 1780 many of the scattered memberships of these early churches reorganized in East Tennessee. In 1776 Elder Tidence Lane arrived in Watauga at Boone’s Creek. He settled at nearby St Clair Bottom in 1777, where he established a group from Sandy Creek as a constituted church.
Elder Daniel Marshall traveled to Georgia where he established the first Baptist church in that Colony. In 1772 he constituted a church at Kiokee.
Kentucky also experienced Baptist expansion and ingathering from the Separate Baptists. In 1779 Squire Boone, brother of Daniel Boone, moved with his family from North Carolina down the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers to Louisville. Ordained as a Separate Baptist minister in 1776, Boone started a church there.
The first Baptist church in Mississippi, at Cole’s Creek, was constituted by members from Little River Church. In turn, Little River had been organized by members from Sandy Creek and Deep River Church. Her first pastor, Elder Joseph Murphy, was baptized and ordained by Elder Stearns. The first pastor of Cole’s Creek was Elder Richard Curtis Jr.. He returned to Little River in 1791 to be ordained. He immediately returned to Mississippi and constituted Cole’s Creek Church.
On November 20, 1771 Elder Shubal Stearns died at the age of sixty-five. During his sixteen year ministry in North Carolina and there about, he ordained one hundred twenty-five Elders and helped constitute forty-two churches, plus many branches. Using this able servant, and the small group of Baptists he gathered at Sandy Creek, the Lord effected the most dramatic revival and ingathering ever experienced on American soil.
Fellowship and Union With the Regular Baptists
The first of several account of attempts to unite the Separates and Regulars is contained in the 1762 minutes of the Charleston Association. Mr. Hart of Charleston and Evan Pugh of Pee Dee were instructed to attend the 1763 meeting of the Sandy Creek Association to try to effect a union. There is no further record of this effort contained in the Charleston minutes. The early minutes of the Sandy Creek are lost, burned in a house fire in 1810. However, from the complete silence of the Charleston Association regarding their proposed union it may be assumed Sandy Creek either ignored or declined their invitation.
In 1769 another attempt at interchurch fellowship was made by the Kekocton Association. They sent Messrs. Garratt, Major and Saunders to the Sandy Creek Association to propose a union. The proposal was rejected. The most serious objection to a union was the Kekocton’s identification with the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. Quoting from Robert Semple’s history G. W. Pascal notes, „A more serious and real objection was that, the Philadelphia Confession, some parts of which they considered objectionable, might come to bind them too much.” A sense of the reluctance of the Separates to participate in the proposed union is suggested by the tone of the Kekocton’s letter of invitation. It provides some indication the Separates were very serious in their refusal to be formally identified with the Regular Baptists.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ:
The bearers of this letter can acquaint you with the design of writing it. Their errand is peace, and their business is a reconciliation between us, if there is any difference subsisting. If we are all Christians, all Baptists, all New Lights, why are we divided? Must the little appellative names, Regular and Separate, break the golden band of charity, and set the sons and daughters of Zion at variance? „Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” but how bad and how bitter it is for them to live asunder in discord. To indulge ourselves in prejudice, is surely a disorder; and to quarrel about nothing is irregularity with a witness. O, our dear brethren, endeavor to prevent this calamity in the future.
The Separate Baptists’ response to this overture of fellowship demonstrates what Benedict terms their „shyness.” It attests to their high regard for order in both faith and practice. Their response reads;
Excuse us in love; for we are acquainted with our own order, but not so well with yours; and if there is a difference, we might jump into that which will make us rue it.
The Separate Baptists’ consistent aversion to written creeds and specifically, the Philadelphia Confession, gave rise to a distinction between those sovereign grace baptists who embraced its doctrinal tenets and those who rejected the document. The name Regular Baptist was applied to those who embraced the Philadelphia Confession.
The first formal union of Separates and Regulars occurred in the reformation of the Kehukee Association. In 1777 six Regular Baptist and four Separate Baptist churches joined together, with a new covenant and new Articles of Faith.
In 1784 the Georgia Association was constituted. It included both Separate and Regular Baptist churches. Like the Kehukee Association this group also adopted their own Confession, which closely resembles primitive articles of faith in both content and style. In 1809 an attempt was made to replace this document with the Charleston Confession of Faith. After review by a committee appointed by the association, the move to adopt Keach’s version of the London Confession was defeated.
A union of Separates and Regulars occurred in 1787 in Virginia. In this integration the Philadelphia Confession was adopted, although the Separates required a statement be included in the constitution of the Association which stipulated that no church was required to strictly hold to the Particular Baptist confession. The disclaimer stated that acceptance of the confession did not „mean that every person is to be bound to the strict observance of everything therein contained, nor do we mean to make it, in any respect, superior or equal to the scriptures in matters of faith and practice.” This union of Separate and Particular Baptists resulted in the formation of the Virginia Association.
Semple presents a more detailed explanation of the Separates’ caution in adopting the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. Quoting the committee’s explanation of the resolution, he wrote, „After considerable debate as to the propriety of having any confession of faith at all, the report of the committee was received with the following explanation: To prevent the confession of faith from usurping a tyrannical power &vover the conscience of any, we do not mean that every person is bound to the strict observance of everything therein contained; yet that it holds forth the essential truths of the Gospel, and that the doctrine of salvation by Christ and free, and unmerited grace alone ought to be believed by every minister of the Gospel. Upon these terms we are united; and desire hereafter that the names Regular and Separate be buried in oblivion, and that from henceforth, we shall be known by the name of the United Baptists Churches of Christ in Virginia.”
The first hints of fellowship between the Regular Baptists and the Separates of the Virginia Association occurred through circumstances which truly, were providential. It came as a result of American independence. In the 1780 session of the Association a letter was received from a committee of the Regular Baptists suggesting the Virginia Separate Baptist Association appoint a committee to join with the Regulars „to consider national grievances in conjunction.” The Separates agreed to the proposal, sending Reubin Ford, John Williams and Elijah Craig to serve with Regular Baptists in addressing religious matters of national concern to the newly formed American government. The Baptist’s common desire for religious freedom opened a window which allowed the Separates and Regulars to view one another. Eventually this small window led to full fellowship.
In 1789 a general union occurred between the Separate and Regular Baptists in North Carolina, forming the United Baptist Association. This association was composed of several churches of the original Kehukee, which had divided in 1774, together with six Regular Baptist and four Separate Baptist churches which reformed the Kehukee in 1777. The churches which had refused to reform in 1777 finally agreed to unite with the reformed Kehukee. The spirit of brotherhood in Christ which effected the earlier merger of Separate and Regular Baptists into the reformed Kehukee Association had continued, allowing the churches of the reformed Kehukee to resolve their differences with those which had rejected the 1777 reformation.
All these evidences of friendly relations between the Separates and Regulars can be attributed to the providence of God rather than man’s disposition. When Regular Baptist preacher John Gano first attended the Sandy Creek association he was not recognized. His presence was greeted with suspicion by the general membership. Elder Stearns, however, showed him great Christian affection and brotherly kindness. By the same token, in Georgia, when Daniel Marshall first met Mr. Botsford, recently ordained from the Regular Baptist Charleston Association, he was reluctant to extend fellowship. However, after resolving certain „slight differences” the two established a close friendship and fellowship which lasted the remainder of Elder Marshall’s life.
The Separates were jealous of their doctrine and practice. They were unwilling to surrender their beliefs or practices to the formality of the Regular Baptists. At the same time there were many among the Regulars, whose religious heritage was primitive Baptist, who retained their love for a simple and heartfelt religion. When they came into contact with the Separates their reaction was a longing to worship the Lord as their ancestors had.
Elder Edward Morgan, a Welshman and Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, expressed the sentiments of many Regulars in his enthusiastic admiration of the Separate Baptists. Beginning in 1770 Elder Edwards composed a notebook of material to be used for a history he later planned to write. Although he did not live to write his history, his notes were used extensively by Backus, in his History of New England with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists and by Benedict in his History of the Baptists.
A short excerpt from Elder Morgan’s notebook provides a flavor of the admiration he felt for the Separate Baptists. Writing of the motherhood of Sandy Creek church he notes „It is a mother church, nay a grand mother and a great grand mother. All the Separate baptists sprang hence not only eastward towards the sea, but westward towards the great Mississippi, but northward to Virginia and southward to South Carolina and Georgia. The word went forth from this sion, and great was the company of them who published it, in so much that her converts were as the drops of dew. This first church that sprang hence was Abbott’s Creek, the Deep River, Little river, New River, (Ezek. Hunter), Southwest (Charles Marklin), Trent (James McDaniel), Staunton-river, Virg. (William Murphy), Fall-creek, VA (Samuel Harris), Danriver, Va. (Dutton Lane), Grassy-creek (James Reed), John Walker’s church, Va Amelia Va. (Jeremia Walker), Fairforest, S. C. (Phil Mulkey) Congaree, S. C. (James Rees), Stephens-Creek, S. C.; (Dan. Marshal), Shallow-fords, N. C. (Joseph Murphy), &c.”
The phenomenon of the merger of Separates and Regulars warrants some consideration. It has been previously noted that in England, when integration of the primitives and Particulars occurred, the primitives’ identity was obscured. However, it appears their doctrinal sentiments were retained by some, though they were formally identified as Particulars. Upon arriving in America, when they became acquainted with the Separates, those holding to the primitive faith reemerged and sought union with the Separates. After the two bodies of Baptists integrated they eventually referred to themselves as Primitive Baptists. In America, it was not the Separates or primitives whose identity became obscured by integration, for their faith and doctrine remained the same. However, the Particulars lost their distinct identity. Over a period of seventy years the primitive faith and practice of the Separates came to dominate the integration. This seems reasonable since it is known that some portion of the Particulars possessed a religious heritage of primitive faith and practice. In some instances they were perhaps only a generation removed from their own primitive Baptist roots.
Those who resisted this migration toward primitive faith usually separated themselves from the main body. By the end of the mission/anti-mission divisions, formal use of the London Confession as the principle statement of beliefs of Primitive Baptist Churches and Associations in America was rare. The numerous documents which replaced the Particular Baptist Confession are similar to the Midland, Kehukee and Sandy Creek Articles of Faith. Widespread abandonment of the London Confession diminished its prestige as a creed to such an extent that most contemporary Primitive Baptists possess only a passing knowledge ofthe document’s content.
It may be surmised that God, in his infinite wisdom, used the „good offices” of the Particular Baptists to deliver a large number of his saints to America as sovereign grace baptists, many of them yet holding to primitive faith. As such, they were prepared for the faith and practice of the primitives they found here. God then used a few pious Separate Baptist brethren, filling them with the fire of the Gospel and a zeal of God according to knowledge, to labor in this new field, which was white and ready for the harvest. The fervent Spirit of God which was manifest by these primitive faith preachers melted the hearts of many of God’s saints, who had come to America loving the doctrines of grace. Once here, they learned to love the spirit of grace as well. Thus, the primitive faith reemerged in America in greater proportions than it had been exercised in England for many centuries.
The contribution of early Welsh immigrants, to the union of the Separates and Regulars, must be noted. When they came to America, many brought a pure form doctrine, which had been held by Welsh Baptists since antiquity. Their preachers, whether Regular or Separate, in large part, were primitive. In his book, Primitive Baptist History, Elder W. S. Craig provides modest biographies of several of these able ministers of the gospel. While we will not repeat his work, the significance of the labors of such pious evangelicals demands they be identified in this writing. Welsh Baptist notables include; Elders Thomas Griffin, John Miles, Morgan Edwards, Samuel Jones, Abel Morgan, William Davis, Hugh Davis, Davis Evans, Nathaniel Jenkins, Griffith Jones, Caleb Evans, Elias Thomas, Enoch Morgan and many more brethren who preached the pure doctrines of grace in power and demonstration of Spirit of God.
Likewise, much is owed to Particular Baptist worthies for their faithfulness and piety. We must also thank God for the evangelical zeal of Elder Stearns and his small army of preachers. By God’s grace they all worked together for good for those who love the Lord. Finally, the greatest debt of gratitude is owed the heavenly Father for his providence and mercy in sustaining and delivering the primitive faith to America.
Separate Baptist Faith and Practice
The Separate Baptists were unique among the Baptists of America, including both General and Regular, concerning the immediate working of the Spirit upon an individual. Elder Robert Semple wrote of the initial reaction of many to the doctrine preached by Elders Stearns and Marshall. „Having always supposed that religion consisted in nothing more than the practice of its outward duties, they could not comprehend how it should be necessary to feel conviction and conversion. But to be able to ascertain the time and place of one’s conviction and conversion was, in their estimation, wonderful indeed. These points were all strenuously contended for by the new preachers.”
David Benedict, quoting Semple, in his history of the Baptists of America offers additional insight into the doctrine of the Separate Baptists. He wrote, „Mr. Stearns and most of the Separates had strong faith in the immediate teachings of the Spirit. They believed that to those who sought him earnestly, God often gave evident tokens of his will. That such indications of the divine pleasure, partaking of the nature of inspiration, were above, though not contrary to reason, and that following these, still leaning in every step upon the same wisdom and power by which they were first actuated, they would inevitably be led to the accomplishment of the two great objects of a Christian life, the glory of God and the salvation of men.”
As has been noted, some have imagined Elders Stearns and Marshall were Arminian in their theology. In their efforts to claim a historical argument for their own position they assert Elders Stearns, Marshall and Burkitt were supporters of the missionary system. With this latter claim, they strain to make evangelical zeal a missionary system. Further, they incorrectly assume only Arminians embraced Fuller’s missionary scheme. This is not so. The Regular Baptists of the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations were enthusiastic in their support of the missionary movement.
Elders Stearns, Marshall and Burkitt all traveled extensively, and constituted numerous churches. But they did so under the Apostolic plan, „Go your ways; behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes; and salute no man by the way. And unto whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be unto this house.” (Luke 10:4-5) They did not pursue Fuller and Carey’s missionary schemes.
It is true these Elders traveled into new areas spreading the gospel; but, they did not rely upon missionary societies to define their fields of labor. They did not carry indoctrination tracts with them. And, they did not require a salary in order to travel. They responded to the leading influence of the Holy Spirit in determining their labors. They traveled by faith, relying upon God’s providence for food and shelter. This is the true pattern of evangelical liberty.
History will not support a notion that Stearns and Marshall were Arminians. Such assertions are universally void of documented evidence of their belief in Arminius’ theories. No church which they formed include Arminian statements of beliefs in their constitution. None of these churches were identified with Arminius until after 1776. However, original documents of churches constituted by Stearns and Marshall do exist, which attest to their belief in the doctrines of particular redemption and free grace.
Further, the testimony of eyewitness accounts confirm their love of the doctrines of election and predestination. Elder Burkitt, describes Stearns and Marshall together with the numerous elders they ordained as believers in the sovereign and free grace of God through election and predestination. His hardy endorsement and devoted affection to the labors of these two brethren is testimony as to their doctrinal orientation. He wanted fellowship with the churches they constituted. Would Elder Burkitt have desired fellowship with the Separates if they were free-will Baptists, after having just helped write primitive Articles of Faith for the Kehukee Association which denounce free-willism? Plentiful records of the warm and frequent fellowships between the churches of the Kehukee and the churches of the Separate Baptists are too great a witness of their common doctrinal sentiments. This witness is sealed with their amalgamation in 1789 as the United Baptist Association.
According to Elder Burkitt, Stearns and Marshall left the Congregational or Standing Order. Their removal from their former doctrinal sentiment, to primitive faith is well documented. It seems unlikely they would have abandoned the doctrines of election and predestination without somewhere leaving a record as to their reasons for departing from the doctrines of Grace and embracing Free-willism.
Robert Semple, Separate Baptist minister and historian was an eyewitness to many of the activities of the Separate Baptists (including divisions). As a Separate Baptist Elder who understood their doctrine, a man whose integrity remains to this day unchallenged, he must be considered the premiere and authoritative resource of Separate Baptist history. In his history of the Virginia Baptists, Elder Semple makes no statement, nor does he intimate, that the Separate Baptists were originally Arminians. He does observe that some were overcome with vanity and succumbed to Arminian sentiment. But he cites this occurring first in the 1770s, during the early days of the great revival. He informs us, „Some of the preachers, likewise, falling unhappily into the Arminian scheme, stirred up no small disputation, and thereby imperceptibly drove their opponents to the borders, if not within the lines of Antinomianism.” This statement clearly indicates the brethren of whom Elder Semple wrote abandon their original position, „falling unhappily in the Arminian scheme.”
Semple identifies 1775 as the first year Arminian sentiment came to public attention among the Separate Baptists of the Virginia Association. In response to a query concerning general atonement, a debate ensued. After two days of continuous discussion a vote was taken by the delegates and the Arminian position was defeated. However, in a spirit of toleration, a resolution was accomplished. Those holding to the original position of particular redemption offered to tolerate the presence of the minority promoting Arminianism, hoping the Lord would correct the error. They expressed their desire for continued fellowship in a short letter written to those holding the Arminian position.
Dear Brethren,- Inasmuch as a continuation of your Christian fellowship seems nearly as dear to us as our lives, and seeing our difficulties concerning your principles with respect to merit in the creature, particular election, and final perseverance of the saints, are in hopeful measure removing, we do willingly retain you in fellowship, not raising the least bar. But do heartily wish and pray that God, in His kind providence, in His own time will bring it about when Israel shall all be of one mind, speaking the same things.
Signed by Order.
„John Williams, Moderator.”
While the brotherly kindness and charity of those who so desired continued fellowship is greatly admired, one wonders if the tolerance of Arminius’ doctrine in their midst did not contribute to a greater loss of fellowship in the divisions of the 1800s.
In 1776 a split did occur over the Arminian question. At this session the introductory sermon was preached by John Walker, who took I Corinthians 13:11 as a text. According to Semple, Walker „had fully embraced the whole Arminian system, and was determined to preach it at every risk.” He was called before the Association for preaching unsound doctrine. Walker’s response was to withdraw from the Association together with all those who supported Arminianism. In Semple’s words they „immediately set up for independence.”
The Separate Baptists suffered from other doctrinal lapses. During the October 1774 session of the southern district of the Association a query was considered concerning the offices of the church. Using Ephesians 4:11-13 as proof text, the association agreed, almost unanimously, that the office of Apostle still existed. Without further discussion the delegates nominated and ordained, by laying on of hands, Elder Samuel Harris, as Christ’s apostle. It was thought this office served to oversee the faith and practice of the churches. Elder Harris’ authority was described as follows. „His work was to pervade the churches; to do, or at least to see to, the work of ordination, and to set in order things that were wanting, and to make report to the next Association.”
According to Elder Semple, subsequent discussion of the rash implementation of this office „caused no little warmth on both sides.” Fortunately, the Association’s error came to nought. Elder Harris never exercised his new authority. Upon reflection, at the next session of the Association, the act of creating a new apostolic office was rescinded. Elder Harris eventually succumbed to the temptations of Arminianism and left the Association.
The theology of Elders Stearns and Marshall is well documented. There is no doubt as to their doctrinal affections. They believed in election and predestination. This is apparent, from the constitutional statement of beliefs of Sandy Creek church, written by Elders Stearns.
While Sandy Creek Church, where Elder Shubal Sterns was pastor, did not have formal Articles of faith, the statement of beliefs contained in the church Covenant, written in 1756, testifies of the Old Baptist origin of their doctrine.
„Holding believers baptism; the laying on of hands; particular election of grace by the predestination of God in Christ; effectual calling by the Holy Ghost; free justification through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ; progressive sanctification through God’s grace and truth; and final perseverance, or continuance of the saints in grace; the resurrection of these bodies after death, at the day which God has appointed to judge the quick and dead by Jesus Christ, by the power of God and by the resurrection of Christ; and life everlasting. Amen.”
Though it was some years later before Sandy Creek formally adopted Articles of Faith, their simple statement of beliefs, contained in the original church covenant, is easily understood and a good statement of the doctrines of grace. Any orthodox Primitive Baptist Church can accept the doctrine of their covenant.
Prior to Sandy Creek adopting more formal Articles of Faith, the Georgia Association was constituted. It was composed, in part, by several churches which Daniel Marshall helped constitute, including Kiokee where he served as pastor until his death in 1784. Also, Elder Silas Mercer, formerly a member of Kehukee Church, in the Kehukee Association, was involved with the constitution of the Georgia Association. The Articles of Faith of this association are free grace and primitive in their doctrinal expressions. For instance, Article four of the Georgia Association Articles of Faith reads; „We believe in the everlasting love of God to his people, and the eternal election of a definite number of the human race, to grace and glory: And that there was a covenant of Grace or redemption made between the Father and the Son, before the world began, in which salvation is secure, and that they in particular are redeemed.” Article six further demonstrates Daniel Marshall believed in sovereign grace. „We believe that all those who were chosen in Christ, will be effectually called, regenerated, converted, sanctified, and supported by the spirit and power of God, so that they shall persevere in grace and not one of them be finally lost.”
In 1816 The Sandy Creek Association, in which Sandy Creek Church held membership, adopted formal Articles of Faith. The articles represent more detailed explanations of the statement of beliefs contained in the Church’s Covenant. Like the Georgia Association Articles, the Sandy Creek confession expresses the doctrinal tenets of free grace. Article four demonstrates this point. „We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.”
Lumpkin writes, „the Separate Baptists were unique among the Christian groups of the south. For a quarter of a century their distinctive outlook was to keep them aloof from other groups, including their Baptist neighbors who belonged to different traditions.” He describes their unique belief concerning regeneration. „Their teaching centered in individual conversion and regeneration. Conversion was seen as coming not usually through fellowship of a church or family but through a separate act of God upon the individual.”
It is not known why the Separates were initially opposed to written Articles of Faith, but their opposition is frequently noted by historians. If their stated reasons are the full explanation for the aversion, they show themselves to be committed to precisely the same principle of scriptural authority ascribed to the Old Baptists of Wales by Welsh Baptist preacher Howell Vaughn in the early 17th century. Their often stated reason for non-reliance on Articles of faith was the same as historian Jonathan Davis said of Elder Vaughn and the ancient Baptists of Olchon. „They would have order, and no confusion; the Word of God their only rule.”
Semple infers the Separate’s antipathy for the London Confession was because of the influence the document wielded. He notes the Separates opposed subordination of inspired scripture to uninspired works of men. In their first response to the Regulars’ application for uniting the two bodies, the Virginia Separate Baptists seemed to presume the Regulars were too attached to their confession. Semple’s assessment of their reluctance to promote written principles of faith is summarized with this excerpt. „They did not entirely approve of the practice of religious societies binding themselves too strictly by confessions of faith, seeing there was danger of their finally usurping too high a place.”
A discussion of the doctrine of the Separate Baptists must include some notice of their mode of delivering sermons. Semple provides a description of their preaching which is especially appreciated by those who yet rejoice to hear the doctrines of grace preached in power and demonstration of the Spirit of God. In portraying their preaching liberty, Semple paints a picture which is familiar to those who yet hold to the primitive faith.
But their manner of preaching was, if possible, much more novel than their doctrines. The Separates in New England had acquired a very warm and pathetic address, accompanied by strong gestures and a singular tone of voice. Being often deeply affected themselves while preaching, correspondent affections were felt by their pious hearers, which were frequently expressed by tears, trembling, shouts and acclamations. All these they brought with them into their new habitation. The people were greatly astonished, having never seen such things on this wise before. Many mocked, but, the power of God attending them, many also trembled.
The Separate Baptists practiced a heartfelt religion. Their preaching was warm and tender. During the preaching service, shouts of praise and weeping was often heard from the congregation.
The doctrine of the Separate Baptists was primitive. They believed in the immediate workings of the Holy Spirit. The immediate work of the Spirit precludes gospel preparation or instrumentality in regeneration or else the working of the Spirit is delayed until the preacher arrives. Immediacy of the Spirit eliminates works systems of all types, including evangelical efforts, for the purpose of the eternal salvation of sinners.
Though they were not antinomian, the Separate Baptists rejected the works system of the Arminians, who taught one must accept Christ to be saved. They also rejected the back door works system of the Calvinists, who taught that acceptance of Christ and obedience in baptism are the first and essential evidences that one is saved; and, that lacking these external evidences, it must be concluded that one is not saved. They believed in obedience to God, but not from a motive of producing evidences of grace in order to receive an intellectual assurance of eternal salvation. They understood that such convictions must originate in one’s soul, by faith. There is no righteousness in the works of a law service, whether through the front door or back. Their motive for obedience was love of God. As those embraced in his Covenant of Grace, their obedience and good works were evidences of grace, motivated by love alone, to the full assurance of a strong consolation by a hope in Christ Jesus.
The Kehukee Association
The first Baptist churches in North Carolina were Arminian General Baptist. They were organized principally as a result of the evangelizing efforts of Elders Paul Palmer and Joseph Smith. In his book, A Concise History of the Kehukee Baptist Association, Elder Lemuel Burkitt lists several churches in North Carolina which were originally founded on the Arminian plan of the General Baptists. They included the churches at Tosniot, Kehukee, Falls at Tar River, Fishing Creek, Reedy Creek, Sandy Run and Camden County. He notes of these churches, „They preached and adhered to the Arminian, or Free-will doctrines, and their churches were first established upon this system.” Further, Elder Burkitt notes these early churches were composed of any who believed in baptism by immersion. „They gathered churches without requiring an experience of grace previous to their baptism; but baptize all who believed in the doctrine of baptism by immersion, and requested baptism of them.”
While this may seem very strange to us, it must be remembered that all the established churches, from which most people joined the Baptists, practiced pedobaptism. Pedobaptism does not require an experience of grace prior to baptism. The Calvinist Presbyterians and Congregationalists along with the Anglicans, all baptized unbelievers. When, Palmer and Smith came into North Carolina, they did likewise except they baptized by immersion.
These churches continued with their Arminian plan for several years until Elders Van Horn and Miller from the Philadelphia Association arrived preaching Calvin’s theology. By the preaching of these two Elders many members of the General Baptist churches were converted to Calvinism. However, Elder Burkitt notes of these brethren what Jonathan Davis noted of the Welch reformers, Wroth, Erbury and Powell; they were not converted enough. The churches retained members baptized before they had an experience of grace. Some of those so retained asserted they had received baptism in the hope of being saved.
Seven churches formally organized themselves into the Kehukee Association of Regular Baptists in 1765, adopting Keach’s Philadelphia version of the 1689 London Confession as their Articles of Faith. They established formal correspondence with the Charleston Association. They held no fellowship or formal visitation with the Separate Baptists in the area.
Noting the rapid increase of the Separate Baptists in North Carolina and Virginia, the Association sent Elders Jonathan Thomas and John Meglamre to the 1772 session of the Virginia Separate Baptist Association for the purpose of establishing correspondence. The Separate Baptists agreed to consider the possibility of fellowship and sent Elders Elijah Craig and David Thompson to the Kehukee Association held later that year. After investigating their order, the delegates found the Kehukee in disorder and returned to Virginia with a recommendation that the Separates withhold recognition and fellowship.
Elder Sylvester Hassell notes the Separates initial rejection of the Regulars’ overtures of fellowship. „These Separates objected to the Regular or Kehukee Baptists in the following particulars: 1. Because they did not require strictly from those who applied for baptism an experience of grace. 2. Because they held members in their churches who acknowledged they were baptized before conversion. 3. Because they indulged too much in superfluity of apparel. There were other objections of minor importance. The most forcible objection of all appeared to be the retention of members who had been baptized in unbelief; and this was admitted on the part of the Regulars to be wrong; on which account several of their churches sought to correct it, by requiring all such of their members be baptized. This course gave offense to some other churches, who opposed the reformation; and, as a consequence, the churches at an Association held at Falls of Tar River, in October, 1775, divided; a part of them holding their session in the house, and the others in the woods, both claiming to be the Kehukee Association.”
The first and second objections proved to be of greatest concern to the Kehukee brethren. According to Elder Burkitt, the issue of unconverted members was a carryover from their General Baptist days. As already noted, during that time, people were accepted for baptism and church membership without concern as to whether or not they had any spiritual evidence of a prior work of grace. Although they later came to be Regular Baptists, some members admitted they originally requested baptism as General Baptists with the hope they would be saved.
Apparently Elders Van Horn and Miller, the Regular Baptist ministers from the Philadelphia Association who converted these churches, felt that General Baptist baptisms were acceptable for membership in Regular Baptist Churches. This suggests their support of a principle of open membership. When the General Baptists were converted from the Arminian plan to Calvin’s plan, becoming Regular Baptists, there is no evidence their baptisms were investigated though performed by authority of the Arminian plan. In his history of the Kehukee, Elder Burkitt never raises the issue of rebaptism. Since he is very specific as to the details of the Kehukee’s transformation from Arminianism to Calvinism, had these brethren been rebaptized, it seems reasonable Elder Burkitt would have included this fact. Also, both Elders Burkitt and Hassell use language in their respective accounts which indicates they were not.
From this mid-eighteenth century episode, together with the Philadelphia Association’s 1806 acceptance of „Tunker Universalist” baptisms, it may be assumed the Regulars recognized other denomination’s baptismal authority as long as it was by immersion. It is evident from their confession that they required believers baptism in principle; however, it appears even at this early date, their practice of this tenet was lax.
The wording of the Separates first objection suggests that at the time the objection was raised the Kehukee Churches were still lax about investigating a candidate’s condition of grace before they administered baptism. This was a serious charge, but one Elder Burkitt did not deny. In fact, his subsequent statements and actions suggest that he agreed with the Separates. This would explain why the charge is leveled against the Kehukee churches as a present error. This error later brought great agony to the Kehukee brethren. Some ministers said they were baptized, ordained and had baptized others before having a true experience of grace themselves. Some members said they were baptized with the hope of getting saved. This was in keeping with the Arminian plan of offering salvation to all who said they believed. People fearing the fires of hell were willing to believe if believing would save them. Thus, they stated their belief in Christ and were baptized, yet without a true work of grace in their souls. This also was in keeping with the practices of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist Calvinists who practiced pedobaptism and had a remnant of their membership they termed „inferior members,” people baptized as infants who yet did not possess evidences of grace.
A brief discussion concerning this matter must be injected. The idea of having members who were baptized without a personal experience of grace seems strange indeed today. However, in the eighteenth century religious affiliation was compulsory both by law and as a strong cultural more. Because of this, it is reasonable to accept at face value the numerous statements made by writers of that day as to the presence of false professors. People had certain beliefs about God because belief in God was mandated both by society as law and culturally as acceptable behavior. However, in reprobates this belief was not heartfelt. It was the natural belief Paul spoke of in Romans 1:19-20. Natural belief in God was strengthened by the existence of mandated religion which resulted in people with no experience of grace receiving extensive instruction in the gospel. Natural belief was also sustained in the fact that most institutes of learning were operated by churches. Because of the societal norm of belief in God, reprobates believed He existed, were concerned with the thought of going to hell, and, therefore, professed religion to avoid it.
Such is not the case today. Today, reprobates are simply unbelievers, rather than false professors. Today, People who have no faith also have little natural belief about God. Twentieth century society is absent enforced societal norms concerning God and generally void of strong mores which might serve to promote strict belief in God by society as a whole. Society has degenerated to the conclusion of Paul’s description of reprobates in Romans 1:21-32. Therefore reprobates no longer possess significant natural understanding about God because they are not compelled to do so. Thus, they also do not feel compelled to make false professions to avoid final judgement, because they do not believe in a final judgement.
It is presumed the rigid legalism of Calvinism may have lent itself to compelling unregenerates to a conjured belief. This was complimented by a societal fiat of exposure to gospel instruction. Such a circumstance could have perpetuated the problem of unbelievers baptism even after the Kehukee churches adopted Calvin’s theology.
With a back door works system of „fruit inspection,” which judges people’s salvation based solely upon external practice, Calvinism places limited emphasis on the need for a heartfelt religion. It is not that the Regular Baptists rejected the notion of a heartfelt experience; however, the practices of Calvinist legalism tends to obscure such experiences. Without heartfelt religion, these brethren were forced to focus solely on manifestations of obedience which they interpreted as acts of righteousness. Thus, people were lead to a mistaken assumption that works alone were reliable indicators of unmistakable and irrefutable evidences of grace.
Baptism was one such work. Calvinist ministers spoke of obedience in baptism both as an evidence and requirement of salvation. Their doctrine of gospel instrumentality insisted that regeneration was accomplished in concert with hearing the gospel; and, their doctrine of strict perseverance mandated baptism as the first act after regeneration. The partnership of these tenets convinced people that all true believers are baptized; and, if one is not baptized, he is not saved because he lacks the first evidence of salvation. Thus, even after the Arminian plan was set aside, people who were void of a heartfelt work of grace evidently continued to present themselves for baptism to fulfill the first requisite and manifest the first evidence of salvation. They were baptized not to get saved; rather, they were baptized to prove to themselves and others they were saved. Though this is a distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism relative to gospel instrumentality, it arrives at the same conclusion, unsaved church members. In practice, most people were unable to make a distinction. This is why unbelievers baptism continued to be a problem even after the Kehukee churches transformed from Arminianism to Calvinism.
This problem was not particular to the Kehukee Association. In 1753, in response to a query from Kingswood Church regarding the necessity of an assurance of faith prior to baptism, the Philadelphia Association responded as follows. „It appears to us, both from scripture and experience, that true saving faith may subsist where there is not assurance of faith. Therefore, in answer to the second query, That a person sound in judgment, professing his faith of reliance on Christ for mercy and salvation, accompanied with a gospel conversation, ought to be baptized.” This statement seems to indicate the Philadelphia Particular Baptists were also suffering from the logical consequence of Calvinist legalism, which quenches the spirit. Thus, spiritual motivations of rational outward expressions of the spirit such as weeping, shouts of praise, joyous countenance, and peace are lost. Simply stated, in general, their religion was not heartfelt.
Void of heartfelt religion, the Calvinist Regular Baptists were forced to view only works as evidences of grace. They encouraged people to be baptized even if they did not feel the assurance recieved by the witness of the divine indwelling of the Spirit. They reasoned that baptism, as a response to the need for assurance of salvation, indicated salvation. The theology of Calvin placed the Regulars in the awkward circumstance of accepting people for baptism despite their inability to profess an immediate experience of grace or some experiential evidence of God’s indwelling.
This was not acceptable to the Separate Baptists who practiced a heart felt religion. Their scriptural searching and own experiences taught that the effects of regeneration on the soul was felt throughout the newly born again. They would not accept people for baptism who could not express a faithful hope of assurance, that they felt the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost dwelling urging their obedience to baptism. (This is precisely the issue of Covenant of Works verses Covenant of Grace which greeted Elder John Clarke when he arrived in Boston in 1637).
When the Separates came along, preaching a gospel of heartfelt religion which stirred believers souls and compelled them to weep and shout with joy, the Kehukee Particular Baptists were astonished. Such displays of religious fervor were unknown to the Regular Baptists. However, when they saw the effect of such preaching and fellowship, and the great revival God was accomplishing through the Separate Baptists, they could not deny its validity. When the Separates pointed out the effect of the Regulars’ Calvinist legal system of belief and salvation, the Kehukee brethren could not ignore their criticisms. They evidently had members among them who lacked an experience of grace, which was the logical conclusion of both their Arminian and Calvinist theologies.
The lax practices of the Regular Baptists concerning heartfelt expressions of belief and hope in Christ, as an evidence of grace prior to baptism, and retaining members who could not honestly make such a statement caused a division in the association. The Separate’s criticisms forced the Regular churches to examine their doctrine and practice. Evidently some churches were not satisfied with what they found. Three of the churches in the association adopted a declaration of withdrawal against „every brother that walked disorderly.” Stating their motive, Elder Burkitt wrote, „we were under very great impressions to begin a reformation of the churches.” The association, and one church, split.
The churches which resisted reformation, holding to their original plan of baptism, were Tosniot, Fishing Creek, Reedy Creek, and part of Falls at Tar River. Their Elders were John Moore, Charles Daniel, William Burges, and Thomas Daniel.
Reformation of the Kehukee Association
Reformation of the Kehukee occurred in 1777. The Separates, who first identified their problems, helped in the reformation. Among the cadre of ministers of the Kehukee only Elders John Meglamre, David Barrow and Lemuel Burkitt originally supported reformation. However, owing to these brethren’s sincere desire to put the cause of Christ ahead of man’s desires, the Separates lent their support. Four Separate Baptist Churches joined the reformed Kehukee Association.
In all, ten churches gathered at Sussex Meeting house in August, 1777, to reform the Kehukee Association. The six Regular Baptist churches of this union were; Bertie, Elder Lemuel Burkitt, Pastor; Sussex, Elder John Meglamre, pastor; Brunswick, Elder Zachary Thompson, pastor; Isle of Wight, Elder David Barrow, pastor; Chowan, no pastor listed; and Granville, Elder Henry Ledbetter, pastor. The Separate Baptists Churches included; Bute, Elder Joshua Kelly, pastor; Sussex, Elder James Bell, pastor; Rocky Swamp, Elder Jesse Read, Pastor; and Edgecombe, Elder John Tanner, pastor.
It is interesting to note Elder Burkitt supplies a very general explanation as to why a new Confession was adopted. His explanation is pointedly absent any reason why the Philadelphia Confession was not retained. However, he references the Separates concern as to the orthodoxy of some of the Regular Baptists. Further, it is clear from the new Kehukee Confession of Faith and the Sandy Creek Church statement of beliefs, together with the Sandy Creek Confession of Faith of 1816, the Separate Baptist brethren did not hold to some of Calvin’s theories. Elder Burkitt’s complete explanation for the new Confession is as follows.
1. Some of them were churches that claimed a prerogatives [sic.] of being the Kehukee Association, that never had departed from their original principles; therefore in order to convince the other churches and the world at large, that they still held the same faith and order they were at first established on, it was necessary to present to this Association, and make public, the confession of faith.2. As some of these churches which at this time were about to unite in the Association with us, had never before been members, it was necessary they should present a confession of their faith, that it might be known whether we all agreed in principles or not.
This statement is a little confusing since it does not explain why the association dropped the London Confession and adopted their own. Also, it seems to indicate that certain churches refused to acknowledge their past irregularities of faith and practice. Further, none of the Regular Baptist Churches were holding to their original principles of faith since originally they were Arminians.
What may be concluded from the statement together with the fact of adoption of the new confession is the new Confession of Faith is an accurate representation of what the brethren of the Reformed Kehukee Association believed. Further, The Kehukee brethren made a conscience decision to drop the London Confession in 1777. That is fact. They did so as part of a reformation of their churches. That is fact. The Separates who joined the Association did not reform, as their criticisms of the Regular Baptists prompted the reformation. That is fact. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude the Kehukees reformed their doctrine and practice to conform to the doctrine and practice of the Separate Baptists.
Further, the first article of Elder Burkitt’s statement tends to intimate a bit of a contentious attitude in some of the Kehukee Churches. He was evidently speaking of churches which wished to reform with the Kehukee, but claimed they were orthodox as the original Kehukee. This is an extraordinary situation. They refused to admit they had erroneous practice, but desired to join in a reformation with sister churches who freely admitted the original Kehukee was disorderly. If this is what Elder Burkitt is alluding to, it is understandable that the Separates were suspicious of these churches’ soundness. Perhaps the phrase, „to convince other churches” refers to a need for some of the Kehukee Regular churches to allay the suspicions of the Separate Baptist Churches, as well as the properly reformed Kehukee churches.
Perhaps since Elder Burkitt’s book was contemporary and because he had come out from the Regular Baptists where he, no doubt, had many friends, he felt it the better part of expediency to avoid specific discussions of the reasons the Kehukee adopted a new Confession of Faith. Whatever the reasons, the effect of their action was far reaching. Today all orthodox Primitive Baptist Churches have long since abandoned the London Confession.
In 1787 the Lord allowed the Separates and Regulars of Virginia to effect recognition and fellowship. These two groups, which were very similar in doctrine and practice, were allowed to set aside differences and join in a unity of fellowship.
The 1789 general union of the Separate Baptists and Regular Baptists of North Carolina occurred after many years of only limited fellowship. The reformed Kehukee finally agreed to unite with their former Regular brethren. Although a small fellowship had taken place in 1777, the larger body of Separate Baptists remained distant from the Regulars.
In 1785 the Association appointed a committee to work out a plan to combine all the Regulars and Separates in the area. The committee returned the following year with a recommendation that the association propose fellowship with the Separates based upon common beliefs plus a statement of three of principles concerning baptism. The principles were:
1. We think that none but believers in Christ have a right to the ordinance of baptism; therefore, we will not hold communion with those who plea for the validity of baptism in unbelief.
2. We leave every church member to decide for himself whether he has been baptized in unbelief or not.
3. We leave every minister at liberty to baptize, or not, such person as desires to be baptized, being scrupulous about their former baptism.
With the issue of believer’s baptism squarely addressed, the Separates and Regulars agreed to join in a broader fellowship. A union between the two groups was formerly agreed to on October 10, 1789. The Association passed a resolution they titled A Plan or Constitution of the United Baptist Association, Formerly Called the Kehukee Association. The Union included the ten churches of the Reformed Kehukee, and several Regular Baptist Churches, including some which had dissented from the reformation of the Association in 1777. In all, fifty-two churches joined the new United Baptist Association. Further, the union established fellowship with the numerous Separate Baptist Churches throughout Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. It is from this nucleus of churches in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina, that most modern Primitive Baptist Churches branched or descended.
It is interesting to note, it was not until after the Kehukee Association united that the spiritual revival of the Great Awakening reached them with full force, and even then it was twelve years after their union. Twelve is a number with ecclesiastic significance, representing completeness. There are three significant events in the history of the Kehukee Association which are each divided by twelve years. In 1777 the Kehukee reformed, purging itself of the error of unbelievers baptism. Twelve years later, in 1789, they established a united fellowship with their former sister churches and the larger body of Separate Baptist churches. Twelve years later they began an era of tremendous revival, beginning in 1801.
Since their original constitution in 1765 the churches of the Kehukee had complained of spiritual coldness. Their distress was so great they formally adopted resolutions to petition God for revival. Their first resolution called for a day of fasting and prayer each month. The second resolution called for each member of the Association to pray simultaneously every day for revival. Their last resolution called upon each church to meet for a day of prayer once each month. They noted there was to be no preaching or exhortation and that each man could pray no more than thirty-minutes.
Elder Burkitt documents complaints of coldness from the churches, concerning their spiritual conditions. With an air of disappointment he included the following notations in his book, concerning the lack of revival and in-gathering. „There were but few added by baptism for several years. In 1798, only fifteen members were added in all the churches. In 1790, there were four hundred and forty-six baptized. In 1791, ninety-nine. In 1792, one hundred and ninety-two. In 1794, fifty-seven. In 1795, only nineteen. In 1796, only thirty-three. In 1797, thirteen. In 1798, forty-three. In 1799, seventy-two. In 1800, one hundred and twenty-nine. In 1801, one hundred and thirty-eight were returned in the letters from the churches to the Association. Thus the work progressed but slowly, but there always appeared some worthy characters in every church sensible of the coldness of religion, and at almost every Association would be devising some ways and means to bring on a revival.”
All this time the Lord was preparing the Kehukee brethren for revival. He had already sent the Separate Baptists into their midst. He showed them errors in faith and practice which required correction. He allowed their leaders to place the cause ahead of popular sentiment, even at the risk of division. He gave them an ancient and orthodox creed to adopt as their Articles of Faith. He allowed them to grow in knowledge and understanding for twelve years until they were able to help their former sister Regular Baptist churches correct the same errors. He gave them twelve more years to grow spiritually in grace, in order to be mature sufficiently for the tremendous revival he was to effect. When they were knowledgeable enough in the doctrines or grace, their walk obedient enough, and they were spiritually mature enough, the Lord sent revival.
According to Elder Burkitt the full impact of revival reached the Kehukee Association in 1801. Upon his return from a preaching trip, he announced publicly the churches in Kentucky alone had baptized six thousand in the previous eight months. Elder Burkitt’s announcement created a profound stirring within the members of the Association. Of the 1801 session of the Kehukee he notes, „Such a Kehukee Association we had never before seen. The ministers all seemed alive in the work of the Lord, and every Christian present in rapturous desire was ready to cry, „Thy kingdom come.” The ministers and delegates carried the sacred flame home to their churches, and the fire began to kindle in the greatest part of the churches, and the work increased.”
Elder Burkitt continues his description of this revival, noting that preachers were liberated to preach with divine power and demonstration of the Spirit of God, as had never been experienced before. „The word preached was attended with such a divine power that some meetings two or three hundred would be in floods of tears, and many crying out loudly, „What shall we do to be saved?” He continues, „Old Christians were so revived they were all on fire to see their neighbors, their neighbors’ children and their own families so much engaged. Many backsliders who had been runaway for many years, returned weeping home. The ministers seemed all united in love, and no strife nor contention amongst them, and they all appeared to be engaged to carry on the work, and did not seem to care whose labors were most blessed so the work went on; and none seemed desirous to take the glory of it to themselves, which ought carefully to be observed.”
Acknowledging the effect of spiritual revival, Elder Burkitt describes numerous instances of conversions. „The work increasing, many were converted, and they began to join the churches. In some churches where they had not received a member by baptism for a year or two, would now frequently receive at almost every conference meeting, several members. Sometimes twelve, fourteen, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-four at several times in one day. Twenty-two and twenty-four were baptized several times at Flat Swamp, Cashie, Parker’s meeting-house, Fishing Creek, Falls at Tar River, etc. Some of the churches of the revival received nearly two-hundred members each. In four churches lying between Roanoke and Meherrin Rivers, in Bertie, Northampton, and Hartford counties, were baptized in two years about six hundred members.”
Succession to the Twentieth Century
Those who have traced the Kehukee, Virginia, Philadelphia, Charleston and other former Regular Baptist Associations are aware these bodies realized significant changes in both faith and practice since 1789. Indeed, most of the original Regular Baptist Associations no longer exist. In the mission/anti-mission divisions of the nineteenth century, churches from all of these associations gained new identities. Some few remained Regular Baptists, fully embracing the inventions of Fuller and Carey while retaining their Calvinist theology. In 1900 they became known formally as Landmark Baptists and are members of the American Baptist Association. However, it must be noted these brethren also experienced divisions; and today, not all who call themselves Landmark Baptists are Calvinists in their theology.
Some few churches in America are yet called Particular or Strict Baptists. Their affiliation is with the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists in England.
Many of the Regulars made a complete transformation once exposed to the heady self-flattery of the missionary scheme. They could no longer be satisfied with saving elect souls and demanded an opportunity to save all souls. They abandoned Calvin’s theology and, with missionaryism as their creed, joined in union with the General Baptists, subdividing into numerous Baptist Conferences, Unions and Societies.
Those who truly loved the doctrines of grace were more perfectly instructed. Over several decades they came to accept the truth of man’s depravity and God’s grace. They realized man can do nothing before he is born again to save himself, including receiving gracious visitation and implantation of a saving faith prior to actual regeneration. They rejected Calvin’s notions of saving faith gospel instrumentality in regeneration. They came to realize that faith is not one of the fruits of the Spirit; but rather, is one of nine elements of the single fruit of the Spirit. As such it cannot precede Spiritual indwelling in the child or God. They embraced the Old, primitive Baptist creed, which is the word of God, the only rule of faith and practice. They joined or affiliated themselves with churches whose unbroken succession of authorized baptism and true faith is traced back to Christ. In so doing, forefathers settled on an old name as their new name, Primitive Baptists.
Most Primitive Baptist churches in existence today can trace their origins back through the Kehukee, Virginia, or Georgia Associations; or, through some other church in the area, constituted through the efforts of Shubal Stearns, Daniel Marshall, or the small army of evangelical elders they ordained. From these numerous Churches, successions reach England in one of two ways. Those who so desire, may claim succession through the Particular or, Regular Baptists, who joined union with the Separate Baptists. This path proceeds back to England through the Churches of the Philadelphia, Charleston, New York or other Particular Baptist Associations. It leads back to the represented churches of the 1689 and 1644 London Confessions, It proceeds back to John Batte and the Rwynsburg Mennonites. It continues through Walter Reynard (Lollard) to the Waldensians. It moves back to Polycarp, then John and finally the Savior.
Those who choose the Welch succession trace their primitive Baptist heritage through Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall. They follow it to Elder Valentine Wightman, Obadiah Holmes and Dr. John Clarke. It goes back through the Midland Association of 1655 prior to embracing Fuller’s errors of Calvinist gospel instrumentality. It reaches back to Elder Edward Wightman of Burton, in the Midlands in 1612, whose preaching so inflamed Anglican clergy they burned him at the stake. It traces from this brother back to the ancient mother Church at Olchon, who claims her origin in the era of the Apostle Paul and the apostolic church in first century Rome, finally, back to the Savior in Jerusalem.
The word fitly spoken by the Savior, which he gave to the Apostle Paul, was passed to Pudence, Bran Fendigaid and other noble Welshman. It was passed to martyred Alban, Aaron and Julius whom the Welsh pagan worshippers slew. It was passed to Dyfrig who withstood the Papist Austin and was slain with twelve hundred of his yoke fellows in 600 A.D. in the Vale of Carleon. It was preached by Dynawl, Tailo, Pawlin, Daniel and David. It was preached in fellowship with Walter Lollard. Sir John Oldcastle preached the same words of Christ, as flames licked his body. He passed the word to Walter Brute. It passed to Howell Vaughn and Edward Wightman. It was passed to Daniel King, John Mayo and others of the Midland Association. It passed to John Clarke and Valentine Wightman. It passed to Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall. It was passed to the one-hundred twenty-five elders they ordained. It was passed to Elders Lemuel Burkitt, John Maglamre, Nathan Mayo and others of the Kehukee brethren.
From there it spread across America. It is the doctrine Elder Richard Curtis Jr. preached in Mississippi in 1791. It is the faith which Elder Wilson Thompson preached all his life and passed to his son Elder Greg Thompson. It is the doctrine they both used with great spirit and skill as they refuted the arguments of gospel means in the mid 1800s. It was preached by Elders Lee Hanks, Achilles Coffey, John R. Daily, Walter Evans, S. F. Cayce, G. T. Mayo, J. G. Webb, S. F. Moore, Walter Cash and T. L. Webb. It is the doctrine so ably explained in the notes of the Fulton Convention of 1900. It is this same faith which is preached from Primitive Baptist pulpits today.
There is a great need for revival in the church today. She is under attack, and Satan is using his most subtle and effective weapons. We all seek spiritual revival. However, conforming ourselves to the teachings of Protestant reformers is not the answer. It was not the answer for Olchon, the Midland Churches, the Separates or the Kehukee brethren. Calvin, Owens, and Edwards or even Philpot or Spurgeon are not our role models. They were all men who served God as they felt impressed in their hearts. Our true role models are first, Jesus Christ, next the apostles, next the first century church and then New Testament saints such as Stephen, Timothy, Cornelius, Pricilla and Eunice. The relevance of their service is defined in scripture. We are not forced to wonder about their motives and activities. They are all defined examples. No such well defined role models have existed since, because the accounts of later saints were not penned by divine inspiration.
The true creed of Primitive Baptist doctrine and practice is not contained in uninspired articles of faith. Our standard for belief is the inspired word of God, the Bible. We must not succumb to the wiles of Satan in our efforts to claim God’s elect into the church or to reclaim backsliding members. The self-defined doctrines of hyper-legality will never effect true revival. Throughout history, beginning with the Pharisees of Jesus Christ’s day, such theories have always fallen by the way. Devices of men do not glorify God and therefore have never effected true revival.
True revival can occur. But it will occur only after we, as a people, humble ourselves before God in prayer, begging his forgiveness for our sins of negligence and idolatry. He will then give us spirits of repentance which will focus our minds and lives upon our complete dependence in his gracious providence. When we return to the narrow path walked by the Savior and martyred saints who gave all in their pursuit of godly righteousness, God will send others to walk with us.
The false religion of rigidly enforced ethical creeds will never effect true revival. Only when true gospel is coupled with the godly righteousness of true religion, which is in Christ Jesus, will God so bless us. The obedient walks of the saints of God will provide examples to those who long in their souls to be delivered from the bondage of corruption of their carnal existence. The gospel will explain the good news of salvation by the sovereign grace of God and give occasion to joy and peace. It will reveal the narrow pathway of true Christian discipleship. When we, as members of Christ’s church, conform the walks of our lives to Christ Jesus by the transforming of our minds away from worldly charms, then God will send revival. But first, we must humble ourselves and beg God’s forgiveness. When our minds are spiritual enough and our lives obedient enough God will send revival.
We may take a lesson from our seventeenth century brethren. When differences arose, their desire was to serve God in any way, even in disagreement. Personal attacks were few. Brethren looked for areas of agreement. Error was tolerated while labor was extended. Everyone benefitted from manifestations of godly affections. The Lord sent revival.
Though brethren sometimes did not agree, they continued to communicate in a spirit of brotherly love. When common ground could be found they quickly met there and served their creator, arm-in-arm. Contention ebbed. Satan’s influence diminished. In this environment of brotherhood and godly affection hearts melted and correction was the result. By the mercies of God’s love, his providence allowed brethren to realize they loved God more than self. They laid aside, what was for some, centuries of doctrinal heritage and declared as had the Midland Brethren „the word of God, our only rule.” Love abounded and led the charge. Order pursued and soon prevailed. The Church was edified, seen as a Bride adorned for her husband. The song of the turtle dove was heard, and peace ruled the day. The glorious Lord was seen walking among his candlesticks. The morning of revival dawned.
PART THREE : Historic Confessions of Faith
Three Primitive Baptist Confessions of Faith
Previously, we have offered a brief discussion of the Particular Baptists’ 1644 and 1689 London Confessions. In particular, the discussion identified the striking similarities of the Presbyterian 1646 Westminster Confession and the 1689 London Confession. The detail and scope of their correspondence forces us to conclude that the London Confession is a slightly modified version of the older Presbyterian creed. We have offered several possibilities as to why the Particular Baptists used the Westminster Confession as a model for their Confession.
We will now attempt to survey three Baptist statements of belief which bear little resemblance to either the London or Westminster Confessions. The scope of diversity of these confessions, from those mentioned above, includes language style, detail, breadth of subject matter and theological content.
Three Confessions of Faith warrant special consideration as principle statements of primitive Baptist orthodoxy. They are the 1655 Midland Association Confession of Faith, the 1777 Reformed Kehukee Association Articles of Faith, and the 1816 Sandy Creek Association Principles of Faith. Their importance is both theological and historical. Their theological significance is found in both what they say, and what they do not say as compared to the better known London and Philadelphia Confessions of Faith. Beyond their theological content as compared and contrasted to those confessions, of paramount importance are their contents relative to scriptural validation.
The historical importance of these Confessions rests with the issue of succession. They provide a view of what our forefathers believed. Considering their similarities and differences allows us to determine the degree of mutual belief which their authors held with one another and also, which we hold with them. Historically they allow us to determine if they held the faith once delivered to the saints. Of course, this determination is not made in a vacuum. Historical succession is always and primarily considered in the context of scriptural validation of the essential principles of faith. If we all believe the same doctrine, and it is erroneous, we may in fact possess a line of succession but it is not an unbroken line back to Christ.
A small liberty is taken in calling these three Confessions Primitive Baptist Confessions of Faith. In so doing I disclose my slight prejudice. However, I believe this liberty is both accurate and merited. It is accurate, as we shall see, because the essential principles contained in each confession are primitive in their origin, which is Holy Scripture, and because they accurately define the principles of faith held by contemporary Primitive Baptists. Each Confession accurately describes the essential faith which was one time delivered to our ancient brethren.
Associating the Primitive Baptist name with these Confessions is merited for the purposes of distinction and succession. While it is not claimed that they are standards for subsequent Articles of Faith, they do function quite well as landmarks. The model or standard for Confessions of Faith must be scripture. However, it is quite beneficial to call up old confessions from centuries past and make comparisons. They tell us if we have strayed from the doctrinal tenets of our theological ancestry. When agreement is found, evidence of continuous succession of these truths is also found. Succession of truth is an identifying principle of the true church, since her doctrine and practice is derived from the faith which was once (one time) delivered to the saints of God.
The purpose of examining these three Confessions is twofold. First, individual analysis allows exploration into what brethren of their day believed, how they expressed it, and when applicable, what issues of faith or practice were exigent at the time. Second, a comparative analysis is made to explore both similarities and differences in the three Confessions. From this, assumptions may be pursued as to the influence these earlier Confessions may have had on subsequent statements of belief.
1655 Midland Confession of Faith
The Midland Confession of Faith was written in preparation for an Associational union of seven churches in the Midlands of England. The document was prepared in May, 1655 at a gathering of delegates which met at Warwick. It was returned to the seven churches for discussion and ratification. On June 26, 1655 the Midland Association was formally constituted at Moreton. The Confession was adopted as a formal statement of the commonly held beliefs of the Midland churches.
Many Baptists in this area were Arminians of the General Baptist Assembly. Also, the Midlands was an area of intense proselyting activity by George Fox and the Quakers. In part, this serves to explain the polemic tone of this confession. It was intended not only to define the essential beliefs held by the Midland churches, but also to function as an instructional tool to ward off error by anticipating the contradictions of the General Baptists and Quakers.
The Elders of the Midland Association were mostly working men. None were seminary graduates. None were former Anglican Bishops, so they did not considered themselves reformed or reformers. They were farmers, weavers, millers etc.. These were men who believed their calling and qualification, as ministers of the gospel, were from God. These facts are significant when considering both the existence and content of their Confession.
Lacking formal educations, and as busy working men, it is reasonable to assume these brethren would have adopted the 1644 London Confession as an expression of their beliefs had they fully agreed with its content. The London document was written by more educated men, some of which were former Anglican Bishops with formal theological training. Their busy lives made the London Confession a convenient credential. However, they chose not to take full advantage of the London document.
Elder Benjamin Cox, pastor of Abington Church in London, was invited to participate in writing the Midland Confession. Elder Cox had previously expressed dissatisfaction with the 1644 London Confession. In 1646 he attended the London General Conference submitting a list of twenty-two additions and corrections for consideration. His appendix was not officially endorsed by the conference. However, it is preserved and was reprinted in 1981 as an appendix to the 1646 edition of the London Confession.
Certain similarities in phrases are seen in the Midland Confession and the 1644 London Confession. No doubt this represents the influence of Elder Cox. However, his most significant contribution to the Midland Confession lies in its opposition to Arminian theories.
Elder Cox’s appendix is mostly a polemic response to Arminian Free-willism. In this regard, his efforts to address the errors of Arminius were exactly what the Midland brethren desired. The growing numbers of Arminian Baptist churches was a concern to these brethren. Elder Cox efforts demonstrated his ability to nullify their most persuasive arguments. In this regard, his skills proved very beneficial to the Midland churches.
Elder Daniel King, one of the principle organizers of the Midland Association, was also probably familiar with the London Confession. In 1650 he wrote a book titled A Way to Sion, which was endorsed by four Elders from the London area. It is known that he retained contact with the London Churches during his ministry.
However, Elders Cox and King’s acquaintance with the London Confession serves to bolster the assertion that the Midland churches purposely distinguished themselves from the theological content of the London Confession. With two men in their midst having ready access and detailed knowledge of the London document, it seems reasonable the Midland brethren would have simply adopted the London Confession outright. At the least, they could have restated it in their own words had they considered it a reasonable expression of their beliefs.
Differences in the two documents are considerable. First, the language style is different. The Midland document uses a more concise style of expression. The London document is more comprehensive in subject matter than the Midland Confession. The Midland brethren stated their doctrine in sixteen articles rather than fifty-three.Further, the subject order is different. Only the first two articles, dealing with the identity and character of God, are in the same order. Unlike the London Confession, the Midland Confession does not include a discussion of God’s providence with the doctrine of Election. (This is article three in the London Confession). The London Confession omits any relationship between scriptural knowledge and time salvation.
The sentiment of Article twenty-four of the 1644 London is absent in the Midland Confession. Article Twenty-four: „Faith is ordinarily begotten by the preaching of the gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or agency in the creature; but it being wholly passive, and dead in trespasses and sins, doth believe and is converted by no less power than that which raised Christ from the dead.”
The order of this statement is unmistakable. It says faith is normally acquired by the preaching of the gospel. It continues by saying God does not respect any power or agency in the hearing creature, because the hearing creature is passive, being dead in trespasses and sins; upon hearing, the dead creature believes and is converted by the same power which raised Christ from the dead. The inference of this article cannot be denied. It is dealing with regeneration. The creature is dead in trespasses and sins. It is converted by the power that raised Christ from the dead. This conversion must be a conversion from death to life, since the analogy of Christ which is used is from death to life. Further, it notes the conversion is effected by the Spirit of God. Finally it plainly declares the gospel is the ordinary means for arranging belief, and that belief precedes conversion. It says God does not respect any agency in the creature. However, the article ascribes the gospel as an agency of belief to regeneration. The logical conclusion is: Without the gospel there is no faith and therefore no regeneration.
As we shall attempt to show in our commentary of article eight of the Midland Confession, these brethren did not accept that rational belief, or gospel faith, is a prerequisite of regeneration. They did not place gospel faith ahead of regeneration. This is a fundamental dissimilarity between these two documents. There is no statement of gospel instrumentality in the Midland Confession. Apparently Lumpkin, in assessing the two documents, missed this fundamental difference. However, with such a drastic distinction in theology, it is apparent why the Midland Brethren did not use the London Confession of 1644 as a statement of their beliefs.
The 1655 Midland Confession is a model for later Primitive Baptist Confessions. Its brevity and simple language is in contrast to the detail and linguistic intricacy of the London Confessions. Subsequent Primitive Baptist Confessions share the Midland brethren’s style of directness and simplicity.
The Confession was not written for the benefit of Parliaments and clergy. It was not dedicated to a king. It was written for the benefit of the membership and friends of the churches of the Midland Association. Its style fits the modest education of the farmers, laborers and merchants who comprised the churches’ memberships. It is a document which fathers and mothers were able to understand and to explain to their children, which neighbors could discuss with one another. Its simplicity served to make it an outline for scriptural study.
1st. We believe and profess, that there is only one true God, who is our God, who is eternal, almighty, unchangeable, infinite, and incomprehensible; who is a Spirit, having His being in Himself, and giveth being to all creatures; He doth what He will, in heaven and earth; working all things according to the counsel of His own will.
2nd. That this infinite Being is set forth to be the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three agree in one. I John v.7.
The first two articles are statements of the identity and attributes of God. They begin by establishing belief in his power and authority as Creator God. The identity of God as one true God and as the Trinity is defined.
The statement of the Trinity stops short of declaring the three are one, instead they say „these three agree in one.” This handling of the Godhead probably suggests that the concept of an omnipotent God who is three in one was so well understood and accepted it required little explanation.
3rd. We profess and believe the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testament, to be the word and revealed mind of God, which are able to make men wise unto Salvation, through faith and love which is in Christ Jesus; and that they are given by inspiration of God, serving to furnish the man of God for every good work; and by them we are (in the strength of Christ) to try all things whatsoever are brought to us, under the pretence of truth. II Timothy iii.15-17; Isaiah viii.20.
Article three reveals a belief in divine inspiration of the Bible. It also proclaims the sufficiency of scripture „to make man wise unto salvation.”
This article is a remarkable and distinct statement which demonstrates independent theological thinking. It expresses a distinctly Primitive Baptist tenet. It is the first Baptist confessional statement which plainly identifies God’s providential ministering as the bible doctrine of timely salvation. These brethren recognized that peace, joy, contentment, assurance, consolation and even rational believing are all dependent, in some degree, upon man’s obedience towards God’s will. They noted that wisdom based salvation is established in one’s faith and love in Christ. They associated the providential deliverance of this salvation to good works from a love motive, identifying scripture as the principle source for instruction in good works. With their last statement, concerning trying all things, they subscribed to a belief that scripture is the only rule of faith, practice, and daily living.
By identifying a salvation which is from God, revealed in scripture, understood through wisdom, received through scriptural discernment, applied by good works, all accomplished through faith and love in Christ, these brethren provided a detailed description of the contingent for God delivering providential blessings of temporal deliverance, which is time salvation.
The absence of a polemic attitude in this article and the skill with which it is simply stated suggests the Midland brethren were both established and comfortable with the theology of a temporal salvation of providential deliverance. They recognized that, to a very large extent, this deliverance, or temporal saving, is contingent upon obedience to God’s will. They understood that scriptures such as Philippians 2:12, Romans 1:16, II Corinthians 7:18, Philippians 1:19 and II Timothy 3:15 all reveal the principle of God’s providential salvation of His people.
4th. That though Adam was created righteous, yet he fell through the temptations of Satan; and his fall overthrew, not only himself, but his posterity, making them sinners by his disobedience; so that we are by nature children of wrath, and defiled from the womb, being shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin. Psalm ii.13; Romans v.12-15.
The origin of sin and man’s resultant depravity is stated in this article. The statement is short but inclusive. It identifies the culpability of Satan in the transgression as well as Adam’s position as the federal head of humanity. It contains a specific statement describing the nature of man in total depravity.
5th. That God elected and chose, in His Eternal counsel, some persons to life and salvation, before the foundation of the world, whom accordingly He doth and will effectually call, and whom He doth so call, He will certainly keep by His power, through faith to salvation. Acts xiii.48; Ephesians i.2-4; II Thessalonians ii.13; I Peter i.2, etc.
Article five marks a variance of the Midland brethren from classic Calvinism. Dealing with election, they identify God’s choice of, „some persons to life and salvation.” This statement is void of any suggestion of a double election, a concept which Calvin held. In his Institutes, Calvin presents a theory of predestination as the culmination of two elections by which God predestinates certain people to heaven and others to hell. He taught that God elected the Children of God to a predestination of heaven in the conformed image of Christ; and, elected the children of wrath to a predestination of reprobation and destruction in hell. Calvin supports his double election theory with deductive reasoning rather than scripture. He supposes that God, in choosing a people to live with him in heaven, by process of elimination has also made a choice of a people to suffer eternal torment.
The consequence of his erroneous reasoning is far reaching. Presumably, his double election theory is the basis for the false doctrine of God’s absolute predestination of all things. Calvin denied he believed in God’s predestination of all things. However, the same deductive reasoning which brought him to a conclusion of a double election, when carried to its logical conclusion, demands that there be a doctrine of God’s predestination of all things. Calvin’s denial serves to demonstrate the eventual conclusion of his double election theory. Since God provides all the means necessary for the eternal salvation of the children of God to a predestination which includes an election of grace; if he has predestinated others to eternal damnation in hell, it is reasonable to conclude he has also provided all the means necessary to ensure their eternal destiny. Thus, God becomes predestinator of the cause of condemnation, which is sin. This logic compelled Calvin’s critics to suspect him of believing in God’s absolute predestination of all things. His vigorous denial registers the fact that accusations were made.
The Midland brethren realized the Bible teaches an exclusive predestination of God’s elect to conformation to the image of Christ. Their qualified application of election to „life and salvation” suggests not only they correctly understood the doctrine of election; it also implies that others did not.
6th. That election was free in God, of His own pleasure, and not at all for, or with reference to , any foreseen works of faith in the creature, as the motive thereunto. Ephesians i.4, Romans xi.5,6.
The Confession continues with the subject of election in this article by dealing with God’s sovereignty. It plainly states the election of God was not based upon „foreseen works of faith in the creature.”
By associating works and faith these brethren revealed a fundamental theological connection. It is, faith is manifested by works. Thus, faith can never be viewed in the abstract. Purely abstract faith produces no evidence of its existence because works is the evidence. Therefore, without works it is impossible to display faith. Further, James declares faith void of works is dead. The relationship of faith and works is fixed. James was adamant on this point. He challenged Christians to show faith void of works, insinuating the impossibility of success. Such faith is dead on arrival, and cannot truly be identified as faith. Even the antecedent faith of regeneration is evidenced by subtle works which are sometimes unexplainable by those who possess it. This point is revealed and developed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 2:13 – 16. He recognized that even those lacking gospel knowledge are capable of the faithful work of godly morality, based upon the new creature testimony present in their souls.
Arminius missed this point completely, associating faith with works but placing the source of such faith in the rational logic of a depraved being. This faith does not proceed from holiness, and therefore, can never be inventoried as righteousness. How can unholiness manifest good works? Paul said it cannot. He said there is no righteousness (sinless quality) in carnal man. He said God concluded all in unbelief. Depraved man is void of righteousness because he has no holiness. Without holiness there is no substantive source for good works. Works cannot be good unless they originate in holiness. Without good works there is no evidence of faith. Pelagianism falls.
Calvin understood the evidentiary relationship of faith and works(sometimes taking it to an extreme) everywhere except in the doctrine of justification as it relates to regeneration. Here, his doctrine imparts faith, through the concerted efforts of the Holy Ghost and the Gospel, before new birth. Even if belief is manifested a nanosecond before regeneration, it cannot be counted as righteousness, because such belief is an expression of the rational stirrings of a creature whose spiritual identity is one of total depravity. Since he is not yet born again, he has no holiness by which righteous faith is produced. The only means of attaining righteousness is through the blood of Christ. But the blood must be applied before righteousness can be counted (imputed) by God. So this faith cannot be counted righteous through the righteousness that is in Christ’s blood because the blood is not effectually applied until regeneration occurs.
Here, Calvin has stumbled and landed next to Arminius, for he places faith before regeneration. His theory, simply stated, is that the child of God is imparted a saving faith prior to the indwelling of God in new birth. This prior to new birth faith allows his will to accept the message of the gospel whereby he believes in Christ, is justified before God based upon this belief, and is then given new birth. Thus, Calvin placed the good work of belief in a faith that is resident in an unregenerate, totally depraved being. He is in the same fix as Arminius. How can righteous faith reside in unholy man? If it does not reside in the holy seed, born of regeneration, how can it remain righteous? How can God look upon it as righteous if it is produced in the unholy environment of human depravity? Calvin said it is produced by the Spirit and imparted to man. However, without the cleansing efficacy of Christ’s blood it cannot remain holy while in contact with depraved humanity. It must be viewed through the blood of Christ which, by Calvin’s theory, is applied after belief. Here, Calvin ignored the fixed relationship of faith and its manifestation as the good work of belief. It cannot be good, and thereby righteous, or counted as righteous, if it does not reside in and proceed from a holy environment. He forgot the contextual development of faith as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. He does not deny faith is a fruit of the Spirit. However, Calvin overlooked that, in Galatians 5, Paul developed a principle of manifestation of the indwelling Spirit of God. Verse 25 summarizes the entire basis for Paul’s discussion of good works as manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit. He wrote; „If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk after the Spirit.”
The Midland brethren understood that a fundamental distinction of manifestations of faith does not exist; that fundamentally, faith is proactive. That is, faith will express itself at some level, from the moment of new birth. In this context, conviction of sin which, as a response of godly morality may be manifest as genuine remorse, is a manifestation of faith which can be expressed absent any gospel knowledge. They accepted Paul’s Galatian letter and James’ epistle, that good works are affixed to faith and faith without works is dead. They understood that philosophical faith, void of work, is a mirage of antinomian rhetoric. But, they also knew that the good work of rational acceptance of God, even a nanosecond after regeneration, is a manifestation of faith, and therefore evidence of a predessorary indwelling of God’s Spirit in regeneration. They knew that God judges no work as good or faithful unless its origin is holy and thereby stimulated by a righteous motivation. Without the imparted sanctification of Spiritual seed new life there are no good works. The carnal nature of man (the only nature man possesses before regeneration) cannot produce works which are good in the context of God’s moral judgement. God always views good works through the applied blood of Christ. Thus, these brethren understood that the divine indwelling of regeneration, and nothing less, is the predessorary impetus for manifesting faith. They knew there is no definition of faith outside the context of God’s holiness, because without holiness there is no faith. Therefore, without the indwelling of the holy Spirit in regeneration, man is not capable of faithful overtures toward God by any scriptural definition of faith.
Not only were they saying God does not elect based upon faithful works but, by denying faithful works as a prerequisite for election, they also denied it as a precursor of regeneration.
7th. That Jesus Christ was, in the fulness of time, manifested in the flesh; being born of a woman; being perfectly righteous, gave himself for the elect to redeem them to God by his blood. John x.15; Ephesians v. 25-27; Rev. v.9.
This article addresses the eternal identity of Christ. It teaches he assumed human form, being born of a woman. It identifies his sinless quality while he was in the form of a man.
It is also a definite statement of particular redemption. By associating redemption by Christ’s blood to the elect only, they have said that Christ died for his elect alone and that only the elect, chosen by the eternal counsel of God, (Article five) will be redeemed. No doubt, it was this tenet, in particular, which the disciples of Fuller and Carey wished to have removed from the Association’s circular letters. Their perverted doctrine of general atonement and particular application cannot be resolved to the meaning of this article.
8th. That all men until they be quickened by Christ are dead in trespasses–Ephesians ii.1; and therefore have no power of themselves to believe savingly–John xv.5. But faith is the free gift of God, and the mighty work of God in the soul, even like the rising of Christ from the dead–Ephesians 1.19. Therefore consent not with those who hold that God hath given power to all men to believe to salvation.
While Elder Cox’s influence is apparent in other articles of this Confession, it is nowhere more apparent than in article eight. This article is a compact statement of several articles of his appendix. In particular it communicates sentiments expressed by Elder Cox in article seven of his appendix. It states, „Though we confess that no man doth attain unto faith by his own good will; John 1:13, yet we judge and know that the Spirit of God doth not compel a man to believe against his will, but doth powerfully and sweetly create in a man a new heart, and so make him to believe and obey willingly, Ezek. 36;26,27; Ps. 110:3. God thus working in us both to will and to do, of His good pleasure, Phil. 2:13.” Elder Cox clearly understood that faith cannot exist in the child of God until after a new heart is created in him.
The polemic attitude of this article reveals the controversial issue of the day. It is markedly anti-Arminian. The last statement is directed at correcting the notion of Pelagian free-willism. This makes sense because the Welsh Baptists had done battle with Pelagianism for a millennium. Its rise in popularity in the 17th century must have been a cause for alarm among the Midland churches.
In addressing Pelagian error, the Midland brethren also identified their opposition to an underlying principle of Calvinist regeneration, which is gospel agency. Their statement presents faith as an evidence of regeneration, and concludes that this certainty eliminates any ability for men to believe savingly. The Midland brethren evidently believed new birth must precede rational comprehension of gospel faith. They likened faith to the rising of Christ from the dead. Before he rose he was alive. He did not first rise, then live. Regardless of the immediacy of his rising after life, the rising did not precede life.
Perhaps the use of the phrase „all men” in their concluding sentence was pointed at Arminian free-willism. However, this is the conclusion of the article, which is predicated on a relationshipof regeneration and faith as being analogous to the rising of Christ from the dead. The article began by establishing that all men are dead. The „all men” of the first statement is inclusive of every human who is dead in trespasses and sins and cannot believe until after they are quickened. Therefore „all men” in the conclusive sentence must be interpreted to mean every man. Context has not changed. Therefore, the „all men” of the last statement must also be inclusive. They did not believe that any man can believe and be saved, whether or not they are elect. Belief, in this article, is identified as following, not preceding, nor concurrent to new birth.
9th. That Christ is the only true King, Priest, and Prophet of the Church. Acts ii.22-23; Hebrews iv.14, etc; viii.1, etc.
This article establishes Christ’s authority as King, ability as Priest, and instruction as Prophet. In combination, it describes his identity as the head of the church. It clearly defines Christ alone as the head of the church. The Midlands area had suffered terribly from both papal and Anglican persecutions. They knew first hand of abuses of pontifical authorities. In this article they plainly declared that Christ alone is the head and power of the church. They identify his prophecy, written as scripture and preached as gospel, as the only rule of faith and practice.
10th. That every man is justified by Christ–Romans; viii.33; I Cor. vi.11; apprehended by faith; and that no man is justified in the sight of God partly by Christ and partly by works. Romans iii.20,28,30; Gal. v.4.
Article ten is very Primitive Baptist. The language of the article together with scriptural references indicates the Midland brethren understood that Paul’s references to law service, in a broader application, refers to any works system. Also, it provides additional clarity to the Midland brethren’s position relative to faith in regeneration. The clause, „That every man is justified by Christ, apprehended by faith,” makes the same distinction of order in justification and faith that is made in article eight concerning regeneration and faith. They did not precede justification with faith. The proper order is justification, then faith.
This article specifies justification as being accomplished by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. They say man is justified by Christ. In this they disassociated justification and works; and, because belief is the work of faith, they eliminated the unregenerate faith as an ingredient of effectual justification. Evidently they believed justification is by the imputed righteousness of Christ, „through the faith of the operation of the God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12); whereby, in regeneration the child of God is buried with Christ by a baptism into his death by effectual immersion in his blood, and arises in him, in the blood, by the justification of reconciliation demonstrated in his resurrection.
However, they wrote that man is apprehended by faith. No doubt, their use of the word apprehended was deliberate. It sends a signal concerning this faith. It is a faith that apprehends. Paul spoke of such a faith in Philippians 3. He desired to be found in Christ, not possessing his own righteousness of works, but rather a righteousness which is through the faith of Christ. With this righteousness he was able to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering. Being thus conformed to the death of Christ, which is a death of the will of the flesh in obedience to the will of God, Paul aspired to attain a resurrection. In this resurrection he would apprehend that for which he was apprehended of, Christ Jesus. He concludes by stating; „Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
The apprehending of which Paul wrote is the apprehending of which the Midland brethren wrote. Again, this article demonstrates the depth of knowledge and skill of these early Baptists. They understood the scriptural principle of experiential justification, that, through obedience, man gains the experience of justification. They realized this justification, although we are not yet raised from the dead, allows us to experience the qualitative power of Christ’s resurrection. They knew that such obedience is through sufferings and mortifications of our members in the flesh. They knew the basis for such obedience is through the faith of Christ, which is in the Child of God in regeneration.
11th. That Jesus of Nazareth, of whom the scriptures of the Old Testament prophesied, is the true Messiah and Saviour of men; and that He died on the cross, was buried, rose again in the same body in which He suffered and ascended to the right hand of the majesty on high, and appeareth in the presence of God, making intercession for us.
This article requires very little discussion. Its theme is belief in the literal existence of Christ as Jesus of Nazareth. Its poignant message is that Christ is a man who was born in Nazareth, according to prophesy. He suffered and died in man’s body. He arose in the same body. He ascended into heaven in the same body where he now dwells with God. This article confirms the humanity of Christ while it ascribes deity to his person, all prophesied in scripture and accomplished at the appointed time. It also defines the principle of the bodily resurrection of the dead.
12th That all those who have faith wrought in their hearts by the power of God, according to his good pleasure, should be careful to maintain good works, and to abound in them, acting from principles of true faith and unfeigned love, looking to God’s glory as their main end. Titus iii.8; Heb. xi.6; I Cor. vi.10 and 31.
Article twelve affirms a belief that faith is a fruit of the Spirit which is received from God. Further, it identifies God as the sole worker of intrinsic faith, by his power alone. This article is an apologetic statement of the doctrine of christian obedience. It identifies the responsibility of everyone born of the Spirit of God to maintain an abundance of good works. It assigns true faith and unfeigned love as the principle motives for godly living. Finally, it assigns to God any approbations of men we might receive for well doing.
13th. That those who profess faith in Christ, and make the same appear by their fruits, are the proper subjects of Baptism. Matthew xxviii.18,19.
14th. That this baptizing is not by sprinkling, but dipping of the persons in the water, representing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Romans vi.3,4; Colossians ii.12; Acts viii.38,39.
Articles thirteen and fourteen deal with baptism. Article fourteen cites baptism by immersion, and not sprinkling, as the proper mode of baptism. Article thirteen establishes faith in Christ and obedience, as evidenced by manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit in ones life, as requirements for baptism. It reveals that baptism is a commandment to be obeyed by all the faithful.
15th. That persons so baptized ought, by free consent, to walk together, as God shall give opportunity in distinct churches, or assemblies of Zion, continuing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as fellow-men caring for one another, according to the will of God. All these ordinances of Christ are enjoined in His Church, being to be observed till his Second Coming, which we all ought diligently to wait for.
Article fifteen deals with the community of the church as a congregation of baptized believers. It identifies the Lord’s supper as an ordinance in the church and implies a closed communion.
A point of interest relative to Article fifteen, and indeed the whole Confession, is the absence of a statement concerning limitation of associational authority. This may be a result of the newness of associations as structured bodies. These brethren had not faced the abuses which later sometimes arose when Associations imposed certain policies and practices upon individual churches. Therefore, perhaps they saw little need to make provisions to curb such abuses in their Articles of Faith.
16th. That at the time appointed of the Lord, the dead bodies of all men, just and unjust, shall rise again out of their graves, that all may receive according to what they have done in their bodies, be it good or evil.
Article sixteen addresses the resurrection and final judgement. The statement of these principles is very general. However, they are specific in identifying the resurrection of both the just and unjust. Annihilation theories cannot be contrived in the wording of this article. It does not specifically attach the principle of immediate ascension into heaven for the just. However, neither does it imply a temporary respite after resurrection. For this reason, and because historically there is no evidence to support the thought that the Midland brethren believed in a millennial reign, there is no reason to assume the absence of a principle of immediate ascension implies they believed in a millennial reign. Probably, the concept of millennial reign was so foreign it did not occur to them to state specifically a principle of immediate ascension.
The elegance of simplicity of the Midland Confession cannot be overstated. In sixteen concise articles this document provides a detailed, yet easily understood, expression of the doctrines of grace. The inclusive scope and precise language of the document reveal the depth of knowledge of its authors. Inclusion of scriptural references with each article indicates the Midland brethren’s willingness to defend their doctrine with scripture. Also, scriptural references, no doubt, enhanced this document’s functionality as a study guide of the doctrines of grace. As an early example of documentation of the doctrines of sovereign grace, the Midland Confession stands at the pinnacle of written Primitive Baptist scholarship.
1777 Kehukee Association Articles of Faith
The 1777 Kehukee Association Confession of Faith is a document written during a time of crisis. The Association, and, in one case, a church, were evenly divided over the issues of receiving and retaining members who were baptized in unbelief. The origin of this situation was the Arminian theology upon which the seven churches were first constituted. However, when they later converted to Calvinism, adopting the Philadelphia Confession as their creed, the problem continued. It came to the point of schism among the churches when the brethren of the Virginia Separate Baptists rejected the Kehukee’s overtures for fellowship and correspondence. After investigating their faith and practice, the Virginia Separates found the Kehukee Association to be disorderly in both Faith and Practice. Their faith was considered unorthodox because they practiced unbelievers baptism. Their practice was unorthodox because they retained unbelievers as members. By unbelievers, the Separate Baptists contended that anyone who could not give an adequate expression of an assurance, or effect, of grace in his life was an unbeliever. This is not to say one did not possess a rational belief about God, or was not persuaded that Jesus was his Son; rather, if one could not recount a personal experience of regeneration or else could not relate some evidence of effectual manifestations of God’s grace in his life, he was considered an unbeliever.
Though this seems a bit unusual today, we must realize that both regenerates and unregenerates, in that day, were required to attend church, study their Bibles and live according to Christian principles of morality. This made it possible for unregenerates to possess significant intellectual knowledge about God, void of spiritual understanding. Satan used this circumstance to present some, who were spiritual unbelievers, for baptism and church membership.
The Baptists were only somewhat vulnerable to this potentiality because they required believer’s baptism and were, therefore, required to make judgments about candidates personal salvation. They were placed in a position of careful discernment of evidences of grace in order to minimize the possibility of accepting a false professor. The Separate Baptists met this challenge by requiring spiritual evidences of a heart felt, soul stirring belief in God. If one could not profess some experience of God’s inward workings, they were not accepted for baptism.
This was in contrast to both the Arminian and Calvinist Baptists who used submission to baptism as a requisite evidence of a work of grace. They encouraged people to submit to baptism in order to prove to the church and themselves they were saved. In the case of the Arminians, this practice resulted from their theology of pelagian free-willism. With the Calvinists, it resulted from a distorted perseverance theology of evidential sanctification.
For the Calvinists, baptism was the next evidence after belief in the journey of perseverance. If the journey stopped short of baptism, it was concluded that the person was a false professor. However, this doctrine had the effect of encouraging unbelievers, fearful of a final judgement, to seek baptism to prove their salvation through an act of perseverance in sanctification. This phenomenon compelled the Calvinist Baptists to be even more rigid in their judgments of perseverance of true believers. In turn, this forced a practice of perseverance which, void of spiritual motivation because fear had quenched the spirit, could not distinguish effectual sanctification from an obedience which was motivated by fear and plus other external pressures. It was a perseverance which quenched the Spirit, thereby obscuring love as the motive for obedience. Thus, it nurtured attitudes of both fear and self-righteousness. The dominance of such emotions produced a religious climate void of soul motivated manifestations of consolation and joy. Such quenching of the Spirit made it impossible for believers to experience heartfelt religion. With every member thus denied the experience of heartfelt religion, regeneration could only be estimated by evidences of obedience to a rigid works system.
In this environment the Kehukee churches were vulnerable to baptizing unbelievers because they were unable to distinguish between simple socially acceptable behaviors and effectual sanctification; because their only method of assessing sanctification was external evidences of perseverance. Further, because they were unable to make such distinctions, they could not define their problem. However, they knew a problem existed. The churches’ early associational letters frequently expressed statements of concern over coldness and lack of spiritual blessings among their members. In response, the association passed several resolutions for prayer meetings, unified daily prayer, and days of fasting in attempts to effect spiritual revival.
In part, the Separate Baptists were God’s answer to their prayers. Immediately, these brethren were able to understand the nature of the Kehukee churches’ problem. At the first opportunity, the Separate Baptists identified one symptom, which was the practice of baptizing and retaining unbelievers. Further, by uniting with them in the reformed Kehukee, they took steps to insure the problem would not recur.
The Association split in 1775 over these issues. Those holding to believers baptism met in 1777 and reformed the Association. In the course of reforming, three of the dissenting churches denounced their former position and came back to the Association. In addition, four nearby Separate Baptist Churches petitioned for membership. In all, ten churches met to reform the Kehukee Association. In so doing, they adopted a new constitution and new Confession of Faith, dropping the Philadelphia Confession.
By today’s standards, it seems remarkable the Kehukee brethren were willing to discard their Philadelphia Confession. However, it must be remembered this group of churches had a relatively short history of Calvinism. The Kehukee Churches began as General Baptists. Their constitutions began as early as 1720. By 1729 all seven churches were constituted and holding a combined annual meeting. They remained Arminian General Baptist Churches until around 1765. Even as late as 1777 when the Kehukee reformed, the older churches still had a longer history as Arminians than as Calvinists.
The Kehukee brethren did not have a long association with the Philadelphia Confession. They formed as an Association in 1765 and adopted the Confession in 1767. Further, their transformation from Calvinism to Primitive Faith was not nearly as dramatic as their original transformation from Arminianism to Calvinism. Thus, it was not particularly painful for them to abandon a document which they had not authored and which they formally embraced for only ten years. In fact, taking at face value Elder Burkitt’s statement concerning the reasons for adopting new articles of faith, some churches did not realize their new confession represented a departure from the Philadelphia Confession.
In writing their reformed confession, the Kehukee brethren pretty much abandoned the structural format of the Philadelphia Confession. This includes omission of the detail oriented style of the former confession. While some few phrases were retained, in general the language of the new document is different.
Any of several reasons may explain why such a dramatic departure from the Philadelphia document occurred. Probably, the new document was a compilation of several statements of beliefs submitted by the member churches of the Association. Elder Burkitt intimated as much when he wrote concerning this matter. His statement indicates several of the churches had previously never adopted formal Articles of Faith; therefore, each church applying for membership was required to submit a statement of beliefs.
The new Confession was written and adopted at a time of upheaval for several of the member churches. They were experiencing their third theological transition in as many decades. While, God’s providence must be credited with bringing the Kehukee Churches so far in such a short time, such upheaval may have left these brethren a little fearful about being too specific in stating their theology. Or, they may have realized that lengthy and detailed Confessions tend to take on the authority of a creed, or were difficult for the general membership to understand. Realizing the word of God was their only creed, these brethren may have purposely avoided the temptation to produce a more weighty document. They may have simply wished to produce a confession which adequately distinguished, rather than inadequately defined, their beliefs.
The 1777 Kehukee Association Confession of Faith may be considered the first such document written and adopted in America. Prior to its adoption, Baptist churches either ignored the idea of written confessions or adopted some version of a confession written in England or Europe. Its style and relative brevity speaks to American’s desire for directness. It contains all the salient principles of grace.
1. We believe in the being of God as almighty, eternal, unchangeable, of infinite wisdom, power, justice, holiness, goodness, mercy, and truth; and that this God has revealed Himself in his word under the characteristics of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Article one is a well stated tenet of the trinity of God. It defines God’s character and power.
2. We believe that almighty God has made known His mind and will to the children of men in His word which word we believe to be of divine authority, and contains all things necessary to be made known for the salvation of men and women. The same is comprehended or contained in the Books of the Old and New Testaments as are commonly received.
This article ascribes divine inspiration and sufficiency to the scriptures. It defines scripture as expressions of the mind of God. It contains a definite statement concerning its functionality in providing instruction and access to salvation. This must be a salvation of divine deliverance in time, since scripture is the source of information for the salvation of men and women.
3. We believe that God, before the foundation of the world, for a purpose of His own glory, did elect a certain number of men and angels to eternal life and that His election is particular, eternal and unconditional on the creature’s part.
This statement of election is brief but very specific and clear. It removes any possibility of human activity or influence in election. It limits election to the just only as the destination of the elect is eternal life.
4. We believe that, when God made man first, he was perfect, holy and upright, able to keep the law, but liable to fall, and that he stood as a federal head, or representative, of all his natural offspring and that they were partakers of the benefits of his obedience or exposed to the misery which sprang from his disobedience.
This article defines the creative character of God. It stipulates that man is a created being. However, in defining the moral quality of man, as he was created, the Kehukee brethren ascribed holiness to him. This cannot be. The insertion of holiness was probably a simple misstatement. If man was created holy, he was created with the Spirit of God in his being, since the seed of God is the only scripturally defined source for holiness in man. Therefore, in the fall, the Spirit of God would have died in trespasses and sin. It is likely the Kehukee brethren actually meant man was created righteous; that is, given a sinless nature.
An interesting point about this article, especially in light of the Kehukee Association’s later history, is that it eliminates predestination as a motive for Adam’s transgression. It says he was able to keep God’s law but liable to fall. This contrast of obedience and disobedience, all within the will of man, nullifies all accusations of God’s culpability in the origin of sin. It eliminates fatalism as an ingredient of man’s sin or sinning.
5. We believe that Adam fell from his state of moral rectitude, and that he involved himself and all his natural offspring in a state of death; and, for that original transgression, we are both guilty and filthy in the sight of our holy God.
Article five identifies original sin and its consequence. It defines man as dead in sin, and further describes his depravity as guilt and filth.
6. We believe that it is utterly out of the power of men, as fallen creatures, to keep the law of God perfectly, repent of their sins truly, or believe in Jesus Christ, except they be drawn by the Holy Ghost.
This article defines the complete inability of man to deliver himself, by thought, word or deed from the corruption and condemnation of sin. It reveals the Kehukee churches’ belief that obedience, repentance and faith are all divine influences and without the presence of the Holy Ghost, all are impossible. This article does not go so far as to declare a requirement of indwelling; and so, taken alone could be interpreted as Calvinistic. But when read in the context of the entire confession, the phrase, „except they be drawn by the Holy Ghost” may be considered as the divine intervention of new birth.
No doubt, use of the term is in reference to John 6:44; „No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” In this verse, the Savior indicates the need of the divine power of God to bring one to him. In verse 45 the Savior more fully develops this point. „It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh to me.” This verse teaches a principle of direct divine instruction. It indicates that every man, without failure, which is taught by God is drawn by God, to Christ. That is, every one who hears the quickening voice of God proceeds to Christ in a redemptive sense. Though God quickens, it is Christ who redeems. All who are quickened are instantly presented to Christ for effectual redemption. Another way of saying the same thing is; it is by the application of the blood of Christ that we are redeemed from our sins.
The Savior indicated those who come to him are taught by the Father. This demonstrates a tutoring witness in regeneration. Paul described this witness and his testimony in Romans 8:16. „For the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
This article does not exclude a need for gospel instruction in order to obey, repent or believe. The gospel is not mentioned because the article deals with the fundamental inability of man to approach God without a prior work of grace. It was not appropriate to discuss the gospel at this point. To do so may have confused some with notions of gospel instrumentality in regeneration.
7. We believe in God’s appointed time and way (by means which he has obtained) the elect shall be called, justified and sanctified, and that it is impossible they can utterly refuse the call, but shall be made willing by divine grace to recieve the offers of mercy.
This article sets forth the principles of the operation of regeneration. It states that God’s work of grace is irresistible. It identifies divine calling, justification and sanctification as the component principles of regeneration.
It also contains a remarkable parenthetical clause which clearing demonstrates how far these brethren had come in their journey. First, as Arminians, then Calvinists, these brethren would have identified the gospel as the means he has obtained.
By inserting the phrase (by means which he has obtained) the Kehukee brethren sent a message to all. They did not believe the gospel to be instrumental in regeneration. They are writing of means or methods which God alone utilizes in regeneration. This precludes man obtaining some means or methods to save himself or others. Because they are God’s means they are not man’s means. Some might suppose the means which the Kehukee brethren meant is gospel instrumentality. This is assigning a specific belief which they would not identify for themselves.
It is more likely they did not identify a specific means because they did not know it. This position is in keeping with a mystery to which Jesus Christ alluded when speaking to Nicodemus. „Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8). These verses express the both the sovereignty and mystery of God in the time and circumstance of regeneration. We hear the sound of the wind at the same moment it is felt. We hear the quickening call of God and immediately feel the evidence of his presence. But having heard God’s call, like hearing wind blowing, we cannot describe the exact circumstance or means of his calling to us. Neither, as with where the wind will blow next, can we foretell who will next hear the voice of God in regeneration.
8. We believe that justification in the sight of God is only by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, received and applied by faith alone.
Article eight expands the definition of justification as it is used in the previous article. The order of the last phrase „received and applied by faith alone” suggests the Kehukee brethren held the exact same position concerning the doctrine of justification as was held by the Midland brethren. They understood that effectual justification is received by the faith of the operation of God (Colossians 2:12) Further, they understood that it is applied experientially in the believer’s life based upon his faithful obedience to God as detailed in the gospel. The distinction made in the phrase „received and applied” indicates two activities of justification. It is received effectually in regeneration. It is also recieved experientially after regeneration through faith. This is the lesson of Romans 4. Abraham was saved eternally years before the believing of Romans 4 occurred. Hebrews 11:8 – 9 proves he was saved already. Further, James 2 identifies Abraham’s belief of Romans 4 as experiential. The experience was that, by obeying God’s will, he was called the friend of God. (Being called the friend of God, when it is God who is calling you his friend, is an experience of joy unspeakable, full of glory, in the life of one so fortunate). Applying faith in our lives works an experience of justification. The Kehukee brethren called experiential justification applied justification.
9. We believe, in like manner, that God’s elect shall not only be called, and justified, but that they shall be converted, born again and changed by the effectual workings of God’s holy Spirit.
Continuing the discussion of the specific nature of regeneration, the Kehukee Confession reveals a principle of conversion. The word converted in this context deals with a fundamental change in the disposition of one born of God. The Apostle Paul characterized the fundamental nature of the conversion of regeneration in Romans 7 as initiating a warfare. He identified a basic change in affections as the stimulus of this conflict. This is the conversion of article nine.
10. We believe that such as are converted, justified and called by His grace, shall persevere in holiness, and never fall away.
This article is a statement of belief in the final preservation of the saints. The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principle gives the following theological definition to the word perseverance: Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory. No doubt, the Kehukee brethren had this definition in mind. Nothing more should be read into their use of the word persevere.
11. We believe it to be a duty incumbent on all God’s people to walk religiously in good works, not in the old covenant way of seeking life and favor of the Lord by it, but only as a duty from a principle of love.
With this article the Kehukee brethren, like their Midland forefathers, identified love as the motivating principle for obedience. They make note that some have used obedience as a legal means to attempt to gain God’s favor. They define the motive of obedience not as reward, but as love. Thus they retain a perspective of God’s graciousness in all his dealings with his children. He does not simply reward, for every reward for faith and obedience, in reality, is a gracious gift. No effort by man is ever seen as worthy of the pleasure of God, unless it is appraised through the blood of Christ. Therefore it is futile for one to serve God with the motive of seeking rewards from Him. Love is the only acceptable motive for serving God.
However, the presence of grace does not preclude the necessity of obedience. Article eleven establishes this principle. Obedience is still required, but it is reckoned of grace, not of reward.
12. We believe baptism and the Lord’s supper are gospel ordinances both belonging to the converted or true believers; and that persons who are sprinkled or dipped while in unbelief are not regularly baptized according to God’s word, and that such ought to be baptized after they are savingly converted in the faith of Christ.
Article twelve is curiously stated. By today’s standard, it is accepted without statement that sprinkling is not baptizing. This was also the case in 1777. However, the Kehukee brethren needed to make a statement about believers baptism and, perhaps, they did not wish to draw specific attention to the issue in a context of their own problems and subsequent reformation. Also, it is apparent from the history of the Kehukee churches that members who were baptized by immersion as Arminian General Baptists, reformed as Particular Baptists then reformed again as Primitive Baptists all without rebaptisms. They could not be too specific about baptismal authority because their own baptisms would be brought into question.
However, they did not entirely ignore the issue of those who had been baptized by immersion before they believed. They could not, because they reformed over this specific issue. It must be presumed that all those who had been immersed in unbelief had either been baptized again after they believed, or excommunicated from the member churches.
Though stated with a polemic tone, the heart of this article defines baptism by immersion, for believers only.
13. We believe that every church is independent in matters of discipline; and that Associations, Councils and Conferences of several ministers, or churches, are not to impose on the churches the keeping, holding or maintaining of any principle or practice contrary to Church’s judgement.
The Kehukee brethren identify a principle of church authority and accountability in this article. They establish that churches may call upon one another, in various formats, for aid in counsel. However, they retain the authority of the nuclear church to make her own determinations. Simply stated, the rulings of councils are not binding on churches. This article implies that Christ alone is the head of the church and that scripture is the only rule of faith and practice.
14. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust, and a general judgment.
15. We believe the punishment of the wicked is everlasting and the joys of the righteous are eternal.
These two articles define the Kehukee churches’ beliefs concerning the resurrection of the dead. They believed in a general resurrection of the dead, of the just and unjust. They believed in a final judgement. They believed in a literal heaven and hell. They believed the wicked will forever suffer in hell and the just will forever rejoice in heaven. Like the Midland brethren, they give no hint that they believed in a millennial reign.
16. We believe that no minister has no [sic] right to administration of the ordinances, only as are regularly called and come under the imposition of hands by the presbytery.
This article states the principles of ministerial authority, that only properly ordained ministers may administer baptism and the Lord’s supper. Further it notes laying on of hands as the method of ordination. Laying on of hands implies a continuous succession of the ministry as Paul taught in II Timothy 2:2.
A point should be made here. The Kehukees evidently dropped the practice of laying on of hands of the newly baptized. This is significant because the Particular Baptists practiced this error. The Philadelphia Confession contained an additional article establishing this erroneous activity as a practice.
17. Lastly, we believe that, for the mutual comfort, union and satisfaction of the several churches of the aforesaid faith and order, we ought to meet in an Association way, wherein each church ought to represent their case by their delegates and attend as often as necessary to advise the several churches in conference and that the decision of matters in such Associations are not to be imposed, or in any wise binding, on the churches, without their consent, but only to sit as an advisory council.
The final article deals with the validity and authority of associations. The Kehukee brethren believed in the propriety of such unions but were careful to limit their authority. They present the association as a body of fellowship which may advice churches in matters of faith and order, but have no authority to impose their advice on the churches. The Confession is basically apologetic in style and substance. However, the underlying issues of the doctrinal issues which brought about the need for reformation are dealt with in a more polemic tone. Article twelve attests to the sensitivity the Kehukee brethren felt concerning baptism of believers. They specifically define true believers as those who are converted, inferring the possibility of unconverted (unregenerate) believers. Their own experiences testified to the fact that this class of believer not only existed, but sometimes sought baptism.
Their application of faith in justification shows their understanding of this doctrine to be consistent with the Midland brethren. Also, it is significant, that they omitted saving faith both conceptually and linguistically from their Confession.
Article seventeen defines the reason for the Association’s formation and its scope and method of activity. Also, while article fifteen seems to exclude associational jurisdiction, article seventeen defines it as a consulting body; but, reiterates the limit of authority the association may exercise.
In all, the Confession is thoughtful and well expressed. It serves to distinguish clearly the doctrine of Kehukee brethren from Arminianism and Calvinism. As a first attempt to define their beliefs for themselves, while it is not exhaustive, it is comprehensive. No doubt, it provided these brethren a focal model of their doctrine. They could start with their various articles of beliefs and search the scriptures for deeper explanations. When Elders preached, the general membership could identify the subjects of their sermons with a particular Article of Faith and thereby enhance their own understanding with scriptural study and meditation. In all, the Kehukee brethren did a commendable job of compressing the body of their beliefs into Articles of Faith.
Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association
The Sandy Creek confession is the shortest of the three documents. However, its brevity does not imply lack of doctrinal understanding by its authors. The succinctness of the confession, together with its late arrival, speaks to the reluctance of the Separate Baptists to be tied to uninspired documents. Though the Sandy Creek Association was constituted in 1758, it was fifty-eight years before these brethren got around to formally adopting their principles of faith. But form was never their strong point, as compared to substance. Their earliest associations were conducted without formal officers or even a business meeting, though they did keep records of the meetings. They considered the worship service too important to be imposed upon by a formal business session. In like manner, they asserted that Holy Scripture provided a substantial statement of their beliefs; consequently, they didn’t place much value on Confessions of Faith as a form of expression of beliefs.
Their first attempt at a written confession reveals the validity of their assertion as to the sufficiency of scripture. The document is well organized and to the point. In ten short statements the Sandy Creek brethren express their belief in the essential points of the doctrines of grace. It is easily understood. One can well imagine the members and friends of the association using the document as a study guide.
Art. I. We believe that there is only one true and living God; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, equal in essence, power and glory; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.
Article one is a short statement of the singular identity of God as one true God and as a trinity Godhead. They ascribe equal power and glory to him in the trinity.
II. That Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and only rule of faith and practice.
This article assigns divine inspiration as the authority of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and practice.
III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily place.
The Sandy Creek churches include a statement concerning the purity of Adam in creation and his depravity in transgression. They identify him as the federal head of sin in humanity. A brief statement of the nature of depraved man is included.
IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.
Article four is a comprehensive statement of the doctrine of election. It connects election to justification, effectual calling and eternal preservation. The connectivity of these concepts eliminates any consideration of a double election, of the just and unjust.
V. We believe that there will be a resurrection from the dead, and a general or universal judgment, and that the happiness of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.
Article five is a concise statement of the resurrection of the dead. It specifies that both the just and unjust will be raised from the dead. It notes equality of duration of the bliss of the just and the suffering of the wicked. It contains neither statement nor inference of a millennial reign.
VI. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful persons, who have obtained fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord and one another; having agreed to keep up a godly discipline, according to the rules of the Gospel.
The church as the visible kingdom of God with men is the subject of Article six. It describes the community of the church as a local body of the faithful engaged in fellowship. It defines their spiritual and bodily commitment to God and one another. It states a principle of godly discipline in accordance with gospel instruction.
VII. That Jesus Christ is the great head of the church, and that the government thereof is with the body.
This article acknowledges Christ as the head of the Church. It also declares the authority of the church in self-government.
VIII. That baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the Lord, and to be continued by his church until his second coming.
Article eight defines baptism and the Lord’s supper as ordinances in the church. It is interesting that this article contains an identical sentiment as is stated in Article fifteen of the Midland Confession concerning the continuance of the ordinances of the church until Christ’s second coming.
IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism;, and that immersion is the only mode.
Article nine is a mildly polemic statement concerning believers baptism. Perhaps it is so worded because of the Separate Baptists sensitivity to the Puritan practice of pedobaptism. However, seeing this document was written sixty years after their forefather’s last contact with Puritanism and because they made a distinction about „true believers” baptism, it is more likely they are protecting themselves against the errors they found in the Kehukee Association in 1775. Whatever the reason, it is a simple statement of the principle of believer’s baptism and baptism by immersion.
X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord’s table.
This final article is a statement of the principle of a closed communion. Also, it specifically ties regular baptism to church membership. This implies the Sandy Creek churches practiced closed membership. By inserting the words „church members” the Sandy Creek brethren removed all doubt as to whom they considered to be baptized regularly. Regular baptized persons were members of orthodox Baptist Churches.
The Sandy Creek Principles of Faith, as a document, is a reasonable statement of the doctrines of grace. Its brevity does not allow detailed explanations. Neither does it confuse the reader. It is truly an outline. While refusing to be bound to written articles of faith nevertheless its authors understood they would be identified by this document. They were careful to pen a confession which identified their doctrine but left the reader some degree of liberty to define it. They recognized their need for a document indicating commonly held beliefs but were wise to realize that a comprehensive statement could cause confusion or even schism.
They did not fall into the trap of those who wrote confessions which are so comprehensive and detailed as to give the impression they are exhaustive in scope, making them binding creeds. Such detailed, uninspired works, when formally adopted, take on the appearance of divine inspiration, making them canonical creeds in the minds of their subscribers. The Sandy Creek brethren were aware of such snares and had no desire for interpretations and applications of men to supplant the authority of scripture. Evidently, they wrote a minimal declaration of their faith to avoid the temptation of elevating their statement of belief to the level of scriptural authority. Their Principles of Faith Confession was intended to identify, not to define, their beliefs. As such, it is well written and functional.
Each of the three Confessions discussed possesses Holy Scripture as it basis of origin. However, they each suggest the influence of their own unique historical circumstance. The Midland Confession is unique as an original composition in context of the existence of the 1644 London Confession. The obvious differences in the two documents, in light of the familiarity the Midland brethren had with the London Confession, attests to their theological independence from the London churches.
The Kehukee Confession was written in the context of reformation. It displays minimal reliance upon the Philadelphia Confession. It is independent and original in structure and content. When separation from the Philadelphia Confession was necessary in order to eliminate errors which were introduced by Arminian theology and sustained by Calvinist theology, the Kehukee brethren gladly departed. Where there is common theology they borrowed small phrases. However, for the most part, the Kehukee Churches opted to use their own style and concepts. In this regard the Confession is an original document.
The Sandy Creek Principles of Faith is clearly influenced by these brethren’s historic aversion to uninspired religious creeds. They took great pains to create a document which adequately identified their beliefs but could never be given the authority of Holy Scripture. Their document could never be mistaken for a canonical creed.
Despite the diverse influences exercised in writing these documents, they contain striking similarities. The most obvious is they all may be interpreted to say the same thing. Certainly, similarity should exist since all three documents claim a singular origin in Holy Scripture. But many such documents claim scripture as their origin yet do not agree with one another or with these three confessions. Therefore, while we give credence to the validity of common origin, we also look beyond singular origin and explore the possibility of common experiential influence.
The several preceding pages, which detailed the succession of the church, present a reasonable argument as to the plausibility of common experiential influence. Now, we will attempt to find evidences of such influence in the documents by comparing their contents.
All three documents share the common feature of avoiding restatements or even reinterpretations of either of the two London Confessions. Their connectivity lies in the body of their similarities despite the fact that the London Confessions had little to no influence upon their authors, either by circumstance, as was the case for the Sandy Creek document, or by design, as was the case for the Midland and Kehukee documents. Thus, their similarities are rooted elsewhere, evidently in providential succession. Indeed, their similarities speak to this issue. Without a line of succession, how could three such different groups, separated by geography and time, possess such similar documents? This point is particularly striking when comparing the Midland Confession and Sandy Creek Principles.
The probability of providential perpetuity is enhanced by the unlikelihood that the Separates or Kehukees had access to a copy of the Midland Confession. There seems to be no record of this document actually traveling to American in the seventeenth century in a concise form. This fact seems to strengthen the potential of providential intervention. As we shall attempt to prove, the three documents appear to contain unique presentations of theological concepts which are nearly identical. In places they contain nearly identical phrases; which, in turn, are unique to the three confessions. They all begin with an order previously not used in Particular Baptist Confessions. All three confessions share common and concise language style as compared to the intricate wording of the London Confessions.
The Midland and Sandy Creek Confessions, on the whole, are most similar. They are both short and concise in structure and language. Also both use similar, odd sentence structure. Many articles in both begin with the word „that” leaving „we believe” to be inferred by the reader. This is a unique sentence structure not found in either of the London Confessions, the Philadelphia Confession, or subsequent Primitive Confessions. This style seems to be a unique anomaly of the Midland Confession, and perhaps was providentially passed to the Sandy Creek Principles.
Each confession begins with a statement of the identity and authority of God. The Kehukee and Sandy Creek documents present their statements as single articles. The Midland Confession divides the statement into two articles.
In all three confessions the next subject is a statement of the authority and validity of Holy Scripture. The Midland and Kehukee statements are most similar. Both contain phrases identifying scripture as the revealed mind of God. Use of the word „mind” as in „revealed mind of God” is unique. The London Confessions present more abstract statements identifying scripture as expressions of the will and thoughts of God.
Both the Midland and Kehukee documents insert a principle of temporal deliverance, or time salvation, into this article. For the Kehukee brethren this represented a departure from the London Confession. Further, it suggests Midland influence in writing the Kehukee Confession, since the Midland Confession was the first and only modern confession containing a specific statement of temporal salvation.
Next in subject order is Adamic sin. The Kehukee document divided this subject into two articles. However, all three confessions are in essential agreement with the exception of the Kehukees’ misstatement concerning Adam’s holiness, as mentioned earlier.
The order of the previous three subjects, identity of God, authority of scripture and Adamic sin is identical in all three confessions. For the Kehukees this was a structural departure from the London Confession. As the second written of the three confessions, this hints of Midland Confession influence in the writing of the Kehukee Confession.
All three confessions contain connective statements underscoring election. The Midland statement is the most general, connecting election in only a broad sense to regeneration and preservation. However, the remaining confessions are very specific in connecting election to effectual calling, justification and sanctification. All the documents cite foreknowledge as the basis of election, noting its presence before the world existed. They all note the sovereignty of God and man’s inability to influence his choice in election. All three Confessions are absent any statement or implication of a double election of the just and unjust.
Each confession describes justification through Christ. The Kehukee and Sandy Creek specifically identify justification to occur by the imputed righteousness of Christ. They all are void of any reference to saving faith, though each contains wording which associates faith and justification. None of the confessions assign a principle of faith to man before he is justified.
The Midland and Kehukee Confessions each contain a highly developed concept of justification. They both surpass Calvin’s limited justification theories and reveal the bible principle of experiential justification. Inclusion of this tenet identifies the principles of experiential justification as the parameters for God’s providential or time salvation. This is a doctrine which is absent in Calvin’s writings and both of the London Confessions.
The Midland and Kehukee documents contain specific and separate articles concerning the utter inability of man to deliver himself from the condition of sin. Further, they include statements as to man’s inability to resist the grace of God in regeneration. Both, in principle, reject prior belief in Jesus Christ as a precursor to justification.
The Midland and Sandy Creek include strikingly similar statements concerning the identity of Christ. They both describe him as the head of the church.
The Midland and Kehukee contain specific articles declaring baptism and godliness as moral requirements for all regenerates. They are both very careful disassociating this principle to law service by any definition of law. They cite true faith and unfeigned love as the basis of discipleship. For the Kehukee churches this represented a departure from the more rigid legalist orientation of the London Confession. None of the confessions assign baptism a role of evidentiary confirmation of salvation. They simply state it the duty of believers to be baptized.
All three assert a principle of believers baptism. All three ascribe immersion as the proper mode of baptism. The Midland and Kehukee Confessions include a polemic statement against sprinkling.
They identify baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances in the church. None of the confessions elevate the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper to the status of sacrament. Each expresses a belief in a closed communion.
All three confessions contain statements regarding the church as the visible kingdom of God, with men. The Midland and Sandy Creek are most similar. Noting fellowship as an important element of church membership, they stress the concept of the community of the church rather than a rigid intrachurch government. They both contain similar wording addressing the need for church members to give themselves to the Lord and each other.
Though all three documents contain articles identifying the principle of a general resurrection of the dead, the Kehukee and Sandy Creek are most similar. Both use the same logic in describing the bliss of the just and punishment of the wicked.
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