OF the English Baptist churches now in existence, but one hundred and twenty-three were established before the Act of Toleration, and during the next half-century only sixty-eight more were added to the number. From 1750 onward, as the effects of the Wesleyan movement began to be felt, the growth was more rapid, and in the second half of the eighteenth century one hundred and sixty-five Baptist churches were constituted, of which more than one hundred belong to the last two decades. From this time, seven decades of the nineteenth century show a rapid and ever-increasing rate of progress. The first half of the century saw an addition of seven hundred churches; the second half exceeds even this growth, showing a total number of nine hundred and sixty-one churches established. The last two decades are less remarkable for increase in the number of churches, but on the other hand, they show a gratifying advance in the strength and efficiency of the churches already founded.
It does not seem fanciful to trace a close connection between this growth of the churches and the development of organization that followed the Carey movement. The first step was taken by the formation of the Baptist Home Mission Society in 1779, followed by the Baptist Union in 1832. Both societies did much to unite the churches in evangelistic efforts, but the older society was more distinctively missionary in its aims and methods. In 1865 the society was united with the Irish Missionary Society (formed in 1814) to form the British and Irish Baptist Home Mission, and now for some years this has been merged in the Baptist Union for Great Britain and Ireland, which became an incorporated body in 1890. The General Baptists had established a missionary Society in 1816, and other societies of various kinds at other times; but in 1891, the General Baptists united with the Particular Baptists and now all the various missionary and benevolent societies of both bodies are administered as departments of the Baptist Union. The distinctions of doctrine anciently maintained by these two wings of the denomination long since practically disappeared, and it was proper that distinctions in administration should no longer be maintained.
The missionary movement begun by Carey and his coadjutors had a stimulating effect by no means confined to his own denomination. Missionary societies were speedily formed by other bodies of Christians, and even the Church of England was stirred to do something for the evangelizing of heathen lands. And this new activity was not limited to strictly missionary effort. The great work of Carey, as we have seen, was the translation of the Scriptures into the Eastern tongues, and a multitude of others followed in his footsteps. In 1804 a large number of evangelical Christians, of some and Foreign Bible Society, for the circulation of the ten or more different denominations, formed the British Scriptures in all lands, without note or comment. It was due to the activity of Rev. Joseph Hughes, a Baptist minister of Battersea, that this society was formed, and he was its first secretary. Baptists generally were active in the support of the society, and for a generation grants were freely made from its treasury to aid the printing
of Carey’s translations. This was done with full knowledge of the fact that Carey and others translated all words, including baptizo and its cognates—official correspondence left no question possible regarding this point. In 1835 Messrs. Yates & Pearce had ready for publication a revised copy of Carey’s Bengali Bible, and applied to the British and Foreign Bible Society for aid in printing it. This application was refused, unless they would guarantee that "the Greek terms relating to Baptism be rendered, either according to the principle adopted by the translators of the authorized English version, by a word derived from the original, or by such terms as may be considered unobjectionable by other denominations composing the Bible Society." The demand was, in plain English, either that the Baptist missionaries should not translate baptizo and its cognates at all, or that they should make a wrong translation!
More than six hundred Baptist ministers presented to the society, in 1837, a protest against its unjust, Uncatholic, and inconsistent action; and in January, 1840, a final remonstrance was addressed to the society by the Baptist Union. Nothing, of course, came of these protests, and therefore on March 24, 1840, the Baptists of England formed the Bible Translation Society, in order to "encourage the production and circulation of complete translations of the holy Scriptures, competently authenticated for fidelity, it being always understood that the words relating to the ordinance of baptism shall be translated by terms signifying immersion." This society is still in existence, and enjoys the distinction of having printed and distributed over six million copies of the Scriptures, at a cost of one million five hundred thousand dollars.
Two of the greatest preachers of the nineteenth century came from the ranks of the English Baptists. The first, Robert Hall, belongs in part to the preceding century. He was born near Leicester, in 1764, the youngest child of a family of fourteen, weak in body, and precocious in mind. He was an accomplished theologian at the tender age of nine, having then mastered (among other works) "Edwards on the Will" and Butler’s "Analogy." Notwithstanding such precocity, he did not prove to be a fool, but was one of the few "remarkable children" who turn out really remarkable men. In his fifteenth year he began his series of studies for the ministry at Bristol College, where his progress in learning was rapid; but as a preacher he seemed likely to be a failure. On his first public trial he repeatedly broke down, through an excessive sensibility that made public speech an agony to him, almost an impossibility. He mastered this weakness, however, and thenceforth steadily increased in power as an orator. Four years spent at King’s College, Aberdeen, where he was first in all his classes, brought him to his majority. His pastorates were at Cambridge, Leicester, and Bristol, and in each city his ministry was greatly successful. Many of his sermons were printed and had a wide circulation. No preacher of his time was more highly esteemed by the leaders of thought in Great Britain. Hall was master of an ornate and stately kind of eloquence long extinct in the pulpit, much esteemed in its day and perhaps too little esteemed now. To the present generation his sentences seem cumbrous, his style is pronounced affected and stilted, his tropes frigid. Indeed, the reader of today is at a loss to understand how his sermons could ever have won such encomiums as they received. Yet at his death, in 1831, it was universally agreed that one of the greatest lights of the pulpit had been extinguished.
The other preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was a man of quite different mold. His father and grandfather had been Congregationalist preachers, and from his birth, in 1834, he was predestined to the same career. This did not become clear to him, however, until his conversion in his seventeenth year. He felt it his duty to unite with a Baptist church, and soon after his baptism began to preach. He had received a fair education, about equal to that given by a good American academy, and was already a teacher in a private school. His success as a preacher led him to forego any further training, and from his eighteenth year until his death, in 1892, he was constantly engaged in what was to him the most delightful and the most honorable of all callings. It was a dangerous experiment; only one man of a thousand could have escaped disaster, but Spurgeon was that man. In the autumn of 1853 he was called to the Southwark Baptist Church, where his predecessors had been such men as Keach, Gill, and Rippon, and there he spent the rest of his life.
The success of the young preacher was immediate and wonderful. During the rest of his life Spurgeon had continuously the largest congregations of any preacher in the world, and soon his sermons were printed and scattered broadcast, until through the press he spoke weekly to more than half a million people. But he was more than a voice crying in the wilderness; he bears the supreme test of greatness that can be applied to a preacher—he not only gained a great reputation for eloquence, but proved himself a builder. His church grew to more than five thousand members—the largest Baptist church in the world. He founded the Pastors’ College for the education of ministers, and hundreds of graduates attest by godly living and fruitful ministry the worth of what he thus did. He established the Stockwell Orphanage, in which more than five hundred children have been maintained and educated annually for nearly thirty years. A Colportage Association, a Book Fund, and a successful religious magazine were among his other practical achievements. And when he was called to his reward, all these institutions went on, with little impairment of their efficiency; what he had built was so solidly built that the shock of his death could do it no serious harm.
During the latter part of Spurgeon’s life there was, as he believed, a great declension in theology among the English Baptists. By diligent study through life he had become, if not exactly a great theologian, a well-read, well-trained minister, especially versed in the Scriptures and the writings of the great Puritan divines. From first to last he was the unfaltering advocate of the pure gospel of Christ. A moderate Calvinist as to theology, he preached an atonement for the whole world and salvation through Christ’s blood to every one who will believe. He stood like a rock against the advancing tide of lax teaching and lax practice, and at least retarded, if he did not check, the movement that he described as "the down grade." This led him to sharp controversy with many of his brethren, and finally induced him to withdraw from the Baptist Union.
Besides Hall and Spurgeon, the Baptist pulpit of England produced other great preachers during the last century, two of whom at least are still living—Alexander McLaren, the eloquent Manchester divine (born at Glasgow, 1825), and John Clifford (born 1836), everywhere known as one of the most scholarly, able, and polished preachers of his time. Nor have there been lacking laymen of equal eminence—to mention three examples only—Major-General Havelock, the hero of the Indian Mutiny (1795-1857); Thomas Spencer Baynes, LL. D. (1823-1887), long professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of St. Andrews, and a writer of worldwide repute; and Sir Robert Lush (1807-1881), one of the foremost men at the bar, and Lord-Justice of the High Court of Appeals. It would be easy, but also unprofitable, to make a long catalogue of distinguished names, only less worthy of mentioning than these. Enough has been said, however, to show that Baptists have been by no means an obscure and feeble folk in England for the last hundred years or more.
The English Baptists began the century just closing not differing greatly in numbers from their brethren in America; but their rate of increase has been much smaller. Why so marked a difference of growth? American Baptists are accustomed to answer, To the difference in the effective maintenance of Baptist principles. The Baptists of America have been consistent and united, while their English brethren have been divided and inconsistent. The answer may be far from satisfactory, it may ignore many important elements of the problem, and yet it may be at least a partial explanation of the unquestionable fact.
As we have already seen, from the beginning there were so-called Baptist churches of mixed membership—that is to say, not exclusively Baptist, but composed in part of Pedobaptists. This is due to the circumstances of their origin. In nearly every case which is matter of record, the early Baptist churches of the seventeenth century were formed from previously existing Separatist churches of the Congregational order. The separations between those who had come to hold to believers’ baptism ‘nly and those who still held to Pedobaptism were generally peaceful, frequently friendly. In some cases there was no formal separation, the majority holding to believers’ baptism and tolerating Pedobaptism in the minority. In other cases a church was organized on the principle of permitting full liberty in the matter of baptism, both as to subjects and form. That churches so imposed should remain in full fellowship with Pedobaptist churches is nothing surprising; why should they not commune with Pedobaptist churches, since they admitted Pedobaptists to membership in their own churches, which, of course, carried with it the privilege of communion? To admit some Pedobaptists to the Lord’s table and exclude others would have been inconsistency too ridiculous.
From the first, therefore, there was a division of sentiment and practice. Baptists like William Kiffen, John Spilsbury, and Ilanserd Knollys, stood for the consistent Baptist position that the church should be composed of baptized believers only, and that only such are warranted or invited by New Testament precept and example in coming to the table of the Lord. On the otherhand, Baptists like Henry Jessey, John Tombes, and John Bunyan, favored the laxer practice of communing with all Christians, while Jessey and Bunyan at least were pastors of churches of mixed membership. There was hot debate over this question of open communion, as any one may see who will take the trouble to examine a copy of Bunyan’s "Complete Works," of which there are many editions. Words decidedly warm passed between Bunyan and Kiffen, and of course neither party was convinced by the arguments of the other. Mixed churches and open communion remained the practice of a considerable part of the English Baptists, and had the advocacy of some of the ablest men in the denomination.
The natural result, one that might have been predicted from well-known principles of human nature, was that the growth of English Baptists was relatively slow, even in times when their piety and zeal were high. Baptist growth has always been in proportion to the staunchness with which Baptist principles have been upheld and practised. So it ever has been with all religious bodies. Nothing is gained by smoothing off the edges of truth and toning down its colors, so that its contrast with error may be as slight as possible. On the contrary, let the edges remain a bit rough, let the colors be heightened, so that the world cannot possibly mistake the one for the other, and the prospect of the truth gaining acceptance, is greatly increased. The history of every religious denomination teaches the same lesson: progress depends on loyalty to truth. Compromise always means decay.
The present century has witnessed the most rapid change among the Baptists of England with regard to the communion. The most powerful factor in producing this twofold defection was Robert Hall. Starting from premises that Socinus would have heartily approved, he reached the conclusion that the neglect of baptism is to be tolerated by the churches as an exercise of Christian liberty (a Christian at liberty to disobey Christ!), and that sincerity rather than outward obedience is the test that the "genius of Christianity" proposes. Under the influence of such teachings, large numbers of Baptist churches became "open." This change has been followed by its logical result—a result inevitable wherever "open" communion is adopted and given full opportunity to work itself out—the formation of churches of mixed membership. In many of these, the trust-deeds distinctly specify that Baptists and Pedobaptists shall have equal rights, and it is not uncommon for such a church to have a Pedobaptist pastor. In many other so-called Baptist churches of England the ordinance of baptism is seldom or never administered; Pedobaptists are received to membership on equal terms with the baptized; they are chosen to office, and even to the pastorate. In short, so effectually is the church disguised as frequently to be reckoned by both Baptists and Independents in their statistics.1
Spurgeon’s attitude towards these questions has very often been misunderstood. He did not absolutely agree with the practice of the American Baptists regarding the communion, but he did very nearly, and it is an abuse of terms to call him an "open communionist." He did not advocate or practise the promiscuous invitation of all Christians to the table of the Lord. The communion service was held on Sunday afternoon in the Tabernacle, and adtnission was by ticket only. Members of the church, of course, were furnished with tickets. Any person not a member, desiring to attend and partake of the Supper, must satisfy the pastor or deacons that he was a member in good standing of an evangelical church, when he would receive a ticket. At the end of three months he would be quietly told that he had had an opportunity to become acquainted with the church, and they would be glad to have him present himself as a candidate for membership; otherwise he would do well to go elsewhere, where he could conscientiously unite. This is a more restricted communion than is practised by most Baptist churches in America, for in large numbers of our churches Pedobaptists occasionally partake of the communion without any such careful safeguards. Spurgeon did not believe in mixed membership; he abhorred it. No one could be a member of the Metropolitan Tabernacle church unless he was a baptized believer—credibly a believer, and certainly baptized. From our point of view, it was very unfortunate that he gave the approval of his example to even occasional communion with those whom he believed unbaptized. His practice Thirty four such churches are set down among the Baptist churches of England in the "Baptist Handbook," and of these six had Congregational pastors in tgot. was to this extent illogical and inconsistent, and somewhat weakened the general healthfulness of his influence. He frankly admitted this in private conversations, on many occasions, and explicitly said that were he a pastor in America he should conform to the practice of American Baptists. Compared, however, with the "open communion" Baptists of England, he was strongly
orthodox and rigidly conservative.
Among the ministers who established the first Baptist churches in England was a large proportion of men who had been educated at Oxford and Cambridge for the Church of England, but there were also from the first men whose early education had been very slight. Among these latter, such preachers as Kiffen and Bunyan were certainly not a whit inferior to the better-trained men. Nevertheless, it was not long before the Baptist churches felt the importance of establishing schools for the education of their ministry. These are always called "colleges"in England, but differ from the colleges of America in being not schools of arts, but schools of theology. The oldest of these schools now surviving is Bristol College, founded in 1770 by the Northern Baptist Education Society. There are usually twenty-five students in attendance. They have opportunity to pursue studies in arts in Bristol University College, and some of the students take their degrees at London University. Another college was instituted in 1797 in London, and has had numerous habitations since then, but is now located at Midland, Nottingham. Thirteen students is a good attendance for this institution. Rawdon College, near Leeds, in Yorkshire, was founded by the Northern Baptist Education Society, in 1804, and has been in its present home since 1859. The best known of these colleges is perhaps that established in i8to at Stcpncy, but removed in 1856 and since then known as the Regents’ Park College. Dr. Joseph Angus was for many years its honored head. The two last-named schools have an annual attendance of from twenty-five to thirty, and from Regents’ Park some five hundred ministers in all have gone forth. The Pastors’ College, founded by Mr. Spurgeon, in 1856, has about sixty students. The strict-communion churches established a college, now located at Manchester, in 1866, which has an attendance rarely or never exceeding twenty students.
The other parts of the United Kingdom are not without similar provision. The Welsh Baptists at present have two theological schools: Cardiff College, founded in 1897, and formerly located at Pontypool; and Bangor College, instituted at Llangollen, in 1862. An annual attendance of about twenty students is reported from both colleges. A single theological college is maintained by Baptists at Glasgow. It furnishes strictly theological education to students who have taken the arts course in a Scottish University, leading to the degree of M. A. A college at Dublin, with six students, is also reported by the Baptists of Ireland.
Besides the General and Particular Baptists, there have been and still are several organizations in England, holding Baptist principles in general, but adding to them some distinguishing peculiarity of faith or practice.
The Six-principle Baptists were so called from the stress they laid on the " six principles " enumerated in Heb. 6 : 1, 2: Repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, the restirrection of the dead, and eternal life. Of these, the fourth is the only one really peculiar to this body—the laying of hands on all after baptism, as a token of a special impartation of the Spirit. In March, 1690, the churches holding these views formed an Association. This continued with varying fortunes for some years; at its strongest, numbering but eleven churches in England, though there were others in Wales when the Calvinistic Baptists withdrew, and the rest of the churches were gradually absorbed into the General body.
The Seventh-day Baptists (so called from their observance of the seventh day of the week for rest and worship, instead of the first) were founded in 1676 by the Rev. Francis Bampfield, a graduate of Oxford, and at one time prebend of Exeter Cathedral. This has always been a small body, and at the present time but one church survives, the Mill Yard, in Whitechapel, London. This church was, a few years ago, reduced to a membership of about half a dozen, and could secure no pastor of its own faith in England. The property being very valuable, special efforts were made in behalf of the church, a pastor was sent to them from America, and they became more prosperous than for many years before.
1 Thirty-four such churches are set down among the Baptist churches of England in the "Baptist Handbook," and of these six had Congregational pastors in 1901.
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