DURING the first century of their history, American Baptists did not escape the effect of that spirit of worldliness which nearly paralyzed the churches of the Standing Order. They were firm in adherence to the true scriptural principle that the church should be composed of the regenerate only, but they lived in communities where it was hard even to get a hearing for this idea. The New England community was a theocracy, and the privileges of citizenship were enjoyed only by those who were members of the church. The theory of imperium and sacerdotiurn was not more firmly insisted on, and not half so consistently followed, in the relations between the medieval Church and the Holy Roman Empire, as in the connection of Church and State in New England. They were like the obverse and reverse of a coin, two aspects of one indivisible entity. The certain result of such a polity in modern Christianity, as in ancient Judaism, must be to corrupt the spiritual body—to destroy all distinction between regenerate and unregenerate.
The adoption of the Half-way Covenant, in 1662, was at once the natural result and an aggravation of the state of things that had come to pass. This covenant provided that those baptized in infancy were to be regarded as members of the church to which their parents belonged, although not to be admitted to the communion without evidence of regeneration. Such persons were allowed to offer their children for baptism, provided they publicly professed assent to the doctrine of faith, and were not scandalous in life. It was not long before ministers declared that sanctification was not a qualification for the Lord’s Supper, but saw in it a converting ordinance and a means of regeneration. Consequently, persons who had been baptized in infancy, and were not charged with scandalous conduct or heresy, were regarded as entitled to full communion with the church.
Against this worldly condition of the church a reaction was certain to come. It manifested itself in the Great Awakening that began at Northampton, in 1734, under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, and gradually extended throughout the towns of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The visit of Whitefield to this country, in 1739, gave a new impulse to this revival of true religion, extending it far beyond the bounds of New England. With this second revival began a new era in the spiritual life of American Christians. The leaven did not spread without opposition, and among Baptists two parties were formed—the “Regulars,” who adhered to the old ways and disparaged revivals, and the “New Lights,” or “Separates,” who adopted the methods of Whitefield. The literature of the times is full of this controversy, and shows that the newer and more scriptural method of preaching did not win its way to its present general acceptance without bitter opposition.
Nevertheless, from this time the growth of Baptists became rapid. In Massachusetts, for example, there had been only eight Baptist churches organized before the Great Awakening; between 1740 and 1775, when the war of the Revolution began, twenty-seven new churches had been formed, and in 1784 the total number had increased to seventy-three, with a membership of three thousand and seventy-three. Extension to the regions beyond was also begun.
The most active agent in this new advance was Hezekiah Smith. He was born on Long Island, in the town of Hempstead, in 1737, but while he was still young his parents removed to Morris County, N. J. Rev. John Gano, at that time pastor of the church at Morristown, preached at several stations near-by, and relates the following: “At one of these places there was a happy instance of a promising youth (by name Hezekiah Smith), who professed to be converted, and joined the church—who appeared to have an inclination for education, to which his parents objected. his eldest brother joined me in soliciting his father, who finally consented to his receiving an education.” Young Smith became a pupil at the Hopewell Academy, the first educational institution established among American Baptists, of which Rev. Isaac Eaton was principal. He then went to Princeton College, where he took his bachelor’s degree in 1762.
Directly after graduation he made an evangelistic tour through the Southern States—possibly with something of a young man’s desire to see the world, but still more to try and improve his gifts in preaching. During this fifteen months he traveled on horseback four thousand two hundred and thirty-five miles, and preached one hundred and seventy-three sermons. It must be admitted that he was not idly traveling for pleasure. He returned North to find that the Philadelphia Association had resolved to found an institution of higher learning; and had selected Rhode Island as the most eligible location for a college, and James Manning, Smith’s classmate at Princeton, as the head of the new institution. Smith threw himself into this project with all the enthusiasm and energy of his nature, and he was energetic and enthusiastic beyond most men, while cool-headed and judicious at the same time. He was successful in winning the support of many who might otherwise have held aloof, and was at all times the right-hand man of President Manning in his laborious and difficult task.
Smith had been ordained to the ministry at Charleston, during his Southern tour, but had accepted no pastoral charge there, and for some years he held none in the North. He rather itinerated among the churches of New England, preaching with much acceptance wherever he went. During his journeys he visited the town of Haverhill, Mass., and the pulpit of the Congregational church being vacant, he was asked to preach. He remained some weeks, and the people would gladly have had him for their pastor, but he was too stanch a Baptist for that. After he left, lie was solicited to return by people in the town, and when he did so a Baptist church was organized, of which he was recognized as pastor in 1766. It was the only pastorate of his life, and at his death, in 1805, the church had become one of the strongest in New England, and is now the oldest surviving Baptist church north of Boston.
He was more than the faithful pastor of this church; he was a missionary to the regions beyond. At that time there was a great religious destitution in the newer towns of New Hampshire and Maine, and the few Baptists scattered here and there were as sheep without a shepherd. Up to the outbreak of the Revolution, Mr. Smith made many horseback tours through these regions, preaching the gospel and gathering converts; and it is said that at least thirteen of the churches organized in those States owed their existence to his labors and counsels. In his later years, as well as his strength permitted, he was equally earnest and effective as an evangelist. At this time there were no missionary organizations among Baptists, and what evangelizing was done was carried on in this independent way. Hezekiah Smith was a whole State mission society in himself, and doubtless his labors had no little to do with the organizing of the first society of that kind, the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society. He was one of the most active agents in forming this organization two years before his death.
We have still to consider one of the most honorable episodes in Mr. Smith’s history. On the outbreak of the Revolution, he offered his services and was appointed brigade-chaplain, with the pay and rations of a colonel. Six of the twenty-one brigade-chaplains in the service are known to have been Baptists; and we have it on the authority of Washington himself that Baptists were “throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious Revolution.” Mr. Smith was in service with the army of Gates during the Burgoyne campaign, and was afterward stationed at various points along the Hudson with the army of Washington. He gained the confidence and esteem of his general, as is abundantly shown by the fact that Washington corresponded with him after the war. He was not a fighting chaplain, but he repeatedly exposed his life in order to give help and consolation to the wounded and dying. His service in keeping up the morale of the army was equal to that of any officer, and was so esteemed by all military authorities.
Returning to Haverhill and resuming his pastoral duties, revivals followed in the community that increased the membership of the church to nearly two hundred. There were then but three larger churches in New England. No preacher was in more demand for services of all kinds, and none was more influential in denominational councils. Mr. Smith took a leading part in the organization of the Warren Association, the first union of Baptist churches in New England, in the rehabilitation of the Rhode Island College (soon to be known as Brown university), and all other denominational enterprises. He was cut off by paralysis in the midst of his usefulness, having preached with unusual power on the preceding Sunday, leaving behind him the memory of a man who had been faithful in all things, stainless in character, and foremost in all good works.
Though there had been churches formed earlier in New Hampshire (Newton, in 1750, and Medbury, in 1768), they had proved short-lived, and Hezekiah Smith established the first enduring organization in 1771 at Brentwood. Other churches sprang up rapidly, and by 1784 there were twenty-five churches and four hundred and seventy-six members. The church at Berwick, Me., was organized in July, 1768, of members whom Mr. Smith had baptized into the fellowship of his church at Haverhill, and who had been dismissed to form the new body.
The earliest churches in Vermont seem to have owed their origin in part to people from the other New England colonies, and in part to people from New York. The oldest church now existing is Wallingford, formed February 10, 1780. An older church, the Shaftesbury (1768), was disbanded in 1844. By the close of the century there were thirty-two churches and the membership had reached one thousand six hundred. In 1784, the entire strength of New England Baptists was one hundred and fifty-one churches and four thousand seven hundred and eighty-three members. Of course, these figures are only approximate, though as to the number of churches they are probably very nearly accurate.
The Revolution interrupted for a time the rapid progress that Baptists began to make after the Great Awakening. The results were most disastrous, as might be expected, where the British occupation was longest—in and about New York and Philadelphia, and through “the Jerseys.” The Baptists as a whole were patriots, and many of their preachers served as chaplains with the American troops, as the work in their churches could not be carried on with regularity. There was, however, one noted exception: Scholarly, laborious, warm-hearted, eccentric, choleric Morgan Edwards, one of the most interesting of the early Baptist ministers of our country and one of those most deserving of honor. His very faults had a leaning toward virtue’s side, and in good works he was exceeded by none of his day, if indeed by any of any day.
Edwards was born in Wales in 1722, and received his training for the ministry at the Baptist college at Bristol, England, after which he began to preach at Boston, Lincolnshire. Seven years he ministered to a little flock there, and then went to Cork, Ireland, where he was ordained in 1757. He remained there nine years, and then returned to England. While preaching there the Baptist church in Philadelphia sent to their English brethren a request for a pastor. By advice of his brethren, Morgan Edwards responded to this appeal, made the voyage to America, visited the Philadelphia church, and became its pastor for nine years (1761-1770). He. was an able preacher and a good man, hut not always an easy man to get on with. lie had a trait characteristic of Welsh people (and some others), which they call firmness and others sometimes call obstinacy, and at various stages of his career this trait got him into trouble with people who were also “firm.”
Before he had been in the country much more than a year, Morgan Edwards induced the Philadelphia Association to do one of the things that most honor its history. Mention has already been made of the founding of Rhode Island College and the work of Manning and Smith in connection with that enterprise. The pioneer in the movement was Edwards. He saw at once on his arrival that the weakness of American Baptists was their deficiency in educational advantages. They would not have been reduced to send to England for him if they had had schools of their own. Others agreed with him; and when he proposed the founding of a college, at the meeting of the Philadelphia Association in 1762, his resolution was carried without difficulty. He took hold of the project with his usual ardor, and the success of the project was no less due to him than to Manning and Smith. He was most influential of the three in enlisting the sympathies of Baptists generally in favor of the college and obtaining funds for its endowment. He made a voyage to England for the purpose and brought back a large sum of money. He interested his Welsh Baptist brethren especially, and one of them, Doctor Richards, bequeathed to the college his library of one thousand three hundred volumes. Brown University has to-day, in consequence, probably the finest collection of books in the Welsh language to be found in America. Moreover, Edwards traveled all over the States, through many years, preaching and collecting for the college.
These labors were interrupted by the war of the Revolution, and thereby hangs a tale that is to us amusing but was most vexatious to his contemporaries. You have to get at some distance from things sometimes to see their funny side, and this is one of those cases. Edwards, it will be remembered, had not been “caught young”; he was nearly forty when he came to this country, and the troubles that led to the Revolution were already begun. He had not been here long enough to be really Americanized when Lexington and Bunker Hill gave the signal for a general rebellion against King George and his tyranny, and his sympathies were naturally with the country and flag of his birth rather than with the land of his late adoption. He was almost, if not quite, the only Tory among the Baptist clergy during the Revolution, and so found himself isolated among his brethren. Not only so, but as he did not hesitate to express his sentiments with his usual freedom and vigor, he soon found himself the object of suspicion, not to say hostility. Finally his brethren in the ministry took the matter up with vigor on their side, and others joined them; and Edwards was finally persuaded or intimidated into signing a “retraction,” in which he admitted that he had spoken unadvisedly, asked the forgiveness of the public, and promised to avoid like offense in future. The promise is said to have been ill kept, however; the Welsh fire would break out from time to time in spite of all promises or efforts to repress it.
Such loyalty to king and country did honor to the heart, if not to the head, of Edwards; and after the independence of the colonies was achieved, he seems to have seen a great light and became as loyal to the new country as he had been to the old. He then resumed his journeyings and labors, continuing them until his death in 1795.
These journeyings had another object besides preaching the gospel and collecting funds for Rhode Island College. Edwards was a born antiquarian, and soon after coming to this country began to collect memorials of the past, especially facts relating to Baptist history. In his goings up and down the land—he visited pretty nearly every one of the thirteen colonies—he made researches among contemporary records and gathered up facts from living men who recollected Baptist beginnings, and little by little collected his Materials toward a History of the Baptists. Two volumes were printed during his lifetime, and slight portions have been printed since; but a large part still remains in MS.
The first Calvinistic Baptist church in the colony of New York was formed about 1740, at Fishkill, Dutchess County, and from 1753 a small company of Baptists held meetings in a private house. Not strong enough to form a church, they became members of the church at Scotch Plains, N. J., and were not constituted a separate church until 1762. By this time they had become twenty-seven in number, had built themselves a small house of worship in Gold Street, and had called the Rev. John Gano to be their pastor. Other churches were formed in the Dutchess region and its vicinity, to the number of ten in all, prior to 1780. From this time onward progress was quite rapid in the eastern and central counties of the State. For a time most of these churches sought and obtained membership in the Philadelphia Association, and it was not until 1791 that they felt themselves strong enough to form an Association of their own.
In the Southern colonies, while progress was greatly interrupted by the Revolution, there was less actual disintegration of the churches, since most of these were in more rural communities and were less affected by the fortunes of war. After the conclusion of peace, moreover, the most rapid growth of Baptists was in this region. Along the Atlantic coast as far as Charleston, many Baptist churches were founded by missionaries of the Philadelphia Association, and were for a time members of that body. Four churches thus constituted—Opekon (1743, reconstituted in 1752), Ketokton (1751), Smith’s Creek (1756), Broad Run (1762)—formed the Ketokton Association in 1766, with the full approval of the mother body. A year earlier the Keliukee Association had been organized by several General Baptist churches in Virginia and North Carolina, but they soon adopted a modified form of the Calvinistic faith.
In 1754 a company of settlers from New England settled in Virginia and began to propagate their views with vigor and great success. They were “New Lights,” or adherents of Whitefield and his evangelistic methods. Prominent among them were two preachers of unusual gifts, Shubael Stearns and Daniel Marshall. The churches founded by them became known as Separate Baptists, and they grew like Jonah’s gourd. The earliest of all, the Sandy Creek Church, in seventeen years was instrumental in establishing forty-two others, from which one hundred and twenty-five preachers were sent forth. Others were only less prolific; no wonder then that Baptists increased greatly in the Southern States. Their growth was much promoted by the healing of their divisions in 1787, Regulars and Separates uniting, on the basis of the Philadelphia Confession, to form “the United Baptist Churches of Christ in Virginia.”
We can no longer trace the history of churches ; we can only mark the progress of the body now by the formation of new groups of churches into Associations; and soon these too became too numerous to be followed in detail. The Philadelphia, as we have seen, is the venerable mother of all such bodies, but her first four daughters were born in the South—the Charleston (‘75’), Sandy Creek (1758), Kehukec (1765), and Ketokton (1766).1 The New England Associations began with the Warren (1767), followed by the Stonington (1772), and Shaftesbury (1780). The formation of Associations went rapidly on, until by i8oo there were forty-eight, of which thirty were in the Southern States, and eight beyond the Alleghenies—six of these last being in Kentucky.2
If the figures given below are substantially accurate, and for good reasons they are believed to be, the period of greatest actual and relative advance among American Baptists was the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Several causes contributed to this result, chief among them being the granting of religious liberty in all the States, the missionary activity of the pioneer preachers, and the harmony between the democratic spirit of the people and the congregational polity of the Baptist churches. Though subsequent growth has not reached these unexampled figures, it has Continually exceeded the rate at which population increases, and that in spite of the immense influx of foreign peoples, on many of whom Baptists have not yet succeeded in making any perceptible impression.
With the attainment of civil liberty came a spirit that made men see in religious persecution the tyranny and shame that it was. Virginia led the way, as became the colony that first made persecuting laws, and had equaled all others in the bitterness of her intolerance, if indeed she had not surpassed all. In 1629 the Assembly forbade any minister lacking Episcopal ordination to officiate in the colony, and this rule was enforced by severe penalties up to the Revolution. Baptists were also taxed for the support of the Episcopal Church and their property was seized and sold to pay such taxes. At length, however, they found champions in such men as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry; the latter, though a member of the Established Church, being too genuine a love of liberty to have any part in persecution. The first patriot legislature, which met in 1776, repealed the penal laws, and taxes for the support of the clergy were repealed in 1779. It was not until January, 1786, that the legislature passed an “ Act for establishing religious freedom,” drawn by Jefferson and powerfully advocated by James Madison.
The other States more or less rapidly followed the lead of Virginia. The spirit of intolerance lingered longest in New England, and it was not until 1833 that the last remnant of proscriptive laws was swept from the statute book of Massachusetts. And even so good and wise and great a man as Lyman Beecher thought the bottom had dropped out of things when his State (Connecticut) no longer compelled his unwilling Baptist neighbor to contribute to his support.
The disabilities removed, the Baptist churches grew apace. The secret of this growth was incessant evangelization. There were no missionary societies, national, State, or even local. Some of the Associations did a work of this kind. Thus, soon after the organization of the South Carolina Association, they sent North for a missionary preacher, and secured the Rev. John Gano, afterward pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York, and a man of note in his day. His labors in the interior of the State resulted in the establishment of several churches and the organization of the Congaree Association. But for the most part this evangelization Was the work of men who were not sent forth, but went forth to preach in obedience to a divine call. Many Baptist preachers spent at least a part of their lives, if not the whole of them, as itinerant preachers; and to their labors was due the growth of Baptist churches in the closing quarter of the eighteenth century.
As the population extended over the Alleghenies into the new regions of the great West, the missionary zeal of the churches kept step with the colonizing enterprise of the people. Without societies or other means of organizing their scanty resources of men and money, they pushed out boldly into the regions beyond. Many Baptists from North Carolina and Virginia were among the first settlers of Kentucky and Tennessee, and in the latter State their churches were organized as early as 1765. By 1790 there were eighteen churches and eight hundred and eighty-nine members in the State. In 1782, Baptist churches were formed in Kentucky; and in 1790 there were forty-two churches and three thousand and ninety-five members. Baptists were among the first to enter Ohio as settlers and religious workers, a church having been organized at Columbia (five miles above Cincinnati) in 1790,3 and the Miami Association being formed by four churches in 1797. In Illinois, Baptists from Virginia were the first Protestants to enter and possess the land, a number settling there not later than 1786. In the following year a Kentucky pastor preached there, but the first church was not formed until May, 1796, at New Design, St. Clair County. The first sermon on the site of what is now the great city of Chicago was preached October 5, 1825, by the Rev. Isaac McCoy, then a Baptist missionary to the Indians of Michigan.
Many men of God went forth into this wilderness not knowing where they should find a night’s lodging or their next meal, willing to suffer untold privations if they might only point some to the Lamb of God. It is impossible to estimate too highly or to praise too warmly the services of these men of strong faith and good works. Their hardships were such as we of the present day can hardly imagine. ‘Fhey traveled from little settlement to settlement on horseback, with no road save an Indian trail or blazed trees, fording streams over which no bridges had been built, exposed to storms, frequently sleeping where night found them, often prostrated by fevers or wasted by malaria, but indomitable still. If they did not wander “in sheepskins and goatskins,” like ancient heroes of faith, they wore deerskins; and homespun took the place of sackcloth. Their dwelling was “all out o’ doors.” Living in the plainest manner, sharing all the hardships of a pioneer people, the circuit preacher labored in a parish that, as one of them said, “took in one-half of creation, for it had no boundary on the west.” One of them writes in 1805: “Every day I travel I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from head to feet, and some days from morning to night I am dripping with water. . . I have rheumatism in all my joints. . . What I have suffered in body and mind my pen is not able to communicate to you. But this I can say: While my body is wet with water and chilled with cold my soul is filled with heavenly fire, and I can say with St. Paul: ‘But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy.’”
In general, the preacher was kindly received, often with tears of joy. The people who were running a neck-and-neck race with death by starvation or freezing had not much to give the itinerant minister. Even to offer him food and shelter meant sacrifice, but in nearly every case he was welcome to his share of whatever comforts the pioneer family possessed. In the wilderness, like Paul, he passed through perils many—perils by the way, perils from savage beasts, perils from the savage Indians, perils from godless and degraded men hardly less savage than either beast or Indian. But God, who closed the mouths of the lions, was with his servant, the pioneer preacher. Many died prematurely of privation and disease in this hard life, but there is no record of one who died of violence.
The houses of worship in which these preachers held their services were generally God’s own temples—the woods and prairies. Their libraries consisted of a Bible and a hymn-book, carried in their saddle-bags. They did not read polished essays from a manuscript, as their degenerate successors so often do. The rough back-woodsman had no use, as he phrased it, “for a preacher who couldn’t shoot without a rest.” The preaching was of a rough-and-ready sort, not always scrupulous of the king’s English, strongly tinged with the good, old doctrines of grace—eminently evangelistic, to use our modern phrase, and was richly blessed of God to the conversion of their hearers. These men, uncouth as they would seem now, unwelcome as they would be to the pulpit of any fashionable Baptist church in our cities, led multitudes to the cross of Christ, founded churches in all the new communities of the West, laid the foundations of denominational institutions, on which a magnificent superstructure has since been built. Let us honor as he deserves the pioneer preacher of the West. We who have entered into the labors of such men are noble indeed if we are worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. Time would fail to tell of such men as Ebenezer Loomis, the Michigan evangelist; of James Delaney, the Wisconsin pioneer; of Amory Gale, who preached over one hundred thousand miles of Minnesota; of “Father” Taggart, of Nebraska; and of scores of others equally worthy of undying honor. Their record is on high; their names are written in the book of God’s remembrance. “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.”
But a still greater opportunity was before American Baptists. When Thomas Jefferson became president, in 1801, the United States included an area of eight hundred and twenty-seven thousand eight hundred and forty-four square miles, all to the east of the Mississippi River. In 1803, Jefferson, with noble inconsistency setting aside all his past record as a strict constructionist of the Constitution, bought from France for fifteen million dollars a strip of territory that more than doubled the area of his country. This Louisiana purchase, as it was called, added to the national domain one million one hundred and seventy-one thousand nine hundred and thirty-one square miles. From this territory were afterward formed the States of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, the two Dakotas, Montana, the Indian Territory, and Oklahoma, besides a considerable part of the States of Minnesota and Colorado.
Settlement of this new region necessarily proceeded very slowly for some time. The Indians were hostile and threatening on the north, and the possession of the southern part was menaced by the British. The energies of the country were too much absorbed by the war of 1812, the struggle to preserve the independence so hard won in the Revolution, to have much surplus energy for colonization. At the battle of Tippecanoe, in 1811, General Harrison broke the power of the Indians, who were never formidable again east of the Mississippi; while “Old Hickory,” by his defeat of the British at New Orleans in 1815, forever assured the integrity of our possessions against any foreign attack. Peace soon came to crown these victories, and then the great westward movement of population began. In a half-century the face of this continent was transformed as no similar expanse on the earth’s surface was ever transformed in so short a time.
The unsystematic system that had been so undoubtedly effective for a time was outgrown; something else must be devised. Highly privileged is the man who becomes an agent of God’s providence in the founding of a great and beneficent institution. There were many men who had an honorable part in the founding of the American Baptist Home Mission Society; hut if one must be chosen from them who was preeminent, that one can be no other than John M. Peck. He was born in Litchfield, Conn., in 1789, was converted at the age of eighteen, and joined the Congregational church. In 1811 he removed with his wife to Windham, N. Y., and there a careful study of the Bible made him a Baptist. He was almost immediately licensed to preach, and was ordained to the ministry at Catskill in 1812.
From the first he was a missionary, his only pastorate being of not much over a year’s duration, at Amenia, N. Y. Becoming acquainted with Luther Rice, when the latter was telling abroad the story of Judson and the work in India, effectually determined his bent in that direction; only it was home missions, not foreign, that appealed most strongly to him. In 1817 the Triennial Convention commissioned him as a missionary to the region west of the Mississippi, and the rest of his life was spent in that work. It was a journey of one thousand two hundred miles to an unknown country, almost as heathen as Burma and far less civilized, that he and his then took. Let us make no mistake, John M. Peck was quite as heroic as Judson or Boardman.
From his arrival at St. Louis he became the apostle of the West. His labors were incredible in extent and variety, and though he had a constitution of iron, they made an old man of him by the time he was fifty. During his first three years he had organized several churches, secured the establishment of fifty schools, introduced a system of itinerant missions, projected a college, and undertaken part of the support of Rev. Isaac McCoy, missionary to the Indians. It was bad enough to contend with poverty, ignorance, and irreligion, but in Peck’s case perils from false brethren were added to all the other perils of the wilderness. Anti-mission Baptists were strong at that time in Kentucky, and began to make their way into Missouri and Illinois—old high-and-dry Calvinists like those with whom Carey had to contend, who held that it was flying in the face of Divine Providence to plead with men to come to Jesus, and such new-fangled things as missionary societies were of the devil. To the everlasting shame of the Triennial Convention, it permitted itself to be influenced by the complaints that came to it from such sources, and in 1820, or soon after, all support was withdrawn from this Western enterprise. No appeals or remonstrances served to secure a reconsideration of the question, and Peck was compelled to look elsewhere for help. He could not think in any case of deserting the work to which God had called him—a work whose importance became more clear
to him each year.
Had it not been for this unfaithfulness to its duty on the part of the Triennial Convention, this disgraceful desertion of a true and tried man, the Home Mission Society would doubtless never have been formed. Peck turned first to the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society, which made him its missionary at the munificent salary of five dollars a week—no doubt all that it had to give at the time. I-Ic resumed his work with fresh courage and was unwearied in it, traveling all over the States of Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. Then he took a brief—not rest, but change of labor, by making a tour of the Eastern States to interest them in Western missions, returning with over one thousand dollars pledged for a seminary at Rock Spring, Ill., which forthwith began, with him as professor of theology. Then he added to his other enterprises the publication of a newspaper, The Pioneer, in 1829. No wonder that his health quite broke down in 1831, and he was compelled to rest from his labors for a time.
Even then he was not idle—such a man could not be idle. He could think and plan, if he could not actively work. At just this time Elder Jonathan Going was sent West by the Massachusetts Baptists to look over the field and report on its needs; for three months he and Peck traveled over the new States of the West, and before they separated, so an entry in Peck’s journal informs us, they had agreed on the plan of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. These two were the founders of that organization. For the practical execution of the plan, Going was the very man, and it was not more than six months after his return before the Society was an assured fact. On April 27, 1832, the new Society was formed in New York, where its headquarters have since remained. The motto selected for the Society was an assurance that no local interests should be permitted to circumscribe its sympathies or activities.
Its first work was in the Mississippi Valley. This was the far West of that day; the outposts of civilization were just beginning to push beyond that barrier of nature. Here a great battle was to be fought. The population of the Louisiana purchase was almost exclusively Roman Catholic. We can see now that the question of the supremacy of this continent, for which the Protestant Saxon race and the Catholic French race long contended, was fought out and settled on the plains of Abraham, in 1759, when Wolfe defeated Montcalm and captured the stronghold of Quebec. But this was not so clear at the time. Rome is an antagonist that does not know when she is beaten. She recognized, indeed, that she had received a severe check in the New World, but could not believe it a final defeat. She dreamed that in the valley of the Mississippi, with the great advantage she already had, not only all her losses might be regained, but a victory might be won far surpassing her apparent defeat. And who shall say that this was all dream? As we look back it seems a not unreasonable forecast, from the realization of which only a merciful Providence saved us. The fruits of Wolfe’s victory might have been lost but for the fact that just at the critical hour God raised up such missionary and evangelizing agencies as the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
During its earliest years, Elder Peck was the Home Mission Society in the West—its visible embodiment, its chief adviser, and local executive. Time and space would fail to tell of the variety and extent of his labors. He was foremost in organizing the Illinois Educational Society, in founding and endowing Alton Seminary and Shurtleff College; the churches, educational institutions, societies of all kinds, that owe their life to him—their name is legion. And he was not merely active; he was wise, far-seeing, shrewd. He made few mistakes, and his previsions of the greatness that would come to these Western communities failed only in being far short of the reality, daring as they seemed to his contemporaries, The Baptist cause in the Middle West owes what it is to-day to the work of John lvi. Peck more than to any other score of men that can be named.
In 1856 he died, a man worn out by his labors before his due time; for though he had reached the age of sixty-six—a good length of years for many men—his constitution should have made him good for twenty years more. But if other men have lived longer, few have lived lives more useful or that have left greater results. If we adopt Napoleon’s test of greatness—what has he done?—there has been no greater man in the history of American Baptists than John M. Peck.
Into the New West of the “thirties” the new Society moved, at first with but slender resources, yet with a dauntless spirit. It became the great pioneer agency of the denomination. One of its first missionaries was the Rev. Allen B. Freeman, who in 1833 gathered the First Baptist Church of Chicago—the first church of the denomination to be established in what was then the Northwest. Call the roll of the great cities of the West—St. Paul, Minneapolis, Omaha, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland—what would the Baptist cause have been in them but for this Society? In nearly all of these cities, not only was the first Baptist church established by this organization, but most of the Baptist churches existing in them to-day owe their birth and continued existence to its fostering care. Call the roll of our great Western commonwealths—Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon, Washington—in every one of these this Society has been the pioneer agency of the denomination by from two to twenty years.
In 1845 the Society began the evangelization of the far West by the sending of Rev. Ezra Fisher and Rev. Hezekiah Johnson from Iowa to Oregon. Their hardships on the way were great, but they reached their destination safely, and the foundations of Baptist churches were speedily laid in that State. In 1848, before the discovery of gold in California was announced in the East, Rev. O. C. Wheeler was sent to San Francisco, via the Isthmus of Panama; and later Rev. H. W. Read was sent overland to the same destination; but on reaching New Mexico he was so impressed with the importance and destitution of that field that he asked and obtained the consent of the Board to remain there. In the other States, mission work was begun as fast as men and means could be found to extend operations westward. In Kansas the Society had a missionary as early as 1854, and one was sent into Nebraska in 1856. The troublous times just before and during the Civil War brought this advance to a temporary standstill, but in 1864 it was again resumed, entrance having been made in that year into two States —Dakota and Colorado. In i 8~o Washington and Wyoming were occupied, and in 1871 Montana and Utah.
What have been the results on the denominational growth? They are difficult to compute. In the year 1832, when the Home Mission Society was organized, there were in its peculiar field—the West—nine hundred churches, a large part of them feeble and pastorless, since there were but six hundred ministers, and the total membership was but thirty-two thousand. In 1896 the Baptist denomination in that field, and in the farther West that is still more distinctively missionary territory, had seven thousand four hundred and seventy churches and five hundred and eighty-one thousand members.
Though the work of home missions was thus first in point of time and in pressing necessity, it was not the first to be organized on a permanent basis. Long before this had come about, a clear providential summons had come to Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission, and preach the gospel to every creature. This was accomplished through Adoniram Judson, the son of a Congregational minister of Massachusetts, who was educated at Brown University and Andover Theological Seminary. Through the influence of Judson and some other students at Andover, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was organized; and in 1812 several missionaries were sent out to India, among whom were Adoniram Judson and his wife, Ann Ilasseltine Judson. Their destination was Calcutta, where they knew some English Baptist missionaries to be laboring. It seemed probable to the Judsons that they would be called upon to defend their own doctrines and practice in the matter of baptism against these Baptists, and Mr. Judson began to study the question on shipboard with his usual ardor.
The more he sought to find in the Scriptures authority for the baptism of infants and for sprinkling as baptism, the more convinced was he that neither could be found there. Mrs. Judson also became much troubled. After landing at Calcutta they sought out the English Baptist missionaries, and continued their study with the help of other books procured. Finally both were convinced that the Baptist position was right, that they had never been baptized, and that duty to Christ demanded that they should be baptized. Accordingly, they were immersed in the Baptist chapel at Calcutta by Rev. William Ward, September 6, 1813. Shortly after, Luther Rice, another appointee of the same Board, who had sailed by another ship, landed at Calcutta, having undergone a precisely similar experience. He too was baptized. The question then arose, what were they to do? By this act, though they had obeyed Christ, they had cut themselves off from connection with the Board that had sent them forth, and were strangers in a strange land, without means of future support. It was resolved that Mr. Rice should return to America, tell the Baptists there what had happened, and throw the new mission upon them—for of abandoning the work of preaching the gospel to the heathen, to which they felt that God had called them, the Judsons seem never to have thought.
Mr. Rice reached Boston in September, 1813 and told his story. The Baptists of Boston and vicinity at once became responsible for the support of the Judsons, but they saw that the finger of Providence pointed to a larger undertaking than this. They advised Mr. Rice to visit the Baptist churches at large and try to interest them in this work. To their honor be it written, the Baptists of that day did not hesitate for an instant. They were poor and scattered, and the country was just beginning its second struggle for independence. No time could have been less propitious for the launching of a new enterprise, especially one projected on so large a scale as this. But our fathers were men of faith and prayer and good works; they obeyed the voice of God and went forward. With great enthusiasm they responded to the appeals of Mr. Rice; considering their relative poverty, the contributions were liberal; missionary societies sprang up all over the land; the denomination for the first time had a common cause, and became conscious of its unity and its power.
The need was at once felt of some one central organization that would unite these forces in the missionary cause, and after mutual counsel among the officers of several existing bodies, a meeting was called for the organization of a national society. This meeting was held at Philadelphia in May, 1814, and resulted in the formation of “The General Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions.” The constitution declared the object to be to direct “the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort for sending the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen, and to nations destitute of pure gospel light.” From the circumstance of its meeting once in three years, this body was popularly known as the “Triennial Convention,” though that was never its official title. It continued to be the organ of the denomination for its foreign work until 1845.
The Baptist churches of the entire country were represented in its organization and conduct and support. Its first president was Richard Furman, of South Carolina. There was, however, considerable opposition, not by any means confined to any one section, to this new missionary movement. IVIany Baptist churches held a form of Calvinistic doctrine that was paralyzing to all evangelical effort. Their doctrine of the divine decrees was practically fatalism: when God was ready to convert the heathen, he would do so without human intervention; and to send out missionaries for this purpose was an irreverent meddling with the divine purposes, as reprehensible as Uzzah’s rash staying of the ark of God when it seemed about to fall. Consequently, from this time onward the Baptists of the United States became divided into two parties, missionary Baptists and antimissionary Baptists. The latter were at first equal, if not superior, in numbers to the former; in some districts the anti-mission Baptists were largely in the majority. But a doctrine and practice so discouraging of practical effort for the salvation of men produced its legitimate results in a generation or two, by reducing the number of anti-mission Baptists to nearly or quite the vanishing point in the greater part of the United States. Remnants of the sect still survive, and in a few Southern States the churches are still quite strong. Their total number has for years been given at about forty thousand in denominational statistics, but the census of 1890 states their total membership as one hundred and twenty-one thousand three hundred and forty-seven. Though they long since practically disappeared from the Northern States, they have a few churches in almost every State of the Union, except the newer ones beyond the Mississippi.
The first mission established by the General Convention was in Burma, whither the Judsons went in 1813, because the intolerance of the British Fast India Company denied them the privilege of laboring in India, the land of their first choice. The work began at Rangoon in July, 1813, but it was not until July, 1819, that the first convert, Moung Nau, was baptized. The war between England and Burma broke out just as the work began to prosper, and for three years Judson and his devoted wife suffered incredible tortures of body and spirit. After the war the mission came under British protection and prospered. Doctor Judson continued to preach and teach until his death, and gave the Burmans the Scriptures in their native tongue.
The work in Burma has not been so prosperous among the Burmans as among the Karens, a people living in the hill districts. Among them the gospel has made great progress from the establishment of the mission by Rev. George Dana Boardman, in 1828. A mission in Arracan was established in 1835, and one in Siam in 1833. In 1834 Rev. William Dean began a mission at Bangkok among the Chinese of that city. In 1842 Mr. Dean left on account of his health, and began a mission in Hong Kong. A mission was established in Assam in 1836, and in 1821 two Negro missionaries were sent out to Liberia. These were practically all of the missions among the heathen begun and carried on during the history of the General Convention. Several European missions, however, belong to this period—the missions to France, Germany, Denmark, and Greece. Of these, something more will be said in another chapter.
These beginnings of foreign missionary work by American Baptists were largely blessed in the extension of the work among the heathen; but it may be doubted whether the reflex blessing on the Baptist churches of this country was not the larger blessing of the two. Never was the Scripture better illustrated than in the history of Baptists in the United States: “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”
1 This is leaving out of account a “yearly meeting” of the Arminian Baptists of New England, begun previous to 1729, and afterwards developing into an Association.
2 At the beginning of the Revolution American Baptists numbered less than s o,ooo, but even approximate figures are lacking. In 1792, according to Dr. Rufus Babcock, there were 471 churches, 424 ministers, and 35,501 members. By 1800 they had increased to an estimated number of 100,000. In 1850 the numbers had risen to 815,212, of whom 686,807 were “Regular “ Baptists. In other words, in 1776 Baptists were about 1 to 264 of the population; in 1800 they were 1 to 53, and in 1850 they had become 1 in 29.
3 This church changed its place of worship in 1808, and was thenceforth known as the Duck Creek Church.
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