Baptists and 1662

Today marks the 350th anniversary of the Act of Uniformity (1662). This Act resulted in the ejection of approximately two thousand Puritan ministers from their pulpits since it would have required complete subscription to The Book of Common Prayer. Most Puritan ministers resigned rather than conform to these demands. In reality this Act was just one part of a body of legislation enacted during the early years of the reign of Charles II (r. 1660-1685). Although Charles II had promised religious toleration when he returned to the throne following the Commonwealth Protectorate of Oliver and Richard Cromwell, hopes for such were short-lived among the Dissenters. It is unknown whether Charles II actually had any intention of keeping his promise of religious liberty. What is known, however, is that Parliament passed a series of laws between 1661 and 1665 known as the Clarendon Code that were designed to enforce conformity to the worship of the Church of England. Along with the Act of Uniformity, a number of bills were passed with the intent of suppressing dissent from the Church of England. The Corporation Act of 1661, for example, required that a person had to have received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the Church of England within the past year to be eligible for election to any government office. Eligible persons were also required to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to the king of England. The Conventicle Act of 1664 forbade the assembling of five or more persons for religious worship other than Anglican worship. This, in essence, outlawed Dissenting churches. The Five-Mile Act of 1665 forbade any Nonconforming preacher or teacher to come within 5 miles of a city or corporate town where he had previously served as a minister. Each of these Acts was aimed at stamping out both the Dissenters and Catholics. Baptists were hit particularly hard by these laws since they made their conscientious worship of God illegal.[1] London’s oldest Baptist Church [2] was the Wapping congregation which originally had John Spilsbury as pastor. The second pastor of this congregation, John Norcott, is believed to have been one of a small number of Baptists who were actually ejected from their pulpits in Church of England in 1662.[3] Although only a handful of Baptists were affected by the actual ejection of 1662, the other laws of the Clarendon Code, of which the Act of Uniformity was a part, continued to have major effects for over a quarter of a century. During this period dubbed by B. R. White, the doyen of seventeenth-century English Baptist studies, as “The Era of the Great Persecution,”[4] all dissenters, including the Baptists, were persecuted.[5] An unintended result of the persecutors was that a rich body of literature was produced that reflects a vibrant spirituality of persecution and suffering for the sake of the gospel. Ironically, without this persecution we would not have many of the enduring works forged by men such as John Bunyan, Hercules Collins, Abraham Cheare in their furnace of affliction.

[1] For a fuller description of these Acts and their impact upon Baptists, see Ernest A. Payne and Norman S. Moon, Baptists and 1662 (London: The Carey Kingsgate Press Limited, 1962).

[2] Oldest continuous congregation still in existence. For the history of the church, see Ernest F. Kevan, London’s Oldest Baptist Church:  Wapping 1633—Walthamstow 1933 (London: Kingsgate Press, 1933). The church is now called Church Hill Baptist Church, Walthamstow.  Their website is:

[3] For a discussion of the evidence, please see Geoffrey F. Nuttall, “Another Baptist Ejection (1662): The Case of John Norcott” in Pilgrim Pathways: Essays in Baptist History in Honour of B. R. White, eds. William H. Brackney and Paul S. Fiddes with John H. Y. Briggs (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1999), 185–188.

[4] B. R. White, The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century (Didcot: The Baptist Historical Society, 1996), 95–133.

[5] For an excellent study of this era, see Gerald R. Cragg, Puritanism in the Period of the Great Persecution 1660–1688 (Cambridge: University Press, 1957). See also Michael R. Watts, The Dissenters. Volume 1: From the Reformation to the French Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 221–262.

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