17th Century Baptists

The Man Converted Through His Own Preaching

Elias Keach by Robert White line engraving, 1697 NPG D20943 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Elias Keach
by Robert White
line engraving, 1697
NPG D20943
© National Portrait Gallery, London

In the late seventeenth century, a son of the famous English Baptist pastor Benjamin Keach came to America. Although he was unconverted, Elias Keach posed as a minister to support himself. However, his plan backfired and he came under conviction while preaching one of his fraudulent sermons. Morgan Edwards, an early chronicler of American Baptists, tells the story.

He was son of the famous Benj. Keach, of London. Arrived in this country a very wild spark about the year 1686. On his landing he dressed in black and wore a band in order to pass for a minister. The project succeeded to his wishes, and many people resorted to hear the young London divine. He performed well enough till he had advanced pretty far in the sermon. Then, stopping short, looked like a man astonished. The audience concluded he had been seized with a sudden disorder; but, on asking what the matter was, received from him a confession of the imposture with tears in his eyes and much trembling. Great was his distress though it ended happily; for from this time dated he his conversion. He heard there was a Baptist minister at Coldspring in Bucks county between Bristol and Trentown. To him did he repair to seek cousel [sic] and comfort; and by him was he baptized and ordained. The minister’s name was Thomas Dungan. From Coldspring Mr. Keach came to Pennepek and settled a church there as before related; and thence travelled through Pennsylvania and the Jersies preaching the gospel in the wilderness with great success, in so much that he may be considered as the chief apostle of the Baptists in these parts of America. He and his family embarked for old England early in the spring of the year 1692, after having resigned the care of the church for a considerable time before to the Rev. John Watts.[1]

[1]Morgan Edwards, Materials Towards a History of the Baptists in Pennsylvania Both British and German, Distinguished into FirstDay Baptists Keithian Baptists SeventhDay Baptists Tuncker Baptists Mennonist Baptists, vol. 1 (Philadelpha: Joseph Cruckshank and Isaac Collins, 1770), 9-11.

The First General Assembly of Particular Baptists (1689)

1689 GA Cover PageAfter the Act of Toleration, which was passed by Parliament in 1688 and enacted by the king on May 24, 1689, dissenters began to exercise their new-found freedom to assemble publicly to great avail. In 1689, the Baptists gathered in London for their first national assembly. This group of “divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches” met in London from September 3-12, 1689, and claimed to represent “more than one hundred Congregations of the same Faith with Themselves.”[1] The common faith which distinguished this group of churches is specified on the cover page as “the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance.”[2] This group would further identify themselves in their first meeting by adopting what would become known as the Second London Confession of Faith. This confession was originally composed and published in 1677 having originated in the Petty France congregation under the oversight of William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe.[3] The confession was republished in 1688[4] and subsequently adopted by the General Assembly in 1689. The members of the assembly declared that this confession contained “the Doctrine of our Faith and Practice” and expressed their desire that “the Members of our Churches respectively do furnish themselves therewith.”[5] When the confession was published for the third time in 1699, it included the signatures of thirty-seven ministers and messengers of the Assembly who had allowed their names to be affixed “In the name and behalf of the whole Assembly.”[6] Among the signatories were such men as William Collins, Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, and  Hercules Collins.

The primary purpose of the general assemblies was stated in a letter to the churches printed in the published minutes of the inaugural meeting. The messengers gathered,

chiefly to consider of the present state and condition of all the Congregations respectively under our Care and Charge; and what might be the causes of that Spiritual Decay and loss of Strength, Beauty and Glory in our Churches; and to see (if we might be helped by the Lord herein), what might be done to attain to a better and more prosperous State and Condition.[7]

Accordingly, they spent the first day “in humbling ourselves before the Lord, and to seek of him a right way to direct into the best Means and Method to repair our Breaches, and to recover our selves into our former Order, Beauty, and Glory.”[8] The assembly also issued a call for a day of humiliation and fasting for the churches they represented, to be held on October 10, 1689.[9] The primary function of the assemblies was to provide advice and counsel to the churches. The messengers clearly wanted to disavow themselves from any sense that they were an authoritative body. Indeed, their first declaration was to “disclaim all manner of Superiority, Superintendency over the Churches; and that we have no Authority or Power, to prescribe or impose any thing upon the Faith or Practice of any of the Churches of Christ.” They would go on to state their intention merely “to be helpers together of one another, by way of Counsel and Advice, in the right understanding of that Perfect Rule which our Lord Jesus, the only Bishop of our Souls, hath prescribed, and given to his Churches in his Word.”[10] Thus, much of their time meeting together was spent responding to queries posed by the messengers on behalf of their respective congregations. Their most significant action historically, however, was the adoption of the 1677 Baptist Confession of Faith, which would prove to have a lasting impact on Baptist life and thought down to the present day.

___________________

[1]A Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly Of divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches, met together in London, from Septemb. 3. To 12. 1689, from divers parts of England and Wales: Owning the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance (London, 1689), 1.

[2]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 1.

[3]Petty France Church Minute Book, 1.

[4]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians, (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country (London: John Harris, 1688).

[5]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 18.

[6]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Countrey, 3rd ed. (London: S. Bridge, 1699), back cover; Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 239.

[7]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 3.

[8]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 9.

[9]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 7.

[10]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 10.

Speaking Truth to Power: Thomas Helwys and Our Baptist Heritage

A short Declaration cover pageIn 1612, the proto-Baptist Thomas Helwys published a book entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity. In an original edition of the work preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a handwritten note on the flyleaf of the work addressed to King James I from Thomas Helwys. This volume was apparently a dedication copy to be presented to the King of England. Helwys, who had just returned to England from the Netherlands with a band of baptized believers,* intended to make a statement to the King regarding religious liberty. Apparently, the King received the message as Helwys was unsurprisingly arrested shortly thereafter and languished in the infamous Newgate Prison until he died four years later in 1616. Helwys’ courageous address to the King of England deserves to be read and remembered as we consider the Baptist contribution to religious liberty. Baptists have a rich heritage of speaking truth to power, often at great risk.

Below is a transcription of the text of Helwys handwritten note to King James I and below that is a photocopy of the original.
     Heare, O King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore and let their complaints come before thee.
     The King is a mortall man and not God, therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subiects, to make lawes & ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them.
     If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords & lawes, then he is an immortall God and not a mortall man.
     O King be not seduced by deceivers to sine so against God whome thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subiects who ought and will obey thee in all thinges with body life and goods or els let their lives be taken from ye earth.
     God save ye Kinge
Tho: Helwys.
Spittlefeild
neare London.
Thomas Helwys Dedication to King James
_________________
*Helwys and his followers had been baptized by affusion, i.e., pouring as believers.

God’s Sovereignty, Foreknowledge, and Human Responsibility in the Death of Christ

Mountains of Brass Cover

Click to enlarge.

One of the most persistent questions that pastors must address is one regarding the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. I addressed this issue several years ago as an M.Div. student from a philosophical/theological/biblical perspective in a paper titled “If God is Sovereign, Can Man Be Free?” (PDF). More recently I’ve discovered the way in which the 17th-century English Particular Baptist Hercules Collins answered this question. In his discourse on the decrees of God titled Mountains of Brass, Collins addressed the question of how humans could be free and responsible in their murder of Jesus, if God infallibly foreknew what would take place.

God’s determination that Christ should die to save man, laid none under a necessity of sinning, but God foreknew what the malice of the Devil, Jews and Gentiles would be against this person to put him to death. And God did determine not to prevent it, but suffer[1] it, because he knew how to bring glory to himself out of it. It was necessary Christ should suffer. God could not be mistaken in his foreknowledge, or come short of his determinate decree. But this neither took away the liberty of Christ’s suffering, neither did it take away the liberty of the Jews, and their voluntariness in putting Christ to death. God’s decree, Christ should suffer, did infallibly secure the event, but did not annihilate and destroy the liberty of the act, neither in Christ as aforesaid, who freely suffered himself, nor the Jews, who as freely and voluntary put him to death, as if there had been no decree of God at all about his death.[2] The gardener’s foreknowledge that such seeds and roots will in the Spring produce such leaves and flowers, is no cause of their rise and appearance in Spring; but knowing the virtue of such roots, so concludes. So God’s foreknowledge what wicked words would proceed from the root of a wicked heart concerning Christ’s death, is no more cause of those evil acts, than the gardener is the cause of the rise of such flowers in Spring from such roots, because he foreknew the nature of them. God’s foreknowledge that Adam would fall, put him under no necessity of it, but ‘twas done voluntarily and freely. Yet God foresaw infallibly he would fall, and God determined not to prevent it, knowing how to glorify himself by it. So God’s foreknowledge of the Jews putting Christ to death, did not necessitate them to it, but done as freely as if it had not been foreknown, nor any determination of God about it. Thus we have proved those acts of divine providence in time in the world, are the product of God’s eternal purposes.

Hercules Collins, Mountains of Brass: Or, A Discourse Upon the Decrees of God (London: 1689), 6-8.


[1] i.e., allow, let

[2] Mr. Charnock, on the Attributes. This is a reference to Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) whose lectures at Crosby Hall in London on the attributes of God were transcribed after his death and are presently in print as The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996). Collins is most likely referring to Charnock’s discussion of the relationship between God’s foreknowledge of man’s voluntary actions and man’s liberty of the will on pages 446-451 of the above volume.

Is Participation an Endorsement?: Infant Baptism, Church Discipline, and the Consciences of Believers

Given the strong views on baptism held by the first three pastors of the Wapping church (John Spilsbury, John Norcott and Hercules Collins) and these early Baptists’ commitment to holding members accountable to the teaching of Scripture, it should come as no surprise that church members were often disciplined for having their infants sprinkled. On October 2, 1677, Charles Cheney was excommunicated for (among other things) “the grand Error of the Baptisme of Infants.”[1] The next month, the Wapping Church Book records that Elizabeth Durbon “was sharply Reproved for the Sin of Sprinkling her Infant Contrary to the Rules of Christ and the Gospel.”[2] Durbon was not excommunicated because when confronted with her “evill” act, she repented of it and “fell under it before them for doing that which was Contrary to the Command of Christ and the practice of the Apostles and the Constitution of this Church and her own Covenant.” Likewise, in September of 1685, a Brother Hemings was brought before the church where he “did there acknowledge his Evele” in the sprinkling of his child.[3]

It was even considered a serious matter merely to attend an infant’s sprinkling. This was apparently considered an endorsement of an unbiblical and disobedient practice. In March of 1685, a Sister Leader was “sharply Reproved” by the church for being present at an infant’s sprinkling. No further action was taken against Sister Leader since “she did Acknowledg her falt therin.”[4] This was apparently an ongoing issue, as nearly a decade later a word of “Advice” was given by the church to midwives who were church members and might be asked to assist in the sprinkling of an infant.

At the same time this Advice was given to the Midwifes in our congregation that they be not concerned Nither in the holding the Child at Sprinekling nor at prayers Nor doe not promote nor Incurrige Godfathers nor Godmothers as so Called but that they beare such a testemony for the truthes they ownes against the contrary practise as that they may not defile ther Conscience and as may be an honor to the profession of Christ that they makes of him.[5]

This entry helps to explain why the church would discipline members who attended an infant sprinkling. These Baptist midwives were instructed not to participate in the ceremony, nor in any way to encourage the process. Their presence would be a condoning of the practice. By not participating, these women would be able to bear witness to their own beliefs as to the proper nature of baptism. In so doing, they would both guarantee a clear conscience and live up to their own profession of faith in Christ.


[1]Wapping Church Book, 2 October 1677. The other charges against Cheney were “neglect of his Duty in the Church” and “breaking his word.”

[2]WCB, 13 November 1677.

[3]WCB, 22 September 1685.

[4]WCB, 17 March 1685.

[5]WCB, 18 September 1694.

An Orthodox Catechism Now Available for Pre-order

ImageReformed Baptist Academic Press is now accepting pre-orders of quantities of 10 or more of An Orthodox Catechism. This catechism is modernized version of the Orthodox Catechism published in 1680 by Hercules Collins. It was itself a revision of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism loved and used by Protestants world-wide. This edition by Collins edits the section on baptism in a way suitable to a seventeenth-century Baptist. 

Michael A.G. Haykin and I have edited this historic catechism for a modern audience. We have also authored a historical introduction that explains the significance of the catechism along with Collins’ rationale for his edits.

The product page for the book is up on the RBAP website, but you will have to wait until the book is in stock to order individual copies (should be available within a week). The book retails for $12.00, but is available at a special price of $9.00 directly from the publisher. However, for churches or individuals who order 10 or more copies, the price is only $6.00 per copy. You pay shipping and $1.50 handling. These pre-orders must be paid via check. RBAP will invoice you via email. You need to contact RBAP directly to receive this offer.

UPDATE: The book is now available on Amazon for $10.80. Please note that the Kindle edition listed is not our edition, but a transcription of the unedited original.

The Evangelistic Fervor of a 17th Century Particular Baptist

When Andrew Fuller was wrestling with the question of whether or not the gospel should be preached indiscriminately to all, he found a model for promiscuous gospel preaching in the seventeenth-century English Particular Baptist John Bunyan. Fuller noted that Bunyan, contrary to the contemporary Particular Baptist examples of preaching he knew, regularly addressed the unconverted directly and appealed to them to trust in Christ’s saving work. Fuller would eventually realize that the hyper-Calvinistic approach was an intrusion into Particular Baptist life and not faithful to its original heritage. Seventeenth-century Particular Baptists preached the gospel to all, calling upon all to believe and repent.

HC Funeral Sermon pageAlong with Bunyan, Fuller could have also read the writings of men such as Benjamin Keach, Thomas Harrison, William Collins and Hercules Collins. Each of these men were convinced Calvinists soteriologically, subscribing to the Second London Confession of Faith. Yet, each of these men pleaded with sinners to be saved. In his funeral sermon for Hercules Collins, John Piggott commented upon the evangelistic zeal of Collins by saying that “no man could preach with a more affectionate regard to the salvation of souls.”[1] He later called the regular attenders of the Wapping-street Church who remained unsaved as witnesses to the gospel fervor of Hercules Collins: “You are witnesses with what zeal and fervour, with what constancy and seriousness he used to warn and persuade you.”[2] Piggott then began to plead with the lost present himself by crying out, “Tho you have been deaf to his former preaching, yet listen to the voice of this providence, lest you continue in your slumber till you sleep the sleep of death.” He then closed with these forceful words:

You cannot but see, unless you will close your eyes, that this world and the fashion of it is passing away. O what a change will a few months or years make in this numerous assembly! Yea, what a sad change has little more than a fortnight made in this congregation! He that was so lately preaching in this pulpit, is now wrapped in his shroud, and confined to his coffin; and the lips that so often dispersed knowledge amongst you, are sealed up till the resurrection. Here’s the body of your late minister; but his soul is entered into the joy of his Lord. O that those of you that would not be persuaded by him living, might be wrought upon by his death! For tho he is dead, he yet speaketh; and what doth he say; both to ministers and people, but “Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man cometh?”[3]

Historical evidence such as this should put to rest the claims of some that Calvinism necessarily inhibits evangelistic fervor. Hyper-Calvinism, indeed, is an error that must be rejected by Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. Those who refuse to call upon all sinners to believe and repent are not only disobedient to the clear teaching of Scripture, they are also not living up to the best of their Calvinistic Baptist heritage exemplified by men such as John Bunyan, Hercules Collins, and Andrew Fuller.


[1] John Piggott, Eleven Sermons, 236.

[2] Ibid., 240.

[3]Ibid.

———————-

This post previously appeared at the blog of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. It is also posted at HerculesCollins.com.