« AnteriorContinua »
spect of essential service, and created a new era in the history of religious `liberty.
The abettors of the state religion in this reign, who appear to have taken for their exemplars those worthy models of a zeal for rigorous Conformity, Philip. II. and Lewis XIV., ardently expected that their inquisitorial proceedings would deter the people from following their pastors; and that by cutting off the means of education, they should effectually prevent a succession of able ministers from rising up to vindicate their cause. In both these respects they were disappointed. Persecution made confirmed enemies of some that might have been friends, and gained others from a principle of compassion to the distressed; exemplifying a common observation, that a religion flourishes most when stimulated by opposition. Like the ancient apologists for Christianity, when smarting under the rod of the Heathen emperors, many of them employed their privacy in writing vindications of the cause for which they suffered; and the zeal and ability which they brought to the work, had a considerable effect both in clearing their own conduct and in confirming the people in the principles for which they contended. As many of the Nonconforming clergy were men of learning and talents, and had acted as tutors in the universities, they were well qualified for superintendents of academies, which they now instituted, partly for their support and partly for the purpose of training up ministers who should afterwards take their places, and be the means of perpetuating a cause which they considered to be that of truth and piety. Perhaps nothing tended so much to annoy their adversaries as their employment in this way, as it defeated their expectation that the cause of Nonconformity would die with the ejected ministers.
those of liberty; and he possessed a benevolence and single-heartedness that unfitted him to play the tyrant, or even to controul the factious disposition of his subjects. Had his means been equal to his inclination, he would have put an end to all political distinctions upon account of religion, being well satisfied both of their impolicy and injustice. But the power of the crown, when it might have been beneficial to the people, was greatly diminished; and the personal influence of King William was scarcely sufficient to protect the Nonconformists from persecution. In the following reign, the monster stalked abroad with a firmer step, and had nearly succeeded in bringing back the nation to the same state of priesteraft and slavery, from which it had been redeemed by the kindly genius of King William. But the death of Queen Anne saved the nation from this catastrophe, and the Dissenters from their fearful situation.
In the interval between the Revolution and the accession of the House of Hanover, the Nonconformists continued to maintain that respectability of character which challenged and procured the respect of their adversaries. A few of the Bartholomean confessors still continued upon the stage, to give countenance to their younger brethren; and the rising generation of ministers, who had received a liberal education, continued with nearly the same success the designs of their predecessors. Many of them were their sons in blood as well as in the faith: possessed of solid learning, they were able advocates of the cause they had espoused, as well as of the common Christianity. By their judicious labours in the pulpit, their pious instructions in private, their attention to catechetical exercises, and their valuable productions from the press, as also by their schemes for perpetuating a learned ministry, they kept alive the interest of Nonconformity, and it continued to flourish in their hands. As the State had laid aside the engine of persecution, they now began to erect meeting-houses in more public situations, some of them spacious and substantial; and they were well filled.
The people, trained under these
From the stormy period of civil commotion and arbitrary government, we now turn to the Revolution in 1688, when the political condition of the Nonconformists became fixed by law, and freedom of worship was guaranteed to them by the Act of Toleration. In enlightened views, the new king was a century before his subjects. His own principles were decidedly
excellent men, proved themselves every way worthy of such instructors. Their congregations were numerous and respectable. In some towns the corporation was of this profession; and it was no uncommon thing for the principal families in the neighbourhood to pass by the parish church on their way to the meeting-house. Several of the nobility and gentry had been educated under Nonconforming tutors, and still continued the practice of retaining them as chaplains and tutors. Uncorrupted by the profligacy of the times, by the temptations of the court, or the servile compliances of those around them, they held fast the profession of their faith without wavering, and sanctioned the religion of their forefathers by an attendance upon the same forms of worship.
there were many who distinguished themselves by their learning and talents, by their personal piety, and by their valuable writings. As they grew in years, however, their congregations declined; and the younger ministers who took their places, being deficient in popularity, were unable to support a drooping cause. There was also a considerable alteration in the style and matter of their preaching, which was but ill adapted to the capacities of their people, and often involved topics in which they felt but little interest. It is no breach of charity to observe, that the race of ministers which sprang up about the middle of this period, was by no means equal to those which preceded it, either in ministerial qualifications, or in attachment to the cause. On account of the expense incurred at an university, some of them had received but a slender education; whilst, in some instances, they were taken into the pulpit without any previous preparation. The injury that must accrue to any cause from its falling into the hands of ignorant or half learned-men, was soon exemplified in the case of the Dissenters. Their adversaries began to treat them with contempt, from which their pretensions to piety could not redeem them; and they sometimes courted it by their folly and indiscretion. Destitute of the spirit of their profession, some of their ministers quitted it for trade, whilst others combined them together, and thus rendered themselves unfit for either. The little encouragement that was given to Dissent, deterred persons of any property from bringing up their sons to the Dissenting ministry. The consequence was, that their preachers were usually taken from the inferior ranks of life, and being wholly dependent upon their people for support, their incomes were generally small and precarious. Thus circumstanced, and destitute of that polish and refinement which are the effect of education, it is no wonder that they sunk from that station in society which was occupied by the earlier Nonconformists.
With the reign of Queen Anne ended the hopes of the high-church party, and the persecution of Dissenters by the civil power. George I. being of a different religious profession from the sect established, felt no sympathy with its prejudices, and would have extended the boundaries of toleration had the scheme been practicable. He clipped the wings of the clergy by overturning their convocation; and his successors in royalty have discovered the same tolerant disposition towards the Dissenters. But this sunshine of prosperity, however desirable, has been far from favourable to the Dissenting interest. To whatever cause it may be owing, it is certain that from the period of the accession of the House of Hanover, it has been visibly upon This declension was more particularly apparent in the reign of George II., and in the earlier years of his successor, when many meetinghouses in various parts of the kingdom were shut up for want of support. This circumstance sufficiently marked a numerical declension; but there were other particulars in which the signs of decay became manifest.
At this time the snares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches had drawn aside from their ranks most of the leading persons in their communion. Many of the clergy, also, ran the same race of Conformity as the laity. Of the elder ministers, who continued stedfast to their principles,
Another very material circumstance that affected the prosperity of the Dissenters during this period was, the divisions that took place amongst them upon questions of dogmatic theology.
The strife first began with the Neonomian controversy, which had scarcely
June 18, 1823. a few since a
subsided, when they found them-letter from America, which, should selves involved in disputes concerning the Trinity. The Synod at Salters' Hall, in 1719, still farther widened the breach, creating unjust suspicions and angry feelings between brethren who should have united in support of the common cause. Those who are not acquainted with the history of that event, can have no conception of the animosity which it occasioned, nor of the unfavourable aspect which it had upon the cause of Dissenters. Several of their ministers immediately quitted their stations and their profession; the laity went off in numbers to the church and to the world; whilst too many of those who continued stedfast in their principles, converted the pulpit into a forum for inflaming the bad passions of their auditors. After this, other questions arose both in divinity and in philosophy, and occasioned disputes among the learned; some of which interfering with the generally-received opinions, added to the unpopularity of the propagators, and caused the meeting-houses to be deserted. But next to the disputes concerning the Trinity, perhaps the most fruitful source of contention has been the controversy relating to grace and salvation. The speculations of many upon these subjects, led them to entertain notions of the Divine government that were apparently inconsistent with morals. Antinomianism in its various grades took root in many congregations, corrupted the members, and carried desolation in its train. The blighting effects of this noxious weed have been manifested in the endless divisions and sub-divisions which it has occasioned, owing to disputes between the minister and his people, and the people with each other, upon subtle distinctions, the meaning of which must be unintelligible to the many, and when comprehended, of doubtful utility. Such proceedings have contributed greatly to bring the cause of Dissent into disrepute, and have occasioned many persons to 'doubt the eligibility of a scheme of church-government with which so much discord is compatible. [To be concluded in the next Number.]
you deem it worthy of being recorded in the Monthly Repository, is at your service. The contents afforded me much greater satisfaction than I could have anticipated. For, although the General Baptists may indisputably be said to have had the honour and happiness of contributing their full share to the recent spread of Unitarianism, as they have supplied nearly the whole of the Missionaries employed by the Unitarian Fund Society; yet I did not expect to find that, in the new world, so large a body of their brethren were avowedly Anti-Trinitarians. To me it has long appeared, that the leading principle of the Baptists, viz. that religion is altogether a personal concern-parents not being able to do any thing for their children, as such, which can place them in a more salvable state than they are by nature, or which can entitle them to the appellation of Christians, till they become so from conviction-has a tendency to the ultimate adoption of rational views of Christian truth and honourable conceptions of the character and attributes of the Father Almighty. In apparent proof of this tendency, I might refer to numerous instances in which ministers and others of the Particular Baptist denomination, have abandoned the doctrine of unconditional election, and have found satisfaction alone in the persuasion that the MAKER of all is the equal and impartial Father of the whole human race, the only proper object of their devout adoration and supreme affection. To omit, for the present, other names, permit to instance those of Messrs. Wright, Vidler, Marsom and Lyons. And your readers will find from the following letter, that among the Particular Baptists in America, some of their most popular preachers, with their respective churches, have been excommunicated expressly on the ground of their attempts to subvert the doctrine of the Trinity. Of the ministers of the Sabbatarian Baptists also, some are, it appears, "strenuous Unitarians."
It may, perhaps, strike your readers as being remarkable, that it is in connexion with these last-mentioned ministers alone, the terin Unitarian
occurs in the whole letter; but this is probably to be accounted for on the conscientious objection of the writer and his brethren to any other religious designation than that of" Christians." I am not aware that any account has hitherto been published in England, of so large a body as that of the American" Christians" being "Anti-Calvinistic" and "Anti-Trinitarian ;" but this is another encouraging proof that, however zealous our brethren may be, who assume the exclusive title of orthodox, those views which Unitarians regard as more honourable to GOD and his CHRIST, are rapidly gaining advocates in denominations in which our most sanguine hopes would not have led us to hope they could be found. It is probable that "The Christians" may not approve of all the opinions avowed by the majority of English Unitarians; but it is a subject for devout gratitude, that they are fellow-labourers with those who, in Great Britain, believe, that the Saviour did not mean to mislead his followers, and could not be mistaken when, addressing the FATHER, he said, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
I have, Sir, only to add, that I have every reason to suppose the utmost reliance may be placed on the statements of Mr. Potter, as he consulted the printed records of the different classes whom he describes, and as I have this day seen another communication from America, in which the writer says, "Mr. Benedict told me he had given Mr. S.'s letter to a Christian emphatically so called, to answer it." G. S. "Cumberland, Rhode Island, North America, April 19, A. D. 1823.
"The only apology which I have to offer for troubling you with this communication, is the possession of a letter subscribed by you, and addressed to Elder David Benedict, of Pawtucket, R. I.,' dated Hackney, near London, Sept. 10, 1818.' The cause which brought your letter into my possession will appear in the sequel, as will more obviously the reason of my presuming to answer. Consider
ing the very imperfect history of the American Baptists, it will be impossible for me or any other person, at this period, to solve your numerous inquiries; and should I even succeed in augmenting your funds of informa tion in a very limited degree, I shall feel that my feeble endeavours are crowned with a success very desirable.
Omitting farther preamble, I will proceed to state that there are in the United States, nominally, five denominations of Baptists, viz. Calvinistic, Seventh-day, Six-principle, and Freewill Baptists, and Christians. These are also properly classed under the two following heads, as expressive of their peculiar tenets, viz. the Calvinistic and Arminian Baptists. The Calvinistic answer to your' Particular,' and the Arminian to your 'General Baptists.' The former denomination is considered Calvinistic; the four latter, Arminian: and in order to give you some idea of them, we will speak of them under their respective heads. ⠀
" I. CALVINISTIC OR PARTICULAR BAPTISTS.
“As you evince no wish to be informed concerning this denomination, but little will be said. In most of the States they have become popular, and embrace many large and flourishing churches. Their preachers are better educated than those of any other Baptist denomination. Certain feuds, which have recently crept into some of their associations, have deprived them of some of their most popular preachers, with their respective churches, and threaten material prejudice to the denomination at large. The principal subject of contention is the doctrine of the Trinity, which the disaffected essay to deny, and thereby invariably subject themselves to excommunication.
"This denomination is strictly Calvinistic, and its communion partakes of the same restrictive character; being open to none except those of their own faith and order.' Elder Benedict has written their History, which accounts for the mistake under which your friend, Mr. Richards laboured. Previous to the appearance of Mr. B.'s work, it was expected he would give a faithful and impartial History of the Baptists in general;-but he said but
little of any Baptists except his own. Aside from that History, Elder B. is an excellent man, and were he not fettered by illiberal and circumscribed creeds, he would unquestionably be a liberal and useful preacher.
indispensable pre-requisite to church membership. For a few years past they appear to have experienced no material increase or diminution.
"3. Free-will Baptists.-The first church belonging to this denomination was planted in the town of New Durham, State of New Hampshire, in the year 1780; since which their increase has been, and continues to be, rapid and regular, and they are now scattered throughout various parts of all the Northern States. On examination of their minutes for December 1822, I find reported 213 regular churches and 10,025 members. In sentiment they are Arminian and Trinitarian, but their communion is accessible to Christians of regular standing, of all denominations. The ministers of this sect, like the Methodist circuit preachers, accustom themselves to travel and preach, though some of them attend more particularly to the superintendence of the churches. Their churches are organized into what they call Quarterly Meetings, and these Quarterly Meetings erect, by delegation, a Yearly Meeting, in which the more important business of the denomination is transacted. A few years will find this a more flourishing people than the Calvinistic Baptists, if we may be permitted to found our judgment on present prospects.
66 11. GENERAL BAPTISTS.
"1. Seventh-Day Baptists.-This denomination being of European origin, perhaps your knowledge of it is sufficient; however, I will observe, they have an association called SeventhDay Baptist General Conference,' consisting of (according to their minutes for 1821) sixteen churches, and embracing perhaps between two and three thousand members. Owing to the inconvenience of observing the Seventh Day in communities where the First Day is more generally considered the Christian Sabbath, this people had greatly decreased until 1805, since which they have realized some very salutary accessions to their communion. For a more particular account of them, you are referred to Elder Robert Burnside, pastor of the Seventh-Day Particular Baptist Church, near Devonshire Square, London, between whom and Elder Bailey, the Secretary of the General Conference here, there is a regular correpondence. Mr. Bailey has represented his people to be Trinitarian, which is not the case as it regards them as a people, some of their preachers being strenuous Unitarians. They publish a Quarterly Magazine, which is principally devoted to the dissemination of their own favourite views. There are also a few other churches scattered round in various parts of the United States, which are a species of that order, but being believers in an open communion, &c., they are not associated with the General Conference.
2. Six-Principle Baptists.-This sect of Baptists consists of about fifteen churches in the United States, and the probable number of communicants is 1500. They pretend to derive their name from the preceding part of the sixth chapter of Hebrews, to which they profess a close adherence. In doctrine they are Anti-Calvinistic, and are Trinitarian, and in their communion they are limited to their own faith and order' exclusively. The imposition of hands 'subsequent to baptism' is thought an
"4. Christians. This sect has always been considered a species of Baptists, as they administer baptism in no other way than by immersing the candidate. They quote Acts xi. 26, xxvi. 28, 1 Peter iv. 16, in defence of the name which they have assumed, and by which they seek only to know and be known as a people; regarding all others as the invention of men. The first church of this denomination was planted in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the year 1803, since which they have spread extensively throughout nearly all the Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western States, and are now the most numerous of all the General Baptists. They have now about two hundred and fifty churches, and their communicants are computed at between 15,000 and 20,000. Many of their churches are large and respectable; and the whole of them are organized into Conferences, and these Conferences have erected another, by delegation, called The