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Spiritual Declension: Lessons from Early 18th Century Particular Baptists, Intro

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Written by jsmitheasley

January 7, 2009 at 2:59 am

8 Responses

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  1. Really looking forward to the rest of the series.

    It’ll be especially interesting to hear how much the missions movement (spurred on by Carey, Fuller, etc.) contributed to the restoration of the Particular Baptist movement.



    January 7, 2009 at 5:22 pm

  2. Wonder if Jeff Smith has seen the important book “Continuity and Change by Roger Hayden, which was published privately. He deals with the area of supposed decline in Part. Baptists in the 18th Century and although agrees to it when focused on London etc his thesis is that there was a vigorous 1689 position held in the Western Association and the ministers trained at the Bristol Academy.

    Brian T. Ellis

    January 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm

  3. Brian,

    I have never seen the book of which you speak but would love to get a copy of it. Concerning the Western Association I am aware that there were faithful men associated with the Bristol Academy. My understanding is that no records of the academy exist prior to 1770 (I hope that maybe this is wrong and would love know of any records that do exist). However, according to Michael Haykin, the minute books of the Broadmead congregation indicate that a steady stream of students studied there under the guidance of Bernard Foskett and his assistant Hugh Evans. One of them was a man I mentioned as an exception to what characterized many PB’s during the first half of the 18th century, a man named Benjamin Beddome. Robert Oliver has a chapter devoted to Beddome and his ministry (entitled: “Blessing in the Cotswolds”) in his book, “History of the English Calvinistic Baptists: 1771-1892″. Beddome served as pastor in the Baptist church at Bourton-on-the-Water from 1741(or 2) until his death in 1795. Foskett died in 1758 and Hugh Evans succeeded him as pastor of Broadmead and principal of the academy and he was assisted by his son Caleb Evans. After Hugh’s death, Caleb became the principal. John Sutcliffe was trained for the ministry there and this establishes a connection between Bristol and the resurgence of a warmer evangelical Calvinism that gained strength in the latter part of the 18th century. Haykin has a chapter in the book I referenced devoted to Bristol which gives at least an overview of the history of the Academy leading up to and including the time of Sutcliffe’s studies. He references at one point an unpublished Ph.D. thesis by Roger Hayden (I assume this is the man of whom you speak) entitled “Evangelical Calvinism among eighteenth-century British Baptists with particular reference to Bernard Foskett, Hugh and Caleb Evans and the Bristol Baptist Academy”. Haykin says this about Caleb Evans related to a “Catalogue of Useful Books” that he drew up for one of the students: “Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge, both of them warm evangelical Calvinists, are the authors most cited. However John Gill’s classic defense of Calvinism, “The Cause of God and Truth”, and his exhaustive nine-volume exposition of the Old and New Testaments, which was published over a twenty year span from 1746-1766, are also given high commendation. Nevertheless, despite this recommendation of Gill’s writings—and the use of Gill’s “A Body of Doctrinal Divinity” as a textbook in theology—the younger Evans was not prepared to follow him in all things. With many, he noted, Gill is ‘the touchstone of orthodoxy’. But evidently not with him; for it is was the evangelical Calvinist Jonathan Edwards, not Gill the High Calvinist, to whom he gave the highest praise as being ‘the most rational, scriptural divine, and the liveliest Christian, the world was ever blessed with’. Edwards’ writings had deeply influenced the younger Evans’ thinking, a fact which had great significance for Sutlcliffe’s theological training”.

    Brian you are probably aware of the tremendous influence Edward’s had on the thinking, not only of Sutcliffe, but Fuller, and the other men instrumental in the formation of The Baptist Missionary Society. Again I have not read the work by Hayden, but would love to know more about the Bristol Academy.

    Also of note is something mentioned by Haykin and referred to in a book I have been reading of late (Faith Cook’s biography of William Grimshaw). A number of men in Yorkshire who were converted under the ministry of William Grimshaw became Baptists and their ministries were greatly influenced by his warm evangelistic fervor. William Grimshaw once said jokingly, “So many of my chickens turn ducks”, referring to those converted under his ministry who had become Baptists. These were men profoundly effected by the evangelical awakening who, though they may not have originally been Baptists, became Baptists.

    Another influenced by Grimshaw was John Fawcett, who was converted under Whitefield, but frequently attended Grimshaw’s ministry (Fawcett pastored Wainsgate Baptist Church in West Yorkshire. John Sutcliffe was converted under his ministry and became a member of that church in 1769.).

    Jeff Smith


    January 8, 2009 at 11:57 pm

  4. […] a comment » In a previous post, we noted a decline in the early 18th century Particular Baptist churches. In this post, […]

  5. I wonder if you are quite correct about the decline of the Particular Baptists in the early 18th Century. It is certainly true that the General baptists and Presbyterians went into free fall at that time, but there is evidence that the Particular Baptists and Congregationalists continued to grow.

    I refer you to ‘The Forgotten Baptists 1660-1760’ by David Fountain, published by Gospel Standard Baptist Trust and possibly now out of print. Fountain refers in turn to the ‘History of the Dissenters 1681-1808 by Bennet & Bogue. I have not been able to obtain this 4 volume work, but it is apparently ‘massive and extremely thorough.’

    Other evidence is found in the records of Benjamin Beddome’s church in Bourton-on-the-Water. In 1764, Beddome reckoned that 176 new members had been received into the church since his arrival in 1740.

    In 1729, Isaac Watts wrote in the Preface to his ‘Humble Attempt,’ “Among the papers published last year, there hath been some enquiry made, whether there be any decay of the dissenting interest, and what may be supposed to have been the occasion of it. So far as I have searched into these matters, I have been informed that whatsoever decrease may have appeared in some places there hath been sensible advances in others.”

    Philip Doddridge wrote in 1730, “I know that in many of the congregations the number of Dissenters is greatly increased within these twenty years; and the interest continues so to flourish, that I am confident some of our honest people, who converse only in their own neighbourhood, will be surprised to hear of an enquiry into the cause of its decay.”

    I also suggest that the falling away among those churches that did decline was due to docrinal drift rather than to alledged hypercalvinism. John Gill’s church always had a much larger congregation than that of his London neighbour, Joseph Stennet jnr, despite the latter’s more ‘moderate’ Calvinism. A century later, Willian Gadsby and William Huntington would prove that a high Calvinism is not necessarily a bar to drawing large congregations. On the other hand, the Paul’s Alley Baptist Church, which was the richest and most prestigious one in London around 1720, became utterly heretical under various ministers, including John Gale, and declined so utterly as a result that it had disbanded by 1768.

    Steve Owen

    Martin Marprelate

    January 9, 2009 at 11:58 pm

  6. Dear Steve,

    I mentioned in one of the first two blogs that there were exceptions. One of those exceptions I mentioned was the man you mentioned “Benjamin Beddome”. Note my response to Brian Ellis where I also touched on this. Certainly things were not uniform in every community or region. However when the number of PB churches declined from an estimated 220 PB congregations in England and Wales in the years 1715-19 to around 150 by the early 1750’s this is a general decline. Andrew Fuller was a man whose knowledge of PB’s was fairly widespread and by no means regional or localized and it was his contemporary testimony as I quoted above that “Had matters gone but for a few years, the Baptists would have become a perfect dunghill in society.”

    Steve I agree with your statements about the decline where it occurred not being simply due to hypercalvinism. In my original document sent for the blog I had the following section(It is was edited out, to save space since I was planning to come back to the subject, but I will add it back in) Here was the statement…

    “So what were some of the factors and what lessons can we learn for ourselves today? Traditionally writers on Baptist history have fixed the blame for this on the influence of Hyper-Calvinism among the Baptists but as Tom Nettles and others point out this is an oversimplification. The influence of Hyper-Calvinism was one of the factors but there were other factors at work in the declension of Particular Baptists. Factors, some of which, were not limited to those who were Hyper-Calvinists. So I’m going to come back to the influence of Hyper-Calvinism later”


    January 10, 2009 at 1:50 pm

  7. Steve,
    A clarification..above I said “I agree with your statements about the decline where it occurred not being simply due to doctrinal drift” I meant not simply due to “hypercalvinism” which was your point.


    January 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

  8. […] of Particular Baptists to identify the dangers of and guard against spiritual declension.  He has introduced his topic and considered the danger of an excessively inward focus already.  Andrew Fuller provided some […]

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