A brief Baptist Church history

Joyce Brooke, Joyce Patterson and John R Hudson

3 The eighteenth century

3.1 The General Baptists

A major problem for the General Baptists was that, if congregations were independent, there was no way of enforcing particular views on them. Everything had to be done by consensus and, where consensus could not be obtained, people had to agree to differ. This meant that ideas like Arianism, that Jesus did not exist prior to his earthly birth, and Socianism, that Jesus is not one with the Father, could be accepted by some congregations and not by others. Often these discussions ended in legalistic disputes and in 1696 the General Association, comprising Buckinghamshire and the Midlands, split from the General Assembly, representing Kent, Sussex, Essex and the West Country, only reuniting in 1731 by agreeing to avoid discussing their differences (Rinaldi 2008).

At a meeting of dissenting groups at Salters Hall in 1719 the Presbyterians and the General Baptists, notwithstanding the 1678 declaration, argued that one should rely only on scripture, which is open to Arian or Socinian interpretation, while the Congregationalists and the Particular Baptists argued that people should also rely on the creeds. However, not all members of the groups attending followed the majority line of their group with both Particular Baptists and General Baptists taking the side of the other (Whitley 1932). So it is perhaps not surprising that there were plenty of contacts between General and Particular Baptists and also a tendency for General Baptist ministers to join the Particular Baptists even if few of their congregations did (Hayden 2005).

There were recurring debates about singing in church, no doubt affected by the late seventeenth century debates, and finally at the 1733 General Baptist conference it was left up to congregations. As the General Baptists, like the Quakers, tended to take a strict biblical view of marriage and not being ‘yoked unequally,’ Association meetings were often the place for matchmaking until the rule was relaxed in 1744.

In 1737 the General Baptist Fund was set up, among other things to support ministerial training; however, reluctance to give funds meant that the first student was only paid for in 1792 and the 1803 Assembly noted the lack of monies in the Fund.

In 1788, the year after Josiah Wedgwood had produced his famous medallion of the kneeling slave, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’, the Assembly did support the abolition of the slave trade.

3.2 Dan Taylor and the New Connection

Dan Taylor (1738–1816) was born at Sourmilk Hall, 16 Horley Green Road, Claremount on 21 December 1738, becoming a coal miner on Beacon Hill at the age of five. Yet his gifts were early manifested. He could read well at the age of three and grew up with an eager love of learning.

While he was growing up, developments were taking place in the East Midlands which would affect his life. The Countess of Huntingdon, an early convert to Methodism, had formed the ‘Countess of Huntingdon's Connection,’ a group of Calvinist Methodists within the Anglican church. One of her servants, David Taylor, met Samuel Deacon of Ratby who in 1745 built a house at Barton Fabis in Leicestershire for a congregation, at the time Methodist. In 1755 they adopted believer's baptism without any contact with other Baptists and then expanded into Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire before coming into contact with the Lincolnshire General Baptists. However, they were unhappy about the Socinian leanings of some of the General Baptists.

When Dan Taylor was fifteen he came to faith through Methodism and joined formally at twenty; he walked long distances to hear his favourite preachers, John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, and at twenty-two became a local preacher, taking his first service in Hipperhome in September 1761 (Taylor 1818). But he became dissatisfied with what he saw as the authoritarianism of the Wesleys and, when he came across William Wall's The history of infant baptism (1705), he became convinced that it was wrong.

He broke with the Methodists in 1762. But, through his reading of the New Testament, he could not accept the Calvinism of the Particular Baptists from whom he sought baptism and they refused to baptise him. Instead he was recommended by a Particular Baptist minister, possibly Richard Smith of Wainsgate who died in 1763, to seek out William Thompson, the General Baptist minister in Boston.

On Friday, 11 February 1763 he set off for Boston with John Slater; they slept under a haystack that night and reached Gamston, near Nottingham, the following evening. Discovering the next morning that there was a Baptist church, but too late to attend the morning service, they attended the afternoon service taken by the assistant minister, John Dossey. After questioning him for three days, Joseph Jeffery, the senior minister, baptised Dan Taylor in the River Idle on Wednesday, 16 February 1763.

On his return to Yorkshire, Dan Taylor preached in the open-air at Far Nook, Wadsworth, and he, John Slater, John Parker, William Crossley and an unnamed lady formed an independent society. Within a few weeks, they were meeting at Higher Needless (now 1, 3 and 5), Wadsworth Lanes, and decided to join the Lincolnshire Association of General Baptists. In May 1763 Dan Taylor attended the Lincolnshire General Baptist Assembly where he met William Thompson who accompanied him back to Wadsworth, baptised fourteen people who formed a church and administered the Lord's Supper. That autumn Dan Taylor was ordained by Gilbert Boyce at Conningsby when John Dossey preached on 1 Timothy 3:1. The following year he acquired the land and began the construction of Birchcliffe Chapel, becoming its first pastor. He attended the General Assembly and visited various churches in order to raise funds for Birchcliffe — which may have been when he first met Samuel Deacon of the Barton Group. He was also invited by William Thompson to preach at the opening of Boston's new building on 24 June 1764. In 1765 he was appointed the Lincolnshire delegate to the London General Assembly and in 1767 he deputised for William Thompson at the Assembly. In 1769 he participated in the meeting which led to the formation of the New Connection.

The meeting in December 1769 appears to have been an attempt to broker a deal between the Barton group and the Lincolnshire General Baptists. It was followed up by a meeting on the 6 June 1770 at Church Lane, Whitechapel attended by Samuel Deacon (Barton), John Tarratt and Nathaniel Pickering (Kegworth), John Grimley (Loughborough), William Smith and George Hickling (Longford), Francis Smith and Thomas Perkins (Melbourn), Dan Taylor (Wadsworth), William Thompson (Boston), John Brittain (Church Lane), William Summers (The Park), John Knott (Eythorn), James Fenn (Deal), J. Stanger (Bessell's Green), David Wilkin (Halstead), Charles Parman (Castle Headingham) and R. French (Coggeshall). Eight came from the Barton group and the remainder from Lincolnshire, Essex, Kent, London and Yorkshire (Taylor 1818).

The group agreed six articles:

as the basis for membership of the New Connection. However, after five years, this requirement was dropped as it looked too much like a creed to which most General Baptists were opposed and ministers simply had to affirm their conversion experience. Gilbert Boyce, who had ordained Dan Taylor, tried to stop the meeting going ahead and the New Connection was initially just an association of twenty-five General Baptist representatives who met annually.

At their meeting on 22–24 May 1771, they decided to split into a northern and a southern group, those in the south mostly being ex-General Baptists rather than Methodist/Independent churches but by 1775 the southern group had stopped sending representatives. From 1777 the New Connection became an assembly of churches and from 1795 only representatives of churches could vote. General Baptist churches such as Maltby, (1773), Killingholme (1778), Yarmouth (1778), Kirton-in-Lindsey 1779), Ashford (1782), Gosberton (1784) and Wisbech (1785) all joined the New Connection and, by 1831, 33 of the 108 New Connection churches were ex-General Baptist churches.

This process had accelerated after William Vidler's admission to the General Baptist Assembly in 1801 and Dan Taylor's withdrawal in 1803. Following their withdrawal from the General Baptist Assembly, the New Connection instituted its own Assembly attended by ministers, elders or two representatives of a church. In 1813 the New Connection banned Socianism and in 1815 the Old General Baptist Assembly embraced Unitarianism. While some General Baptists opposed Unitarianism and tried for another sixty years to obtain a reconciliation with the New Connection, the New Connection were finding they had more in common with the reformed Particular Baptists than with the General Baptists.

While they rejected external control, they saw assemblies as a support for ministers, deacons and church representatives and accepted the co-ordinating and advice giving roles of conferences. For example, when the church at Haley Hill in Halifax invited Dan Taylor to leave Birchcliffe in 1782, the matter was referred to the local conference and then to the Assembly for advice. Similarly, when in 1785 Church Lane, Whitechapel, invited him to be their pastor, it was put to the Assembly where there were seventeen votes in favour and eight abstentions.

Church meetings within the New Connection were for both fellowship and management and women were always accepted as equals. At Birchcliffe Dan Taylor introduced ‘experience meetings’ based on the Methodist class model with the difference that, whereas the Methodists saw the class as the route to entry, Baptists generally saw it as a consequence of entry though the Barton group of churches followed the Methodist practice more closely. They began with singing and prayer and then each member talked about their situation; they ended with prayer and thanksgiving. The leaders of the experience meetings met every six weeks for mutual support, when they would be joined by Dan Taylor who would not normally be a leader. There were discipline meetings every six weeks and once every three months a compulsory service for all church members. By 1770 the church had 69 members (Taylor 1818).

Dan Taylor initially supported himself as a part-time farmer and teacher, taking in as many as fourteen boarding pupils at his home at Hirst Farm, Wadsworth. His younger brother, Rev. John Taylor, founded several Baptist chapels, among them, Queensbury (1773), Haley Hill in Halifax (1777), Shore, near Todmorden, and Burnley. In 1782, the Haley Hill chapel became independent and Dan Taylor was invited to become their pastor which he did in 1783 but in 1785 he moved to Whitechapel, London, where he remained until his death in 1816.

Dan Taylor has been called ‘The Wesley of the Baptists.’ Certainly his evangelistic journeying rivalled those of the founder of Methodism. He is said to have travelled on foot and horseback some 25,000 miles to attend 250 conferences, preached 20,000 sermons and published 50 books and pamphlets. Though Dan Taylor never held a formal position other than as a pastor, he was widely accepted as the leader of the New Connection and his advice was regularly sought (Rinaldi 2008)

3.3 The Particular Baptists

In the aftermath of the Clarendon Code, the congregation at Broadmead had split and in 1679, Edward Tervill, one of the two key elders at the church alongside Robert Purnell, made a gift to the church to support a second minister to train new ministers. This was quite a departure because Samuel How (1639), whose book remained in print until the nineteenth century, had argued against educated ministers as had Thomas Collier who had evangelised much of the west country.

How's book had arisen out of a declaration by John Goodwin, who had returned from exile in Geneva to become pastor of Coleman Street church, that ‘a man could not preach except he had learning, human learning.’ How had challenged this doctrine and been permitted to preach a sermon against it but there had been so much initial antagonism to his ideas that the book had first to be published in the Netherlands before it found widespread popularity in England. While not saying to what extent he agreed with How's arguments, William Kyffen had contributed a postscript to the sixth edition deploring the treatment How had received from fellow Christians at the time (Kyffen 1700). The congregation voted Goodwin out of office in 1645 and invited Hanserd Knollys to become their pastor.

However, also in response to the Clarendon Code, dissenters' academies had been set up to counter the ban on people who were not members of the Church of England taking degrees at university. These primarily catered for working class dissenters because wealthy dissenters could afford to study in Scotland or on the Continent and there were no restrictions on them practising their professions on their return to England. In the first decade of the eighteenth century Henry Sacheverell led a campaign against dissenters' academies which had resulted in attacks on dissenters' meeting houses in London in 1701 and he was still preaching against them in 1709 (Hayden 2005).

Broadmead's first choice, Caleb Jope, failed to train any ministers and left in 1707 but in 1717 the Bristol Baptist Fund was set up to supplement the provisions of Tervill's will and from 1720 Bernard Foskitt started to train ministers. By 1758 he had trained forty English and forty Welsh ministers and he was succeeded by Hugh Evans who, together with his son, Caleb, founded the Bristol Education Society in 1770. Caleb succeeded his father in 1781 and by the end of the century 200 ministers had been trained at the Bristol Academy including Andrew Gifford Jnr, Dr Thomas Llewellyn, who taught for the London Education Society, and John Sutcliff.

Together with John Ash, Caleb also published A collection of hymns adapted to public worship (Ash and Evans 1767) which was followed by Dr Rippon's selection (1787) which, when reissued with Isaac Watt's Psalms and Hymns in the nineteenth century, came to be known as the Complete Rippon and became the standard Baptist hymn book for the nineteenth century.

While the General Baptists were tearing themselves apart by controversy, the Particular Baptists started the century by consolidating around the 1689 Confession with Bernard Foskitt leading a campaign for the Western Association formally to adopt it which it did in 1733 leading to the remaining General Baptist churches in the association leaving by 1735. However, the last quarter of the century saw a quiet revolution within the Particular Baptists which can be traced back to James Hartley, a member of Wainsgate church, who had been converted by the preaching of W. M. Grimshaw and formed the Baptist Church at Howarth, first gathering people there in 1748 and establishing them as a church in 1752; he continued as their pastor until his death in 1780.

John Fawcett (1740–1817) who was born in Bradford attended Haworth to hear James Hartley and then Rawdon, being baptised in 1758 by William Crabtree, the minister of Westgate, Bradford. The following year he married Susannah Skirrow, a member at Rawdon, and, with encouragement from James Hartley, started to learn Greek and Hebrew. He was called to Wainsgate in 1764, remaining after he had received a call to Carter's Lane in London in 1772 and later writing the hymn ‘Blessed be the tie that binds’ to recall his decision to stay. In 1777, with other members of the church, he left to found Ebenezer, later Hope, Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge.

John Fawcett shared with his New Connection colleague, Dan Taylor, with whom he studied the bible, a passion for education and, after John Sutcliff, a teacher in Dan Taylor's school, chose to be baptised by John Fawcett, Dan Taylor taught him Latin while John Fawcett prepared him in Greek and Hebrew and sent him in 1772 to train at the Bristol Academy. In 1775 he became the minister at Olney in Buckinghamshire (then associated with the Northamptonshire Baptist churches) where his Anglican counterpart was the hymn writer, John Newton, who became a friend and hosted a number of Baptist ministers at the 1776 Midland Association meeting.

John Sutcliff became increasingly dissatisfied with the strict Calvinist position of many Particular Baptists and, when he began to be criticised by them in 1780, cited Jonathan Edwards' 1747 arguments for abandoning strict Calvinism and arranged for them to be republished in 1784 (Hayden 2005). Jonathan Edwards had earlier written about his conversion work in Northampton, New England (1737), and been visited in 1740 by George Whitfield, the evangelist and friend of the Wesleys.

William Carey (1761–1834) was prepared for ministry by John Sutcliff between 1785 and 1787 and ordained in 1787 by him and Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) who had finally plucked up the courage to publish his Gospel of Christ worthy of all acceptation (1785) which also argued against strict Calvinism. Seven years later William Carey published his Enquiry (1792) and the following year the Baptist Missionary Society was formed with the Baptist Society for Itinerant Preachers coming five years later. These developments laid the foundations for the formation of the Baptist Union in 1813 (chapter 4 The nineteenth century).

In 1792 John Fawcett was invited to succeed Caleb Evans as head of the Bristol Academy but declined preferring to continue with his own dissenters' academy, Ewood Hall, which provided Particular Baptists ministers for the north and, most notably, William Ward (1769–1823), the printer who joined William Carey in India in 1800 and was responsible for printing the many Bibles in different Indian languages that the Serampore Press published. In 1804 Fawcett supported the setting up of the Northern Baptist Education Society which invited William Steadman, whose evangelistic tour of the south west had inspired the establishment of the Particular Baptist Home Mission Society, to become head of the Bradford Academy. He accepted, became pastor of Westgate Church and opened the Academy in rented premises in 1805 with one student, moving later to a disused warehouse in Horton which came to be known as Horton College (Shipley 1912).

In 1837, when the Lancashire and Yorkshire Baptist Association split, a second academy was opened briefly in Accrington to be followed by one in Bury which later moved to Manchester (Whitley 1932). On 4 September 1859 Horton College opened in new premises in Rawdon, becoming known as Rawdon College, and in 1963 merged with Manchester Baptist College to form the Northern Baptist College, thus reuniting the two strands of Baptist education in Lancashire and Yorkshire.