Scenes from Baptist History: Persecution of the Puritans, Evangelical Revival & William Carey, 1662-1812.

Persecution of All ‘Nonconformists’, 1662-87:

An ejected minister meets with his family under cover of darkness.

It was not until 1687 that the dissenting or ‘nonconformist’ churches felt able to look back upon ye Times of our late Troubles since the Act of Uniformity in 1662 had taken away the relative toleration they had experienced in the Interregnum. The Presbyterian minister Richard Baxter (1615-91) had taken very little notice of the Conventicle Act of 1663 but was preaching in his own house to his family and ‘friends’, first in London and then at Acton. Before long, many people from his own former parish and neighbouring ones were coming to hear him. He was careful not to preach to them during times of worship in church, and since his house was close by, he would often preach before the service and then take his congregation over to hear the new Vicar, who was – at first – pleased to have such large congregations. But he soon became jealous because he knew that the people had come, first and foremost, to hear Baxter, so he told the King that the latter was breaking the Act and two magistrates were sent to threaten the minister with prison if he did not stop preaching. He refused to do so and was sent to Clerkenwell gaol where he was allowed to have a room of his own where his wife could join him. The prisons became full once more crowded with Quakers, Dissenters and Presbyterian ministers ejected from parish churches. Baxter himself soon needed the comfort that his faith always brought him, as the poem he wrote shows:

Must I be driven from my book,

From house and goods and dearest friends?

My Lord hath taught me how to want

A place wherein to put my head.

No walls or bars can keep Thee out

None can confine a holy soul,

The Streets of Heaven it walks about

None can its liberty control.

In the winter, these prisons were bitterly cold and damp, and in summer they smelt atrocious and were full of flies and rats, spreading disease so that many people died in them. Baxter himself became ill, even in Clerkenwell, and might have died had not his friends managed to get him set free before his sentence was over. When he came out, he could not return to Acton due to the Five Mile Act of 1665, which prevented ministers from coming within five miles of any important town or of any place at all where they had once been ministers. In practical terms, this meant that not only had they no means of livelihood but also that they could get no bread from their home parish. Some went abroad and others hid near their old homes, visiting their wives and children secretly, at night. Many others, like Baxter, thought that it was better to go on preaching and teaching openly, even if they were sent to prison than to starve, or worse still, see their children starve. Baxter had to spend the winter in very cold and uncomfortable lodgings in Totteridge near Barnet, still unable to preach, but at least able to continue to write. He stayed there but was very busy in his one poor, smoky room as all sorts of sad people, rich and poor, learnéd and simple, wrote to him or came to see him, asking him for help. Some of them were ministers who, like himself, were excluded from their homes and livings due to the Restoration laws. One wrote that his wife and six children had lived ever since his ejection on black rye-bread and water, and another that he had to spin all day and half the night to make a living. Baxter and his wife Margaret did their best to help them all.

King Charles certainly wanted to protect Catholics from persecution, and would probably – if left to his own devices – have allowed freedom of worship to both Catholics and Nonconformists. Many moderate magistrates understood that he did not want severe punishments for those who refused to conform and therefore allowed services and preaching to continue to be held in private houses. In 1672, the King went further in issuing a Declaration of Indulgence which did away with some of the fierce laws against nonconformists and said that licences for preaching would be granted to certain ministers, including Baxter. He returned to London and settled in Bloomsbury, recommending his preaching in a big room over the market-house at St James which almost collapsed with the weight of the congregation he attracted. Margaret Baxter prevented this by quick thinking, and then bought some land nearby and built a chapel on it. But the King was forced by Parliament to put an end to his ‘Indulgence’ and Baxter was threatened with being imprisoned once more if he used the chapel.

William Penn

Baxter was then invited to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, where he met the famous Quaker, William Penn (1644-1718), who later founded Pennsylvania as a colony that attracted many Protestant nonconformists who had been persecuted in Europe, as a state where they were able to worship and serve freely. He and Baxter held a meeting, a disputation, in which they argued before an audience over seven hours, without even breaking for lunch. Both Baxter and Penn respected one another, though their viewpoints were at opposite ends of the nonconformist spectrum, so they did not agree on many points. But the fact that they were both in constant danger of persecution and prison yet went on preaching and discussing shows the constant courage of leaders across the range of dissenting movements.

Jordans, Buckinghamshire, The Quaker meetinghouse, 1688. is associated with William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, buried in the graveyard outside.

A Scene from the Trial of Richard Baxter before Judge Jeffreys,1685:

The site of Baxter’s trial in front of Judge Jeffreys.

Richard Baxter was eventually brought to trial in 1685 in front of Lord Chief Justice of England, Judge Jeffreys who, at the Bloody Assizes later that same year, sent many West Country nonconformists to the gallows following the Monmouth Rebellion. James II had become King in February 1685 and he especially hated nonconformists because so many of them had opposed him. He thought that the best way of punishing them was to bring him to a public trial, but it was unclear what the charge could be since he had recently retired from preaching due to ill-health. But he was still writing books and had recently finished a Commentary on the New Testament. Jeffreys claimed that this contained thinly-veiled attacks on both the King, the bishops and the 1662 Prayer Book. Baxter was brought to trial at the Guildhall in the City of London on 30 May 1685. Fortunately, we have a full, if anonymous, account of the court proceedings, signed only with the initials I.C. by which the author identified himself to an ‘old friend’ who was also a friend of Baxter. It was not sent until five years later after James II had fled from England. But I.C. wrote his account immediately after getting home from the Guildhall. It reveals the vitriol with which Jeffreys tried Baxter on behalf of the Crown and the Anglo-Catholic ‘establishment’:

“This is an old rogue and hath poisoned the world with his Kidderminster ‘doctrine’ … an old ‘schismatical’ knave, a hypocritical villain: but what ailed the ailed the stock owl that he could not conform – was he better or wiser than any other man? He hath been ever since the spring of the faction. I am sure that he hath poisoned the world with his… doctrine … he was a conceited, stubborn, fanatical dog, that did not conform when he might have been made a bishop; hang him! … This one man hath cast more reproach on the Constitution of our Church than will be wiped out this hundred years; but I will handle him for it, for by God! – he deserves to be whipped through the city! …

Baxter’s lawyer replied to his ‘charge’ that it was not his business to explain why Baxter’s conscience would not let him become a bishop but to answer the charge against his commentary. At this, Jeffreys, in a rage, called upon Baxter to answer the charge directly himself. Baxter did so, calmly:

One day, all these things will surely be understood and it will be seen what a sad and foolish thing it is that one set of Protestant Christians are made to persecute another set. I am not concerned to answer such stuff (as I am accused of) but am ready to produce my writings, and my life and conversation is known to many in this nation.”

When Baxter tried to speak again, the Judge stopped him and continued himself, apparently more softly, and more sinisterly:

“Richard, Richard, … dost thou think we’ll hear thee poison the Court? Richard, thou art an old fellow, an old knave; thou hast written books enough to load a cart, every one full of sedition, I might say treason, as an egg is full of meat, Hadst thou been whipped out of thy writing trade forty years ago, it had been happy. Thou pretended to be a preacher of a Gospel of Peace, and thou hast one foot in the grave … but I leave thee to thyself and I see thou wilt go on as thou has begun; but by the Grace of God, I’ll look after thee.”

I.C. ended his story bitterly and sarcastically:

Mr Baxter is now in prison at Southwark, where he lies for the fine of five hundred marks. We have fine judges and juries in England you see! This viper, I am told, proposed a whipping through the city, but I hear that some of his brethren abhorred the notion and stamped on it. So amonst them out of their great clemency, they have set the above fine.

If Jeffreys had had his way and Richard Baxter had been whipped through the streets of London, he would certainly have died, but even Jeffreys could not enforce this punishment against the other judges. Baxter refused to pay the fine which had been wrongfully imposed on him, so he remained in prison for a year and a half. As for Jeffreys, when, during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he tried to escape from London, disguised as a sailor, he was recognised by some of his victims just as he was going down the steps at Wapping to board a ship. He was nearly torn to pieces by the crowd but was rescued and sent to the Tower, where he soon died from his injuries.

Scenes from the failed Monmouth Rebellion, supported by the nonconformists of Dorset, Devon and Somerset and commemorated on playing cards.

Toleration, Theological Liberalism & Hyper-Calvinism:

The accession of William and Mary brought a return of only limited toleration, but all active persecution of the nonconformists finally stopped. The oppressive laws remained, though Protestant dissenters of Trinitarian beliefs who subscribed to the main points of the Thirty-Nine Articles were exempted from penalty. Baxter persuaded many of his friends and followers to agree to the less severe tests, writing a book to help them see the wisdom of doing this, and that they would not be acting against their consciences. Having made this last attempt at moderation and peacemaking, Baxter died in 1691, with England finally at peace. With the Toleration Act of 1689, new chapels sprang up all over the country.

Nowhere was the Nonconformist movement stronger than in East Anglia. The simple but elegant places of worship they built are continuing proof of their devotion, vigour and wealth. Bury, Ipswich and Framlingham all have fine Unitarian, originally Presbyterian, chapels, and there are old Congregational chapels at Needham Market and Walpole. When Daniel Defoe visited Southwold, he attend divine service at the parish church with twenty-seven others. When he walked past the dissenting chapel afterwards, he found it full to the doors. But also with toleration came a wider range of theological views, and there were still many divisions and doctrinal quarrels. Dissenters and Anglicans both suffered a decline in religious vitality as a result. On the one hand, the General Baptists, like the Presbyterians, fell prey to the spread of ‘Arianism’, which denied the divinity of Christ. The Particular Baptists, on the other hand, over-reacted against theological liberalism. They tended to stress the sovereignty of God to such an extent that both individual moral action and evangelism were inhibited by what became known as ‘hyper-Calvinism’.

In response to the Liberal and Rationalist attacks, a ‘natural theology’ was developed to defend the Christian faith in the course of the eighteenth century. At no time previously had it seemed more important to use ‘apologetics’ to make Christianity appear ‘reasonable’. On the continent, first Descartes and then Rousseau, Voltaire and Leibniz had exalted reason and doubt in building their influential philosophies. Spinoza and historians such as Simon and Bayle had had also stimulated scepticism by criticising the Bible. But in England, Isaac Newton in his (1687) Principia Mathematica had set out laws for which for the first time revealed that the universe was divinely ordered. This encouraged the belief that human enquiries into nature unaided by Scripture could demonstrate the power of the Creator. But above all, the century of appalling religious conflicts – the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, the persecution of Jansenists and Huguenots in France, the Puritan Revolution, the British Civil Wars, the Monmouth Rebellion and the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688 had all combined to create a thirst for tolerance and a desire to find doctrines on which most Christians, at least, could agree.

Philosophical Scepticism in Britain:

The Reasonableness of Christianity, the title of John Locke’s revolutionary book, published in 1695, became the main theme of theology for more than a century. The fundamental truths of the Christian religion were claimed to be few and simple, intelligible to the plainest of people. The immense size of the universe, the stability of its bodies and the simplicity of its laws; the position of the earth, the usefulness of its resources and the variety of its inhabitants; and the detail, order and symmetry of every form of life, all witnessed clearly to God’s existence, his wisdom and goodness, his purposes, providence and power. They witnessed, in other words, to a God of whom it was probable that a special revelation had been given. That revelation, given in the Bible, confirmed that Christianity was basically reasonable. In 1691, Robert Boyle, a chemist and natural theologian, founded a lectureship for proving the Christian Religion, against notorious infidels, viz. Atheists, Theists, Pagans, Jews and Mahometans, not descending lower to any Controversies, that are among Christians themselves. The Boyle Lectures continued for many years.

A more general philosophical scepticism began in Britain with David Hume. In his lifetime he was perhaps best known for his History of England, but today he is most remembered for the scepticism which Bertrand Russell claimed showed the bankruptcy of the eighteenth-century reasonableness. Hume’s sceptical thought was embodied in such works as Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), Philosophical Essays Human Understanding (1748) and Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion (1752). Hume’s scepticism extended to the whole range of human knowledge. He claimed that it was impossible to demonstrate the existence of the soul or self, for whenever we look into ourselves we see only some feeling of pleasure or pain, but never the soul as such. Hume questioned the logic of speaking about cause and effect. He insisted that all we can see is one event following another. We do not see the cause as such, but only the sequence of events. In religion, therefore, he cast doubt on the old proofs for the existence of God, pronouncing the idea of a first cause to be useless. Miracles violate the laws of nature and are therefore improbable. For, since a firm and unalterable experience has established the laws of nature, the proof against miracles is as complete as any proof can be. Hume influenced many thinkers, from Kant in the eighteenth century to the logical positivists in the twentieth. But it is worthwhile pausing to ask how valid Hume’s arguments really were.

There is a sense in which what Hume says about the self is true. It cannot be seen directly, like an arm or a leg, or even a brain. But this is not the same as getting rid of the self altogether, for when we try to look into ourselves the self is active as the organising subject of the action. In other words, in order to refute the self as an object, Hume has to make use of the self as a subject. What the argument shows is something of the peculiar nature of the self. Similarly, Hume did not dispose of the idea of causation. The whole of our everyday experience of things and the whole fabric of modern science rest upon the principle that, when certain things always follow other things under given conditions, then it is proper to say that one causes the other. The idea of a law of science depends upon the fact that things do not just happen at random, but that some things are causes and other things are effects. This was the very same law that Hume depended on for his rejection of miracles.

Some of Hume’s criticisms of the arguments for the existence of God were entirely justified. A cause cannot be wholly known from its effect, and the original cause is hidden from us by myriads of other causes. Moreover, if we have an argument for God’s existence from causation and another from design, we need another argument to show that God in each case is one and the same. And we need a further argument to show that this God is the same as the God of the Christian faith. But to say all this is simply to spotlight certain ways in which the existence of God has been argued. It does not settle once and for all the question as to whether God exists, still less does it settle the question of who God is. Hume’s critique of miracles made some telling points, but when he writes about a firm and unalterable experience, he did not ask or answer the question, whose experience? If we take a sample of experience only from those who have no experience of miracles, then we are bound to conclude, as he did, that miracles have not been experienced. But if we include cases of experiences to the contrary, we cannot say that miracles are automatically ruled out, and have never happened. They may be unusual and contrary to common experience, but we cannot rule them out on the basis that they are at variance with all human experience.

The Unitarian Movement in Europe & Britain:

The Unitarian movement also emerged in England in the turbulence of the Civil War period, but it first began on the continent in the early sixteenth century when Renaissance ideas combined with some of the teachings of the ‘Radical Reformation’ to produce Unitarian ideas in the minds of many individuals. As the name suggests, Unitarianism rejects the idea of the Trinity, questioning the belief in the divinity of Christ and in the Holy Spirit in favour of the oneness of God. It was a ‘heresy’ that had been present in the early church, and notable early adherents included Martin Cellarius, Michael Servetus and Bernard Occhino. The ‘new’ teaching alarmed both Catholics and Protestants. Servetus was put to death by Calvin in 1553. Two prominent centres of early Unitarianism were Poland, where the ‘Polish Brethren’ as they were known, were formally organised in 1565, and Hungary. After 1574, when Faustus Socinus became their leader, the movement spread rapidly in Poland, but in the reign of the Catholic King Sigismund III (1587-1632) a reaction set in and the Unitarian community at Rackow was suppressed in 1638.

In 1658, the Polish Unitarians were given the chance of conforming or going into exile. Many chose exile and emigrated to Holland, Hungary and England. Giorgio Blandrata had also been active in Poland between 1558 and 1563, then moving to Hungary to become the court physician, where he had a strong influence on Ferenc Dávid (1510-79) who, in 1564, became the bishop of the Reformed Church in Transylvania, the eastern part of the old kingdom. In the same year, he also became court chaplain to the king, Jan Sigismund (1540-71). At the Diet of Torda (1568), the king ordered Unitarianism to be tolerated. In 1571, it was recognised as a ‘recognised religion’ along with Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism. But when Jan Sigismund died in the same year, persecution began and by the later eighteenth century Unitarianism in Hungary had been almost completely suppressed. It only revived in the early nineteenth century when contacts were resumed with English and American Unitarians. Unitarian theology in Hungary was always compromising and conservative. It did not want to invite persecution by appearing aggressively heretical.

John Biddle (1615-62) is regarded as the founder of English Unitarianism, which remained individualistic at first, but in the rationalistic atmosphere of the eighteenth century, very many English Presbyterian and General Baptist churches began to be affected. They adopted first Arian and then Sabellian, Socinian or full-blown Unitarian ideas. Both became largely Unitarian denominations by the second half of the eighteenth century. The liberal Anglican Theophilus Lindsey left the Church of England in 1773 and opened the first self-styled Unitarian church, Essex Chapel, in London.

Meanwhile, there were theological changes in Unitarianism. Joseph Priestley (above) and his successor, Thomas Belsham, found their source of authority in Scripture. They interpreted the Bible in a rationalistic and optimistic way, to get around those verses which Christians had previously used to support the doctrine of the Trinity and the belief that man has a fallen nature. In Ireland, Thomas Emlyn was prosecuted at Dublin in 1703 for denying the deity of Christ. A Unitarian ‘Non-Subscribing Presbytery of Antrim’ arose out of a group of liberal Presbyterian congregations in 1726. After the American Revolution, Unitarianism spread rapidly, encouraged by Priestley, who fled there from England in 1794.

All ages are ages of transition, and most of them contain extremes. The period between 1650 and 1789 was no exception. It opened with the end of the Civil Wars in Britain and ended with the beginning of the French Revolution. Protestantism was already well established when the period began, but there was a further philosophical quest for truth and rationality. In religion, there were also quests for greater doctrinal clarity and deeper personal knowledge of God.

The Great Awakening in America & Britain:

By the second half of the eighteenth century, in the English-speaking churches, the age of reason became the age of renewal. The tide of rationalism was stemmed and deadening formality was replaced by enthusiasm, a fresh wind of the Spirit. This rebirth took place in the 1730s and ’40s. Its roots lay partly in the Pietist movement on the European continent partly in the revival of Puritanism in Britain and colonial America. The movement was known as the Evangelical Revival or the Great Awakening, which was also its name on the American continent. It began there in Northampton, Massachusetts, under Jonathan Edwards (pictured above), in 1734. This preceded the conversions of both George Whitfield and brothers John and Charles Wesley, and can therefore be regarded as feeding into the Evangelical Revival in Britain. The movement came to fruition in colonial New England between 1740 and 1743, the time of George Whitfield’s whirlwind visit.

George Whitefield

In 1690 the total population of the colonies of about a quarter of a million was almost exclusively British or Irish. European Protestants had begun to arrive; mainly Huguenots, Mennonites and Dutch Calvinists. The American Baptists trace their ancestry to a congregation at Providence, Rhode Island, where they were first gathered by Roger Williams, a separatist from London who had been ejected from the Puritan colony of Massachusetts. Most of those making up the first congregations were English or Welsh Baptists who already shared Williams’ beliefs and grew slowly until The Great Awakening. In the meantime, there had also been large-scale immigration of German Protestants belonging chiefly to the Lutheran Church, fleeing religious persecution in the Palatinate. When William Penn invited them to his colony, Pennsylvania, they crossed the Atlantic in their thousands and by the mid-eighteenth century, there were seventy thousand Germans in that one colony alone and almost three times that number in North America as a whole. Among them were also Moravians, Dunkers and Schwenkfelders. These German settlers introduced a different element into American society, which had previously been dominated by the Calvinist tradition. The German groups had already been touched by the Pietist movement which also lit the fires of Methodist Revival in England and Wales.

George Whitefield was the son of a Gloucester innkeeper, born in 1714. He had once wanted to become an actor but instead used his oratorical skills to become an outstanding preacher during the Revival. He was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford, and there became associated with the Wesleys and others in the ‘Holy Club’. Converted in 1735, he was ordained deacon in the Church of England in 1736 and set sail for Georgia the following year. In America, he engaged in a variety of charitable and church work. He returned to England briefly between 1738 and 1739 in order to be ordained as a priest and to collect money for his new orphanages and schools. It was during this year back home that he first discovered his talent for open-air evangelism. He returned to Georgia in 1740, for a second visit to America, setting off on a six-week tour of New England which resulted in the most general awakening that the American colonies had yet experienced.

In Boston, the crowds were so huge that they could not be accommodated in any of the churches, and Whitefield took to the open air, as he had previously done in England. He preached his farewell sermon to a congregation estimated at twenty thousand. Before leaving he invited Gilbert Tennent to Boston in order to blow up the divine fire lately kindled there. The revival continued in Boston with equal success for a period of eighteen months. Thirty religious societies were formed and churches were packed. Services were regularly held in homes. It was said that even the very face of Boston seemed to be strangely altered. A similar tale was told as Whitefield continued his triumphal journey. In the next three years, more than one hundred and fifty churches were affected by the Awakening, not only in New England but also in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. In the latter colony, this paved the way for the outstanding preaching of Samuel Davies and the building up of the Presbyterian church there. The Baptists also began to expand, through evangelists like Daniel Marshall and Shubal Stearns. They soon began rejuvenating the revival itself. Devereux Jarrett attempted to revive the established Anglican church, but it proved largely unresponsive. One effect of Whitefield’s visit was to rouse the established ministers, for – as he explained:

“The reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them.”

During the Awakening, ‘dead men’ came alive and were themselves used to revive and add to their own congregations. Spiritual liberation paved the way for political liberation and contributed indirectly to the American revolution. Christianity acquired such a firm hold that it expanded with the western frontier and ensured that the independent nation would rest on a firm foundation.

Calvinistic Methodism in Wales, England & Scotland:

Returning to England once more in 1741, Whitefield embarked on a round of missionary tours which took him what were then enormous distances and were to continue almost to the end of his life. He made early contact with Hywel (Howell) Harris and the Welsh revival. Harris, pictured below, was Whitefield’s exact contemporary. While it is usual to regard the Revival as running from 1738 to 1742 (as it did in England), the first signs of it in Britain had, in fact, appeared earlier, and almost simultaneously, at Talgarth (near Brecon) and Llangeitho (near Tregaron, Ceredigion) in Wales in the summer of 1735. Griffith Jones had been preaching the evangelical message in Llandowror for the past twenty years, so he well deserves his title morning star of the Methodist Revival. Harris, a schoolmaster at Talgarth, was converted at a communion service on Whit Sunday in 1735 after reading books published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, with which Griffith Jones was closely associated. Harris said that his heart was filled with the fire of the love of God. He witnessed to his newfound experience and soon gathered a little society of fellow believers. They were the beginnings of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church. Although unordained, Harris began to preach in private houses. People were transformed, as was the district, and further societies were started. The Welsh Revival had begun, three years before The Awakening began in England and a year before Whitefield’s first visit to America.

Daniel Rowland of Llangeitho had been spiritually awakened through a sermon by Griffith Jones and his preaching in turn brought about an awakening in his own parish. Harris and Rowland met and from that point worked together for the spiritual welfare of Wales. But Harris could be awkward and dictatorial and though he was an impressive figure with a powerful voice and magnetic personality, he was no theologian. Nevertheless, his enthusiasm won many to Christ, and there were signs of the blessings of the Holy Spirit wherever he preached. George Whitefield became closely associated with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists and toured south Wales several times with Hywel Harris, preaching in English followed by Harris preaching in Welsh. Whitefield preached in many chapels owned by Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who was the patroness of the Revival. Horace Walpole nicknamed her ‘St Teresa of the Methodists’. When evangelical preachers were banned from Anglican pulpits she found them a place in her domestic chapels and drawing-rooms. She made possible the proclamation of the Gospel to the aristocracy. In 1768 she founded the preachers’ (theological) college at Trevecca (Trefeca) near Talgarth, run by Harris. In 1779, the Countess was compelled by law to register her chapels as ‘nonconformist meeting houses’; they became known as ‘the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion’.

Besides his tours of Wales, Whitefield paid fourteen visits to Scotland, where, on the second, he helped during the famous Cambuslang revival, which began the Scottish awakening. Its impact on the national church there was even more marked than in England and Wales. It is no exaggeration to say that the history of Scottish Presbyterianism was radically altered. The eighteenth century was once described as the dark age of the Scottish Church. A debate about patrons had drained its energies and left it incapable of facing the more damaging challenge of theological scepticism. John Simson, Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University, was accused of teaching heretical views about the person of Christ, similar to those voiced in England by the deists. One of his students, Francis Hutchinson, set out to put a new face upon theology in Scotland. In his ideas, known as ‘Moderatism’, the gospel was reduced to a system of morality that offered only a flimsy hope to those who wanted assurance about eternity. Ministers were more concerned about culture than conversions and dismissed their heritage, which included persecuted Covenanters, with derision. A group of objectors set up an independent presbytery and were forced to leave the national ‘kirk’ in 1740. They themselves insisted that they were only withdrawing from the ‘prevailing party”, not from the Kirk. The ‘Seceders’ gained some support, and their breakaway might have spread, but revival broke out in the parish of Cambuslang in 1742.

There had already been stirrings of revival in Easter Ross and Sutherland in the north of Scotland. John Balfour emerged as the leader of the moment in the northern Highlands which reached its peak in 1739. All this happened even before Whitefield set foot across the border, though he is often referred to as the bringer of revival to Scotland. As in America, he sowed the seed on well-prepared soil. He was first invited to Scotland in 1741 by the Seceders, but when he refused to confine his activities to their churches, they disowned him. Immediately, however, he found an opportunity to work within the Church of Scotland. In 1742 William McCulloch was ‘used’ to spread the revival known as the ‘Cambuslang Wark’ which was well underway when Whitefield visited the parish of Cambuslang during his second Scottish tour. He shared in two memorable, open-air communion services. Commenting on the second of these, McCulloch described…

“… the spiritual glory of this solemnity … the gracious and sensible presence of God“.

Revival quickly spread to the surrounding area, with another ‘outbreak’ occurring at Kilsyth. James Robe had preached there for over thirty years without obvious effect. In 1740 he began a series of sermons on the new birth and two years later was able to report that:

while pressing all the unregenerate to seek to have Christ formed within them, an extraordinary power of the divine Spirit accompanied the word preached.”

Similar scenes were repeated for eighteen months or more. Cambuslang and Kilsyth were the highlights of the Scottish Revival. The excitement subsided but the benefits remained. The Evangelical party, mocked as ‘Zealots’ or ‘High-flyers’ by their opponents, took over from the moderates and shaped the outlook of the church. Whitefield was certainly the pioneer of Calvinistic Methodism in England. His converts in London and Bristol were the first of The Great Awakening in the country. He was the first to start field preaching, to recruit lay preachers and to travel to and fro as one of God’s runabouts, as he described himself. He was also the first to make contact with the American awakening, visiting America seven times in all and dying there in 1770.

This building was erected at Moorfields, just outside the City of London, to accommodate Whitefield’s congregation.

Whitefield’s legacy is generally thought to be that of a fervent persuaded, who helped and then left others to build churches out of his converts. Certainly, his letters to Wesley and his entrusting the care of the English societies to Harris in 1749, underline his lack of interest in the administrative task of raising and caring for infant churches. But he founded the English Calvinistic Methodist Connexion, whose first conference met in 1743. This boasted important London chapels, such as Moorfields (above) and the Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road. These churches, also part of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, which was strong in the south and west of England. These kept up a distinct existence until they were absorbed into Congregationalism in the nineteenth century. Whitefield’s theology was centred on the old Puritan themes of original sin, justification by faith and regeneration. Sometimes he was militantly Calvinist, but he preached with a rare passion for winning souls for Christ. After 1740, his Calvinistic form of Methodism came into sharp conflict with the Wesleys’ Arminianism, thus opening up a breach that was never healed. His preaching style was dynamic and compelling; he spoke with fervour, yet in a style that was plain, unadorned and often colloquial. His physical bearing commanded attention and the range of his voice was astonishing. Anglican pulpits were often barred to him, his open-air services were often interrupted, and he was a favourite target for anti-Methodist disrupters and propagandists. In many ways, his work complements that of Wesleyan Methodism. In some respects, he was the forerunner of the Wesleys: for example, in his choice of Bristol as a base for evangelism, in daring to preach the open-air, publishing a magazine, founding a school and summoning a conference of preachers.

Pietism, the Moravians and the Wesleys:

The Great Awakening in England was focused largely on the established church and the groups which eventually broke away from it. On the continent of Europe its source in the Pietist movement, which had been cradled in the Dutch Reformed Church in the early seventeenth century. The Pietist revival across the continent re-emphasised the importance of regeneration, personal faith and the warmth of Christian fellowship as a spur to effective missions. Pietism revived the vitality of the Lutheran Church in Germany. One of the more obvious links between German Pietism and the Evangelical Revival lies in the fact that many of the new hymns inspired by the Pietists were translated by the Wesleys and became widely used in England and Wales. Pietism also stimulated missionary concern, which became a prominent feature of the revival in both Britain and America. Through Count von Zinzendorf, Pietism made its impact on the ‘Moravian’ community, who were the spiritual descendants of Jan Hus. Driven from their homeland during the Thirty Years’ War, they were scattered throughout Europe, losing many members. In 1722 a small company of them settled on von Zinzendorf’s estate at Herrnhut in Saxony, which then became a haven for radical Protestant refugees from all parts of Germany as well as from Moravia and Bohemia. Besides the United Brethren, Lutherans, Separatists, Anabaptists and Schwekfelders were also represented. In May 1727, this assortment of traditions came together to accept an apostolic rule of forty-two statutes, so raising again … out of its ashes that ancient Unity of the Moravian Brethren who thereby became the vital leaven of European Protestantism.

Count von Zinzendorf, the founder of the Moravian Church.
He laid great stress on the importance of emotions in religious expression and wrote many hymns.

There are clear links between the renewed Moravian community and the Evangelical Revival in England. Most famously, it was a Moravian leader who steered John Wesley towards his dynamic conversion in 1738. The Wesley brothers first met a group of Moravian missionaries on a voyage to Georgia a year earlier, in 1737, on a mission for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. They were greatly impressed by the spirituality of the Moravian Brethren. Charles acted as secretary to the governor of the colony, but they were both dissatisfied with the result of their mission and returned to England in 1738. It was another Moravian, Peter Böhler, who was eventually responsible for counselling John Wesley in London as he searched for the assurance of saving faith in Christ. Within three days of each other, each of the brothers had a vital Christian experience, Charles on Whitsunday, and John on 24 May, when his heart was strangely warmed during a meeting at Aldersgate Street when a passage from Luther’s Preface to the Romans was being read. It was an event that has been characterised as the turning point of the Evangelical Revival if not in contemporary English History: What happened in that little room was of more importance to England than all the victories of Pitt by land or sea. And when John wanted to consider the implications of his revolutionary experience, it was to Herrnhut that he went. Many of the features of the Moravian community were taken up by the Wesleyan Methodist societies – for example, the love feast, the watch night and the class meeting. Wesley and Whitefield were both mightily used in the Revival, but much of its inspiration can be traced to the Moravian missionaries. John Wesley was soon to part company with the London Moravians and take a line of his own, but he owed them an incalculable debt. He said of Böhler:

“Oh what a work hath God begun since his coming to England! Such an one as shall never come to an end, till heaven and earth shall pass away!”

A caricature of the state of the eighteenth-century Church of England.
William Hogarth illustrates the lifelessness of a sermon.

Anglicanism & Wesleyan Methodism:

The Anglican church of the eighteenth century, though not as lifeless as William Hogarth’s contemporary pen and ink drawings reveal it to be, certainly stood in urgent need of revitalisation. The seeds of decline had been sown in the previous century which had left those in the established church with an understandable fear of extremes, whether Roman Catholic or Puritan. This resulted in a form of moderation that frowned on passionate convictions of any variety. Most sermons tended to be no more than moral essays at best, or crass homilies at worst. Added to this, the collapse of personal faith led to a slide in moral standards: Permissiveness was the order of the day. The orthodox theologians eventually emerged victorious in their long battle with Deism, but it was sadly ironical that though they had effectively defended the central doctrines of the Christian faith, the new life in Christ these were intended to encourage was nowhere in evidence. A new dynamic was needed, and it was this that the Evangelical Revival supplied, reminding the Church of its own spiritual resources. John Wesley himself spoke candidly about the irreligion of his time: What is the present characteristic of the English nation? he inquired rhetorically, answering, it is ungodliness … our universal, our constant, our peculiar character. The hymn-writer, Isaac Watts, regretted what he called… the decay of vital religion in the hearts and lives of man.

… and its impact on attending parishioners.

John and Charles were born at the rectory at Epworth in Lincolnshire, in 1703 and 1707 respectively. Charles was the eighteenth child in the family. Their father, Samuel Wesley, was a staunch high churchman but their grandparents were nonconformists. Susanna Wesley, their mother, was a remarkable woman whose influence on her sons was exceptionally strong. After attending different schools, Charles at Westminster School, each went up to Oxford, Charles entering Christ Church in 1726, just after John had completed his course there and had been elected a fellow at Lincoln College. It was Charles who started the Holy Club while his elder brother was away from Oxford, serving as his father’s curate. On his return, John took over as leader, though it was Charles who guided the devotional reading of George Whitefield before his conversion. Charles became a tutor at Christ Church in 1729, the same year that what Charles described as the harmless nickname of Methodist was originally applied to the Holy Club. This was because the group aimed to provide a disciplined method of spiritual improvement. Members pledged themselves to have regular private devotions and to meet each evening to read the Bible and pray together. Several labels were invented for them by jeering undergraduates – Enthusiasts, Bible Moths, Sacramentarians – but ‘Methodist’ was the one that stuck.

John Wesley later traced ‘the first rise’ of Methodism to these years. Charles was ordained in 1735 and joined his brother who was evangelising in the colony of Georgia. The second stage, John explained, began in 1736 when ‘the rudiments of a Methodist society’ emerged in Georgia, but by then Charles had returned to England, where he came under the influence of the Moravian missionary, Peter Böhler, and underwent a conversion to the ‘vital religion’ of evangelicalism. He then became an itinerant preacher for most of the rest of his life. Meanwhile, John Wesley helped to reframe the rules for an Anglican society that met in Fetter Lane, London. This came before his revolutionising conversion, just three days after that of his brother. The culmination of these preparative stages, the strange ‘warming’ of John Wesley’s heart on 24 May 1738, undoubtedly provided the most vital stimulus to the movement in England. The Oxford scholar was transformed by the grace of God into ‘the apostle of England’. The Revival had found its true genius. On 1 January 1739, a remarkable ‘Love Feast’ was held at Fetter Lane in London. There the leaders of the Revival were welded into a fellowship of the Spirit in a way similar to what had happened at Herrnhut in 1727. The Wesleys were present, along with Whitefield and Benjamin Ingham, who was to become an outstanding evangelist among the Moravians. John Wesley recorded in his Journal:

About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.” ‘

This Pentecost on New Year’s Day confirmed that the Awakening had come and launched the campaign of extensive evangelisation which sprang from it. Wesley explained what happened next by stating that it was…

… just at this time … that two or three clergymen of the Church of England began vehemently to “call sinners to repentance”. In two or three years they had sounded the alarm to the utmost borders of the land. Many thousands gathered to hear them, and in every place they came, many began to show such a concern for religion as they had never done before.

It is important to understand that the eighteenth-century revival in England was a work of the Holy Spirit that developed through various channels. There were the Moravian, Calvinistic and Wesleyan missions, which produced the societies which were eventually to evolve into the Methodist Church. In addition to these three strands, there was also a movement within the Church of England which became known as Anglican Evangelicalism. At first, all who were caught up in the spiritual renewal were called either ‘Methodists’ or ‘Evangelicals’, irrespective of which denomination they belonged to. But gradually the Evangelicals became recognised as a formal grouping within the Church of England who were seeking to achieve their aims within its existing framework. Cornwall was the cradle of Anglican Evangelicalism, where Samuel Walker of Truro emerged as the leader of the movement until his death in 1763, but it quickly spread to the rest of the West, to the Midlands, the North, London and East Anglia. The Anglican Evangelicals witnessed particularly effectively at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

John Newton (1725-1807), the one-time slave trader turned preacher and hymn-writer was curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire. He was one of the most remarkable figures of the Evangelical Revival, perhaps even its unsung hero. Sent to sea at the age of eleven, after just two years of schooling, at the age of twenty-two he began the captain of a slave ship trading between Britain, the West African coast and the West Indies. Three years later he underwent a dramatic conversion on a voyage across the Atlantic. A violent storm blew up, and Newton spent nine hours manning the pumps and a further seventeen hours at the ship’s wheels as the waves crashed around him. Several times he found himself crying aloud to God for salvation. The storm eventually abated, and Newton later traced the first stirrings of the ‘great change’ that was to turn him towards evangelical religion to his sense of deliverance after his terrible experience. Forsaking the slave trade and his seafaring life, he became friendly with John Wesley and George Whitefield and spent nine years training for the Anglican ministry. In 1764 he was ordained and became curate at Olney, where he remained for sixteen years, then going to London as rector of St Mary Woolnoth, where he remained until his death. ‘Amazing Grace’ first appeared in Olney Hymns in 1779. It reflects Newton’s own intense conversion experience and his profound sense that it was only the overwhelming grace of God that had saved one as wretched as himself from eternal damnation.

An artist’s impression of the ironworks at Colebrookdale in Shropshire, England.

The Wesleys were convinced that at all costs all the people of Britain must hear the good news of salvation. While other clergy confined themselves to their parishes, the brothers believed that their call was to travel from place to place. They preached in churches whenever pulpits were made available to them, but more often, as opposition grew, the only possibility they had was to go out into the marketplace or onto the common, so that the crowds might hear. The result was that the working classes were drawn to Christianity as the Industrial Revolution got underway. It was in the Midlands that the Industrial Revolution made its first impact. Quakers like the ironmaster Abraham Darby at Ironbridge in Coalbrookdale and the potter Josiah Wedgewood sought a lifestyle for their workers which had much in common with the seriousness of life often attributed to Evangelicalism. In fact, it was more a product of the revival of older forms of Puritanism, though it had much in common with the social witness praised by the Evangelical Revival. John Wesley, in particular, began a revolution in morals and behaviour among the working classes which spread to other classes by the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Evangelical Revival witnessed not just a revival of evangelistic activity but also a renewal of concern for Christian morality. The nineteenth-century historian, W. E. H. Lecky credited it with bringing about…

… a great moral revolution in England: it planted a fervid and enduring religious sentiment in the midst of the of the most neglected portions of the population, and whatever may have been its vices or its defects it undoubtedly emancipated great numbers from the fear of death and imparted a warmer tone to the devotion, and a greater energy to the philanthropy of every denomination both in England and the colonies.

Lecky went on to suggest that a major reason why Britain was saved from the ravages of a revolution similar to that in France was this new religious commitment. This idea was taken up by the French historian Elie Halévy who explained the extraordinary stability which English society was destined to enjoy throughout a period of revolutions and crises by reference to the Evangelical Revival. He described this as what we may truly term the miracle of England, … practical and businesslike, but religious, and even pietist. What Halévy saw as providential, Marxist historians have tended to label as a conservative sop for the economically oppressive urban society which emerged early in south Wales, the English midlands and the north of England. But it took the best part of a century for towns like Charles Dickens’ fictional ‘Coketown’ to emerge alongside William Blake’s dark Satanic mills and other historians have suggested that evangelical strength in England was too small at the turn of the eighteenth century either to prevent revolution or to act as a widespread ‘opiate’. Some have also argued that the evangelical emphasis on the ‘evils’ of capitalism can be traced back to John Wesley’s morality:

I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any renewal of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and the love of the world in all its branches.

Hymns & Spiritual Songs:

In the seventeenth century, hymns were taken or adapted from the work of poets, such as George Herbert and John Milton, and writers such as Richard Baxter and John Bunyan. Late in the century, hymns began to be freely written. Dissenters began to use them in congregational worship, the Baptists being the pioneers. Isaac Watts gave a great boost to the movement for using ‘man-made’ hymns, as distinct from the ‘inspired’ psalms in Scripture. His best-selling Hymns and Spiritual Songs was published in 1707. He followed this in 1715 with Divine Songs for children and in 1719 with The Psalms of David. In this book, he made ‘David speak like a Christian.’ For example, he transformed Psalm 72 into the missionary fervour of ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.’ In over six hundred hymns, many still sung, Watts expressed wonder, praise and adoration covering the range of Christian experience. Another dissenter, Philip Doddridge, composed about 370 hymns, including ‘Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes.’ The staunch Calvinist, Augustus Toplady, wrote ‘Rock of Ages,’ based on his experience sheltering from a storm in Somerset, lines that have been sung by Christians of all persuasions. This hymn first appeared in a magazine article calculating the ‘National Debt’ in terms of sin. Overshadowing all other eighteenth-century hymn-writers were the Wesley brothers. The Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1737), compiled by John Wesley, was the first successful hymn book compiled for use in the Church of England. John later edited collections for the Methodists, most notably for the definitive Collection (1780). This book contained many of his brother’s compositions and his own paraphrases from German writers such as Zinzendorf. Methodism, like Lutheranism, was ‘born in song.’

This famous hymn first appeared in 1747 but was altered by John for inclusion in his Methodist Hymn Book of 1780

In 1749 Charles Wesley married Sarah (Sally) Gwynne, the daughter of a Welsh magistrate, and made his home in Bristol. For twenty years he supervised the Methodist society which met at the New Room there. He moved to London in 1771 and shared the preaching at City Road Chapel. He has been described as the most gifted and untiring hymn writer that England has ever known. He crafted over six thousand hymns and sacred songs out of a total of nine thousand poems, so it is remarkable that so many reached such a high standard. All of them were written after his conversion to vital religion in 1738. His first hymn was And Can It Be That I Should Gain, composed just hours after he had made ‘the great change’. It was first published in his brother’s Psalms and Hymns of the same year and there is a strong probability that John sang the hymn on the evening of his own conversion, three days after his brother’s. Charles Wesley’s ‘Love Divine (right), All Loves Excelling’ expresses his doctrine of perfectionism. It suggests that Christ can transform us into children of God and that in this life it is possible to be cleansed completely from sin and made pure. Many Christians, including his brother John, have baulked at this idea and toned down the words to suggest a slightly less sweeping doctrine of sanctification.

In his hymnbook, John Wesley altered the third line of the fourth verse to ‘Pure and spotless let us be’ to avoid suggesting that Christians could achieve sinless perfection in this world. He also omitted the second verse of the hymn. All subsequent hymnbooks have followed these changes and some have also altered the second line of the third verse to ‘Let us all thy grace receive’. Hymn singing made an enormous contribution to the Evangelical Revival. The songs had at least as great an effect as the sermons. They not only expressed the joys of the Christian experience but also taught the truths of Scripture. Charles Wesley has been rightly described as the prince of English hymn-writers. His hymns are marked by a constant note of praise, for example, O for a thousand tongue to sing and Rejoice, the Lord is King. He praised God because he was amazed at his love, as in Jesu, Lover of my soul. Watts and Doddridge freely paraphrased Scripture. In addition, Charles Wesley paraphrased the Prayer Book and verified Christian doctrine and experience. In 1779, the fiery, converted slave-trader John Newton and the gentle, retiring melancholic poet, William Cowper, produced the Olney Hymns. Newton wrote Glorious things of thee are spoken and Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound. John Wesley called the Methodist Hymn Book of 1780 a little body of experimental and practical divinity.

However, in the Church of England hymn-singing was long considered to be incompatible with Prayer Book worship which, in conjunction with choral music (shown below), continued to be the dominant form for another forty years. As late as 1819, Thomas Cotterill, a Sheffield vicar, was charged by a church court for using a hymn-book in services. The test case which followed led to hymn-singing being more or less legally accepted in the Church of England.

Above and Below: The Village Choir by Thomas Webster (1800-1886). The Art Archive/ Victoria & Albert Musem/ Sally Chappell.

The Apostle to the Nation:

When, as a result of his conversion, John Wesley became an apostle to the nation, he was soon faced with the problem of caring for the converts. To meet their needs, a Methodist organisation was called into being. John Wesley found societies already operating in Bristol, but in London, he was pressed to devise one of his own for those who had listened to his outdoor preaching at Moorfields. When numbers increased to about a hundred, Wesley noted their names and addresses, intending to visit each of them in their homes. He wrote in his ‘Journal’:

Thus, without any previous plan or design, began the Methodist society in England – a company of people associating together to help each other work out their own salvation.

The early successes of the Methodist preachers are often explained both by the carelessness of the many Anglican churchmen and the fact that the Church of England had very little strength in the newly urbanised parts of the country. Methodism began, not as a church or a sect, but as societies. It was born and was expected to remain, within the Church of England. From the start, John Wesley assumed that the Methodists would attend Anglican services and sacraments. He himself had no desire to break away from the established church and consistently urged his followers to stand by it, despite the opposition he met from within the societies, especially in the early years of his ministry. The title ‘United Society’ was probably borrowed from the Moravians. It indicated that even though societies multiplied throughout the country, they were regarded as parts of one national association. By 1743 Wesley was referring to the ‘United Societies’ in the plural; they were soon organised into a ‘Connexion’. Only after his death did the Methodist ‘Church’ emerge.

The parent Methodist society in London was gathered late in 1739 and met in a disused cannon-foundry. This was the headquarters of Methodism until the opening of City Road Chapel in 1778. The society included ‘voluntary bands’, select groups of up to ten Methodists supervised by a leader. In one aspect, the foundry society was unique. The sole condition for prospective members was a desire to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins. The existing religious societies were restricted to those already attached to the Anglican church, or in full communion with it, such as the Moravians. Wesley refused to impose any such ecclesiastical test and opened his new society to nonconformists too. This openness was a mark of Methodism from its origins. In 1742 the ‘class meeting’ system was introduced, which turned out to be of unspeakable usefulness, as Wesley recognised. The name was simply from the Latin word classis, meaning ‘division’ (in a specific sense), and had no connotations either of school or, at that time, social divisions. The classes were rather larger than the bands and involved every member of the society. Their original purpose was to encourage Christian stewardship since each member gave a penny a week to the funds. Then Wesley realised that the leaders were the persons who may not only receive the contributions but also watch over the souls of their brethren. The class system thus played an important role in securing discipline as well as providing fellowship and pastoral care.

In the following year, 1743, Wesley took another step by drawing a common set of rules for all his societies, for Methodism was by then a nationwide organisation in Britain as a whole. In 1744, the first Conference was held to consider the best method of carrying on the work of God throughout the lands. The Connexion was organised in a series of circuits, or peachers’ rounds. The earliest printed list of circuits, published in 1746, included seven: London, Bristol, Cornwall, Evesham, Yorkshire (covering seven counties), Newcastle and Wales. The circuits were placed under the control of ‘Assistants’ to Wesley, who were recruited from the more experienced itinerant preachers. They were responsible in the absence of the parish ‘Minister’ to feed and guide, to teach and govern the flock, and to lead the team of preachers in each circuit. From the beginning, the oversight of Methodism was entrusted to these Assistants, later called Superintendents, although their authority was always subject to that of Wesley and the Conference. The Assistants were sometimes backed up by a limited number of Anglican clergymen who were prepared to devote some part of their time to itinerate preaching for the Methodists.

In addition to the travelling preachers, both clergy and lay, others who were ‘on the spot’ shared in proclaiming the Word as local lay preachers, including some women. Of these the most notable was Mary Bosanquet Fletcher (1739 – 1815), one of the first female Methodist preachers, credited with persuading John Wesley, to allow women to preach in public. She was born into an affluent family, but after converting to Methodism, rejected its luxurious life. She was involved in charity work throughout her life, operating a school and orphanage until her marriage. She and a friend, Sarah Crosby, began preaching and leading meetings at her orphanage and they became the most popular female preachers of their time. Bosanquet was known as a “Mother in Israel”, a Methodist term of honour, for her work in spreading the denomination across England. Her husband was John William Fletcher (1729-85), a fellow Methodist who was Vicar of Madeley, in Shropshire. The couple had a joint ministry in the parish in the eighteenth century.

Preachers and members alike were committed to what John Wesley referred to as ‘our doctrines’. The basic theological conviction of the Methodists was that justification by faith is the doctrine of the church as well as the Bible. To this was added a specific emphasis that salvation is for all, and stress on the assurance of the Holy Spirit and scriptural holiness. Whitefield disagreed with Wesley’s belief in universal grace, founding the Calvinistic Methodist Connexion, as detailed above. But the two men kept in communication and helped each other from time to time. Methodism continued to spread rapidly throughout England over the next decade and Ireland, first visited by Wesley in 1747, also became a stronghold of Wesleyan Methodism. In Wales, Calvinistic Methodism prevailed, especially in the Welsh-speaking areas. Only in Scotland did Methodism fail to make much ground, though there the Evangelical Revival made its mark on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The major figure in the founding of American Methodism was Francis Asbury, who came from Handsworth near Birmingham and had been apprenticed to an iron smelter before joining the ranks of Wesley’s itinerant preachers. In 1771 he responded to the call to assist in America, and he urged his colleagues there to press to the frontiers in their evangelism. Many of Wesley’s transatlantic preachers returned to England during the War of Independence, but Asbury remained and, in 1784, became one of Wesley’s superintendents there. When the Methodists adopted the title, Methodist Episcopal Church, Asbury became a bishop. This amounted to a declaration of independence. Meanwhile, in England and Wales, 1784, Methodist preaching places became licensed under the Toleration Act of 1787 and following John Wesley’s death in 1791, in 1795 the Methodist Conference took the decision to secede from the Church of England. By the end of the century, the Methodist Church was in a position to spread across the world.

Three groups emerged from the Evangelical Revival in the eighteenth century: the Methodists, separated from the Church of England after John Wesley’s death; the Calvinists, successors to George Whitefield and the Countess of Huntingdon; and the Evangelical Anglicans, of whom the key figures were Samuel Walker of Truro, Henry Venn of Huddersfield and John Newton of Olney. The Methodists believed that Christ died for all men, some of whom might attain Christian perfection in this life. The Calvinists, led by Thomas Haweis, believed that Christ died only for the Elect, and stressed that human nature was fallen in every aspect, ‘total depravity.’ The Anglican Evangelicals believed that Christ died for the whole world; they also believed in ‘total depravity,’ and shared with both the other groups the assurance that their sins were forgiven. They also held that, through Christian missions, the whole of humanity would eventually come to faith in Christ. At that time Christ would return and the millennium would begin. These were the beliefs of the group of influential evangelicals who became known as the Clapham Sect, who also became founder members of the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society and The Religious Tract Society. They drew away from the Calvinists and nearer to the Methodists, as they emphasised universal grace. On the other hand, they rejected the Wesleys’ doctrine of Christian perfection. They also supported the parish system and objected to the tendency of the Methodists to establish their own churches in evangelical parishes.

The Evangelical Passion for Social Justice:

The overall effects of the eighteenth-century ‘Awakening’ are difficult to quantify or evaluate. Nominal members of the church who ‘had the form of godliness without the power’ were turned into evangelical Christians. Many thousands who before had made no claim to be Christians were swept into the kingdom of heaven through evangelism which sprang from the Revival. The clergy were reformed and re-energised and set a new, high standard of pastoral care. The ‘Awakening’ also led to the creation of agencies aimed at promoting Christian work; these are detailed below. Perhaps most importantly, in a period of rapid changes in economic and social conditions, the Revival encouraged a passion for social justice. Wesley advocated prison reform and encouraged John Howard in his crusade for this. He had a practical concern for the poor and contributed personally to their relief as well as raising funds. He saw to it that through his societies clothing was distributed and food provided for the needy. Dispensaries were set up to treat the sick. In London, one Methodist meeting room was turned into a workshop for carding and spinning cotton. Other jobs were created for the unemployed. A lending bank was opened by Christians in 1746 and legal advice and aid were also made available. Widows and orphans were housed. The Christian concern for the underprivileged led to the birth of the Benevolent or Strangers’ Friend Societies in 1787. They quickly established themselves as agencies of poor relief and bridged the gap until finally, the state took over. The Evangelical Revival made England aware of its social obligations.

The campaign to banish slavery from British colonies was led by men of evangelical convictions. In 1767, Grenville Sharp fought a case in the law courts to ensure that a slave should be freed whenever he set foot on English territory. William Wilberforce was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge and became MP for his home town of Hull in 1780 and then MP for Yorkshire in 1784, a seat which held until 1812. During a continental tour in 1784-85, he underwent a spiritual crisis which he emerged from as a believer in ‘real Christianity’ centred on Christ’s redeeming work. His conversion, while on the tour with Isaac Milner, ‘the Evangelical Dr Johnson,’ who became President of Queens College, Cambridge, gave Wilberforce the dynamism to lead the campaign against the slave trade, for which he is best known. He had abominated this since the age of fourteen but was encouraged by John Wesley, among other evangelicals, to make its abolition his mission. Wesley had expressed his humanitarian motives in his Thoughts upon Slavery (1775) in which he wrote that…

Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes vital air and no human law can deprive him of that right, which he derives from the law of nature.

By this time, people had also begun to question the assumption that the plantation colonies were essential to Britain’s prosperity. Here, for example, the British economist Adam Smith points out how expensive it was for Britain to defend these colonies:

The expense of the ordinary peace establishment of the colonies amounted … to the pay of twenty regiments of foot, … to the expense of a very considerable naval force which was constantly kept up, in order to guard, from the smuggling vessels of other nations, the immense coast of North America, and that of our West Indian islands. The whole expense of this peace establishment was a charge upon the revenue of Great Britain, and was, at the same time, the smallest part of what the colonies has cost the mother country. …

The Wealth of Nations (1776)

However, for many of the individual plantation owners, their profits were worth protecting, so the overall economic cost of the colonies was a price worth paying. Therefore, despite the claims of recent historians, macro-economic motives were not enough to end the Slave Trade. Religious and humanitarian motives played a significant role in ending it in a campaign lasting more than two decades and in sustaining the subsequent campaign for the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire which occurred a quarter of a century later, in 1833, in the teeth of the fierce resistance of the sugar planters and merchants.

Thomas Clarkson had submitted a prize-winning essay on slavery in 1785, while still at St John’s College, Cambridge, Wilberforce’s alma mater, where Clarkson himself had been influenced by evangelicals. It was he who first persuaded Wilberforce to take up the issue of slavery in Parliament. From 1789 on, Wilberforce frequently moved parliamentary resolutions against the British slave trade. Only four days before his death in 1791, John Wesley penned a now-famous letter to Wilberforce, urging him to…

“… go on, in the name of God, and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”

A mark of Wilberforce’s personal commitment and determination is that even after the eventual formal abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, Wilberforce continued to press for the enforcement of the ban and for European agreement to prohibit the trade.

A Revolution in Morals:

In Britain, the Wesleyans helped to bring brought about a revolution in morals and behaviour among the labouring classes. This revolution spread to other classes at the beginning of the nineteenth century through the writings of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and his friend, Hannah More. She wrote simple moral tales, in colloquial English, and her tracts were delivered door-to-door by salesmen, very cheaply. They circulated in huge numbers and many were read at court and by the upper classes. For England’s privileged classes, meanwhile, William Wilberforce wrote his (1797) book, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in this Country contrasted with Real Christianity. In it, he commented on the increase in prosperity and luxury of the age, the growth of new cities, and the decline of religion, manners and morals. He reminded the rich of their duties to the poor and claimed that the only remedy for their greed and selfishness was to turn from their nominal Christianity to the real Christianity to be found in personal commitment. Several thousand copies were sold in the first six months following publication, and few books of its kind have been more influential. The new wealthy classes became more conscious of their responsibilities and some of the coarseness and cruelty which had marred social life in the eighteenth century disappeared in favour of a cult of ‘respectability’. ‘Victorian values’ arrived among the English middle classes twenty years before Victoria came to the throne. Of course, this was not the same as Wilberforce’s ‘real Christianity’ and hypocrisy soon replaced corruption as the typical sin of the age.

William Hogarth’s sketch of a woman at worship in the Anglican Church.

Early evangelicals believed neither in democracy nor trade unions, however. The French Revolution had frightened them away from such radical ideas. They were determined to do what they could for the poor, but in a paternalistic manner that would not allow the working classes to claim liberty for themselves. ‘The mainstream party’ continued the tradition of the Clapham Sect. Henry Venn was among their leaders, and their journal, which stressed loyalty to the established church, was the monthly Christian Observer, started in 1802. But in spite of theological differences in such a broad movement, there was no open rift but a continuing commitment to accommodate every kind of evangelical society and every kind of evangelical. As the leader of the Clapham Sect in Parliament, Wilberforce also helped to open India to missionaries and to protect popular travelling evangelists in Britain from government interference. He had supported repressive statutes between 1795 and 1812 in his concern to preserve constitutional order, but he was in favour of moderate parliamentary reform and relief for boy chimney-sweeps. Like Wesley, Wilberforce also advocated prison reform. Wilberforce influenced prominent politicians quietly but persuasively, particularly his friend William Pitt, who became Prime Minister, using charm, tact and eloquence in a political life to which he was sure he had been called by God.

The Impact of the Evangelical Revival on the Baptists:

The English Baptists were in no position to benefit immediately from the new lease of life represented by the Great Awakening. But several distinct movements did redirect its impact onto the Baptists. First, a group of working people in Leicestershire who had been evangelised by one of the Countess of Huntingdon’s servants came, independently, to Baptist convictions in 1755. Dan Taylor, a Yorkshire miner, converted among the Methodists, similarly came to Baptist convictions by his own study of the subject of believer’s baptism. He sought out the General Baptists of Lincolnshire to be baptised. Eventually, the Leicestershire group and Dan Taylor’s church joined together with a few General Baptist churches that remained orthodox formed the New Connexion of General Baptists in 1770. These churches prospered in the emerging industrial communities of central England, the textile communities of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the hosiery and lace-making areas of the East Midlands. New life came to the Particular Baptists when, in 1785, Andrew Fuller of Kettering published The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation. He proved that Calvinism itself, as distinct from the “false Calvinism” that was common in the eighteenth century, was essentially a missionary theology. This expressed systematically the doubts that a number of ministers had about the prevailing hyper-Calvinism. The Baptists, as a whole, went through their own form of rebirth in the eighteenth century. Their life from that time represents a debate between Puritanism and Evangelicalism. The General Baptists who opposed Dan Taylor’s ‘enthusiasm’ lapsed into Unitarianism; the Particular Baptists who rejected the correcting force of the Evangelical Revival and allowed only their own members to the communion table became the ‘Strict Baptists’.

William Carey’s Call to Mission:

By the 1780s, many Christians in all Protestant denominations were feeling that the signs of revival in Protestant countries foreshadowed an extension of gospel preaching to the whole world. It was the Baptists from the English Midlands who first formed an effective organization, as The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which later became The Baptist Missionary Society. Fuller completed his book in 1781 but hesitated four years before publishing it. In 1784 he was able to apply the thought of the American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, to the English religious scene. The message of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation not only revived the churches at home but also gave British evangelicals a worldwide vision. Others too were influenced by the Awakening. Fuller’s colleague, John Sutcliff, issued a Call to Prayer to the Northamptonshire Baptists:

“Let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered and the spread of the Gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests.”

William Carey (1761-1834) was the archetypal untiring pioneer missionary whose many-sided work in India included Bible translation and production, evangelism, church planting, education, and medical relief, as well as social reform, and linguistic and horticultural research. By the 1790s, Baptists, Arminian Methodists, impeccable Anglican churchmen, and ardent dissenters and seceders in England and Scotland were seeking to use means for the conversion of heathens as Carey himself put it. But with the rarest exceptions, such interests reached only those Protestant denominations touched by the Evangelical Revival. For the first two or three decades of the missionary movement, interest in missions was restricted to the Evangelicals. The Revival revolutionized preaching and its objectives. The clergyman’s task was viewed in traditional terms as that of nurturing the seed of faith planted at baptism in virtually all members of his parish. This concept could not easily transfer and adjust to preaching the gospel in a tribal society. Added to this, people who inherited a rigid hyper-Calvinist doctrine of predestination in which God made up his elect, saw no reason to concern themselves with why there seemed to be no elect in India or China. But the evangelicals saw preaching as calling sinners to God through faith and felt a personal responsibility to do this. They saw no difference in principle between ‘baptized heathen’ in Britain and in non-Christian peoples overseas.

As a direct consequence of this message, and out of the general renewal of Baptist life came the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society in October 1792. It was the first foreign missionary society created by the Evangelical Revival. William Carey and John Thomas became the Society’s first representatives abroad, while Andrew Fuller, with John Ryland of Bristol, John Sutcliff of Olney, and Samuel Pearce of Birmingham, supported them at home. Carey was born at Paulerspury in Northamptonshire, the son of a parish clerk and schoolmaster. In 1779 he was converted through a fellow apprentice shoemaker, becoming a dissenter, and was baptized as a believer in 1783. After some local preaching, Carey became pastor of Moulton Baptist Chapel in 1786, supporting himself through teaching and shoemaking. In 1789 he became pastor at the important but divided Baptist church at Harvey Lane, Leicester. In 1792, Carey published An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In it, he argued that Christ’s great commission was to preach the gospel to every creature still applied to all Christians. In the same year, in a sermon in Nottingham, he preached the importance of mission with the stirring words:

“Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God.”

Foremost among the first fruits of the Evangelical Revival were the missionary organisations which multiplied at the end of the century. The Baptist Missionary Society was just the first of these, in 1792. Carey and his family sailed to India in the following year, 1793, devoting the rest of his life to taking the gospel to the country. He became foreman of an Indigo factory in Bengal (1794-99), a post that occupied him only three months of the year, leaving him free to study oriental languages intensively for the rest of the year. In 1799 he was joined by two fellow Baptists, Joshua Marsham and William Ward. For the next quarter-century, the three men worked together to form a growing network of mission stations in and beyond Bengal. Carey translated the New Testament into Bengali and was given a tutorship in languages at Fort William College in 1801. In the years up to his death in 1824, Carey supervised six complete and twenty-four partial translations of the Bible as well as publishing several grammars, dictionaries, and translations of eastern books. Although some of his early translations were hurried and stilted, his work was an immense achievement for a largely self-educated pioneer.

William Carey, untiring English Baptist pioneer missionary. Baptist Missionary Society.

Two scenes from an unpublished typescript by Rev. Arthur J. Chandler (Birmingham, c. 1965).
Scene One: – The Founding of the BMS (Baptist Missionary Society).

The parlour of Widow Wallis’s Home, Kettering, October 2nd, 1792:

John Timms: Do come through, Mr Fuller and brethren. Mrs Wallis has asked me to do the honours tonight. She is far from well. I am afraid the loss of her husband is still keenly felt. She bids me make you welcome and to say how pleased she is to put her home at your disposal for your Minister’s Meeting tonight.

Fuller: For twenty years now, brethren, this house has afforded gracious hospitality to the Lord’s servants. Little wonder it should have come to be known among us as ‘Gospel Inn’.

Carey: What a lovely and heart-warming welcome – and on such a night! The wind is in the east and there is a nip in the air. It’s been a sombre day, a bad day, with the sky all sables. But our meetings today have set our spirits aglow. Thank you, brother Timms.

(Timms leaves)

Fuller: A good brother. Already he is proving a fine substitute on our Diaconate for our brother, Beeby Wallis. A younger man, but quite promising. …

(They finally seat themselves)

… Brother Ryland, if I may make so bold, may I say how grateful your brethren are for your sermon this morning. You had a grand text: “I will work and who shall hinder it?” (Isaiah. 43: 15). It seems to me, and to many of us, that you have run your flag to the masthead. May I and Carey take it that you have committed yourself to the contemplated venture?

Ryland: I gladly confess, my dear Andrew, that since brother Carey’s magnificent utterance in Friar Lane, Nottingham, this May – together with your logical reasoning since I find myself with no other attitude. “Get up,” he said. “Find larger canvas, stouter and taller poles, stronger tent pegs. Dare bolder programmes. Dwell in an ampler world. Thy Maker is thy Husband. He is Lord of the whole earth”. Brethren, my rigid theory of Predestination has further been thawed by the fire of love which Samuel Pearce has this day cast in all our hearts. Bristol trained you well, Samuel.

Sutcliff: Two things impress me as I look around our group. As a Bristol man, I rejoice in the presence with us of other sons of the College: Samuel Pearce, of Cannon Street, Birmingham; Thomas Blundel, of Arnsby; and young Staughton there is just finishing his course at Bristol. And you, Doctor John, just about to consent to be its Principal. Bristol is in good evidence this night.

Ryland: And the second thing, brother Sutcliff?

Sutcliff: That is that it is young men, as Joel said it would be, who have caught the vision. I am forty; Ryland thirty-nine, Fuller thirty-eight; Carey, thirty-one; Pearce, twenty-six. The young men are not ‘sitting down.’

Fuller: And, as the world judges, there is little or no respectability amongst us … not so much as a squire to take the chair! But I move that we ask John Ryland to keep us in order!

All: Agreed!

Ryland: Thank you, brethren. But first, prayer:

‘O God, who hast promised to give Thy Son the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, guide our thoughts and strengthen our wills to do Thine own.

Behold at Thy Commanding Word,

We stretch the curtain and the cord!


I take it, Andrew, that our chief business now is to consider the shaping of The Plan, according to the Nottingham instruction? As I look around this circle it occurs to me that not half of you were present at Nottingham. You did not hear Carey’s sermon, or our brother Fuller’s ‘twelfth hour’ prevailing appeal. So I will ask Fuller to read the Nottingham ‘Instruction’, which he then proposed and which we passed before we dispersed that Thursday noon.

Fuller: (unfolds and reads). ‘Resolved that a plan be prepared against the next Minsters’ Meeting at Kettering, for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the Gospel among the Heathens’.

Ryland: How far has the Plan been shared? And can we here bring the project to life?

Pearce: We must, Dr Ryland, we must. One of my deacons, Thomas Potts, a wealthy manufacturer of Livery Street, Birmingham, has just returned from a visit to America, that country of unimaginable vastness to which he exports goods. (You will remember Potts as the man who financed the publishing of Carey’s ‘Enquiry’). Thomas has given us moving accounts of the need for the Red Indians and Negroes there. These are our brethren, for whom Christ died – whatever the colour of their skin. They must know the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. And Carey is more expert than any of us on the appalling degradation of the vast continent of India. I am sure the necessary financial support would be forthcoming. Potts will be generous.

Joshua Burton: I wish I could pledge some financial support from Foxton. But neither there nor at Roads, where brother Heighton ministers, do our members number twenty-five. And at Thrapston – as Reynold Hogg will tell you – we are too few for a far formation of a Church. Ours are little flocks. Are we not too inland and isolated to direct such an overseas effort? Ought not the greater centres and churches to take the initiative and shoulder the burden?

Reynold Hogg: Little flocks we may be. Indeed, the one flock is a little flock, but we have not forgotten the words of the Great Shepherd: ‘Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’ Brethren, cannot the Lord save by the few as well as by the many? Since when was the battle to the strong? It is the lame who take the prey. God still chooses the weak things and the things that are not to pull down the strongholds of Satan. We are looking at God through our difficulties, whereas we should be looking at our difficulties through God. Humble pastors! Gathered in a lean-to parlour we may be, but may not our line go out through all the earth, and our influence to the end of the world?

Fuller: Thank you, Reynold. Brethren – Must Carey tug at my sleeve again this night and ask: ‘Is nothing again to be done, sir?’ God forbid!

Ryland: Brother Carey, Nottingham transformed your spirit of heaviness into a robe of praise. I hope you still wear it?

Carey: I believe that God ordains the end, but I also believe, with equal intensity that He ordains the means for achieving that end. I am certain that he has chosen this group to bring into existence a Baptist Society for the propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen. Ere tomorrow dawns, our fears will disperse like morning due before the rising sun. I know Whom I have believed. The good work He has begun in all our hearts will not be left unfinished. Courage, timid souls!

(He holds out his copy of the latest issue of the Periodical Accounts).

See what the Moravians are daring, and some of them, British like ourselves, and many only artisans and poor. Cannot we Baptists at least ATTEMPT something in fealty to the same Lord?

(A deadly hush, broken only at long last by the voice of Ryland).

Ryland: Brother Andrew, you have prepared a resolution. I believe that under the urge of Carey’s challenge we have all of us hushed our fears. If I discern aright, we are all constrained to commit ourselves. Will you read the resolution?

Fuller: ‘Humbly desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the Gospel among the heathen, according to the recommendations of Carey’s ‘Enquiry’ we unanimously resolve to act in Society together for this purpose; and, as in the divided state of Christendom each domination, by exerting itself separately, seems likeliest to accomplish the great end, we name this The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the heathen.

Ryland: Do you so unanimously resolve?

All: We do so unanimously resolve. Aye. We will, God helping us, … (etc.)

Ryland: ‘And the Lord hearkened and heard, and a Book of Remembrance was written before him.’

Our next step is to choose an executive. Will you give me some names?

All: Andrew Fuller … John Ryland … William Carey … John Sutcliff … Reynold Hogg.

Ryland: I am sure that each of us is willing to serve?

(They all nod in assent)

Ryland: Can you elect these men?

(All show hands)

Ryland: And now, a Secretary and a Treasurer.

Pearce: I am just the visiting preacher for the day, but I know I voice the desire of all in nominating our brother Andrew Fuller as Secretary.

All: Agreed.

John Ayres: And I echo what is in all our hearts in proposing that we ask Reynold Hogg to be the Treasurer – in recognition of his whole-souled missionary zeal.

All: Agreed.

Abraham Greenwood: None of us is rich. I am in grave anxiety at Oakham. But I move that we take up from among ourselves an Offering. If we do not have not the cash in our pockets then we will write out our promises on paper.

Ryland: Timms! Can you come, please?

Timms: Sir, you called?

Ryland: Will you provide us with a receptacle for the first gifts to Modern Missions.

Timms: I will go and get something, Master Ryland if you will excuse me a moment.

Fuller: Stay, John! We will use my snuff box. A queer offering plate you may think, yet it has a fitness and odour of sanctity of its own. Impressed upon its lid is a representation of St Paul’s conversion – a miniature replica of the very scene in the pediment of St Paul’s Cathedral. We will pass it around quietly thanking God for the Great Apostle to the Gentiles, the man who brought the Gospel to Europe.

(Round it goes)

Ryland: It is good you remained, John. A deacon shall count the offering and tell us the amount given or promised.

(All remain silent and still as John quickly tots up. His face aglow, his voice trembling with emotion. John Timms speaks…)

Timms: Thirteen pounds, two shillings, and sixpence.

Ryland: Kettering has immortalised itself this night!

Scene Two: The Founding of the Baptist Union, 25th June 1812.

07:45 a.m. Outside Carter Lane Chapel, London.

Tom: Quarter to eight in the morning … I wonder what that group of men is doing outside Dr Rippon’s Church. … Black your shoes, your honour? They don’t want their shoes blacking. Look how worn and patched they are. How carefully they are avoiding the big muddy puddle! Bad for trade – very bad …

Hello! this is a very fine carriage drawing up at the door. Somebody’s getting out. I know him – cleaned his boots many a time. He always says “Thank you” and in such a kind way, too, as if he’s been done an honour! And he really believes the labourer is worthy of his hire!

He is greeting the other men. From what I can hear they have come from all parts of the country. Now they are moving into the chapel. … more of them are coming along the street. Ah! Here comes Dr Rippon’s coachman.

Coachman: ‘Op off! It’s no good you hanging about. Their boots won’t be any dirtier when they come out.

Tom: What are they all doing in there? Singing hymns?

Coachman: No. There won’t be any hymns this morning – they might finish up with one – but it will be mostly speeches. Funny, coming from all over England to listen to speeches. They go on for hours!

Tom: Seems a dull affair to me. Who are they? What are they talking about?

Coachman: They’re all Baptist ministers, and they’ve come to London for a special meeting. You saw some of them waiting here … you should have seen them arrive. They’ve been travelling all night on the tops of stagecoaches. … Looked like proper country bumpkins, I can tell you, but they couldn’t afford to travel any better.

Tom: But are all Baptist ministers poor? Dr Rippon isn’t. He’s got plenty of money, hasn’t he?

Coachman: O, he’s the richest baptist minister in London, but he’s earned it writing books. Gives heaps away. He’s paying for breakfast for the whole sixty of them this morning.

Tom: Makes me feel hungry. Any idea what they will have?

Coachman: Oh, Pidgeon pie, mutton chops, pig’s trotters for the Northerners, and all the trimmings. … he’s taken over this meeting. My wife’s his cook, and she says there’s been such comings and goings … he’s written hundreds of letters here; they are everywhere, arranging for them to come, finding places for them to stay. He says he’s going to do it every year. He must be keen about his ‘idea’.

Tom: What idea?

Coachman: You’ll grow into the shape of a question mark if you ask any more questions. Leave a fellow alone for a bit, can’t yer?

Tom: (Aside) No good asking him anymore … I’ll climb up to that window and see what’s going on.

(Tom does so)

Lights on Assembly inside the Chapel.

Button: The wave of sympathy which has spread throughout the country, since we had news of the fire at Serampore, shows no sign of diminishing. I hear that large sums are still arriving and that some have come from members of other communions.

First Minister: The rebuilding of the Press won’t give back the Manuscripts which Carey has lost. The work of years destroyed in a few hours.

Second Minister: Here he is!

Iviney: Who?

Second Minister: Dr Rippon.

Iviney: Here comes brother Rippon. Let us compose ourselves for the Meeting.

Ryland: Brethren, Dr Rippon has asked me to offer a prayer:

(All rise and stand with bowed heads)

“Almighty God, who didst brood over the separate and conflicting atoms of creation and hush them into silence, bring order out of chaos and for wild confusion give peace, who didst in fellowship so much as to create Man in thine own image; who didst give him a help-meet, since it is not good for man to dwell alone; we pray Thee to brood by Thy Spirit over the churches of our faith and order in this beloved land and welt them ever closer together in love and purpose. Grant us Thy blessing in our deliberations and if it pleases Thee, may the outcome of today’s assembly means that we shall henceforth no longer be isolated units, but a communion of saints, dwelling in brotherly concord. Then Thou wilt accord the blessing. May it be so. For thy glory.”

All: Amen.

(Ministers resume seats)

Iviney: Brethren, I understand that by common consent you desire to call Dr Rippon to the chair.

All: Aye, we do.

Rippon: Thank you, brethren. Our duty at this hour is to look forward, but I take one glimpse back and begin by thanking our brothers Fuller and Ryland for the eloquent missionary sermons of yesterday. I rejoice with you all that at that meeting three hundred and twenty pounds was subscribed.

Several: A goodly sum.

Rippon: Now to the business in hand. I need hardly remind you that we are living in a period of Societies, formed for a definite purpose. Partnerships in commerce have grown into common-law Companies with hundreds of members. In France, the non-privileged classes have developed political clubs to aim at reform.

Austin: Hear, hear! May the Lord prosper their efforts!

Rippon: While not desirous of damping our brother’s enthusiasm, I think I should point out that James Butterworth of Bromsgrove and others of our men have rendered themselves obnoxious to the ‘Church and King Party’ by uttering honest convictions about the French Revolution. I am merely reciting facts and using illustrations – I have no desire to arouse your passions!

(Thus having delivered this mild rebuke, he goes on…)

I sometimes feel… As it is, we cannot speak with a united voice to other religious Societies…

Minister: Are you suggesting, Dr Rippon, that we should become one only in order that we may, later on, become part of some super Church?

Rippon: No. Not that. Not that at all. That is not my understanding of our Lord’s words, That they may be one, but I would not try to limit the truth of God to my poor Baptist reach of mind!

Member: We quite understand your own position, Dr Rippon, and some of us stand with you, but unless we make ourselves crystal clear we run the risk of being misunderstood by our people. And you know how suspicious of London the rest of the country is – especially our members in Lancashire and Yorkshire, who would not easily give up the Independence of the local congregation.

Rippon: Let me be specific … Let me enumerate the advantages of a Union:

“The production of reports from the Churches; Support for the academies and the students; Support for our ministers and a proper scheme for their settlement; Education for the children of deceased ministers; Village preaching; The maintenance of Sunday Schools; Literature; New Church Buildings… “

These are but a few of the objects which should press themselves on our consideration, brethren.

Minister: Mr Chairman, I have here, on the fly-leaf of my Bible – so highly do I prize it – a cutting from an 1811 Baptist magazine. The writer puts my desires so well, that I have pasted it here. May I read it, sir?

Rippon: I think I know the article to which you refer. If I guess accurately, the author of it – present with us now – will, I know, not object to your giving his wise words wider publicity.

Minister: “We are anxious to see such a Union prevail in our denomination as well most effectually combine all our efforts in the Cause of Truth and Righteousness at home, and give ten-fold vigour to our exertions on behalf of our efforts abroad.”

All: Amen.

Rippon: I would say ‘Amen’ a thousand times if that would do it. I say ‘So be it’ indeed, But it will take more than pious ejaculations to bring it about – valuable as these are. But it can be done if you sixty are ready to join with me in turning this dream into fact.

Thomas Thomas: Mr Chairman: Our brother has quoted from the Baptist Magazine. May I (he takes out a cutting) read from a newspaper I have received? It certainly contains a full account of the Meeting of our North Welsh Association which advocated such a Union to be desired, they thought, and to which the Association pledged its support. I wish to call your attention to the following:

“That a closer Union and connexion among Baptists throughout England and Wales, Ireland and America, would be a glorious thing.”

Brethren, I emphasise the word ‘AMERICA’. Can it be that a Union here would presage a Union yet to be when Baptists of other lands shall be united with us?

Rippon: In my more optimistic moods I have myself spoken of some kind of world association of Baptists, including those of America – and the Mennonites of Holland – but before that dream can be realised we have far to go. For today, let us confine ourselves to a possible Union of the home churches. That done, who knows how soon we may expect a wider Union?

Minister: Dr Rippon, will you now accept a Proposition? For I feel the time has come for us to act!

Rippon: I will. Brother Iveny, will you prepare yourself to make a careful note of this Proposition?

Iviney: I am ready, sir.

Rippon: Put your Proposition, brother.

Minister: More accurately, sir, it is a series of Propositions: Perhaps you would prefer to take them singly?

Rippon: Then put the first.

Minister: “That this Meeting of Sixty Ministers, held this day, 25th June 1812, in Carter Lane Chapel, London, solemnly resolves that a Union of Baptist Churches in the United Kingdom is very desirable and is hereby formed… We further resolve…”

(voice trails off … lights go out…)


JOHN RIPPON was an extraordinary faith-filled young man. In 1771, when he was just twenty, Carter Lane Baptist Church, Tooley Street, London, invited him to try out for their pulpit. Rippon had been a Christian just four years. He trembled at the offer because famed theologian John Gill had been the church’s pastor. It would be hard for one so young to follow so eminent a preacher. Nonetheless, he accepted the challenge and the majority of the congregation voted to call him. Forty members withdrew, however, saying he was too young to be their pastor.

The young Baptist proved to be an extraordinary leader, filled with grace.

The Carter Lane Baptist Church represented much wealth and Rippon encouraged its members to support Baptist world missions. After several years in which illness robbed him of usefulness, he died on 17 December 1836, having preached at Carter Lane (and its successor location at New Park Street) for over sixty years and edited the Baptist Annual for twelve. His pulpit would later be occupied by another famous Baptist—the youthful Charles Spurgeon (whose church would become Metropolitan Tabernacle).

Conclusion – Missions at home and abroad:

Among British Baptists in 1812, therefore, it had been agreed that a more general union of Particular Baptists was desirable, particularly, though not exclusively, to support the work of ‘the Baptist Mission’. The Union was formally founded the next year, in 1813, by the sixty Particular Baptist churches. In 1832, it was restructured to allow for membership of General Baptist churches. The other nonconformist denominations soon followed the example set by the Baptists. In 1786, the Wesleyan Conference, though not yet independent from the Church of England, had already approved the plan of Thomas Coke to take the gospel to India, thereby taking on the task of overseas expansion. The London Missionary Society, an interdenominational venture was formed in 1795 and the Church Missionary Society in 1799. But it was not only the overseas missionary societies that owed their inspiration to the Revival. Both the Religious Tract Society (1799) and The British and Foreign Bible Society (1804) also sprang from the Revival. Christian education gained a new dimension with the introduction of Sunday schools. They were started in 1769 by a Methodist, Hannah Ball, and then developed and popularised by Robert Raikes, an Anglican layman. The Church of England Sunday School was founded in 1786 by William Richardson, an evangelical vicar in York, and the Sunday School Union was founded in 1803. The Sunday school movement in Britain marked an important step towards free education for all. In this way, the Evangelical Revival gave birth to missions, at home and abroad, and missions led to denominational reorganisation.


Tim Dowley (ed.), et. al., (1977) The History of Christianity. Berkhamsted: Lion Publishing.

John Barton (2019), A History of the Bible. London: Allen House (Penguin Random House).

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