March 29

Ko Tha Byu was a member of the Karen tribe, native to the mountains of Burma. He died in 1840. The Karens were the lowest class of people in Burma. They were usually considered to be “the wild men of the jungle.” Ko Tha Byu was typical of his people and perhaps even worse than most. He confessed that by the time he was fifty he had murdered or assisted in the murder of at least thirty people. After five decades of wickedness and the suffering it caused, Tha decided to settle down and clean up his life. He began working in a print shop that was run by a Baptist missionary. The missionary tried to teach him the meaning of what it was he was printing, but Tha had not yet been readied by the Lord. He left the kindness and blessing of that employment and moved to Moulmein. There he got into debt and eventually found himself standing on the block awaiting to be sold into slavery. Providentially, a Burmese Baptist recognized the potential slave and bought him for 12 rupees. Again the Karen man rebelled, and the Christian turned to Adoniram Judson for advice. Judson reimbursed the man and took Tha home where he was asked to work around the missionary’s house. He learned to read Burmese, and when he read of the crucifixion his eye fell on Christ’s forgiveness of the murderous man on the cross. He was amazed, asking Judson for more information. In time he accepted the truth and by faith was born again. Ko Tha Byu immediately began growing in Christ. On...

March 22

John Gill was born in 1697. His Father, Edward, was a Baptist deacon in Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, so John grew up reading the Word of God; he read just about everything else as well. By the time he was 11, he was reading Latin and Greek classics. The local bookseller was open for business only on the weekly market days, but on that day John was there in the store reading and talking to authors as they came by. When he was 12, his father’s pastor preached a message from “And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” The sermon was used to bring down the proud young man and a few months later John could look at the wounds and blood of the Lord Jesus as the means to his salvation. On November 1, 1716 he was baptized in the river at Kettering, after which he joined the Baptist church. Almost immediately, he began preaching the gospel. He was called to become the pastor of the church at Horsely-downs, and on this day (March 22) in 1720, at the age of 23 he was ordained to the ministry. In 1769 he published his “Body of Divinity,” and later came his commentary on the Bible. He loved the people of God – both in his church and elsewhere. He was among the first to support the Rhode Island College and its founder James Manning. About 50 years before Gill’s birth, the Tabernacle Fellowship was born in London. Over the years that congregation has had different names, but it has always been a Baptist...

March 15

The Baptist church in Hopewell, New Jersey, was organized on April 23, 1715 with fifteen members.   Hopewell was, and still is to some degree, a small rural community in western New Jersey over a few hills from the Delaware River. For its first 32 years the church met in private homes, primarily that of Jonathan Stout.  Then in 1747, during a period of revival and growth, property was given to the church by John Hart, the only local man who was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence.  Isaac Eaton was the church’s first full-time pastor, serving from 1748 until his death in 1772.  Other than a few famous members, probably the church’s most significant claim to fame was that Bro. Eaton established the first Baptist school in America for the training of God’s servants.  Three of the school’s alumni include John Gano, the pastor of the first permanent Baptist church in New York and chaplain in the Revolutionary War, Hezekiah Smith another pastor and chaplain, and James Manning the founder of a school in Rhode Island which eventually became known as Brown University.  But it’s not to these that I refer for this date in our history.     On Sunday, April 23, 1775, news of the Battle of Lexington reached Hopewell while the church service was going on.  As people began to exit the building, Joab Houghton, one of the members, climbed up on the block of stone used to help ladies disembark from their wagons.  Once he had everyone’s attention, he challenged the men of the church with his love of liberty and desire for independence.  It is said...

March 8

Joseph Islands was born a Creek Indian. He grew up in Alabama – a wild and sinful man. One night in 1842 during a drunken brawl a good friend of his was killed. The next day Joseph went to the grave site and found a Christian black man, affectionately named “Old Billy,” digging the grave. Seeing the distress on Joseph’s face, Old Billy shared with him the comfort of the gospel. The Holy Spirit began working with conviction and later in the black man’s cabin, Joseph Islands was born again. The Creek nation had earlier imposed a strict law against the introduction of Christianity among their people. Anyone engaged in evangelism was to be whipped with 39 lashes. Under this law, Joseph and Old Billy began meeting in semi-secret. Over time, more and more of their friends heard about their faith and joined them in Bible study, until the number reached about 40 souls. Eventually the authorities were alerted, and plans were laid to find the Christians and to punish them. On one occasion a spy hid behind some trees in order to follow Bro. Islands to their meeting, but when the Christian man reached the woods he stopped and began to openly pray. He asked for God’s blessings on the tribal leaders, for the police, for his Christian friends, and for several specific individuals, including the man who was overhearing these devotions. A sense of guilt overcame him, and when he finally discovered the place of the Christians’ worship, he presented himself, asking for more of the gospel. He was soon led to Christ. Ultimately the believers were...

March 1

Most American colonies, states and districts did not begin their existence practicing religious liberty. Two exceptions were the colonies of Rhode Island and New Jersey. Later Texas would join that list. Texas was originally a part of Mexico under the 1824 Mexican Democratic Constitution. But political turmoil and Catholic domination from the south made life in Texas miserable and various factions fought for control, including the forces of Santa Anna who attempted to set up a dictatorship. On November 3, 1835 a meeting was held by American settlers seeking independence, but the motion was voted down and the colonists, calling themselves Texans, determined to remain loyal to Mexico. But government troops, Santa Anna’s men and some Texans continued to clash until it was recognized that the only road to peace was through total independence which included freedom to choose, freedom to vote, and freedom of worship. In Mexico the only religion not forbidden by law was Roman Catholicism. Also, there were as yet no schools, so there were very few places for large groups to meet. On this day (March 1) in 1836 in Washington, Texas, a group of American settlers met in the blacksmith shop of N. T. Byars. All his equipment was pushed aside, benches were brought in and government business began. That meeting became the first Texas convention. Judge Richard Ellis, who had become a farmer after emigrating from Virginia, was chosen to preside over the session. The following day Texas independence was declared, a new government was begun, and Samuel Houston was selected to lead the Texan army. At that time, Santa Anna was massing...

February 23

James Smith Coleman was born on this day (February 23) in 1827. He was saved by grace when he was eleven-years-old, after which he joined the Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Kentucky. When he reached adulthood he was elected county sheriff, but one evening after attending a revival meeting, the Holy Spirit convicted him to leave his post and to become a gospel preacher. His church agreed and when Coleman began preaching, the power of God followed him everywhere. Bro. Coleman was gifted with a clear and quick mind and an orator’s tongue. He was often asked to participate in debates with other preachers over doctrine, and often he consented. On one occasion he was asked to debate the subject of believer’s baptism with a Methodist named William Caskey. As the debate developed Caskey declared that when the Bible states that complete households were baptized it must have included infants and so babies are Biblical candidates for baptism. In his rebuttal Bro. Coleman stated: “I am surprised at Brother Caskey’s limited information concerning Lydia’s household. He has inferred that Lydia had children under the age of accountability, and that, therefore these children were baptized. I am surprised, Sir, that you do not know that Lydia was a widow, and a traveling cloth merchant, and that she never had but one child, and that was a daughter, who married a red-headed, one-eyed shoemaker, and had moved off to Damascus, and had not been at home for years, and that her household at that time consisted of herself and servants who assisted her in her business. I am surprised, Sir, that...

February 16

The first record of what became the first Baptist church in the city of Boston reads: “The 28th of the third month, 1665, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the church of Christ, commonly, though falsely, called Anabaptists, were gathered together, and entered into fellowship and communion with each other; engaged to walk together in all the appointments of our Lord and Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, as far as he should be pleased to make known his mind and will unto them by his word and Spirit….” This document than named about fifteen men and women. In signing their names those saints lost their rights as citizens of Massachusetts; they lost the right to vote; they were fined, sometimes imprisoned and even threatened with banishment. Under those conditions, the congregation moved to Noodle Island in Boston’s harbor before moving again into Boston proper. On this day (February 15) in 1679 the Baptist Church of Boston opened the doors to its own building for the first time. The structure was so plain and unassuming the city authorities didn’t at first realize its purpose. A few months later the General Court passed a law forbidding the use of any building, even homes, for public worship without the consent of the Court or a town meeting. The penalty could be as high as forfeiture of the house and its land. The Baptists then quit their building and started meeting outdoors. When King Charles II granted limited religious freedom, Massachusetts refused to obey and charged the Baptists when they again attempted to use their own building. On March 8, 1680, the City Marshal nailed the...

February 9

Henry Havelock was not a pastor or missionary, but in the midst of doing other things he did represent his Saviour. Henry was born in 1795. His mother regularly gathered her six children together to read the Bible and pray, so he grew up with serious considerations for his soul. But those were the days of Napoleon and the War of 1812, and young Henry grew up wanting to become a soldier. A month after the Battle of Waterloo, Henry enlisted, after which he was sent to India as a second lieutenant in a rifle brigade. During his voyage to India, another lieutenant presented the gospel to him, and Henry came to the full assurance of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1823, during the first British war with Burma, he was stationed in Rangoon. While there he visited the Shway Dagong Pagoda which he found filled with both worshipers and tourists. Surrounded by statues of Buddha, he was moved in much the same way as Paul while in Athens, and he began to publically declare Christ. Following that, over time, he gathered approximately a hundred Christian soldiers around him, and they earned the nickname “Havelock’s saints.” Henry and his men became one of the best fighting forces in the region, risking their lives on many occasions. On one occasion during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 he led 2,500 men against 50,000 Sepoy troops, successfully saving the lives of a large group of English women and children. For this and other acts of bravery he was promoted over and over again, and eventually a statue was erected to...

February 2

Benjamin Stinton is not a well-known name, but this man links together two others who were very well known both in their day and in ours. Benjamin was born in England on this day (Feb. 2) in 1676. Although blessed by the Lord with a sharp mind, he was not afforded the opportunity for much secular education. But his spiritual education was thorough. The Lord convicted the young man of sin, righteousness and judgment and then saved his soul. He joined the Baptist church at Horsleydown whose pastor was Benjamin Keach. Keach was became sufficiently impressed with Bro. Stinton to granted him permission to marry one of the Keach daughters. Unlike most Baptists in his day, Benjamin Keach encouraged hymn singing in his congregation, writing many hymns himself. He was pilloried by the state church for publishing a Christian book for children. And among his other children was Elias, who was converted to Christ while in the Americas and where he pastored for a short time before returning to Great Britain. As Elder Keach saw death approaching, he became concerned about the leadership continuity of his church. Recognizing the gifts God had given his son-in-law, Benjamin Stinton, he told the young man not to reject the call of the church if it was offered. It was offered. Bro. Stinton with so little education, was reluctant to accept. But with the dying words of his father-in-law ringing in his ears, he acquiesced on one condition – if the church would permit him to hire a tutor to help him learn Greek and Hebrew. It was agreed. Benjamin Stinton went on...

January 26

Britain’s “Act of Toleration,” enacted in 1689, ended a period of severe persecution against the Baptists in that country, but it did not provide all that Christ’s churches taught or deserved. While it was no longer compulsory to attend the services of the Church of England, the ministers of dissenting churches still had to sign the 39 articles of the Church of England with some exceptions such as the 27th on infant baptism. And all meeting Baptist houses had to be registered with the local government and pay a fee of sixpence. Prior to the Act some of England’s best-known Baptists had suffered persecution and loss. Thomas Collier in Western England, and Hanserd Knollys the great writer, were persecuted. William Kiffin was personal friend of the King, but his grandsons, Benjamin and William Hewling, were martyred. Benjamin Keach was imprisoned, pilloried and fined. John Bunyan, spent twelve years in the Bedford jail. Baptist preachers and church members were beaten, fined and incarcerated. Their church and personal property was often confiscated or destroyed. Their meeting houses were damaged or leveled with no compensation. John Eccles was pastor of the congregation at Bromisgrove, Worcester. He preached the gospel there and in Coventry for 50 years. But he was arrested and placed in the dungeon at Worcester. Only when a member of Parliament paid a £1,000 bond was he released. It is the anniversary of Eccles death that marks this day in Baptist history. It is interesting that many of God’s greatest British servants suffered persecution. History records that when that persecution was relaxed, God’s people also relaxed – spiritually. The opposition...

January 19

Our subject this morning was a man with a very unique and interesting name; it is theological and prophetical. His family name was Noel, which you probably know means “Birth of God.” This man was born in England in 1799 and was raised in the Church of England. The Noels were a part of the aristocracy of the day, so this young man had the best education available and his mind was worthy of the challenge. He graduated with distinction from Trinity College, Cambridge, after which he became an Anglican prelate. At the age of 27, he was one of the most popular preachers in London and served as one of the chaplains to Queen Victoria. As an honest and intelligent man, his study of the Bible lead him in a direction away from the Church of England. He wrote a booklet entitled “The Union of Church and State” which was negative to the subject. And then he was truly baptized on August 9, 1849 in the John Street (Baptist) Chapel. I said that he had an interesting name. For some unknown reason his parents gave him the prophetic name of “Baptist.” Our subject is Baptist W. Noel. And incidentally, the man who immersed him had an equally appropriate name. The pastor, or under-shepherd, of the John Street Chapel was named “Shepherd.” Baptist Noel, the former non-baptist, was baptized by Pastor Shepherd or Shepherd Shepherd. After his immersion, Bro. Noel was asked to speak. In his message he assured his audience, which included many who were not Baptists, that he had thoroughly studied the subject in the Bible and...

January 12

Samuel Harriss was born on this day in 1724. He was born again 36 years later. Before his conversion Harriss served his community as sheriff, justice of the peace, colonel in the militia, and Captain of Fort Mayo. In the family’s Episcopal religion he was for a time a church warden. His family had political power and social prominence, but that all changed for Samuel. One day, while on assignment and dressed in his military uniform, he stopped at the home of two brothers named Murphy. Somewhat hiding and sitting behind a loom, he heard one of the brothers preach the gospel. Later he testified that “the arrow of the Almighty stuck fast,” and he was born again. He became so excited and joyful he left the house shouting “Glory, glory, glory,” even forgetting to take with him his sword. Daniel Marshall baptized Samuel Harriss, and soon after he began preaching Christ anywhere between the James and Rappahannock rivers, and periodically as far away as the Shenandoah Valley. He was ordained in 1769 when he was 45, but he had already started to experience the wrath of the wicked one. Four years earlier he was driven out of Culpepper County, Virginia, by a ferocious mob, but still he wanted to serve his Saviour. In Orange County he was pulled from the pulpit by his hair. On another occasion he was knocked down under a rain of punches. In the town of Hillsborough he was given permission to preach in the local jail, but once he was inside, the sheriff locked the doors and kept him there for some time....

January 5

On this day (January 5) in 1527 two well-known Anabaptists paid the price for their faith in Christ and their love for the Word of God. George Balurock was stripped to the waist and beaten nearly to death, and Felix Manz was drowned in Lake Zurich. Many historians look at a few notable Anabaptists and conclude they were all a bunch of lunatics and heretics. Almost no one but Baptist scholars and a few related to the Mennonites, ever spend time researching the true history of these people. But Franklin Littell, a Protestant historian, fifty years ago, wrote, “Information on the [Anabaptists] groups as been notoriously scarce and has rested in the main upon hostile polemics (vicious attacks).” Based on the promise of God that the church could not have been destroyed, he believed that the Anabaptists were that true church. Roland Bainton connects Anabaptist with the ancient Donatists, acknowledging that “the parallels between the Anabaptists and Donatists were… more than superficial.” And then he added, “To call these people Anabaptist, that is re-baptizers, was to malign them, because they denied that baptism was repeated, inasmuch as infant baptism is no baptism at all. They called themselves simply Baptists, not re-Baptists. The offensive name was fastened upon them in order to bring them under the penalty of the Justinian Code against the Donatists” – so that they might be punished and put to death. William Estep wrote in 1963, “Scholars of preceding generations have leaned heavily upon the highly partisan and quite unreliable accounts of sixteenth-century … writings of … Zwingly … Menius … Bullinger and … Fisher, to...

December 29

Phillipp Bliss died on this day in 1876, at the young age of 38. His name was originally spelled with 3 p’s and 2 l‘s – “Phillipp, ” but he didn’t like the spelling so he chopped it down and chopped it apart to Philip P. Bliss. Eventually he was known simply as P.P. Bliss. He was born in Rome (Pennsylvania) in 1838. When he was 12 he was born again, and after his immersion he joined the Baptist church at Tioga, Pennsylvania. Following his marriage to a talented poet/musician, he fought in the Civil War, before moving to Chicago to become a music writer, publisher and singer. He often assisted D.L. Moody and others in their evangelistic campaigns. In December 1876, after having spent some time with his mother and sister, Bliss and his wife were headed back to Chicago on the Pacific Express when a bridge collapsed near Ashtabula, Ohio and the train plunged 60 feet into a ravine, where the steam locomotive exploded. Philip escaped through a window, but when he couldn’t find his wife, he crawled back into the burning rail car where he found her trapped, and there they died together. P.P. Bliss wrote hundreds of hymns, many of which are still being sung regularly. Different people might select different Bliss hymns as their favorite, but at this point in my life, I think my favorite Bliss hymn would be “It is Well with My...

December 22

Andrew Tribble was one of the first Baptists in Virginia. He often declared that he was the fifty-third Baptist on the north side of the James River. Some of the people with whom he fellowshipped were Lewis and Elijah Craig, John Waller and James Childs. Bro. Tribble was most likely baptized by James Reed who rode down from North Carolina for that purpose. Bro. Tribble began the itinerant preaching the gospel of Christ and was one of the forty-four Baptists imprisoned in Virginia for serving his Saviour without a license. He was incarcerated in the Fredericksburg gaol for forty-eight days. His first pastorate was at the Baptist church in Albemarle County. It was near the home of Thomas Jefferson. Years later, Tribble, testified that after Jefferson had visited the Albemarle church for several months, the preacher asked him what he thought about the government and management of the church. Jefferson replied that it struck him with great force and had interested him much. He considered it to be the only pure form of democracy that then existed in the world and had concluded that it would be the best plan of government for the American colonies. Nothing was said about Jefferson’s conversion to Christ. In 1783 the Tribbles followed the example of the Craigs and others by moving to Kentucky. There he organized the Tates Creek Baptist Church, serving that congregation until his death on this day in...