June 25

I don’t usually use 20th century material in these historical notes, but I’m going to make an exception today.     On this day in 1928, Nikita Isaevitch Voronin made the following public statement: “During the sixty years of its existence in Russia our brotherhood (The Baptist Union of the U.S.S.R.)  has achieved wonderful results with which can be compared the achievements of no other religious movement.  We can boldly state, that already in 1905… among the so-called sects in Russia, the Baptists were the foremost in point of numbers, the firmest in defense of the purity of their teaching, the bravest during the heavy recession of the Tzarist regime and the most ardent in zeal of spirit and soul in the great work! And that is what we are now!”     That declaration was made before the Toronto meeting of the Baptist World Alliance.  Voronin was a Baptist Communist, and the BWA was one of the most liberal religious organizations in the world.  Voronin’s words echo the “we Russians are better than everyone else” which was common among the Communists for  more than 75...

June 18

On this day in 1781, the Severns Valley Baptist Church was founded in what is now Elizabethtown, Kentucky, south of Louisville. It may have been the first Baptist church in Kentucky. At the time, the area was dense and unexplored forest, inhabited by only a few pioneering families. If we could go back to visit one of their services, we’d find the men dressed in leather leggings, moccasins, carrying hats made of various animal skins. And in their hands or resting close by would be their Kentucky long rifles and a tomahawk. There would be a guard at the door watching for Indians. John Gerrard was the first pastor at Severns Valley. We don’t know a great deal about this man, but we do know that after serving the church for about a year, he went out to hunt food for his family, and we know he never returned. The forests were filled with game, but also with natives who didn’t want the White men living there. The body of Pastor Gerrard was never found, and it was believed that he was murdered. J.H. Spencer, author of an interesting history of the early Baptists of Kentucky, wrote, “Like John the Baptist, he came preaching in the wilderness, and like Moses, no man knoweth of his sepulcher until this...

June 11

  Hervey Jenks was born into a respectable, religious family, but his godly parents were not able to convince their son of his need of Christ. He entered Brown University, the Baptist’s premier school at the time, with the intention of becoming a lawyer. While teaching school in the neighboring community of Rehoboth to pay for his classes, he was suddenly awakened to the eternal need of his soul. The darkness which pervaded his heart for some time was soon replaced by a most joyful confidence in salvation through the merits of Christ. He was baptized and joined the First Baptist Church of Providence in June 1810, and a year later, on this day, he was ordained. Brother Jenks married and became pastor of his wife’s home church in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, while also pastoring another church in Hudson, New York, traveling back and forth on horseback. Both congregations flourished with souls saved and the members actively serving their Saviour. Soon other churches were showing interest in the young man, but God had different plans. Brother Jenks began to show symptoms which were later diagnosed as typhus. In a few months the disease took his life, dying at the very young age of 28. In the will of God, the beginning of a productive ministry for Christ was cut short, but what effect did his actual passing have on the lives of others? The Lord may use us in different ways. Are we...

June 4

It was on this day in 1768, that the sheriff of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, along with three magistrates, stood in the yard before a Baptist meetinghouse, seizing John Waller, Lewis Craig, James Reed, and William Mash. The preachers were ordered to appear in court two days later, under penalty of one thousand pounds a piece, which was a huge sum of money. At court they were arranged as disturbers of the peace. The State’s attorney said to the judges, “May it please your worships these men… cannot meet a man upon the road, but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat.” On their way to the old stone gaol, the brethren locked their arms and sang an old hymn: “Broad is the road that leads to death, And thousands walk together there; But wisdom shows a narrow path, With here and there a traveler.” Historian Lewis Little wrote: “These men could sing, like the Apostles in the jail at Philippi, under the most trying circumstances, because there was a joy in their souls. If there were those who ridiculed them as they went through the streets singing that resounding song, what did they care? What would the nightingale care if the toad despised her...

May 28

On this day in 1789, Andrew Broadus, a nineteen-year-old believer in Christ, was immersed and received into the membership of the Upper King and Queen Baptist Church in Caroline County, Virginia. He had been raised in the Episcopal church and forbidden by his father to associate with the illegal Baptists, but the Holy Spirit overruled his father’s wishes. He was educated in front of his family fireplace, but he applied himself well, later becoming well-known for his ability to write. After the Lord called him into His ministry, Andrew pastored several small rural churches, sometimes five at a time. He was a very good preacher, and eventually his fame spread to as far away as Boston and New York. He was asked to candidate in several large churches, but he was so timid that he always refused. Even in the smallest churches, if a stranger walked in during a message, Broadus would sometimes become so distracted that he’d loose his train of thought and be forced to retire. Most modern preachers could use a large dose of Andrew Broadus’ humility. When he was offered an honorary doctorate degree from Columbian College, he doubted the wisdom of the college officials and turned it down. How many today would do such a...

May 21

Hiram Read, was born in Jewett City, Connecticut in 1819. His parents had wealth, some of which they invested in their son’s education. While a student at Hamilton College the Lord redeemed him, and Hiram was baptized into the Baptist church in Oswego, New York. He continued his education at Madison University, making him qualified to pastor any of the larger churches in New England, but he and his wife moved west. While in Wisconsin, Brother Read served as chaplain to the State Senate. But he still wanted to move further west, setting his sights on California. Reaching Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 12, 1849, the couple had just about worn themselves out in traveling. Hiram was so reduced in strength he could hardly walk and his hands were worn and swollen to the point he could barely hold the reins of his team. When the governor heard of him, he went out of his way to meet with him. He begged the preacher to settle in New Mexico, explaining that the city had over 6,000 inhabitants, and there were 100,000 in the territory – only a tenth of which were Americans. There was not a single non-Catholic minister among them. Read agreed to stay in Santa Fe, becoming the chaplain at Fort Marcy, a post which he held for three years. Brother Read applied himself to learning the Spanish language so that he could evangelize his neighbors. He preached in both languages. He visited Indian pueblos, distributing Bibles. He was captured by Indians and threatened with death by fire. Several times, he rode from Santa Fe to...

May 14

John Leland was born on this day (May 14) in 1754, about 40 miles west of Boston. In time the Lord saved his soul and called him into the ministry. That ministry took him south into Virginia, where he was invaluable in guiding some of the founders of this country in the subject of liberty. But his work was primarily spiritual, not political. Throughout his life of service, God blessed with periods of revival. For example for 18 months beginning in October 1787, Brother Leland baptized about 400 new believers. His life was filled with interesting anecdotes. For example: after a dancing school opened in his neighborhood, at the close of a morning service he announced that he too was going to open a dance studio. He said that he would fiddle the tune while the angels of God sang, if the people of his community would dance repentance on their knees. On one occasion a man consented to allow his wife to be immersed, but then he changed his mind. On the day of the baptism, he brought a gun, threatening to shoot the preacher. Leland and the woman went ahead into the water while the husband glowered at them, but he never pulled the trigger. At another time, a lady invited Leland to her home to preach the gospel to her friends. When her son, a captain in the militia heard about it, he blocked the doorway, demanding that the preacher leave. Leland asked if he had any authority to make that demand, and the man said he didn’t, but he was going to stop the service...

May 7

To the best of my knowledge the first Baptist church to be composed mostly of black members was the First African Baptist church of Savannah, organized by Abraham Marshall and Jesse Peter in 1788.  Its first pastor was the former slave, George Lisle.  Soon thereafter, and before the war, there were large, flourishing black churches in most major American cities from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and into the South.     On this day (May 7th) in 1855, Elias Camp Morris was born into a slave family in Murray County Georgia.  After the war his family moved to Tennessee and then again into Alabama.  At the age of nineteen Elias was baptized upon his profession of faith in Christ, and shortly after that he moved to Helena, Arkansas where he was called to pastor the Centennial Baptist Church.  He was a man of godly character and wisdom.     Historian Leroy Fitts, described Morris – “His ability to organize was fully recognized among Baptists of Arkansas.  In 1884, he organized the Arkansas Baptist College, and for sixteen years he served as chairman of its board of trustees…. He inspired the black Baptists to begin publishing interests of their own.  It was his active mind that conceived the idea of the National Baptist Young People’s Union Board….  And the American Baptist National Convention.”     Baptist distinctives were strongly evident among the churches with which Morris had fellowship.  The scriptures were considered supreme and were preached with clarity and conviction.  Those churches demanded personal faith in Christ, and only open believers were baptized and received into their churches.  Each church was considered independent and...

April 30

It was on this day in 1823 that George Boardman and his wife were sent to Burma as missionaries. Working with other missionaries, God blessed their work, particularly amongst the Karen tribe. By 1910 there were 774 Karen Baptist churches and more than 50,000 members. High in the hills overlooking the territory of the Karens were their ancient enemies, the Brecs. Like the Palestinian Philistines, the Brecs lived by plunder and murder and were greatly feared. At an assembly of Karen churches the matter of evangelizing the Brecs came up. After much discussion, concluding that it was too dangerous, one of the Karen evangelists volunteered to go, if the brethren would promise to pray for him and to take care of his family while he was gone. The group tried to dissuade the man, but his stubborn faith could not be extinguished, and the promise was made. With nothing and no one but the Lord, his Bible, a song book and some food, the evangelist set off, climbing up into the mountains and down the other side. He didn’t realize that the first Brec village he approached was one of the most wicked of them all. He was immediately surrounded by dozens of fierce men with spears and knives. Pulling out his Bible, the Karen said, “This is the white book of which our ancestors have told us. Listen to what it says.” Then he spoke to them of Christ and began to sing. He had a beautiful voice and the Brecs’ wrath calmed a bit. After the spears and knives were put down, the evangelist once again told...

April 26

Early in 1529, the council of the Archbishop of Cologne presented a special report to Charles V, Emperor of the “Holy” Roman Empire. It said in part that the Anabaptists call themselves “true Christians,” and that they had existed for more than a thousand years. In one place it quoted a statement from the Parliament at Speyer which said that the “new sect of the Anabaptists”… for more than twelve centuries practiced baptism in the way taught and described in the New Testament, and that such a practice had been made an offense punishable by death. On this day in that year 1529 the Emperor made a new decree against the Anabaptists which in part read: “Yet do we find daily that, contrary to the promulgated common law and also to our mandate issued, such ancient sect of the Anabaptists condemned and forbidden many hundred of years ago, more and more advances and spreads.” So “all and every Anabaptist and re-baptized man or woman of intelligent age shall be sentenced and executed by fire, sword, or the like.” In 1529, Charles V knew that the Anabaptists had been baptizing by immersion and serving the Lord for over twelve hundred years. To be more exact it was over fifteen hundred years. Those Anabaptists are the spiritual great-grandfathers of this non-Protestant, Baptist...

April 16

William Moore was born on December 8, 1821 in Ohio. At the age of twenty he was born again. Six years later he was ordained to the gospel ministry. He and his wife sailed for Burma and arrived there on this day in 1849. For five years the couple labored unceasingly for the Lord – until William’s health broke and he lost his voice. For the rest of his life, he could hardly speak above a whisper, so they returned to America. He served as a faithful deacon in a Baptist church, working in the commercial world and supporting missions as best he could. He died on September 29, 1880. Like everyone else, a sense of humor is always a good quality for a missionary, and William Moore had the wonderful ability to laugh at himself. He told the story that while still in Burma, riding an old, solid-tire bicycle along a dusty road near Nowgong, Assam, coming around a corner he ran over a snake. Looking back he couldn’t see it. But then he heard it – swish, thump, swish, thump with every turn of his tires. Swish, thump, swish, thump. The snake was caught up in the spokes of the rear wheel. Knowing that the country was filled with highly poisonous snakes, and unable to stop to see what kind it was, because that would endanger him, Bro. Moore decided to ride as fast as he could, hoping the snake would fall or jump out of the spokes. In the hottest part of the day, the missionary rode for several miles. Swish, thump, swish, thump swish, thump,...

April 9

Calista Holman was born on this day in 1807 in Union, Connecticut. When she was sixteen she was saved by the grace of God, but shortly thereafter she contracted an illness which appeared to bringing her to the point of death. As a child of God, she asked for baptism and her the Baptist church in her community voted to receive her. On a very cold day in March, she was carried by sleigh to the water’s edge and her pastor, a man named Grow, with the help of a deacon, immersed her. Calista’s friends even more than usual, looked upon the ordinance as a burial – the young lady’s funeral. But, by the grace of the Lord, the next day she began to recover and was eventually restored to health. While in the Baptist Institute of Hamilton, New York, she met her future husband, Justus Vinton and together they studied the Karen language. The couple were married on Calista’s birthday, which was this day in 1834. In June that year they sailed for Burma. Throughout their missionary lives, the health of both of them fluctuated, sometimes requiring them to return home, but they always went back to their ministry among the Karens. In 1858 after about twenty-five years on the field, Justus contracted jungle fever and died. Calista continued serving the Karen women for another six years before she passed way in December, 1864. One of the greatest tributes to the Vintons is the fact that both their son and daughter followed their footsteps into missionary...

April 2

The Metropolitan Tabernacle, usually called Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, was opened on March 18, 1861. Two weeks later, on this day, there was a Baptist fellowship meeting in the new building. In his greeting to the brethren, Spurgeon said, “We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready lo suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of...

March 26

Not long ago I talked about a man who led one congregation for more than four decades. Today I mention another – Joshua Hutson pastored the Pine Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia for more than 45 years. Joshua was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia to Methodist parents, but I don’t know the year. He was saved by Christ and baptized by a Baptist church in 1858. While he planned to go to Bible college the war began and formal schooling became impossible. Nevertheless he studied to show himself approved unto God and was ordained by the Byrne Street Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia in 1871. On this day in 1874 Joshua married Lenora Baugh and the couple moved into the parsonage of the Pine Street Church. At the time, the membership was an exceptional 162, but that was only the beginning. By 1890 the membership had grown to 1,110, and by the time of his retirement, the number had nearly doubled again. Joshua Hutson baptized 2,799 converts, married 1,764 couples and conducted 2,202 funerals. One day Hutson was asked why the church had kept him so long. He said that it was because on hot days he only preached twenty-minutes. Whether that was always true or not, after his death, The Religious Herald wrote: “He made no attempt at rhetorical display or display of any kind. He was content to take some theme of doctrinal or practical value …. and from it to bring his people useful and valuable lessons of warning, comfort or courage.” That was probably the real reason that his ministry lasted nearly fifty years...

March 19

Benjamin Watkins was born into a Virginia Episcopalian home in 1755. That was the year that Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall began preaching Baptist doctrine in Virginia and the Carolinas. Benjamin’s mother was left a widow when he was small, but despite family poverty, she raised him surrounded with morals and love. While these were good, they did not fill the void which only Christ could satisfy. When he was nineteen, Benjamin Watkins was born again, and in 1776 he was baptized. Seven years later he began traveling throughout the region preaching Christ. Somehow the Lord protected Brother Watkins, and he was never caught or arrested by the authorities. There was plenty of opportunity for this, however. His journals indicate that he never tried to hide either the Truth or himself. He openly preached an average of three times a week for forty-eight years. His messages were serious, but evangelical, and with what was described as a unique style. His last Sunday on earth, at the age of seventy-six, he preached twice. One message was entitled “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The following Wednesday, he was too weak to attend the church meeting, so some of the brethren gathered around his bed. He assured everyone present that he was resigned to the Lord’s will, looking forward to seeing his Saviour, which he did on July 19, 1831. Unlike many of his friends, Benjamin Watkins was not called by God to suffer any jail time, but he was called to be faithful. He was true to his...