September 12

The early Baptists in Connecticut were persecuted by the state, especially in the area of ministerial taxes. Everyone, by law, was to pay an assessed amount for the support of the local Protestant minister. The Baptists, on principle, refused. They were often taken to jail and their properties were confiscated, forcing their compliance. On one occasion a whole congregation was arrested in the midst of their worship service, and taken to the New London gaol. On this day in 1794, Jabez Clarke, a Justice of the Peace wrote to Samuel Perkins, a collector of Society Taxes. It read in part, “Greetings: By authority of the State of Connecticut, you are hereby commanded forthwith to leavy and collect of the persons named in the foregoing list herewith committed you, each one of his proportion as therein set down… If any person shall neglect or refuse to pay the sum at which he is assessed, you are thereby commanded to distrain the goods, chattels, or lands of such persons so refusing; and the same being disposed of as the law directs, return the overplus, if any, to the respective owners; and for want of such goods, chattels, or lands whereon to make distress, you are to take the body or bodies of such persons so refusing and them commit to the keeper of the goal in said county of Windham within the prison, who is thereby commanded to receive and safe keep them until they pay and satisfy the aforesaid sums…. Dated at Windham, this 12th day of September,...

September 5

On this day (September 5) in 1651, Obadiah Holmes was whipped nearly to death in a public ceremony. His crime was only that he was a Baptist trying to serve the Lord according to the principles of the Bible. But Holmes is not the subject of this history. When Holmes was released from the whipping post, two men, John Spur and John Hazel rushed forward to offer their support to the beaten man. At the time neither Spur nor Hazel were Baptists. For their heinous crime of sympathy, the two men were haled into court. Spur defended himself by pleading the Biblical exhortation to show kindness to those in need. He was found guilty and fined forty shillings or he was to be whipped as Holmes had been. When a friend stepped forward to pay the fine, Spur tried to send him away, but the court accepted the money and told Spur to leave. John Hazel was about sixty-years old and not in good health, but he possessed a great deal of wisdom and legal acumen. When he was asked whether or not he thought Obadiah Holmes was guilty of a crime in immersing people, Hazel declared he was not on trial for anything Holmes might have done. When it was declared that he shook Holmes’ hand, he pointed out that such a public gesture was not a crime. When the court wanted to condemn him, he pled his right to a trial by jury. When it was said he showed contempt for legal authority, he said it was not true and demanded the state produce witnesses. He said,...

August 29

Thomas Baldwin died on this day (August 29) in 1825. Baldwin had been born 72 years earlier in Bozrah, Connecticut. Having a love for books, he decided to prepare for a profession as a lawyer, but the Lord had other plans. When he was seventeen he was brought under conviction of his sins, and he trusted Christ as his Saviour. At that point he severed his ties with the Congregational church, and he lost friends in the process. At the age of thirty he was ordained by the Baptist Church in Canaan, Connecticut, and there he served for six years. When the Second Baptist Church of Boston asked him to fill their pulpit for three months, he stayed for thirty-five years. The Lord blessed the church, causing it to grow by several hundred members, but the pastor’s interests were not confined to that local ministry. He became editor of the “Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine” through which he tried to encourage other churches to support missions and evangelism. Then in February, 1813, Pastor Baldwin received a letter from Adoniram Judson, informing him that he had become a Baptist and had been immersed upon his arrival in India. Immediately Brother Baldwin began to urge the Baptists of New England to support the missionary labors of the Judsons, and Adoniram Judson became America’s first missionary in Burma. Thomas Baldwin continued to serve the Lord in many ways. In addition to leading his own church, he was a member of the early Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts in 1821. He also served on the boards of Brown University and several Baptist colleges. But eventually,...

August 22

In these days when church after church is throwing aside the name “Baptist,” people need to consider the life and choices of Isaac Backus. On this day (August 22) in 1751, Isaac Backus was dipped into water as a testimony of his faith in Christ. A man who had been raised in the Congregational denomination became a clear and decided Baptist. In the middle of the Eighteenth Century there were fewer than fifty Baptist churches in New England, and they were divided into nearly a dozen different fellowships and doctrines. There were Six-principle churches which believed in sovereign grace and the laying on of hands, and there were Arminian Six-principle churches, some of which believed in the general salvation of everyone. There were Five-principle churches and Seventh-Day churches on both sides of the salvation question. Very few of one group ever associated with churches of another, yet they were all called “Baptists.” Into this ecclesiastical mess Isaac Backus wilfully stepped, and with his presence and power helped to unite some of those churches. In the process he helped to protect the true faith. Why did he turn his back on his family history and former church? Because he was convicted by the Holy Spirit and the word of God about salvation by grace through faith and of the ordinances of Christ’s church. He became the outstanding pastor of the Separate Baptist Church at Middleborough, Massachusetts. In addition to preaching the gospel and building a scriptural ecclesia, Backus fought for religious liberty in Massachusetts and throughout the nation. After suffering persecution by the State Church for his Baptist stand, he...

August 15

Over the course of several years, there were forty-three different Baptist preachers arrested in Virginia for preaching the gospel. According to historical records, the least among them, the most meek of those preachers was William Webber. He was born on this day (August 15) in 1747. Webber first heard the gospel during his twenty-second year. About six months later he came to the full assurance of his salvation and was baptized by John Waller. He immediately began exhorting his neighbors to trust Christ. Soon he was ordained and began a ministry as an itinerant preacher. It is said that he was remarkably plain in dress and manners. He was pleasant and cheerful, but not a great pulpiteer. Brother Webber was first arrested in Chesterfield County and held for four months. The following August he was pulled off the pulpit while preaching in Middlesex County and was held for forty-five days, part of which time he was bound as well as jailed. When not incarcerated, he was often treated roughly by unbelieving citizens. On one occasion he would have been clubbed to death if a sympathizer had not grabbed the stick as it was being drawn back to strike. The gaol in Middlesex was far below the usual standards, engulfed in stench and flies, so the prisoners were sometimes permitted to stroll about the grounds where they preached to passersby. But when those people turned on God’s men, they sometimes were forced to plead to be returned to their filthy cells. His time in various jails weakened Brother Webber’s constitution. In 1799, his friends despaired for his life. God blessed...

August 8

I am currently reading a book which was highly recommended by Spurgeon – “A Body of Divinity” by Thomas Watson. It is a study and exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith – the first major doctrinal statement of the early Presbyterians. It was produced about thirty years after the King James Bible, and the quality of the men involved in both were about the same. But despite the presence of a few Anglicans, Puritans and Independents, there were no Baptists. And yet… One of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly was Dr. John Lightfoot, who kept a journal of the proceedings. To quote Thomas Armitage, Lightfoot’s “entry for August 7, 1644, speaks of a ‘great heat’ in the debate of that day when the Assembly was framing the ‘Directory’ for baptism, as to whether dipping should be reserved or excluded, or whether ‘it was lawful and sufficient to besprinkle!’ Coleman, called ‘Rabbi Coleman’ because of his great Hebrew learning, contended with Lightfoot that tauveleh, the Hebrew word of dipping, demanded immersion ‘over head;’ and Marshall, a famous pulpit orator, stood firmly by him in the debate, both contending that dipping was essential ‘in the first institution.’ Lightfoot says that when they came to the vote, ‘so many were unwilling to have dipping excluded that the vote came to an equality within one, for the one side was twenty-four, and the other twenty-five; the twenty-four for the reserving of dipping, and the twenty-five against it.’ ‘The business was recommitted,’ and the next day, (this day in 1644) after another warm dispute, it was voted that ‘pouring or sprinkling...

August 1

John Comer was born on this day (August 1) in 1704. He grew up hearing the religious instruction of the famous Increase Mather, father of Cotton Mather. But that preaching didn’t produce any eternal effect. And then Comer became deathly ill. Through that disease, he became concerned about his spiritual condition. When a beloved aunt came to minister to him, she told him that he would recover and that the reason was so that he would become a servant of God. After the Lord restored his health, Comer pursued his education at Cambridge. He was so strong in his Congregationalist faith that when a friend, Ephraim Crafts, joined the Baptist church in Boston, he was beside himself. But then after talking with his friend and studying his Bible, his mind began to change, but he was afraid to put that into practice. At that point three things took place in his life – once again he became very sick, a close friend died, and a violent storm at sea put him face to face with the omnipotence and will of God. He confessed to God his reluctance to obey the Lord in baptism, but eventually surrendered, and soon became – not only a Baptist – but a Baptist preacher. During the rest of his life, Bro. Comer pastored several churches in New England. He not only was an effective evangelist, leading many to the Saviour, he became a champion for the ordinance of baptism by immersion; he introduced public singing into his worship services; and he stirred even his Protestant neighbors out of their spiritual lethargy. Without intending to...

July 25

John Mason Peck was born in 1789 in Litchfield, Connecticut, where he was raised as a Congregationalist. Twenty years later he married Sally Pane. Despite the lack of Biblical preaching in their church, the Lord saved the souls of both John and Sally. Then when God blessed them with their first baby, the Pecks began to investigate the subject of baptism. The nearest Baptist church was in New Durham, New York. It was to there that the Pecks moved and where they were immersed as a proper testimony of their faith in Christ. But the pastor at New Durham could be there only once a month, so after some time Bro. Peck began teaching and preaching in his absence. On this day (July 25) in 1817 the Pecks with their three small children mounted a one-horse wagon and began a thousand mile journey to carry the gospel west. Nearly six months later they arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, as the first known Baptists in the region. After four months of ministry and daily struggles against hatred and persecution Bro. Peck immersed his first convert in the Mississippi River,. Once a small church was established, he used St. Louis as his home base, traveling thousands of miles in every direction, spreading the gospel of Christ. As the first missionary to the region, John Peck became known as “God’s Ambassador to the Mississippi Valley.” Sister Peck died in 1856, and her husband followed her two years later, after over forty years of pioneer evangelism and mission work. Shortly before his death, when a friend reminded him of his decades of service,...

July 18

Some of you are going to shake your heads at this story, but it is reportedly true. The Gum Spring Baptist Church of North Carolina was constituted on this day in 1829 after Elders Hezekiah Harmon, Isaac Kerby, and another man named Hicks, had ministered in the area for some time. Hicks became the pastor of the New Hope Mountain Church, but for reasons unknown to me, it eventually dissolved. While there, the Lord blessed with a great outpouring of His Spirit, and one of the converts was the wife of William Drake. When this lady wanted to be baptized as a testimony of her new life in Christ, her husband became enraged. He thought the idea was ridiculous and dangerous. He said if the preacher drowned his wife he would kill him. Constantly thinking about it, Mr. Drake became more and more beside himself – deranged. On the day of the baptism, Drake actually followed his wife into the water without apparently realizing it. The immersion went well, and Mrs. Drake went home with her husband following, but his agitation was different – it had become Holy Spirit conviction. He went to bed in agony of heart and over the next few days, physically wasted away. A short while later, Pastor Hicks was invited to the Drake home to preach the gospel to a group of neighbors, with Drake listening from his bedroom. His resistence was broken down, and he called upon the Lord to save him. He then asked Bro. Hicks to baptize him, and the preacher agreed to meet him at the Haw River the next...

July 11

The Baptists in England had been slandered and persecuted for some time when the churches of London decided to defend their doctrines by publishing an outline of what they believed. In a note to “the judicious and impartial reader,” the 1689 Confession of Faith reads, “It is now many years since divers of us (with other sober Christians then living and walking in the way of the Lord, that we profess), did conceive ourselves to be under necessity of publishing a Confession of our Faith, for the information and satisfaction of those that did not thoroughly understand what our principles were, or had entertained prejudices against our profession, by reason of the strange representation of them, by some men of note who had taken very wrong measures, and accordingly led others into misapprehensions of us and them: and this was first put forth in 1643, in the name of seven congregations then gathered in London.” Forty-five years later, the seven Baptist churches in London had grown in number, and they invited more than a hundred other congregations from across England and Wales to join them in an effort to expand and clarify that statement. They met from July 3rd to July 11th. Eventually they produced the very important Confession of 1689, which is still used today as a basis for doctrinal statements of Particular Baptist congregations around the...

July 4

I have mentioned pastor and evangelist John Waller many times, but you probably won’t remember him until I remind you that his nickname was “Swearing Jack,” due to his very worldly former life. After his conversion, Waller became an highly successful Baptist preacher in Virginia in the late 18th century. But the Lord’s blessings on his ministry brought severe persecution from the Episcopal state church. On one occasion while he was preaching, a huge man stormed up to the pulpit and pulled him down, trying to drag him out of the building by his hair. But then an equally stout friend ran to Waller’s rescue. One took hold of one hand and the other of the other hand so that between them the poor preacher was about to lose both arms. He said that the hurt remained with him for many weeks. On another occasion, while in a private home, Waller was leading a few Baptist brethren in singing some gospel hymns, when the local Episcopal parson came in and started running the end of his horse whip into the preacher’s mouth or laying it across the hymn book. Finishing the singing Bro. Waller proceeded to prayer. At that point he was violently jerked off the stage and out the door; a couple men caught him by the back part of his neck, beating his head against the ground, and then they carried him through a gate into the street, where someone gave him about twenty lashes with his horse whip. Then after they carried him out to where the parson gave him an abominable tongue lashing. When Brother...

June 27

History records many unusual events which ultimately lead to people’s salvation and the beginning of their service of Christ. We have one here today. Roger Holland was raised in the affluent home of Sir Robert Holland. Eventually the family fell on hard times, and Roger was forced to become an apprentice to a merchant-tailor named Kempton. On one occasion Holland was given 30 pounds to pass on to his employer, but the young man lost it all gambling. In shame and fear he determined to flee to France, but his semi-stirred conscience led him to Kempton’s house where he spoke to a servant girl, admitting his folly and asking her for a favor. He wanted her to take a note to their employer, in which he acknowledged his debt and pledged to make repayment as soon as he could. He also asked that the matter be kept a secret in order to protect the name of his father. Elizabeth, the maid, apparently a Christian, had something else in mind – two things actually. She had recently received an inheritance of 30 pounds which she offered to the young man to use to repay the debt. But she would give it to him only if he would leave the Roman Catholic Church, begin attending the preaching of the Dissenters and read his Bible. She vowed that if he returned to his old life, she would give the note to her employer and he and his father would be ruined. Roger agreed, and within six months he became a believer in Christ and a zealous follower of the Lord. He even...

June 20

On this day in 1768, a Baptist church was formed at Gorham, Massachusetts. Joseph Moody was called as pastor, but soon after his installment the tax assessors visited him, demanding that he pay the parish tax for the support of the Congregational state church. The tax was $6.00. Not only was Brother Moody unable to pay such a sum, he was also unwilling. So the assessors confiscated his horse. He petitioned the Assembly in Boston for the return of the animal, but his request was refused. A few years later, eighteen members of the nearby Baptist church in Warwick were seized for failure to pay their parish tax. In the dead of winter, these men were transported forty miles and cast into jail. On February 15, 1775, Isaac Backus presented their case before the Legislature in Boston, but his request for relief was ignored. When the Baptists began writing letters to the Boston newspapers, the assessors answered by publishing a vindication of their actions. It read, “We apprehend that every body politic have a right to choose their religion, and to enact laws for its support, and that they ought so to do; and since Congregationalism is the choice of the people of this province, the religion which our forefathers had in view to establish in coming over to this country, we think there is good reason why dissenters from should pay to the support of it; especially since it is one condition upon which they receive and hold their lands.” The last statement was totally untrue. These, and many similar events up and down the coast, took place...

June13

In my reading of early Baptist history in this country, some names often come up – Shubal Sterns, Daniel Marshal, and John Gano, for example. But Joseph Breed is not usually one of them. The Great Awakening brought many true converts into the Congregational churches of New England. Joseph and Priscilla Breed were among eighty who joined the congregation in Groton, Connecticut. In about 1753 the Breeds were led of the Lord to help Daniel and Martha Marshal evangelize the Mohawk Indians. That went well until the French and Indian War put the missionaries in danger, so they carried their evangelistic zeal to northern Virginia. There they ran into a Baptist church near Winchester, where they learned the truth more clearly, and the members of both families were baptized by immersion. Bro. Breed then began to travel with Daniel Marshal to Mill Creek, Virginia, where God blessed with the salvation of souls. It was there that Marshal’s brother-in-law, Shubal Sterns and his family, joined the group from New England. It was on this day (June 13) in 1755 that a letter arrived describing the spiritual need and opportunities of North Carolina, and the trio of preachers moved their families to that new mission field. At Sandy Creek, N.C., a work was begun, and over time its influence spread hundreds of miles in every direction. While Sterns continued to minister at Sandy Creek, Daniel Marshal traveled as far south as Augusta and Keokee, Georgia. In the mean time, Joseph Breed took a young and gifted convert, Phillip Mulkey, to a tract of land between the Tyger River and Fairforest Creek...

June 6

John Waller, a Virginian, was raised in the Episcopal denomination. It is said that he was a brilliant and well-educated student, but in subsequent the years he became somewhat dissipated, eventually earning the nickname “Swearing Jack Waller.” One day, as a member of the grand jury hearing the case against Baptist Lewis Craig and his disturbance of the peace accusation, Jack came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and was later born again. Soon he too, was preaching Christ’s gospel. After one evangelistic service, Waller and five others were arrested. On this day in 1768 they appeared before the county judge. They were accused of being “vagrants, strollers and disturbers of the peace,” because they quoted scriptures, condemned sin and preached the gospel of God’s free grace – all of which was contrary to the colonial law and the edicts of the state church. The court offered to release the men if they promised to preach no more in the area for a year and a day, but the promise could not be made. It is said that Baptist-friendly Patrick Henry vigorously defended the brethren, but it was without effect, and they were sent to the local jail. During their confinement, Waller and the others preached through the grates to whomever would gather outside. Though citizens of the community tried to drive the hearers away, many people – from heads of families to domestics and slaves – heard and were moved by the preaching. Only the Lord knows how many were converted through the suffering of those six brethren. After weeks of confinement by Waller and his friends,...