Friday, March 19, 2010

Those Particular Baptists

John Gill
Part of an ongoing series on Southern Baptist history . . . 

The first Baptists (1609-1612) were General (Free-Willer) Baptists who believed in a general atonement (that Christ died for all). Later, from a separate origin, another group emerged of what would be termed Particular Baptists, who believed in a particular atonement (that Christ died only for the elect, i.e., Calvinist). They came more directly out of the Puritan Revival in Britain, which was largely Calvinist in theology. Here’s how it happened.

Henry Jacob (1563-1624), from Kent, earned a degree from Oxford and was ordained as an Anglican priest. He pushed for Puritan reform of the Church of England, and in 1605 was arrested for writing Reasons taken out of Gods Word and the best humane Testimonies proving a necessitie of reforming our Churches in England. Jacob was released when he promised to keep his mouth shut. 

Taking the opportunity to get out of the country, he fled to Holland where he became acquainted with English and Dutch dissenters. Their views influenced Jacob to become a moderate Separatist. Moderate Separatists, while believing the Anglican Church generally to be a false church, allowed for some Anglican congregations to be true churches. Jacob’s separatism was more gracious than John Smyth’s, and he disliked the narrow spirit and rigidness which led to the split between Smyth and Francis Johnson.

With a kinder, gentler Separatism that accepted the Church of England in some sense as a true church, Henry Jacob returned to England in 1616 and established an independent church in Southwark, London with pastors, elders, and deacons. Modern Baptists actually draw more of their beliefs and practices from this group than John Smyth’s. The congregation became known as the JLJ church, the initials of its first three pastors, Henry Jacob, John Lathrop, and Henry Jessey.

The LJL church had its ups and downs. Jacob left the church and sailed for Virginia in 1622, dying two years later near Jamestown. Under John Lathrop’s pastoral leadership, many new Separatists joined the church, but in 1630 these new members were unhappy when it became known that long-time members occasionally attended the Anglican services. One member of the LJL church even had his child baptized at an Anglican parish. Minutes record that a Mr. Dupper in protest left the church to form his own Separatist congregation.

Three years later, in 1633, Samuel Eaton, Marke Luker, a Greek man who advocated immersion, and Richard Blunt, another budding immersionist, with a total of seventeen persons asked to be dismissed to form a new church and receive “further baptism.” Whether they objected to the baptism of children, the baptism being done in an Anglican church, or the mode of baptism, no one is sure, but a church with Calvinistic theology formed that year in London, and some of them were rebaptized.

John Lathrop left the LJL church in 1634, and in 1637 Henry Jessey came to lead them, but the next year there was more trouble. In 1638, a group of six members left who were said to be “of ye same Judgment with Sam. Eaton” regarding believer’s baptism. The six joined pastor John Spilsbury to form the first Particular Baptist congregation, rejecting infant baptism and baptizing by immersion. In 1640, back at the LJL Church, Pastor Henry Jessey and Richard Blunt became convinced by Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:4 that baptism “ought to be by dipping ye Body into ye Water, resembling Burial and riseing again.”

In 1640 the LJL Church sent Richard Blunt to Holland to be baptized by immersion. The next year, Blunt came back and baptized a Bible teacher named Mr. Blacklock. They together then baptized 52 members. By 1644, seven Particular Baptist churches issued a joint confession of faith, the famous First London Confession, specifying baptism for believers only and the “way and manner of the dispensing of this Ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water: it being a signe, must answer the thing signified.” These churches were Calvinistic Baptists who believed in particular redemption or limited atonement. Why didn’t they become Presbyterians? Because they did not believe in infant baptism and practiced baptism by immersion.

Baptism by immersion was attacked by non-Baptists in pamphlets and pulpits. Critics called it unscriptural, unnecessary, unhealthy, and immodest. Stories circulated of people who got sick and died soon after immersion. Baptists in defense of immersion, came forward to testify that they were baptized in rivers where ice had to be broken without ill effect on their health. Critics made claims of women being baptized in flimsy garments and of co-ed naked baptisms. While these were almost always vicious rumors, early on in a few cases it may have been true. One Baptist preacher in 1643 said that true baptism called “for all to be thus rebaptized stark naked and diped as well, head as tayle.” The rumors must have been the reason that the 1644 Confession specified that immersion should be performed “with convenient garments both upon the administrator and subject, with all modestie.”

The Particular Baptists had other problems. They so exaggerated certain aspects of election and predestination that these ideas dominated their theology, and everything had to be judged in the light of extreme Calvinism. As a result of this emphasis, they gradually lost a zeal for evangelism and vital church life. And the Particulars at times went to extremes. One was hyper-Calvinism, or double predestination, the belief that God predestines everyone somewhere, either heaven or hell, and that some are created as non-elect to go to hell to demonstrate God’s justice. Some hyper-Calvinists would not preach the gospel to the unconverted. The gospel is not for them because they are unelect. 

The famed John Gill (1696-1771) believed this. In a pastorate of over fifty years in London, he wrote a commentary which singularly commented on every single verse in the Bible. Charles Spurgeon countered hyper-Calvinism by saying, “I prefer to preach the gospel to everybody and see what happens.” The other extreme was Anti-nomianism (anti-law). Since God was Sovereign over all and in control of everything, even foreordaining all personal behavior, any way I live was chosen by God, so I can have no concern for morals, because whether I’m elect or not is not my responsibility. I’ll just live it up and hope for the best after I’m dead. If I’m elect, my immoral life won’t matter. If I’m non-elect, at least I had a good time before I got sent to hell. 

As a result, Particular Baptist churches declined, evangelism waned, and the entire group of churches withered. Revival was desperately needed.