The Emergence of the Baptists in England

The Emergence of the Baptists in England

There were some things, perhaps many that provided fertile soil for the beginnings of what we call the Baptist denomination. It was a complex beginning. Political and religious factors forced men to question the nature and function of churches. Some sought to reform the Church of Roman and England. While others knew that was impossible, so they separated from those two institutions and began new denominations. Among those new denominations, we find the Baptists.

The Political Background

In 1534, King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. He established the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. Yet, it retained a Catholic flavor.

Interestingly, Henry VIII did not seek the tutelage of Anglicans for his son Edward VI, rather he chose the Protestants. When Edward assumed the throne he pushed the break from Rome even further. He styled the Church of England in a protestant fashion. His toleration of the reformers sparked reform movements throughout Europe. That lasted for only six years, the length of Edwards reign, which was cut short by death.

His stepsister, Mary Tudor changed all of that. She instantly reversed Edwards’s protestantizing of the Church of England and made it Catholic once again. She did this by force, lethal force. So lethal was Mary, her nickname was “Bloody Mary.” She was “bloody” in that she ordered mass executions of Protestants.

Mary’s reign was brief also, lasting only six years. However, in those years, she brought the Catholic-style back into the Church of England. Her sister, Elizabeth assumed the throne in 1559. Right away, knowing that the English began to enjoy the Protestantizing of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth attempted to strike a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants. She established a religious system known as the “Elizabethan Settlement.”

As with compromise, the only ones truly satisfied are the moderates. Those who truly wanted to follow Scripture and worship God in a pure fashion were not satisfied with this “Settlement.”

The Religious Background

Although the political structure of England was tumultuous, Christianity was experiencing a glorious reformation. Martin Luther led the Germans to true Christianity by nailing his 95 theses on the doors of a Catholic church decrying indulgences and other various heresies. John Calvin led the French and Swiss the doctrines of grace. Zwingli proclaimed the scriptures verse by verse, allowing them to speak for themselves without having the “Church” interpret the holy writ for the masses. These men opened the doors for a true reformation and revival.

These reformers proclaimed Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Sola Gratia. These Latin phrases are Scripture alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, and Grace alone, respectively. This sent a missile into the Vatican in Rome. Some of these men (and many of their followers) lost their lives defending these truths.

As the Church of England settled on its compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism, a number of persevering saints opposed it.

The Puritans

Not convinced that the Church of England has seen its last days, these believers wanted to reform the Church. They did not want to leave it, but to bring it back to a “purer” theology. Hence they were named “Puritans.”

The Separatists

Some were not so convinced. They were more pessimistic (which is not always a bad word) that the Church was beyond repair, so they separated from it, hence the name “Separatists.” It is from this latter group of believers that the first Baptist church in history makes its debut.

The Baptist background

The General Baptists

John Smyth (c 1565–1612), was born and raised in the Church of England. He studied at Cambridge University and became a minister in the Church. It was not long before Smyth was “won to the principles of the Puritan Brownists.”1 This was his first step Both he, and a man by the name of Thomas Helwys, soon rejected the Puritan’s beliefs regarding infant baptism. The Mennonites were influential in persuading Smyth and Helwys regarding believer’s baptism. Having this infantile, yet developing, understanding, Smyth baptized himself,2 as well as Thomas Helwys and the rest of his congregation. This moment is that which most historians consider to be the first Baptist congregation.

Smyth did not stay a Baptist for long. He followed the Mennonites too closely. It was not long before he desired to become a Mennonite.3 Helwys and a few others split from Smyth. Unfortunately Smyth gained a greater following and requested membership with the Mennonites. They stayed his membership request for three years.4 During that time, Smyth died. However, after his death, the Mennonites did admit Smyth’s congregation into their number. Helwys continued to pastor the Baptists.

The General Baptists, though first, are not the direct ancestors of our Baptist heritage. There were many differences between them and the Particular Baptists. These will be spelled out in more detail.

Particular Baptists

In another city, at another time, another variety of Baptists began. Though not a Baptist, Henry Jacob, an English Separatist, founded a church in 1616. Jacob and the two succeeding pastors (Lathrop and Jessey) developed an understanding of church life from the Scriptures. Some of the members were not so patient with the church in its development. One particular man, Samuel Eaton, left the church and started his own congregation. Meanwhile, Jessey did settle on believer’s baptism by immersion by 1638.

It is not clear that Eaton himself was a Baptist, but a member of his church, Richard Blunt, persuaded the church to baptize believers by immersion. They became a Baptist church by 1640.

Differences between the General and Particular Baptists

Not only were the General and Particular Baptists different in their origin, they were different in their beliefs and practices.

Differences of Theology

Particular Baptists were Calvinists, whereas the General Baptists were Arminian. The following table represents these differences.5

 

Particular Baptists
2nd London Baptist Confession

General Baptists
Orthodox Creed

Election God has elected certain individuals to salvation. Only they will come to Christ, and they come only by God’s free and unmerited choice. All who believe in Christ are elect. Election is not of individuals but of Christ himself. Anyone who comes into Christ becomes elect.
Atonement Jesus died for his elect only, and the benefits of his death are applied to the elect when God generates faith in their lives. Jesus died for all men, and any person may partake of the benefits of Christ’s death by accepting Christ when the gospel is preached.
Free Will Man lost free will in the Fall. He has lost any ability to will spiritual good. He cannot convert himself or even prepare himself for conversion, for he is dead in trespasses and sins. Man is wholly passive at the moment of regeneration. The will is made immutably free only in the state of glory. Although man does not have free will, God’s grace, which is the offer of salvation, frees man’s will so that he may either choose or reject that grace without bing compelled for or against the offer.
Perseverance The elect can never finally or totally fall away; they are kept by the power of God unto salvation. True believers may from lace of watchfulness fall from the grace of God and become withered branches cast into the fire and burned.
Sin Man is conceived a sinner, Man becomes a sinner upon his first act of sin.

The General Baptists held to a subjective, mystical, understanding of the Christian life. They were more like the Quakers.

When it came to issues of separation, the General Baptists compromised two cardinal doctrines. They associated themselves with a preacher by the name of Matthew Caffyn (1628–1714) who denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ. By the late 1700s, the General Baptists died off, many of whom became Unitarians.

Though General Baptists immersed professing believers, they wrongly believed that baptism was a symbol of the washing away of sins. Particular Baptists “recovered the view of baptism as a testimony to the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”6

They differed in their structure

Both Particular and General Baptists enjoyed fellowship with other churches. Both groups formed associations. General Baptists established a hierarchal framework. That is, they made their churches subject to the association. They were not truly self-ruling churches.

Conclusion

God has ordained the events of this world to bring about His Sovereign purposes. As we have learned today, it pleased God to use a monarchy (even a wicked one), the Puritans, and Separatists to prepare the way for a new denomination – the Baptists. We find a number of biblical principles at work:

God is sovereign. No monarch or movement can thwart His purposes.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Pro 21.1)

His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Dan 4.34–35)

Man is responsible. He is to respond to God’s sovereignty in utter dependence and radical obedience.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city – a visit required three days. (Jnh 3.1)

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! (Ac 5.29)

As man searches the Scriptures and follows them as God’s very words, he will seek to win others to the same truths.

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. (Ac 18.9–11)

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.… If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2co 5.11, 13–15)

While we may appreciate the history of Baptists, we must never lose sight that we are motivated by the above principles. Failure to cherish, obey, and proclaim these principles will again make fertile ground for persevering believers to destroy the foundation our forefathers laid in our heritage.

1 Brownists were those Puritans who followed Robert Browne. Robert Browne did not remain a Puritan however. He defected back to the Church of England. The Mennonite Encyclopedia, “Smyth, John,” p. 554.

2 The common mode of baptism was that of affusion (pouring water over one’s head). Though Smyth was right regarding the necessity of believer’s baptism, he did not practice baptism in the correct way by immersion.

3 The Mennonites believed in apostolic succession. That is, they were the true church because they could trace their beginnings back to John the Baptist. Smyth wrongly believed that this made his previous baptism null and void. Therefore, Smyth desired to join their number.

4 Helwys wrote the Mennonites warning them not to accept Smyth because of his theological drifts.

5 L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), p. 31.

6 Michael Haykin, Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage: Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach (Leeds, Ontario: Reformation Today Trust, 1996), p. 26

The Beginnings of the Baptists

The Beginnings of the Baptists

The primary and most essential distinctive of Baptists is their commitment to Scripture. They maintain that Scripture is the very word of God. As such, it is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. It is God’s revealed truth.

Yet it also pleased God to reveal His works in time. He has used thousands of years, with billions of people to shape the world in which we live. This too is God’s revealed truth. As the Bible records historical events, we can be assured that they are true and give God’s authoritative instruction. As men recorded historical events, apart from supernatural inspiration, we can enjoy what we learn, but must be ever careful that we do not elevate those facts to the same authority of God’s spoken Word.

Therefore, history has the mark of man on it. Facts are obscured by opinion and lack of resources. This course on Baptist history suffers from the same tendencies. As we study the following events we need to be ever mindful that we seek the right resources with the right motives. In the end, we will profit from its study.

The Profit of History

Exactly how does one profit from history? Why is it necessary that every Baptist a study his heritage? Phillip Schaff, a church historian, identifies at least two benefits for the study of history.

First, he states, “The present is the fruit of the past, and the germ of the future.1” One can look back and see how biblical truth has impacted the way of life for the Baptists. Where they have properly identified and obeyed truth, we must do likewise. On the other hand, where mistakes have been made, time has a way of revealing them. May it never be said of us “What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.2” Or more simply stated, “The failure of many is that they fail to learn from history.”

The second benefit is that the Christian will find history to be “. . . a storehouse of warning and encouragement, of consolation and counsel.3” As the believer views history through the lenses of Scripture, he will see that God has been faithful to His people throughout all ages. Therefore, as a believer you should be motivated to obedience and encouraged by the many blessings others have received because of their obedience.

The Duty of the Historian

History is a scientific endeavor. It is based on facts, documents, and objects. Probably the highest duty of the historian is to acquaint himself with as many factual sources as possible and correlate those facts into a readable and living record.

When it comes to Baptist origins, we need to understand that these Christians are not immune from the effects of human depravity. Errors have crept into our Baptist History books – a few intentionally, many unwittingly. While the subject of Baptist origins is not a major issue, some clarification needs to be made.

There are Different Views of Baptist origins

Essentially, one could “boil” down the various views into two categories – the “Successionist” and “English Separatist” views.

Successionist views

Landmark theory. Also known as the JJJ (Jesus-Jordan-John) view, this theory states that we can trace the Baptists back to these three. Although the name “Baptist” did not appear throughout the centuries, they claim that Baptists did exist. As J.M. Carroll illustrated in his chart, Baptists were known by various nicknames – Montanists, Cathari, Donatists, Waldenses, Anabaptists, etc. (See illustration.) His chart illustrates the view that Baptists have existed in parallel succession to the Roman Catholic Church.

Spiritual kinship theory. Some are careful to distinguish themselves from the above strict Landmark view. They do recognize that it is impossible to prove that the Baptist denomination existed. However, they still strongly emphasize a succession of Baptist beliefs among these believers. They call this a “spiritual” connection. Often, they present this historical connection with a dogmatism that sometimes confuses them with the Landmarkists. They are especially intrigued by the Anabaptists and maintain that Baptists have direct successionist roots from them.

The problems with the successionist views. These views have gained popularity among Baptists since the early 1900s. Why have these views been adopted by many? The following statement is commonly used to support the above views.

“Since Christ promised that He would establish His church in every age, and Baptists are the true Church, they must be found in every age.”

Successionists buttress this claim by the following verses. They believe that Christ taught that Baptists (or those who are Baptistic) are the true church, and He promises that they will continue to survive.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16.18)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. (Mt 28.19–20)

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Eph 3.21)

Successionists claim that these verses speak only of “local churches.” They deny that a universal body of Christ exists. Therefore, they believe that a succession of local churches is essential because of Christ’s promises. This interpretation violates at least one principle of biblical interpretation. This principle is that interpretations must be consistent with the whole of Scripture. Those who deny that the universal church exists do so because they assume the Bible never teaches that.

Consider the word “church” in the following passage:

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1.22–23)

The word “church” in this passage can only mean the sum total of all believers, the “universal church.” The “successionist” cannot legitimately interpret this as a “local congregation.” If this referred to a local church, the verse “which is his [Christ’s] body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” would pose serious theological difficulties.

Anyone familiar with local churches will readily admit that unsaved people are often a part of the membership. Furthermore, there are Christians who are not members of a local church.

A “universal” church does exist. Other passages teach the same (Heb 12.23; Col 1.18). Since the Scriptural evidence is clear that a “universal” church does exist, one should not try to force Matthew 16.18; 28.19–20; and Ephesians 3.21 to speak of a local church. To deny the “universal” church and press these passages to refer to the local church is to deny the whole teaching of Scripture and foist an alien meaning upon these passages.

Another principle of interpretation violated by the successionist is that a verse cannot mean what it never meant. The “John 3.16” of the successionist position is Christ’s promise in Matthew 16.18. It is usually the starting point for the successionist’s argument that Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hell should not prevail against the local church? When Jesus spoke of the church in this passage, did the apostles understand it as a local church? This passage is the first use of the word “church” in the NT. The word “church” means a “called out assembly.” Not until the book of Acts does the word “church” take on the more technical definition of “local assembly.” When Jesus Christ spoke of the “church” He was not intending to be unclear. The disciples knew what He meant. The church, all believers in their sum total would not have to fear a destruction by the gates of Hades. Jesus Christ did not tell the disciples that local Baptist churches would continue until eternity. If He did make this promise, why do we not see the Baptist name prior to the 1600s? Why do local Baptist Churches occasionally die off? When Christ made the promise in Matthew 16.18, He was not giving Baptists a promise for an succession of their denomination. What He meant, and the disciples understood, the gates of Hades will not prevail against the sum total of those who have placed their faith in Christ.

“Anabaptists, Waldenses, Paulicians, Donatists, and Tertullians all baptized by immersion those who professed faith in Christ. Furthermore, these groups rejected a hierarchical church government, therefore, they were Baptists.”

While it is true that some of these groups held to viewpoints shared by Baptists today, it is not conclusive (or desirable) to say that they were Baptists. Groups other than Baptists held to the same beliefs (e.g., Puritans and Congregationalists). Some of these groups were heretical in many of their beliefs.

The Anabaptists had many views that were non-Baptist. They practiced pacifism. That is a belief that Christians are not to participate in war. They also believed that it is wrong for Christians to make oaths. Do Anabaptists still exist? Yes. They are not Baptists. They are still called Anabaptists and Mennonites.

Furthermore, the first Baptists did much to disassociate themselves from the Anabaptists. The Second London Baptist Confession of the Faith in 1689 contained the subtitle, “Commonly but falsely called Anabaptists.” The next edition reworded the subtitle as “Commonly and unjustly called Anabaptists.” It is a curious thing that the defining document of Baptists is typically ignored in the successionist literature. Perhaps this little phrase would spoil (as it does) their contention that Baptists are Anabaptists.

“A succession to the days of John and Jesus is proof that Baptists are the true Church.”

Amid the multitudes stood Jesus. Behold the Lamb of God! exclaimed the enraptured herald of the kingdom. And then in those waters, consecrated by a thousand sacred associations, Jesus was baptized, while from the parting heavens came the approving voice of the Father, and the anointing symbol of the Holy Ghost. Thus it was, and there it was, that our denomination had its origin. Nor can learning nor ingenuity fix another spot, nor another period. Baptists! the flag that floats over you is that of Jesus only; the principles that govern you have the authority of Jesus only; the ordinances which distinguish you have the example of Jesus only; and the founder of your churches is Jesus only. S.H. Ford, The Origin of Baptists, pp. 104–5.[emphasis his]

[The] designation being “Ana-Baptist.” This compound word applied as a designation of some certain Christians was first found in history during the third century; and a suggestive fact soon after the origin of Infant Baptism, and a more suggestive fact even prior to the use of the name “Catholic.” Thus the name “Ana-Baptists” is the oldest denominational name in history. J.M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood, p. 51. [emphasis his]

Pure doctrine, as it is found uncorrupted in the word of God is the only unbroken, though often disturbed, line of succession which can be traced thru all the centuries . . . in fact if the Church perished and no longer existed it meant that Christ was unable to prevent that disaster and the Gates of Hades did prevail against the Church. We simply DO NOT believe this has occurred. Therefore we must reject the JOHN SMYTHE (1608) See-Baptism movement as the origin of the Baptists. A.A. Davis, The Baptist Story, pp. 8–9 [emphasis his]

It would be nice to say that Baptists have a direct succession from the time of Christ. However, a succession neither proves nor disproves that a church is biblical. Using a succession construct to prove that Baptists are the true Church smacks of the Roman Catholic tradition in proving Apostolic succession from the Apostle Peter. Some Landmarkists follow certain Mennonites in claiming baptismal succession. That is, one can genealogically trace his baptism back to John the Baptist. We would not say that a succession proves the Catholic theory, nor should we use a succession to prove a Baptist theory. History is based on factual documentation, not on presumption.

English Separatist View

Having outlined and interacted with the successionist views above, it should be clear to the reader that Baptist origins, in view of this writer, cannot be traced back to John the Baptist. From all known documentation, Baptists originated in England in the early 1600s. We have no other historical documentation of Baptist existence prior to this time.

Does this mean that Anabaptists (or other earlier groups) had no influence on the early Baptists? No. The influence was there, but it was quite minor compared to the influence of the English Separatists.

Who were the English Separatists? How did the Baptists rise out of this contingent of believers? These things will be developed in future lessons.

Conclusion

This is a minor issue and it should be understood that this writer does not view this as a cardinal issue. Yet, the underlying problem is worth the effort in correcting. Some believe that a historical progression is necessary to prove that the Baptist faith is the true faith. The marks of true faith are based on Scripture, not historical genealogy.

While minor, these successionist views are still being promoted in most Baptist Bible colleges today. You will usually find at least one faculty member on staff that holds to these views. With that in mind, consider the following quotes from three fundamental Baptist seminary professors:

“In the church history course that I teach from the Reformation to the 19th century, I present the origins of the Baptists as a branch of the English Separatists. Others at Calvary advocate the spiritual kinship theory.” (Clint Banz, Librarian and Church History professor at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary)

“No one at Central affirms a Landmark view of Baptist history. In fact, we are quite committed to opposing this view . . . Genetically and historically, Baptists do come out of English separatism. We have great spiritual kinship with some Anabaptists (e.g., the Swiss brethren), but not with others (e.g., the Muensterites). The Waldenses are probably more like Presbyterians than they are like Baptists: We probably have people [that hold to a spiritual kinship view and an English Separatist view].” (Kevin Bauder, Ph.D. Systematic and Historical Theological Department Chair at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota)

“We at DBTS hold to the English Separatist view of Baptist origins, while recognizing a doctrinal kinship with groups who are not Baptist but, to some degree, embrace New Testament principles which Baptists affirm. The agreement would be limited to select doctrines, not with the groups holding them. For example, some sects in church history practiced adult baptism, but they were heretical in other respects. True Baptists accept the practice but not as a ‘successor’ to the heretical group. Following the strict successionist view requires either forcing earlier groups into a ‘Baptist’ mold, or relying on historical tradition for the validation of belief, rather than the New Testament.” (Dr. Gerald Priest, Professor of Historical Theology, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary)

1 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Eerdmans, 1910) 1:20.

2 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, introduction.

3 Schaff, History, 1:21.

Baptist History

Baptist History

by Barry Pendley

Baptist History is a study on the foundations of Baptist groups, primarily the Calvinistic Baptists. This group of lessons will focus on rise of Baptist men from the English separatists in the sixteenth century. Consideration will be given to the Baptist Confessions, theologians, pastors, and other leaders. This study will also examine movements such as the Northern Baptist Convention, Conservative Baptist Association, and modern fundamentalist groups.

Lesson 1: The Beginnings of the Baptists

Lesson 2: The Emergence of Baptists in England

Lesson 3: Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach

Lesson 4: Defining, Defending and Declaring the Faith

Lesson 5: Hello Freedom, Goodbye Purpose

Lesson 6: Focusing on Mission

Lesson 7: Baptist Beginnings in America

Lesson 8: Growth, Separation and Struggle During the 1700s

Lesson 9: Organization and Growth in the 1800s

Lesson 10: The Northern Baptist Convention

Lesson 11: Influence of Separate?: Baptist Bible Union

Sources

Successionist Views

Armitage, Thomas. A History of the Baptists: Traced by their Vital Principles and Practices, From the Time of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Year 1886. New York: Bryan, Taylor, and Co., 1887.

Carroll, J. M. The Trail of Blood. Lexington, KY: Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, 1931.

Cummins, David and E. Wayne Thompson. This Day in Baptist History. Vol. 1. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1993.

————————. This Day in Baptist History. Vol. 2. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2000.

Davis, A. A. The Baptist Story: Sermons on the Trail of Blood. Shelbyville, TN: 1999.

Ford, S. H. The Origin of the Baptists. Texarkana: TX: Bogard Press, 1950.

Orchard, G. H. A Concise History of Baptists. Texarkana:TX: Bogard Press, 1956.

English Separtist Views

Haykin, Michael. Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage: Kiffin, Knollys and Keach. Leeds, England: Reformation Today Trust, 1996.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987.

Torbet, Robert. A History of the Baptists. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1950.

Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1907.

Other Writings

Beale, David. In Pursuit of Purity. Greenville, S.C.: Unusual Publications, 1986.

Clearwaters, Richard. The Great Conservative Baptist Compromise. Minneapolis, MN: Central Seminary Press, n.d.

Cummins, David. A Brief History of Baptist Missions. Jacksonville, FL: Victory Press, 1998.-

Estep, William. The Anabaptist Story. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1975.

Gaustad, Edwin, ed. A Documentary History of Religion in America to the Civil War. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1982.

————————. A Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1865. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1993.

George, Timothy and David Dockery, eds. Baptist Theologians. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1990.

George, Timothy and Denise, eds. Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1996.

————————. Baptists and Their Doctrines. Nashvile, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1995.

————————. Baptist Why and Why Not. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1996.

Good, Kenneth. Are Baptists Calvinists? Oberlin, OH: Regular Baptist Heritage Fellowship, 1975.

Lumpkin, William. Baptist Confessions of Faith. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1969.

Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1980.

McBeth, H. Leon. A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage. Nashville. TN: Broadman Press, 1990.

Nettles, Thomas. By His Grace and for His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.

————————. Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life. Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing, 1998.

Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1992.

Shelley, Bruce. Conservative Baptists: A Story of Twentieth-Century Dissent. Denver, CO: Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, 1960.

Isaac Watts: Father of English Hymnody

Isaac Watts: Father of English Hymnody

by Barry Pendley

“Ye monsters of the bubbling deep, Your Master’s praises spout; Up from the sands ye docclings peep, And wag your tails about.” We can thank Isaac Watts that we do not sing hymns like this anymore! One Sunday after church, Isaac told his father that something had to be done with the deplorable hymns of his day. His father challenged him, “Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” By the next Sunday, Watts had produced his first hymn. By the time he died, he had over six hundred hymns to his credit! He truly deserves the title The Father of English Hymnody.

Not only was Isaac Watts known as a hymn writer, he was also accomplished in many other areas. In addition to his six hundred hymns, Watts wrote books on grammar, pedagogy, ethics, three volumes of sermons, and twenty-nine treatises on theology.

Watts did not enjoy a life of ease. As a young man, he turned down the opportunity to be schooled at the highly revered Oxford University for theological reasons. He learned to stand against the crowd and pastored a non-conformist church in London by the age of 27. Shortly after becoming the pastor, he became very ill. This illness was so severe that it caused him to become semi-invalid for the rest of his life.

Watts’ hymn writing created a controversy among the churches of his day. It was the practice of contemporary hymn writers to put the Psalms to music. Though Watts also followed in that tradition, he also believed that one could compose hymns that reflected one’s own thoughts. It was considered blasphemous to sing anything other than the Psalms. If Watts had accepted the views of his day, we would not have hymns such as Joy to the World!, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, or Jesus Shall Reign.

Watts never married, but he did have a relationship through correspondence. When he met the young woman, she found his appearance so deplorable that she broke off the relationship. Instead of sulking in self-pity, Watts identified with the sufferings of Christ and composed the hymn Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed (originally entitled Godly Sorrow Arising from the Sufferings of Christ). Not only did Watts give us many hymns, he gave us a brilliant testimony of one who ministered to others in spite of great personal setbacks!