Archive for October, 2007

John Erskine and a 1784 Letter to John Ryland, Jr.

October 20th, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

A question that has long fascinated me is how John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825) came to be corresponding with Dr John Erskine of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, in the 1780s? Erskine was an Edwards aficionado and sent packets of Edwardsean literature to all with whom he corresponded. So it was that he sent Edwards’ Humble Attempt to Ryland in 1784 and the result was the beginning of a prayer movement among the Northamptonshire Association Baptists, to which Ryland belonged, that led to revival.I initially thought of Ryland’s father, John Collett Ryland, as a link. But just recently I noticed in a letter from John Newton to the younger Ryland—Newton was his mentor—that Newton said that he would forward some letters to Erskine. Could Newton be the link between the young Baptist and the Scottish evangelical?

Eberhard Bethge on Remembering the past

October 19th, 2007 Posted in Church History, Great Quotes

These words of Eberhard Bethge, the biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are an important reminder of the need to remember the past:

“Commemoration renders life human; forgetfulness makes it inhuman. …even when remembrance carries grief and shame, it fills the future with perspectives. And the denial of the past furthers the affairs of death, precisely because it focuses exclusively on the present.”[1]


[1] Friendship and Resistance. Essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Geneva: WCC Publications/Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 105.

Missing “Hymn” in New Jars of Clay Compilation

October 18th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

I recently bought Jars of Clay’s compilation The Essential Jars of Clay (2007). Sweet! But was very surprised to find that one of my favourite songs from their Much Afraid CD was absent, namely “Hymn.” “Hymn” is a truly awesome song, both lyrics and music. The chorus is so rich:

“Oh gaze of love so melt my pride
That I may in Your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry
Spring worship unto Thee.”

Oh, Lord Jesus, it is this very thing I need: an overwhelming sense of your love—not fleeting, but ongoing day by day—that melts my pride and gives me the ability to truly worship. This is what genuine humanity is about!

The Blogging Parson

October 16th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

Here is an excellent reflection on Christian martyrdom: Martyrdom – something to die for? It is by Michael Jensen at The Blogging Parson. While the post is a couple of years old—I have just found it—it is solid, as is the rest of the Blog. What a joy to find both post and blog.

John Ryland, Jr. On Believer’s Baptism

October 13th, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825), to be distinguished from his father, John Collett Ryland, about whom I blogged a few days ago, detailed his commitment to the Baptist way in a sermon that he preached in June, 1812, to the students and subscribers of Stepney Academy, founded two years prior to train men for ministry among the Calvinistic Baptists. Ryland gives the following solid advice to the students in his audience:[1]

“Always show you are more concerned to turn sinners to God, than to make proselytes to a party. While you teach men to observe all things whatsoever our blessed Lord has commanded, whether with reference to moral duty, or positive institutions, let it appear, in the latter case, that you regard the thing signified as far more important than the sign.

“In administering the Ordinances of the New Testament be careful to point out their important signification. Urge them who are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, to remember their obligations to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness; to be separate from the world and devoted to God. What avails observance of a more significant and scriptural mode of administering the ordinance, if its end be not kept constantly in view? It is not the Baptism of adults, but of believers, for which we plead; let them who profess to have believed, be urged so to walk as to prove they abide in him, whose name they bear. Let them live the life of faith, and fight the good fight of faith. “He that believeth and is Baptized shall be saved” [Mk 16:16]. Were the Greek term translated, I am persuaded it should be rendered, He that believeth and is immersed or overwhelmed etc. Overwhelmed with what? with Water? Yes, that is the sign, and thus only we think the ordinance should be administered. But, what is the thing signified? He that is overwhelmed with a sense of Obligation, of Guilt, of Danger, of Gratitude, of Love; he that is immersed in the Holy Spirit, shall be saved. We had rather have the thing signified without the sign, than the sign without the thing signified: though we think both should go together.”


[1] Advice to Young Ministers, respecting their preparatory Studies (Bristol, 1812), 28-29.

Imitating 18th Century Evangelical Catholicity

October 13th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

One of the most prominent features of the Evangelical Revival in the eighteenth century as its genuinely catholic perspective when it came to ecclesiological issues.

For instance, it was said of William Grimshaw (1708-1763), the influential evangelical curate of Haworth in Yorkshire, that he embraced Christians of all denominations, saying, ‘I love them and I will love them, and none shall make me do otherwise: and my House shall always be open to them all.”[1]

Good evidence of Grimshaw’s catholicity is to be found in his active support for Baptist causes throughout Yorkshire, despite the fact that a number of them had drawn some of their members from among Grimshaw’s converts. Although such sheep-stealing did not sit well with Grimshaw, he was able to joke about it, saying, “The worst of it is, that so many of my chickens turn ducks!”[2]

It should be noted, though, that not all of the leading figures of the Revival had sympathies as broad as those of Grimshaw. For example, Charles Wesley (1708- 1788), in a journal entry for October 30, 1756, minced no words when he described Baptists as: “A carnal cavilling, contentious sect, always watching to steal away our [i.e. Methodist] children, and make them as dead as themselves.” [3]

On the other hand, there were men like William Carey (1761-1834), of whom Charles Spurgeon once said: “I admire [William] Carey for being a Baptist: he had none of the false charity which might prompt some to conceal their belief for fear of offending others; but at the same time he was a man who loved all who loved the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now that is a model to imitate.


[1] Cited in Frank Baker, William Grimshaw, 1708-1763 (London: The Epworth Press, 1963), p. 245.

[2] Cited in Baker, p. 243.

[3] Cited in John R Tyson, ed., Charles Wesley: A Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 418.

[4] Howel Harris, 1714-1773: The Last Enthusiast (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1965), p. 29.

Heroes: Baptist & Other

October 13th, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

Human heroes. We all have them. All of them are flawed, for they are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Yet, it is not unbiblical to have such (see Hebrews 11).

But which ones to choose from in the wide and broad history of the Church? Well, this question will be answered in part by one’s theological and ecclesiological perspective. Not totally, of course. I have always admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for instance, despite my disagreement with some elements of his Lutheranism and his reception of critical theology. But his exposition of Nachfolge in his study of the Sermon on the Mount and above all his study of what Christian community should be in his Life Together, from the very first when I read them, won my heart’s delight and conviction.

But for us who are Baptists who are the best guides? Where do we find those who will most challenge us with their radical Christ-centred Christianity? That question was answered for me in the academic year 1985-1986, when I picked up a copy of Andrew Fuller’s works—the 3-volume 1845 edition that Pastor Lloyd Sprinkle has republished.

I read Fuller’s essay The Promise of the Spirit—in part because of my early interest in the work and person of the Holy Spirit. I was smitten—yes, smitten by the force of his argument and his passion for the extension of the Kingdom of Christ and his biblical defence of the church’s utter need for the Spirit’s empowerment.

From Fuller I was led to his friends—William Carey, John Ryland, John Sutcliff, and above all Samuel Pearce. Then to Christopher Anderson, John Fawcett, Benjamin Beddome, Joseph Kinghorn, Benjamin Francis, Joshua Thomas, William Staughton, Anne Steele, Anne Dutton, the Stennetts and then back into the 17th century to men like William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, Hercules Collins, Benjamin Keach—where should I stop? In other words: I found my guides in men and women who were the fathers and mothers of my denominational persuasion, Baptist. Since then I have discovered Canadian Baptists in the 19th century like D.A. McGregor and William Fraser, and Americans like Oliver Hart and four men I am learning to know—J.P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr., and William Williams.

The theology of these brothers and sisters have set the ethos and temper, timber and shape of our denominational frame. And though their foundational work was not perfect, I have found it better than any other. Though I do admire many others—especially men like Jonathan Edwards and Basil of Caesarea—in the life and theology of these Particular Baptists I have found riches for the spirit and for the mind and a pattern of the Christian life most in accord—in my opinion—with Scripture.

John Whitgift on the Puritans

October 13th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

Here is a fascinating quote by John Whitgift (1530-1604), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 till his death in 1604, about the Puritans. Though mentored by the Marian martyr John Bradford, he was hostile to the Puritans from 1570 onwards when he debated Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603). The Puritans, according to Whitgift, “think themselves to be mundiores caeteris, more pure than others as the Cathari dyd [sic], and separate themselves from all other Churches and congregations as spotted and defyled [sic].”[1] Many students of the Puritan movement, including this one, would beg to differ.


[1] An Answere to a certen Libel intituled an Admonition to the Parliament (London, 1572), 18.

Dan Wallace Remembers His Friendship with C.F.D. Moule (1908-2007)

October 10th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

Here is a great tribute from Dan Wallace to C.F.D. Moule (1908-2007), who just died: C. F. D. Moule: Last of the Gentlemen-Scholars.

It was only a few weeks ago that I discovered in an autobiographical account of Moule’s uncle, H.C.G. Moule, that they were descended from the eighteenth-century Calvinistic Baptists, Caleb Evans and Hugh Evans.

John Collett Ryland & His Supposed Hyper-Calvinism Revisited

October 9th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

If someone told me of a pastor who went to a church of 30 members and in the course of his ministry at that church over twenty-five years it took in 320 members, and further, if my informant told me that that pastor supported one of the greatest evangelists of the century in his open-air preaching in the town on a number of occasions, how would I describe such a man? The epithet Hyper-Calvinist would not be at all appropriate, would it?

Yet, this man—and I am blogging about John Collett Ryland (d.1792)—has been frequently so described because of a withering rebuke he once gave to William Carey (1761-1834) and his idea of cross-cultural missions. I am more and more convinced that Ryland was not a Hyper-Calvinist. He was converted in a revival under the evangelical Calvinistic ministry of Benjamin Beddome (1717-1795) and went to the strongly evangelical Calvinistic school of the Bristol Baptist Academy, where he was taught by Bernard Foskett (1685-1758) and Hugh Evans (1712-1781)—who was a forebear of H.C.G. Moule—neither of whom were Hyper in their Calvinism. And he delighted in the preaching of George Whitefield (1714-1770), who preached in his town of Northampton, England.

What myths have been perpetrated in the teaching of Baptist history!

What then of his rebuke of the young Carey? The heart of that rebuke had to do with eschatological timing: Ryland had adopted the end-times thinking of John Gill (1697-1771), where the gospel could not be taken unhindered to the nations till the two witnesses of Revelation 11 were slain, which would not happen till well into the nineteenth century! Wrong thinking, yes. But not the Hyper-Calvinist bogeyman of far too many treatments of Baptist history.