‘Eminent Christians’ Category

“It Is All Right”

July 31st, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Eminent Christians, Missions

By Evan D. Burns

After the death of Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789-1826), Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) wrote to her mother to inform her of Ann’s death.  In his long letter, he weaves together his heavenly-minded piety with his providentialist piety in order to make sense of Ann’s protracted suffering and in order to comfort Ann’s grieving mother.  Here is a small portion of that letter:

Oh, with what meekness, and patience, and magnanimity, and Christian fortitude, she bore those sufferings!  And can I wish they had been less?  Can I sacrilegiously wish to rob her crown of a single gem?  Much she saw and suffered of this evil world; and eminently was she qualified to relish and enjoy the pure and holy rest into which she has entered.  True, she has been taken from a sphere, in which she was singularly qualified, by her natural disposition, her winning manners, her devoted zeal, and her perfect acquaintance with the language, to be extensively serviceable to the cause of Christ; true, she has been torn from her husband’s bleeding heart, and from her darling babe; but infinite wisdom and love have presided, as ever, in this most afflicting dispensation.  Faith decides, that it is all right, and the decision of faith, eternity will soon confirm.[1] 


 [1]Adoniram Judson, “Letter from Rev. Dr. Judson, to Mrs.Hasseltine of Bradford, (Mass.), Amherst, Feb. 4th, 1827,” in The Baptist Missionary Magazine, vol. 7, 89 vols. (Boston: Lincoln & Edmands, 1827), 261–62.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

Was John Bunyan a Baptist? A Test Case in Historical Method

July 29th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians, Theology

By Nathan A. Finn

In recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the life and legacy of John Bunyan (1628–1688). Some readers will know that Bunyan was the famous tinker-turned-pastor who spent most of 1660 to 1672 (and a few months in 1675) imprisoned for preaching illegally during the reign of King Charles II. This was a season when many Dissenting pastors, including Baptists, were fined and often imprisoned for violating the Clarendon Code, a series of laws meant to promote Episcopal uniformity in Britain. Over 2000 Puritan ministers lost their pulpits during the “Great Ejection” of 1662 alone.

No doubt even more readers will know that Bunyan authored the famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a work that has remained continuously in print, been translated into over 200 languages, and likely outsold every book in the English language besides the King James Bible. Of course, Bunyan also wrote numerous other books and tracts, including his famous spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) and the allegory The Holy War, which focuses on cosmic spiritual warfare (1682).

What many readers may not know is that scholars have debated whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist or a Congregationalist since at least the late-1800s. There are several reasons for this debate. First, Bunyan’s church in Bedford, which began as a Congregationalist (Independent) meeting, seems to have embraced a dual baptismal practice prior to his pastorate. Second, though there is no evidence the church baptized infants during Bunyan’s pastorate, the church continued an open membership policy that included both credobaptists and pedobaptists. (Bunyan even engaged in a literary debate with William Kiffin, among others, over the relationship between the ordinances and church membership.) Finally, after Bunyan’s death in 1688, the church gravitated toward mainstream Congregationalism and rejected credobaptism as a normative practice.

For these reasons, scholars have tended to fall into three camps when debating Bunyan’s baptism bona fides. First, some scholars argue he was not a Baptist, but rather was a Congregationalist who privately preferred credobaptism to pedobaptism. Second, some scholars argue that Bunyan was an “Independent Baptist,” i.e., a Baptist who practiced open membership. Finally, some scholars punt (ahem) and suggest that Bunyan was “baptistic,” but falls short of being a consistent Baptist.

This makes for a good test case in historical method.  A growing number of scholars argue there was considerable interchange and even intercommunion between various Dissenters prior to 1660. It was not unusual for one to move between Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and even Quaker meetings during his lifetime (besides other lesser-known sects and the Church of England). Among Baptists, even the very terms “General Baptist” and “Particular Baptist” are arguably anachronistic when used prior to the 1640s, because the two groups were different trajectories rather than fully formed denominational traditions.

Furthermore, many scholars of the Independents in particular suggest that there was a great diversity of baptismal views in the tradition prior to the adoption of the Savoy Declaration in 1658. In other words, it was perfectly possible, even acceptable to be an anti-pedobaptist Independent, yet not self-identify as a Baptist (the latter carried considerable cultural baggage due to frequent association with Anabaptism). Other historians have suggested that there was a “dotted line” between many Independents and their Particular Baptist friends.

Finally, there is no doubt that a number of self-identified Baptist congregations, all of which had their roots in Independency, did practice an open membership policy, at least for a season. Examples include Henry Jessey’s congregation in London, the Broadmead Church in Bristol, the Baptist meeting in Oxford, and some Welsh Baptist congregations.

As in so many historical debates that touch upon the nature of Baptist identity, the answer to the question of whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist depends upon whether one is speaking descriptively or prescriptively. From a descriptive standpoint, I find it hard to argue that Bunyan was anything other than a Baptist, at least during his years of formal pastoral ministry. He was an Independent Baptist who practiced open membership and open communion. While this was a minority position, it was not unknown among British Baptists. For the past century, this exact position has been quite common among Baptists in the British Isles and Australasia (and, increasingly, in North America).

This does not mean I agree with Bunyan from a descriptive standpoint—far from it. I reject Bunyan’s contention that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are private ordinances that are not directly related to the church. Scripturally, I see a close connection between the ordinances and the church, leading me to affirm a closed membership that restricts communion to biblically baptized believers. However, for me to hold Bunyan to my prescriptive convictions would be to confuse the work of the historian with the work of the theologian. The same point could be made about nearly all General Baptists and, eventually, Particular Baptists prior to 1641/1642; their baptism by affusion does not measure up to my theological standards, but for historical reasons I consider them to be Baptists.

Historians of Christianity will always be tempted to be theologians. And, of course, one cannot be a very good historian of Christianity if he or she doesn’t understand theology. Nevertheless, the task of the historian is primarily descriptive, whereas the task of the theologian is primarily prescriptive. We would do well to avoid confusing the two, even when we hold very strong theological convictions. As a historian, I have little doubt Bunyan was a Baptist. As a theologian, I have strong disagreements with aspects of Bunyan’s ecclesiology. It’s a matter of description versus prescription, and for the historian, the former ought to win every time.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

“Silently Blessed”

July 17th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Evan D. Burns

While Judson was in prison for 21 months, Ann Judson cared for Adoniram Judson, and concurrently their daughter, little Maria, was ill.  The gravity of this tribulation nearly pushed the Judson family to the breaking point.  Recording the Judsons’ submission to the sovereignty of God, Ann wrote:

Our dear little Maria was the greatest sufferer at this time, my illness depriving her of her usual nourishment, and neither a nurse nor a drop of milk could be procured in the village.  By making presents to the jailers, I obtained leave for Mr. Judson to come out of prison, and take the emaciated creature around the village, to beg a little nourishment from those mothers who had young children. Her cries in the night were heart-rending, when it was impossible to supply her wants.  I now began to think the very afflictions of Job had come upon me.  When in health, I could bear the various trials and vicissitudes through which I was called to pass. But to be confined with sickness, and unable to assist those who were so dear to me, when in distress, was almost too much for me to bear; and had it not been for the consolations of religion, and an assured conviction that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I must have sunk under my accumulated sufferings.[1]

After being imprisoned under torture and horrid conditions for 21 months, Judson wrote to Dr. Bolles about his sufferings with the perspective that God works all things together for the good of his people.

[My sufferings], it would seem, have been unavailing to answer any valuable missionary purpose, unless so far as they may have been silently blessed to our spiritual improvement and capacity for future usefulness.[2]


[1]Wayland, Memoir, 1:361.

[2]Middleditch, Burmah’s Great, 209.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

“All is Alike Inspired”

July 10th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

Seeking to counter those who say the Bible is not inspired because of the varieties of its style and authorship, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) employed metaphors and analogies that are very helpful for understanding the continuity of Scripture and its overall sufficient inspiration:

It proves nothing against inspiration, as some have asserted, that the writers of the Bible have each a different style. Isaiah does not write like Jeremiah, and Paul does not write like John. This is perfectly true— and yet the works of these men are not a whit less equally inspired. The waters of the sea have many different shades. In one place they look blue, and in another green. And yet the difference is owing to the depth or shallowness of the part we see, or to the nature of the bottom.  The water in every case is the same salt sea. The breath of a man may produce different sounds, according to the character of the instrument on which he plays. The flute, the pipe, and the trumpet, have each their peculiar note. And yet the breath that calls forth the notes, is in each case one and the same. The light of the planets we see in the skies is very various. Mars, and Saturn, and Jupiter, have each a peculiar color. And yet we know that the light of the sun, which each planet reflects, is in each case one and the same. Just in the same way the books of the Old and New Testaments are all inspired truth— and yet the aspect of that truth varies according to the mind through which the Holy Spirit makes it flow. The handwriting and style of the writers differ enough to prove that each had a distinct individual being; but the Divine Guide who dictates and directs the whole, is always one. All is alike inspired. Every chapter, and verse, and word— is from God.[1]


[1]J.C. Ryle, Bible Reading.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

A Digest of Scripture

July 3rd, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians, Missions

By Evan D. Burns

Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) wrote a handful of tracts for his evangelism/discipleship ministry, one of which was a tract called A Digest of Scripture.[1]  It is written like a primer on basic theology for young believers.  Judson outlines some unique aspects of evangelical doctrine and for living the Christian life.  His chapter titles below demonstrate what he saw as the dominant doctrines taught by Scripture and those doctrines in which faithful believers should abide:

  1.  Introduction: Scripture and Wisdom
  2. The Being and Attributes of God
  3. The Trinity
  4. The State of Man
  5. The Lord Jesus Christ
  6. Salvation Bestowed
  7. Salvation Accepted
  8. The Evidences of Faith
  9. The Benefits of Faith
  10. Duty to God
  11. Duty to Men
  12. Duty to One’s Self
  13. Prayer
  14. The Church
  15. The Extension of the Gospel
  16. The Afflictions of Believers
  17. Death
  18. A Future State
  19. The Resurrection
  20. The Last Judgment
  21. The Retribution of Eternity: Hell, Heaven

[1]Adoniram Judson, A Digest of Scripture: Consisting of Extracts from the Old and New Testaments (Maulmain: American Baptist Mission Press, 1840).

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

“Have Mercy Upon Me”

June 26th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Evan D. Burns

In the Burmese catechism she wrote, Ann H. Judson (1789-1826) included her version of “The Sinner’s Prayer.”  It seems a bit different than the typical sinner’s prayer practiced today.  A few simple observations can be made about it:  it is rich with humility and God-centeredness, and it is Trinitarian.

O God our Father, I confess that I have committed many sins against you.
Because of these things, O Father, I deserve to be disowned and sent to suffer in hell, but instead Jesus died for me.
I want to depend on him.  So please have mercy upon me and give me a pure mind and clean heart.  Please forgive me for whatever sins I have done.
Please return me to the right way to be your disciple and help me keep your Word.
Please send down your Holy Spirit upon me, have mercy upon me, care for me and save me from hell after I die.  Take me to the peaceful City of Heaven, O God our Father.
Amen.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

Remembering Matthew Henry

June 22nd, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Church History, Eminent Christians, Puritans

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who died June 22 exactly three hundred years ago, is rightly remembered as a leading figure among early eighteenth-century Dissent. His devotional commentary on the entire Bible, the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, was the first such work in English and is a prism of late Puritan piety. If one wishes to get a good feel for the thinking of late seventeenth-century Puritanism read Henry on the Bible. By the early Victorian period this work had gone through some 25 editions and is still in use today. It is well known that George Whitefield, the  tercentennial of whose birth will be celebrated later this year, used this exposition widely in his ministry and prayer life. Henry ‘s twenty-five year ministry in Chester bore other fruit as well: a sterling witness in a degenerate age, the edification of God’s people under his charge  and about 30 other publications that ministered to the church at large both in his day and subsequent ages. A conference on his ministry and thought will be held July 14-16 this year at the University of Chester, England. Dr Ligon Duncan is to be one of the speakers.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

“The Divine Harmony of Truth”

June 19th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Evan D. Burns

Charles Spurgeon challenged his students to preach the Word—all of it.  To withhold certain doctrines which do not appeal to the minister or which might be disagreeable to the people would be like withholding nutritious food necessary for bodily health.  The doctrines of Scripture are seen as most excellent when they come together in harmony as music in a grand symphonic orchestra.

The glory of God being our chief object, we aim at it by seeking the edification of saints and the salvation of sinners . It is a noble work to instruct the people of God, and to build them up in their most holy faith: we may by no means neglect this duty. To this end we must give clear statements of gospel doctrine, of vital experience, and of Christian duty, and never shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God. In too many cases sublime truths are held in abeyance under the pretence that they are not practical; whereas the very fact that they are revealed proves that the Lord thinks them to be of value, and woe unto us if we pretend to be wiser than He. We may say of any and every doctrine of Scripture—To give it then a tongue is wise in man. If any one note is dropped from the divine harmony of truth the music may be sadly marred. Your people may fall into grave spiritual diseases through the lack of a certain form of spiritual nutriment, which can only be supplied by the doctrines which you withhold. In the food which we eat there are ingredients which do not at first appear to be necessary to life; but experience shows that they are requisite to health and strength. Phosphorus will not make flesh, but it is wanted for bone; many earths and salts come under the same description— they are necessary in due proportion to the human economy. Even thus certain truths which appear to be little adapted for spiritual nutriment are, nevertheless, very beneficial in furnishing believers with backbone and muscle, and in repairing the varied organs of Christian manhood. We must preach “the whole truth,” that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [1]


[1]Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 336-337.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

The Key of Prayer

June 12th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Eminent Christians

By Evan D. Burns

Charles Spurgeon, in his lectures to his students, commended the practice of prayer for the sake of unlocking the door of Scripture in order to find its hidden treasures.  Let us not forget the sacred union of prayer and Bible intake:

Your prayers will be your ablest assistants while your discourses are yet upon the anvil.  While other men, like Esau, are hunting for their portion, you, by the aid of prayer, will find the savoury meat near at home, and may say in truth what Jacob said so falsely, “The Lord brought it to me.” If you can dip your pens into your hearts, appealing in earnestness to the Lord, you will write well; and if you can gather your matter on your knees at the gate of heaven, you will not fail to speak well. Prayer, as a mental exercise, will bring many subjects before the mind, and so help in the selection of a topic, while as a high spiritual engagement it will cleanse your inner eye that you may see truth in the light of God. Texts will often refuse to reveal their treasures till you open them with the key of prayer. How wonderfully were the books opened to Daniel when he was in supplication! How much Peter learned upon the housetop! The closet is the best study. The commentators are good instructors, but the Author Himself is far better, and prayer makes a direct appeal to Him and enlists Him in our cause. It is a great thing to pray one’s self into the spirit and marrow of a text; working into it by sacred feeding thereon, even as the worm bores its way into the kernel of the nut. Prayer supplies a leverage for the uplifting of ponderous truths.[1]


[1]Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 43-44.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

What Are You Doing with Your Bible?

June 5th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Evan D. Burns

For those of us who are prone to buy good books, aspire to read them though they go on the shelf, and then rarely read them let alone read the Bible itself, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) issues a clarion call to wake up from lethargic Bible intake:

Next to praying, there is nothing so important in practical religion as Bible-reading. God has mercifully given us a book which is “able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3: 15.).  By reading that book, we may learn what to believe, what to be, what to do; how to live with comfort, and how to die in peace. Happy is that man who possesses a Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest of all is he who not only reads it— but obeys it, and makes it the rule of his faith and practice! Nevertheless, it is a sorrowful fact that man has an unhappy skill in abusing God’s gifts….  And just as man naturally makes a bad use of his other mercies, so he does of the written Word. One sweeping charge may be brought against the whole of Christendom, and that charge is neglect and abuse of the Bible. To prove this charge we have no need to look abroad: the proof lies at our own doors. I have no doubt that there are more Bibles in Great Britain at this moment than there ever were since the world began. There is more Bible buying and Bible selling, more Bible printing and Bible distributing—than ever was since England was a nation. We see Bibles in every bookseller’s shop— Bibles of every size, price, and style; Bibles great, and Bibles small— Bibles for the rich, and Bibles for the poor. There are Bibles in almost every house in the land. But all this time I fear we are in danger of forgetting, that to have the Bible is one thing— and to read it quite another….  Surely it is no light matter what you are doing with the Bible. Surely, when the plague is abroad, you should search and see, whether the plague-spot is on you.[1]


 [1]J.C. Ryle, “Introduction”, Bible Reading.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.