Henry Forty: a brief sketch | Michael A.G. Haykin

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Church History, Practical Theology


Henry Forty (c.1620s?-1693) was a key figure in the early days of the Particular Baptists.[1] A Londoner probably by birth, he came to faith as a young person.[2] He signed the third edition of the 1644 Confession, issued by the London Baptists in 1651. He later served at a Baptist congregation in Totnes, south Devon, where he became associated with Abraham Cheare (1626-1668) of Plymouth. They were key signators of the tract Sighs for Sion (1656), for example, which may well have been co-written by Cheare and Forty.

This tract was especially critical of the Quakers, who were making inroads into Baptist congregations. According to Forty and Cheare and the other signatories, the Quakers were “vain men, unsound in the faith, disobedient to, and despisers of the precious ordinances of Jesus Christ,” people who abused the “light and Spirit of the Lord.”[3] Of course, this is a reference to the fact that the Quakers had abandoned those key means of grace¾baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Although neither Forty nor Cheare were given to political radicalism, there is a possibility that this tract is also critical of the regime of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), identified in it as “That man of Sin.”[4]

For the entire decade of the 1660s and in the early 1670s, Forty was imprisoned in Exeter and also in London for some twelve years,[5] almost as long as John Bunyan (1628-1688). Upon his release, in the mid-1670s, Forty moved to Abingdon, where he was called to pastor the Particular Baptist congregation there, which had been founded by John Pendarves (1622-1656). Forty played a key role in the revitalization of the Abingdon Association of Particular Baptist churches.[6] However, he continued to play a key role in London Baptist circles. He supported the refutation of the errors of Thomas Collier[7] and signed the Second London Confession of Faith when it was affirmed in 1689.

Three years earlier, in July of 1686, Forty had been arrested again along with twenty-five other Baptists from the Abingdon church and other areas of Berkshire for failing to worship at their parish churches. The trial ended suddenly, though, when the barrister for the defence, Thomas Medlycott (1628–1716), brought forward a royal pardon from the Earl of Sunderland. Forty and his Baptist friends were acquitted of all charges. The town authorities had locked up the Abingdon Baptist Chapel and, apparently, it had also been vandalized. But that night it was refurbished and the following day, a Sunday, it was filled with triumphant worshippers.[8]

Forty’s final years were dogged by ill-health that prevented him from preaching as he had once done.[9] In his funeral sermon for Forty, though, Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) made mention of “many in this Land” of England who had been converted through Forty’s preaching, including apparently his parents.[10]



[1] For a brief sketch of Forty’s life and ministry, see Anonymous, “Henry Forty,” Abingdon Area Archaeology and History Society (https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/abingdon_people/henry-forty; accessed January 22, 2024). This small biography has been helpful in the orientation of my sketch that follows.

[2] Benjamin Keach, “An Elegy Upon the Death of That Reverend and Faithful Minister of the Gospel” in his The Everlasting Covenant, A Sweet Cordial for a drooping Soul: Or, The Excellent Nature of the Covenant of Grace Opened (London: H. Barnard, 1693), [45].

[3] Abraham Cheare, Henry Forty, John Pendarves, et al., Sighs for Sion (London: Livewel Chapman, 1656), 17.

[4] Cheare, Forty, Pendarves, et al., Sighs for Sion, 8-9.

[5] Keach, “Elegy,” [45].

[6] “Henry Forty,” Abingdon Area Archaeology and History Society.

[7] In William Kiffen, Henry Forty, et al., “[Letter to the] Christian Reader” in Nehemiah Coxe, Vindiciae Veritatis, Or a Confutation of the Heresies and Gross Errours Asserted by Thomas Collier in his Additional Word to his Body of Divinity (London: Nathaniel Ponder, 1677), A2 verso.

[8] On Medlycott and this account, see “Thomas Medlycott,” Abingdon Area Archaeology and History Society  (https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/abingdon_people/thomas-medlycott; accessed January 23, 2024).

[9] Keach, Everlasting Covenant, 44.

[10] Keach, “Elegy,” [45].

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