On building walls and building bridges: an observation on Particular Baptist life in the British and Irish archipelago in the long eighteenth century | Michael A.G. Haykin

by | Sep 12, 2023 | Church History

 

One way of characterizing the change that took place in British and Irish Particular Baptist life in the course of the long eighteenth century (1680s-1830s) is along the lines of walls and bridges: the Particular Baptists transitioned from being a community of wall-builders (Song of Songs 4:12 was a favoured text, the “enclosed garden” being understood as an image of the community of properly-baptized visible saints) to one of being bridge-builders.

This general description can be misleading if taken as an invariable description of all British and Irish Particular Baptists of that remarkable era. But as a general description I find it to be quite helpful.

To be sure, the idea of a walled community provided a measure of security and clear identity, but, in the case of these Particular Baptists, it also led to a narrowness of outlook and loss of catholicity. Thus, the suspicions of far too many in the Particular Baptist camp about George Whitefield: he claimed to be a Calvinist, but, to Baptist ears, he spoke with an Arminian accent and moreover, he was an Anglican. If he had truly been sent by God, he would leave the state church, characterized as a daughter of the Whore of Babylon, and become a Baptist.

With the advent of Fullerism, though, the bricks in these walled communities began to be used to build bridges. Witness the friendships that were established between Particular Baptists like John Ryland, Jr. and an Anglican like John Newton.

Of course, there was a danger here in the other direction, namely, the loss of Baptist identity in the wide ocean of Evangelicalism.

But for the lifetime of men like Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliff, John Hinton and Samuel Pearce, William Carey and Joshua Marshman—in the final decades of the eighteenth century and first few decades of the nineteenth century—the balance was retained: the bridges that bespoke evangelical catholicity were not built to the neglect of the walls of identity.

Such a balance is much needed in our day, though it is not easy to achieve or maintain.

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Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

“Is it true that all people are equally sinful? If someone has sinful anger in his heart, but never acts on it, is that person really the same as someone who has sinful anger in his heart and then murders his whole family?”

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