The Record of a Revival

In the previous posts in this series, we have been considering the revitalization of the eighteenth-century Baptist community. Recall, that in 1750, there were only 150 of their churches throughout the British Isles. By 1798 there were close to 361 Calvinistic Baptist churches in England and Wales. This number had risen to 532 by 1812; by 1851 it stood at over 1,370. In the words of a later writer, Robert William Dale (1829-1895): the impact of the revival was such that:

Meeting-houses which had been deserted were crowded. Meeting-houses which had been more than large enough for their congregations for two or three generations had to be made larger. New meeting-houses in great numbers were erected. Cottages were rented in villages; farm-house kitchens were lent; old barns were turned into chapels; and young men who had been hard at work all through the week at the smithy, at the carpenter's bench, or behind the counter in drapers' shops, went out in companies from the towns on Sunday mornings to conduct the services.[1]

Details of the revival

From a more personal angle, one can observe the revival that was taking place in the following extracts from the letters of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815).[2] In the year 1810 Fuller noted in a letter to William Carey (1761-1834):

I preached a sermon to the youth last Lord's Day from 1 Thess 2:19. I think we must have had nearly one thousand. They came from all quarters. My heart's desire and prayer for them is that they may be saved.

Fuller was still rejoicing that year when he wrote on December 28 to his fellow Baptist pastor, John Ryland (1753-1825), who would pen the first biography of Fuller: "I hope the Lord is at work among our young people. Our Monday and Friday night meetings are much thronged." A couple of months later he told Ryland: "The Friday evening discourses are now, and have been for nearly a year, much thronged, because they have been mostly addressed to persons under some concern about their salvation." And what was happening in Fuller's church was happening in Baptist causes throughout the length and breadth of England and Wales.

Missionary outreach

A second fruit of the revival was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 with Andrew Fuller as the first Secretary. The following year William Carey was sent out as the Society's first missionary. Carey had been converted in the late 1770s and had eventually become a member of the church that John Sutcliff pastored in Olney. Not long after his conversion Carey was gripped by the responsibility that the church had been given by the risen Christ in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. It needs to be recalled that part of the Prayer Call of 1784 had urged prayer for "the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe." The formation of this society was a direct result of prayer for revival. Carey would labour in India until his death in 1834. The impact of his missionary labours can be well seen in the following extract from a letter by an Anglican evangelical named Thomas Scott (1747-1821), who had known Carey in his early years. Writing on December 3, 1814, to John Ryland, Scott stated:

I do most heartily rejoice in what your missionaries are doing in India. Theirs is the most regular and best conducted plan against the kingdom of darkness that modern times have shown; and I augur the most extensive success. More genuine Christian wisdom, fortitude, and disinterested assiduity, perseverance, and patience appear, than I elsewhere read of.  May God protect and prosper! May all India be peopled with true Christians!--even though they be all Baptists ... The Lord is doing great things, and answering prayer every where.[3]

Doing good works

Yet a third fruit of the revival was an emphasis on the doing of good works in contrast with the Antinomianism that often went hand in hand with Hyper-Calvinism. Baptists became engaged in a host of philanthropic enterprises: establishing orphanages; providing organized support for the poor and destitute, war widows and immigrants; striving to make such barbarous sports as bear-baiting and bull-baiting illegal. Probably the best example of Baptist social action in the eighteenth century has to be the titanic struggle that they and other Evangelicals waged first against the slave trade and then against slavery itself. It is well known that such Baptists as William Knibb (1803-1845), Thomas Burchell (1799-1846) and James Phillippo (1798-1879) were heavily involved in securing the emancipation of the slaves in the 1830s. But, Calvinistic Baptists also played a role in the earlier ending of the slave trade. In 1788, for example, at a meeting of church representatives of the Western Association, it was agreed to "express our deepest abhorrence of the Slave Trade, and to recommend it earnestly to the ministers and members of all our churches, to unite in promoting, to the utmost of our power, every scheme that is or may be proposed, to procure the Abolition of a traffic so unjust, inhuman, and disgraceful."[4] Four years later, William Carey urged his fellow Baptists to give up using sugar, due to the fact that it had been produced by slave labour in the West Indies and so cleanse their "hands of blood."[5] During the entire time that Carey was in India, from 1793 till his death over forty years later, he regularly pled with God in prayer for the destruction of slavery. Apparently no public issue exercised him more. When the emancipation of the slaves finally took place in 1833, his eyes filled with tears as he gave thanks to God and proposed that for an entire month the Serampore mission should give special thanksgiving to God in all of their meetings.[6]

[1] R.W. Dale, The Old Evangelicalism and the New (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889), 14.

[2] The following extracts from the letters of Andrew Fuller are all cited by Doyle L. Young, "The Place of Andrew Fuller in the Developing Modern Missions Movement" (PhD thesis, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1981), 232.

[3]  John Scott, Letters and Papers of the Rev. Thomas Scott (London: L. B. Seeley and Son, 1824), 254.

[4] Quoted in J.G. Fuller, A Brief History of the Western Association (Bristol, 1843), 55-56.

[5] An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792 ed.; repr. Didcot, Oxfordshire: The Baptist Missionary Society, 1991), 111. For a mention of this boycott of slave-grown sugar, see Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn, Kingdoms in Conflict (New York, NY: William Morrow & Co., Inc./Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 103.

[6] See Ernest A. Payne, Freedom in Jamaica: Some Chapters in the Story of the Baptist Missionary Society (Rev. ed.; London: The Carey Press, 1946), 43.


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