Last Updated on :
SHORTLY after the accession of James I to the throne of England, a London businessman named Bartholomew Legate made a visit to the Netherlands and came into contact with a branch of the Brethren known as the "Seekers". Disavowing dogmatic creeds and fanaticism, they based their faith upon the conviction that a fair-minded, reasoned searching of the Scriptures would lead to a genuine Christianity. Legate was impressed and ultimately became a preacher for that community in London. His bold and fluent expositions of Scripture led him into trouble, especially his unacceptable view of the nature of Christ. He was imprisoned, and as he was a well-known person in London, King James himself desired or was persuaded to visit and interview the obstinate heretic. The royal visitor was pleasant until the prisoner ventured his view that although Jesus was called "God" on occasion in the New Testament, it was "not from his essence but from his office" as the revealer of God. A look of horror crossed the royal visage, and the king, spurning Legate with his foot, hissed "Away, base fellow!" and swung out of the room. The prisoner was taken to Smithfield and burnt in 1612.
Legate was known as a pleasant, moral and pious businessman and there was considerable public sympathy. Although the bishops still favoured the method - in the same year a colleague of Legate's was warned that if he persisted in his views "the law would take hold of him to fry him at a stake" -- the view was gaining ground that the public burning of sincere Christians was a relic of the Roman Catholic Inquisition, and it became gradually less frequent. None the less, the early Baptist Edward Wightman suffered in this way at Lichfield and there were other sporadic cases elsewhere. But as McLachlan has expressed it, James "politicly preferred that
heretics hereafter should silently and privately waste away in prison rather than grace them and amuse others with the solemnity of a public execution".
The Early Baptists
The early 17th century Baptists in Britain were a direct offshoot from the Brethren on the continent of Europe. They, like all the Brethren, rejected the nickname "anabaptists" -- rebaptizers -- and chose the denominational name of "Baptists" about the year 1613. Their earliest congregations had links with the Netherlands, and their earliest confessions differed little from other confessions of the reverence", believing him to be Son of God and Saviour. He could Brethren elsewhere. The moralist, antitrinitarian and millenarian elements of these early Baptist groups have proved an embarassment to later Baptist historians writing from the standpoint of a Baptist church committed to a more orthodox theology. In later editions of Crosby's "History of Baptism" for example, reference to these beliefs was omitted. From one such omission is the following:(1)
"We believe that there will be an order in the resurrection; Christ is the firstfruits; and the next, or after, they that are Christ's at his coming; then, or afterwards, cometh the end. Concerning the kingdom and reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we do believe that he is now in heaven, at his Father's right hand, so do we believe that, at the time appointed by the Father, he shall come again in power and great glory; and that at, or after his coming the second time, he will not only raise the dead and judge and restore the world, but will also take to himself his kingdom, and will, according to the Scriptures, reign on the throne of his father David, on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, for ever.
"We believe that the kingdom of our Lord will be a universal kingdom, and in this kingdom the Lord Jesus Christ himself will be alone, visible, supreme king of the whole world.
"We believe as this kingdom will be universal, so it will be also an everlasting kingdom, that shall have no end, nor cannot be shaken; in which kingdom the saints and faithful in Jesus Christ shall receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls; where the Lord is they shall be also.
(1) The author has been sent evidence which would indicate that it was John Thomas's citations from and reproduction of this passage which led to its suppression in later editions.
"We believe that the New Jerusalem that shall come down from God out of heaven, when the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He shall dwell among them, will be the metropolitan city of this kingdom, and will be the glorious place of residence of both Christ and his saints for ever."
Concerning the rite of baptism itself, the following is typical (1644):
"The way and manner of the dispensing of this ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water, it being a sign of the interest the saints have in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, that as certainly as the body is buried under water, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints be raised by the power of Christ, in the day of, and to reign with, Christ."
The rise of those churches in Britain calling themselves Baptist was marked by schism, and confusion in doctrine and practice; indeed in some instances almost the only common feature was a belief in believers' baptism. Some groups were ultra-calvinist in dogma; others played a prominent role in the Parliamentary Army under Cromwell and had no compunction about using force and often brutality. They thus became indistinguishable from the other Independents, "Fifth-Monarchy Men" (so called because they believed they were called to establish the fifth universal dominion of Daniel, God's kingdom) and sectaries who sought to build a moral paradise on British soil by means of the Ironside army. But there were others who were loyal to the faith and inspiration of the continental Brethren and resolutely refused to become involved in the internecine strife of the period. They protested at the unseemliness of Christians engaging in warfare, wordly politics or similar partisan entanglements. "The saints expect it as their portion patiently to suffer from the world, as the Scriptures direct them, than anywise to attain the rule and government thereof." One London group issued "The Humble Apology of some commonly (though unjustly) called anabaptists", a document now in the Guildhall Library. Signed by thirty men, it disclaims any seditious intentions on the part of their community, supports their position by quotation from an article, culled from a confession of faith, explains that they in no way involved themselves in insurrection, and requests legitimate freedom to worship God according to the pattern of His word, neither molesting nor being molested.
No Paid Ministry
As on the Continent, such groups aroused resentment by their egalitarian organisation, owning no special clergy or paid ministry.
"There were preachers who were tailors, leather-sellers, soap-boilers, brewers, weavers and tinkers, but the important point is that these preachers carried conviction and wrought righteousness and constructed spiritual churches to the glory of God."
We can follow them one day in 1643 to the banks of the Bow River at Old Ford in London's East end ("that new Jordan", then a stream flowing through meadows, but today most unlikely to invite anyone to be immersed in its malodorous waters!) to baptize a new member. The candidate and the immerser walk out into the stream for the rite and as the baptism is completed the immerser grasps the hand of the new brother:
"I am filled with much zealous joy to receive a new brother into our assembly who before had only the bare rags of Adam and was baptized by the ceremonies of Antichrist. We hold it utterly unlawful to baptize any until they come to full years of understanding, that they may answer for themselves and conform themselves to live according to that Name and baptism which they have received."
He goes on to urge the newcomer to the highest ideals of service and self- sacrifice, so that even the severest eye of justice will not be able to discern a wrinkle, much less a spot in his actions. The company disperses as inconspicuously as possible, for all too frequently an interested onlooker turns out to be a government informer.
A Battle of Books and Ideas
The middle years of the 17th century saw a great battle of books and ideas in Britain. Printing was comparatively cheap for the first time, though sometimes as much as thirty shillings, a princely sum then, would be paid for a book in high demand; literacy, often selftaught, was rising; and the chains of inquisition and superstition alike had been loosened. Many of the great libraries of Britain, public and private, were rapidly growing. Not only books, but broadsheets and pamphlets poured off presses, authorised and illicit, in an unprecedented stream, and it was no holds barred as far as language was concerned. Colourful and vigorous, the language of
the title itself often had to convey the contents of the whole work, not only to arrest attention but also to convey a clear message, should it be confiscated or burnt.
"Of the Torments of Hell. The Foundation and Pillars thereof discovered, searched, shaken and removed. With many infallible Proofs that there is not to be a punishment after this life for any to endure that shall never end."
If we can endure the grammar and read within, we find a Scripture treatise on the destruction of the rejected at the appearing of Christ. For an even more elaborate title there is Richard Overton's
"Man's Mortallitie, or a treatise wherein 'tis proved, both theologically and phylosophically, that the whole man (as a rational creature) is a compound wholly mortal, contrary to that common distinction of soule and body: and that the present going of the soule into Heaven or Hell is a mere fiction; and that at the Resurrection is the beginning of our Immortality and then actuall condemnation and salvation, and not before."
The quaintness of style promised by the title is amply exhibited within; with delightful shafts of wit and pithy simile Overton wields his verbal sword against contemporary beliefs. Urging the illogicality of asserting that God condemns only the body by death, not the soul, he wryly comments:
". . . then the principal or efficient cause deepest in the transgression is less punished than the instrumental, the body being but the soul's instrument whereby it acts and moves -- as if a magistrate should hang the hatchet and spare the man that beat a man's brains out with it."
The poet Milton had the post of censor of publications in the mid-seventeenth century, but he was himself deeply influenced by the views of the Brethren and let many books and pamphlets through the net. In fact he himself on the whole favoured freedom and saw dangerous potentialities in muzzling the expression of opinion. Most of the time, however, the dangers attaching to the publishing, selling or reading of the literature of the Brethren or those favouring their views, were considerable. Heavy penalties were inflicted upon any who had the slightest connection or dealings with such literature. There was an especial furore when copies of a
new edition of the "Catechism of the Ecclesias in the Kingdom of Poland", the Rakow catechism, (see page 111) began to appear in Britain. Several passages were read to the assembled Commons, who were scandalised and hurriedly passed an Act:
"Resolved, that the book doth contain matters that are blasphemous, erroneous and scandalous.
Resolved, that all printed copies of the book be burnt.
Resolved, that the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex be authorised and required to seize all the printed copies of the book wheresoever they shall be found and cause the same to be burnt at the Old Exchange, London and in the New Palace, Westminster, on Tuesday and Thursday next."
Soon curious onlookers by the London Exchange watched a glowing bonfire and warmed themselves by the piles of flaming catechisms. A few years earlier, in 1644, Parliament had ordered that the "authors, printers and publishers of pamphlets against the immortality of the soul shall be diligently enquired for". One is left to guess at the purpose and result of the enquiry. The prevalence of publications questioning the Trinity was particularly worrying. It was even whispered that the chaplain at Eton -- stronghold of orthodoxy -- preached that the Holy Spirit was not one person of the Godhead emanating from another, but "God's activity in the world". Archbishop Laud rarely referred to the Brethren in a steady voice, but usually heaped on them epithets such as "those damnable and cursed heretics".
A certain Daniel Featley, burgess of Southwark, annoyed by the worship in a small meeting-house of the Brethren near his home and unable to contain his displeasure at their disgusting rite of immersion, published a ferocious diatribe "The Dippers Dipt". Nicholas Chewney, a provincial, supplied further information in his "Cage of Unclean Birds". This work, extremely popular in its day -- copies are still to be found on some old rectory bookshelves is a travesty of scholarship, unreasonable in tone and full of outrageous and unproven allegations, yet it had a considerable influence in presenting to conforming Anglican clergy a brand image of the Brethren which persisted for a very long time.
Not all works published by the Brethren or their sympathisers were free from aggressiveness. There was, for example, Paul Best's tract:
"Mysteries Discovered; pointing out the way from Babylon to the Holy City, for the good of all such as, during the night of general error and apostacy, have been misled with Rome's hobgoblins."
The somewhat fiery challenge of Best's tract is partly explained by the circumstances of its composition. Best was a Yorkshireman, scion of the squire of Emswell near Driffield. He had a distinguished career at Jesus College, Cambridge in mathematics and poetry. He then proceeded to travel widely in Europe, traversing Germany and Poland. In Transylvania he became a convert of the Brethren. On his return he confided his changed views to a Cambridge friend, who promptly betrayed him. His quarters were raided and he was arrested. On February 14, 1645, he was brought to Westminster for trial, and appeared several times before a committee of Parliament. He "persisted in his errors" and so was left to languish indefinitely in confinement. The House in fact seemed to have been considerably embarrassed both by Best's theological astuteness and by his dignity, and it postponed conviction again and again. It was to provoke some action that Best composed his inflammatory tract. One surviving copy of Best's tract, located by the present author, has Milton's own handwritten notes on it; most were burnt.
Contemporary with Best was John Biddle, whose case has already been considered. Reference here, however can be made to the small groups of Brethren who continued Biddle's work after his death. Revered leader and guide of one such group which "went underground" after the Conventicle Act of 1664 was John Cooper. Born in Worcester and fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, Cooper became headmaster of the same school in Gloucester as Biddle himself. Originally an Anglican, he was ejected from a vicarate at Cheltenham with some violence. He was constitutionally delicate, "always composed and grave, but of a most sweet and obliging temper and conversation", but abuses from louts and ruffians broke his health and undoubtedly shortened his life. In a letter concerning the visit of a brother from Poland, Henry Hedworth, a member of the London congregation, makes a reference to Cooper, dying at 43, in somewhat flowery terms:
"His great infirmities have now prevailed to deprive him of the light of the sun and us of the beams of his resplendent soul and countenance. His years and temperance promised us longer life; his sweetness of conversation, parts and virtues made him desirable and useful to all. My day in him seems to be obscured and my spring turned into autumn."
Hedworth had first met the Brethren in the Netherlands and through many difficult years guided an "ecclesia" in London until his death as an old man in the terrible winter 1705. His will includes the following:
"In the acknowledgement of the Most High God, the God and Father, the Only True God, and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent to be the Saviour of the World, I commit myself to that my God through that Jesus Christ the Son of God, in the firm hope of the remission of sins, resurrection and eternal life."
The same will mentions Christopher and Samuel Crell, members of a family prominent at the Rakow college, and Hopton Haynes, a close friend of Sir Isaac Newton.
Sir Isaac Newton
This leads to consideration of Sir Isaac himself, without question one of the most brilliant minds the human race has ever produced. His true greatness lay, however, not in his vast scientific erudition and perception, but in his deep and genuine humility. Though he could see a vast world of science opening up for man's ingenuity to utilise, yet as his own immense knowledge of the universe grew, it brought increasing conviction of the Divine and increasing reverence. It has even been suggested in biographies of Newton -- those that show ignorance of his religious writings -- that his religious interests coincided with periods of mental unbalance, Nothing could be further from the truth, as the painstaking work of scholars at Manchester College, Oxford has clearly shown.
To Sir Isaac religious faith was not only one of the facts of the universe to be studied along with all other phenomena but in a sense the greatest of them, since through it was distilled an ultimate and eternal relevance without which the music of the spheres was but so much sound and vanity. As one scholar has stated, the Christian faith aroused in Newton "the highest effort of his intellect and
industry". He wrote in the region of a million words on religious topics, much of it on the highest level of scholarship. He sifted through early Christian and patristic sources, bringing to bear his acute critical qualities of intellect. He produced studies such as "Paradoxical Questions concerning the morals and actions of Athanasius and his followers", in which he shatters any illusion that theological honesty was the keynote of the fourth-century church councils; "Twenty-Two Queries regarding the word 'Homoousios'"; and perhaps most noteworthy of all, his unpublished "Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture", which dealt with corruptions of the text of the New Testament in the same period in the interests of trinitarianism.
Newton lived for a time in a house situated in a lane behind the National Gallery in London. Next door was a small meeting-house -- it is still there and in use - which has an interesting history. Originally a Huguenot refuge, it seems to have been used in Newton's time by a congregation of Brethren and Newton himself appears to have had some connection with it. Sir Isaac disliked controversy, and the great majority of his religious writings were never published for fear of the furore which would certainly have ensued. To his contemporaries he appeared a rather vaguely nominal Anglican, but to a close-circle of friends, several of whom were either active Brethren or sympathisers, and in his writings, he emerges as a convinced student of the Scriptures after the manner of the Brethren, a powerful expositor and adherent of their principles and an assiduous reader of their literature. His own voluminous writings on prophetic and chronological matters bear as much the impress of Brenius and the Rakow professors as they do the influence of Joseph Mede of Cambridge.
Repressive Government measures in Britain in the interests of established uniformity made any public witness on the part of the Brethren very difficult and naturally few records survive. For many years there was an active congregation in Coleman Street, London and others in the West Midlands. A very wealthy London merchant and philanthropist, Thomas Firmin, though never completely severing his connection with the state church, gave much aid to the Brethren, generously assisting exiles from Poland both in Britain and elsewhere. In days more tolerant he would no doubt have been a member, although he never hid his sympathy with the movement.
He lived at Morden, Surrey, and his tombstone in the churchyard, there lauds his benevolence but discreetly omits reference to his heterodox beliefs.
John Locke, the famous philosopher and "apostle of toleration", friend of Newton and many Brethren, became convinced that their approach to the Christian religion was the only reasonable one. His library contained a great number of their works, indeed virtually all their major German and Polish authors. He made a precis of Volkel's De vera Religione which is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. His little-known essay, "The Reasonableness of Christianity", was his apology on their behalf and the following passages from it show how deeply he had imbued their spirit:
"All men are mortal, and come to die. This is so clear that nobody can deny; only they differ about the signification of the word 'death'; for some will have it to be a state of guilt, wherein not only he but all his posterity was so involved, that everyone descended of him deserved endless torment in hell fire. But it seems a strange way of understanding a law, which requires the plainest and directest words, that by death should be meant eternal life in misery. Could any one be supposed, by a law that says 'For stealing thou shalt die', not that he should lose his life, but be kept alive in perpetual, exquisite torments? And would any one think himself fairly dealt with who was so used? I must confess that by death here I can understand nothing but a ceasing to be, the losing of all actions of life and sense.
"By man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead. Whereby it appears that the life, which Jesus Christ restores to men, is that life which they receive at the resurrection. Then they recover from death, which all mankind should have remained under, lost for ever, as appears by Paul's arguing in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the resurrection. Christ will bring men to life again, and then shall they be put everyman upon his own trial, and receive judgement, as he is found to be righteous or not. And the righteous, as our Saviour says, Matthew 25:46, shall go into eternal life. The punishment of those who would not follow him is to lose their souls, i.e. their lives, Mark 8:35-38, as is plain.
PHOTO OF JOHN LOCKE'S NOTES
John Locke's notes on Volkel's De Vera Religione. This book and many others from the Polish Brethren formed part of Locke's extensive personal library (Photo: Bodleian Library, Oxford)
"God nevertheless, out of His infinite mercy, willing to bestow eternal life on mortal man, sent Jesus Christ into the world; who, being conceived (by the immediate power of God) in the womb of a virgin that had not known man, was properly the Son of God. God, therefore, out of His mercy to mankind, and for the erecting of the kingdom of His Son, and furnishing it with subjects out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, proposed to the children of men, that as many of them as would believe Jesus His Son to be the Messiah, the promised deliverer, and would receive him as their king and ruler, should have all their past sins, disobedience and rebellion forgiven them. So believing, it was further required that those, who would have the privilege, advantage and deliverance of his kingdom, should by baptism be made citizens, and solemnly incorporated into that kingdom, live as subjects obedient to the laws of it. This is the law by which men shall be judged at the last day.
"He did not expect, 'tis true, a perfect obedience, void of slips and falls: he knew our make, and the weakness of our condition too well, and was sent with a supply for that defect. But that Christ requires obedience, sincere obedience, is evident from the laws he himself delivers (unless he can be supposed to give and inculcate laws, only to have them disobeyed) and from the sentence he will pass when he comes to judge. At which time, they shall all appear at his tribunal, to receive every one his doom from the mouth of this righteous judge of all men. Matthew 16:27: 'For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father, with his angels: and then shall he reward every man according to his works'.
"This faith in the promises of God, this relying and acquiescing in His word and faithfulness, the Almighty takes well at our hands, as a great mark of homage paid by us poor frail creatures to His goodness and truth. The works of nature show His wisdom and power, but 'tis His peculiar care of mankind, most eminently discovered in His promises to them, that shows His bounty and goodness; and constantly engages their hearts in love and affection to Him. We have an example in Abraham whose 'faith was counted for righteousness', that he was called the 'friend of God'; the highest and most glorious title that can be bestowed on a creature."
Locke expressed his own outlook thus:
"I take the rule of my faith and life from Jesus' will, declared and left on record in the inspired writings of the apostles and evangelists in the New Testament, which I endeavour, to the utmost of my power, as is my duty, to understand in their true sense and meaning."
A Typical "Ecclesia"
Through the eyes of the 18th century French Romanist Bernard Picart(3) we can glimpse a typical "ecclcsia" of Brethren at that period. Commenting that even thieves and robbers must have rules, he describes their church order, referring particularly to the fact that the qualifications for deacons are "good sense, a good conscience and tried fidelity" rather than learning. He considers their rite of baptism almost scandalous:
. "They think that no one can receive it unless he is able to know the difference betwixt truth and falsehood, to know God, and embrace the Christian doctrine by choice; besides which, they require piety and devotion, a humble sentiment of their unworthiness. Baptism itself is conferred, by immersion, in a clear running water. He puts one hand on the head, the other on the chin of the baptised, and thus dips them. A canticle is sung and the whole concludes with a prayer. By this baptism all these faithful become and are owned as members of the Christian antitrinitarian church. The day after they receive the Communion with suitable exhortations and acts of devotion.
"The only place of communion is the church, the most proper time Sunday morning, it being a day set apart for piety and prayer, in brotherly union; the rest of the day may be employed in meditations on, and thanksgiving for, the benefits which God is pleased to bestow upon us. Their discipline allows that in a long distemper, when the infirm person earnestly desires to pay homage to Christ by this ceremony, an assembly may be held at his house."
We are introduced to a typical Sunday morning breaking of bread. A long table covered with a clean cloth provides the focal
(3) This document, brittle and yellow with age, was found by the author in a London basement bookstore and purchased for one shilling. It failed to survive his brief handling.
point of the room. Bread and an empty chalice rest on it. The Brethren enter and take their places around the table. The service is one of great simplicity. After hymns and readings and exhortation, an appointed one of the number stands and taking the bread gives thanks and passes it to the rest. He pours wine into the chalice or cup and passes it around, taking it last himself, seating himself to do so in order to emphasise that he is neither greater or less than they. A "canticle" is then sung in imitation of the twelve at the Last Supper.
Picart provides an interesting insight into the marriage ceremony as conducted by the Brethren. They "disallow" marriages with those not in their faith, and have no place for "immodesty, excess and vanity" at either engagements or weddings. On the wedding day the couple appear quietly among their brethren and sisters. The presiding elder asks them to stand, and he then reads a portion of Scripture. This he follows by an explanatory discourse. The couple then solemnly "make to each other the usual promises", the elder joining their right hands and placing his hand on theirs. Then they exchange rings which - seemingly to Picart's surprise, since he italicises this passage -- are "made of purest gold, no joints or separations appear in them and their round figure admits no beginning or ending. Excellent types of the union and constancy of the married couple! Dancing, singing and fiddles are strictly prohibited at weddings as being only incentives to uncleanness."
On the whole our reverend French informant is not unfair in regard to the practice of the Brethren, though their objection to war would make them "useless to governments": "we cannot help commending", he says, "at least their moderation and seemingly charitable condescension." There is one comment of his which is particularly interesting: his reference to the origin of the community of the Brethren in "the sixteenth age (century), and the astonishing progress it has made through Europe". This coming from a priest in the 1730's, when persecution had extinguished many of their assemblies and reduced them to a thinly-spread, fugitive and poorly-organised remnant, is quite astonishing. Their underground influence, moreover, he sees as even more sinister and pervasive.
It is certain that there were, as Picart feared, many "hidden heretics", for what could not be done by overt ways in the sight of the sun by regular assemblies, could be done surreptitiously by those whose consciences were not those of martyrs. In fact the faith
of the Brethren was, during the 18th century, far greater as a distinct and subtle influence upon other denominations than as an organised sect itself. It profoundly influenced the Unitarians, who went much further in rationalising Christianity; it undergirded the millenarianism of Bengel in Germany and John Robertson in England and provided the initial impetus for the whole Adventist movement which gained prominence in the early 19th century. Some communities of Brethren did actually survive almost unmodified throughout the 18th century, both in Europe and the New World. An Edinburgh tract of 1791 refers to "certain independent congregations", presumably in Scotland and identifies the following as being some of their characteristic beliefs:
1. Man is mortal and has no immortal soul.
2. The dead sleep with their fathers until the morning of the resurrection, when Jesus will judge the living and dead.
3. The Word, an attribute of Deity, was so united to Christ, as to be the principle of all his wisdom and wonderful works.
4. The wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction and annihilation.
5. It is absurd to believe that Jesus "sustained the wrath of God". He rather died as a supreme example of obedience. It is that obedience, not his literal blood, which saves us. He was sinless morally, but this perfection was the result of deep struggle, not of immaculate nature.
6. "The corruptions of the heart are the only devils".
The existence of such congregations of Brethren in lowland Scotland at the threshold of the 19th century is most significant, since this area was one in which the same faith put down new roots in the 19th century.
The Hope of Israel
The earliest American testimony to the characteristic Christadelphian view of the Gospel as being the "Hope of Israel", and a development of the covenant God made with Abraham, would seem to be in the writings of Joshua Spalding who was acquainted with George Washington. Copies of his published works are now exceedingly rare and viewed as collector's pieces by the American Antiquarians' Society. Although not considered famous enough to merit a place in the Dictionary of American Biography, at the time
Spalding seems to have had considerable influence. He frequently offended people by reminding them that they were like the beasts that perish, and that human nature is now basically depraved. In the I 790's he held a campaign in Salem, Mass., then one of the major towns of the United States. It consisted of a series of addresses on "The Coming Kingdom of Christ" and he personally describes the synopsis of this series thus:
"What will be the constitution of this world to come, which is the grand theme of all the prophets, what the nature of its kingdom, its heavenly power and transcendent glory."
The lectures were published and created a typical furore of opposition among the dominant Calvinists. Some years later Spalding wrote rather sardonically, but truthfully:
"My opponents may affect to treat that book with indifference, but they have it not in their power fairly to answer the arguments therein adduced. No one has come forward publicly, to examine the sentiments supported in those lectures, and refute the copious proofs therein offered from the plain sense of the Scriptures."
His style was often rather tortuous and complex and has not the warm sparkle of Hubmaicr or the cool logic of Stegman. But the following is clear enough:
"The world to come, of which all the prophets have spoken, and which is the express object of all the promises and the grand article of the faith of the just, will be in all respects a new world. It will be as really the world of man as was that before the flood or as the world that now is. It will be composed of a heavens and an earth, of cities and countries and rulers and subjects, and of everything necessary to constitute a proper world and kingdom.
"Some have supposed because this country is called an heavenly, and its city is the heavenly Jerusalem, that it must be the world of spirits above. But when the Scriptures are carefully compared, it will appear beyond controversy that this 'world to come' is called an 'heavenly' because it is put in subjection to the Lord from heaven, subject to the high authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"It is acknowledged by all that the land of Canaan was shown to Abraham as the promises named to him in the promise, bounded by the Euphrates and the River of Egypt.
"Psalm 37:9; Matthew 5:5: the meek shall inherit the earth. This cannot be understood of the present world, for it is not worth inheriting. And it cannot be better explained by supposing that this world is pointed to as a figure of heaven; for what propriety could there be in using this dunghill world as a figure of celestial mansions above? But there is no obscurity as to this subject in the Scriptures. See Isaiah 45:17; 46:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:I; Heb.11. The world to come, its realms and its Lord, has ever been the grand object of faith.
"The resurrection of both the just and unjust will take place. The dust of believers, being united to Christ, will be quickened and raised up by the glorious appearing of the Sun of Righteousness, as a seed possessing the principle of life is excited and springs up under the genial influence of moisture and heat. Thus the prophet describes the hope of the resurrection in Isaiah 26:19.
"Watch ye therefore and pray always ..."
The exceedingly rare work from which the above is taken -- "The Divine Theory" - - is chronological rather than thematic in its treatment of the Gospel, dealing first with the Creation, the fall, through the promises made to Abraham and David, to the Kingdom of God in the future. This departure from the general convention of the Brethren, whose thematic approach often followed the doctrinal order of the apostles' creed, was continued later by John Thomas in Elpis Israel and by other Christadelphian writers. Spalding is of considerable interest in that he revived the consistent use of the term "Hope of Israel" to describe the New Testament anticipation of the reign of Christ on earth, and stressed for the first time in an elaborated form the importance of the promises and covenants made to Abraham and David as foundation blocks for understanding the doctrines of' the resurrection and Kingdom of God. Though referred to many times in earlier writings by the Polish Brethren particularly, the consequence of the fundamental covenants in the Old Testament had been assumed rather than been the starting point for sustained exposition.
One episode in the 18th century is of considerable interest, though its documentation is scanty. An abundantly whiskered Swiss by the name of Abraham Stemler, connected in some way with the Swiss Brethren, published a delightfully written millenarian work, "The Hope of a Better Time", about 1712. Carefully and
moderately reasoned, it drew a swift rejoinder from the Swiss Reformed establishment. Dr. Christoph Sonntag (clearly a pseudonym for a fanatical advocate of Sunday sabbatarianism!) wrote a "refutation" in flowery but uncompromising Latin. This document, now a fragile, yellowed tissue, is for some strange reason in the U.S. Library of Congress. Another publication, this time in England (copies also reached the U.S.) was that of Thomas Hartley in 1764 entitled "Of Christ's Glorious Reign on Earth -- A Testimony to the Doctrine of the Blessed Millennium, with some considerations on its approaching advent from the signs of the times", later republished as Paradise Restored. These are only two examples of many during the 18th century, but they are indicative of the fact that although the century has historically been considered "irreligious and thoroughly secularised", the salt had by no means entirely lost its savour.
All Books/Booklets, Editorials, and Articles are FREE and can be downloaded without permission.