Aug 11, 2009

The Old Baptist Debaters

John T. Christian wrote (emphasis mine):

"The Baptists of the middle part of the seventeenth century were controversialists. They were compelled to debate. The Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Brownists and Independents agreed with each other only in one particular of hating the Baptists."

"Various methods were adopted," says Goadby, "for removing this general dislike, and answering the wicked accusations made against them. They issued pamphlets in defense of their opinions. They subscribed to numerous Confessions of Faith. They were ready, in season and out of season, to meet their opponents. They challenged them to public disputations; now in London, now in the country. Ordinary buildings proved too small and inconvenient for the excited and eager crowds who attended these disputations; and the largest accommodation being afforded by the parish church, to the parish church they commonly hurried. The occasion of these discussions was often fierce opposition of local clergymen, but was sometimes the uneasy consciences on the subject of baptism of some members of the congregations. The victory, as in all such public discussions, was usually claimed by both sides. The disputations themselves illustrate the habits and the ferment of a former age" (Goadby, By-Paths in Baptist History, p. 139)."

"The report of the debates were usually published by the opponents of the Baptists. There was large room for partiality and unfairness. These one sided accounts were published often with marginal commentaries, and one at least published a scandalous frontispiece which depicted fifteen different sorts of Anabaptists.

The first of these debates occurred in 1641 between Dr. Featley and four Particular Baptists. It was "somewhere in Southwark," probably in the parish church. Sir John Lenthall was present, "with many knights, ladies and gentlemen." There were also present some of the illiterate sort, Upon whom Dr. Featley looked with disdain. The discussion was held in the year that Charles I. had broken with Parliament. Two months before it began the royal standard was unfurled at Nottingham, and a week after it had closed Charles fought his first battle.

The disputants were hardly fairly matched. Dr. Featley was a veteran debater, and had won many encounters with the Jesuits. His intimate friend had said the Catholics "contemned him for that he was low of stature, yet admired him for his ready answers and shrewd distinctions." Yet this friend of thirty-seven years had found him "meek, gracious, affable, merciful." This would not be suspected from reading this debate. In European seminaries he was regarded as "the Sagacious and Ardent" Doctor.

His opponents were four Baptists. One of them was described as "a Scotchman," another was called "Cuffin." This was none other than William Kiffin, for two years past the pastor of Devonshire Baptist Church. He was now only thirty six years of age, and yet had before him fifty-nine years of pastoral and checkered life. Of the other two disputants there is no information.

The version of the debate as given by Featley is a long drawn out rambling discussion on baptism. Featley was insulting, but not convincing. At the conclusion, says Featley, "it grew late, and the Conference broke off." Featley was self-complacent. He says:

"The issue of the Conference was, first, the Knights, ladies and gentle men gave the doctor great thanks, secondly, three of the Anabaptists went away discontented, the fourth seemed in part satisfied, and desired a second meeting; but the next day, conferred with the rest of that sect, he altered his resolution, and neither he, nor any other of that sect ever since that day troubled the doctor, or any other minister in this borough with a second challenge."

Featley’s version of the debate was published two years and one-half after the debate under the title: The Dippers Dipt, or, the Anabaptists duck’d and plung’d over head and ears. at a Disputation in Southwark, London, 1645. The debate was not printed until Featley was in prison suspected of being a spy. The most exciting political events had in the meantime taken place, and all recollection of the debate had passed from the mind of "the auditors." While in prison he had a debate with Henry Denne, who was there for preaching the word. He arid (sic) Denne debated the issues at stake in baptism. The result was that on January 10, 1644, Featley printed his book. In a little less than a month Denne had his reply under the title of Antichrist Unmasked. Samuel Richardson took up the challenge and gave Featley a severe handling in a book entitled: Some Brief Considerations on Dr. Featley’s Book. With a chuckle Richardson says:

"The knights and ladies thanked him, but he cannot say he deserved it. The Anabaptists went away discontented and grieved. It seems they were sorrowful to see his great blindness and hardness of heart. He saith, none of them ever after that troubled him; it seems they could do him no good, and so they resolved to leave him to GOD till he should please to open his eyes."

Many and notable were the debates of the period. The Presbyterians now being in power tried to dismiss the subject of baptism. But debates would not down. A great debate, between Richard Baxter and John Tombes occurred at Bewdley, January 1, 1649. The debate continued throughout the day until intermission until the disputants were exhausted. Both sides claimed the victory; but Wood declares: "That all the scholars then and there present who knew the way of disputing and managing arguments, did conclude that Tombes got the better of Baxter by far."

(A History of the Baptists, chapter 18, by John T. Christian)

See here

No comments: