Baptists and the ‘Doctrines of Grace’

Calvinism was another source of contention within the Baptist movement from the early stages of Baptist history. As Baptist congregations began to mature, a theological distinction arose between General and Particular Baptists. “The General Baptists, following the leadership of John Smyth and his successor Thomas Helwys, subscribed to Arminian interpretations, which viewed God’s grace as broad or general, hence the label. Others, however, became known as Particular Baptists, having adopted a limited view of the atonement, a view that ultimately came to predominate among Baptists in England” (Baptist Life, p. 25).

In the seventeenth century, there were a number of prominent Particular Baptist leaders: Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, Hohn Spilsbery, Henry Jessey, and John Bunyan. “The two London Confessions actually represent the theological commitments of Particular Baptists nationwide during this period, the 1689 Confession having been signed by representatives from more than 107 churches all over England and Wales” (By His Grace, p. 29). A commitment to Baptist theology that was Calvinistic in nature was carried on throughout the eighteenth and into the twentieth centuries by men like Joseph Stennet, Samuel Medley, John Hirst, and C.H. Spurgeon.

In Colonial America, there were divisions taking place among many of the Baptist churches as well. The most basic division was between the Arminian and Calvinist wings. Brackney observes, “Until the mid-eighteenth century the General Baptists were more numerous in New England and the Southern colonies than the Particular Baptists, while the Particular Baptists probably were in the majority in the Middle Colonies, especially around Philadelphia and southern New Jersey where they organized the first Calvinistic association in 1707” (Baptist Life, p. 97). Prominent religious leaders from Rhode Island—Roger Williams, John Clarke, and Obadiah Holmes—were faithful proponents of the Doctrines of Grace (By His Grace, p. 40). As early as 1639, a Particular Baptist church existed within Colonial America.

In his massive tome, By His Grace and for His Glory, Dr. Nettles presents us with a very important historical thesis: that the doctrines of grace formed a theological consensus among Baptists in the Southern states from the mid-nineteenth century into the first quarter of the twentieth century. Dr. Nettles goes on to support his thesis with 400 pages of historical documentation. In fact, the first Baptist church established in the South was Calvinistic in theology (the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina). “In 1905 F.H. Kerfoot could still say, ‘Nearly all Baptists believe what are usually termed the doctrines of grace’” (By His Grace, p. 50).


3 responses to this post.

  1. Caleb –
    Great essays…

  2. Jerry,

    Thanks for the gracious words!


  3. Caleb,

    I have really enjoyed this series. Thanks for you work.


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