Featley: The Sweet Dipper (Part 2)

In the first installment in this series, I tried to sketch a theological framework within which to consider one of the first Reformed responses to the new Particular Baptist movement. Next, we need to meet the players involved in the 1642 debate at Southwark, which Daniel Featley’s The Dippers Dipt narrates.

In this installment, we focus on the major Baptist figure present at the debate, William Kiffin (1616–1701).1 In the following installment, I will introduce you to Daniel Featley and to the text of the work.

Kiffin is worthy of attention, first because he was a central figure in the debate between Featley and the Baptists, but also because he was, as a nineteenth-century Baptist historian wrote, “FATHER OF THE PARTICULAR BAPTISTS.2 He played a “significant role” in the drafting of the London Confession of Faith (1644) and was the second signatory to the Second London Baptist Confession (1677) in 1689.3 By the late 1640s and early 1650s, Kiffin emerged as a spokesman for the “fledging Baptist movement.4 A nineteenth-century historian called Kiffin an “extraordinary” person in the Particular Baptist tradition.5 One anonymous writer called him the “ordained Mufti of all heretics and sectaries.6

Kiffin was born in England (though his surname is Welsh).7 His parents died of the plague in 1625, and in 1629 he was apprenticed to a glover.8 This was a hard life for a thirteen-year-old boy, but Parliament would not pass child labor laws for another two centuries.9 Two years later he ran away from his master. While he was free, he found himself in St Antholin’s Church.10 There, he heard a sermon by Thomas Foxley, which the Lord used to convict him that he should not have run away, and so he returned to his master.11 As a young man he heard some notable preachers in London, for example, Louis du Moulin (1606–80), the son of the famous French Reformed theologian Pierre du Moulin (1568–1658).12 It was the Arminian preacher/theologian John Goodwin (c. 1594–1665) whose preaching Kiffin credited as the instrument through which he came to faith.13 That same year (1631) he was meeting regularly in a conventicle (a small-group) for prayer and Bible study. As an orphan without a wealthy sponsor, theological education was impossible, but according to historians, Kiffin became “skilled” and “knowledgeable” in the Scriptures.14

Because of his Arminianism and perceived sympathies with aspects of Romanism, the appointment of William Laud (1573–1645) as Archbishop of Canterbury created something of a crisis for a number of people in the Church of England, and Kiffin was among those. By 1638 he separated from the Church of England for the “congregational way.15 The pastor of the congregation where he settled, Samuel Eaton (c.1596–1665), was in prison for his non-conformity, and young Kiffin was invited to preach.16 By 1642 he left the Congregationalists and joined the fledgling but apparently fast-growing Baptist movement.17 As mentioned, he was a framer of and signatory to the London Confession of 1644. Throughout the rest of the decade and into the early years of the next, he “emerged as a spokesman” for the movement.18 He also became an active writer opposing the radical Fifth Monarchy movement and John Bunyan’s practice of receiving at communion those who had only an infant baptism.19

Kiffin had what today we might call a remarkable tent-making ministry. The apprentice glover grew up to become a successful leather merchant. He not only became a member of the “Worshipful Company of Leathersellers,” the ancient guild, but eventually, in 1671, Master of the Leathersellers guild.20

He was so successful in business that he had leisure not only to conduct an ecclesiastical ministry, but also to be elected to Parliament and “sit” (English) or serve (American) as the member for Middlesex for two years (1656–58).21 He became an active supporter of the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War, donating horses and funds and even being made a “captain” and “Lieutenant Colonel” in the London Militia.22 He would use his wealth, connections, and influence to help win the release of some General Baptists (as distinct from the Particular Baptists, Kiffin’s wing of the movement), who had been arrested for participating in conventicles.23

His political activity earned him the wrath of his political opponents, and his house was raided in 1659 by General Monck, who had assumed control of the army after Oliver Cromwell’s death. Within the following three years he would endure being arrested, detained briefly, and then released three times.24 He was arrested again in 1684 after the Rye House Plot of 1683, fomented by “various London radicals” to assassinate Charles II.25 His son-in-law was wrongly accused of participating in the plot and narrowly escaped death.26 In 1672 the Declaration of Indulgence granted those who dissented from the Church of England freedom to preach and worship, and Kiffin obtained a license to preach.27

He outlived his son William (d. 1669), his daughter Priscilla (d. 1679), his wife Hanna (d. 1682), and two of his grandsons, who were put to death for participating in the failed Monmouth Rebellion (1685),28 in which James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (1649–85) and illegitimate son of Charles II, sought to take the throne in place of James II.29

His last years were as turbulent as the rest of his life. He remarried, but his new wife “ran afoul” of the congregation. In 1698 she was charged by the congregation of defrauding Kiffin of 200 and making a false accusation against him.30

Kiffin was as industrious ecclesiastically as he was in business and politics. Between 1644–60 he worked to gather and organize congregations into Baptist associations. He became a sort of superintendent of the new movement.31 His longest written work was his response to John Bunyan’s practice of admitting to communion those who had not been re-baptized or baptized as a believer.32

Notes

  1. Kiffin’s name is spelled differently by modern scholars. Michael A. G. Haykin and Samuel D. Renihan spell it as Kiffen, but Tom Nettles spells it Kiffin. A survey of his publications, in seventeenth-century editions, shows that his surname was spelled both Kiffin (e.g., A Briefe Remonstrance . . . [London, 1645]) and Kiffen (e.g., A Letter Sent to the Right Honorable . . . [London, 1659]). Since Early English Books use Kiffin, that is the spelling I use here. See Samuel David Renihan, “‘From Shadow to Substance.’ The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642–1704),” PhD diss., (Amsterdam: Free University, 2017), 90; Michael A. G. Haykin, “William Kiffen,” in Michael A. G. Haykin and Terry Wolever ed., The British Particular Baptists, vol. 1, A Series of Biographical Essays on Notable Figures, rev. ed. (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2019); Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming Baptist Identity, vol. 1, Beginnings in Britain (Ross-Shire, UK: Christian Focus, 2005), 129–45.
  2. Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists…4 vol. (London, 1811–30), 2.296 as quoted in Nettles, The Baptists, 1.129. Capitalization original.
  3. Haykin, “William Kiffen,” 155, 164 (hereafter, Haykin).
  4. Haykin, 156. As an outsider to the Baptist movement, it is interesting to note that, in his essay, Haykin writes of Calvinistic Baptists and Baptists (and once of General Baptists, which implies the existence of a Particular Baptist movement) but does not use the expression “Particular Baptist.” Nettles, however, writes freely of Particular Baptists. Neither, in their essays, uses the expression “Reformed Baptist.” Haykin does, however, strongly align the Particular Baptist movement with the Reformed when he writes that the Baptists “emerged in the seventeenth century from the womb of English Puritanism” (Haykin, 151), and that the First London Confession (1644) “demonstrated the solidarity of the Calvinistic Baptists with the Reformed community throughout Europe” (Haykin,155). These are interesting claims. What is the evidence that the Reformed churches of Europe—all of whom confessed a sharply different understanding of the history of redemption, the nature of the church, the nature of the covenant of grace, and the administration of holy baptism, and condemned the very view of baptism advocated by the Baptist “community” (to use Haykin’s word) in the strongest possible terms—saw the Particular Baptist movement as Reformed? The evidence would seem to be to the contrary. Featley’s response was typical of the Reformed response when he denounced the Particular Baptists as “Catabaptists.” This is not the language of a warm embrace by the Reformed of the Particular Baptists. Further, it is long past time to think critically of the expression “Calvinistic Baptist.” This is an oxymoron and an oversimplification of Calvin’s and Calvinist theology, piety, and practice, boiling it down simply to soteriology. Kiffin and the Particular Baptists were predestinarian and Protestant in their soteriology, orthodox in their doctrines of God, Man, and Christ, but their reading of redemptive history, and their doctrines of the church and sacraments were not Calvinistic. Did the Particular Baptists take up the Extra Calvinisticum? If so, how did they square that with their reading of redemptive history and their denial of the continuity of the covenant of grace? How can we call Baptists “Calvinistic” when Kiffin et al., were at pains, as both Haykin and Nettles demonstrate, to read John Bunyan out of the Particular Baptist movement for accepting to the Lord’s Table those who had been baptized as infants only. How can one be “Calvinistic” but refuse to admit Calvin to the table? Or how can one be “Calvinistic” and be unable to commune in St Pierre during Calvin’s ministry? The same sorts of questions and challenges apply to Nettles (The Baptists, 1.143), who says the Second London Confession (1677/1689) is “very similar, but not identical in all points, to the Westminster Confession of Faith.” On the differences see this series: R. Scott Clark, “1689 Versus The Westminster Confession: A Comparison And Contrast.”
  5. Haykin, 151.
  6. Haykin, 157. A mufti is a “Muslim legal expert empowered to give rulings on religious matters.” Oxford Dictionary of English, s.v. “Mufti.”
  7. The narrative—the play-by-play, if you will—that follows is heavily dependent upon the chapters by Haykin and Nettles cited above. I am responsible for the color commentary, as it were.
  8. A glover is a maker of leather gloves.
  9. See Heather Michon, “The History of Child Labor in England: From the Industrial Revolution to Reforms and Changing Attitudes,” The Economic Historian, March 25, 2024.
  10. St Antholin’s Budge Row dates to the twelfth century. It burned in the Great Fire in 1666 and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.
  11. Haykin, 152.
  12. On Pierre du Moulin, see Daniel Borvan, “Fighting for the Faith: Pierre du Moulin’s Polemic Quest,” DPhil thesis (Oxford: University of Oxford, 2020). On the Huguenots generally, see Daniel Borvan, On The Perseverance of the French Reformed Church (video); Borvan, Exiles on Main Street—Huguenots As A Christian Minority (video); Matthew Scott Harding, “A Voice Among the Restricted French Delegates of Dort: Pierre du Moulin on Providence and Predestination,” in Joel R. Beeke and Martin I. Klauber ed., The Synod of Dort: Historical, Theological, and Experiential Perspectives (Göttingen: V&R Publishing, 2020); Daniel Borvan, “Pierre du Moulin’s Use of Scripture and Tradition in the Arminian Controversy” in Beeke and Klauber, ed., The Synod of Dort.
  13. Haykin, 153. Do not confuse the Arminian John Goodwin for the Reformed theologian Thomas Goodwin (1600–80).
  14. Haykin, 153.
  15. Haykin, 154.
  16. Haykin, 154. For more on Samuel Eaton, see “Eaton, Samuel,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, ed. James Strong and John McClintock (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1880).
  17. Haykin, 155–56.
  18. Haykin, 156. Haykin, in this essay, only once, and then implicitly, distinguishes between kinds of Baptists. Often he writes of “the Baptists.” The implication seems to be that, in at least some respects, Kiffin’s leadership extended beyond the Particular Baptist wing of the movement.
  19. Haykin, 157–58; 162; Nettles, The Baptists, 1.139–41.
  20. Haykin, 160.
  21. Haykin, 159.
  22. Haykin, 159.
  23. Haykin, 160. Baptists in America who are tempted by Christian Nationalism might do well to pay attention to the experience of Baptists in England and in the American colonies before they rush headlong toward trying to establish a theocracy.
  24. Haykin, 159.
  25. Haykin, 163. The Rye House Plot was so called because some “republicans” plotted to murder “Charles II and his brother James duke of York as they passed the Rye House near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire on their return from Newmarket to London in March 1683. This was to be followed by risings in London and elsewhere.” Doreen J. Milne, “The Results of the Rye House Plot and Their Influence upon the Revolution of 1688: The Alexander Prize Essay,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 1 (1959): 91.
  26. Haykin, 164.
  27. Haykin, 161.
  28. Haykin, 164.
  29. See Mark Cartwright, “Monmouth RebellionWorld History Encyclopedia, September 6, 2022.
  30. Haykin, 164.
  31. Nettles, The Baptists, 1.133.
  32. Nettles, The Baptists, 1.138.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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4 comments

  1. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for this article. In your research, was there any variation in response from the Reformed to the Particular Baptist movement? I have heard that those of the Congregational way were more sympathetic or tolerant (I’m not sure the correct word choice) of those in the Particular Baptist movement than those of Presbyterian or Episcopal convictions. Wasn’t Featly one of the Episcopalians at the Westminster Assembly?

    At the very least, Thomas Goodwin was willing to have William Kiffin write an ‘Epistle to the Reader’ for his book ‘A Glimpse of Sions Glory’ (1641). Certainly this highlights some level of mutual respect as well as some form of fellowship between these leaders of the ‘Congregationall Way’ (the term used by Kiffin in his ‘Epistle’), whether they were baptistic or not. Goodwin’s is another Reformed response (different than Featley’s) to Kiffin, though his response isn’t one of polemics but one of collaboration. Featley deserves to be heard as well, but so do other Reformed responses to the burgeoning Particular Baptist movement. Without knowing, I would assume the overwhelming majority of the Reformed responded to the PB movement in a way much more akin to Featley than to Goodwin. At the same time, there were key Reformed pastors and theologians in England (those of the Congregationall Way) who had a tendency to have friendlier relations with the churches and leaders of the Particular Baptist movement.

    Anyway, that was just something I think adds a bit of nuance to the discussion when we talk about the typical Reformed response to the early Particular Baptists. I think it pertinent to the discussion to ask, “Which Reformed response? The Reformed who were episcopalians (like Featly)? The Reformed who were presbyterian? Or the Reformed who were of the ‘Congregational way?” I stand to be corrected, but my impression is that the Reformed who preferred Episcopal or Presbyterian polity took a much more polemical stance against the Particular Baptists than did the Reformed of the ‘Congregational way’ who resided in England (not New England!).

    Thanks again!
    Spencer

    • Spencer,

      You make fair points but I have very friendly relations with lots of Baptists—I worship in a Baptist congregation probably once or twice a year—but that doesn’t mean that I accept their congregations as true churches or that they accept my Baptism. I can say both at the same time.

      As a matter of history, the congregational churches were the primary proximate source of the Baptist movement. Both wanted pure, separated churches. Both had highly realized eschatologies. It was congregationalists who went to the Netherlands and connected with the Mennonites and then brought back what was, in many cases, just the next logical step of their eschatology & ecclesiology: we’ll make a pure church in this life (so long as the ministers/elders making the judgement as to who is regenerate are infallible!) by barring infants from the visible church until they can give evidence of regeneration.

      Yes, I’ve the sense that the congregationalists were less hostile to the Baptists. Robert Baillie, the Scottish Presbyterian, laid at the foot of the congregationalists all manner of evils. Owen became friendly with the Baptists, while never becoming a Baptist or agreeing with their reading of redemptive history.

      Being friendly isn’t the same thing as acknowledging Baptist congregations as Reformed churches.

      • Dr. Clark wrote: “Yes, I’ve the sense that the congregationalists were less hostile to the Baptists.”

        You sense correctly. (Speaking as a person who was baptized as a Congregationalist and spent most of my adult life in the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.)

        Two cautions:

        1. Baptists will often minimize this connection, pointing out (correctly) that the New England Puritans did in fact for a while try to shut down Baptist churches in New England. My response: Yes, it happened. It also stopped. Eventually New England Congregationalism decided that Baptists should be tolerated — which was a whole lot better than most of what was being done to Baptists at that time in most of Europe.

        2. Especially in the early days, and also with the modern self-described “Reformed Baptist” movement, not all Baptists were the same and the Congregationalists understood that. Dr. Clark notes that many Baptists will deny that “they accept my Baptism.” He’s right. Modern Congregationalists will react differently to 1) a Baptist who prefers to postpone baptism until profession but says a person who was baptized as an infant should not be rebaptized than 2) to a Baptist who requires rebaptism of people previously baptized as babies.

        I live outside Fort Leonard Wood in the rural Ozarks where the Reformed faith is all but unknown, and where the Baptists, the charismatics, the Churches of Christ and all manner of nondenominational evangelicals all argue against each other, but almost nobody baptizes babies.

        I’ve been called a “half-Catholic baby baptizer” by some people around here. Most people would say I can’t join their church without rebaptism, which is entirely legitimate and I respect that. But I’ve also been told by at least one church that while I’m in error on infant baptism, that shouldn’t bar me from membership or even leadership in that church.

        The word “Baptist” doesn’t always indicate how a church views people baptized as babies, so when we see Congregationalists in history being sympathetic or patient toward “Baptists,” we need to ask whether those “Baptists” were advocating rebaptism or merely advocating a delay in baptism but would say baptism, once administered, should not be repeated.

        Those are two different issues and need to be dealt with differently.

        This isn’t just an isolated small church. One of the most prominent Reformed Baptist churches in my state will not only accept people into membership who were baptized as babies, but even allow them to teach in the church, though they cannot hold office. I seriously question whether a person who calls himself a Baptist but will accept people baptized as babies into membership and allow them to teach is a Baptist at all. Perhaps we should call such a person a “Bunyanite” (it was apparently John Bunyan’s position, and is part of why John Owen, as Dr. Clark points out, was friendly with him). But at least for now, the self-described “Reformed Baptists” are accepted by Baptists as being Baptists, so we need to recognize that there’s a diversity within the Baptist world on how to handle those baptized as babies, and that should affect how we react to different kinds of Baptists.

  2. Baptists take the concept of baptismal validity even further than who should be baptized; it’s about the mode itself. In many circles, a baptism MUST be full immersion in order to be considered valid. If a baptism was administered through pouring or dipping, the prospective member must be re-baptized by immersion to join the visible church.

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