WE come now to give a narrative of the treatment the Baptists met with from their neighbors and countrymen at their first rise among us, and for a considerable time after, and some instances to the present time, they were stigmatized with every name that malice could invent -- the general term of reproach with which the preachers and Baptist people were clothed, was that of new-light -- so soon as any person frequented meeting, appeared serious, and began to cultivate an acquaintance with the scriptures, it was reported such an one was going to turn new-light; we suppose what gave rise to this name, was the doctrines taught by the Baptists, viz: the necessity of regeneration -- the having natural darkness, ignorance and stupidity removed from the mind, by the illumination of rich grace from the God of light, and a revelation of Christ as the only way to God, the slaying the enmity of the heart, the bringing down every exalted imagination -- and leading the soul to depend on the righteousness of Christ alone for justification and acceptance before God, and a capacity given to the understanding to conceive of spiritual things -- these were strange things; but although new light was intended as a term of reproach, it occasioned many to go and hear, and as faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. -- Upon hearing many got under deep concern and smote their breasts, saying, What shall we do to be saved? the language was, these preachers bring strange things to our ears. It is wonderful the devil, though of angelic form, of superior capacity, and that improved by an intimate acquaintance with man for so many thousand years -- the experience he has gained -- in knowing what temptation is most likely to succeed with the carnal mind -- please sensual appetites, and establish the kingdom of darkness among men -- that he should so far overshoot himself, and influence the children of his kingdom in fixing reproachful names on others which in the event terminates much in the overthrow of his kingdom, and the entire loss of many of his much admired and faithful subjects.
The new-lights were charged with being disturbers of the peace, that they had occasioned uneasiness and disquietude in the minds of the people, when there was no necessity for it, and that such a people ought to be treated with contempt, ridiculed and disgraced, and all that keep company with them. This charge was mere wind, and could not be substantiated, for all the while the Baptists were behaving peaceably -- professing and preaching the king of peace -- advocating the cause of the gospel of peace, and the promotion of the spiritual kingdom of peace in the world. But what produced this calumny was, the religion of Christ revealed in the gospel was not suited to the carnal mind; the mortification and self-denial that characterized the followers of Christ, could not agree with their manner of life -- and therefore rather than part with sin and their sensual gratifications, they chose to find fault with the religion of Jesus, and ridicule the gospel, and count concern about futurity unnecessary -- that the great creator is a God of mercy, and never made anybody to be lost, we shall have peace though we add drunkenness to thirst, and walk in all the imaginations of our hearts.
The cant word was, they are an ignorant illiterate set -- and of the poor and contemptible class of the people. Now if the learned, the wealthy, and those of great parentage had made pretensions to religion we might suppose there was some reality in it. These reflections were of great use to young converts, and greatly confirmed them that they were right -- for in like manner the wicked ridiculed the Lord Jesus and His followers in primitive times -- they said of the Saviour, As for this fellow we know not whence He is -- asserted He was a friend of publicans and sinners -- that He was of low parentage, being the son of Joseph the carpenter, and His brethren poor -- and they were offended in Him. They like-wise at His followers, and declared they knew not the law, and were an accursed people. It was not the rulers that believed when Jesus Christ preached His own gospel -- it was the poor the gospel proved effectual to, and the common heard Him gladly, while the wise and prudent were left to judicial blindness; it is God's work to reveal salvation to the soul -- and this He can easily do, at His own pleasure, to the weakest of the human race, unassisted by human learning, and abundantly enrich their minds with spiritual ideas, which is impossible for any person to acquire, though acquainted with all the different languages in use in the world, and though they understood all the arts and sciences taught by man.
They were charged with design -- the vain supposition was that if the Baptists could succeed, and have a large increase of converts to their party -- when once they supposed themselves sufficiently strong, that they would fall on their fellow subjects, massacre the inhabitants and take possession of the country. Groundless and stupid as this conjecture was, it was spoken of from one to the other, until many of the old bigots would feel their tempers inflamed, and their blood run, quick in their veins, and declare they would take up arms and destroy the new-lights. How much this resembled primitive times, when the gospel was preached in the land of Judea -- the Jews being under the Romish yoke, and tributary to Caesar, but were favored with some privileges -- but as their hearts stood opposed to God, and they determined to reject Christ. They brought this forward as an excuse that if they countenanced Christ, Caesar would be offended, and conclude they had an intention to revolt and cast off his yoke, and take protection under Christ as a rival of Caesar's. -- This would raise his resentment and exasperate the Romans in general -- and Caesar will send his army and take our inheritance, and destroy our nation.
Another charge exhibited was, that they were schismatics, and this passage of scripture often cited, mark them which cause divisions among you contrary to the doctrine ye have learned, and avoid them -- this was supposed to apply to the Baptists, because some dissented from the high church and joined the Baptist meeting.
But, unhappy for our accusers, they had never learned doctrine; they were unacquainted with the articles of the Church, of which they professed themselves members; and many when asked about their articles could give no account of them, or in what book they were contained. The pursuit after the knowledge of religious subjects was neglected and lay foreign from the people prior to the Baptists coming among us, and after, when the doctrine contained in those articles was cited, it was supposed to be new-light doctrine, and of course ought to be rejected. It was a time when gross darkness covered the minds of the people, and gave an opportunity for prejudice to act in its full strength without the least control. When we consider the look back to the times of ignorance, before gospel light shone on our inhabitants, and then take a view of the good effects produced by the gospel (as the means) it is truly wonderful -- this ancient prophecy is accomplished, and desert is become a fruitful field -- and where they were not the Lord's people, in the same place appears the children of the living God.
Another complaint brought forward with marks of distress, that if the Baptists were suffered to go on, and succeed as they were likely to do, it would terminate in the utter ruin of the high church; that nothing short of the entire desolation and extinguishment would be the event, and that it was high time to take the alarm. What, have our church brought to desolation! a church in its constitution so eminent, and one would have supposed so permanent and well established, having the king of Great Britain the head of the church, and defender of the faith! the bishops of England so exalted as to bear the title of Lords spiritual, possessed with so much sagacity and learning, as to fit them for governing in everything ecclesiastic, and supply every part of the dominion with pious clergy; we have like-wise in every parish a vestry of twelve discreet men, chosen to direct and manage the affairs of the church -- and we have persons inducted and settled in the different parishes, with a salary of sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco a year made sure to them, to be collected from the different tithes included in the parish with the addition of all fees for marriages and funeral sermons; a church established by law, with whom the governing powers rest -- all nonconformists or dissenters from us we can bring to our feet, and it is at our option to allow them toleration or not.
Now after all this provision being made for our preservation and security, to be broken up, and our church brought to nothing, is intolerable; and we cannot think of it without strange emotions -- a gloomy melancholy, and depression of spirits. -- This distressing conclusion, it is clear, arose from want of understanding, for there is no danger of the church of Christ being destroyed, or the gates of hell prevailing against her -- false prophets with all their art and cunning can never seduce the elect, for they are secured, preserved, and taken care of by the great Shepherd -- and as they are built upon the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone, and of course can not fail growing up into an holy temple in the Lord. But it is no wonder a church formed by the invention of man, supported by oppressive laws, governed by lucrative priests, compacted together of wood and hay stubble materials, should fail; for so soon as national policy loses its form, such church will cease to exist.
The preachers were deemed false prophets, a set of wolves in sheep's clothing, and often in early times men would prevent their wives and children from going to hear, lest they should be deceived; and, in some instances, where children have appeared affected with the gospel, parents have been much distressed, and threatened to cast them off and dispossess them, telling them they would render themselves ridiculous in the world and never more be in common credit; it is to be feared that there are many parents who in the coming day will be found guilty of the ruin and destruction of their tender offspring; and should it be beyond the power of the parent to do his child harm, owing to the interference of rich grace, and beneficence of the God of love, no thanks to the wicked parent; his guilt is the same: but could reason be admitted into the field, and the matter judged of without prejudice, there was but little chance of the Baptists being deceivers; their education was small, their language plain and easy, their religious tenets were open to the world, and when they preached it was usual in all cases to appeal to the sacred scriptures for proof of what they asserted; besides had it have been their intention to devour men's livings, and increase their own wealth, they would not have propagated such doctrine as they did, but the direct opposite as being more pleasing.
But the enemy not contented with ridicule and defamation, manifested their abhorrence to the Baptists in another way; by a law then in force in Virginia, all were under obligation to go to church several times in the year; the failure subjected them to fine.
Little notice was taken of the omission, if members of the established church; but so soon as the new-lights were absent they were presented by the grand jury, and fined according to law; whether such fine was ever collected or not we cannot certainly say -- however, the attempt to make them pay appeared very unreasonable. What, compelled to attend the church whose worship they could not join, and the ministry deficient -- they could receive no advantage from it, and languish for want of gospel food, food calculated to refresh and strengthen the soul -- it was burthensome and disagreeable to be compelled to pay our proportion of the parson's sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco, but to be confined in addition to that, to pay for not going to church, was distressing.
Soon they began to take other steps to deter the Baptist preachers, and obstruct the progress of the gospel, by objecting to their preaching until they obtained license from the general court, whose place of sitting at that time was old Williamsburg. Until such times that license was obtained, they were exposed to be apprehended and imprisoned, and numbers were compelled to give security for good behaviour -- the good behaviour was, not to preach, and, in some instances, it was enjoined on them not to pray; the Episcopalian church was established by law in this country, and she was protected and directed by law -- but there was no such provision for dissenters, neither could we understand there was any prohibition to their preaching inserted in the law, nor any penalty annexed -- the law being silent on the subject as it respected dissenters and it gave a greater opportunity for malice to vent itself.
We will give a relation of a circumstance to the point, and as it was a case respecting the author, it is well known to him: Being in the country in which he lived, application was made by an individual to the leading character in the county for a warrant to apprehend the preacher for preaching; the magistrate to whom application was made, had been trained to the law and possessed an understanding. above most people; the enquiry by him was, what had been preached? that he knew of no law in force among us that would punish a man for simply preaching, and as for dissenters, the law was silent about them as a religious sect; that if he should issue a warrant and the preacher be apprehended, unless it could be proved that he preached something blasphemous, in which case he would be liable to punishment; but if that could not be proven, he would be exonerated, and therefore to no purpose to apprehend such an one; at which the applicant returned without succeeding; fortunate for the preacher that there was for once a man of sense bearing the civil sword, whose prejudice was no preventative to the exercise of a sound judgment. As the law was silent about dissenters and no mode prescribed for their preaching, nor prohibition of it, nor for punishing them on the account of it, justices of the peace and courts of justice, took a different position, and pursued a different plan, pretended they were not persecuting religion when the Baptist preachers were taken and imprisoned, but that it was the peace and good order of the community they were aiming at; and so shifted the ground -- they were not brought to the bar for religion, nor for their religious opinions, nor any of their rites, modes, or religious ceremonies, but as disturbers of the peace, the perverters of good order, and the calling unlawful assemblies together, taking the people from their necessary employment on their different farms and plantations, bringing the people into habits of idleness and neglect of their necessary business and interesting pursuits, and thereby reducing the inhabitants to want and distress.
We have been well informed that at times when a congregation has been assembled for divine worship, that persons of a persecuting disposition have taken the number of males at such meeting, have stated the sum that the day's labor of each man was worth, and then, by adding all together, have brought out the sum total. Here they would expatiate; all this loss is sustained by the wretched new-lights, had it not been for them all this might have been saved, and our country much enriched; we fear times will grow worse and worse, without a stop can be made to the career, and some preventative devised that may bring them to silence.
Here notice, days could be spent in card playing, horse racing, cock fighting, fish frying, barbacuing, shooting matches, and other fashionable vices, with-out magisterial interference, and the perpetrators go off with impunity -- and often those who bore the civil sword, were shamefully guilty of those enormities, and in some instances, the ringleaders.
Times grew such there appeared no probability of escaping prison without a license could be obtained, and to obtain them was difficult -- for by this time the members of the general court had taken prejudice, being all of the established church, they resolved to discountenance the Baptists, and decreed to license but one place in a county.
It was in vain to apply to the general court for a license, without going prepared in the following manner: -- a petition was drawn expressive of the desire of the people in the community where the meeting-house stood, or was to be built; this petition must be signed by twenty free persons, with the addition of two acting justices of the peace, certifying that the above signers were inhabitants of the, place; and this was difficult at all times to obtain. A certain preacher drew a petition and obtained signers, and then made application to several magistrates in the county, and met with a stern refusal; one circumstance was favorable to him -- there was at that time several that proposed themselves as candidates for the state legislature, and desired the suffrage of the freeholders, two of which gave him a certificate. Another hardship, when a license was obtained it was confined and limited, it was for the place and not the person, for the house and not the man, or in other words, the man was allowed to preach at the licensed meeting-house, and there only, and had no more right to preach elsewhere than he had before he obtained a grant from the supreme court. I knew the general court to refuse a license for a Baptist meeting-house, in the county of Richmond, because there was a Presbyterian meeting-house already in the county -- although the act of toleration considered them distinct societies.
Under these circumstances it was both discouraging and mortifying; the attempt to offer a petition, when it was known, if granted at all, it would be with great reluctance, all the chance we had as British subjects to plead the act of toleration, and that was intolerable, for one set of men to make application to another set of men (cap in hand) and in the most humble posture, ask their consent and allowance, to worship the God that made them, to publicly own the Lord Jesus that died for them; to talk and tell of His love; to enquire into, and inculcate the precious word of life, the gospel of salvation, to sing His solemn praise, and call on His name by prayer and supplication.
Intolerable as this was, necessity compelled us to comply, having no other alternative -- and it was well understood that if license was denied, that preachers would be apprehended, imprisoned, or roughly handled in some way or other.
We come now to present our petition to the honorable general court, at which tokens of disgust appeared in the countenance of the members of the court; every enquiry was made, and every measure adopted to evade granting the petition.
If a license was granted for a certain place, the preacher who applied for the license had to pass an examination by a church clergyman before a license issued; the qualification in this case was, application was to be made to a minister of the church of England, by the person licensed, and there give his assent to the thirty-nine articles of the above church, except three, and a part of a fourth, after such examination, and subscribing to the above articles, the church parson gave, from under his hand, certifying he had examined such an one, and that he had qualified according to law -- this certificate was bore back to court, upon a license issued from the clerk's table.
[Taken from William Fristoe, The History of the Ketocton Baptist Association, 1766 - 1808,1808; repub. in 1978, pp. 31-38. The grammar and spelling are unchanged. jrd]
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