The Welsh Saints, 1714–1814: Benjamin Francis


The Welsh Saints, 1714–1814

Sixty or so years ago, Prof Geoffrey Nuttall, one of the finest twentieth-century historians of British Dissent, penned a book entitled The Welsh Saints, 1640–1660: Walter Cradock, Vavasor Powell, Morgan Llwyd. It is in the spirit of that literary gem, that this series has been entitled “The Welsh Saints, 1714–1814.” Nuttall’s trio were controversial men in their day—Richard Baxter dismissed them once as a trio of dangerous Antinomians—and so were the five in this series, who were dismissed by more staid types as misguided “enthusiasts.” Yet, as will be seen, these five saints—Howel Harris (1714–1773), William Williams Pantycleyn (1717–1791), Benjamin Francis (1734–1799), Ann Griffiths (1776–1805), and Thomas Charles of Bala (1755–1814)—have much to teach us about the nature of the Christian life, its thoughts, and its affections.



The ministry and piety
of Benjamin Francis (1734–1799)

About a year and a half before the English Baptist divine John Gill (1697–1771) died—whose pen, according to the Canadian Baptist historian J.M. Cramp, “was never idle”[1]—he considered the possibility of stepping down from his Southwark pastorate, where he had been since 1719. A number of his congregation were eager for him to have an assistant since he was evidently failing physically. Gill, though, was willing to consider complete retirement if one condition were met, namely, that a Welsh Baptist by the name of Benjamin Francis, pastor of a cause at Horsley, Gloucestershire, could be persuaded to succeed him.[2] Nothing, however, seems to have come of Gill’s suggestion during his lifetime. It was only after Gill’s death in October of 1771 that Francis was invited to preach at the church. By February, 1772, the deacons of the church had made a point of approaching Francis about the possibility of his moving to London. Francis wrote to his fellow Welshman Caleb Evans (1737–1791), tutor at the British Baptist Academy, to express his astonishment at the request.

My dear friend, I cannot express the astonishment, the shame, the concern & perplexity, my mind has been overwhelmed with ever since. The thought of parting with my dear people, & of the unhappy consequences that may follow, dissolves my heart, & almost overpowers my spirits; while on the other hand a pleasing prospect of more extensive general usefulness presents itself … I am in a great strait, my mind is in a state of perpetual suspence [sic].[3]

Francis eventually decided not to go to London. Though he felt “astonishment” and “shame” at being asked to succeed Gill, it says much for the respect in which this Welsh pastor was held that he was the first to be considered for the famous London pastorate.

Life and ministry

Unknown to nearly all but a few historians today, Benjamin Francis was in many respects a remarkable individual. He was the youngest son of Enoch Francis (1688–1740), the most respected Welsh Baptist minister of his day and one who “was extremely gifted in winning hearers.”[4] Orphaned at the age of six, the younger Francis was later convinced that he personally experienced God’s saving grace when he was but a boy. Baptized at Swansea when he was fifteen, Francis began to preach four years later.

His ministry began at a time when far too many English and Welsh Baptist congregations were stymied in their growth by Hyper-Calvinism or insular thinking, or just plain apathy. Francis, though, went on to be trained at Bristol Baptist Academy where a vibrant evangelical Calvinism was not only preserved but also actively fostered.[5] Due in part to this training at Bristol, Francis would eventually play a significant role in the renewal and revival that came to the Calvinistic Baptist cause later in the century. As British Baptist historian Raymond Brown has noted with regard to a number of the students who studied at Bristol:

Many of … [the] Bristol students brought an outstanding contribution to the life of the churches in the second half of the eighteenth century. Men like John Ash (1724–1779) of Pershore, Benjamin Beddome (1717–1795) of Bourton-on-the-Water and Benjamin Francis of Horsley were content to serve their respective churches for between forty and fifty years, pouring their entire working ministry into the pastoral care of rural congregations, faithful biblical preaching, the development of association life, the establishment of new causes and, in each case, the composition or publication of hymns. Their devotional hymnology, passion for associating, and evangelistic initiatives helped to divert many churches from high Calvinism and introduced them to these influences which were powerfully at work in the Evangelical Revival.[6]

Francis studied in Bristol from 1753 to 1756.  When he first arrived in Bristol his knowledge of English was so slight that he could not even return thanks for his food in the language. Bernard Foskett (1685–1758), the principal of the Academy, was of the opinion that Francis should be sent back to Wales because of the language barrier. However, the younger tutor at the school, Hugh Evans (1713–1781), himself a Welshman who had been converted under the preaching of Enoch Francis, pleaded that Benjamin be allowed to stay. By dint of study Francis eventually obtained a thorough knowledge of English so that he could preach with complete ease in either it or Welsh.

After he graduated Francis preached for a while in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire. Eventually, in 1757, he moved to Horsley, where the following year he was ordained at the age of twenty-four.[7] Although the church there consisted of 66 members, most of them were poor artisans and clothworkers and were unable to provide enough financially for his support. Francis once described the circumstances of most of the congregation as being “extremely indigent.” And near the end of his life, he remarked that his congregation was for the most part “poor, plain, and have not had the advantage of literature.”[8] Thus, “he was obliged to rear pigs, to grow his own fruit and vegetables, to keep a school, and to venture into the woollen trade (with disastrous financial consequences) in order to make ends meet.”[9]

Alongside these monetary problems, Francis also experienced a long series of domestic trials. In 1765, his first wife and three of their children all died within the space of three months. He married again a year later to an Abigail Wallis. They had ten children, of whom they buried seven![10] In the midst of these deeply distressing circumstances Francis drew comfort from the piety that a number of his dying children exhibited. For instance, when one of the children from his second marriage, Hester, was dying at the age of eleven in August, 1790, she told her mother: “My soul is as full of joy as it can contain—the Lord is become my salvation—the gates of heaven are open to me, and I shall soon be there.” Her last words to her father were: “I love you, but I love Christ more.”[11]

Despite these deep trials, Francis proved to be a tireless evangelist, one, we are told, who delighted in “telling poor sinners the unsearchable riches of his compassionate Redeemer.”[12] During his time at Horsley Francis baptized nearly 450 persons who had been converted under his ministry. At the time of his death the number of members in his church was 252. The meeting-house was enlarged three times during Francis’ ministry, so that by the early nineteenth century the church was one of the largest in the British Calvinistic Baptist community. Francis attributed much of the success that attended his preaching to the Sunday prayer meetings the church held at six o’clock in the morning and in the afternoon before the afternoon service. Fifty or sixty would come to the Sunday morning prayer meeting, while at the afternoon prayer meeting, the vestry would literally overflow with people.[13]

His indefatigable preaching and evangelism was not limited to Horsley, however. In the biographical sketch of Francis that his son-in-law Thomas Flint (d. 1819) drew up within a few weeks of Francis’ death, we are told that:

He was the first means of introducing evangelical religion into many dark towns and villages in all the neighbourhood round [Horsley]. For many years he made excursions monthly into the most uninstructed parts of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire; besides visiting his brethren, and strengthening their hands in God. In the course of his route through Worcestershire, which he regularly attended from about 1772 to 1784, it appears he had preached in Cheltenham 130 Sermons, at Tewkesbury 136, at Pershore 137, and at Upton upon Severn 180: his manner was to set out from home on Monday morning, and return on Friday evening, after taking a circuit of 90 miles, and preaching every evening. In Wiltshire, on the other side of Horsley, he established a monthly lecture at Malmesbury which he supplied from 1771 to 1799, so that he preached there 282 sermons, and for the latter part of the time he reached as far as Christian-Malford where he had preached 84 Sermons.  He extended his journey frequently as far as Devizes, 30 miles from home, where he preached 56 times, and oftener to Melksham, Frome, Trowbridge, and Bradford at each of which four places he had preached 90 Sermons. At Wotton-under-edge, seven miles from Horsley, he kept up a monthly lecture for thirty years, and preached there 394 times.  At Uley, five miles distant, he maintained another stated lecture for many years, and had preached 350 Sermons there.[14]

In addition to these extensive labours, he also regularly preached in places as far away as London and Dublin, Portsmouth and Plymouth, as well as undertaking repeated preaching tours of his native Wales. In a day when travel to a town but twenty miles away was a significant undertaking,[15] this record of Francis’ itinerant ministry is positively amazing.

Literary links to the preacher

Little remains of his extensive preaching ministry by way of literary texts. We do have some of his poems,[16] including a variety of polemical pieces,[17] and a number of elegies, among them ones for John Gill, George Whitefield (1714–1770), and the “seraphic” Samuel Pearce (1766–1799).[18] There is also a two-volume collection of his hymns in Welsh entitled Aleluia. Only a few of them have ever been translated into English.

It is disappointing, however, that none of his sermons appear to have survived. Describing his preaching, Flint emphasizes that Francis was always concerned “to declare the whole counsel of God,” even when he preached for other denominational bodies.  Firm in expressing his doctrinal convictions, he was also a compassionate preacher, who often openly wept for his hearers.[19]  Possibly the closest we get to hearing his “melodious voice”[20] is in the circular letters he drew up for the Western Association of Calvinistic Baptist Churches.

Associations of churches in geographical proximity had been a regular feature of Calvinistic Baptist life since the denomination’s 17th century beginnings.  By the last half of the 18th century these associations were holding annual meetings at which representatives of the churches in these associations, usually the pastors and elders, were meeting for a couple of days. These annual meetings would be marked by times of corporate prayer, fellowship, and occasions for the public preaching of the Scriptures. One of Francis’ poems, entitled “The Association,” sought to capture the ideals that informed these yearly gatherings.

Thee, bless’d assembly! emblem of the throng

That praise the Lamb in one harmonious song

On Zion’s hills where joys celestial flow,

The countless throng redeem’d from sin and woe;

Thee, bless’d assembly, have I oft survey’d,

With sweet complacence, charmingly array’d

In robes of truth, of sanctity and love,

Resembling saints and seraphim above.…

The sacred page thy only rule and guide,

“Thus saith the Lord,” shall thy debates decide;

While charity wide spreads her balmy wings

O’er different notions, in indifferent things,

And graceful order, walking hand in hand

With cheerful freedom, leads her willing band.…

In thee, the guardians of the churches’ weal,

Whose bosoms glow with unabating zeal,

With balmy counsel their disorders heal,

And truth and love and purity promote

Among the sheep, Immanuel’s blood has bought.

In thee, impartial discipline maintains

Harmonious order, but aloud disclaims

All human force to rule the human mind,

Impose opinions and the conscience bind.[21]

To be sure, this is an idealistic rendition, yet it enables us to see what one 18th century Baptist regarded as important about these annual assemblies. For Francis, they were times when sage advice could be sought and given, when God’s people could be free to discuss in love and without rancour non-essential issues on which they disagreed, and when the sole binding force on the conscience was Scripture alone.[22] Most significantly, Francis saw in these gatherings a visible token—in his words, an “emblem”—of the unity and joy that fills the saints in heaven as they worship Christ the Lamb.

Each of the churches in the association was supposed to send a letter to the annual meeting informing their sister congregations of their state, newsworthy items and prayer concerns. And at some point in the two-day meeting one of the pastors would be chosen to write a letter to all of the churches in the association on behalf of the association itself. It would be ratified, printed after the annual meeting, and sent out as a circular letter. The Western Association, which had existed since 1653, gave Francis the privilege of writing this letter five times—in 1765, 1772, 1778, 1782, and 1796.[23]   Understandably he touches on a number of themes in these letters—the challenges of poverty and affluence, the dangers of dead orthodoxy, faith and assurance, the need for heart religion, the disciplines of the Christian life, the unity of the local church—but there is one theme that comes up again and again, the beauty of Christ and the passion that should be ours in serving him. In the final analysis, it was this passion for Christ and his glory that underlay all of Francis’ evangelistic and pastoral labours.

Christ alone

In the circular letter of 1772 Francis encourages those of his readers “who are sickly and feeble in the spiritual life” and who are become “almost strangers to closet devotion, deep contrition for sin, earnest wrestling with the Lord in prayer, heavenly affections, and sensible communion with God” to ask themselves: “will you call this the religion of Jesus? Is this the fruit of his love and crucifixion?”[24] Without a “living faith in Jesus Christ,” Francis reminds them, “our orthodox notions,” church attendance, and outward morality urges will ultimately avail for nothing. He thus urges upon them their need to have “a spiritual sight of the awful perfections of God, of the adorable glories of Christ, and of the ineffable excellency of divine and eternal things.”[25]

Moreover, they need to beware of resting their salvation in their performance as Christians and their faithful attendance upon the various ordinances of the Christian life. “Constantly rest in Christ alone,” Francis says, making use of one of the central watchwords of the Reformation, and so “look for every blessing … in and thro’ him the infinitely prevalent Mediator.”[26] Building on this last point, Francis urges his readers to “live daily on Christ as your spiritual food, and seek hourly communion with him as the beloved of your souls.”[27] It bears remembering that this counsel was being given to labourers and shopkeepers, croppers and weavers, who spent much of their time simply “getting by.” Yet, Francis rightly felt that such were capable of living out their daily lives as “the sincere disciples and intimate friends of Jesus.”[28]

The 1778 circular letter, which is chiefly concerned with the nature of genuine, vital faith, sounds similar notes. In a section of the letter dealing with the differences between assurance and faith, Francis encourages his audience:

Place then your entire confidence in Christ for the whole of salvation: Let the declarations and promises of the gospel be your only warrant for believing in him: and consider your purest principles, happiest frames, and holiest duties, not as the foundation, but the superstructure of faith: Let not your sweetest experiences, which are at best but shallow cisterns, but Christ alone be the source of your comfort, and constantly live upon that inexhaustible fountain.[29]

For the believer, Christ alone is both the source of salvation and the strength for the Christian life. The final clause is, of course, an allusion to Jeremiah 2:13. There, the Lord upbraids his people for forsaking him, “the fountain of living waters,” and living instead on the water drawn from “broken cisterns” of their own making. Inspired, no doubt, by New Testament passages such as John 4:10–13 and 7:37, where Christ states that he is the source of “living water” that quenches spiritual thirst, Francis identifies the “fountain” of Jeremiah 2 as Christ. Christ, not the believer’s experience of him, is to be the source of the believer’s spiritual life.

“Queries and answers”

In the archives of Bristol Baptist College there is an unpublished manuscript that records a precious friendship, that of Benjamin Francis, whose ministry we have been exploring in two previous articles, and a fellow Welshman Joshua Thomas (1719–1797), who for forty-three years was the pastor of the Baptist cause in Leominster. The manuscript is actually a transcript, drawn up by Thomas, of letters that passed between him and Francis from 1758 to 1770.

The practice of Francis and Thomas appears to have been for one of them to mail two or three queries periodically to the other. Then, some months later the recipient mailed back his answers, together with fresh questions of his own. These answers were commented on, the new questions answered and both the comments and answers mailed back along with new queries, and so forth. All in all, there are sixty-eight questions and answers in two volumes—fifty-eight in the first volume, the remaining ten in Volume II. On only one occasion during these years from 1758 to 1770 was there a noticeable gap in correspondence. That was in 1765 when Francis lost his wife and his three youngest children.

It is noteworthy that at the beginning of the correspondence the two friends sign their letters simply with their names or initials. However, as time passes, their mutual confidence and intimacy deepens, and they begin to write “yours endearingly” or “yours unfeignedly” and even “yours indefatigably” or “yours inexpressibly.” It was in October, 1762, Thomas first signed himself “your cordial Brother Jonathan,” and in the following February Francis replied with “your most affectionate David.” From this point on this is the way the two friends refer to each other.

The questions and their answers are extremely instructive as to the areas of personal theological interest among mid-eighteenth century Calvinists. For instance, the question is asked, “When may a Minister conclude that he is influenced and assisted by the Spirit of God in studying and ministring [sic] the word?” (Query 5). Queries are raised about the eternal state of dead infants (Query 17, 22), how best to understand the remarks in Revelation 20 about the millennium (Query 18), and about whether or not innoculation against that dreaded killer of the eighteenth century, smallpox, was right or wrong (Query 45).

A good number of the queries relate to what we would call “spirituality.” In 1763, for instance, Francis asked Thomas, “Is private fasting a moral or ceremonial Duty? and consequently is it a duty under the Gospel?” (Query 43). When Thomas sent his response to this question, one of his return queries was, “What are the best means of revival, when a Person is flat and dead in his soul?” (Query 47).

Other similar questions include the following: “How often should a Christian pray?” (Query 44, asked by Francis), “When may a Christian be said to be lively and active in his Soul?’ (Query 48, asked Francis), “Wherein doth communion and fellowship with God consist?’ (Query 55, asked by Thomas).

Let’s look closer at those questions and answers that relate to prayer.

“Lord, teach me to pray!”

“How often should a Christian pray?” To this very vital question posed by Francis, Thomas has an extensive answer. He deals first with what he calls the “ejaculatory kind” of prayer—prayers that arise spontaneously during the course of a day’s activities—and then the prayers offered during times set apart specifically for prayer, what a later generation of Evangelicals would call “the quiet time.” In response to Thomas’ answer, Francis confesses to his friend—whom he calls “my Jonathan,” a reference to the close bond of fellowship between the Old Testament figures, David and Jonathan:

I wish all our Brethren of the Tribe of Levi were so free from lukewarmness, on the one hand, and enthusiasm, formality & superstition on the other, as my Jonathan appears to be. I am too barren in all my Prayers, but I think mostly so in Closet prayer (except at some seasons) which tempts me in some measure to prefer a more constant ejaculatory Prayer above a more statedly Closet prayer, tho I am persuaded neither should be neglected. Ejaculatory prayer is generally warm, free, and pure, tho short: but I find Closet prayer to be often cold, stiff or artificiall [sic], as it were, and mixt [sic] with strange impertinences & wandrings [sic] of heart. Lord teach me to pray! O that I could perform the Duty always, as a duty and a privilege & not as a Task and a Burden!

In another of Francis’ comments we find the same honesty and humility: “How languid my faith, my hope, my love! how cold and formal am I in secret Devotions!” (Remarks on [Thomas’] answer to Query 48). These remarks surely stem from deep-seated convictions about the vital importance of prayer. Francis would undoubtedly have agreed with Thomas’ remark that a believer’s “Great and chief delight, his meat & drinke [sic], the life of his life” is his “closet prayer and communion with God (Query 48).

Francis’ frank remarks also have their root in Francis’ belief that because the Lord had led him to seek Christ at a very young age—and, in his words, “overwhelmed me with Joy by a sense of his Love”—he should be more eager to pray out of a sense of gratitude. Instead, he confessed, “A stupid, indolent, sensual or legal Temper sadly clog the Wings of my Prayers” (Remarks on Queries 7–8, Volume II).

Thomas sought to encourage Francis by reminding him that Francis by writing to him that

closet prayer [is like] the smoke on a windy day. When it is very calm the smoke will ascend and resemble an erect pillar, but when windy, as soon as it is out it is scattered to and fro, sometimes ’tis beaten down the chimney again and fills the house. Shall I not thus give over? Satan would have it so, and flesh would have it so, but I should be more earnest in it.

Francis sought to pray to God twice daily, but he confessed that his difficulties with following a discipline of a set time for prayer stemmed from his being away from his home a lot of the time. He also admitted that he had taken up “an unhappy Habit of Sleeping in the Morning much longer” than he should have. And this cut into valuable time for prayer. He did not try to excuse such failings.

How much has changed since Francis’ day—and yet how much remains the same: the same struggle with sin and poor habits that hinder our praying and devotion. And yet, there must have been times when Francis knew the joys of experientially fellowship with God in prayer. For instance, answering a question by Thomas—“Wherein doth communion and fellowship with God consist?”—Francis replies in part (Query 55):

In a nearness to God that is inexpressible, thro the Mediator, and in the enjoyment of God’s favour and perfections, yielding nourishing satisfactions in God, as the souls full, everlasting portion and felicity. This enjoyment overwhelms the soul with wonder, glory, joy and triumph: it enflames it with vehement love to God and ardent wishes after his blisfful [sic] presence in the heavenly world.

Yet, as Francis well knew, these foretastes of glory given to the believer in prayer are not a resting place in this world. We have already seen this in the circular letter for the Western Association in 1778 where he wrote: “Let not your sweetest experiences, which are at best but shallow cisterns, but Christ alone be the source of your comfort, and constantly live upon that inexhaustible fountain.”[30]   And Francis could pray in a letter to a friend dated November 6, 1798, but a year before his death:

O that every sacrifice I offer were consumed with the fire of ardent love to Jesus. Reading, praying, studying and preaching are to me very cold exercises, if not warmed with the love of Christ. This, this is the quintessence of holiness, of happiness, of heaven. While many professors desire to know that Christ loves them, may it ever be my desire to know that I love him, by feeling his love mortifying in me the love of self, animating my whole soul to serve him, and, if called by his providence, to suffer even death for his sake.[31]



[1] J.M. Cramp, Baptist History: From the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Present Time (Toronto: H. Lloyd/London: Elliot Stock, 1871), 442.

[2] Nuttall, “Letters by Benjamin Francis,” 7; The Minute Book of Carter Lane Church, 1719–July 1808 (The Deacons Vestry, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London): Entries for 10 February, April 13, and June 22, 1772. I am grateful to Dr. Peter Masters, Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for permission to consult this minute book. See also Flint, “Brief Narrative”, 42–43 and note *. On the significance of Gill’s mention of Francis as a possible successor, see Raymond Brown, The English Baptists of the 18th Century (London: The Baptist Historical Society, 1986), 94.

[3] Letter to Caleb Evans, 22 February 1772 (cited Nuttall, “Letters by Benjamin Francis,” 7–8).

[4] Dafydd Densil James Morgan, “The Development of the Baptist Movement in Wales between 1714 and 1815 with particular reference to the Evangelical Revival” (Unpublished D. Phil. Thesis, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, 1986), 59. For further information on Enoch Francis, see Flint, “Brief Narrative,” 33–37; Morgan, “Development of the Baptist Movement in Wales,” passim.

[5] See Roger Hayden, “Evangelical Calvinism among eighteenth-century British Baptists with particular reference to Bernard Foskett, Hugh and Caleb Evans and the Bristol Baptist Academy, 1690–1791” (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Keele, 1991).

[6] Brown, English Baptists of the 18th Century, 84–85.

[7] For a brief account of the early history of the Horsley church, see Albion M. Urdank, Religion and Society in a Cotswold Vale. Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, 1780-1865 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 90–93.

[8] Cited Urdank, Religion and Society, 95; Nuttall, “Letters by Benjamin Francis,” 6. In one of the circular letters that he drew up for the Western Association, he mentions that some of his readers are “sorely distressed with pressing indigence” [Circular Letter of the Western Association (1772), 3].

[9] Davies, “Welsh Exile,” 2. On Francis’ financial problems, see also Flint, “Brief Narrative,” 49.

[10] Flint, “Brief Narrative,” 49–52.

[11] Benjamin Francis, “Obituary: Miss Hester Francis” in John Rippon, ed., The Baptist Annual Register 1 (1790–1793): 158–159.

[12] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1800), 2.

[13] “A List of the Particular Baptist Churches in England, 1798” in John Rippon, ed., The Baptist Annual Register 3 (1798–1801): 14–15.

[14] “Brief Narrative”, 45–46. The names of the towns and villages referred to by Flint have been modernized according to current spelling. On Francis’s itinerant ministry, see further Brown, English Baptists of the 18th Century, 115, 122–123, 124.

[15] See the informing discussion of travel in this period and the following century by Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994), 24–25.

[16] See, for example, The Conflagaration (Bristol, 1770) or The Association [in John Rippon, ed., Baptist Annual Register 2 (1790–1793): 17–20].

[17] For instance, The Socinian Champion or priestleyan divinity (London: T. Bensley, 1788) is a critique of the Unitarianism of Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), while The Oracle (1799) takes issue with the General, i.e. Arminian, Baptists.

[18] See An Elegy on the Death of the Rev. John Gill (London, 1772); Elegy on George Whitefield (Bristol, 1771); An Elegy on Mr. Pearce (annexed to Ryland, Presence of Christ).

[19] “Brief Narrative,” 47.

[20] A remark about his preaching that appeared after his death in the Circular Letter of the Western Association (1800), 2.

[21] “The Association” in Rippon, ed., Baptist Annual Register, 1:17, 18, 20.

[22] Francis’ convictions about scriptural authority are also well seen in the following three texts. In the Circular Letter of the Western Association (1778) he writes: “we earnestly beseech you carefully to guard against all pernicious errors in doctrine, experience and practice, and to bring all your religious sentiments, feelings, and actions, to the unerring test of God’s word, our only infallible rule in matters of religion. Buy the truth, cost what it will, and sell it not for all the world” (page 2). A few pages later he makes a similar appeal: “Let the authority of Christ preside in your church meetings, and let his word, example, and spirit be the rule, and his glory the end of your church-discipline” (ibid., 5). In his final circular letter, that of 1796, Francis reiterates this key aspect of the Christian faith. He is speaking about the need of believers to guard the minds of their children and “all others who may be under [their] influence” and he urges: “endeavour to inculcate upon them the excellence and utility of the holy scriptures, which could no more have been written by a number of bad, designing, and uninspired men, than the heavens and the earth have been formed by an insect; and granting that the prophets and apostles were disinterested, honest and faithful men, of which there are abundant proofs, we must believe, according to their own testimony, that the christian religion is a revelation from God to a sinful world” [Circular Letter of the Western Association (1796), 3]. I am indebted to Dr. Ruth E. Mayers of Egham, Surrey, for getting me a copy of this circular letter of 1796.

[23] For the early history of this association, see Geoffrey F. Nuttall, “The Baptist Western Association 1653–1658”, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 15 (1964): 213–218. For a somewhat inadequate history of the association up to the mid-19th century, see J.G. Fuller, A Brief History of the Western Association (Bristol, 1843).

[24] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1772), 3–4.

[25] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1772), 4.

[26] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1772), 5.

[27] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1772), 5.

[28] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1772), 5.

[29] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1778), 3.

[30] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1778), 3.

[31] Circular Letter of the Western Association (1778), 58–59.


Picture of Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies also on the campus of Southern Seminary. He is the author of several books including Iron Sharpens Iron: Friendship and the Grace of God. He is married to Alison and they have two children.
Picture of Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies also on the campus of Southern Seminary. He is the author of several books including Iron Sharpens Iron: Friendship and the Grace of God. He is married to Alison and they have two children.