OUR OWN THANKSGIVING STORY
By Doug Ward
Two English Baptists are of special interest to those who keep the
seventh day Sabbath. In 1665, Stephen and Anne Mumford, Seventh Day
Baptists from a congregation in
I first heard Stephen Mumford's name over twenty years ago. Ever since
that time, I have wanted to learn more about our Seventh Day Baptist ``roots.''
In particular, why did the Mumfords come to
Sabbatarians of the English Reformation
The seventeenth century was a time of great religious and
political ferment in
There was also widespread excitement about biblical prophecy, and many anticipated the imminent return of Jesus Christ. One group, called the Fifth Monarchists (after Nebuchadnezzar's dream of Daniel 2, in which God's Kingdom is portrayed as the fifth and greatest of a prophesied series of world-ruling kingdoms or ``monarchies''), stressed the literal millennial reign of Christ on earth. The most radical Fifth Monarchists hoped to pave the way for that reign by overthrowing the King.
Puritans held the Ten Commandments in very high regard. Applying the Sabbath commandment to the first day of the week, they believed that Sunday should be observed strictly as a day of rest, rather than merely being a day on which to hold worship services. They brought this view to public attention in a number of books in the late 1500s, most notably Nicolas Bownde's The Doctrine of the Sabbath (1595). The ensuing controversy over the fourth commandment was so great that Bownde's book was eventually banned [5, p. 49].
Given the Puritan respect for the Decalogue and the Protestant belief that
the Bible should be the ultimate source of Christian belief and
practice, it was inevitable that some would respond to the Sabbath
controversy by adopting the biblical seventh day Sabbath. And indeed,
that is what happened. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries, groups of Sabbatarians sprang up in
various parts of
A fascinating contemporary description of the English Sabbatarians
is preserved in M. Misson's Memoirs and
Observations in his Travels around England, a book published by Frenchman
Henri Misson in 1698 and translated into English in
1719. Misson, who travelled extensively in
``Here and there also you meet with
a Millennarian; but I know there is a particular
Society, though it makes but little noise, of People, who though they go by the
Name of Sabbatarians make Profession of expecting the
Reign of a Thousand Years without participating in the other opinions which are
ascribed to the ancient Millenarians. These Sabbatharians
are so call'd, because they will not remove the Day
of Rest from Saterday to Sunday.They
leave off work betimes on Friday Evening, and are very rigid observers of
their Sabbath. They administer Baptism only to adult People [footnote:
`in other aspects they subscribe to our Confession of Faith']; and perhaps they
are blameable in these two Things only because they
look upon them to be more important than they really are. The major Part
of them will eat neither Pork, nor Blood, nor things strangled, but they do not
absolutely forbid the Use of those meats; they leave it to the
Here Henri Misson describes a group of people who believed in a future millennial reign of Christ, but without the radical political activism of the Fifth Monarchists; practiced believers' baptism; carefully kept the seventh-day Sabbath; observed biblical dietary laws, but not in a legalistic way; and in general were orthodox Christians with a high standard of biblical morality. Not all of the English Sabbatarians fit every part of this picture; but overall, it is a good description of them and many of their spiritual descendants, right up to the present day.
Prejudice and Persecution
The decision to observe the seventh day Sabbath was not one to take lightly. Those who made this choice placed themselves conspicuously outside of the mainstream of society. In the seventeenth century, people who adopted practices different from those of the Church of England were placed under close scrutiny and could be subjected to fines or imprisonment. For example, in the 1660s and 1670s, local churchwardens kept careful records of all ``Noncomformists'', including anyone who worked or didn't attend church on Sunday, refused to have infants baptized, or kept the seventh day Sabbath. (These records have provided historians with valuable clues about the identities and locations of Sabbathkeepers.  )
The courage of those who adopted the seventh day is also notable given the
strongly antisemitic culture of
One well-known example of the persecutions faced by early English Sabbatarians is the story of John and Dorothy Traske. John Traske
(1585-1636) was a controversial and apparently rather colorful traveling
preacher whose words and actions repeatedly got him into trouble with the
authorities. What exactly he taught is
difficult to determine, because the available sources on his life are largely
hostile ones (see [1, pp. 48-51] ). It is also not certain how many
followers he attracted; only the names of a few have come down to us, including
Hamlet Jackson, Returne Hebdon,
and Christopher Sands. We do know that in 1617, Traske
Traske's preaching was too radical to go unnoticed
for long. By late 1617, Traske and several associates
had been arrested,and on
John Traske was by all accounts very eccentric, and he was threatened with arrest and imprisonment both before and after he advocated observance of the Sabbath. However, one didn't have to be as provocative as Traske to face persecution; a thoroughly orthodox Christian who wrote or spoke in favor of the Sabbath was also in danger in the early seventeenth century. Such was the case with Theophilus Brabourne (1590-1662), an Anglican clergyman who hoped to persuade the Church of England to adopt the seventh day Sabbath in two books that he wrote in 1628 and 1632. In 1634 and early 1635, Brabourne was imprisoned, repeatedly examined by church officials, and threatened with excommunication and a fine of $1000 before his carefully-worded recantation was accepted on April 30, 1635 [1, p. 66]. (Brabourne claimed that he never recanted anything of any substance, and in the comparatively more tolerant climate of the 1650s he wrote again in favor of the Sabbath.)
During the Puritan rule of the Commonwealth period of the 1650s, there was
much more religious freedom for Separatists, and both Sunday and Sabbatarian Baptists began to worship openly throughout
The government of Charles II hoped to bring greater peace and stability to the kingdom by enforcing religious uniformity. In
1662, it introduced the Act of Uniformity, which excluded from parish churches
all ministers who would not conduct services according to the Church of
England's Book of Common Prayer. The Act of Uniformity resulted in the
ejection from Anglican pulpits of many Nonconformist ministers who had gained
their positions during the 1650s. In order to silence those ejected
clergy, the government went on to institute the Conventicle Act in 1664.
(A conventicle is a secret religious meeting.) The Conventicle Act
forbade any worship service not conducted according to the Book of Common
Prayer that involved more than five people in addition to the family of the
house. Anyone caught violating this rule for the third time could be
banished to the
In [1, p. 257], Ball describes the precautions taken by one Sabbatarian
Baptist congregation during this era to avoid arrest under the Conventicle
Act. This congregation met on Saturday evenings at a roadside cottage
``John Woolstone, who at the time lived four or five miles away at Walcott, would frequently arrive to conduct worship disguised as a drover and carrying a whip to allay suspicion. The large, lower room of the cottage would be laid out as a dining-room, and Woolstone would preach from a seat at the table, to a congregation assembled in the upper rooms. On other occasions, meetings were held in a barn at the rear of the cottage, and look-outs were posted at strategic points to warn of the approach of informers. Many of the worshippers lived at a distance from the meeting-place, and would travel home by various routes to avoid detection. It was a situation typical of many Nonconformist gatherings throughout he country at the time.''
were able to escape persecution. For example, Francis Bampfield
(1615-1684), an early leader among the English Sabbatarians, was
imprisoned for over ten years of his life. Originally an
Anglican, Bampfield prepared for the ministry by
obtaining B.A. and M.A. degrees at
The Sabbatarians resolutely observed the seventh day in spite of ridicule and persecution. What convictions led them to this course of action and sustained them in carrying it out?
First and foremost, the Seventh-day Men looked to the Bible as the ultimate authority for their faith and practice. Like other Puritans, they viewed the Sabbath as divinely established at Creation and confirmed as part of the eternal moral law of the Ten Commandments. They also recognized Sabbath observance as the custom of Jesus and the early church, and they saw no biblical directive to abrogate or change the Sabbath.
Like other Protestants of their day, the Sabbatarians saw the Roman Catholic Church as the ``little horn'' of Daniel -25 that would ``think to change times and laws.'' For them, observance of the seventh day was part of a return of the church to its first-century foundations, before its corruption by centuries of Catholic traditions. And they were strengthened by an awareness that through the centuries, there had been many Christians who had kept the Sabbath (see [1, Chapter 1]).
Moreover, the Sabbatarians valued the biblical
meanings of the Sabbath as a memorial of creation, a symbol of the rest in
Christ enjoyed in this present life by believers, and a foretaste of the
eternal rest of God's Kingdom. The first of these meanings is discussed
in William Saller's A Preservative against Atheism
and Error (1664). Saller, a Sabbatarian
The second and third meanings are expressed poetically in the classic hymn ``Another Six Days' Work is Done'' by Joseph Stennett (1663-1713), the distinguished pastor of the Pinners' Hall congregation from 1690 until his death (see our cover). This hymn mentions the present peace and anticipation of future joys that have always been part of the Sabbath experience: 2
Another six days' work is done,
Another Sabbath is begun;
Return, my soul, enjoy thy rest,
Improve the day that God hath blest.
O, that our thoughts and thanks may rise,
As grateful incense, to the skies,
And draw from heav'n that sweet repose
Which none but he that feels it knows!
A heavenly calm pervades the breast,
The earnest of that glorious rest
Which for the
The end of cares, the end of pains.
With joy, great God, thy works we view,
In various scenes, both old and new.
With praise, we think on mercies past;
With hope, we future pleasures taste.
In holy duties, let the day,
In holy pleasures, pass away;
How sweet a Sabbath thus to spend,
In hope of one that ne'er shall end!
On the other hand, it should be emphasized that the Sabbatarians did not view Sabbathkeeping as a means of earning salvation. William Saller stated this clearly in 1671 when he wrote the following (quoted in [1, p. 87]):
``Let him not slander Christ whatever he casts upon the Sabbath-keepers. But this I shall say for my brethren as well as for myself, we are all of us of the Apostles mind, quite dead to the Law, not having the least hope or expectation to bring forth any acceptable fruit unto God by virtue of it. We look not at all to receive grace or strength from the Law, to sanctify us no more than to justify us.''
It is also the case that they did not generally avoid fellowship with
Christians who did not share their convictions about the Sabbath, nor did
they claim to constitute the ``one true church''. In
In summary, the English Seventh Day Baptists determined to obey what they saw as a clear biblical command, regardless of the cost. With the Psalmist, they said, in effect, ``The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?'' (Ps. 118:6) They saw their Sabbathkeeping as an appropriate response to God's grace, not as a means of earning salvation or of determining the identity of ``true Christians.''
Interest Waned in
After the persecutions of the seventeenth century had
died down, English Sabbatarians
enjoyed substantially greater freedom of worship, but by this time their
movement seemed to have expended much of its energy. Several
congregations flourished for a while, especially those in
Several factors seem to have been involved in this decline. One is the failure of the congregations to organize together on a national level to promote evangelism, train pastors, and instruct and support their young people. As a result, many of the congregations faded away when their pastors died and no replacements could be found.
Part of the blame for their lack of organization may lie in divisions
stemming from differences on other points of doctrine. In
Another factor detrimental to the Sabbatarian cause was the
occasional extremism exhibited by some of its proponents. As I have
mentioned above, the English Seventh Day Baptists usually did not have a
legalistic or exclusivistic outlook, but one
exceptional episode in the mid-seventeenth century dealt a great blow to their
reputation and the progress of their movement in the northern and eastern parts
In the final analysis, though, the best explanation for the decline of the English Sabbatarian movement may be that the early persecution it endured was ultimately too great for it to overcome. In coping with the Conventicle Act and other persecution, the Sabbathkeepers apparently became accustomed to being a scattered, underground community. As Henri Misson put it in his 1698 memoir, they made ``but little noise.'' When circumstances eventually became more favorable, they were not prepared to take full advantage of new opportunities.
Although the Sabbatarian movement largely died out in
The Sabbath in
The Baptist congregation in
Two other Newport Baptists, Samuel and Tacy Hubbard, began to keep the seventh day Sabbath in the spring of 1665, and soon the number of Sabbatarians in the group increased to eleven. For a while, their relationship with the rest of the congregation was peaceful, but fellowship became strained in 1669 when four of the eleven changed their minds and started to speak against the Sabbath [5, p. 98]. At this point, the remaining seven were not sure what to do. Should they remain together with the rest of the Newport Baptists, a course of action that was becoming increasingly difficult, or should they form their own separate congregation?
Counsel on this question came to
This first Sabbatarian congregation in
Under Hiscox and Gibson, the Seventh Day Baptists
Seventh Day Baptists played a significant role in the history of the
American colonies. Especially notable are the descendants of Thomas and
Amy Ward (no relation to the author), early members of the
Meanwhile, some people in
The Seventh Day Baptists are also indirectly responsible for the acceptance
of the Sabbath by other groups of Christians. In particular, they helped
introduce it to the Adventists of the Millerite
movement. In 1841, Rachel Preston Oakes, a Seventh Day Baptist, joined a
congregation of Adventists in Washington, New Hampshire, and convinced her
pastor, Frederick Wheeler, to accept the Sabbath in 1844. Other
Adventists soon adopted the seventh day Sabbath, and two Sabbatarian
denominations-the Seventh-day Adventists and the
At present, there are well over ten million Sabbatarian Christians in the world, and that number is likely to continue growing in the years ahead. In today's fast-paced world, the value of a weekly appointment with our Creator is greater than ever. And as more and more Christians reclaim the Hebraic roots of their faith, the number who choose to keep that appointment on the biblical seventh day will increase. The courageous Sabbatarians of the seventeenth century would no doubt be glad to know about the ultimate fruits of their efforts. I, for one, am honored to follow in the footsteps of such people of integrity and am very thankful for the freedom to be able to celebrate the Sabbath openly.
1. Bryan W. Ball, The
Seventh-day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism
2. David S. Katz, Sabbath and Sectarianism in Seventeenth-Century England, E.J. Brill, New York, 1988.
3. James McGeachy, ``The Times
of Stephen Mumford,''
5. Don A. Sanford, A
Choosing People: The History of the Seventh Day Baptists, Broadman
1 Bampfield gives an account of this arrest in ``The Lord's Free Prisoner,'' available on the internet at
2 To hear this hymn and learn more about the hymns of Joseph Stennett, see http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/a/n/o/another6.htm
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