Hercules Collins,  Jared Smith On Various Issues

A Specimen Of Hercules Collins’ Teachings

The Reformed Baptists are under the impression they represent the teachings of the 17th century Particular Baptists (17th PB’s). They believe the 17th PB’s were Moderate-Calvinists. During the 18th century, there arose a new generation of preachers who deviated from their forefathers, running to the extremes of Hyper-Calvinism. These hyper teachings killed evangelism which in turn suffocated the churches. To the rescue came Andrew Fuller, who in the latter part of the century restored the Particular Baptists to their former glory. Evangelism was reintroduced and churches could breathe again. 

As you might expect, the Hyper-Calvinists believe this to be a false narrative. However, you probably have seldom, if ever, heard their side of the story. I will present it from my perspective (as a Hyper-Calvinist). 

The 17th PB’s should not be identified as moderate or hyper Calvinists. They lived before these issues were “issues”. It is like asking whether they drove Fords or Chevys—neither, they rode horses, cars not yet invented. Were they moderate or hyper Calvinists—neither, they subscribed to strong views of sovereign grace, period. These 17th PB’s were dealing with many other pressing matters at that time. (1) From without, they faced persecution from a tyrannical government and slander from Reformed churches. In efforts to gain religious liberty and to win the approval of their Protestant peers, they produced the 1644 and 1689 Confessions of Faith. They were also bold to speak against the errors of Arminianism, Socinianism and Quakerism. (2) From within, there were many internal differences and disputes—whether a church should have an open or a closed Table; whether a church should ordain gospel ministers; whether a church should sing hymns during corporate worship; &c. Books and sermons were forthcoming on these topics. However, sharper views of grace had not yet been developed, nor had the heretical teachings of Fuller been introduced to the churches. 

When examining the writings and sermons of the 17th PB’s, one must not interpret them based on the meaning and definitions given to language in the succeeding centuries. Their works must be understood in the simplicity of the times in which they lived. To claim they subscribed to the teachings of John Gill would be silly, since he didn’t publish his Body of Divinity until 1769. To claim they subscribed to the teachings of Andrew Fuller is also senseless, since he didn’t publish his “ground breaking” work until 1785. It is therefore improper for the Reformed Baptists to claim the 17th PB’s as “their own”. 

But I would go further (as a side point), and assert the Reformed Baptists have no business identifying as a historic denomination with which they have no legitimate connection. Their movement began as a separate group in the 1950’s, with a different set of teachings in soteriology and ecclesiology. However, they seem to believe that because they are “calvinistic” and “baptistic”, they have the right to call themselves Particular Baptists, claiming the legacy of the 17th century preachers and churches. Perhaps the English Reformed Baptists may be able to argue a case in this direction, since they have commandeered many of the historic Particular Baptist chapels (though I believe their case to have no merit), but how exactly do the Reformed Baptists scattered around the world argue such a case? Do they not know the English Particular Baptists still exist as a distinct group of churches today? Do they not know that this distinct group of churches are the ones who actually have a historic and doctrinal link to the 17th PB’s? Consider, for instance, the American Reformed Baptists. They had their beginnings in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when a Banner of Truth Trust office was opened in the 1960’s. Yet they now insist that their roots go back to the 17th PB’s. As Americans, why haven’t they traced their roots to the Primitive Baptists, who were the American counterpart to the English Particular Baptists? I mean, both groups began around the same time (1630’s). Both groups shared similar teachings. Yet I have never heard an American Reformed Baptist lay claim to the history and heritage of the Primitive Baptists. I suppose there’s a special charm about the British Isles compared to the American shores. It would be far better for the Reformed Baptists to keep in their lane, unashamed of their teachings and short-lived history. It is quite sad they feel the need to authenticate their doctrines and legitimize their group by appropriating the history and legacy of another denomination. 

Now, back on point, I mentioned the 17th PB’s should not be identified as moderate or hyper Calvinists. However, it is quite clear to me they leaned towards higher (rather than lower) views of sovereign grace. This is most evident by the writings of Benjamin Keach, one of the poster-children of the Reformed Baptists. Three years after Keach signed the 1689 Confession, he preached a sermon denouncing the seventh article. It is the rejection of the seventh article which epitomizes Hyper-Calvinism. One may wonder, if Keach lived another ten years, would he have become a Hyper-Calvinist? 

And so, I believe the 17th PB’s leaned towards high views of sovereign grace. The 18th century Particular Baptists developed and sharpened those views, leading to what is now labeled “Hyper-Calvinism”. These Hyper-Calvinist churches were evangelistically driven, preaching a full and free gospel to sinners. This may easily be proven by their sermons, church records and the sheer number of churches which sprang up around the country. Now enters Andrew Fuller. A man who lacked an understanding of sovereign grace and therefore despised the gospel of men such as Gill, Brine, Hawker, Huntington, Ryland Sr, Upton, etc. In his attempt to correct what he never understood, 

He dethroned the God of all grace, 

Enthroned man’s duties in His place, 

Couched his teachings in gospel dress,

Mixed law with grace, O what a mess!

Whereas there may well be 17th PB’s who preached the gospel more loosely than their Hyper-Calvinist successors, yet certain it is, they did not subscribe to the jumbled teachings of Andrew Fuller.

The Hyper-Calvinists did not deviate from the 17th PB’s—they stood tall on the shoulders of their forefathers, and it is for this reason we do not relinquish them to the Reformed Baptists or any other Moderate-Calvinist group. 

Hercules Collins is one such preacher. He served twenty-six years as pastor of the church meeting at Wapping, London. This was the first Particular Baptist church on record to be organized in London (1633). He suffered imprisonment on account of his faith and wrote several books. His last work was entitled, “The Temple Repaired”, which is a rich repository of pastoral counsel to young preachers. Here are some examples from the book which throw light on Collins’ faith and practice:

 1. Speaking of the need for churches to be overseen by pastors, he wrote: 

“Why should not we be as careful in this matter as the Apostles, who ordained Elders in every Church? And Paul exhorts Titus to ordain Elders in every City. We see by this it was the Apostles judgment and great Care that every Church have an Elder: This is much the Word of God, and to be practiced as there is occasion, as Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper; and therefore this looks severely upon all those Churches who live year after year without a Pastor, which is the great reason of the scattering of the Flock.”

Collins did not press for a plural eldership to govern a church, though he quoted from key passages used by the Reformed Baptists to support that view. Reader, there is another way to understand the biblical teachings on eldership. Is it not in your interest to consider the issue from another perspective? 

 2. Speaking of the need for preachers to seek the sinner’s conversion, he wrote: 

(1) “You must seek the sinner’s conversion, the ignorant man’s instruction. The good Shepherd will seek that which is lost, raise them that are fallen, and bind up the broken in heart with God’s sweet promises, and labor to bring them to the Fold that have been driven away, heal and strengthen those that are sick. Thus every one is to have his portion rightly divided to him. In a word, some must be fed with milk, some with strong meat: food for strong men, and milk for babes.”

Collins makes clear, that while it is the preacher’s duty to seek the sinner’s conversion, yet it is the good Shepherd who ultimately seeks His lost sheep and raises them up. The preacher is to plant and water, but God gives the increase. The Hyper-Calvinist agrees with these sentiments.

(2) “Though it is our duty to preach Christ crucified the object of a justifying faith, yet this must not be done in the neglect of preaching up other duties, especially the great doctrine of repentance, which was one of the first which Christ preached, and is the first mentioned of the six principles of the doctrine of Christ in the sixth chapter to the Hebrews. Moreover, we find Christ and his Apostles preached the doctrine of mortification, and obedience to the commands of God, and all divine virtues, as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, patience, knowledge, godliness, brotherly-kindness, charity: this was Paul’s comfort in his last days, that he was clear from the blood of all men, for he had not sinned to declare the whole council of God.”

Collins emphasizes the need for preachers to set forth the whole counsel of God, especially as it relates to the Lord’s regenerate people. Christ crucified is the object of the sinner’s justifying (saving) faith; the doctrine of repentance, if it be a natural repentance, is certainly required of the unregenerate, and pressed upon them; if it be a saving repentance, then it springs from the soul’s union with Christ by virtue of regeneration, and is therefore encouraged in those whose hearts have been made right with the Lord; duties such as mortification and obedience to God’s commands are those which spring from the fruits of the soul’s union with Christ, among which are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, patience, knowledge, godliness, brotherly-kindness, charity. The Hyper-Calvinist agrees with these sentiments. 

(3) “There are necessary ordinances to be administered in the church of Christ till the end of the world, therefore ministers are necessary: they are to proclaim remission of sins in Christ’s name, to press the doctrine of repentance from dead works, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; they are to bring good tidings to the meek, turning men from darkness to light, speaking a word in season to the weary edifying the body of Christ, and perfecting the saints, nourishing men in the words of faith.” 

Collins highlights the need for gospel preachers. First, it is their duty, as Christ’s ambassadors, to proclaim remission of sins in His name—proclaim, not offer; second, to press the doctrine of repentance from dead works, which if it be a natural repentance, is pressed upon the unregenerate, and if it be a saving repentance, is pressed upon those who labor and are heavy laden in sin; third, to press faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—which the Fullerite will say is a duty faith imposed upon the unregenerate, but the Hyper-Calvinist will say is a saving faith already received by the regenerate; fourth, to bring good tidings to the meek—only regenerate sinners are meek, and only the meek receive the gospel as good news; fifth, to turn men from darkness to light—instructing the ignorant, though this must be a reference to those already regenerated as the following duties indicate; sixth, to speak a word in season to the weary, edifying the body of Christ, perfecting (maturing) the saints, nourishing men (regenerate) in the words of faith. The Hyper-Calvinist agrees with these sentiments. 

The quotes chosen for this article are only “specimens” of Collins’ teachings. They were selected that the reader might see how the teachings of 17th PB’s do not stand opposed to Hyper-Calvinism. In fact, it should demonstrate how the 18th century Particular Baptists sharpened their views of sovereign grace by building upon the gospel teachings of their forefathers.