Thomas Helwys: First Baptist Pastor in England
by Ron F. Hale
Thirty years before Particular Baptists were birthed in England, a group under the leadership of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys gathered in Holland for worship and fellowship—many of these brave Baptists would venture back to England. They are now known as General Baptists. Each group (Generals and Particulars) became known for their view of the atonement of Christ. The Particular Baptists held to a “particular redemption” or limited atonement. The General Baptists were more Arminian and held to a “universal” or general atonement by which Christ died for all sinners and those who believe in Jesus will be saved.
Helwys broke ranks with John Smyth in 1610 and wrote the first true English confession of faith from a Baptist perspective. The next year, this small group of Baptists left Holland and moved back to England, thereby, establishing the first Baptist congregation on English soil. After being imprisoned by King James I, Helwys died in 1616, at the age of 40. His early death paralyzed the General Baptist movement in England, thereby, greatly hindering their growth. Several decades later, the Particular Baptist movement soon outpaced General Baptists in growth and influence.
In reading the 27 articles of faith by Helwys, Southern Baptists would not agree with true believers losing their salvation according to article seven. However, in reading the entire document and other historic Baptist statements of faith, one better understands the mixing and mingling of Baptist beliefs over the last four-hundred years.
A DECLARATION OF FAITH OF ENGLISH PEOPLE REMAINING AT AMSTERDAM IN HOLLAND.
Hebrews 11:6. Without Faith it is impossible to please GOD.
Romans 14:23. Whatsoever is not of Faith is sin.
To All The Humble minded which love the truth in simplicity Grace and peace.
A DECLARATION, ETC.
WE BELIEVE AND CONFESS
- That there are THREE which bear record in heaven, the FATHER, the WORD, and the SPIRIT; and these THREE are one GOD, in all equality, (1 John 5:7; Philippians 2:5, 6). By whom all things are created and preserved, in Heaven and in Earth. (Genesis 1).
- That this GOD in the beginning created al things of nothing, (Genesis 1:1) and made man of the dust of the earth, (Genesis 2:7), in his own image, (Genesis 1:27), in righteousness and true Holiness. (Ephesians 4:24); yet being tempted, fell by disobedience. (Ephesians 3:1-7). Through whose disobedience, all men sinned. (Romans 5:12-19). His sin being imputed unto all; and so death went over all men.
- That by the promised seed of the woman, JESUS CHRIST, [and by] his obedience, al are made righteous. (Romans 5:19). All are made alive, (1 Corinthians 15:22). His righteousness being imputed unto all.
- That notwithstanding this, men are by nature the Children of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3) born in iniquity and in sin conceived. (Psalm 51:5) Wise to all evil, but to good they have no knowledge. (Jeremiah 4:22). The natural man perceives not the things of the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:14). And therefore man is not restored unto his former estate, but that as man, in his estate of innocence, having in himself all disposition unto good, & no disposition unto evil, yet being tempted might yield, or might resist: even so now being fallen, and having all disposition unto evil, and no disposition or will unto any good, yet GOD giving grace, man may receive grace, or my reject grace, according to that saying; (Deuteronomy 30:19) I call Heaven and Earth to record. This day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: Therefore choose life that both thou and thy seed may live.
- That GOD before the Foundation of the World hath Predestinated that all that believe in him shall-be saved, (Ephesians 1:4, 12; Mark 16:16) and all that believe not shall be damned, (Mark 16:16) all which he knew before. (Romans 8:29) And this is the Election and reprobation spoken of in the Scriptures, concerning salvation, and condemnation, and not that GOD hath Predestinated men to be wicked, and so to be damned, but that men being wicked shall be damned, for GOD would have all men saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, (1 Timothy 2:4) and would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) and wills not the death of him that dies. (Ezekiel 18:32). And therefore GOD is the author of no mans condemnation; according to the saying of the Prophet. (Hosea 13). Thy destruction O Israel, is of thy self, but thy help is of me.
- That man is justified only by the righteousness of CHRIST, apprehended by faith, (Romans 3:28. Galatians 2:16) yet faith without works is dead. (James 2:17)
- That men may fall away from the grace of GOD, (Hebrews 12:15) and from the truth, which they have received &acknowledged, (Hebrews 10:26) after they have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the HOLY GHOST, and have tasted of the good word of GOD, &of the powers of the world to come. (Hebrews 6:4, 5). And after they have escaped from the filthiness of the World, may be tangled again therein &overcome. (2 Peter 2:20). That a righteous man may forsake his righteousness and perish (Ezekiel 18:24, 26). And therefore let no man presume to think that because he hath, or had once grace, therefore he shall always have grace: But let all men have assurance, that if they continue unto the end, they shall be saved: Let no man then presume; but let all work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
- That JESUS CHRIST, the Son of GOD the second Person, or subsistence in the Trinity, in the Fullness of time was manifested in the Flesh, being the seed of David, and of the Israelites, according to the Flesh, (Romans 1:3 and Romans 8:5) the Son of Marie the Virgin, made of her substance, (Galatians 4:4) by the power of the HOLY GHOST overshadowing her, (Luke 1:35) and being thus true Man was like unto us in all thing, sin only excepted. Hebrews (4:15) being one person in two distinct natures, TRUE GOD, and TRUE MAN. 32/84
- That JESUS CHRIST is Mediator of the New Testament between GOD and Man, (1 Timothy 2:5) having all power in Heaven and in Earth given unto him. (Matthew 28:18) Being the only KING, (Luke 1:33) PRIEST, (Hebrews 7:24) and PROPHET. (Acts 3:22) Of his church, he also being the only Law-giver, hath in his Testament set down an absolute, and perfect rule of direction, for all persons, at all times, to be observed; Which no Prince, nor any whosoever, may add to, or diminish from as they will avoid the fearful judgments denounced against them that shall so do. (Revelation 22:18, 19).
- That the church of CHRIST is a company of faithful people (1 Corinthians 1:2. Ephesians 1:1) separated from the world by the word &Spirit of GOD (2 Corinthians 6:17) being knit unto the LORD, &one unto another, by Baptism. (1 Corinthians 12:13). Upon their own confession of the faith (Acts 8:37) and sins. (Matthew 3:6).
- That though in respect of CHRIST, the Church be one (Ephesians 4:4) yet it consists of divers particular congregations, even so many as there shall be in the World, every of which congregation, though they be but two or three, have CHRIST given them, with all the means of their salvation. (Matthew 18:20. Romans 8:32. 1 Corinthians 3:22). Are the Body of CHRIST (1 Corinthians 12:27) and a whole Church. (1 Corinthians 14:23) And therefore may, and ought, when they are come together, to Pray, Prophecy, break bread, and administer in all the holy ordinances, although as yet they have no Officers, or that their Officers should be in Prison, sick, or by any other means hindered from the Church. (1 Peter 4:10 &2:5).
- That as one congregation hath CHRIST, so hath all, (2 Corinthians 10:7). And that the Word of GOD comes not out from any one, neither to any one congregation in particular. (1 Corinthians 14:36). But unto every particular Church, as it doth unto al the world. (Colossians 1:5. 6). And therefore no church ought to challenge any prerogative over any other.
- That every Church is to receive in all their members by Baptism upon the Confession of their faith and sins wrought by the preaching of the Gospel, according to the primitive Institution, (Matthew 28:19) and practice, (Acts 2:41). And therefore Churches constituted after any other manner, or of any other persons are not according to CHRIST’S Testament. 33/84
- That Baptism or washing with water is the outward manifestation of dieing unto sin, and walking in newness of life. (Romans 6:2, 3, 4). And therefore in no wise appertains to infants.
- That the LORDS Supper is the outward manifestation of the Spiritual communion between CHRIST and the faithful mutually (1 Corinthians 10:16, 17) to declare his death until he come. (1 Corinthians 11:26).
- That the members of every Church or Congregation ought to know one another, so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another, both to soul and body. (Matthew 18:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Corinthians 12:25). And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock, whereof the HOLY GHOST hath made them overseers. (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2, 3). And therefore a Church ought not to consist of such a multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another.
- That Brethren impenitent in one sin after the admonition of the Church, are to be excluded the communion of the Saints (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 13) &therefore not the committing of sin doth cut of any from the Church, but refusing to hear the Church to reformation.
- That Excommunicants in respect of civil society are not to be avoided, (2 Thessalonians 3:15. Matthew 18:17).
- That every Church ought (according to the example of CHRIST’S Disciples and primitive Churches) upon every first day of the week, being the LORDS day, to assemble together to pray, prophecy, praise GOD, and break Bread, and perform all other parts of Spiritual communion for the worship of GOD, their own mutual edification, and the preservation of true Religion, &piety in the church (John 20:19. Acts 2:42 and 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2) and that ought not to labor in their callings according to the equity of the moral law, which CHRIST came not to abolish, but to fulfill. (Exodus 20:8 &c).
- That the Officers of every Church or congregation are either Elders, who by their office do especially feed the flock concerning their souls, (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, 3) or Deacons Men, and Women who by their office relieve the necessities of the poor and impotent brethren concerning their bodies, (Acts 6:1-4). 34/84
- That these Officers are to be chosen when there are persons qualified according to the rules in Christ’s Testament, (1 Timothy 3:2-7. Titus 1:6-9. Acts 6:3. 4) by Election and approbation of that Church or congregation whereof they are members, (Acts 6:3. 4 and 14:23), with Fasting, Prayer, and Laying on of hands, (Acts 13:3. and 14:23). And there being but one rule for Elders, therefore but one sort of Elders.
- That the Officers of every Church or congregation are tied by Office only to that particular congregation whereof they are chosen, (Acts 14:23, and 20:17. Titus 1:5). And therefore they cannot challenge by office any authorities in any other congregation whatsoever except they would have an Apostleship.
- That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are written for our instruction, (2 Timothy 3:16) &that we ought to search them for they testify of CHRIST, (10:5. 39). And therefore to be used withal reverence, as containing the Holy Word of GOD, which only is our direction in al things whatsoever.
- That Magistracy is a Holy ordinance of GOD, that every soul ought to be subject to it not for fear only, but for conscience sake. Magistrates are the ministers of GOD for our wealth, they bear not the sword for naught. They are the ministers of GOD to take vengeance on them that do evil, (Romans 13). That it is a fearful sin to speak evil of them that are in authority, and to despise Government. (2 Peter 2:10). We ought to pay tribute, custom and all other duties. That we are to pray for the, for GOD would have them saved and come to the knowledge of his truth. (1 Timothy 2:1. 4). And therefore they may be members of the Church of CHRIST, retaining their Magistracy, for no Holy Ordinance of GOD debars any from being a member of CHRIST’S Church. They bear the sword of GOD, — which sword in all Lawful administrations is to be defended and supported by the servants of GOD that are under their Government with their lives and al that they have according as in the first Institution of that Holy Ordinance. And whosoever holds otherwise must hold, (if they understand themselves) that they are the ministers of the devil, and therefore not to be prayed for nor approved in any of their administrations, — seeing all things they do (as punishing offenders and defending their countries, state, and persons by the sword) is unlawful.
- That it is Lawful in a just cause for the deciding of strife to take an oath by the Name of the Lord. (Hebrews 6:16; 2 Corinthians 1:23. Philippians 1:8). 35/84
- That the dead shall rise again, and the living being changed in a moment, – having the same bodies in substance though divers in qualities. (1 Corinthians 15:52 and 38. Job 19:15-28. Luke 24:30).
- That after the resurrection all men shall appear before the judgment seat of CHRIST to be judged according to their works, that the Godly shall enjoy life Eternal, the wicked being condemned shall be tormented everlastingly in Hell. (Matthew 25:46). [i]
Thomas Helwys’s public views on religious liberty challenged the beliefs and patience of his King. After languishing in a dreadful prison for several months, Helwys died. This fledgling faith movement was devastated.