Chapter 8


A few years before the Revolution what is known as the “Caffynite Controversy” broke out among the General Baptists. As it led to a rupture in their General Assembly, and to the formation, and continuance for some time of a rival body called The General Association, it is necessary to give some brief account of its origin, progress, and apparent termination. Mr. Matthew Caffyn was pastor of the church at Horsham, in Sussex, and is described as a minister eminent for his diligence and success, who contributed much to the spread of the General Baptist interest in those parts, and had suffered greatly for his attachment to it. He was a man of good natural abilities, which had been improved by a liberal education; an expert disputant who, for half a century, had been considered the champion of his party, and was often called to defend it against able opponents. He also held the position of “messenger” to the churches in Kent. Adopting opinions at variance with the general sentiments of the Denomination on the nature of Christ, and freely expressing them to his friend Mr. Joseph Wright, of Maidstone, his friend thought it his duty to sacrifice private friendship to the public good. Wright preferred a charge against Caffyn at the General Assembly in 1686, of denying both the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and demanding that he should be expelled from the Assembly, and from all communion with the churches therein represented. Crosby says that Caffyn, in his answer to these charges,

“readily acknowledged that there were some things in the Athanasian Creed which were above his understanding, after the most diligent and impartial examination; and that therefore he never had, nor could as yet receive it as the standard of his faith. He insisted upon it, that the Holy Scriptures contained all that could be necessary for a Christian to believe and profess; that if he were from hence catechised ever so severely he should not decline a free and open declaration of his sentiments; alleged his belief in Christ, as the Word, in the beginning of the creation of God; and that he was in the highest imaginable sense, God, consistently with that most established truth, that there can but be one absolutely supreme God. He thought Christ was the ‘God over all,’ intended by St. Paul, which he could understand conformably to our Lord’s own declarations concerning Himself. That, as to His flesh, He believed that Christ was of the seed of the woman, the son and offspring of David, conceived indeed miraculously, but born of Mary in the same natural way as other children. That it had been his study and delight to exalt and honour his Saviour, both as God and man, to the highest degree of thought. That he had never disturbed the minds of any Christians about unrevealed sublimities, but was willing everyone should have the same liberty and judgment which he claimed for himself; that he was far enough from perfection in knowledge; but, as his friends well knew, was always open to conviction, and thankful for every addition and further light.”

The Assembly were satisfied with Caffyn’s explanations, and Mr. Wright was “much discountenanced for his unbecoming reflections, and want of charity,” but did not relinquish his purpose; and again brought his charge against Mr. Caffyn at an Assembly held at Aylesbury, this time being supported by a friend whose name is not known. A second time Mr. Wright failed, since, says, Crosby, “that reverend body resolved to maintain amity and friendship with Mr. Caffyn, though he might vary a little in some abstruse unrevealed speculations.” Mr. Wright now withdrew from the Assemblies, protested against them all; but the controversy did not cease. Mr. John Waller was excluded from the Bucks churches for holding similar views, and Mr. Caffyn wrote to support him under his persecution. Caffyn now openly advocated his opinions, and talked freely of them at the Assembly in 1692. The following year the former charges were again preferred, backed by Caffyn’s letter to Waller, and Caffyn’s known words uttered at the last Assembly. The greater part of the meeting voted that Mr. Caffyn “was not guilty of the matters charged against him;” but, to establish their own orthodoxy, declared, “that the opinions ascribed to Mr. Caffyn were heresies.” This gave great offence to some; and a spirited “Protest” against it was signed by sixteen “messengers, elders and brethren, representatives of several congregations in divers parts of the nation,” in order to “clear themselves and the congregations to which they belonged of those gross errors, and of countenancing them.” The Assembly adjourned for three years.