A Handbook of Church History
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A Handbook of Church History

Chapter VI:

Sabbath Keepers in England

   Controversy commenced in England near the close of the sixteenth century. One Nicholas Bound, D. D. of Norton, in the county of Suffolk, published a book in 1595 in which he advanced the modern notion concerning the Christian Sabbath, that it is a perpetuation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, but that the day specified in that commandment has been changed by divine authority from the seventh day to the first day of the week. This doctrine was very taking. It was proclaimed at a time when there was felt to be so much need of greater strictness in regard to a day of rest. According to a learned writer of that age, "in a very little time it became the most bewitching error and the most popular infatuation that ever was embraced by the people of England."
   Dr. Bound's book was suppressed by order of Archbishop Witgiff in 1599, but its suppression only led to the publication of a multitude of other books in which every variety of opinion was expressed. While this discussion was on and in progress, several advocates of the seventh day arose who vindicated its claims with great boldness and ability.

John Traske

   John Traske began to speak and write in favor of the seventh day Sabbath about the time that the book of Sport for Sunday was published under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King James I in 1618. John Traske took high grounds as the sufficiency of the scriptures to direct in religious services and the duty of the state to impose nothing contrary to the word of God. For this, he was brought before the Star Chamber, where a long discussion was held respecting the Sabbath in which Dr. Andrews, Bishop of Winchester, took a prominent part. Traske was not turned from his opinion but received a censure in the Star Chamber. Pagent's Heriosography says that he "...was sentenced on account of being a Sabbatarian, to be set upon the pillory at Westminster and from thence to be whipped to the fleet prison and to remain a prisoner for three years. Mrs. Traske, his wife, lay in Maiden Lane at the gate house prison for fifteen years where she died for the same crime [Sabbath keeping!]..."

Brabourne's Sabbath Publications

   The next minister was Theopholis Brabourne, a learned minister in the established church. [So he was a minister of the established church of England, but he was converted.] He wrote a book which was printed in London in 1628, wherein he argued, "that the Lord's day is not the Sabbath day by divine institution," but, "that the seventh day Sabbath is now in force." This book not having been replied to, he published another in 1632. [So he allowed it to be out for four years and nobody had replied and tried to refute it; so four years later, in 1632, he published the book "in the defense of that most ancient and sacred ordinance of God, the Sabbath Day."] This book caused him to be called to account before the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and the court of high commissions. Several lords of His Majesty's private council and many other persons of court were present at his examination. For some reason, whether from being over awed by the character of that assembly or from fearing the consequence of rejecting its overtures, it is not possible now to say, he went back to the embrace of the established church. He continued to maintain, however, that if the Sabbatic institution be indeed moral, perpetually binding, then his conclusion that the seventh day ought to be kept is moral and irresistible.

Phillip Tande

   About this time, we find Phillip Tande promulgating the same doctrine concerning the Sabbath in the Northern part of England. He was educated in the established church, of which he became a minister. Having changed his views concerning the mode of baptism and the day of the Sabbath, he abandoned that church and became a mark for many shots. He held several important disputes about his peculiar sentiments and did much to propagate them.

The Doctrine of the Fourth Commandment

   James Ockford was another early advocate of the Sabbath in England. He seems to have been well acquainted with the discussion in which Traske and Brabourne were engaged. Being dissatisfied with the pretended conviction of Brabourne, he wrote a book in defense of the Sabbatarian views entitled The Doctrine of the Fourth Commandment. This book, which must have been published about the year 1642, was burnt by the authorities of the established church. One padre, a Presbyterian and a member of the Assembly of Divines, fearing that this sharp computation by fire would be complained of as a harsh dealing, wrote a review of it which is now extant. Several causes combined to prevent the early organization of Sabbatarian churches in England. [So, here is what he mentioned earlier. They became organized in 1650, or earlier than this, in England. But they did not become a denomination. They did not become an organized conference. They did not become Seventh Day Baptists.] The following denotes what their writer said.

Organization of Churches

   "Several causes combined to prevent the early organization of Sabbatarian churches in England. The various laws passed to secure uniformity in worship and to hinder the holdings of all religious meetings among all dissenters from the established church were doubly oppressive on those who observed their Sabbath on a different day from the days of the Christians. To this and similar causes, we must attribute the fact that there were no churches regularly organized until about 1650. [That is what the historian says, but it isn't what the opposite believers tried to make him say. "That's when the denomination began." That isn't what he said. He said there were no churches regularly organized until about 1650.]
   "Within fifty years of that period, however, there were eleven Sabbatarian churches...Besides many Sabbath keepers in different parts of the kingdom, these churches were located in the following places: Braintree in Essex, Chursey in Norwestern, Salisbury in Wilshire, Shirburn in Buckinghamshire, Tookisbury or Nathen in Gloucester, Wallingford in Berkshire, Woodridge in Suffolk and three in London; namely, Millyard, the Cripplegate church gathered by Francis Batfield and Penners Hall church, under the care of Mr. Belcher [The name of the man who wrote this book, except it wasn't the same man, but one of the sons or grandsons] whose funeral sermon preached by Joseph Stennet, April 1, 1695, now lies before us. [So, the man who wrote this had a copy of that funeral that Joseph Stennet preached over the body of an exminister of the church.] Eight of these churches have now become extinct and hence a complete account of them cannot be obtained. Of the three which remain, the following is a brief historical sketch:

The Millyard Church

   The Millyard church is located in the Eastern part of London. The time of its origin is not certainly known. The records now in possession of the church reach back as far as 1673. But, they contain no account of its organization and refer to the book which had been previously used. So it is probable that the church dates from a period considerably earlier. Indeed there can be but little doubt from its location and doctrinal views that this church is a perpetuation of the society gathered by John James, the martyr which originally met in Bull Steak of the alley, White Chapel. We think it safe therefore to put John James as the first pastor of Millyard. On the nineteenth day of October, 1661, while Mr. James was preaching, an officer entered the place of worship, pulled him down from the pulpit and led him away to the police under a strong guard. About thirty members of his congregation were taken before a bench of justices, then sitting at a tavern in the vicinity, where the oath of allegiance was tendered to each and those who refused it were committed to Newgate Prison.

Again Christian Martyrs

   Mr. James himself was examined and committed to Newgate upon the testimony of several witnesses who accused him of speaking treasonable words against the king. His trial took place about a month afterward at which he conducted himself in a manner to awaken much sympathy. He was, however, sentenced to be "hanged, drawn and quartered." This awful sentence did not dismay him in the least. He calmly said, "Blessed be God! Whom men condemn, God justifies." While he lay in prison under sentence of death, many persons of distinction visited him. They were greatly affected by his piety and resignation, and offered to exert themselves to secure his pardon but of their success, he seems to have had little hope. Mrs. James by the advice of her friends, twice presented a petition to the king of her husband's innocence, the character of the witnesses against him and entreating His Majesty to grant a pardon. In both instances, she was repulsed with scoffs and ridicule. At the scaffold on the day of execution, Mr. James addressed the assembly in a very affectionate manner. Having finished his address and kneeling down, he thanked God for covenant mercies and for conscience innocence. He prayed for the witnesses against him and for the executioner, for the people of God, for the removal of divisions, for the coming of Christ, for the spectators, and for himself that he might enjoy a sense of God's favor and presence and an entrance into "glory." [Not heaven, but glory!]
   After he was dead, his heart was taken out and burned, his quarters were affixed to the gates of the city and his head was set up in White Chapel on a pole opposite the alley in which his meeting house stood. [His meeting house didn't stand on a hill in the center of town. It stood across the alley.]

Succession of Ministers

   This book gives you every minister of the church, minister by minister, from then on down to today. We can know the minister of God's church from the time of John and James right on down to today and probably even a lot more than those.
   William Sellers was pastor of the Millyard church at the time when the present records commenced in 1673. The church was then in a flourishing condition, the members were numerous, and strict discipline was maintained. Mr. Sellers was probably the authour of the work on the Sabbath in review of Dr. Owens which appeared in 1671. [The same date that the true church began in America.] He is supposed to have continued his ministry until 1678. Henry Soursby succeeded Mr. Sellers. He was a man of considerable controversial talent which he exercised in defense of the Sabbath. The church records allude to a book upon the subject prepared by him, but no copy of it is now known. He ministered to the church until 1710. Two persons named Slater about this time preached occasionally but as there is no notice of their having become elders [not reverend, not bishop, but elder] it is quite likely that they were preaching brethren, a class of persons always much encouraged in this church. [In other words, Local Elders.] In 1711, Mr. Savage became pastor of the church. He had for an assistant or co-pastor, the venerable Mr. John Malden. [Notice: they never say "reverend," but Mr. Savage and Mr. John Malden.]
   He had long been the pastor of a Baptist church at Goodmansfield. He left on account of having embraced Sabbatarian principles. After the death of Mr. Malden and Mr. Savage, there was a vacancy in the pastoral office. The preaching brethren officiated on the Sabbath [in other words, the local elders did the job until God sent along another preaching elder] in an order prescribed in the business meetings of the church.

God Uses Families

   It was during this period in 1720, that Dr. Joseph Stennet was invited to take the pastoral care of the church. He was the pastor of a Baptist church in Exeter and after considerable delay, he declined the call. In 1726, the Lord seems to have provided them a pastor peculiarly suited to their condition in the person of Robert Cornthwaite. He was originally connected with the established church, but became convinced that the gospel did not proscribe any religious establishment. He identified himself with the dissenters and commenced preaching among the Baptists. When the Sabbath controversy came along, he decided for the seventh day and was chosen pastor of the Millyard church which post he continued to occupy until his death in 1754. He was a man of great mental ability and a firm adherent to whatever he deemed true and scriptural. He published six works related to the Sabbath which contributed much to draw attention to the subject and to improve the condition of the church over which he presided. Daniel Noble, the successor of Mr. Cornthwaite, was a member of a Sabbathkeeping family.
   So you see, some came from the Orthodox church of England, others came from the Baptist groups, others came from Sabbath-keeping families, as this Daniel Noble did.

Education Required

   He became pious at an early age and entered upon preparation for the ministry. His studies were pursued first in London, then to Dr. Rotherham at Kendall and afterward at the Glasgow University. He commenced preaching occasionally at Millyard in 1752 and took the oversight of the church when the pastoral office became vacant. His ministry continued until his death in 1783. About that time, William Slater, a member of the church, was invited to conduct the services.
   You remember we already had two Slaters earlier and here's another Slater. We have had Stennett already and we will have another and another and another. You see how God uses families.
   Afterward, he was ordained as a preacher. [Not a local elder, but a preacher.] He became pastor and discharged the duties of the office until he died in 1819. For many years after his death, the church was without a pastor, the puplit needs supplied by ministers of other denominations until the election of the present elder and pastor, Mr. William Henry Black.
   That sounds kind of off color. You don't have to scratch your head and wonder when they died out being the true church. You just read when. For several reasons God no longer supplied a minister. So they invited others Orthodox, Baptist and others to come in and preach. Then the next thing, that date they began electing and then finally it became and was referred to as a denomination. "They sought for other denominations for ministers."

The Cripplegate Church

   The congregation of Sabbatarians in London commonly known as the Cripplegate or Devonshire Square church was gathered in the reign of Charles II by the learned Mr. Francis Bampfield. Mr. Bampfield has descended from an honorable family in Devonshire and was a brother of Thomas Bampfield, speaker in one of Oliver Cromwell's parliaments. [So he was a man of reknown.] Having been from childhood designed for the ministry, he was at sixteen years of age sent to Watham College at Oxford from which he received two degrees at the end of eight years. He was soon afterward chosen president of Exeter Cathedral. Next he was transferred to the popular town of Sherbourn where he exerted an extensive influence among the adherents to the established church. While there, he began to doubt the authority of a church to proscribe forms of worship and finally became an open non-conformist. The consequence was his ejection from the ministry and an imprisonment in Dorchester jail for preaching and conducting a religious service contrary to the law. [At this time they didn't allow any except in the established church.]

Passover in Hired Hall

   During this imprisonment which lasted about eight years, his views upon the subject of baptism and the Sabbath underwent a change and he became a firm Seventh Day Baptist. He preached his new opinions boldly to his fellow prisoners, and several were led to embrace them. Soon after his release from Dorchester, Mr. Bampfield went to London and there his liberty to preach the gospel continued like his former imprisonment about ten years. His labors were at first in the vicinity of Bethnel Green in the eastern part of London where he preached and administered the Lord's Supper to a company of brethren in his own hired house. At the end of one year on the fifth of March, 1676, to use the language of the record, they quote, "passed into a church state."
   So you see, their own records quote it this way. They didn't say, "We became a denomination;" they didn't say, "We became a branch of the Seventh Day Baptists;" they didn't say, "We became a Protestant body." They said, "They passed into a church state."

The church was founded then:

   On these two great principles: visually owning and professing Jesus Christ to be the one and only Lord over our consciences and law giver to our souls and the holy scriptures to be the only rule of faith, worship and life.

Death of Pastor Bampfield

   Mr. Bampfield continued to labour as pastor of this church until 1682, when he was brought before the court of Sessions on a variety of charges connected with his nonconformity. He was several times examined and on each examination the oath of allegiance was tendered to him which he constantly refused because his conscience would not allow him to take it.
   The result was that the court declared him to be out of the protection of the king, his goods be forfeited and he be imprisoned during life, or the king's pleasure. His constitution had always been feeble and the anxieties of his trial together with the privation which he endured brought on disease of which he died in Newgate prison on the fifteenth day of February, 1684, at the age of sixty-eight.
   His funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Collins, one of his fellow prisoners.
   So, they put him in jail, he converted one of the prisoners, he died of disease and one of the prisoners preached his funeral sermon. That kind of smacks of what happened to the Apostle Paul. In another case, Simon came down to put to death Constantine of Mananali and then after he put him to death, he was so moved by the way the man died that he took up the ministry and began to be the next preacher. That's what happened here. The funeral sermon was preached by one of his fellow prisoners.
   And his body was interred amidst a large concourse of spectators in the burial place of a Baptist church in Glasshouse Yard, Goswell Street, London. After Mr. Bampfield's imprisonment the church was dispersed for a season.

Stennett Family

   "As times became more favorable, they re-united in church fellowship." They didn't become a denomination. They didn't become Seventh Day Baptists. They didn't become a Protestant body, but they re-united in church fellowship.
   On the fourteenth of October, 1686, they invited Mr. Edward Stennett of Wallingford to take the oversight of them. He acceded to their wishes in part and came to London at stated periods to preach and administer the ordinances. He still retained his connection with the people at Wallingford however, and finding it difficult to serve the church in London also as he desired, he resigned the pastoral care of them in 1689, recommending the appointment of someone to fill his place. Mr. Stennet is described as a "man of note and learning in those times." He is distinguished as being the ancestor of the famous Stennett family who all kept the seventh day and were for several generations an ornament to religion and cause of Protestant dissent.
   He bore a considerable share in the persecution which fell upon the dissenters of his time. Several instances are recorded in which his escape seems altogether miraculous and affords a striking evidence of divine interposition. [So apparently a number of times God intervened and kept him from being put to death.]
   In 1690, the second son of Edward Stennett was ordained pastor of this church. For fourteen years after the death of Mr. Stennett, the church was without a pastor. During the time the pulpit needs were supplied by ministers of other denominations or the meetings were held with the Millyard church. And then after that, Mr. Edmond Townsend and after that, Mr. Thomas Whitewood and then Dr. Samuel Stennett, a great grandson of Edward Stennett and son of Dr. Joseph Stennett was pastor of the Baptist church in Little Wile Street, London. His principles and practices correspond with those of the Cripplegate church. His judgment, as is well known, being for the observance of the seventh day which he strictly regarded in his own family. He was solicited to accept the pastoral office. There is no record however of his having done so although he performed the duties of a pastor, administered the Lord's Supper and preached for them regularly on the Sabbath morning. The afternoon service was conducted by four Baptist ministers in rotation.

So that is when they began to go off. They began to go astray.

The Anathan Church

   The Anathan church was located near Tookisbury in the west of England, ninety miles from London, fifteen miles from Gloucester. The exact time of its origin is not known. It is certain however that it existed as early as 1660. It is quite probable that there were Sabbath keepers in the region as early as 1640 who were prevented by the unsettled state of the country and their exposure to persecution from forming a regular church.
   The first pastor of this church of whom a satisfactory account can be given was Mr. John Purser. He is spoken of as a very worthy man who suffered much persecution for conscience' sake between 1660 and 1690. He was descended from an honorable family. He was heir to a considerable estate of which his father disinherited him because he persisted in keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath. Notwithstanding this, it pleased God to bless him in the little he had. He became a reputable farmer as did many of the most worthy ministers of that time and reared up a large family of children who "all walked in his steps."
   The principal place of meeting in the early days of the church was at the house of Mr. Purserate Aspen but other meetings were held at different places within a range of twenty-five miles, for the accommodation of the widely scattered congregation. Mr. Purser was a faithful and hard working minister among them until the close of his life in 1720.
   About that time there were two young men in the church who gave promise of considerable usefulness Mr. Phillip Jones and Mr. Thomas Bossin. Mr. Jones was chosen pastor of the church and discharged the duties of that office until his death in 1770. He was succeeded by his nephew [a family again!], Mr. Thomas Hillar, who although a Sabbatarian, became also the pastor of a First Day Baptist church in Tookisbury. He died a few years ago and since which time the church now dwindled to a mere handful, had been destitute of a pastor, and is now dead.
   You see why it is dead. The nephew preached on Sunday at the First Day Baptist church and on Saturday in his own church.

Death of True Church in England

   The foregoing is a brief sketch of the only three Sabbatarian churches now remaining in England out of the eleven which existed there 150 years ago. Their decline has been gradual but certain and unchecked.
   Sufficient causes for it may be assigned however without supporting any unsoundness in their doctrine. There can be little doubt that the observance of the Sabbath upon a different day from the one commonly observed is connected with the greater inconveniences than result from embracing the peculiar doctrines of any other Christian denominations. From a very early period it has been the practice of Sabbatarian preachers to accept the pastoral care of First-Day churches, thus attempting to serve two masters at once and practically proclaiming a low esteem of the doctrine by which they were distinguished.
   Closely connected with this and perhaps a natural result of it has been almost total neglect for a long period to make any energetic effort to promulgate their views. [In other words, they were asleep like the ten virgins of Matthew 25 as far as doing the work of God in preaching the gospel into all the world as a witness.]
   Take into account these two considerations together with the fact that no missionary or associational organizations were ever formed to promote brotherly feeling among the churches and their existence at all seems more a matter of surprise than gradual decay.1


1. Joseph Belcher, Religious Denominations, (Philadelphia: John Potter, 1861), p. 228-238.

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Publication Date: 1973
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