08 (August 2014)

From Dissent to Disaster

From Dissent to Disaster
Tom Hill
31 July, 2014 2 min read

By grace to glory — Cornish Baptists: their origins, growth and the influence of George Charles Smith of Penzance

From Dissent to disaster

Stephen Dray Carn Brea Media (available through Lulu), 181 pages, £6.99 and 280 pages, £9.99, ISBN: 978-1-291-28414-0 and 978-1-291-28334-1 Star rating : 2

As a Cornishman and a Strict and Particular Baptist, I looked forward to reading these two small volumes and learning something about these two loves of mine entwined in their subject.

The Baptist cause in Cornwall in its early years of the seventeenth century was a colourful one, baptisms being undertaken with the expectation of physical healings and the sponsoring of a ‘prophetess’. It was not until 1769 that a recognisable Baptist cause was founded at Chacewater, embracing the 1689 Baptist confession of faith.

The first book quickly moves through 150 years of Baptist effort, chiefly from outside Cornwall, to the brief period when the work flourished in the early years of the nineteenth century.

1807 was the low point, and the arrival of the man who would earn a reputation, good and bad, as ‘Bosun Smith’, heralded the upturn, especially in Penzance and district.

He features prominently in both books, but in the second it is the controversy that came to be known as ‘The tuck net controversy’ and his place in that dispute that takes prominence.

The disaster, as the book’s title describes it, began with an expression of concern for the lost who were not having the gospel preached to them. This concern was expressed in a Baptist report. The Wesleyans and their allies, the Anglicans, took exception to this and a fierce debate ensued, with tracts and much public acrimony.

The difference between decisionism and true conversion lay at the heart of their argument, surely a subject still relevant today. The two chief protagonists in this damaging period went on to be used in other ways, the Wesleyan to pioneer work in Australia and Polynesia, Smith to found the Seaman’s Mission.

There is a wealth of information in these two books, but without a subject index, Scripture index, or even a contents page of chapters, it is a frustrating exercise to find anything again that you might wish to refer to.

Without any footnotes or references, the work lacks the proper moorings that a serious work of history and biography should include. No reference is made to any Strict Baptist or even Independent cause in Cornwall, it being for the most part a work focusing upon denominational activity that would later be absorbed into the Baptist Union.

Tom Hill
St Just

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