Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Biographical Sketch: William Kiffin

Overview of Kiffin’s Life

William Kiffin, the father of the Particular Baptists, was born in London in 1616. He lost both parents to the plague at age 9. In 1629, when he was 13, he was apprenticed to a glover. Two years later, he ran away from his master, but as he was leaving he stopped by St. Antholin’s Church, where he heard the Puritan Thomas Foxley preaching on “the duty of servants to masters.” Under conviction of this preaching, Kiffin returned to his master before his absence was even detected. He began attending sermons from Puritan ministers, and eventually came to saving faith in Christ upon hearing John Davenport preach on I John 1:7. As a new Christian, Kiffin both loved Christ and hated sin with such fervor that he came to have unrealistic expectations of entirely victorious Christian living. When Kiffin came to find that he felt himself more tempted than ever, he began to lose hope that he was a Christian at all. Finally, under the preaching of the Arminian John Goodwin, Kiffin came to have assurance of salvation (this is somewhat ironic as Arminians usually deny the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints).

In 1638, when Kiffin was 22, he joined the independent congregation in London pastored by John Lathrop. He engaged in the discussions on Baptism and soon joined the congregation pastored by John Spilsbury. As Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopedia notes:
From this community a colony went forth in 1640 which formed another church. The new organization met in Devonshire Square. It elected Mr. Kiffin pastor.
Kiffin served as the pastor of Devonshire Square Church (with three other pastors assisting him at various times) for 61 years, until his death in 1701.

The First London Confession of Faith and the Nationwide Strategy

By 1644, there were seven Calvinistic Baptist churches in England, including the Devonshire Square Church pastored by Kiffin. In this year, these seven churches came together to issue the First London Confession of Faith (revised and expanded in 1646), in the drafting of which Kiffin seems to have played a major role. United in the beliefs expressed in the First London Confession, the Calvinistic Baptists engaged in a “nationwide strategy” of evangelism and church planting from 1644 to 1660. As Baptist historian Barrie R. White notes, Kiffin played “a significant and continuous part” in this “nationwide strategy.”

Support of Governing Authorities and Support of the Oppressed

Following the execution of King Charles I in 1649, England was established under a republican form of government under the administration of what came to be known as the “Rump Parliament.” Frustrated the failure of the Rump Parliament to achieve reform, Oliver Cromwell led the army to forcibly dissolve the Parliament in 1653 and Cromwell was declared Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland. As historian Michael A.G. Haykin notes,
…there were a number of Calvinistic Baptists, especially some in the army in Ireland, who were highly vocal in their criticism of Cromwell. Kiffin, John Spilsbury and a Joseph Samson wrote to their Irish Baptist brethren in January 1654, urging them to “consult with that blessed rule of truth which you profess to be your guide… for that expresseth no other thing to Christians but exhortations to be subject to all civil powers, they being of God, and to pray for all that are in authority, that under them we may live in a godly and quiet life in all godliness and honesty.”
William Kiffin even served in the second Protectorate parliament in 1656 for Middlesex. However, Kiffin did not only model his admonition “to be subject to all civil powers” under the rule of the Lord Protector (whom Kiffin supported as Cromwell was a great promoter of religious liberty), but he once again became a loyal subject to the throne when the reign of King Charles II (who persecuted independent congregations) was inaugurated in 1660. Though persecution by Charles II was the reason why the “nationwide strategy” of the Calvinistic Baptists came to an end, and though Kiffin was briefly jailed a number of times in the two or three years following the inauguration of Charles’ reign due to his refusal to compromise his Baptist beliefs, Kiffin remained a loyal subject of the king and the king eventually appointed him to public office as an alderman of London, a Lord Lieutenant and a magistrate. Though he seldom exercised these offices, Kiffin was able to use his political influence, along with the wealth he had earned as a cloth merchant, to help Baptists being persecuted in both England and in the American colonies. (Haykin notes “For instance, in 1664 he was able to rescue twelve General Baptists, who had been sentenced to death for participating in an illegal conventicle.” )

During this stormy period for England’s political history, it was sometimes hard to tell who constituted the proper governing authority, and it could be risky to become too closely involved in politics. William Kiffin’s grandsons, Benjamin and William Hewling, learned this lesson when King Charles II died in 1685 and they supported the Duke of Monmouth– a Protestant who was the illegitimate son of Charles II– thinking that he was the rightful heir to the throne, against James II, the Roman Catholic brother of King Charles II. Benjamin and William Hewling were captured, tried, and executed in 1685 by supporters of James II, when Benjamin was 22 and William was 19. This came as a great blow to Kiffin, who had raised the boys as his own sons following the death of their father.

A Sober Discourse of Right Church-Communion

Baptist historians generally consider A Sober Discourse of Right Church-Communion, published in 1681, to be Kiffin’s most important written work. This work was a response to the errors of John Bunyan, who himself held to believers’ baptism, but argued that those who held to other opinions concerning baptism should not be denied church membership or participation in the Lord’s Supper. Kiffin noted the consistent example of the apostles in baptizing those coming to faith before admitting them to the Lord’s Supper. He cited the biblical mandate from II Thess. 3:6 to withdraw from disorderly persons, and noted that those who did not submit to proper baptism were “disorderly.” Kiffin observed that Bunyan had no command or example from Scripture for letting anyone partake in the Lord’s Supper without baptism, and he asserted that Bunyan’s practice negated the importance of the command to be baptized. Kiffin considered the subject of baptism to be very serious, but this did not lessen his Christian love for those with different views, as he noted that believers' baptism was never intended by God to be "a wall of division" to exclude "other Christians from our love, charity, and Christian-communion" but only to exclude "from immediate Church-fellowship."

The Second London Confession of Faith

In 1688– three years after King James II took the throne and Benjamin and William Hewling were executed– James II was forced into exile and dethroned by his nephew and son-in-law, William Henry of Orange, who became King William III of England. The next year, William III urged passage of the Act of Toleration, which granted religious liberty to independent congregations, including the Baptists. Following passage of the Act of Toleration, William Kiffin and six other Calvinistic Baptist ministers sent out an invitation for Calvinistic Baptists to meet at a General Assembly in London to discuss and endorse a confession of faith that had been authored by William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe in 1677– a confession modeled on the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians and the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists. This confession– the Second London Confession of Faith has been referred to by Baptist historian Thomas J. Nettles as the Baptists’ “richest confessional treasure.” This confession (or its adaptations in the Philadelphia and Charleston Confessions) was embraced by the churches or associations from which each of the 293 delegates who met in Augusta, GA in 1845 to establish the Southern Baptist Convention came. In 1689 representatives from over 100 Calvinistic Baptist churches came to the General Assembly. This number demonstrates the success of the “nationwide strategy,” which had begun when there were only 7 Calvinistic Baptist churches in existence. William Kiffin was the only Baptist minister from the group that issued the First London Confession of Faith still alive to sign the Second London Confession.

Domestic Tragedy

In addition to the loss of his grandsons mentioned above, William Kiffin had to endure the personal sadness of being preceded in death by his first wife and by all of his children. His eldest son, William, died in 1669, at age 20. His second son died in Venice, having been poisoned by a Roman Catholic priest with whom he had discussed matters of religion. His daughter Priscilla died in 1679. His final son, Harry, died in 1698 at age 44. Kiffin’s first wife, Hanna, died in 1682.

Adding to the sorrow of these lost family members, Kiffin’s second wife, Sarah, was charged before Devonshire Square Church on March 2, 1698 for defrauding Kiffin of 200 pounds and for propagating false accusations against her husband. She refused to appear before the congregation and was suspended from communion on April 24, 1698.


Kiffin fell asleep on December 29, 1701 and was buried in Bunhill Fields. His life is an example of faithful ministry within the local church, partnership with other churches in evangelism and church planting, support for governing authorities, financial stewardship, care for the oppressed, and faithfulness to live out and proclaim convictions formed through careful study of God’s Word.


James Leo Garrett. Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study. Macon, GA, USA: Mercer University Press, 2009.

Michael A.G. Haykin. Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach. Leeds, England: Reformation Today Trust, 1996.

Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists, Vol. 1. Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2005.

William Kiffin blog

William Kiffin page on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library]



Blogger Jimmy said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Michael R. Jones said...

Good overview of the life of Kiffin. I was so impressed by Kiffin when I read about him in Nettles vol. 1 that I named my blog after his "Sober Discourse."

8:51 AM  

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