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Rev. William Kiffin
Early British Minister
The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881

[p. 654]
Rev. William Kiffin was born in London in 1616. In 1625 the plague, which swept over his native city, deprived him of both his parents and left him with six plague sores, the cure of which was regarded as impossible. Through two sermons preached by Mr. Davenport and Mr. Coleman, in London, Mr. Kiffin obtained, from Christ a divine life which defied the evils of seventy stormy years. He united with a Congregational church, by which he was first called to the ministry. In 1638 he joined the Baptist church of which the Rev. John Spilsbury was pastor. 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, — an office which he retained for sixty-one years, the duties of which three assistant pastors at different times aided him to discharge.

Mr. Kiffin was a merchant, carrying on business with foreign countries, and especially with Holland. He conducted his mercantile affairs with so much skill that in a few years he was among the wealthiest men in London, and known by all classes of society throughout the kingdom as one of the greatest of English merchant-princes. This made him a conspicuous object for persecuting spite, and it stirred up the cupidity of a base horde of informers, whom the Stuarts employed to ruin Dissenters. Lord Arlington, one of the secretaries of Charles II, told Mr. Kiffin that he was on every list of disaffected persons whose freedom was regarded as dangerous to the government.

He was arrested many times. Once he was committed to the White Lion jail in London, where some prisoners formed a conspiracy to murder him, but he was unexpectedly set at liberty. Gen. Monk arrested him for an alleged conspiracy against the king, but the charge was shown to be false, and he was released. About midnight, on another occasion, he was taken into custody, accused of having hired two men to kill the king, but soon after this wicked fabrication was exposed, and he was permitted
[p.655]
to depart. His position among Dissenters exposed him to extreme peril for many years.

Kiffin's influence was very great. Macaulay says, "Great as was the authority of Bunyan with the Baptists, William Kiffin’s was greater still." He had talents of the highest order; his education was respectable; his sagacity was uncommon; his manners were polished; his piety was known everywhere; and for half a century he was the first man in the Baptist denomination. With the business community of London, or with the great trades of other cities, the credit of Kiffin stood higher than the financial promises of kings. Even the haughty nobles of Britain were not too proud to be his friends, and among these Clarendon, the Lord High Chancellor, stood the first. Thurloe, the chief secretary of Cromwell, in his "State Papers," frequently mentions Mr. Kiffin's name with respect, and the "Whitlocke's Memorials" are equally just to the great and good Baptist. Even King Charles himself, as far as his heartlessness would permit him to show affection, was the friend of Mr. Kiffin. There were ten Baptist men and two women arrested at a Dissenting religious meeting at Aylesbury, for which offense against the Church of England they were sentenced to three months' imprisonment. At the expiration of that time they were brought before the court and commanded to conform to the Episcopal Church or to leave the country immediately. These sturdy Baptists refused to do either, and they were sentenced to death according to law. A man forthwith started off to Mr. Kiffin, in London, who interceded with the king, and saved their lives. And on several other occasions the king gave substantial proofs of his regard to the great city merchant. He was so friendly to Mr. Kiffin that he sent to borrow £40,000 from him, no doubt as a return for favors he had granted his brethren, which Mr. Kiffin compromised by a gift of £10,000, and felt that he had saved £30,000 by the arrangement. When King James II abolished the charter of the city of London he wanted to make Mr. Kiffin an alderman to secure the influence of his great name to help him in his illegal suspension of many charters, and of all penal laws against Dissenters and Catholics. But he disliked the king's illegal measures, and lent him no willing aid, direct or indirect, to assist him in their execution.

Mr. Kiffin's ample means were chiefly used in works of benevolence. He gave large sums to the poor; he contributed with great liberality to the feeble churches and their persecuted ministers; he assisted in the education of young men for the ministry, and he was ever ready for any labor or gift of love.

The only work he ever published was a treatise in favor of "close communion," the arguments in which are as sound as the principles that governed his pure and noble life.

One of the sons of Mr. Kiffin was poisoned by a Catholic priest in Venice because he had been too free in denouncing his religion. Two of his grandsons, the Hewlings, were murdered by Jeffreys, the basest of judges, and James II., the meanest of kings. Macaulay speaks of them as "the gallant youths, who, of all the victims of the Bloody Assizes, had been most lamented." Their sister Hannah married Major Henry Cromwell, the grandson of the great Protector.

Mr. Kiffin was evidently raised up by the providence of God and invested with his talents, influence, and wealth to shield his persecuted brethren in times specially calamitous; and in a spirit of supreme love to Jesus, for half a century, he was the father of the English Baptists. He died Sept. 29, 1701, when the sword of William III of blessed and of "Boyne Water" memory had terrified the last Stuart from the English throne.
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[The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881, p. 654. - jrd]




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