In 1689, shortly after the accession of William & Mary the Toleration Act received the Royal Assent and the leading London Particular Baptists very soon convened a General Assembly to meet in London ‘to consider the state of the Interest’. In July 1689 a letter was sent to the churches, inviting them to a meeting in London to consider how to provide a better educated and adequately maintained ministry. This letter was signed by William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, John Harris, George Barrett, Benjamin Keach, Edward Man and Richard Adam. About 100 churches sent representatives who considered the various issues and made a number of proposals, but, largely through distrust of the London churches, the proposals for ministerial training and support ground to a halt.
From 1678, for 90 years, the Hollis family held the lease of the Pinners’ Hall and this was used regularly by various Baptist groups. Thomas Hollis (1634-1718) had moved to London and soon became very wealthy and he it was who first took the lease of the Hall. His son, also Thomas, became the first Trustee of the Particular Baptist Fund and one of its treasurers and benefactors.
Early in 1717 a group of influential ministers and laymen from London were convinced that they could do what the General Assembly had failed to achieve. They sent out a letter which proposed the raising of a Public Fund for the support and maintenance of honourable ministers, and to provide for a succession of such men. A meeting was held on 4th June 1717, and was successful. The following six churches subscribed a total of £910 to this new Particular Baptist Fund: the churches in Tallow Chandlers’ Hall, Little Wild Street, Devonshire Square, Horsleydown, Cripplegate and Fleur-de-Lis Yard. On 18th June 1717 there is a minute recording the appointment of three treasurers, and on 29th July a further minute authorised the purchase of an iron chest with three different locks. The keys of this chest were to be held by three keyholders, who were not to open the chest unless authonsed to do so by the Society. In addition, Trustees were appointed in whose names the various stocks and securities were to be held. By agreement with Mr Hollis, the chest was to be fixed in the Pinners’ Hall in the caretaker’s own room, and permission was given to hold their meetings in that Hall; both being rent free.
Mr Hollis suggested that a Declaration of Trust should be drawn up, but Counsel Mr Horsman advised that they were acting legally and no further action need be taken, and so far as is known no such Declaration was made. Rules were laid down for the distribution of their income, and no minister earning more than £25 per annum was to be considered for help. In fact, very few who applied for help were rejected, and frequently Mr Hollis personally doubled up what the Fund allocated. John Gill was one of the first beneficiaries, and later became one of its Managers.
Benjamin Keach, who possibly was the prime mover in the formation of the P.B.F., strongly disapproved of one of its regulations which specified ‘that it should be for the use and advantage of those churches only who go under the denomination of Particular Baptists’. So here we have an early indication of those for whose benefit the Fund was intended to operate.
On 2nd October 1722 the church at Wapping, Little Prescott Street, under the leadership of Clendon Dawkes, joined the Fund. The next two pastors were Samuel Wilson and Abraham Booth, who were both involved with the P.B.F. During their ministries well over £25,000 was subscribed to the Fund by various members. Joseph Ivimey said, “It is worthy of notice how greatly this single church has contributed … Let it not be forgotten that to the influence of the pastors of this church … the [Particular] Baptist Fund is chiefly indebted”. This church later moved to Commercial Street and then to Walthamstow, where it still meets today.
Right from the start the Fund was concerned with the education of preachers, and initially this was by way of making grants for the purchase of approved books. Most Baptist ministers down the years have received such a grant. In 1809 William Taylor purchased a property in Stepney to be used as a Baptist College, and he gave money to the P.B.F. to cover the running expenses. Dr William Newman of Bow was appointed as the Principal of the new Academy. The College later moved to Regents Park and then to Oxford, where it is known as Regents Park College of Oxford University, and still receives a regular grant from the P.B.F.
Today the Fund supports a number of pastors, whose stipend is below a reasonable level, and also provides pensions for retired ministers. Grants are made to Baptist Colleges, book grants to those completing their ministerial training, and also grants to those studying for further qualifications. There is also a substantial Loan Fund to help churches with the cost of building work on their chapels and manses. Many years ago a legacy was received to pay for a meal for Managers attending the meetings of the Fund, and this is still complied with at their half yearly meetings.
The Particular Baptist Fund still fulfils a valuable role in Baptist life. Particular Baptists would do well to interest themselves in the Fund, so that it can continue to play its full part in maintaining the understanding and proclamation of the doctrine of particular redemption.