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Strict Baptist Bible Institute

Strict Baptists were in the past suspicious of “lettered men” as they were called. Theological Colleges were probably equated with liberalism and therefore, should be avoided. Hence, before 1923 there was no College specifically for the training of potential Strict Baptist pastors. Such must be taught by the Holy Spirit and should on no account seek training from mere men. That pastors should be called and prepared by the Holy Spirit we heartily agree. But God does use the means of godly teachers in order that others might be taught. We would accept that for the Church so why not accept that for the training of young men for the ministry? I am sure that today we do but nearly 100 years ago many did not.

It was in 1923 that a Bible Institute came into being. The vision behind it was not a theologian but the Managing Director of a business Company. He was James B. Collin. Today’s generation of Grace Baptists have largely forgotten this generous benefactor. He was a member of the Church at Bermondsey and if we do recall his name then it is probably in connection with the Mission. He was for many years President of the Strict Baptist Mission who bequeathed his property at 61 Breakspears Road, Brockley, SE4 to the SBM. J.B. Collin along with two other brethren, F.T. Newman of Tadworth and S.W. Anderson of Epsom, set up the Bible Institute at 98 Tressillian Road, Brockley.

The Gospel Herald for May 1923 reports the inaugural meeting held at Tressillian Road on April 10th. Mr.Collin was the Chairman and Pastor Robert Robinson (Chadwell Street) was appointed Secretary. A statement was read by Mr. Robinson in which he made clear that the Committee wished to emphasise that “it was not the intention of the Institute to make Ministers ” This was “entirely the Holy Spirit’s work…” He further stated that it was “incumbent upon those who preach the gospel that they should be able to do so without offence to those who are sensitive regarding the language in which the truth is presented to them.” The aim was “to give men – members of Strict Baptist Churches – who have evidently been called of God to preach the Gospel, either at home or on the Mission Field, and to pastors desiring it, systematic instruction in the Word of God

The preacher at the inaugural meeting was Pastor H.J. Galley who at that time was pastor at West Ham Tabernacle from whence one of the early students came – George E.J. Bird remembered for his long ministry at “Bethesda” Ipswich.

The First Principal

James Willoughby came from Ireland. He was an MA from Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Willoughby, a bachelor, began his ministry in the Church of Ireland but later joined the Irish Baptists. Finally he came to the English Strict Baptists. In many ways, James Willoughby was described as “eccentric.” I was informed by one who knew him well that he had a photographic memory and memorised all his sermons. That may partly explain why at one Institute Annual General Meeting, he delivered a sermon made up entirely of words containing one syllable!

BooksJames Willoughby was not only the Principal, he was the sole Tutor teaching Systematic Theology, Logic, Hebrew, Greek, Apologetics plus English Grammar and, of course, the Old and New Testaments. It is possible that some of the students had not had the privilege of a Grammar School education. Grammar was still taught to some in the fifties when I was a student.

Wilfred Kuhrt in his memories of James Willoughby (Grace Magazine August-September 1988) wrote that students who benefited from his teaching ‘…look back with gratitude and affection to the loveable, saintly old man….”

Mr. Willoughby continued as Principal until July 1938 and moved back to Ireland. The Gospel Herald for September 1938 states that Mount Zion, Chadwell Street (now Angel Baptist) “was the scene of a most affectionate service on July 8 to bid farewell to Mr. J. Willoughby MA the whole proceedings from beginning to end revealed the very high esteem and love in which he was held It was fitting that Pastor R. Robinson should be in the chair for he has been connected with the Institute since its inception, and was until comparatively recently its very capable Secretary.”

Early Students

A register of students was kept. The first student to set out on his studies was later to become the Principal. I refer to Charles Breed. He entered the Institute during 1923 and after completing three years, he accepted the call to the pastorate at Manor Park. Many years later, the late Ernest Kevan who became the first Principal of London Bible College, was known to have commented that Charles Breed was one of the finest theologians of his generation. Certainly that was true amongst the Strict Baptists.

Sadly, Charles Breed was little known beyond the Strict Baptists. For a few months, Charles Breed was the only student, but was then joined by three men who all applied at the same time – S. Cornell from Chadwell Street, W.A. Kimber also from Chadwell Street who joined the staff of the Mission in India and Geo.E.J.Bird who hailed from West Ham Tabernacle. Robert Hewitt came along in 1925. After serving the Strict Baptists for a number of years, he became an accredited Baptist Union Minister.

At about the same time, John K. Thorpe became a student. At the time of writing, Mr. Thorpe continues to live on the Isle of Wight and is now in his late nineties. He became the much loved and respected Secretary of the Strict Baptist Mission from 193 8-1959. Looking through the list to the beginning of the only Minute Book that seems to exist, only two brethren remain, the other being Wilfred Kuhrt who studied at the SBBI. in the early thirties.

Through the years until the Institute closed in 1962, most prospective Strict Baptist Mission male missionaries studied at SBBI. For those of us who went to India, the SBBI prepared us theologically but laid no practical foundations for the Mission Field. From 1923-1962 some forty to fifty men trained. I cannot be definite because at least two in my time don’t appear on the list of students (including me!!) Others may have been omitted.

The Syllabus

Charles Breed’s syllabus seems a little more comprehensive than that of the early days. Students gained a good overview of both Old and New Testaments. Some books were studied in great depth. Systematic Theology was based on Hodge plus Charles Breed’s own lectures on Ecciesiology. Whilst this reflected the personal views of Mr. Breed particularly on Church order, he always carefully outlined other positions. “Christian Evidences” was based on Paley (Evidences and Horae Paulinae). Possessing a very keen and logical mind, Charles Breed taught Logic with much enthusiasm. During my time, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology were lacking. More attention seems to have been given to this after I left. In the earlier days, Robert Robinson had undertaken some lecturing and later Percy Crees. Dr. Alfred Marshall came in to teach Greek.

Through the Years

TeachBecause of the absence of a Minute Book before 1940, the records are a bit scanty. However, we do know from the Gospel Herald that James Willoughby continued until 1938 and he was immediately followed by Ralph Woodfield BD. He remained Principal for only about three years when he accepted a teaching post in Petersfield (Hants.) However, he did continue “to conduct the extern work of the Institute.” For this he was paid £120 per annum.

The Secretary of the Institute in the 1940s was Wilfred H. Clarke who was pastor at Lynton Road, Bermondsey. Wilfred Clarke moved from Long Marston to Bermondsey in 1935 so he probably became Secretary a year or two after that. He continued until 1959 when he resigned no doubt due to age. The Secretaryship was then handed to W.C. Culliford (Acton Tabernacle.) He continued until the Institute closed.

The Institute closed in 1940 due to the resignations of both the Matron and her assistant. Provided they did not take up secular work, the students were paid £1 per week to the end of 1940. Some courses appeared to be undertaken during 1941.

In 1944, the Institute was recognised by the Board of Education as the denominational training College. A desire was expressed to continue the work as it “was first inaugurated.” Various brethren were approached but declined. In 1946, Pastor William Rowlands was appointed. He had been a missionary in the West Indies and was currently serving as pastor at College Park, Lewisham. Mrs. Rowlands looked after the domestic affairs. Charles Breed who was still pastor at Manor Park was approached to give one morning a week for lectures in Systematic Theology, Christian Evidences and Logic.

W.J. Rowlands resigned in 1947 following numerous complaints from students. Mr. Rowlands told the Committee that the atmosphere at the Institute was “happy.” The students thought otherwise! It was a very unhappy episode in the history of the Institute. Charles Breed was then invited to become full-time Principal and Tutor which he accepted. Miss Swinyard, who had been Matron at some point in the past returned.

Dr. Alfred Marshall was already teaching Greek and English. In August Mrs. Breed took charge of the domestic side of the work. Mr. Breed also introduced Refresher Courses and these were greatly appreciated.

A word should be added about Charles Breed. On the surface, he appeared to be rather austere and distant. That was not true. He was extremely deaf, a condition brought on by a very traumatic incident in his life. Behind the outward austerity was a very warm man. He loved children and they loved him. His Sunday School anniversary addresses are memorable. He kept children spell-bound. His student criticisms were always fair and gracious. Indeed, I found him a great encourager. He possessed a remarkable memory. Most of his sermons were preached without notes and all who remember Charles Breed will never forget his conclusions. At one Fellowship Of Youth Rally at St.John’s Wood there was apparently complete silence for at least a couple of minutes as the congregation reflected on the powerful evangelistic call. Mr. Breed had a wealth of stories, many being quite hilarious. However, he could be severe because he believed in respect and discipline. His own life was very disciplined. Because of his logical mind, few people could argue against Mr. Breed!

In 1953 it was suggested that lady students should be accepted. The Principal was not opposed. They should be accepted only as day students. However, the suggestion never materialised.

Sometime in the fifties, the Metropolitan Association suggested Evening Classes. This was not the first time. It had been suggested in 1938 and an advert was placed in the November 1938 Gospel Herald. The suggestion in the fifties was initially rejected by the Committee, but I believe that at some later date Evening Classes did take place.

At this time various other changes were put forward:

For sale1) The advisability of selling 98 Tressillian Road and purchasing more modern premises. Certainly when I was there, the winters were cold! Bedrooms had no heating whatsoever.

2) Discussions took place about receiving students from outside of the Strict Baptist constituency. There was some disquiet about this!

3) The possibility of establishing a Free Grace College. Indeed, a sub-Committee was formed. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the Rev. lain Murray were interviewed. These interviews were attended by John Doggett. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was prepared to recommend students provided the Trust Deed was changed so that students were not required to be Strict Baptists. The change did not take place.

Change of Name

From this vantage point in history it seemed that the Committee was becoming desperate. The Institute must, somehow, be kept going. The name “Strict Baptist” was off-putting. The Banner of Truth had come into being and many “free grace” men were being discovered. Something must be done. So, in 1958, after much discussion SBBI changed its name and became “The Calvinistic Training College” (CTC). Dr. Lloyd-Jones was invited to join the Committee but he declined.

The Final Days

During 1959, Charles Breed became quite seriously ill and the arranged inaugural meeting for CTC had to be postponed. Mr. Breed’s health later improved but he continued to have problems. Dr. Marshall relinquished as Greek Tutor and was replaced by the Rev. A.A. Campbell, the minister of Grove Chapel, Camberwell. Mr. Campbell resigned in 1960 and was followed by W.T. Atkinson from the Banner of Truth.

The July 1960 Committee reported the precarious nature of the College’s finances and it was recommended that the College should close at the end of 1961. This was subsequently changed to the end of the Spring term 1962. In the meantime, the Rev. Nunn from South Acton Baptist Church succeeded Mr. Atkinson as Greek Tutor until the College closed. The Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches regretted the suggested closure and pressed for a denominational conference in February 1962. However, the Committee was of the opinion that the work of the College had finished. The premises were transferred to the Strict Baptist Trust and later sold to Deptford Borough Council.

Mr. and Mrs. Breed moved to Warboys where Mrs. Breed had been brought up. Mr. Breed sadly died in August 1967 after a long period of poor health. Mrs. Breed was called Home in April 2002.

Philip Grist