An Antipaedobaptist who was ‘One of the First of the Clergy to Introduce Reformation’

Only a few men of credobaptist convictions were ejected from Church of England pulpits by the Act of Uniformity. While most of them came to serve Baptist congregations, the most important of them, John Tombes, did not. Mr. Tombes, properly called an antipaedobaptist rather than a Baptist, believed in the principle of a national church and continued as a faithful member of it even after his ejection. He is an unusual case, but also a very interesting man. The definitive work on him is my brother Mike’s Ph.D. thesis; this excerpt from The Nonconformist’s Memorial will have to do here.

John Tombes, B. D. Of MagdeleneHall, Oxford. Born at Bewdley, in Worcestershire, 1603. His parents designed and educated him for the ministry. Such was his proficiency in grammar-learning, that he was fit for the university at the age of fifteen, where he was under the famous Mr. William Pemble, and soon gained a reputation for incomparable abilities and learning; so that upon the decease of his tutor, in 1624, he was chosen to succeed him in the catechetical lecture in this hall. He held his office about seven years, with great reputation, and then went to Worcester, where he was very popular as a preacher; but it doth not appear that he had any settlement there. He was soon after possessed of the living at Leominster, which he enjoyed several years. Though the parish was large, the income was very small; but Lord Viscount Scudamore, from his great respect for him, made an addition to it.

Mr. Tombes was among the first of the clergy of these times who endeavoured a reformation in the church, by purging the worship of God of human inventions. He preached a sermon on the subject, which was afterwards printed by an order of the House of Commons. This exposed him to the rage of the church party, so that, at the beginning of the civil war, some of the king’s forces coming into that country, in 1641, he was driven from his habitation, and plundered of all he had in the world. Upon this he fled to Bristol, which was in the parliament’s possession, and General Fiennes, who had then the command of that city gave him the living of All-saints there. He had not been there above a year before the city was besieged by prince Rupert and his army, and a plot formed by their friends within to deliver up the city, to burn the houses, and massacre the inhabitants. But this was seasonably discovered and prevented. Mr. Tombes, on the day of thanksgiving observed by the city on this occasion, preached two suitable sermons, which were printed by an order of parliament, with a short account of this bloody plot, and the means of deliverance. This had like to have cost him dear; for the next year the city was taken by the king’s party, when his wife and children were plundered, and a special warrant was out for apprehending him; so that it was with great difficulty he and his family got safe to London, Sept. 22, 1643.

While here, he took an opportunity to divulge the scruples which he had long entertained, respecting Infant Baptism, to several of the ministers who were now come from all parts to form the assembly at Westminster. There was a meeting of the London ministers on the occasion in Jan. 1643, but it ended without affording Mr. Tombes satisfaction. He then drew up in Latin the chief grounds of his doubts, and sent them to Mr. Whitaker, the chairman of the Assembly of Divines. But it must be owned he did not meet with that respectful treatment which his own character, or the nature of the affair deserved. Being now minister of Fenchurch, his stipend was withheld because he did not practise the baptism of infants. How far he had just matter for complaint on this head is left to the reader’s own judgment. It deserves however to be mentioned, that he avoided introducing this controversy into the pulpit. He was then chosen preacher at the Temple, on condition of his adhering to this resolution: but after four years, he was dismissed, for publishing his first treatise on Infant Baptism. He printed his apology in 1646, of which Mr. John Batchiler says, “Having perused this mild apology, I conceive that the ingenuiiy, learning, and piety therein contained, deserve the press.”

After this, the people of Bewdley chose him for their minister. He there publicly disputed against Infant Baptism, and gathered a separate church of persons of his own persuasion, in which were trained up three Baptist ministers, viz. Mr. Richard Adams, Mr. John Eccles, and one Capt. Boynton: but still continued minister of the parish. While he was here, he held a public disputation with Mr. Baxter about Baptism, as he did at other places with other ministers; and persons of different sentiments from his own, acknowledged that he appeared to great advantage, both with respect to learning and argument. This living being small, he had the parsonage of Ross given him, (which Dr. Walker says is worth 250£. per annum which he resigned upon having the mastership of the hospital at Ledbury. At length, the affections of his people being alienated from him, on account of his difference from them about baptism, he was restored to his first living at Leominster. In the year 1653 he was appointed to be one of the Triers of ministers. Upon the Restoration, he readily fell in with the monarchial government, and wrote for taking the oath of supremacy. But finding the spirit of persecution revived, and the former government and ceremonies of the church imposed, and having married a rich widow, he quitted his places, and laid down the ministry, resolving to live at rest and peace in his old age. He conformed to the church, as a lay-communicant, but could not be prevailed upon to accept any benefice or dignity in it, though he had very considerable offers.

Many testimonies may be produced to his character, learning and abilities. The Earl of Clarendon, soon after the Restoration, spoke to the king in his favour, by which he was protected from any trouble on account of any thing he had written or acted in the preceding times; and, when made Lord Chancellor, he introduced him to his majesty to present his book, which was dedicated to him, entitled, Saints no Smiters. Bp. Sanderson, and his successor Bp. Barlow, had a great esteem for him, as likewise had Dr. Ward, Bp. of Salisbury; whom, while he lived there, he often visited. Mr. Baxter, though he had engaged in disputes with him, calls him “the chief of the Anabaptists,” and publicly asked God and him pardon for some unhandsome things, which, in the warmth of debate, he had said against him. Wood, the Oxford biographer, owns, “There were few better disputants than he was;” and Mr. Nelson, that zealous churchman says, “It cannot be denied that he was esteemed a person of incomparable parts.” Mr. Wall, in his History of Infant Baptism, says, “Of the professed Antipaedobaptists, Mr. Tombes was a man of the best parts in our nation, and perhaps in any.” And in the free conference between the Lords and Commons, on the Occasional-conformity-bill, Bp. Burnet, to shew that receiving the sacrament in the church does not necessarily imply an entire conformity, observed, “There was a very learned and famous man at Salisbury, Mr. Tombes, who was a zealous Conformist in all points but one, Infant-baptism.” Dr. Calamy’s character of him is this: “All the world must own him to have been a considerable man, and an excellent scholar, how disinclined soever they may be to his particular opinions.” He died at Salisbury, May 25, 1676, aged 73.

WORKS. Christ’s Commination against Scandalizers; two treatises Fermentum Pharisaeorum; or the Leaven of Pharisaical Worship; a Sermon on Matt. xv. 9 Jehovah-Jireh; a thanksgiving sermon Anthropolatria; or the Sin of glorying in ManAnimadversiones quaedam in Aphorismos R. Baxter! de Justificat; True old Light exalted above pretended new Light; against the Quakers. Romanism discussed; recommended by Baxter—Serious Consideration of the Oath of Supremacy. Suppl. toditto. Sepher Sheba ; a treatise on Swearing. Saints no Smiters; against the Fifth Monarchymen Theodulia; in defence of hearing Ministers in the church of England. Emanuel; against the Socinians. Animadversiones in Librum G. Bulli, cui titulum fecit, Harmonia Apostolica. The following upon BaptismAn Exercitation about Infant Bapt. presented to the Chairman of Committee of Assembly of Divines. Examen of Mr. S. Marshall’s Sermon. Apology for the foregoing. Addition to ditto against Bailie. Antidote against a Passage in Dedicat. of Baxter’s Saint’s Rest. Praecusor; or, a Fore-runner to a large Review of this DisputeAntipoedobaptism; or, no plainer obscure scripture proof, &c.  Ditto, Part II. Ditto, Part III. A Plea for the AntipoedobaptistsAn Answer, &c. to The Anabaptists silenced. Short Catechism about Baptism. Felo de se; against Baxter. Just Reply to Wills and Blinman.