Ramsey church of Christ, England - Traces of the Kingdom
For ye are all the children of God by faith
in Christ Jesus.
One of the most famous preachers of the time for the Lord's Church was Henry Denne (died
1661). Denne was educated at Cambridge University. He was ordained by the
Bishop of St. David's, Wales about the year 1630, becoming a minister in the church of
England. He became the minister at Pryton (Pirton), Hertfordshire. He stayed there
about ten years. Henry Denne was at first Calvinistic but later changed to what was
then termed incorrectly 'Arminian' doctrine, therefore of the opinion that "all men
were put into the possibility of salvation through Christ" and "those that
choose to perish do so at their own choice". He became disillusioned with
the CoE, rejecting Calvinism and infant baptism.
In 1641 Denne preached a
sermon at Baldock,a short distance from Pryton. He here exposed the evils of the
established church, his text being John 5:35. He focussed on the pride and
covetousness of the clergy, their pluralities, neglect of duty by non-residence, a
common problem in that era and other evils, he demanded restoration speaking against
conformity. He said, I must call upon those in authority, to make diligent
search after these foxes. If the courts had been so vigilant to find out these as
nonconformable ministers, surely by this time the church would have been as free from
them, as the land from wolves. But they have preferred the traditions of men before the
commandments of Almighty God. I tell you that conformity hath ever sped the worse for
their sakes, who breaking the commandments of God think to make amends with conformity to
the traditions of men".
After preaching at the
"visitation" at Baldock he realised he could no longer stay within the
established Church (Church of England).
He came into contact with
Thomas Lamb, the preacher of the Bell Alley church of Christ, Coleman Street, London.
He resigned from the Church of England and hence his 'living' at Pirton, and
immediately became a travelling evangelist, working with and establishing congregations in
Staffordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Kent and other places.
A close friend objected to his new religion and Denne was arrested at Cambridge. His
crime was preaching against infant baptism, he was sent to jail at Bishopsgate, London.
During his time in prison he met Dr Featly, famous for his book called the 'Dippers Dipt;
or the Anabaptists duck'd, and plunged over head and ears, at a disputation in Southwark'.
Dr Featly, when realising the nature of the opposition declined any debate.
After being released from
prison Denne became the preacher at Eltisley, about fifteen miles from Cambridge.
During 1646 Denne was arrested again at Spalding, Lincolnshire for preaching and baptising
by immersion. Now broke with little money and with the country in civil war, he entered
the army (parliamentary side) and served several years as a captain (Cornet). We do not
know if he saw any fighting. In May 1649 he took part in a mutiny, occasioned by his
fellows soldiers lack of ambition concerning the campaign to Ireland and
demanding equality before the law. Denne
and three others were court marshalled and sentenced to be shot. He received his
sentence without complaint. Tompson, Church and Perkins were shot, Denne was
reprieved by Cromwell. The Levellers were a political movement during the
English Civil War which sought equality before the law, and religious tolerance.
Below, Burford church where the executions
Below, plaque on the wall of Burford church
remembering the executions, the men were buried in unmarked graves.
Below, one of the bullet holes.
Denne left the Army shortly afterwards. Cromwell later
dismissed 'Anabaptists' from the Army because of pressure from the Scottish Presbyterian
(Calvinistic) government. Cromwell did not heed to pressure from the Scottish and English
Puritans to clamp down on the church of Christ, who were allowed freedom to meet and
To his friends Denne was
known as either Cornet Denne or Parson Denne, depending if he was serving in the Army or
preaching. So when he took his uniform off to preach he was "Parson Denne"
and when his uniform came back on it was to his military title "Cornet Denne".
So we known that Henry had a sense of humour amongst his other qualities.
During a debate with a Dr
Gunning (St. Clement Dane's church, The Strand, London) which started after a lady showed
concern with the practise of infant baptism during 1658 the following exchange took place;
Dr Gunning, "Infants unbaptised where there is no desire of their baptism in their
parents or friends shall be shut out of heaven." Denne, "If unbaptised infants
be shut out of heaven, then God punisheth some creatures for that which they cannot help.
Therefore unbaptised children are not shut out from heaven." Gunning, "I deny
the consequence." Denne, "Then shutting out of heaven is no punishment".
After this exchange the lady was baptised by Henry Denne. The previous year Dr Gunning had
been arrested for celebrating Christmas with his congregation in St. Clement Dane's
church. He was well known for his Anglican views, under Puritan rule.
Henry Denne preached and/or started churches of Christ at; Rochester, Chatham, Canterbury,
Ely, Eltisley, St. Ives, Spalding, Warboys, Whittlesey and Peterborough.
The Congregation started at St. Ives, Cambridgeshire, by
During the 1650s Henry Denne and others started a congregation in the town of St. Ives,
Huntingdonshire (Cambridgeshire). The St. Ives congregation was continued by his son John
as the evangelist. Cromwell was born in Huntingdon, about ten miles to the west. This was
Cromwell territory and for many historians it was here that the Free Church movement
started. For a time Cromwell lived in St. Ives, 1631-1636. The tolerance shown by Cromwell
to nonconformists, separatists and independents as they were called was considerable. At
first the Church of England allowed the Gospel to be preached at it's church in St. Ives
(All Saints). Believers were baptised for the remission of their sins in the river Ouse
that flows past the building, shown below.
In the foreground is the River Ouse, in the back can be seen the spire of the Church
building which saw the gospel preached in the 1650s.
Later a breakaway congregation was meeting elsewhere in the town. In 1672 the persecution
from the Church of England was temporally ended when Charles 11 granted licences to
dissenters to preach and to hold meetings, this though was for about one year when the CoE
objected and had the old law reinstated. Meetings were held in the old Chapel during 1672
that still remains on the bridge crossing the river. The chapel first built by the
Catholics in the 1420s, under the auspices of the Abbey at Ramsey, which was about twelve
miles away. It fell into private hands after the dissolution of the monasteries under
Henry V111 in 1539. After being forced to leave the chapel the congregation met in various
houses. Later they joined with other groups in the town and have become part of the United
The photograph below shows the old chapel where the church of Christ in St. Ives once met.
For more pictures of the
Chapel and interior in colour click
pictures of the Monksthorpe Meeting House built in 1701, a congregation which started much
earlier and with whom bro. Denne worked, and the Lougton Meeting House (1653)
please click here.
In the 1860s they joined with the Congregationalists/Presbyterians and built the Free
Church building which is still in use. The photograph below shows the statute of Cromwell
in the foreground with the Free Church in the background.
Lucy Hutchinson, the wife of Colonel John Hutchinson,
Parliamentary Governor of Nottingham Castle
during the Civil War, in her
"Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson", records how she and her husband
came to adopt Christian views after reading literature confiscated from soldiers
in the Castle. She speaks of the Presbyterian ministers being unable to defend
the baptism of infants "for any satisfactory reason but the tradition of the
church ... which Tombes and Denne has so excellently overthrown". It is to this
Henry Denne, that the Baptist cause in South-East Lincolnshire is, to a large
extent, indebted for its establishment. In 1645 John Tombes wrote to several
churches of Christ in America, which is the next page.
In 1646 Denne preached several times in Spalding in the house
of a merchant, John Makernesse. As a result four people were converted. Their
names were, Anne Stennet and Anne Croft, who were servants of Makernesse, and
Godfrey Root and John Sowter. It was arranged that these four should be baptised
at Little Croft a few days later, the baptism to take place at midnight to avoid
interference by the authorities. One of the women unwisely told a friend about
the baptism who passed on the information to the magistrate. As a result Denne
was arrested and, according to the historian Crosby, was committed to Lincoln
The same magistrate was incidentally responsible also for the imprisonment of
several other Christians. Nevertheless, in due course Spalding became one of the
more important churches of Christ in the area.
In 1653 Henry was a member of the
church in Fennystanton (modern day Fenstanton), which is about ten miles
from Cambridge. He was taking part in
a meeting during which he spoke, saying, "Brethren, I desire you to consider the Word of
Christ, saying, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; teaching them to
observe whatsoever things I have commanded you, and lo! I am with you
always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19); which
last words are often used by us, yet I think not too often. But I desire
that we may seriously consider the former, viz., Go, teach all
nations, baptizing them, &c. or as Mark saith, Go,
preach the Gospel to every creature: and so, whether we are not as
much bound to observe them as any. And if it appeareth that we are, then
I pray consider whether we are not in a great fault, in being so
negligent in sending forth persons to divulge the Gospel, in those many
places that are ignorant thereof. Truly, I conceive that we are much to
blame, and especially seeing there are many towns hereabouts that have
no teacher; and who can tell but that the Lord may work in this
The result was that Denne and
another brother were sent out on a missionary excursion, an account of
which was given to the church on their return. Next year he went again
into Kent, and spent some time at Canterbury. The church at Canterbury
had been established in about 1550, or before. His labours there were so
acceptable that the church invited him to settle among them. The Fenstanton Church consented, appointed another brother to attend him on
the journey, and "money and horses were provided for them." He arrived
in safety, and was received with gladness. "He is provided of an house,"
the Canterbury Church said, in a letter to that at Fenstanton, dated
February 19th, 1655, "and we doubt not of a comfortable being and
subsistence amongst us."
John Bunyan, Henry Denne, controversy
and the church of Christ meeting in Bedford.
John Bunyan (November 28,
1628 – August 31, 1688), a Christian writer and preacher for the
Bedford church of Christ, was born at Harrowden (one mile
south-east of Bedford), in the Parish of Elstow, England. He
wrote 'The Pilgrim's Progress', arguably the most famous
published Christian allegory. For some strange reason the Church
of England, who imprisoned him for twelve years, Bunyan is
remembered with a Lesser Festival on 30 August. Bunyan who
preached against popish idolatry and worship of saints was given
his own saints day! John Bunyan died, 60 years old, a year
before William III came to the throne in 1689 and granted
religious toleration to the 'Dissenters'.
Bunyan had clashed with
Henry Denne, being to the left doctrinally to Denne. The church
at Bedford became in time both liberal and infected with
Calvinism. By trade Bunyan was a tinker, a trade of low regard.
When visiting Bedford, a short distance from Elstow, he heard of
the "new Birth" after hearing some ladies talking of sin. Some
time later he was baptised, by immersion, in the River Great Ouse
in 1653. In 1655 he became a deacon at the Bedford church of
Christ and also began preaching. Bunyan to his credit opposed
the new sect called Quakers, as did Henry Denne. In time the
church at Bedford received into fellowship those baptised as
infants and later, the church became congregational practising
infant baptism. John Bunyan was not a Baptist and the church he
was a member was not a Baptist church, but a church of Christ
which in time fell into apostasy.
Before his final
release from prison Bunyan became involved in a
controversy with two theologians of his day: Kiffin and
Paul. In 1673 he published his
'Differences in Judgement about Water-Baptism no Bar to
Communion', in which he took the ground that "the
Church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of the
communion the Christian that is discovered to be a
visible saint of the word, the Christian that walketh
according to his own light with God." While he
agreed that water baptism was God's ordinance, he
refused to make "an idol of it," and he disagreed with
those who would dis-fellowship those who did not adhere
to water baptism.
Bunyan also clashed
with Henry Denne and later his son, John Denne over
There was though an
occasion when Henry Denne came to the defence of John Bunyan. At
this time Bunyan was a strong advocate of believers baptism.
John Bunyan because he had never been ordained in the Church of
England earned the derogatory nickname the "Tinker", due to his
In May 1659 John Bunyan
preached in the tithe barn (near
the village green) of his friend Daniel Angier at Toft, near
Known as the "tinker", Bunyan's "holy orders" and
hence his right to
preach were always being questioned. Thus when Thomas Smith
(the Keeper of the University Library, Cambridge), "attracted
by the sound of devotion" walked in on the service towards
the end of the sermon there was bound to be trouble. Bunyan
was preaching from 1 Tim. 4:16 and was actually stating that
he knew most of his audience who were Anglicans were
actually "unbelievers". When the
preaching ended, Smith approached Bunyan and asked him what
right he had to call the people of Toft "unbelievers" (half of
whose faces Bunyan had never seen before).
Smith claimed that
Bunyan was being uncharitable and as such was unfit to
preach. Bunyan replied that when Christ preached from a ship
to his hearers on the shore, he taught that there were four
kinds of ground onto which the good seed of the sower fell
and that only one of the four brought forth fruit. "Your
position", said Bunyan, "is that he in effect condemneth the
greater part of his hearers hath no charity, and is
therefore not fit to preach the gospel." At this Daniel
Angier rose to defend Bunyan and rebuke Smith, but Smith
denied the layman's right to preach and asked Bunyan how he
could answer the apostle's question "How shall they preach
except they be sent?" Bunyan replied that the Church at
Bedford had sent him, to whom Smith responded that the
Church at Bedford, since they were only lay people, could not
give the tinker that which they had not themselves.
Within a few weeks Smith had written and published a
pamphlet entitled "A Letter to Mr. E of Taft (Toft) Four
miles from Cambridge!. To which No Answer hath been
returned". Mr E. is presumed to refer to Mr John Ellis
Junior, son of John Ellis, the Anglican minister of Toft. The
1. Since you had not so much patience as to hear me
t'other day, nor would suffer your daughters to tarry, I now
make use of my first hour of leisure to write to you part of
that which you might have heard me speak then; Hoping that
you and they (whom I look on as having more breeding than
any other, his Auditors that I saw) will not believe this,
whom his Friends generally call the Tinker, upon his bare
word, but like those noble Bereans, Acts 17.11 with
readiness of mind search the Scripture whether those things
2. I guess at the breeding of most of his followers by
this passage; one of them, viz. Daniel Angier (who invites
him to that Town, entertains him in his house, lends him his
barn for a meeting place) when I charged him in that place
with maintaining that God was body, (viz. that he had hands,
feet, a face, &c. Like one of us) saying that he
contradicted me in my Churchyard, after I had preached
people when he saw his Ring-Leader T. would not defend it,
that I lyed; whereas my whole Parish are ready to witness
the truth of what I said.
3. But to the purpose, I shall in this paper follow
that method which the T. commanded me (though I desire the
contrary) shewing first his false doctrine and then prove
'tis a dangerous sin in him to preach (as he did publickly)
and in the people to hear him...
All this your tinker hath been guilty of, and much more, for
he hath intruded into the pulpits in these parts, and caused
the people of your town to hate their lawful minister, but
(as he told me) encouraged them to proceed as far as to
cudgel him and break open the church doors by violence...
And now, sir, let me beseech you for God's sake, for
Christ's sake, for the Church's sake, for your reputation's
sake, for your children's sake, for your country's sake to
consider these things sadly and seriously, not to think a
thinker more infallible than the pure Spouse of Christ, and
to foresee what will be the sad consequences both to the
souls, and bodies, and estates of you and your children in
following such strangers.
The pamphlet is written from "Caucat" (i.e. Caldecote) and
dated May (1659). Caldecote is less than two miles from Toft.
Bunyan himself does not seem to have replied to this
pamphlet, but there was a response from Henry Denne, who was
a friend of Smith. Having known him at Cambridge University.
For in a work known as The Quaker No Papist (London:
Francis Smith, 1659) Denne wrote:
"You seem to be angry with the tinker because he strives to
mend souls as well as kettles and pans. The main drift of
your letter is to prove that none may preach except they be
sent. Sir, I think him unworthy of the name of a tinker that
affirms that any one is sufficient to preach the gospel
without sending. By your confession the tinker thinks
otherwise, and doth not deny what you labour to prove, and
so you contend with a shadow. He proves his mission and
commission from the Church at Bedford, you should also have
proved that Mr. Thomas Smith hath a better commission from
some other Church than the tinker either hath or can have
from the Church at Bedford. You must give me leave to
propound something for your consideration: Some shipwrackt
men, swimming to an island, find there many inhabitants, to
whom they preach; the heathen hearing are converted, and
walk together in love, praising the Lord; whether the
preaching of these shipwrackt men were a sin? Secondly
whether it be not lawful for this congregation to chuse to
themselves pastors, governours, teachers, &c. ? Thirdly,
whether this congregation may not find some fitting men full
of faith and the Holy Ghost to preach to other unbelieving
Two views of the jail.
The jail at Bedford which was built on a bridge over the
river Great Ouse, the same river Bunyan was immersed in. It
was from the jail Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress. A new
bridge was built in 1813.
John Bunyan's cottage at Elstow, a mile or so from Bedford.
In 1643 Benjamin Cox, a Church of
England's Bishop’s Son, and preacher of the church of Christ
at Bedford, was sent to jail for preaching against infant
baptism at Coventry after a debate with the Presbyterians.
Who won the debate we do not know, but the Presbyterians
having initially encouraged the debate called for the
constabulary and had Benjamin Cox arrested, which finished
the debate! He was ordered to leave Coventry, he refused to
go, and was promptly sent to jail but he was released
shortly afterwards. It was this church that later John
Bunyan would become the preacher.
Today the church at Bedford is a Free Church, and is named
after Bunyan - 'Bunyan Meeting Free Church'. The original
church was named after Christ - The church of Christ, Rom
Henry Denne died during 1661. Upon his grave was written the epitaph by a
tell his wisdom, learning, goodness unto men,
I need to say no more,
but here lies Henry Denne
His son John Denne started to preach the Gospel first from his house in Wilbraham,
Cambridgeshire in 1675. He was once fined for preaching, but unlike his father his views
became more in line with the newly forming General Baptist Denomination (which opposed
Calvinism). Henry Denne views developed towards Calvinism as the doctrine came
into the church but whether he was Calvinistic at his death I'm uncertain. By
the 1650s we have the old Churches of Christ who were dwindling. The Quakers who
came out of them and the newly forming Calvinistic Churches who would in time
form the Baptist denomination. It is certain from the mid 1640s the Church was
being ripped part with error (Calvinism and Quakerism). Those congregations
whom Henry Denne associated with were opposed to Calvinism, though in the later
16050s some were heading towards that pernicious doctrine and by the 1660s were
Calvinistic. I guess by that time the 'old school' was dead, the older preachers
and brethren who objected to and fought against error having passed away and new innovations were entering.
There is a thirty year period, from about 1635 when Calvinism is virtually
unknown in the church to 1665 when it is becoming predominate. By 1689 it
denominates itself as the Protestant Baptist Denomination and ceases to
evangelise. Some, a few congregations survived this period of persecution,
turmoil and error. By the 1690s there is a clear distinction between beliefs.
The lesson for us today is to keep error out of our pulpits, it takes two to
bring in error, those promoting it and those prepared to receive it.
2Ti 3:13 "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and
Some would have
Henry Denne a Baptist, as the Baptist denomination and its offspring did not
exist in this period as such, he was not a modern Baptist. It is true when he
joined the Church it was far stronger than when he passed away. What his legacy
is can be argued, did he introduce Calvinism into the congregations where he
preached? Could he not throw Calvinism off when he joined the church and hence
was influenced by it? Did he in later life turn back to Calvinism? What we do
know is that for fifty years it was a time of devastation for the Lord's people,
starting in the mid to 1630s through to the late 1680s when the church pretty
much ceased to exist. It was not persecution that near destroyed the Church, but
error in the pulpit.
Henry Denne wrote at least
seven books or tracts including;
1. The Doctrine and
conversation of John the Baptist, 1642, (This book has survived and a copy can be
found at Cambridge University Library).
2. The foundation of children's baptism discovered and raised; an answer to Dr Featly and
Mr Marshal, 1645.
3. The man of sin discovered whom the Lord will destroy with the brightness of his coming,
4. The drag-net of the kingdom of Heaven; or Christ's drawing all men, 1646.
5. The levellers design discovered, a tract, 1649.
6. A contention for Truth, in two public disputations at St. Clement's church between Dr
Gunning and Henry Denne concerning infant-baptism, 1658.
7. Grace, Mercy and Peace.
In 1645 John Tombes wrote to several churches of Christ in
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