January 16, 2018

Holy of Life, Eloquent of Speech, Patriotic of Spirit

A Slice of Baptist History

(FrontLine • May/June 1994)

Samuel Stillman was born in Philadelphia on February 27, 1737. At the age of eleven he, along with his parents, moved to South Carolina. Under the preaching of Oliver Hart, he was converted to Jesus Christ. Stillman was baptized by Hart and studied theology under his tutelage. In later years Hart founded a Baptist Education Society in Charleston, South Carolina. When Samuel was twenty-one, he began to preach on James Island near Charleston.

Because of ill health, he moved to New Jersey, where he spent two years until he was called to become the assistant pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Boston. He served in this capacity for only one year and then became the pastor of the First Baptist Church of that city on January 9, 1765. He ministered there until his death forty-two years later on March 12, 1807.

The Baptists, with very few exceptions, stood solidly behind the Revolution, and Samuel Stillman was no exception. Armitage says,

Samuel Stillman was as noble a man and as holy a patriot as ever trod American soil. He read the signs of the times with a true eye, and stood his lot to beat the Revolutionary storm as long as it was possible. He was ever delicate in health, but earnest and fearless. He was deeply stirred by the outrages inflicted upon the Baptists of Massachusetts, and especially upon those of Ashfield, and signed a powerful petition of which he was evidently the author, to the General Court for redress.[1]

This petition had to do with a general assessment for the support of a state church.

In 1766, ten years before the Declaration of Independence, Stillman denounced the Stamp Act from his pulpit. He again supported the colonial cause in a sermon on the general election in 1770 and did not leave his post until the British troops occupied Boston in 1775. His church was scattered for a short time until he returned in 1776. He regathered his flock and kept his church open throughout the war, even during periods when all others were closed.

Stillman was an eloquent pulpit orator. People would walk great distances to hear him preach and find standing room only. He would on no account swerve from the Biblical principles of the gospel, even when the elite of Boston attended his meetings. Regularly John Adams, John Hancock, General Knox and other dignitaries mingled with the crowd to hear his expositions on depravity, sovereignty, retribution and redemption. On one occasion his denunciation of sin was so scathing and awful that a refined gentleman remarked, “The doctor makes us all out to be a set of rascals, but he does it so gracefully and eloquently that I am not disposed to find fault.”[2] The forty-two years he spent in Boston covered the great debates that led to the Revolution, the war itself, the birth of the nation, the Federal Constitution, and the presidencies of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. His ministry brought many to our Lord. Marked revivals crowned his efforts, and he always looked for opportunities to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

Samuel Stillman lived in momentous times. He had the courage to stand true to the principles of God’s Word, became involved in the political issues of the day, and still maintained a balance in his ministry by faithfully feeding his flock and winning precious souls to Jesus Christ. God help us in our momentous times to keep our spiritual balance.

This is an excerpt from the book This Day in Baptist History, written by Dr. Wayne Thompson and Dr. David Cummins. This book is published by Bob Jones University Press and is available here. Used by permission.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 1994. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Thomas Armitage, The History of the Baptists (1890; reprint edition. Watertown, Wisconsin: Maranatha Baptist Press, 1976), 2:781-82. []
  2. Ibid., p. 782. []

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