Baptists We Should Know: William Kiffin

Dr. Mark Rasmussen

William Kiffin is not often remembered among Baptists today. Born in London in 1616, Kiffin lost both of his parents to a city-wide plague when he was just nine years old. Kiffin himself narrowly escaped the plague by God’s healing. He accepted Christ and was called to the ministry in 1638 and joined a Baptist church. Two years later, a group of men from this church moved to Devonshire to start a new church, and elected Kiffin as pastor. Kiffin faithfully pastored this church for 61 years.

While a very successful pastor, Mr. Kiffin also carried on merchant affairs, especially with the Netherlands. He became a very successful businessman. His enemies tried to use the fact that he was a Dissenter (separatist from the Church of England) to try to ruin his business and his name. Kiffin was arrested many times and had many false accusations hurled against him, but he continued to stay faithful and true to that which he believed.

Macaulay stated that, “Great as was the authority of Bunyan with the Baptists, William Kiffin’s was greater still.” For approximately fifty years, Kiffin was the major leader of the Baptists in England.

Being a Baptist during the reign of King Charles was difficult. On one occasion, ten Baptist men and two women were arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment. During their trial, they were commanded to join the Episcopal Church. For their refusal, they were then sentenced to death. When Kiffen heard of this, he went to the King and was able to secure their freedom.

Kiffin liked to be marked by the way he used his wealth. Cathcart noted that he gave large sums to the poor, did his best to prop up churches that were feeble or struggling, and did much to finance the education of young men going into the ministry.

Though God gave Kiffin a long life of ministry, several in his family gave their lives for the faith. One of his sons was poisoned by a Catholic priest in Venice after vocally denouncing the Catholic religion, and two of his grandsons were murdered for standing for truth.

Kiffin was a gifted Christian man who used his talents for that which is eternal. Even though we hear little of him today, he truly was a key father among English Baptists.