Caffyn, Matthew (DNB00)
CAFFYN, MATTHEW (1628–1714), general baptist minister, was born at Horsham, Sussex, 26 Oct. 1628. He was the seventh son of Thomas Caffin, by Elizabeth his wife. In Lower's ‘Worthies of Sussex’ it is erroneously said that ‘his father was a German;’ the family existed in the neighbourhood at an early date. Caffyn was adopted by a neighbouring gentleman as a companion to his son, and sent to a Kentish grammar school, and to the university of Oxford, whence he was expelled for the advocacy of baptist tenets. Returning to Horsham he joined a general (i.e. Arminian) baptist church there, and soon became its minister, though not ceasing to be a farmer. He preached assiduously in the Sussex villages, and by the members of his own denomination was ‘cryed up to be as their battle-axe and weapon of warre.’ He was five times imprisoned for unauthorised preaching. In 1655 two quakers from the north, Thomas Lawson and John Slee, were on a mission in Sussex. Lawson, a baronet's younger son, had been a beneficed clergyman in Lancashire, and was a man of some attainment and an excellent botanist. But in his encounter with Caffyn he descends to coarse and dull abuse. Caffyn had expressed his views in a quakers' meeting at Crawley, and the discussion had been continued on 5 Sept. at Caffyn's ‘own house neere Southwater,’ a small village some three miles south of Horsham. Against Caffyn's utterances Lawson fulminated ‘An Untaught Teacher witnessed against, &c.,’ 1655, 4to. Caffyn retorted in ‘The Deceived, and deceiving Quakers discovered, &c.,’ 1656, 4to, with which was conjoined a somewhat fiercer pamphlet by William Jeffery, baptist minister of Sevenoaks. Caffyn's position is that of a literal believer in external revelation, and he defends such points as the second coming of Christ and the bodily resurrection against the ‘damnable heresies’ of the quakers. Lawson made no reply, but the matter was taken up in a better spirit by James Nayler in ‘The Light of Christ, &c.,’ 1656, 4to (not included in his collected works), and incidentally by George Fox in his ‘Great Mistery, &c.,’ 1659, fol. Caffyn reiterated his charges against the quaker theology in an appendix to his ‘Faith in God's Promises the Saint's best weapon,’ 1661, which was briefly answered by Humphrey Wollrich in ‘One Warning more to the Baptists,’ &c., 1661, 4to, and by George Whitehead in an appendix to ‘The Pernicious Way, &c.,’ 1662, 4to. A neighbouring baptist minister, Joseph Wright of Maidstone, took part in this dispute with the quakers, publishing ‘A Testimony for the Son of Man,’ &c., 1661, 8vo. Caffyn was several times prosecuted and fined under the Conventicle Act. Wright was removed from the scene by an incarceration of twenty years in Maidstone gaol; and when he came out, Caffyn's heresies seemed to him to require attention rather than those of the quakers. The first to accuse Caffyn (though not by name) of error respecting the person of Christ seems to have been Thomas Monck, in ‘A Cure for the cankering Error of the New Eutychians,’ 1673. As early as 1677 we hear of a separation, amicably managed, in a baptist church at Spilshill, in the parish of Staplehurst, Kent, on account of a difference of opinion regarding the Trinity. On this cardinal topic a part of the flock had embraced the teaching of Caffyn. There was room for latitude in the treatment of this article among the Arminian baptists, for in their ‘Brief Confession’ of March 1660 neither the Trinity nor the Godhead of Christ is explicitly stated. Caffyn did not vent his views in any publication, but in his preaching he avoided ‘unrevealed sublimities,’ and in conversation he owned his disagreement with material points in the Athanasian creed. His views, indeed, do not seem to have been pushed to the point of overt heresy; but his expressions were susceptible of an Arian interpretation. Accordingly, Wright denounced him to the general baptist assembly of 1691 as denying both the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and moved for his excommunication. What Toulmin calls Caffyn's ‘truly protestant and ingenious defence’ satisfied the assembly. Wright returned to the charge in 1693, but again the assembly refused to censure Caffyn. Wright withdrew and protested. The matter was agitated outside the assembly, and at length the Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire churches demanded and re-demanded (1699) a further trial, and the assembly agreed to go into the case at Whitsuntide of 1700. They fulfilled this promise by appointing a committee of eight, including four of the complainants, to confer with Caffyn and draw up a healing resolution. The committee were unanimous in offering a declaration (given in Toulmin, after Crosby) which rather evaded than determined the points in dispute; and the assembly recorded its satisfaction with Caffyn's defence. Just before the next assembly, Christopher Cooper of Ashford published a reply to ‘The Moderate Trinitarian,’ &c., 1699, 4to, by Daniel Allen, whose work seems to have inspired the mediating policy of the assembly's committee. Cooper charges Caffyn with unsoundness respecting Adam's fall, Christ's satisfaction, and the soul's immortality; he quotes a description of Caffyn's opinions as ‘nothing but a fardel of Mahometanism, Arianism, Socinianism, and Quakerism.’ At the same time he admits that Caffyn took pains to convert Socinians. He deplores the spread of Caffyn's errors ‘in Kent, Sussex, and London, but especially in West Kent.’ When the assembly met (1701) the Northamptonshire churches complained that Caffyn had not been properly tried. The assembly, after debate, affirmed by a large majority that Caffyn's declaration, with his signature to ‘the aforesaid expedient,’ was sufficient and satisfactory. The minority seceded, and formed a new connexion under the name of the ‘general association,’ branding the majority as ‘Caffinites.’ But the two parties came together again in 1704; Wright died in 1703. This is the first deliberate and formal endorsement of latitudinarian opinions in the article of the Trinity by the collective authority of any tolerated section of English dissent. For the future of the general baptists this action was important. Antitrinitarianism, of one type or another, took possession of their congregations in the south of England; a ‘new connexion’ was formed, chiefly in the midlands, by Dan Taylor in 1770; the older body arrived at Socinianism (in its modified English form) and is now a small remnant, with some signs of evangelical reaction. Caffyn's own church at Horsham, though still (1886) on the assembly's roll, has long ceased to be baptist, and has been known as ‘free christian’ since 1879. Of Caffyn's career subsequently to 1701 we have no account. He had left Southwater for Broadbridge, some two miles north of Horsham, in an outlying part of the parish of Sullington. In 1695 Matthew William, and Richard Caffyn were joint occupants of Broadbridge farm and mill, and the house is still in the hands of one of Matthew's numerous descendants. Caffyn lived to a patriarchal age, dying in June 1714. He was buried in the churchyard at Itchingfield on 10 June. He was succeeded in the ministry by his eldest son, Matthew.
Caffyn's works are very rare. In addition to those mentioned above, he published: 1. ‘Envy's Bitterness corrected,’ 1674 (?). 2. ‘A raging Wave foaming out its own shame,’ 1675. 3. ‘The Great Error and Mistake of the Quakers.’ 4. ‘The Baptist's Lamentation.’[Crosby's Hist. English Baptists, 1740, iii. 116, 280, iv. 328; Ivimey's Hist. English Baptists, 1811, i. 559, 1814, ii. 505; Toulmin's Hist. View, 1814, p. 308 sq.; Monthly Repos. 1827, p. 483 sq.; Chr. Reformer, 1828, p. 65 sq.; Smith's Cat. Friends' Books, 1867, ii. 68; Smith's Biblioth. Anti-Quak. 1872, pp. 99, 252, 456; Barclay's Inner Life of Rel. Soc. of the Commonwealth, 1876, pp. 95, 505; extracts from registers of various Sussex parishes; information from a descendant.]