A Miniature History of the Baptists
The Baptist Magazine, 1809
IT may be pleasing to some of my readers to be presented with a brief account of the Baptists. I shall extract this account from the writings of those who were not of the Baptist denomination, but rather prejudiced against them.
Here it may be observed, that the religious sect, called Baptists, have caused the learned world more perplexity and research to decypher their origin, than any other sect of Christians, or, perhaps, than all others. Yes, this reseach hath baffled all their erudition in ancient story.
It is not difficult to fix the period when one sect of this denomination was first called Petrobrusians, when another was known by the name of Waterlandians, when a third was denominated Mennonites, &c. But the difficulty is this, to ascertain the time, place and medium, by which Christ's disciples were led to adopt the peculiar sentiment, which is now held by those called Baptists, and which distinguishes them from all other denominations.
It may be farther observed, that if no one, however learned and wise, be able to trace this sect to any beginning short of the days of the Apostles, or of Christ, it is possible that it then arose. Besides, if all other religious denominations or the Paedobaptists, who include all which are not Baptists, can be traced to a probable origin short of the Apostles, and the Baptists cannot be so traced, it affords still more probability, that they might have arisen then.
It ought to be particularly noted, that my object is not to give the history of a name, but of a Principle. I shall not contend who were first called Baptists, Anabaptists, Mennonites, or the like: but who have held the peculiar sentiment which is adopted by those
who are called Baptists. Wherever we find this principle, there we find the men, the Christians, who, had they lived in our day, would be styled Baptists, Nor is the present enquiry this, Whence came that mode of baptism, which is practised by all, who are known by the name Baptists? For this mode is granted, generally, if not universally, by all learned and honest men, to be as ancient as John the Baptist and the Apostles, This mode is, indeed, not peculiar to the Baptists, for the Paedobaptists, for many centuries, practised this mode; and the majority of them, do, to this day, practise immersion.
The peculiar characteristic of the Baptists is this: They hold, that the ordinance of baptism is to be administered to adults, or to visible believers only.
One natural consequence of this principle is, when any one who was baptized, or sprinkled, in his infancy, comes over to the Baptists' sentiment, they require him to be baptized. Hence they are called Anabaptists. Another very natural consequence is, this sentiment constrains the Baptists to oppose the baptism of infants. Hence they are distinguished, by the name of Antipaedobaptists.
I add one observation more, and that is, Whenever and wherever I find persons, who hold the peculiar, characteristic sentiment of the Baptists, I shall call them by that name. Their history now follows.
I. The origin of the Baptists can be found no where, unless, it be conceded that it was at Jordan, or Enon.
Dr. Mosheim, in his history of the Baptists, says,"The true origin of that sect which acquired the denomination of the Anabaptists by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who come over to their communion, and derived that of Mennonites from the famous man to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is of consequence - extremely difficult to be ascertained."
Here, Dr. Mosheim, as learned an historian, though not so candid a one, as the science of letters can boast, bears positive testimony, that the origin of the Baptists is hidden in the remote depths of antiquity. Nothing is more evident than this; the Doctor either knew not their origin, or was not candid enough to confess it. At least we have this conclusion, that he could find their origin no where short of the Apostles.
II. A large number of the Baptists, were scattered, oppressed, and persecuted, through many, if not through all, the nations of Europe, before the dawn of the reformation under Luther and Calvin. When Luther, seconded, by several princes of the petty states of Germany, arose in opposition to the over-grown usurpations of the church of Rome, the Baptists also arose from their hiding places. They hoped that what they had been long expecting and praying for was now at
the door; the time in which the sufferings of God's people should be greatly terminated: but God had not raised Luther's views of reformation to the height the Baptists were expectiug. Their detestation of the Mother of Harlots owing to their bitter experiences of her cruelties, and the clear gospel light with which they had been favoured above Luther, and their ardent desire to be utterly delivered from her cruel oppressions, made them wish to carry the reformation farther than God had appointed Luther to accomplish. They were soon disappointed in Luther, and probably did not duly appreciate the reformation which he was instrumental in effecting. It was as might have been expected; the Lutherans and the Baptists fell out by the way; and Calvin, if not Luther, warmly exposed them. See Mosheim, Cent. XVI. Cap. iii. Sect. 3. Part 2.
Mosheim, Vol. IV. page 427; speaking of the Baptists, says, "This sect started up all of a sudden, in several countries, at the same point of time, and at the very period when the first contests of the reformers with the Roman Pontifs drew the attention of the world." From this we have one plain and fair deduction; that the Baptists were before the reformation under Luther and Calvin, and therefore did not take their rise from the Enthusiasts under Munzer and Storck, or at that time; or at Munster.
III. The Hussites, in the fifteenth century, the Wickliffites, in the fourteenth, and the Petrobrusians, in the twelfth, and the Waldenses, were all Baptists.* To this fact Dr. Mosheim bears the following testimony. "It may he observed that the Mennonites (i.e. the Baptists of East and West Friesland, Holland, Gelderland, Brabant, Westphalia, and other places in the North of Europe) are not entirely mistaken, when they boast their descent from the Waldenses, Petrobrusians, and other ancient sects who are usually considered as witnesses of the truth in times of universal darkness and superstition. Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe, particularly in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, and Germany, many persons, who adhered tenaciously to the following doctrine, which the Waldenses, Wickliffites, and Hussites had maintained; some in a more disguised, and others in a more open and public manner, That the kingdom of Christ, or the visible church he had established upon earth, was an assembly of true and real saints, and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked and unrighteous, and also to be exempt from all those institutions which human prudence suggests to oppose the progress of Iniquity, or to correct and reform transgressors. This maxim is the true source of all the peculiarities that are to be found in the religious doctrine and discipline of the Mennonites, (or Baptists in the North of Europe) and it is most certain that the greatest part of these peculiarities were approved of by many of those who, before the dawn of the
---------------------- * Not all, every one; but all, generally
reformation, entertained the notion already mentioned relating to the visible church of Christ." Vol. IV. pp. 428, 429.
From this testimony of Dr. Mosheim we may remark --
1. That the Mennonites were Baptists, or Anabaptists, for these different names he uses to express one and the same thing.
2. That the Petrobrusians were Baptists; for the Baptists assert, and Mosheim allows it, that they were their progenitors in principle and practice. Besides, in his history of the twelfth century, part II, chap. [blurred] sect. 7, he expressly tells us, that one of their tenets was, that no persons whatsoever were to be baptized before they were come to the full use of their reason.
3. That the Waldenses, Wickliffites, and Hussites were Baptists; for, as Mosheim says, they all held to the great and leading maxim, which is the true source of all the peculiarities that are to be found in the religious doctrine and discipline of the Mennonites. These several denominations of Christians were not known by the ancient modern and appropriate name, Baptists. But their doctrine and discipline were the same with our Baptists, and were they now living they would be thus called.
4. That in the sixteenth century the Waldenses, Petrobrusian,, and other ancient sects (i.e. of the Baptists) were usually considered as having been witnesses of the truth, in the times of darkness and universal superstiiion. How differently from this do many consider them in our day!
5. That before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay concealed in almost ail the countries of Europe, particularly ·in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland and Germany, many persons who held the same doctrine and discipline with the Baptists in our day, and were, of necessary and fair consequence, of the same denomination.
IV. We have already traced the Baptists up to the twelfth century. We have also found that they were scattered over almost all the countries of Europe, and were, in the dark ages of popery, the witnesses of the truth; or have been usually thus considered. Besides, we have found that the Waldenses were, in principle and practice, Baptists. We will now see to what origin we can trace the Waldenses.
Dr. Maclaine, who translated Moeheim's church history from the original Latin, gives us, Vol. III. pages 118, 119, under note G, the following history of the Waldenses. His words are, "We may venture to affirm the contrary (i.e. from what Mosheim, had just said of the Waldenses taking their name from Peter Waldus) with Beza and other writers of note; for it seems evident, from the best records, that Valdus derived his name from the true Valdenses of Piedmont, whose doctrine he adopted, and who were known by the name of Vaudois or Valdenses, before he, or his immediate followers, existed. If the Valdenses, or Waldenses, had derived their name from any
eminent teacher, it would probably have been from Valdo, who was remarkable for the purity of his doctrine, in the ninth century, and was the contemporary and chief counsellor of Berengarius. But the truth is, that they derive their name from their vallies in Piedmont, which in their language are called Vaux. Hence Vaudois, their true name; Hence Peter, (or, as others call him, John) of Lyons, was called in Latin Valdus, because he had adopted their doctrine; and hence the term Valdenses and Waldenses, used by those who write in English or Latin, in the place of Vaudois. The bloody Inquisitor Reinerus Sacco, who exerted such a furious zeal for the destruction of the Waldenses, lived but about eighty years after Valdus of Lyons, and must therefore be supposed to know whether or not he was the real founder oft he Waldenses, or Leonists; and yet it is remarkable that he speaks of the Leonists as a sect that had flourished about five hundred years; nay, mentions authors of note, who make their antiquity go back to the apostolic age. See the account given of Sacco's book by tke Jesuit Gretser in the Bibliotheca Patrum. I know not upon what principle Dr. Mosheim maintains that the inhabitants of the vallies of Piedmont are to be carefully distinguished from the Waldenses; and I am persuaded that whoever will be at the pains to read attentively the 2nd, 26th and 27th chapters of the first book of Leger's Histoire des Eglises Vaudoises, will find this distinction entirely groundless. -- When the Papists ask us where our religion was before Luther, we generally answer, in the Bible, and we answer well. But to gratify their taste for tradition, and human authority, we may add to this answer -- "and in the vallies of Piedmont."
To the above we may add, one of the Popish writers, speaking of the Waldenses, says, "The heresy ef tke Waldenses is the oldest heresy in the world."*
It is here worthy to be particularly noticed --
I. That Reinerus Sacco speaks of the Waldenses, or Baptists, of his day, as a sect that had, at that time flourished for about five hundred years; which brings the existence of the Baptists, as a religious sect, up to the fifth century.
2. That this same Reinerus Sacco mentions authors of note, who make the antiquity of the Waldensean Baptists go back to the apostolic age.
3. That the Baptists are the most ancient of all the religious sects, who have set themselves to oppose the ghostly powers of the Romanists.
4. That, if there be any body of Christians, who have existed during the reign of antichrist, or of the man of sin, the Baptists have been this living Church of Jesus Christ.
The consequence of the whole is this: The Baptists have no
* In President Edward's History of Redemption, p. 267, Vol. I.
origin short of the Apostles. They arose in the days of John the Baptist, and increased largely in the days of our blessed Saviour and in the days of his Apostles, and have existed, under the severest oppressions, with intervals of prosperity, ever since.
But as to the Paedobaptists, their origin is at once traced to about the middle of the second century; when the mystery of iniquity not only began to work, but, by its fermentation, had produced this error of fruitful evils, namely, that baptism wns essential to salvation; yes, that it was regeneration. Hence arose the necessity of baptizing children. Now comes forward Irenaeus, and informs that the church had a tradition from the Apostles to give baptism to infants. We are told in the Appendix to Mosheim's Church History, that one of the remarkable things which took place in the second century was the baptizing of infants, it being never known before, as a Christian ordinance for them.
What a pity it is, that good men, who have renounced the error, which was, as church history informs us, the progenitor of infant baptism, should still retain its practical and erroneous offspring to the prejudice and marring of the church of God! Not a single sect of the Paedobaptists can find its origin nearer to the Apostles than the second century. We hence conclude, that their origin was there, and that they then and there arose in the mystery which was then working.
V. The following is the testimony which President Edwards bears in favour of the Waldenses and other faithful ones, who were scattered through all parts of Europe in the dark ages of Popery.
"In every age of this dark time, there appeared particular persons in all parts of Christendom, who bore a testimony against the corruptions and tyranny of the church of Rome. There is no one age of antichrist, even in the darkest time of all, but ecclesiastical historians mention a great many by name, who manifested an abhorrence of the Pope and his idolatrous worship. God was pleased to maintain an uninterrupted succession of witnesses, through the whole time, in Germany, France, Britain, and other countries, as historians demonstrate, and mention them by name, and give an account of the testimony which they held. Many of them were private persons, and many of them ministers, and some magistrates and persons of great distinction. And there were numbers in every age, who were persecuted and put to death for this testimony.
"Besides these particular persons, dispersed here and there, there was a certain people, called the Waldenses, who lived separate from all the rest of the world, who kept themselves pure, and constantly bore a testimony against the church of Rome, through all this dark time. The place where they dwelt was the Vaudois, or the five vallies of Piedmont, a very mountainous country between Italy and France. The place where they lived was compassed with those
exceeding high mountains, called the Alps, which are almost impassable. The passage over these mountainous, desert countries, was so difficult, that the vallies where this people dwelt were almost inaccessible. There this people lived for many ages, as it were alone; where, in a state of separation from all the world, having very little to do with any other people, they served God in the ancient purity of his worship, and never submitted to the church of Rome. This place, in this desert, mountainous country, probably was the place, especially meant in the xii. chap[ter] of Revelations [sic], 6 verse, as the place prepared of God for the woman, that they should feed her there during the reign of Antichrist."
"Some of the Popish writers themselves own that that people never submitted to the church of Rome. One of the Popish writers, speaking of the Waldenses, says, the heresy of the Waldenses is the oldest heresy in the world. It is supposed, that this people first betook themselves to this desert, secret place among the mountains to hide themselves from the severity of the heathen persecutions, which were before Constantine the Great, and thus the woman fled into the Wilderness from the face of the serpent, Revelations [sic] xii. 6. and so verse 14. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness into her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time from the face of the serpent. And the people being settled there, their posterity continued there from age to age afterwards, and being as it were by natural walls, as well as by God's grace, separated from the rest of the world, never partook of the overflowing corruption."
It is hoped that the reader will very carefully and candidly compare what is testified to us by three very learned men, Dr. Mosheim, Dr. Maclaine, and President Edwards, The testimony of the first is, that the Waldenses and many others who are usually considered as witnesses of the truth in the times of universal darkness and superstition, were essentially agreed with the Baptists of modern date, as to principle and practice, or as to the great maxim, whence flow all the peculiarities of that denomination. His testimony, in short, is this: the Hussites, the Wickliffites, the Petrobrusians and the Waldenses, with other witnesses of the truth, scattered over Europe, in the dark ages of Popery, were essentially the same with the Baptists of later times; or that they all were what we call Baptists.
Dr. Maclaine testifies that the Waldenses flourished as early as the fifth century; yes, he informs us that some authors of note carry their antiquity up to the apostolic age.
President Edwards informs us that these Waldenses were the main body of the church in the dark ages, and have been, together with their scattered brethren, the pure church of Jesus Christ, during the regin [reign] of Antichrist, and, of certain consequence, were the successors
of the pure Church, from the days of Christ and his Apostles.
The fair consequence of all this is, that the Baptists have been the uninterrupted Church of our Lord from the Apostles' day to ours.
I may, indeed, exclaim, What have I been believing, what have I been doing, with respect to the Baptists all my days? I know, and I confess, thut the history of the church assures me, that the denomination of Christians to which I have belonged, and to which I do still visibly belong, came through the church of Rome, and was broken off from the mother of harlots, and it is not greatly to be wondered at, if all her filth should not yet be wiped away. At the same time, the same history assures me, that the Baptists never have submitted to her superstitions and filthy abominations.
In this short "History of the Baptists", we see the continued accomplishment of one of Christ's promissory predictions, which is Matthew xvi. 18. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. That denomination of Christians which are called Baptists, are the only known society of professing Christians, against which Satan hath not prevailed, either in point of doctrine, or discipline, or both. This church, or old and inveterate heresy, as Satan would call it, he acknowledges, by the mouth of his servants the Romanists, that he could never subdue. It is true, Satan hath joined many of his legions to it, as he did many false brethren to the disciples in the days of the Apostles. But he hath never, no, not for an hour, prevailed upon this ancient and primitive church to give up the doctrines of grace, or the administration of the ordinances as Christ delivered them to his people.
That which she first received, she still holds fast, and will. In all the history of the church, we read of no other body of professing Christians, after which Satan hath cast such a continual flood of waters; but hitherto the earth hath helped the woman, and the flood of persecution hath not prevailed. Neither shall it ever prevail.
[The author's name is not given.]
[From The Baptist Magazine, January 1809, pp. 5-12; via https://biblicalstudies.org.uk - Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More British History
Baptist History Homepage