We will now proceed to trace back the chronological history of the Baptists under different names, in as concise a manner as possible.
It has been already remarked that it would be impossible, in these few pages, to give a continuous history of the different communities of Christians holding the sentiments of the Baptists. In what has been related of the persecutions endured by some of them, we have directed attention principally to those Christian, who were called Waldenses and Albigenses, as more immediately preceding those now called Baptists. In tracing the history further back, it is not necessary to confine ourselves to a single community or people of one name; the more the witnesses the stronger must be the evidence; we will, therefore, select a few facts here and there, from historical accounts at different periods, so as to prove that such sentiments were then maintained.
The localities inhabited by the Waldenses and Albigenses, were chiefly in France, Spain, the Valleys of Piedmont, between the former country and Italy, and those of the Pyrennees separating Spain from France.
Besides these places, there were at different periods people holding the same opinions in Poland, Holland, Flanders, throughout Germany, Bohemia, Bulgaria, Sclavonia, Moravia, Hungary, Dalmatia, Gascony, Saxony, Switzerland, &c.; also in Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, Nubia, Ethiopia, India, and other eastern countries.
The people themselves were called in different places and at different periods, either after the countries they inhabited, after their teachers, or in some instances from their sufferings or their peculiar tenets, as Credenti (believers), Paterines (sufferers), Novatians, Donatists, Paulicians, Berengarians, Petrobrucians, Arnoldists, Fratricelli, Cathari, Puritans, Lyonists, Josephists, &c., all of whom, however, as authenticated by history, held the same opinion on the subject of baptism, viz., “that adults only were proper subjects.”
A.D. 1158, is the earliest period that we have as yet referred to, when it was stated that the Baptists, then “called Publicani, were as numerous as the sand of the sea, and did sorely infest both France, Italy, and England.”
A.D. 1020, one Gundulphus seems to have had many followers, and in 1025 some of these were arrested in Flanders, and were charged, says Dr. Allix, “with abhorring baptism, that is, Catholic baptism,” upon examination one of their replies being, “A strange will, a strange faith, and strange confession, do not seem to belong to a little child, who neither wills nor runs, who knoweth nothing of faith, and is altogether ignorant of his own good and salvation, in whom there can be no desire of regeneration, and from whom no confession of faith can be expected.”
A.D. 845. The persecutions experienced by the dissidents from the dominant party at this period in Greece, “occasioned many of the Baptists to migrate,” and Gibbon says, “they effected an entrance into Europe by the German caravans,” and Mosheim, that it was “from Italy the Bulgarians or Paulicians spread themselves, like an inundation, through the provinces of Europe.”
Socrates states, that when the church was taken under the fostering care of Constantine, the dominant party called themselves the Catholic church, but the oppressed and suffering party were known by the name, the church martyrs; and while so oppressed, obtained the name of Paterines, which means sufferers.
A.D. 750. We are informed by Benize, bishop of Sutrium, that the Paterines became conspicuous during Stephen II.'s pontificate.
The Catholics of those times baptized by immersion, the Paterines therefore had no reason to complain of the mode, but when examined, they objected vehemently against the baptism of infants, and condemned it as an error.
In this century, the Council of Laodicea decreed, “that those that will come to baptism ought first to be instructed in the faith, and to make confession thereof.”
The Council of Paris also decreed “that none be admitted to baptism but those that were instructed in the mysteries of faith.”
A.D. 670. The Gothic Liturgy used in France at this period, has the manner of baptizing stated, but nothing of infant baptism. So also with that of Robbio near Genoa.
Adrianus, bishop of Corinth, who flourished under the Emperor Maurice, in the seventh century, “did publicly oppose infants' baptism, insomuch as he would neither baptize them himself, nor suffer them to be baptized by others, but wholly denied baptism to them; wherefore he was accused by Gregorius Magnus, bishop of Rome, to John. bishop of Lorissa, as appears by Gregorius' letter to the said John.”
A.D. 524. In a council held at Lerida in this year, it was decreed, “that such as had fallen into the prevarication of anabaptism, as the Novatianists and others, if they should return to the Catholic church, should be received in the name of the Trinity,” &c.
It may be remarked here, that although infant baptism was first talked about in the writings of some of the Fathers of the third century, the earliest instance that has been found on record (as will be seen further on) of its being practised, and that a solitary one, was towards the close of the fourth century; these recited instances of the decrees of various councils of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, prove therefore that the practice, to that advanced period, had not been generally followed, and was then disputed.
Before we quit the annals of the sixth century, we will advert for a moment to a few facts relating to the most happy and highly favored of kingdoms to which the gospel was carried, in the apostolic age, of which the reader may not be aware; and it is gratifying to find that they afford even stronger evidence than any that has been brought forward, that the first Christian churches did not practise infant baptism. The conquest of Britain by the Romans, was commenced forty-three years after Christ; to which period the introduction of Christianity into this country may be traced.
Bishop Newton says, “there is absolute certainty that Christianity was planted here in the times of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem.”
Pomponia, Graecina, wife of Plautius, a Roman general, who commanded in England in the year 45, Claudia Ruffina, a British lady, are supposed to be “of the saints that were in Caesar’s household,” mentioned by Paul, iv. 22.
Gildas, the most ancient and authentic English historian, affirms that the Britons received the gospel under Tiberias, the emperor under whom Christ suffered; and that many evangelists were sent from the apostles unto this nation, who were the first planters if the gospel.
On a brass plate, inclosed in an antique frame of oak, in the church of St. Peter, Cornhill, there is an inscription, stating, amongst other particulars, that Lucius, the first Christian king of Britain, founded the first Christian church in London; that he was crowned king in A.D. 124, and reigned 77 years; consequently terminated his reign in the beginning of the third century.
Fox, the English martyrologist, says, “Out of an ancient book of the antiquities of England, we find the epistle of Eleutherius, written to Lucius, King of Britain, A.D. 169, who had written to Eleutherius for the Roman laws to govern by; in answer to which Eleutherius says, “You have received, through God’s mercy, in the realms of Brittany, the law and faith of Christ; you have with you both of the parts of the Scripture: out of them, by God’s grace, with the council of the realm, take ye a law; and by that law, by god sufferance, rule your kingdom of Britain.”
Fuller, in his Church History of Britain, says, Tertullian and Origin plainly proved Christianity in Britain in this age, (A.D. 501) the former saying, “There are places of the Britons which were inaccessible to the Romans, but yet subdued to Christ;” and the latter, “The power of God our Savior is even with them which in Britain are divided from our world.” So also the Magdeburgensian compilers of the general Ecclesiastical History, who thus express themselves: “Then follow the isles of the ocean, where we first meet with Britain. We doubt not to affirm, that the churches of that island did also remain in this age.”
Constantine the Great, emperor of the Romans, who was born and brought up in Britain, by his mother, queen Helene, (a zealous Christian,) and who declared himself a Christian in the beginning of the fourth century, about the year 311, was not baptized till of adult or advanced age.
From these records we learn that Christianity was introduced into Britain at every early period; and that infant baptism could not have been the common practiced of Christina churches up to the time of Constantine; for if it had been, his mother, “a most virtuous and religious lady,” would no doubt have observed and complied therewith.
After the departure of Constantine from Britain, and the fall of the Roman power, this country was split into various petty states, by foreign invasion and intestine feuds.
But two remarkable facts, viz:1. That Infant Baptism could not have been the common acknowledged practice of the Christian churches for several centuries, or that practice would have been introduced, and would have existed in Britain, in the time of Constantine ; and,These he thus expressed:
2. That the first British Christians for five hundred years were Baptists, that is, did not practise Infant Baptism, and therefore would now be called Baptists; are most satisfactorily confirmed by the circumstance, that in the year 596, Gregory the Great of Rome sent over Austin, an abbot, with about forty monks, to convert the English. On his arrival, he found that he had been long preceded by the gospel of Christ, and that multitudes of persons had received it for ages. He labored to unite them with, in order to bring them under the authority of, the church of Rome; but in vain. At length he called their ministers together, and proposed three things to them, to which if they objected, the sword of war should be the penalty.
“The 1st is, That ye keep Easterday in the form and time, as it is ordained; the 2nd, That ye give Christendom to children; and the 3rd, That ye preach unto the Angles the word of God, as I have exhorted you.”
To these the British ministers firmly objected, and, painful to add, they and their adherents suffered the threatened fate.
Although from what has been stated, we may be considered as having fully established the fact, that British Baptists derived their principles from the apostles who received the command to teach, and then to baptize, from the great Head of the church; we will yet add a few more testimonies to the truth:
A.D. 416. The fifth general council held at Carthage in this year decreed as follows: “We will, that whoever denies that little children by baptism are freed from perdition and eternally saved, that they be accursed.”
A.D. 402. According to the acknowledgment of Dr. Taylor, in his Book of Prophecy, the necessity of Paedobaptism was not determined till a canon was made in the Miletan Council at this period.
This Council also, as expressed by the Magdeburg centuriators out of the book of Decretals, among other canons made one to this effect: “That it is our will, that all that affirm that young children receive everlasting life, albeit that they be not by the sacrament of grace of baptism renewed; and that will not that young children which are new-born from their mother's womb shall be baptized, to the taking away of original sin—that they be anathematized.”
In addition to these, we will quote the declarations of some of “the Fathers,” who by some are regarded as preferable to the Scriptures themselves,
Athanasius, in the fourth century, says, “Our Savior did not slightly command us to baptize, for first of all, he said, Teach, and then baptize; that true faith might come by teaching, and baptism be perfected by faith.”
Basil, in the same century, says -- “Must the faithful be sealed with baptism? Faith must needs precede and go before.”
Cyril, in the third century, exhorts his auditors that they would not go to baptism, as the guest in the gospel, who had not on a wedding garment, but “having their sins first washed away by repentance, they might be found worthy at the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Mr. Baxter acknowledged “that Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian, who lived in the second and third centuries, do all of them affirm that in the primitive times NONE were baptized without an express covenanting, wherein they renounced the world, flesh, and devil, and engaged themselves to Christ, and promised to obey him.”
In the second century, Dionysius Alexandrinus, in his fifth book of baptism, writing to Sextus, bishop of Rome, testifies that it was their custom upon profession of faith; and that one who had been baptized by heretics, not upon profession of faith, did desire to be so baptized, accounting his former for no baptism
Having previously mentioned the various names by which Christians holding Baptist sentiments were known at different periods, it is rather important, as a further evidence of their descent from apostolic times, that we should see what is related more particularly as to one of the earliest of these.
It is universally acknowledged by the first historians, that the church of Christ retained its purity for above one hundred years: the continued dreadful persecutions by the Roman emperors presenting no inducement for any but truly devoted conscientious Christians to unite themselves with a people who were thus cruelly treated. Towards the close of the second century, however, error began to mingle with or take the place of the simplicity of gospel truth; as is evident from the writings of Justin Martyr, A.D. 140, and Tertullian soon after, A. D. 290, the latter being the earliest writer that has been discovered to have made mention of infant baptism, and that to oppose it.
A.D. 249. When Decius came to the throne, he required by edicts all persons in the empire to conform to pagan worship.
Forty years’ toleration had greatly increased professors, and they were found in every department of the government. They had been so long unaccustomed to trials that the lives of many were unsuited to suffering. Decius’ edicts rent asunder the churches; multitudes apostatized, and many were martyred. In two years the trial abated, when many apostates applied for restoration to Christian fellowship. The flagrancy of some occasioned an opposition to their readmission.
One Novatian, a presbyter in the church at Rome, strongly opposed the re-admission of apostates, but was unsuccessful. He consequently separated himself from the church, and was the first to begin a separate interest with success, and which was known for centuries by his name, and is accused of the crime of giving birth to an innumerable multitude of congregations of Puritans in every part of the Roman empire; and yet all the influence he exercised was an upright example and moral suasion.
There was no difference in point of doctrine between them and other Christians, and Mosheim says, “they considered the Christian church as a society where virtue and innocence reigned universally, and none of whose members, from their entrance into it, had defiled themselves with any enormous crimes; and in consequence they looked upon every society which re-admitted heinous offenders to its communion as unworthy of the title of a true Christian church.”
The Novatianists said to candidates, “If you be a virtuous believer, and will accede to our confederacy against sin, you may be admitted among us by baptism, or if any Catholic has baptized you before, by rebaptism.” Because they did not consider the first to be Christian baptism. From which they were at later periods called Anabaptists; as might also with equal propriety the apostles under the occurrence detailed Acts xix. 3-5.
These are the first Protestant dissenting churches of which we have any account, they merely retaining the primitive form and right of independent churches as established by the apostles.
So early as A.D. 254, these dissenters are complained of as having infested France with their doctrines, as, according to the French historian Mezeray, “about the year 250, divers holy men came from Rome as preachers, who planted churches in several parts, as Toulouse, Tours, and other places;” and Milner says that “Faustus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to Stephen, bishop of Rome, concerning the views and practices of these Novatianists, who again wrote to Cyprian of Carthage.”
We thus trace, in a most clear and direct manner, the origin of the Waldenses and Albigenses in the south of France, &c.
In 311, a similar rupture to that in the church at Rome took place in the Carthagenian church, where one Donatus took a prominent part, which contest spread not only throughout Numidia, but, as Mosheim states, throughout all the provinces of Africa. These seceders were called Donatists from their leader, and Crispin, a French historian, says they very nearly resembled the Novatianists in doctrines and discipline, and were also called Anabaptists. Fuller, the English church historian, asserts that the Baptists in England in his days were the Donatists new-dipped. Osiander says, “the modern Anabaptists were the same with the Donatists of old.”
Beza affirms that “the Waldenses were the relics of the pure primitive Christians.”
Paul Perrin asserts that the Waldenses were the offspring of the Novatianists.
Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, says the Vaudois were a species of Donatists.
To which testimonies mav be added Dr. Mosheim, Dr. Allix, Dr.Wall, Archbishop Usher, Jones, Milner, Robinson, and others.
Dr. Lardner remarks, “The vast extent of this sect is manifest from the names of the authors who have mentioned or written against them, and from the several parts of the Roman empire in which they were found. It is evident, too, that their churches had among them some individuals of note and eminence.”
But to bring this brief chronological account to a close, we will now revert to the early period to which it has brought us, viz: to the apostolic age and the century following. And we shall there find the clearest possible evidence corroborating what has been stated, that believers were the subjects, and immersion the mode, of baptism in the primitive churches.
A.D. 140. JUSTIN MARTYR addressed an apology to the Emperor Antonius Pius, in behalf of Christians, in which he fully described the baptism they practised.“I will now declare to you also, after what manner we, being made new by Christ, have dedicated ourselves to God, lest if I should leave that out, I might seem to deal unfairly in some part of my apology.HERMAS (the friend of Paul, Romans xvi. 14), A.D. 100, does as plainly speak of the baptism of believers, and the manner in which the apostles and teachers administer it: “They went down with then into the water, and again came up."
“They who are persuaded and do believe that those things which are taught by us are true, and do promise to live according to them, are directed first to pray, and ask of God with fasting, the forgiveness of their former sins, and we also pray and fast with them. Then we bring them to some place where there is water, and they are baptized by the same way of baptism of which we were baptized ; for they are washed in the water in the name of God the Father, Lord of all things; and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.”
BARNABAS, Epistle # II. says, “We go down into the water full of sins and pollutions, but come up again bringing forth fruit; having in our hearts the fear and hope which is in Jesus by the Spirit.”
To these it is unnecessary to add.
The Apostles of Christ come next, and their order was, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism;” and this order, from which they never departed, they received from Him whose name the therefore placed first, faith, second, and baptism third, as He, the Lord Jesus Christ, ordained, saying: “Go ye into all the world, and (1st.) preach the gospel to every creature. He that (2nd) believeth and is (3rd.) baptized, shall be saved.”
Thus, so far as these brief historic references enable us, we have traced back the distinguishing principles of the Baptists of the nineteenth century to the apostolic age, and the lips of the Redeemer. Here is the origin of their principles and practice; no other do they acknowledge; and if this be their basis, they need fear no storms of opposition or contempt; they have a secure foundation; and so far as this ordinance goes, they anticipate, on a future day, the approbation of Him who set them the example, and gave them the command.
Ana-baptism (i.e. re-baptism) they disown; and any descent from, or agreement in principle or practice with, the Munster fanatics, they deny: but maintain that their principles and form of baptism are derived solely from HIM, whose name is written King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
[Part two in Progress.]
[The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, March, 1843, pp. 66-71; via Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.].
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