Baptist History Homepage

Anabaptists of the Continent and England
By William R. Williams, 1877
      IN every great movement that awakens keen feeling over a wide region, and calls into collision opposing interests and rival classes in a nation, it is not cause of surprise, that good men should find themselves jostled by men of exceeding wickedness. Napoleon was wont to speak of himself as opening a career to all the talents. Intellect and merit found spread clear before them a free pathway. But all the talents might be elbowed in the race, and find themselves distanced at the goal, by "all the vices;" and the reptile has wriggled to heights where the lion could scarcely find foothold, or the eagle even a place to perch.

      A Bible having been opened before the people, that each in his own tongue might read; the summons having gone forth, that each man for himself seek God's Spirit, and go, for pardon and renewal, beyond ordinances and fanes, indulgences and jubilees, direct to the One Mediator Christ; the truth having been taught that, in Christ's church, discipline and rule, or, as it was called, "the power of the keys," belonged to all the membership, -


p. 142
this was a change that must work a great moral revolution. Our Lord himself described his own advent, Prince of peace though he was, as bringing a sword into the world. Portions of the community, before mutually repellent, became soon and early leagued for his destruction. So a Paul found himself confronted by false apostles; and a John, the last surviving apostle, before adding the final pages to the New Testament, must warn the flock, amid the baying of Persecution all around them, that there were, also, within the nominal fold, many Antichrists already come into the world. So it has been the fact, in political as well as in religious changes. The name of Republic, dear to us, has had in other lands its sinister aspects and its odious memories. Even as shaped in the imagination of a thinker like Plato, it had repulsive features, from which men who loved the purity and order of home might well shrink appalled. And in times nearer to our own than are the times of the old Greek sage, how much was there in the Reign of Terror of the first great revolutionary republic of France; and in the Communistic havoc and rapine of the very recent outbreak in that great nation, - we repeat, how much was there that would give, - to one who recalled Marat and Robespierre, and who had heard Proudhon's cry, that "Property was robbery," and who mused on democracy thus formulated, - only feelings of distrust and strongest aversion.

      The Christian church saw itself, in very early years, simulated and haunted by rival and corrupt bodies; first the Gnostic and then the Manichean, that had, in the eyes of the persecuting pagan government, the same names and


p. 143
ordinances, and used partially the same Scriptures with the genuine churches, yet from whom the true believer turned in indignant terror and holy detestation. See the volumes, learned and elaborate, that Matter, the French scholar, launched, and that appeared posthumously from the British thinker, Dean Mansel, on these Gnostics; and the bulky tomes compiled by the old Huguenot refugee Beausobre on the Manichees. Were these books on the Gnostics and the Manichees to be courteously laid before an ingenuous student, wishing to know the first annals of Christ's people on the earth; and were he told, that in these he might find the unhappy and soiled cradle-wrappings of an infant Christianity, before it had strength to become just and true and orderly and reverent, - he might well be disturbed at the covert impeachment. Yet some modern scholars, in stating the earlier aspect of our own Baptist churches, gravely adduce the annals of the madmen of Munster and of the Peasant War of Germany, as if we here began; whilst they kindly allow, that we have, as a people, become ameliorated in the lapse of years, having outgrown and renounced these excesses of a riotous and atrocious childhood. When Dryden, after his own conversion to the Roman Church in the days of the Romanist king, James II., depicted the Episcopal Church which he had left, it was under the image of the panther, sleek, spotted, and treacherous; and the Roman communion which he had joined, it was as the harmless, spotted hind; but for the Anabaptist he reserved the symbol of the wild boar of the forest, rough, savage, and headlong. The heraldry of printer, painter, and poet is of little
p. 144
authority in settling a question of history. But the old Waldensians adopted as their emblem a branched candlestick, with the motto, "Light in the Darkness." As a guide for the erring, and a rebuke for the lover of darkness, their history had not belied their symbol. And the old Mennonite Bible, printed and circulated in the vernacular language of Holland, years before Alva commenced his career of multitudinous massacre in that country, had in its front page, in either of the two Testaments, the expressive emblem of a lily fenced with a framework of thorns, and its motto from Solomon. "A lily among thorns." And, in either case, we must hold, that flower and candle well fitted the truly written history of our elder brothers in the valleys of Piedmont, in Bohemia and Moravia, and in Holland. Their mission was benign and rich in benediction.

      We alluded to Venema, a Pedobaptist scholar resident in Holland, and writing without the bias of attachment to our own body. He has said,* "The immediate origin of the Mennonites is, in my judgment, more justly to be traced to the Waldensians and to those of the Anabaptists who wished a renewal of the innocence and purity of the primitive church, and that the reformation of the church should be carried farther than Luther and Calvin had arranged it. The Waldensians, apart from the question as to the origin of Christ's human nature, in the chief articles had, in almost all things, like views with the Mennonites, as is evident from their history as (I) stated (it) in the twelfth century.... To find other beginnings as
--------------------------
* T. vii. History Eccles. Soccul. xvi. p. 443, Lugd. Bat. 1783.


p. 145
the source of Mennonitism is needless, much less those invidious ones, placing them in fellowship with the men of Miinster and other like fanatics. From these they cleared themselves, both in old time, and now through a long space of years have so vindicated and justified themselves, in life and institutions, that longer to confound them with that class can be done only by notable injustice and gravest insult."

      The word "Anabaptist" is of an antiquity far preceding the times of the great Reformation. But it acquired its portentous and repulsive sound, especially as applied to men whose career was begun after Luther's, and mainly in that Germany where the great Reformer wielded his largest and most enduring influence. God had his true witnesses before he raised up the monk of Erfurt and the translator and teacher of Wittenberg. When Zwingle of Switzerland and Luther of Germany were yet children in the nursery or boys in the school-room; in 1487 - whilst Martin the miner's son was but a child - the Pontiff had found it necessary to preach a crusade against the Waldensians, encouraging the warriors by the promise of a plenary indulgence given them for taking part in the butcheries. In 1500, at the opening of the century, when Martin was ignorant as yet of the Bible and soon to enter an Augustinian monastery, the Moravian brethren possessed two hundred places of worship.* They were the inheritors of the labors of Huss and Jerome, of British Lollards, of Wycliffe and Waldo, and laborers yet earlier than these, whose memories and whose reward are safe
------------------------
* Kiddie's Eccles. Chronology, p. 320.


p. 146
with the God whom they meekly and faithfully served, and then went down unrecorded by their fellows to a forgotten or a dishonored grave.

      Without a press; holding their assemblies, over a large portion of their field and through a long tract of their history, in private residences, and in such manner as to evade the eye of the official and the informer - they relied, for the diffusion of the truth as they had received it, on personal appeal; on the intercourse of travel, whereby much of the commerce of the age was transacted, as by visits to fairs and by long journeys on foot; on the exchange of kindly offices with the stranger and the needy. As an old pagan satirist had, by an expressive graphic phrase, described the early Christians as "Christ peddlers," so were these men, who, like the itinerant trader with shop in the pack on his shoulders, carried about their faith and the testimony of their one Hope and Redeemer. Even thus the Waldensians are picturesquely described as making their petty industries, the humble knapsack strapped behind them, the channels through which they commended, to those who showed any temper of seriousness, the Bible, of which many of these humble Christians had committed whole books to memory; and whilst showing other ornaments, they praised the jewel of a good hope in him; and thus with the pathos of experience they urged on the sad, the bereaved, and the thoughtful, great truths in fraternal simplicity and earnestness. Scant as in that age literature was in comparison with its present redundance, the treatises and notices of the age, written often by their enemies, yet attest the wide currency


p. 147
of the message and the far-drawn circuit and scope of the evangelical itinerant.

      When Luther was, in God's providence, raised up to do his great work, he found, in more than one quarter of Europe, those who had preceded him, and into whose labors and testimony he in some sense entered. His seed sank into soil made ready by their tears and prayers and martyr-blood. In 1524, Casper Tauber, in Vienna, ended at the stake a Christian life. He was one whom Luther ranks with others, who, as he says, became "brilliant lights by their glorious deaths, wherein they have offered to God a sacrifice of sweet savor." There was another worthy of like views and the same age, Balthasar Hubmeier. He had been a pupil of Eck, the antagonist of Luther, and was, as a scholar and a preacher, a man of more than vulgar endowments. Under the influence of Luther's writings he became an adherent of the Reformation, and in his pastoral charges won, under God's blessing, hearers and proselytes. He went beyond Luther, however, to the rejection of Infant Baptism; and so wide was his power, that Chemnitz, whom Bossuet ranks as among the greatest of Protestant theologians, in his, Chemnitz's, Examination of the Council of Trent, quotes Hubmeier as the greatest of the Anabaptist body. Martin Duncan, a Roman Catholic priest of Holland, who in Menno's lifetime impeached his views, is doubtful whether he should regard Hubmeier or Menno as founder of the heretical body. He seems to have been somewhat like Luther in his aptitude for sharp, pithy sayings, that, like barbed arrows, stayed where they struck. Speaking,


p. 148
for instance, of the impossibility of finding the papal doctrine of Purgatory in any part of the Bible, he says it is like the grave of Moses, which can never and nowhere be found. Driven from post to post, he was such an object of priestly and princely dread, that the Catholic sovereign of Austria made his surrender a condition of peace, with subjects who had been compelled to yield to the emperor's superior power. Brought like Tauber to Vienna, the capital of Austria, to make his final sacrifice, he was, with all his holy resolution, and cheerfulness even, a sufferer, being burned to death. His pious wife, who heartened her husband to constancy, was drowned. Led on the 10th of March, 1528, four years after Tauber, to the place of burning, he kneeled, and lifting his eyes heavenward prayed: "O my gracious God, grant me patience in my suffering. My Father, I thank thee, that to-day thou wilt lift me from this valley of sorrows. With joy I die, that I may come to thee, Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world. My God, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Turning to the bystanders, he begged, that if, in word or deed, he had offended any, he might for God's sake be forgiven. He spoke his own forgiveness of all who might have ill-treated him. The executioner rubbed, when preparing him for the death, into the martyr's long beard, saltpetre and gunpowder. Smilingly cried this confessor, "Salt me well, now; salt me well." Then, again facing the multitude, he said, "Dear brethren, pray for me, that God give me patience in my suffering: in my Christian faith I will die." Amid the explosion and the flames was heard the cry, "Jesus!" and the smoke and
p. 149
the fire suffocated Balthasar Hubmeier. Sprugel, the Roman Catholic dean of the University of Vienna, attested, that, to the end, men saw only joy and bright cheer in his face. Many of the bystanders melted into tears. His faithful wife, who had before her conversion been a Roman Catholic nun, in bidding farewell to her husband, adjured him to abide faithful to death. Three days after her husband's oblation, on the 13th of March, 1528, she was brought to the bridge over the Danube, and, with a heavy stone bound to her neck, she was hurled into its stream. The old river has many a memory. The time is coming when this shall be among its illustrations.

      It was not until thirty-five years after, or the lifetime of a full generation, in 1563, that there left a Holland press the Mennonite Bible now before us, bearing on its front the emblem of the lily amid thorns.

      Was not Hubmeier's brave widow, encircled by her murderers, such saintly flower? Eleven days after her death, or a full fortnight after the sacrifice of their pastor, on the 24th of the month, were burned two of his followers, one a shoemaker, the other a peasant, who at the funeral pyre sung aloud a hymn invoking God, the Holy Ghost, to come down. The pious of our own day, reading the record, feels yet the downward rush of the Hallowing Influence thus invoked. Hubmeier's writings, as well as his oral preachments, were so numerous and effective, that on the Index of the prohibited books of the Papal Church his name appears, in some editions, in no less than four different forms, as author of works only fit for the flames. Now, among these writings, thus denounced, yet in some


p. 150
copies surviving this stern process of destruction, is one on the burning "Of Heretics," in which he had taken ground against the right of worldly governments to compel religious obedience by such punishments. More than a century before the days of Roger Williams this German author had delivered his testimony; and husband and wife, by fire and by flood, had sealed their cheerful and fearless protest for Christ's truth and for the secular freedom of Christ's church.

      In the days when Hubmeier wrote and preached, there wrote and preached another Baptist, whose name is more generally known, though intellectually not Hubmeier's peer; it was Thomas Munzer. His name is by some confounded with the city Munster, with which are identified far darker memories. But that city in Westphalia was far from the German towns where Munzer labored, and it did not emerge into notice in the Anabaptist tumults until some years after; as Munzer died in 1525, and the Munster Revolt was in 1534, nine years after his beheading.

      Munzer had gone beyond the rejection of Infant Baptism. The doctrine of equality in the rule of the church, as belonging to all members, led him to sympathize with the Peasants' War, the twelve articles of which were in the beginning so moderate and just that Voltaire said, a Lycurgus would have signed them. Niebuhr, the critical historian of Rome, said, the peasants adopting those articles were in the beginning in the right. Bunsen, the late ambassador of Prussia to England, a civilian himself of high standing, has said of the same document, "As to


p. 151
what they demanded in their twelve articles, all impartial historians declare, that, on the whole, their demands were just; and all of them are now the law of Germany." This is the language of a German jurist and scholar naturally leaning on the side of the aristocratic and ruling classes. The words appear in his article on Luther, contributed to the last (eighth) edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittnanica. Vericour, a scholar of Guizot, and dedicating to his teacher his work on Christian Civilization, has said, that all later historians have taken a more favorable view, than did the earlier writers, of Munzer's character. But he erred, as a religious teacher, in taking what he called the "sword of Gideon;" and in so far making his sympathies with the oppressed peasantry practical, political, and indiscriminate, that he became involved in measures of revolt and anarchy which he never probably contemplated in the beginning of the movement. He was executed, and the rabble of the undisciplined peasantry easily routed, but in his death-scene he warned the princes against cruel and unjust dealing with the populace.

      Along with the views of the right of the people to a larger relief from tyrannical exactions, there had been spread in Germany and in Friesland, a northern portion of Holland, and in Switzerland, a general expectation of the near approach of the millennial reign of Christ. The prophecy is a part inseparable from the text of the New Testament, and of the Old as well. If in the Apocalypse is recorded God's purpose to have for a thousand years his Christ reign, Daniel had, in ages long preceding, witnessed of a time when the kingdom and the dominion and


p. 152
the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven should be given to the people of the saints of the Most High God. As in the very times and under the very eyes of inspired apostles there were, however, men wresting God's Scriptures unto their own destruction, we need not evidently wonder that like perversions, and with equally fatal results, should occur in later and less favored times. Men who sought change merely for its own sake—the idle, the insubordinate, and the fanatical—became known as Anabaptists, when, in truth, the Waldensians and the Hollanders, their allies in faith and religious sympathy, were generally against war, and against the use of the oath, and against the church's sharing in civil government even. They so shunned the world in its contaminations as to desire escape from participation in the offices and emoluments of political governments.

      In the city of Munster, a rich town of Westphalia, the principles of the Reformation had found acceptance. Rothman, a pastor there, had become a Lutheran first; his people had risen under his preachings against the use of images, and violently removed and destroyed them. The feelings of the Peasant War had not passed away. He and his associates rejected Infant Baptism, but they cast off government as well from without, excepting that of the emperor. They had prophetical gifts of their own. The word of God was laid aside for these self-prompted oracles assuming to speak in God's name. The polygamy of the Old Testament and a modified community of goods also were introduced. Scenes of outrage and carnage ensued, that may well be veiled in abhorrence. Within, were


p. 153
blood and riot and spiritual frenzy. Without, the secular and ecclesiastical authorities had combined to besiege the city and to crush the revolt. They did so, sternly and effectually. The misguided tailor of Leyden, who acted as king, and his two chief associates, were subjected to torture in having their flesh torn by red-hot pincers; and their skeletons, enclosed in iron cages, were raised on high and fastened to a church-steeple, there to remain down to our own times a ghastly memorial of the power of religious madness and of the fearful hold that Satan, if permitted, may attain under the guise of holy names and gracious reforms. Terrible as baleful is the power that godliness, when, in the language of Scripture, it is made gain, and gain, when it is supposed to be godliness, can exercise over the order, peace, and honor of general society, of the household, and of the individual. The history has been often repeated: the last narrator of it, the Roman Catholic scholar, Cornelius. Over the after-faith of the city it could not but be a fatal blight. A rigid Catholicism has been since the unbroken rule and the undisputed creed in Munster; or, as Luther phrased it when he heard of the suppression of the revolt and the death of the insurgents, in one of his sharp, broad sayings, cumbrous and somewhat coarse, "The devil is turned out, but the devil's grandmother has come back in his place." A higher than Pontiff or than Reformer had long since left the pregnant warning, that change, which is not thorough and hearty and heavenly, is often one that invites and ultimately secures a more rooted possession of error and a longer and more blighting dynasty of evil. The house, swept
p. 154
and garnished, is inhabited the second time, but now by seven evil spirits worse than the first who had been temporarily barred out.

      Do we wish to blink the fact that the name of the Anabaptist became, in connection with the errors and horrors of the Munster rebellion, a name of terror to rulers and of detestation to the churches? By no means. Let it stand, but let it be duly interpreted. Menno was not in it, nor was Tauber, nor was Hubmeier, nor was Munzer. So far was it from their views, as was the school of Marat from the school of La Fayette, as was the school of Robespierre from that of Brissot; though coetaneous, there was no internal, vital cohesion between.

      So, in the days of the Stuart Restoration in England, there was an outbreak under Venner, a Millenarian fanatic, but a Paedobaptist, and rather bigoted in his paedobaptism. Bunyan's jailers threatened to hold him, the Baptist in Bedford jail, liable for the bloody and seditious scenes at London, in which Bunyan the Baptist had neither part nor sympathy, against alike all his principles, against every scratch made by his pen, and every prayer made in the ministrations of his pulpit.

      When Domitian, the imperial ruler, was killing flies, one of his favorite amusements, at the imperial capital, suppose that there had been brought to the tyrant some lines of the Apocalyptic vision received by his prisoner, the aged John, in the isle of banishment, Patmos. Would the despot have been by any principle of reason or equity entitled to charge upon the old apostle the scenes of lawlessness that the apostle had been deploring


p. 155
and condemning as occurring in a community nominally and professedly a Christian church at Thyatira? In his Master's name John denounced the wrath of Heaven as against the children of Jezebel, there retaining their practices and principles. Was his gospel justly a sharer in the dishonors that it thus repudiated? So in later times, when the great Jansenist body of France—so illustrious for talent and piety and for sufferings in the cause of truth—had, in their later days, some who became known as the Convulsionaires, dazzled by the study of unfulfilled prophecy, seeing visions and working miracles, and often passing into scenes of unhappy disorder, were the illustrious men and women of the earlier days, or those of the later days, like Sylvester de Sacy the Orientalist, and Royer Collard the publicist and statesman, the orator and philosopher—Jansenists of our own day—were these men, we ask, responsible for the errors of co-religionists which they neither countenanced nor shared?

      So, of the French Protestant body, how noble is the great record of the French Huguenots. How much did they suffer at home; and how blessed was the influence which they bore abroad to Prussia and Holland, to England and to Scotland, to Ireland and to our own North America. Not long since a French man of science recorded his sense of the Divine Nemesis, that among the soldiers who pressed the siege of Paris around the writer's place of study, so many were under the banners of Germany serving against France as the children of Huguenot exiles, that Louis XIV. had hounded and peeled, returning, in God's mysterious arrangements, to


p. 156
plague the land where their forefathers had been so cruelly treated. Yet all the history of French Protestantism is not thus illustrious. Among some who carried on the war in Southern France was no little fanaticism. The Camisard was, though heroic, at times most frenzied. And their brethren in England became, some of them, what were called "the French prophets," who, with Lacy and other Englishmen as their dupes or helpers, yielded to wild excesses and provoked a just indignation and repressal. But this was not the fault of the great body. Yet the handful, thus offending, were not soon extinct, or the flame of their madness without its remote kindlings and ravages. Out of these French prophets, on English soil, came Ann Lee, the Mother, as they call her, the feminine incarnation of the Godhead, as they hold, and the first founder of the Shakers amongst ourselves. With all their thrift and their worldly prosperity, is the record of religious delusion thus begun one to be fastened on the great Huguenot body whom Sully and Mornay and Coligny led, whom Henry IV. deserted, and whom Louis XIV. so cruelly deceived, extruded, and dragooned?

      And is American Christianity, liable justly, before the nations of the earth, for the great Mormon movement, with its forged Scriptures, its polygamy, its murderous tribe of Dan, and its terrible atrocities and profanations? The nation deplores what it cannot utterly eliminate. For as it may, it is bound to discourage, to circumscribe, and in all evangelical earnestness to resist and expose and uproot the evil.

      Yet, in the sweeping generalizations to which some so


p. 157
readily and implicitly resort, some might make Mormonism a feature of American society, when the mass of its converts are of European growth and migration, the fruit of the neglect of established churches as shown toward the population of their own territory. So some might hold the memory of John Calvin blotted with the false faith and wild excesses of Ann Lee; might brand the beloved disciple and last survivor of the apostles as guilty of collusion with the iniquity of the Thyatiran church.

      Individualism is the glory of our nation, and it is one of the chief distinctions of our religious denomination; and Hase, the church historian, in his monograph on the men of Munster, calls our country the land of religious individualism, and trusts that our denomination may here forego their study of prophecy. For as the disposition reigns to constitute the student's own fancy the great standard of truth, the employment may be perilous. But to neglect, against Christ's own warnings, the signs of the future, is to become blind to the true duties of the present. It is the confession of great theologians, in Denmark and in Britain and in Germany, that their own churches have been too indifferent to the significance of the protests which God's Spirit had drawn, as in advance, against errors yet to rise, and its portraitures of changes and deliverances which Providence had in reserve. The elder Confession of the English Established Church denounced Millenarianism, a contemplation of, and turning toward, the future prospects of Christ's church. But Mede in the Stuarts' times and Elliott in our own, and even Hurd,


p. 158
the friend of Warburton, in his more sluggish days of the English Establishment, regarded this as an error, and lavished thought and toil on these pages of God's Old and New Testament. So in Denmark, Martensen, a theologian of no common eminence, considers it an error of Luther and his church that they took ground against Millenarianism. Bengel, one of the highest names of the German Christians in the study of God's word, was, if not a successful, yet a profound, collator of and searcher into those prophetical Scriptures which our early Baptist Fathers are charged with overvaluing.

      Nor can there be any doubt, we judge, among thoughtful believers, that the times of the generations that are to follow our own will require, not less than our own, that Christians should give some share of their studies to the memorials which the Ruler of the ages has set up along the pathway of history, as notes that the God of prophecy has been there far in advance of his people. The world cannot rend the continuity of the centuries. We inherit the examples of our predecessors, and we are to share in the responsibility of our remotest successors. He who is in the Apocalypse presented as the God of the final judgment, is, in a certain subordinate sense, judging even now the families and the neighborhoods and the nationalities of this nineteenth century. The final and full judgment is future, but what lawyers call the "interlocutory judgments" are around us and over us. The title of the Messiah, Judge of the quick and the dead, is sometimes misread by our forgetting the force of the older English word. "Quick," in the mouths of our forefathers and of the


p. 159
makers of our English version, meant "the living," those selling, planning, fretting, and trifling, studying, suffering, pining, and dying around us. And the Christ, the Omnipresent Emmanuel, would have every pursuit and engagement of this daily living throng, these quick ones, now drawing quick breath, but whose names are soon to fit into the obituary roll and the cemetery register—he would have the "quick" of earth's present tenantry understand, that by every sentence of Scripture and by every incident of providence they are bound to remember him, the Wakeful Judge, and him, the Swift Witness, Infallible, Inevitable, and Irrefutable.

      Faithful to the Scripture, and faithful to the Spirit, and mindful of the Sacrifice, and vigilant for the grace ever near, and the work ever widening, the people of the living God have a power that needs yet to be developed, for it draws on the illimitable resources of Omnipotence. If he be ever with his church when that church is efficient and watchful, devout, lowly, and diligent, they need never despond. The Elder Brother binds us to his blessed tasks, not only by his own cross, but by each instance of the fidelity of our innumerable martyrs.

      At the risk of wearying you, we take from the pages of Hash, not of our communion, and regarded as of the Rationalist school of thinkers. It is but a leaf from the story of simple loyalty. In 1527, some Anabaptists (as they were called) were burned in the house where they had met, and with the edifice. A young maiden, about sixteen years old and of great beauty, the persecutors would have spared, would she but recant her faith. Finding


p. 160
her inflexible, the executioner took her by the arm, led her to the horse-trough, and bowed her beneath the water until she drowned, and then the corpse was burned. In a town of Switzerland, a foreigner, an Anabaptist, was led to the rack and laid on it, with the promise, that if he would but tell his dwelling-place and his fellow-believers' names, he should have life and freedom. His reply was calm: "I am earth-born; the earth is my country, and it will be my grave. My body is in your power. Tear it and burn it as you like; it troubles me not. The Lord has closed my lips to prevent my saying a word that should harm my brethren, for their time is not yet come. My soul has no distress; it overflows with joy from the inward consolations with which God is filling it." As the executioner urged him to name his fellow-disciples, and so relieve himself of the torture, the stout confessor with antique simplicity spat into his face, with the words, "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou savorest not the things that be of God." Finally released with stern menaces, his parting utterance to the enemies was, "Ye have seen a confessor of the new church to your own condemnation."

      The Lord who won such resolute witnesses is indeed Judge of the living. A faith in him, intense, vivid, earnest, and persistent, becomes a new power in the earth, with which the literatures of the earth may puzzle themselves, but it mocks their most heartless and malign mockeries, and it defies their highest power and wrath.

      "The Anabaptists " is the name still given to the communities in Switzerland and Germany which are universally, acknowledged to be of great simplicity, industry, and


p. 161
blameless morality. A French writer has depicted, in warmest admiration, one such community, which he, a child of Paris, visited, to be filled, in surveying it, with astonishment, delight, and reverence. The Anabaptists of the Vosges are like the Dunkers of our own country, and like the Mennonites of Southern Russia, long sheltered there, but quitting their homes because the government of Russia required of them military service, to which, like the Friends, they are on principle opposed. You have heard, but a few months since, of their transit from our own port, New York, to settlements in one of our Western States. In the valley of the Shenandoah, Sheridan's raid encountered religionists of this class, but long settled there. Miss Cheeseborough, one of our writers of fiction, has devoted a volume to the traits and virtues of a similar body, long ago planted in the interior of Pennsylvania.

      Before the birth even of the frenzied rioters and revolters of Munster, views prevailed in a portion of the Waldensians, those of them rejecting infant baptism, and among some of the Moravian brethren, utterly opposed to war and to the use of oaths and to civil officeholding. It was a mistaken view, as we think, of the Christian's due estrangement from the world. But because it did exist, and sway large bodies of hunted and imperilled disciples of Christ, it seems alike cruel and ludicrous to commit the anachronism, of making the fanatics of Westphalia, who were ferociously belligerent, the spiritual ancestry of a body far older, and peaceful and blameless and pure, who would not lift up sword or even take an oath.


p. 162
To show the full absurdity of accepting such lawless fanatics—"the scum of the Reformation," as they have been called, one of the side eddies in that great movement of modern history—as if they constituted the fountainhead of our own body, let us suppose that the earlier years of our own Revolution had been as scantily furnished with writers and presses, as was the Europe of the earlier half of the sixteenth century. But few wrote, let us suppose, except enemies of the patriot cause; and let us imagine that the records of the Revolutionists were generally confiscated and burned, leaving a comparative dearth of annalists and registers. Inquiry is made, under these disadvantageous conditions, from what body of agitators sprang the movement that finally ushered in a Washington and a Hancock, the Adamses, and Jay and Hamilton and Jefferson and Lee, and other worthies. Then let us suppose there should a writer present himself whose testimony is that from his best researches the Cowboys of West Chester, in your own State, were the progenitors of American freedom. They were, it is true, he would courteously state, a quite disreputable body; meeting and working by night; sparing no man's cattle, and murdering where plunder could not otherwise be secured; and dashing down, now on loyalists and now on patriots, as might be most convenient; lawless as the raiders of the old Scottish border, with very lax notions of the rights of property, and a terror to the orderly in either camp of the combatants. But they had, this searcher into antique and broken records would remark, gradually refined and reformed; become more amenable to reason; and, in fact,
p. 163
were really and indubitably the great representatives of the cause which, beginning at Bunker Hill, closed its battles at Yorktown, and made you a nation free and one. Against this theory would at once be alleged a chronological difficulty—that they did not begin their plunder and their marauding until after the Revolutionary conflict had well commenced, and that, in demeanor and principle and character and influence, they were not quite akin to the Continental Congress, or to the spirits that drafted the Declaration of Independence. The champions of such origin would reply, that very distinguished representatives of the statesmanship and patriotism of the Revolution lived in that same West Chester County; that neighborhood implied identity of pursuit, character, and party; and that it was a matter of preposterous national pride to shrink from recognizing such as the real origin for the institutions of these United States of America.

      Yet the dissonance and the chronological entanglement in such installation of the cattle-stealers and red-handed prowlers of the borders as the true fathers and founders of American freedom would only be a parallel to the endeavor to impose upon the Baptist Christians of the world such a group as John of Leyden and Knipperdoling of Munster as the real originators of our principles and practice.

      Some of you saw with your own eyes, in the days of the draft-riots, the mob that plundered and burned orphan asylums, hung negroes to the lamp-post, and carried for a time misrule and dismay throughout your peopled city in the very crisis of the nation's agonizing strife for existence.


p. 164
Had a foreigner, as you gazed on the grim, fierce visages of that ominous crowd, assured you that they were, these same men, guardians of the nation's liberty, honor, and life; that in them you were to see the flower of her chivalry, and the highest exhibition of her energy, you might be somewhat astonished, but not so easily convinced. If it were to be told you in confidence, what history in some later day will probably tell aloud, who were the guiding instigators of that riot; and were you to be assured, that it was by their skill, by the far-sighted but unnamed and retiring prompters of the mob, that Wall street, the avenue of your banks and custom-house and sub-treasury and mint, was guarded; that it was owing to their patriotic caution and vigilance, that the long street was not left with every building dismantled and her treasury-vaults plundered of the last dollar, like some eel, flayed, disembowelled, and headless, dragging its sinuous length from Broadway to the river, one line of irremediable ruin, the corpse of the embodied national credit; if you heard whilst gazing on such patriots, that their unseen and bashful leaders by their unwashen hands defended and protected the riches of the metropolis and the unity of the Republic,—you would find the comment rather hard of belief, however quiet you might prudently make your dissent.

      Would it be more so than when reading the histories of what good men have done and what they have been in the past, and of what bad men beside them have attempted, and it may be have accomplished, of evil and misrule, to believe, that in the church of God evil


p. 165
has begotten good, and iniquity has ripened and elevated itself into true piety? A wiser Judge, reading alike the living and the dead, has decided that thistles do not bear figs, and that men can scarce plant thorns and expect grapes as the fruitage.

      The great lesson of all, in the evil and in the good, is, that it behooves us to know of what spirit we ourselves are, what Spirit we invoke, and upon what prompting and helping we lean, in the time of our utter exhaustion. The Spirit of God, invoked and obeyed by a loyal church, is the fountain of holy living and the pledge of fraternal unity. Accept in his stead your own feeble reason, the public opinion of the masses, the voice of the many, or the cry of the sharp-sighted few, and your feet must stumble. But a God giving his Spirit liberally and without upbraiding, evermore the banner of his own people, their Jehovah-nissi, carries unity, liberty, and triumph. "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," saith the Lord of Hosts. And all the galleries of earth's varied history, and all the deep mines of man's profoundest and most patient research, will ultimately give back the loyal echo of that great proclamation, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." It is the brightness of Pentecost; it is the dawn of millennial splendors; it is the very atmosphere of that city and land where God's people walk, to go out no more for ever, their earthly errors all thoroughly unlearned, and their mortal discords all finally hushed, in the One Presence.

================

[From William R. Williams, Lectures on Baptist History, 1877, pp. 141-165. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



British Circular Letters and History Index Page
Baptist History Homepage