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Isaac Backus on the Anabaptists
A History of New England, Volume II, 1784
      . . . Now when heathen philosophy was set up as a rule to interpret Scripture by; when the shadows of the Old Testament were taken to draw a veil over the truth and church order described in the gospel, and teachers pretended to confer renewing grace by their administrations, before the subjects were taught or believed; and also called in the secular arm to enforce their measures by temporal penalties and corporal tortures, what could be expected but the antichristian apostasy? Oh, how dark was the night that followed!

      Yet God did not leave himself without witnesses in the darkest times; some of whom I will name. Peter de Bruys, during a ministry of twenty years, made the most laudable attempts to reform abuses, and to remove the superstitions that disfigured the beautiful simplicity of the gospel, and had a great number of followers, in Languedoc and Provence, in France; and he was burnt therefor[e] at St. Giles, in the year 1130. His disciples were called Petrobrussians; and a leading article of their faith was, "That no persons whatever were to be baptized before they came to the full use of their reason." Soon after, another minister, whose name was Henry, travelled from Switzerland through various parts of France, preaching the gospel with great success, until he came to the city of Thoulouse, where the Pope and his creatures raised great opposition against him, and cast him into prison in 1148; and he ended his days there not long after. He was thus dealt with because "He rejected the baptism of infants; censured with severity the corrupt and licentious manner of the clergy, and treated the festivals and ceremonies of the church with the utmost contempt."*

      This account is given by a very learned Lutheran author, who was strongly prejudiced against the modern Baptists, because, he held that the Christian church was in its minority, when it was governed in the manner above described; and that in its mature age, "the regulation of it was, in some measure, to be accommodated to the time, and left to the wisdom and prudence of the chief rulers, both of the State and of the church;"+ which opinion the Baptists have ever opposed. He freely owns, that the peculiarities of their churches in Germany and Holland are derived from a maxim of reformation, which was held by the Waldenses, Petrobrussians, Wickliffites, and Hussites, long before Luther's day; which is, "That the kingdom of Christ, or the visible church he had established upon earth, was an assembly of real and true saints, and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked and unrighteous, and also exempt from all those institutions, which human prudence suggests to oppose the progress of iniquity, or to correct and reform transgressors." This maxim he declares to be the source of all their peculiarities. In 1525, and in 1533, a few men who were called Anabaptists, took the lead among mixed multitudes, that had taken up arms against cruel tyrants, in hopes of recovering both civil and religious liberty thereby; but they perished in the attempt: A sight of which carried the Baptist churches in that country so far into the other extreme, as not to allow their members to be magistrates, to use the sword, or to take an oath;** which are now the sentiments of the German Baptists in Pennsylvania. But the English Baptists, both in Europe and America, have carefully avoided each of these extremes, for these hundred and fifty years; yet those scandals in Germany have been constantly cast upon them, even down to this day; not because they ever had the least concern therewith, but because this has been found to be a powerful engine to prejudice the populace against allowing equal religious liberty, and for forcing people into religious covenants, before they can choose for themselves.

      All the reformation that ever took place, in any age or country, was produced by the word of truth, enforced by the spirit of truth, upon each heart and conscience. And the admission of unsanctified communicants into the Christian church, and of the inventions of men to govern it, has caused endless confusions; as thereby three opposite interests have been set up. The interest of religious teachers, of civil officers, and of the people. The two former have conspired together, to enslave the latter; and yet have been far from an entire harmony betwixt themselves. Their contests for preeminence have been long and tedious in this country; but a great and effectual door is now opened for terminating these disputes, and for a return to the primitive purity and liberty of the Christian church. To trace out the evil effects of the apostasy, and to promote, as much as may be, such a return, is the great design both of this and the former volume. In compiling them a large number of records, books and papers, have been searched, and much pains taken to set principles and actions in as clear light as possible....
MIDDLEBOROUGH, August 2, 1784.


     Isaac Backus seemed to identify with the Anabaptists later in volume II:

"As if Christ and his disciples had not been Baptists near fifteen hundred years before the reformation in Germany. And has any man ever been able to produce a mention of infant baptism before the third century? And in the next century, Constantine brought the sword into the church to punish heretics, and to support religious ministers; and blood and slavery, deceit and cruelty, have followed those superstitions ever since, though many good men have been ensnared in their ways."++

      Backus wrote about the conditions that Baptists faced in Massachusetts:

. . . in Massachusetts we are told that "Anabaptists increased and spread in the country." Upon which they framed and passed the following act at their General Court, November 13, 1644: -

"Forasmuch as experience hath plentifully and often proved, that since the first rising of the Anabaptists ... they have been the incendiaries of the commonwealths, and the infectors of persons in main matters of religion, and the troublers of churches in all places where they have been, and that they who have held the baptizing of infants unlawful . . . every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment."x


* Johann Lorenz Mosheim, An Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, 1755, Volume I, p. 476.
+ Ibid., Volume I, pp. 68-70.
** Ibid., Volume III, pp. 524, 525, 549.
++ Isaac Backus, A History of New England..., Volume II, pp. 406.
x Ibid., Volume I, pp. 126.

[From Isaac Backus, A History of New England, With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists, Volume II, 1784, pp. v-vi; 406. Note symbols are changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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