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A Letter to a Georgia Bishop Concerning Baptist History
By David Benedict, 1860
The Tennessee Baptist, 1861

"Mosheim was a Lutheran. Maclaine a Presbyterian, and Murdock a Congregationalist. But we do not look to either of those men to settle the point for or against the antiquity of our distinguishing principles. A chain of witnesses, through the wide range of ecclesiastical history confirm our claims to a very high origin."
      Editors of the Tennessee Baptist:
      Some time since a writer in your paper in referring to some remarks of Rev. Mr. Banvard, my successor in the pastoral office in this place, seemed to question the correctness of his statement, that among a portion of the early Reformers anabaptism was administered by sprinkling, and requested an explanation, &c. Although I preserve your papers very carefully, yet by some means the one in question got mislaid, and at this late period, on the part of Mr. B. as well as for myself, I will briefly state that the apparent mistake may be thus explained: While Luther and his followers do not appear to have called in question the validity of Catholic baptism, some of the Reformers of another class rejected all the administrations of Rome, and baptism among the rest, and repeated the baptismal service on all their converts from the old church. The repetition of the rite, was all that was meant by anabaptism with them.

      As these people were all Pedobaptists, and practiced sprinkling, their re-baptizing was performed the same way. They had no affinity with the old Anabaptists of the country. The practice, however, was soon laid aside, the validity of Catholic baptism was admitted by both Lutherans and Calvinists, as it has been ever since by Pedobaptists generally of all schools. These few remarks may serve as an explanation of the seeming difficulty in the view of your correspondent, whose name and address went from me with the missing paper. If he is still one of your readers and should desire a more detailed account of the modus operandi in Anabaptism by sprinkling, I will supply it in a future period.

To Rev. Richard Johnson, Rector, &c., of GA.

      RESPECTED SIR: - In looking over some numbers of the Tennessee Baptist, I find the correspondence to which you invited me a few years since was left unfinished; and at this distance of time I will say a few words respecting the main positions you assumed in one of which my reputation was rather unceremoniously assailed. You professed to be able to adduce proof Crosby's History of the English Baptist of the following facts. (1) "That the people referred to believed in the validity of infant baptism until about the year 1633. (2) That those Baptists were baptized in their infancy." The proof thus proffered by you I requested you to produce: and when that was done I would reply to your charges against me personally. But as the proof in question has not appeared I have thus far omitted giving any attention to your charges against me. I did hope you would produce from Crosby the passages on which you relied to substantiate your novel positions as above stated. The task, however, I am certain you cannot perform. Your theory is a simple absurdity. Infant baptism among Baptists? Who ever heard of such a thing! The moment a Baptist admits the validity of infant baptism he is unmade and ceases to be a Baptist. You might as well attempt to prove the denial of infant baptism by Pedobaptists! I shall say no more on this point.

      In my own defence I will merely say, that I am freely convinced that the assertion "The true origin of that sect, which acquired the denomination of Anabaptists, &c., is hid in the remote depths of antiquity," is a genuine and indisputable historical fact, however much you may disbelieve it. You seem to intimate that Maclaine's version of the Latin text of Mosheim has a leaning to the Baptist side, and that the rendering of Murdock of the same passage, which is more brief and less explicit, is less favorable to that side. While the fact is all three of the church historians in question were our decided opponents. Mosheim was a Lutheran. Maclaine a Presbyterian, and Murdock a Congregationalist. But we do not look to either of those men to settle the point for or against the antiquity of our distinguishing principles. A chain of witnesses, through the wide range of ecclesiastical history confirm our claims to a very high origin. And the more fully the matter is investigated the more clearly it appears that the riots of Munster were promoted by the Lutherans, and not by the Anabaptists, who gloried in the name of weaponless Christians, and who would neither fight for themselves nor for the State. This anti-war principle is still adhered to by the Mennonites, their descendants. This aversion to the bearing of arms was peculiar to the old Waldensian Christians in all their branches, from whom the German Anabaptists descended, and continued to be until some of them were drawn into the horrid business of war by those fighting Reformers, who did great discredit to the Christian cause by what were called the Protestant wars.

      Relative to the two translations in question, and my preference for that of Maclaine over that of your complaint against me, and the thing for which you accuse of acting the part of a dishonest historian. I would simply say, that my quotation of the passage in dispute was made in my old Baptist History about fifty years ago, and was transferred to my second edition; whereas Murlock's work came out about a quarter of a century since, Maclaine's translation was made about a hundred years ago. It has passed through different editions in the hands of Pedobaptist editors, and you are the first man, to my knowledge, who has ever disputed the correctness of the passage now under consideration.

      Darkness is the proper meaning of the old Latin term tenebrarum, and by applying it in his account of the origin of the Anabaptists, Mosheim evidently meant to convey the idea that, historically speaking, it was hid in a darkness which he could not penetrate. For, says he, "all of a sudden (ex improvino enim) they arose in various countries under different leaders, but principally among the Bohemians, the Moravians, the Swiss and the Germans."

      Our author, in continuing his narrative, asserts that these people lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe prior to the Lutheran age. He also candidly admits that they were not entirely mistaken when they claimed to be descended from the Waldenses, Petrobrussians, Wickliffites, Thursites, and other ancient sects, who are usually considered as witnesses of the truth in times of universal darkness and superstition. And he furthermore maintains that all the people thus referred to held "that the kingdom of Christ, or the visible church he established upon the earth, was an assembly of true and real saints, and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked and unrighteous."

      These hasty remarks you will please to accept as a summary reply to all you have written against me in the Tennessee Baptist. As I infer that your attack upon my veracity as an historian was made under the influence of a strong sectarian bias, I harbor no ill-will towards you.

Yours respectfully,
David Benedict Pawtuket, R. I., December 18, 1860

[From the Tennessee Baptist, January 12, 1861. CD from M/F. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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