Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Seminary.
Dr. Whitsitt's citations from various controversial writings of the period, Baptist and Pedobaptist, -- have been fully canvassed in the columns of the RECORDER by Dr. King and other able writers, and I need not, therefore consider them in detail. The evidential value assigned to them appears to me, in any case, far too great. We do not reasonably expect the same sobriety and caution of statement from the advocate that we demand from the witness. His flaming rhetoric, full of stinging epithets and hasty characterizations, furnish little solid data to aid historic judgment. One might as well assume to determine the geological structure of the locality by help of a lump snatched from a lava flood, as to settle grave questions of fact on the authority of a headlong phrase from such a source. We may burn our fingers by its help, but will not be apt to clarify our vision. The controversial writer looks, ordinarily, from a confined point of view: he allows himself to speak elliptically, or without careful qualification of every statement, trusting to the knowledge of the facts on the part of his contemporaries, or to the whole scope of his discussion, to correct impressions otherwise erroneous. It is hardly safe, therefore, to isolate his single sentences or phrases, and deal with them as rigorously and literally complete. It would not be difficult, by so prosaic a method, to show the present volume guilty of reckless and even contradictory assertions. It affirms (p. 15) that "immersion was first introduced into England in 1641," while again declaring (p. 23) that "in the earliest times immersion prevailed in England as elsewhere." The "immersion of believers was introduced into England in 1641," according to the statement of p. 145 (the immediate context fairly implying that this was its first appearance); while on the preceding page it is affirmed to have been then "introduced again." Of course we do not, on this ground, charge the author with self-stultification; we mentally qualify the seemingly bald local affirmations by a broader vision of his aim. But why should not Edward Barber, for instance, be entitled to like allowance in his use of terms? He does, indeed, speak of himself as raised up to "divulge he glorious truth" of "true baptism," or "dipping," but his language contrasting the "dipping of Jesus Christ," practiced by the "Anabaptists," with the "dipping of infants," taken with the statement of persistency in the truth during
preceding reigns (pp. 3-6) by some, plainly implies that dipping had never been abandoned. To "divulge" is simply to make public, and the use of the term implies nothing whatever as to the novelty of the thing published. An idea long secretly entertained, or a custom long secretly practiced, may, with perfect propriety have been referred to in the instance in question. Nor can the terms "destroyed and raced out" be held reasonably to imply voluntary abandonment or forgetfulness. They rather suggest the contrary, for they are words of violence. They are reinforced by the language of Daniel King, quoted by Dr. Whitsitt a little farther on, referring to the immersion of believers as an "ordinance of Christ, which they have been deprived of by the violence and tyranny of the man of sin." To represent a man as "deprived by violence" of a rite that he had no disposition to practice, or of which he had never heard, would be manifestly absurd. The allusion, in either case, points clearly to that adverse civic and ecclesiastic legislation which had discriminated against socalled anabaptism as a crime, and made its public administration practically impossible. It had been legally, and as far as official vigilance could effect, actually "raced out and destroyed," but not necessarily ignored or repudiated. It had, in Dr. Featley's words, been "covered under the ashes," ready to "break out" when the "temporal and ecclesiastical sword" should be "other ways employed." Barber's reference, however, is to the Roman Catholics as having "destroyed and raced out" both immersion and believers' baptism.
Even more inapt is the citation of the passage from the Broadmead Records, ending with the declaration that "the truth of believers' baptism had been for a long time buried, yea for a long time by popish inventions, and their sprinkling brought in the room thereof." For these words are, in the original, offered in explanation of a "prejudice" at Bristol against the Anabaptists; and the very next sentence, strangely omitted in citation, traces the origin of that prejudice to the fact that "about a hundred years before, some beyond the sea in Germany, that held the truth of believers' baptism, did in some way do some very irregular actions, of whom we can have no true account what they were but by their enemies: for none but such in any history have made any relation or narrative of them." Here is the distinct claim that the Anabaptists "beyond the sea," from whom the English Baptists are now said to have derived their baptism, had clung to "believers' baptism;" the allusion to its "burial" for "a long time" by "popish inventions" (including "sprinkling" under that head) implying that that "burial" had already taken place. The "prejudice" in Bristol could have arisen only against an existing practice; and since it grew out of the fact that this practice was recognized as identical with that of the disreputable continental Anabaptists of a hundred years before, the inference seems irresistible that the new Anabaptists, like the old, had persistently resented the intrusion of the "invention" named. In any case, it is clear that the writer of the
Broadmead Records contradicts Dr. Whitsitt's root-proposition, that the continental ancestors of the English Baptists had abandoned immersion.
The sweeping characterization of "dipping" by Pedobaptist polemic writers as a "new baptism," a "new discovery," a "fresh conceit" and the like, must needs be qualified, to some extent, at least, to save them from the charge of gross ignorance, inconsistency or mendacity. Provision for such qualification is sometimes made in the context, but must sometimes also be gathered from attendant circumstances. By a "new baptism" is, in some cases, meant only the "further baptism" of a "professed believer," such as that of Eaton mentioned in the Jessey document. Sometimes it must be limited in scope by remembering the constituency to which the language is addressed. Immersion itself was no doubt a novelty among the Pedobaptists, to whom "P. B." addressed himself (who had been wholly Calvinized in practice), and in remonstrating with them he might naturally stigmatize it as a "new discovery." More frequently the effort to restore immersion to its early place as the exclusive form of baptism was resented as a "new conceit." It will be observed that even Crosby and Ivimey, who unequivocally insist on a long prior practice of immersion among Baptists, speak without scruple of the "restoration of the ancient custom of immersion" at a later date. =============
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