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By Jesse B. Thomas, D.D., LL.D.,

Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Seminary.

Essay VI

[p. 24]
Dr. Featley makes it very clear that the novelty to which he is addressing himself is the repudiation of any other form of baptism than immersion. He distinctly approves of "dipping, so far as it excludeth not the other two" forms. He even repudiates, in a passage apparently over-looked by Dr. Whitsitt, the notion that immersion had in his day been abandoned in the Church of England. "In the manner of baptisme, as it is administered in the Church of England," he says, "there is a resemblance of the death and resurrection. For though the child be not always dipped in the water (as the rubric prescribeth, save only in the case of necessity) which would be dangerous in cold weather, especially if the child be weak and sickly, yet the minister dippeth his hand in the water and taketh it out again when he baptizeth the infant." This last suggestion is grotesque enough; but the whole passage may remind us that (as there was no presumption that the average English infant would be a weakling, but the contrary) the rubric was then understood normally to require dipping, and that dipping had not been wholly abandoned: for it would be disingenuous to say that the child was not "always dipped" if it never were. On the same page he alludes to the Anabaptists as "decrying down pedobaptism, and with-holding Christ's lambs from being bathed in the sacred font," a charge incomprehensible if immersion were objected to by him, or unpracticed in his day.

Dr. Whitsitt indicates, as it seems to me, a dangerous tendency to confound things that differ, in his citation of some passages from the literature of the time, and the interpretation thereof. The case of the "two sorts of Anabaptists," the "Old Men or Aspersi" and the "New Men or Immerse" in Chelmsford may serve to illustrate this. The writer from whom the extract is made, is speaking of the "people" of a "towne" (not a church of any kind); a "third part" of whom "refuse to communicate in the Church Lyturgie," because of the influence of various "sectaries," including Anabaptists (who are divided as stated). Now there is nothing surprising in the fact that individuals emerging from a Pedobaptist community toward the Baptist position, should move with halting step, rejecting infant baptism only, at first, and sprinkling afterward; nor is it strange that they should be called Anabaptists at either stage. Every
[p. 25]
anti-Pedobaptist was so-called. Servetus, who held pantheistic notions, the Socinians, who denied the deity of Christ, and the Quakers, who set aside baptism altogether, were familiarly classed among Anabaptists. The question in hand is not whether all Anabaptists had been always alike, nor whether all persons, churches or communities, reckoned as anti-Pedobaptist immersionists, in whole or in part, after 1641, had always been such, but whether there were any individuals or churches that had practiced the immersion of believers in England before that time. Nothing but confusion can result from appealing to the history of Pedobaptist communities or churches in transition, as if these were typical, and indeed the only, Baptist churches. It is, of course, true that many of the mixed, and some of the distinct, Baptist churches of today did spring out of Independent bodies; but it is by no means clear that all did so. It is a mistake even to assume that Independency itself preceded Anabaptism. The ablest Congregational writers acknowledge the indebtedness of Robert Browne to the Anabaptists of Norwich for his fundamental ideas. But while it may fairly be claimed that Anabaptists and Anabaptist churches were the earlier, it is equally clear that large community of sentiment, as well as the circumstances of the time, brought the two bodies into early and close affiliation. They both insisted on congregational polity, and emphasized a regenerated membership, and, as dissenters, were alone the object of governmental hate. The existence of composite churches was, accordingly, not unnatural, but there is not sufficient evidence to show that all were such, nor that immersion was wholly abandoned even in them.

It is true, again, that we lack documentary evidence of historic continuity of anti-Pedobaptist immersion among the early Lollards, the later Dutch, and the still later English Baptists. But those who remember the paucity of recorded testimony to establish the continuity of early Christie history will not be wholly discomfited by this circumstance. Anabaptism, like the early faith, was, in England, as well as the continent, a religio illicita: it had, lit that, to run under ground. It was oblige to conceal itself, as uniformly stated by the writers of the day, in "gardens," in "forests," and in "cellars." The effort placard itself to posterity by written records would have furnished fatal weapon against itself for the use of the authorities who were only too eager to secure them.

The emphasis laid upon the fact that "nobody has anywhere brought forward one instance" of clearly demonstrated immersion among the early Baptists, and the intimation that the holders of the new theory need "give themselves no concern" until this is done, indicates a curious misapprehension as to the burden of proof. The prosecutor does not usually insist that the accused shall at the outset prove himself not guilty. But the assailant of an established opinion is a prosecutor, and it is for him to make his case. To make good his charge, as formulated at the beginning, Dr. Whitsitt is bound to show, either by
[p. 26]
affirmative demonstration of the exclusive practice of sprinkling, or pouring, or otherwise, that, up to the date mentioned, immersion had never been practiced among the Baptist churches of England. Individual instances of sprinkling among continental Anabaptists have been adduced, but I do not recall any such in English history. The holders of the current opinion may, therefore, well retort that, until one instance of early sprinkling among Baptists is clearly demonstrated, to say nothing of meeting the larger theorem, they certainly "need give themselves no concern." It might be mentioned in passing that Edwards, the author of "Gangreena," a virulent assault upon the Baptists, is quoted by Ivimey as affirming that "on the 12th of Nov. last (1640) there met a matter of 80 Anabaptists (many of them belonging to the church of one Barber) in a great house in Bishopsgate Street, and had a love feast, where five new members lately dipped were present &c." But this need not be pressed. The question is not to be settled by fragmentary or incidental phrases.

I reserve for a final paper the brief consideration of a far more interesting and profitable topic, into the fuller investigation of which it is reasonably to be hoped, and much to be desired, that this controversy may broaden out. I refer to the antecedent history of the continental Anabaptists, and its relation to the English.

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