Baptist History Homepage

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

Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Seminary.

Another Discovery
By J. T. Christian, D. D.

[p. 43]
      Some time since I had occasion to examine the files of the N. Y. Independent for the years 1880-1-2-3, and I found fourteen editorials on the general subject of the practice of sprinkling among Baptists prior to 1641. These editorials, with one exception, so resemble each other that they seemed to me to come from the same author. The exception was officially signed by the editors of the Independent, and so the exception seemed to prove the rule. Dr. Whitsitt last spring declared that he was the author of two of these editorials, and on account of the resemblance of the others to these two and to his other writings, the question came up in my mind whether he was not the author of them all. There were but two men who could settle the question, Dr. Ward, editor of the Independent, and Dr. Whitsitt. Failing to get any satisfaction from Dr. Ward, I accordingly wrote Dr. Whitsitt the following letter:
Rev. Win. H. Whitsitt, D.D., Louisville, Ky.
      MY DEAR BRO. -- Some days since I was looking over the files of The Independent for 1880 to 1883. I found fourteen editorials on the general subject of sprinkling or pouring as having been the practice of the Baptists or Anabaptists before 1641. Two of these editorials, Sept. 2 and 9, 1880, were written by yourself. Several others impressed me as bearing your style and modes of thought together with material which you have used elsewhere. Will you kindly inform me whether you wrote all, or any of the editorials in The Independent on the above mentioned subject under the following dates: June 24, 1830; Oct. 7, 1880; Dec. 2, 1880; May 12, 1881; and Dec. 13, 1883 and Sept. 23, 1880. An early answer will be appreciated. I remain
Yours very truly,
     Dr. Whitsitt replied as follows:
Rev. John T. Christian, D.D., Louisville, Ky.,
      DEAR BRO. -- I am the author of a brief editorial note in the Independent of June 24, 1880, and likewise of an article entitled "More Proofs" in the Independent of Oct. 7, 1880. Owing to the lapse of time I had forgotten the existence of these two articles when the matter came up during the summer. I was on the point of bringing forward the article entitled "More Proofs" in my recent volume, but I feared that I could not accomplish it without appearing to take notice of a charge of plagiarism that had been preferred against me. As I did not wish to do that I decided to omit any reference to it.

[p. 44]
I did not write any of the other articles mentioned by you.
Very truly,
      It will be seen from the above letter that Dr. Whitsitt admits having written two more of The Independent editorials. That makes four that he has acknowledged. Admitting that he had written these two editorials relieved some of the statements in his book of the suspicion of plagiarism, but did not relieve many other of those statements. There were a number of the editorials I had not mentioned to Dr. Whitsitt in my former letter, and as it seemed to me that he must have forgotten in regard to the editorial of Dec. 13, 1883, I carefully prepared another letter, which I sent him, as follows:
Rev. Wm. H. Whitsitt, D.D., Louisville, Ky.,
      My DEAR BRO. -- Your courteous favor of recent date has been received. I was not at all surprised to learn that you wrote the editorials in The Independent under the dates of June 24 and Oct. 7, 1880. I did not ask you in regard to all of the editorials on the subject of sprinkling among the Anabaptists prior to the year 1641 which appeared in The Independent. There were several of them I supposed you wrote. For example the one that speaks of the writings of A. R. where he is declared to be, upon the authority of Dr. Featley, A. Ritor. This so exactly tallies with what you say in your book (p. 119) where you make the above point and add in almost the language of the editorial, "but this information, derived from a contemporary, is worthy of more attention than has been bestowed upon it hitherto," that I can reach no other conclusion than that you were the author of the editorial.

      I was also led to the conclusion that you were the author of the editorial which appeared in The Independent Aug. 12, 1880, on the Epworth records. This was manifest to me in several ways. The editorial contains the following quotation which is found in your book (p. 62): "This night at midnight Elder John Morton baptized John Smyth, vicar of Gainsborough, in ye river Don. It was so dark we were obliged to have torch lights. Elder Brewster prayed. Mr. Smyth made a good confession. Walked to Epworth in his wet clothes; but received no harm. The distance was over two miles. All of our friends were present. To the triune God be all the praise."

      The Independent editorial introduces this extract with these words: "Presenting convincing proof that they are a clumsy forgery, and especially the paragraph under an assumed date of March 24th, 1606." You say in your book: "The first of these is found in a fabulous statem ent under the pretended date of March 24, 1606." Then there follows the same line of reasoning in both documents, and in almost identical words. Of course I concluded that you were the author of both statements.

[p. 45]
But it is not about this so much that I write you, but in regard to the editorial in The Independent which appeared Dec. 13, 1883. I asked you in regard to that and some other editorials in my last letter, and you reply: "I did not write any of the other articles mentioned by you." I confess I was very much surprised to have you say this in regard to the editorial of Dec. 13, 1883. I had in hand what I regarded as positive proof, from an undoubted source, that you wrote it. I thought, perhaps, in your reply, that you did not have this editorial before you, or in the lapse of time that you had forgotten it. I therefore take the liberty to write to you again in regard to it. I am sure that some explanation is demanded and that you can give it.

      Outside of the above mentioned reasons, for my having believed that you were the author of the editorial, there seemed to me to be overwhelming internal evidences of your authorship. At the risk of making this letter somewhat long, I wish to point out some of these evidences:

      1. This editorial was written in review of Dr. Dexter’s book and in answer to an article in The Examiner which had just appeared, and it would be the most natural thing in the world for you to review it through The Independent. Under all of the conditions it would be very unnatural for any one else to review it editorially.

      2. The same authors are quoted, in the same editions, in the same words, with exact references, to prove the same points in this editorial that you use in your book. This list of authors is the one you always quote as original with you and that you never give as coming from another author. (A Question in Baptist History, p. 8.) Those who have read your book are familiar with the name s of the following authors who are quoted in this editorial: Kiffin Ms., Crosby, Evans, J. G. De Hoop Scheffer, Barclay, Fuller, Busher and. Ivimey.

      3. The author of this editorial claims the discovery of immersion among the English Anabaptists of 1641 as peculiarly his own, and declares that Dr. Dexter had not given him proper credit. I knew no other who would make that claim save yourself.

      4. The thoughts, words, phrases, combination of phrases, quotations and even the method of punctuation, are all your own. I could not understand this if you were not the author of this editorial. I give some details. The editorial says: "During the year 1880 The Independent advanced and established the position that the Baptists did not adopt the practice of immersion until the year 1641. This conclusion was adopted by Dr. Dexter, and in the latter part of 1881 was supported by him in a learned and able work which embraced a portion of the material at our disposal and some in addition." Every word of the above may be found in your writings. "The Baptists" "adopted" "the practice of immersion" "in 1641." "My researches were prosecuted in the summer of 1880." "Dr. Dexter's work which appeared in the

[p. 46]
month of December, 1881, is of the highest importance." "Numbers of the citations which I sought out in the year 1880, and which I still retain in manuscript form, I found reproduced in an independent fashion by Dr. Dexter in 1881." (A Question in Baptist History, pp. 68.)

      The next extract in the editorial referring to Dr. Dexter and Dr. Newman says: "We were naturally pleased that our position should obtain the confirmation and support of such distinguished and instructed authorities."

      In your article in The Examiner, April 23, 1896, you say of Dr. Dexter: "Naturally I was glad to gain such a learned and distinguished convert, and took little or no care of my rights in my discovery." You have also repeatedly claimed Dr. Newman as supporting your position.

      In this editorial there is an account of John Smith's becoming an Anabaptist, of his expulsion from them by Helwys, of his trying to become a Mennonite, of the difficulties thrown in his way, and of his various confessions of faith, some of them in Latin, and that none of these confessions contemplated immersion. I give a few extracts from the editorial: "Here we remark after his expulsion from the Baptists by Helwys, and Morton, (Evans' Early English Baptists, 1. 209), John Smyth employed the balance of his life in trying to gain admission to the Mennonites, who never had and did not then practice immersion. In presenting this enterprise the name of Smyth became associated with three different confessions of faith. The first of them is in Latin," etc. "Almost the same terms are employed in the oldest form of the Baptist Confession of 1611, where we are not aware that anybody who was entitled to a judgment ever thought any other form of baptism but pouring and sprinkling."

      All of this, with some elaboration, but in exact words, is found in your book in the chapter on John Smyth. Every detail is there, every authority is there.

      The editorial takes the ground that Zwingle banished immersion from Zurich; you take the same ground in your book (p. 34); the editorial says that Felix Mantz practiced sprinkling; you say the same (p. 36); the editorial says that there were immersing Anabaptists in Pomerania and remoter regions of Europe; and you make a like declaration (p. 40)

      The editorial says: "Crosby (I. 39) quotes the historian Fuller as saying that the Dutch Anabaptists, who flocked to England in the year 1539, were 'Donatists new dipped,' by which he meant Donatists new baptized or christened, without any reference to the form, since a man of Fuller's information must have known that the Dutch Anabaptists were not immersionists, but sprinklers."

      But you say (p. 48), speaking of immersion, this same thing and in the same connection. Your words are: "That incontestable deliverance of history has now and then been called in question because Thomas Fuller, is his Church History of Britain, published in 1655, when treating of certain Hollanders

[p. 47]
who were brought to trial in 1538, adds that 'these Anabaptists for the main were but the Donatists new dipped' (Crosby, vol. I, p. 39). The times had passed by in England where everybody who was christened had to be dipped, but this learned and witty author was well aware of that old usage, and of the fact that it was no longer in vogue. Yet 'dipped' was still in use as a synonym for 'christened.' Mr. Fuller was fond of the alliteration, 'Donatists new dipped,' and employed the expression for no other purpose than to indicate that the Anabaptists were but the Donatists with a new name."

      The editorial says: "Before dismissing the case of Busher we would embrace the occasion to suggest that there is no sufficient proof of his connection with the Baptists. He did not belong either to the party of Smyth or of Helwys. The tract on 'Religious Peace,' from which the above extract is derived does not exhibit the customary Anabaptist ear-marks. The letter under date of July 8th, 1611, Lawne's 'Prophane Schisme' (p. 56), is too casual and unsupported to justify a definite conclusion."

      I find that this is exactly your opinion as expressed in your own words. You say in your Religious Herald article, May 7, 1896: "He may have been a Baptist, but there is no proof of it." In your book one of the authorities given in reference to Busher is "Lawne's Profane Scheme, 56," under date of July 8, 1611.

      The editorial says of the Kiffin manuscript: "We do not fully sympathize with the effort of The Examiner to belittle the value of the so-called Kiffin Ms. The account which is given of Mr. Spilsbury's church, this manuscript claims on the margin to have been derived from the records of that church (Ivimey, I. 139); and has too many points of contact for the history of this period to admit of its being cried down on the score of its being anonymous. Anonymous productions are sometimes valuable; and in this instance an anonymous manuscript is quite valuable, not in itself indeed, but as supporting and confirming a large body of testimonials and literature."

      This is so much like what you have written of the Kiffin manuscript in your Religious Herald article and in your book (p. 80), that I was constrained to conclude that you must be its author.

      The editorial says of Dr. Newman: "It is seldom indeed that a Baptist can be found who has any knowledge on that subject," referring to Baptist history.

      That reminded me much of your editorial in The Independent, Sept. 2, 1880, where you say that Zion's Advocate "is the only Baptist paper we know of that seems to have any knowledge of Baptist history."

      With these evidences before me, I felt confident that you wrote the editorial of December 13, 1883. For more than twenty years I have been examining documents, and I had never seen such an agreement between two distinct authors. Now, since you had forgotten

[p. 48]
having written the article of June 24, 1880, as you state in your letter, it occurred to me that you might have forgotten about this editorial also, and that I might refresh your memory concerning it. Will you not kindly examine this editorial, which you can find in the Seminary Library, and let me know whether you can recall having written it, or whether you are sure that you are not its author. An early reply will oblige me. I remain Yours, fraternally,

      To this Dr. Whitsitt replied:

      Rev. John T. Christian, D.D., Louisville, Ky.:
      DEAR BRO. — Your conclusions in the department of Higher Criticism are as unreliable as those of many other laborers in that line of research. Kindly excuse me from further correspondence.

Very truly,

      I had previously written to Dr. Ward in regard to the editorial of Dec. 13, 1883, asking him point blank if Dr. Whitsitt wrote that editorial. If not, he could have said "no," and not revealed any editorial secrets. But instead, he wrote:

      The Rev. John T. Christian, D.D., Louisville, Ky.:
      MY DEAR SIR. -- Pardon my delay in answering yours received a day or two ago. It is not our habit to give information about the authorship of articles which we print editorially. I think you will see that it is not wise to depart from the rule, unless there is some special good reason, and that reason is not evident.

Yours, very truly,

      So Dr. Whitsitt is the author of FOUR of these Independent editorials, arguing that Baptists practiced sprinkling before 1641. The two, whose authorship he avowed last spring, have been published. I now give the other two whose authorship he now admits. They are as follows:

The Whitsitt Editorials

      Studies in the History of Baptism have become very popular of late among the Baptists. An excellent work on the subject has been published by Mr. Burrage, of Maine. Dr. Cathcart, of Philadelphia, has likewise given us a volume entitled "Baptism of the Ages of Nations." And now comes the Rev. Daniel C. Potter with an illustrated lecture before the delegates at the recent Baptist Anniversaries in Saratoga on "The Verdict of Antiquity in Favor of Immersion as the True Mode of Baptism." It is singular that these gentlemen all alike ignore the circumstance that the verdict of antiquity among the Baptists is in
[p. 49]
favor of sprinkling or pouring as the true mode of baptism. It is strange if they are not all aware of the fact, which no respectable authority has yet had the temerity to call in question, that prior to the comparatively recent date of 1641 none of the people who are known as Baptists were immersed. John Smith was baptized by sprinkling, as also was John Spilsbury, William Kiffin, Roger Williams and the First Baptist church of Providence, and John Clark and his church in Newport. The English Baptists never dreamed of the possibility of immersing an adult person as a religious ceremony before the year 1641, and there is good ground to conclude that the American Baptists never thought of such a thing before the year 1644. -- N. Y. Independent, June 24th, 1880.

More Proofs

      Zion's Advocate is not satisfied with our proofs that immersion was introduced among the Baptists in the year 1641, and inclines, upon the authority of Barclay and Dr. Dexter, to accept the 12th of September, 1633, as the proper date of that occurrence. In the present state of information on the subject of Baptist history, these are the only dates that can come under consideration with reference to the origin of immersion. We propose to give our reasons for preferring the year 1641.

      The 12th of September, 1633, is the birthday of the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists. Crosby, quoting from the so-called Kiffin Ms. ("History," Vol. I., pp. 148-9), speaks as follows of the party who than separated from the church of Mr. Lathrop:

"And, as they believed that baptism was, not rightly administered to infants, so they looked upon the baptism they had received at that age as invalid; whereupon most, or all of them received a new baptism. Their minister was Mr. John Spilsbury."
      The question at issue is: Was this "new baptism" a sprinkling or affusion, or was it an immersion? We affirm that it was a new sprinkling. Zion's Advocate, Dr. Dexter and Barclay affirm that it was an immersion. If they are correct, we shall have to place the origin of Baptist immersion in 1633. If we are correct, it belongs in 1641.
The first argument that may be brought in support of our position is derived from that same so-called Kiffin Ms. Crosby, quoting from it on another point ("History," I, 10.2) says:
      "They could not be satisfied about any administrator in England to begin this practice, because tho' some in this nation rejected the baptism of infants, yet they had not, as they knew of, revived the ancient custom of immersion; but, hearing that some in the Netherlands practiced it, they agreed to send over one, Mr. Richard Blount," etc.

[p. 50]
But the mission of this Mr. Richard Blount, according to Neal ("History of the Puritans," Vol. III, 173-4), did not occur until the year 1644, eleven years after the "new baptism" was received by the Spilsbury secession. There is not the slightest reason anywhere to question the correctness of the date here given by Neal; and, hence, we must hold that the "new baptism" of the First Particular Baptist church was a new sprinkling.

      Crosby ("History," 1, 97) says that when the early Baptists "were for reviving the ancient practice of immersion they were divided in their opinions how to act in this matter so as not to be guilty of any disorder or self contradiction. Some, indeed, were of opinion that the first administrator should baptize himself and then proceed to baptize the others. Others were for sending to those foreign Protestants that had used immersion for some time" [the Collegiants in Holland had used it since the year 1619]; "that so they might receive it from them. And others again thought it not necessary to baptism that the administrator be himself baptized." It was the second of the above-named parties who sent Mr. Blount to Holland in 1644; while the last-mentioned had been engaged in immersing people ever since the year 1641.

      Our direct proof that this was the date when the practice of immersion was revived will now be given.

      Mr. Barber, in his "Small Treatise of Baptisme or Dipping, printed in the yeare 1641," says in effect that dipping was then unknown, and that he and some others were raised up "to divulge this glorious truth to the world's censuring." Is there any special reason why he who was an eye-witness should not be believed, when in the year 1641 he asserts that there was "such ignorance, especially in and among those that professe themselves ministers of the gospel of that glorious principle true baptism or dipping," and that he was "raised up to divulge this glorious truth"? If not, then we shall find it impossible to believe that dipping had been in use since 1633. It must have been something splinter new in 1641, if we may credit Mr. Barber.

      But the testimony of Mr. Barber is confirmed by others of his contemporaries. Mr. Praise God Barebone has a work entitled "A Discourse Tending to Prove the Baptisme in or under the defection of Anti-christ to be the Ordnance of Jesus Christ." By Praise God. Barebone, 1642. Here Mr. Barebone tells us:

      "But now very lately some are mightily taken as having found out a new defect in the Baptisme under the defection which maketh such a nullity of Baptisme in their conceit that it is none at all; and it is concerning the manner of baptizing wherein they have espyed such a default as it maketh an absolute nullity of all persons' Baptism but such as have been so baptized according to their new discovery, and so, partly as before in regard of the subject, and partly in regard of so great a default in the manner, they not only conclude as

[p. 51]
is before sayd a nullity of their present Baptism, and so addresse themselves to be baptized a third time after the true way and manner they have found out which they account a precious truth. The particular of their opinion and practice is to Dip, and that persons are to be Dipped, all and every part to be under the water; for, if all the whole person be not under the water, then they hold they are not baptized with the Baptisme of Christ. … But, inasmuch as this is a very new way, and the full growth of it and settling is not yet known, if it be to themselves, yet not to me and others, I will forbear to say further to it."
      It is hardly possible that Mr. Barebone could have written this last sentence in 1642 if immersion had been in use since the year 1633. We think his language confirms the statement of Mr. Barber, in 1641, that he was then in the act of "divulging this glorious truth to the world's censuring."

      We shall mention only one other reason for preferring the year 1641. Henry Denne, in his "Antichrist Unmasked in answer to Dr. Daniel Featley, etc., London, April 1st., 1645," says,

"Among the rest, the church is now travailing ready to be delivered and bring forth the doctrine of the Baptisme of water, raked up hereto-fore in an imitation of Pedebaptism. The truth of the Ordnance and Institution of the Lord Jesus lying covered with Custom and Practice and a pretended face of Antiquity."
      The above language of this celebrated Baptist preacher can hardly be explained on any other supposition than that immersion was introduced in 1641. If it had been introduced in 1633, the "travailing of the church" would surely have ended before the year 1645, the date of the above-named "Antichrist Unmasked." We sincerely trust that the reasons here given for preferring the date 1641 before the 12th of September, 1633, as the time when immersion was adopted by the Baptists will be satisfactory to our respected contemporary.

      A few matters of inferior importance may be mentioned in conclusion. If immersion was introduced, as we suppose, in 1641, then it is clear that John Spilsbury, who became a Baptist in 1633, was sprinkled or poured upon; likewise Mr. Millie, who became a Baptist in 1633; likewise Roger Williams and his church at Providence, who joined the Baptists in 1639; likewise Mr. Clark and the church at Newport, who, we must believe, joined the Baptists very shortly after Mr. Williams. The year 1644, which is mentioned as the date when "the First Baptist church of Newport was formed and set in order," we are inclined to think was the time when the church accepted and began the practice of immersion.

      We are familiar with the history of Mr. Chauncey and had our eye upon him in a former editorial article. Hence we say that "prior to 1641 the English Baptists

[p. 52]
never dreamed of the possibility of immersing an adult person as a religious ceremony." The immersion of infants had been heard of; but the immersion of adults as an act of worship was long since a lost art in England and America.

      Zion's Advocate has incautiously permitted Ivimey, or some other Baptist historian, to mislead it about the cause of Barber's imprisonment in 1641. Crosby (I. 218) says it was for "denying the baptism of infants, and that to pay tithes to the clergy is God's ordinance under the Gospel." This agrees with Barber's own statement. He was not imprisoned "for publishing the 'Treatise of Baptism or Dipping.'" On the contrary, he tells us that he wrote this treatise while he was in prison for the cause above mentioned -- N Y Independent, Oct. 7th. 1880.


Go to Next Essay of Both Sides
Return to Baptist Controversies
Return to Baptist History Homepage