Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Seminary.
Dr. Whttsitt's Four Editorials in The New York Independent
The Congregationalist speaks of 'the well known immersion of Roger Williams by the unimmersed Ezekiel Holliman.' We are somewhat surprised that our greatly learned contemporary should be betrayed into the assertion that Roger Williams was immersed by Ezekiel Holliman. To be sure, all the Baptists of America so assume; but the editor of The Congregationalist is more accurately acquainted with the origins of Baptist history than any of the Baptists themselves, and we expected that its statement would be more accurate. As we understand it, Roger Williams never was a Baptist in the modern sense -- that is, never was immersed; and the ceremony referred to was anabaptism, rebaptism by sprinkling, and not ‘catabaptism,’ or baptism by immersion. The baptism of Roger Williams is affirmed by Governor Winthrop to have taken place in March, 1639. This, however, was at least two years prior to the introduction of the practice of immersion among the Baptists. Up to the year 1641 all Baptists employed sprinkling and pouring as the mode of baptism. Now, is it reasonable to suppose that Mr. Williams, in joining the Baptists, should have made. use of a form of baptism which they had never practiced or thought of? To us it seems an historical anachronism. We admit that there are no positive historical statements as yet discovered concerning the mode of Mr. Williams' baptism; but as it took place in the year 1639, we assume, as a matter of course, that sprinkling or pouring was the method, since no other was at that time in use among the Baptists. The burden of proof rests entirely upon those who assert that William was immersed. Has The Congregationalist any positive testimony to that effect? If so, we shall be glad to receive it. We are inclined to believe that no case of immersion took place among the American Baptists before the year 1644. It seems likely that Roger Williams, on his return from England in that year, brought the first reliable news concerning the change which has taken place in the practice of the English Baptists, three years before, and then it was that the American Baptists first resolved to accept the innovation. At any, rate our reading has not yet furnished us with anything that looks like an authenticated instance of immersion earlier than the year 1644. But The Congregationalist is far better instructed on these topics than ourselves, and we shall be grateful for some further 'light and leading' with regard to the point at issue from it, or from Zion's Advocate, which is the only Baptist paper we know of that seems to have any knowledge of Baptist history." -- Independent, Sept. 2, 1880.
The proofs which are demanded by Zion's Advocate of our recent assertion that immersion was not practiced in England before a period as late as 1641
are so abundant that one is embarrassed to know where to begin. We shall mention, in the first instance, the silence of history. This is absolute and unbroken. Though a number of works were written by Smyth, Helwys, Merton and other Baptists prior to 1641, and though these were replied to by opponents -- such as Clifton, Robinson, Ainsworth and Johnson -- it is nowhere intimated that the Baptists were then in the practice of immersion. Nay, more; the earliest Baptist Confessions of Faith all contemplate sprinkling or pouring as the act of baptism. We refer, in proof of this, to the Confession of Faith, in twenty articles, which is subscribed by John Smyth, and may be found in the Appendix to Volume 1. of Evans' "Early English Baptists." We refer also to the Helwys Confession entitled "A Declaration of Faith of English People remaining at Amsterdam, Holland," printed 1611. We also refer to the "Propositions and Conclusions Concerning the Christian Religion," which were published after his death, by "the remainders of Mr. Smyth's company."
It was not until the year 1644, three years after the invention of immersion, that any Baptist confession prescribes "dipping or plunging the body in water as the way and manner of dispensing this ordinance" ("London Confession of 1644," Article 40).
Having disposed of the argument from the silence of history, we shall now present another, based upon the testimony of history, both Baptist and Pedobaptist history. The first authority that we shall cite is the distinguished Robert Baillie, in his work entitled "Anabaptism, the True Fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familsme," etc. (London, January 4, 1646.) On page 163 Baillie remarks, in the margin: "The pressing of dipping and exploding of sprinkling is but an yesterday conceit of the English Anabaptist." In the text he remarks as follows: "Among the new inventions of the late Anabaptists, there is none which with greater animosity they set on foot than the necessity of dipping over head and ears, than the nullity of allusion and sprinkling in the administration of baptisme. Among the old Anabaptists, or those oversea, to this day, so far as I can learn, by their writings or relation that yet has come to my ears, the question of dipping or sprinkling never came upon the Table. As I take it, they dip none, but all whom they baptize they sprinkle in the same manner as is our custome. The question about the necessity of dipping seems to be taken up only the other year by the Anabaptists in England." Were these pointed or distinct statements denied or questioned by the Baptists of England in the year 1616? Not at all. That labor was reserved for their descendants, who had fallen into ignorance in regard to Baptist history. Mr. John Tombes, one of the most learned and able Baptists of that or any other
age in his "Addition to the Apology for the Two Treatises concerning infant Baptism; in answer to Mr. Robert Baillie," 1652, employs the following language with regard to the above statements:
"If no continuance of adults' baptism can be proved, and baptism by such persons is wanting, yet I conceive what many Protestant writers do yield, when they are pressed by the Papists to show, the calling of the first reformers; that after an universal corruption, the necessity of the thing doth justify the persons that reform, though wanting an ordinary regular calling, will justify in such a case both the lawfulness of the minister's baptizing that hath not been rightly baptized himself and the sufficiency of that baptism to the person so baptized. And this very thing in a case where a baptized minister cannot be had, it is lawful for an unbaptized person to baptize, and his baptism is valid, is both the resolution of Aquinas, and of Zanchius, an eminent Protestant." Again, Dr. Daniel Featley, in the "Dippers Dipt," which was published on the 10th of January, 1645, has a review of the Baptist Confession of 1644, wherein, remarking upon Article 40, which requires "dipping, or plunging the body under water," asserts distinctly that this was a "new leaven." It has been the custom of Baptist historians to break the force of this testimony by affirming that Featley was a prejudiced witness. That charge may be just; but nobody affirms that he told falsehoods with regard to well-known contemporary events, in which it would be easy for the most careless observer to convict him of error.
Happily for us, however, the above assertion is confirmed by the authority of Edward Barber, the founder of the rite of immersion among the Baptiste [sic]. In the preface to his "Treatise on Baptism, or Dipping," London, 1641, the earliest book in the English language to assort that immersion is essential to baptism, Mr. Barber praises God that he, "a poore tradesman," was raised up to re-store this truth to the world.
Once more, Ephraim Pagitt, in his "Heresiography," London, 1645, after describing fifteen different sorts of Anabaptists as mentioned in Church History, comes at last to speak of what he denominates the "Plunged Anabaptists," and asserts that this "plunging" was a "new crochet" of the Baptists of England.
This will be denounced as the prejudiced testimony of a virulent enemy; but we are enabled to confirm it by the distinguished authority of the "Kiffin Manuscript," a well-known and venerable Baptist document. We quote: "This relates that several sober and pious persons belonging to the congregations of the dissenters about London were convinced that believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, and that it ought to be administered by immersion, or dipping the whole body into the water, in resemblance of a
[p. 42]burial and resurrection, according to Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:4. That they often met together to pray and confer about this matter, an a consult what methods they should take to enjoy this ordinance in its primitive purity. That they could not be satisfied about any administrator in England to begin this practice; because though some in this nation rejected the baptism of infants, yet they had not as they know 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, who understood the Dutch language. That he went accordingly, carrying letters of recommendation with him, and was kindly received, both by the church there, and Mr. John Batten, their teacher. That upon his return, he baptized Mr. Samuel Blacklock, a minister, and these two baptized the rest of their company whose names are in the manuscript, to the number of fifty-three." (Crosby, "English Baptists," pages 101, 102.)
Here is the highest Baptist testimony to the effect that there were no immersionists in England, and that the rite was first fetched from Holland, by Mr. Richard Blount. The John Batten who administered immersion to Mr. Blount was a collegiant minister, the successor of the Brothers Vander Codde. This community was founded and immersion was introduced by them into Holland in the year 1619. It is not known whence they obtained the practice.
Thus we have endeavored briefly to meet the wishes of Zion's Advocate. If our contemporary is not satisfied by the above proofs, we are ready to furnish others. They exist in great abundance in the literature of the Puritan period. -- New York Independent, Sept. 9, 1880. =============
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