Note: The spelling and grammar are unchanged. Footnotes are changed to endnotes and the symbols are changed to numbers. - Jim Duvall
Historical Sketch of the Baptist Denomination
by Charles Thompson
Midland Baptist Association, England
Circular Letter, 1832
The original of the following sketch was written by the appointment of Midland Association, England, as the Circular Letter for 1832. We copy it from the London edition, 1833, by Charles Thompson, Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Cosely, Staffordshire, with the author's
Several friends urged the propriety of publishing a similar Treatise for general circulation; with that wish the author hereby complies. It will be seen that argument on the subject of baptism forms no part of the design contemplated by the author. His object was, not to prove that baptism means immersion, nor that infants have been improperly introduced to Christian institutions, but simply to furnish an abstract of historical facts connected with the denomination to which he has the happiness to belong.
There are, however, in those facts, collateral evidences which are submitted to the candid attention of those who may be differently minded from the author. It is concluded from the details here given, that the first Christians were Baptists; that the baptism of infants took place about the fourth century; that persons professing the peculiarities of the Baptists were found in different parts of the world; and that throughout all the changes which attended the progress of years - the reign of error - the usurpation of Anti-christ, and the dominion of the English Episcopacy, they were marked by each dominant party, in the ancient and later ages, as objects of persecution; their Baptist sentiments forming one of the charges brought against them. The object here, is to detail the history of principles on the subject of baptism, without particular reference to the doctrinal distinctions of the parties, some of whom might have been Manicheans in one age, and Mennonites in another; or Waldenses in one place, and Lollards in another.
Notes have been supplied, as well to authenticate facts, as to direct the spirit of inquiry for more copious information.
It must have been a matter of regret to the members of the Baptist denomination, that, whilst there are large works, such as Crosby's and Ivimey's History of the English Baptists, which would give more general information than what could be conveyed in a publication like this, no manual exists sufficiently concise, yet complete, which we could place in the hands of those of our members, and the younger branches of our families, who have few opportunities for the acquisition of such knowledge.
To prevent indifference to our leading peculiarities, and to secure, as far as possible, a regard for our general interests, should certainly be our individual and united concern; and it cannot be questioned, that a popular abridgement of our denominational history would tend to the accomplishment of that object.
It will be necessary to premise that the term, "Baptist Denomination," may apply either to individuals or churches, though it is usually employed with reference to the latter. In the middle and succeeding ages there were individuals who professed Baptist sentiments, mixed up with the general body of Christians,1 and scattered over a wide surface, to whom we assign the designation by which we are distinguished; yet not as members of a distinct body, nor as maintaining doctrines similar to those now held by Baptist churches but as they avowed certain principles, and pursued a certain line of conduct with reference to baptism. In doing this, however, we have the example of the historians from whose records we derive our information, and to whom we can the more confidently refer, as they bear testimony to the existence of a profession which they heartily despised. In later times this distinctive appellation has been appropriated by Baptists, as existing in separate societies from other Christians; and, in their collective form, the term "Baptist denomination" is their cognomen in the Christian world.
To present this outline in the most clear and methodical manner, we shall arrange our descriptions under several sections. We begin with
I cannot help requesting attention to an important fact in this inquiry; - that liberal and independent principles, with a devoted opposition to every species of usurpation over the conscience and religion of man, whether arising from Pope or King, generally characterised the Baptists, and for this they suffered. Such principles were avowed by the Redeemer himself - they are essentially connected with the history now under consideration, and eminently distinguish the Baptist denomination at the present period. Dr. Mosheim, a Lutheran divine, who wrote a valuable work on Church history, states that the following position was maintained by the ancient Waldenses: "That the kingdom of Christ, or the visible church he had established upon earth, was an assembly of real saints; and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked and unrighteous, and also exempt from all those institutions which human prudence suggests to oppose the progress of iniquity, or to correct and transform transgressors." "This principle," says Mosheim, "is the true source of all the peculiarities that are to be found in the religious doctrines and discipline of the Baptists in Holland;" and I may add, of the Baptists in every part of the world at this moment. Thus, then, we are connected with the ancient confessors, not only in agreement of opinion on the subject of baptism, but in rational and enlightened views of the rights of men, and the claims of God. It is the privilege of man to investigate truth for himself; "Judge ye what is right," said the Saviour. God therefore does not exercise his authority in arbitrary dictation over the judgment and conscience of man, but appeals to the reasoning faculty of his creatures for the truth and justice of his claims. Doctrines and ordinances have to be examined, and the appeal is to the intelligence of accountable beings. On this the Baptists of ancient times rested their arguments in opposing legalized and established opinions. They maintained that man cannot be born into a system of faith, nor surrendered in infancy or age to a form of religion, but may assert his right to judge for himself; to examine and decide, under the lofty conviction that God has not made him a slave. They acknowledged no clerical or secular domination, but scorned with becoming indignation every attempt to subdue reason, by enforcing the dogmas of a party, and held, with determined fidelity, the high vantage ground assigned them by their Creator.
From these ancients we boast our descent, for we inherit their principles - principles which, from the high authority that sanctioned them, and the sacred channels through which they have been transmitted, are commended to the Christian feeling and enlightened judgment of all who bear the Christian name; principles which are venerable for their antiquity, and, having passed through many regions, and survived innumerable perils, come to us associated with all that is pure and triumphant in the history of the church - with the names of Apostles, of confessors, of martyrs; and from us are they to travel down to that Millennium day, when truth will sway its sceptre over the millions of the regenerated creation.
In the constitution of a Baptist church, conversion is essential to membership; for no child can be born a Baptist, and no adult can be admitted to communion until the Christian character is formed; membership is then matter of choice. This unfettered freedom of judgment and will, exists in the appointment of officers, and in the modes and seasons of public worship. With these things no external power can interfere, no general standard is recognised; so that a wide difference is perceivable between the Baptists and the Churches of Rome and England. The whole apparatus of a systematic priesthood; of catechisms, creeds, and books of prayer; of laws and formularies, formed for the very purpose of trampling on the right of individual judgment; together with the acts of uniformity and courts of Inquisition, which religious despotism had formed, have always been regarded by Baptists as an unhallowed innovation on the intellectual and moral property of man. Against such innovation they always loudly protested, and still protest. On the subject of baptism the following positions are maintained.
1st, That baptism commenced with the Christian dispensation, and was peculiar to it, bearing no analogy to any previous institution, such as circumcision, nor in any sense derived from previous enactments, but revealed as a positive law of the kingdom of Christ.
2dly, That baptism is only scriptural as administered by the whole body in water.
3dly, That it cannot scripturally be administered to any, but on a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
4thly, That, as a command of the New Testament, it is obligatory on all who profess faith in Christ, and is intended to form a great line of separation between the church and the world.
We now proceed to give a
It is admitted by the scholars of all ages, that the language of the New Testament, respecting baptism, is fairly construed, when we say that it means as applied to primitive practice, immersion. It may be sufficient to Dr. Wall as an authority upon this point.2 He was Vicar of Shoreham, Kent, and wrote a book in favor of infant baptism, for which he received the thanks of his university, and a diploma creating him D. D. The following is his language. "The general and ordinary way of baptizing in ancient times was immersion. This is so plain and clear from an infinite number of passages, that one cannot but pity the weak endeavors of such pedo-baptists as would maintain the negative of it; and wonder that any individuals are to be found, who can treat with ridicule or contempt the English Baptists, merely for their use of dipping, and more especially, when it is considered that it was in all probability the way by which our blessed Saviour, and most certainly the usual and ordinary way by which the ancient Christians did receive their baptism."
The candid concessions of great and learned men will shield us from the charge of bigotry, in laying down this position - that the first Christians were Baptists: for it cannot be denied that, as they practised baptism by immersion, the Apostles would now be called Baptist ministers, and the first churches, Baptist churches. With them, therefore, our history must begin.
The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, may be regarded as the first book of church history, and contains many passages sufficiently descriptive of the practice of the first Christians. "They baptized," say the Magdeburg Centuriators, "only the adult or aged whether Jews or Gentiles, whereof we have instances in Acts 2, 8, 10, 16, and 19th chapters; but as to the baptizing of infants we have no example. As to the manner of baptizing, it was by dipping or plunging into water, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, according to the allusions contained in Romans 6, and Colossians 2."
In consequence of the persecutions which commenced in the Apostolic age, most of, the early churches were broken up, and their members scattered through different and distant parts of the world. The continuance of those persecutions, with but few interruptions, obliges us to trace the history of baptism, rather than that of Baptist churches, along the course of succeeding centuries. Clemens, Alexandrinus, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr, were connected with the Apostolic age, and their history conducts us through the greater part of the second century. Their descriptions of baptism, as observed in their own times, are in strict accordance with our acknowledged principles.3 In the third and fourth centuries, numerous errors were prevalent, amongst which we find infant baptism; for the first mention of it occurs in that period, by Tertullian, Origen, and others; and it seems to have been confined to Africa.4 This error arose from a misapplication of our Lord's discourse with Nicodemus; for on that discourse the strange dogma was constructed, that baptism would remove original sin, and qualify for heaven.5 This was soon a favorite and generally received opinion.
Parental fondness eagerly adopted a doctrine which mistaken priests declared would secure salvation for children, and ignorance and superstition thus entailed an error on succeeding ages, which no light of Reformation has been able to clear away; for it still remains the relic of a dark period, and an affecting proof of human prejudice and imperfection. The only change however which took place respected the subject: for the mode of baptism by immersion continued for ages. At a much later period sprinkling was substituted; yet only by a part of the Christian world, and that part comprised those who were under the influence of the Popes. The Greek Church, to which the Russians now belong, preserved immersion, and still baptize in that manner. The celebrated Dr. Whitby, a learned divine of the Church of England, bears ample testimony on the subject before us, in his commentary on Romans vi. 4. He says, "Immersion was religiously observed by all Christians for thirteen centuries, and was changed into sprinkling without any authority from the Author of this institution. It were to be wished that this custom were again of general use."
Several of the ancient Fathers protested against this unscriptural innovation; amongst whom were Tertullian, and, considerably after, Gregory Nazianzen; but they could not prevent the extension of the evil.6 The ancient mode of baptism continued however, to be extensively practised through all the countries where Christianity had obtained; and that it had not fallen into disrepute at that period, is evident, from the fact, that history records the baptism of five Emperors of Rome, viz. Constantine, Constantius Gratian, Valentinian II., and Theodosius I.; also, nine great men in the Greek and Latin churches - Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Nectarius, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustin, Alypius, and Adeodatus.7 One of these, Jerome, thus expresses his opinion on the subject; "The Lord commanded his Apostles that they should first instruct and teach all nations, and afterwards should baptize those that were instructed in the mysteries of the faith."8 He advances this as an argument against those who advocated the new doctrine of infant baptism, and at the same time states this fact - "In the eastern churches the adults only were baptized." Within the same period the Councils of Carthage, Laodicea, and Neocessaria ordered that suitable inquires should be made concerning the candidate for baptism, the latter declared that "confession and free choice are necessary to baptism."9 But it was gradually discontinued, and, under the authority of Popes and their councils, was finally renounced by what was then called the church.10
Hitherto baptism had been administered in open waters, but now spacious and splendid buildings were erected for Christian worship, having baptistries, something like baths with pipes for the introduction and removal of water. They had also vestries for dressing and undressing, with male and female apartments.11 Such is the general arrangement of Baptist chapels at the present day.
It is proper to notice here, that after the introduction of infant baptism, it frequently happened that those who had been baptized in infancy, were by their own desire, baptized on a profession of their faith, considering their former baptism unscriptural, and of no avail. From this circumstance arose the word anabaptism, which signifies re-baptising. It will be seen that opposition was speedily aroused against this adherence to original institutions.
The Milevitan Council, assembled in 402, ordained "that they be anathematized who deny that children are saved by baptism." The Council of Carthage in 416 ordained, "that they be accursed who deny that little children are freed from perdition by baptism." The fourth Lateran Council made a law to banish them for heretics - and the monarchs joined with the popes and bishops in denouncing and extirpating them.12
In the year 413 an edict was published by Theodosius and Honorius, to the effect that whoever was baptized should, as well as the administrator, be put to death.13 Thus the Baptists became the victims of persecution, and for ages afterwards did they maintain the honorable character of martyrs. We now have to trace their history, extending through several centuries, and comprehending all parts of the world, in the edicts of emperors and councils, guided, as we proceed, by the light of persecution. Still did they live, and so numerous were they, that an ancient record states, "their preachers could travel through the whole German empire, and lodge every night at the house of one of their friends."14 They were burnt, beheaded, and drowned; but, as Pope Pius II. said, "neither the decrees of Popes, nor armies of Christians could extirpate them;"15 and, notwithstanding the bloody persecutions to which they had been exposed, Dr. Mosheim says that, in 1160 there were 800,000 who professed this faith.16 Thus did things continue till the Reformation dawned, when, encouraged by the dauntless conduct of the Reformers, they started from their hiding places. "This sect," says Mosheim, "started up all of a sudden, in several counties, at the same time, and at the very period when the first contests of the Reformers with the Roman Pontiffs drew the attention of the world."17
The Reformation produced beneficial changes in the religious institutions of Europe, and though the Baptists were still exposed to persecution, they felt the changes operating in their favor, and after many struggles, attended with much suffering, they succeeded in forming themselves into distinct societies, and ultimately became a recognised and prominent section of the Christian Church, as they are at this day. It may be necessary to state, that the professing Christians to whom the term Baptist now applies, are divided into various bodies, according to their particular views of Christian truth. Thus the Particular Baptists are Calvinists, the General Baptists maintain the doctrine of general redemption. The first are by far the most numerous. There are others, unconnected, with either; but they are so few in number as to require no distinct notice.
Africa and the East. - The first churches were established in the East, and spread thence to very distant places. In addition to what has been advanced on their history, it is unnecessary to say more than that the baptism of believers, and the rejection of infant baptism, are strong features in the history of those Christians who dwelt in Africa, and the regions immediately contiguous; and that those features remained prominent for a long period; even after intolerance had patronised error, and had called in the aid of national power. Thus it is recorded - "About the year 670, Christ's baptism, after the preaching of faith in a right manner, was practised in Egypt, and in such esteem, that some in other countries did restore the Christian religion according to their example, who thus differed from the Church of Rome, and placed religion upon its first apostolic foundation."18
On that foundation many of the Christians in those distant parts continued to rest, until darkness covered the whole surface, and subsequently the very name of Christian was lost amidst superstition and barbarity. Thick darkness still rests on those regions.
The Continent. - It has already been observed, that persecution, at an early period, scattered the first churches. Many of those Christian fugitives found an asylum amongst the Waldenses, a people occupying the beautiful valleys of Piedmont, at the foot of the Alps, who, together with the Albigenses, in the south of France, received the Gospel in the early part of the second century, and practised baptism, a practice which they never fully abandoned.19 Those valleys continued a refuge for the oppressed through succeeding ages, and not unfrequently were visited by persecutors who destroyed thousands. From these the principles of truth extended, and the doctrine of baptism became a great leading question with persecutors. "In the ninth century Hinchmarus, Bishop of Laudun in France, renounced infant baptism, and he and his diocese were accused of withholding baptism from children.20 About the year 1049, Beringarius, a bold and faithful preacher of the gospel, was accused of denying baptism to little ones, and hundreds of adherents were massacred, for opposing infant baptism," and "for being baptized."21 In the bishopric of Tryers, in Flanders, and Germany, persecution was carried on with unmitigated severity against the Baptists. It is calculated that 150,000 of them were cruelly put to death.22 Particulars might be easily given to a considerable length, but it cannot be necessary - yet a few specimens may be admitted as confirmatory of the facts just stated:
In 1022, fourteen persons of eminence were burnt at Orleans, in France, for professing Baptist sentiments; others were martyred on similar grounds in lower Saxony, under Henry III. the Emperor; at Rome in 1147; at Parenga and Parma; in the Bishopric of Toulouse, nineteen were burnt, in 1232; at Marseilles under Pope John XXII.; at Crema in Austria, in 1315; at Aubiton in Flanders, in 1373; at Montpelier in France, in 1417; at Augsburg in Germany, l517; at Zurich, in 1527; and in the same year Leonard Skooher, a Baptist minister, and seventy of his friends were put to death at Rottenburgh in Germany; finally, John Wouteriz was burnt at Dort, for being baptized, in 1572.23
In the twelfth century the Baptists put forth a confession of faith, asserting, "In the beginning of Christianity there was no baptizing of children; our forefathers practiced no such thing. We do from our hearts acknowledge, that baptism is a washing which is performed with water, and doth hold out the soul from sin."24 About that time Peter Bruis, who was a pastor among the Waldenses, publicly vindicated baptism, and multitudes attached themselves to him, who were called Petrobrussians. He was burnt to death in 1130.25 Menno Simon, from whom the Dutch Baptists are called Mennonites, flourished about 1530.26
The Christian fortitude of a Baptist named Synder, who was beheaded at Lewarden, led Menno to examine the doctrine of baptism and finally to adopt it. Several persecuted Baptists soon rallied around him whom he formed into a church; and, being a man of great genius and commanding eloquence, he succeeded in spreading his peculiar views through Holland, Guelderland, Brabant, Westphalia; through the German provinces that skirt the Baltic, and on to Livonia. He was hunted by his enemies at one period, a large reward having been offered for his life, but he survived all his dangers and died peaceably, after a course of great usefulness, A. D. 1561.27 To this we may add the statement of Mosheim, that, "Persons of similar sentiments lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe, especially in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, and Germany."28 Holland is at present the chief seat of the Baptists, but they are not very flourishing.
England undoubtedly received the Gospel in the days of the Apostles, its ecclesiastical history plainly proves that thousands were baptized according to the primitive model.29 About the same time, or soon after, Wales was visited by Christian teachers; and when Austin visited this country, about the year 600, he found a society of Christians at Bangor, consisting of 2,100 persons, who were afterwards destroyed, because they refused to baptize infants at the command of the Pope.30
Austin was sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great, for the purpose of promoting the subjection of the British to the Papal See. He advanced the leading doctrines of the Romish Church, amongst which he ranks infant baptism, and exhorted the people implicitly to receive his dogmas. Some yielded to the influence which he exercised, but a goodly number resisted; amongst whom, the Christians at Bangor are numbered. Austin, therefore, has the credit of introducing infant baptism into England, for before that time it was unknown; it came as an appendage of Popery, and from that period dark superstition ruled over Britain. Little is known of the succeeding centuries down to the Reformation, except what respects the most abject mental and moral vassalage on the one hand, and the most iron-handed intolerance on the other. During that interval many of the continental Baptists visited England, seeking refuge from the persecution which raged against them. During the reign of William the Conquer, a considerable number came over from France, Germany, and Holland; and so greatly did they prevail, that Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a book against them; for not only the poor, but some of the noble families adopted their sentiments. Their spirit, however, was too liberal, and their principles too pure, for the times; and as monarchy was leagued with Popery, we cannot be surprised that so few places are found of their subsequent career. In after ages Baptists were found in Herefordshire and South Wales. After passing through similar vicissitudes to other countries, Britain felt the influence of the Reformation, and the Baptists came to light again. The Reformation took place under Henry VIIIth, and was productive of mighty results in the political and religious establishments of the world.
Two circumstances connected with that period are prominent in the history of the Baptists - the publicity into which they emerged, and the hostility which was evinced against them; both are exhibited in the extraordinary movements of the parties then in power.31 In 1536, the national clergy met in convocation, declared the sentiments of the Baptists to be "detestable heresies, utterly to be condemned." In 1538, a commission was given to Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and others to proceed against Baptists, and burn their books; and on the 16th of November, in the same year, a royal proclamation was issued against them, and instructions sent to the justices throughout England, directing them to see that the laws against the Baptists were duly executed. Several were burnt to death in Smithfield, and of those who fled to foreign parts, it is recorded that some were martyred. Brandt writes thus in his History of the Reformation: "In the year 1539, thirty-one Baptists, that fled from England, were put to death at Delft, in Holland; the men were beheaded, and the women drowned."
One conclusion is fairly deducible from these narrations; that the Baptists at that period were not few nor insignificant. Bishop Latimer, in a sermon which he preached before King Edward the VIth, referring to the events of Henry's reign, observed, "Baptists were burned in different parts of the kingdom, and went to death with good integrity."32 The Reformation begun by Henry was carried on under Edward; but to the oppressed Baptists of those times, no mercy was extended. Such was the furious bigotry with which they were pursued, that when King Edward passed an act to pardon Papists and others, the Baptists were excepted! and, in the following year, 1547, a fresh commission was issued to the archbishop "to search after all Baptists;" and under that commission the celebrated Joan of Kent, who was a Baptist, was burnt on the 2d of May, 1549. Several others shared the same fate.33
That such proceedings should have been pursued by the very men who were, at the same time, bursting through the trammels of religious despotism, seems almost incredible. But who were they? Henry arose to that emancipation under the influence of licentiousness; and the same tyrannical disposition that led him to murder his wives, prompted him to wrest the power from the Pope, and to proclaim himself the "Head of the Church." Edward was a mere stripling; the tool of the bigoted prelates who surrounded him. They had but half emerged from the darkness and intolerance of Popish superstition; they protested against many errors of the Romish Church, but their protest was uttered with the spirit of inquisitors - a dark feature in the character of the Reformers generally; it was the spirit of the times, of which those otherwise eminent men could not wholly divest themselves.34
The reign of Mary is well known to have been cruel, even to ferocity - one circumstance in Baptist history accords with the spirit of that execrable reign. A man named David George, a Dutchman, was disinterred in St. Lawrence's church, three years after his death, and his body was burnt, because it was discovered he had been a Baptist.35 The relentless cruelty against the Baptists continued even under Queen Elizabeth. A royal proclamation was issued in which it was ordained that all Baptists, and other heretics should leave the land; but they seemed to gather fortitude, for some formed themselves into separate societies; and, in 1575, the seventeenth year of Elizabeth's reign, a congregation of them was found without Aldgate, London; of whom, some were banished, twenty-seven were imprisoned, and two were burnt to death in Smithfield.36 It was a peculiarly interesting characteristic of primitive Christians, that notwithstanding the overwhelming power of potentates and priests against which it had to contend, opposition seemed but to augment its strength and to accelerate its progress; so it was with the persecuted Baptists. Two years after the event just referred to, Dr. Some, a churchman, of great note in the reign of Elizabeth, wrote a book against the puritans, in which he inveighs against the Baptists; stating, in the language of complaint, that they had "several conventicles in London, and other places; that some of their ministers had been educated at the universities, and that they held heretical opinions"37 Under the following reign, James the 1st, we find them acting with more boldness than they had hitherto done, though they were not free from persecution. They published a treatise, justifying their principles of dissent; petitioned the king for relief from persecution, and, in 1618, published a book, translated from the Dutch, on baptism; the first that was published on that subject in the English language. From that time they spread with great rapidity throughout all parts of the empire, sharing largely in the privations which attended the puritans during the troublesome scenes of succeeding years.38 The first regularly organised Baptist Church of which we possess any account, is dated from 1607, and was formed in London by a Mr. Smyth, who had been a clergyman in the Church of England. It was formed on the principles of the General Baptists.39
In the year 1633, the first particular Baptist Church was formed in London, under Mr. Spilsbury. During the reign of Charles 1st, the Baptists gained so much celebrity that a public dispute was held between some of their ministers and a learned divine of the Church, Dr. Fealty. Their prosperity excited bitter hostility, and the infatuated monarch was induced to publish edicts against them; but his untimely fate prevented the accomplishment of the object contemplated.
In the year 1650, the Baptist Churches began to form themselves into associations, and three years afterwards an epistolary correspondence was opened, including the English, Scotch, Irish, and, Welsh Churches. During the Commonwealth they were distinguished in various ways. Some of their ministers, possessing university honors, preached in parish churches, and some of their members, as Sir Henry Vane, and General Harrison, occupied high posts under the government. The name of Milton, too, is connected with that period.40 Amidst the changes which followed, much suffering was endured, but great glory resulted from the exhibition of Christian principles. Amongst the conspicuous objects of the times under consideration, we have to notice the character and sufferings of Thomas DeLann, Benjamin Keach, and John Bunyan - immortal names, illustrious men of the Baptist denomination.
In the year 1689, the English Particular Baptists, availing themselves of the liberty recently secured by "the glorious revolution," convoked a general assembly, which was held in London. It consisted of the representatives of one hundred congregations, who decided on putting forth a "Confession of Faith," containing all the leading peculiarities of doctrine and discipline, by which they were distinguished. This most valuable document, which consisted of thirty-two articles, with a preface and general epistle, may be procured now as a pamphlet, and is deserving of perusal, as it still remains the most complete representation of faith and order ever published. It ought to be widely circulated amongst the Baptist denominations. Thus, as we have seen, the Baptists acquired strength in the seventeenth century; they consolidated their energies; their Churches greatly multiplied through the British empire, and, from that time forward they maintained their ground, and advanced to their present prosperous condition. It may not be unworthy of notice, that the last martyr who was burnt in England, was Edward Wightman, a Baptist, of Burton-upon-Trent. He was condemned by the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and was burnt at Lichfield, Aprtl 11th, 1612.41
The first Baptist Church in Scotland is said to have been formed by Mr. M'Lean, in 1765. But this must be a mistake, as there is mention of a church formed there, out of the soldier's of Cromwell's army, and in 1653, letters passed between the Irish and English Churches, in which there are references to the churches in "England, Scotland, and Wales."42 Mr. M'Lean, however, is the acknowledged founder of "the Scotch Baptists" - a designation which is understood to specify a distinct and peculiar section of the Baptist denomination. The first of these churches was formed by Mr. M'Lean, in the year before mentioned, at Edinburgh; others were formed in different parts of Scotland, and a few in England. Their leading Peculiarities, in the earlier part of their existence, were a plurality of Elders or pastors in each church, and weekly communion; to which numerous other forms of worship and articles of faith have since been added. A considerable number of Baptist Churches exist in Scotland, some of which are large and respectable, that are constituted on the same principles as the English Baptist Churches. The Churches in Ireland are also constructed on the same general form.
America. - There are some most interesting facts connected with the history of the Baptists in America. In 1631, the Rev. Roger Williams, who had been a clergyman of the Church of England, but, disliking its formalities, seceded and ranged himself with the Nonconformists, fled to America from the persecutions which then raged in England. The great principles of civil and religious liberty were not then understood in the western world, and as Mr. Williams was a man of intrepid firmness in advocating those principles, we are not surprised at the excitement and opposition which his doctrines awakened. He settled first in Boston, New England, the magistracy of which condemned his opinions, and subsequently sentenced him to banishment. Under that cruel act of legislation he was driven from his family in the midst of winter, to seek for refuge amongst the wild Indians. After great suffering, having conciliated the Indians, he commenced the formation of a colony, to which he gave the name of Providence, situated on Rhode Island, a name which it still bears.
Thus he became the founder of a new order of things. Several of his friends afterwards joined him, and in that infant settlement he sustained the two-fold character of Minister and Lawgiver. He formed a constitution on the broad principle of civil and religious liberty, and thus became the first ruler that recognized equal rights. Nearly a century an a half after that, when the Americans achieved their independence, thirteen of the States united in forming a government for themselves, and adopted that principle; thus America became, what the little colony of Providence had been before, a refuge for the persecuted for conscience sake. It has been well observed that the millions in both hemispheres who are now rejoicing in the triumph of liberal principles, should unite n erecting a monument to perpetuate the memory of Roger Williams, the first Governor who held liberty of conscience to be the birthright of man.
In the year 1639, Mr. Williams formed the first Baptist Church in America, at Providence.43 Throughout succeeding years a few changes comparatively were experienced in the movements of the Baptist denomination on that vast continent. Baptist Churches multiplied exceedingly, until they assumed a leading attitude amongst the religious communities of America. They have amply provided for an efficient and learned ministry, and the extraordinary revivals with which they have been frequently favored, invest them with a moral strength and glory which we cannot contemplate but with astonishment and admiration.
In closing this Sketch we notice one inquiry which forces itself on our attention. Why were the Baptists so cruelly treated in every age and by every power! It was not that at any period they were, in a political sense, of such importance, as that their existence might be deemed dangerous, and their existence necessary to the safety of a state, but there was, as when Christian truth commenced its march, a mysterious power that acted on the fears of rulers, and they were alarmed, they knew not why. Let is be observed that the element of freedom is identified with the doctrine of adult baptism, for on the free exercise of judgment and choice, it has its foundation. A Baptist, therefore, cannot coerce the will of another; and on the same principle, if placed under civil or religious despotism, he will be found panting and struggling for liberty; his profession of Baptism is a public avowal of the rights of man to live unfettered, and consequently a public condemnation of oppression.
Here, then, we find the source of the wrongs which they endured. "What has the Emperor to do with our religion? - What have the bishops to do at court?" were inquiries urged by some of the ancients, and such sentiments have at all times been uttered by the Baptists. Wherever they are found, whether on the page of history, or mixed, up with existing events, they will appear the champions of freedom, the freedom of truth and humanity - hated by tyrants, but admired by the enlightened and the free. With the progress of liberty in England, they have steadily advanced. In America only have they found a soil fully congenial, and there their triumphs have been glorious. Their cause is thus identified with Christianity, which secures, wherever it has dominion, liberty of conscience and of action; and which, though often "cast down, could not be destroyed."
We have seen that along the stream of eighteen centuries, amidst the barbarous superstition and cruel persecutions of dark and iron ages, the apostolic doctrine of baptism was preserved, like the element of Christian truth, an imperishable principle, derived from God, and sustained by him through all dangers. The people, who were the depositaries of that doctrine, were natives of different regions, dissimilar in their habits, and incapable, from their scattered and persecuted condition, of forming any alliance, or recognising any common standard of Christian doctrine; but, in maintaining the principles of Primitive baptism already laid down, they preserved the essence of the Gospel, and may be regarded, in the Apocalyptic sense of the term, as witnesses for the truth throughout the reign of superstition.44 We contemplate our present position with an emotion of Christian joy, accompanied with an earnest desire for greater prosperity; and, encouraged by the prophetic announcements of the Sacred Volume, anticipate an era of redemption for mankind, and of triumph for the Church of God; when Christianity, dignified with age, shall resume its primitive peculiarities, and, in the extent of its influence, as in the richness of its manifestations, shall infinitely surpass its primitive glory.
1 Johann Lorenz Mosheim, Vol. iv, p. 428.
2 History of Infant Baptism, vol. II. p. 351. - The reader will find numerous testimonies from the learned, in Gale's Reply to Wall, Letters four and five.
3 Magdeburg Centuriators Cen. 1, lib. 2, p. 496; Ingnatius, Letters to Polycarp; Justin Martyr Apology; Clemens Alexandrinus Epistle 3.
4 Appendix to Mosheim.
5 Canon to Milev. Coun.; Carth. Coun.; Magdeburg Centuriators 5, p. 1228.
6 Robert Robinson, History of Baptism, p. 162.
7 Dr. Wall.
8 Jerome on Mat.
9 Magdeburg Centuriators 4, 417.
10 Twisk Chron. P. 164.
11 Du Fresne on St. Sophia, at Constantinople.
12 See the Canons of those Councils.
13 Sebast. Frank. fol. 136.
14 Twisk Chron. P. 546.
15 Aeneas Syl. cap. 16.
16 Aeneas Syl. vol. 2, p.544.
17 Vol. 4, p. 427.
18 Jos. Vicecomis, 1. 2. C. 3.
19 "The Waldenses and Albigenses did in this age, (the second century,) profess and practice the baptizing of believers." Dr. Belth. Lydius from Renarius. See also Dr. Maclaine, In Mosheim, vol. 3, p. 118, note G. Dr. Alix, on the Churches of Piedmont, and Morland on the same subject.
20 Bib. Patrum, Tem. 9. Part 2. P. 137.
21 Magdeburg Centuriators, 11, p. 540; Montanus p. 83; Baron. Annuals, An. 1232, Clarke's Martyrol. And Dutch Mar.
22 Danvers, p. 112.
24 Merning Hist. P. 738.
25 Mosheim, vol. 2, pp. 315, 316.; Dr. Wall, vol. 2, p. 250.
26 Mosheim, vol. 3, p. 330.
27 Dr. Mosheim, vol. 3.
28 Vol. 3, p. 320.
29 Gildas, De. Vict. Aur. Ambros.; Fuller's Ecclesiastical History.
30 Bede.; Dupin's Ecclesiastical History, vol. 5, p. 90; Lloyd's Breviary of Britain, p. 70.; Fabian's Chron. Pt. 5, p. 125.; Fox's Martyrs, vol. 1, p. 135.; Fuller's History, p. 61.
31 King Henry's Creed.; Burnet's History of the Reformation.; Brandt's History of the Reformation.
32 Latimer's Sermons.
33 History of Reformation, vol. 2.; Neal, vol. 1.; Stripe's Life of Cranmer.
The youthful king addressed to the barbarous prelate this pathetic but unavailing remonstrance. "My lord, will you send her soul to hell!"
34 Melancthon smiled when Servetus was put to death by Calvin. When the magistates of Zurich consulted Zuinglius on the fate of some poor Baptists, "Drown the dippers" - said the Reformer.
35 Crosby's History of the English Baptists, vol. 1, p. 63.
36 Crosby, vol. 1, p. 79.; Ivimey, vol. 1, p. 108.
38 Crosby, Ivimey, and Danvers supply copious information on these subjects.
39 See on this, and other points connected with this history, Mr. Adam Taylor's valuable History of the General Baptists.
40 Neal's History of the Puritans. Palmer's Nonconformists Memorial. Taylor's and Ivimey's works.
41 The warrant for his execution may be found in the Baptist Magazine, vol. 2, p. 238.
42 Jones's Dictionary of Religious Opinions, p. 25.; Rippon's Register, p. 13.
43 See a most interesting History of the Baptists in America, by Rev. I. Backus, A.M.
44 Mosheim, vol. 4, pp. 428, 429.; Edwards, History of Redemption.
[From The Triennial Annual, 1843, pp. 13-24. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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