"Call To Remembrance The Former Days." — Hebrews x. 32.
The events of the past do not become history by being simply recorded. Characters that have filled their day with excitement, are only men of straw, their garbs of greatness, but stuffed stage gear; the scenes of their lives, but painted stage scenery; their toils and sufferings, only an idle show; unless they take hold on men's hearts in all time, and teach us how to live and die, to be heroic, to be Christian now. When this is done, the narrative of the past becomes history. It has a philosophy. It has an immortal life in it. It has power upon the hearts of men, that cannot die.
Even the word of God, if it were merely a record of past events, would be powerless; but it proves itself to be the inspiration of the Almighty — a living, a divine book — by its undying hold on men's lives, ruling and saving them. Church history ought to stand next to the divine word in this living control of the human heart; but instead, it is acknowledged to be far below mere secular history, in interest and power. And the
reason is plain. The true key of church history has not been found, and hence its living power has not been experienced.
It has been written as the dry annals of the dead past. It has been written in behalf of a worldly hierarchy. It has been written on the theory that the prevalent is of necessity the true; and on the principle of development, which leaves the faith once delivered to the saints far behind, as an embryo state. But it has not been written as the history of a life and faith and church completely set forth in the New Testament, whose spirit takes living hold on men of every age, surrounding them with its cloud of witnesses and moving them with the power of an endless life. Indeed it could not be so written, because that life has not been rightly discerned in the church — because its constitution has been violated; its order perverted; its faith destroyed; and its two witnesses cast out as dead, and trampled under foot of men.
The splendors of a hierarchy, or the grandeur of a national establishment, or the poison of a traditional dead faith and worldly philosophy, have had controlling influence over the minds of European historians, and have moulded their labors according to such false ideas of the historic plan. They have built one upon another, and not upon the only foundation which was laid by Christ. They have tested their building, stage after stage, by these models, and not by the open word and pattern which Christ gave; and so, despite their great talents, and wonderful labors, they have neither shown us the church of Christ, nor traced its history.
A better hope is kindled in our land and day, because we are far removed from the enslaving trammels of these false principles; because God's two witnessing Testaments have arisen to new life; and because
his church, coming nearer to her promised land, can better look back over all her journey through the wilderness. Already a new influence is felt both by the European scholar who comes to our shores, and by him who has been nurtured in the air of civil and religious liberty. The time seems to have come when the history of God's church can be written in the light of God's word.
With that word open before us as our guide, our pattern, and our law, in this great realm of study, two questions only will occupy us in the present discourse; — Have Baptists a history? and if so, What, in its briefest outline, is that history?
I. Have Baptists A History?
Prejudice and passion have always answered No. Historians, whose names and works fill a large space in the eyes of the world, have concealed their distinctive principles, when to name them would give them praise; and have held them up to the gaze of men, when dishonor and shame could be attached to them. They have thrust them aside into the purlieu of heresies and sects; ascribed their origin to fanatics; traced their lineage by commotions and uproars. They make them the offspring of darkness and the pit; their growth, the mushroom of the night; their principles, the dreams of wild enthusiasts; their forefathers, unlettered visionaries and madmen. Thus they have been "made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things unto this day." There is hardly a conceivable crime against God or man which has not at some period been affixed to them. Holding those fundamental truths which, like their Divine Leader, are holy, harmless, and undefiled, they have been accused of all uncleanness and lasciviousness. Worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness, they, like him, have been
branded with blasphemy. Exemplifying the meekness of unresisting piety, and uncomplaining suffering, and going forth on missions of peace and love, bearing the pure light of civil and religious liberty through the dark night of the past, they have been characterized as arrogant and lawless; the subverters of all government; the destroyers of public peace; the foes of human society; the very apostles of unbridled anarchy, lust, and crime.
From the time when Christ walked the earth, down to the present, there has not been a period in which they have not suffered persecution. From the age of John the Baptist to the massacre in Jamaica, bigoted religionists and governments have not ceased first to slaughter, and then to slander them. The mightiest powers on earth have expended their strength to crush them; but, prostrated beneath the heel of tyrants, they have been a spectacle worthy of angels and men. The haughtiest hierarchy the world has known, commanding the resources of subservient kings, has endeavored to uproot them from the face of the earth; but they have lived and multiplied under its anathemas. Its whirlwinds of hate have only scattered them as the seed of the kingdom; and they have sprung up far and wide anew, to exhaust its malice and power. Calvinists, Lutherans, and Papists, have alike abhorred them, burned them, cursed them. All three have left their mutual contentions, and leagued together to destroy them.*
Through a great part of history, their existence, principles and numbers, are known to us only by the testimony of their foes. Every writing of their own has been assiduously destroyed. It was the aim of
* Mosheim's Church History part ii. chapter. 4, sect 8.
their adversaries to utterly blot out their name from under heaven. Their record has been literally on high.
Can such a people have a history? The materials of it, through the papal night, must be drawn from the writings of their enemies against them. Fragment by fragment, it is culled from the controversies of doctors, the decrees of councils, the anathemas of Popes, the records of the Inquisition, the death sentence of civil tribunals. It is read by the light of the fagots that consumed them.
And so a place in history is given them by such witnesses, but by no means A History.
Others would not give them even a place. While embittered enemies perpetuate their name and their faith, others, following the milder principle of Fleury,* who would pass in silence and bury in oblivion that which mars the smooth career of the Romish Church, lest the statement of false opinions should contribute to perpetuate them, have quietly ignored them; and as Charles the Fifth buried Baptists alive in the Netherlands, so have these tried to bury Baptist history alive. But it rises again, and confronts them at history's judgment seat, the bar of impartial posterity.
Rome, with all her bitterness, proves in this less unkind, and with all her bigotry, more honest than many modern writers, who claim to be loving, impartial, and evangelical. Her writers state the tenets of our forefathers while they condemn them; but many Protestant historians make such partial and perverted statements as conceal our distinctive principles: or, if the Baptist Church is admitted into their family of churches, it is regarded as the base-born child of shame.
Such obloquies have too long had their influence on
* Fleury, Premier Discourse, 5
the Christian world. We fear they are having influence on writers of our own, and even leading them to concede that Baptists have no place in the great history of the church, except only in modern times.
Such concessions can never be allowed. We cannot accept a place in the catalogue of sects, or broken schismatical fragments of God's church; nor can we give up our part in the glorious past, and settle down contented among the denominations that have arisen in modern times.
We claim not only a place in history, but A History, A History of the Church of God.
Holding to the faith once delivered to the saints, to the word of God and the law of Christ as our sheet anchor, we claim that when the History of the Church shall be written in the light of God's word, it will be, in the noblest and truest sense, our history. There has been great error, in tracing the lineage of our faith simply as a sect or division, running parallel with general church history, through all ages. While much truth has thus been reached, this method falls short of reaching the whole truth. We are by no means to apply the secular idea of historic descent to the church of God. It is perpetuated not in a natural lineage. It descends, not from father to son through human generation, but from faithful soul to faithful, by a divine affiliation. And this, too, in such a way that each draws his life, not from those who have gone before him, but each in a higher, truer sense, directly from Christ alone. In a sense, all God's children are truly autochthonous. None are their fathers on earth, they are all brethren. And so the links of their history are not human but Divine. Their perpetuation from age to age has been of grace and of God. The golden line that runs through all the ages is the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. That
which gives them unity and identity is not parentage, or race, or place, connecting them with the faithful before them; but the Faith once delivered to the saints.
Have Baptists then a history?
I answer — if the Faith once deliverered to the saints has a perpetuity and a history, so that the gates of hell, however they have seemed to prevail, yet have not prevailed against it — then Baptists, who make that Faith their law, have a history.
If a people holding from age to age these fundamental doctrines — that the Bible is the supreme law of Christians; that personal faith in Christ gives salvation; that baptism in water is the covenant of a believer with his Saviour; while infant baptism, and all other commandments of men, are not to rule Christ's followers; if such a people are Baptists, then Baptists have a history.
If the principle of Vincentius — quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus — is correct, and that doctrine which has been held always, everywhere, and by all, is vindicated as truth in history, then are the principles of Baptists the great principles of history. For all acknowledge that this maxim is not to be taken of the whole body of belief, but of that which is fundamental; not of the prevalent, but of the underlying, the unchanging, and unchangeable.* And a personal faith in the Lord Jesus gives salvation — all ages of church history being the judges. The baptism of a believer in water is obedience to Christ's law; the gathering of baptized believers together in church relations, to be ruled by the word of God, and to maintain Christ's ordinances, is his command — all ages of church history being the judges.
* Stanley, Eastern Church, p. 69.
A people holding such principles, so far from being unhistorical, must be recognized as resting on the fundamental principles of historic truth.
Oftentimes they have been a remnant, but so was God's Israel of old. Oftentimes they have been, left alone in the earth, while the dominant and the prevalent faith of the world was all against them, but so were God's churches in the days of Elijah.
Oftentimes they have been a hidden people; but so was God's church when driven in prophetic vision into the wilderness. And so they have a history, the word of God being judge.
It is the history of the Church of God, in the light of those great principles which were made essential to it in the New Testament, its charter and constitution.
It is the history of the church as Jesus Christ organized and completed it, and gave it, by his Holy Spirit, an undying vitality, and an incorruptible character, to leaven and change all ages, but not to be changed by them. It is the history of the New Testament faith, and life, and law, and power; and of those who maintained these; embracing the perversion of these, and the consequences of such perversion; the perpetuation of these, and the Divine might which perpetuated them; the triumph of these, and of the people who triumphed through them.
II. What In Its Briefest Outline is Baptist Church History?
The New Testament law gives us the constitution of the church complete and perfect, and the New Testament prophecies give us the outline of its entire career. From that divine foundation we cannot turn aside. If we should, we must accept the authority of a
traditional faith, and a worldly development; and we should find ourselves resting on the grand principle of the papal church, while all its errors would follow in logical order; or, rebelling against papal authority without the word of God to guide us, we must yield to the spirit of a worldly philosophy, and be led into the waste of scepticism, rationalism, and moral death.
Between these two issues choice must be made. Adopting God's word for our law, we have the Baptist Church and its history. Adopting the authority of human tradition, we have the Church of Rome and its history, with its inevitable reaction from absolutism into rationalism.
No other alternative is left us.
To God's word then we turn, and learn the founding and organizing of that body of Christ, whose history through the ages is to be the fullness of him who filleth all in all. The New Testament gives us the church complete. The stone cut out of the mountain without hands, needs no modern workman's tool to add an after-finish of higher beauty. The New Covenant, written in the hearts of a people who are each personally taught of God, and have each a living faith, and who, from the least of them to the greatest, all know the Lord, has been once divinely sealed, and no man need amend or improve it. Surely it is enough to make this our model, and live and walk and act in Christ's church, as he himself lived and taught with his apostles. If not, who will show us a more excellent way?
1. The first or formative period of Church History is that of the Apostolic Church.
In this, Christ is the central figure, its head and life and light. In his advent, the fullness of time was come, and the kingdom of heaven set up. By him, the nucleus of the church was gathered and fed and taught. Its
laws and ordinances were given it by himself. By his atoning blood, he cemented its structure, and fixed its foundations deep on the everlasting love and purpose of God.
The spiritual power which should be its means of growth was imparted to it by him; and all its order and symmetry were unfolded by inspired apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, so that when the labors of the apostles were ended, Christ's church was complete in every essential requirement for all time. Then he sealed up its divine charter, never to be added to nor taken, from, and sent it forth upon its earthly mission. And no age nor exigency has shown the need of a new feature in its constitution, or shape, or spirit, which the church had not when the volume of inspiration closed. Thus the history of the Apostolic Church is, in no true sense, rudimentary or incomplete, and after ages have added literally nothing to the church, except that, by its own inherent living, power, and growth, it spreads more and more widely to fill the world.
This apostolic period shows us, in the life and labors of Christ and his apostles, the source and organic development of the church: in their teachings and writings, its inner life, and the development of its doctrine; while lastly, in their prophecies, we have given to us the errors and corruptions which should assail it, and an outline of those mighty events which were to mark its progress through time, and a glimpse of the glories to which it should at last arrive.
Was the Apostolic Church Baptist?
I reply that as regards modern names, sects, and divisions, there were none. Christ's seamless mantle had not yet been rent in twain. But the reality of a perfect Baptist church was there; and ever since have our churches made it their pattern, and their first
obligation is to conform to this God-given ensample.
* * * * *
Every church planted by the apostles was such, and the Christian world knew none beside.
As we leave this glorious period, and look forward over the lapse of time, we see three remaining periods of history delineated in the New Testament prophecy. The Church of God — the woman clothed with the sun — flees into the wilderness to escape from her great enemy.* For twelve hundred and sixty prophetic days,+ she remains hidden in the wilderness and persecuted; and for the same length of time, God's two witnesses,x the sacred Scriptures, either prophesy in sackcloth, or lie slain in the streets of the Mystic Babylon, while Antichrist triumphs. At last the two witnessing Testaments rise filled with the spirit and power of God, and are exalted to the highest dominion and glory;# and the church comes up out of the wilderness; while the kingdoms of this world are given to the Son of Man. Thus prophecy shows us, as the second period, the church driven into the wilderness; as the third, the church hidden in the wilderness; and as the fourth, the church coming up out of the wilderness.
2. The second period, or that following the Apostolic, is one of trial and suffering, and also of corruption and decay. Its thorough understanding is of unspeakable importance.
The Christian faith had been widely spread; churches of believers gathered in the chief cities of the Roman empire, and above all in Rome itself, before the imperial power was turned against the rising superstition. As early as A. D. 45 or 50, there is good proof that Christianity
* Revelation xii. 6-14. — + Revelation xii. 14. — x Revelation xi. 3-8. — # Revelation xi. 11.
reached the shores of Britain.* There it flourished longer in purity than elsewhere. Each church was an independent Cor,+ or congregation; its authority lay, not in the pastor, but in the body;x a holy membership was sought; no trace of infant baptism can be found, but the streams of England were consecrated by the burial in them of believers in the likeness of the Saviour's death. These characteristics of the British churches were not wholly lost until they were driven in the western mountains by the Saxons.
In the Roman empire generally, persecution soon began. Then, as related by Pliny and Justin Martyr, Christians met together on the Lord's Day at dawn, in secluded places, for worship, praise, and prayer, § covenanting with each other to live in meekness and holiness, and gathering around the Lord's table in a brotherhood of love. Those who came to join with them were taken after prayer and fasting to a place where there was water, and baptized.# Each church regulated its own affairs as an independent body; each chose its own bishop, or pastor, and deacons. Its members were all believers, giving evidence of a holy life.
The young and unconverted were taught as catechumens, waiting for evidence of faith before putting on Christ in baptism. All the Christian world was Baptist, one wide brotherhood of believers. As early as the death of John, the beloved disciple, Christianity had spread from the cities to the villages, from the villages to the hamlets and farm-houses of the country. Heathen temples
* Gildas refers to Tiberius Claudius of Stillingfleet, Orig. Brit, and the Triads.
+ Nennius, edit, by Giles, Pref. p. 24, note.
x Bede Eccles, Hist., Bk, ii, ch. 2.
§ Justin Mar. Apol.
# C. Plinius, Trojano, Ep, xcvi.
were deserted, and multitudes of all classes turned, to Christ.*
Two things especially awakened persecution; the clamors of heathen priests whose sacrifices were deserted, and the uncompromising faithfulness of believers. Had Christians temporized, had they recognized the heathen worship, while holding their own, there would have been no persecutions. Their firmness caused their faith to be styled a depraved superstition and inflexible obstinacy. "This brought," said Julian, "the execration of the world upon them, and aroused the hatred of the priests and populace." If any evil occurred, in city or country, by land or sea, it was ascribed to them; if flood or fire, famine, plague, or earthquake came, the blame was laid on them, and the people clamored for their blood.+ They met death with inconceivable courage and joy; they went in triumph to the wild beasts and the fires. When they might escape by silence, they avowed themselves Christians; when their numbers would have overawed persecutors, they refused to resist, but died, like Christ, praying for their enemies.
Persecution promoted piety and spread the faith. But when, afterward, it ceased, or men avoided it, evils came in — degeneracy and decay.
Let us trace this dark history of decay.
The New Testament prophecies flow in one grand channel, and their burden is the fortune of God's church. They dwell upon corruptions and apostacies. False prophets must arise; love wax cold; offence, hatred, and betrayal come. Wolves were to invade the fold; antichrists to come; and the mystery of iniquity to rise in the church. False teachers, covetous, boasters, lords over God's heritage, were to bring in damnable
* Plin. Epis. 96.
+ Tertullian, Apology.
heresies, hypocrisy, formality, envy, and strife. Fables and traditions were to usurp the place of God's word; celibacy and fastings to be enjoined; until the church should lose her spirituality and incur the frown of God. The woman, through the fear of persecution, flees into the wilderness, a waste moral desert, a state of drought and decay of spirituality — the same wilderness in which, afterward, the harlot Rome is seen to arise with apostate glories. Here is where the stream of Baptist history is first checked, and much of its life and power lost, flowing down into the stagnant morass of papacy. All the evils of the Romish apostacy, all the errors of the Christian world, came first by repeated corruptions of the faith of Baptist churches. Men turned aside from it, and step by step went into apostacy; men added to it, and so built up a worldly hierarchy. All this was done by forsaking the faith and order of God's church, as the New Testament teaches it, and as Baptists hold it. The steps of that progress are many and plain, and began even in the days of the apostles. Persecution checked them; but when it was removed, the evils abounded. To trace them, or even to indicate them all, would exceed the limits of this discourse.
Among them must be named the chief. And first — not in time, but in influence — was the baptism of babes. The steps of its rise were these: as baptism was the profession of a new life, it came to be regarded as imparting a new life itself, and was held to be a saving ordinance. Hence, many believed that their children would perish unless they were baptized, and sought it for them. This drew forth the rebuke of Tertullian. But, in an after age, the doctrine of original sin was so held as to doom babes to eternal death; and Augustine, pressing this theory, demanded that all infants must be baptized, else they would burn with the devil in eternal
fire.* Such was the logical ground for the practice. But, were the churches in his day pedobaptist? Let facts answer. Not a writer of that day, whose name has come down to us, was baptized in infancy. Augustine, Paulinus, Jerome, Ambrose, Martin, Severus, Gregory, all were baptized in mature years on profession of faith. Besides, the order of Catechumens, embracing the unbaptized youth, still existed in full force. Infant baptism existed, but was not prevalent, and Augustine would make it so. Here begins that departure from a living faith, which has blighted God's church ever since. Previous to this, Christian life decayed. Men temporized with their persecutors, while others protested against it; and thus a division arose; the Donatists demanded a faithful, spiritual church membership, and would not commune with the time-serving and worldly party, which was most numerous. In reply it was argued that the Catholic Church was one outward body, into which all must come or be lost. From this arose the germs of the papacy, and the supremacy of Rome. When argument failed, force was used, and the civil power was employed to compel the pure-minded to conform to a worldly church. Augustine demanded that those who would not, should be persecuted, banished and slain.+ Thus were planted the germs of the papal tyranny and the Inquisition. At the same time, the haughtiness of human authority was asserted over the faith of Christians. Humble piety was despised. Aristotle's philosophy was more valued than Christ's teaching. Mighty doctors lorded it over God's heritage, not caring for the flock, and prostituted their powers in
* Augustine, Op. Imp. iii. 199; Wiggors, August, and Pelag., p. 14.
+ Wiggers, August, and Pelag., p. 34, note. Esist. nd Vincen piumEpist. ad Bonifuc. 185.
bitter debate, and advocacy of fasts, vigils, asceticism, and superstition.*
With the influence of great names, came in the dominion of bishops, and the civil authority was used for building and ruling the church. The pagan population was turned to Christianity by engrafting heathen ceremonies upon Christian ordinances, and the church made one vast compromise with heathenism. Thus, by steps like these, did God's church, with all her external grandeur, go into the wilderness, and the eye of the historian sees little but a waste of spiritual decay and death. Where then was the line of Baptist history? Not in any one pure church. Here was the wreck of Baptist churches everywhere. But had not God foretold that it should be so? The history of the Baptist faith embraces that of an apostacy, and of the rise of Antichrist. A pure faith is to be discerned only in its vestiges and scattered fragments. Under the gilded rubbish an holy people are yet to be found. In Africa, the barbarian invasion swept away the power of a worldly church, but humble Christian bodies abounded and flourished. In the Alps and Pyrenees, humble, faithful churches abounded.+ Sweeping across central Europe, went a tide which left Christ's lowly followers to live in peace. Baptism was still the burial of a believer in water in likeness of Christ's death. Though sprinkling had arisen, it never prevailed. Congregations of believers, rejecting infant baptism, and worldly authority, still met as of old, drawing their faitb and life from Christ's word and Spirit. But they were scattered fragments of the wreck, mostly hidden from the eye of man.
* Hieron, Epist. Cont. Vigilantium Gillies' Vigilantius. + Peyrat, Hist, de Vigilance, ch. vi. Allix, Chs. of Piedmont, passim.
3. The third period is that of the Church in the wilderness, hidden from the face of the Serpent: — the remnant of God's seed.
Rome throws out the taunting challenge; "where was your church before Luther?" She was where God said she would be — where his chosen ones were in the days of Elijah. Now, as then, God had reserved to himself a seed, a remnant,* a lineage of faith. The light had not utterly gone out, nor the gates of hell wholly prevailed, though to human judgment it might seem so. But so it seemed in his day, to Elijah; so it seemed in the Babylonian captivity; so it seemed to the disciples, when their Lord was crucified.
The northern invasion sweeping over the Roman Empire caused a long age of confusion and change; but there were those widely scattered in the East and the West, who held to the faith and word of Christ, practicing his ordinances and rejecting the commandments of men; and after ages were destined to bring them to light. The rise of the Paulicians shows a biblical faith in the East.+ In the West, the Welsh were driven into their mountains, there to preserve for ages a distinct faith.
The followers of Vigilantius and Jovinian thronged the valleys of the Pyrenees and Alps;x and while such men as Paulinus and Claude of Turin spoke aloud there were thousands to whom and for whom they spoke.§ Thousands were driven by persecution from the valleys of Italy into France, who rejected the teachings of Rome and the baptism of infants, and held the word of God to be their only guide.#
* Revelation iii. 17.
+ Neander's Church Hist. vol. iii. pp. 245, 247, et. seq.
x Gillys Vigilantius, p. 480 et seq.
§ Biblioth Patr. Paris, 1624, vol. iv. pp. 197, 538. # Jones' Church Hist. vol. i. p. 430.
It was in sympathy with these Christians that Bereugarius wrote and taught. If he was not himself free from the trammels of Rome, those who by thousands held his sentiments were so: and all Normandy was aroused to spiritual life, and filled with Christians holding evangelical doctrines.* They penetrated Germany, and went in the train of William the Conqueror to England, where they found a voice in Piers Plowman, Chaucer and Wickliffe. The same doctrines had utterance in Arnold of Brescia.+
The people holding the same faith appeared at Cologne in 1140,x and it was there discovered that they existed in great numbers through Germany, Flanders, France, Savoy, and Lombardy, claiming a distinct history back to the pure days of the church,§ and a dissemination in all countries. Their lives were conceded by their enemies to be honest and pure, and their faith Christian. They made the Bible their only guide, denied infant baptism, and practiced that of believers upon profession of faith in Christ, and maintained congregational church government. Manichean sentiments have been ascribed to them, for such were widely disseminated, but it can be plainly shown that their doctrines were directly antagonistic to those tenets.
It was among this people that Peter de Bruys arose,# who preached a long time, converting thousands, and teaching immersion in water upon a profession of faith; rejecting infant baptism and holding the Bible to be the
* Allix, Chs. of Piedmont, p. 102-110. Jones' Ch. Hist. vol. i. p. 474. Neander, vol. iii. p. 600.
+ Biblioth Max. Patr. Lugdu. vol. xviii. p. 437. p. 441. Allix, Albigenses, p. 133.
x Neander, vol. iv. p. 149, et seq.
§ Allix, Piedmont, chapter xvi. Epist. Evervini. Jones' Ch. Hist. vol. i. pp. 479-486.
# Neander, vol. iv. p. 595.
law of Christ's church. Following Peter came Henry of Tholouse,* his disciple, preaching the same Baptist faith. Baptist churches were multiplying everywhere under his labors in the south of France, until Rome seemed to have lost her hold upon that region.+ Perhaps there were as many evangelical Baptist Christians then in that country as in the same extent of territory in our land to-day. It was in this same lineage of faith that Waldox arose about 1160. He caused the Bible to be translated into the language of the people, and went forth to scatter it and proclaim its truths. Persecuted and hunted, he passed with many of his followers into Picardy, thence through Flauders and Germany to Bohemia, where he died, after disseminating God's truth over a great part of Europe. At the same time, spreading along the Alpine valleys, through Lombardy and the Tyrol, the Waldenses reached Bulgaria and Hungary. Here their colonies rested, and their numbers increased to eighty thousand in Bohemia alone. They rejected infant baptism,§ immersed believers, and made God's word their sole authority.# Their confessions from the earliest times make the ordinances to belong to believers only, reject all which does not agree with the word of God, and place baptism after a profession of faith and a change of life.++ Their great treatise against Antichrist, says: "Antichrist teaches to baptize children into the faith, and attributes to this the work of regeneration; thus confounding the work of the Holy Spirit with the external rite of baptism; and on this,
* Neander, vol. iv. p. 598.
+ Bernard, Epist. 241. Serm. lxv., in Cant. Orchard's Bapt. Hist. p. 188.
x Neander, vol. iv. p. 606.
§ Treatise on Antichrist. Also Grassern Waldensian Chronicle, p. 87.
# Allix, Piedmont, p. 206. Neander, vol. iv. p. 611.
++ Morland, Chs. of Piedmont, p. 30, et. al, Sleidan, book xvi. Jones Church History, vol. ii.p. 52.
grounds all his Christianity."* This treatise is claimed to have been written by that eminent Baptist, Peter de Bruys, and the testimony of impartial scholars is, that these Albigenscs and Waldenses, who can never be distinguished from each other, resembled most closely the Baptists of a later day.+ As to their numbers, it may be said that central Europe was full of them. They could travel through Germany and Lombardy, and find a lodging each night with their own brethren.x
Such was the hidden Baptist church. Such, after the woman fled into the wilderness, was the remnant of her seed that remained, which kept the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Jesus, against whom the dragon made war.
Such is our lineage. Errors unquestionably there were, diversities and mistakes, but these pertain to every age and every opinion held by man. Yet it is impossible to see the remarkable unity of faith, in different lands and times, without acknowledging that it must have come from one source — the Bible. The great struggle of God's people was toward the New Testament faith as Baptists hold it. Baptist principles moved the hearts of all these Christians, and were held, more or less purely, by thousands, who lived and died in them and for them.
4. We come now to the fourth period, when God's church was to come up out of the wilderness: when the two witnessing Testaments were to be exalted to universal honor and power. It comprises a period of the
* Leger Waldenses Gesch. p. 189.
+ Ypei and Dermont quoted in Orchard, Hist, of Bap. Introd. p. 17. Mosheim, Ch. Hist. Part ii. chapter iii. sect. 1.
Limborch, Hist. of Inquisition, vol. i. ch. viii.
x Perrin's Hist. des Vaudois, bk. ii. ch. xi. Jones, vol. ii. p. 157-163.
birth throes of a new awakening to spiritual life, with bitter agony and long travail; and a period of liberty and gospel triumph which is still widening with the power of the Bible over all the earth.
It is, from Luther's time to the present, one great struggle toward the principles of Baptists, and an increasing acknowledgment and adoption of them as the soul and life of evangelical religion.
Let us survey the field. No controversy had arisen or was yet to arise about immersion. And with reason. Immersion was regarded as the natural and proper administration of Baptism. The Church of Rome, while approving sprinkling, still always taught immersion. It was never denied, nor did it attract attention when practiced by heretics. Thomas Aquinas had set it forth in his Summa as the normal rite. The Gregorian decretals, the canon law of the church, did the same. The reformers in their confessions did the same. Hence we need look for no controversy upon this now distinctive practice, in the ages before the Reformation, nor to any extent during its progress.
We have seen that Germany was leavened with Waldensian Baptist sentiments up to the days of Luther.* Bohemia held thousands of Picards — cave dwellers, who, according to Theobald, were Anabaptists,+ and whose confession of faith, held long before Luther's day, was Baptist.x Wickcliffe taught the same opinions, and many of the Lollards held Baptist principles.
Luther's first power was in appealing to the word of God alone: his own grand doctrine, Justification by faith alone: these had been held by thousands before
* Of Luther's Epist. ad Waldenses. De Bussierre, Introd. p. 22.
+ E. M. Plarii, Epideigma, p. 30. Sliedan lib. iii. p. 68.
x Schomanni Testamentum.
him. When he asserted, in his treatise on Liberty, that "a Christian man is lord of all things, and in subjection to none," he spoke the truth which humble Baptists had rejoiced in for ages; and thousands of hearts instantly responded at once. Those who had longed for the utterance of such truth in high places, hailed his appearing and flocked to him at Wittemburg. Among these were men from Zwickau,* who had proclaimed the same truths more clearly, upon the basis of God's word, and who longed to have them united in by all. But the impetuous monk could not tolerate those who would go further than himself, and they were unsuccessful with Luther, yet found men of equal learning with him, who adopted their doctrines.+ They left Wittemburg, some to seek in Bohemia those Picards who were prepared for the faith, and others to proclaim it in the valleys of Switzerland and the Tyrol, the haunt of Waldenses for ages past. Thousands were gathered into churches in Silesia arid Bohemia fiy Nicholas Storck, Hutter, and Gabriel Scherding;x great numbers, under Stubner and others in the Alpine regions. Grebel, Mantz and Hubmeyer arose in Switzerland. Grebel was baptized by those who held these principles before him, and in turn baptized many converts himself in the waters of the Rhine. These were by no means ignorant men. Equal to Luther and Zuingle in power and learning, acquainted with the Scriptures in their original tongues, skilled in theology, and honored in the
* De Bussierre, Hist. del'Anabaptisme, Introd. p. 10. E. M. Plariis Epideigma, p. 9.
+ Do Bussierre, Hist. Anabap., Introd. § 2.
x Meshovius, Hist. Anabap. p. 23. Plarius, p. 27. De Buseierre, Introd. p. 26.
# Meshovius, p. 21.
schools of theology,* they were at least the peers of those who would call them mystics and ecstatics.
The first thing which brought upon them the opprobrium of their enemies was the famous Peasant War — a movement which lacked only success to make it praised, but in which the soundest principles of justice were marred by a wild enthusiasm which came from another source. Munzer, its leader, was never an Anabaptist. He did not agree with them at first in Zwickau,+ taught infant baptism long afterwards,x and the employment of force in God's cause. These were the sentiments of Luther,§ but contrary to those of the Anabaptists. Later, when his purposes demanded it, Munzer sought to identify himself more closely with Anabaptism, in order to reach the masses of the peasants, who in great numbers held# or favored it. But he was never baptized or baptized others.++ That which was called Anabaptist doctrine in him was simple Millenarianism.** The peaceful Anabaptists held this, and sought it by peaceful means; he held it and sought it by force. Many Anabaptists were led away by his error, followed him, and after his disastrous end, scattered the same doctrine of force; but it was a fundamental departure from the peaceable principles long held by the Anabaptists. Still it was enough to draw down condemnation on them all.
Unable to conquer them by the word of God or by argmnent,
* Meshovius, pp. 27, 46.
+ De Bussierre, p. 18.
x Gebser, Comment, de Primordiis Anabapt. p. 9.
§ De Bussierre, La Guerre de Paysans, vol. i. p. 305.
# Lindanus Tabulae Haereseon.
++ Bullinger adv. Anabap. p. 2. Gebser Comment, p. 9, note. De Bussierre, Guerro des Paysans, vol. ii. p. 311. Floremund Raemund, lib. ii. ch. i. p. 89.
** De Bussierre, Hist. Anabap. Introd. Sleidan, lib. v. Varillas, 11 isU des Revolution., lib. vi.
the Zurich magistrates employed force. They were imprisoned and tortured to extort confessions and recantations; and when they would not yield, were drowned under the famous sentence — qui iterum mergit, mergatur — who plunges again, let him be plunged.*
Then the Baptists met in retired places at midnight, or before the break of day, to worship and baptize. They were called "bathing men and bathing women."+ They were charged with "the fanatical delusion of thinking to form a church free from sin," because they received none but believers. While Luther had hanging over his head the brief of Pope Adrian, demanding his death, he dissuaded from persecuting them; but when he was secure in the protection of the German princes, he advocated their destruction by force.x The Reformation which he led, was one resting on human authority and arms. Men might leave the Church of Rome, but they must enter that of Luther. There was no liberty in his plan. It was the gospel enforced by the police and the sword.§ The Anabaptists asked for liberty to worship God, and notwithstanding their slaughter by thousands, they held fast to the authority of the word of God alone to rule the soul.
Great numbers of them, in Bohemia and Moravia, following their doctrine of non-resistance, left home and lands to go into banishment for conscience' sake.# Poland and the regions about were filled with Baptist sentiments, and dotted with Baptist churches, whose confessions of faith declare immersion to be the only baptism,
* Meshovius, Hist. Anabap. p. 35.
+ Faber adv. Catabapt. Raynald's Baronius, A.D. 1527, sect. 75.
x De Bussierro, Guerre dcs Paysans, vol. i. p. 305.
§ De Bussierre, Hist. Anabap. Introd. p. 8. Motley, Dutch Republic, vol. i. p. 260.
# Plarii Epideigma, p. 27-29.
and believers, holy men and women, to constitute the church of Christ.* Their lineage is perfectly distinct from that of the advocates of force.
These also had many followers; they practiced polygamy in some instances,+ and at a later date were wild enthusiasts. They united the worldly principles of Luther as to civil power, with the Millenarian views, and rejection of infant baptism, of the true Baptists. They frequently practiced effusion or sprinkling.x These were men destitute of true faith, who set up their visions and dreams above the word of God. Connected in their origin with the peasant war, their influence culminated at length in the reign of Boccold, at Munster, in 1534. This arose from the fancies of Matthison, and drew to itself the elements of disease that abounded in the confusion of the times ; but its principles were diametrically opposed to those of the true Anabaptists or the Baptists of that day. It was enough that our forefathers believed in the reign of Christ on earth, to enable their enemies to class them with those who would take his sceptre and set up a kingdom of their own in his name.
And yet the atrocities of Boccold's wild reign have been exaggerated, and were really no greater than those which marked its punishment, and Hortensius, who recorded with horror, the deeds of the Munster Uproar, lived to see, with his own eyes, tenfold greater atrocities inflicted on the Reformed by the Papists, and on the Papists by the Reformed.#
Far removed from this brief turmoil, which quickly
* Ludovici Wolzogenii Compendium Relig. Christ, p. 13. Schowmari Testamentum. Mosheim, vol. iv. p. 491.
+ De Bussierro, Hist. Anabap. Introd. p. 16. Thuanus, Hist. lib. L., p. 765.
x Floremund Raemund, lib. ii. chap. iii. § 5. Hortensius, Oproer der Weder-doopern, p. 20.
#Motley, Dutch Republic, vol. ii. p. 422.
rose and died away, the peaceful Baptists flourished in secret, in Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland; and afterward, in the Low Countries, they were blessed under the pious labors of Menno, and even grew amid the persecutions of Alva, who slaughtered far more of them than of all the Reformed beside. They were the first of all iu heroic devotion to support William of Orange, with their money, and sympathy, and prayers, in his darkest day; and their churches survived the desolations, and rose, with returning peace, to great numbers and strength.
Here, at length, the light of peace, and civil rights and religious liberty dawned upon them. Their leaven had long before entered England, and met the spirit of religious liberty there. English Christians, also banished for conscience' sake, taking refuge in Holland, met them there. History, as it is unfolded, will show more connection between them, and though both the English and the Dutch Baptists arose from the study of God's word, and drew their origin and order directly from it, and so were spiritually without fathers, autochthonous, we may safely hold that the Holland Baptists were their elder brethren and forerunners in the faith of Christ.
Such were the far-famed Anabaptists of the Reformation. They were no more mystics and ecstatics than many Baptists of our own land now. Some of their leaders were slow in reaching true views of baptism, as they came step by step to the truth; but it was a baptism of believers on profession of their faith in Christ. Some unquestionably adopted other scriptural views without that of immersion; but when they rested their whole order and practice on the Bible they came to it as the plain consequence.
This was the birth period of bitter agony in the awakening of God's church to come up out of the wilderness. In it we see a Baptist biblical faith, struggling for utterance
and life, underlying the Reformation; and, as expressive of the living principles of the word of God, constituting its soul, and life, and spiritual power.
It was truly said, in that day, that whenever the Reformers would find arguments to conquer Rome, they used those of the Anabaptists ; and when they contended with Anabaptists, they were compelled to use the arguments of Rome — the authority of the church, and the established customs and traditions of the past. They could not appeal successfully to the Bible. This inconsistency was again and again urged upon them by Romanists, and it was with truth declared that there is not, there cannot be, any middle ground between the Baptist Faith and the Faith of Rome.
The spiritual power of the Reformation lay wholly in those Scriptural principles which it held in common with us. Its elements of decay and formalism were in those principles which we reject.
In one word, the long struggle of God's church against the overlying dominion of the Papacy has been, up to the present day, a struggle of New Testament Baptist principles for life and power. These made the Reformation, these will complete it. These, in their living hold on men's hearts, have moved, and are now moving the world with the power of a divine life.
The later course of Baptist History is plain. The people who held this faith, once delivered to the saints, have multiplied, have shown it to be of God, have exemplified its excellencies in promoting human welfare, favoring civil liberty, elevating the race, and advancing the cause of Christ. Its power has been demonstrated in the heathen world, turning nations to God; and in lands burdened with a dead formal faith, recreating them with the gospel.
All evangelical Christendom is coming up to the
standard of a biblical Baptist faith, with a rapidity never known before. Errors, against which our fathers contended and died, are passing away, and God's two witnesses are arising to assume the dominion over human faith which God has decreed to them.
May the day soon come, when God's word shall rule one universal church of believing souls, holding to "One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism," and when Jesus shall see the answer to his prayer — "Father, I will that they be one!"
[From Henry G. Weston, editor, The Madison Avenue Lectures, American Baptist Publication Society, 1867, pp. 309-336. Document from Google Books. — Formatted by Jim Duvall]
American Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage