The Continential Anabaptists
From The Story of the English Baptists
By John C. Carlile, 1905
A GLANCE at the Continental Anabaptists will help us the better to understand their English kinsmen. Mr. Richard Heath says Anabaptism was "the voice that proclaimed liberty of conscience, that declared the common life to be of far higher importance than the individual life, the true community to be the Divine unit rather than the individual, the family, or the nation." It has often been charged against the Anabaptists that they were Socialists. There is no doubt that they taught that the law of Christ covered the whole of life, and that no man was justified in living simply to acquire wealth. They believed that the Divine Spirit was the Guide of each believer, and the Bible a text-book in spiritual education. They taught that inspiration did not cease with the writing of the Scriptures, but was the privilege and possession of all who lived an obedient life. Their people were taught personally to labour for their own support. Their great effort was to found a kingdom of God on the earth in their own time.
They appear in different lands: in Switzerland, in the Tyrol and Moravia, in Germany, in the Netherlands, in England and America. Their history is one long period of persecution. All the authorities seem to have attempted their extinction, but were unsuccessful. [Henry T.] Buckle says that by 1546 thirty thousand persons had been put to death for Anabaptism in Holland and Friesland alone. The Netherlands, in the sixteenth century, were the centre of the storm that raged over the greater part of Europe so pitilessly upon these people. The fierceness of the persecution may be attributed to the fact that the movement was not simply a reformation of religion, but aimed at the political regeneration
of the people. Historians like Mr. R. Barclay affirm the antiquity of the teaching: "The rise of the Anabaptists took place long prior to the formation of the Church of England, and there are also reasons for believing that on the continent of Europe small hidden Christian societies who have held many of the opinions of the Anabaptists have existed from the times of the Apostles. In the sense of the direct transmission of Divine truth and the true nature of spiritual religion, it seems probable that these Churches have a lineage or succession more ancient than that of the Roman Church." Some of their leaders, like Menno, stoutly deny that they are a sect, insisting that they are nothing more than disciples of the Lord, acknowledging allegiance to His teaching alone. Many of them were mystics who sank their individuality in the life of the Cause, just as the Friends of God, under the teaching of Henry Suso and Father Tauler, regarded their individuality as absorbed in the Divine. There is but a thin line of demarcation between some forms of the highest spiritual ecstasy and stupid frenzy, as genius and insanity are not far apart. Munzer, whose career closed in pathetic tragedy, said on the day of his death, "Our cause is like a grain of wheat, which, when it is cast into the earth, men turn away from as if it would never rise again." Then identifying himself with the Cause, he exclaimed, "I am as yet but in the bud. Have patience, I shall ripen, and the ear will bear both grains and spikelets. The just will gather the fruit, but the spikelets will prick the impious and the tyrants to remote ages." Who can say that his words were not prophetic? Earlier he said, "Nature is dead in me. I am nothing but a principle." He was a leader in the movement for the freeing of the people from social serfdom which in 1524 spread rapidly through the Black Forest and on to the borders of Switzerland, and further to Constance. Indeed, it seemed that it would carry all before it. It sought to establish from the Scriptures a commune, in which there should be the recognition of freedom for every man and
impartial justice for the weakest. The game laws were to be abolished; woods and forests taken possession of by any means other than fair purchase were to be returned to their original owners - the people. Each commune was to have the right to choose its own pastor. He was to be supported by a tithe on corn. Lands too highly rented were to be submitted to arbitration. No service was to be demanded beyond that which was mutually agreed, and if any of these things were proved contrary to the Scriptures, they were to be renounced. It was a crude charter they drew up, but it contained principles for which reformers are still contending. Its advocates were the poorer parish priests; its leaders belonged to no class but to the people. The peasants were enthusiastic, the authorities inflexible. Luther, the brave-hearted sympathiser with the people, became a prey to the same fear that struck panic among the princes. He wrote to Br. Ruhel, "They proceed with the poor people in so horrifying a manner, it is truly pitiable, but what can one do? It is necessary, and God also wills, to have the people brought into fear and awe." At the end of the spring of 1525 the people rose in their strength, and as a whirlwind of destruction swept through the country. Their leaders came from the outside; they were nothing but agitators seeking their own gain, fit representatives of the type of professional, pliable labour-leaders whose presence has resulted in the crucifixion of the cause they never really represented. One of them was Gotz, of Berlichingen, another the bankrupt Duke Ulrich of Wurtemburg. Among the peasants were the united forces of Hesse, Saxony, and Brunswick. They met at Frankenhausen on May 15th. It was little more than a massacre. Six thousand peasants were slain; three hundred persons known to have taken part in the movement were beheaded. In that year the Peasants' Crusade received its baptism of blood and of fire, and Anabaptism, perhaps more as a spirit of revolt against tyrannical authority in Church and State than as a system of theology, came into prominence.
While the movement seemed in its dying struggles in Germany, it sprang up with, all the energy of youth in Switzerland. In Zurich the influence of Zwingli was supreme. His position as cathedral preacher, his magnificent oratory, and many talents made him a ruler among men. Many reformers were attracted by his teaching. In 1523 a great conference was held in the city. Everybody of importance seems to have been there: nobles, university doctors, and prelates. Zwingli propounded his doctrines and held the field against all adversaries in this theological tournament. He was acclaimed the victor, and Zurich formally adopted his views. With his official leadership his chief difficulties began. Responsibility begets restraint. With the popular movement for Church reform there was intertwined the aspiration for civic regeneration. The great theologian had no faith in the people; he feared a free Church, and sought to make the city council the authority over the Church. The friends of freedom separated from him, and organised communities of believers, who tried to live their lives after the New Testament fashion. The chief leaders, Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel, were men of considerable position and learning. They arrived at the conclusion that the Church could be composed only of believers. With a little company of working men they met together in the home of Felix Manz for the study of the Scriptures. As one of them said, "under the Cross their hearts were made one." They determined to form a new brotherhood of believers. In the attempt were united the common people, who tilled the ground for a living, and students whose knowledge of Greek and Hebrew and philosophy was equal to that of the foremost followers of Zwingli. Grebel was socially superior to the great reformer, who described him as "most studious, most candid, most learned." He was a graduate of the universities of Vienna and Paris. Manz was known as a scholar of considerable attainments in Hebrew Scripture. With them was Jacob Blaurock, who had been a monk, but
had put off the cowl when he became a Christian. He was described as a "second Paul." By them the apostolic commune was restored. They insisted that the New Testament knew nothing of usury, tithes, and livings, nothing of offices of authority in the world held by pastors of the Church, nothing of war as legitimate for Christians. Their only weapon was suffering, their means of reforming those who had gone astray brotherly admonition, and as a last resort excommunication. They entered into friendly relationship with those in Holland who were seeking the same ends. It is clear that they rejected the popular teaching concerning the sacraments. Their influence rapidly increased until complaint was made in the council that the districts were becoming seditious, refusing the tithes and compulsory services. A resolution was passed calling for a conference on January 17th, 1525. The test question was the validity of infant baptism. The new brotherhood had reached the conclusion that baptism was the declaration of the disciple's faith in the Lordship of Jesus. They determined to go to the conference in confidence that they possessed the truth, resolved, if necessary, to tread the old path of sorrow and suffering along which their Master went. This was their prayer: "O God, grant us intrepid prophets who, without any additions invented by themselves, shall preach Thine own eternal word." In the conference they had the strongest case, but Zwingli had the council at his back. He declared that circumcision was now represented by infant baptism, and was the seal of admission into the new covenant. The council, made up of politicians not necessarily Christian in any sense, decided, as everybody knew they would, in favour of their chief. It was made law that, after eight days, anyone neglecting to baptise his children should be banished from the State, as, "each one of the Anabaptists having expressed his views without hindrance, it was found by the sure testimonies of Holy Scripture, both of the Old and New Testaments, that
Zwingli and his followers had overcome the Anabaptists, annihilated Anabaptism, and established infant baptism." Grebel had practised adult baptism. The ancient chronicles of the Anabaptists record that their people resolved to be nigh one another in their time of anguish. "In their hearts they were pressed; therefore have they begun to bend their knees before the highest God in heaven, and as one heart in experience, crying out in prayer that He would give them to do His Divine will, and to this end would show them His compassion. Then Blaurock stood up, and, in accordance with the will of God, begged Grebel that he would baptise him with a true Christian baptism on his faith and confession. Kneeling down, Grebel, in accordance with his prayer, baptised him, no ordained minister at this time having undertaken such work. When this had taken place, the others likewise desired of Blaurock that he would baptise them, which he also has done and in deep fear of God. They have also altogether given themselves to the Lord, one among the converted being appointed as minister of the Gospel; and so they commenced to teach and maintain the faith." It is the story of another night of crises, surrender, and waiting, like unto that of an earlier date when the disciples met together in an upper room and, after receiving that strange touch of power, went out with a new strength not their own. Again the Church was born, and the Divine Spirit clothed Himself with men to accomplish His will. After this rediscovery of the meaning of baptism the little company, realising a sense of union, refused to call anything they possessed their own property. They established a community of goods. They came together at evening time and re-instituted the observance of the Lord's Supper as a commemorative feast. The council took strong measures to put down the reformers. Grebel, Blaurock, and Manz were brought before the authorities, with twenty-one persons who agreed with them. Before their trial they urged their followers that those who did not feel strong enough to
remain faithful should under protest do the bidding of the authorities, but that the stronger should suffer. They were committed to prison. One night it was noticed that the shutter in the window was unfastened. By means of rope they could reach the ground, and a swing bridge would enable them, under cover of the darkness, to escape. This they decided to do, but the question arose, "Where shall we flee?" One of them suggested they should go to the Red Indians in North America. In the morning the prison was found, like another prison to which it is said an angel came, with its cell empty, and there arose the legend that Grebel and his followers had been delivered by an angel and had disappeared. Persecution increased, and with it there deepened a sullen spirit of revenge in the masses of the people, whose attitude to Grebel was only that of mild admiration, but whose love of justice was intense. Driven out of Zurich, the movement found a home in St. Gall. Its meetings were conducted in private houses and rooms of trade guilds, the hall of the Butchers Guild being a favourite meeting-place. From this we may see how closely the Anabaptists were associated with labour. Bible-readings were first given in 1523 by Dr. Hubmaier. It was the custom, at the close of the reading, to ask for questions from the audience. Usually there was discussion. This was the opportunity of the Anabaptists, and they used it well. In the Tailors Hall and the Hall of the Weavers their meetings were held until Grebel was forbidden the city. On March 2nd, 1526, the Zurich Council, driven to extremes, decreed that whosoever rebaptised should be drowned. Felix Manz was re-arrested, and on January 5th was sentenced to death by drowning. On the day the sentence was to be carried out his mother came to him and, with loving entreaty, begged him to be steadfast to the will of God. He was bound upon a hurdle and thrown into the stream, after he had cried with a loud voice, "Into Thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit."
For a moment the calm blue surface was disturbed, and then it closed again in peace, having taken to its bosom the body of a brave soul. Grebel, by sudden death, was spared a like fate. Blaurock was burned at the stake at Clausen, in the Tyrol, in 1529. Other leaders suffered a like fate, and Zwingli consented thereto. All the while the masses were watching and drawing nearer to the terrible day, October 10th, 1531, when Zurich learned with dismay that the peasants had united with the Catholics, the army was defeated, Zwingli slain, and the city in the hands of the Catholics; and so the tide was turned, and Catholic restoration commenced in Switzerland.
William Reublin went to Waldshut in 1525. The people were responsive to the Anabaptists doctrine. At Easter Hubmaier and one hundred and ten others were baptised upon their profession of faith. The authorities, already frightened by what had taken place, issued orders of banishment, and many of the people fled to Moravia, as the Waldenses had done earlier. The informer was busy tracking the leaders from place to place, and describing them so minutely to the authorities that they could not move without danger. Moravia was their haven of refuge between 1526 and 1536. They numbered seventy thousand persons. They had common households in eighty-six places where they lived together as brothers under the leadership of Huther and others, who strove to preserve Christian communism. It is difficult to say how far they acted in union. Each community supported itself and made its own rules. There was a common table and allotted toil for all. The superintendent was called the house holder. There was a common bakehouse, which accounts for so many of their meeting-places being called "bakehouses." The children went to one school. There was a common nursery cared for by mothers, and a common kitchen tended by daughters. To others was committed the care of the sick. Each family had private rooms, and mixed marriages were not
allowed. They cared for their aged and infirm, but strictly enforced the rule that those who would not work should not eat. They provided no meals for lazy saints. In the morning they knelt in silent prayer; they after breakfast went to the fields or the workshop. Their wages went into a common purse. They grew in wealth, owning land and houses and machinery. No vice was permitted among them. Offenders were rebuked at the Lord's Table, and if they did not mend their ways they were turned adrift.
The teaching which produced this "Utopia"; was very apt to go into extremes and fanaticisms, especially under the pressure of persecution. This is what happened at Munster, where in 1534 the leaders, following the common instinct of over-oppressed people, rose in rebellion. The Bishop ordered the imprisonment or extradition of all Anabaptists. There were riots, and finally the people overthrew all authority and established a "kingdom." Nearly all we know of that reign of fanaticism comes from tainted sources. Justice has yet to be done to the memory of that strangely mixed character called the Prophet of Munster. We offer no excuse for the shedding of blood, but we do put in a plea that the whole circumstances should be considered, and that it is possible that Jan van Leiden may have been subject to fits of craziness, and perhaps was a better man than his enemies represented. The people had long been tyrant-ridden and priest-ridden, their patience exhausted by persecution, and hardly able to call their souls their own. They heard the new gospel told in "the dulcet sounds of fantasy." They took a short cut to the millennium. Like Samson, they pulled down the temple in their blindness and misery, destroying their enemies and themselves. Demos is ever the worst despot, and it may have been so at Munster. It was a tragic failure to regenerate by physical force.
We now turn to the mystic school of Anabaptists, men who owed their teaching rather to Father Tauler and Thomas a Kempis than to political reformers. Many of these found their
home in the congenial surroundings of Strasburg, where the sentiment and the tradition of Tauler and the Friends of God still lingered as sweet fragrance in the air. Many were the stories told of the Friend of God who came to the cathedral preacher and showed the great man that his life was selfish, and therefore sinful. It would still be common talk that Dr. Tauler retired from public life to find in silence the strength which afterwards enabled him to suffer and serve. At Basle, where "Nicolas" was still a name to conjure up memories of one who, in the midst of a worldly life, was seized with a desire to know God and to find that righteousness which is not of ourselves, that leads to the life of peace, it would still be told how Nicolas spent the night in an agony of prayer before the crucifix, and ere the dawn had broken the figure before which he prayed, and had found "the inner light" which enabled him to read the will of God. These traditions were formative forces in the mystic school of Anabaptists. There is yet room for a study of the sweet, strong spirits who were the salt that saved the Anabaptist movement from corruption and decay. Among these the names of Hans Denck and Menno Simons occupy the foremost place.
Hans Denck reminds one of Myers poem of St. Paul. He was a young man when he reached the zenith of his influence. His birth, probably at the close of the fifteenth century, is unrecorded. He passes along the road of history a lonely man, without father, mother, wife, or child. There is no information concerning his ancestry; he is a Melchizedek. He appears at Basle, where he took his M.A. degree, and became reader in a printer's establishment, afterwards schoolmaster in Nuremberg, where his high morality compelled him to oppose the laxity of life permitted by the Lutheran authorities. His attempts at reform resulted in a sudden order of banishment from the city. At this time he knew not the life. He wrote concerning the faith of others: "I, too, would fain possess that faith which works salvation and leads to life, but I do not find it in me.
Nay, if I said to-day that I had that faith, to-morrow I should accuse myself of lying; for an inner voice, a spark of truth which I partly feel in me, tells me that I have not yet in me the faith that works life." In that "inner voice" there is already the prophecy of his future teaching. In 1524 we find Denck settled with the Swiss Anabaptists at St. Gall. He is a friend of the leaders of the movement, but not a disciple. The ceremonial side of religion has no charm for him. He seems to have been a student working hard in the pursuit of knowledge. His enemies describe him as learned in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. From the fragments of the historic canvas we may piece together his portrait: tall and slim, with the dignity of a scholar in his demeanour, pale cheeks and lustrous eyes, with that strange glint that tells of smouldering energy, capable of reckless bravery a dreamer who when awake would fight hard to make his dreams come true. The fact of his being at the Anabaptist centre after his dispute with the clerical authorities of Nuremberg made him a marked man when he went to Augsburg. There he found not only the college in which he was to teach, but the city itself, as lax in morality as it was orthodox in doctrine. He started a modest little society, a sort of social purity crusade, which he called "enlisting in an embassy for God." While engaged in this work he met Balthasar Hubmaier, a man of sterner stuff. We have seen him at Waldshut, a town on the Rhine, holding Bible readings; now he has left the priesthood and is confessed a leader of the Anabaptists. The Austrian Government had tried to arrest him, but he fled to Schaffkausen, where the magistrates gave him protection. His followers in Waldshut were saved by the appearance of bands of peasants who had risen against the authorities. The Government was too busy to persecute. Hubmaier was allowed to return; the town gave him welcome as the members of a family greet their father. His meeting with Denck was the beginning of an attempt to form an apostolic brotherhood. It grew quickly.
Eleven hundred persons were received by baptism upon their confession of faith. In this Denck found his life-work. His influence became paramount. He developed an eloquence that swayed multitudes. In 1527 he was president of a great synod of Anabaptists. By some he was described as the Pope of the Baptists. Bader calls him the "famous Hans Denck." With the energy of an apostle, he went from city to city, proclaiming the evangel and evolving more and more an other-world conception of morality and religion. He feared that his friends were becoming simply an organisation for obtaining social justice. To him politics was a path, not a goal. He looked beyond civic reform to the better life Christians should live. While his power increased with the people, the gulf between himself and the leaders widened. History has preserved for us scarcely more than the subjects of his books. There are several confessions; a treatise on the sources and foundations of religious knowledge; others on the Divine constitution of the universe, true love, and justification and free-will. Denck was an influence that passed into other lives, and shapes religious thought in our own land to-day. To the teaching of Tauler he added the strenuous endeavour after social righteousness. Where he died, or the place of his burial, no man knows. A gleam of light seen for a moment, then lost in the darkness, having answered its purpose in revealing the scenery and imparting some strength and beauty, is not lost. So Hans Denck came and went and yet abides. To him we may trace some of the best of Tolstoy's teaching and the Society of Friends passion for social amelioration and individual freedom.
In a humble village home at Witmarsum, Menno Simons was born in 1492. It was a time of agitation among the peasants. The taxes pressed heavily upon those least able to pay. The brave hearts who complained were silenced in death. The religious leaders for the most part were looking for a new kingdom. The mother of Menno Simons had a great desire
that this son should become a priest in the Romish Church. He was ordained in 1516. He seems to have been a zealous worker and an earnest inquirer. The popular teaching concerning sacraments unsettled him. He sought conference with Luther and Bullinger, but in vain did he try to discover the Scripture foundation for their teaching, until at last, he tells us, the illumination of the Holy Spirit came to him through reading and meditation upon the Scriptures. Then he began to teach the true doctrine of repentance and life from the Romish pulpit. The events in the village must have affected the congregation and the priest. News came from Munster that poor Jan van Leiden's wife was drowned with fourteen others, her only crime being that she was the wife of one who had done wrong. A number of fugitives had escaped from the military persecution, they were being pursued, and late one night it was whispered through the village that at Oldeklooster they were hiding. The place was near to Menno Simons' dwelling. His brother lived there. The strangers numbered three hundred, men, women, and children. The mothers, with their little ones, hid themselves away; the men looked to possibilities of defence. The villagers round had compassion upon the poor people, and helped them. Soon the tramp of armed men told of the approach of the soldiers. The Anabaptist men, aided by many peasants, made a brave defence. They held out for several days. The village was taken, but only when the men were slain. Among those who fell was the brother of the neighbouring parish priest, Menno Simons. The authorities, having gained what they called a victory, executed the rest of the men they could find, and down the river the bodies of many women drifted to tell of the cruelty of the officers. A year later Abbe Philips, from the Mennonite Church at Strasburg, came to preach in that Frisian village. Among his hearers was the priest, who became a convert and afterwards a great leader. He left the Romish Church in January, 1536, about a year after his brother had
been slain fighting in the Anabaptist ranks. Menno Simons, from the beginning of his new career, had no fellowship with those who advocated physical force. His declaration is found in the "Beautiful and Fundamental Doctrine of the Word of God," calling upon all who are Christians to live the higher life, which begins in the new birth at conversion, and is only proved by the fruits of the Spirit and the Christian virtues, as shown in the example of our Lord. "These regenerate persons constitute the true Christian Church, who worship Christ as their only and true King, who fight not with swords and carnal weapons, but only with spiritual, the word of God and the Holy Spirit. They seek no kingdom but that of grace; they conduct themselves as citizens of heaven. Their doctrine is the word of the Lord, and everything not taught therein they reject." "They have no justification than that which is by faith of Christ; they meet together for the sacred Supper which is a commemoration of the death and benefits of Christ; and they withdraw from perverse apostates, according to the word of God." Though his followers were called Mennonites, and there was an advantage in the use of the name, as it freed them from the stigma the authorities had set upon Anabaptists, yet he insisted that they were neither a denomination nor a sect. In August, 1536, there was a great meeting at Buckholt, in Westphalia. The followers of Munzer, Stork, and Stubner, weary of waiting for the golden age of freedom to dawn, advocated resort to arms. Menno, amid much opposition, insisted upon the old doctrine that no Christian could wage war or avenge himself upon his adversaries, and that magistrates should be obeyed in all their commands that were not opposed to the word of the Lord. The discussions were loud and long, and ended in a cleavage in the Anabaptist ranks. On the one side were the men of action, impatient in the presence of wrong; on the other were the mystics who saw that the freedom of the spirit is obtained through suffering, and that the truest conquest comes to those who endure. The
Mennonites received the support of the saints; the soldiers left them. One of the earliest ministers in their community was Dirck Philips, who taught the uselessness of all sacraments and ceremonies to make Christians. The Church order adopted seems to have been an improvement upon that used by the Swiss disciples. It was very insistent "that the words and works of the members of a Church should agree." In their assemblies they recognised an equality of believers; there was no human head of the Church. Their teachers were not salaried officials; they worked for their own living; they rejected "as false prophets" all who served for pay. In their meetings they sat in silent prayer after a portion of Scripture had been read; then would follow testimony or experience by brethren who had it laid upon their hearts to speak. They introduced the singing of hymns other than the Psalms of David. This was a great offence to those who declared that there should be nothing "man-made" in their forms of worship. There was liberty of prophesying for all in the congregation; they had no confessions of faith, believing that no disciple should be under bondage to "man-made" creeds. Their statements of belief were issued to avoid misrepresentation and to guide any who desired to know what they taught. They continued the curious ceremony of washing the saints' feet as a sign of voluntary subjection the one to the other. They were the first to introduce the practice of ministers praying aloud in the congregation. Part of their worship was the distributing of alms to the poorer brethren. To their credit, it may be said that they cared for their own; their most enduring monuments are their charities. Orphan-house and hospital still remain to indicate the kind of service they thought most acceptable to God. The Empress Catherine II. invited a section of Menno's followers to Russia, where they settled and founded agricultural communities, especially in the Crimea. Their peaceful spirit secured them exceptional favour. Their men were exempted by the authorities
from military service because of their teaching that no Christian should engage in war. That exemption lasted until 1871, when it was withdrawn. Who can tell how far the teaching of Menno prepared the way for Count Tolstoy?
At Rymsburg in 1619 four brothers Van der Kodde differed with the rest of the community, and formed a new body. The chief of them was William, who left behind learned works which show that he was a man of very considerable attainments. His name as an author is remembered as Gulielmus Coddaeus. Their differences seem to have been twofold: they insisted upon immersion as the only valid form of baptism, and that the office of teacher had ceased in the Church. They were called the Sect of the Prophets. In 1743 we find them described as Quakers by the common people. Their strictness of life is evidenced by the fact that they were sorely concerned over the "button controversy," which had rent other little communities of very sober-minded people. The traditional fashion of fastening the garments of men and women was by hooks and eyes, still used for some vestments. The Quakers were concerned to observe in their assembly some younger sisters whose frocks were fastened with buttons that shone. The offending buttons had just been introduced. Perhaps their offence was their newness. Anyhow the "fathers" regarded them as the badge of a carnal mind, the "mark of the beast." Church meetings were held to decide whether buttons should be permitted. The assembly disagreed, and controversy arose. The innovators were called the "button party"; the old-fashioned were described as the "hook-and-eye party." For generations the differences created remained unhealed. Perhaps the button was the occasion rather than the cause of the severance. We may smile at the severity that saw an offence in a coat button, but we must admire the strength of character that prompted the attempt to maintain simplicity of dress.
The historic connection between English Baptists and
Anabaptists has often been denied. Mr. Skeats says, "The Dutch Anabaptists of this period" (1572) "had little in common with English Baptists, excepting an objection to infant baptism." Mr. Skeats quotes Dr. Somers (Some?) to prove that in 1589 there were several Baptist communities in England. Anabaptists and Baptists must be very close akin, for the "Godly Treatise" relied upon by Mr. Skeats to identify Baptists was written to describe Anabaptists. The errors charged against these people were - "that the ministers of the Gospel ought to be maintained by the voluntary contribution of the people; that the civil power has no right to make and impose ecclesiastical laws; that people ought to have the right of choosing their own ministers; that the High Commission Court is an anti-Christian usurpation; that those who are qualified to preach ought not to be hindered by the civil power," etc.
It will be seen that the General Baptists, beside being in substantial theological agreement with Anabaptists, adopted their forms. They had the rites of baptism and the Lord's Supper, lovefeasts, and some practised the ceremony of washing the disciples' feet. This last is referred to in the following entry in an authentic record of a body of baptised believers meeting at Tunbridge Wells: "November, 1741. - Agreed to be in ye practice of washing of feet before June next." In the same book there is this note: "Agreed to wash feet at this place on Fryday, ye 6th June next, and yt Bro. Harrison give us a sermon on occasion, and Bros. Ashford and Chaptman to provide dinner and beer." Where Anabaptists settled in our country Baptist Churches afterwards were found. The relation seems to be as that of the Howards and Stanleys to the historic families whose name they bear.
A history of the Anabaptists of High and Low Germany was written in 1642, and is among the King's Pamphlets. Its author says, "All these are scions of that flock of anabaptism that was transplanted out of Holland, in the year 1535, when
two ships laden with Anabaptists fled into England. . . . Here, it seemeth, they have remained ever since." In 1536 Barkley reports that Anabaptist societies in England sent a delegation to a great gathering of their brethren in Westphalia. It appears, therefore, that English Baptists as a distinct community had their origin among the refugees from the Netherlands.
[From John C. Carlile, The Story of the English Baptists, 1905, chapter III, pp. 47-64; via Internet Archive. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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