Review of J. M. Cramp's Baptist History
The Sword and Trowel, 1868
By C. H. Spurgeon
All who know much of the Baptist denomination must have regretted that so few are acquainted with its early history. We are not surprised that those who do not admit the scripturalness of our principles should be thus ignorant; nor can we be surprlsed that those who have superciliously looked upon our comparative feebleness should have put us down as of latter-day growth; but it remaius a matter of great surprise that our own congregations should be, for the most part, uninstructed in the past doings of our body. We certainly can boast of godly defenders of the faith, of noble men persecuted and contemned, who have sacrificed position, wealth, and life, for the truth; we can tell of able preachers and learned divines, and we can rejoice in the spirit of enterprise and heroism which has existed among Baptists of all ages. Why therefore should there be so much ignorance abroad as to the ecclesiastical history of the denomination? Why should so few know anything, and so many care nothing for the early Baptists, when their history is beyond measure instructive and interesting? We think there are several reasons to be found for this apathy to our own history. We are not sure, in the first place, that Baptists have ever been passionate lovers of ecclesiastical history. Indeed, we have a notion — how far it is true we leave our readers to judge — that religious communities which indulge too much in these investigations, are apt to trust to the past, which in view of present necessities is about the worst thing a religious body could do. Baptists, too, in past days, being peculiarly obnoxious to all state-churchmen, have had enough to do to fight for very existence, and have been too much intent upon taking their part in the controversies of the times, and, upon seeking present edification, to spend much thought upon presenting in the foreground the past history of their body. Then, too, that history has been, for the most part, obscure and scanty, and even now, as Dr. Angus confesses, the history of baptism in the early church and in the middle ages is still to be written. The few books that have been compiled have been too expensive for ordinary readers, and a condensed and graphic abstract of Baptist records has been much wanted. We are glad therefore to find that Dr. Cramp, the able president of a Baptist College in Nova Scotia, has endeavoured to meet this want. Dr. Cramp has long been a laborious, painstaking student of ecclesiastical history, and his works have been distinguished by some of the higher qualities of an historian. His book on Baptist history is not intended for students; at least, it is thrown into a popular mould, and will be more acceptable to general readers, to whom we most heartily recommend it. All Baptists should possess a copy, and even those of our readers who do not sympathise with our view of the ordinance of baptism, will probably be glad to know what the Immersionists have to say about themselves. The time is past, we hope, when religious rancour forbids one body of believers to take an interest in another. The work is so pleasantly written, and
so tastefully produced, that it would form an acceptable gift to our young men and maidens. It traces the history of Baptists from the foundation of the Christian church, when he whose right it was to give the mandate commanded his disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to the close of the last century; adding a chapter — which to our minds is the least satisfactory part of the work — on the extension of the denomination and the peculiarities of the present period.
The primitive period is remarkable only - so far as the point in hand is concerned — for two things: viz., the absence during the first two hundred years of any reference in "The Fathers" to infant baptism; and the introduction, with other heresies, of baptismal regeneration and children's baptism. Tertullian, at the in-coming of the third century openly declared that remission from sins, deliverance from death, regeneration and participation in the Holy Spirit, were spiritual blessings consequent upon baptism. The two things — the sacramental theory; and the baptism of children (not infants) — probably came in at the same time; for we find Tertullian indignantly reproving those who had begun the practice of administering the ordinance to children, on the ground that they were not old enough to repent and belleve. Chevaherir Bunsen distinctly points out that "Tertullian's opposition is to them baptism of young growing children: he does not say a word about new-born infants." The same must be said of Origen. But the seeds of the evil had been sown. Children's baptism was clearly originated by the sacramentarians, who considered that it was necessary to salvation. But infant baptism was instituted by a bishop of Northern Africa, in the middle of the third century, who confounded Christian baptism with circumcision — a blunder frequent enough nowadays. It must be remembered that the body of the infant was immersed, not sprinkled. Sprinkling sick persons confined to their beds was, however, is a contemporaneous innovation.
We next enter upon the transition period, when the new system was quietly working its way. As Neander puts it, "among the Christians of the East, infant-baptism, though acknowledged in theory to be necessary, yet entered rarely and with much difficulty into the church-life during the first half of this period." Novelty needed extranraneous power to bolster it up, and infant-baptism was promulgated by men accepted state aid, and who were backed by a royal command that all infants should be baptised. The church allied to the state, the persecution inevitably set in. The state-church people were "orthodox," and as such were recognised; all others were heretics. A controversy sprang up with regard to those who apostatised during the Decian persecution, but who on the return of tranquillity, sought re-admission into the churches. Novation held that apostacy was a sin which disqualified them from again entering into church fellowship, and to secure a pure community, he formed a separate church, which elected him for its pastor. These purer churches multiplied continued in existence for more than three centuries, the members being everywhere looked upon as Puritans and Dissenters. They were Anabaptists, baptising again all who had been immersed by the orthodox and corrupt church. The Novations, then, were Baptists.
Then follows the obscure period - a period of mistiness, doubtfulness, and difficulty. What Dr. Cramp terms "The Revival Period," which extended from A.D. 1073 to A.D. 1517, includes the Crusades, the martyrdom of Huss, and the invention of printing. Peter of Bruys, who suffered martyrdom in 1124, was a Baptist minister, who maintained that the church should be composed alone of believers, that all believers should be baptised, and that baptism was of no use unless connected with personal faith. Others followed him in the advocacy of the same principles, giving a great deal of trouble to the Baptists by their denunciations of ecclesiastical corruptions. "The terrible storm which fell upon Southern France in the crnsade against the Albigenses, doubtless swept away many of the Baptist churches, and scattered their surviving members. Notwithstanding the vigilance of the persecutors, great numbers escaped. Italy, Germany, and the Eastern countries of Europe received them." It is clear that "the Morning Star of the Reformation," John Wycliffe, believed that faith was required by those who were baptised, and those who held that infants dying without baptism could not be saved, were regarded by him as "presumptuous and foolish." It is also certain that many of the Lollards, perhaps the majority of them, strongly opposed infant baptism. They were persecuted for this by the Paedobaptists, for it was held to be a grievous departure from the truth to believe that infants could be saved if unbaptised. There has been considerable diversity of opinion among historians as to the Waldenses, and both by those who assert that they were Baptists and by those who maintain thaot they were not, it has been forgotten that they were not distinguished by any uniformity of belief. "If," says Dr. Cramp, "the question relate to the Waldenses in the strict and modern sense of the term, that is, to the inhabitants of the valleys of Piedmont, there is reason to believe that, originally, the majority of them were Baptists, although there were varieties of opinion among them, as well as among other seceders from the Romish church." One of their earlier confessions, has this distinguishing belief, that it is proper and even necessary that believers should use the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but that believers may be saved without either. Immersion in any case was still the mode, and incontrovertible facts, which no one has ventured to dispute, go to prove that it was the universal practice.
Baptists were always equally prepared for conflict and for persecution. At the rise of the Reformation they openly declared themselves, coming out of their obscure positions, where they had long worshipped their Master in quiet seclusion. They were prepared to enlist themselves under the banners of the Reformers. They looked upon the defiant daring men of God whom no ecclesiastical tyranny could tame, no Papal fulminations could awe, no threatenings could silence, as their brothers — bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh. It is much to be regretted that they should have been so bitterly disappointed. The Reformers were not as yet sufficiently wide in their sympathies, nor sufficiently clear in their Protestantism, to extend the right hand of friendship, and loving communion to the despised Baptists. As now, so then, Baptists were a go-a-head race, always prepared to travel beyond others. They were persecuted, destroyed, forsaken, had their possessions confiscated, and
were reduced to the lowest depths of poverty. In spite of the Reformers who were bemisted by Popery, they maintained that the church of Christ should be kept as pure as possible; that there must be no indiscriminate mixing of wheat and tares, as though both were so much akin that there was no difference between them; that believers only were the proper subjects of baptism; that Scripture and Scripture alone was the sole arbiter in all theological disputes; and that civil magistrates and earthly potentates had no control over God's free gift to man — conscience. We, as Baptists of the present day, have precisely the same principles to defend, and in demanding the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish church, that embodiment of injustice and bulwark against the progress of Protestantism in the sister country, we do but propagate opinions and principles which were tenaciously held by the Anabaptists of Reformation days — principles which find their source and authority in Holy Writ.
No one disputes that the conduct of the Baptists of this era was marked at times by folly. Yet it has been the habit too much to magnify their wrong-doings, and to stigmatise all for the acts of some. The Reformers themselves chose out of their vocabulary all the offensive epithets they could, and flung them at their brethren — the Baptists. Latimer denounced them as "pernicious," and their opinions as "devilish." Hooper regarded them as "damnable;" while other and equally mild aspersions were made upon their zeal, their honesty, and even common decency. The Baptists declared their sympathy with Luther in throwing off the Pope's authority, and carried out their principles to their legitimate conclusion, by proclaiming themselves free from Luther's, or any other man's, authority. Then came the Peasant's War, in which Munzer joined, and for which he paid by the forfeiture of his life. Occasion was taken by his connection with the insurgents, to load all Baptists with obloquy and reproach. They were persecuted and hunted down, obliged to worship in woods, far removed from the hot fierce hand of their enemies. An historian of these times, Sebastian Franck, affirms that within a few years no fewer than "two thousand Baptists had testified their faith by imprisonment or martyrdom." Yet despite the odium cast upou them, and the laws of repression enforced against them, they continued to spread in Germany, in Italy, in Switzerland, Austria, and Bavaria. They were hunted like sheep and compelled to emigrate in large numbers to Moravia, and to the Netherlands, where they were not free from the oppressor's yoke. The records of Baptist martyrology are very voluminous. Our readers should be acquainted with the doings and the sufferings of these brethren, who were singled out for unsparing manifestations of cruelty and vengeance. We recommend them carefully to read Dr. Cramp's admirable condensation of their trials during this long and suffering period. One man, by name Jeronimus Segerson, who boldly declared that he would rather be tortured ten times every day, and then finally be roasted on a gridiron, than renounce the faith, was burned at Antwerp. His wife, Lysken, was drowned in a sack — a fitting death it was thought for a Baptist. The account given in the work entitled "Baptist Martyrology," written in Dutch, is very affecting. "She very boldly," we are told, "and undisguisedly confessed her faith at the
tribunal, before the magistrates and the multitude. They first asked her concerning baptism. She said, 'I acknowledge but one baptism, even that which was used by Christ and his disciples, and left to us.' 'What do you hold concerning infant baptism?' asked the sheriff. To which Lysken answered, 'Nothing but a mere infant's baptism, and a human institution.' On this the bench stood up, and consulted together, while Lysken, in the mean time, confessed, and explained clearly to the people the ground of her belief. They then pronounced sentence upon her. Lysken spoke in the following manner to the bench: 'Ye are now judges; but the time will come when ye will wish that ye had been keepers of sheep, for there is a Judge and Lord who is above all; he shall in his own time judge you. But we have not to wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world.'" Two monks visited her in prison, but could not move her from her confidence. "On Saturday morning we rose early, some before day, some with the day-light, to see the nuptials which we thought would then be celebrated; but the crafty murderers outran us. We had slept too long, for they had finished their murderous work between three and four o'clock. They had taken that sheep to the Scheldt, and had put her into a sack, and drowned her before the people arrived, so that few persons saw it. Some, however, saw it. She went courageously to death, and spoke bravely, 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.' Thus she was delivered up, and it came to pass, to the honour of the Lord, that by the grace of God many were moved thereby."
The history of English Baptists is full of interest. From the first they were peculiarly offensive to "the powers that be." Henry the Eighth — who did so much for the Anglican Establishmentarians that he ought to be regarded by them as a pet saint, even as he was befooled and belarded by the intriguing Cranmer — when he assumed the headship of the Anglican church which never acknowledged Christ to be its only Head, proclaimed against two kinds of heretics, viz., those who disputed about baptism and the Lord's Supper; and such as were re-baptised. These Anabaptists were commanded to withdraw from the country at once. Cranmer ordered some to be burnt, and burnt they were. Mr. Kenworthy, the present pastor of the Baptist church at Hill Cliffe, in Cheshire, has stated that if the traditions of the place are to be trusted, the church is five hundred years old. "A tombstone has been lately dug up in the burial ground belonging to that church, bearing date 1357. The origin of the church is assigned to the year 1523. It is evident that there were Baptist communities in this country in the reign of Edward VI, since Ridley, who was martyred in the following reign, had the following among his "Articles of Visitation:" "Whether any of the Ana-baptists' sect or other, use notoriously any unlawful or private conventicles, wherein they do use doctrines or administration of sacraments, separating themselves from the rest of the parish?" A fearful crime which many Anglicans of the present day would be as ready to punish were it not that other notions of religious liberty exist and powerfully influence public opinion. We can trace the same spirit, though in embryo perhaps, in the ritualistic prints of the present age, and indeed in the two delightfully amiable Evangelical newspapers
whose unbounded hatred of all outside the pale of their theology and clique is as relentless and unscrupulous as the bitterest feelings of Papal days. All history teaches that state-churchism means persecution, in one form or another, according to the sentiments of the age; and the only cure for the evil is to put all religions on an equality.
Elizabeth, like her father, found it needful for the peace and quiet of the Anglicans, to banish Baptists from her realm. This she did so effectually that Bishop Jewel congratulated his brethren, in 1560, in the following terms: — "We found at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth a large and inauspicious corps of Arians, Anabaptists, and other pests, which I know not how, but as mushrooms spring up in the night and in darkness, so these sprang up in that darkness and unhappy night of the Marian times. These I am informed, and I hope it is the fact, have retreated before the light of purer doctrine, like owls at the sight of the sun, and are now nowhere to be found; or at least, if anywhere, they are no longer troublesome to our churches." With all this system of repression and persecution, and notwithstanding the emigration of large numbers, many remained in the country, and soon made their appearance, as history attests, in what Dr. Cramp has denominated "the troublous period," which extended from A. D. 1567 to A.D. 1688 — from the days especially of James I to the period when Benjamin Keach suffered in the pillory. For an interesting abstract of the history of our denomination during those times and during the quieter period which followed, with its peculiarities of controversy, and conscientious differences, we must refer our reader to the book which we have already warmly commended to their favour. C. H. Spurgeon ________________
[From The Sword and Trowel, August, 1868; via the 1987 reprint of J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, (front of the book). — Scanned by Jim Duvall]
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