The Origin of the Baptists
By Samuel H. Ford, 1860
The vale of Carleon is situated between England and the mountainous parts of Wales, just at the foot of the mountains. It was for centuries the Piedmont of the Welsh. The Welsh Alps, Mount Merthyn and Tydfyl, the recesses and caverns, were the hiding-places of Christ’s lambs. In this vale, as in other portions of Wales, the ordinances of Christ had been administered since the time of the Apostles. So soon as the Reformation occurred in England, and spread into Wales, communication was at once opened between the obscure followers of Christ in the mountain fortresses, and the awakened clergy of the establishment. Of the latter, three distinguished men adopted the sentiments held by those Welsh heretics, who claimed descent from the Apostles. Their names were Perry, Wroth and Ebury. These henceforth were called the Baptist Reformers, because they were of the Reformation, and had joined with the Baptists. We will now let the History of the Welsh Baptists present the facts in the case:"It is no wonder that Perry, Wroth, and Ebury, commonly called the first Baptist Reformers in Wales, should have so many followers at once, when we consider that the field of their labors was the vale of Carleon and its vicinity. As they were learned men belonging to that religion established by law, and particularly as they left that establishment and joined the poor Baptists, their names are handed down to posterity, not only by their friends, but also by
their foes, because more notice was taken of them than of those scattered Baptists on the mountains of the principality (Wales). If this denomination had existed in the country since the year 63, and so severely persecuted, it must be, by this time, an old thing. But the men who left the Popish establishment were the chief objects of their rage, particularly as they headed the sect everywhere spoken against, and recognized Baptist Churches. The vale Olchon, also, is situated between mountains almost inaccessible. How many hundred years it had been inhabited by Baptists before William Ebury, it is impossible to tell. It is a fact that can not be controverted, that there were Baptists here at the commencement of the Reformation; and no man upon earth can tell when the church was formed, and who began to baptize in this little Piedmont. Whence came these Baptists? It is universally thought to be the oldest church, but how old none can tell. We know that, at the separation, they had a minister named HOWELL VAUGHAN, quite a different sort of Baptist from Ebury, Wroth, Vavasor, Powell, and others, who had come out from the Established Church. And this is not to be wondered at; for they had dissented from the Church of England, and had, probably, brought some of her corruptions with them. But the mountain Baptists were not (Protestants or) dissenters from the establishment. We know the Reformers were for mixed communion, but the Olcan received no such practice."*These are most conclusive evidences that William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into the English language, and the four books of Moses into the Welsh language, in 1536, was a Welsh Baptist of that plain, strict, apostolic order. He lived most of his time in Gloucester, England; but Llewellyn Tyndale and Hezekiah Tyndale were members of the Baptist Church in Abergavenny, South Wales. + The text of Mosheim is thus fully illustrated by facts. Baptists lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe before the rise of Calvin and Luther.
[Today's description: Largest historical region of the Czech lands in the present-day Czech Republic.]
A deep forest, extending three hundred miles in length, and two hundred in breadth, was, in the days of Roman triumph, settled by a tribe of Celts called Boii,
* [Joshua] Thomas’s, History [of] Welsh Baptists. Also History of Welsh Baptists, by J. Da[v]is, p. 17.
+ Da[v]is’s History Welsh Baptists, p.21.
who fled to its shelter to avoid the Roman yoke. Hence the word "Bohemia," under which are now included the countries of Silesia and Moravia. A short time before the birth of Christ, Caesar described this Hercynian Forest thus:"It is nine day’s journey over. It begins on the confines of the Helvetii, Nemetes, and Rauraci, (that is, Switzerland, Basil, and Spires,) and extends along the Danube to the borders of the Daci and Anartes, (that is, Transylvania,) there turning from the river to the left, it runs through an infinite number of countries. No one could ever yet come to the end of it or know its utmost extent, though some have gone sixty days’ journey into it."This was the Hercynian Forest, of which the Black Forest was then a part. Amid its depths, Paul tells us he preached the gospel of Christ, and it tribes were visited by Titus.* In this wilderness, before the rise of Luther, Mosheim tells us, were Baptists. Thousands of them claim to have been sheltered there in the wilderness from the wrath of the dragon. Is it true? In 1519, six years before Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms, a letter was addressed to Erasmus from Bohemia, thus describing this people:"These men have no other opinion of the Pope, cardinals, bishops, and other clergy than of manifest Antichrists. They call the Pope sometimes the beast, and sometimes the whore, mentioned in the Revelation. Their own bishops and priests, they themselves do choose for themselves, ignorant and unlearned laymen, that have wife and children. They mutually salute one another by the name of brother and sister. They own no other authority than the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. They slight all the doctors, both ancient and modern, and give no regard to their doctrine. Their priests, when they celebrate the offices of mass, (or communion,) do it without any priestly garments; nor do they use any prayer, or collects on this occasion, but only the Lord’s Prayer, by which they consecrate bread that has been leavened. They believe, or own little or nothing of the sacraments of the church. Such as come over to their sect, must every one be baptized anew in mere water. They make no blessing of salt, nor of water; nor make any use of consecrated oil. They believe nothing of divinity in the sacraments of the eucharist; only that the consecrated
* Romans XV:19, 28; 2 Timothy iv:16.
bread and wine do, by some occult signs, represent the death of Christ; and, accordingly, that all that do knee down to it, or worship, are guilty of idolatry; that that sacrament was instituted by Christ to no other purpose but to renew the memory of his passion, and not to be carried about or held up by the priests to be gazed on. For Christ himself, who is to be adored and worshipped with the honor of Latreia, sits at the right of God, as the Christian Church confesses in the Creed. Prayers to saints, and for the dead, they count a vain and ridiculous thing; as likewise auricular confession and penance enjoined by the priest for sins. Eves and fast-days are, they say, a mockery and disguise of hypocrites."Every word in this description points out Baptists. Two of these brethren waited on Erasmus at Antwerp, to congratulate him on his bold statements of truth. He declined their congratulations, and reproached them as Anabaptists.* Luther and the German Reformers, whom they joyfully welcomed into the light, turned from them with antipathy and cheerlessly they returned to their concealment in the depths of their native forests to tell their brethren "They are adverse to us because of our name - i.e. Anabaptists."+ They acknowledged the charge; they owned themselves Baptists. But their concealment, their principles, and their numbers were known. Entreaty, sophistry, and threats were used in vain to influence, pervert, or intimidate them. They appealed to God’s word, and were unwavering.
Their destruction was planned and brutally executed. An edict for their banishment was obtained from the Emperor, and Protestants and Catholics rejoiced in its enforcement. About forty thousand Baptists were proscribed. His majesty, in the edict, expresses his astonishment at the number of Anabaptists, and his horror at their principal error, which was, that they would submit to no human authority on matters of religion. The edict was published just three weeks before the harvest and
* Adversarii nobis hunc titulum-ie., Anabaptistarum, Apud Lydium. Robinson’s Researches, p. 506).
+ Erasmus’s Answer is in Camerarus de Eccl. Fratrum, p. 125.
vintage came on, that these poor people might not be able to carry away the produce of their toil. Their lands were to be forfeited to the emperor, and they banished to beggary. And three weeks after the proclamation of the edict, death would be inflicted on any of them found in the borders of the country.* And thus is the scene described:"It was autumn, the prospect and the pride of husbandmen. Heaven had smiled on their honest labors. Their fields stood thick with corn; and the sun and the dew were improving every moment to give them their last polish. The yellow ears waved an homage to their owners; and the wind, whistling through the stems and the russet herbage, softly said, Put in the sickle, the harvest is come. Their luxuriant vine leaves, too, hung aloft by the tendrils, mantling over the clustering grapes, like watchful parents over their tender offspring; but all were fenced by an imperial edict, and it was instant death to approach. Without leaving one murmur upon record, in solemn, silent submission to the power that governs the universe and causes all things to work together for good to his creatures, they packed up and departed. In several hundred carriages they conveyed their sick, the innocent infants sucking at the breasts of their mothers who had newly lain-in, and their decrepit parents, whose work was done, and who silvery locks told every beholder that they wanted only the favor of a grave. At the borders they filed off, some to Hungary, others to Transylvania, some to Wallachia, others to Poland and Sach-hel -- greater, far greater for their virtue, than Ferdinand for all his titles and for all his glory."Ah, me! what a sad pilgrimage was that! Sad! No; it was sublime. And when the triumphal march of bannered legions, flushed with victory and crowned with glory, shall have been forgotten, the memory of these men, their pilgrimage, their tears, their sublime, trusting silence will be held in everlasting remembrance. Bohemian Baptists, forty thousand of them, who sent messengers to cheer the German Reformers at the first dawn of the Reformation; who lay concealed in the dark forests of Dalmatia, "before the rise of Calvin and Luther." Where did they come from?
* Carafa, p. 133, quoted by [Robert] Robinson in Researches.
Luther, in his strugglings into light, had boldly written at the commencement of his career as a Reformer, these words:"The term ‘baptism’ is Greek, and may be rendered ‘dipping,’ as when we dip anything all over, so that it is covered all over; and although the custom is now abolished among many, (for they do not dip children, but only pour on a little water,) yet they ought to be wholly immersed, and immediately taken out; the etymology of the word seems to require this. The Germans call baptism taufffrom tieff, depth, signifying that to baptize is to plunge into the depth. And, indeed, if we consider the design of baptism, we shall see that this is requisite."*He had also said:"If you receive the sacraments without faith, you bring yourselves into great difficulty, for we oppose against your practice the saying of Christ, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’"+What wonder that from their concealment came forth the banished, enfeebled, downtrodden Baptists, to hail him as a brother. And so they did. "The drooping spirits of these people," says Mosheim, "who had been dispersed through many countries, and persecuted everywhere, were revived when they were informed of Luther’s course. Then they spoke with openness and freedom." But some years afterward he became their foe, and notwithstanding what he had said about dipping, persecuted them as redippers or Anabaptists. Among these German Baptists was one MUNZER, on whose noble efforts to break the fetters of political slavery so much insult and falsehood have been heaped. But Munzer was a Popish priest. He followed Luther in his reforming projects. "Thomas Munzer," says D’Aubign? "was not without talent. Certain mystical writings, which he had read in his youth, had given a
* Luther, De Pedobaptism, p. 71.
+ Luther’s Works, tome vii.
false direction to his thoughts. He made his first appearance at Zwickau; quitted Wittemberg on Luther’s return thither; and, not willing to hold a secondary place in general esteem, became pastor of the small town of Alstadt." He was then a reforming parish priest, and not till years after was he known or named as an Anabaptist. So that before Munzer left Rome and joined the political party engaged in the Munster Rebellion, Luther and Erasmus, as well as the Pope, had denounced and persecuted the thousands of Baptists scattered through Europe. But of Poland we might speak; of Switzerland also, and the persecution there, of almost every country in Europe. Is the statement of the Pedobaptist historian sustained? Let it be repeated: "Before the rise of Luther and Calvin there lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe many persons who adhered tenaciously to the doctrines of the Anabaptists." Thousands upon thousands in the mountain fastnesses, amid the sheltered valleys of the Alps, in the deep forests of Illyricum, and the obscure glens of England, were Baptists. The torch of truth, which lit their places of concealment, revealing the blackness of the deep rayless night which surrounded them, flashed unnoticed into the cell of the hermit and the monk, and, under God’s guiding eye, directed priests and scholars to his holy word. That torch, which these Baptists had borne steadily aloft and handed down along their blood-tracked path, at length lit up the world in the blaze of splendor which burst forth at the Reformation! that became an epoch, a milestone, in the march of Christ’s witnesses. Beyond it, before it, we have found these witnesses, these Baptists. The inquiry again recurs, WHERE DO THESE BAPTISTS COME FROM?
* D’Aubigne’, vol. iii p. 148).
[From: Samuel H. Ford, The Origin of the Baptists, 1860, republished by the Baptist Sunday School Committee, 1905 edition, Chapter IV - "Century Fifteen," pp. 31-37; the title is supplied. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Essays by Samuel Ford
Baptist History Homepage