By S.H. Ford
Let us number up the way-marks we have passed. From the persecutions in Virginia just preceding the Revolution, we ascended the stream of colonial history, and found Baptists in the Old Dominion at the time that Holmes, and Clark, and Knollys, were planting the standard of truth and freedom in the wilds of New England. From Virginia and Rhode Island we entered the jail of Bunyan, and beheld Keach on the pillory. With the rise of Luther, and Calvin, and Cranmer, we found Baptists starting forth from their concealment - pouring down like torrents from the mountain fastnesses in every part of Europe. Long before Luther lived, or the Reformation was born, we found them in the vales of the Alps, in the mountains of Wales, and in the forests of England. Henry, Peter de Bruis, and Arnold of Brescia, were among the torch-bearers in the darkness of the middle ages.
In the lovely land of Italy, under the very shadow of the Vatican, the Paterine Baptists were condemned by the persecuting Pope, and described by the classic historian.
From Italy to Constantinople, and from Constantinople to Armenia and Syria, we have traced the Paulician Baptists. From these we again take our line of departure in our search for the head-spring. But ere
we proceed, let us ascend some historic hight [sic] and glance over the surrounding prospect. We are up among the Paulicians in the mountains of Armenia, in the middle of the seventh century. Amid those sublime hights where the family of Noah looked down on a world covered with the slowly receding waters of the deluge, let us take a passing survey of a world now mantled in spiritual night. What a sad, yet not hopeless sight, the world in the seventh century presented. In the distant West, where the tall Alps rise above the glassing lake; where the children of freedom find safety within those mountain walls, the green foliage of the "tree of life" is blooming, the flowers in "the garden of the Lord" send forth their sweet perfume, and the dew of blessing descends on the few and banished children of Christ who are dwelling there together in unity. Still farther west, and among the Pyrenees, the descendants of the banished Novatians, branded as Anabaptists, live in quit peace, devoted to their sovereign Lord. And yonder, in those western isles, where white cliffs gleam in the setting sunlight, a scene of striking interest may be witnessed. Let us look at it.
From Asia Minor, through Paul, or some of his co-laborers, the gospel was carried to Britain. When civil dissension had weakened the power of Rome, and the wild Picts and Scots were continually making inroads upon the helpless inhabitants, when Rome could not defend them, the protection of the hardy Anglo-Saxons was sought; they drove back the Scottish invaders, but became in their turn the owners and rulers of the island. A Saxon kingdom of Pagans was established, and the old British Christians were driven toward Wales. Pope Gregory sent a monk named Austin to convert these Saxon Pagans, who came with his tribe of muttering and persecuting monks to carry out the commands of his ghostly lord. He won over the Saxons. He made
disciples of them by wholesale baptisms. His next step was to attempt the conversion of those apostolic churches over to Christendom - that is, Popery and infant baptism. The old British Churches differed in regard to baptism, as well as in many other things, with those Romanist missionaries. An old British, or rather Welsh pastor, named Deynock, whose opinion in ecclesiastical affairs had the most weight with his countrymen, when urged by Austin to submit in all things to the ordinances of the Roman Church, returned the following remarkable answer:"We are all ready to listen to the church of God, to the Pope of Rome, and every pious Christian; that so we may show to each, according to his station, proper love, and uphold him by word and deed. We know not that any other obedience can be required of us toward him whom you call the Pope, or the father of fathers. But this obedience we are ready to render to him and to every Christian."*A council or convention was afterward held between Austin and the Welsh preachers, at which the latter declared that they could do nothing without a full representation from their churches. Finally the Britons refused to enter into any terms of agreement with Austin. "Well, then," said the haughty priest, "as you will not have us as friends, you shall as foes, and experience the vengeance of the Saxons."+
His threat was carried out. The college at Bangor was destroyed; the preachers were massacred, and over two thousand of these primitive Christians in Hereford were sacrificed to the demon of apostasy.**
The question arises, were these ancient British Christians Baptists? That they did not originate from Rome is most evident; that they never had adopted her profane
* Neander, vol. iii, p. 17.
+ Neander’s Eccl. Hist. Ang. Fuller’s History English Churches, vol. i.
** Dupin, Eccl. His., vol., p. 90. Fox’s Martyrs, vol. i, p. 135.
rites, her wholesale baptisms, her councils and decretals, is unquestionable. Were they Baptists? They had not Episcopal head or archbishop among them who could speak and act authoritatively from the rest, as is most evident from the fact that Deynock, the old Pastor who had so much influence among them, could not represent and act for the churches. That they were not Episcopalians is evident to any one who will read the account of the convention under the oak; in which, though a large number of their principal men were assembled to meet and confer with Austin, they would not and could not speak for their churches; they possessing no such authority. They evidently belonged to independent churches, which regarded the humblest Christian as being quite as good authority as the Pope or his church council. Such is the plain language of Deynock, as given above. So far they were Baptists.
Further, we are told by Neander, (and with him agree all the more ancient church histories,) that they differed with Austin in regard to the mode of baptism; for it appears that while he immersed as a usual thing, he sprinkled, according to Roman indulgence, the infant and the dying. The primitive British Churches, therefore, must have been rigid immersionists; else how could they have differed with Austin about the mode? But, in addition to this, the old English Chronicle says:
"and thus hed wuneden here
an hundred and five yere
that neure com here cristendom
i cud i thissen londe
no belle i-rungen
no masse isunge
no chirche ther nes i-haleyed
no child ther nes ifuleyed."
The modern English of which is:
"And thus they dwelt here
An hundred and five years
So that never christening
Came here to be known in the land,
Nor bell rung, nor church hallowed,
Nor child was there baptized."
Such is the historic chronicle of England, the only form in which the history of that dark period has come down to us. And the evidence is conclusive that there was no infant baptism in England till it was brought there from Rome by Austin and his monks. Here there were independent churches against whose theology no complaint could be brought which rejected the authority and formalities of Rome; believed in a spiritual birth; rigidly enforced immersion, and knew nothing about infant baptism. They were Baptists in church government, in theology, in practice; uncompromising Baptists, who were ready to perish rather than yield a principle. Where did they come from? Not from Popery; not from the Gnostics, or Oriental sects; nor from the apostate Greek hierarchy. IT IS ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THE BANGOR CHRISTIANS WERE PLANTED BY THE APOSTOLIC EVANGELISTS, whose principles an practices they maintained, and it has been demonstrated that THESE PRIMITIVE BANGOR DISCIPLES WERE BAPTISTS. Driven back by Austin and the Saxons, they continued under the protection of Heaven and the Welsh mountains, preaching Christ and administering his ordinances, down through all the changes, and darkness, and persecution of the middle ages, until, like the descendants of the Paulicians, charging the moral atmosphere with those elements which burst forth in the sixteenth century in the great Reformation.
But from the point we have reached in the regions of Armenia in the seventh century, we must inquire for the origin of those Paulicians. After Neander had dwelt with painful minuteness on the corruptions of the old Greek Church, he says:
"We have yet to speak of the reaction of the Christian consciousness within the church against this ecclesiastical system, which had been forming by the combing Christian with foreign elements; a reaction on the part of rising and spreading sects that stood forth in opposition to the dominant church, presenting a series of remarkable phenomena of the religious spirit, extending through the medieval centuries, and accompanying the progressive development of the church theoretical system.These Paulicians were then, according to Neander, and every other impartial historian, one of those sects which arose in the early period of the Christian Church; one of those sects which broke off from the majority on the first introduction of Jewish ceremonies, circumcision, or its substitute, infant baptism, episcopacy, priesthood, instrumental music, imitations of the Pagan temples, and, finally, baptismal regeneration, image worship, APOSTASY.
"In spite of fire and sword, the remains of those sects which arose in the early period of the Christian Church, had been still pressed in those districts. These sects having from the first stood out against the union of Christianity with Judaism, now entered into the contest against those doctrines and institutions in particular which had grown out of the mixture of Jewish with Christian elements."*
Manichaeus was a slanderous name, indicating that they mixed with their Christianity some notions of the Persian Pagans. It was a baseless calumny. "We find nothing at all, however," says Neander, "in the doctrines of the Paulicians, which would lead us to presume that they were an offshoot from Manichaeism." The ancient origin and the Baptist principles of these Paulicians are thus demonstrated. Covering the hills and vales of Armenia, receiving fresh accessions from the persecutions of the Greek Church, and exerting an influence which reacted on Europe and the world; connected by the bonds of harmonious brotherhood with the banished Donatists, the spiritual Novatians, and the Cathari, or Paterine Baptists of Europe, these
* (Neander, vol. iii, p. 214).
Paulicians, on the lofty table-lands and mountain slopes of Armenia, rose like a monument above the waste of all that was spiritual and all that was true, A MILESTONE IN THE MARCH OF TIME.
Whence comes these people called Baptists?
[From: Samuel H. Ford, The Origin of the Baptists, 1860, republished by the Baptist Sunday School Committee, 1905 edition, Chapter IX - "Century Eight," pp. 65-71. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Essays by Samuel Ford
Baptist History Homepage