“Whatever is designed to fit every thing will fit nothing well." Dr. Johnson.
“Names are intended to distinguish Things.” Our Work is called,
THE BAPTIST MAGAZINE because it is intended to be a Repository; for the Baptists' use.
Brief Memoirs of the English Baptists.
From the First Plantation of the Gospel in Britain,
to the Introduction of Popery.
ABOUT sixty years after Christ ascended to glory, his kingdom came into our Land. Which of the Messengers of his grace were sent to prepare the way of the Lord in our wilderness is quite uncertain. Some say Paul, and his companions, others Simon Zelotes, or Simon the Canaanite, others James the son of Zebedee, or Aristobulus. Certain Roman Catholics will have it. that Peter first preached the gospel to the Britons, but other Papists seem sure Joseph of Arimathea was the man. That he built the first church at Glastonbury, and by direction from Gabriel, the Archangel, dedicated it to the Virgin Mary; but we believe not their sayings. Wh9soever Immanuel first despatched to shew our countrymen the way of Salvation, they doubtless taught, He that believeth, and is baptized, shall he saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned. Nor did they preach in vain,” for in Britain, as in other places, Many of those which heard the word believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and were baptized both men and women. Thus, it appears to us, that
The first British Christians were Baptists.
Some of them, particularly Arviragus, Brennus, Linus, Lucius Claudia, and Pomponia, were of royal blood, but many of
inferior birth were called to be saints. Christianity soon made considerable progress in the land, and Christians cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Zealously affected in a good thing, they either destroyed their idol's temples, or devoted them to the worship of Jehovah, Filled with the Spirit, they behaved well in the church of God, and walked in wisdom towards them that were without. The candle of the Lord shone upon their heads, and his secret was upon their tabernacles; they washed their steps with butter, sat under their vines and fig-trees, without fear, and waxed stronger and stronger in grace and number.
But after a season, their adversary, the devil, moved wicked then to weaken them by the way. Ten times did those wolves in sheep's clothing, called Emperors of Rome, persecute the flock of Christ. The last of these ten persecutions, under Dioclesian, in 305, was the most furious of them all, and its rage was felt in Britain. Beside Alban, of Verulum, now called St. Albans, Aaron and Julius of Carlisle, and other men of great note, an immense multitude of our brethren were slain for Religion. We therefore apprehend that
The first British Martyrs were Baptists.
Their places of worship were thrown down, the holy scriptures burnt in the streets, and Christianity almost routed out of the land. This dreadful calamity did not last long, in little more than a year the indignation was overpast. As soon as it was gone by, the remnant of the faithful, who had fled into woods and rocks for refuge from the storm, and had their lives for a prey, left their solitary abodes, rebuilt their Meeting-houses, revived as the corn, grew as the vine, and cast forth their roots as Lebanon.
About this time the Emperor Constantius resided in Britain, was favourable to Christianity, saved the followers of the Lamb from them that hated them, and would suffer no man to do them wrong. It is said he died at York, in 306. His son Constantine the Great, born in Britain, succeeded his father in the empire, professed to believe in Christ, and was baptized about the year 310. As soon as the Emperor had declared himself a Christian, his great men. did the same, for it has ever been a rule with courtiers to follow the court. Therefore the Nobles aid the chief Officers of the empire, rose up as one man, and by the voice of their conduct, said to their master, Whither thou goest, we will go, and where thou lodgest, we will lodge, thy people shall be our people, and thy God our God. With what degree of sincerity we leave. This is certain, great numbers of the common people in various countries
followed their example, and nations of professors were born at once. The church had a great accession of power, wealth, honor, and people, but we fear did not altogether hold fast the form of sound words. How our British brethren acted in this time of temptation we cannot fully determine. It is possible that a few of them inclined to Arianism, but, considered as a Body, we have reason to believe they continued sound in the faith and zealous of good works. For a season the church had rest, but the time was short. More than 360 years Britain had been a province of Rome, but now the empire began to fall; and upon the irruption of the Goths into Italy, in 410, the Emperor Honorius was obliged to withdraw his forces, both Roman and British, from our Island to defend himself upon the Continent; and liberty and monarchy returned again to the Britons. But the kingdom being left without a sufficient military defence, it was soon invaded and sadly harassed by the Scots and Picts, therefore king Vortigern, by the advice of his subjects, in the year 447, invited the Saxons to come and assist him in the defence of his dominions. They came, at first, as friends, but soon turned foes, quarrelled with the Britons, and after many severe battles, made a complete conquest of the country; and in 593 divided it amongst themselves. As soon as these savage Pagans were possessed of the kingdom, they threw down Christianity, and set up their own idolatry; plundered the country from sea to sea, and destroyed every vestige of true religion they found in their way. Cities, towns, and villages, were set on fire; the flames spread over the whole land; and places of worship, and public and private buildings, fell in one common ruin. Pastors and their people, citizens and peasants, perished by fire and sword, without distinction, no one daring to give their scattered bodies an honourable funeral!
But notwithstanding these dreadful events, the cause of Christ did not become extinct in the nation. Many of our brethren fled into Cornwall and Wales for safety, and the people that were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness. The Lord remembered them in their low estate, and therefore, though troubled, they were not distressed, though perplexed, they did not despair. Though persecuted they were not forsaken, though cast down they were not destroyed.
While the church of God, in Britain, languished under oppression, the man of sin, at Rome, gathered strength to impose his abominations upon mankind. About the year 596, Pope Gregory, the Great, (and a great deceiver. He was,) sent Austin, the Monk, and a company of his brethren, into England, to convert the Saxons from Paganism to Popey; the enterprize succeeded, and conversion (or rather perversion) work was performed on a large scale.
King Ethelbert had lately married a Catholic princess, daughter of the French king. The queen favoured the Papal mission; Austin was graciously received at court; the king soon became a Romish new creature, and advised his subjects to follow his example. Though quite ignorant, both of Christianity and Popery, the people well understood the importance of obeying the king's counsel, and firmly believed it would be dangerous for them to do otherwise. Believers, of this description, abounded, openly declared what their Lord had done for them, and offered to be baptized into their faith. Austin performed the mummery of consecrating the river Swale, near York, for the purpose, and so grossly abused the ordinance of baptism to promote the cause of superstition, that he obliged multitudes of the Saxons to enter the water, and immerse themselves; or otherwise commanded by the voice of cryers, that the people should go into the river, confidently, two by two, and in the name of the Trinity immerse one another by turns. It is said that upon a Christmas day, in some such manner. as we have recited, ten thousand people were translated from the service of the sun, moon, and stars, their ancient idols, to the worship of Antichrist, a seven-headed and ten-horned monster, covered with vermin like frogs and locusts, and kept for the amusement of a most impure harlot, drunk with the blood of the Saints!
Austin, having met with so much success in England, resolved to try what he could do in Wales. The British Christians who had fled there from the persecutions of the Saxons, were now become very numerous, and the priest determined, if possible, to bring them within the pale of his church. Therefore he held a synod in their neighbourhood, and sent to their pastors to request they would receive the Pope's commandments, and walk in the same all the days of their lives; but they would not. He then offered to capitulate with them on more moderate terms. These were his words, “Sins ye wol not assent to my hests generally, assent ye to me specially in three things. The first is, that ye keep Ester day in the fourme and time as it is ordained. The second, that ye geve Christendome to children, and the thyrde is, that ye preach unto the Anglis the word of God, as I have exhorted you?” But they would none of his counsel. It therefore seems evident, that
The first British Protestants were Baptists.
Austin finding he could not prevail with them to change the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of a beast, threatened them, saying, “Sins ye wol not receive peace of your brethren, ye shall of other have warre and wretche.” Accordingly he brought
the Saxons upon them to shed their innocent blood, and many of them lost their lives for the name of Jesus. Those that escaped this horrid massacre, not at all discouraged by the slaughter of their brethren, with purpose of heart cleaved to the Lord. And as their history from the earliest times expressly mentions the baptizing of adult persons, and is totally silent respecting baptizing of infants, it appears to us that there was no such practice as infant baptism in England before Austin came hither. And therefore. we conclude that from the first plantation of the Gospel in our land, down to about the year 596, all our Christian countrymen were Baptists. The church was now divided into two parts, the old, and the new. The Members of the old, or Baptist Church, continued to maintain the right of private judgement, and held fast their usual simplicity and integrity.
“Their ministers were low and liefe
And loved theyr flocks to feede,
They never chosen to be chiefe
And simple was theyr weede.”
Their people, fought the good fight of faith, whereunto they were called, and were ready to give an answer to every one that asked them a reason of the hope that was in then with meekness and fear. The new church adopted infant baptism, but for the most part continued in the practice of their full grown vices. Their priests were haughty, covetuous, vain, indolent, and foppish. To encourage the people to support them in their pride and folly, they allowed them to add new hypocrisy to old superstition, and enjoy their Pagan routs under Popish names. This is manifest from the following order given by Pope Gregory to Austin. “Whereas there is a custom among the Saxons to slay abundance of oxen, and sacrifice them to the Devil; you must not abolish that custom, but appoint a new festival to be kept either on the day of the consecration of churches, or on the birth day of the Saints, whose relics are deposited there; and on those days, the Saxons may be allowed to make arbours round their temples, changed into churches, to kill their oxen, and to feast as they did while they were yet Pagans!" Nor do we consider it at all impossible, that Austin, in order to secure his popularity, might now and then sit down with his disciples, and eat at the devil's table.
It is matter of fact, that the wretched devotion we have mentioned was sanctioned by church and state, and that Popery became the established religion of the land. If any one should observe, that at this time Popery was not arrived at the full measure of the stature of Antichrist; we reply, that in its earliest infancy, Popery was a Mystery of Iniquity. As a reward, we suppose, for his meritorious services, the Pope made Austin a Saint, and the king
created him Archbishop of Canterbury. But some Papal saints have been found sad sinners, and Roman Catholic Archbishops, have been sometimes no other than wolves in sheep's clothing. This saint, who brought Infant Baptism to England, died in the year 604. But it affords us unspeakable pleasure to remark, that have in our time Paedobaptists who are far more excellent Christians than ever Austin or his disciples were. Men of sound piety, great abilities, and eminent usefulness in the church of God. And however our sentiments on Baptism may differ from theirs, we affectionately esteem them as our brethren in Christ, and rejoice in hope, that when that which is in part is done away, and that which is perfect is come, we shall harmonize in opinion of divine things, and with one heart and voice ascribe Blessing and honor, glory and power unto him that sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb for ever.
(To be continued) ===========
[From The Baptist Magazine, 1810, Volume II, pp. 2-6. From Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More British Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage