John Smyth had been a clergyman of the Church of England, and held the living of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. On leaving that Church he became a minister among the Brownists, who esteemed him so highly that Bishop Hall calls him their "oracle in general." After a toilsome and perilous service of about fifteen years, during which he and his friends had suffered much from Elizabethan tyranny, it was deemed necessary to abandon the field, in order to preserve life and liberty. In the year 1606 he joined a party of emigrants who settled in Amsterdam. There they united with an English Church which had been formed some time before. But Mr. Smyth's connection with that Church was not of long duration. He had left
the Church of England for the Brownists, and now more mature reflection led him to take another step. The Brownists denied that the Church of England was a true Church, and therefore they re-ordained all ministers who went over to them from that Church, accounting its ordinances null and void. But they did not re-baptize. This appeared to Mr. Smyth an inconsistency. He thought that if the ordination was invalid, the baptism was no less so. Investigation followed, which was extended to the whole question of baptism, and issued in the conviction that believers are the only subjects of the ordinance, and that immersion is essential to it. Some of Mr. Smyth's friends shared in the conviction. There has been much dispute respecting the manner in which they proceeded, some maintaining that Smyth baptized himself and then baptized the others. It is a thing of small consequence. Baptists do not believe in Apostolic succession, as it is commonly held. But the probability is, that one of the brethren baptized Mr. Smyth, and that he then baptized the others. The number of these brethren soon increased greatly. A Church was formed, of which Mr. Smyth was chosen pastor. At his death, which took place in 1611, Mr. Thomas Helwys was appointed in his place. In the above-mentioned year, before Mr. Smyth's death, the Church published a Confession of Faith, in twenty-six articles.
[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871; reprint, 1987, pp. 254-255. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on Cramp's British Bios
More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage