A History of the English Baptists
By Joseph Ivimey, 1811
London: Printed for the Author
1602 - 1625 AD
The persecuted puritans found in Holland an asylum which sheltered them from the rage of their enemies; and with the permission of the states, they founded churches at Amsterdam, Arnheim, Middleburg, Leyden, and other places. One of the churches at Amsterdam was founded by Mr. John Smyth, and was of the Baptist denomination. (Life of Ainsworth p. 36)
In order to preserve the connection of our history, it will be necessary to give some account of Mr. Smyth, who was the first pastor of this church. He was one of the disciples of Robert Brown, from whom the Brownists derived their name. At what time he embraced these sentiments, we are not informed; but he is spoken of as one of their leaders in 1592. He was previously a beneficed minister in the church of England, at Gainsborough, in Lincolnshire. Before his secession, he spent nine months in studying the controversy, and held a disputation with Mr. Hildersham, and some other divines, on conformity to the ceremonies, and on the use of prescribed forms of prayer. In the above-mentioned county, and on the borders of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, the principles of the separation had made an extensive impression. Mr. Smyth, the pastor of one of their churches, and Mr. Robinson and Mr. Clifton, the co-pastors of another church, being harassed by the High commission court, removed with their followers to Holland. Mr. Smyth and his followers settled at Amsterdam, 1606, and joined themselves to the English church of which Johnson was pastor, and Ainsworth teacher. It was not long, however, before a serious breach took place. The subjects of debate which gave rise to this division, are said to have been certain opinions very similar to those afterwards espoused by the Arminians. Mr. Smyth is said to have maintained the doctrines of free will and universal redemption; to have oppsed the predestination of particular individuals to eternal life, and the doctrine of original sin; and to have maintained that believers might fall from that grace which would have saved them, if they had continued in it. In addition to this, Mr. Smyth differed from them on the subject of baptism. The steps which led him to the rejection of infant baptism, were the following.
The Brownists denied that the church of England was a true church, and that her ministers acted under a divine commission, and consequently considered every ordinance administered by them null and void. They were guilty, however, of this inconsistency, that while they reordained their ministers, they did not renew their baptism. The impropriety of this conduct was discovered by Mr. Smyth, whose doubts concerning the validity of baptism in the established church, led him eventually to renounce infant baptism altogether. Upon a further consideration of the subject, he saw reason to conclude that immersion was the true and proper meaning of the word baptism, and that it should be administered to those only who were capable of professing faith in Christ.
The other ministers of the separation appear to have treated Mr. Smyth with great asperity. They charged him with having proclaimed open war against God's everlasting covenant, and as being one who would murder the souls of babes and sucklings, by depriving them of the visible seals of salvation. They also said, that not being able to find any minister who had been baptized on a profession of faith, and objecting to the doctrinal sentiments of the German Baptists, he had profaned the covenant by first baptizing himself, and afterwards his followers.
In England, the learned and excellent Bishop Hall employed his pen against him and the ministers of the separation, in a work entitled, A common Apology of the Church of England, against the unjust challengers of the over just sect, commonly called Brownists, &c. The dedication prefixed to this work is as follows "To our gracious and blessed mother, the church of England, the meanest of all her children dedicates this her apology, and wisheth all peace and happiness." The Bishop proceeds by saying, "no less than a year and a half is past since I wrote a loving monitory letter to two of thine unworthy sons, (Smyth and Robinson) which I heard were fled from thee in person, in affection, and somewhat in opinion. Supposing them yet thine in the main substance, though in some circumstances their own. Since which, one of them hath washed off thy font-water as unclean, and hath written desperately against three and his own fellows."
It is remarkable that the bishop says nothing of Mr. Smyth's having baptized himself, which from the particular way in which he speaks of him and of what he considered his errors, he doubtless would have done, if this had been the case. There is no doubt but this silly charge was fabricated by his enemies, and it is an astonishing instance of credulity that writers of eminent talents have contributed to perpetuate the slander. The character which Bishop Hall gives of him, renders this charge altogether improbable. Addressing Mr. Robinson, he says, "My knowledge of Master Smyth whom you followed, and yourself, would not let me think of you as you deserved. The truth is, my charity and your uncharitableness, have led us to mistake each other. I hoped you had been one of their guides; both because Lincolnshire was your country, and Master Smyth your oracle and general. I wrote not to you alone. What is become of your partners, yea, your guide? Woe is me, he hath renounced Christendom with our church, and hath washed off his former waters with new, and now condemns you for separating so far. He tells you true: your station is unsafe: either you must go forward to him, or back to us. There is no remedy: either you must go forward to anabaptism, or come back to us. All your rabbins cannot answer that charge of your rebaptized brother. If we be a true church, you must return; if we be not, as a false church is no church of God, you must rebaptize. If our baptism be good, then is our constitution good. As for the title of ring-leader, wherewith I stiled this pamphleteer; if I have given him too much honour in his sect, I am sorry. Perhaps I should have put him, (pardon a homely, but in this sense not unusual, word) in the tail of his train: perhaps I should have endorsed my letter to Master Smyth and his shadow." (p. 723-794)
From all these expressions, which show the eminence of Mr. Smyth among the ministers of the separation, it is evident he was considered as a person of great consequence, and that his disciples were very numerous. This corroborates which is said by Ephraim Pagit; that "he was accounted one of the grandees of the separation, and that he and his followers did at once as it were swallow up all the rest of the separation." (Heresiography, p. 62,64)
In the introduction prefixed to a work printed in Holland in the year 1609, and entitled, The character of the Beast, or the false constitution of the church discovered in certain passages betwist Mr. R. Clifton and John Smyth, concerning the Christian baptism of new creatures or new born babes in Christ: and false baptism of infants born after the flesh. Referred to two propositions, 1. That infants are not to be baptized. 2. That Antichristians converted are to be admitted into the true church by baptism. Mr. Smyth thus speaks in vindication of the separation of himself and friends from the Brownists, because infant baptism was retained in their churches:--"Be it known therefore to all the separation, that we account them in respect of their constitution to be as very a harlot as either her mother England, or her grandmother Rome is, out of whose loins she came; And although once in our ignorance we have acknowledged her a true church; yet nowbeing better informed, we revoke this our erroneous judgment, and protest against her as well for her false constitution as for her false ministry, worship, and government. The true constitution of the church is of a new creature, baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: the false constitution is of infant's baptized, &c."
The manner of his reasoning concerning the restoration of the ordinance of baptism, when lost, is as follows. "The Anabaptists, as you call them, do not set up a new covenant and gospel, though they set up a new or apostolic baptism, which antichrist had overthrown: and whereas you say they have no warrant to baptize themselves, I say, as much as you have to set up a new church, yea, fully as much. For if a true church may be erected, which is the most noble ordinance of the new testament, then much more baptism: and if a true church cannot be erected without baptism, for baptism is the visible sign of the church, as disciples are the matter; then seeing you confess that a true church may be erected, you cannot deny (though you do deny it in opposing the truth) that baptism may be also recovered. And seeing, when all Christ's visible ordinances are lost, either men must recover them again, or must let them alone: if they let them alone till extraordinary men come with miracles and tongues, as the apostles did, then men are Familists; (for that is their opinion) or if they must recover them, men must begin so to do; and then two men joining together can make a church, as you say. Why might they not then baptize, seeing they cannot conjoin into Christ without baptism? (Matt. 28:19; 28:10; Gal. 3:27.) But it is evident that all Christ's commandments must be obeyed: ergo, this commandment of having and using the communion of the church, ministry, worship, and government, those holy means of salvation which the Lord in his mercy has given us in his covenant, and commanded us to use. And if all the commandments of God must be obeyed, then this of baptism, and this warrant is sufficient for assuming baptism. Now for baptizing a man's self, there is as good warrant as for a man's churching himself: for two men singly are no church: jointly they are a church, and they both of them put a church upon themselves: for as both these persons unchurched, yet have power to assume the church, each of them for himself and others in communion; so each of them unbaptized, hath power to assume baptism for himself with others in communion." (Page 58)
Here are two principles laid down by Mr. Smyth, which contradict the account given of him. The first is, that upon the supposition of the true baptism being lost for some time through the disuse of it, it is necessary there should be two persons to unite in the administration. The second is, that the first administrator must be a member of some church, who shall call and empower him to administer it to the other members.
Now it is reasonable to suppose that his practice was conformable to the above principles; and as there is mention made of Mr. Helwisse and Mr. John Morton (Crosby, v. i. p. 99), two ministers who were of his opinion, and who joined with him in the rules which he laid down, their method must have been this:--the seceders must first have formed themselves into a church, and then the church must have appointed two of its ministers to restore the ordinance by baptizing each other, and after that to baptize the rest of the church.
Mr. Smyth must have died soon after his work was printed; for in 1611 there appeared A confession of faith, published by the remainder of Mr. Smyth's company, with an appendix giving some account of his last sickness and death. A few articles of this confession are preserved by Crosby, in his first volume, extracted from the works of Mr. Smyth, by Mr. Robinson, pastor of the Brownist church at Leyden. In the Appendix to Crosby's second volume this confession is given in 27 articles. From this it appears that their sentiments resembled those which are now denominated Arminian; but there is no evidence of their holding those silly and erroneous opinions which they have been charged with by their enemies.
James the first was now sitting on the throne of England, a prince who for vanity and bigotry has perhaps been seldom equaled. From such a king, and from such bishops as Whitgift and Bancroft, the puritans of whatever denomination could expect no favour. "The king (says Rapin) intimated at the first, that he would have regard to the tender consciences of such Catholics as could not comply with the received doctrine of the church of England; but in this there was not the least indulgence for the tender consciences of the puritans: these were all a set of obstinate people, who deserved to have no favour shewed them." (Hist. of England, vol. ii. p. 163)
In the year 1608, one Enoch Clapham wrote a small piece entitled, Errors on the right hand, against the several sects of protestants in those times; in which he represented by way of dialogue, the opinions which each sect held, and somewhat of their state and condition. He notices their fleeing out of their own nation to plant a church among a people of another language; and that they alleged in their defence, Elijah's fleeing in time of persecution, and our Saviour's advice to his disciples, if they were persecuted in one city to flee into another. He also complains of those who remained in England, for leaving the public assemblies, and running into woods and meadows, and meeting in bye stables, barns and haylofts, for service.
He distinguishes the Anabaptists from the puritans and Brownists on the one hand, and from the Arians and Socinians on the other; and represents them all as being zealous opposers of each other.
The Anabaptists, according to his account, held that repentance and faith must precede baptism; that the baptism of the church of England and of the puritans was invalid, and that the true baptism was amongst them. He says farther, that they complained of the term Anabaptist as a name of reproach cast upon them; and also takes notice that some of this opinion were Dutchmen, who, besides the denial of infant baptism, held that it was unlawful to bear arms, &c. That there were others who went under the denomination that were Englishmen, to whom he does not so directly charge the former opinions, but only the denial of their first baptism, and separating both from the established church and other dissenters; adding that they came out from the Brownists, and that there was a congregation of them in Holland. (Crosby, vol. i. p. 88)
The congregation to which he refers is doubtless that which we have mentioned, under the care of Mr. Smyth, which existed at this time in Holland; and from what Mr. Johnson, pastor of one of the English churches, says in a work published in 1617, it is evident that his ministry was very successful, and that his principles were extensively embraced. "Of which point and of sundry objections thereabout, I have treated the more largely, considering how great the error is in the denial thereof, and how greatly it spreadeth, both in these parts, and of late in our own country, that is England." (Crosby, vol. i. p. 91)
In the work of Enoch Clapham, before mentioned, the Anabaptist is asked what religion he is of; and is made to answer, "Of the true religion, commonly termed Anabaptism, from our baptizing."--When he is asked concerning the church or congregation he was connected with in Holland; he answers, "There be certain English people of us that came out from the Brownists."--When the Arian says, I am of the mind that there is no true baptism upon earth; he replies, "I pray thee son, say not so: the congregation I am of, can and doth administer true baptism."--When an enquirer after truth offers, upon his proving what he has said, to leave his old religion; the Anabaptist answers, "You may say, if God will give you grace to leave it; for it is a peculiar grace to leave Sodom and Egypt, spiritually so called." When the same person offers to join with them, and firmly betake himself to their faith; the Anabaptist replies, "The dew of heaven come upon you: to-morrow I will bring you into our sacred congregation, that so you may come to be imformed in the faith, and after that be purely baptized."
This account being given by one who wrote against the Baptists, may be safely relied on, especially as he assures his reader, that the characters which he gives of each sect was not without sundry years experience had of them all.
Mr. Smyth, the pastor of the church at Amsterdam, was succeeded by Mr. Thomas Helwisse, who had been baptized by him, and was one of the persons who was excommunicated with him, on account of their objecting to the validity of infant baptism. He had fled with the Brownists to Holland, to escape persecution. While he continued with them he was esteemed a man of eminent faith, charity, and spiritual gifts. Though he had not the advantage of a learned education, he appears by his writings to have been a man of good natural parts, which had been improved by studious application.
Soon after the death of Mr. Smyth, Mr. Helwisse began to reflect upon the impropriety of his own conduct and that of the other English dissenters, in leaving their country and friends, and flying into a strange land to escape persecution. Thinking this might have arisen from fear and cowardice, he concluded they ought rather to bear a testimony to the truth in their own land, where it was in danger of being wholly extinguished; and to encourage their brethren, who were then suffering persecution for Christ's sake, to "hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering." He and his friends accordingly left Holland, and settled in London, where they continued their church state, and assembled for worship, as often, and as publicly, as the spirit of the times would permit. In a treatise written by Mr. Helwisse, entitled, A short declaration, &c. he justified their conduct by endeavouring to show in what cases it was unlawful to fly in times of persecution. This gave great offence to the puritans who were in exile, who in a work written against him by Mr. Robinson, charged him with "vain glory, and with courting persecution by challenging the king and the state to their faces, &c." How long Mr. Helwisse continued the elder of this church, Crosby says, he could not find, but that the books wrote against them show that they went on with great courage and resolution; and notwithstanding the severities used against them by the civil power, increased greatly in their number. (Crosby, vol. i. 271, 272)
Their intrepidity and danger may be judged of by the following circumstance. In the year 1614 the king, in order to show his zeal against heresy, took an opportunity to exercise it, by burning alive two of his subjects. These were Bartholomew Legate, who was charged with Arianism, and burnt in Smithfield, March 18, 1611; and Edward Wightman, a Baptist, of the town of Burton upon Trent, who was convicted Dec. 14, 1611, of divers heresies, before the Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry; and being delivered up to the secular power, was burnt at Litchfield on the 11th of April following.
Amongst other charges brought against him are these:--That the baptizing of infants is an abominable custom; that the Lord's supper and baptism are not to be celebrated as they are now practiced in the church of England; and that Christianity is not wholly professed and preached in the church of England, but only in part." Who would have thought that a person would have been burnt by protestants for such opinions! Happily for our native country, this day of bigotry is past, and Edward Wightman was the last who suffered death in this way. It is rather a curious fact, that on the supposition of William Sautry, the Lollard, opposing infant baptism, which is highly probable, the Baptists have had the honour of leading the van, and bring up the rear of that part of the noble army of English martyrs, who have laid down their lives at the stake.
The persecution increased so much against the puritans, that in this year many of them left the country and fled to America. Amongst these were some Baptists, of whom honourable mention is made in Cotton Mather's History of America; but as the history of the Baptists in that part of the world does not come within our design, we must refer the reader to their history, published in 3 vols. octavo, by the Rev. Isaac Backus, of New England.
There were however many who remained, for in 1615, the Baptists in England published a small treatise, entitled, Persecution judged and condemned: in a discourse between an Antichristian and a Christian. Proving by the law of God and of the land, and by King James his many testimonies, that no man ought to be persecuted for his religion, so he testifie his allegiance by the oath appointed by law. Proving also, that the spiritual power in England, is the image of the spiritual cruel power of Rome, or that the beast mentioned Rev. 13. Manifesting the fearful estate of those who are subject to such powers, that tyrannize over the conscience; and shewing the unlawfulness of flying because of the trouble men see or fear is coming upon them.
In this Piece they endeavoured to justify their separation from the church of England, and prove that every man has a right to judge for himself in matters of religion; and that to persecute on that account was illegal and anti-christian; contrary to the laws of God, as well as to several declarations of the king's majesty. They also assert their opinion respecting baptism, and show the invalidity of that baptism which was administered either in the established church or among the other dissenters, and clear themselves of several errors which had been unjustly imputed to them. It appears to have been approved by the whole body of Baptists who remained in England; for at the end of the preface they subscribe themselves "Christ's unworthy witnesses, his majesty's faithful subjects, commonly (but most falsely) called Anabaptists."
Though there is no name to this work, yet it is evidently the production of Mr. Helwisse and his friends. At the close of it they refer the reader to their confession published four years before, to form a judgment of their sentiments on the person of Christ; the lawfulness of magistrates, &c. &c. In the Epistle, "to all that truly wish Jerusalem's prosperity, and Babylon's destruction," they say, "It cannot but with high thankfulness to God, and to the King, he acknowledged of all, that the King's Majesty is no blood-thirsty man, for if he were, bodily destruction should be the portion of all that fear God, and endeavour to walk in his ways; as may be seen in the primitive times of this spiritual power, or beast of England, after that King Henry the Eighth had cast off the Romish beast and since (so far as leave has been granted them) by hanging, burning, banishing, imprisoning, and what not, as the particulars might be named. Yet our most humble desire of our Lord the King is, that he would not give his power to force his faithful subjects to dissemble, to believe as he believes, in the least measure of persecution; though it is no small persecution to lye many years in filthy prisons, in hunger, cold, idleness, divided from wife, family, calling, left in continual miseries and temptations, so as death would be to many less persecution; seeing his Majesty confesseth, that to change the mind must be the work of God. And of the Lord Bishops we desire, that they would a little leave off persecuting those that cannot believe as they, till they have proved that God is well pleased therewith, and the souls of such as submit are in safety from condemnation; let them prove this, and we protest we will for ever submit unto them, and so will thousands; and therefore if there be any spark of grace in them, let them set themselves to give satisfaction either by word or writing, or both. But if they will not but continue their cruel courses as they have done, let them yet remember that they must come to judgment, and have their abominations set in order before them, and be torn in pieces when none shall deliver them."
This work is a well written pamphlet of forty-eight quarto pages, in the form of a dialogue between a Christian, an Antichristian, and an Indifferent person. The principles of Dissenters and of the Baptists are clearly stated; and certainly proves that at this early period they were numerous and respectable; and had for many years been great sufferers, it should seem from the period of the reformation, from the manner in which they speak of the persecutions they had endured from the bishops of the church of England. It concludes by the Indifferent person saying, "Well, you will yet be called Anabaptists, because you deny baptism to infants." To which the Christian answers, "So were Christians before us called sects; and so they may call John Baptist, Jesus Christ himself, and his apostles Anabaptists; for we profess and practise no otherwise herein, than they, namely, The baptizing of such as confess with the mouth the belief of the heart. And if they be Anabaptists that deny baptism when God hath appointed it, they, and not we are Anabaptists. But the Lord give them repentance, that their sins may be put away, and never laid to their charge, even for his Christ's sake. Amen." (p. 48)
Another book was published in 1618, vindicating the principles of the Baptists. This was translated from the Dutch, and is said by Dr. Wall and others to have been the first printed in the English language against the baptism of infants. Had it been said, the first book that was published in England it might have been true, on account of the great difficulty there was in publishing works against the established religion, but it is certain there were many books in English written and printed in vindication of the principles of the Baptists, several years before this period. Crosby says that he had not heard of this book being answered till thirty years afterward, when Mr. Thomas Cobbett, of New England, published a vindication of the right of infants to church membership and baptism.
In 1620, the Baptists presented a humble supplication to the king when the parliament was sitting. This was dedicated, To the high and mighty King, James, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland. To the Right Excellent and Noble Prince, Charles, Prince of Wales, &c. To all the Right Honourable Nobility, Grace and Honourable Judges, and to all other the Right Worshipful Gentry, of all estates and degrees, assembled in this present parliament. Right High and Mighty;--Right Excellent and Noble;--Right Honourable, and Right Worshipful. In this, they in the first place acknowledge their obligation to pray for Kings, and all that are in authority, and appeal to God that it was their constant practice so to do. They then set forth, that their miscries were not only the taking away of their goods, but also long and lingering imprisonments for many years in divers counties in England, in which many had died, leaving their widows and several small children behind them, and all because they durst not join in such worship as they thought contrary to the will of God. (p. 2) After stating their sentiments, and challenging their enemies to accuse them of any disloyalty to his majesty, or of doing any injury to their neighbours, they conclude by praying for the king's majesty, for his royal highness the prince, and the honourable houses of parliament; calling God the searcher of hearts to witness that they were loyal subjects to his majesty, not for fear only, but also for conscience sake, subscribing themselves those who are unjustly called Anabaptists. (p. 26)
This petition is divided into ten parts, and appears to be written with considerable ability. We can only give the titles of the chapters, but from these the contents may be judged of. 1. "The Rule of Faith is the doctrine of the Holy Ghost contained in the Sacred Scriptures, and not any church, council, Prince, or Potentate, nor any mortal man whatsoever. 2. The interpreter of this rule is the scriptures, and spirit of God in whomsoever. 3. That the Spirit of God, to understand and interpret the scriptures, is given to all and every particular person, that fear and obey God, of what degree soever they be; and not to the wicked. 4. Those that fear and obey God, and so have the spirit of God to search out and know the mind of God in the Scriptures, are commonly and for the most part, the simple, poor, despised, &c. 5. The learned in human learning, do commonly and for the most part err, and know not the truth, but persecute it and the professors of it; and therefore are no farther to be followed than we see them agree with truth. 6. Persecution for conscience, is against the doctrine of Jesus Christ, King of Kings. 7. Persecution for conscience, is against the profession and practice of famous princes. 8. Persecution for cause of conscience, is condemned by the ancient and later writers, yea, by Puritans and Papists. 9. It is no prejudice to the commonwealth if freedom of religion were suffered, but would make it flourish. 10. Kings are not deprived of any power given them of God, when they maintain freedom for cause of conscience.
In the 7th chapter they thus remind the King of his own sentiments on this subject. "We beseech your Majesty we may relate your own worthy sayings, in your Majesty's speech to parliament, 1609. Your Highness saith, It is a sure rule in divinity, that God never loves to plant his church by violence and blood-shed, &c. And in your Highness's apology, p. 4, speaking of such papists as took the oath, thus: I gave a good proof that I intended no persecution against them for conscience cause, but only desired to be secured for civil obedience, which for conscience cause they were bound to perform. And page 60, speaking of Blackwel the Arch-Priest, your Majesty saith, It was never my intention to lay any thing to the said Arch-Priest's charge, as I have never done to any for cause of conscience, &c. And in your Highness's exposition on Rev. 20 printed 1588, and after 1603, your Majesty truly writeth thus: sixthly, The compassing of the saints, and besieging of the beloved city, declareth unto us a certain note of a false church to be persecution; For they come to seek the faithful, the faithful are those that are sought: the wicked are the besiegers, the faithful be besieged." (p. 20)
It is an awful consideration, that a Prince who so well understood the rights of conscience, and the distinction betwixt those duties which Christians owed to God, and those which they were bound to observe towards the civil power, should act so diametrically opposite to his sentiments. The uncommon intrepidity of the Baptists, is evinced by their making their solemn appeal to the King and his parliament, at a time when they were exposed to all their resentments; and when, by their own principles, they were prevented from attempting to escape from the storm which threatened them.
This Petition was published in 1620, and the former pamphlet of 1615 reprinted with it. Both these were also reprinted in 1662, with the design, as stated in the title page, "for the establishing some and convincing others."
From this also it appears that there were still Baptists in many parts of the kingdom; for this petition states that they had suffered imprisonment for "many years in divers counties in England." We learn also by what has been written against them, that, notwithstanding all opposition, they kept up their separate meetings, and had many disciples who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, endured cruel mockings, and probably scourgings also, yea, moreover bonds and imprisonments, rather than violate their consciences, or desert their principles.
We have further information respecting their numbers and principles, from a letter written by a person in London who had joined the Baptists, to his old friends, in which he defends his conduct and sentiments. This letter happening to fall into the hands of a member of the church of England, it was published with an answer annexed to it. As it discovers something of the principles, and the spirit of the Baptists at that time, we shall give it entire for the gratification of our readers,
The person who published this letter, replied to it in a work entitled, "Anabaptist Mystery of Iniquity Unmasked, by J.P. 1623."
- "Beloved friends,
- "The ancient love that I have had towards you provoketh me to testify that I have not forgotten you, but an desirous still to shew my unfeigned love to you in any thing I may. I make no question but you have heard divers false reports of me, although among the same some truths; and that you may be truly informed of my state, I thought good to write a few words unto you, hoping that you will not speak evil of that which you know not, nor condemn a man unheard. The thing wherein I differ from the church of England is; they say at their washing or baptizing their infants, that they are members, of Christ's holy church, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. This I dare not believe; for the scriptures of God declare, that neither flesh nor the washing of flesh can save. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; for that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and we cannot enter into the kingdom of God except we be born again. They that have prerogative to be the sons of God, must be born of God, even believe in his name; and the washing of the filth of the flesh is not the baptism that saveth, but the answer of a good conscience towards God. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The consequence of this is, that infants are not to be baptized, nor can they be Christians but such only who confess their faith as the scriptures teach. (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:5; John 1:12; 3:5; Gal. 6:5; 1 Pet. 3:21) from whence the word church is taken, can witness that it signifieth a people called out; and so the church of Christ is a company called out of their former state wherein they were by nature, out of Babylon, wherein they have been in spiritual bondage to the spiritual antichrist, and from having fellowship in spiritual worship with unbelievers and ungodly men. From all, whosoever cometh, they are fit timber for this spiritual building, which is a habitation of God by the Spirit, and the household of faith. Those who thus come out of nature's Egyptian bondage, and the fellowship of the children of Belial, being new creatures, and so holy brethren, are made God's house or church, through being knit together by the Spirit of God, and baptized into his body, which is the church. This being undeniably the church of Christ, infants cannot be of it; for they cannot be called out as afore said. Known wicked men cannot be of it, because they are not called out; nor antichrist's spiritual bondage cannot be of it, because that is a habitation of devil's, and all God's people must go out of that. (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12,37; 9:18; 10:47; 16:31; 18:8; 19:3; 1 Cor. 13:13; 2 Cor. 6:4; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:22,23; 2:22; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 1:5; Rev. 18:2,4)
- "What can be objected against this? Are not all the sons of God by faith? If any be in Christ, or a Christian, must he not be a new creature? I pray you do not take up the usual objection which the antichristians have learned of the Jews; 'What tallest thou us of being made Christians only by faith in the Son, and so being made free? We are the children of Abraham, and of believers, and so are under the promise; I will be the God of thee and of thy seed. Thus are we and our children made free, whereas they neither do nor can believe in the Son.'
- "This is the Jewish antichrist fable: for Abraham had two sons, which were types of the two seeds, to which two covenants were made. The one born after the flesh, typing out the fleshly Israelites, which were the inhabitants of material Jerusalem, where was the material temple, and the performance of those carnal rites which endured to the time of reformation. The other by faith typing out the children of the faith of Abraham, which are the inhabitants of the spiritual Jerusalem, the new testament state, in which is the spiritual temple, the church of the living God, and the performance of all those spiritual ordinances which Christ as prophet and king thereof hath appointed, and which remains and cannot be shaken or altered. (Gen. 17; John 8:3; "Rom. 4:8,9; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:26; 4:22; 6:15; Heb. 9:10; 12:23)
- "Now if the old covenant be abolished, and all the appertainings thereof, as it is, being the similitude of heavenly things, even the covenant written in the book, the people, the tabernacle or temple, and all the ministering vessels, and a better covenant established upon better promises, and better temple and ministering vessels came instead thereof, procured and purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, who is the new and living way; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, sprinkling our hearts from an evil conscience, and baptized in our bodies with pure water; let us keep this profession of hope without wavering, and have no confidence in the flesh, to reap sanctification or justification thereby; but let us cast it away as dung and dross, for if any might plead privilege of being the child of the faithful, the apostle Paul might, as he saith. (Phil. 3) But it was nothing till he had the righteousness of God through faith: then was he baptized into Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins.
- "This covenant, which we as the children of Abraham challenge, is the covenant of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, made to all the children of Abraham, as it was made to Abraham himself, to them that believe in him who raised up Jesus the Lord from the dead. As also the children of the flesh are not they: they must be put out, and must not be heirs with the faithful. If they that are of the flesh be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise of none effect. Therefore it is by faith, that it might come of grace, and that the promise might be sure to all the seed that are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all the faithful. They are his children: the promise of salvation is not made with both Abraham's seeds, but with his own seed, they that are of the faith of Abraham. (Acts 8:26,32,39; Rom. 4:14; 9:8; Gal. 3:7,9,29; 4:30; Eph. 4:28; Hosea 8:18)
- "These things may be strange to those who are strangers from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts. God hath written them as the great things of his law, but they are counted by many as a strange thing. Yet wisdom is justified of all her children; and they that set their hearts to seek for wisdom as for silver, and search for her as for treasure, they shall see the righteousness of these things as the light, and the evidence of them as the noon day. They that be wise will try these things by the true touchstone of the holy scriptures, and leave off rejoicing in men to hang their faith and profession on them; the which I fear not to supplicate God day and night on behalf of you all. To whose gracious direction I commit you, with a remembrance of my hearty love to every one; desiring but this favour, that for requital I may receive your loving answer.
- "Yours to be commanded always in any children service.
- "London, May 10, 1622. H.H."
It will be recollected that this letter was not designed by the writer for publication. It was certainly ungenerous that a private letter on a controverted subject should be sent to the press by an opponent who intended to write against it to unmask the iniquity it contained. But if the author could discover any iniquity in this letter, he must be very quick-sighted as its declarations, however simply stated, are evidently founded on scripture testimony.
In the reply there is some information of consequence, for which we are obliged to the writer. He states, that the Baptists separated from the established church, wrote many books in defence of their principles, and had multitudes of disciples; that it was their custom to produce a great number of scriptures to prove their doctrines; that they were in appearance more holy than those of the established church; that they dissuaded their disciples from reading the churchmen's books, hearing in their assemblies, or conferring with their learned men. He adds, that they "denied the doctrine of predestination, reprobation, final perseverance, and other truths." (Crosby, vol. i. p. 133) And says, "I suppose their seeds are sown among you not only by their apostles, but by their books." Of their holding these sentiments there is no proof given; but should it be true, it is probable that the Baptists at that period were principally General Baptists, who, as far as we have been able to decide, maintained sentiments very similar to those which were afterwards published by the famous Thomas Grantham.
In 1624 there appeared still greater champions of infant baptism. These were the famous Dod and Cleaver, who united their strength to oppose what they termed the erroneous positions of the Anabaptists. Their work was entitled, The patrimony of christian children. In the preface they apologize for their engaging in the controversy, by alleging that those of a contrary opinion were very industrious, and took great pains to propagate their doctrine; that divers persons of good note for piety had been prevailed upon by them; that several had intreated their help and assistance; and that they had been engaged already in private debates about this matter.
From these observations it appears that the Baptists had greatly increased in England in the reign of this king, during which every corrupt art was employed to extend the prerogative, to oppress all those who had either wisdom or honesty to think for themselves.
In the beginning of 1625, the king died, after having by his folly and hypocrisy laid the foundation of all the calamities of his son's reign. He had been flattered by ambitious courtiers, as the Solomon and Phoenix of the age; but in the opinion of Bishop Burnet, "he was the scorn of the age; a mere pedant, without true judgment, courage, or steadfastness; his reign being a continued course of mean practices." Rapin says, "he was neither a sound protestant, nor a good catholic; but had formed a plan of uniting both churches, which must have effectually ruined the protestant interest, for which indeed he never expressed any real concern." Neal says, "I am rather of opinion that all his religion was his pretended king-craft. He was certainly the meanest prince that ever sat upon the British throne. England never sunk so low in its reputation, nor was so much exposed to the scorn and ridicule of its neighbours as in his reign."