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HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS.
BY THE REV. A. D. GILLETTE, A. M.,
PASTOR OF THE ELEVENTI BAPTIST CHURCH, PHILADELPHIA.
WHOEVER thinks of a noble river, as it flows in majesty towards the ocean, without contemplating the bubbling springs and mountain rivulets of which its deep channels are composed ?
When we look upon the form and features of some distinguished and useful man, we naturally inquire, Where was he born? Who were his parents? What is the history of his childhood ? and by what step in life has he gained that mental, moral and civil elevation, which places him so far above the thousands of his race?
On becoming acquainted with some benign institution, we ask, Whence its origin?—and listen to its history, or the narration of whatever is of moment in its character, with an avidity and interest which bespeak us engaged in no ordinary way.
Our divine Saviour asks, “Whether the baptism of John was from heaven or of men ?" We know that the religion which John, Jesus and the Apostles taught, was from heaven. Christianity is no graft from some former tree, no remnant of some old religion, no substitute; but a new and living faith: direct from God- the love of Christ, and the mind of the Spirit; it is a system destined to glorify its divine authorship, and save the souls of such as repent of sins and believe its holy teachings.
It may in truth be said of any people professing and calling themselves Christians, that their principles are from the same source, provided they are according to the Gospel of God. This we fully believe concerning all evangelical Christian churches, irrespective of names.
The origin of Christian communities, their distinct organization, their history as separate societies, the progress of their sentiments among men, are subjects of curious and profitable investigation, a fact which we are glad to find is receiving a degree of public attention, somewhat proportionate with its reasonable and legitimate claims upon the intelligent inquirer after truth.
ORIGIN OF THE SENTIMENTS OF THE BAPTISTS.
Mosheim declares the origin of the sentiments of the Baptists to be hid in the remotest ages of antiquity. Milner, the ecclesiastical historian, also shows, that the sentiments of the Baptists were held by the primitive church, and not departed from until the year 253, when Cyprian, an African bishop, decided, “ That those whose weak state did not permit them to be washed in water, were yet sufficiently baptized by being sprinkled.”
Church history shows us clearly that in every age since the Saviour's advent, there have been communities of Christians among whom were held most, and by some all of the peculiar doctrines of the Baptists of the present day: such were the Piedmontese, Waldenses, and disciples of Gundulphus.
When the Roman papacy sent its monks into Britain for the purpose of converting the people to the dogmas of their spurious faith: British bishops and congregations were found in great numbers worshipping God according to a pure Gospel, and administering baptism and communion to such only as lived a godly life, after the pattern shown them in the Holy Scriptures. These Christian people resided chiefly in the north part of the Island, among whom the beast and false religion found no favourites.” In the south, and among the Kentish people, most of whom were Druids or Pagans, the Roman mission was so far successful, as to persuade many to mingle with their heathen ceremonies others called Christian that were of Roman origin.
The early British Christians held all the evangelical doctrines as essential to church fellowship, and withheld the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper from bad livers and unconscious infants; maintaining that it was the privilege of believers only. And, as up to the fifteenth century immersion was practised in all cases except upon the infirm and sick: it was of course the unquestioned conviction of all, that our practice and sentiments in this thing were according to the Bible; for we now hold that baptism is immersion “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Also with those “ ancients" we hold, “ that true penitents and sincere Christians only are subjects of baptism."
It is understood by the most intelligent among us, that we are Protestants only in the union of sentiment against the Papal heresy, and according to the great truths of the Gospel which we hold in common with all evangelical churches.
We, as a people, never submitted to antichristian Rome; but have given thousands of lives rather than be restrained from worshipping God, through the threats and power of wicked rulers; we never yielded to the “Man of Sin,” except in dying by the power of its brute
, force, its inquisitorial cruelties.
The adherents of our views did not always separate themselves entirely from other communities, or from Christians who did not agree with them in these peculiar sentiments; hence they are not clearly distinguished in the history of early times, and seldom by the name of Baptists: a name we never gave ourselves, but one used by others to signify the primitive and gospel manner of imitating Christ in his divinely appointed ordinances.
Men of our views, such as Milton, and Bunyan, and others, stood high in office, and were embalmed in the affections of the people, who never enjoyed the privileges of a separate connexion, with our present organization and plans of benevolence.
Mosheim says, “In the middle and succeeding ages, there were individuals who professed Baptist sentiments, mixed up with the general body of Christians scattered over a wide surface.”
REASONS WHY OUR SENTIMENTS AND HISTORY WERE SO
UNKNOWN IN THE EARLY AGES.
The discipline and morals of the large national churches, in the third and fourth centuries, became so antichristian, that such as had the purity of Christ's kingdom at heart, after striving in vain to resist the heathenish innovations, withdrew, as they should have done, from churches no longer worthy of the Christian name. By the corrupted party they were soon confounded with heretics; the favourites of a corrupt government, and a worse faith, even sacrilegiously assumed
“ Catholic." But the faith of those who retired by themselves was pure, their discipline scriptural, and among them we must look for the Church of Jesus Christ.
This people, in Rome, were called Novatians; in Africa, Donatists; in Greece, Paulicians.
The people holding Baptist or purely gospel sentiments concerning the ordinances of religion, are the people who, under various names,
given by their enemies, have in all ages of the Church, contended in argument and unto death, for the sole authority of the “Holy Scriptures," and have discarded as ruinous heresy, the bold assumption, that for human safety and convenience “ the Church has a right to change somewhat."
Many writers upon Church History refer our origin to the Munstermen of Germany, a sect originating in secular causes, and proceeding to violence and insurrection; a charge to which we have not the mortification of assenting, having ever been a peaceable, and until within a few years, an every where persecuted people; even now, in Germany and Denmark, our missionaries are being fined, imprisoned, and opposed, and that too by a church and state which Luther is said to have reformed.
The Baptists in no land or nation ever returned “evil for evil, but contrariwise" they have sought peace and prosperity in the prosecution of their religious enterprises, asking of human authorities the boon of being let alone.
So far as we are informed, the Munster-men never baptized, but by sprinkling,—we never but by immersion; they long since ceased to be a separate society; we continue growing and flourishing like the cedars of Lebanon.
The Baptists of Holland, France, Switzerland, and England, and in all Europe, are well supported by evidence, in considering themselves the descendants of the Waldenses; who, though cruelly oppressed by despots and popes, have maintained visibility in the world, from the days of the Apostles, and whose residence has been principally confined to the fine valleys of Piedmont. They are found in communities of 800,000 at a time, refusing any submission to the Papal heresy, and dying by whole villages, rather than break their allegiance to Christ their king.
In 1120, this people say, “We acknowledge no sacraments as of divine appointment, but Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We consider these as visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper that believers use these symbols, notwithstanding which we maintain that believers may be saved without these signs, where they have no opportunity of observing them.”
Among their writings in 1120, is the following: “Antichrist seduces the people from Christ, teaches to baptize children into the faith, and attributes to this the work of regeneration : thus confounding the work of the Spirit with the external rite of baptism.”
They “counted baptism of infants unnecessary, because they are not of age to believe, or capable of giving evidence of faith.” They
refer to Tertullian as believing the same doctrine, and instance the practice of many of the ancients to be the same as their own.
A council was held in Lomber, in 1175, when and where the “men of Lyons” being condemned, one charge against them was, “they denied infants to be saved by baptism."
In 1179 the Waldensians were condemned by the Pope and council for “ denying baptism to infants.”
Mezeray, a French historian, says, upon the manner of baptizing in 1200, “ They plunged the candidate in the sacred font, to show them what operation that sacrament hath on the soul.” Farin says, “ The Albigeos esteem the baptism of infants superstitious.” Mosheim, Allix, Limborck, Gretzen, Montanus, Hassius, Bellarmine and others, none of whom were Baptists, make the sentiments of the Waldenses the same with those of modern Baptists.
In 1577, this people say to the French king, “We believe that in the ordinance of baptism, we are received into the holy congregation of God's people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life.”
“ As to children's estate as to salvation or damnation, he can say nothing what God will do with them; but for those who make baptism the thing to save them, and the parents' omission thereof to damn them, he utterly denies ; because as God hath not appointed baptism to work grace or to regenerate, so it would be unreasonable, to charge damnation upon little ones for the parents' neglect.” He adds, " believers are the only subjects of baptism.”
It appears evident from the foregoing, that the history of the Baptists, is not the history of a people seceding from other denominations. Not Protestants properly so called, unless for having always protested; but they are descendants of a people who, much to the annoyance of Popery, have resisted all its seductive arts—have endured from it fire and famine and sword, and continued in great numbers, to charge the Man of Sin with having usurped the place, and power, which belong to God only.-Such people have held Christ to be the Head of his Church, the Scriptures the only rule of faith, and the “
“ true church” to include all such as “fear God and work righteousness."
This proves that in various parts, as well as in England and America, the history of the Baptists, unlike most other churches, instead of dating from the Reformation, runs back to a distinct class of sentiments, held by a community, which early Welsh and British history shows, have existed ever since the days of the Apostles.
We want it distinctly to appear that we claim the existence of our principles and not our name. We do not say that a separate church