BAPTIST CHURCHES IN ENGLAND LONG BEFORE, UP TO
AND AT THE TIME OF JOHN SMYTH.
Rev. Francis Thackeray, A. M., formerly of Benbrooke College, Cambridge, from his Researches Into the Ecclesiastical and the Political State of Great Britain, is quoted: “We have reason to believe that Christianity was preached in both countries, Gaul and Britain, before the close of the first century. The result of my investigations on my own mind has been the conviction that about 60, A. D., in the time of St. Paul, a church existed in Britain.” There are authorities of great weight who maintain that the gospel was introduced at an earlier period than the one mentioned by Mr. Thackeray. As Christianity was certainly introduced very early into Britain, so far as the perpetuity question is concerned, the exact date is immaterial. Inasmuch as Baptists understand that the first churches were Baptist churches, to stop to prove to them that the first churches in Britain were Baptist churches, is unnecessary. Immersion continued in England, as Dr. Wall informs us, until the Reformation period, except in sickness, and this at a late day exception.
Of A. D. 627, Bede says, describing baptism: “He washed them with the water of absolution in the river Glen.”1
“He baptized in the river Swale, which runs by the village cataract; for as yet oratories or fonts could not be…
l Bede's Eccl. Hist, book 2, chap. 14.
…made in the early infancy of the church in these parts.”1 “A man of singular veracity informed him that he himself had been baptized at noon day …in the presence of King Edwin, with a great number of people, in the river Trent.” 2
Bede says: “The Britains preserved the faith which they had received uncorrupted and entire in peace and tranquility until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.” Diocletian died A. D. 313.3
Of this persecution Bede says: “When the storm of persecution ceased the faithful Christians, who, during the time of danger, had hidden themselves in woods and deserts and secret caves, appearing in public, rebuilt the churches which had been leveled to the ground, etc.”4
There is no record of Baptists having ever become non-existent in England. The earliest dawn of the
Reformation finds Baptists in England. Of the beginning of the eleventh century in England, Crosby says: “Though the baptism of infants seems now to be pretty well established in this realm, yet the practice of immersion continued many years longer; and there were not persons wanting to oppose infant baptism. For in the time of William the Conqueror and his son William Rufus, it appears that the Waldenses and their disciples, out of France, Germany and Holland had their frequent recourse and residence, and did abound in England. Mr. Danvers cites Bishop Usher, who, he says, tells us, 'that the Berengarian or Waldensian heresy, as the chronologer calls it, had about that time, viz., A. D. 1080, generally corrupted all France, Italy and England. And further,…
1 Bede's Eccl. Hist., book 2, cbap. 14.
2 Idem, chap. 16.
3 Idem, book 1, chap. 4.
4 Idem, chap. 8.
…the said bishop tells us, out of Guitmond, a popish writer of that time, that not only the meaner sort of the country villages, but the nobility and gentry in the chiefest towns and cities were infested therewith; and therefore doth Lanfrank, who was Archbishop of Canterbury, in the time of both these kings, about the year 1087, write a book against them.'
“In the time of Henry I. and King Stephen the said Bishop Usher tells us, out of Popliner's History of France, that the Waldenses of Acquiain did, about the year 1100, spread themselves and their doctrines all Europe over, whereof he mentions England in particular. About the year 1158, there came about thirty persons of the Waldensian sect over into England and endeavored to disseminate their doctrines here: these are supposed to reject infant baptism; the two chief of them were Gerburdus and Dulcinus. …Mr. Danvers cites Rodger Hovedon, who, in his annals upon the year 1182, saith: 'That Henry the II was then favorable to the Waldensian sect in England; for, whereas, they burnt them in some places of France, Italy and Flanders by great numbers, he would not in the least suffer any such thing here, he being in his own wives' right possessed of Aquina, Poictou, Guien, Gascoyn, Normandy, etc., the principle places which the Waldenses and Albigenses inhabited, and who, being his subjects in France, had the freer egress into his territories here.' In the time of Richard I. and King John we read of no opposition made against them. …In the time of Henry III, about the year 1235, as saith Bishop Usher, out of Matth., Paris, 'the orders of the Friars Minorites came into England to suppress the Waldensian heresy.' In the time of King Edward the II, about the year 1315, Walter Lollard, a German preacher, a man of great renown among the Waldenses, came into England. He spread their doctrines very much in these parts, so that afterwards they went by the name of Lollards.”1
Fuller: “By Lollards, all know the Wickliffites are meant; so that from Walter Lollardus, one of their teachers in Germany …and nourishing many years before Wickliffe, and much consenting with him in agreement.”2
Fuller points3 out sixty-two differences between Wickliffe's views and Romanism. No less than eighteen of them distinguish Baptists from Methodism, Campbellism and other forms of Arminianism; while several of them distinguish Baptists from Presbyterianism. I have room for only the following: (1.) “Those are heretics who say that Peter had. more power than the rest of the Apostles.” (9.) “The pope is 'anti-Christ.'“ (12.) “Bishop's benedictions, confirmations, consecration of churches, chalices, etc., be but tricks to get money.” (14.) “That in the times of the Apostles there
were only two orders, namely, priests and deacons. That a bishop doth not differ from a priest.” (18.) “He defined a church to consist only of persons predestinated.” (26.) “That general councils, etc., have no authority.” (28.) “That men are not bound by vigils or canonical hours.” (30.) “That to bind men to set and prescript forms of prayers doth derogate from that liberty God hath given them.” (31.) “ That chrism and such other ceremonies are not to be used in baptism.” (34.) “That those are fools who affirm that infants cannot be saved without baptism; and also that he denied that all sins are abolished in baptism. That baptism doth not confer,…
1 Crosby's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 2, pp. 43-46—of preface.
2 Fuller's Ch. Hist. Great Britain, cent. 15, book 4, secs. 17-18.
3 Idem, cent. 14, book 4, sec. 6.
…but only signifies grace, which was given before.” (43) “That religious sects confound the unity of Christ's church who instituted but one order of things.” (44.) “That ho denied all sacred initiation into orders as leave no character behind them.” (56.) “That God loved Peter and David as dearly when they grievously sinned as he doth now when they are possessed of glory.” (59.) “That all things come to pass by fatal necessity” — a misrepresentation of the Bible doctrine of election as field by the Wickliffites, which Arminians now make against Baptists. Looking over these thirteen charges of heresy against Wickliffe we find numbers 9, 12 and 14 are condemnations of every form of episcopacy; that 26 condemns Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and other ecclesiastically legislative bodies; that 34 condemns infant baptism and water salvation; that 56 affirms the final preservation of saints; that 59 and 18 teach election, etc.; that 18 teaches a church is made of only the professedly regenerate; and that 43 teaches that God is not the originator of different denominations, but that He has but one church. No one acquainted with Baptist views needs to be informed that these are distinctively Baptist principles.
As to the action of baptism, Wickliffe was certainly a Baptist.
Says Armitage: “He always retains the preposition 'in' and never with 'in water,' 'in Jordan.'”l
Says Armitage: “Froude finds a resemblance between some of Wickliff's views, and others have
claimed him as a Baptist.”2
William R. Williams, says: “Rastell, one of the judges of England in the days of Queen Mary, has preserved…
1 Armitage's Hist. Bap., p. 316.
2 Idem, p. 315.
…in his Entrees legal documents, coming down, some of them, from his grandfather, Sir John More, a justice of the King's Bench, and father of the illustrious chancellor, Sir Thomas More. In this volume, Rastell has preserved a Latin writ, sending over to the bishop for judgment, according to the canon law, three several groups of Lollards who all rejected infant baptism. …One who had personally known Wickliffe and sympathized with early Lollardism in England, but afterwards left that communion, gave as the reason, that among other errors the Lollard followers of the Great Reformer at Lutterworth rejected the baptism of infants,”1 Of early English and other Baptists: “They were the inheritors of the labors of Huss and Jerome, of British Lollards, of Wickliffe and Waldo, and laborers yet earlier than these, whose memories and whose rewards are safe with God whom they meekly and faithfully served, and then went down unrecorded by their followers to a forgotten or a dishonored grave.”2
Whether Wickliffe was a full fledged Baptist may be a little doubtful; but that he inherited the doctrine and the life of previous and contemporaneous Baptists, and gave them a great movement forward is clear, filling England with Baptist views and true Baptists. As Neal remarks: “If Wickliffe himself did not pursue the consequence of his own doctrine so far, yet many of his followers did, and were made Baptists by it. …All our historians agree in affirming that the doctrine of Wickliffe spread very extensively throughout the country; inasmuch that according to Knighton, a contemporary historian, ‘more than half the people of England embraced…
1 Lect. on Bap. Hist., by William R. Williams, pp. 126-127
2 Idem. pp. 145-146.
…them and became his followers.'”1 This is almost the equivalent to saying “more than half the people of England,” following Wickliffe's teachings to the consequences, became Baptist churches.
“That the denial of the rite of infants to baptism. was a principle generally maintained among the Lollards or followers of Wickliffe, is abundantly confirmed by the historians of those times. Thomas Walden, who wrote against Wickliffe, terms this reformer 'one of several heads who arose out of the bottomless pit for denying infant baptism, that heresies of the Lollards of whom he was the ringleader.'”2
Neal shows how Wickliffe received his doctrine by succession from the Baptists before him: “Walsingham, another writer says, 'it was in the year 1381 that the damnable heretic, John Wickliffe, received the cursed opinions of Berengarius,' one of which unquestionably was the denial of infant baptism.”2
Collier says that in 1538: “Some few who were Dutch Baptists — three men and a woman — had faggots tied to their backs at Pauls' Cross; and one woman and one man of the same sect were burnt at Smithfield. Cranmer …with some others, had a commission from the king to try some Anabaptists; which by comparing the dates of the commission with that of the execution we may conclude the trial passed upon the persons above mentioned.”3 Of this same commission, Collier says: “They had likewise an authority to seize all Anabaptist books, to forbid the reading of them, to burn and destroy them as they thought fit.”4
1 Neal's Hist. Pur , vol. 2, p. 253.
2 Idem, p. 354
3 Collier's Eccl. Hist. Great. Britain, vol. 4, p. 429.
4 Idem, vol. 9, p. 162.
May, 1575: “On Easter day …a conventicle of Dutch Baptists was discovered at a house without the bars at Oldgate. Twenty-seven of them were seized and committed.”1
Bishop Thomas Vowler Short says, that in 1549 “Complaints had been brought to the council of the
prevalence of Anabaptists. …To check the progress of these opinions a commission was appointed.”2
Of the Baptists in England, Cramp says: “Ten were burned by pairs in different places in 1535, and fourteen more in 1536. In 1538, six Dutch Baptists were detected and imprisoned; two of them were burned. Bishop Latimer refers to these circumstances in a sermon preached before Edward the VI, in the year 1549. 'The Anabaptists,' said he, 'that were burnt here in divers towns in England — as I heard of credible men, I saw them not myself — went to their death even intrepid, as you will say, without any fear in the world, cheerfully. Well, let them go.'”3
“There is some reason to believe that a Baptist church existed in Cheshire at a much earlier period. If we may credit the traditions of the place, the church at Hill Cliffe is five hundred years old. A tombstone has been lately dug up in that burial ground, belonging to that church, bearing date 1357. The origin of the church is assigned in the 'Baptist Manual' to the year 1523. This, however, is certain that Mr. Warburton, pastor of the church died there in 1^94- How long the church had then been in existence, there are no written records to testify.”4 “Henry the VIII had a keen scent for…
1 Collier's Eccl. Hist. Great Britain, vol. 6, p. 543.
2 Bishop Vowler Short's Hist. Ch. of Eng., p. 92.
3 Bishop Latimer's Ser., p. 160, in Cramps' Bap. Hist., p. 932.
4 Cramp's Bap. Hist., p. 232.
…heresy.” He continued the bitter persecution against the Baptists. “The hatred to Baptists was farther shown in excepting them from the general acts of pardon. Such acts were published in 1538, 1540 and 1550, but those who held that ' infants ought not to be baptized 'were excluded from the benefit. Thieves and vagabonds shared the king's favor, but Baptists were not to be tolerated. …Among the 'Articles of Visitation' issued by Ridley in his own diocese, in 1550, was the following: (Whether any of the Anabaptist sect, or other, use notoriously any unlawful or private conventicles, wherein they use the doctrines of the administration, of sacraments, † separating themselves from the rest of the parish.”1
Quoting from Cardwell's Documentary Annals of the Church of England, vol. 1, p. 91: “A royal commission was issued by Edward the VI, empowering thirty-one persons therein named, Cranmer at the head and Latimer as one of its members, to proceed against all heretics and condemners of the Book of Common Prayer. The 'wicked opinions' of the Baptists are specifically mentioned.”2 “But they could not put down the Baptists, who grew and nourished in spite of them. Congregations were discovered in Essex, at Feversham, in Kent, and other places. …They met regularly for worship and instruction; the ordinances of the gospel were attended to, † contributions were made for the support of the cause, and so great was their zeal that those who lived in Kent were known to go, occasionally, into Essex to meet the brethren there — a journey of four score miles, which in the sixteenth…
† This shows they were not Baptists in only “sentiment” or “principle,”but that they were Baptists organized into Baptist churches.
1 Cramp's Bap. Hist., pp. 232-234.
2 Idem, p. 235.
…century was no small undertaking. …This, however, is clear, that they were Anabaptists.” “There were many Baptists among the sufferers in Queen Mary's reign. Some endured painful imprisonments, and some passed to heaven through the fire.”1
Under Queen Elizabeth, “ Bishop Jewell …writing to Peter Martyr, under date of November 6,1560, said: 'We found at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth a large and auspicious corps …of Anabaptists, …which I know not how, but as mushrooms spring up.' Many Baptists continued to elude the proclamation, to depart from the country. 'Persons holding these views were still in the realm. And they continued to seek shelter in England from persecution, but the Queen and her minions were indefatigable in their attempts to ferret them out and drive them away. …Permitted or not, however, they were there and they were neither idle nor unsuccessful.’ Collier, the ecclesiastical historian, says: 'The Dutch Anabaptists held private conventicles in London, and perverted a great many.'”2
In the ancient town of Leicester, England, in the upper part of an old town hall, is a library in which are some very ancient works. Several years ago was discovered a MS. against the Baptists, on the title page of which is: “Imprinted at London, by G. B. Deputie to Christopher Barker, printer to the Queen's most excellent majesty, 1589.” It reads: “The Anabaptistical sect were very bold of late. They pressed into her majesty's presence; they complained to her highness of great persecution — how justly your lordship knows — which by the queen's commandment did examine and commit them.” — Robert Some.
Says Benedict, quoting Jones: “Towards the middle of the twelfth century, a small society of these Puritans, as they were called by some, or Waldenses, as they were termed by others, or Paulicians, as they are denominated by an old monkish historian — William of Newbury — made their appearance in England. This latter writer speaking of them, says: 'They came originally from Gascoyne, where being as numerous as the sand of the sea, they sorely infested all France, Italy, Spain and England.”1 On the page whence this quotation is made, Benedict puts these down as “Baptists.” In former articles I have demonstrated them Baptists. Ivimey says: “The archbishop farther informs us, on the authority of Matthew Paris, of Westminster, that 'the Berengarian or Waldensian heresy had, about the year 1180, generally infected all France, Italy and England.’ Guitmond, a popish writer of that time, also says that, 'not only the weaker sort of the country villages, but the nobility and gentry in the chief towns and cities were infected therewith; and therefore Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, who held this seat, both in the reigns of William the Conqueror, and his son, William Rufus, wrote against them in the year 1087.' The archbishop adds from Poplinus' history of France, that 'the Waldenses of Aquitain did about the year 1100, during their reign of Henry I, and Stephen, kings of England, spread themselves and their doctrines all over Europe,' and mentions England in particular.”2 Says the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia: “During the reigns of…
1 Benedict's Hist. Bap., p. 305.
2 Ivimey's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 1, p. 55.
…Elizabeth and James, a large number of Baptists fled from Holland and Germany, to England.” l
Says the Penny Encyclopedia: “Little is known of the Baptists in England before the sixteenth century. Their name then appears among the various sects which were struggling for civil and religious freedom. Their opinions at this early period were sufficiently popular to attract the notice of the national establishment, as is evident from the fact that at a convocation, held in 1536, they were denounced as detestable heretics, to be utterly condemned. Proclamations allowed to banish the Baptists from the kingdom, their books were burnt, and several individuals suffered at the stake. The last person who was burnt in England was a Baptist.”2 Of the times before John Smyth, Froude says of the English Baptists: “History has for them no word of praise; yet they were not giving their blood in vain. …In their deaths they assisted to pay the purchase money of England's freedom.”3 “On them the laws of the country might take their natural course and no voice was raised to speak for them.”4
Says Dr. John Clifford: “The Waldenses, some of whom held Baptist views, abounded in England in the days of William the Conqueror, and bishop Lanfranc wrote against the heretics, in 1087. It is likely that a church formed on Baptist lines existed at Hill Cliffe, a mile and a half from Warrington, as early as 1357, and it is certain that John Wickliffe, who was born in 1324 and died in 1384, was not far from the Baptist faith, while it is notorious that many of the Lollards held and practiced it…
1 Schaff-Herzog Ency., vol. 1, p. 211.
2 Vol. 3, pp. 416-417.
3 Froude's Hist. Eng., vol. 2, p. 359.
4 Idem, p. 358.
…with great daring and burning zeal. …A large accession of force actually found living expression in a few Baptist societies in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as at Hill Cline, in Cheshire; Boking, in Essex; Feversham and Eyethorne, in Kent; and Epworth and Crowie, in Axholme. But the times were not favorable to the organizing of these …churches into a compact, coherent, and aggressive unity; nor yet to the creation of any means by which they might report their existence and doings to subsequent generations. Even in the days of Elizabeth, to be a Baptist was to be a criminal. The hour had not yet dawned for the emancipation of the human conscience. But it was coming; and the persecuted Baptist was permitted to take a momentous part in ushering in the sublime hour in the history and progress of the human race.”1
“At Crowle, in Lincolnshire, a few miles from Gainesborough, there was, according to an old church book, a Baptist society as early as 1599. To that rural community, Smyth went in 1604, and 'debated nearly all night with Elders Henry Hiliwise and John Morton, who defended our cause.'”2 Barclay, in his comprehensive account of the Inner Life of Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, declares (p. 12): “We have strong reasons for believing that on the continent of Europe, small hidden societies, who have held many of the opinions of the Anabaptists, have existed from the time of the Apostles. In the sense of the direct transmission of divine truth and the true nature of spiritual religion, it seems probable that these churches have a lineage or succession, more ancient than the Roman church.”3 Even…
1 The Origin and growth of Eng. Bap., by Dr. John Clifford, pp. 6-8.
2 Idem, pp. 15-16.
3 Idem, p. 9-of “Notes.”
…Vedder — a bitterly prejudiced opponent to succession — is driven to concede: “We are entitled to affirm with regard to Baptists in England …that traces of them appear in historical documents early in the sixteenth century.”1
The late C. H. Spurgeon, in Ford's Christian Repository, years ago, said: “We care very little for the 'historical church' argument, but if there be anything in it at all, it ought not to be filched by the clients of Rome, but should be left to that community, which all along held by 'one Lord, one faith and one baptism.' …The afflicted Anabaptists, in their past history, have had such fellowship with their suffering Lord, and have borne such pure testimony, both to truth and freedom, that they need in nothing be ashamed. …It would not be impossible to show that the first Christians who dwelt in the land were of the same faith and order as the churches now called Baptists. …The rampant ritualist, W. J. E. Bennett, of Frome, in his book upon ‘The Unity of the Church Broken,' says: 'The historian
Lingard tells us there was a sect of fanatics who infested the north of Germany, called Puritans, Usher calls them Waldenses; Spelman, Paulicians (the same as Waldenses). They gained ground and spread over all England; they rejected all Romish ceremonies, denied the authority of the pope, and more particularly refused to baptize infants. Thirty of them were put to death for their heretical doctrines near Oxford; but the remainder still held on to their opinions in private until the time of Henry the II, 1550; and the historian, Collier, tells us that wherever the heresy prevailed, the churches were either scandalously neglected or pulled down and infants left unbaptized.’
1 A short Hist. Of Bap., p. 108.
We are obliged to Mr. Bennett for this history, which is in all respects authentic, and we take the liberty to remark upon it, that the reign of Henry the II is a period far more worthy of being called remote than the reign of Henry the VIII and if Baptists could trace their pedigree no further, the church of Thomas Cranmer could not afford to sneer at them as a modern sect. …All along our history from Henry II to Henry VIII there are traces of the Anabaptists, who are usually mentioned in connection with the Lollards, or as coming from Holland. …All along there must have been a great hive on the Continent of these 'reformers before the Reformation,' for despite their being doomed to die almost as soon as they landed, they continued to invade this country to the annoyance of the priesthood and the hierarchy. …During the Reformation, and after it, the poor Anabaptists continued to be the victims. …The only stint allowed to persecution in the lower countries was contained in a letter to the Queen, Dowager Mary of Hungary, 'care being only taken that the provinces were not entirely depopulated.' Latimer, who could not speak too badly of the Baptists, nevertheless bears witness to their numbers and intrepidity. Here I will tell you what I have heard of late, by the relation of a credible person and a worshipful man, of a town in this realm of England, that hath above five hundred heretics of this erroneous opinion in it. …Bishop Burnett says that in the time of Edward the VI, Baptists became very numerous, and openly preached their doctrines, that 'children are Christ's without water.' …Among the 'Articles of Visitation,' issued by Ridley in his own diocese in 1550, was the following: ‘Whether any of the Anabaptist sect and others use notoriously any unlawful or private conventicles wherein they do use doctrines or administration of sacraments, separating themselves from the rest of the parish.' It may he fairly gathered from the 'Articles of Visitation' that there were many Baptist CHURCHES in the kingdom at the time. This is also clear from the fact that the Duke of Northumberland advised that Mr. John Knox should be invited to England and made a bishop, that he might aid in putting down the Baptists in Kent. “Marsden tells us that in the days of Elizabeth 'the Anabaptists were the most numerous, and, for some time, by far the most formidable opponents of the church. They are said to have existed in England since the days of the Lollards.' In the year 1575 a most severe persecution was raised against the Anabaptists of London, ten of whom were condemned, eight ordered to be banished and two to be executed. …Neither from Elizabeth, James or Charles I, had our brethren any measure of favor. No treatment was thought to be too severe for them; even good men execrated them as heretics for whom the severest measures were too gentle. Had it been possible to destroy this branch of the true vine, assuredly the readiest means were used without hindrance or scruple. Yet it not only lives on, but continues to bear fruit a hundred fold. …When Charles the I. was unable any longer to uphold episcopacy, liberty of thought and freedom of speech were somewhat more common than before, and the Baptists increased very rapidly. Many of them were in Cromwell's army. The time will probably arrive when history will be rewritten.”
Says Robinson: “I have seen enough to convince me that the present English dissenters, contending for the sufficiency of Scripture, and for primitive Christian liberty to judge of its meaning, may be traced in authentic manuscripts to the Nonconformists, to the Puritans, to the Lollards, to the Vallences, to the Albigenses, and, I suspect, through the Paulicians and others to the Apostles.”1 Thus, an eminent secular historian says that be is convinced of the succession from the apostles of those whom my previous articles have proved were Baptist churches.
Evans: “Dissidents from the popular church in the early ages …were found everywhere. Men of apostolic life and doctrine contended for the simplicity of the church and the liberty of Christ's flock in the midst of great danger. …The Novations, the Donatists and others that followed them are examples. That these early separatists taught doctrines now held by the Baptists, might be made to appear from. their own works and the statements of their adversaries. …A succession of able and intrepid men taught the same great principles in opposition to a corrupt and affluent State church, and many of these taught those peculiar views of Christian life and doctrine which are special to us as Baptists. Beyond all doubt such views were inculcated by the Paulicians, the primitive Waldenses and their brethren. Over Europe they were scattered and their converts were very numerous long before the Reformation.”2
In 1538, under Henry the VIII, there were so many Baptists as to bring upon themselves the fiercest hatred.3
In 1549 “the mild Cranmer, Ridley and others felt as much, nay, more horror struck at an Anabaptist heretic than a dozen papal advocates.” “An ecclesiastical com mission…
1 Robinson's Claude, vol. 2, p. 63; in Evans' Hist. Early Eng. Bap., vol. 1, p. l.
2 Evans' Hist. Early Eng. Bap., vol. 1, pp. 1-2.
3 Idem, p. 51.
…in the beginning was issued out for the examination of Anabaptists.”1
“To stamp the character and principles of these troublers of the commonwealth, the Legislature, closing its session in 1551, exempted the Baptists from the pardon which was granted to those who had taken part in the late rebellion.”2 This was in the reign of Edward VI. Not long after this, under the reign of Queen Mary, “Intense as the hatred to the Reformers was, it did not diminish in intensity when it hunted the Anabaptists from their seclusion. Nowhere were they safe. Spies everywhere haunted their steps.”3
Under Queen Elizabeth, in 1557, Bishop Cox wrote that “sectaries are showing themselves mischievous and wicked interpreters. Of this kind are the Anabaptists;4 Dr. Parker in his letter declining the Archbishopric of Canterbury says: “They say that the realm is full of Anabaptists;”5 This was about 1560. “In the fourth year of her reign a proclamation was issued by the Queen commanding 'the Anabaptists and such like heretics which had flocked to the coast towns of England …and had spread the poison of their sects in England, to depart the realm in twenty days.”6 Of Marsden, Evans says: “One of the latest, and, we are bound to say, one of the calmest and most candid writers on the Puritanic history, says: 'But the Anabaptists were the most numerous, and for sometime the most formidable opponents of the church. They are said to have existed in England since the days of the Lollards;”4
l Evans' Hist. Early Bap., vol. p. 69.
2 Idem. p. 79.
3 Idem, p. 97.
4 Idem, p. 147.
5 Idem, p. 148.
6 Idem, p. 149.
“Dr. Wall …seems anxious to persuade his readers that there were no Baptists in England when Henry the VIII ascended the throne at the commencement of the sixteenth century, A. D. 1511. But upon that supposition it is not easy to account for the sanguinary statutes which in the early part of this reign were put forth against the Anabaptists. …If the country did not abound with Baptists at this time why were those severe measures enforced against them? …In 1536 the sect of the Anabaptists is specified and condemned. In fact it is easy to trace the Baptists in England at least a hundred years prior to the time mentioned by Fuller” — at least to 1438. “In the year 1539 …we find certain legal documents promulgated, one of which was against the “Anabaptists.” …”From this it appears that the Baptists not only existed in England, but that they were in the habit of availing themselves of the art of printing …in the defense of their particular and discriminating tenets. …Bishop Burnet informs us that at this time,” 1547, ''there were many Baptists in several parts of England.”1
“It happened on Easter, the third of April, A. D. 1557, that thirty Anabaptists of both sexes had assembled together in a house near Alligator …for the purposse of mutual exhortation and prayer; but being detected by the neighbors, they were nearly all taken to prison.”2 Quoting an enemy of the Baptists: “For the Dutch Anabaptists held private conventicles in London and perverted a great many.”3 Their churches were called “conventicles.” “In 1589 the same fact is admitted by Dr. Some in his reply to Barrow, etc. 'He affirms that there were several Anabaptist conventicles…
1 Neal's Hist. Pur., vol. 2, pp. 354-355.
2 Idem, p. 160.
3 Idem, p. 166.
…in London and other places.' They were not Dutchmen, certainly not exclusively so, for he says: 'Some persons of these sentiments have been bred at our universities.'”l “A Romish writer charges Elizabeth, in an infamous work, published in 1538, with making the country a place of refuge for …Anabaptists.”2 Commenting on Dr. Some's words, quoted above, Ivimey says: “It seems then that the Baptists had, at this early period, formed distinct churches of persons of their own sentiments, both in London and in different parts of the country,”3 A large ecclesiastical convocation, in 1536, condemns the “Anabaptists.”4 Fuller says of 1538-39: “These Anabaptists, for the main, are but 'Donatists new dipped,' and this year their name first appears in the English chronicles, for I read that four Anabaptists, three men and one woman, all Dutch, bore fagots at Paul's Cross, Nov. 24th, and three days after, a man and a woman of their sect was burned at Smithfield.”5 Of 1575, Fuller says: “Now began the Anabaptists wonderfully to increase in the land. …For on Easterday, April 3rd, was disclosed a congregation of Dutch Anabaptists without Aldgate in London.”6 Says Ivimey: “There were some good honest dissenters, who are mentioned as a new sect newly sprung up in Kent, in the year 1552. Of this sect were Joan Boacher, Joan of Kent, who, we are sure, was a Baptist. It is highly probable therefore that they were all Baptists of whom Mr. Pierce speaks. If so the churches of Kent can boast of great antiquity. …It has been already mentioned…
1 Neals' Hist. Pur., p. 166.
2 Idem, p. 167.
3 Ivimey's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 1, p. 108.
4 Fuller's Ch. Hist. of Britain, cent. 16, book 5. secs. 34-35.
5 Idem, cent. 16, book 5, sec. 11.
6 Idem, cent. 16, book 9, secs. 12-13.
…that there is traditionary evidence that the general Baptist church of Canterbury has existed 250 years; and that the church of Eyethorn is nearly of as early an origin. In a letter from the present pastor of that church I am informed that 'more than 220 years ago persons of the general Baptist denomination met for the worship of God at Eyethorn.'”1 As the volume which I quote was written in 1814, this would date the Canterbury church as already existing in 1564 and the Eyethorn church in 1594. Here, existing in Kent, is one church in 1552, the Canterbury in 1564 and the Eyethorn in 1594. How long these three churches existed before we had record of their existence no one can tell. Goadby says: “The church at Eyethorn, Kent, owes its origin to some Dutch Baptists who settled in the country in the time of Henry VIII. …According to a long prevalent tradition, ('uninterrupted and uncontradicted, says one authority,') Joan Boucher, or Joan of Kent, was a member of the Baptist church of Eyethorn.”2 “In the Calendar of State Papers, (Domestic Series, 1547-1580,) under date of Oct. 28th, 1552, we have the entry: 'Northumberland, to Sir William Cecil. Wishes the king would appoint Mr. Knox to the Bishopric of Rochester. He would be a whetstone to the archbishop of Canterbury and a confounder of the Anabaptists lately sprung up in Kent.' …One singular fact, perhaps without a parallel in the history of this ancient General Baptist church at Eyethorn, deserves to be mentioned; the names of the pastors from the close of the sixteenth to the last quarter of the seventeenth century, were John Knott. The first John Knott became the pastor of the Eyethorn church somewhere between 1590 and 1600 and the last…
1 Ivimey's Hist. Eng. Bap. vol. 2, pp. 216-217.
2 Goadby's Bye Paths to Bap. Hist., p. 23.
…John Knott removed to Chatham in 1780.”1 Writing of this, before 1876, Goadby remarks: “It is worthy of record that the church of Christ in this little village continued more than three hundred years without a single unfriendly division and with a steadfast adherence to the faith and practice of the Primitive church.”2 This dates it before 1576.
“The Booking Braintree church-book, still in existence, carries back the authentic records of the church for more than two hundred years, but there is no question but the origin of the church itself dates back to the days of Edward VI” — between 1547 and 1648.3
Queen Elizabeth reigned from 1558 to 1603. Goadby says: “Tiverton church is said to have existed since the last years of Queen Elizabeth.”3
“We have reliable evidence that a Separatist, and probably a Baptist church, has existed for several centuries in a secluded spot of Cheshire, on the borders of Lancashire, about a mile and a half from Warrington. No spot could be better chosen for concealment than the site on which this ancient chapel stood. Removed from all public roads, enclosed by a dense wood, affording ready access into two counties, Hill Cliffe was admirably suited for the erection of a 'conventicula illicita,' an illegal conventicle. The ancient chapel built on this spot was so constructed that the surprised worshipers had half a dozen secret ways of escaping from it, and long proved a meeting place suited to the varying fortunes of a hated and hunted people. Owing to the many changes inseparable from the eventful history of the church at Hill Cliffe, the earliest records have been lost. But two…
1 Goadby's Bye Paths to Bap. Hist., pp. 24-25.
2 Idem, p. 26.
3 Idem, p. 28.
…or three facts point to the very early existence of the community itself. In 1841 the then old chapel was enlarged and modernized; and in digging for the foundation, a large baptistry of stone, well cemented, was discovered. How long this had been covered up, and at what period it was erected, it is impossible to state; but as some of the tombstones in the graveyard adjoining the chapel were erected in the early part of the sixteenth century, there is some probability/or the tradition, that the chapel itself was built by the Lollards who held Baptist opinions. One of the dates on the tombstones is 1357, the time when Wickliffe was still a fellow at Merton College, Oxford; but the dates most numerous begin at the period when Europe had just been startled by Luther's valiant onslaught upon the papacy. …Many of these tombstones, and especially the oldest, as we can testify from a personal examination, look as clear and as fresh as if they were engraved only a century ago. …Hill Cliffe is undoubtedly one of the oldest Baptist churches in England. …The earliest deeds of the property have been irrecoverably lost, but the extant deeds, which go back considerably over two hundred years, described the property as being ' for the Anabaptists.'”1
Of the Hill Cliffe church Rev. D. O. Davis, of Rockdale, England, who attended the Southern Baptist convention in Birmingham, Ala., in 1891, as a representative of the English Baptists, says: “The oldest Baptist church in this country is Hill Cliffe. …Tradition declares that church is 500 years old. A tombstone was recently discovered in the burial ground of the place bearing date of 1357. In digging the foundation to enlarge the old chapel a large baptistry was discovered which was…
1 Goadby's Bye Paths to Bap. Hist., pp. 22-23.
…made of stone and well cemented. The baptistry must have belonged to a previous chapel. Oliver Cromwell worshiped in this church. It is one of the pre-historic churches, and a regular Baptist church.”1
Of Henry VIII, from 1509-1547, Goadby says: “Bitterly as he hated the Papist party …he revealed a still more bitter hatred for all Baptists, English and Continental.” He gave them ten days to leave England, burnt them and issued a fourth proclamation “appointing Cranmer and eight others to make diligent search for Anabaptist men, books and letters.”2
Under this, Goadby says: “Like the Israelites in Egypt, 'the more they were afflicted the more they multiplied and grew.'”3 Under the reign of Edward VI, 1537-1548, Goadby says that in spite of their persecutions “their numbers increased.” Strype tells us that “their opinions were believed by honest meaning people,” and another writer affirms that the articles of religion issued just before the king's death “were principally designed to vindicate the English Reformation from the slur and disgrace which the Anabaptists' tenets had brought upon it, a clear proof that the Baptists were at that period neither few nor unimportant.”4 Remember this was before John Smyth's baptism.
Of the English Baptists, of the seventeeth century, Goadby says: “All these are scions of this stock of Anabaptism that was transplanted out of Holland in the year 1535 when two ships laden with Anabaptists fled into England, after they had missed the Enterprise at Amsterdam.”5
1 Shackelford's Comp. of Bap. Hist., p. 274.
2 Goadby's Bye Paths to Bap. Hist., pp. 72-73.
3 Idem, p. 74.
4 Idem, p. 75.
5 Idem, p. 105.
To add many other testimonies to the existence of Baptist churches in England long before and at the time of John Smyth's baptism is an easy task. There is, to this, a most superabundantly overwhelming mass of proof. But I rather owe an explanation for having already produced such an avalanche of proof. That explanation is: Owing to John Smyth being so persistently thrown up to the Baptists as the founder of English Baptist churches, I have given this vast amount of refuting proof to silence forever every honest man who has been throwing John Smyth's baptism up against Baptists. In other words: This mass of testimony is given because so many think the English Baptists, of the early part of the seventeenth century, were the first Baptist churches in England since very early times.
There remain two objections or evasions. The first is: Is there proof that the Baptists who antedated Smyth were organized into churches and that these churches were in existence in England when he was baptized?
Notwithstanding that the foregoing shows this can be answered only in the affirmative, to not leave any possible room for doubt, I add the following:
(1.) Just as the principles of a political party, of any secret society necessarily bring into organization their adherents, so Baptist principles organized their adherents into Baptist churches. (2.) Just as the principles of anything are dependent on organization for their perpetuity operation and dissemination, so the perpetuity and the dissemination of Baptist principles are the demonstration of the existence of Baptist churches. (3.) In all times of which we have the history of Baptists in particular and fully, where there were many Baptists, there have been Baptist churches. (4.) The New Testament provision for the church to preach, administer the ordinances and the discipline of the kingdom, and to preserve the gospel institutions, guarantee the continuity of the church — of the preserver as much as of the things to be preserved. These four premises furnish the conclusion that the existence of Baptists in England, previous to and at the time of John Smyth's baptism, are sufficient assurance of the then existence of Baptist churches. (5.) But, their “conventicles” are synonymous with “churches.”
Says the late E. T. Winkler, D. D., a great scholar, of very extensive research in church history: “Conventicle ordinarily occurred as the synonym of 'a church so called.' It was applied to the assembly, the place and the organization, just as the word church (ecclesia) was among early Christians, or as the word 'meeting' is in New England. To use an impressive term of John Stuart Mill, it connoted a church. The Baptist conventicles were for the most part Baptist churches. …The term is from the Latin 'conventiculum,' which signifies a 'little assembly.' It was commonly used by the ancient writers to indicate a church. Thus Lactantius (5:11) relates that a certain persecutor in the age of Diocletian, 'burnt a whole people together with their conventiculum (church) where they all met together.' Arnobius (Contra Gent. 4:352) complains: 'Why are our churches, (conventicula) where the supreme God is worshipped, pulled down?' And Ambroisiaster says that (wherever the church extends local congregations are established (conventicula) and elders and other officers are ordained in these churches'”1
Webster defines conventicle: “An assembly or gathering. An assembly for religious worship, and, opprobiously…
1 Dr. Winkler In Ala. Bap. and Relig. Herald, 1875.
…such an assembly held by nonconformists or dissenters from the established church of England.”1
“Now, as conventicles were the name of disgrace cast on, 'schools' was the term of credit owned by the Wicklivites for their place of meeting.”2 Thus, we see how even the term “schools” was applied to churches. Universal Knowledge — Chambers' Encyclopedia — says: “Conventicle was first given as an appellation of reproach to the assemblies of Wickliffe's followers, and was after applied to the meetings of the English and Scottish nonconformists.”3
The laws prohibiting conventicles clearly imply that they were often churches. Thus they read: “That if any person, upwards of sixteen years, shall be present at any assembly, conventicle or meeting under colour or pretence of any exercise of religion, in any other manner than according to the liturgy and practice of the Church of England …the offender shall pay five shillings for the first offence.”4 Perkins, the leading Puritan writer of the Elizabethan age, says: “The church of the Papists, of the …Anabaptists …are no churches of God.”5 Thus Perkins says that the conventicles claimed that they were genuine churches. Says Dr. Winkler: “Owen says (Works, vol. 13, p. 184.) 'The Donatists rebaptized those who came to their societies because they professed themselves to believe that all administration of ordinances not in their assemblies was null, and that they were to be looked upon as no such thing. Our Anabaptists do the same thing.'” Owen…
1 Unabridged Dictionary.
2 Fuller's Ch. Hist. Britain, cent. 15, book 4, secs. 17-18.
3 Volume 4, p. 568.
4 Neal's History Puritans, vol. 2, p. 266.
5 Perkins' Works, vol. 3, p. 286—quoted by Dr. Winkler; also Burrils'
Law Die., vol. 1, p. 281; Hook's Ch. Direc., p. 167, referred to by Dr. Winkler.
…having lived from 1616 to 1683, Dr. Winkler adds: “Should any one object to the late date or the pertinency of Owen's testimony, we commend to his consideration the contemporaneous description of the conventicles of Essex and Kent, which were prosecuted by the orders of the council in the year 1550. 'These congregations,' says Underhill, 'were supported by the contributions of their members; (Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty, p. 113) mutual instruction was practiced and the fellowship of the gospel regularly maintained.’”
(6.) The name “Anabaptist” inevitably implies Baptist church organization. Baptist means one who baptizes. The name “Anabaptists” was given to Baptists because all who joined them from other denominations were received into their churches by “rebaptism.” The very name Anabaptist, therefore, so clearly and inevitably implies church organization that only the reluctance to admit the existence of Baptist churches, long before and up to Smyth's day, seems sufficient explanation for the resort to the evasion, that while there was a continuity of Baptists long before and up to the time of John Smyth, they were not churches! Baptist persecutors of those bloody times would have been glad had they been Baptist only in name — that they were not churches. Thus, in 1560, occurred the visitation in the diocese of Ridley, wherein the officers were to ascertain “whether any of the Anabaptist sect or others use notoriously any unlawful and private conventicles wherein they do use
doctrine or administration of sacraments separating themselves from the rest of the parish.”1
(7.) Laying all this aside, I have already proved that the Hill Cliffe and other churches have a history far back…
1 Quoted by Dr. Winkler, in Ala. Bap.
…of the time of John Smyth; and that two years before Smyth organized his church he spent nearly all night “in debate with elders” of the Crowle church, which existed in 1599, how long previous, no one knows.
Thus, I have inconfutably demonstrated that there were Baptist churches, and many of them, in England long before and up to Smyth's time. Hence, Dr. Howard Osgood, one of the most eminent authorities on Baptist history, says: “If we would make the first Baptist church to appear under Helwise, in 1614, then we must deny the historical evidence of the conventicles of Baptists in the previous century. If we make the church founded in London in 1633 the first Calvinistic Baptist church in England, we assume that all the Baptists and Baptist churches of the sixteenth century were Arminian in their views, which has never been shown, and is contrary to all probability. Baptists were found in the north and west but principally in the east of England. Under the dreadful persecution of the Tudors, the churches knew little of each other, unless they were situated near together. † We hear more of the Calvinistic church formed in 1633, because it was situated in London and performed an important work in the following years. Joan Bucher, who was a member of the Baptist church in Eyethorne, Kent, burned by order of Henry VI, held this doctrine.”1
If any one set up the claim that persecution had rid England of Baptists before Smyth's time, let him turn back and read the previous part of this chapter, in which he will see that instead of this being true, it was, as with…
† Here we see why Baptist churches are so hard to trace in history. Being often concealed and unknown to their contemporaries and their hooks burned, that we have so much evidence of their existence can but be a wonderful providence, for which we ought to be thankful. Baptists, being thus concealed, their very existence was necessarily often unknown to each other. This is why that, though there were Baptist churches in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century, they were unknown by those who sent to Holland to get true baptism.
1 In The Standard of Chicago, 1875.
…the churches of the first three centuries, that “Semen est sanguis Christianorem” — the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church — they lived in spite of persecutions. As Dr. Osgood remarks: “No persecution was severe enough to extirpate the Baptists from England, though it caused them to keep their meetings and their views very quiet, † Banishment, whipping, or death at the stake awaited any public exhibition of their ‘conventicles.’ † Before hand was laid to the reformation of the established churches in England, Baptists were numerous in the kingdom, and the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth are blotted with the blood of martyred Baptists.”1
Universal Knowledge — Chamber's Encyclopedia — says of the Baptists: “This denomination of Christians refuse to acknowledge any great name as the founder of their sect. They trace their origin to the primitive church itself, and refer to the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, as, in their opinion, affording incontestable evidence that their leading tenents had the sanction of inspiration. When Christianity became corrupted by the rise of anti-Christ, they point to the maintenance of their Scripture practice among the Cathari and the Albigenses and other sects of the middle ages, who, in the midst of surrounding darkness, continued to hold fast the apostolic testimony. They sprang into notice in England under Henry the VIII and Elizabeth. They were persecuted under both reigns.”2
† See note to p.345.
1 In The Standard, of Chicago, 1875.
2 Vol. 1, p. 341.