JOHN SMYTH'S BAPTISM AND THE ORIGIN OF
Inasmuch as the alleged self-baptism of John Smyth is been used to the discredit of Baptists, it is thought best to devote this chapter to its treatment and to the explanation of its alleged relation to them.
(1.) Instead of that baptism being the origin of English and American Baptists it was not even done in England. This alleged baptism was done in Amsterdam, in Holland, in 1608.1
(2.) Smyth never had any connection with the regular or Particular Baptists, of which denomination are American Baptists.
Though but poorly informed on the differences between the Particular and the General Baptists of England, Mosheim was sufficiently informed to know they were different religious bodies. He says: “The sect in England which rejects the custom of baptizing infants, are not distinguished by the title of Anabaptists, but by that of Baptist. It is probable that they derive their origin from the German and Dutch Mennonites, The English Baptists differ in many things. …They are divided into two sects. One of which is distinguished by the denomination of General or Arminian Baptists, on account of their opposition to the doctrines of absolute and unconditional decrees; and the other by that of Particular or Calvinistic Baptists, from the striking…
1 Armitage's Hist. Bap., pp. 453-454.
…resemblance of their system to that of the Presbyterians, who have Calvin for their chief.”1
Armitage and other historians recognize the difference between these two bodies.2
(3.) Admitting Smyth as the founder of English Baptists, the report that he baptized himself is so far from being proved true that the contrary is more probably true. Cramp says: “There has been much dispute respecting the manner in which they proceeded, some maintaining that Smyth baptized himself and then baptized others. It is a thing of small consequence. …The probability is that one of the brethren baptized Mr. Smyth, and that he then baptized the others.”3
Armitage notices the rumor: “Smyth and his congregation met in a large bakery for a time, but lie soon saw his mistake in his hasty see baptism, and offered to join the Dutch congregation of Baptists. …Part of his congregation under the leadership of Helwys would not unite with Smyth in this movement, but excluded him from their fellowship and warned the Dutch church not to receive him.”4 Armitage enters upon an extended discussion of “whether Smyth dipped himself,” “whether he was poured,” etc.5 Refuting some slanders against Smyth, Armitage says: “There is not a particle of evidence that he affused himself, and it is a cheap caricature to imagine that he disrobed himself, walked into a stream, then lifted handfuls of water, pouring them liberally upon his own head, shoulders and chest.”6
1 Mosheim's Eccl. Hist., cent. 16, sec. 3, chap. 3, 21.
2 Armitage's Bap. Hist., pp. 464, 460, comp.
3 Cramps' Hist. Bap., p. 287.
4 Armitage's Hist. Bap., p. 454.
5 Idem, pp. 457-463.
6 Idem, p. 459.
“Some time before Smyth's death he frankly retracted his error in baptizing himself and them.”1 In view of all this, well does Armitage, agreeing with Cramp, say: “Whether he dipped himself is not clear.”2 These accounts, are so far obscure and contradictory that, to use them as conclusively proving that Baptist churches originated in self baptism, comes nearer proving the cause of the one who uses them hard pressed than it comes to proving a discreditable origin of Baptist churches. (4.) The proof is very strong that the charge of self baptism and of a new baptism among Smyth's followers is a slander. Crosby, than whom there is no higher authority on this period of Baptist history, says: “I do not find any Englishman among the first restorers of immersion in this latter age accused of baptizing himself but only the said John Smyth; and there is ground to question the truth of that also. Mr. Ainsworth, Mr. Jessop, and some others, do indeed charge him with it; but they write, as has already been observed, with so much passion and resentment, that it is not unlikely such men might take up a report against him on slender evidence, and after one had published it, the others might take it from him without any inquiry into the truth of it. The defenses which he wrote of himself are not to be met with; and in the large quotations that his adversaries take out of them I do not find one passage wherein he acknowledges himself to have done any such thing, or attempts to justify any such practice; which, surely, had there been such, would have hardly escaped his notice. …Says Mr. Smyth: “A man cannot baptize others into a church, himself being out of the church, or being no…
l Armitage's Hist. Bap., p. 463.
2 Idem, p. 457.
…member. Here are two principles laid down by Mr. Smyth which contradict the account they give of him. That upon the supposition of the true baptism being lost for some time, through the disuse of it, 'tis necessary there should be two persons who must unite in the revival of it, in order to begin the administration thereof; and that the first administrator be a member of some church, who should call and empower him to administer it to the members thereof. Now it is reasonable to conclude, that his practice was conformable to this.”1 Ivimey adopts Crosby's argument.2 That any reasonable person can see its force, I feel sure.
Dr. Cutting, when professor of history in Rochester University, wrote: “The biographers of Mr. Smyth, and the Baptist historians, Crosby and Ivimey, have been entirely skeptical in regard to this alleged self-baptism. It has been argued that the charge proceeded from enemies only, and that if there had been any truth in it, some intimation of the propriety of such an act would have been found somewhere in the writings of Mr. Smyth, or in those of his friends.”3 Noticing the statement, made by Mr. Robinson, that Smyth baptized himself, Prof. Cutting says: “Was Mr. Robinson mistaken? He was not an eye witness, he was in Amsterdam for a brief time only, and then went to Leyden. He 'heard' the manner of establishing the new church narrated. Did he understand correctly what he heard?” Or, did he misinterpret instituting baptism among themselves, by supposing that to mean self-baptism? The controversy seems to be narrowed down to this single question. …On the supposition that Mr. …
1 Crosby's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 1, pp. 97-99.
2 Ivimey's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 1, p. 119.
3 Cutting's Hist. Vindications, p. 58.
…Robinson misinterpreted what he heard, the circumstances of the case render it easy enough to suppose that the statement might pass to history uncontradicted.”1 “ Mr. Smyth was already dead, and Mr. Helwisse, if still alive, was in England. It is not certain, however, that Mr. Helwisse was still living.”1 Thus, the story, of which Baptist enemies make so much, rests mainly on the testimony which Mr. Robinson received of Mr. Smyth's enemies, which he may have misunderstood and which was thus started on foot after Mr. Smyth's death, after Mr. Helwisse was probably dead, but if living, had left the country, and which was never noticed by Mr. Smyth or any of his friends!
(5.) The latest, and seemingly the true statement, is by Dr. John Clifford, one of the most scholarly and prominent of living English Baptist ministers. Before me lies a complimentary copy from himself, of his excellent work, entitled: “The Origin and Growth of the English Baptists.” From pages 15-16 I copy the following on this point: “At Crowie, in Lincolnshire, a few miles from Gainsborough, there was, according to an old Church Book, recently copied, a Baptist society as early as 1550. To that rural community Smyth went in the year 1604, and 'debated nearly all night with Elders Henry Helwisse and John Morton, who defended our cause well.' Not yet, however, was he convinced, but after three months' reflection, his mind had advanced beyond the position of the Separatists. He had, says the Church Book, 'consulted the Scriptures and admitted that he was deceived in the way of Pedobaptistry,' and 'so, embraced the faith in a true Christian and apostolic baptism,' and on the 24th of March, 1606, at midnight,…
1 Cutting's Hist. Vindications, p. 58.
…to avoid the satellites of the persecuting Church, and under the glare of the torchlight, 'he was baptized by Elder John Morton, in the River Don, and then walked to Epworth, a distance of two miles in his wet clothes.'”
Dr. Clifford says: “The church book from whence this statement is taken about John Symth's baptism, belonged to the church at Epworth and Crowie, in Lincolnshire. The Rev. Jabez Stuttered, minister at Epworth and Crowie, heard his deacons speak of the existence of this work; and being interested, found that it was in the possession of Rev. Smith Watson, a minister at Butterwick, hard by. He obtained a sight of it, and discovered that it consisted of a few moth eaten leaves, which had
been given to Mr. Smith Watson by an old Baptist family of the district, who met with it in an old chest many years before. Mr. Stuttered thought the pages might be of value, and the opinion of an. expert a skilled, antiquarian, of the district, was sought and he reported as follows:
'NOVEMBER 9th, 1866.
'As keeper of the Manor Charts of North Lincolnshire, I have examined the old Baptist Records, and believe them to refer to the last days of Queen Elizabeth and James the First. And recommend the friends connected with the Baptist cause, to quickly copy them or they will surely vanish away.'
'F. CHAPMAN, Antiquarian.' “
The book was guarded with jealous care, but at the request of the deacons, and with their aid, Mr. Stuttered made a number of extracts, and after some time forwarded them to me. I was surprised at their contents, and especially at the statement concerning John Smyth's baptism, and asked to see the original; meanwhile Smith Watson had deceased, and the book could not be found. Search has been made again and again, but, at present in vain. The following document bears date December
the 16th, 1879:
“We, the undersigned deacons of the Baptist church at Butterwick, Epworth, Crowie, having seen and handled the Old Records of seven or eight leaves, long before Rev. J. Stuttered came into the country, and at our request and desire, and with our assistance he copied the same moth-eaten records. We, as a church, tendered him our sincere thanks and requested him to send them to the editor of the General Baptist Magazine for insertion. When copied they were taken back to Butterwick, and consigned to the care of the late Rev. Smith Watson, and now we cannot, at present, place our hands on the document, or it would have been sent for Mr. Clifford's inspection.
ANDERSON HIND, PETER GLOSSOP, JOHN CHAPMAN, BENJAMIN BATTY, GEORGE SINCLAIR, THOMAS SMITH, WM. CHAMBERLAIN.”1
(6.) Were we to admit this slander on John Smyth, and that the error was not corrected it effects but few of the Baptists:
(a.) Because there were Baptists in England before the time of Smyth.
(b.) Because, at the time of his baptism, there were Baptist churches near him.
Armitage says that the “Dutch Baptists of London rallied around Helwys and John Murton, his successor” — Smyth's successors.2 By the way, who can believe the Dutch Baptists would have given this help to Smyth's church had it originated as Baptist enemies allege?
1 The Orgin and Growth of the Eng. Bap., by Dr. John Clifford, pp. 10-12.
2 Armitage's Hist. Bap., p. 454.
Of the origin of what is generally regarded the Particular Baptists of England, Meal's History of the Puritans says: “When, after long search, and many debates, it appeared to them that infant baptism was a mere innovation, and even a profanation of a divine ordinance, they were not brought to lay it aside without many fears and tremblings. …They were persuaded that believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, and that immersion or dipping the whole body into water was the appointed rite. But as this was not practiced in England” — a great mistake of Mr. Neal, originating with the little then known of Baptists — “they were at a loss for an administrator to begin with. After often meeting together to pray and confer about this matter, they agreed to send over into Holland Mr. Eichard Blount, who understood the Dutch language, to a Baptist church there; he was kindly received by the society and their pastor and upon his return he baptized Mr. Samuel Blacklock, a minister; these two baptized the rest of the company, to the number of fifty-three. Some few others of this persuasion were among the original planters of New England.”1
Thus an eminent Pedobaptist historian established the “succession” of English Baptists through the Baptists of Holland who were the original Waldenses and their descendants. Vedder, notwithstanding all his prejudice, admits this account as true, and pronounces the baptism of the English Baptist as henceforth correct?
W. W. Everts, Jr., a very high authority on church history, severely criticizes Dr. Dexter for giving so little attention to this, which was in order to discredit the Baptists through John Smyth, and says, of one of his false statements: “I cannot account for such a statement…
1 Neal's Hist. Pur., vol. 2, p. 361.
2 Short Hist. Bap., p. 117; also, Cutting's Hist. Vind., p. 36.
…except by supposing an animus in the writer that delights to make early Baptists out a disorderly set.”1 Inasmuch as they would not have sent to Holland unless they believed the Holland Baptists were in the Continuity Line we have, here, incidental evidence of the Holland Baptists then being well and -widely known as historical successors of the apostolic church.
Crosby thus narrates it: “This agrees with an account given in the matter in an ancient manuscript, said to be written by William Kiffin, who lived in those times.” Crosby, after giving the account, just quoted from Neal, concludes: “So that those who followed this scheme did not derive their baptism from the aforesaid Mr. Smyth, or his congregation at Amsterdam, it being an. ancient congregation of foreign Baptists in the Low Countries to whom they sent.”2
Some have misunderstood the above accounts to be of Smyth's alleged rebaptism and church. But Orchard is correct in saying: “The Particular Baptist church in London, at its formation, A. D. 1633, deputed Mr. Blount to visit a church in Holland, and receive from a Waldensian Baptist, scriptural immersion. The Baptists are the only Christians that can prove a scriptural immersion and order descended to them from the days of John the Baptist.”3
Armitage says the “church referred to in the above account was that of which Messrs. Jacob and Lathrop had been pastors.” “A number of this society came to reject infant baptism, and were permitted to form a distinct church, Sept. 12th, 1633, with Spilsbury for their pastor. …In 1638, William Kiffin, Thomas…
1 In The Standard, Chicago.
2 Crosby's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 1, pp 101-103.
3 Orchard's Hist. Bap., vol. 1, p. 261.
…Wilson and others, left Lathrop's independent church, then under charge of Mr. Jessey, and united with Spilsbury's church.”1
Orchard says: “Mr. Spilsbury's name not being mentioned by Kiffin, suggested to previous writers, that his account was of another church, erected about the same time, yet as Mr. Kiffin joined a church at Wapping, it is natural to conclude he gave a statement of the rise of his own community. Mr. Spilsbury might have been selected as a teacher only during their infancy; and Blacklock, or some other minister, might have succeeded him. Edwards, saying this was one of the first, admits of more existing at the same time.”2
That the reader may not be confused by Spilsbury's church being mentioned in London and Kiffin belonging to it in Wapping, I will here inform him that Wapping, at that time was a pleasant suburb of London.” The Wapping and London church is identical.3
Orchard's suggestion, that Spilsbury was pastor during only the infancy of the church, is unnecessary since Blacklock having been baptized by Blount and then baptizing the others do not necessarily imply Spilsbury was not pastor at that time. As now, owing to sickness or other causes, pastors have others baptize for them, so Blacklock may have baptized for Spilsbury, after baptizing him. But however this may be — of which the scantiness of the records leaves doubt — it in no way effects the scriptural perpetuity of baptism.
Finally, concluding the John Smyth affair, and the Spilsbury church, do not forget that this is the account of only two churches and their successors, while I have proved…
1 Armitage's Hist. Bap.
2 Orchard's Hist. Bap., vol. 2, p. 262.
3 Goadby's Bye Paths to Bap. Hist., p. 35.
…there were at that time many other Baptist churches in England. As Armitage says of the Spilsbury church: “The fact that a part of this congregation did not know that the immersion of believers had been practiced in England cannot be accepted as decisive proofs that the Baptists were strangers to that practice, still less that it had never been known in England before 1641.”1 Benedict says: “The account of Mr. Spilsbury is said, in the margin, to have been written from the records of that church; but from anything that appears there is nothing to justify the conclusion of Mr. Crosby that this was the first Baptist church, as the account relates simply to the origin of that particular church — to state which, it is probable, was Mr. Kiffin's design, rather than to relate the origin of Baptist churches in general and which he must certainly have known were in existence previous to that period.”2
Benedict after saying: “It must be admitted that some obscurity hangs over the history of the oldest Baptist communities in this kingdom,” in a note, says: “From all the fragments of history, I am Inclined to believe that Baptist churches, under various circumstances, have existed in England from the time of William the Conqueror, four or five centuries prior to those of which any definite accounts have come down to us. …Here churches in persecuting times are mere household affairs which must of necessity be hid from public view. More than three centuries had elapsed before the Baptists in England had any knowledge that a church of their order existed in Chesterton in 1457. Mr. Robinson brought…
1 Armitage's Hist. Bap., p. 440.
2 Benedict's Hist. Bap., p. 337.
…the facts to light by examining the manuscript records of the old bishop of Ely.”1
Goadby, of the English Baptists of the seventeenth century says: “All these are scions of that stock of Anabaptism transplanted out of Holland in the year 1535, when two ships laden with Anabaptists fled into England.”2
Armitage says: “All these are scions of what was transplanted out of Holland in the year 1535, when two ships laden with Anabaptists fled into England. …here it seems they have remained ever since.”3 This is an adopted quotation from a “History of Anabaptists of High and Low Germany,” written in 1642, “now among the Kings' Pamphlets.” Barclay also reports that in 1536 “Anabaptist societies in England sent a delegation to a, great gathering of their brethren in Westphalia. It appears, therefore, that the origin of English Baptists, as a distinct sect, is to be found among the English Baptist refugees who were driven from the Netherlands.”3
Here see my previous chapter on English Baptists before and at the time of John Smyth, which proves Baptists in England long before and up to 1535.
Crosby says of Smyth: “If he were guilty of what they charge him with, it is no blemish on the English
Baptists, who neither approved of any such method, nor did they receive their baptism from him.”4
Dr. Smith, editor of The Standard at Chicago, formerly Lecturer on Church History to the Chicago Baptist Theological Seminary, says: “As we have said on former occasions, John Smyth is not counted on as one of the founders of the Baptist denomination.”5
1 Benedict's Hist. Bap., p. 337.
2 Goadby's Bye Paths to Bap. Hist., p. 106.
3 Armitage's Bap. Hist., pp. 445-446.
4 Crosby's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. 1, p. 99.
5 In The Standard, Chicago.
Well did “Hercules Collins, a Baptist minister of Wapping,” England, in a work published in 1691, say of the English Baptists having received their baptism from John Smyth: “It is absolutely untrue, it being well known to some who are yet alive how false this assertion is; and if J. W. will but give a meeting to any of us, and bring whom he pleases with him, we shall sufficiently show the falsity of what is asserted by him in this matter, and in many other things which he hath unchristianly asserted.”1
1 Ivimey's Hist. Eng. Bap., vol. l, p. 140.