a history of the baptists
TOGETHER WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF THEIR PRINCIPLES AND
IN ATTEMPTING to write a history of the Baptists no one is
more aware of the embarrassments surrounding the subject than the author. These
embarrassments arise from many sources. We are far removed from many of the
circumstances under survey; the representations of the Baptists were often made
by enemies who did not scruple, when such a course suited their purpose, to
blacken character; and hence the testimony from such sources must be received
with discrimination and much allowance made for many statements; in some
instances vigilant and sustained attempts were made to destroy every document
relating to these people; the material that remains is scattered through many
libraries and archives, in many lands and not always readily accessible; often,
on account of persecutions, the Baptists were far more interested in hiding than
they were in giving an account of themselves or their whereabouts; they were
scattered through many countries, in city and cave, as they could find a place
of concealment; and frequently they were called by different names by their
enemies, which is confusing. Yet it is a right royal history they have. It is
well worth the telling and the preserving.
It must be borne in mind that there are many sources of
Church History. Broadly speaking we have Eastern and Western; and a want of
discrimination in these sources, and frequently an effort to treat Eastern and
Western churches as identical, has caused much confusion. A right understanding
of these sources will clear up many dark corners. For example it is undoubtedly
true that the Waldenses originated in the West and the Paulicans in the East,
and that they had a different history. In later centuries they came in contact
one with the other, but in origin they were diverse. Any effort to treat them as
one and the same people is misleading. In my judgment both parties were
Baptists. The above distinction will account for many minor differences, and
even today these sources will be found coloring Baptist history.
It may be thought by some that on account of its length
the chapter on "The Episode of John Smyth" is out of proportion with the rest of
the hook. It must be remembered, however, that any information in regard to the
complicated history of the Nonconformists of that period is welcome. As a matter
of fact, several subjects are here grouped; and as all of them require notice it
is believed that unity of thought, as well as length of discussion, is preserved
by the method here adopted. Many questions were then raised for the first time
among English Baptists which find expression today among all schools of
The question has often been asked: "Were all of the
ancient parties mentioned in these pages in absolute or substantial accord with
all of the doctrines and customs of modern Baptists?" The question can be
answered with unerring accuracy: certainly not. Nor is there anything strange in
the reply. It is well known that Baptists, Mennonites, and Quakers in their
history have much in common, but while they agree in many particulars there are
essential differences. There are marked differences among modern Baptists. Even
a superficial examination of the views and customs of Russian, English and
American Baptists would reveal to an observer this fact. We need not go beyond
the history of American Baptists for a convincing example. At first, Arminian
doctrines largely prevailed in this country; at a later date, Calvinistic
principles prevailed. Oftentimes the same persons have changed their opinion.
Many of the Baptists in Virginia were Arminians, but after passing over to
Kentucky some of them became rigid Calvinists. Inside the Baptist denomination
today there are persons, and doubtless churches, who are Arminian, and there are
other persons and churches who are Calvinists. There are also Unitarians and
Higher Critics, as well as Evangelicals among Baptists. One who has a mind for
such things could magnify these differences to an indefinite extent.
Adequate reasons might be assigned for all of this.
Baptists have never had a common creed, and it is equally true that they have
never recognized any authoritative creed. They desire no such standard. Their
attitude toward free speech and liberty of conscience has permitted and
encouraged the largest latitude in opinions. Yet none of us would care to
increase these differences or make more acute the variations.
One who stops here would have only a superficial
understanding of the history and polity of Baptists. Their ties of organization
are so slender, their government so democratic in nature, and their hardy
independence so universal, that it has been a wonder to some historians and a
mystery inexplicable to those who have not understood their genius, how they
have retained their homogeneity and solidarity. But holding as they have ever
done the absolute and unconditional authority of the New Testament as the sole
rule of faith and practice in religious matters, they have had with them from
the beginning a powerful preventive to error, and a specific corrective when
there has been an aberration from the truth.
All of these things, and more, must be taken into account
when we come to consider the various parties and persons discussed in the pages
of this history. These parties were persecuted, scattered and often segregated.
They lived in different lands and frequently had no opportunity to compare
notes. There were great controversies, and frequently new roads were to be
blazed out, intricate doctrinal problems to be solved, and complicated questions
to be adjusted. In the insistence upon some great doctrine, it may have happened
that some other doctrine of equal or relative importance did not sustain its
proper position for a time. Wrong views were sometimes maintained, false
doctrines introduced and defended. Much allowance must always be made,
especially in considering the doctrinal views of Baptists, for the fact we are
frequently indebted to a zealous and prejudiced enemy for much of our
information. It is not safe without support to trust such testimony.
Many examples might be introduced to show that some of
these parties might not be recognized by some Baptists now-a-days. The
Montanists, the Novatians, and the Donatists held diverse opinions, not only
from each other, but from the teachings of the New Testament; but they stressed
tremendously the purity of the church. It is possible that the Paulicians were
Adoptionists. There have always been different views in regard to the birth of
Jesus. Some of the Anabaptists held that Jesus was a man, and that he did not
derive his manhood from Mary, but passed through her as a channel. The
Adoptionists held that Jesus was endowed with divinity at his baptism. Most
modern Baptists hold that Jesus became incarnate at his birth. There were some
Baptists who held the vagaries of Hofmann and other Baptists who followed the
more sane and rational course of Hubmaier. No effort is here attempted to
minimize, or to dismiss as trivial, these variations.
Perhaps absolute and unconditional uniformity is
unattainable. Such uniformity was never, perhaps, more vigorously pressed than
it was by Archbishop Laud, with a dismal failure and the tragic death to the
prelate as the result.
The wonder, however, is not that there were variations in these diverse conditions, but that there could be any homogeneity or unity. Through all of the variations, however, there has been an insistence upon some great fundamental truths. There has ever appeared the vital necessity of a regenerated life; a church pure and separate from the ungodly; believers’ baptism; a simple form of church government; the right of free speech and soul liberty; and the permanent and paramount authority of the New Testament. Whatever may have been the variations in any or all of these parties, on the above or kindred subjects, the voice of the Baptists has rung out clear and distinct.
The testimony here recorded has been taken from many
sources. I doubt not that diligent search would reveal further facts of the
highest value. As a matter of fact I have a great accumulation of material which
would extend into several volumes. In my judgment a Commission should he
appointed with ample means to make a thorough search in the Archives of Europe.
I am well aware of the imperfections of this book, but it presents much data never before found in a Baptist history. I have throughout pursued the scientific method of investigation, and I have let the facts speak for themselves. I have no question in my own mind that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time It must be remembered that the Baptists were found in almost every corner of Europe. When I found a connection between one body and another that fact is stated, but when no relationship was apparent I have not tried to manufacture one. Straight-forward honesty is the only course to pursue. Fortunately, however, every additional fact discovered only goes to make such connections probable in all instances.
I have an expectant attitude toward the future. I heartily
welcome every investigation, for truth has nothing to fear from the light.
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