committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

churches     devotionals     timeline     contact


Did They Dip?


At the dawn of the Reformation there were those in England who held Baptist views. This statement can be abundantly proved from many writers.

Some trace the Anabaptists to the Lollards. W. Carlos Martyn, an eminent Pedobaptist historian, says: "The Anabaptists are an innocent and an evangelical sect, had long been the most hunted and hated of reformers. Not a nation in Europe but that had anathematized them. Their distinctive tenet was the denial of baptism to infants. They were indeed often charged with holding various dangerous doctrines, but their peculiar idea of baptism was of itself sufficient to bring upon them grievous punishment. The Anabaptists were among the earliest dissenters. The disciples of their creed were found among the Lollards as well as among the martyrs of the English Reformation." (A History of the English Puritans, p. 166. New York, 1867).

I shall content myself with giving the words of a few writers.

Barclay, a very strong writer and not a Baptist, says: "As we shall afterwards show, the rise of the 'Anabaptists' took place long prior to the foundation of the Church of England, and there are also 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 times 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." (Barclay's Inner Life of Religious Societies, P. 12).

W. J. E. Bennett, of Frome, a ritualistic Episcopalian, 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 II. (1558), and the historian, Collier, tells us that wherever the heresy prevailed, the churches were either scandalously neglected or pulled down and infants left unbaptized." (The Unity of the Church Broken, Vol. II., P. 15).

Robinson, who has long been a standard, says:

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 back in authentic manuscripts to the Nonconformists, to the Puritans, to the Lollards, to the Vallenses, to the Albigenses, and, I suspect, through the Paulicians and others to the Apostles." (Robinson's Claude, Vol. II., p. 53).

Evans, who is a very careful writer, says: "Dissidents from the popular church in the early ages, compelled to leave it from the growing corruption of its doctrines and morals, 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. What the pen failed to do, the sword of the magistrate effected. The Novatians and Donatists, and others that followed them, are examples. They contended for the independence of the church; they exalted the Divine Word as the only standard of faith; they maintained the essential purity of the church, and the necessity of a holy life springing from a renewed heart. Extinguished by the sword, not of the Spirit—their churches broken and scattered—after years of patient suffering from the dominant sect, the seed which they had scattered sprang up in other lands. Truth never dies. Its vitality is imperishable. In the wild waste and fastnesses of Europe and Africa it grew. A succession of able and intrepid men taught the same great principles, in opposition to a corrupt and affluent State church, which distinguish modern English Nonconformists; and many of them taught those peculiar views of Christian ordinances which are special to us Baptists."(History Early Eng. Baptists, Vol. I., pp. 1, 2).

The learned President Edwards says:

"In every age of this dark time there appeared particular persons in all parts of Christendom who bore a testimony against the corruptions and tyranny of the Church of Rome. There is no one age of Anti-Christ, even in the darkest times of all, but ecclesiastical historians mention a great many by name who manifested an abhorrence to the Pope and his idolatrous worship, and pleaded for the ancient purity of doctrine and worship. God was pleased to maintain an uninterrupted succession of witnesses through the whole time, in Germany, France, Britain and other countries; as historians demonstrate and mention them by name, and give an account of the testimony which they held. Many of them were private persons, and some magistrates, and persons of great distinction. And there were numbers in every age who were persecuted and put to death for this testimony." (Edward's Works, Vol. I., P. 460.)

The claim is distinctly made by the above writers that there has been a succession of witnesses from the days of the Apostles to the present day. I have, however, not undertaken to trace such a succession, but in the space at my command, to set forth one of our peculiar principles as held by persons or churches in England since the Reformation. Oftentimes we have only scant information furnished from persecuting edicts, and now and then from other sources.

Thus before the time of the Reformation in England Baptist principles were held by many people, and in many parts of the country. At the very dawn of the Reformation Baptist principles began to stir the wrath of Henry VIII. In 1511 several persons were tried by Archbishop Warham for holding Anabaptist opinions. These men held, so it was charged, that the sacrament of baptism and confirmation is not necessary nor profitable for a man's soul." (Collier's Eccl. Hist. Vol. IV., P. 4).

In 1529-1534 the Anabaptists are distinctly traceable in England. John Henry Blount, an Episcopalian, says: "In England the Anabaptists are not distinctly traceable before the year 1534, although much similarity is to be observed between their principles and those of sectarians spoken of by the bishops in 1529 as 'certain apostates, friars, monks, lewd priests, bankrupt merchants, vagabonds and lewd idle fellows of corrupt intent,' who 'have embraced the abominable and erroneous opinions lately sprung in Germany.'" Froude's Hist. of England, Vol. I., p. 211. Dictionary of Sects, p. 26).

Blount further says:

"In A. D. 1534, however, a royal proclamation was issued, in which it was said that many strangers are come into this realm, who, though they were baptized in their infancy, yet have, in contempt of the holy sacrament of baptism, rebaptized themselves. They are ordered to depart out of the realm in twelve days, under pain of death." (Wilkins' Council III., 779. Dictionary of Sects, P. 26. London, 1874).

It is certain that they did not return to the Continent and did remain in England. Cromwell left this memorandum in his pocket: "First, touching the Anabaptists and what the king will do with them." (Ellis' Orig. Let. II., 120).

The old chronicler Stowe, 1535, gives the following details:

"The 25th day of May were—in St. Paul's Church, London—examined nineteen men and six women, born in Holland, whose opinions were: First, that in Christ is not two natures, God and man; secondly, that Christ took neither flesh nor blood of the Virgin Mary; thirdly, that children born of infidels may be saved; fourthly, that baptism of children is of none effect; fifthly, that the sacrament of Christ's body is but bread only; sixthly, that he who after baptism sinneth wittingly, sinneth deadly, and cannot be saved. Fourteen of them were condemned; a man and a woman were burnt in Smithfield; the other twelve of them were sent to other towns, there to be burnt."

Froude says of them:

"The details are gone, their names are gone. Poor Hollanders they were, and that is all. Scarcely the fact seemed worth the mention, so shortly is it told in a passing paragraph. For them no Europe was agitated, no courts were ordered into mourning, no Papal hearts trembled with indignation. At their death the world looked on complacent, indifferent or exulting. Yet here, too, out of twenty-five poor men and women were found fourteen who by no terror of stake or torture could be tempted to say they believed what they did not believe. History has for them no word of praise; yet they, too, were not giving their blood in vain. Their lives might have been as useless as the lives of the most of us. In their deaths they assisted to pay the purchase-money for England's freedom." (Froude's History of England, Vol. II., P. 365).

In some articles put forth in 1536 it is declared;

"That the opinions of the Anabaptists and Pelagians are to be held for detestable heresies." (Strype's Memorials of Archbishop Cramner, Vol. I., p. 85. Oxford Ed. 1848).

The Penny Encyclopaedia says:

"Little is known of the Baptists of 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 to banish the Baptists from the kingdom were allowed, their books were burnt, and several individuals suffered at the stake. The last person who was burnt in England was a Baptist." (Penny Ency., Vol. III., pp. 416, 417).

Goadby thus speaks of the reign of Henry VIII. and his persecutions of the Baptists:

"Bitterly as he hated the Papist party, after he had broken with Rome it was not long before he revealed a still more bitter hatred of all Baptists, English and Continental." "But neither threats nor cajolery prevented the spread of Baptist opinions. Like the Israelites in Egypt, 'the more they were afflicted, the more they multiplied and grew.'" (Goadby's Bye-Paths of Baptist History, pp. 72-74).

Strype,1538, says of the king:

"The sect of the Anabaptists did now begin to pester this church; and would openly dispute their principles in taverns and public places; and some of them were taken up. Many also of their books were brought in and printed here also; which was the cause that the king now sent out a severe proclamation against them and their books. To which he joined the Sacramentarians, as lately with the others come into the land, declaring, 'that he abhorred and detested their errors; and those that were apprehended he would make examples.' Ordering that they should be detected and brought before the king or his council; and that all that were not should in eight or ten days depart the kingdom." (Strype's Memorials, Vol. p. 155).

After condemning their books the king decreed:

"The king declares concerning Anabaptists and other Sacramentarians lately come into the realm, that he abhorred and detested their errors, and intended to proceed against them that were already apprehended, according to their merits; to the intent his subjects should take example by their punishments not to adhere to such false and detestable opinions, but utterly to forsake and relinquish them. And that wheresoever any of them be known, they be detected, and his majesty and council be informed with all convenient speed, with all manner abettors and printers of the same opinions. And his majesty charged the same Anabaptists and Sacramentarians not apprehended and known, that they within eight or ten days depart out of the realm, upon pain of the loss of their life and forfeiture of their goods." (Strype's Memorials, Vol. I., PP, 410-412. Collier's Eccl. Hist., Vol. IX., pp. 161, 162).

A few months later also an act of Parliament was passed (32 Henry VIII., cap. 49), granting a general pardon to all the king's subjects excepting those who said: "That infants ought not to be baptized, and if they were baptized that they ought to be rebaptized when they came of lawful age."

A Declaration of Faith was then drawn up endorsing the action of the king in his persecutions of the Anabaptists. One section reads:

"Englishmen detest the Anabaptists, 'Sacramentaries,' and all other heresies and errors, and with great reverence do solemnize holy baptism, the sacrament of the blessed body and blood of Christ, and other sacraments and sacramentalls, as they have done in times past, with all the laudable ceremonies and daily masses; and do the other service of God in their churches, as honorable and devoutly, paye their tithes and offerings truely as ever they did, and as any men do in any part of Christendom," etc., (Collier's Eccl. Hist., Vol. IX., p. 163).

Some of these were burned. (Stowe's Chronicle, p. 579).

Latimer says: "The Anabaptists that were burnt here in divers towns in England (as I have heard of credible men, I saw them not myself), went to their death, even intrepide, as ye will say, without any fear in the world, cheerfully. Well let them go."(Sermons of Hugh Latimer, Vol. pp. 143, 144).

Latimer says again:

"I should have told you here of a certain sect of heretics that spake against their order and doctrine; they will have no magistrates nor judges on the earth. Here I have to tell you what I have heard of late, by the relations of a credible person and a worshipful man, of a town of this realm of England that hath about 500 of heretics of this erroneous opinion in it." The margin says they were Anabaptists. (Sermons, p. 151. Parker Society, Vol. V.).

Collier says: "Some few days before, four Dutch Anabaptists, three men and a woman, had faggots tied to their backs at Paul's Cross, and one man and a woman, of the same sect and country, were burnt in Smithfield. Cranmer, upon the first of October, 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." (Eccl. Hist. Vol. IV., P. 429).

Bishop Burnet, 1547, informs us:

"There were many Baptists in several parts of England." (Neal's Hist. Puritans, Vol. II., pp. 354, 355).

Of the Baptists of the reign of Edward VI., 1547-1553, Goadby says:

"In the first year of Edward's reign, Ridley and Gardiner united together in a commission to deal with two Baptists in Kent. A Protestant Inquisition was established, with Cranmer at its head. They were to pull up 'the noxious weeds of heresy.' Their work was to be done with the forms of justice and in secret. They might fine, imprison, torture, and, in all cases of obstinate heretics, hand them over to the civil power to be burnt. Four years later this commission was renewed, and in the same year Baptists were a second time excluded from a general pardon. It was this inquisition that condemned Joan Bucher and scattered, or tried to scatter, the congregations of Baptists gathered in Kent. Still their numbers increased. Strype tells us that their opinions were believed by many 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 that slur and disgrace which Anabaptists' tenets had brought upon it,' a clear proof that Baptists were, at that period, neither few nor unimportant." (Goadby's Bye-Paths of Baptist History, pp. 74, 75).

In 1549 an act was passed against the Anabaptists by the Parliament of Edward VI. (3 Edward VI., C. 24).

London, June 25, 1549, Bishop John Hooper in a letter to Henry Bullinger says:

"The Anabaptists flock to the place and give me much trouble." (Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Vol. I., p. 65. Cambridge Ed. 1846).

Bishop Vowler Short says: "Complaints had been brought to the council of the prevalence of Anabaptists. * * * * To check the progress of these opinions a commission was appointed." (Short's Hist. Church of England, Vol. VI., P. 543).

Dr. Hase says:

"In general, Anabaptism required that those who came over to it should be possessed of the strict heroic morals of the early Christians, the same contempt for the world and its pleasures and pains, and even its outward forms. By baptism a renunciation was made of the devil, the world and the flesh; and a vow taken to do nothing but the will of God. Any willful sin of an Anabaptist would not be pardoned, and entailed on its perpetrator hopeless expulsion from the community, and a loss of the grace of God. It was exactly on this account that the heresy was so dangerous, for the greater part of its adherents could appeal to the sanctity of their mode of life." (Dr. Hase's Neue Propheten. Apud Madden, Phantasmata, Vol. II., pp. 439, 440).

"An ecclesiastical Commission in the beginning of this year was issued out for the examination of the Anabaptists and Arians, that began now to spring up apace and show themselves more openly." (Strype's Life of Sir Thomas Smith, p. 37).

London, June 29, 1550, Bishop John Hooper writing to Henry Bullinger in regard to Essex and Kent says: "That district is troubled with the frenzy of the Anabaptists more than any other part of the kingdom." (Original Letters, Vol. I., p. 87).

Strype says:

There were such assemblies in Kent." (Memorials, Vol. II., P. 266).

Bishop Ridley's Visitation Articles required:

"Whether any of the Anabaptists' sect, or other, use notoriously any unlawful or private conventicles, wherein they do use doctrine or administration of sacraments, separating themselves from the rest of the parish?

"Whether any speak against infant baptism?"

(Cardwell's Documentary Annals of the Reformed Church of England, Vol. I., p. 91).

Strype gives us additional information:

"In January 27th a number of persons, a sort of Anabaptists, about sixty, met in a house on a Sunday in the parish of Bocking, in Essex, where arose among them a great dispute, 'Whether it were necessary to stand or kneel, bare headed or covered, at prayers? And they concluded the ceremony not to be material, but that the heart before God was required, and nothing else.' Such other like warm disputes there were about Scripture. There were, likewise, such assemblies now in Kent. These were looked upon as dangerous to church and state, and two of the company were thereof committed to the Marshallsea, and orders were sent to apprehend the rest."(Memorials of Cramner, Vol. I., p. 337).

The Parliament of 1551 exempted the Anabaptists from the pardon which was granted to those who took part in the late rebellion.

During the reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603, England was full of Anabaptists.

Marsden, one of the calmest of the Puritan historians, says:

"But 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, but their chief strength was more abroad," etc. (Marsden, p. 144).

Marsden, further says:

In the judgment of the church party, and not a few of the Puritans, Anabaptists were heretics of the worst kind, and those who denied the necessity or validity of infant baptism, however orthodox on other points, are constantly classed 'by writers of that period with Donatists, infidels, and atheists." (Marsden, p. 65).

Bishop Cox writing to Gaulter, says:

"You must not grieve, my Gaulter, that sectaries are showing themselves to be mischievous and wicked interpreters of your most just opinion. For it cannot be otherwise but that tares must grow in the Lord's field, and that in no small quantity. Of this kind are the Anabaptists, Donatists, Arians, Papists, and all other good for nothing tribes of sectaries." (Bishop Cox to Gaulter, Zurich Letters, 285).

Bishop Aylmer:

"The Anabaptists, with infinite other swarms of Satanistes, do you think that every pulpit may will be able to answer them? I pray God there may be many that can," (Bishop Aylmer's Harborough for Faithful Subjects. Maitland, p. 216).

"And in these latter days, the old festered sores newly broke out, as the Anabaptists, the freewillers, with infinite other swarms of God's enemies. These "ugly monsters,' 'brodes of the devil's brotherhood.'"(p. 205).

Dr. Barker, in declining the Archbishopric of Canterbury, says in his letter:

"They say that the realm is full of Anabaptists, Arians, libertines, free-will men, etc., against whom I only thought ministers should have need to fight in unity of doctrine." (Burnet's Reformation, Vol. II., p. 359).

Jewel, in his correspondence with the Swiss divines, complains:

"We found, at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, a large and inauspicious crop of Arians, Anabaptists, and other pests, which, I know not how, but as mushrooms spring up in the night and in darkness, so these sprung up in that darkness and unhappy night of the Marian times. These, I am informed, and hope it is the fact, have retreated before the light of pure doctrines, like owls at the light of the sun, and are nowhere to be found." (Works of Bishop Jewel, Vol. IV., p. 1240).

Greenwood says:

"I am not an Anabaptist, thank God."

A letter was addressed to the "Dutch Church," in London, 1573, rebuking them for sowing discord among English people. (Strype's Annals Ref., Vol. IV., P. 520).

On Easter day a private conventicle was discovered near Aldersgate Bar, and twenty-seven were apprehended. Four recanted; but "eleven of them were condemned in the Consistory of the St. Paul's to be burnt, nine of them were banished, and two suffered the extremity of the fire in Smithfield, July 22, 1575." (Neal's Hist. Puritans, Vol. I., p. 340. Ed. 1732. Strype's Annals Ref., Vol. III., p. 564. Ed. 1824).

Collier says: "To go back a little: On Easter day this spring a conventicle of Dutch Baptists was discovered at a house without the bars at Aldgate." (Collier's Eccl. Hist., Vol. VI., P. 543).

Fuller says:

"Now began the Anabaptists wonderfully to increase in the land; and as we are sorry that any countryman should be seduced with that opinion, so we are glad that (the) English as yet were free from that infection. For on Easter day, April 3, was disclosed a congregation of Dutch Anabaptists without Aldgate in London, whereof seven and twenty were taken and imprisoned; and four, bearing faggots, at Paul's-Cross solemnly recanted their dangerous opinions." (Fuller's Church Hist. Britain, Vol. II., p. 506).

Collier, 1589, says: "This provision was no more than necessary; for the Dutch Anabaptists held private conventicles in London and perverted a great many."' (Collier's Eccl. Hist., Vol. VI., P. 452).

Dr. Some admits the same fact in his reply to Barrowe. He affirms that "there were several Anabaptisticale conventicles in London and other places. "They were not all Dutchmen, for he further says: "Some persons of these sentiments have been bred at our universities."

The Baptists of England from this date to 1641 underwent severe persecutions, but they increased in numbers. After the abolition of the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber in 1641, when they were able to assert themselves, there were a surprising number of them in London and throughout England. Dexter himself gives the names of eleven churches in England as early as 1626. (The True Story of John Smyth, p. 42).

Herbert S. Skeats, a Pedobaptist, says:

"It has been asserted that a Baptist Church existed in England in A. D. 1417. (Robinson's Claude, Vol. II., p. 54). There were certainly Baptist Churches in England as early as the year 1589 (Dr. Some's reply to Barrowe, quoted in Guiney's Hist., Vol. I., p. 109); and there could scarcely have been several organized communities without the corresponding opinions having been held by individuals, and some churches established for years previous to this date."(Hist. Dissenting Churches of England, p. 22).

Neal says that in 1644 there were 54 Baptist Churches in England. (Neal's Hist. Puritans, Vol. III., p. 175).

Baillie said in 1646:

"Hence it was that the Anabaptists made little noise in England, till of late the Independents have corrupted and made worse the principles of the old Separatists, proclaiming for errors a liberty both in Church and State; under this shelter the Anabaptists have lift up their head and increased their numbers much above all other sects of the land. (Anabaptism the True Fountaine, ch. i.).

There is no proof whatever that these churches came from Smyth's or Blount's, or that they ever practiced sprinkling for baptism. They evidently were Baptist Churches.

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved