committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

churches     devotionals     timeline     contact


Did They Dip?



 Dr. Whitsitt says:

I have often declared it to be my opinion that the immersion of adult believers was a lost art in England, from the year 1509, the accession of Henry VIII., to the year 1641, following the imprisonment of Archbishop Laud. Western Recorder, July 9, 1896).

This statement is neither true in reference to the Episcopalians nor the Baptists. In regard to the Episcopalians we have direct testimony. The Catechism of Edward VI., A. D. 1553, has:

"Master: Tell me (my son) how these two sacraments be ministered: baptism, and that which Paul calleth the supper of the Lord.


"Scholar: Him that believeth in Christ; professeth the articles of the Christian Religion; and mindeth to be baptized (I speak now of them that be grown to ripe years of discression, sith for young babes their parents' or the Church's profession sufficeth), the minister dippeth in or washeth with pure and clear water only, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and then commendeth him by prayer to God, into whose Church he is now openly as it were enrolled that it may please God to grant him his grace whereby he may answer in belief and life agreeably to his profession." (P. 516, The Two Liturgies, 1549 and 1552. Parker Society, Cambridge, I844).

I shall give a more extended statement of the Baptists. The Baptists of this period had been greatly persecuted. They seldom dared to write anything, and to keep church records would only endanger their lives. They were banished, imprisoned and burned. For an account of the Anabaptists we must for the most part look to their enemies, and we must remember the bitter malignity of these enemies. The persecutions Of Laud were scarcely more severe than those which went before. Laud had almost absolute authority. He was suspected of trying to restore Romanism, and there is no doubt that he possessed the Roman Catholic spirit of persecution. In order to carry out his designs he was compelled to silence all opposers. William Lee says of him:

"The fact now referred to is of itself sufficient; and it is hardly necessary to go into the question, how, under Laud's rule, the repression of the nonconformists was carried out. He is said to have preferred persuasion to force; but it is not denied that, when necessary, the most horrible severities were employed under his sanction to enforce conformity. The cases of Leighton, Prynnes, Bostwick and Burton are well known, with hundreds of cases of dissenters, who, if not shockingly mutilated and condemned to perpetual imprisonment, were silenced and compelled to seek liberty of conscience beyond seas, or, worse than all, to violate their own sense of duty, and lose their spiritual, in seeking to save their bodily, life and well-being. Nor is it disputed that of the Star Chamber and Court of High Commission, by which these men were condemned, Laud was the moving spirit; nay, that if, in these courts, any voice was for more than ordinarily severe measures, it was sure to be his. (Gardiner: Personal History, I., 6). But perhaps the worst charge against Laud in this connection is the alleged fact, that to gain the power of suppressing the nonconformists and otherwise securing the restoration of a pure and catholic church according to his own ideal, Laud did not hesitate to encourage in the king those absolute principles, which, if he had prevailed, instead of the Parliament, would have been fatal to the liberties of the English people." (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol. II., pp. 1284, 1285).

Under such conditions the Baptists, the most despised of all the people of England, could not be expected to preserve records.

Their doctrines were misrepresented and maligned. Here is a sample:

"To these doctrines you may join their practice. The seditious pamphlets, the tumultuous rising of rude multitudes threatening blood and destruction; the preaching of the cobblers, feltmakers, tailors, grooms and women; the choosing of any place for God's service but the church; the night meetings of naked men and women; the licentiousness of spiritual marriages without legal form; these things if they be not looked into will bring us in time to community of wives, community of goods, and destruction of all." (A Short History of the Anabaptists of High and Low Germany, pp. 55,56. London, 1642).

It is to be observed, however, that very soon after there was liberty of conscience, or rather toleration, some Calvinistic Baptist Churches of London adopted one of the most famous Confessions of Faith in the world. It stands only second to the Westminster Confession in importance among the Dissenting Churches of England. Formulas of like those contained in this confession are matters of growth. The presumption is that these doctrines had long lived in the hearts of these people before they were expressed in this formal manner. There is no indication from this confession and its history of any change of mind on the subject of baptism. There is not a trace of information, from friend or foe, that during the adoption of this confession there was any discussion on the subject of dipping. We know that the Presbyterians, in their assembly, were badly divided on the subject of dipping. But if there were such dissensions among the Baptists it is passing strange that we have no intimation of them, nor were there any protests. These seven churches presented this as their unanimous opinion to Parliament, and published it broadcast to the world. The presumption is altogether in favor of the supposition that the Baptists had long been immersionists, and that this was the honest expression of their sentiments, and it will take powerful arguments, which have not been presented, to set aside these convictions.

I give the XL. Article of the "Confession of Faith of those Churches which are commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists:"

"That the way and manner of dispensing this ordinance is dipping or plunging the body under water; it being a signe, must answer the thing signified, which is, that interest the Saints have in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ: and that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and rises again, so certainly shall the bodies of the Saints be raised by the power of Christ in the day of the resurrection, to reigne with Christ." (P.20).

There is a note appended, as follows:

"The word Baptizo signifies to dip or plunge yet so as convenient garments be both upon the administrator and subject, with all modesty."

It is necessary for Dr. Whitsitt to prove that these eight Baptist Churches of London that signed the confession of 1644 and the 54 Baptist Churches in England that Neal and other authors mention all originated with John Smyth or with the Jessey Church. This has never been proved, and Dr. Whitsitt attempts no proof. If the Jessey records are a forgery, as I think, and if John Smyth was immersed, there is absolutely no foundation for this theory, If I should admit the authenticity of the Jessey Church records, which I do not, and that John Smyth was sprinkled, of which there is not a line of proof, even then Dr. Whitsitt's case is in no wise made out. He must prove that every one of these churches originated from one or the other of these sources. The one which did not so originate might have practiced immersion, and as Dr. Whitsitt has affirmed a universal negative this would be fatal to his argument. As a matter of fact, he has not proved that even one of the London churches had such an origin, much less any of the other churches of England.

But we have positive testimony against this theory. William Kiffin, who certainly knew declared: "IT IS WELL KNOWN TO MANY, AND ESPECIALLY TO OURSELVES, THAT OUR CONGREGATIONS WERE ERECTED AND FRAMED ACCORDING TO THE RULE OF CHRIST, BEFORE WE HEARD OF ANY REFORMATION." As this was Written in 1645, no one can doubt that Kiffin was an immersionist, and this statement puts the question forever at rest.

As far back as 1589 Some, who wrote at that date, declares there were Anabaptist Churches in London. They doubtless had existed long before this. The words of Some are:

"To preach without an external calling, is Anabaptisticall. The consequents of such preaching are the deprauing of the holy scriptures, abusing of the Auditors, disturbing both of Church and commonwealth. The Anabaptisticall conventicles in London, and other places, are sufficient proof of this." (Chapter 7).

These Anabaptists of whom Some was writing were not Dutch or Germans, but native born. Some says:

"If any shall reply, that many Papists, Anabaptists, etc., haue bene bredde in our Universities: my answere is, that the goodliest gardens haue some weedes in them. Cham was in Noahs arke, as well as Sem; Ismael in Abrahams house, as wel as Isaac: Judas in Christes companye as well as Peter: and yet Noahs arke, Abrahams house, and Christes companie were singularlie to bee accounted of. The wheate field may not be destroyed, because of the tares: Nor the vine, because of a few wilde grapes; nor the garden, because of the weedes. The tares, wilde grapes, and weedes, are wisely to be remoued by the husbandman and gardener," etc.

But I have still other testimony as to the origin of these churches. Hanserd Knollys knew all about the origin of these London churches. He was intimately connected with the Baptists, or Anabaptists.

I have before me a book, which seems to have escaped the eye of all other writers on this subject. It knows nothing about Blount nor Blacklock, nor the trip to Holland, nor the introduction of immersion. It tells in simple language the story of the planting of these London Baptist Churches in the days of persecution before 1641. The title of this book is: 'A Moderate Answer Unto Dr. Bastwick's Book Called 'Independency Not God's Ordinance.' Wherein is declared the manner how some Churches in this city were gathered, and upon what tearmes their members were admitted; that so both the Dr. and the Reader may judge how near some Believers who Walk together in the Fellowship of the Gospell do come in their practice to the Apostolicall rules which are propounded by the Dr. as God's Method in gathering Churches and Admitting Members. By Hanserd Knollys. London, 1645." Of course, such a book is authoritative and worth a thousand guesses. Knollys says:

"I shall now take the liberty to declare, what I know by mine own experience to be the practice of some Churches of God in this City. That so far both the Dr. and the Reader may judge how near the Saints, who walk in the fellowship of the Gospell, do come to their practice, to these Apostolicall rules and practice propounded by the Dr. as God's method in gathering churches, and admitting Members, I say that I know by mine own experience (having walked with them), that they were thus gathered, viz.: Some godly and learned men of approved, gifts and abilities for the Ministrie, being driven out of the Countries where they lived by the persecution of the Prelates, came to sojourn in this great City, and preached the word of God both publikely and from house to house, and daily in the Temple, and in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ: and some of them have dwelt in their own hired houses, and received all that name in unto them, preaching the Kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ. And when many sinners were converted by their preaching of the Gospell, some of them believers, consorted with them, and of professors a great many, and of the chief women not a few. And the condition which those Preachers, both publikely and privately propounded to the people, unto whom they preached, upon which they were to be admitted into the Church was Faith, Repentance, and Baptism, and none other. And whosoever (poor as well as rich, bond as well as free, servants as well as Masters), did make a profession of their Faith in Christ Jesus, and would be baptized with water, in the Name of the Father, Sonne, and Holy Spirit, were admitted Members of the Church; but such as did not believe, and would not be baptized, they would not admit into Church communion. This hath been the practice of some Churches of God in this City, without urging or making any particular covenant with Members upon admittance, which I desire may be examined by the Scripture cited in the Margent, and then compared with the Doctor's three conclusions from the same Scriptures, whereby it may appear to the judicious Reader, how near the Churches some of them come to the practice of the Apostles rule, and practice of the primitive churches, both in gathering and admitting members." (Pp. 24, 25).

Nothing can be plainer than that these London churches were not organized on the plan indicated by Dr. Whitsitt.

As to the practice of dipping among the Anabaptists of England there has been no difference of opinion among historians, till of late, a few controversial writers have affirmed that they practiced sprinkling. I will let the historians speak for themselves.

Neal, in whose hands the Baptists placed their gathered material for a history, says:

"Their confession consisted of 52 articles and is strictly Calvinistical in the doctrinal part, and according to the independent discipline, it confines the subjects of baptism to grown Christians and the mode to immersion. The advocates of this doctrine were for the most part of the meanest of the people; the preachers were generally illiterate and went about the country making proselytes of all who would submit to immersion.

The people of this persuasion were most exposed to the public resentments, because they would hold communion with none but such as had been dipped. All must pass under the cloud before they could be received into their churches; and the same narrow spirit prevails too generally among them to this day." (History of the Puritans, Vol. III., pp. 174-176).

Prof. Vedder says:

"Furthermore, though this Confession is the first to define baptism in explicit terms as immersion, this was not a novel idea among the Baptists. Indeed the practice of immersion had not yet died out of the English Church, though it was rapidly becoming uncommon." (Short History of the Baptists, p. 116).

And again he says:

"Dr. Whitsitt, as I pointed out in my article in the Examiner some weeks ago, seemed to me to make a broader inference than his facts warranted when he said in effect that no English Baptists immersed before 1641. I think he will see that he must modify that statement." (Western Recorder, Sept. 24, 1896).

The Rev. W. H. Pinnock, LL. D., an Episcopalian, in speaking of the English Anabaptists of this whole period, says:

"They rebaptized their disciples, whence their name; and taught that the baptism of infants was invalid; they also rejected aspersion, holding immersion to be the only valid form of baptism. From these sprang shortly after the sect of the Baptists." (History of the Reformation of the English Church, p. 153. London, 1857).

Henry M. Mason, M. A., says:

"The Baptists of England were derived from, and originally adopted the doctrine of, the German and Dutch Anabaptists. They declined, however, in process of time, from the principles of their ancestors, and hold, in common with them, only the administration of baptism by immersion and the refusal of that rite to any but adults." (A Compend of Ecclesiastical History, P. 337).

J. B. Marsden, M. A., says:

"Baptists, or Anabaptists, so called (from Gr. ana, again, and baptizo, to wash or plunge) because they again baptize those adults who, in their infancy, have once received baptism. But they deny the validity of infant baptism (on which account they are also termed, sometimes, Antipaedo-Baptists).and, therefore, reject the charge of anabaptism, and consider the word itself reproachful. By the older writers they are occasionally designated Cata-Baptists, an epithet of nearly similar import. They themselves adopt the name of Baptists.

"They differ from other Christian Churches upon two points: First, as to the mode in which baptism ought to be administered; and, secondly, as to the persons who are qualified for the reception of the rite. Of these, however, the second is by far the most important question." (History of the Christian Churches and Sects from the Earliest Ages of Christianity, Vol. I., p. 77).

Robert Howard, M. A., says:

"In point of church polity, the Baptists remained Independents. But they held that they were justified in forming themselves into a separate communion on these grounds: First, for the stricter maintenance of Calvinistic doctrines; secondly, for the exercise of a stricter discipline; and, thirdly, for the practice of a mode of baptism in stricter accordance with the words of Scripture and the practice of the Apostolic age." (The Church of England and Other Religious Communions, P. 42).

David Bogue, D. D., and James Bennett, D. D., say:

"It is sufficiently manifest by their name, that this denomination of Dissenters differ from others on the subject of baptism. They believe, that the original word, which the New Testament employs to express this rite, conveys the idea of immersion, or plunging the whole body under water: hence they conclude that sprinkling, affusion, or pouring of water, is not baptizing. To this distinguishing sentiment and practice concerning the mode, they add one which relates to the proper subjects of baptism." (The History of Dissenters, Vol. I., p. 183).

W. J. E. Bennett, vicar of Froome-Selwood, says:

"Wherein then, proceeding from this, do the Anabaptists raise their cry of objection to the Church, and separate from her? They raise it upon this ground, that it is not lawful in any case to baptize otherwise than by immersion. The Anabaptists say, all persons ought to be immersed. The Church says the same; but the Church goes on to say, but in case of children being weak, it shall suffice to pour the water. No, rejoin the Anabaptists; it does not suffice. Both agree upon the principle. But the one separates from the other on the ground of permitting a certain exception. The whole question then narrows itself into this: Is it permissible to baptize by pouring water, or does such an act invalidate baptism altogether? In other word, it is as much the essence of the baptism, that it should be performed by immersion, as it is that the water should be used at all?" (The Church's Broken Unity. Anabaptism, Vol. II., p. 63).

Mr. Bennett devotes large space to a general discussion of the Anabaptists, going very fully into their history and doctrines, but he nowhere intimates that any of them ever practiced sprinkling.

Masson says:

"In spite of much persecution, continued even after the Long Parliament met, the Baptists of these congregations, propagated their opinions with such zeal that by 1644 the sect had attained considerably larger dimensions. In that year they counted seven leading congregations in London, and forty-seven in the rest of England, besides which they had many adherents in the army. Although all sorts of impieties were attributed to them on hearsay, they differed in reality from the Independents mainly on the subject of baptism. They objected to the baptism of infants, and they thought immersion or dipping under water the proper mode of baptism; except in these points and what they might involve they were substantially at one with the Congregationalists. This they made clear by the publication, in 1644, of a Confession of their Faith in 52 Articles, a document which, by its orthodoxy in all essential matters, seems to have shamed the more candid of their opponents." (Life of John Milton, Vol. II., p. 585).

W. M. Blackburne, D. D., Methodist, says:


"The Baptists were differentiated from the Dissenters early in the seventeenth century by holding that immersion is essential to baptism, and that believers and not infants are the proper subjects of it. They rebaptized believers who had not been immersed." (History of the Christian Church, p. 622).

Alexander Balfour, Edinburgh, gives a very full account of the Baptists and Anabaptists of England. He says:

"The Particular Baptists are those who entertain no more of the tenets of the ancient Anabaptists than the administration of the ordinance of baptism by immersion and the refusal of it to infants; in everything else they resemble the religion of other Calvinists." (Anti-Pedobaptism Unveiled; or, An Inquiry into the Origin and Progress of the Baptists, p. 87).

Dr. W. H. King, London, who has made a very extensive investigation of the pamphlets in the King George collection, says:

"In connection with this, controversy I have carefully examined the titles of the pamphlets in the first three volumes of this catalogue, more than 7,000 in number, and have read every pamphlet which has seemed by its title to refer to the subject of baptism, or the opinions and practices of Baptists, with this result: that I can affirm, with the most unhesitating confidence, that in these volumes there is not a sentence or a hint from which it can be inferred that the Baptists generally, or any section of them, or even any individual Baptist, held any other opinion than that immersion is the only true and Scriptural method of baptism, either before the year 1641 or after it. It must be remembered that these are the earliest pamphlets, and cover the period from the year 1640 to 1646." (The Western Recorder, June 4, 1896).

Dr. Schaff says:

"The mode of baptism was no point of dispute between Anabaptists and Pedobaptists in the sixteenth century. The Roman Church provides for immersion and pouring as equally valid. Luther preferred immersion and prescribed it in his baptismal service. In England immersion was the normal mode down to the middle of the seventeenth century. It was adopted by the English and American Baptists as the only mode." (History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII., p. 79).

He then goes on to discuss the Anabaptists of the Continent, to which we refer in another place.

J. Rawson Lumby says:

"The first notice of the Anabaptists (afterwards known as Baptists) as a distinct communion is about the time of Luther. The sect had its origin in Germany, and, as its name implies, differed from the other reformed churches in the opinions held by its members on the subject of baptism. The Anabaptists maintained that only those who personally professed their faith in Christ were proper recipients of that sacrament, and they also considered that baptism should be administered not by sprinkling, but by immersion. In most of the other points of their teaching the Anabaptists were exactly at one with the Independents, but they did not make Independency the most prominent feature of their doctrines." (Compendium of English Church History, p. 16).

Mosheim, one of the oldest and most reliable historians, has much to say of the Anabaptists. He says:

"The origin of the sect, which, from their repetition of the baptism received in other communities, are called Anabaptists but who are also denominated Mennonites, from the celebrated man to whom they owe a large share of their present prosperity, is involved in much obscurity." He calls them "Catabaptists" or "incurable heretics." He then goes on to say of the English Baptists: "They have almost nothing in common with the other Anabaptists except they baptize only adults and immerse totally in the water whenever they administer the ordinance." (Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. Ill., pp. 198-221).

E. T. Hiscox, D. D., the scholarly Baptist author, says:

"It is precisely as I had supposed and had said and publicly stated, namely, that Dr. Whitsitt was mistaken as to his sources of information in the famous pamphlets. It is no sin to be mistaken; but this mistake will doubtless somewhat shake public confidence in Dr. Whitsitt's reliability as a student of history. And the peculiar and unaccountable way in which the Doctor has reached this point through an Encyclop?ia and a Pedobaptist journal, rather than through Baptist channels, and without conference with Baptist brethren, makes his friends marvel, and is yet to be explained." (Western Recorder, June 18, 1896).

Prof. T. Harwood Pattison, Rochester Theological Seminary, says: "There is in the article a good deal more of this conjectural history. Dr. Whitsitt seems sometimes to be indebted to his imagination for his facts." (The London Freeman, April 17, 1896).

Dr. George C. Lorimer, who has given much attention to Baptist history, said in an address Sept. 14, 1896, before the students of Newton Theological Institution:

"I insist that it is due our Baptist Churches that their action on the world's progress should not be ignored. As a rule, they do not receive the recognition they deserve. Dr. Dexter in his "True Story of John Smythe" has, let us believe unintentionally, put them in an entirely false light; and his representation that Edward Barber originated the practice of immersion in England, and that before the publication of his book (1641) the Baptists poured and sprinkled, is, to put it mildly, incorrect. I have just returned from the British Museum where I went over the documents which are supposed to substantiate such a view, and I solemnly declare that no such evidence exists. It cannot be made out from the pamphlets of Edward Barber, Praise-God Barebones, Dr. Featly, or of those signed A. R., or by Thomas Killcops. In the title page of the first we have the design of the treatise thus announced: "Of Baptism or dipping, wherein is clearly shewed that the Lord Christ ordained dipping for those only that profess repentance and faith." Here is the key to the whole controversy, and to the misapprehensions that exist. These writers were either assailing or defending infant baptism, and the newness of the ordinance to Englishmen was not the mode but the subject; though Dexter observes this by introducing into of the citations the word "dipping which is not in the original. Dr. Featly, in his rancorous pamphlet in which he reports a controversy with the Anabaptists held at Southwark in 1642, admits that they immerse, and writes about it not as something new, and declares that they have been showing their "shining head and speckled skin" near his residence for more than twenty years.

I accuse no man of misrepresentation, but I am sure many rush to a conclusion and pain multitudes of good people by their garbled quotations. I, at least, may be allowed to express my dissent: The Baptists of England did immerse before 1641, even as they did on the Continent. This I claim on the authority of the George III. pamphlets in the British Museum, arid from the fact that even the Church of England, in young King Edward's time, directed that babes should be dipped. These humble people deserve to be faithfully dealt with, for they have been history makers of no mean importance. They dared the face of kings and taught the world the right of men to worship God according to the dictates of conscience; they turned their face against oppression of every kind, and were the harbingers of this age.

Dr. Joseph Angus, President of Regents Park College, London, England, a very scholarly Baptist, says:

During this period, it is objected, very little is said about immersion, and the silence of the writers on the mode is said to be deeply significant. But it is overlooked that in that age immersion was the generally accepted mode of baptism in England. The Prayer Book has all along ordered the child "to be dipped warily" in the water. The practice of dipping was familiar in the days of Henry VIII., and both Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth were dipped in their childhood. In that century it was not necessary to lecture on the meaning of the word, or to insist on the mode of baptizing, which is still described in the English service as "dipping." I remember a clergyman who resolved to carry out the instructions of the Rubric. The child was stripped and dipped. "I did it once," he reported, "but I resolved never to do it again!" Once change a positive institution in one particular, and the whole may be robbed of its force and beauty.

That there was no such delay in forming Baptist Churches as our, American friends have supposed, is proved by the dates of the formation of a number of them. Churches were formed, chapels built and doctrines defined long before 1641, and others, down to the end of that century, owed nothing probably to the discussions of that year.

The following churches formed in the years mentioned still remain Braintree, Eythorne, Sutton, all in 1550; Warrington, 1522; Crowle and Epworth, both 1,597; Bridgewater, Oxford, and Sadmore, 1600; Bristol (Broadmead), 1640; King, Stanley, Newcastle, Kilmington (Devon), Bedford, Sutton, Cirencester, Commercial-street (London), Lincoln, Dorchester, and Hamsterley, 1633; Lyme Regis, Chipping Sodbury, Upottery, Boston, etc , 1650 to 1658.

Many others that belong to similar dates have since become extinct through change of population and other causes. Most of these churches hold the common faith, and most of them have received it without special reference to the creed of 1641. Dates and particulars of more churches may be seen in any recent number of the Baptist Handbook, published by the Baptist Union.

But there is another kind of evidence even more decisive, showing that "the immersion of believers" was the common faith and practice of our fathers. I refer to the books published by them and against them in the century to which 1641 belongs.

The unanimous testimony of these historians is a powerful argument for dipping. Commencing with the earlier portion of the seventeenth century, and to some extent during the sixteenth century, a great controversy sprung up in England on the subject of baptism. For the most part, infant baptism was the question involved. Beginning with 1641 to the end of the century, I suppose fifty times more was written on the subject of infant baptism than there was on the subject of dipping. Frequently whole books were written on baptism, and dipping was not mentioned, and often in these books on infant baptism dipping was taken for granted. Usually when the act of baptism was discussed it had reference to infant sprinkling as an innovation. Waiving at present, for special discussion, some of the strongest statements in favor of immersion, I shall refer to certain writers who lived in those times, in proof that dipping was received among the Baptists as the act of baptism. This will appear from the writings of both Baptists and Pedobaptists.

The first book I quote is "An Anabaptist Sermon which was preached at the Re-baptizing of a Brother at the new or holy Jordan, as they call it, near Bow, or Hackney River; together with the manner how they used to perform their Anabaptisticall Ceremonies. London, 1643." It is worth while to note that this report was written by an enemy, who refers to the Anabaptists as "they." It will also be noted that it describes a past event, and that the baptism was at some considerable time before 1643, for the writer says that it was "the manner they use to perform their Anabaptisticall ceremonies." This baptism by dipping was not a new thing, according to this enemy, for it was their' "manner" or custom. Indeed, he mentions former persecutions which undoubtedly took place before 1641. The account says:

"Some say our Religion is cleane contrary to the Protestant profession, but such are cleane out of the way, but if we should be persecuted againe by bishops as formerly we have bin, and would run cleane out of England unto Amsterdam, but we are all cleane people, full of purity of the Spirit; our sins are but motes in God's eyes, but our brothers sinnes are beams that have so put out the sight of his Divine justice, that He cannot or will not see our small iniquities."

He takes dipping as a matter of course. He says:

"For it is impossible to wash them white or cleane; but wee that are brethren of the elect; we may wash ourselves in a River from the spots of our Carnality in every River, as Bow River, Hackney River, and other Rivers are to us a cleane Jordan, wherein we may baptize one another as we meane to do this day our late lost brother." (P. 2).

We have a book before us, "The Summe of a Conference at Terling in Essex. Januarie ii.1643," which was held between three "ministers "and two "Catabaptists." This book is edited by John Stalham, one of the ministers. He says of the Anabaptists:

"The Catabaptists excuses, that the chiefe Respondent was too weake, for such an encounter. * * * Secondly then, my request is: That the practice of Antiquitie may fully be cleared, and laid before them: what it was, touching this subject of Baptisme, and what therein was agreeable to the rule of the Scripture, what not, for they have boasted much; as if they had all Antiquitie on their side." (Pp. 4-7).

The Baptists were called in this one-sided discussion Catabaptists, or dippers; and it is clear that this dipping was not regarded as a novelty, because it is nowhere so designated, and the Anabaptists "boasted" that "they had all Antiquitie on their side."

John Ollyffe, Rector of Almer, 1644, says:

"Thus I hope I have made out that there is no necessity of baptizing by Dipping to be proved by Scripture. And nobody pretends, as I know, the Necessity of any particular determinate." (A Brief Defence of Infant Baptism, with an Appendix, wherein is shewed that it is not necessary that Baptism should be administered by Dipping. P. 67).

Then he gives a number of "inferences" why he thinks sprinkling may be sustained against the Anabaptists, but not one to the effect that dipping is "a new invention."

Ch. Blackwood, 1644, was a Baptist. He says:

"I prove the proposition that the Baptisme of Christ is dipping, three waies:

"1. From the Greek lexicon.

"2. From the difference twixt Baptizing and Sprinkling in Scripture.

"3. That Baptisme signifies no other thing than Dipping, appeares from the proportion and lively resemblance twixt dipping into the water and rising up again; Dipping signifieth death, and Buriall with Christ, and rising up above the water, Resurrection with Christ. Rom. vi, 3, 4." (The Storming of Antichrist, pp. 1, 2).,

Blackwood had never heard of dipping as a new thing.

Thomas Edwards, 1645, published some very scandalous books against the Baptists. They are full of bitterness. While some of the statements are infamous they demonstrate that the Baptists were dippers. I could quote many places from his books in proof of this declaration, but one is sufficient. Edwards says:

"I here declare myself, that I could wish with all my heart there were a publike Disputation, even in the point of Pedobaptism and of Dipping, between some of the Anabaptists and some of our Ministers; and had I an interest in the Houses to prevaile to obtaine it (which I speak not as to presume of any such power, being so meane and weak a man), it should be one of the first Petitions I would put up to the Honorable Houses for a publike Disputation, as was at Zurich, namely, that both Houses would give leave to the Anabaptists to chuse for themselves such a number of their ablest men, and the Assembly leave to chuse an equall number for them, and that by Authority of Parliament publike Notaries sworne, might be appointed to write down all, some members of both Houses present to see to the Peace kept, and to be judges of the faire play and liberty given the Anabaptists, and that there might be severall dayes of Disputation leave to the utmost given the Anabaptists to say what they could, and upon such faire and free debates it should be found the Anabaptists to be in the Truth, then the Parliament not only to Tolerate them, but to Establish and settle their way throughout the whole Kingdome, but if upon Disputation and debate, the Anabaptists should be found in an Error (as I am confident they would.) that then the Parliament should forbid all Dipping, and take some severe course with all Dippers, as the Senate of Zurich did after the ten severall Disputations allowed the Anabaptists." (The Third Part of Gangraena, p. 177).

Here is the double admission that the Anabaptists of Zurich and of England were dippers.

John Brinsley, 1645, violently opposed "that spreading Gangrene of Anabaptism, which, unless timely prevented, may prove fatall to the whole body both of the Church and State." (The Doctrine and Practice of Pedobaptism Asserted and Vindicated, preface). Their dipping was a matter of course. He says of them:

"The maine businesse we have to deale with, and that which I chiefly aimed at, when I fell upon this subject, is touching the Baptisme of Infants; whether they, or, any of them, may be baptized. Here the Anabaptists and we are at variance. We allow it to some; they deny it to all. Whence it is that they are called by the name both of Anabaptists and Catabaptists; because they oppose the Baptisme of all Infants, as a thing not onely inconvenient, but unlawfull; and in case any of them bee baptized in their infancie, they looke upon that Baptisme as a nullity, and so impose upon them a Rebaptization when they come to yeares of discression." (P. 9).

Fredericke Spanhenius, 1646, wrote a history of the Anabaptists from 1521 to the date of his book. It was written in English for the English people. His testimony on dipping is conclusive. He says:

"And I shall consider this division, not their opinions alone, which all the Anabaptists or Catabaptists have anciently maintained, or which all of them doe maintaine at this day; but those also which many of them, or at least some of them, have anciently, or do at present defend; that so the partition may be the more perfect, and that I may present the Reader with the whole body of their Errors, which they have also erred, and yet do erre." (P. 27).

Mr. Richardson, 1647, in his reply to Featley, says:

"We confess that when any one is to be rebaptized at the water's side the administrator goeth to prayer suitable to the occasion, and after both go into the water and useth the words, Matt .28, part of the 19th verse; and coming forth again they go to prayer, and also return thanks to God." (Some Brief Considerations, P. 4).

John Tombes, B. D., one of the best posted men of his day, says:

"But now instead of it [believer's baptism], there is used the corrupt innovation of infant sprinkling, a fruitless or rather pernicious rite to the souls of many who are hardened in deadly presumption, as thereby sufficiently made Christians, and of all influence on the Church of God, by taking ignorant and unclean persons, even the dregs of a nation, to be church members. * * * The most eminent opposition to the work of restoring the right use of water baptism, necessary to the orderly forming of Christian Churches, hath been by their learned men, who maintain still by their agency, and colabored pretenses, still the corrupt innovations of infant baptism." (Anti-Pedobaptism, The Introduction).

Richard Baxter wrote a great number of controversial. books. After having looked over the most that he has written on the subject of baptism, I find that he was violently opposed to the Anabaptists; that he opposed their dipping in many ways; that he declared that it was a breach of the commandments; but he does not say that it was a new thing. He says:

"My sixth argument shall be against the usual manner of their baptizing, as it is by dipping over head in a river or other cold water. This is known to be the ordinary way of the Anabaptists." (Plain Scripture Proofs, pp. 134-137).

Richard Carpenter, 1653, wrote "The Anabaptist Washt and Washt, and Shrunk in the Washing," in which he says:

Because God looked upon the End in every practicall touch of his Power, which End is the chiefein all the course, and the first intentionally though executively the last: and Grace, the Gift of God, is an attendant upon the Thing signified And therefore, Baptism given with a threefold Emmersion, doth not more justify, than Baptism conferred by one Immersion or Inspersion: and yet the first is more expresse and visible signe of Sacramentall Grace; because it washeth more perfectly; and furthermore, adumbrates the most blessed Trinity, in whose most blessed Name the Baptisme is given." (Page 80).

He not only does not say that baptism by dipping was a new thing, that the former Anabaptists were sprinklers, but he goes so far as to admit their baptism to be most impressive.

John Reading, B. D., 1655, in his book "Anabaptism Routed," says:


Anabaptists not only deny believers' children baptism, as the Pelagians and Donatists did of old, but affirm, That dipping the whole body under water is so necessary, that without it none are truly baptized (as hath been said)." (Pp. 171, 172).

John Cragge, 1656, gives an account of a discussion between Henry Vaughn, M. A., and John Tombes. Tombes boldly claimed sprinkling an innovation and this was admitted by his opponent. I read:

"T. Here Mr. Tombes interrupted me, and desired the people to take notice of my ingenious confession, that baptism was then practiced by plunging. He read also a passage out of Casaubons Annot. on the New Test. where he saith that baptizein denoteth a plunging of the whole body, etc. Had he read out the passage he might have found how that great scholar affirmes this to be a slender Argument against such as only sprinkle at Baptisme: for, saith he, the vertue and efficacie of Baptisme consistes not in that, meaning the manner of washing.

"V. I shall satisfie the audetours herein anon; in the meantime I desire Answer to my Argument, the Analogie between circumcision and baptism being so evident in this place; but receiving none, I addressed myself to the people, according to promise, saving, that indeed it seemed to me that for some centuries of years that baptism was practiced by plunging. For sprinkling was first brought in use by occasion of the Clinicks (as Cyprian Epist. a Magnum states), being men which deferred their baptism till some extremitie of sickness, who then in such case were only sprinkled with water lest the plunging of their bodies might over offend them in that feeble desperate condition.

"T. Here take notice that sprinkling took its rise from a corrupt custom.

"V. Though plunging be confessed the most ancient way, yet is this no ground for this overuncharitable speech of yours, in your sermon yesterday: That our baptism, meaning of infants, and by sprinkling, was but a nullitie, and mockery, which concludes ourselves, and all our Ancestours, even all in the Western Church for 1,500 years, under damnation.

"For the Church hath power upon the sight of any inconvenience, and for order and decencies sake, to alter the circumstances and externalls of any ordinance." (The Arraignment and Conviction of Anabaptism, pp. 5, 6).

If immersion had been so recent a novelty such a discussion could hardly have taken place without some mention of it.

Denne said in a discussion in 1656, with Mr. Gunning:

Dipping of infants was not only commanded by the Church of England, but also generally practiced in the Church of England till the year 1600; yea, in some places it was practiced until the year 1641 until the fashion altered, * * * I can show Mr. Baxter an old man in London who has labored in the Lord's pool many years; converted by his ministry more men and women than Mr. Baxter hath in his parish; yea, when he hath labored a great part of the day in preaching and reasoning, his reflection hath been (not a sackporrit or a candle), but to go into the water and baptize converts." (A, Contention for Truth. P. 40).

Here are fourteen writers who were all alive in 1641, and, for many years before, who wrote in fifteen years and less of that date, some of them only a year or two away, all of them engaged in the controversy and wrote books or tracts. Some of them were friends and some of them were enemies. They were thoroughly posted on the subject and several of them engaged in public debates on the subject. It is certain that if immersion had been an invention of recent date some of those men would have made a powerful point against their opponents on this subject. And it is equally certain that we would have found some defense in the writings of these Baptists. These opponents did bring serious charges against dipping; they said it was opposed to the sixth and seventh commandments, but never that it was a new invention. This is a strong argument when we remember that these men were eye witnesses and participants in the discussion of baptism.

There is not a line, which I have discovered in English literature, written before 1641, which will go to prove that the English Anabaptists ever practiced sprinkling. The literature is not very abundant, but what there is of it is all on one side. I will present the testimony at hand and the reader may judge for himself. This will be the subject of the next chapter.

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved