committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

churches     devotionals     timeline     contact


Did They Dip?



We have already seen that the Baptists before 1641, while numerous, suffered greatly from persecutions. They did not leave much literature, and so we must largely depend upon their enemies for references to them. We have enough proof, however, to show that they practiced dipping.

A book was published in 1523 by the Anabaptists in Holland, and translated and widely circulated in England, called the Sum of the Holy Scriptures. On baptism the author says:

"So we are dipped under as a sign that we are, as it were, dead and buried, as Paul writes, Rom. 6 and Col. 2. The life of man is a battle upon the earth, and in baptism we promise to strive like men. The pledge is given when we are plunged under the water. It is the same to God whether you are eighty years old when you are baptized, or twenty; for God does not consider how old you are, but with what purpose you receive baptism. He does not mind whether you are Jew or heathen, man or woman, nobleman or citizen, bishop or layman, but only he who with perfect faith and confidence comes to God, and struggles for eternal life, attains it as God has promised in the Gospel." (Armitage's History of the Baptists, P. 409).

The old English Church Historian Fuller, telling of November 24, 1538, declares the Anabaptists to be dippers. He says:

"A match being now made up, by the Lord Cromwell's contrivance, betwixt King Henry and Lady Anne of Cleves, Dutchmen flocked faster than formerly into England. Many of them had active souls; so that, whilst their hands were busied about their manufactures, their heads were also beating about points of divinity. Hereof they had many rude notions, too ignorant to manage themselves and too proud to crave the direction of others. Their minds had a byestream of activity more than what sufficed to drive on their vocation; and this waste of their souls they employed in needless speculations, and soon after began to broach their strange opinions, being branded with the general name of Anabaptists. These Anabaptists, for the main, are but 'Donatists new dipped'; and this year their name first appears in our English Chronicles; for I read that four Anabaptists, three men and one woman, all Dutch, bare faggots at St. Paul's Cross, Nov. 24th, and three days after a man and a woman of their sect were burned in Smithfield." (Church History of Britain, Vol. II., p. 97).

In 1551 William Turner, "Doctor of Physick," devysed" "A Preservative or triacle, agaynst the poyson of Pelagius, lately renued, & Styrred up agayn, by the furious secte of the Anabaptistes." This book undoubtedly settles the question that the Anabaptists of England practiced immersion. He repeatedly calls them Catabaptists. (See pp. 19, 27, 28, 49). The Anabaptist in making his argument for believers' immersion is represented as saying:

"That such a lyke costome was once in our most holye relygyon, as was in colleges and in orders of relygyon, wher as none were admitted, before they had a year of probation, wher unto ye put this that they that came to be baptized, demanded, and desyred to be received to fellow ship of the Christians after dewe proofe of unfayned repentance and thereby were called competentes. Yonge men, and wymen requyrynge baptysme: and then were taught the principles of the Christian faith and were fyrst called Catechumeni. And after those principles learned, were upon certayne solemne dayes, at two tymes of the yeare approved, therefore baptysed: which was upon Easter even, and Whit Sunday even: promysyng for themselves the observance of Gods law, with the renouncyng of the devell and the worlde in theys owne person without God-father or God-mother, seven score yeares longe: tyll Ignius, Byshop of Rome ordered to baptyse an infante, a god-father and god-mother answeryng for hym.

"Where as ye say the lyke maner was in our most holy religion, as the scolers and religious men had: that none should be admitted, until they had been proved a yeare, and first called competentes, and then catechumeni. I marvayl what religion ye meane of: whether ye meane of the Popes religion, or Christes religion, or of the Catabaptistes relygion, which is your religion indede." (Pp. 6, 7).

There are two very significant statements in these passages; (I)The Anabaptist quotes against his opponent the well known practice of immersing on the two days of Easter and Whit Sunday. (Schaff's Hist. Christian Church, Vol. II., p. 252). And (2) he says of the Anabaptist "of the Catabaptistes [dippers] religion, which is your religion indede." This shows that they were certainly dippers,

The following is conclusive:

"And because baptism is a passive sacrament, & no man can baptise himselfe, but is baptised of another: & childes may be as wel dipped in to the water in ye name of Christ (which is the outward baptysm and as myche as one man can gyve another) even as olde folke: and when as they have the promise of salvation, as well as olde folkes & can receive the signe of the same as wel: there is no cause why that the baptyme of childes should be differed." (Pp. 39, 40).

Here he says that the "olde folke" that the Anabaptist baptized are dipped. This is certainly sufficient.

The Rev. John Fox, the distinguished author of the Book of Martyrs, was born in England, A. D. 1517, and died April 15, 1587. The first complete English edition appeared in 1563. There is no doubt as to his testimony. He says:

"There were some Anabaptists at this time in England, who came from Germany. Of these there were two sorts; the first only objected to the baptizing of children, and to the manner of it, by sprinkling instead of dipping. The other held many opinions, anciently condemned as heresies; they had raised a war in Germany, and had set up a new king at Munster; but all these were called Anabaptists, from their opposition to infant baptism, though it was one of the mildest opinions they held." (Alden Edition, P. 338).

John Penry, who was well known in England, became a Baptist preacher, in 1586.and had been a very acceptable preacher before this in both of the Colleges, at Cambridge and Oxford. The Welsh historian says of him:

He was noted for piety, ministerial gifts, and zeal for the welfare of his countrymen. He was a native of Brecknockshire, and the first who publicly preached the gospel among the Baptists in Wales, after the reformation; which implied that the gospel was, more or less privately preached among the Baptists, on the Welsh mountains, during the whole reign of popery. He also wrote and published two books. Mr. Anthony Wood, an Episcopalian Minister, says that John Penry was the worst enemy the Church of England had through the whole reign of Queen Elizabeth." (J. Davis' History of the Welsh Baptists, pp. 25, 26).

David Davies makes this statement:

"The religious condition of Wales at this time was deplorable. The light which John Penry, the young Apostle of Wales in the sixteenth century, also a Baptist, who had been hanged like a criminal at Thomas-a-Watering, old Kent Road, on May 29th, 1593 at the early age of thirty- four, twenty-four years before the birth of Powell, had been almost extinguished, although traditions of his heroism lived on, as indeed they do to this day." (Vavasor Powell, The Baptist Evangelist of Wales in the seventeenth century, by David Davies, p. 14. London, 1896).

Davies continues in a foot note:

"Of John Penry the Rev. Joshua Thomas writes: 'Possibly he was the first that preached believers' baptism openly and publicly to his countrymen since the Reformation. I am strongly inclined to think that he was the first that administered that ordinance by immersion upon a profession of faith in and about Olchon.' He also adds: 'A word in Ath. Oxon. * * * speaks out plainly that Penry was a notorious Anabaptist, of which party he was the Corypheus. * * * Strype owns that Mr. Penry expressed a great concern for his native country, and yet charged him with Anabaptistry.'" (History of the Baptist Churches in Wales, p. 43, MS. copy in the Library of the Baptist College at Bristol).

But this is not all the information we have in regard to Penry, though this would be sufficient for our purposes. Robert Some, 1589, says of him:

"Master Penry, jumpeth with the Anabaptistical recusants in this Argument; his words are these. Where there is no true Christ whereunto men can be engraffed by Baptisme, there true Baptisme as touching the substance, cannot be gotten: for what baptisme is that, which is not ingraffing into the true Christ? but in Poperie there is no true Christ, whereunto men may be ingraffed, &c. I haue answered this and such like Arguments of Master Penries, Chap. 23 of my last Treatise: I rest in those answeres." (Chapter 12).

Some goes on with details of the Anabaptists, of their churches in London, and of their connection with the universities.

When we consider together this testimony it is strong and striking. There were in 1589 Anabaptist English speaking churches, with graduates from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, with many members, in London and elsewhere. All of these details are associated with John Penry, who was an immersionist, and there is nothing to indicate any difference of opinon on this subject between the churches and Penry; indeed, the proof all points to their practicing immersion.

John Smyth was associated with John Norcott on the subject of baptism on March 24th, 1609. This baptism was certainly by immersion, for we find Norcott writing a book to substantiate dipping. This book of Norcott was edited and reprinted by Chas. H. Spurgeon. I give a portion of Chapter IV.:

"1. The Greek word Baptizo means to plunge, to overwhelm. Thus Christ was plunged in water, Matt. 3. 16. Thus he was plunged or overwhelmed in his sufferings, Luke 12. 50. 'I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straightened till it be accomplished.'

"2. The Dutch Translation reads, In those days came John the Dipper, Matt. 3. 1. And in John 3. 23, that version reads, John was dipping in AEnon because there was much water there. What need much water were it not for dipping?

3. They did baptize in rivers. They came to John, and were baptized in Jordan, Matt. 3, 6. John was baptizing in AEnon because there was much water there, John 3. 23. Why need it be in a river, and where there was much water? Would not a little water in a Bason serve to Sprinkle the Face?

"4. Baptism signifies the Burial of Christ. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, Rom. 6. 4. Buried with him in Baptism, Col. 2. 12. Now we do not recon a man buried when a little earth is sprinkled on his Face, but he is buried when covered; thus you are buried in Baptism.

"5. Christ's sufferings are called a Baptism, Luke 12. 50. I have a Baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straightened till it be accomplished! When Christ suffered he was plunged into pains. Did his sufferings lie only on his Head or on his Forehead? No, no; there was not one part free; he was from head to foot in pain; his head was crowned with piercing Thorns, his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross; and his whole person was so stretched out on the Cross that a man might have told all his bones, Ps. 22. 17. There was not one part free. Man hath sinned, Body, Soul and Spirit, and therefore the whole Christ must suffer for sin. Christ was baptized into pain, plunged into sorrow, not any part free: this he called his Baptism. Thus one baptized is plunged under water, to show how Christ was plunged into sorrow for our sakes.

"6. Baptism is a putting on Christ. As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Gal, 3. 27. The text means that as a servant wears his Lord's Livery, a Garment which demonstrates him to be a Servant to such a great Personage, so in Baptism we put on our Lord's Livery, and he himself clothes us from head to foot. It is thus that by Baptism we put on Christ.

"7. When Christ was baptized, he came up out of the Water, Matt. 3. 16. Was his baptism performed by having a little Water thrown on his Face? Then he had not been in the Water, and could not have come out of it; but because he was baptized in the Water, therefore being baptized he came up out of the Water. Philip and the Eunuch went down both into the Water, (and being there in the Water) Philip baptized the Eunuch. Both of them came up out of the Water, Acts 8. 39; but to what End had they gone down if Philip did merely Sprinkle the Eunuch, or Pour water upon his head ?

"Thus you see the place where these various persons were baptized was a River, or a certain water; their Action was on this wise—they went down into the Water, then, being in the Water, they were baptized. This was done in places where there was much water. The end was to show forth Christ's Burial; now if there be not a Burial under water to show Christ's Burial, the great end of the Ordinance is lost: but Burial is well set forth by Dipping under Water." (Baptism Discovered Plainly and Faithfully, according to the Word of God. Pp. 28-31.London, 1885).

Then there follow some questions and answers to show that sprinkling is "strange fire "on the altar of God.

Edmond Jessop had been an Anabaptist, and had departed from the faith. In 1623 he published "A Discovery of the Errors of the English Anabaptists." This book was on infant baptism, but in referring to the position of the Anabaptists he mentions their use of Rom. 6. While dipping is not mentioned it is plain that Jessop assumes it in relation to the Anabaptists. Jessop says:

"In which words (I say) he setteth downe expresly that the baptisme which saueth, the baptisme whereby we put on Christ, the baptisme whereby our hearts are purged and sanctified, and the sinnes of our flesh done away, whereby we are buried with Christ, and doe rise with him, euen that which is through the faith and operation of the Spirit, is one and the same, with the circumcision of the heart, which he therefore calleth, the circumcision made withou thands, the circumcision of Christ, whereby also it appeareth clearly, and beyond all contradiction, that the circumcision, or the cutting of the foreskin of the flesh, was a signe and a true representation of the doing away of their sinnes, of the cleansing of the heart by faith (as the now doing away of the filth of the flesh with the baptism of water is); for which vse and end, it was also given to Abraham at the first, as this Apostle also declareth in another place," etc. (P. 62).

Vavasor Powell is a brilliant instance of a man baptized by immersion upon a profession of his faith before 1641. Davis says of him:

"He was inclined to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to proceed in the ways of sin and folly. Soon afterwards he was baptized on a profession of his faith, and became a very popular preacher among the Baptists in Wales in the year of our Lord in 1636. He was one of the most zealous and useful preachers in the Principality. He often preached throughout Wales and in many parts of England. Being a man of liberal education, he was remarkably fluent in both languages." (History of the Welsh Baptists, p. 28. Pittsburg, 1835).

Powell himself is very clear upon the act of baptism. He says:

"Water baptism is a solemn, significant dipping into, or washing with water the body in (or into) the name of the Father, &c. (Matt. 28, 19). It signifies the death, the burial and resurrection of Christ, also the spiritual cleansing and washing of justification and regeneration or sanctification." (Life, Pp. 35-41).

Edward Barber refers to the Independents in these words:

"Again, others who pretend to come neerest in that way in separating, yet hold the baptisme they there received though on no ground; for if they were truly baptised into that Church I conceive with submission to better judgments, they ought to continue, and to separate for corruptions, as is clearly proved by B. Hall, in his Apology against the Brownists, shewing that either they must goe forward to baptisme, or come backe again to the Bishops and Church." (A Small Treatise of Baptisme, Preface, sec. 6. London, 1641).

The work of Bishop Hall to which reference is here made is called: "A common apologie of the Church of England against the unjust challenges of the over just sect commonly called Brownists." The title page shows that this book was written in 1610. Barber always understood baptism to be an immersion, and quotes Bishop Hall in support of his position that the Brownists must go back to Episcopacy or forward to baptism. Barber would not have quoted Hall as sustaining his immersion views unless he had strong reasons for so doing. This reference will carry the practice of immersion back among Baptists till 1610, at any rate. Indeed, there is no doubt about the concession of Bishop Hall, for I find in the work of A. R., 1642, the first part of "The Vanity of Childish Baptism," P. 34, a very striking passage from Bishop Hall. The Bishop called the Anabaptists Catabaptists, or dippers. I quote from A. R.:

"Yea and much lesse in the judgment of Bishop Hall, who in this point expresses himselfe in these words (viz) I am for my heart so confident of the Divine Institution of the majority of Bishops above Presbyters, that I dare boldly say, that there are weighty points of faith which have not so strong evidence in holy Scripture, (and there be instanceth in two particulars). The power by sacred orders given to the ministers alone for the Consecration and distribution of the holy Eucharist, and the receiving of Infants to holy Baptisme, which (saith he) is a matter of so high consequence, that we justly brand the Catabaptists with heresie for denying it, yet let me with good assurance, say, that the evidences of this truth come farre short of that which the Scriptures have afforded us for the superiority of some Church Governor even those who otherwise indeed, in a sole respect of their Ministerial Function, are equall; and then he shuts up the point in these very words (viz) He therefore that would upon pretence of want of Scripture quarrell at the Divine institution of Bishops might with much better colour cavill at these blessed Ordinances of God." (P. 35).

Here is undoubted contemporaneous evidence in 1610 that the Baptists were immersionists.

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved