committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

churches     devotionals     timeline     contact


Did They Dip?



The challenge has been put forth to name three individual believers who were dipped before 1641. I accept the challenge and answer it in three ways:

1. There existed in England whole churches of baptized believers before 1641. I refer to another chapter for the existence and number of Baptist churches in England before 1641. In this connection I mention the names of only three churches. Goadby, who has written an able Baptist history, and the facts of which, so far as I know, have never been disputed, says:

"But the three churches we have mentioned—Hill Cliffe, Eythorne and Bocking—deservedly rank as the most ancient Baptist churches in England." (Goadby's Bye-Paths in Baptist History, p. 28. London, 1871).

In regard to the Hill Cliffe Church, Rev. D. 0. Davies, Rochdale, England, who attended the sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention, at Birmingham, gives an interesting account. He says:

"The oldest Baptist church in the country is Hill Cliffe, in Cheshire, but on the borders of Lancashire. The old church was built in a secluded spot, far removed from public roads and enclosed by a thick wood, Tradition declares that the church is five hundred years old. A tombstone was recently discovered in the burial ground of the place, bearing date 1357. In digging the foundation to enlarge the old chapel, a large baptistery was discovered which was made of stone and well cemented. The baptistery must have belonged to a previous chapel. Oliver Cromwell worshipped at this church, and one of his officers occupied the pulpit. It is one of the pre historic churches, and a regular Baptist church." (Shackleford's Compendium of Baptist History, P. 274. Louisville, 1892).

Here are some of the statements that I take from Goadby in reference to this church:

"We have reliable evidence that a Separatist, and probably a Baptist church, has existed for several centuries in a secluded spot of Cheshire, on the borders of Lancashire, about a mile and a half from Warrington. No spot could be better chosen for concealment than the site on which this ancient chapel stood. Removed from all public roads, enclosed by a dense wood, affording ready access into two counties, Hill Cliffe was admirably suited for the erection of a 'conventicula illicita,' an illegal conventicle. The ancient chapel built on this spot was so constructed that the surprised worshippers had half a dozen secret ways of escaping from it, and long proved a meeting place suited to the varying fortunes of a hated and hunted people. Owing to the many changes inseparable from the eventful history of the church at Hill Cliffe, the earliest records have been lost. But two or three facts point to the very early existence of the community itself. In 1841 the then old chapel was enlarged and modernized; and in digging for the foundation, a large baptistery of stone, well cemented, was discovered. How long this had been covered up, and at what period it was erected, it is impossible to state; but as some of the tombstones in the graveyard adjoining the chapel were erected in the early part of the sixteenth century, there is some probability for the tradition that the chapel itself was built by the Lollards who held Baptist opinions. One of the dates on the tombstones is 1357, the time when Wickliffe was still a fellow at Merton College, Oxford; but the dates most numerous begin at the period when Europe had just been startled by Luther's valiant onslaught upon the papacy. Many of these tombstones, and especially the oldest, as we can testify from a personal examination, look as clear and as fresh as if they were engraved only a century ago. * * * * Hill Cliffe is undoubtedly one of the oldest Baptist churches in England. * * * * The earliest deeds of the property have been irrecoverably lost, but the extant deeds, which go back considerably over two hundred years, described the property as being for the Anabaptists."' (Goadby's Bye Paths, pp. 21 23).

These facts are also confirmed by Cramp.

To show how deep seated is the conviction among English Baptists that this Church reaches into great antiquity I give an extract from The Baptist, London, June 5, 1896. The writer says:

"One fact, however, and one of some importance, seems to stand out with sufficient clearness, viz.: that so far as England is concerned the Church at Hill Cliffe is the link—not, of course that there are no others, for these there are, as Mr. Compton's article shows, but this is a material and tangible link of historic continuity between the Baptist Churches of the present and those of the Pre-Reformation period. Here, at any rate, we get away from the miserable and truculent negatives, 'Nonconformity' and 'Dissent,' and reach an altitude where our position is not weighed and measured by its relation to a 'Church' which, however imposing politically and socially, is one to which we owe no kind of allegiance whatever, and with which we have nothing to do."

I will now turn to the Church at Eythorne, Kent. If the reader will turn to a former chapter he will find much in regard to the Baptists in Kent. Without repeating these statements I shall relate some additional facts as given by Goadby. He says:

"The Church at Eythorne, Kent, owes its origin to some Dutch Baptists, who settled in this country in the time of Henry the Eighth. They were, doubtless, tempted to make England their home by the brisk trade that sprang up between this country and Holland, soon after the marriage of Henry with Anne of Cleves (1540). * * * In the Calendar of State Papers (Domestic Series, 1547-1580), under the date of October 28th, 1552, we have this entry: 'Northumberland, to Sir William Cecill. Wishes the King would appoint Mr. Knox to the Bishopric of Rochester. He would be a whetstone to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a confounder of the Anabaptists lately sprung up in Kent.' * * * One singular fact, perhaps without a parallel, in the history of this ancient General Baptist Church at Eythorne, deserves to be mentioned; the names of the pastors, from the close of the Sixteenth Century to the last quarter of the Seventeenth Century, were John Knott. The first John Knott became the pastor of Eythorne somewhere between 1590 and 1600, and the last John Knott removed to Chatham in 1780." (Bye Paths in Baptist History, pp. 23-26)

Dr. Howard Osgood, the eminent Baptist scholar, makes this comment:

"If we would make the first Baptist church to appear under Helwise, in 1614, then we must deny the historical evidence of the conventicles of Baptists in the previous century. If we make the church founded in London in 1633 the first Calvinistic Baptist Church in England, we assume that all the Baptists and Baptist churches of the sixteenth century were Arminian in their views, which has never been shown, and is contrary to all probability. Baptists were found in the north and west but principally in the east of England. Under the dreadful persecution of the Tudors, the churches knew little of each other, unless they were situated near together. We hear more of the Calvinistic church formed in 1633, because it was situated in London and performed an important work in the following years. Joan Bucher, who was a member of the Baptist church in Eythorne, Kent, burned by order of Henry VI., held this doctrine." (The Standard, 1875, Chicago).

Goadby is equally confident of the history of the church at Bocking and Braintree, Essex. He says:

"In Strype's Ecclesiastical Memorials we find these words, under date 1550: 'Sectaries appeared now in Essex and Kent, sheltering themselves under the profession of the Gospel, of whom complaint was made to the Council. These were the first that made separation from the Church of England, having gathered congregations of their own.' They were the first, that is, of which Strype had heard. The congregation in Essex was mentioned to be at Bocking; that at Kent was at Faversham, as I learnt from an old register. From whence I also collect that they held the opinions of the Anabaptists and the Pelagians; that there were contributions among them for the better maintaining of their congregations; that the members of the congregation in Kent went over with the congregation in Essex, to instruct and join with them; and that they had their meetings in Kent, and in divers places besides Faversham.' In other words, the Kent churches at Eythorne, Faversham, Sandwich, Canterbury, perhaps, and other places, helped to build up, if they did not actually originate, the church at Bocking.'

"Bocking and Braintree are two parishes divided by the main road, and the whole is now known as Braintree. The 'complaints' by whomsoever made, against the Baptists at Bocking, led to their being watched, and about sixty persons were in the house when the sheriff interrupted their assembly. They confessed to the Council that they had met to talk the Scriptures, and that they had not communed at the parish church for two years. Some were fined and set at liberty, others were imprisoned, and remained until Queen Mary came to the throne, when they were released, only to be taken into custody, and by and by to the stake. * * *

"The Bocking Braintree church book, still in existence, carries back the authentic records of the church for more than two hundred years; but there is no question that the origin of the church itself dates back to the days of Edward the Sixth." (Bye Paths in Baptist History, pp. 26-28).

Here is an answer that is sufficient, if we had no other. We present not three believers but three Baptist churches which had existed long before 1641.

2. I mention as three believers who were immersed before 1641, William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, and John Canne.

William Kiffin seceded from the Independents in 1638. Of this Goadby says:

Five years after the above date (1638), a further secession from the original church strengthened their hands. Among the seceders were William Kiffin and Thomas Wilson. Kiffin, to whose pen we are indebted for the account of the origin of the first Calvinistic Baptist church in England, thus speaks of the reasons which led him to join Mr. Spilsbury:—'I used all of my endeavours, by converse with such as were able, also by diligently searching the Scriptures, with earnest desires to God that I might be directed in a right way of worship; and, after some time, concluded that the safest way was to follow the footsteps of the flock, namely, that order laid down by Christ and his Apostles, and practiced by the primitive Christians in their time, which I found to be, after conversion they were baptized, added to the church, and continued in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and prayers."' (Bye-Paths in Baptist History, p. 351).

This Independent church to which Mr. Kiffin belonged was organized in 1616. Mr. Henry Jacob was its first pastor and Mr. John Lathrop was the second. In 1633, during the pastorate of Mr. Lathrop, there was a division on the subject of immersion and a Baptist church was organized under the leadership of Mr. Spilsbury. Lathrop in 1634 removed to America with part of his church, where he still had trouble with his church on the subject of immersion. Dean, who was a very able historian and editor of a number of the works of the Massachusetts Historical Society, says: "Controversy respecting the mode of baptism had been agitated in Mr. Lathrop's church before he left England, and a part had separated from him and established the first Baptist (Calvinistic) church in England in 1633. Those that came seem not all to have been settled on this point, and they found others in Scituate ready to sympathize with them."

It was to this church that Kiffin united. Indeed so greatly was Kiffin in favor of immersion that he soon left Spilsbury's church because they occasionally admitted ministers to preach for them who had not been immersed. Crosby says:

"He was first of an Independent congregation, and called to the ministry among them; was one of them who were concerned in the conferences held in the congregation of Mr. Henry Jessey; by which Mr. Jessey and the greatest part of the congregation became proselyted to the opinion of the Baptists. He joined himself to the church of Mr. John Spilsbury, but a difference arising about permitting persons to preach amongst them that had not been baptized by immersion, they parted by consent." (History of the Baptists, Vol. III., p. 3-4).

All of this took place before 1641. Ivimey's History of the Baptists, Vol. II., p. 297). This settles the fact Kiffin was baptized before 1641.

I now refer to Hanserd Knollys. M'Clintock and Strong say: "A few years before (1635), though unknown to Williams, a Baptist preacher of England, Hanserd Knollys, had settled in New Hampshire and taken charge of a church in Dover; but he resigned in 1639 and returned to England." (Encyclop?ia Biblical Theology and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. I., p, 654). To confirm this statement we have contemporaneous evidence. Cotton Mather mentions a number of Baptists among the first planters of New England, and that some ministers of that persuasion came over He says of Hanserd Knollys:

"Of them there were some godly Anabaptists; as namely, Mr. Hanserd Knollys (whom one of his adversaries called absurd Knowles), of Dover, who afterwards moved back to London, lately died there, a good man, in a good old age." (Magnalia Christi Americana, Vol. I., p. 243. Hartford, 1855).

He wrote an autobiography of himself, which was edited and completed by William Kiffin. Knollys died September 19, 1691, and from the words of Kiffin it is probable that he became a Baptist as early as 1631. Kiffin's words are:

"The author of these ensuing experiences was that ancient and faithful servant of God, Mr. Hanserd Knollys, who departed this life in the ninety third year of his age, having been employed in the works and service of Christ, as a faithful minister, for above sixty years; in which time he labored without fainting under all the discouragement that attended him, being contented in all conditions, though never so poor in this world; under all persecutions and sufferings, so that he might therein serve his blessed Lord and Saviour. I have myself known him for above fifty-four years, and can witness to the truth of many things left by him under his own hand."(Life and Death of Hanserd Knollys, p. 47. London, 1812).

The Rev. George P. Gould, M. A., a learned Baptist scholar of England, is now editing and bringing out a series of Baptist Manuals, historical and biographical. In 1895 he published one on Hanserd Knollys by James Culross, M. A., D. D., president of Bristol Baptist College. After stating that Hanserd Knollys became a sectary, probably in 1631, he declares:

"Had Baptists thought anything depended on it, they might have traced their pedigree back to New Testament times, and claimed apostolic succession. The channel of succession was certainly purer, if humbler, than through the apostate church of Rome. But they were content to rest on Scripture alone, and, as they found only believers' baptism there, they adhered to that. (P. 39, note).

The Rev. John Canne, author of the marginal references of the Bible was an eminent minister of those times. When he became a Baptist is uncertain but it was certainly before 1640. He was found in Bristol in 1640, preaching in "public places" and was declared to be a "baptized man," or an immersed man as that phrase was used. I give a conclusive statement from the Broadmead Records. These Records say:

"Anno, 1640. And thus the Lord led them by His Spirit in a way and path that they knew not, having called them out of darkness into his marvelous light by Jesus Christ our Lord. So that in the year of our ever blessed Redeemer, the Lord Jesus (1640), one thousand six hundred and forty, those five persons, namely, Goodman Atkins, of Stapleton, Goodman Cole, a butcher of Lawford's Gate, Richard Moone, a farrier in Wine street, and Mr. Bacon, a young minister, with Mrs. Hazzard, at Mrs. Hazzard's house, at the upper end of Broad street, in Bristol, they met together, and came to a holy resolution to separate from the worship of the world and times they lived in, and that they would go no more to it. And with godly purpose of heart (they) joined themselves in the Lord, only thus covenanting, that they would in the strength and assistance of the Lord come forth of the world, and worship the Lord more purely, persevering therein, to their end." (Broadmead Records, pp., 17, 18).

The Records continue:

"At this juncture of time the providence of God brought to this city one Mr. Canne, a baptized man; it was that Mr. Canne that made notes and references upon the Bible. He was a man very eminent in his day for godliness, and for reformation in religion, having great understanding in the way of the Lord."

Mrs. Hazzard, who was the wife of the parish priest, found him and fetched him to her home. Then the Records say:

"He taught the way of the Lord more perfectly, and settled them in church order, and showed them the difference betwixt the church of Christ and anti-Christ, and left with them a printed book treating of the same; and divers printed papers to that purpose. So that by this instrument Mr. Canne, the Lord did confirm and settle them; showing them how they should join together, and take in members." (Pp. 18, 19).

Mr. Canne then attempted to preach in a suburb of the city and a wealthy woman placed some obstructions in his way. The Records say:

"The obstruction was by a very godly great woman, that dwelt in that place, who was somewhat severe in the profession of what she knew, hearing that he was a baptized man, by them called Anabaptists, which was to some sufficient cause of prejudice, because the truth of believers baptism had been for a long time buried, yea, for a long time by popish inventions, and their sprinkling brought in room thereof. And (this prejudice existed) by reason (that) persons in the practice of that truth by baptism were by some rendered very obnoxious; because, about one hundred years before, some beyond the sea, in Germany, that held that truth of believers baptism, did, as some say, did some very singular actions; of whom we can have no true account what they were but by their enemies; for none but such in any history have made any relation or narrative of them." (P. 19, 20).

"For good measure " I will also mention Paul

Hobson. Ivimey says of him:

"He is mentioned among the rejected ministers. Dr. Calamy supposes that he was chaplain of Eaton College, and that he had a place of command in the army; but observes, that if he had conformed afterwards it would have made some atonement, as was the case in other instances. In addition to these circumstances, We find that he was engaged as early as 1639, as one of the chief promoters of founding a Baptist church in London. He was one of the pastors who signed the Confession of faith of the seven churches in London in 1644." (History of the English Baptists, Vol. I., p. 88).

This statement of Ivimey that Paul Hobson was a preacher is confirmed by Edwards. Edwards who was a contemporary says that he had been an Anabaptist preacher "a long time." This was written in 1645, and an Anabaptist in the mouth of Edwards was always a "dipper." Edwards' words are:

"There is one Paul Hobson a taylor, who comes out of Buckinghamshire and is now a Captain, having been in the Armies, who hath been a Preacher a great while. This man when he was in the Army, where ever he came he would Preach publikely in the Churches, where he could get pulpits, and privately to the Souldiers; the subject matter of his Sermons was much against Duties, and of Revelations, what God had revealed to him; he was a means to corrupt some precious hopeful young men who went out of London; and preaching one time against Holy Duties (as an understanding man who heard him, related to me and other company), he spake thus. "Then this further statement is volunteered: This Paul Hobson is one of those whose hand is subscribed to the Confession of Faith of the Anabaptists, set forth last Winter." (Gangraena, p. 33. London, 1645)

Here is positive contemporaneous proof that Paul Hobson was an immersionist in 1639, for he was engaged in forming a Baptist church, and the inference is that he had been a Baptist many years before this.

The Reader will also call to mind that in the chapter "On the Baptists before 1641 "I give an account of a number of persons who were dipped before 1641 in England.

3. The proof is positive that noted Baptists after 1641, who were certainly dippers, positively state that Baptist Churches, as they were then organized, had long existed in England.

The first witness is William Kiffin. He makes this declaration in a book called "A Briefe Remonstrance of the Reasons and Grounds of those people commonly called Anabaptists, for their separation," etc. A Mr. Poole had addressed to him certain Queries for an answer. The second Query was:

"By what Scripture Warrant doe you take upon you to erect new framed congregations, separated to the disturbance of the great Worke of Reformation now in hand?

To this Kiffin replied:

"Ans. This querie hath in it these two parts.

1. That we erect new framed separate congregations. 2. Wee do by this disturbe the great Worke of Reformation now in hand."

He then says:

"To the first, it is well knowne to many, especially to ourselves; that our congregations were erected and framed according to the rule of Christ, before wee heard of any Reformation, even at that time when Episcopacie was in the height of its vanishing glory."

He further states:

"And for the second part of your querie That we disturb the great Worke of Reformation now in hand; I know not what you meane by this charge, unless it be to discover your prejudice against us, in Reforming ourselves before you, for as yet we have not in our understanding, neither can we conceive anything of that we shall see reformed by you according to truth, but that through mercie wee enjoy the practice of the same already; tis strange this should be a disturbance to the ingenious faithful Reformer; it should bee (one would think) a furtherance rather than a disturbance, and whereas you tell us of the work of Reformation now in hand, no reasonable men will force us to desist from the practice of that which we are perswaded is according to Truth, and waite for that which we knowe not what it will be; and in the meantime practice that which you your selves say must be reformed." (Pp. 12 14. London, 1645).

Here is a declaration by one of the most intelligent Baptists of the times, whose sources of information were of the best, who declares inside of four years of 1641 "that our congregations were erected and framed according to the rule of Christ, before we heard of any Reformation;" and then he goes on to defend at length that these congregations possessed the whole Truth. I do not see how a statement could be more conclusive.

We are not shut up to this statement. Daniel King, 1650, only nine years after 1641, wrote a treatise called "A Way to Zion, Sought Out, and Found, for Believers to Walk In." This startling proposition in the first part is proved,

"1. That God hath had a people on earth, ever since the coming of Christ in the flesh, throughout the darkest times of Popery, which he hath owned as Saints and as his people."

The third part

"Proveth that Outward Ordinances, and amongst the rest the Ordinance of Baptism, is to continue in the Church, and this Truth cleared up from intricate turnings and windings, clouds and mists that make the way doubtful and dark."

Certainly that would be a very arrogant claim if the Baptists of England only began in 1641. And what is more, this book of King's is indorsed by Thomas Patient, John Spilsbury, William Kiffin, and John Pearson. These men declared that the assertion that "there are no true churches in the world" and "no true ministers" has been of "singular use in hands of the devil." I quote a portion of their words:

"The devil hath mustered up all his forces of late to blind and pester the minds of good people, to keep them from the clear knowledge and practice of the way of God, either in possessing people still with old corrupt principles; or if they have been taken of them, then to perswade with them that there are no Churches in the world, and that persons cannot come to the practice of Ordinances, there being no true ministry in the world; and others they run in another desperate extreme, holding Christ to be a shadow, and all his Gospel and Ordinances like himself, fleshy and carnall. This generation of people have been of singular use in the hand of the Devil to advance his kingdom, and to make war against the kingdom of our Lord Jesus. Now none have been more painfull than these have been of late, to poison the City, the Country, the Army, so far as they could; inasmuch as it lay upon some of our spirits as a duty to put out our weak ability for the discovering of these grosse errors and mistakes; but it hath pleased God to stir up the spirit of our Brother, Daniel King, whom we judge a faithfull and painfull minister of Jesus Christ, to take this work in hand before us; and we judge he hath been much assisted of God in the work in which he hath been very painfull. We shall not need to say much of the Treatise; only in brief, it is his method to follow the Apostles' rule, prove everything by the evidence of Scripture light, expounding Scripture by Scripture, and God hath helped him in this discourse, we judge beyond any who hath dealt upon this subject that is extant, in proving the truth of Churches, against all such that have gone under the name of Seekers, and hath very well, and with great evidence of Scripture light answered to all, or most of their Objections of might, as also those above, or beyond Ordinances."

Henry D'Anvers was one of the most influential and best informed Baptists of the seventeenth century. He was a distinguished colonel in the Parliamentary army and Governor of Stafford. He wrote the most powerful book of the century on baptism. He makes the most positive claims of the long continuance of Baptists in England, and that the Baptists had continued in "the good old way." I quote two paragraphs:

"In the sixteenth year of King James, 1618, that excellent Dutch piece, called A very plain and well grounded Treatise concerning Baptism, that with so much authority both from Scripture and Antiquity, proves the baptizing of Believers and disproves that of Infants, was printed in English.

"Since when (especially in the last thirty or forty years) many have been the conferencesthat have past, and many the Treatises that have been written pro and con upon the subject, and many have been the sufferings both in old and new England, that people of that perswasion have undergone, whereby such light hath broken forth therein that not only very many learned men have been convinced thereof, but very many congregations of Baptists have been, and are daily gathered in that good old way of the Lord that hath so long lain under so much obloquy and reproach, and been buried under so much Antichristian rubbish in these nations." (A Treatise on Baptism, p. 308. London, 1674).

Thomas Grantham was one of the greatest Baptist writers of the seventeenth century. Under date of 1678 he wrote:

"That many of the learned have much abused this age, in telling them that the Anabaptists (i. e. the Baptized Churches) are of a late edition, a new sect, etc., when from their own writings the clean contrary is so evident." (Christianismus Primitivus, pp. 92, 93. London, 1678).

I shall give the words of a Baptist, who closed the century with a book on baptism. He speaks with no uncertain sound. Joseph Hooke had read largely on the subject, and his book shows that he was scholarly. He claims a succession from the days of the apostles. Mr. Hooke says:

"Thus having shewed negatively, when this sect called Ana-Baptists did not begin: we shall shew in the next place affirmatively, when it did begin; for a beginning it had, and it concerns us to enquire for the Fountain Head of this Sect; for if I was sure that it were no older than the Munster-Fight that Mr. Erratt puts in mind of, I would Resolve to forsake it, and would persuade others to do so too.


"That religion that is not as old as Christ and his apostles, is too new for me.

"But secondly, affirmatively, we are fully perswaded, and therefore do boldly, tho' humbly, assert, that this Sect is the very same sort of People that were first called Christians in Antioch, Acts 11, 26. But sometimes called Nazarenes, Acts 24, 5. And as they are every where spoken against now, even so they were in the Primitive Times. Acts 28, 22." (A Necessary Apology for the Baptists, London, 1701, p. 19).

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved