a history of the english baptists
A.D. 1180 - 1540
The darkness which succeeded the introduction of popery was so prevalent, that, excepting the valleys of Piedmont, which were the residence of the Waldensian churches, it soon spread over the whole of Europe, and rendered invisible every trace of the simplicity of the gospel of Christ.
THE WALDENSIAN CHRISTIANS are celebrated in history for their opposition to the antichristian usurpations of the church of Rome. The learned archbishop Usher, in his book entitled The succession and state of the Christian Churches [p. 242], traces its succession through them, in distinction from and in opposition to the papacy. They underwent the most dreadful persecutions; and every means which malice and cruelty could invent was used to exterminate them and their principles from the earth. The crusade against them consisted of five hundred thousand men. More than three hundred gentlemen’s seats were razed and many walled towns destroyed.
The persecutions, however, which they suffered were far from accomplishing the design of their enemies. The archbishop says, that "as the persecution about Stephen by that dispersion proved much for the furtherance of the gospel in other parts of the world, so was it here: for those that were not so fit for the war went up and down with more freedom into most parts of Europe. Insomuch that Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pope Pius II, confessed, that neither the decrees of popes, nor armies of Christians, could extirpate them."
The archbishop farther informs us, on the authority of Matthew Paris of Westminister, that "the Berengarian or Waldensian heresy had, about the year 1180, generally infected all France, Italy, and England." Guitmond, a popish writer of that time, also says, that "not only the weaker sort in the country villages, but the nobility and gentry in the chief towns and cities, were infected therewith; and therefore Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, who held this see both in the reigns of William the conqueror and of his son William Rufus, wrote against them in the year 1087." The archbishop adds, from Poplinus’s history of France, that "the Waldenses of Aquitain did, about the year 1100, during the reigns of Henry I and Stephen, kings of England, spread themselves and their doctrines all over Europe," and mentions England in particular. [Danvers on baptism, p. 175-178]
We learn from Fox, on the authority of Robert Gulsborne, that in the time of Henry II, about the year 1158, two eminent Waldensian preachers and barbs, Gerhardus and Dulcinus, came into England to propagate the gospel; and archbishop Usher, from Thomas Walden, says, that "several Waldenses that came out of France were apprehended, and by the king’s command were marked in the forehead with a key or hot iron." "Which sect, (says William of Newbury, in his history of England,) were called the Publicani, whose original was from Gascoyne; and who, being as numerous as the sand of the sea, did sorely infest both France, Italy, Spain, and England."
Rapin, in relating the transactions of the councils of Henry II, gives the following account of these people, on the authority of the above-mentioned historian. "Henry ordered a council to meet at Oxford in 1166, to examine the tenets of certain heretics, called Publicani. Very probably they were disciples of the Waldenses, who began then to appear. When they were asked in the council, who they were; they answered, they were Christians, and followers of the apostles. After that, being questioned upon the creed, their replies were very orthodox as to the trinity and incarnation. But, (adds Rapin,) if the historian is to be depended on, they rejected baptism, the eucharist, marriage, and the communion of saints. They shewed a great deal of modesty and meekness in their whole behaviour. When they were threatened with death, in order to oblige them to renounce their tenets, they only said, Blessed are they that suffer for righteousness sake." [History of England, vol. i. p. 350]
There is no difficulty in understanding what were their sentiments on these heretical points. When a monk says they rejected the eucharist, it is to be understood that they rejected the absurd doctrine of transubstantiation; when he says that they rejected marriage, he means that they denied it to be a sacrament, and maintained it to be a civil institution; when he says that they rejected the communion of saints, nothing more is to be understood than that they refused to hold communion with the corrupt church of Rome; and when he says that they rejected baptism, what are we to understand but that they rejected the baptism of infants? These were the errors for which they were branded with a hot iron in their foreheads, by those who had "the mark of the beast, both in their foreheads and in their hands."
Paul Stransky, de Republica Bohemorum, p. 272, (as quoted by David Cranz in his History of the United Brethren, translated by La Trobe, p. 16,) says, "the Waldenses, in 1176, arrived in Bohemia, and settled at Satz and Laun on the river Eger. These joined those Bohemians, who were still tenacious of the rites of the Greek church. They showed them the defects of their religious exercises; and introduced among them a purer knowledge of the doctrines of the Christian faith, according to the word of God. By this means the upright were confirmed in the faith, and such as were fallen asleep, again awakened."
"These ancient Christians," says Cranz, after having made the above quotation, "(who, besides the several names of reproach given them, were at length denominated Waldenses, from one of the their most eminent teachers PETER WALDUS who is said to have emigrated with the rest from France into Bohemia, and there to have died) date their origin from the beginning of the fourth century; when one Leo, at the great revolution in religion under Constantine the Great, opposed the innovations of Sylvester, bishop of Rome. Nay, Rieger goes farther still, taking them for the remains of the people of the Vallies, who, when the apostle Paul, as is said, made a journey over the Alps into Spain, were converted to Christ.
"The testimony of their enemies themselves (continues Cranz) seems to corroborate this conjecture. Sancho Reinerus, an apostate, and persecutor of the Waldenses in the thirteenth century, writes, ‘Amongst all sects, none is more pernicious than that of the Poor of Lyons (which is another denomination of the Waldenses) for three reasons: 1. Because it is the most ancient. Some aver their existence from the days of Sylvester; others, from the very time of the Apostles. 2. Because it is so universal; for there is hardly a country into which this sect has not crept. 3. Because all others render themselves detestable by their blasphemies; but this has a great appearance of godliness, they living a righteous life before men, believing right concerning God, confessing all the articles of the creed, only hating the pope of Rome, etc."
"This, (says Cranz) continued above two hundred years, till 1391, when, being discovered through the imprudence of two of their preachers, they were cruelly persecuted, and, for the most part, dispersed abroad in the adjacent countries. Yet many witnesses of the truth remained in Bohemia; who, not only in private, but in the churches and schools, and in the very court-chapel at Prague, testified against the corruption in doctrine and practice, which now broke in more and more like a torrent; to which they were farther greatly encouraged by the writings of Wickliffe, brought from England by the young noblesse who studied there."
Roger de Hovedon, in his Annals, says, that in the year 1182, "Henry II was very favourable to the Waldensian sect in England; for whereas they burnt them in many places of Flanders, Italy, and France, in great numbers, he would not suffer any such thing here; and being in his own and his queen’s right possessed of Aquitain, Poictou, Guien, Gascoyne, Normandy, etc. the principal places inhabited by the Waldenses and Albigenses, and they being his subjects, they had free egress into his territories here."
During the reigns of Richard I and king John, which were times of great trouble, we read of no opposition made against them. Richard was long absent in the holy war. John had great contests with the pope, who laid his kingdom under an interdict, and forbad all public worship for the space of six years, only admitting of private baptism to infants. This, with the opposition made to him by the barons, found him so much employment, that these Christians had no molestation, but had great opportunities for disseminating their principles; while the king by his arms defended the Waldenses and Albigenses in Aquitain and Gascoyne, who were so much oppressed by the crusading army of the pope.
In the reign of Henry III, archbishop Usher says, from Matthew Paris, "the orders of the Friars Minorites came into England to suppress this Waldensian heresy." And in the reign of Edward III, about the year 1315, Fuller informs us, in his ecclesiastical history, that "WALTER LOLLARD, that German preacher, or, (as Perrin calls him in his history of the Waldenses,) one of their barbs, came into England, a man in great renown among them; and who was so eminent in England that, as in France they were called Berengarians from Berengarius, and Petrobrusians from Peter Bruis, and in Italy and Flanders, Arnoldists, from the famous Arnold of Brescia; so did the Waldensian Christians for many generations after bear the name of this worthy man, being called Lollards."
As this is an historical fact of great importance for discovering the origin of those sentiments which at length produced a reformation in the kingdom, and an emancipation from the church of Rome, it is very desirable TO ASCERTAIN THE OPINION OF THESE ZEALOUS CHRISTIANS ON THE QUESTION OF INFANT BAPTISM, since it will furnish us with a clue by which to judge of the principles of those who were afterwards such eminent asserters of Christian liberty.
If the reader will turn to what is said by Dr. Gill on this subject, in the extracts prefixed to this work, he will find the opinion of William of Newbury (as recited by Rapin) confirmed, respecting their denial of baptism; that is, of infant baptism.
In addition to these proofs may be mentioned what is said by Chessanion, in his History of the Albigenses, who (he says) were of the same sentiments. "Some writers, (says he,) affirm that the Albigenses approved not the baptism of infants; others that they entirely slighted this holy sacrament, as if it were of no use either to great or small. The same may be said of the Waldenses, though some affirm that they have always baptized their children. This difference of authors kept me some time in suspense before I could come to be resolved on which side the truth lay. At last considering what St. Bernard saith of this matter in his sixty-sixth homily on the second chapter of the Song of Songs, and the reasons he brings to refute this error, and also what he wrote ad Hildefonsum Comitem sancti Aegidii, I cannot deny but the Albigenses for the greatest part were of this opinion. And that which confirms me yet more in this belief is, that in the history of the city of Treves there were some who denied that the sacrament of baptism was available to the salvation of infants: and one Catherine Saube, who was burnt at Montpelier, in the year 1417, for being of the mind of the Albigenses in not believing the traditions of the Romish church, was of the same mind respecting infant baptism; as it is recorded in the register of the town-house of the said city of Montpelier, of which we shall speak at the end of the fourth book. The truth is, (continues Chessanion) they did not reject the sacrament, and say it was useless, but only counted it unnecessary to infants, because they are not of age to believe, nor capable of giving evidence of their faith. That which induced them, as I suppose, to entertain this opinion is, what our Lord says, He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved, and he that believeth not, shall be damned." [Stennett’s Answer to Russen, pp. 79,184]
This statement is in part at least corroborated by Dr. Wall in his History of infant baptism; and, as he was desirous of establishing the contrary opinion, his concessions in our favour are certainly of weight. Speaking of the Petrobrussians, whom he calls a sect of the Waldenses, he says, "withdrawing themselves, about the year 1100, from the communion of the church of Rome, which was then very corrupt, they did reckon Infant Baptism as one of the corruptions, and accordingly renounced it, and practised only adult baptism.’ [Part II, chap. 10, p. 527]
Mosheim, in his Ecclesiastical History, speaking of Peter de Bruis, who was a celebrated itinerant preacher, and who was burnt to death by an enraged populace at St. Giles’s, in the year 1130, says, "It is certain that one of his tenets was, that no persons whatever were to be baptized before they were come to the full use of reason." [Vol. III, p. 116]
The testimony of Mr. Brandt respecting the antiquity of these churches and of their sentiments respecting baptism is of importance to our argument. He says that "the errors and crafty inventions of popery, had never been able to find a passage to those people; since being shut up in their vallies, separate from the rest of the world, and conversing chiefly among themselves, they had retained a great deal of the simplicity and purity of the Apostolical doctrine. That this antiquity of the doctrine of the Waldenses, is acknowledged even by their greatest enemies.—Some of them likewise rejected infant baptism." [Brandt’s Hist. Ref. vol. I. Book I. p. 12]
To corroborate this last clause many things are produced by Dr. Allix in his remarks on the ancient churches of Piedmont. "The followers of Gundulphus in Italy were many of them examined by Gerhard bishop of Cambray and Arras upon several heads in th eyar 1025. It seems as if these people were surfeited with the vicious and debauched lives of the Romish Clergy, and did rather chuse to go without any baptism, rather than have it administered by such lewd hands, or that they had agreed to have it performed privately in their own way. Let things have been as it would it is plain they were utterly against infant baptism." The citation, in part of their answer, as taken by Dr. Allix out of Gerhard’s preface to Reginaldus, is this, "But if any shall say, that some sacrament lies hid in baptism, the force of that is taken off by these three causes; the first is, because the reprobate life of ministers can afford no saving remedy to the persons to be baptized. The second, because whatsoever sins are renounced at the font, are afterwards taken up again in life and practice. The third, because a strange faith, and a strange confession do not seem to belong to, or be of any advantage to a little child, who neither wills nor runs, who knows nothing of faith, and is altogether ignorant of his own good and salvation, in whom there can be no desire of regeneration, and from whom no confession of faith can be expected."
The doctor adds the following quotation from an Inquisitor. "They contemn the sacraments of the church because of the undue and irreverent manner wherein they are celebrated by the priests, and became they set them to sale, as also, because of the wicked and scandalous lives of many ministers." In the next paragraph the same Inquisitor lets us know the ground of this error (as he calls it) about infant baptism. "Some of them are in error concerning baptism, holding that infants cannot be saved by it, Mark xvi. 16, whosoever shall believe, and be baptized shall be saved. But an infant does not believe, therefore is not saved."
In a little time after this lived the noted Arnoldus Brixiensis, a follower of Berengarius, who eminently opposed the Romish corruptions. And amongst some notions imputed to him, it is observed, "There was yet a more heinous thing laid to his charge, which was this; that he was unsound in his judgment about the sacrament of the altar and infant baptism." [Dr. Allix, p. 293,123,172]
This excellent man was condemned, hanged, and his body burnt at Rome, and the ashes cast into the Tiber. But there is a letter of Everinus to St. Bernard a little before the year 1146, wherein he speaks clearly of a sect which approved of adult baptism upon believing, and strenuously opposed infant baptism. The words of the letter are, "They make void the priesthood of the church and condemn the sacraments besides baptism only, and this only in those who were come to age, who they say are baptized by Christ himself, whosoever be the ministers of the sacraments. They do not believe infant baptism, alleging that the place of the gospel, whosoever shall believe and be baptized, shall be saved." [Dr. Allix, p. 143,145,147]
The same learned gentleman gives us an extract taken by Claudius Caissord in the year 1548, out of an old MS. of Rainerius a fryer, wrote by him 296 years before, against the Waldenses wherein he has these words, "They say, that when first a man is baptized then he is received into this sect. Some of them hold, that baptism is of no advantage to infants, because they cannot actually believe." [Ibid., p. 188,191]
There seems to me to be reason to believe that the Lollards in England were of similar sentiments on this subject. Walter Lollard from whom they sprung, was a Waldensian barb; and I have never seen any satisfactory proof that infant baptism was practised among these Christians at this early period of their history. These, it is likely, were the first public opposers of the corruptions of the church of Rome in England, after the fatal massacre of the ancient British Christians under the direction of the pope'’ legate, Austin, who has been flattered with the epithet of the English Apostle, and canonized as a Saint by the church of Rome.
But to return to the Britons. It might be presumed that some of their descendants, either in Wales, or upon the borders of it, that is to say, in Herefordshire and the adjoining counties, would for some ages maintain the same principles with themselves. This presumption accords with fact; for the most early and most eminent Christians in England, after the conquest, are said to have been born in this part of the island. These were Bradwardine, Brute, Sir John Oldcastle, Tyndal, Penry, and others, whose histories we shall briefly relate in the course of our work. For this information we are indebted to A History of the Welsh Baptists, published by Mr. Joshua Thomas of Leominster, from which we shall extract interesting particulars on this subject.
In this account of the Baptist church of Olchon, and Chapel-y-ffin, Mr. Thomas sayd, "Olchon is a deep narrow valley, under the black mountain, in the parish of Cludock, and properly in Herefordshire; yet on the borders of the three counties of Herefored, Monmouth, and Brecknock; and likewise on the borders of the three dioceses of Hereford, Llaudaff, and St. David’s. The inhabitants of that and most of the adjoining parishes were Cambro-britons, or properly Cymry, vulgarly called Welsh or Welch, till of late years; and even now, many in those parts talk the British language, and most of the natives understand it. The ministry of the Baptists now there is in that language.
"I am inclined to believe (continues Mr. Thomas) that through all the darkness of popery, there were individuals here and there among the ancient Britons, who had saving knowledge of Christ; though they had not sufficient courage to appear publicly against the growing corruptions of the Romish church. It is my opinion that the first open struggle of Protestant light against Popish darkness, among our countrymen, began at or near Olchon; and that long before the appellation of Protestant was known even in Germany. My conjectures spring from the following particulars,—
"Dr. Thomas Bradwardine was chosen Archbishop of Canterbury: he was a very learned and celebrated person in the former part of the fourteenth century. Dr. Fuller in his Church History, book iii. p. 98, says, that this worthy man was born at Bradwardine, and appears to have had his name from that place, as in former centuries it was very common for persons to take their names from the place of their birth, occupation, or habitation. Bradwardine is the name of a parish in Herefordshire, a few miles from Olchon. The word carries it in an internal evidence of its British original; but I will not pretend to guess to what particular circumstance it owed its origin. Bishop Godwin, contrary to Fuller, says that Dr. Bradwardine was born at Hartfield in Sussex. But before the latter had written his account of the worthies of England, he had received better information, for he there says that Camden, Bale, Pits, and Godwin, all differed respecting the place of Bradwardine’s birth. These differences he endeavours to reconcile by saying that there was an ancient family at Bradwardine in Herefordshire, which removed thence, and had settled for three generations in Sussex, near Chichester; and that the above Thomas was born in or near that city. Hence he names him among his worthies of Herefordshire and of Sussex. He names a Thomas Bradwardine among the gentry of Herefordshire in 1433; so that it seems there were some of the family then at Bradwardine. Dr. Bradwardine was very famous for his profound and extensive erudition, and genuine piety. His common title was Doctor Profundus, the profound Doctor. Of all his writings, that which he wrote against the Pelagians is the most celebrated. Its title is, De Causa Dei, Of the cause of God. Dr. Gill, in his Cause of God and truth, refers to Bradwardine more than once, and calls him a second Austin. This commendation is great; but he did not make a formal opposition to popery as such. Though he was much abroad, yet possibly he might be of some service to his distant relations about Bradwardine and towards Olchon, by writing or otherwise. How far he was useful that way we know not. He died about 1348 or 9. Rapin, speaking of this eminent person, says, that ‘what rendered him still more esteemed for his learning was his humility, and his zeal to instruct the people committed to his care.’
"Very probably (continues Mr. Thomas) the famous Wickliffe received much of his light in the gospel from Bradwardine. When the latter died, he was succeeded in the see of Canterbury by Dr. Simon Islip, in 1349. Islip had so great a regard for Wickliffe, that he made him rector of Canterbury College then at Oxford. The rector preached and kept his place with great reputation till 1306, when Archbishop Islip died. Then Wickliffe was turned out of his rectory. After that he openly opposed popery, and had powerful friends to defend him against all the rage of the pope and clergy."—Thus far Mr. Thomas.
It is very probable that Bradwardine, Islip, and Wickliffe, received their sentiments from the followers of Lollard; and that on this account the followers of Wickliffe are indiscriminately denominated Wickliffites and Lollards. Bishop Newton, having mentioned the Lollards, says, "There was a man more worthy to have given name to the sect, the deservedly famous John Wickliffe, the honour of his own and the admiration of all succeeding times."
This extraordinary man, who has been justly called the morning star of the Reformation, began to be famous about the year 1361; and though he was greatly persecuted by several popes, and by the clergy in England, yet the providence of God so protected him from their malice, that he died peaceably at his own house at Lutterworth, Dec. 31, 1384. By the command of the pope his bones were taken out of the grave and burnt, and his ashes cast into a brook adjoining, called the Swift, in 1428.
The doctrines of Wickliffe spread very wonderfully through the land, if the testimony of Knyhton, a contemporary historian, who appears to have been his inveterate enemy may be believed. "Such (says he) was the success of his teaching, preaching, and writings, that more than half the people of England became his followers, and embraced his doctrines." Their character is thus given by Reinhar, a popish writer. "The disciples of Wickliffe are men of a serious modest deportment, avoiding all ostentation in dress, mixing little with the busy world, and complaining of the debauchery of mankind. They maintain themselves wholly by their own labour, and despise wealth, being fully content with bare necessaries. They are chaste and temperate; are never seen in taverns, or amused with the trifling gaieties of life; yet you find them always employed, either in learning or teaching. They are concise and devout in their prayers, blaming an unanimated prolixity. They never swear; speak little; and in their public preaching lay the principal stress on charity."
It was not long after the death of Wickliffe, that his disciples began to form distinct societies. Rapin says, that "in the year 1389, the Wickliffites or Lollards began to separate from the church of Rome, and appoint priests from amongst themselves to perform divine service after their way. Though some were from time to time persecuted by the bishops, yet these persecutions were not rigorous. Their aim seemed to be only to hinder them from pleading prescription. Besides, a petition presented to the king by a former parliament to revoke the power granted the bishops to imprison hereticks restrained the most forward." [History of England, vol. i, p. 480]
It is probable that the liberty granted to these early dissenters from the church of England, as then established, depended in a great measure on the disposition of the monarch, and on his ability to check the cruel dispositions of the pope and the clergy. It appears evident from the history of the English church, that whenever the clergy have been left to follow their own inclinations, they have used their crosier, not in defending the flock, but in giving the followers of Christ cause to say, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."
The sufferings of these people from this period till the Reformation were very great. The Lollards’ tower still stands as a monument of their miseries, and of the cruelty of their implacable enemies. This tower is at Lambeth palace, and was fitted up for this purpose by Chicheley, Archbishop of Canterbury, who came to this see in 1414. It is said that he expended two hundred and eighty pounds to make this prison for the Lollards. The vast staples and rings to which they were fastened, before they were brought out to the stake, are still to be seen in a large lumber-room at the top of the palace, and ought to make protestants look back with gratitude upon the hour which terminated so bloody a period.
That the sentiments of Wycliffe and his followers were opposed to infant baptism, may be ascertained from several sources of information. It is well known that after the death of the pious queen Anne, wife of Richard II., and sister of Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, the books of Wickliffe were carried into Bohemia by her attendants, as they also were about the same time by Jerome of Prague, and other persons, in consequence whereof his sentiments spread in that country, where lived the celebrated John Huss, who, together with Jerome of Prague, fell a martyr to the fury of the papists at Constance, about a hundred years before the time of Luther. A letter describing the sentiments of the Hussites, written from Bohemia to Erasmus, dated Oct. 10, 1519, states as follows. "They renounce all the rites and ceremonies of our church;—they ridicule our doctrine and practices in both sacraments;—they deny orders (the hierarchy) and elect officers from among the laity;—they receive no other rule than the bible;—they admit none into their communion till they be dipped in water, or baptized;—and they reckon one another without distinction of rank to be called brothers and sisters." [Colomesius’s Collection of Letters to men of note]
If this was the case with respect to the followers of Wickliffe in Bohemia, what should hinder us from believing that the followers of Wickliffe in England held similar sentiments respecting the discipline of the church of Christ, and that they also maintained that none ought to be admitted into their communion until they were dipped in water, or baptized?
That this was the case appears from the laws made against them in the reign of Henry IV.; for among the articles by which the inquisitors were to examine them, one was, "WHETHER AN INFANT DYING UNBAPTIZED CAN BE SAVED?" This the Lollards constantly asserted in opposition to the church of Rome, which decreed that no infant could be saved without it. Fox says, that one of the errors they were charged with was, "that they spoke against the opinion of such as think children are damned who depart before baptism, and that Christian people be sufficiently baptized in the blood of Christ, and need no water; and that infants be sufficiently baptized, if their parents are baptized before them." [Fox’s Acts and Mon. vol. i. p. 752]
Fox thinks they were slandered in this matter because says he, "It is so contrary to the manifest word that it is not thought any to be so ignorant of the gospel that ever did or would affirm the same." But that these people opposed the baptism of infants, is corroborated by the Dutch Martyrology, or bloody Theatre, which says from Walsingham, "that one Sir Lewis Clifford, who had been a friend of Wickliffe, did discover to the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the Lollards would not baptize their new-born children." [Danver’s Treatise of Baptism, p. 2, 303].
Respecting Wycliffe’s sentiments on this subject, many writers have positively asserted that he opposed this practice. Dr. Hurd in his History of all Religions says, "It is pretty clear from the writings of many learned men, that Dr. John Wickliffe, the first English reformer, either considered infant baptism unlawful, or at best not necessary." The author of a History of Religion, published in London in 1764, in four volumes octavo, says, "It is clear from many authors that Wickliffe rejected infant baptism, and that on this doctrine his followers agreed with the modern Baptists." Thomas Walden and Joseph Vicecomes [Catholic authorities who persecuted Wycliffe’s followers], who had access to his writings, have charged him with denying pedobaptism, and they brought their charge at a time when it might have been easily contradicted, if it had not been true. The first of these charges him with holding the following opinions about baptism. "That baptism doth not confer, but only signifies grace which was given before; that those are fools and presumptuous who affirm such infants not to be saved as die without baptism; also that he denied that all sins are abolished in baptism, and asserted that the baptism of water profited not without the baptism of the Spirit." [Walden, tom. ii. c. 98, 108]
Walsingham says, "It was in the year 1381, that that damnable heretic, John Wickliffe, reassumed the curses opinions of Berengarius;" of which it is certain that denying infant baptism was one. He also says "that his followers did deny baptism to infants, because they concluded them, as they were the children of believers, to be holy, and not to stand in need of baptism to take away original sin." Thomas Walden, before mentioned, calls Wickliffe "one of the seven heads that came out of the bottomless pitt, for denying infant baptism, that heresie of the Lollards, of whom he was so great a ringleader." [Danver’s Treatise, p. 2, 287]
A council was held at Blackfriars, June 11, 1382, to condemn Wickliffe and his sect; at which time, while his enemies were in convocation, that terrible earthquake happened which is mentioned in the chronicles of St. Alban’s, and of which Wycliffe also takes notice in his writings. This greatly alarmed is persecutors, but did not prevent their framing many articles of accusation. The eleventh article was, that the children of believers might be saved without baptism.
A denial that baptism had virtue in itself to procure the salvation of the infant, and that the want of it would insure damnation, was rudely shaking the foundation on which infant baptism was then built. He is accused, however, of going still farther, and of asserting, "that none were members of the church visible who did not app[ear to be members of the church invisible; and that none had a right to church membership who did not make a public profession, and profess obedience to Christ. It is unnecessary to add, that infants, being unable to make this public profession, would not be considered by him as members of the visible church, or as possessing a right to participate of any of its ordinances.
Having mentioned some of the followers of Wickliffe, it seems desirable that we should more particularly notice a few of them, as persons who by English protestants ought to be had in everlasting remembrance.
In the history of Welsh Baptists already mentioned, there is an account of one of these named Walter Brute. Mr. Thomas says, "I suppose he lived in or near Olchon," and mentions several reasons which make this appear probable. "It is recorded (says he) that he was a gentleman of rank, learning, and parts, though reckoned a layman by the popish clergy. Trevnant or rather Trefnant, bishop of Hereford, charges Mr. Brute with seducing the people as much as he could from day to day, and with teaching openly and privately as well the nobles as the commons. Mr. William Swinderby, and Mr. Stephen Ball, were preachers of note, then, intimate friends of Brute, and all of Wickliffe’s doctrine.
"By a copy of a commission of Richard II, about 1392, it appears that Mr. Swinderby and his friends had fled into Wales, out of the diocese of Hereford. It is very probable that they had retired among the mountains about Olchon and Chapel-y-ffin, and that they there instructed our countrymen as they had opportunity, where they could soon been out of the county and diocese of Hereford. So many counties and dioceses meeting on those hills, gave some help in the time of persecution. They could shift from one county and diocese to another, as they saw occasion; so finding shelter in those deep vallies, and on those lofty hills, and craggy rocks.
"Mr. Fox, in his martyrology, has given us a large account of Mr. Brute and his religious sentiments, taken from the register of the bishop of Hereford. Our countrymen did confute popish errors in many articles, and reformed much concerning baptism. He held that faith should precede baptism, and that baptism was not essential to salvation; yet still admitted that the faith of godly parents was sufficient for their infants. Mr. Thomas Davye, however, in his treatise on baptism, says, Mr. Fox indeed, speaking of the opinion of W. Brute, as to the sacrament of baptism and of infants dying without it, seems to extenuate the matter, because he himself was for infant baptism! Mr. Davye further says, that Swinderby was one of Brute’s followers, and supposes that Mr. Brute was more a Baptist than was represented by Mr. Fox.
"Our worthy countrymen, Mr. C. Edwards (adds Mr. Thomas) entitles Mr. Brute Cymro godidog; that is, an excellent Cambro Briton, a learned layman of the diocese of Hereford; and says that he instructed his countrymen and admonished them, explaining the scriptures, and showing the difference between true religion and popish foppery exorcisms, and such things.
"Richard II directed a letter to the nobility and gentry of the county of Hereford, and to the mayor of the city. Among the gentlemen then named, Thomas Oldcastle is one. The letter charges all to persecute W. Brute, charged with preaching heresy in the diocese and places adjacent, and also with keeping conventicles. It seems from this, that Brute, Swinderby, and others, preached in different places on the borders of Wales; and Mr. Fox has recorded, out of the register, that they preached at Whitney and Leinwardine in Herefordshire.
"Mr. Brute was a reputable writer. Mr. Fox has mentioned his works on several subjects of divinity, in his Acts and Monuments. We are also told that Fox set forth the works of Tyndal, Frith, and Barnes, in 1573; and that it was wished the same diligence had been used in searching after and collecting the works of Wickliffe, Brute, and others. These wrote near a hundred years before printing began in England.
"There is no certain account that I can find (continues Mr. Thomas) where, how, nor when Mr. Brute died, whether he suffered martyrdom or not. But we may look upon him as the first public reformer among our countrymen. On his trial, as recorded by Fox, he declared that he was a Briton by father and mother, and rejoiced that he was a descendant from the ancient Britons, who had been so valiant for the truth and against popery, in former times. The last account Fox gives of him is in 1393. In the work of Mr. Davye, above referred to, it is said, that Mr. Swinderby, the friend of Brute, was burnt alive for his profession in Smithfield, in 1401."
Another reason assigned by Mr. Thomas, for concluding that Brute and his friends preached in and about Olchon is, that Sir John Oldcastle, who was so zealous for Wickliffe’s doctrine, was a native, and resident of this part of the country. "His birth place and patrimony (says he) bear his name to this day. Oldcastle is a small parish adjoining to Cludock in Monmouthshire. The valiant king Henry V was also born at Monmouth; and having a great regard for his countrymen, introduced him into his household. Sir John Oldcastle married Lord Cobham’s daughter, and at his father-in-law’s death was created Lord Cobham. The noble Briton though in the king’s court, was full of zeal against popery, and was reckoned the chief man through the kingdom in supporting, defending, and encouraging the Lollards, who were the Protestants and Dissenters of these times. For these things the popish clergy were full of bitterness and rage against him, as they knew very well that he was much in favour at court. However, after many consultations, they found means, like Daniel’s enemies, to prevail with the king to have him apprehended and brought to trial as an enemy to Holy Church."
It is said of this excellent nobleman, that it was publicly known that he had been at great expense in collecting and transcribing the works of Wickliffe, which he dispersed among the common people without any reserve. It was publicly known also that he maintained a great number of the disciples of Wickliffe as itinerant preachers in many parts of the country, particularly in the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester, and Hereford.
When the archbishop, at the head of a large body of the dignified clergy, waited on the king, he had before him with as much acrimony as decency would admit, the offence of his servant Lord Cobham, and begged his majesty would suffer them, for Christ’s sake, to put him to death. The king told the archbishop that he had ever been averse to shedding of blood in the cause of religion: such violence he thought more destructive of truth than of error. He therefore enjoined the convocation to postpone the affair a few days; in which time he would himself reason with Lord Cobham, whose behaviour he by no means approved; and if this were ineffectual, he would then leave him to the censure of the church.
With this answer the primate was satisfied; and the king sending for Lord Cobham, endeavoured by all the arguments in his power to set before him, the high offence of separating from the church, and pathetically exhorted him to retract his error. Lord Cobham’s answer is upon record "I ever was (said he) a dutiful subject to your majesty, and I hope ever shall be. Next to God, I profess obedience to my king. But as for the spiritual dominion of the pope, I never could see on what foundation it is claimed, nor can I pay him any obedience. As sure as God’s word is true, to me it appears fully evident that he is the great antichrist foretold in holy writ."
This answer of Lord Cobham so exceedingly shocked the king, that, turning away in visible displeasure, he from that time withdrew from him every mark of his favour. Deserted by the king, the archbishop soon found means to get him committed to the tower; and on Sep. 23, 1413, he was cited to appear before the consistory; but not appearing, he was declared contumacious, and excommunicated without further ceremony. But though committed to the tower, and condemned to die, yet by some means he made his escape; and taking advantage of a dark night he eluded pursuit, and arrived safe in Wales, where he found an asylum, and was secured by some of the chiefs of that country from the rage of his enemies.
It is supposed that all this was under the connivance, and with the approbation of the King, who was not willing to put him to death. "We are told (says Mr. Thomas) by a Monmouthshire author, that Sir John lay concealed among his tenants and friends at or about Oldcastle, above four years; till at last, Lord Powys, a covetous and bigotted papist, for a considerable sum of money, apprehended him."
He was then taken to London; and the King being at that time out of the Kingdom, the Romish clergy made all speed to dispatch him by a most inhuman death. He was hanged up by an iron chain round the waist, and burnt, or rather roasted, to death, over a slow fire.
The translator of Rapin says in a note, "As this was the first noble blood that was shed in England by popish cruelty, so perhaps none ever suffered a more cruel martyrdom." The historian says, "Thus died Sir John Oldcastle, baron of Cobham, with wonderful constancy, perfectly answerable to the firmness wherewith he had all along maintained the doctrine of Wickliffe which he professed." There is a painting of this wonderful man preserved in Dr. William’s library, in Red Cross street, London.
"This nobleman (says Mr. Thomas) was another instructor of the good people in and about Olchon. In the four years which he spent amongst them, it may be concluded that he did all the service he could to promote the truth for which he suffered." His martyrdom was in 1417, two years after that of the celebrated John Huss, who likewise was a worthy disciple of Wickliffe, and a hundred years before Luther began the reformation in Germany.
From some things contained in the confession of faith which Lord Cobham presented to the King, it is evident that he had fully imbibed the sentiment of Wickliffe, that all traditions not taught in the scripture are superfluous and wicked." This confession he thus concluded: "Finally, my faith is, that God will ask no more of a christian in his life than to obey the precepts of his blessed law. If any prelate of the church requires more of any other kind of obedience, he contemneth Christ, exalteth himself above God, and is plainly antichrist.’
Thus did Lord Cobham and his friends appear on the side of Christ, when "all the world wondered after the beast;" and when England was immersed in error, they heroically defended the truth. These were Dissenters long before the church of England, in its present form, was by law established. These shone as morning stars in our hemisphere, before the day of the Reformation. These were they who followed the Redeemer whithersoever he went; who overcame all their enemies through the blood of the lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and who loved not their lives unto the death!
It is to be lamented that we have not a particular account of the afflictions which the Lollards in general suffered at this time; yet it is not to be doubted that the hand of persecution fell with superior weight on the lower order of people, when even nobility was not a preservative from the rage of the clergy. There is a remark in Robinson’s dissertation on public preaching, prefixed to Claude’s Essay, which refers to a period forty years after this, and proves that the demon of persecution was at that time neither dead nor chained. "I have (says he) before me a manuscript register of Gray, bishop of Ely, which proves that in the year 1457, there was a congregation of this sort in this village, Chesterton, where I live, who privately assembled for divine worship, and had preachers of their own who taught them the very doctrines we now preach. Six of them were accused of heresy before the tyrant of the district, and condemned to adjure heresy, and to do penance half naked, in the public market-places of Ely, and Cambridge, and in the churchyard of Great Swaffham. It was pity the poor souls were forced to abjure the twelfth article of their accusation, in which they were said to have affirmed, All priests and people in orders are incarnate devils."
During the reign of Henry VIII, some alterations were made in the constitution of the church. In the year 1536, the articles were published, commonly called King Henry’s Creed, and entitled, "Articles devised by the Kynges Highnes Majestie to stablyshe christen quietnes and unitie among us, and to avoyde contentious opinions, which articles he also approved by the consent and determination of the whole clergie of the realme." "In the translation whereof (says Fox) he altereth nothing from the old trade, heretofore received from Rome."
What is said about baptism is truly papistical, and evidently points at some who opposed infant baptism. "Item, That infants must needs be christened because they be born in original sin, which sin must needs be remitted, which cannot be done but by the sacrament of baptism, whereby they receive the Holy Ghost, which exerciseth his grace and efficacy in them, and cleanseth and purifieth them from sin by his most secret virtue and operation. Item, that children of men once baptized, can nor ought to be baptized again. Item, That they ought to repute and take all the Anabaptists and the Pelagians’ opinions contrary to the premises, and every other man’s opinions on this behalf, for detestable heresies, and to be utterly condemned."
The second article runs after this manner. "That baptism was a sacrament instituted by Christ; that it was necessary to salvation; and that infants were to be baptized for the pardon of original sin."
In the next year we find a proclamation issued against heresies and heretics, which recites, "That of late many strangers born out of this land are arrived and come into this realm, which albeit they were baptized in their infancy or childhood, according to the universal church of Christ; yet notwithstanding, in contempt of the holy sacrament of baptism so given and received, they have of their own presumption lately rebaptized themselves." [Ibid.]
From these articles and proclamations it is easy to discern, that there were many persons in the kingdom who, objecting to infant baptism, were baptized on a profession of faith. The methods taken to prevent their increase were ineffectual; "for in October 1538, there was a commission, (says Burnet,) sent to Cranmer, Stokesly, Sampson, and some others, to inquire after Anabaptists; to proceed against them; to restore the penitent; to burn their books; and to deliver the obstinate to the secular arm. But I have not, (says the bishop,) seen what proceedings there were upon this." [Burnet’s Hist. Ref. vol. 3. p. 159]
From a passage in Brandt’s History of the Reformation it appears that the Baptists in England were obliged to leave the country. He says, "In the year 1539 there were put to death at Delpt [Holland], one and thirty Anabaptists, that fled from England, the men beheaded and the women drowned." In the next year Mr. Barnes was burnt in Smithfield, and in his speech to the people at the stake he declared he was not an Anabaptist as he had been charged with, by saying, "Which sect I detest and abhor; and in this place there hath been burned some of them, whom I never favoured nor maintained." [Fox’s Martyr, vol. 1. p. 610]
On Nov. 16, the King put forth a proclamation, in which he condemned all the books of the Anabaptists and Sacramentarians, and appointed those to be punished that vended them. And in December, he sent a letter to the justices in England, in which, after many other things, they are commanded to take care that all the injunctions, laws, and proclamations, against the Sacramentarians and Anabaptists, be duly executed.
In this year also there was an act of grace passed, from the benefit of which, besides other particular exceptions, all Anabaptists and Sacramentarians, and all those that affirmed there was a fate upon men by which the day of their death was unalterably determined, were excluded. By this it appears, that the king asserted that supremacy which his creatures had assigned to him; and that he not only condemned those who thought his opponent Luther to be right, and the King wrong, on the subject of the Lord’s supper, but also set his throne above the throne of God, "in whose hand our breath is," and who has "determined our days;" and who has declared "that he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
That the Lollards had been cruelly treated in his reign previously to this period, is evident from the history of those times. In the year 1511 Joseph Brown was burned. In 1512, William and James Seely, and Joseph Brewster, shared the same fate. In 1514, Joseph Hunn was murdered in the Lollard’s tower, and in 1519, Joseph Tawksby and many others ended their lives at the stake. In 1525 seven Baptists who came over from Holland, were apprehended and imprisoned. Some of whom were afterwards burned at Smithfield. In 1535, twenty-two Baptists were apprehended and put to death. In 1539, sixteen men and fifteen women were banished to Delpt in Holland, for opposing infant baptism. At this place they were taken by the papists and put to death. In the same year two Anabaptists were burned beyond Southwark, in the way to Newington, and a little before them, five Ditch Anabaptists were burned at Smithfield.
From a speech delivered by the king at the parliament, Dec. 24, 1545, as recited by Lord Herbert, it should seem that the epithet Anabaptist was a term of reproach, applicable to all those who were struggling to promote a reformation in the church and state, just as the epithet Puritan afterwards, and that of Methodist at present, have been indiscriminately applied to all who are zealous for promoting evangelical principles. "What love and charity (says Henry) is there among you, when one calls another heretic and Anabaptist; and he calls him again Papist, Hypocrite, and Pharisee? He adds, Be these tokens of charity among you? I see and hear daily that you of the clergy preach one against another; teach one contrary to another; inveigh one against another, without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus; other be too busy in their new sumpsimus." [Crosby, vol. i. p. 42]
The papists, however, being the stronger party, prevailed on the king to prosecute with unrelenting cruelty all who opposed their system. The next year, Claxton was imprisoned for denying the real presence in the sacrament, and would have been burnt, but for his recantation. But a pious and excellent lady, Anne Askew, who was frequently at court, and a great favourite of queen Catharine Parr, after suffering the most excruciating tortures on the rack, was burned at the stake about June 1546.
Bishop Latimer, in a sermon preached before king Edward VI, alluding to the events of the reign of Henry VIII, says, "The Anabaptists that were burnt here in divers parts of England, as I heard of credible men, (I saw them not myself,) went to their death even intrepid as ye will say, without any fear in the world, cheerfully. Also I should have told you here of a certain sect of heretics that speak against this order and doctrine, [the king’s supremacy:] they will have no magistrates, no judges on earth. Then I have to tell you what I heard of late, by the relation of a credible person and worshipful man, of a town of this realm of England that hath above five hundred heretics of this erroneous opinion in it, as he said." [Ibid. p. 62]
I cannot but think that these Anabaptists were Wickliffites; and when it is considered how zealous this good bishop was in supporting the supremacy of the king as the head of the church, is there not reason to suspect, that they were accused of objecting to magistrates and judges, merely because they asserted what all dissenters now assert? That the civil magistrate ought not to interfere in matters of conscience; and that while it is our duty to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s," it is equally our duty to give "unto God the things that are God’s?"
This popish protestant king died, Jan. 28, 1547, leaving in a very unfinished state, the reformation, which had been begun without his intending it. But the fetters of popery were broken; the scriptures in the mother tongue were sanctioned by parliament; and in 1540, it was enjoined by royal proclamation, that every parish should place one of the copies of the bible, which was called Cranmer’s bible, in their churches, under the penalty of forty shillings a month; and though this was suppressed by the king about two years afterwards, though the influence of the popish bishops, yet as the people used to crowd to the churches after their hours of labour to hear it read, there is no doubt but the information which by these means was diffused throughout the land, laid the foundation for that glorious superstructure of Christian liberty, which by the patient sufferings of the zealous Puritans in the succeeding reigns was brought nearly to perfection. The blessings resulting to all classes of people, and particularly to protestant dissenters, from their struggles with ecclesiastical and civil despotism, we now enjoy; and we sincerely pray that they may be transmitted to our descendants unimpaired and improved.
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