a history of the english baptists
A.D. 1640 - 1653
At the period to which we have brought our history, very serious disturbances existed between the king and his parliament. These soon after broke out into a civil war, which continued many years, and ended in the death of the king, the overthrow of the constitution, the subversion of episcopacy, and the establishment of presbytery.
It may reasonably be supposed, that such a state of things would be favourable to the dissemination of those principles by which the different denominations of dissenters were distinguished. Delivered from the oppressive measures of arbitrary monarchs and persecuting bishops, they would hail the dawn of liberty; and not knowing which party would ultimately prevail, would exert themselves while it was in their power.
In 1644, the oppressive and cruel measures of the High commission court and the Star-chamber were terminated by an act of parliament; and thus were destroyed the two chief engines of the late arbitrary proceedings both in church and state, which had been the occasion of ruining the liberties and estates of many religious families.
The zeal and increase of the Baptists at that time, have excited the attention of ecclesiastical historians. Mr. Fuller says, "On Jan. 18, 1641, happened the first fruits of Anabaptistical insolence, when eighty of that sect meeting at a house in St. Saviour’s, Southwark, preached that the statute in the 35th of Elizabeth, for the administration of common prayer, was no good law, because made by bishops; that the king cannot make a good law, because not perfectly regenerate, and that he was only to be obeyed in civil matters. Being brought before the lords, they confessed the articles; butno penalty was inflicted on them."
Crosby says, that this is a very imperfect account, and he relates the matter thus: "It was not an Anabaptist, but an Independent congregation, though it is probable there were some Baptists among them."
"They met in Deadman’s place, and their pastor at that time was Mr. Stephen More. Being assembled on the Lord’s day for religious worship, though not with their former secrecy, they were discovered and taken, and committed to the Clink prison, by Sir John Lenthal, marshal of the King’s bench.
"The next morning, six or seven of the men were taken before the house of lords. Fuller says, they were charged with having preached against the King’s supremacy in ecclesiastical matters, and against the statute of the 35th of Elizabeth, which establishes the common prayer, and forbids assembling for religious worship where it is not used.
"The Lords examined them strictly concerning their principles, when they freely acknowledged that they owned no other head of the church but Jesus Christ; that no prince had power to make laws that were binding on the conscience; and that laws made contrary to the laws of God were of no force.
"As things now stood, the lords could not discountenance these principles; and therefore, instead of inflicting any penalty, they treated them with a great deal of respect and civility, and some of the house enquired where the place of their meeting was, and intimated that they would come and hear them. Accordingly three or four of the peers did go to the meeting on the next Lord’s day, to the great surprise and wonder of many.
"The people went on in their usual method, having two sermons; in both of which they treated of those principles for which they had been accused, founding their discourses on the words of our Saviour: All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. After this, they received the Lord’s supper, and then made a collection for the poor, to which the lords contributed liberally with them. At their departure they signified their satisfaction in what they had heard and seen, and their inclination to come again. But this made so much noise, that they durst not venture a second time."
If this was not a Baptist church, there had been a Baptist minister before this time as its pastor. This was the celebrated Samuel Howe, who succeeded Mr. John Canne, the famous author of the marginal notes to the bible. While Mr. Howe was the pastor of the church, they were persecuted beyond measure by the clergy and bishops’ courts. Dying while he lay under sentence of excommunication, Christian burial was denied him, and a constable’s guard secured the parish church of Shoreditch to prevent his being buried there. At length he was buried in Agnes-la-chair. In a work published this year, 1641, entitled "The Brownists’ Synagogue," it is said, "Of these opinions was Howe, that notorious predicant cobbler, whose body was buried in the highway, and his funeral sermon preached by one of his sect in a brewer’s cart." From this it appears that his funeral was public, notwithstanding the violence of the times, and that his people took this method of pouring contempt upon the impotent rage of his persecutors, whose sentiments concerning Christian burial and consecrated ground they despised; and to prove that this was from principle, and not merely from necessity, many of the members of the church afterwards desired to be buried there also.
Mr. Neal says, That Mr. Howe was a man of learning, and published a small treatise, entitled, "The sufficiency of the Spirit’s teaching." This however does not appear from the work, which is designed to show the insufficiency of human learning to the purposes of religion; and not only so, but that it is dangerous and hurtful. It is certainly written with great strength of genius, though the author was a "cobbler," which appears from the following extract from some recommendatory lines prefixed to the discourse—
"What How? how now? hath How such learning
The following honourable testimony is borne to the character of Mr. Howe by Mr. Roger Williams, of Providence, in New England, in a work entitled, "The Hireling Ministry none of Christ’s," printed in London in the second month, 1552. "Amongst so many instances, (says he) dead and living, to the everlasting praise of Christ Jesus, and of his Holy Spirit, breathing and blessing where he lasteth, I cannot but with honourable testimony remember that eminent christian witness, and prophet of Christ, even that despised and yet beloved Samuel Howe, who being by calling a cobbler, and without human learning, (which yet in its sphere and place he honoured) who yet I say, by searching the holy scriptures, grew so excellent a textuary, or scripture-learned man, that few of those high Rabbies that scorn to mend or make a shoe, could aptly or readily, from the holy scriptures, out-go him. And however (through the oppressions upon some men’s consciences even in life and death, and after death, in respect of burying, as yet unthought and unremedied,) I say, however he was forced to seek a grave or bed in the highway, yet was his life, and death, and burial, (being attended with many hundreds of God’s people) honourable and (how much more on his rising again!) glorious." [page 11,12]
At this period the Baptists began to increase very rapidly. Taking advantage of the liberty which the confusion of the times, if not the disposition of the rulers, gave them, they were not backward in asserting and vindicating their sentiments both by preaching and writing, and also by public disputations. Their courage seems to have greatly provoked their adversaries, who wrote many pamphlets against them. From one of these, published in this year, we have derived some curious information, from which it appears that another Baptist church was formed in Fleet street, by the zeal of Mr. Praise-God Barebone, a person who was afterwards of such celebrity, that he gave the name to one of Oliver Cromwell’s parliaments, which was called by way of contempt, Barebone’s Parliament.
It appears from a manuscript which Crosby possessed, that the church of which Mr. Howe was pastor, after his death chose Mr. More, a layman and citizen of London, and a person of considerable property, in whose time the affair mentioned by Fuller took place. For some cause this church divided by mutual consent, and that just half was with Mr. P. Barebone, and the other half with Mr. Henry Jessey." [Crosby, vol. iii. p. 42] From this circumstance it is probable that this was a Baptist church which admitted of mixed communion; for as Mr. Jessey had not yet been baptized, it is likely the Pedobaptists joined with him, and the Baptists with Mr. P. Barebone. Crosby says, he knew not whether Mr. John Canne was a Baptist or not, though he found his name in a manuscript list among the gentlemen who left the established church to join the Baptists. [Ibid. vol. iii. p. 38] The probability is that he was a Baptist, and that on his leaving England to go to Holland, Mr. Howe succeeded him as the pastor of this church, which Fuller calls a congregation of Anabaptists.
It is a matter of regret that we have not a more particular account of this excellent man. It is likely he never returned from Holland whither he was driven by the severity of the times. Neal says, that "he became pastor of the Brownist congregation at Amsterdam." [Neal, vol. ii. p. 392] In this he was doubtless correct, though mistaken in other matters concerning him. We learn from another writer, that he was much followed at Amsterdam by those puritans who visited Holland at that time for the purposes of trade. "You never," says he, "go to Master Herring’s, (a good old nonconformist) but have gone to Master Canne’s (the separatist) and to his church." He adds, that he had received a letter from a person in Holland, who said, "For their going to the Brownists, and conversing with Master Canne more than us; that is undeniable. What you may of this read, in an Epistle to the Rejoinder in defence of Master Bradshaw against Master Canne, is most true and certain." [Edwards Answer to Apologet, Narration, p. 13]
The pamphlet we have referred to is entitled, New preachers, New—-" Greene the felt-maker, Spencer the horse-rubber, Quartermine the brewer’s clerk, and some few others, who are mighty sticklers in this new kind of talking trade, which many ignorant coxcombs call preaching. Whereunto is added the last tumult in Fleet-street, raised by the disorderly preachment, pratings, and pratlings of Mr. Barebones the leather-seller, and Mr. Greene the felt-maker, on Sunday last the 19th of December."
The tumult alluded to is thus described: "A brief touch in memory of the fiery zeal of Mr. Barebones, a reverend, unlearned leather-seller, who with Mr. Greene the felt-maker, were both taken preaching or prating in a conventicle, amongst a hundred persons; on Sunday, the 19th of December last, 1641."
"After my commendations, Mr. Rawbones (Barebones I should have said), in acknowledgement of your too much troubling yourself, and molesting of others, I have made bold to relate briefly your last Sunday’s afternoon work, lest in time your meritorious pains-taking should be forgotten, (for the which you and your associate Mr. Greene, do well deserve to have your heads in the custody of young Gregory, to make buttons for hempen loops,) you two having the Spirit so full, that you must either vent, or burst, did on the sabbath aforesaid, at your house near Fetter lane end, in Fleet street, at the sign of the Lock and Key, there and then did you and your consort (by turns) unlock most delicate strange doctrine, where were about thousands of people, of which number the most applauded your preaching, and those that understood any thing derided your ignorant prating. But after four hours long and tedious tatling, the house where you were was beleaguered with multitudes that thought it fit to rouse you out of your blind devotion, so that your walls were battered, your windows all fractions, torn into rattling shivers, and worse the hurly-burly might have been, but that sundry constables came in with strong guards of men to keep the peace, in which conflict your sign was beaten down and unhanged, to make room for the owner to supply the place; all which shows had never been, had Mr. Greene and Mr. Barebones been content (as they should have done) to have gone to their own parish churches. Also on the same day a mad rustic fellow (who is called the Prophet Hunt) did his best to raise the like strife and trouble in St. Sepulchre’s church. Consider and avoid these disorders, good reader."
This is certainly a proof that these new preachers excited great attention, and were so very popular as to draw thousands after them. The tumult was occasioned by the opposition that was raised by "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort." It is not said whether the preachers and a hundred of the people were taken by the constables to preserve them from the fury of the mob, or to bring them to justice. Had the latter been the case, and they had suffered any thing for their conduct, it is highly probable this writer would have mentioned it. It is likely that this affair ended in the same manner as that which Fuller relates, and that as things now stood, the lords could not discountenance such principles.
In the epistle to Mr. Greene, the writer says, "Do not these things come from proud spirits, that he [Mr. Spencer] a horse-keeper, and you a hat-maker, will take upon you to be ambassadors of God, to teach your teachers, and take upon you to be ministers of the gospel in these days of light. Consider, I pray you, that our Lord would not have had the ass (Matt. 21:3.) if he had not stood in need of him. Now the truth is, the church hath no need of such as you, an unlearned self-conceited hat-maker. It is true that in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign the popish priests and friars being dismissed, there was a scarcity for the present of learned men, and so some tradesmen were permitted to leave their trades, and betake themselves to the ministry; but it was necessity that did then constrain them so to do; but thanks be to God, we have now so much necessity, and therefore this practice of you and your comrades casts an ill aspersion upon our good God, that doth furnish our church plentifully with learned men; and it doth also scandalize our church, as if we stood in need of such as you to preach the gospel.—This you call preaching, or prophesying; and thus as one of them told the lords of the parliament that they were all preachers, for so they practise and exercise themselves as young players do in private, till they be by their brethren judged fit for the pulpit, and then up they go, and like mountebanks play their part.—Mr. Greene, Mr. Greene, leave off these ways; bring home such as you have caused to stray. It is such as you that vent their venom against our godly preachers, and the divine forms of prayers, yea, against all set forms of prayers, all is from Antichrist, but that which you preach is most divine, that comes fresh from the Spirit, the other is an old dead sacrifice, composed (I should have said killed) so long ago that now it stinks. It is so that in the year 1549, it was compiled by Doctor Cranmer, Doctor Goodricke, Doctor Skip, Doctor Thrilby, Doctor Day, Doctor Holbecke, Doctor Ridley, Doctor Cox, Doctor Tailor, Doctor Haines, Doctor Redman, and Mr. Robinson, Archdeane of Leiester; but what are all these? they are not to be compared to Jolin Greene, a hat-maker, for he thinketh what he blustereth forth upon the sudden is far better than that which these did maturely and deliberately compose."
We have been the more particular in giving extracts from this work, as it gives a tolerably correct idea of the doctrines which the Baptists preached, and the manner in which they conducted their public services. It is not at all wonderful that, when the church had lost its power to persecute, those who still possessed the spirit of persecution should indulge in defamation and ridicule.
There was another quarto pamphlet of six pages, published in 1641, relating chiefly, if not entirely, to the Baptists, which has the following title: "The Brownists’ Synagogue; or a late discovery of their conventicles, assemblies, and places of meeting; where they preach; and the manner of their praying and preaching; with a relation of the names, places, and doctrines of those which do commonly preach. The chief of which are these:—Greene, the Feltmaker; Marler, the Buttonmaker; Spencer, the Coachman; Rogers, the Glover. Which sect is much increased of late within this city. A kingdom divided cannot stand."—In this work, Greene and Spencer (whom we have mentioned as ministers of a congregation in Crutched Friars) are called the two arch-separatists, and are said to be "accounted as demi-gods, who were here and every where." This silly piece concludes by showing the manner of their assembling, which we extract because it gives some idea of the spirit of the times, and also to prove that the voice of slander, could not attribute any improper conduct to them in their public meetings. "In the house where they meet there is one appointed to keep the door, for the intent to give notice, if there should be any insurrection, warning may be given them. They do not flock together, but come two or three in a company; and all being gathered together, the man appointed to teach, stands in the midst of the room, and his audience gather about him. The man prayeth about the space of half an hour; and part of his prayer is, that those which come thither to scoff and laugh, God would be pleased to turn their hearts, by which means they think to escape undiscovered. His sermon is about the space of an hour, and then doth another stand up to make the text more plain; and at the latter end he entreats them all to go home severally, lest the next meeting they should be interrupted by those which are of the opinion of the wicked. They seem very steadfast in their opinions, and say, rather than turn, they will burn."
In this year was published a small piece in favour of immersion, entitled, "A treatise of Baptism, or dipping; wherein is clearly showed that our Lord Christ ordained dipping, and that sprinkling of children Is not according to Christ’s institution; and also the invalidity of those arguments which are commonly brought to justify that practice." The author of this was Mr. Edward Barber, who was the minister of a congregation of Baptists in London, meeting in the Spittle, Bishopsgate street, where, it is said, "he gathered a numerous congregation, and was the means of convincing many that infant baptism had no foundation in scripture." Edwards, in his Gangraena, speaks of a minister named Bacon, who had been forced to leave Gloucestershire, "but here in London had been entertained in the house of a great man, one Barber, an Anabaptist, about Threadneedle street." [Part i. p. 38]
Though the parliament had decreed, at the abolition of the before-mentioned ecclesiastical courts, "that no courts should be erected with the like powers in future," yet the spirit of persecution was not eradicated from the minds of those in authority. Mr. Barber had no sooner published his piece than he was made to feel the weight of their high displeasure, and was committed to prison for eleven months. The church over which he was pastor, was the first that practised the laying on of hands on baptized believers. He was a learned man, had been a clergyman in the established church, and died before the Restoration.
There was another work printed in London, 1642, entitled, "The vanity of childish baptism; wherein is proved that baptism is dipping, and dipping baptism." The writer signs himself A.R. Who he was we are not informed; but his work is frequently quoted by Dr. Featly, who charges him with saying, "They that have the administration of baptism without dipping, have not the baptism of the new testament." And farther, "The word baptize is derived from bapto signifying to dip or dye; and therefore washing or sprinkling is not baptism, but plunging the body, or at least the head in water." Also, "The administration of baptism which hath no express command in scripture, and which overthrows or prevents the administration of baptism which is expressly commanded in scripture, is a mere device of man’s brain, and no baptism of Christ. But the administration of baptism to infants hath no express command in scripture, and it overthrows or prevents the administration of baptism upon disciples or believers, which is expressly commanded: therefore the baptism of infants is a mere device of man’s brain, and no baptism of Christ." Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 4:1,2; Acts 2:38; 8:39.
On October 17, a famous dispute took place between Dr. Featley and four Baptists somewhere in Southwark, at which were present Sir John Lenthal, and many others. The Doctor published his disputation in 1644, and tells us in his preface that he could hardly dip his pen in any other liquor than that of the juice of gall: it is therefore no wonder that it is so full of bitterness. He calls the Baptists—(1.) An illiterate and sottish sect—(2.) a lying and blasphemous sect—(3.) An impure and carnal sect—(4.) A bloody and cruel sect—(5.) A profane and sacrilegious sect—(6.) Describes the fearful judgements of God inflicted upon the ringleaders of that sect.—This work is entitled, "The Dippers dipt, or the Anabaptists ducked and plunged over head and ears at a disputation in Southwark;" and is dedicated "To the most noble lords, with the honourable knights, citizens and burgesses, now assembled in parliament." It is peculiarly gratifying that the doctor, with all his malignancy, is not able to exhibit any charges against them, except what have been commonly but erroneously alledged against the Baptists in Germany: the disturbances at Munster being no more the effect of the principles of the Baptists, than the riots of London were that of Protestants, or those in Birmingham of Episcopalians.
The doctor speaks very contemptuously of his opponents.—He calls one of them a brewer’s clerk: no doubt this was Mr. Kiffin, who had been an apprentice to the famous republican John Lilburn, of turbulent memory. He it was to, it is probable, who is called Quartermine the brewer’s clerk, in the pamphlet entitled, New Preachers, New.
The dispute commenced, he tells us, by one of the Baptists, saying, "Master doctor, we come to dispute with you at this time, not for contention sake, but to receive satisfaction. We hold that the baptism of infants, cannot be proved lawful by the testimony of scripture, or by apostolical tradition. If therefore you can prove the same either way, we shall be willing to submit to you."
Instead of attempting the proof of what they required the doctor insults them as "Anabaptists, heretics, mechanics, and illiterate men; by whose habit he could judge they were not fit to dispute: besides, they could not dispute from authority, as they knew not the original, nor understood how to argue syllogistically in mood and figure."
The persecuting spirit of Dr. Featley may be discovered from the following paragraph in the epistle to the reader: "This fire (says he), which in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James, and our gracious sovereign [Charles i.] till now was covered in England under the ashes; or if it brake out at any time, by the care of the ecclesiastical and civil magistrates it was soon put out. But of late, since the unhappy distractions which our sins have brought upon us, the temporal sword being otherways employed, and the spiritual locked up fast in the scabbard, this sect among others hath so far presumed upon the patience of the state, that it hath held weekly conventicles, re-baptized hundreds of men and women together in the twilight, in rivulets, and some arms of the Thomes, and elsewhere, dipping them over head and ears. It hath printed divers pamphlets in defence of their heresy, yes, and challenged some of our preachers to disputation. Now although my bent hath been always hitherto against the most dangerous enemy of our church and state, the Jesuit, to extinguish such balls of wildfire as they have cast into the bosom of our church; yet seeing this strange fire kindled in the neighbouring parishes, and many Nadabs and Abihus offering it on God’s altar, I thought it my duty to cast the water of Siloam upon it to extinguish it."
We had intended to have given some considerable extracts from this work for the information of the readers; but the ridiculous pedantry and scurrilous abuse with which it abounds is so disgusting, that we have chosen rather to refer them to the work itself, which is not yet very scarce, as there were six editions of it printed in six years;—a shocking proof of the vulgarity and illiberality of the age!
It is worthy of remark, that this sect had, he says, thrust out its sting near the place of his residence for "upwards of twenty years." From his residing at Lambeth, it is likely he refers to the church in Southwark mentioned by Fuller, which Crosby says, was constituted about the year 1621; of which Mr. Hubbard, or Herbert, a learned man of episcopal ordination, was the pastor. He was succeeded by Mr. John Canne who, it appears from the records of the church in Broadmead, Bristol, was a Baptist, and the first person who preached the doctrine of believers’ baptism in that city.
Perhaps some little allowance may be made for the doctor’s ill temper, from the circumstance of his being a prisoner when he wrote it. Being a member of the assembly of Divines, and having held a correspondence with the king at Oxford, he was sent to Lord Petre’s house in Aldersgate street as a spy. It so happened that Mr. Henry Denne, a Baptist, was imprisoned there at the same time for preaching against infant baptism, and presuming to re-baptize some persons in Cumbridgeshire.
No sooner was Mr. Denne in his apartment, but the doctor’s book was laid before him, which after he had read, considering himself called upon to defend the principles therein opposed, and for which he was then suffering, he sent for the doctor, and offered to dispute the subject with him, which he accepted; but after debating the first argument, he declined the contest, alledging that it was not lawful to dispute without licence from the government; but wished Mr. Denne to write on the subject, engaging himself to defend infant baptism.
Mr. Denne wrote an answer which he published under the title of Antichrist unmasked, and dated it from prison, Feb. 22, 1644. He was also answered by Mr. Samuel Richardson, in a work entitled Brief considerations on Mr. Featley’s book, to neither of which he replied.
One of the pamphlets, which the doctor says had been printed in defence of this heresy, was written by Mr. Francis Cornwell, M.A. This was published in 1643, and was entitled The vindication of the royal commission of King Jesus. It was dedicated to the House of Commons, and given away at the doors of the house to several of its members. The doctor calls this "a bold libel, which was offered to hundreds, and in which the brazen-faced author blusheth not to brand all the reformed churches, and the whole Christian world at this day which christen their children, and sign them with the seal of the covenant, with the odious name of the antichristian faction."
In 1645, an ordinance of parliament was passed, enacting, "That no person should be permitted to preach, who is not ordained a minister in this [the Presbyterian] or some other reformed church, and it is earnestly desired that Sir Thomas Fairfax take care that this ordinance be put in execution in the army." Probably the Baptist ministers were much interrupted by this law, as it might be doubted whether (according to the opinion of the Presbyterians) they had been legally ordained. There is no doubt however but this act was passed in consequence of the violent declamations of many of the Presbyterian ministers against tolerating the sectaries, as they called the Baptists and Independents, against whom it appears to have been principally directed.
In order to expose the principles of these misguided men, we shall insert a few extracts from their printed works. In a sermon preached before the House of Commons by Dr. Calamy, Oct. 22, 1644, it is said, "If you do not labour according to your duty and power to suppress the errors and heresies that are spread in the kingdom, all these errors are your errors, and these heresies are your heresies: they are your sins, and God calls for a parliamentary repentance from you for them this day. You are the Anabaptists, you are the Antinomians, and it is you that hold all religions should be tolerated."
In a sermon by Dr. Burgess, addressed to the parliament, April 30, 1645, after admonishing them to beware of all compliances with, and indulgences of, all sorts of sects and schisms then pleaded for, he adds, "And is it persecution and antichristianism to engage all to unity and uniformity? Doth Paul bid the Philippians beware of the concision? Doth he beseech the Romans to mark those that cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrines they have received, and avoid them? Doth he in writing to the Galatians wise, "I would they were even cut off that trouble you"? And is it such an heinous offence now for the faithful servants of Christ to advise you to the same course?"
Even Mr. Richard Baxter, though more moderate than many, yet, when speaking against the Baptists in his work entitled, Plain scripture proof of infant church membership and baptism, says, "The divisions and havock of the church is our calamity: we intended not to dig down the banks or pull up the hedge, and lay all waste and common, when we desired the prelates’ tyranny might cease. My judgment in that much disputed point of liberty or religion, I have always freely made known. I abhor unlimited liberty and toleration of all, and think myself easily able to prove the wickedness of it."
Mr. Prynne, in his Answer to John Goodwin, says, "If the parliament and synod shall by public consent establish a presbyerial church-government as most consonant to God’s word, Independents and all others are bound in conscience to submit unto it, under the pain of obstinacy, singularity, &c."
Mr. Edwards, lecturer of Christ Church, and the famous author of Gangraena, tells the magistrates that "they should execute some exemplary punishment upon some of the most notorious sectaries and seducers, and upon the willful abettors of these abominable errors, namely, the printers, dispersers, and licencers, and set themselves withal their hearts to find out ways, to take some course to suppress, hinder, and no longer suffer these things: to put out some declaration against the errors and ways of the sectaries; as their sending emissaries into all parts of the kingdom, to poison the countries; as their sipping of persons in the cold water in winter, whereby persons fall sick, &c.; declaring that they shall be proceeded against as vagrants and rogues that go from country to country; and if any shall fall sick upon their dipping, and die, they shall be indicted upon the statute of killing the king’s subjects, and proceeded against accordingly. It is related of the senate of Zurich, that they made a decree against the Anabaptists, after they had been dealt withal by ten several disputations, and continued still obstinate, that whosoever re-baptized any that had been formerly baptized, he should be cast into the water and drowned. I could wish with all my heart there were a public disputation, even in the point of pedo-baptism and dipping, between some of the Anabaptists and our ministers. But if upon disputation and debate the Anabaptists should be found in an error, (as I am confident they would) that then the parliament should forbid all dipping, and take some severe course with all dippers, as the senate of Zurich did." [Gangraena, p. 92-177]
In consequence of the ordinance referred to being published, the Lord Mayor sent his officers to the Baptist meeting in Coleman street on a Lord’s day, being informed that certain laymen preached there. When they came they found two ministers, Mr. Lamb, the elder or pastor of the church, and a young man whose name is not mentioned, who was a preacher amongst them. The congregation were greatly disturbed; and some of them used rough language to the officers. But Mr. Lamb treated them very civilly, and asked permission to finish the service, giving his word that they would both appear before the Lord Mayor at six o’clock, to answer for what they did.
When they appeared before the Mayor, he demanded by what authority they took upon them to preach, and told them they had transgressed an ordinance of parliament. To which Mr. Lamb replied, he did not think they had violated the law, as they were both called and appointed to the office by as "reformed a church" as any in the world, alluding to the words of the act; but acknowledged they were such as rejected the validity of infant baptism.
His lordship, not being satisfied, bound them over to answer to the charge before a committee of parliament. They were accordingly examined; and not giving satisfactory answers, they were committed to prison, where they were confined for a considerable time; but at length, by the intercession of their friends, they were set at liberty.
This was not the first time Mr. Lamb had been imprisoned. At the instigation of Archbishop Laud he had been brought in chains from Colchester to London, for not conforming to the established church, and for preaching to a separate congregation in that town, which was the place of his nativity. Being brought before the court of Star-chamber, he was charged with having administered the Lord’s supper, and requested to confess it, which if he had done, it is expected he would have been banished the kingdom. He, however, neither owned nor denied it, but pleaded that a subject of England was under no obligation to bear witness against himself. He was, however, committed to prison, where he remained a considerable time, during which his wife went often to the Star-chamber court, and in behalf of herself and eight children, earnestly solicited the archbishop to grant her husband his liberty, which it was in his power to procure. But this unjust judge, instead of listening to her importunate solicitations, called to the people about him to take away that troublesome woman. Mr. Lamb was in almost all the gaols in and about London, as he always used to return to his work of preaching as soon as he got free from confinement. He was a zealous and popular preacher, and a man of great courage: he used to say, that a man was not fit to preach, who would not preach for Christ’s sake, though he was sure to die for it as soon as he had done.
It was very common for the Baptists at this time to use Old Ford river, near Bromley, in Middlesex, as a baptistery. This place was much frequented for that purpose. Mr. Lamb being employed in baptizing a woman here, her husband, a bitter enemy to the Baptists, brought a great stone under his coat, with an intention, as he afterwards confessed, to have thrown it at Mr. Lamb while he stood in the river. But he was so affected with the prayer before the administration of the ordinance, that he dropped the stone, fell into tears, and was himself the next person baptized. This was probably one of the places to which Dr. Featley alludes, when he says, "they flock in great multitudes to their Jordans, and both sexes enter into the river, and are dipped after their manner, with a kind of spell, containing the heads of their enormous tenets, and their engaging themselves in their schismatical covenants."
The same year, Mr. Paul Hobson was taken into custody by the governor of Newport Pagnel, for preaching against infant baptism, and reflecting upon the order against laymen’s preaching. After being some time in confinement, Sir Samuel Luke, the governor, sent him to London. Soon after, his case was brought before the committee of examination; but as he had many friends among persons in authority, after being heard, he was immediately discharged, and preached publicly at a meeting-house in Moorfields, to the great confusion of his persecutors.
Among the sufferers for Antipedobaptism at this time, was the pious and learned Hansard Knollys. He had received episcopal ordination from the bishop of Peterborough, but was now pastor of a church in Great St. Helen’s. The circumstances of his imprisonment are related by himself as follow:—
"The committee for plundered ministers sent their warrant to the keeper of Ely-house to apprehend me, and bring me in safe custody before them. They took me out of my house, carried me to Ely-house, and there kept me prisoner several days, without any bail; and at last carried me before the committee, who asked me several questions, to which I gave them sober and direct answers. Among others, the chairman, Mr. White, asked me who gave me authority to preach. I told him the Lord Jesus Christ. He then asked me whether I were a minister. I answered that I was made a priest by the prelate of Peterborough; but I had renounced that ordination, and did here again renounce the same. They asked me by what authority I preached in Bow church. I told them, after I had refused the desire of the churchwardens three times one day after another, their want of supply and earnestness prevailed with me, and I went up and preached from Isaiah 53; and gave them such an account of that sermon (thirty ministers of the Assembly of Divines so called being present) that they could not gainsay, but bade me withdraw, and said nothing to me, nor could my jailor take any charge of me; for the committee had called for him, and threatened to turn him out of his place for keeping me prisoner so many days. So I went away without any blame, or paying my fees."
Though Mr. Knollys was dismissed by this committee, yet he tells us that he was soon after brought before the committee of examination, "being accused to them (says he) that I had caused great disturbance to ministers and people in Suffolk; which I gave so good and satisfactory an account of to them, that upon their report thereof to the House of Commons, they ordered that I might preach in any part of Suffolk when the minister of the place did not preach; which was all I got for sixty pounds, which that trouble cost me to clear my innocence and the honour of the gospel." This circumstance is mentioned by Whitelocke; and it seems as if Mr. Kiffin was included in this prosecution, the following order appearing on the records of the house in 1648:—"Ordered that Mr. Kiffin and Mr. Knollys be permitted to preach in any part of Suffolk, at the petition of the Ipswich men." [Whitelocke’s Memorials, p. 363.]
As this excellent man’s history illustrates the spirit of those times, we shall present the reader with another extract.—"The sixty pounds expense (he says) I put upon Christ’s score, for whose gospel, and preaching Jesus Christ upon that text, (Col. 3:11.) But Christ is all and in all, I was stoned out of the pulpit, and prosecuted at a privy sessions, and fetched out of the country sixty miles to London, and was constrained to bring up four or five witnesses of good report and credit, to prove and vindicate myself from false accusations." [Life of Hansard Knollys.]
These instances show what difficulties the Baptist ministers laboured under at this period, and also what are the consequences of government’s interfering with the church of Christ, and making laws for its direction.
But all this opposition and persecution did not prevent the increase of the Baptists, nor the spread of their principles. In a work published by Robert Baille of Glasgow, 1646, entitled, Anabaptism the true fountain of error, it is said, "Their number till of late in England was not great, and the most of them were not English, but Dutch strangers; for besides the hand of the state, which ever lay heavy upon them, the labours of their children the Separatists were always great for their reclaiming. But under the shadow of Independency, the Anabaptists have lift up their heads, and increased their number above all the sects in the land.—As for the number of these seven churches which have published their confession of faith, and for their other thirty-nine congregations (for before the penning of that confession this sect was grown into forty-six churches, and that as I take it in and about London) they are a people very fond of religious liberty, and very unwilling to be brought under the bondage of the judgment of any other."
The confession of faith here alluded to was published about two years before by the Particular Baptists. It had been common with their enemies to load them with opprobrious epithets, both from the pulpit and the press: they therefore put forth this confession to clear themselves from the unjust aspersions cast upon them as persons who held many dangerous errors. Several editions of it were printed in 1643, 1644, and 1646, one of which was licenced by authority. The address prefixed to it was—"To the right honourable the lords, knights, citizens, and burgesses, in parliament assembled." It was signed in the name of seven congregations, or churches of Christ, in London; as also by a French congregation of the same judgment. The ministers’ names are:—
Thomas Gunne, John Mabbitt, Benjamin Cockes, Thomas Kilicop, John Spilsbury, Samuel Richardson, Thomas Munden, George Tipping, Paul Hobson, Thomas Goare, William Kiffin, Thomas Patient, Hansard Knollys, Thomas Holmes, Christopher Duret, Denis Le Barbier.
This confession, being put into the hands of many of the members of parliament, produced such an effect, that some of their greatest adversaries, (and even the bitter and inveterate Doctor Featley,) were obliged to acknowledge, that excepting the articles against infant baptism, it was an orthodox confession.
The following account of it is extracted from Neal: "This confession consisted of fifty-two articles, and is strictly Calvinistical in the doctrinal part, and according to the Independent discipline. It confines the subject of baptism to grown christians, and the mode to dipping. It admits of gifted lay preachers, and acknowledges a due subjection to the civil magistrate in all things lawful, and concludes thus:—‘We desire to live as becometh saints, endeavouring in all things to keep a good conscience, and to do to every man, of what judgment soever, as we would they should do unto us; that as our practice is, so it may prove us to be a conscionable, quiet, harmless, people, no way dangerous or troublesome to human society, and to labour with our own hands that we may not be chargeable to any, but have to give to him that needeth, both friend and enemy, accounting it more excellent to give than to receive. Also we confess that we know but in part, and that we are ignorant of many things that we desire and seek to know; and if any shall do us that friendly part to show us from the word of God that which we see not, we shall have cause to be thankful unto God and them. But if any man shall impose upon us any thing that we see not to be commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ, we should in his strength rather embrace all reproaches and tortures of men, to be stripped of all our outward comforts, and if it were possible to die a thousand deaths, rather than do any thing against the truths of God, or against the light of our consciences. And if any shall call any thing we have said heresy, then do we with the apostle acknowledge that "after the way they call heresy so worship we the God of our fathers,’ disclaiming all heresies rightly so called, because they are against Christ; and desiring to be stedfast and immoveable, always abounding in obedience to Christ, knowing our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord."
The country at this time was in great confusion, and great difference of sentiment necessarily existed on the subject of government. It is with pleasure therefore we subjoin an extract from this confession, which gives a clear statement of their political sentiments. The forty-eighth article relates to magistracy, of which they say, "A civil magistracy is an ordinance of God, set up by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well; and that in all lawful things commanded by them subjection ought to be given by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake; and that we are to make supplications for kings, and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty."
To this declaration of their sentiments the following note is appended: "The supreme magistracy of this kingdom we acknowledge to be the king and parliament (now established), freely chosen by the kingdom, and that we are to maintain and defend all civil laws and civil officers made by them, which are for the good of the commonwealth. And we acknowledge with thankfulness that God has made the present king and parliament honourable in throwing down the prelateal hierarchy, because of their tyranny and oppression over us, under which this kingdom long groaned, for which we are ever engaged to bless God, and honour them for the same. And concerning the worship of God, there is but one law-giver, who is able to kill and destroy (James 4:12.) which is Jesus Christ, who hath given laws and rules sufficient in his word for his worship; and for any to make more, were to charge Christ with want of wisdom or faithfulness, or both, in not making laws enough, or not good enough, for his house; surely it is our wisdom, duty, and privilege to observe Christ’s laws only, Psalm 2:6,9,10,12; so it is the magistrate’s duty to render the liberty of men’s consciences, Eccles. 8:8, (which is the tenderest thing unto all conscientious men, and most dear unto them, and without which all other liberties will not be worth naming, much less enjoying;) and to protect all under them from all wrong, injury, oppression, and molestation; so it is our duty not to be wanting in any thing which is for their honour and comfort, and whatsoever is for the good of the commonwealth wherein we live, it is our duty to do, and we believe it to be our express duty, especially in matters of religion, to be fully persuaded in our minds of the lawfulness of what we do, as knowing that whatsoever is not of faith is sin: and as we cannot do any thing contrary to our understanding and consciences, so neither can we forbear the doing of that which our understanding and consciences bind us to do; and if the magistrate should require us to do otherwise, we are to yield our persons in a passive way to their power, as the saints of old have done, (James 5:4). And thrice happy shall he be that shall lose his life for witnessing (though but for the least tittle,) of the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 5; Galatians 5."
The development of their sentiments, which till now they had no opportunity of making known, was the cause of wiping away the reproach which had been cast upon them, and proved to the government that such persons did not deserve the treatment they had generally received: and from this period they were considered by them as worthy of being tolerated in a Christian commonwealth!
It was about this time that Mr. Henry Jessey, who was pastor of an Independent church, embraced the opinions of the Baptists. His eminent piety and learning had recommended him to the notice of some persons in the church of which Mr. Henry Jacob was pastor, founded in 1616, and the first Independent church in London. He was ordained in 1637, and continued a faithful labourer in this part of the Lord’s vineyard till his death.
The circumstances which led to the alteration of his sentiments are thus stated. "It happened every now and then that several of his congregation embraced the opinions of the Baptists, and left the church on that account. In 1638, the year after he settled with them, six persons of note espoused those sentiments. In 1641, a much greater number; and in 1643, the controversy was revived again amongst them, and a still greater number left them. Many of these were persons whom Mr. Jessey very much respected both for their piety and solidity of judgment, and the alteration of their sentiments occasioned frequent debates in the congregation about it; so that he was necessarily put upon the study of this controversy. Upon a diligent and impartial examination of the holy scriptures and the writers of antiquity, he saw reason to alter his sentiments; but he did not do it without great deliberation, much prayer, and divers conferences with pious and learned men of a different persuasion.
"His first conviction was about the manner of baptizing; for he soon discovered that sprinkling was a modern corruption, brought into use without any just reason either from scripture or antiquity; and therefore in the year 1642, the church being assembled, he freely declared to them that immersion, or dipping the whole body under water, appeared to him to be the right manner of administering baptism; that this mode was the import of the original word baptizo; that it agreed with the examples of baptism recorded in scripture; and that it best represented the spiritual mysteries signified by it, the death and resurrection of Christ, and our dying to sin and rising again to newness of life. And therefore he proposed that in future, baptism should be administered after this manner. Mr. Jessey accordingly, for two or three years after this, baptized children by dipping them in the water."
About the year 1644, the controversy on the subjects of baptism was revived, and several debates were held in the congregation about it. Before Mr. Jessey avowed his sentiments on the side of adult baptism, he had a meeting with Dr. Goodwin, Mr. Philip Nye, Mr. Jeremiah Burroughs, Mr. Walter Cradock, and several others: but obtaining no satisfaction, he was baptized in June 1645, by Mr. Hansard Knollys. We have been the more particular in stating this event on account of Mr. Neal’s having said, when speaking of Mr. Jessey, "Thus a foundation was laid for the first Baptist Church I have met with in England." As he had the manuscripts from which Crosby wrote, it is certainly a proof how little he regarded them, that he could not find any one prior to this.
The assembly of Divines were now sitting in Henry the seventh’s chapel in Westminster, and it was natural to conclude that as a reformation in the church was proposed, the subject of baptism would be discussed. "Mr. John Tombes (says Mr. Palmer) was among the first of the clergy of these times who endeavoured a reformation in the church by purging the worship of God of human inventions. He preached a sermon on the subject, which was afterwards printed by an order of the House of Commons." This exposed him to the rage of the church party; and at the beginning of the civil war in 1641, some of the King’s forces coming into Herfordshire, he was obliged to leave his habitation and the church at Leominster, and remove to Bristol. He soon afterwards fled from Bristol, and with great difficulty arrived in London, Sep. 22, 1643.
Though Mr. Tombes was informed by one of that assembly, that they had appointed a committee to consider the point of infant baptism; yet after waiting many months, he could get no answer, nor even that the subject was debated whether infants should be baptized or not, though great alterations took place among them on the manner in which it should be administered.
His application to the assembly exposed him to their resentment. Being now minister of Frenchurch, attempts were made to prejudice his parishioners against him under the stigma of his being an Anabaptist; and though he never introduced this controversy into the pulpit, yet because he would not baptize infants, his stipend was withheld.
It happened just after this, that the honourable society at the Temple wanted a minister; and some of them who knew Mr. Tombes to be a man of great learning, and an excellent preacher, solicited the assembly that he might be appointed to that situation. When he applied to the assembly for their approbation of him as a minister, he was told by the examiner, "that there were many of the assembly that had scruples of conscience respecting it, because of his opinion. Also that in New England there was a law made and some proceedings thereupon, against those who denied the baptism of infants; and that here in England, the directory which enjoins the baptizing of infants was published, with the ordinance of parliament to make the not using of it penal; and that many godly, learned, and prudent persons, both of those who differed from him as well as those who agreed with him on this point, earnestly requested the publishing of his papers."
The situation at the Temple was after much difficulty obtained for him, on condition that he would not meddle with the controversy about infant baptism in the pulpit. To this he agreed upon two conditions;—that no one did preach for the baptizing of infants in his pulpit, and that no laws were likely to be enacted to make the denial of infant baptism penal.
He continued in this place about four years, and was then dismissed for publishing his first treatise against infant baptism, which contained his objections against that practice. This had been previously presented to the assembly, as also his Examen of Mr. Marshall’s Sermon on infant baptism. For publishing this work he was censured as a man of restless spirit, and as one who intended to increase the divisions and confusions of the times, while others re-presented it as a breach of his promise to be silent on this subject.
To clear himself from these aspersions, he published his Apology in the year 1646; wherein he stated, that he had received such provocations, that the publishing of his thoughts on infant baptism was necessary, both "from faithfulness to God and charity to men." Of his "Apology, Mr. John Bachiler, who licenced it says, "Having perused this mild apology, I conceive that the ingenuity, learning, and piety therein contained, deserve the press."
We have dwelt the longer on the history of Mr. Tombes in this place, in order to show the spirit of the Assembly of Divines respecting Baptism. It should seem that these presbyterian reformers adopted the practice and sentiments of the Episcopalians in the time of Edward vi., and resolved, "The custom of the church for baptizing young children is both to be commended, and by all means to be retained in the church."
They were however, not so scrupulous respecting the manner of baptism, which they proposed to alter from immersion to either pouring or sprinkling; for it is a curious fact, that when it was put to the vote whether the directory should run thus, "The minister shall take water and sprinkle it, or pour it with his hand on the face or forehead of the child," the opposition to sprinkling was so great that it was carried only by a majority of one, there being twenty four against it, and but twenty five for it. It is said that this was carried entirely by the influence of Dr. Lightfoot, who was very strenuous that sprinkling should be accounted sufficient. [Robinson’s History of Baptism, p. 150]
The Assembly of Divines have been very differently represented. Lord Clarendon, who was their sworn enemy, says: "About twenty of them were reverend and worthy persons, and episcopal in their judgment; but as to the remainder, they were but pretenders to divinity. Some were infamous in their lives and conversations, and most of them of very mean parts and learning, if not of scandalous ignorance, and of no other reputation than of malice to the Church of England." Mr. Baxter, on the contrary, who knew them better than his lordship, and whose word may be more safely relied on, says, that "they were men of eminent learning, godliness, ministerial abilities, and fidelity." Those who will read over a list of their names, preserved by Mr. Neal, will be able to judge whose opinion was most correct.
The far greater part of them were Presbyterians, and some of them Independents; "but," says Neal, "there was not one professed Anabaptist in the assembly." The worst trait in their character is the bigotry and illiberality which they manifested towards their dissenting brethren, as the Independents were called, and towards all others who were politely named in the cant of the day, "heretics, schismatics, and Anabaptists." They formed "a committee of accommodation;" but when the Independents offered so far to accommodate themselves to the prejudices of the Presbyterians as to communicate occasionally in their churches, &c. they gave them a flat denial, and were as much resolved to sacrifice conscientious scruples at the shrine of the idol Uniformity, as the papists and episcopalians had been before them. It was no wonder then that the Baptists, who could not bow down to the golden image which they had set up, should be cast into their burning fiery furnace; and we have no doubt but this would have been "heated seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated," had not a power superior to them, doubtless under the direction of the great Head of the church, prevailed: "for," says Neal, "the spirit which these men manifested, proves what a terrible use they would have made of the sword, had they been entrusted with it."
These discussions in the assembly were likely to lead to an examination of the scriptures on the subject of baptism, as these eminent divines professed to make the word of God alone the standard of their decisions. We are therefore not at all surprised to be informed by Neal, that the opinion of the Baptists "began to spread wonderfully out of doors."—For, though Mr. Baxter published a piece which he entitled, Plain scripture proof for church membership and infant baptism, yet many eminent Pedobaptist ministers have acknowledged that neither scriptural precept nor example was to be found to support the practice.
Another cause for the increase of the Baptists was probably the favourable manner in which some eminent writers represented their principles, and the arguments they used to show the parliament the propriety of granting them liberty of conscience.
The right honorable Lord Robert Brook published about this time a treatise on episcopacy, in which he says: "I must confess that I began to think there may be perhaps something more of God in these sects, which they call new schisms, than appears at the first glimpse. I will not, I cannot take upon me, to defend that which men generally call Anabaptism; yet I conceive that sect is two-fold: some of them hold free will, community of all things, deny magistracy, and refuse to baptize their children: these truly are such heretics or atheists, that I question whether any divine should honour them so much as to dispute with them. There is another sort of them who only deny baptism to their children till they come to years of discretion, and then they baptize them; but in other things they truly agree with the church of England. Truly these men are much to be pitied; and I could heartily wish that before they are stigmatized with the opprobrious brand of schismatics, the truth might be cleared to them; for I conceive, to those that hold we may go no farther than scripture for doctrine or discipline, it may be very easy to err in this point now in hand, as the scripture seems not to have determined this matter.
"The analogy it hath with circumcision in the old law, (says his lordship,) is a fine rational argument to illustrate a point well proved before; but I somewhat doubt whether it be proof enough for that which some would prove by it; since besides the vast difference in the ordinance, the persons to be circumcised are stated by a positive law, so express that it leaves no place for scruple: but it is far otherwise in baptism, when all the designation of persons fit to be partakers, for aught I know, is only such as believe; for this is the qualification which, with exactest search, I find the scripture requires in persons to be baptized, and this it seems to require in all persons. Now how infants can properly be said to believe, I am not yet fully resolved." [Episcopacy, p. 96.]
While religious matters were in a very unsettled state in the nation, Doctor Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor, published a work entitled, The liberty of prophesying. In this he shows the unreasonableness of prescribing to others in matters of faith, and the iniquity of persecuting men for difference of sentiment; and says, among other things, "Many things condemned as erroneous have a great probability of truth on their side; at least so much might be said for them as to sway the conscience of many an honest enquirer after truth, and abate the edge of their fury who suppose they are deceived."
Too prove his observations, he particularly considers the opinion of the Antipedobaptists, and by stating what might be said for that error as he called it, drew up a very elaborate system of arguments against infant baptism. Doctor Hammond said of this work, that it was the most diligent collection, and the most exact scheme of the arguments against infant baptism which he had seen; and that he had so represented the arguments for and against it, that many thought the Baptists were victorious. [Crosby, v. i. p. 168.]
The great increase of the Baptists seems to have provoked the Presbyterians, who were now the ruling party, to a very high degree; and the same spirit of intolerance which the epsicopalians had manifested towards the puritans, was now exhibited by them against all dissenters from what they, who could now prove the divine right of presbytery, were pleased to decree. The whole of their conduct in respect of those who differed from them, shows what Milton said to be true; that "New Presbyter is but Old Priest WRIT LARGE."
Their spirit of intolerance may be learned from the history of those times, and especially from some acts of the government. On May 26, 1645, the lord mayor, court of aldermen, and common-council, presented a petition to parliament, commonly called the City Remonstrance, in which they desired, "that some strict and speedy course might be taken for the suppressing all private and separate congregations; that all Anabaptists, Brownists, heretics, schismatics, blasphemers, and all other sectaries, who conformed not to the public discipline established or to be established by parliament, might be fully declared against, and some effectual course settled for proceeding against such persons; and that no person disaffected to presbyterial government, set forth or to be forth by parliament, might be employed in any place of public trust." [Crosby, v. i. p. 181.]
This remonstrance was supported by the whole Scotch nation, who acted in concert with their English brethren, as appears by a letter of thanks to the lord-mayor, aldermen, and common-council, from the general assembly, dated June 10, 1646, within a month after the delivery of the remonstrance. The letter commends their courageous appearance against sects and sectaries; their firm adherence to the covenant, and their maintaining the Presbyterian government to be the government of Jesus Christ! It beseeches them to go on boldly in the work they had begun, till the three kingdoms were united in one faith and worship. At the same time they directed letters to the parliament, beseeching them also in the bowels of Jesus Christ to give to him the glory due to his name, by an immediate establishment of all his ordinances in their full integrity and power, according to the covenant. Nor did they forget to encourage the assembly at Westminster to proceed in their zeal against sectaries, and to stand boldly for the sceptre of Jesus Christ against the encroachments of earthly powers.
"The wise parliament (says Neal) received the lord-mayor and his brethren with marks of great respect and civility; for neither the Scotch nor English Presbyterians were to be disgusted while the prize [the king], for which they had been fighting, was in their hands; but the majority of the commons were displeased both with the remonstrance, and the high manner of enforcing it, as aiming by a united force to establish a sovereign reign and arbitrary power in the church, to which themselves and many of their friends were unwilling to submit: however, they dismissed the petitioners with a promise to take the particulars into consideration." [Neal, v. 3. p. 327.]
The sectaries in the army, as they were called, being alarmed at the approaching storm, procured a counter-petition from the city, with a great number of signatures, "applauding the labours and successes of the parliament in the cause of liberty, and praying them to go on with managing the affairs of the kingdom according to their wisdom, and not to suffer the free-born people of England to be enslaved on any pretence whatever, nor to suffer any set of people to prescribe to them in matters of government or conscience; adding, that the petitioners would stand by them with their lives and fortunes." [Ibid. p. 328] Thus the parliament were embarrassed between the contenders for liberty and those for uniformity. An instance out of many may be produced of the opposition at this time manifested against the Baptists. Mr. Hansard Knollys having written a letter to Mr. John Dutton of Norwich, in which he had reflected on the intolerance of the Presbyterians, it happened to fall into the hands of some of the committee of Suffolk, who sent it to London, for the inspection of those in power, and it was afterwards published by Edwards, the author of Gangraena. As it seems to exhibit the views and feelings of the Baptists in reference to these measures, we shall here insert it.
"I salute you in the Lord. Your letter I received the last day of the week;; and upon the first day I did salute the brethren in your name, who re-salute you, and pray for you.—The city presbyterians have sent a letter to the synod, dated from Sion College, against any toleration, and they are fasting and praying at Sion College this day about farther contrivings against God’s poor innocent ones; but God will doubtless answer them according to the idol of their own hearts. To-morrow there is a fast kept by both houses, and the synod at Westminster. They say it is to seek God about the establishing of worship according to their covenant.—They have first vowed, now they make inquiry. God will certainly take the crafty in their own snare, and make the wisdom of the wise foolishness; for he chooseth the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and weak things to confound the mighty. Salute the brethren that are with you. Farewell.
"Your brother in the faith and fellowship of the gospel, Hansard Knollys.
"London, the 13th day of the 11th month, called January, 1645."
This year also Andrew Wyke was apprehended in the county of Suffolk for preaching and dipping. When he was brought before the committee of the county to be examined about his authority to preach, and the doctrines he held, he refused to give them any account of either, alleging that a freeman of England was not bound to answer any interrogatories, either to accuse himself or others; but if they had ought against him, they should lay their charge, and produce their proofs. This was considered as great obstinacy, and as a high contempt of authority, and therefore he was immediately sent to jail.
We have no account how long Mr. Wyke was imprisoned; but during his confinement a pamphlet was written either by himself or his friends, entitled, The innocent in prison complaining; or a true relation of the proceedings of the committee of Ipswich and the committee of Bury St. Edmunds in the county of Suffolk, against one Andrew Wyke, a witness of Jesus in the same county, who was committed to prison June 3, 1646. This work gives a particular account of the proceedings against him, and exclaims bitterly against the committees for their persecuting principles and illegal conduct.
The arguments which this grave assembly used to withhold from others the blessing of Christian liberty, came with a bad grace from men who had as earnestly pleaded for the privilege, while they were smarting under the lash of the prelates. "To comply with this request (say they) would open a gap for all sects to challenge such a liberty as their due: this liberty is denied by the churches in New England, and we have as great right to deny it as they. This desired forbearance will make a perpetual division in the church, and be a perpetual drawing away from the churches under the rule. Upon the same pretence, those who scruple infant baptism may withdraw from their churches, and so separate into another congregation; and so in that some practice may be scrupled, and they separate again. Are these divisions and sub-divisions as lawful as they are infinite? Or must we give that respect to the errors of men’s consciences so as to satisfy their scruples by allowance of this liberty to them? Scruple of conscience is no cause of separation, nor doth it take off causeless separation from being schism, which may arise from errors of conscience as well as carnal and corrupt reason: therefore we conceive the causes of separation must be shewn to be such, ex natura rei, as will bear it out; and therefore we say that granting the liberty desired will give a countenance to schism."
Many instances of this spirit might be adduced; but we shall only notice the following. A work was published by the assembled in 1650, entitled, A vindication of the Presbyterial government and ministry: with an exhortation to all ministers, elders, and people within the province of London, &c. Published by the ministers and elders met together in a provincial assembly. George Walker, moderator; Arthur Jackson and Edmund Calamy, assessors; Roger Drake and Elidad Blackwell, scribes.
This work contains the following expressions:—"Whatsoever doctrine is contrary to godliness, and opens a door to libertinism and profaneness, you must reject it as soul poison: such is the doctrine of a universal toleration in religion." The ministers in the different parts of the country seem to have been of the same mind. Those in Lancashire published a paper in 1748, called The harmonious consent of the Lancashire ministers with their brethren in London; in which they say, "A toleration would be putting a sword into a madman’s hand; a cup of poison into the hand of a child; a letting loose of madmen with firebrands in their hands, and appointing a city of refuge in men’s consciences for the devil to fly to; a laying a stumbling-block before the blind; a proclaiming liberty to the wolves to come into Christ’s fold to prey upon the lambs: neither would it be to provide for tender consciences, but to take away all conscience." [Crosby, v. i. p. 190.]
We turn away with disgust from these intolerant sentiments, and rejoice that the attempt has been made, and that none of the predicted effects have ensued.
It was very common at this time for the enemies of the Baptists to represent the practice of immersion as indecent and dangerous, and to argue that it could not be according to divine authority, because a breach of the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill;" and the divine declaration, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." Who would have thought that Mr. Richard Baxter could have expressed himself in language like the following: "My sixth argument shall be against the usual manner of their baptizing, as it is by dipping over head in a river, or other cold water. That which is a plain breach of the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill, is no ordinance of God, but a most heinous sin. But the ordinary practice of baptizing over head and in cold water, as necessary, is a plain breach of the sixth commandment, therefore it is no ordinance of God, but a heinous sin. And as Mr. Cradock shows in his book of gospel liberty, the magistrate ought to restrain it, to save the lives of his subjects—That this is flat murder, and no better, being ordinarily and generally used, is undeniable to any understanding man—And I know not what trick a covetous landlord can find out to get his tenants to die apace, that he may have new fines and heriots, likelier than to encourage such preachers, that he may get them all to turn Anabaptists. I wish that this device be not it which countenanceth these men: and covetous physicians, methinks, should not be much against them. Catarrhs and obstructions, which are the too great fountains of most mortal diseases in man’s body, could scarce have a more notable means to produce them where they are not, or to increase them where they are. Apoplexies, lethargies, palsies, and all other comatous diseases would be promoted by it. So would cephalalgies, hemicranies, phthises, debility of the stomach, crudities, and almost all fevers, dysenteries, diarrhaeas, colics, iliac passions, convulsions, spasms, tremors, and so on. All hepatic, splenetic, and pulmonic persons, and hypochondriacs, would soon have enough of it. In a word, it is good for nothing but to dispatch men out of the world that are burdensome, and to ranken church yards—I conclude, if murder be a sin, then dipping ordinarily over head in England is a sin: and if those who would make it men’s religion to murder themselves, and urge it upon their consciences as their duty, are not to be suffered in a commonwealth, any more than highway murderers; then judge how these Anabaptists, that teach the necessity of such dipping, are to be suffered—My seventh argument is also against another wickedness in their manner of baptizing, which is their dipping persons naked, which is very usual with many of them, or next to naked, as is usual with the modestest that I have heard of—If the minister must go into the water with the party—it will certainly tend to his death, though they may scape that go in but once. Would not vain young men come to a baptizing to see the nakedness of maids, and make a mere jest and sport of it?" [Baxter’s Plain Scripture Proof, p. 434, 437.]
It is with pleasure we give a place to the reflections of the late venerable Abraham Booth on these remarks, which certainly merited severe animadversion, especially as they were published at a time when, as the sequel will show, they were calculated to produce some serious consequences towards those who were in the practice of baptizing by immersion.
"Were this representation just (says Mr. Booth,) we should have no reason to wonder if his following words expressed a fact: ‘I am still more confirmed that a visible judgment of God doth still follow Anabaptizing wherever it comes.’ It was not without reason, I presume, that Mr. Baxter made the following acknowledgement: ‘I confess my style is naturally keen.’ I am a little suspicious also that Dr. Owen had some cause to speak of his writings as follows:—‘I verily believe that if a man had nothing else to do, should gather into a heap all the expressions which in his late books, confessions, and apologies, have a lovely aspect towards himself, as to ability, diligence, sincerity, on the one hand; with all those which are full of reproach and contempt towards others, on the other; the view of them could not but a little startle a man of so great modesty, and of such eminency in the mortification of pride, as Mr. Baxter is." Hence we learn that the Baptists are not the only persons who have felt the weight of Mr. Baxter’s hands; so that if a recollection of others having suffered under his keen resentment can afford relief, the poor Baptists may take some comfort, and it is an old saying,
Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.
"Besides, there is a precept of Horace which occurs to remembrance, and is of use in the present exigence. Amara lento temperel risu, is the advice to which I refer; and under the influence of this direction, we are led to say, Poor man! He seems to be afflicted with a violent hydrophobia! For he cannot think of any person being immersed in cold water, but he starts, he is convulsed, he is ready to die with fear.—Immersion, you must know, is like Pandora’s box, and pregnant with a great part of those diseases which Milton’s angel presented to the view of our first father. A compassionate regard therefore to the lives of his fellow-creatures compels Mr. Baxter to solicit the aid of magistrates against this destructive plunging, and to cry out in the spirit of an exclamation once heard in the Jewish temple, Ye men of Israel, help! or Baptist ministers will depopulate your country.—Know you not that these plunging teachers are shrewdly suspected of being pensioned by avaricious landlords, to destroy the lives of your liege subjects? Exert your power: apprehend the delinquents: appoint an Auto da Fe: let the venal dippers be baptized in blood, and thus put a salutary stop to this pestiferous practice.—What a pity it is that the celebrated History of Cold Bathing, by Sir John Floyer, was not published half a century sooner! It might, perhaps, have preserved this good man from a multitude of painful paroxysms occasioned by the thought of immersion in cold water.—Were I seriously (adds Mr. Booth) to put a query to these assertions of Mr. Baxter, it should be with a little variation in the words of David, What shall be given unto thee, or what shall be done unto thee, thou FALSE pen? Were the temper which dictated the preceding caricature to receive its just reproof, it might be in the language of Michael, The Lord rebuke thee.
"Before I dismiss this extraordinary language of Mr. Baxter (adds Mr. Booth) it is proper to be observed, that the change of shocking indecency, which he lays with so much confidence against the Baptists of those times, was not suffered by them to pass without animadversion. No, he was challenged to make it good: it was denied, it was confuted by them. With a view to which Dr. Wall says, ‘The English Antipedobaptists need not have made so great an outcry against Mr. Baxter for his saying that they baptized naked; for if they had, it had been no more than the primitive Christians did.’ But surely they had reason to complain of misrepresentations; such misrepresentation as tended to bring the greatest odium upon their sentiment and practice. Besides, however ancient the practice charged upon them was, its antiquity could not have justified their conduct except it had been derived from divine command, or apostolic example; neither of which appears." [Pedobap. Exam. vol. i. p. 263-265.]
When a circumstance is related which took place in the year 1646, it will not be thought that Mr. Booth has treated the misrepresentations of Mr. Baxter with too great severity. That to which we refer is the following. Mr. Samuel Oates, a very popular preacher and great disputant, taking a journey into Essex, preached in several parts of that, and one of the adjoining counties, and baptized great numbers of people, especially about Bocking, Braintree, and Farling. This made the Presbyterians in those parts very uneasy, especially the ministers, who endeavoured to set the magistrates against him, in which they at length succeeded.
The bitter Edwards has printed a letter, sent him, as he says, by a learned and godly minister in Essex, which says, "No magistrate in the country dare meddle with him; for they say they have hunted these out of the country into their dens in London, and imprisoned some, and they are released and sent like decoy-ducks into the country, to fetch in more; so that they go into divers parts of Essex with the greatest confidence and insolency that can be imagined." [Gangraena, p. 2,3.]
It happened that among the hundreds whom Mr. Oates had baptized, a young woman, named Anne Martin, died a few weeks after; and this they attributed to her being dipped in cold water. They accordingly prevailed on the magistrates to send him to prison, and put him in irons as a murderer, in order to his trail at the next assizes. He was tried at Chelmsford, and great endeavours were used to bring him in guilty. But many credible witnesses were produced, and among others the mother of the young woman, who all testified that the said Anne Martin was in better health for several days after her baptism than she had been for several years before. The jury, from the evidence produced, pronounced a verdict of not guilty, which it is thought greatly mortified his enemies who were concerned in the prosecution. [Crosby, vol. i. p. 238.]
So great was the enmity against Mr. Oates, that on his going to Dunmow in Essex not long after this, some of the town’s-people dragged him out of the house where he was, and threw him into a river, boasting that they had thoroughly dipped him.
Mr. Henry Denne was apprehended again in June this year, and committed to prison at Spalding in Lincolnshire, for preaching and baptizing by immersion. His chief prosecutors were two justices of the peace. They sent the constable to apprehend him on the Lord’s day morning, with orders that he should keep him in custody to prevent his preaching; for the people resorting so much to him was no small occasion of their taking offence. Upon the hearing his case, there was but one witness of the crime with which he was charged, viz. dipping; as he refused to confessed himself guilty.
It will give the reader a better view of the proceedings in those times, to see the two examinations that were taken on this occasion.
"The examination of Anne Jarrat, of Spalding, spinster, June 22, 1646, before Master Thomas Irbie and Master John Harrington, commissioners of the peace.
"This examinate saith, on Wednesday last, in the night about eleven or twelve of the clock, Anne Stennet and Anne Smith, the servants of John Mackernesse, did call out this examinate to go with them to the little croft, with whom this examinate did go; and coming thither, Master Denne and John Mackernesse, and a stranger or two, followed after: and being come to the river side, Master Denne went into the water, and there did baptize Anne Stennet, Anne Smith, Godfrey Roote, and John Sowter in this examinate’s presence. Anne Jarrat, (w) her mark."
"June 21, 1646. Lincolne Holland, Henry Denne, of Caxton in the county of Cambridge, examined before John Harrington and Thomas Irby, esquires, two of his majesty’s justices of the peace.
"This examinate saith, that he liveth at Caxton aftersaid, but doth exercise at Elsly within a mile of his own house; and saith that he took orders about sixteen years since from the bishop of St. Davis’s; and that on Monday last he came to Spalding, being invited thither by John Mackernesse to come to his house. And that he hath exercised his gifts about four times in several places in Spalding; viz. at the house of John Mackernesse and Mr. Enston.—As for baptizing any, he doth not confess. John Harrington."
Though this zealous magistrate spoke of committing Mr. Denne to Lincoln gaol, yet it does not appear that he carried his threat into execution. Had this been the case, it is likely Edwards, who relates this affair of his examination, would have commended him for his zeal in punishing such an evil doer; who in his opinion, and in Mr. Baxter’s, was a breaker of the sixth commandment.
Some very severe ordinances were passed by this parliament, which were aimed at all dissenters, especially ministers: and had the spirit of the times permitted them to be carried into effect, there is no doubt but great numbers would have severely suffered from their operation.
It is a little extraordinary that in the next year, 1647, considerable favour was manifested towards the Baptists.—Perhaps it arose from the policy of Cromwell, wishing to check the overgrown power of the Presbyterians, or from some of his officers and other persons of considerable influence embracing their sentiments, and using their interest in their behalf.
In a declaration of the Lords and Commons, published March 4, 1647, it is said, "The name of Anabaptism hath indeed contracted much odium by reason of the extravagant opinions of some o f that name in Germany, tending to the disturbance of the government, and the peace of all states, which opinions and practices we abhor and detest. But for their opinion against the baptism of infants, it is only a difference about a circumstance of time in the administration of an ordinance, wherein in former ages, as well as in this, learned men have differed both in opinion and practice.—And though we could wish that all men would satisfy themselves, and join with us in our judgment and practice in this point; yet herein we hold it fit that men should be convinced by the word of God, with great gentleness and reason, and not beaten out of it by force and violence." [Crosby, vol. i. p. 196.]
This declaration discovered much of a true Christian spirit; and happy would it have been if all government had always acted on such principles. But it is lamentable to observe, that the very next year, a more severe law was passed than any that had been made in England since the Reformation. It bore date May 2, 1648, and was entitled, An ordinance of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, for the punishment of blasphemies and heresies. One article was, "Whosoever shall say that the baptism of infants is unlawful, or that such baptism is void, and that such persons ought to be baptized again, and in pursuance thereof shall baptize any person formerly baptized; or shall say the church government by presbytery is antichristian or unlawful, shall upon conviction by the oath of two witnesses, or by his own confession, be ordered to renounce his said error in the public congregation of the parish where the offence was committed, and in case of refusal, he shall be committed to prison till he find sureties that he shall not publish or maintain the said error any more." [Crosby, vol. i. p. 203.]
It is likely that the death of the king in this year, and the confusion which resulted from it, might prevent this cruel and shameful ordinance from being carried into effect, as we do not hear that any were prosecuted upon it.
From Whitlocke we learn, that the parliament after this event were so intent on religion, that they devoted Friday in every week to devise ways and means for promoting it.—Their attention appears to have been particularly directed to Wales, where the people were so destitute of the means of religious knowledge that they had neither bibles nor catechisms. Their clergymen were ignorant and idle, so that they had scarcely a sermon from one quarter of a year to another, nor was there a sufficient maintenance for such as were capable of instructing them. The parliament taking their case into consideration, passed an act, February 22, 1649, "for the better propagation and preaching of the gospel in Wales, for the ejecting of scandalous ministers and schoolmasters, and redress of some grievances, to continue in force three years." [Neal, vol. iv. p. 15.] The principal amongst the commissioners appointed was Mr. Vavasor Powell, a very zealous and laborious minister of the Baptist denomination. The good effects of their regulations were soon discovered; "for," says Mr. Whitlocke, speaking of the year 1652, "by this time there were a hundred and fifty good preachers in the thirteen Welsh counties, most of whom preached three or four times a week; they were placed in every market town; and in most great towns two schoolmasters, able, learned, and university men; the tythes were all employed to the uses directed by act of parliament; that is, to the maintenance of godly ministers, to the payment of taxes and officers, to schoolmasters, and the fifths to the wives and children of the ejected clergy." [Whitlocke’s Memorial, p. 518.]
This account of Whitlocke’s is valuable, as it serves to contradict what is asserted by Mr. Baxter respecting this transaction. Speaking of the Little Parliament, or what was called Barebone’s Parliament, he says, "This conventicle made an act that magistrates should marry people instead of ministers, and then they came to the business of tythes and ministers. Before this, Harrison, being authorized thereto, had at once put down all the parish ministers in Wales, because that most of them were ignorant and scandalous, and had set up a few itinerant preachers in their stead, who were for number incompetent to so great a change, there being but one to many of those wide parishes. So that the people having a sermon but once in so many weeks, and nothing else in the mean time, were ready to turn Papists or any thing else. And this is the plight which the Anabaptists and other sectaries would have brought the whole land to. And all was with this design, that the people might not be tempted to think the parish churches to be true churches, or infant baptism true baptism, or themselves true Christians; but might be convinced that they must be made Christians and churches in the way of the Baptists and separatists. Hereupon, Harrison became the head of the Anabaptists and sectaries, and Cromwell now began to design the heading of a soberer party that were for learning and ministry, while yet he was the equal Protector of all. At length it was put to the vote in this parliament, whether all the parish ministers in England should at once be put down or not.—And it was but accidentally carried in the negative by two voices. And it was taken for granted that tythes and universities would next be voted down; and now Cromwell must be their saviour, or they must perish." [Baxter’s Life and Times, p. 67,68.]
Mr. Baxter supposed that Cromwell hurried on these measures to accomplish the design he had formed of obtaining the supreme power. This event certainly succeeded them; but whether it was occasioned by them, it is difficult to say. Respecting the conduct of this parliament, Mr. Neal observes, that nothing which Mr. Baxter charges them with appears in their acts. "When (says he) the city of London petitioned that more learned and approved ministers might be sent into the country to preach the gospel; that their settled maintenance by law might be confirmed, and their just properties preserved, and that the universities might be zealously countenanced and encouraged; the petitioners had the thanks of that house; and the committee gave it as their opinion, that commissioners should be sent into the several counties, who should have power to eject scandalous and insufficient ministers, and to settle others in their room.—They were to appoint preaching in all vacant places, that none might have above three miles from a place of public worship. That such as were approved for public ministers should have the maintenance provided by the laws; and that if any scrupled the payment of tythes, the neighbouring justices of peace should settle the value, which the owner of the land should be obliged to pay; but as for the tythes themselves, they were of opinion that the incumbents and impropriators had a right in them, and thefore they could not be taken away till they were satisfied." [Neal, vol. iv. p. 69.]
The act respecting marriages was confirmed by the Protector’s parliament in 1656; so that it is pretty evident this measure was not so despicable as Mr. Baxter represents it.—But it should seem upon the whole that Mr. Neal is right when he says, "They were most of them men of piety, but no great politicians. The acts of this convention (he adds) were of little significance; for when they found the affairs of the nation too intricate, and the several parties too stubborn to yield to their ordinances, they wisely resigned, and surrendered back their sovereignty into the same hands that gave it them, after they had sat five months and twelve days."
The members of this parliament seem to have thought that the period predicted by Daniel was come, when "the saints of the Most High should take and possess the kingdom for ever and ever." But many events afterwards took place which convinced them that they were sadly mistaken.
From the character and talents of some of those ministers whose names have been mentioned in this chapter as the pastors of the Baptist churches, it will not be necessary to use much argument in order to remove the impression which the gross misrepresentations of Mr. Neal concerning them are likely to make on those who depend upon the accuracy of his statement.
He says, "The advocates of this doctrine [baptism] were for the most part of the meanest of the people; their preachers were generally illiterate, and went about the counties making proselytes of all that would submit to their immersion, without a due regard to the principles of religion on their moral characters." The only reason he assigns for this foul slander is, that Mr. Baxter says, "There are but few of them that had not been the opposers and troublers of faithful ministers; that in this they strengthened the hands of the profane, and that in general, reproach of ministers, faction, pride, and scandalous practices, were fomented in their way."
Let the reader judge, when he has made due allowance for the bitterness of Mr. Baxter towards them, whether even this will justify the conclusion, "that they paid not a due regard to the principles and characters of those whom they baptized?" It should seem that Mr. Neal’s conscience reproached him for writing this libel upon the majority of the advocates of this doctrine; for he immediately adds, "But still there were amongst them some learned, and a great many sober and devout Christians, who disallowed of the imprudence of their country friends. The two most learned divines that espoused their cause were Mr. Francis Cornwell, M.A. of Emmanuel College, and Mr. John Tombes, B.A. educated in the university of Oxford, a person of incomparable parts, well versed in the Greek and Hebrew languages, and a most excellent disputant. He wrote several letters to Mr. Selden, against infant baptism, and published a Latin Exercitation upon the same subject, containing several arguments, which he presented to the committee appointed by the assembly to put a stop to the progress of this opinion." [Neal, vol. iii. p. 162, 163.]
This eulogium on Mr. Cornwell and Mr. Tombes appears to be designed as a balsam for the wound which he had inflicted. But why did he not tell all the truth respecting Mr. Baxter’s opinion?—"And for the Anabaptists themselves, (says he,) though I have written and said so much against them; as I found that most of them were persons of zeal in religion, so many of them were sober and godly people, and differed from others but in the point of infant baptism, or at most in the point of predestination and free-will, and perseverance." [Crosby, vol. iii. Pref. p. 55.] Had Mr. Neal a knowledge of this testimony of Mr. Baxter to the character of many of them being sober and godly people, and most of them persons of zeal in religion? Surely if he had, he would either have been prevented from dealing in such illiberal censures; or if he had made use of such provoking language, he would have taken an opportunity to have retracted his declarations, like as Mr. Baxter had done in his piece on confirmation. "Upon a review of my arguments (says he) with Mr. Tombes upon the controversy about infant baptism, I find I have used too many provoking words, for which I am heartily sorry, and desire pardon both of God and him." [Ibid.]
The ingenuousness of this acknowledgment is so creditable to Mr. Baxter’s piety, that it compels us to forgive him the injury he has done us in furnishing Mr. Neal with matter for his slander. However, if he had made no such acknowledgement, we have no doubt that all impartial persons who know any thing of the character of Kiffin, Knollys, Jessey, and many others who united with them on a conviction of the truth of their sentiments at a very early period, and were the principal persons by whom their numbers were increased, would have been satisfied that he had defamed them; especially when they recollected that they were greatly opposed by the government and the assembly, and were "THE SECT EVERY WHERE SPOKEN AGAINST."
Before we close this chapter we shall notice some events which transpired at this period, which will give the reader a view of the sentiments of the Baptists on the important subject of liberty of conscience. We shall introduce the subject by referring to a letter that was published in England in 1652, giving an account of the sufferings of the Baptists in America, particularly of a Mr. Obadiah Holmes, an Englishman, who, for presuming to baptize a person in the Massachusets colony, was apprehended, imprisoned, and fined; and on refusing to pay the fine was severely flogged. This letter was addressed, "Unto the well beloved John Spilsbury, William Kiffin, and to the rest that in London stand fast in the faith, and continue to walk stedfastly in that order of the gospel which was once delivered unto the saints by Jesus Christ, Obadiah Holmes, an unworthy witness that Jesus is the Lord, and of late a prisoner for Jesus’ sake at Boston."
Before we give the letter it may be proper to glance at the circumstances of this disgraceful affair.
Mr. John Clarke, and Mr. Obadiah Holmes, who is said to have been descended from a good family in England, and another brother, went from Rhode Island to visit a brother at Lynn beyond Boston, July 15, 1651, and held worship with him the next day being Lord’s day. But Mr. Clarke could not get through his first sermon before he and his friends were seized by an officer, and carried to a tavern, and to the parish worship in the afternoon. At the close of the service Mr. Clarke spoke a few words, and then a magistrate sent them into confinement, and the next day to Boston prison. On July 31, they were tried before the court of assistants, by whom Clarke was fined twenty pounds, Holmes thirty, and John Crandal five. When Judge Endicot gave this sentence against them, he said—"You go up and down, and secretly insinuate things into those that are weak, but you cannot maintain it before our ministers; you may try and dispute with them." Upon this Mr. Clarke sent a letter from the prison to the court, offering to dispute upon his principles with any of their ministers; but his offer was not accepted. He was however, with Crandal released from prison, and desired to depart out of the colony as soon as possible. But the magistrates determined to make an example of Mr. Holmes, and after keeping him in prison till September, he was brought out to be punished in Boston.—Two magistrates, named Norvel and Flint, were present to see the sentence properly executed. This affair will be best related by an extract from the above mentioned printed letter.
Mr. Holmes says—"I desired to speak a few words, but Mr. Norvel answered, It is not time now to speak: whereupon I took leave, and said, Men, brethren, fathers, and countrymen, I beseech you to give me leave to speak a few words, and the rather because here are many spectators to see me punished, and I am to seal with my blood, if God give me strength, that which I hold and practice in reference to the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus. That which I have to say in brief is this, although I am no disputant, yet seeing I am to seal with my blood what I hold, I am ready to defend by the word, and to dispute that point with any that shall come forth to withstand it. Mr. Norvel answered, now was no time to dispute: then said I, I desire to give an account of the faith and order which I hold; and this I desired three times; but in comes Mr. Flint, and saith to the executioner, Fellow, do thine office; for this fellow would but make a long speech to delude the people: so I being resolved to speak, told the people, That which I am to suffer for is the word of God, and testimony of Jesus Christ.—No, saith Mr. Norvel, it is for your errors and going about to deceive the people. To which I replied, Not for errors, for in all the time of my imprisonment, wherein I was left alone, my brethren being gone, which of all your ministers came to convince me of error? And when upon the governor’s words a motion was made for a public dispute, and often renewed upon fair terms, and desired by hundreds, what was the reason it was not granted? Mr. Nowel told me, it was his fault that went away and would not dispute, but that the writings will clear at large. Still Mr. Flint calls the man to do his office; so before and in the time of his pulling off my clothes I continued speaking; telling them that I had so learned, that for all Boston I would not give my body into their hands thus to be bruised upon another account, yet upon this I would not give the hundredth part of a wampum peague (the sixth part of a penny] to free it out of their hands; and that I made as much conscience of unbottoning one button, as I did of paying thirty pounds in reference thereunto. I told them moreover, that the Lord having manifested his love towards me, in giving me repentance towards God and faith in Christ, and so to be baptized in water by a messenger of Jesus, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wherein I have fellowship with him in his death, burial, and resurrection, I am now come to be baptized in afflictions by your hands, that so I may have furtehr fellowship with my Lord, and am not ashamed of his sufferings, for by his stripes am I healed. And as the man began to lay the strokes on my back, I said to the people, though my flesh should fail, and my spirit should fail, yet God would not fail; so it pleased the Lord to come in and to fill my heart and tongue as a vessel full, and with an audible voice I broke forth, praying the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge, and telling the people that now I found he did not fail me, and therefore now I should trust him for ever who failed me not; for in truth as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence as I never had before, and the outward pain was so removed from me that I could well bear it, yea, and in a manner felt it not, although it was grievous, as the spectators said, the man striking with all his strength, spitting in his hand three times, with a three-corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he had loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart and cheerfulness in my countenance, as the spectators observed, I told the magistrates, You have struck me with roses; and said moreover, although the Lord had made it easy to me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge.
"After this many came to me, rejoicing to see the power of God manifested in weak flesh; but sinful flesh takes occasion hereby to bring others into trouble, informs the magistrates hereof, and so two more are apprehended as for contempt of authority; their names are John Nazel and John Spur, who came indeed and did shake me by the hand, but did use no words of reproach or contempt unto any. No man can prove that the first spoke any thing; and for the second, he only said, Blessed be the Lord; yet these two for taking me by the hand, and thus saying, after I had received my punishment, were sentenced to pay forty shillings or to be whipt; but were resolved against praying the fine. Nevertheless, after one or two days imprisonment, one paid John Spur’s fine, and he was released; and after six or seven days imprisonment of brother Hazel, even the day when he should have suffered, another paid his, and so he escaped, and the next day went to visit a friend about six miles from Boston, where he fell sick the same day, and without ten days he ended his life. When I was come to the prison, it pleased God to stir up the heart of an old acquaintance of mine, who with much tenderness, like the good Samaritan, poured oil into my wounds, and plastered my sores; but there was presently information given of what was done, and enquiry made who was the surgeon, and it was commonly reported he should be sent for; but what was done I yet know not. Now thus it hath pleased the Father of mercies to dispose of the matter, that my bonds and imprisonment have been no hindrance to the gospel; for before my return, some submitted to the Lord, and were baptized, and divers were put upon the way of enquiry: and now being advised to make my escape by night, because it was reported that there were warrants for me, I departed; and the next day after, while I was on my journey, the constable came to search at the house where I lodged; so I escaped their hands, and by the good hand of my heavenly Father brought home again to my near relations, my wife and eight children, the people of our town and Providence, having taken pains to meet me four miles in the woods, where we rejoiced together in the Lord. Thus I have given you, as briefly as I can, a true relation of things; wherefore, my brethren, rejoice with me in the Lord, and give all glory to him, for he is worthy; to whom be praise for evermore; to whom I commit you, and put up my earnest prayers for you, that by my late experience, who trusted in God and have not been deceived, you may trust in him perfectly: wherefore, my dearly beloved brethren, trust in the Lord, and you shall not be ashamed nor confounded. So I rest, your’s in the bonds of charity, Obadiah Holmes. "
The publishing of this letter in England appears to have produced a powerful sensation on the public mind, and to have excited great disapprobation of this persecuting spirit and conduct manifested by these American Independents. Sir Richard Saltonstall who was an early magistrate in the Massachuset’s colony when Boston was first planted, but was now in London, wrote to the ministers of Boston, Mr. Cotton, and Mr. Wilson, and said:—
"Reverend and dear friends, whom I unfeignedly love and respect,
"It doth not a little grieve my spirit to hear what sad things are reported of your tyranny and persecution in New England; that you fine, whip, and imprison men for their consciences. First, you compel those to come into your assemblies as you know will not join with you in worship, and when they shew their dislike thereof, or witness against it, then you stir up you or magistrates to punish them for such (as you conceive) public affronts. Truly, friends, this practice of compelling any in matters of worship to do that whereof they are not fully persuaded, is to make them sin, for so the apostle tells us, Rom. 14:23. and many are made hypocrites thereby, conforming in their outward man for fear of punishment. We pray for you, and wish you prosperity every way; hoping the Lord would have given you so much light and love there, that you might have been eyes to God’s people here, and not to practise those courses in a wilderness which you went so far to prevent. These rigid ways have laid you very low in the hearts of the saints. I do assure you I have heard them pray in public assemblies, that the Lord would give you meek and humble spirits, not to strive so much for uniformity, as to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. When I was in Holland about the beginning of our wars, I remember some Christians there that then had serious thoughts of planting in New England, desired me to write to the governor thereof, to know if those who differ from you in opinion, yet holding the same foundations in religion, as Anabaptists, Seekers, Antinomians, and the like, may be permitted to live among you; to which I received this short answer from your then governor, Mr. Dudley—"God forbid (said he) that our love for the truth should be grown so cold that we should tolerate errors."
The good sense and Christian spirit manifested in this expostulation, one would have thought should have convinced Christians of the impropriety of casting stumblingblocks in their brethren’s way, and that they would have acknowledged their faults, and mourned on account of their folly and wickedness; instead of which we find the Reverend. Mr. Cotton, an eminent minister at Boston, justifying their conduct in the following letter, sent as an answer to Sir Richard Saltonstall.
"Honoured and dear Sir,
"My brother Wilson and self do both of us acknowledge your love, as otherwise formerly, so now in the late lines we received from you, that you grieve in spirit to hear daily complaints against us; it springeth from your compassion for our afflictions therein, wherein we see just cause to desire you may never suffer like injury in yourself, but may find others to compassionate and to condole with you. For when the complaints you hear of are against our tyranny and persecution in finding, whipping, and imprisoning men for their consciences, be pleased to understand we look at such complaints as altogether injurious in respect of ourselves, who had no hand or tongue at all to promote either the coming of the persons you aim at into our assemblies, or their punishment for their carriage there. Righteous judgments will not take up reports, much less reports against the innocent. The cry of the sins of Sodom was great and loud, and reached unto heaven, yet the righteous God (giving us an example what to do in the like cases) he would first go down to see whether their crimes were altogether according to their cry, before he would proceed to judgment. Gen. 17:20,21. And when he did find the truth of the cry, he did not wrap up all alike promiscuously in the judgment, but spared such as he found innocent. We are amongst those (if you knew us better) you would account of (as the matron of Israel spoke of herself,) peaceable in Israel, 2 Sam. 20:19. Yet neither are we so vast in our indulgence of toleration as to think the men you spake of suffered an unjust censure. For one of them, Obadiah Holmes, being an excommunicate person himself out of a church in Plymouth Patent, came into his jurisdiction, and took upon him to baptize, which I think himself will not say he was compelled here to perform. And he was not ignorant that the re-baptizing of an elder person, and that by a private person out of office and under excommunication, are all of them manifest contentious against the order and government of our churches, established we know by God’s law, and he knoweth by the laws of the country. And we conceive we may safely appeal to the ingenuity of your own judgment, whether it would be tolerated in any civil state, for a stranger to come and practise contrary to the known principles of the church estate? As for his whipping, it was more voluntarily chosen by him than inflicted on him. His censure by the court was to have paid, as I know, thirty pounds, or else to be whipt; his fine was offered to be paid by friends for him freely; but he chose rather to be whipt; in which case, if his sufferings of stripes was any worship of God at all, surely it could be accounted no better than will-worship. The other, Mr. Clarke, was wiser in that point, and his offence was less, so was his fine less, and himself, as I hear, was contented to have it paid for him, whereupon he was released. The imprisonment of either of them was no detriment. I believe they fared neither of them better at home; and I am sure Holmes had not been so well clad for many years before.
"But be pleased to consider this point a little father.—You think to compel men in matter of worship is to make them sin, according to Rom. 14:23. If the worship be lawful in itself, the magistrate compelling him to come to it, compelleth him not to sin, but the sin is in his will that needs to be compelled to a Christian duty. Josiah compelled all Israel, or which is all one, made to serve the Lord their God, 2 Chron. 34:33. Yet his act herein was not blamed, but recorded amongst his virtuous actions. For a governor to suffer any within his gates to profane the sabbath, is a sin against the fourth commandment, both in the private householder, and in the magistrate; and if he requires them to present themselves before the Lord, the magistrate sinneth not, nor doth the subject sin so great a sin as if he did refrain to come. But you say it doth but make men hypocrites, to compel men to conform the outward man for fear of punishment. If he did so, yet better be hypocrites than profane persons. Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward or inward man. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, we have tolerated in our church some Anabaptists, some Antinomians, and some Seekers, and do so still at this day."
We have happily arrived at the period when arguments are not necessary to prove the absurdity of this reasoning.—It is surprising that Mr. Cotton did not recollect the address of the Apostle John when he said, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and we forbad him because he followeth not with us." To which the King of Zion replied, "Forbid him not: for he who is not against us is for us." [Luke 9:49,50.] This severity was not so much the result of their disposition, as of their principles; which, as Sir Richard Saltonstall told them, led them to strive more for UNIFORMITY than to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. UNIFORMITY was the IDOL which they had set up; and while the magistrate was willing to use his sword to compel all to fall down and worship it, they felt no compunction in sacrificing the liberty, the property, the case, or even the lives of their fellow Christians, rather than it should seem they were so cold in defence of truth as to tolerate error.
It is an awful historical fact, a fact written in indelible characters with the blood of thousands, that all denominations of Christians who have enforced the necessity of uniformity in religion by the sword of the magistrate, have been all guilty of the dreadful crime of persecuting the followers of Jesus. Regardless of the divine precept, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart," they have imitated the worst spirit ever manifested by the apostles of Christ, when they said, "Lord, shall we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, as Elias did?" [Luke ix. 51.] And they have done this as Christians, thinking to do God service; and professedly out of regard to divine authority. When the magistrate has been on the side of any who held this principle, they have found no difficulty in proving the divine right of their form of church government. Thus the Papists pleaded the divine right of Popery, and the universality of the church of Rome.—The English Reformers, who objected to this, soon pleaded for the divine right of Episcopacy, and the universality of the church of England.—Many of the Puritans, who dissented on account of these sentiments, no sooner overthrew Episcopacy, but they pleaded for the divine right of the Presbytery, and the universality of their provincial assemblies. And the Independents, who had fled to the wilds of America because they would form churches not subject to external control and influence, were found in their turn pleading the divine right of Independency, and the universality of their authority in the province where their churches existed.
The principles we have condemned have long since been laid aside in the government of America. Perhaps this government was the first which did that for religion, which the religion of Jesus Christ claimed from the governments of the world, namely to listen to the sage advice of Gamaliel to the Jews—TO LET IT ALONE. For this it appears they are indebted to a Baptist, Mr. Roger Williams, who left England to settle in America in 1631. He had been a minister in the church of England, but left it because he could not conform to the ceremonies and oaths imposed in the establishment. When he came to Boston, he objected also to the force in religious affairs which they exercised there. For speaking against this conduct he was banished from the Massachusets colony, and after great difficulties and hardships founded the town of Providence, and obtained a charter for Rhode Island.
While Mr. Williams was in London to procure this charter in 1644, he published a book called "The bloody tenet of persecution for the cause of conscience." This work appeared to Mr. Cotton of Boston of such dangerous tendency that he published an answer to it in 1647, which he called "The bloody tenet washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb." Mr. Williams replied to this in 1652, and entitled it, "The bloody tenet yet more bloody by Mr. Cotton’s endeavour to wash it white." The great principle which Mr. Williams contended for was, "Persons may with less sin be forced to marry whom they cannot love, than to worship where they cannot believe;" and he denied that "Christ had appointed the civil sword as a remedy against false teachers." To which Mr. Cotton replied, "It is evident that the civil sword was appointed for a remedy in this case, Deut. 13. And appointed it was by that angel of God’s presence, whom God promised to send with his people, as being unwilling to go with them himself, Ex. 33:2,3.—And that angel was Christ, whom they tempted in the wilderness." 1 Cor. 10:9. And therefore it cannot truly be said, that the Lord Jesus never appointed the civil sword for a remedy in such a case; for he did expressly appoint it in the old testament; nor did he ever abrogate it in the new. The reason fo the law, which is the life of the law, is of eternal force and equity in all ages, Thou shalt surely kill him, because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God. Deut. 13:9,10. The reason is of moral, that is, of perpetual equity, to put to death any apostate seducing idolator, or heretic, who seeketh to thrust away the souls of God’s people from the Lord their God." [Backus’s Hist. of America Abridged.]
Mr. Williams clearly saw the result of these principles, and in his work he addressed a letter to Governor Endicot, in which he said, "By your principles and conscience, such as you count heretics, blasphemers, and seducers, must be put to death. You cannot be faithful to your principles and conscience without it." About eight years after this Governor Endicot did put to death four persons, and pleaded conscience for the propriety of his conduct. [Backus’s Hist. of America Abridged.]
Those who would wish to see more on this subject, may find it in Backus’s History of the American Baptists; and if we are not deceived the account which is there given of the principles and spirit manifested by Mr. Williams, will prove this important remark of the author, that "he established the first government on earth since the rise of Antichrist, which gave equal liberty, civil and religious, to all men therein." [Ibid.]
We have dwelt the longer on this subject because these principles were so imperfectly understood at this time. The publishing of Mr. Williams’s book in England gave great offence to the Presbyterians, who exclaimed against it as full of heresy and blasphemy. But his principles having been tried, and found to be the soundest policy; both England and America should unite in erecting a monument to perpetuate the name of Roger Williams, as the first governor who ever pleaded that liberty of conscience was the birthright of every person, and granted it to those who differed in opinion from himself when he had the power to withhold it.
When it is recollected that so early as the year 1615, the Baptists in England pleaded for liberty of conscience as the right of all Christians, in their work entitled, "Persecution judged and condemned:"—that this appears to have been the uniform sentiment of the denomination at large, and that Mr. Williams was very intimate with them at a very early period, which is evident from the manner in which he speaks of Mr. Samuel Howe of London:—It is highly probable that these principles which rendered him such a blessing in America and the world were first maintained and taught by the English Baptists.
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