Baptists have never held to the doctrine of apostolic succession, but have generally believed in church succession, and have always claimed that all authority is vested in the churches as the executives of Christ. While this is true they have ever had a high regard for a stated ministry. They have not been willing to force upon their members the responsibilities of ministerial obligations and duties until they have been duly set apart for this work, according to the apostolical injunction, by ordination.
It sometimes occurred, during the severe persecutions to which the Waldensean churches were subjected, that their ministers were either all killed or driven out of the country, and there was no one left to administer the ordinances of the Lord’s house. A case of this kind occurred in Bohemia, of which we have the following account:
“Commenius, who published a synopsis of the discipline of the churches of Bohemia, dwells particularly upon this article and shows that a “stated ministry was always considered as a matter of great importance among the Waldensean churches.” A dreadful persecution broke out among the Bohemian brethren in the days of Commenius, which produced such havoc among them that he himself ‘was the only surviving bishop that escaped. The scattered brethren, in process of time, elected three persons as qualified for the pastoral office, but ‘found themselves greatly perplexed about their ordination.’
“Having understood that there were some Waldensean churches on the confines of Moravia and Austria, to satisfy their own scruples, as well as those of others, they resolved to send Michael Zambergius, one of their pastors, with two other persons to find out those Waldenses, and give them an account of what had passed among them, and especially to ask their advice upon the matter in hand. They met with one Stephen, a Waldensean bishop, who sent for others also residing in that quarter, with whom they had a conference upon the doctrines of the gospel, and the state of their churches, and by them the said three pastors were ordained by the imposition of hands. ‘Hence,’ says Dr. Allix, ‘it is abundantly evident, that as the Waldenses have preserved the faith that was committed to them, so have they been as careful to preserve entire among them the ancient discipline of the church.'”
These Waldensean brethren regarded regular ordination of so much importance, that they sent the three brethren some five or six hundred miles that they might be “examined upon the doctrines of the gospel,” and receive ordination at the hands of a regularly ordained ministry. In this way have the pure doctrines of the gospel been preserved through all ages.
Much of our history would never have been known, were it not for the recorded persecutions which the Waldenses suffered at the hands of their enemies. In this way we are enabled to trace their history, by their blood-stained foot prints through the entire wilderness period of the churches. They were followed from city to city, and from country to country, but always leaving behind them the testimony that they were the true witnesses of Christ.
A.D. 12I0. In the year 1210, we find that twenty-four persons of the Waldensean faith were seized in Paris, some of whom were burned. Again in the year 1834, “the monks of the inquisition, who were deputed to search after the Waldenses, apprehended one hundred and fourteen of them at Paris, who were burnt alive, sustaining their torture with admirable fortitude. It is also related by the author of a work entitled, ”The Sea of Histories,” that in the year 1378, the persecution against the Waldenses continuing, a vast number of them were burnt in the Place de Grave, in Paris.
A.D. 1330 to A.D. 1457. The Waldenses were grievously harrassed and persecuted in several parts of Germany, from 1330 to 1457, a period of more than one hundred and twenty-five years. It is related that an inquisitor by the name of Echard, a Jacobin monk, inflicted cruelties of great severity upon the Waldenses in Germany about the year 1330. He was afterwards induced to investigate their doctrines, and the force of truth ultimately prevailed over all his prejudices, and his own conscience attested that many of the errors and corruptions, which they had charged upon the Catholics, really existed. Finding himself unable to disprove the articles of their faith by the word of God, he became converted, embraced their faith, and was afterwards burned at Heidelberg by the inquisition. “His dying testimony was a noble attestation of the principles and conduct of the Waldenses.” A Roman Catholic writer bears this testimony to the faith of the Bohemians, who were Baptists: “They say the church of Rome is not the church of Jesus Christ, but an assembly of ungodly men, and that it ceased to be the true church at the time Pope Sylvester (330) presided. They despise and reject all the ordinances and statutes of the church, as being too many and very burdensome. They condemn all the sacraments of the church. Concerning the sacrament of baptism, they say that the catechism signifies nothing; that the absolution pronounced over infants avails nothing. That godfathers and godmothers do not understand what they answer the priests. That infants cannot be saved by baptism, as they do not believe; they condemn the custom of believers communicating no more than once a year, whereas they communicate every day (or every Lord’s day). They deride the dress of priests; and reproach the church that she raises bastards, boys, and notorious offenders, to high ecclesiastical dignities. Whatever is preached without Scripture proof, they account no better than fables. With this account agrees the history of the Waldenses, given by Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pope Pius II.”
It appears that there were Baptists in Bohemia, one of the States of Germany, from A.D. 55 to 1522, when some of them were drawn into the strong current of the reformation. The severe persecutions to which they had been subjected for so many centuries, and the consequent sufferings which they endured, had told fearfully upon their spirits. In this dejected condition they were meditating a compromise with the Catholics. Luther appeared at this time protesting with all his might against some of the worst heresies of Romanism. These Baptists wrote to him for advice and finally submitted their creed to him. He greatly admired its agreement with that of the ancient churches. “They now, under his protection agreed to leave off rebaptizing.”
A.D. 1407. In the year 1407, John Huss appeared in the character of a reformer. He is said to have embraced the views of the Waldenses. Space forbids more than a mere allusion to this man, and his coadjutor, Jerome of Prague. Huss was a man of irreproachable character, and great influence. At the age of twenty-one he was raised the dignity of professor in the University of Prague, and at twenty-three, he was appointed to preach in one of the largest churches in that city. Not until he was thirty years old, however, have we any account of his advocating a reformation. We have no positive evidence of his ever becoming a Baptist, but “his sermons were said to be full of Anabaptist errors, as they were so called, and many of his followers became Baptists.”
The influence of Huss, in exposing the heresies and corruptions of Rome, drew upon himself the anathemas of the pope. Jerome of Prague was a companion and friend of Huss. He was educated in his native city, and afterwards traveled in many of the countries of Europe, where he was much admired for his graceful oratory. On his return he engaged, as did Huss, in active opposition to the corruptions of the Romish hierarchy. Huss was already confined in a castle near the city of Constance. He and Jerome were both tried before the council of Constance in the year 1415, and condemned to be burned. Huss expired at the stake, July 7th, 1415. He bore his sufferings with heroic fortitude and expired praying for his persecutors.
The dread of suffering, at first somewhat intimidated Jerome, and his enemies taking advantage of this caused his sentence to be delayed, hoping that he would recant. His courage, however, rose and he avowed his doctrines in the most open manner, and supported them with increased fervor. Jerome was burned, May 20th, 1416. He expired singing: “This soul of mine in flames of fire, O Christ, I offer thee.”
The most severe persecutions were now inflicted upon the Waldenses everywhere, and every effort was made for their suppression. They were allowed no peace while living, nor were their bodies allowed to rest in their graves when dead, but were dragged forth and burned.
A.D. 1250. Mr. Jones, quoting from Reinerius Saccho, states that “about the year 1250, the Waldenses had churches in Albania, Lombardy, Milan, in Komagna, Vincenza, Florence and Van Spoletine; and in the year 1280, there was a considerable number of Waldenses in Sicily. In all these places the sanguinary edicts of the emperor, Frederick II., were continually suspended like the sword of Damocles, over their heads. To these also were now added the rage of inquisitors and of papal constitutions, through which they were continually exposed to sufferings and misery. In Sicily in particular the imperial fury raged against them. They were ordered to be treated with the greatest severity, that they might be banished, not only from the country, but from the earth. And throughout Italy, both Gregory IX. and Honorius IV., harrassed and oppressed them with the most unrelenting barbarity by means of the inquisition—the living were without mercy, committed to the hands of the executioner, their houses razed to the ground, their goods confiscated, and even the slumbering remains of the dead were dragged from their graves, and their bones committed to the flames.”
Mr. Jones tells us that some Waldenses who had fled to the Netherlands to escape persecution, were discovered by one who had lived among them and professed their faith, but had apostatized. This man was appointed by the pope inquisitor general, and knowing their place of concealment, apprehended more than fifty of them, in the year 1236, and caused them to be burned or buried alive.
A.D. 1330. In the year 1330, the inquisition followed the Waldenses to Poland. “Vignier mentions that when the Waldenses were driven from Pieardy, through the violence of persecution, several of them retired into Poland. Hence we find that in the year 1330, the inquisition followed them there and that numbers of them were put to death.”
Persecutions in the south of France, drove the Waldenses into various countries early in the thirteenth century, and in 1229, [A.D. 1229.] they had spread themselves in great numbers throughout Italy. Mr. Orchard tells us that in the year 1233, an innumerable multitude of Waldenses were burned alive in Germany.
Persecutions, like a hot blasting wind, now swept over the entire Christian world, and all the “Waldenses suffered a common fate, without regard to age, sex, or station. I quote from Jones’ Church History as follows: “About the year 1400, a violent outrage was committed upon the Waldenses inhabiting the valley of Pragella, in Piedmont, by a Catholic party residing in the neighborhood. The attack, which seems to have been of the most furious kind, was made towards the end of December, when the mountains were covered with snow, and thereby rendered so difficult of access, that the peaceable inhabitants of these valleys were wholly unapprized that any such attempt was meditated, and the persecutors were in actual possession of their caves ere the owners seem to have been apprized of any hostile design against them. In this pitiable strait, they had resource to the only alternative which remained for saving their lives—they fled, though at that inauspicious season of the year, to one of the highest mountains of the Alps, with their wives and children; the unhappy mothers carrying the cradle in one hand, and in the other, leading such of the offspring as were able to walk. Their inhuman invaders pursued them in their flight, until darkness obscured the objects of their fury. Many were slain before they could reach the mountains. Overtaken by the shades of night, these afflicted outcasts wandered up and down the mountains covered with snow; destitute of the means of shelter from the inclemency of the weather, or of supporting themselves under it, by any of the comforts which Providence has destined for that purpose; benumbed with cold, some fell asleep, and became an easy prey to the severity of the climate; and when the night had passed away there were found in their cradles, or lying upon the snow, fourscore of their infants, deprived of life, many of the mothers also lying dead by their sides, and others just at the point of expiring. [A.D. 1400.] During the night their enemies were busily employed plundering their houses of everything that was valuable, which they conveyed away to Susa. A poor woman belonging to the Waldenses, named Margaret Athode, was next morning found hanging to a tree.”
Mr. Orchard says that in the year 1557, “a great number of Waldenses were discovered by inquisitors in the diocese of Eiston, in Germany, who were put to death. These sufferers confessed that they had among them, in that district, twelve barbs, or pastors, who labored in the work of the ministry. It appears from what Trithemius relates, who lived at this time, that Germany was full of Waldenses prior to the reformation by Luther; for he mentioned it as a well known fact, that so numerous were they, that in traveling from Cologne to Milan, the whole extent of Germany, they could lodge every night with persons of their own profession; and that it was a custom among them to affix certain private marks to their signs and gates, whereby they might be known to each other. This is allowed by our best historians, and conceded by Mosheim who asserts, “before the rise of Luther or Calvin, there lay concealed, in almost all the countries of Europe, particularly in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland and Germany, many persons who adhered tenaciously to the doctrine of the Dutch Baptists.”
A.D. I5IO. Persecutions against the Baptists in Germany became extremely severe, about the year 1510. Their practice of rebaptizing all who came to them from the Catholics, awakened the anger of the priqsts, who prevailed upon the authorities to press an edict that all of them should be put to death, without regard to age or sex. In consequence of these severe persecutions, Mosheim says, “The Anabaptists in Germany, passed in shoals into Holland and the Netherlands, and in process of time amalgamated with the Dutch Baptists.”
A.D. 1498. In regard to the manner of life and the religious practices of the Waldenses, about the close of the fifteenth century, Mr. Orchard states as follows: “Louis XII., in 1498, deputed two confidential servants to investigate and report on accusations brought against these people. On their return to court they said, ‘Their places of worship were free from those ornaments found in Catholic churches. They discovered no crime, but on the contrary they keep the Sabbath day, observe the ordinance of baptism according to the primitive church (not as the Catholic church), instructed their children in the articles of Christian faith, and the commandments of God.’ Consequently the king understood they were innocent and an inoffensive people, and that they were persecuted in order that their enemies might possess their property. ‘The first lesson the Waldenses teach those whom they bring over to their party,’ says Reiner, ‘is as to what kind of persons the disciples of Christ ought to be; and this they do by the doctrines of the evangelists and apostles; saying that those only are followers of the apostles who imitate their manner of life,’ and that a man is then first baptized (i.e. rightly baptized), when he is received into their society. So effectual was their mode of instruction, that many among them could retain in their memories most of the New Testament writings. The celebrated president and historian, Thuanus, says, “They can all read and write, they know French sufficiently for the understanding of the Bible, and singing psalms. You can scarcely find a boy among them who cannot give an intelligent account of the faith which they profess. In this, indeed, they resemble their brethren of the other valleys.”
A.D. 1100. As early as A.D. 1100, the religion of the Waldenses was said to have spread itself in almost all parts of Europe, and the “Waldenses themselves were described, says Orchard, nearly in the following language: “If a man loves those that desire to love God and Jesus Christ, if he will neither curse nor swear, nor lie, nor commit lewdness, nor kill, nor deceive his neighbor, nor avenge himself of his enemies, they presently say, he is a Vandois—he deserves to be punished.”
A.D. 1315. In the beginning of the fourteenth century, Walter Lollard, a Dutchman, conveyed the doctrines of the Waldenses into England, and from him the Waldenses, in the localities of his labors, were sometimes called Lollards. He was a man of great learning and eloquence, and was a laborious and successful preacher among the Baptists who resided on the Rhine; but his converts were said to have spread over all of England. In 1320, Walter Lollard was apprehended and burned.
I here repeat that Mosheim says: “Before the rise of Luther or Calvin, there lay concealed, in almost all the countries of Europe, particularly in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, and Germany, many persons who adhered tenaciously to the doctrine of the Dutch Baptists.”
We have now found Baptists existing continually for fifteen centuries. They have been known by the names of Montanists, Donatists, Novatians, Paterines, Puritans, Cathari, Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Bulgarians, Lollards, Montenses, Albigenses, Poor of Lyons, and Anabaptists. All of these were subsequently called Waldenses, but we have found the Waldenses to exist prior to some of these people. They were all, however, characterized by the same principles. They all held:
First. To the doctrine of salvation by grace.
Second. To the independence of the churches and a democratic form of church government.
Third. To freedom of conscience.
Fourth. To equality of membership in the churches.
Fifth. That the elders, or bishops, were subject to the discipline of the local churches.
Sixth. That believers only should be baptized.
Seventh. Baptism by immersion only, and rebaptism of all who had not been baptized by proper authority.
“The Waldenses,” says Orchard, “were, in a word, so many distinct churches of anti-Paedo-baptists.” These were all Baptist churches.
Mosheim says: “The true origin of that sect which acquired the denomination of Anabaptists by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, is hidden in the depths of antiquity and is of consequence extremely difficult to be ascertained.” Mosheim was a German Lutheran historian. He could find the origin of every other organization, which had an existence in his day, and trace it to its human head, or founder, but when he came to the Baptists, he could trace them to no human head. He could go back through the many centuries of the past, and find them called by one name in one particular locality, perhaps after some man who was a distinguished leader among them, and in another locality they would be called by another name. But in attempting to find their origin, he finds a people, holding to identically the same principles existing hundreds of years before this, and so on back to the very days of the apostles. Hence he says, ”Their origin is hidden in the depths of antiquity, and is of consequence extremely difficult to be ascertained.”
Before proceeding further with the history of the Baptists, it will be necessary to go back to notice some of the heresies and persecutions which gave rise to the reformation of the sixteenth century.