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Chapter 17: Anabaptists, Or, Baptists

The term Anabaptist was applied to all that class of persons who were known by the more general name of Waldenses. While the name Anabaptist was not so generally used until after the reformation of the sixteenth century, it was occasionally used as early as the beginning of the third century. Literally the word means to baptize again, and was applied to all those Christians who rebaptized those who came over to their communion from the Catholics.

These people repudiated the name, however, in its specific meaning, claiming that it was not re-baptism, since the Catholic church, being an apostate church, could not administer Scriptural baptism. After the close of the Waldensean period the prefix ana begun to be left off and the simple name of Baptist finally came to be used.

The fact that the Montanists, Donatists, Novatians, Puritans, Albigenses, Waldenses, etc., administered baptism anew to all those who came over to their communion from the Catholics, not only stigmatized them as Anabaptists, but was the prime cause of their early persecutions. The Catholics rightly judged that in repudiating their baptism, the Anabaptists refused to recognize their church as being a church of Christ.

Orchard quotes Mosheim as saying: “There were certain sects and doctors against whom the zeal, vigilance and severity of Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists were united. The objects of their common aversion were the Anabaptists.”

Mosheim further states: ”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, and derived that of Mennonites from the famous man to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hidden in the depths of antiquity, and is of consequence extremely difficult to be ascertained.”

The value of the above testimony is seen in the fact that Mosheim was no friend to the Baptists. He was a Lutheran and unwittingly testifies against himself, and in favor of a denomination for whom he had no sympathy. Mosheim could trace his own denomination back to Martin Luther, its head and founder. He could trace every other denomination back to its origin, but when he would seek for the origin of the Baptists, or Anabaptists as he called them, he declares it to be “hidden in the depths of antiquity.” It is true that he could find some man whose name they bore in one locality, but tracing their history back by the principles which characterized them, he could find the same people existing hundreds of years before, but called by a different name. They had no human head—no human founder—so this Lutheran historian says “their origin is extremely difficult to be ascertained.”

The Baptists were sometimes called by their enemies Acephali, which means the headless, because they had no human head.

On account of their practice of rebaptizing all who came over to their communion from the other sects, the Baptists suffered alike both at the hands of the Catholics and the Lutherans. Though the Lutheran church did not take organic form until 1552, yet as early as 1520, the followers of Luther were very numerous in Germany and other parts of Europe, and everywhere both he and his followers seconded every effort of the Catholics to persecute the Baptists.

A.D. 1522. The first edict against anabaptism “was published at Zurich, in 1522, in which there was a penalty of a silver mark set upon all such as should suffer themselves to be rebaptized, or should withhold baptism from their children. And it was further declared, that those who openly opposed this order should be yet more severely treated. This being insufficient to check immersion, the Senate decreed, like Honorius, 413, that all persons who professed Anabaptism, or harbored the professors of the doctrine should be punished with death by drowning. It had been death to refuse baptism, and now it was death to be baptized. In defiance of this law, the Baptists persevered in their regular discipline; and some ministers of learned celebrity realized the severity of the sentence. Many Baptists were drowned and burnt.”

Hunted like wild beasts, and driven from place to place, and from country to country, there seemed to be no place where Baptists could rest in security. The persecutions became so fierce in Switzerland and Germany in 1530, that large numbers emigrated from Switzerland, Austria, Syria and Bavaria, under the leadership of Jacob Hutter, and settled in Moravia, but in 1535, Frederick, king of Bohemia, ordered their expulsion. Jacob Hutter then addressed a letter to the marshal of Moravia, in behalf of his brethren, in which they made the following piteous appeal:

”We know not any place where we may securely live; nor can we any longer dare here remain for hunger and fear. If we turn to the territories of this or that sovereign, everywhere we find an enemy. If we go forward we fall into the jaws of tyrants and robbers, like sheep before the ravening wolf and the raging lion. With us are many widows, and babes in their cradles, whose parents that most cruel tyrant and enemy of divine righteousness, Ferdinand, gave to the slaughter, and whose property he seized. These widows and orphans and sick children, committed to our charge by God, and whom the Almighty hath commanded us to feed, to clothe, to cherish, and to supply all their needs, who cannot journey with us, nor, unless otherwise provided for, can long live—these we dare not abandon. We may not overthrow God’s law to observe man’s law, although it cost gold, and body and life. On their account we cannot depart; but rather than they should suffer injury we will endure any extremity, even to the shedding of our blood. Besides here we have houses and farms, the property that we have gained by the sweat of our brow, which in the sight of God and men are our just possession: to sell them we need time and delay. Of this property we have urgent need in order to support our wives, widows, orphans and children, of whom we have a great number, lest they die of hunger. We answer further: that if driven from this land, there remains no refuge for us, unless God shall show us some special place whither to flee. “We cannot go. This land and all that therein is, belongeth to God of heaven: and if we were to give a promise to depart, perhaps we should not be able to keep it; for we are in the hand of God, who does with us what he will. By him we are brought hither, and peradventure he would have us here and not elsewhere to dwell, to try our faith and constancy by persecutions and adversity. But if it should appear to be His will that we depart hence, since we are persecuted and driven away, then will we even without your command, not tardily but with alacrity, go whither God shall send us. Day and night we pray unto him that he will guide our steps to the place where he would have us dwell. We cannot and dare not withstand His holy will; nor is it possible for you, however much you may strive. Grant us but a brief space; peradventure our Heavenly Father will make known to us His will, whether we are here to remain, or whether we must go. If this be done, you shall see that no difficulty, however great it may be, shall deter us from our faith.

”The oppressor was melted for once. The order was recalled, and the Baptists enjoyed peace and freedom for some time longer.”

These persecutions were not because of any lawlessness of which the Baptists were guilty, but solely on account of the principles which they advocated, and which the same people advocate today—the principles of soul freedom and religious liberty.

A.D. 1529. Erasmus, in 1529, testified of their general conduct as follows: “The Anabaptists (in Switzerland), although they are very numerous, have no church in their possession. These persons are worthy of greater commendation than others, on account of the harmlessness of their lives, but they are oppressed by all other sects.”

A.D. 1532. Mr. Orchard says when Frederick, in 1532, conferred privileges on the German Protestants, he excepted Baptists. The same writer, quoting Mosheim, says: “In almost all the countries of Europe, an unspeakable number of Baptists preferred death in its worst form, to a retraction of their sentiments. Neither the view of the names that were kindled to consume them, nor the ignominy of the gibbet, nor the terrors of the sword, could shake their invincible constancy, or make them abandon tenets that appeared dearer to them than life with all its enjoyments. It is true, indeed, that many Baptists suffered death, not on account of their being rebellious subjects, but merely because they were judged to be incurable heretics; for in this century (1536), the error of limiting the administration of baptism to adult persons only, and the practice of rebaptizing such as had received that sacrament in a state of infancy, were looked upon as most flagitious and intolerable heresies. Those who had no other marks of peculiarity than their administering baptism to the adult, and their excluding the unrighteous from the external communion of the church, ought to have met with milder treatment.”

A.D. 1551. In the year 1551, the wife of Jeronimus Segerson was drowned for the sole reason that she did not believe in infant baptism. The court asked Mrs. Segerson concerning baptism. She replied, “I acknowledge but one baptism, even that which was used by Christ and his disciples, and left to us.” “What do you hold concerning infant baptism?” asked the sheriff. To which she answered, “Nothing but a mere infant baptism, and a human institution.”

On this the bench stood up and consulted together, after which sentence was pronounced upon her. She was shortly afterwards put in a sack and drowned. Her husband had previously been burned at Antwerp for his faith. In one of his letters he said: “I had rather be tortured ten times every day, and then finally be roasted on a gridiron, than renounce the faith I have confessed.” Others were stretched upon the rack, or suspended by the hands, while heavy weights were attached to their feet. The matron and maiden, the minister and layman, alike suffered the same fate. These were Baptists, and their persecutors were Catholics. The persecutions occurred in Belgium and the Netherlands.

A.D. 1556. In the year 1556, the dead were disinterred and burned by Catholic authority in England, for the crime of having been Anabaptists while living. During the short, but severe reign of bloody Mary, she endeavored to restore the authority of the Catholic religion over her subjects. At this time a Baptist, originally from Holland, by the name of David George, died in England. Speaking of him Mr. Crosby says: “He died in the year 1556, and was honorably buried in St. Lawrence church. Some time after his death it was discovered that he was an Anabaptist; upon which his house, and those of his followers, were searched, a certain number of divines and lawyers appointed to examine them, hie opinions were condemned by an ordinance, his picture carried about and burnt, and his corpse taken up, three years after it was buried, and burnt.”

This was the penalty paid for being an Anabaptist in England in 1556.

About the same time a severe decree was issued against the Baptists in Germany, in which all persons were forbidden to unite with them, and “in 1560 the prohibition was put in force with the following injunction: That no rebaptized person should be taken into employment or exercise any profession.”

A.D. 1575. In the year 1575, Baptists were persecuted in England, by the authority of the establishment. “Fourteen women and a youth were put on board a vessel and sent out of the country. The youth was whipped from the prison to the wharf. Five others were consigned to Newgate, where they were put in heavy irons, thrust into a damp and filthy dungeon, swarming with vermin, and not allowed to associate with other prisoners, lest the thieves and murderers in the jail should be corrupted by Anabaptist contamination! One of their number, Christian Kennels, sank under the inhuman treatment. He died in the dungeon, after eight days’ confinement. He was ‘released by death, trusting in God; his dying testimony filled us with joy.'”

During the same year two other Baptists were burned at the stake in Smithfield. Life and pardon were offered them on condition that they would recant, but they preferred death at the stake, rather than life at the price of their religious liberty. Some preachers of the established church were sent to the place of execution, to prevent any expression of sympathy by maligning the sufferers.

This shows the state of Christianity and the character of the clergy when State and church are combined.

A.D. 1663. It sometimes happened that the severity of the persecutions were such that no minister was left to administer the ordinances. During the year 1663, owing to the extreme measures which Elizabeth used against dissenters, some English Baptists thought it necessary to send to Holland for a regular administrator of believer’s baptism.

“Hearing that regular descendent Waldensean ministers were to be found in the Netherlands, they deputed Mr. Blount, who understood the Dutch language, to visit Amsterdam. He was kindly received by the church in that city, and their pastor, John Batte. On his return he baptized Mr. Samuel Blacklock, a minister, and these baptized the rest of the company, fifty-three in number.”

Baptists hold to the doctrine of church succession and not ministerial succession. A regularly organized church, in their estimation, is the custodian of the ordinances, and not her ministers. Had there been a regularly organized church at this place, it would not have been necessary to send to Holland for an administrator of baptism, for this church, being the executor of Christ’s laws, could have ordained a minister to administer the ordinance. The above example shows how careful Baptists have always been to guard against any irregularities, and to keep the ordinances as they were first delivered to the churches.

It is a matter of fact, however, that there were quite a number of regular Baptist churches in England at that time, as will be shown in the chapter on Church Succession, and one of them was at the time of which we write more than one hundred years old. These churches, however, were in secluded places, and owing to the existing persecutions had but little communication with each other; besides this mail facilities and opportunities for travel were not what they are now, and it is likely that these Baptists who sent Mr. Blount to Holland to get regular baptism did not know of any other Baptists on the continent.

A.D. 1611. King James, of England, was himself no friend to the Baptists, and the very year he gave to the world the common version of the Bible, 1611, he showed his zeal for tho Episcopal church by burning alive two men for heresy. One of these was Legate, who was accused of denying the doctrine of the Trinity. “The other was one Edward Wightman, a Baptist of the town of Burton upon Trent, who on the 14th day of December, was convicted of divers heresies, before the bishop of Coventry and Litchfield; and being delivered up to the secular power, was burnt at Litchfield the 11th of April following.”

Under the rule of Henry VIII., of England, when he assumed the headship of the English church, in 1534, he issued a proclamation in which he stated that foreigners who had been baptized in infancy, but had renounced that baptism and been rebaptized, were commanded to withdraw from his dominions within twelve days on pain of suffering death if they remained. As a result, numbers suffered death in 1535 and 1536. In 1538, six Dutch Baptists were detected and two of them burnt.

The spirit of intolerance which characterized Rome adheres to all her branches, and has never failed to manifest itself whenever an opportunity offered.

With all the good there is in Presbyterianism, this spirit of intolerance has always characterized that people. Let it not be supposed, however, that individually they are not as good as other Christians. On the contrary, they may be classed with the best people that live; they are consecrated, earnest and pious. Their principles of church government, and practice of infant baptism, gender this spirit of intolerance, and the same spirit always exists wherever class government and infant baptism are found.

In the seventeenth century, the London Presbyterian clergy put themselves on record to the fact that they considered it a great grievance, “that men should have liberty to worship God in that way and manner as shall appear to them most agreeable to the word of God, and no man be punished or discountenanced by authority for the same.”

Richard Baxter said: “My judgment in that much disputed point of liberty of 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.”

It is worthy of note that the Presbyterian General Assembly which held its sessions from 1643 to 1649, in which they framed their Confession of Faith and Catechisms, sustained infant baptism and enjoined sprinkling as the mode of administering the rite by a majority of one. “Twenty-five were for the injunction of sprinkling and twenty-four against it.”

Such was the prejudice against baptism by immersion that even so good a man as Richard Baxter used the following language: “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 overhead, 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. Craddock shows in his book of gospel liberty, the magistrate ought to restrain it, to save the lives of his subjects. In a word it is good for nothing but to despatch men out of the world that are burdensome, and to ranken church yards. I conclude, if murder be a sin, then dipping ordinarily overhead in England is a sin; and if those who make it men’s religion to murder themselves, and urge it upon their consciences as their duty, are not to be suffered in a common-wealth, any more than highway murderers; then judge how these Anabaptists, that teach the necessity of such dipping, are to be suffered.”

A.D. 1646. The prejudice against the English Baptists was so great in 1646, that Samuel Oates, a Baptist preacher, was indicted and put in irons for murder, under Presbyterian rule, because a lady died a few weeks after he immersed her. The indictment, however, was not sustained, as it was proven in court that the lady was in better health after her baptism, than she had been for some time before.

What would have been the consequences had her health failed her immediately after her baptism, we can easily surmise.

A.D. 1659. In the year 1659, the Presbyterians banished the Baptists from Switzerland as being an “extremely dangerous and wicked sect.”

This is the natural result of centralized power and of the union of church and State. The Presbyterian is the established church in Scotland, at the present time, as the Episcopal is in England, but Baptist principles are having their influence in the world, and as a consequence religious intolerance is dying.

A.D. 1660. In the month of November, 1660, John Bunyan was imprisoned in Bedford jail, where he remained twelve years. This was solely on the ground that he was a Baptist and preached Baptist doctrine.

It is a little singular that two hundred years after Bunyan’s imprisonment, a statue of the immortal dreamer, costing fifteen thousand dollars, should be erected on the very spot of his imprisonment. And it is still more singular that a minister of the establishment which imprisoned him, should have delivered an oration, eulogizing his life, on the occasion. Yet such are the facts.

Mr. Cook says: “The veil was removed from the statue by Lady Stanley, wife of the Dean of Westminster, when the band played the national anthem, and the multitudes rent the air with their enthusiastic cheers. Dean Stanley delivered a long and eloquent address, and speeches were made by other distinguished men who seemed to vie with one another in doing honor to the memory of Bunyan.

”The church of England that despised and persecuted this poor Baptist while living, now bestows upon him the highest honors. What a pity that some of this appreciation was not shown toward him when in Bedford jail. Times greatly change in the course of two hundred years, a fact which must have deeply impressed all thoughtful minds who witnessed the unveiling of this statue in sight of the old prison where Bunyan was confined, and heard his name eulogized by men whose ecclesiastical ancestors had treated him with cruel indignity.

”Dean Stanley referred to this great change and to the triumph of religious liberty, in his address and said: “Giant Intolerance, who in Bunyan’s time was stout and hearty is now deprived of his terrors.” When the vast audience greeted this sentiment with loud cheers, the Dean continued: “Ah, don’t be too jubilant. The old giant is still alive; he may be seen on all sides; the spirit of burning and of judgment has not altogether departed from mankind, either from churchmen or Nonconformists; but the giant’s joints are very stiff and crazy.” The unveiling of the statue took place June 10th, 1874.

A.D. 1661. In l661, Elder John James was hung and quartered in England, by order of Charles II., for his Baptist principles. His quarters were placed over the city gates, in London, and his head was set upon a pole opposite the meeting house in which he had preached the gospel.

A.D. 1662. The church of England passed what is known as the Act of Uniformity, which received the royal assent, and went into operation August 24th, 1662. “By this act five things were required of all ministers then in possession of livings, as essential to their continuance in the establishment.

“1. Reordination, if they had not been Episcopally ordained before.

“2. A declaration of ‘unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained in the Book of Common Prayer; and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the church’—a new and corrected edition of which was then published, but which great numbers of the clergy could not possibly see before the time specified—affirming that there was nothing in it contrary to the word of God; with a promise to use the prescribed form and no other.

“3. An oath of canonical obedience and subjection to the bishops.

“4. Abjuration of the solemn league and covenant.

“5. A declaration of the unlawfulness of taking up arms against the king and government upon any pretence whatsoever.”

Mr. Cramp says this “Act of Uniformity ejected two thousand worthy, learned and pious ministers, who were ready to say, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ They were willing to sacrifice all for truth and cast themselves upon Providence. The church of England sustained a blow from that ejectment from which she has not yet recovered. Some of her best men were driven away, because they could not conform to the act.”

This Act ejected Richard Baxter, who had been so hard on the Baptists, and who had said that he abhorred unlimited liberty in religious matters.

A.D. 1664. In 1664, another act was passed for the benefit of the church of England, known as the Conventicle Act. This act provided: ”That if any person above the age of sixteen shall be present at any meeting, under color or pretence of any exercise of religion, in any other manner than is allowed by the liturgy or practice of the church of England, where shall be five or more persons than the household, he shall for the first offence suffer three months’ imprisonment, upon record made upon oath, under the hand and seal of a justice of peace, or pay a sum not exceeding five pounds; for the second offence, six months’ imprisonment, or ten pounds; and for the third offence, the offender to be banished to some American plantation for seven years, or pay one hundred pounds, excepting New England or Virginia; and in case they return, or make their escape, such persons are to be adjudged felons, and suffer death without benefit of clergy.”

A.D. 1665. The next year after the Conventicle Act went into operation, the Five Mile Act was passed. It was entitled, “An Act to restrain Nonconformists from inhabiting Corporations.!” All Nonconformist ministers were required to take the following oath: “I, A. B., do swear, that it is not lawful upon any pretence whatsoever to take arms against the king; and that I do abhor that traitorous position of taking arms by his authority against his person or against those that are commissioned by him, in pursuance of such commissions; and that I will not at any time endeavor any alteration of government, either in church or State.”

“Those ministers who refused to take the oath,” says Mr. Cramp, “were forbidden to go within five miles of any city or town that sent members to Parliament, or within five miles of any place where they had formerly exercised their ministry before their ejectment. The fine for every offence was forty pounds. They were also declared ‘incapable of teaching any public or private schools;’ fine forty pounds.”

The same author says that many ministers, who lay concealed in distant places from their flocks in the day time, rode thirty or forty miles to preach to them in the night, and retired again before daylight.

It will be seen that this act took away every vestige, both of civil and religious liberty. The Episcopal church was the established church in England, and these ministers had to swear to attempt no alteration of government, either in church or State.

These intolerant acts not only drove Baptists, but many of all other denominations from England to America, where they hoped to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and the teachings of His inspired word, and no man could molest or make them afraid.

The Five Mile Act was passed in 1665, and there were Baptist churches in America, more than twenty-five years before this time.

Author of the “Compendium Of Baptist History”. Please inform the Editor of the AHB (via the Contact page) if you have biographical information on this author. Thank you.

Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)