« VorigeDoorgaan »
subject of baptism, restricting the application of that ordinance, as regards its subject, exclusively to those who make a profession of faith; and as regards its mode, to immersion. It is thought to be an unfair assumption to take to themselves the designation of the Baptists, as if they were the only persons who practised that rite: but in reply they say, that as immersion is the only mode sanctioned by the meaning of the term “ baptism,” and by the word of God, and as believers are the only proper subjects, the practice of Pædobaptists is a mere nullity, and consequently they are therefore the only persons entitled to the designation of “baptists."
Leaving the vexed question, as to the principles and practices of the primitive Christians, which are claimed by this denomination to be in support of their views, it is admitted that in almost every age, as far as the records of ecclesiastical history are our guide, and in almost every country where christianity has been professed, there have been many who held their opinions and adopted their usages. Councils, and edicts, as early as the beginning of the fifth century, condemned their sentiments, and subjected the holders of them to anathemas and death: a plain proof that they then existed. Their history may be traced through subsequent ages in Germany, France, and other parts of the continent, and in Africa and the East, by the blood of their martyrs. And their historians claim for them the same existence, and the same honours of martyrdom in the Saxon history of England, and in Wales. Attempts have been made by prejudiced and mendacious writers to disparage this denomination, by mixing them up with the “anabaptists” of Munster, a race of fanatics who, at the time of the Saxon Reformation, committed the greatest excesses, and rushed from fanatical austerities to boundless licentiousness; against whom Luther rolled the thunders and darted the lightning of his genius. It is, however, calumny, and nothing less, to confound the Baptist body with these incendiaries.
At the time of the Reformation under Henry VIII. they emerged into notice, and became the subjects of sanguinary edicts, and still more sanguinary treatment. During the reign of Edward VI. such was the furious bigotry with which they were pursued, that when an act was passed granting pardon to Papists and others, the Baptists were excepted from its provisions, and were consigned in many cases to the stake. Mary, of course, shewed them no mercy, and Elizabeth issued a proclamation commanding them and other heretics to quit the land. In 1575, the seventeenth year of Elizabeth, a congregation was discovered in Aldgate, London, of whom some were banished, twenty-seven were imprisoned, and two were burnt in Smithfield. The first regularly organised Baptist church, of which any authentic account is preserved, was formed in London, in 1607, by a Mr. Smith, who had been a clergyman of the Church of England. This church was founded on what are called General Baptist principles, that is, they were believers in the doctrine of general redemption, as opposed to the Particular Baptists, who believe in the eternal and individual election of believers to eternal life, and thus hold the doctrine of a particular redemption. In a subsequent period, the General Baptists included Socinians, Arians, and all indeed who denied the calvinistic view of the scheme of redemption. As a body, they are now generally orthodox on the subject of the Trinity, but are Arminian in their views of the other points of Christian doctrine.
The first Particular Baptish church, of which there is any record, was formed in London, under Mr. Spilsbury, in 1633. During the time of the struggle between Charles and his parliament they were very numerous, and abounded in the ranks of Cromwell's
Baxter, in his “Life and Times,” makes constant reference to them, classing them with "separatists and sectaries," and speaking of them with considerable ill humour. Public disputations, rarely productive of much service to the cause of truth, and of great disservice to the cause of charity, were very common in those days between the Baptists and their opponents. Nor has the controversy, as otherwise conducted, been always conducive to charity, whatever it may have done for truth. Mr. Baxter gives the following account of the controversy between them and their opponents, as it came under his notice. “ Whilst I was at Gloucester, I saw the first contention between the ministers and Anabaptists that ever I was acquainted with ; for these were the first Anabaptists I had ever seen in any country, and I heard but of few more in those parts of England. About a dozen young men, or more, of considerable parts, had received the opinion against infant baptism, and were re-baptized, and laboured to draw others after them not far from Gloucester : and the minister of the place, Mr. Winnell, being hasty and impatient with them, har. dened them the more. He wrote a considerable book against them at the time; but England then having no great experience of the tendency and consequences of Anabaptism, the people that were not of their opinion did but pity them, and think it was a conceit that had no great harm it, and blamed Mr. Winnell for his vio. lence and asperity towards them.”
But this was but the beginning of miseries for Gloucester; for the Anabaptists somewhat increasing on one
side, before I came away, a good man, called Mr. Hart, came out of Herefordshire with Mr. Vaughan, a gentleman, and they drew many to separation on another side: and after them in the wars came one Mr. Bacon, a preacher of the army, and drew them to antinomianism on another side, which so distracted the good people, and eat out the heart of religion and charity, the ministers of the place not being so able and quick as they should have been in confuting them, and preserving the people, that the city, which before had as great advantages for the prosperity of religion among them as any in the land, in the civility, tractableness, and piety of the people, became as low and poor as others, and the pity of more happy places, whilst these tares did dwindle and wither away the solid piety of the place.” And alas ! alas ! of how many other places and times may the same melancholy condition be traced up to the bitterness of controversy on points confessedly of inferior importance to many others. It has been said that religious controversy becomes virulent in the inverse ratio of the importance of the subject, and that polemics become fierce in proportion as they approach nearer to each other on more momentous points. This applies with some truth to the baptismal controversy. Not that I mean to say little importance attaches to this topic of theology; especially when baptism is represented to be regeneration. The dogma of baptismal regeneration, as understood by Papists and Puseyites, is one of the most destructive errors of the day: but between the dissenting advocates of infant baptism and the advocates of adult baptism by immersion, the difference, though great, should not be felt so great as to embitter their spirits against each other, or to destroy the charity which endureth all things.
Amongst the names of men of former times, of which the Baptist body may be justly fond, Keach, and especially Bunyan, may be mentioned. Of this distinguished man more than a passing notice is demanded. The author of a book which is at once the delight of children, the instruction of saints, and the admiration of critics, deserves the place which he has obtained, not only in the annals of the church, but in the history of our country. To the pen so frequently acknowledged in this little work, we owe the following account of Bunyan :
Bunyan had been bred a tinker, and had served as a private soldier in the parliamentary army. Early in life he had been fearfully tormented by remorse for his youthful sins, the worst of which seem to have been such as the world deems venial. His keen sensibility and his powerful imagination made his internal conflicts singularly terrible. He fancied that he was under sentence of reprobation, and that he had committed blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, that he had sold Christ, and that he was actually possessed by a demon. Sometimes low voices from heaven cried out to warn him. Sometimes fiends whispered impious suggestions in his
He saw visions of distant mountain tops on which the sun shone brightly, but from which he was separated by a waste of snow. His mental
disordered his health. It is difficult to understand how he endured sufferings so extreme and so long continued. At length the clouds broke. From the depths of despair the penitent turned to a state of serene felicity. An irresistible impulse now urged him to impart to others the blessing of which he was himself possessed. He joined the Baptists, and became a pastor and a writer. His education had been that of a mechanic. He knew no language