Did They Dip?


I have read, and re-read, Dr. Whitsitt's chapter upon "The Baptism of Roger Williams" with increasing surprise. He argues at great length in favor of sprinkling and then ends the chapter with this remarkable concession:

In the present state of information it would be unwise to pronounce with certainty any conclusion regarding this question. However, within the limits of the uncertainty which is freely acknowledged, the weight of evidence appears to incline very clearly towards the view that Roger Williams was sprinkled and not immersed at Providence in 1639. (P. 164).

Dr. Whitsitt nowhere intimates that there is an author who States that Williams was sprinkled. His argument rests wholly upon inferences and those inferences are not well grounded. His inferences are: 1. That the Baptists of England were in the practice of sprinkling, and therefore Roger Williams was sprinkled. His words are:

Is there any a priori reason for supposing that he was in advance of them in this regard? It has been suggested that he was a person of unusual independence of mind, but has any proof ever been given to show that his independence was employed in this particular direction? (P. 150).

We demand proof for the very thing he takes for granted. I have already shown that this inference is false, and that the Baptists of England were not in the practice of sprinkling. And 2. Williams was not dominated by the English Baptists. Williams was an independent man, and appears to have been controlled by his own impressions of the teachings of the New Testament.

Dr. Whitsitt has declared that it was "probable" that William's was sprinkled. All the world has believed, and still believes, that he was immersed. The burden of proof rests upon Dr. Whitsitt. He must present proof to establish his position. This he has utterly failed to do. All that he has attempted is to explain away the force of certain authors, and to quibble over the meaning of the word wash. Then he admits that he does not positively settle the question regarding the act employed." (P. 151).

I invite attention to some of the evidence in favor of immersion. Every contemporary who mentions his baptism, Williams himself included, and all the later writers, declare that the act was an immersion.

I shall first give some side lights on the subject. Dr. Whitsitt dismisses the fact of Mr. Chauncy practicing immersion with this, remark:

But nobody has shown that Mr. Williams regarded the view of Chauncy with any sort of favor at the time when it was advanced. For aught we know to the contrary he may have felt a prejudice both against the man and his contention. (P. 149).

But Mr. Chauncy cannot be dismissed so lightly. There is a clear connection between the immersions of Mr. Chauncy and the Providence men. I shall give the explicit testimony of Governor Bradford, then governor of Plymouth Colony. He shows not only that Chauncy was an immersionist but that the whole of New England was agitated on the subject of immersion. He says:

I had forgotten to inserte in its place how ye church here had invited and sent for Mr. Charles Chansey, a reverend, godly and very larned man, intending upon triall to chose him pastor of ye church hear, for ye more comfortable performance of ye ministers with Mr. John Reinor, the teacher of ye same. But ther fell out some difference aboute baptising, he holding that it ought only to be by dipping, and putting ye whole body under water, and that sprinkling was unlawfull. The church yeelded that immersion, or dipping, was lawfull, but in this could countrie not so conveniente. But they could not nor durst not yeeld to him in this, that sprinkling (which all ye churches of Christ doe for ye most parte at this day) was unlawfull & an humane invention, as ye same was prest; but they were willing to yeeld to him as far as yey could, & to ye utmost; and were contented to suffer him to practise as he was perswaded; and when he came to minister that ordnance he might so doe it to any yt did desire it in yt way, provided he could peacably suffer Mr. Reinor, and such as desired to have theirs otherwise baptized by him, by sprinkling or powering onof water upon them; so as ther might be no disturbance in ye church hereaboute. But he said he could not yeeld hereunto. Upon which the church procured some other ministers to dispute ye pointe with him publikly; as Mr. Ralfe Patrick, of Duxberie, allso some other ministers within this governmente. But he was not satisfied; so ye church sent to many other churches to crave their help and advise in this matter, and, with his will & consente, sent them his arguments wiitten under his owne hand. They sente them to ye church at Boston in ye Bay of Massachusetts, to be communicated with other churches ther. Also they sent the same to ye churches of Conightecutt and New Haven, with sundrie others; and received very able & sufficient answers, as they conceived, from them and their larned ministers, who all concluded against him. But him selfe was not satisfied therwth. Their answers are too large hear to relate. They conceived ye church had done what was meete in ye things, so Mr. Chansey having been ye most parte of 3 years here, removed himself to Sityate, wher he now remaines a minister to ye church ther. (Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford, pp. 382, 384).

These extracts show that the whole of New England was agitated on the subject of immersion before the baptism of Roger Williams. The churches took action on the matter. We learn from Keyne's MS. that the Boston Church returned answer to the Plymouth Church, June 21, to "whether it be lawful to use sprinkling in baptism, or rather dipping; Mr. Chauncy being of the mind, that it is a violation of an ordinance to use sprinkling instead of dipping." (Bradford's Hist. N. E., Vol. I., p. 331, note). But as much as Chauncy was admired at Plymouth the church did not employ him, on account of his views on the subject of immersion. This is set forth by Hooker in a letter to his son-in-law, Shepherd, November 2, 1640. He says:

I have of late had intelligence from Plymouth. Mr. Chauncy and the church are to part, he to provide for himself, and they for themselves. At the day of fast, when a full conclusion of the business should have been made, he openly professed he did as verily believe the truth of his opinion as that there was a God in heaven, and that he was as settled in it as that the earth was upon the center. If ever such confidence find success I miss my mark. Mr. Humphrey, I hear, invites him to Providence, and the coast is most meet for his opinions and practice. (Felt's Eccl. Hist., Vol. I., p. 443).

It will be seen from this letter of Hooker that Mr. Chauncy was invited on his leaving Plymouth to go to Providence, for "that coast is most meet for his opinions and practice." That is to say, they believed in immersion at Providence. It cannot mean anything else, for Chauncy still held to infant baptism. This is perfectly plain, for Felt says of Chauncy, July 7, 1642:

Chauncy at Scituate still adheres to his practice of immersion. He bad baptized two of his own children in this way. A woman of his congregation who had a child of three years old, and wished it to receive such an ordinance, was fearful that it might be too much frightened by being dipped as some had been. She desired a letter from him, recommending her to the Boston Church, so that she might have the child sprinkled. He complied and the rite was accordingly administered. (Felt's Eccl. Hist., Vol. I., P. 497).

So there is no difference between Chauncy and the Providence men on the act of baptism.

This will also turn light on the banishment of Roger Williams in 1633 from Plymouth. He held Anabaptist opinions, which meant that he rejected infant baptism and believed in immersion. The more you look into this the more probable it becomes. I can only briefly present the facts. In 1633 he was "already inclined to the opinions of the Anabaptists." (Publications of the Narragansett Club, Vol. I., p. 14). For on requesting his dismissal back to Salem in the autumn of 1633, we find the elder, Mr. Brewster, persuading the Plymouth Church to relinquish communion with him, lest he should "run the same course of rigid Separation and Anabaptistery which Mr. John Smith, the Se Baptist of Amstersdam had done." (Pub. Nar. Club, Vol. I., p. 17).

Win. Gammel, after stating that Williams was immersed, says very truthfully:

The very mention of the name of Anabaptism called up a train of phantoms, that never failed to excite the apprehensions of the early Puritans. Hence it was when Mr. Brewster suggested even the remotest association of Roger Williams with this heresy, the church at Plymouth were easily induced to grant his dismission which he requested. A considerable number of its members, however, who had become attached to his ministry, were also dismissed at the same time and removed with him to Salem. (Gammel's Life of Roger Williams, p. 27).

Thus we are duly prepared for the statement of Governor Winthrop, March 16, 1639:

At Providence things grew worse; for a sister of Mrs. Hutchinson, the wife of one Scott, being infected with Anabaptistery, and going last year to live at Providence, Mr. Williams was taken (or rather emboldened) by her to make open profession thereof, and accordingly was rebaptized by one Holliman, a poor man late of Salem. Then Mr. Williams rebaptized him and some ten more. They also denied the baptizing of infants, and would have no magistrates. (Winthrop's Hist. N. E., Vol. I., p. 293).

Putting all of these facts and side lights together, it would prove that the Providence men practiced immersion and that Roger Williams was immersed.

We are not shut up to side lights but we have positive testimony. We have just given the statement of Governor Winthrop.

The argument of Dr. Guild, the learned Librarian of Brown University, upon this statement of Winthrop's is conclusive. He says:

"Perhaps Prof. Whitsitt makes the point that re-baptism was not immersion. It has always been so regarded in these parts from the beginning. Williams himself has placed himself on record as a believer in dipping." This argument cannot be overturned by mere suppositions, and nothing has yet been offered to upset it.

Coddington, who appears to have been an eye witness, is conclusive. Coddington was governor of Rhode Island and had an opportunity to know what he was stating. He says:

"I have known him about fifty years; a mere weather cock, constant only in inconsistency. * * * One time for water baptism, men and women must be plunged into the water, and then threw it all down again." (Letter to Scott, 1677).

Prof. A. H. Newman, D. D., LL. D., says of Coddington's testimony:

"It seems highly probable that Roger Williams was immersed, though I once was of the contrary opinion; Coddington, who seems to have witnessed the ceremony, described it some time afterward as immersion."

Prof. Vedder after giving the testimony of Williams and Coddington remarks:

"I quite agree with my friend, Dr. Newman, that this cannot be explained as other than a reference to the baptism of Williams and others by Ezekiel Holliman, nor do I see how Coddington's knowledge of the facts can be successfully questioned. Taken in connection with the negative testimony of silence—that we have, in all the contemporary literature, not the slightest hint of any change of method among American Baptists—this seems to me virtually to settle the question in favor of immersion in the case of Roger Williams. While I would not affirm positively that he was immersed, I feel that the balance of probability is decidedly on that side. In fine, anybody who asserts that anything but immersion has been practiced from the beginning among American Baptists assumes the burden of proof; and ingenious guesses about Mark Lukar and things of that sort are not proofs. They may satisfy the guesser, but he cannot fairly ask that anybody else should be satisfied with them." (The Examiner, May 21, 1896).

Richard Scott, who appears to have been an eye witness of this baptism, for a time a Baptist himself, and afterwards a Quaker, writing against Williams thirty eight years afterwards, says:

"I walked with him in the Baptists' way about three or four months * * * in which time he broke from his society and declared at large the ground and reason for it; that their baptism could not be right because it was not administered by an apostle. After that he set upon a way of seeking, with two or three of them that had dissented with him, by way of preaching and praying; and then he continued a year or two till two of them left him. * * * After his society and he in a church way had parted he went to England." (Appendix to Fox's Firebrand Quenched, p. 247).

Scott makes no mention of a change of opinion of the Baptists on the subject of dipping, for it is very certain that the Baptists at the time Scott wrote this practiced dipping.

Williams' own opinion on the subject of baptism was always singularly clear. He declares that it is immersion. In a tract which was supposed for a long time to be lost, but which is now in the British Museum, called "Christenings Make not Christians," 1645, he says:

"Thirdly, for our New England parts, I can speake uprightly and confidently, I know it to have been easie for my selfe, long ere this, to have brought many thousands of these Nations, yea the whole country, to a far greater Antichristian conversion then was ever yet heard of in America. I have reported something in their Chapter of their Religion, how readily I could have brought the whole Country to have observed one day in seven; I adde to have received a Baptisme (or washing) though it were in Rivers (as the first Christians and the Lord Jesus himself did) to have come to a stated Church meeting, &c." (P. 11).

In a letter which we find among the Winthrop papers, dated Narragansett, 9, 10, 1649, Williams says:

"At Seekonk a great many have lately concurred with Mr. John Clarke and our Providence men about the point of a new baptisme, and the manner by dipping, and Mr. John Clarke hath been there lately, and Mr. Lucar, and hath dipped them. I believe their practice comes nearer the first practice of our great founder Christ Jesus than any other practices of religion do." (Massachusetts Historical Collections, Fourth Series, Vol. VI., p. 274).

There is absolutely no proof that Williams thought anything but immersion was baptism.

All writers and authorities, till recently, have taken the ground that Williams was immersed. I shall add a few of these witnesses.

John Callender, 1706-1738, says:

"But to take things in their order, Mr. R. Williams is said, in a few years after his sitting in Providence, to have embraced the opinions of the people called (by way of reproach) Anabaptists in respect to the subject and mode of baptism; and to have formed a church there, in that way, with the help of one Ezekiel Holliman."(Historical Discourse on Rhode Island, pp. 109, 110).

Felt says:

"Williams as stated by Winthrop, was lately immersed." (Eccl. Hist., Vol. I., p. 402).

Dr. A. H. Newman says:

"Contemporary testimony is unanimous in favor of the view that immersion was practiced by Williams. As this fact is generally conceded, it does not seem worth while to quote the evidence."

Dr. George P. Fisher, Professor of Church History, Yale University, says:

"Roger Williams was baptized by immersion." (History of the Christian Church, p. 472).

Bishop John F. Hurst, Methodist, says:

"Williams was immersed." (Short History of Christian Church, p. 516).

The Watchman, Boston, May 14, 1896, says:

"When he affirms that the re-baptism of Roger Williams was by sprinkling, he states what has not been proved by historical evidence, and the presumptions are altogether against such a statement."

Dr. Newman says of Dr. Dexter:

"Knowing that Dr. Dexter was master of the literature pertaining to Roger Williams, and supposing that his inclination would be wholly in favor of the non-immersion view, I sought his opinion on the question. His answer was entirely in accord with my own conclusion. He expressed the opinion that, in the absence of contemporary evidence against immersion, Coddington's statement must be accepted as probably correct. In matters of this kind an ounce of fact is worth a ton of conjecture." (The Examiner, May 21, 1896).

Schaff says:

"In 1638 he became a Baptist; he was immersed by Ezekiel Holliman and in turn immersed Holliman and ten others." (Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I., p. 851).

Against the inferences of Dr. Whitsitt that Williams was sprinkled, I put the solid facts that he was immersed. "An ounce of fact is worth a ton of conjecture." Thus goes to pieces the last proof of Dr. Whitsitt's theory.

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