DID THEY DIP?
AN EXAMINATION INTO THE ACT OF BAPTISM
AS PRACTICED BY THE ENGLISH AND
AMERICAN BAPTISTS BEFORE
THE YEAR 1641.
JOHN T. CHRISTIAN, M. A., D. D.,
R. CHRISTIAN has shown a remarkable talent for gathering and arraying authorities. For more than twenty years he has been studying the history of immersion and has spared no time nor expense to supply himself with original documents. I do not suppose there is a Baptist in the land who has anything like such an array of original documents on this subject as has Dr. Christian. In many cases he has the original editions, while in others he has official copies made at the British museum and elsewhere. He has examined more than forty books which. Dr. Dexter-does not mention in his bibliography of the subject, and which, it is reasonable to believe, Dr. Dexter never saw.
Dr. Christian is also singularly accurate in his use of authorities. I have read this book through and have not detected a single inaccuracy. Many of the quotations I have personally verified and have found them correct, and though I have not verified them all, yet I have no doubt of the absolute correctness of every one. He courts investigation, however, and he will gladly welcome the detection of any mistake in the book. The most unpleasant thing in connection with replying to Dr. Whitsitt's "Question in Baptist History" is calling attention to his unauthorized use of documents, owing largely to his misplaced confidence in Dr. Dexter. And yet whoever replies to any book must needs call attention to its misuse of authorities where such misuse exists. When, for example, such great stress is laid on the supposed testimony of the "Jessey Church Records," it is needful in replying to point out that what is quoted as "Jessey Church Records" really belongs to an "ancient manuscript said to have been written by Mr. William Kiffin." In all this Dr. Christian has not gone beyond the limits of honorable controversy. Indeed he is not so severe on Dr. Whitsitt as the latter is on Dr. Clifford. When a man enters the lists of controversy he must expect his statements to be challenged.
It should be constantly borne in mind that not till the year 1641 were the Baptists in England free to speak and write their views. It was on August 1, 1641, that the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber went out of existence. Then, and not till then, could Baptists come from their hiding places and preach openly. Of course their doctrines and practices were new to a great many people. To find instances, therefore, after 1641, where Baptists were called "new" does not at all prove that they began to exist in 1641. Indeed the fact that they were then heard from so vigorously, and spread so rapidly, itself proves they were in existence, though in hiding, before. Just so soon as it was safe for them to show themselves they are seen here, there and everywhere, to the great annoyance of the state clergy, who call them "new, upstart sectaries," etc. The fact that in 1644 immersion had such a strong hold on the divines composing the Westminster Assembly that after a long and bitter debate they voted it down by only one majority is decisive proof that immersion did not begin in England in 1641.
Then Dr. Joseph Angus, our great British scholar, has called attention to a number of Baptist Churches in England which trace their history to times long before 1641, e. g., Braintree, Eythorne, Sutton, Warrington, Bridgewater, Oxford and Sadmore. All the Baptists of England, so far as I know, believe that their fathers practiced immersion before 1641.
Dr. Whitsitt's contention is that from 1509 to 1641 the Anabaptists of England practiced affusion, and in that year they began to practice immersion. And yet he has not cited a single instance where any Anabaptists in England practiced affusion, not a single case where any Anabaptist Church adopted immersion. The "Jessey Church" was not an Anabaptist Church, and an anonymous manuscript which has been lost, and whose date nobody knows, is the only evidence that this church began to practice immersion. Richard Blount is said to have gone over to Holland to get baptism in the true succession, and to have returned and baptized Blacklock, yet neither Blount nor Blacklock show themselves afterwards. When in 1644 the Baptists of London put forth their Confession of Faith, the names of Blount and Blacklock are significantly absent from the list of signatures.
While before 1641 in England Baptists were obliged to hide and to speak with bated breath, yet we are not left in the dark concerning their practices. Outsiders told of them, and so we have direct testimony concerning them. Dr. Christian gives a good deal of this, and if any of it at all be valid Dr. Whitsitt's thesis is overthrown. Take for example John Fox's testimony in his Book of Martyrs, published in 1562:
There are some Anabaptists at this time in England who came from Germany. Of these there were two sorts; the first only objected to the baptising of children and to the manner of it by sprinkling instead of dipping. The other held many opinions anciently condemned as heresies; they had raised a war in Germany, and had set up a new king in Munster; but all these were called Anabaptists, from their opposition to infant baptism, though it was one of the mildest opinions they held.—Fox's Book of Martyrs, Alden ed., p. 338.
Thus it appears that both sorts of Anabaptists opposed infant baptism and sprinkling, but the first class "only objected to "these things, while the second class in addition to that "held many opinions anciently condemned as heresies." Fox's Book of Martyrs has long been an English classic; and no one has impeached its truthfulness. What motive could Fox have had for misrepresentation; and what possible reason exists for impeaching his testimony? . And yet his testimony has got to be entirely set aside, or else Dr. Whitsitt's thesis falls. Ten thousand men saying after 1641 that immersion was "new" to them would not offset John Fox's testimony that he knew of immersion in England in 1562. But Fox is only one of many.
One great good to come from this discussion is that Baptists will be better informed in regard to their history than ever before. Whatever may be the final outcome of the controversy, it must be admitted that Dr. Whitsitt has stirred up the Baptists in regard to their history as nobody else has ever done, and as nobody else is likely ever to do. Of all people, the Baptists are the last to be afraid of the truth on any subject.
T. T. EATON.
LOUISVILLE, KY., October 22, 1896.
Chapter 1 - A Statement of the Case