Origin of the Baptists

S. H. Ford





This is an age of inquiry and tireless research. To the questionings of an imperative curiosity the very rocks have rendered an account of themselves, and the leaves that fell before the flood, have been made to tell their story. Not a time-worn mark, or hieroglyphic, but has been cleared from the dust of centuries and deciphered. Not a crumbling monument, or a buried city, or perished people of the dead, past, but has been reproduced on the canvas of living history. Naught escapes the sleepless eye, the persevering industry of modern research.

Now, there is a class of people in our midst, numbered by hundreds of thousands—found, indeed, wherever soul-freedom is, and the gospel is—a people marked and peculiar, whose principles and influences have told, and must still tell on the character and destiny of society. This people are called BAPTISTS.

Their distinguishing peculiarities are, an uncompromising avowal and advocacy of soul-liberty, enlightened, and guided, and governed only by the Eternal King. That earthly priests, and kings, and governments, ranged hierarchies and mitered fathers, are but as those "that peep and that mutter." "To the law and to the testimony," is their watchword; "if any man speak not according to these things, it is because there is no light in him"—that no mortal has the right to decide the church relations of any human being. In a word, that Christianity demands voluntary obedience; and to fore-stall, control, or fetter this, is antichristian. This is the prominent peculiarity of the people of whom we speak. And the profession of this voluntary surrender to the Lord of life is avowed by a burial by baptism into his sacred name.

Now, this people, so well known and so rapidly increasing among us, as a distinct class, originated somewhere. Some spot witnessed their beginning; some period in the march of time noted the birthday of these Baptists. Can the place of their nativity be found? Can the record of their origin be traced? Is the energy of human research, with all its triumphs, to pause breathless here, and acknowledge itself baffled and defeated? No, no! The question can and must be answered, or history is a dead, a dumb thing. Let its voice but be heard as it tones distinctly through the mists of ages, and it will be forever decided—WHERE

But in vain shall we seek among the authoritative records of the past, for one kind word concerning them. Crushed beneath a powerful and persecuting hierarchy; few, feeble, and what the world calls unlearned, yet lifting up their voice in defiant tones above the storms of execration and violence; protesting, in the name of truth and freedom, against the universal domination of a State Church, and a proud, tyrannical clergy; sounding out through the grates of filthy prisons the joyous notes of redeeming mercy, and melting the hearts of those that mockery attracted to the spot; scattered defenseless, without State patronage, or the prestige of noble names, or great leaders; with no earthly head, or strong central government to give direction to their aims; with the Word of God their only guide; yet rising in the strength of God above the crested waves, battling with the storm, steadily, steadfastly, onward, upward, until now, in the words of the eloquent Chalmers:

"Let it never be forgotten of the Baptists, that they form the denomination of Fuller, and Cary, and Ryland, and Hall, and Foster; that they originated one of all missionary enterprises; that they have enriched the Christian literature of our country with an authorship of the most exalted piety, as well as of the first talent, and the first eloquence; that they have waged a noble war with the hydra of Antinomianism; that, perhaps, there is not a more intellectual community of ministers, or who have to their number put forth a greater amount of mental power and mental activity in the defense and illustration of our common faith; and what is still better than all the triumphs of genius and understanding, who by their zeal and fidelity, and pastoral labor among the congregations which they have reared, have done more to swell the lists of genuine discipleship in all the walks of private society, and thus both to uphold and extend the living Christianity of our nation."

Such are the people whose origin we would trace, and whose origin surely can be found.

* Dr. Chalmers’s Lectures on Romans.