Page images
PDF
EPUB

teachers, or by their own authoritative consent received them, when nominated to them.” “In a word, 'the people' did every thing which is proper for those in whom the supreme power of the community is vested.” The most valuable of the German ecclesiastical historians,and when we say this, we say the most valuable ecclesiastical historians who have yet written, and among whom Neander, for the vastness and accuracy of his researches, and the peculiar candor with which he expresses himself, is by no means to be reckoned least,—the most valuable historians give, uniformly, the same testimony of the entire independence of the primitive churches. They are equally explicit in affirming that their baptism was immersion, and that believers were the only subjects of it. If this, then, was the form of the primitive church, we have a right to expect that innovations will be noticed as such. We are only to determine whether the change became universal; and, if not, to what side it tended; and whether primitive purity is to be found at all in succeeding times. The gradual extension of the churches, the concentrations which they made in the chief cities and towns, and the consequent influence of their wealth and superior talents, under the direction of a very natural principle, furnish us, as early as the second century, with instances of the extension of the authority of one church over another; also, of the enlargement of the power of bishops, or elders. This universally acknowledged innovation crept silently in, and, at first, excited but little alarm. Another innovation was introduced about the close of the fourth century. Mr. Robinson affirms that, "all this time they were Baptist churches; and, though all the fathers of the first four ages, down to Jerome, were of Greece, Syria and Africa; and though they gave great numbers of histories of the baptism of adults, yet there is not one account of the baptism of a child till the year 370, when Galates, the dying son of the Arian emperor Valens, was baptized by the order of the monarch, who swore that he would not be contradicted.The difficulty which the monarch met with, shows that the baptism of the lad was a sore innovation in the church.

But we have already discovered enough to make a broad and eternal separation between the Christianity of the fourth century and that of the first century. The former has

dominant churches; elders or bishops, whose authority goes beyond their own churches; and, also, the baptism of unbelieving infants. In these changes, the vital sources of Christian organization are corrupted; the downward tendency of this corruption arrives, as it is very justly remarked by d'Aubigné, at the close of the seventh century, to the form of Papacy, and is wholly after the working of Satan. But are we still to look for primitive purity in any part of the Christian world?

From the beginning of the fourth century, in the first place, the Cathari and afterwards the Donatists and the Luciferi, began to appear, separate from the "church." They spread from Asia Minor, and appeared in considerable numbers in all the different countries in Europe, as well as extensively in Asia and Africa, till history finds the same class of Christians in the five vallies of Piedmont. From this point, the view extends downwards to the Lollards and Wickliffites of England and Germany, the Berengarians of France, the Petrobrusians of Italy and Flanders, the Arnoldists of Brescia, and the followers of John Huss and the United Brethren of Bohemia; and down to the time of the Reformation by Luther. What may be said of any one of these sects, may, with some exceptions, be said of all the rest. They may, therefore, be ranked together. They are chargeable with some faults. But when the circumstances under which they acted are taken into the account, -overwhelmed as they were by the might of Papacy on all sides,—we shall find more to awaken our admiration for their purity and intelligence, than to censure for their mistakes. In respect of their antiquity and moral character, as well as their number and the extent of territory which they occupied, M. Sismondi remarks : “ Those very persons who punished the sectaries with fearful torments, have alone taken it upon themselves to make us acquainted with their opinions,-allowing at the same time that they have been transmitted in Gaul from generation to generation, almost from the origin of Christianity.” “It is still easy to recognize the principles of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, among the heretics which are named Vaudois or Albigenses." Again, Heinsius affirms that, “Of all sects which have been or now exist, none is more injurious to the church;'-For three reasons: 1. Because they are more ancient. Some aver their existence from the time of Sylvester; others, from the very time of the apostles. 2. Because it is so universal. There is scarcely a country into which this sect has not crept. And 3. Because all other heretics excite horror by their blasphemies against God; but these have a great appearance of piety; as they live justly before men, believe rightly all things concerning God, and confess all the articles which are contained in the creed. Only they hate and revile the church of Rome, and in their accusations they are easily believed by the people.” This people existed in every age and in almost every country, and often in great numbers, though under a variety of names, according to their circumstances. They rejected the whole list of innovations of "the church, which, indeed, became too laborious to record. They also rejected all pretended miracles, and exorcisms, consecrations and confirmations. They condemned the use of liturgies, especially in an unknown tongue. They condemned the mystical interpretation of Scripture. They condemned the wicked lives and the abominable practices, both of the people and the clergy of the Romish church. “ They also affirm, that no man ought to be forced in matters of faith.” In this they plainly outstripped the reformers themselves, and remind us rather of what took place some centuries afterward; of those declarations which were first triumphantly made in the New World. They affirm that “that is the church of Christ, which holds the pure doctrines of Christ, and observes the ordinances instituted by him; " that the sacraments of the church of Christ are two, baptism and the Lord's supper.' “We consider the sacraments," say they, " as the signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper and even necessary, that believers use these symbols when it can be done. Notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers' may be saved without these signs, when they have neither place nor opportunity to observe them.” “They held that the Holy Scriptures are the only source of faith and religion, without regard to the authority of the fathers or tradition." 6 They translated the Old and New Testaments into the vulgar tongues, and spoke and taught according to them.” And so much in use were these venerated books among this people, that "I have seen and heard,” says Heinsius, "a certain unlearned rustic, who recited the book of Job word by word, and many' who perfectly knew the New Testament." “Whatever a doctor of the church teaches, which he does not prove by the New Testament, they consider it as entirely fabulous—contrary to the doctrine of the church. Whether they fell to any extent, with the Romish church, into the error of infant baptism, is not fully certain. A learned and respectable writer, Dr. Gill, however, remarks, that "all their writings, from the Noble lesson in 1000 down to their confession of faith in 1655, are in favor of the baptism of adults only.” And another, “It appears, that the Cluni, the Paterines, the Berengarians, the Arnoldists, the Petrobrusians, the Henricians, and the earlier Waldenses, as far as history testifies, vehemently opposed infant baptism.” The expressions which we have marked as quotations are taken from Heinsius and others who were Romish Inquisitors, and whose business it was, not to praise these heretics, but, like wolves, to hunt; not to do them justice, but to murder them; and particularly, as their purity of doctrine and manner of life were in contrast with that of the "church.” Their concessions in their favor, therefore, are a tribute gratuitous, indeed, or rather forced out from the lips of deadly and bitter enemies by the absolute power of truth; and on this account are to have the greater weight. Here is a people, then," from the origin of Christianity," "from the very time of the apostles,”—a people, who held the Bible as the sole guide in matters of religion; who reject all the mummery and the corruptions of the Romish church, who live holy lives according to the Scriptures; who disclaim all right to force the consciences or the opinions of men ; 'who acknowledge the civil powers as ordained of God, but reject their interference in matters of religion, and cleave to the Scriptures as the only religious authority ;' who hold it to be their duty to teach and persuade men, while they allow all men to judge for themselves;' who confine themselves exclusively to the ordinances instituted by Christ; 'who exercised no domination of one body over another; whose ministers held the office simply of administering the gospel, and not of dictating for the consciences and the rights of their fellow-Christians.'

II. We shall now state more fully the views of the Baptists as a denomination, without attempting a parallelism either between them and these people, or the first Christians; for such a parallelism needs only that the facts in each case should be stated, to appear manifest.

The name of every Christian sect, as of every other sect, is either assumed by its friends as an honorable distinction, or is imposed on it by its enemies as a term of reproach, and must be based upon its peculiarities of doctrine, or the name of the individual who has given it its origin. For these reasons, the Christian religion itself received the titles which were first given to it. New titles depend upon new distinctions. It is fair, therefore, to conclude, that-if there was a perfect uniformity of the church on the subject of Baptism in the first ages, the term Baptist could not be an appropriate distinction. There will first occur some innovation in reference to this subject, sufficient to elicit a controversy in the church. If the Romish church down to the fifteenth century were accustomed to immerse, whether the subjects of their immersion or baptism were infants or adults, there will occur no reason why either they or their opposers should be called Baptists. In those ages the baptizers of believers, especially if they disputed the baptism of infants, might expect not the title of Baptist, but of Anabaptist. We are not, therefore, to look for the term Baptist, though the world may be filled with their sentiments, till there is a contest directly between different forms of the rite. The period of the first discussions of such a nature will be soon enough to look for our name. And the later it occurs, the more firm will be our impression of the distinctness and certainty of the primitive rite.

It is most probable that the term Baptist, as the name of a Christian community, had its origin in Germany about the beginning of the sixteenth century; and that it was then held in opposition to the Anabaptists of that country, who, it is thought, were themselves sprinklers, but not of infants, though it is evident that their general practice was that of immersion; and, on the other hand, in opposition to the Romish church, who were Pædobaptists. This people were found, soon after this time, in considerable numbers, in Britain, in Wales, Holland, Scotland, and Ireland. As their numbers increased in these countries, and as they

« PreviousContinue »