On several occasions we have been asked to set forth the historical evidence of the origin of the English Particular Baptists for the knowledge of our brethren. We have been saddened by the lack of historical knowledge among those who wear the name Primitive or Old School Baptists. Misconceptions, distortions and even outright lies are what are passed on as the true history of our people. While it is true much of our history is buried in the obscurity of the centuries, there is also much we can know. However obscure the past may be we have this confidence: Our Lord stated that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church He would build, and they have not! We are fully convinced the Lord, while on this earth, established a Baptist Church and believers professing the faith and order of the Gospel have existed and shall exist in all periods of history whether we can visibly trace them or not. We read of the hidden believers in the valleys of the Piedmont and marvel at our Lord’s preservation of them when the whole world was in Papal darkness, wondering after the beast. But the origin of one part of our English forefathers in the Faith is not so obscure.
That there have been Baptists in England before the time period under consideration is without question. Joan Boucher (Joan of Kent) was a martyr for Baptist principles during the time of Edward the VI. Though shrouded by the mists of time there were hidden in the mountains of Wales believers who maintained the principles by which Baptists are now known. There are references in books published at the time to the “Anabaptist heretics”, but nothing of a substantial nature concerning them is given. No matter how much these capture our curiosity the subject of our investigations is the origin of those known by the appellation “Particular Baptists”.
One thing we must briefly consider in our investigations is the origin of the General Baptists in England. In 1608, John Smyth, Thomas Helwys and others went to Amsterdam to escape religious persecution in their native England. These were Separatists from the Church of England, but, at this time, not Baptists. In Holland they became acquainted with some of the Anabaptist congregations there, particularly some Mennonites. Though they agreed with these Arminians about free-will and the general atonement of Christ, they could not unite with the Mennonites in some other things. Becoming convinced from them of the truth of believer’s baptism, however, Smyth baptized himself and then baptized Helwys and the rest. Smyth became convinced that the Mennonites were not heretics and labored for union between them and his church. He even suggested he did wrong in his self-baptism and not receiving it from them. Helwys and some others believed they did rightly in their baptism and so separated from Smyth. He died in 1612, the same year Helwys and part of Smith’s church left Amsterdam and returned to England to begin the first modern General Baptist church in England. The Particular Baptists did not spring from the General Baptists. The early professors of this faith, for the most part, had been members of some underground, independent, congregationalist Churches in or about London. The congregation Henry Jacob founded in about 1616 figures prominently in our discussion. In about 1630 many members of this congregation had convictions about both the baptizing (sprinkling) of infants and having anything to do with the established church of England. These were released to form another congregation. Many of this church, which was under the leadership of Henry Jessey, became convicted on believers baptism. Heretofore, they had only rejected the sprinkling of infants. In fact, Mr. Jessey thought only that infants must be immersed They knew not where to turn for help in this matter. In England, they knew of none professing believers baptism except the Helwys group. They were not a sufficient help for two reasons: their Arminianism and the self-baptism they used to begin their group. One member of Mr. Jessey’s congregation was William Kiffin. To him we are indebted for an account of what happened in this matter.
“Mr. Kiffin states that several sober and pious persons belonging to the congregations of the dissenters about London, were convinced that believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, and that it ought to be administered by immersion, or dipping the whole body into the water, in resemblance of a burial and resurrection, according to 2 Cor. ii. 12 and Rom. vi.4. That they often met together to pray and confer about this matter, and consult what methods they should take to enjoy this ordinance in its primitive purity: That they could not be satisfied with any administrator in England to begin this practice; because tho’ some in this nation rejected the baptism of infants, yet they had not, as they knew of, revived the antient custom of immersion: But hearing that some in the Netherlands practis’d it, they agreed to send over one Mr. Richard Blount, who understood the Dutch Language: That he went accordingly, carrying letters of recommendation with him, and was kindly received both by the church there, and Mr. John Batte their teacher: That upon his return, he baptized Mr. Samuel Blacklock, a minister, and these two baptized the rest of their company, whose names are in the manuscript, to the number of fifty three.” Crosby, History of the English Baptists, vol. 1, pp.101,102 (Spelling and italics as in original).
Many would like to reject this account, and say Mr. Blount baptized himself as Mr. Smyth did. Others with an overabundance of universal charity would say Mr. Blount was sent to the Arminian Remonstrants in the Netherlands. Crosby, on page 100 of vol. 1, states they sent “over to the foreign Anabaptists, who descended from the antient Waldenses in France or Germany, that so one or more receiving baptism from them, might become the proper administrators of it to others.” As there were Arminians baptizing in England at the time, why go all the way to Holland if you could get Arminian baptism at home? Would Dutch Arminianism be better than English Arminianism? These old brethren could not accept baptism from those who did not preach the gospel of Christ. They also could not accept baptism from one whom they did not recognize as a proper administrator. If one had baptized himself, he was not a qualified administrator. No one has ever had a commission to baptize themselves. In fact the first baptizer, John, was not commanded to baptize himself, but those who came to him with the fruits meet for repentance. The ministry of the church, who were already baptized, was commanded to baptize those who were disciples.
Let us not look at this as just a piece of history with no bearing on us today. How many would urge us to accept Arminian baptism as being valid? People would tell us we have no right to call the baptisms of any of the “Baptist Family” invalid. Our brethren in the 1600’s recognized no “Baptist Family” baptisms else they would have gone to Helwys’ church for their baptism. They rejected both the doctrine and practice of the General Baptists, and, therefore, their baptisms, as well. If the General Baptists were satisfied with their baptism, then it must be alright, since baptism is the answer of a good conscience, is what most well-meaning or willfully ignorant people would tell us today. A man may be satisfied with being a murderer or an adulterer, but this does not mean society must accept his “good conscience” toward his deeds above the laws of society. How much more must we prize and obey the laws of Christ as they apply to such situations? They must not appeal to tradition, or “commonly accepted practices”, but rather since the Lord Jesus commanded believers to be baptized by His ministry in His church, they must go where that is found Crossing the sea and journeying in a strange land was a small price to pay for knowing they had the ordinances delivered to them correctly. Were we found in the same condition, would we seek the Lord and pray to find gospel ordinances, or would we do as Smyth and Helwys and make do as we could? May the Lord bless us to seek the truth from Him, and be found standing firm in it.
Robert N. Lackey
Volume 5, No.5
September - October, 1991