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Welsh Succession of Primitive Baptist Faith and Practice

A Review of: A book by Michael N. Ivey

This book purports to be a work of Baptist history and Primitive Baptist, in particular. It is important to know how a history book fits into the general run of Baptist histories. There are three main types of Baptist histories one can find today. The first is what we shall style the old history type. By this we do not mean the history was written one hundred, two hundred or even five hundred years ago. Rather we mean the authors began with the Biblical premise that Jesus Christ built his church and the gates of Hell should not prevail against it. They sought to show how history confirms the succession of primitive faith and practice. Hassell, Christian, Orchard, Armitage, William Jones and others are representative of this view. The second type began around the turn of this century; we shall call them the modernist histories. These authors did not believe the church that Jesus built was a Baptist Church. They were influenced by the higher-critical Biblical interpretation which denied the credibility of the Bible. These higher critics, particularly in Germany, explained the Bible as the production of men much later than the commonly accepted authors of its books and, though interesting as philosophy, not a God-inspired rule of faith and practice. The acceptance of this liberalism in doctrine brought about a liberalism in practice and also a liberalism in their view of history. They ridiculed the conclusions of the old history writers and affirmed there was no succession of anything like a Baptist Church until quite recently. Whitsitt, Torbet, Vedder, Payne, Estep, and Nettles are representative of this view. These men, thinking theirs was the right way, sought to discredit all the older histories as not scholarly. Scholarship, to them, was overturning the old histories as myth; just as biblical “scholarship” of that period told of the myths of creation, the flood, the exodus from Egypt, and anything miraculous. This view has persisted and holds sway among most, if not all, missionary Baptist historians.

The book at the head of this review falls into a third class, however Ivey wants to hold to both the old history and the modernist view at the same time! We place this desire on the same level with those who would try to convince us you can “believe like a Calvinist and preach like an Arminian.” He must have a succession, but he also wants to deny any English Baptist succession. So he takes a few facts, mixes in a liberal amount of conjecture, stirs with the spoon of error, bakes in the oven of assumption, covers with sugary frosting of deception and serves on the plate of knowledge (falsely so called), and finally serves up an unturned cake to please the palate of the unknowing, all in the name of history. This author is not the first to have so done; neither, we are afraid, will he be the last.

We have wondered how to review a book that begins with a false premise, is based on unfounded assumptions and contains more factual errors than most books five times its size. Ivey seems to have made an attempt to justify the position of Primitive Baptists who hold to Conditional Time Salvation by bringing us this treatise. Unfortunately, this position is indefensible except by the use of deception and assumptions contrary to historical facts. We have been trying to write this review for the last two months, but we have been so overwhelmed by the number of errors Ivey's book contains that we are still almost at a loss where to begin.

Ivey writes on page a.1 of his preface: “Credibility is a major concern in the presentation of any historical work,” and on page a.2 states he spent 2 years researching his topic. Indeed we agree with him, and as we look at statements, assumptions and conclusions he makes we find out how lacking in credibility he is as a historian. Many, if not most of us, are familiar with how Missionary Baptists have handled the history of the division between themselves and the Old School. They make us out to have been a new phenomenon in the Baptist world. They have used everything from ignoring facts which do not mesh with their positions to downright lies in attempting to justify their position. Ivey does a similar thing in attempting to prove the antiquity of his position, the erroneous theory of Conditional Time Salvation. He misrepresents the history of the early English and Welsh Baptists in so doing. I have spent over 15 years studying the history of the Baptists of England, Wales and the continent of Europe covering the time Ivey attempts to cover. I possess and have read hundreds of pages of original source material and thousands of pages of secondary histories about those times, and find few of the things Ivey has set forth. Neither have I come to the doctrinal conclusions he has. Indeed, I have not considered this amount of research comprehensive enough to publish much of my findings and conclusions.

To repeat what he said on page a.1, “Credibility is a major concern in the presentation of any historical work.” We wholeheartedly agree with him. However, to be credible one must present truth. One must give facts, not conjectures or outright inaccuracies. On the same page he goes on, “we all know we cannot believe everything you read.” This book is one of them. An example of conjecture and inaccuracy is his statement on page a.3: “laying hands on the newly baptized was an error in practice which existed among the Primitive Baptists in Wales in the early seventeenth century.” Unfortunately, there is no such evidence from the early seventeenth century. In fact there is no evidence for the laying on of hands on all baptized believers until the Particular Baptists came to Wales from London, the link between which he strives to deny.

Another peculiar thing about Ivey is his inability to get people's names right. On page 6 he speaks of Vavasor Howell; I am sure he means Vavasor Powell. On page 11 there is a mention of John Helwys. Never in my research have I seen a mention of “John” Helwys, but I do find Thomas Helwys and have books which he wrote. On page 15 “Sam Elton” makes an appearance for the first time in the history of English Baptists of the seventeenth century. There was, however, Sam Eaton connected with Henry Jessey's Church. These are given to show his inaccuracies. If Ivey cannot get the names of those involved correct, what will he do with more abstract concepts? You may reply, what's in a name? In presenting history accuracy is paramount. Ivey shows either poor judgment in thinking “little errors” would not be found by the average reader, or total unconcern for truth by not checking his own work, or, and worst of all, perhaps Ivey did not know he was in error!

As we said earlier, Ivey has accepted the modernistic, liberal view of Baptist history that says immersion did not begin in England until 1641 at the earliest. He tells us on page 10 the English Baptists originated with John Smyth and his baptizing himself. However, except for the group Thomas Helwys brought back to England from Holland, there is no known church which came from the Smyth group in Holland. In fact, Symth's group joined with the Mennonites after his death.

Another example of Ivey's dependence on liberal historians is his interpretation of the so-called Kiffen manuscript. This manuscript is purported to be a history of the restoration of immersion to England. This was the basis of Whitsitt's book, A Question in Baptist History. This book was the first to say immersion was unknown in England until Richard Blunt was commissioned to go to Holland to the Anabaptists and receive a proper baptism in 1641. There is one big problem with this manuscript: the original copy is lost! There are several transcriptions of it, and they differ all with each other! Ivey thinks Champlain Burrage's transcription is the correct one. However, Thomas Crosby in The History of the English Baptists presents a version differing in many respects from Burrage's, and Crosby wrote 100 years before Burrage. The main problem with the liberal's interpretation of the manuscript is they think Blunt went to the Rhynsburg Collegiants, an Arminian group, to receive his baptism. That was Whisitt's position and was taken up by all his followers. Is it logical to think a group of people, wishing to make sure their baptism was valid, would send someone to Holland when there were Arminian Baptists in England at that time? To accept this view one has to accept the supposition that none of the continental Anabaptists immersed. We mention one instance which we think is indicative of their practice. When Theodore Beza was consulted concerning the punishment due Felix Manz for Anabaptism his was reply was, “he that talks of going under, let him go under.” Based on that advice, Felix Manz was drowned. So those Swiss that carried out his execution and the town minister believed that “going under” referred to baptism by immersion.

Another Ivey assumption concerns the contents of the letter which was sent with Blunt to Holland (pages 16-17). No where in any transcription of the “Kiffen Manuscript” is the contents of the letter stated, so no one knows what it said. An example of Ivey contradicting himself in his views on this manuscript is on pages 20-21. There he tells us John Spillsbury was baptized by Hanserd Knollys by immersion before 1641. How could that be if no one in England practiced immersion until Blunt went to Holland? Ivey cannot have it both ways; either immersion was unknown before Blunt or there were immersionists in England before 1641.

A peculiar treatment is given to Benjamin Coxe, a Particular Baptist minister of the 1600s. Mr. Ivey almost makes an idol out of him, but, when you examine what he writes of Elder Coxe, it is obvious he knows nothing of the man or even where he labored. Ivey tells us on page 32 that Coxe presented an appendix to the general conference which revised the 1644 First London Confession. This is repeated on page 145 with the statement that it was not officially endorsed by the conference. Like the other wild assertions in his book, no source is offered for this piece of new information. The second edition of the First London Confession of Faith was published January 28, 1646. It was a complete revision of the first edition of 1644. Benjamin Coxe was present and if he truly disagreed with the work he did himself, and all who read it, a disservice by signing it. By signing the confession he endorsed it, so evidently he thought there was nothing in it worthy of protest. Coxe published his work entitled An Appendix to a Confession of Faith, or A More Full Declaration of the Faith of Baptized Believers in November 1646; a fact of which Ivey seems to have no knowledge. He seems to think the edition Bakus Publications did in the early 1980's is the first time it was published. That Coxe's Appendix was in any way a protest against anything in that confession, we deny. There is nothing in the work to indicate a disagreement with the confession; indeed, the subtitle is A More Full Declaration of [not the Faith of one man but] the Faith of Baptized Believers. Also, I am sure the people of the town of Abingdon will be surprised to know they live in London (page 145). Abingdon is not even considered a suburb of London, and anyone who looks at a map of England will certainly see why. How can we trust the historical conclusions of a man who cannot get the location of English towns correct?

We are going to close this without noting the doctrinal fallacies and other historical errors of the author. These, Lord willing, we will take up another time. However, if a man makes so many error on the facts of history, what must we think of the conclusions which he draws from these facts? Reader, be careful! Too much published in the name of history, and Baptist History in particular, is published, not to enlighten us about past times and show the faith of our fathers, but rather to promote an agenda. And if the facts do not support the agenda, well, they can be modified with a pinch of conjecture and if that is not enough, they can be mixed well with error, then presented as a grand revelation. That is this book. Unless you are prepared to read it with a critical eye, avoid it at all costs.

Elder Robert N. Lackey
The Remnant