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A SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF THE
BAPTISTS AND QUAKERS.
SOME ACCOUNT OF THE BAPTISTS, OR ANTIPÆDOBAPTISTS, FROM THE DAYS OF WICKLIFFE TO THE REIGN OF JAMES I. A. D, 1370—1600.
Although the Baptist profession does not assume a visible appearance in England, by the formation of churches in a state of separation from their brethren of the Pædobaptist persuasion, earlier than the reign of James I. ; it is beyond all reasonable doubt that individuals were to be found, maintaining those principles in every subsequent age, from the days of Wickliffe, that morning star of the Reformation.
It is perhaps impossible for us, after a lapse of four or five centuries, to decide the question, whether the great English reformer, did or did not oppose the baptism of infants. It is a fact, however, which admits of no dispute, that he maintained and propagated those principles, which, when carried out into their legitimate consequences, are wholly subversive of the practice in question. And if Wickliffe himself did not pursue the consequence of his own doctrines so far, ýet many of his followers did, and were made Baptists by it.
One of the maxims held by this reformer was, “ that wise men leave that as impertinent, which is not plainly expressed in Scripture:"* in other words, that nothing should be practised in the church of God, as a branch of
Fuller's Church History, p. 133.
worship, which is neither expressly commanded nor plainly exemplified in the New Testament. It is upon this principle that the Baptists make their stand. They examine the sacred writings, and there find, that in their Lord's commission, baptism stands connected with the preaching of the everlasting gospel; that the apostles, who well understood their Master's will, administered it to none but those who professed to repent and believe the gospel ; and that thus it was the first disciples " put on Christ,” or were initiated into his visible kingdom ; for, such as gladly received the word, were baptized and added to the churches.
All our historians agree in affirming that the doctrines of Wickliffe spread very extensively throughout the country; insomuch that, according to Knighton, a contemporary historian, “ more than half the people of England embraced them and became his followers." Soon after his death, they began to form distinct societies in various places. Rapin tells us that, “ in the year 1389, the Wickliffites, or Lollards, as they were more commonly named, began to separate from the church of Rome, and appoint priests from among themselves to perform divine service after their own way. Though some were from time to time persecuted by the bishops, yet their persecutions were not rigorous. Their aim seemed to be only to hinder them from pleading proscription. Besides, a petition presented to the king by a former parliament, to revoke the power granted to the bishops to imprison heretics, restrained the most forward”.*
During the usurpation of Henry IV. A.D. 1400, the clergy who had been instrumental to his elevation obtained from him a law for the burning of heretics, which they were not long in carrying into operation. One of the first victims to their sanguinary edict was William Sawtre, said to have held the principles of the Baptists, and who was burnt in London in the year 1400. He had been sometime minister of the parish of St. Margaret, in the town of Lynn ; but, adopting the tenets of the Lollards, he was convicted of heresy by the bishop of Norwich, and though by temporizing he for a while averted the dreadful sentence, yet he ultimately fell a martyr to the cause of truth. If we may credit the testimony of those who lived near the time when this took place, the diocess of Norwich, in which Sawtre resided, abounded with persons of similar sentiments ; but the cruel and ignominious death of this good man struck terror into the followers of Wickliffe, and made them more cautious how they exposed themselves to a similar fate by divulging their opinions. Yet Fuller relates, that, such was the craft and diligence of the clergy, they found out means to discover many of them, and by ex officio informations which they now obtained, they persecuted them with great cruelty, so that the prisons were filled with them-many were induced to recant, and such as refused were treated without mercy.*
* Rapin's Flist. of England, vol. 1. p. 480.
That the denial of the right of infants to baptism, was a principle generally maintained among the Lollards or followers of Wickliffe, is abundantly confirmed by the historians of those times. Thomas Walden, who wrote against Wickliffe, terms this reformer, “one of the seven heads that rose up out of the bottomless pit, for denying infant baptism, that heresie of the Lollards, of whom he was so great a ringleader.” Walsingham, another writer, says, “ It was in the year 1381, that that damnable heretic John Wickliffe received the cursed opinions of Berengarius,". one of which unquestionably was the denial of infant baptism. The Dutch martyrology, also, gives an account of one sir L. Clifford, who had formerly been a Lollard, but had left them, and who informed the archbishop of Canterbury that the Lollards would not baptize their new-born children. The fact is, therefore, put beyond dispute, that the principles of the Antipædobaptists were prevalent during the whole of the fifteenth century, though we are unable to trace them as embodied in the formation of distinct churches under that denomination,
In the history of the Welsh Baptists compiled by Mr. Joshua Thomas of Leominster, we have some interesting information respecting a Mr. Walter Brute, who is said to have been a gentleman of rank, learning, and parts, in the diocess of Hereford, about the end of the fourteenth century. This person, though reckoned a layman by the Popish clergy, was indefatigable in propagating the truth himself,“ teaching openly and privately, as well the no. bles as the commons.” In this good work he was assisted by two of his intimate friends, viz. Mr. William Swin
Fuller's Charch History, p. 164.