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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Anabaptists of the 16th Century

W. T. Beeby

From The Anabaptists of the 16th Century, 1837

A turbulent and enthusiastic sect arose in the time of Luther's Reformation in the 16th century. They pretended to an extent of Divine influence which superseded the civil magistracy, and raised them above human control.

In 1532, Matthias and Buccold (a baker and a tailor), fixed themselves at Munster, in Westphalia, and by pretensions to inspiration and extraordinary sanctity, gained possession of the city, deposed the magistrates, confiscated the estates of some, seized the personal property of others, and threw the whole into the common treasury. They changed the name of the city to Mount Zion, and proclaimed the second coming of the Messiah to establish a fifth and universal monarchy, which in the meantime, they were to prepare for him.

Matthias was soon cut off, but Buccold had the address to get himself proclaimed king in Zion, assumed the honours of royalty, and with more than the usual licentiousness of a king, (at least in Europe) took no less than fourteen wives, and committed many other excesses, which roused the princes of the empire. He was besieged by an army, and suffered the rigors both of war and famine. At length the city was taken by surprise; many were killed, and the rest taken prisoners. Buccold was loaded with chains, and after being carried from city to city as a public spectacle, was taken back to Munster where he suffered a cruel and lingering death, which he bore in a manner worthy of a better cause. And after having reigned about fifteen months, and thrown all Germany into alarm, died at the early age of twenty-six.

This is a brief historical account of this sect, which, no doubt, is mainly correct. And where any class of people allow their passions to hurry them into the commission of excesses such as have been described, exceeding not only the bounds of true religion, but those of common morality, a similar result may always be expected.

It is to this sect that many persons, who have taken no trouble to ascertain the truth, have supposed the denomination of Christians of the present day called Baptists owe their origin. The purport, therefore, of these pages is to exhibit a few facts in refutation of this erroneous idea, and not with the view of making converts from any other denomination of Christians.

The Compiler, from his own observation of what is occurring in the world, cannot believe otherwise than that the Spirit of God is bestowed on Christians of other denominations as well as on Baptists; and, therefore, he is not so bigoted as to imagine that Baptists can alone be saved.

"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned," (Mark 16:16) even though he be baptized. Therefore, while he regards every true Christian with affection, and would willingly unite with such in every good work and word, wherein both are agreed, he is convinced that it is the duty of every one, where circumstances admit of it, to connect himself in church-fellowship with those whose sentiments be conscientiously believes to be most in accordance with the Word of God. To this alone he would appeal, and by this standard only he considers it the bounden duty of every Christian to be regulated.

History may tend to confirm, but the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, must be the leading principle or guide, as to spiritual things. Where the latter supports the former, we have the strongest reason to believe the account related is correct, but where Scripture in no respect agrees with history or tradition, we must believe that worldly wisdom, or that corruption which accompanies it, has introduced errors which are not pleasing to the Divine Being, and that can only be expunged by the blood of Christ. Moreover, as where there is knowledge of error, there is wilful sin, it behooves every man to inquire and act for himself; since his own soul, and not that of another, is most concerned.

The reader's attention is, therefore, directed to the following facts:

1st. That the English Baptists never had any connection with the Munster enthusiasts.

2nd. That they disapprove in toto, and unreservedly condemn, the whole of their rebellious conduct.

3rd. Of eight leading articles of faith which have been stated as forming the creed of this people, not one of them is held by the English Baptists.

In reference to Baptism, the Munsterites, we are informed, administered it by sprinkling, and the reader is aware, the Baptists uniformly observe immersion.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says:

"It must be observed that the Baptists and Mennonites of England and Holland, are to be considered in a very different light from the enthusiasts (the Anabaptists) we have been describing; and it appears equally uncandid and invidious, to trace up their distinguishing sentiments, as some of their adversaries have done, to those obnoxious characters, and there to stop, in order, as it were, to associate with it the ideas of turbulence and fanaticism, with which it certainly has no natural connexion.

"Their coincidence with some of those oppressed and infatuated people in denying Baptism to infants, is acknowledged by the Baptists, but they disavow the practice which the appellation of Anabaptists (viz. double or second baptism) implies, and their doctrines seem referable to a more ancient and respectable origin.

"They appear supported by history in considering themselves the descendants of the Waldenses, who were so grievously oppressed and persecuted by the despotic heads of the Romish monarchy, and they profess an equal aversion to all principles of rebellion on one hand, and to all suggestions of fanaticism on the other."

It would be useless to lengthen this account by stating all the articles of faith held by the Anabaptists: as if it is proved that Christians holding the same sentiments as the Baptists of the present day existed long before this deluded sect arose, it must be quite evident, that Baptists are not descendants of Anabaptists. We will, therefore, proceed to examine some of the evidences of this fact.

From the establishment of the Antichristian power of the Roman Pontiff to the time of the Reformation, there intervened a gloomy period, emphatically and justly called "the dark ages." Now, supposing, during this gloomy period, the apostasy had been so universal, that not a single person was to be found who held the truth once delivered to the saints; yet, if at the close of the period, some persons should discover the nature of the prevailing errors, should renounce them, and embrace the truth, they are no more to be considered innovators, or founders of a new system or a new religion (as it is sometime called), than if they had been the immediate followers of the apostles, and taught the same truths, and this, we will show, may be said of the Baptists.

Let us then inquire, whether, during this dark period, there were any persons who refused submission, who held sentiments different from the Church of Rome, and who preserved the faith originally delivered to the saints.

If so, who were they, and what were their principles? Let us hear:

1. In every age of this dark time (says President Edwards), there appeared particular persons in all parts of Christendom, who bore a testimony against the corruptions and tyranny of the Church of Rome. God was pleased to maintain an uninterrupted succession of witnesses through the whole time, in Germany, France, Britain, and other countries as historians demonstrate, and mention them by name, private persons, ministers, magistrates, and persons of great distinction.

2. But there were not only scattered individuals throughout the states of Europe, who appeared at intervals like glowing meteors in the night of Popery, but there was a small secluded and delightful district where the full glory of the sun, poured forth between the two tremendous clouds that overspread the east and west of Christendom, was long and delightfully enjoyed. Here, for a succession of ages, not a few, but myriads of persons possessed and reflected the light of divine truth.

The five valleys of Piedmont between France and Italy, environed and defended by almost impassable mountains, fertile, fruitful, and secluded from surrounding nations, were secure: "As if the all-wise Creator had from the beginning designed that place as a cabinet, wherein to put some inestimable jewel, or in which to reserve many thousand souls which should not bow the knee to Baal."

This was the fact. In this place, and more or less in the neighbourhood, for above a thousand years, a faithful remnant, reserved to the Lord from corrupted Europe, continued to dwell.

The Waldenses (or branches of them, the people alluded to) were distinguished also by the names Albigenses, Vaudois, Albigeois, Paterines, Leonists, &c., &c.

Their extent as to number is given by one of their pastors, George Morell, who says, there were in his time, A. D. 1630, above 800,000 persons professing the religion of the Waldenses. In the south of France, Moravia, and Bohemia, at certain periods, they were numerous; in the latter alone, they were said to be 80,000 in A. D. 1316. Some of the papist writers themselves (says President Edwards) own that they never submitted to the Church of Rome. One of them says, "The heresy of the Waldenses is the oldest heresy in the world."

We will now state, I. The leading principles of the Waldenses as a general body, and especially on the article of Baptism; II. The opinion entertained by the several divisions of that body on this particular subject; and III. The period included in their history

I. The leading principles of the Waldenses are abundantly given by themselves in their confessions of faith and other writings, and by others, both friends and enemies, who have written of them. In A. D. 1644, the Waldenses, to remove unfounded prejudices entertained against them, transmitted to the French king a confession of faith in twelve articles, of which the following are the chief:

1. We believe there is but one God, Creator and Father of all.

2. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son and image of the Father. That in him all the fulness of the Godhead dwells.

3. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.

4. We believe there is one holy Church, the whole assembly of the faithful.

(As connected with our present inquiry, we will only further cite what relates to the ordinances.)

7. We believe, that in the ordinance of baptism, the water is the visible and external sign, which represents to us renovation of the mind, by the mortification of our members, through Jesus Christ; and by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God's people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life.

8. We hold that the Lord's Supper is a commemoration of our thanksgiving for the benefits we have received by his sufferings and death, &c. &c.

More than 400 years before this, in A. D. 1120, in another confession of faith, the Waldenses declared:—"We acknowledge no sacraments as of divine appointment, but Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We consider the sacraments as visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper that believers use these symbols, notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers may be saved without these signs, where they have no opportunity of observing them." (So the Baptists affirm, 700 years after)

Among the writings of the ancient Waldenses, is a treatise concerning Antichrist, Purgatory, &c. dated 1120, in which they affirm: "Antichrist seduces the people from Christ, teaches to baptize children into the faith, and attributes to this the work of regeneration, thus confounding the work of the Spirit with the external rite of baptism."

II. Others have testified of them in accordance with the preceding. Chessanion, 1595, says: "Some writers have affirmed that the Albigenses approved not of the baptism of infants; others, that they entirely slighted this holy sacrament. The truth is, they did not reject this sacrament, or say it was useless, but only counted it unnecessary to infants, because they are not of age to believe, or capable of giving evidence of faith." Chessanion states further that “they were not the first who were of this opinion," and refers to Tertullian as an example, and gives divers instances of the practice of the ancients to the same purpose.

The following writers not only refer to the principles of the Waldenses, but make them one with those of modern Baptists: viz. DR. MOSHEIM; LIMBORCH (Professor of Divinity at Amsterdam); and FR. GRETZER, a persecutor of the Waldenses.

III. The various divisions of the Waldenses who have been distinguished by different names, before that general name was given to them, have mostly, if not universally, held the same view of baptism as held by the English Baptists, viz.:

The ARNOLDISTS at Rome -          A. D. 1155

The HENRICANS in Languedoc -     A. D. 1147


in Languedoc and Provence -        A. D. 1110

The PATERINES, (very numerous in

the north of Italy)                      A. D. 1040


in Germany -              about the same period

The BERENGERIANS in France -    A. D. 1054


and his followers in Italy -          A. D. 1025

From what has been stated, it is evident that, had the ancient Waldenses, and the several divisions of them that have passed under various names, lived in the present day, they would have been called BAPTISTS; for whatever errors may be found in the creeds of any of them, on the subject of baptism they abode by the Word of God.

By the dates already given, the reader will have observed the opinion contended for, retraced from 1544 to 1025, that is, about 500 year before Luther, or the rebellion of the Munsterites.

REINERIUS SACCHO, who had been connected with the Waldenses for about 17 years, and afterwards apostatized and became an inquisitor, and most cruel persecutor of this people, testifies that “the Waldenses flourished five hundred years before the appearance of Peter Waldo," that is, before A. D. 1160, which refers their history back to A. D. 660.

Dr. MOSHEIM says: "The true origin of that sect is hid in the remote depths of antiquity."

And THEODORE BEZA: "As for the Waldenses, I may be permitted to call them the very seed of the primitive church."

According to Dr. Wall (a learned Pedobaptist), a canon was made in the council of Carthage in the year 418, which runs thus: "Also it is our pleasure that whoever denies that newborn infants are to be baptized, &c., let him be anathema," by which it appears that the practice had been then denied.

It is also certain that Tertullian, the earliest writer that can be found to have made mention of Infant Baptism, does so by dissuading from it, and opposing it; soon after the year of our Lord 200.

In the East, is the Greek Church and separate communions, as well as in the West, we are not without evidence of the existence of the same principles of Anti-Pedobaptism.

Mr. R. Robinson says:

"The innumerable Christians of the East who are not in communion with either the Greek or Roman Churches, may be divided into two classes. The first consists of such as in ages past dissented from the Greek Church. The second, of those who were never of any hierarchy, and who have always retained their original freedom. The number of such orientals is very great, for they lived dispersed all over Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, Nubia, Ethiopia, India, Tartary, and other eastern countries. It is remarkable, that though they differ on speculative points, they all administer baptism by immersion, and there is no instance to the contrary."

It may be noticed further, that Mr. R. Robinson, in describing the various bodies of Christians which were formed in the East in the first centuries, proves that their mode of baptism was uniformly by immersion, that their ancient rituals were evidently prepared for adults, and that the Roman missionaries have constantly censured them for delaying the baptism of their children.

We will now revert for a moment to the wide field of the Western church, and mention a few facts relating to the most happy and highly favoured of all its kingdoms which the reader may not be aware of; and it is gratifying to find, that they afford even stronger evidence than any that has been brought forward, that the first Christian churches did not practice Infant Baptism.

The Conquest of Britain, by the Romans, was commenced 43 years after Christ; to which period the introduction of Christianity into this country may be traced.

Bishop Newton says, “There is absolute certainty that Christianity was planted here in the times of the Apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem."

Pomponia Græcina, wife of Plautius, a Roman general, who commanded in England in the year 45, and Claudia Ruffina, a British lady, are supposed to be "of the saints that were in Caesar's household," mentioned by Paul in Phil. 4:22.

Gildas, the most ancient and authentic British historian, affirms, that the Britons received the Gospel under Tiberius, the emperor under whom Christ suffered; and that many evangelists were sent from the apostles into this nation, who were the first planters of the gospel.

On a brass plate, enclosed in an antique frame of oak, in the church of St. Peter, Cornhill, there is an inscription, stating, amongst other particulars, that Lucius, the first Christian king of Britain, founded that the first Christian church in London that he was crowned king A. D. 124, and reigned 77 years; consequently terminated his reign in the beginning of the third century.

Fox, the English martyrologist, says, "Out of an ancient book of the antiquities of England, we find the epistle of Eleutherius, written to Lucius, king of Britain, A. D. 169, who had written to Eleutherius for the Roman laws to govern by. In answer to which Eleutherius says, You have received, through God's mercy, in the realm of Brittany, the law and faith of Christ; you have with you both the parts of the Scripture out of them, by God's grace, with the council of the realm, take ye a law, and by that law, by God's sufferance, rule your kingdom of Britain."

From these records we learn that Christianity was introduced into Britain at a very early period; and, further, that Infant Baptism could not have been the common practice of Christian churches up to the time of. After the departure of Constantine from Britain, and the fall of the Roman power, this country was split into various petty states, by foreign invasion and internal feuds.

But two remarkable facts, viz.:

1. That Infant Baptism could not have been the common acknowledged practice of the Christian churches for several centuries, or that practice would have been introduced, and would have existed in Britain, in the time of Constantine ; and,

2. That the first British Christians for 500 years were Baptists; that is, did not practise Infant Baptism, and therefore would now be called Baptists are most satisfactorily confirmed, by the circumstance, that in the year 596, Gregory the Great of Rome sent over Austin, an abbot, with about forty monks, to convert the English. On his arrival, he found that he had been long preceded by the gospel of Christ, and that multitudes of persons had received it for ages. He labours to unite them with, in order to bring them under, the authority of the Church of Rome, but in vain. At length he calls their ministers together, and proposed three things to them, to which if they objected, the sword of war should be the penalty.

These he thus expressed:—"The 1st is, That ye keep Easter-day in the form and time as it is ordained; the 2nd, That ye give Christendom to children ; and the 3rd, That ye preach unto the Angles the word of God, as I have exhorted you."

To these the British firmly objected, and, painful to add, suffered the threatened fate.

But to revert to the early period to which these historic evidences have carried us, viz. to the apostolic ages, and to the century following, we here find numerous passages on baptism most decisively corroborating what has been stated, of believers being the subjects, and immersion the mode.

JUSTIN MARTYR, A.D. 140, addresses an apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, on behalf of Christians, in which he fully describes the baptism they practiced:

"I will now declare to you also, after what manner we, being made new by Christ, have dedicated ourselves to God, lest if I should leave that out,. I might seem to deal unfairly in some part of my apology.

"They who are persuaded, and do believe that those things which are taught by us are true, and do promise to live according to them, are directed first to pray, and ask of God with fasting the forgiveness of their former sins, and we also pray and fast with them. Then we bring them to some place where there is water, and they are baptized by the same way of baptism of which we were baptized; for they are washed in the water, in the name of God the Father, Lord of all things; and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit."

HERMAS (the friend of Paul, Rom. 16:14), A. D. 100, does as plainly speak of the baptism of believers, and the manner in which the apostles and teachers administer it: "They went down with them into the water, and again came up."

BARNABAS, Epis. II. says, "We go down into the water full of sins and pollutions, but come up again bringing forth fruit; having in our hearts the fear and hope which is in Jesus by the Spirit."

To these it is unnecessary to add:

The APOSTLES of Christ come next, and their order was, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." (Eph. 4:5) And this order, from which they never departed, they received from Him whose name they therefore placed first, faith second, and baptism third, as He, the LORD JESUS CHRIST ordained, saying: "Go ye into all the world, and (1st.) preach the gospel to every creature. He that (2nd.) believeth and is (3rd.) baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:15-16)

Thus, so far as these brief historic references enable us, we have traced back the distinguishing principles of the Baptists of the 19th century to the apostolic age. Here is the origin of their principles and practice. No other do they acknowledge; and if this be their basis, they need fear no storms of opposition or contempt; they have a secure foundation, and so far as this ordinance goes, they anticipate, in a future day, the approbation of Him who set them the example, and gave them the command.

Anabaptism (i.e. re-baptism) they disavow; and any descent from, or agreement in principle or practice with, the Munster fanatics, they deny, but maintain that their principles, and form of baptism, is derived solely from HIM, whose name is written, "King of kings, and Lord of lords." (Rev. 19:16)