A Concise History Of The Baptists
By G. H. Orchard



"From the days of John the Baptist till now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent taketh it by force."--Matt. 11:12.

1. Ecclesiastical history must ever prove an interesting subject to every true lover of Zion. Not only does every saint feel personally interested in her blessings, but he solicitously wishes and prays for their diffusion, as widely as the miseries of man prevail. Psal. 73:19. Feelings of holy jealousy are awakened within the bosom of each of Zion’s offspring, for the success and purity of that cause, in which all his soul is enlisted: emotions, therefore, of pain or pleasure, will accompany all his discoveries in historic details, in proportion as he views his adorable Lord honored or dishonored, by the obedience or disobedience of his professed followers.

2. Among those duties clearly revealed, and which the New Testament enjoins on the disciples of our Redeemer, Believers’ Baptism holds a very conspicuous place. This ordinance was particularly regarded in the days of the Redeemer and his apostles with their successors, and no satisfactory reason can be assigned for its perversion or neglect. Its importance has occasioned some kind of attention from the general body of professed Christians in every after age, though its scriptural character has been observed and perpetuated by one class or branch of the professing church, while other sections degenerated into the most unscriptural customs and heathenish rites. In ancient and modern times, it has been the apple of strife, as to its place and importance in the divine economy. By the great body of disputants, it has been diverted from the subject to which the Scriptures assigned it (Acts 8:37, and 18:8,) from various motives, all which have made it to convey the essentials of purity and spiritual life. Yet it has a scriptural aspect and import, for which we contend; and our desire is, to be found succeeding in spirit, views, and practice, those Christians who, under different names, and in various parts of the world, contended earnestly from apostolic days. Our design is, to trace and record the existence and practice of those Christian societies, which scripturally administered the ordinance, and this we hope to do, from the Jewish Jordan to the British Thames.

3. The first mention of this divine ordinance is found in Matthew the third. John, the son of Zechariah, is allowed to have been the first administrator of it. The way of John’s administering the ordinance occasioned his being called THE BAPTIST.

[The word "baptist," as distinguishing now a class of Christians, was given to express the act of John in administering the ordinance, and this term left with the prevailing expectation among the Jewish community of his sustaining some important embassy, rather than the doctrines he preached, attracted the attention of multitudes inhabiting Judea.]

[Some have asserted that immersion could not have been practised in Judea from scarcity of water; but, "the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, that spring out of the valleys and hills, Deut. 8:17. Ezek. 19:10. Joseph. Wan, b. 1, c. 16, b. 5, c. 4, which confutes the objector, since Judea was to be different to Egypt in this very point, Deut. 11:10.]

The novelty of John’s ordinance, by the Holy Spirit, without translating, is the only scriptural cognomen for that sacrament, and which has been through all ages, used to distinguish those who followed the first example. M’Knight, Gill on Matt. 3:1. The Koran has rendered the word to dip; and total immersion is frequently enjoined in the Mahometan code. See Sale’s Koran, vol. i., sec. 4, p. 138, &c. Pococke’s Description of the East, vol. ii., b. 2, chap. 8, p. 120. Pitt’s Relig. and Manners of the Mahometans, pp. 80-82. The word baptize is rendered in all ancient versions of the Scriptures to dip. See Greenfield’s Del. of the Seramp. Marrh. version, pp. 39-44. Dr. Ryland’s Candid Statement: notes at the end.

Many were reformed by John’s ministry, and agreeably to his terms were admitted to his baptism. "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all immersed of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins," Mark 1:5. Some Pharisees became candidates for this ordinance, when John inquired into their motive, assuring them, that their parents’ holiness would now avail them nothing, neither could he confer the ordinance on account of any promise made to their believing father; but that each candidate must bring forth the fruits of repentance, as an indispensable qualification for the New Testament dispensation ordinance. John’s extraordinary proceedings occasioned some inquiry among the leaders of the nation, seeing he had introduced a new ordinance into society of a religious aspect, John 1:25. The deputation from the Sanhedrim made inquiries of John, who assured them he received his commission from heaven. John 1:21; Matt. 21:25.* That his ordinance was appointed to make the Messiah and his adherents manifest to Israel. John 1:31. He also required of the deputation an acknowledgment of its heavenly origin by their obedience, and in order to express their desire of escaping the wrath to come, Matt. 3:7, which they refusing, excluded themselves from the privileges of the gospel kingdom, Luke 7:30.

[* Had Jewish proselyte baptism been in use at this period, this inquiry would not have been made, nor would the rulers have felt any difficulty in answering the Redeemer, Matt. 12:25. Some of the rabbins speak of John as being the innovator of this rite, and affirm the newness of its character. When proselyte baptism came into use, is not known: the proselyte dipped himself, but his posterity was not subject to the rite; no repentance, faith, or belief was required. If it existed, there is no part of scripture for the practice; and if it belonged to the Jewish dispensation, all ceremonies were abrogated by Christ’s death. Yet this rite is said to be the "basis of infant baptism." Many able divines, as Owen, Jennings, Benson, &c., declare the absence of such rite in the Jewish church. See this ably handled in Gale’s Reflect. on Wall, and Appendix. edit. 1820.]

4. John, having exercised his ministry about six months, was visited by Jesus of Nazareth, who came as a candidate for baptism. John hesitated, but when he understood that the ordinance constituted part of "the righteousness" in the new dispensation, they both descended into the river Jordan,+ and John became the administrator. John and Jesus exercised their ministry for a short time to the same people, and during the same period both administered the ordinance, John 4. But the multitudes which attended John’s ministry awaken in Herod’s mind apprehensions of a revolt, he consequently shut up John, to prevent any political disturbance, or rather, as the evangelists say, his reproving Herod of incest, occasioned his duresse, and afterwards he removed him by decapitation.

[+ The river Jordan is an interesting object. It was divided by divine power for Israel, Elijah, and Elisha. By dipping in this water, Naaman was cured. It was the place of John’s ministry, and of attesting the Messiah’s character. "Some stripped and bathed themselves in Jordan, others cut down boughs from the trees; every one employed himself to take a memorial of this famous stream: the water was turbid and too rapid to be swam against. For its breadth, it might be about twenty yards over: and in depth, it far exceeded my height."--Maundrell’s Journey, &c., p. 111. Madden’s Travels in Syria, &c., vol. ii., lett. 38, p. 307.]

5. It had been predicted that John should make ready a people for the Lord. The Saviour declared John as the harbinger of the new dispensation, and that his ministry had virtually terminated "the law and the prophets," Luke 16:16, and commenced the gospel kingdom, Mark 1:1. The instruction given by John to those persons whom the Saviour chose to discipleship, plainly fulfilled those predictions, Acts 1:21. These disciples went forth by his authority to preach and baptize during the Saviour’s personal ministry; and after his resurrection, they were invested with authority to preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing those who acknowledge themselves willing disciples to his doctrines. On the day of Pentecost they became fully qualified, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for rightly understanding and correctly executing their Lord’s will. It will be our pleasure to accompany them while in the discharge of their sacred trust, and to observe carefully for our guidance how they fulfilled their commission.

[The first order given to the eleven to make converts, to baptize and to teach, was not confined to the ministers or apostles, but extended to all capable of rendering aid to the Christian interest. That this was the construction then put upon that charge, receives support from the subsequent part of the history; Philip, the Eunuch--Ananius at Damascus, could equally teach and baptize, though these were not apostles. Campbell’s Lect. on Ecc. Hist., p. 68, lect. 4. This view of the Commission was taken by early dissenters, and the difficulty of baptizing by immersion, 3,000 or 10,000 in one day, finds an easy solution.]

6. The extraordinary circumstances on the day of Pentecost, occasioned many Jews congregating where the apostles and disciples met, at which time Peter opened to the Jews the gospel system of salvation. Three thousand felt the force of truth, and confessed themselves convinced of the dignity and authority of Christ as the Messiah; and as a proof of their sincerity, and the submissive state of their minds to his commands, they arose, were baptized, and washed away their sins; and the same day were added unto the church. To which number, in a few days, were added five thousand more: so that the word of the Lord prevailed, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. "So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed," and "Jerusalem was filled with the doctrine; and the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul, and great grace was upon them all."

7. This church of Jerusalem was composed of those only who "gladly received the word and were baptized." Their unity of spirit was their "beauty of holiness." This church so constituted is the acknowledged pattern or model* by which other Christian churches were formed, 1 Thess. 2:14. This community of Christians was also the arbitrator in spiritual affairs during apostolic days, and must be allowed still to be the standard of doctrine and practice to every Christian church, aided as it was by all the wisdom of inspired teachers; and particularly since no promise is found in the Scriptures, allowing us to expect those extraordinary aids, to qualify any men in forming any other church than the New Testament presents. This Christian assembly as it was the first, so it is the mother church in the Christian dispensation.

[* Hierarchalists, with others, say, the New Testament presents no settled form of church government. But the Judean churches were considered as models by Paul, who praised the Thessalonians for following their example: nor were the customs of different people allowed to influence churches in different provinces, but the teachers of religion throughout the world were to follow Paul’s example. This model imitated, occasioned a harmony in practice for one hundred years. If there is no form, then the Scriptures cannot be a perfect rule of faith and practice; each province, town, or society, may legislate without giving offense to the King of Zion; and consequently every age, from new customs, might have a new form of church government. Yet Jesus Christ has forbidden any thing to be added to his word; and one feature of the man of sin is, that he should "change laws in God’s temple;" but every plant not of scriptural authority shall be taken away, and every innovator in Christ’s kingdom will meet with his displeasure. The unity enjoined, the discipline established, the example left, and the accountability of each servant for his conduct in the service of God, prove there is a settled law for our guidance. See Maclean on the Commission, and Glass’s King of Martyrs.]

8. All the apostles and teachers emanating from this community sustained the character of holy faithful men. Their knowledge of divine things was regulated by an unerring guide. They all agreed in doctrines, duties, and discipline, so that from their teaching there was no schism in the body. However various their talents, into one spirit they had been made to drink, and by that spirit were all baptized into one body. A divine spirit actuated the whole community of Christians and teachers, so that all spoke and taught the same things, 1 Cor. 4:17. This oneness of views about doctrines, duties, and discipline, admitted the different epistles written by the apostles, to be of general use to the churches situated in various provinces of the Roman empire; which has not been the case, since a diversity of opinions on duties have been adopted by different communities, and distinctions pleaded, as to essential and non-essential things.

9. Stephen the deacon, taught with such force of evidence in his public preaching, that the enemies of the gospel, incapable of repelling conviction, resolved on his death. A severe persecution ensued, which drove many of the disciples from Jerusalem into other cities and provinces. These cruel proceedings against the church were strongly supported by one Saul of Tarsus, who afterwards, while on a journey for this express purpose, was arrested by divine interposition, when near Damascus,* and thus became an eminent disciple and apostle. In this scattered condition, the disciples went every where preaching the word. Their efforts were attended with remarkable success. From their labors, with those of the apostles, many souls were converted, and Christian communities extensively established. Among those assemblies on record, it is said of the church of Samaria, "They believed Philip’s preaching the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus, and were baptized, both men and women." [If children had been baptized here, the Holy Spirit is an unfaithful historian, and then the conjunction "both" precludes the possibility of a third party.] At Philippi, "Lydia’s heart was opened, she and her household were baptized and comforted," Acts 16:40. The jailer, Crispus, Cornelius, and their households believed, and were baptized; with the eunuch in the wilderness,** Saul at Damascus, the Corinthians, Acts 18:8; the Ephesians, Acts 19:5, all which instances prove believers’ baptism.+

[* See a description of this city and its waters, with the coffee-houses, where visitors are entertained on sofas in a circular court, in the midst of which court is a basin of water, fountain, &c., &c. This city is said to stand on the Eden of antiquity, Dr. Pococke’s Descrip. of the East, &c., v. ii. b. 2. ch. 8, p. 113, &c., and a sketch in Robinson’s Hist. of Baptism, ch. 40, p. 614. Pococke gives a description of the baptistry in the Mosque.]

[** See a description of the fountain in which the eunuch was baptized in Pococke, v. ii., b. 2, c. 11. p. 45, and the sufficiency of water in some parts of the wilderness, Deut. 10:7.]

[+ "The covenant of peculiarity was national; but now every one of you distinctly must be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and transact for himself in this great affair."--Henry, on Acts 2:38. "As God has appointed saints to be the seal and subject of the ordinance, having granted the right of them, to them alone."---Dr. Owen’s New Test. Worship, p. 103.]

10. The apostles, in writing to different churches, make their appeal only to responsible persons, nor do they ever allude to any having received baptism, but such as knew its spiritual import. Those addressed are termed "saints, sanctified, justified, God’s building, habitation, temple, Christ’s body, spouse," &c. Paul says to the Romans, "know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also shall walk in newness of life." He said to the churches formed throughout the province of Galatia, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." The church at Colosse was formed of those who were "buried with Christ in baptism, and were raised again through the faith of the operation of God." The Corinthian community was composed of a diversity of persons; but, "whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free, they had all been made to drink into one Spirit, and by that one Spirit were all baptized into one body." The apostles having taught the same things in every place, and composed the churches of similar materials in every province, the same conclusions enforce themselves on the mind of every inquirer, that those only who had fellowship in the spirit of the gospel,--were the only subjects interested in gospel ordinances.

11. At an early period, abuses crept into Christian churches, which occasioned apostolic correction. The Judaizing teachers required the converts of Christianity, from among the Gentiles, to be circumcised. Now, if the ordinance of baptism had come into the place of circumcision, the apostles would most certainly have explained such things to the Christian churches; and their instruction on this point of discipline, would have prevented the Jewish rite being added to baptism, and practised for some time with a New Testament ordinance. When the mixture of rites was discovered, the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, were not capable of deciding the point in dispute, so as to rectify the evil, and satisfy the contending parties, without calling their brethren together. The Redeemer had assured his disciples, during his ministry, that their decisions should abrogate any previous ordinance, or if they imposed new precepts they should be obligatory. The disputed point occasioned the elders and disciples to assemble at Jerusalem. After some consultation, they very solemnly, and by divine direction, put an end to the covenant which God had made with Abraham and his posterity; annulling federal holiness, national distinctions and privileges; securing a glorious liberty to believers of all nations. This decision cancelled the seal, circumcision, and left the Jewish people without a covenant or a promise.

12. Predictions held forth, that the Jews should be without their privileges many days, Hos. 3:4. And that God would break the covenant with all the people, Zech. 11:10. John the Baptist told the Jews that the axe was laid to their national privileges, and consequently, refused to admit them to gospel privileges, from relative considerations. These features of God’s intentions were repeated by Christ, Jn. 15:2. The synod at Jerusalem had declared the covenant with Abram void, and circumcision nothing. But while the Jews could assemble in the temple, a rivalship on their part was maintained, and a disposition constantly evinced to persecute the followers of the Lamb. The violent conduct of the Jews, engaged the emperor’s attention, and required all Nero’s cruel policy to manage. These commotions of the Jews allowed the Christians to realize a respite from persecution, which the emperor had commenced for his diversion. A contest had some time existed between the Jews and Syrians, about Caesarea, which city stood on the confines of both kingdoms, and was claimed alike by both. The dispute was referred to Nero, who decided in favor of Syria; on the report of this decision, the Jews flew to arms, butchered Romans and Syrians, which conduct drew on their countrymen dwelling in foreign cities and provinces, a retaliating vengeance. The combined armies of Rome and Syria subdued the Jews, and after a siege of five months, during which the sufferings of the besieged were unparalleled, the temple and city of Jerusalem were destroyed. Eleven hundred thousand lives were lost, and ninety thousand persons were led into captivity. [Myers’s Hist. of the Jews, c. 5 3] The destruction of the city and temple, after fifteen hundred years existence, effectually terminated Jewish distinction.

13. After the destruction of the Jewish capitol, the Christian church enjoyed for several years outward peace. Its inward harmony was often disturbed during this century by advocates of unscriptural doctrines, whose austerity of manners, and apparent sanctity of conduct, gave force to their doctrines upon the unwary. [Gibbon’s Rom. Hist. c. 15] These circumstances occasioned dissidents, yet at this period, each party tenaciously held the name of Christian, and had strong aversions to any other. [Bingham’s Antiq. of the Chris. Ch. b. 1, c. 1, s. 6] At the close of the century, the cruel edicts of Domitian changed the aspect of affairs towards the church.

14. We now turn to the writings, next in importance to the sacred oracles, in order to ascertain the views encouraged by the early fathers on baptism.

Barnabus was Paul’s companion, (Acts 13:2) and like him sound in the faith. [Toplady’s Hist. Proof, v. i., p. 125] This worthy minister says on baptism, "Consider how he hath joined both the cross and the water together; for this he saith, Blessed are they who putting their trust in the cross, descend into the water." [Catholic Ep. of Barnabas, p. 292, Dr. Wake’s translation]

Hermes, whom Paul salutes in the church at Rome, (Rom. 16:14.) writing about A.D. 95, speaking of baptism and backsliders, says, "They are such as have heard the word, and were willing to be baptized in the name of the Lord; but when they call to mind what holiness it required in those who professed the truth, withdrew themselves." Again, "Before a man receives the name of the Son of God, he is ordained to death; but when he receives that seal, he is freed from death, and delivered unto life: now that seal is water, into which men descend under an obligation to death, but ascend out of it, being appointed unto life. [Stennett’s Ans. to Russen, p. 143]

Clemens asserts, "that they are right subjects of baptism, who have passed through an examination and instruction." [See Jacob Merningus, in his Hist. of Bap, p. 2, out of Clem. Epis.; also, Dutch Martyrol, cent. 1]

Ignatius was a disciple of John, and acquainted with Peter and Paul. He was an elder in the church at Antioch. In a discourse on baptism, he says, "That it [baptism] ought to be accompanied with faith, love, and patience, after preaching." [Dutch Martyrol, c. 1]

15. We will now subjoin a few extracts from the most accredited historians on the same subject.

"The Son of God was dipped in the waters of Jordan, by the hand of John the Baptist. Philip baptized the eunuch in a river. It seems also, that Lydia and her household at Philippi, were baptized in a river, at which prayers were usually made." [Magdeb. Cent. c. 1. I.I.c. 4] The same historians tell us, "they baptized only the adult or aged, whether Jews or Gentiles:" they also say, "the manner of baptizing was by dipping or plunging in water, in the name of the Trinity," so agreeably to the sense of the word, and also by the allegory of death, burial, and resurrection, to which the apostle alludes. [Id. p. 497 in Danver’s Hist. of Bap. p 58]

Dr. Mosheim says, "Whoever acknowledged Christ as the Saviour of mankind, and made a solemn profession of his ‘confidence in him, was immediately baptized and received into the church." Again, "The sacrament of baptism was administered in this century without public assemblies, in places appointed and prepared for the purpose, and was performed by the immersion of the whole body in the baptismal font." He also states, that "no persons were admitted to baptism, but such as had been previously instructed into the principal points of Christianity, and had also given satisfactory proofs of pious dispositions and upright intentions:" and now arose the different names of catechumen and believers, the first being under instruction, in order to receive baptism, the other had received baptism, and were members in communion.

"It is plain," says Dr. F.A. Cox, "from the writers of this century, who will be allowed to have been the earliest next to the apostles, as Barnabas, Hermes, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp, and yet not one of these speaks of baptism being administered to infants." [Bapt. p. 155]

16. One evidence that the religion of the New Testament was from God, is derived from the progress the cause of truth made when it was first propagated. [Benson’s Hist. of the First Planting of Christianity] This progress, and consequently, the evidence upon which it is suspended, entirely depends on the class of persons initiated into its community. If children were in any way admitted to the ordinance, a great part of those numbered amongst the adherents or converts to Christianity, in this century, must be subtracted, as being from their minority incapable of judging of its merits. This dilemma we leave with Paedobaptists. But the account, given by Luke in the Acts, of various churches collected by the first preachers, are details of communities made up of persons whose convictions of the truth decided their choice; and such converts only, establish the full force of -the evidence, that Christianity was divine, and the triumphs of its truths, rational. This evangelist declares, chap. i. 3, that he had perfect understanding of all things, from the very first; and in Acts i. 1, says, his gospel stated "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was taken up." Yet no allusion is made to the infant rite; we cannot, therefore, assert its existence in the church in his day, without impeaching Luke’s veracity. The historian Gibbon has endeavored through his work to weaken the evidences brought forth in favor of the gospel, manifesting a solicitude to lessen the number of the first converts. Had he been able to have established the point, that children were admitted into Christian communities,* he would have employed effectually, that circumstance to lower the triumphs of the cross. But this, Gibbon could not do, for want of evidence. At an after period, he discovered children and slaves in Christian churches, consequently he records their characters, to exhibit the sublimity of the Saviour’s cause, and its rivalship in numbers with Pagans. Thus Paedobaptism in all ages has aided infidelity, by lessening the evidences of the gospel,+ and compounding the church of opposing materials, conferring a spiritual rite on an irrational subject, and allowing a comparison of its merits and success, with the enterprise of Mahomet, who enlisted subjects by force, and embraced members without virtue! [Gibbon’s Hist. c. 15. v. ii. pp. 302 and 309]

[* The following item would have suited Gibbon, "We have 900 baptized, and candidates for baptism, and about forty members in our church." Ellis’s Mem. of his Wife; Missionary to the Sandwich Is. p. 91.]

[+ About the middle of the last century, a work was published, "Christianity irrational from Paedobaptism," several paedobaptists replied to it, New Evangelical Mag. 5, 210.]

17. There was no difficulty in administering baptism by immersion. Mr. Horne remarks, "that the bath was always agreeable to the inhabitants of the East; and it is not at all surprising, that it should have been so, since it is cooling and refreshing. The bath is frequented by eastern ladies, and may be reckoned among their principal recreations. It was one of the civil laws of the Hebrews, that the bath should be used; Lev. 14:8, 9. We may, therefore, consider it as probable, that public baths, soon after the enactment of this law, were erected in Palestine, of a construction similar to that of those, which are so frequently seen at the present day in the East." [Intro. to the Crit. Study, &c., v. iii. p. 434] The Greek baths were usually annexed to the gymnasia, of which pastimes they were considered as part. The Roman baths were generally splendid buildings. It is said that at Rome there were eight hundred and fifty-six public baths; and according to Fabricus, the excessive luxury of the Romans appeared in nothing more visible than in their baths. Seneca complains, that the baths of the plebeians were filled by silver pumps; and that the freedmen trod on gems. Agrippa built 160 places for bathing, where the citizens might be accommodated either with hot water or cold, free of expense. The baths of Nero had salt water brought into them. Those of Caracalla were adorned with two hundred marble columns, and furnished with sixteen hundred seats of the same materials. Lipsius assures us, the baths were sufficiently large for 1800 persons to bathe at the same time. But the baths of Dioclesian surpassed all the rest in magnificence; 140,000 men were employed many years in building them. [Howard’s Roy. Ency. v. i, Art. Baths. Potter’s Antiq. of Gr. b. 1. c. 8., &c. Fosbroke’s Ency. Antiq. vol. i., p. 46] The rich had baths at home, and frequently very magnificent ones. In Italy, and in the east, baths on a large scale are still seen. [Lon. Ency. Art. Baths; Adam’s Rom. Antiq. pp. 375--81; Penny Cyclo. Art. Bath; Robinson’s History of Baptists c. 9--11] In Modern Turkey, as well as among the ancients, bathing makes part of diet and luxury; so that in every town and in every village there is a public bath. [Lon. Ency. Art. Bathing] The baths in Persia consist of three rooms for the accommodation of bathers. The Persians are obliged to immerse, when they would cleanse themselves from any legal pollutions. Persons of distinction have their own baths in their own houses. [Millar’s New Geograph. v. 1, p. 27, col. 2; fol. Sandy’s Travels in Turkey &c. Took’s Russia; Pococke’s View of the East]

It is thus made plain to the unlettered, that no difficulty existed in the east in performing baptism by immersion.



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