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



"Many walk, of whom I have told you often--who mind earthly things." --Phil. 3:18.

1. The fourth century commenced with outward peace to the church; but the pagan priests wrought so effectually on the fears of Diocletian, as to obtain from him, in 303, an edict to pull down the sanctuaries of Christians, to burn their books and writings, and to take from them all their civil rights and privileges, to render them incapable of any honors or civil promotion. Other orders were issued of a more sanguinary character; the magistrates employed all kinds of tortures, and the most unsupportable punishments were invented, to force Christians to apostatize--and the ministers of religion were in particular the objects of the emperor’s aversion. The severity and indecent measures adopted, with their continuance for two years, were likely to have proved fatal to the Christian interest. In 306, Constantine, surnamed the Great, was saluted emperor by the army, and the aspect of affairs towards the Christian church was soon changed; and in 325, the old corrupt interests were incorporated by an act of the emperor’s from which union we dissent.

2. In 251, there were forty-four Jewish Christian congregations in Rome. Till the time of Sylvester, the Christians had baptized either in private baths, or in subterranean waters, or in any place without the city. The emperor Constantine gave Bishop SYLVESTER the imperial mansion for a sort of parsonage-house: and here was erected the first artificial baptistery in Rome. From this period, at proper seasons of the year, all their catechumens went to be baptised at the Lateran baptistery. Other churches looked to the bishop, who presided over the Lateran congregation and the baptistery; consulted him about the times of baptism, or administering the ordinance, and the regulation of other ecclesiastical affairs. This mode of proceeding in consulting the bishop, led to the destruction of civil and religious liberty, and ruined the independency of the churches. [Wall’s Inf. Bap. vol. ii., p. 352; Robin. Hist. Bap. p. 345]

3. It might appear to some readers, that the testimonies of early baptisms, as adduced above, are few in number for three centuries; many more allusions to the ordinance could be given, yet it should be remembered that while there existed an harmony among the churches, on the mode and subject of baptism, and all parties were regulated by the scriptures, there was no necessity for the churches to record their views of baptism; but when the ordinance became diverted from the believer, we find an increase of witnesses, recording the ancient way, and testifying against the innovation. It is in the fourth century our testimonies increase; and the following plain and consecutive declarations are no obscure evidence as to the period when infant baptism assumed a decided station in Christian assemblies. This evidence is corroborated by the first recorded fact of a youth’s baptism: Galetes, the dying son of Valens, A.D. 370, already mentioned.

4. The following testimonies of the Fathers have outlived the ravages of time; no doubt thousands of voices were raised against the incoming abuse, and many things were said and written on baptism, that had only an ephemeral existence. Some of the subjoined writers advocated baptismal regeneration; and those views led to baptize youth and minors, with infants, at a later period.

HILARY, Bishop of Poictiers, in France, prayeth, "Oh, living Lord, preserve my faith, and the testimony of my conscience; so that I may always keep what I have confessed in the sacrament of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the name of," &c. [Danver’s Treat., p. 65]

ATHANASIUS, Bishop of Alexandria, says, "Our Lord did not slightly command to baptize; for first of all he said, teach, and then, baptize, that true faith might come by teaching, and baptism be perfected by faith."

EPHRIAM SYRUS relates that, in his time, "It was the custom, when any one was baptized, to declare they did forsake the devil and all his works, adultery," &c.; also, that "the baptized used to confess their sins, and testify their faith, before many witnesses." [Bap. Mag., v.i., p. 212]

JEROM OR HIEROM, a presbyter in Dalmatia, observes on Matt. 28:19. "They first teach all nations, then, when they are taught, they baptise them with water; for it cannot be, that the body should receive the sacrament of baptism, unless the soul have before received the true faith." [Wall’s Hist. p. 2, c. 1, p. 7] He declares, "that in the eastern churches, the adult only were baptized;" also, "that they are to be admitted to baptism to whom it doth belong: viz., those only who have been instructed in the faith." [Danver’s Treat. p. 67] He also appealed to his auditory, and remarked, "When you were baptised, did you not swear allegiance to Christ, and that you would spare neither father nor mother for his sake?" [Morris’s Biog., v.i., 377]

BASIL, BISHOP OF CAESAREA, addresses his hearers with, "Do you demur, and loiter, and put off baptism, when you have been from a child catechized in the word--are you not acquainted with the truth?" [Wall’s Hist., p. 1, c. 12, p. 148] He declares, "One must believe first, and then be sealed with baptism." [Id. p. 2, c. 1, p. 7] "Must the faithful be sealed with baptism? Faith must needs precede, and go before." Again, "None is to be baptised but the catechumens, and those who are duly instructed in the faith." [Danver’s Treat., p. 65] He observes, "Faith and baptism are two means of salvation nearly allied, and inseparable; for faith is perfected by baptism, and baptism is rounded on faith: * * * and the confession which leads us to salvation goes before, and baptism, which seals our covenant, follows after." [Stennett’s Answer to Russen, p. 90] Dr. Wall remarks on the address of Basil to his auditory, "Part of Basil’s auditory at this time were such as had been from their childhood instructed in the Christian religion, and consequently in all probability born of Christian parents, and yet not baptized."

[Inf. Bap., p. 1, c. 12, p. 148. Basil was a great advocate for trine immersion, a custom which prevailed in the church for centuries. Baronius Ann. v. viii., p. 30, fol. Wall’s Hist. 2, 384. Bingham’s Antiq. v.i., b. 10, c. 3, ~4. Baptism was so much in vogue in the early ages, that one class of professors, the Hemerobaptists, religiously dipped themselves every day: Gale’s Reflec. p. 136. Mosh. Hist. v. iii., p. 189. Robinson’s Bap. 33. Modern Paedobaptists assert, that baptism by immersion cannot be proved to have been the early mode.--Evan. Mag., v. xxii., p. 104; Congre. Mag., 1824; Alb. Barnes’s Notes on Rom. 6:4. We would ask those persons who are so hardly driven to maintain their rite, what proof they require? Scripture is supported by authenticated facts for ages; yet all evidence on this point, with them, amounts to nothing. The opposers of the Bible are constantly demanding proof of those miracles recorded, of a Providence, &c. Errors of all degrees borrow the same weapons! It is to be regretted, Paedobaptism lends its aid in so many ways to the opposers of vital religion, and unites in destroying the testimonies of the most accredited historians, weakens the authority of Scripture, and endeavors to lessen the creature’s fealty to his Savior. All early churches immersed; the Grecians, Russians, Armenians, Prussians, Abyssinians, &c. &c., do so to this day, and thousands of incidental and correlative circumstances on record, with the direct statements of early and modern historians, and the concessions of later writers, which will be detailed, prove, if any fact admits of proof, that believers, before admitted to fellowship, in any early primitive church, were immersed once or thrice, on a profession of faith; and that there is no trace of infant baptism in early scriptural communities.]

The emperor Valens sent for Basil, in 370, to baptise his dying son, Galetes: the ground of the request was the illness of the youth. The above extracts from Basil’s works show he could not confer the ordinance without a profession of faith: and, from Fox’s account, it appears he did not baptize the child, but that the rite was administered by an Arian bishop.

CHRYSOSTOM, bishop of Constantinople, asserted that "the time of grace was the time of baptism, which was the season the three thousand, in the second of Acts, and the five thousand afterwards, were baptized." Again, "to be baptized and plunged into the water, and then to emerge or rise out of it again, is a symbol of our descent into the grave, and of our ascent out of it; and, therefore, Paul calls baptism a burial, when he says we are buried with him." [Stennett’s Ans., p. 145. Chrysostom baptized youths with their parents, all in a state of nudity. Wall’s Inf. Bap., p. 2, c. 9, S 3. Bing. Antiq., v.i., b. 11, c. 11, ~1]

SIRICIUS, bishop of Rome, declares "that those only should be admitted [to baptism] who have given in their names forty days or more before Easter, and have been cleansed by exorcisms, and daily prayers, and fastings, to the end that that precept of the apostle may be fulfilled, of purging out the old leaven that there may be a new lump." [Wall’s Hist., p. 1, c. 17, p. 250]

CYRIL, bishop of Jerusalem, exhorts his auditory, "not to go to baptism as the guest in the gospel who had not on the wedding garment; but having their sins first washed away by repentance, they might be found worthy at the marriage of the Lamb. You must prepare yourselves by purifying the conscience, and not consider the external baptism, but the inward grace that is imparted by it, for the water is sanctified by invocation. The water washes the body, but the Spirit sanctifies the soul; and being thus purified, we are made meet to draw near to God. If any one be baptized without having the Holy Spirit, he receives not the grace of baptism; and if any one receive not baptism, he cannot be saved." Candidates," he says, "are first anointed with consecrated oils; they are then conducted to the laver, and asked three times if they believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; then they are dipped three times into the water, and retire out of it by three distinct efforts." [Dupin’s Ec. Hist., c. 4, v. ii., pp. 109-113]

GREGORY, BISHOP OF NAZIANZEN, says, "Baptism consists in two things, the water and the Spirit; that the washing the body with water represents the operation of the Spirit in purifying the soul." He asserts baptism to be, "a compact which we make with God, by which we oblige ourselves to lead a new life." He remarks, "there are three different classes of persons that receive baptism, and there are three sorts who do not receive baptism;--the impious and vicious, who have no relish for it; others delay for liberty to sin; the last are those who cannot receive it, either because of their infancy, or some accident." [Dupin, c. 4, p. 171] He asserts "the baptized used in the first place to confess their sins, and to renounce the devil and all his works, before many witnesses;" and "they were prepared for baptism, by watchings, fastings, prayer, alms-deeds, restitution of ill-gotten goods;" and that, "none were baptized of old, but they that did so confess their sins." He shows also, the necessity of keeping the baptismal vow, and that "the most acceptable posture, or preparation to receive it, is a heart inflamed with a desire for it." [Wall’s Hist., v. i. c. 11, p. 112; Orat. in Bapt. Mag., v. 1, p. 212] Again, "We are buried with Christ by baptism, that we may also rise again with him; we ascend with him, that we may also be glorified together." [Stennett’s Ans. p. 144]

GREGORY, BISHOP OF NYSSA, asserts, "In baptism, there are three things which conduct us to immortal life, Prayer, Water, and Faith. That the regeneration wrought in baptism ought not to be attributed to the water, but to a divine virtue; that by dipping the person under water three times, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is represented; that without baptism no man can be washed from sin. [Dupin. c. 4, p. 178]

AMBROSE, Bishop of Milan, speaking of baptism, says, "there were three questions propounded, and three answers or confessions made, without which none can be baptized;" [Morris’s Biog. v. i. p. 356] * * * "at last you are introduced into the place where the sacrament of baptism is administered, you are obliged to renounce the devil and all his works, the world, and all its pomps and allurements. You found in this place the water and a priest who consecrated the waters; the body was plunged into this water to wash away sin; the Holy Ghost descended upon this water; you ought not to fix your mind upon the external part of it, but to consider in it a divine virtue." [Dupin, c. 4, p. 214, &c.] He asserts, "Thou wast asked, Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty? thou saidst, I do believe, and wast dipped, that is, buried. Thou wast asked again, Dost thou believe on our Lord Jesus Christ, and his crucifixion? thou saidst, I believe, and wast dipped again, and so wast buried with Christ. Thou wast interrogated the third time, Dost thou believe in the Holy Spirit? thou answeredst, I believe, and wast dipped a third time." [Stennett’s Ans. p. 144, and Cox on Bap. p. 48]

EPIPHANIUS, BISHOP OF SALAMIS, wrote on 80 heresies in the Christian church; he speaks of faith, as a disposition necessary to the receiving of baptism. He does not charge any class of professors with the error of conferring the ordinance without a profession of faith. [Dupin, c. 4, p. 234, &c.] Epiphanius, with others, does not mention any thing concerning infant baptism. [Wall’s Hist. p. 1. c. 21, p. 411, ~ 4]

AUGUSTIN, or Austin, Bishop of Hippo, in Africa, says, "It is evident that men who still persevered in sins, desired to be baptized; and there were those who supported their unreasonable wishes, and thought it sufficient to teach them after baptism how they ought to live, still holding out a hope to their minds, that they might be saved as by fire, because they had been baptized. True saving faith works by love; that the instruction of catechumen includes morals as well as doctrines; that the labor of catechising is exceeding profitable to the church; and that persons ought to be catechized before they receive baptism, that they may know how vain it is to think of being saved without holiness: as in the case of the eunuch who was catechized before he was baptized. [Miln. Hist. of the Ch., C. 5, c. 7] Augustin’s view of original sin led many to inquire how it could be taken away from those who could not believe; the answer was, that sin was removed in baptism: consequently, this view of baptism drove him into paedobaptism, and infants became as eligible in his view, as minors and youths had been for the last century. Augustin, to enforce his views of infant salvation by water, called an assembly, of which we shall speak hereafter. [Rob. Bap. c., 23]

5. We here subjoin a few extracts from those early assemblies of ministers, commonly called councils; and the rules they adopted called canons.

The council of Elvira, or Granada, enjoins a delay of baptism if the catechumi act worldly: also adultery and intermarriages should be checked, and ministers of religion should not have strange women with them. [Dupin’s Hist. c. 14, p. 242]

The council of Neocessarea, in the sixth canon, saith, "That confession and free choice were necessary to baptism." [Magde. Cent. in Danver’s, p. 68]

The council of Laodicea required notice from the person who intended to be baptized, and resolved all should be instructed before they received it; [Dupin, c. 4, p. 262] and determined that the baptized should rehearse the articles of the creed. [Magd. Cent. in Danver’s, p. 68]

The council of Constantinople decreed that certain persons should remain a long time under scriptural instruction, before they receive baptism. [Dupin, c. 4, p. 273]

The council of Carthage, in canon 34, declares, that "sick persons shall be baptized, who cannot answer any longer, when those who are by them testify that they desired it." Again, "those who have no testimonials, and do not remember that they were baptized, shall be baptized anew." [Dupin c. 4, p. 279]

The council of Carthage, in canon 85, enjoins, that catechumens shall give in their names, and be prepared for baptism. That the clergy should not cohabit with strange women; that they should not go to fairs; that those ministers shall be degraded who are traitors, and those who speak lascivious words be removed; that those be reprimanded who swear by the creature! [Dupin, c. 4, p. 282] These clergy prepare us for the next declaration.

The fifth council of Carthage, in canon 76, declares children ought to be baptized. [Id. p. 288]

The council of Mela, in Numidia, in Africa, enjoin Christians to baptize their infants [Rob. Bap. p. 216] for forgiveness of sin, and curse all who deny the doctrine. [Wall’s Hist., p. 1, c. 19, sec. 37, p. 372, &c.]

At Girona, in Spain, seven men of different provinces made the first European rule for infant baptism. [Rob. Hist. of Baptism, p. 270]

Charles the Great, in 789, issued the first law in Europe for baptizing infants. [Id. p. 283, ch. 26]

6. To strengthen those testimonies as to the early subjects and mode of baptism, we shall merely run through some miscellanies, confirmatory of our practice.

The Greek word baptize, regulates all the Grecian and eastern churches in dipping. The Mahometans baptize by immersion, and have every conveniency for that purpose. References to rivers at an early period, imply the way of administering the ordinance among Christians. Many paintings are extant, representing the act of immersion. The extensive and beautiful buildings erected, with their apartments and apparatus, prove the mode to have been dipping, and the subjects, men and women. The clothes worn, and the officers in attendance on these occasions, support the same views. Records mention persons and youths having been drowned in baptisteries; and immersion in those places has been attended with those casualties which are too delicate to record, and circumstances which would now be deemed reproachful. The canon law required for ages trine immersion, with creeds and rituals, which expressed the subject and described the mode. Sermons were addressed to all catechumens, after long preparation; and orations were delivered to candidates, with homilies expressive and confirmatory of the same things. Inscriptions, mottoes, and poetry, convey the same information. The earliest reformers scripturally administered the ordinance; while the German and other revivers of religious knowledge, with every respectable historian, admit, on record, the early practice to have been believers’ immersion, and dipping is now continued by all those nations not subject to the authority of the pope.

7. The record of children born of Christian parents, and yet not baptized during infancy, we next subjoin.

BASIL, son of Basil, bishop of Nicene, and his wife, Eumele, whose grandfather was a martyr, was tenderly educated like a second Timothy, under his gracious mother. He became a learned man, and a great preacher, and was baptized in Jordan, by Maximinus, a bishop. [Danver’s Treat. pp. 69--71] Also Chrysostom, Jerom, of Strydon, Theodore, the emperor [Gibbon’s Ro. Hist., c. 27, vol. v.p. 12], Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine, Ambrose, [Danv. Treat. 70] Polycrates [Gale’s Reflect. p. 470], Nectaries [Danver’s Treat. p. 72, and Rob. Hist. of Bap. Ch. 13, ~ 5, p. 67], the emperor Constantine, with other nobles.

Dr. Field observes, on the histories of these great men, [Danver’s Treat., p. 72; Daille’s Use of the Fathers, b. 2, ch. 6, Reas. 6, p. 149] "that very many that were born of Christian parents (in the fourth and fifth centuries), delayed their baptism for a long time, insomuch, that many were made bishops before they were baptized. The same views are supported by Beatus Rhenanus, and Mr. Den; the latter mentions Pancratius, Pontius, Nazarius, Tecla, Luigerus, Erasma Tusca, all offsprings of believers, and yet not baptized till aged. Similar observations are made by the learned Daille and Dr. Barlow.

[Since these names, with others which could be recorded, are some of the most distinguished for respectability, in the annals of history, one plain evidence enforces itself upon our attention, that Paedobaptism was unknown among royalty, courtiers, and respectable persons in Europe, at the period of these eminent men’s births.]

The great champion for infant baptism, Dr. W. Wall, remarks, "It seems to me that the instances which the Baptists give of persons not baptized in infancy, though born of Christian parents, are not (if the matter of fact be true) so inconsiderable as this last plea [the sayings of the Fathers] would represent. On the contrary, the persons they mention are so many, and such NOTED persons, that (if they be allowed) it is an argument that leaving children unbaptized was no unusual, but a frequent and ordinary thing. For it is obvious to conclude, that if we can in so remote an age trace the practice of so many that did this; it is probable that a great many more of whose birth and baptism we do not read did the like. This I will own, that it seems to me the argument of the greatest weight of any that is brought on the Baptist side in this dispute about antiquity." [History of Inf. Bap. p. 2, S 16, p. 42]

We conclude this chapter with the words of Curcelleus, "Paedobaptism was not known in the world the two first ages after Christ, in the third and fourth it was approved by few; at length, in the fifth and following ages, it began to obtain in divers places; and, therefore, we (paedobaptists) observe this rite indeed, as an ancient custom, but not as an apostolic tradition. The custom of baptizing infants did not begin before the third age after Christ, and that there appears not the least footstep of it for the first two centuries." [Stennett’s Ans., &c., p. 87]



Home | Salvation | Statement of Faith | Baptist History

Bible Doctrine | False Doctrines and Cults | Bible Versions Issues

Biblical Prophecy | Biblically Relevant News | Discussion Forums

Missions | Patriotic American Issues | On Line Christian Library