1. Great Britain and Ireland. - If the Anabaptists of England were not the progenitors of the modern Baptist church, we must look abroad for the beginnings of that movement. Although there were doubtless many who held Baptist views scattered among the Independent communities, it was not until the time of John Smith or Smyth (d. 1612) that the modern Baptist movement in England broke away from Brownism. Smyth was appointed preacher of the city of Lincoln in 1600 as an ordained clergyman, but became a separatist in 1605 or 1606, and, soon after, emigrated under stress of persecution with the Gainsborough Independents to Amsterdam. With Thomas Helwys (ca. 1560-ca. 1616) and Morton he joined the "Ancient" church there, but, coming under Mennonite teaching in 1609, he separated from the Independents, baptized himself (hence he is called the "Se-baptist"), Helwys and others probably according to the Anabaptist or Mennonite fashion of pouring. These then formed the first English Baptist Church which in 1611 published "a declaration of faith of English people remaining at Amsterdam in Holland." The article relating to baptism is as follows: - "That every church is to receive in all their members by baptism upon the confession of their faith and sins, wrought by the preaching of the gospel according to the primitive institution and practice.
And therefore churches constituted after any other manner, or of any other persons, are not according to Christ's testament. That baptism or washing with water is the outward manifestation of dying unto sin and walking in newness of life; and therefore in no wise appertaineth to infants." They held "that no church ought to challenge any prerogative over any other"; and that "the magistrate is not to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience nor compel men to this or that form of religion." This is the first known expression of absolute liberty of conscience in any confession of faith.
Smyth died in Holland, but in 1612 Helwys returned to England with his church and formed the first Baptist church worshipping on English soil. The church met in Newgate Street, London, and was the origin of the "General" Baptist denomination. Helwys and his followers were Arminians, repudiating with heat the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination. They thus differed from other Independents. "They also differed on the power of the magistrate in matters of belief and conscience. It was, in short, from their little dingy meeting house ... that there flashed out, first in England, the absolute doctrine of Religious Liberty" (Prof. Masson). Leonard Busher, the author of "Religious Peace: or a Plea for Liberty of Conscience," was a member of this church.
The next great event in the history of the Baptists (though it should be mentioned that the last execution for heresy in England by burning was that of a Baptist, Edward Wightman, at Lichfield 1612) is the rise of the first Calvinistic or Particular Baptist Church. This was the Jacob church in Southwark, which numbered among its members John Lothropp or Lathrop (d. 1653), Praise-God Barbon (ca. 1596-1679), Henry Jessey (1601-1663), Hanserd Knollys (ca. 1599-1691) and William Kiffin (1616-1701). It was originally Independent but then became Baptist. From this six other churches sprang, five of which were Baptist. Before the Jacob church, however, had itself become Baptist, it dismissed from its membership a group of its members (the church having grown beyond what was regarded as proper limits) who, in 1633, became the first Particular Baptist Church.
Thus there were now in existence in England two sets of Baptists whose origins were quite distinct and who never had any real intercourse as churches. They differed in many respects. The General Baptists were Arminian, owing to the influence of the Mennonite Anabaptists. The Particular Baptists were Calvinist, springing as they did from the Independents. But on the question of Baptism both groups, while they utterly rejected the baptism of infants, were as yet unpledged to immersion and rarely practised it. The development of their doctrine as to baptism was marked along three lines of dispute: - (1) who is the proper administrator of baptism? (2) who are the proper subjects? and (3) what is the proper mode? Eventually agreement was reached, and in 1644 a Confession of Faith was published in the names of the Particular Baptist churches of London, now grown to seven, "commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptist."
The article on baptism is as follows: - "That baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament given by Christ to be dispensed only upon persons professing faith, or that are disciples, or taught, who, upon a profession of faith, ought to be baptized." "The way and manner of dispensing this ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water." They further declare (particularly in order that they may avoid the charge of being Anabaptists) that "a civil magistracy is an ordinance of God," which they are bound to obey. They speak of the "breathing time" which they have had of late, and their hope that God would, as they say, "incline the magistrates' hearts so for to tender our consciences as that we might be protected by them from wrong, injury, oppression and molestation"; and then they proceed: "But if God withhold the magistrates' allowance and furtherance herein, yet we must, notwithstanding, proceed together in Christian communion, not daring to give place to suspend our practice, but to walk in obedience to Christ in the profession and holding forth this faith before mentioned, even in the midst of all trials and afflictions, not accounting our goods, lands, wives, children, fathers, mothers, brethren, sisters, yea, and our own lives, dear unto us, so that we may finish our course with joy; remembering always that we ought to obey God rather than men." They end their confession thus: "If any take this that we have said to be heresy, then do we with the apostle freely confess, that after the way which they call heresy worship we the God of our fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets and Apostles, desiring from our souls to disclaim all heresies and opinions which are not after Christ, and to be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, as knowing our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord." The "breathing time" was not of long continuance.