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THE TRUE STORY OF JOHN SMYTH, THE

SE-BAPTIST.*

BY PROFESSOR J. C. LONG, D. D.

This little book of Dr. Dexter's has been some time before the public, but only recently came into our hands. It was called forth by certain criticisms made by Baptists on his “ Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years, etc. It might form an appropriate appendix to that work, or the matter of it might be used in a preface to it. But whether it shall continue in its present shape, or hereafter take some other, it is a very creditable and noteworthy little affair. We seldom see work of the kind more laboriously done. There are Baptists who will not agree with him in his conclusions; and there are other Baptists who liave reached substantially the same conclusions before him; but no intelligent Baptist, to whichever of these classes he may belong, will withhold from him the praise due to diligent historical investigation.

Dr. Dexter discusses three questions. The first has reference to John Smyth; the second is, whether “Dipping was a new mode of baptism in England, in or about 1641;" the third inquires into the genuineness of certain “. Ancient

* The true story of John Smyth, the Se-Baptist, as told by himself and his contemporaries, etc. By Henry Martyn Dexter. Boston: Lee & Shepard. 1881.

Vol. V, No. 17-1

Records” of the Baptist Church of Epworth. We are concerned only with the first two.

The name John Smyth, standing by itself, is of no certain import. This is not the celebrated John Smith, the founder of the colony of Virginia; but the celebrated John Smyth, the English Baptist. Barclay, in his history of the “Inner Life," etc., gives him the honorable distinction of being the first Englishman who taught the full doctrine of religious liberty. The “true story" of this John Smyth, complete in scope and accurate in detail, is not easily found or told. He was first a minister of the English Church, and then pastor of an English Separatist Church at Gainsborough. After suffering much annoyance and persecution in England, he fled with his Church to Amsterdam, probably in 1606. He only changed one place of vexation, trouble, and annoyance for another. He found the English exiles, who had preceded him, engaged in disputes among themselves, and he soon got into disputes with them, that lasted as long as he lived.

It has heretofore been universally supposed that he and his party became members of the original English Church at Amsterdam, and that he was expelled from that Church on account of his Anabaptist opinions. This view is apparently based on a passage in a book by Francis Johnson, in which he says: “About thirteen years since, this Church, through persecution in England, was driven to come into these countries. Awhile after they came hither divers of them fell into the heresies of the Anabaptists—which are too common in these countries--and so persisting, were excommunicated by the rest."'* As Johnson wrote in 1606, the very year that Smyth went to Amsterdam, and as he refers to what had taken place some time before, his reference can not be to Smyth, but to some unknown party of Anabaptists.

* “ Historical Memorials,” Hanbury, Vol. I, page 110. Skeats, “History of the Free Churches of England," page 40, in giving the grounds of Smyth's excommunication, refers to this passage,

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Dr. Dexter has a theory of his own: 1. That Smyth never was a member of the ancient Church, but formed a second Church-or rather that his Church retained its original organization, and formed a second Church in close fellowship with the first. 2. That the disruption of communion between Smyth and the first Church had no reference to the question of baptism; and, indeed, that Smyth was not a Baptist until after the separation. In proof of his first position he quotes from Governor Bradford: “He (Smyth) was some time pastor to a company of honest and godly men who came with him out of England and pitche at Amsterdam.” He also mentions the fact that Smyth calls his Church “the Brethren of the Separation of the Second Church at Amsterdam." These quotations prove that there was a second Church, that Smyth was pastor of it, and that it was composed of honest, godly men. They do not prove that Smyth and his party were not at first members of the ancient Church. Bradford was in Amsterdam in 1608; Smyth's words were printed in 1609, after the disputes between him and the old Church. The fact that there was a second Church in 1608 is by no means conclusive that there was a second Church in 1606. Dr. Dexter's quotations, therefore, do not prove his point. On the other hand, Ainsworth says (in 1608): “Mr. Smyth, Crud, and some others, which were never officers, much less pillars in our Church, did, indeed, forsake their first faith and died soon after."* This passage is very loosely written. We do not learn from it whether all forsook their first faith, and all died soon after, or whether all forsook their faith and only some died soon after. If the meaning is that all died, there must have been some other Smyth, as John Smyth was then living. There might have been more Smyths than one; but it is probably safe to suppose that John Smyth is referred to, and that Ainsworth means to say that although he was not an officer or a pillar, he was a member of the ancient Church. That he did mean this,

Hanbury, Vol. I, page 172.

"*

is made almost certain by his saying (in 1609) of Smyth, that he not long since professed himself to be a member with us.

We respectfully submit that Ainsworth's positive, contemporaneous statement is of greater weight than Dr. Dexter's inference. We, therefore, conclude that Smyth and his party were members of the ancient Church.

Granting that Smyth was a member of Johnson's Church, We may inquire what led to his exclusion or withdrawal. These inquiries, as they refer to the beginning of a great movement, are not mere antiquarian piddling. They lead us to trace out the successive stages of an interesting and important development. When the parties first began to quarrel, Ainsworth tells us that there was “one only difference" between them. “He and his followers breaking off communion with us, charged us with sin for using our English Bibles in the worship of God; and he thought that the teachers should bring the originals (the Hebrew and Greek) and out of them translate by voice.”+ Let us not misunderstand Smyth's position. He did not object to the reading of the Bible; lie held that it is the ultimate authority in doctrine and morals ; # but that worship is a “spiritual exercise," in which thoughts and feelings are awakened and directed by the Spirit. Therefore, “to bind a regenerate man to a book in praying, preaching, or singing, is to set the Holy Ghost to school.” Remains of this same feeling are seen at the present day in contempt for written sermons and read prayers.

It is not simply that extemporaneous

* Hanbury, Vol. I, page 179.

† Hanbury, Vol. I, page 180. Smyth thus states his own case: “!. Wee hould that the worship of the New Testament, properly so-called, is spiriwall, proceeding originally from the hart; and that realling out of a boeke (though a lawful ecclesiastical action) is no part of spirituall worship, but rather the invention of the man of synne, it being substituted for a parte of spirituall worship. 2. Wee hould that, seeing prophesiing is a parte of spirituall worship, therefore in time of prophesiing it is unlawfull to have a booke as help before the eye. 3. Wee hould that, seeing singing a psalme is a parte of spirituall worship, therefore it is unlawfull to have a booke before the eye in the time of singing a psalme.”

See Articles LX-LXIII of his “Confession."

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