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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
W. B. Boggs,
Taken from The Baptists: Who Are They and What Do They Believe?, 1898
The martyrology of the Baptists would form an almost endless record of persecution and suffering. Age after age they were oppressed in the most relentless manner. Of them it might truly be said:
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11:36-38).
According to Mosheim: “Vast numbers of these people (Baptists) in nearly all the countries of Europe would rather perish miserably by drowning, hanging, burning, or decapitation, than renounce the opinions they had embraced.” --Cent. XVL, Sect. III, Part II, Chap. V.
Cardinal Hosius, who presided at the Council of Trent, says of the Baptists: “There have been none for these twelve hundred years past, that have been more grievously punished.”
Time would fail to enumerate even a small proportion of those who have suffered for the principles which we hold dear. Such cases crowd the pages of history for many centuries. In Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, —in almost every country of Europe,— Baptists have been tortured and slain in vast numbers for these very principles. They could not yield what they believed to be the truth of God; life could be given up, but not truth.
It would be impossible to tell how terrible were the storms of persecution which fell upon the unoffending Waldenses and Albigenses; how fierce and fiendish the rage of their destroyers; how many thousands of them suffered atrocities similar to those which were perpetrated a few years ago in Bulgaria and other provinces of Turkey.
The history of their persecutions is one continuous record of fire and sword, the rack and the gibbet, the most inhuman tortures and heartrending scenes. Tens of thousands were tortured and slain simply for their opinions. Their persecutors acknowledged that they were persons of blameless life, and loyal subjects; but they held certain religious principles which have always been hated by ungodly men and worldly Christians.
The names of very many might be given who suffered martyrdom in England, alike under Bloody Mary and Protestant Elizabeth, solely for holding these views; but the details of their tortures and death are dreadful. In the sixteenth century immense numbers of Baptists suffered by fine, imprisonment, banishment, or burning. For details see “Cramp’s Baptist History,” Chap. V. and VI.
One case may be given to illustrate the kind of persecution Baptists had to suffer in England as late as the latter part of the seventeenth century. Rev. Benjamin Keach was a Baptist minister at Winslow, in Buckinghamshire. He afterward became pastor of the church to which Rev. C. H. Spurgeon ministered, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.
In 1664, Mr. Keach published a little book for the use of children, entitled, “The Child’s Instructor; or, a New and Easy Primmer.” For this he was summoned to appear at the assizes at Aylesbury, October 8, 1664. Being brought to the bar, the clerk said:
“’Benjamin Keach, hear your charge: Thou art here indicted, by the name of Benjamin Keach, of Winslow, in the county of Bucks, for that thou being a seditious, schismatic person, evilly and maliciously disposed, and disaffected to His Majesty’s government, and the government of the Church of England, didst maliciously and wickedly, on the 5th of May, in the sixteenth year of the reign of our sovereign lord the King, write, print, and publish, or cause to be written, printed, and published, one seditious and venomous book, entitled, “The Child’s Instructor; or, a New and Easy Primmer”; wherein are contained, by way of question and answer, these damnable positions, contrary to the Book of Common Prayer, and the liturgy of the Church of England; that is to say, in one place you have thus written:
Q. Who are the right subjects for baptism?
A. Believers, or godly men and women, who make profession of their faith and repentance.
Q. What is the case of infants?
A. Infants that die are members of the kingdom of glory, though they are not members of the visible church.
“The judge bade the Jury bring him in guilty, and then pronounced the following sentence:
“’Benjamin Keach, you are convicted for writing, printing and publishing a seditious and schismatical book, for which you shall go to the gaol for a fortnight without bail or mainprize, and the next Saturday to stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury, in the open market, from eleven o’clock till one, with a paper upon your head with this inscription: For writing, printing, and publishing a schismatical book, entitled, “The Child’s Instructor, or, a New and Easy Primmer.” And the next Thursday to stand, in the same manner and for the same time, in the market at Winslow; and then your book shall be openly burnt before your face by the common hangman, in disgrace of you and your doctrine. And you shall forfeit to the King’s Majesty the sum of twenty pounds, shall remain in gaol until you find sureties for your good behaviour, and for your appearance at the next assizes; then to renounce your doctrines, and make such public submission as shall be enjoined by you.’
“This inhuman sentence was rigorously carried out. His head and hands were no sooner placed in the pillory than he began to address himself to the spectators to this effect: “Good people, I am not ashamed to stand here this day, with this paper on my head; my Lord Jesus was not ashamed to suffer on the cross for me; and it is for his cause that I am made a gazing stock. Take notice it is not for any wickedness that I stand here but for writing and publishing those truths which the Spirit of the Lord hath revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” -The Metropolitan Tabernacle, its History and Work, by C. H. Spurgeon.
Let us now take a glance at America two hundred years ago, and see how Baptists were treated therein. We might reasonably suppose that those who had fled from tyranny in the old world in order that they might find beyond the Atlantic “freedom to worship God,” would appreciate and practice toleration in their home. But what are the facts?
The Puritans bitterly persecuted whose religious views differ from theirs and the Baptists especially felt the force of their intolerance. By statute law it was ordered, in 1636, in the colony of Massachusetts, that “no person being a member of any church, which shall hereafter be gathered without the approbation of the magistrates, and the greater part of said churches, shall be admitted to the freedom of this commonwealth,” thus disfranchising all who were not of the standing order. In the same year it was enacted that “if any Christian shall openly condemn the baptizing of infants, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the administration of that ordinance, and continuing obstinate therein, he shall be sentenced to be banished.”
In 1651, Obadiah Holmes and John Dark, two Baptist ministers, came from Newport to Lynn, Mass., and attempted to hold a religious service at the house of William Witter, a Baptist. While Mr. Dark was preaching they were arrested by order of the magistrates. At the trial they were charged chiefly with baptizing, and denying the validity of infant baptism, and Mr. Dark was fined twenty pounds, and Mr. Holmes thirty pounds, and in default of payment they were both to be severely whipped. The later could not, or could not, pay the fine, and “Without mercy his back was laid bare, and the lash laid on for conscience’ sake. The flesh hung in gory welts, and yet the blows fell; the blood ran down his legs and made puddles on the ground, and yet the blows fell, until intolerance was satisfied.”
“As the strokes fell upon me,” he says, “I had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence as I never had before, and the outward pain was so removed from me that I well could bear it; yea, I felt it not, although it was grievous, as the spectators said, the man striking with all his strength (yea, spitting in his hands three times, as many affirmed), with a three corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes.”
This was not in Madrid or Rome, but in New England—the land of the free. It was not done by the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages, but by the poor, meek, persecuted Puritans, who, a few years before, longed so earnestly for religious liberty.
As we look back over the noble army of Baptist martyrs all along the centuries, suffering for the truth as it is in Jesus, and sealing their testimony with their blood, we feel that here is a succession worth talking about and worth defending.