Volume 1: 1771 Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica!


Anabaptists, a sect or denomination of Christians, who deduce their original from the apostolic age. This name was given them by their opponents, soon after the Reformation, by way of scorn, and imports rebaptizing; but this charge they disclaim, by denying that the sprinkling, or pouring of water, upon infants has any relation at all to the Scripture-ordinance of baptism, either as to its subjects or mode.

Though they believe the salvation of elect infants; yet they deny their being the proper subjects of baptism: Because they can find neither precept nor example for such a practice in the New Testament: Because Christ's commission to baptize appears to them to restrict this ordinance to such only as are taught, or made disciples, and believe the gospel, Mat. xxviii, 19. (and) Mark xvi, 16.: Because the apostles, in executing Christ's commission, never baptized any but those who were first instructed in the Christian faith, and professed their belief of it, Acts ii, 41; Acts viii, 12; Acts xviii, 8.: And because the nature and design of the ordinance is such as can be of no advantage to infants, it being a sign and representation of spiritual blessings, intended to impress the mind of the person being baptized with a comfortable sense of what is signified thereby, I Peter. iii, 21.; and as infants can neither discern the sign nor the thing signified, so they think they can reap no benefit from it, any more than from the Lord's Supper, or any other ordinance of the gospel.

They repell the argument drawn from circumcision, by distinguishing betwixt the Old and New Testament dispensations, and betwixt the natural and spiritual seed of Abraham, Rom. ix, 8 (and) Gal. iv, 22, 23, 28, 31, and maintain, that as circumcision belonged to the carnal birth, so baptism belongs only to the spiritual birth, or those who are of faith, Gal. iii, 7. Our Lord's words in Mark x, 13, 14, they consider as having no relation to infant baptism, as he there neither injoins nor exemplifies it; and they distinguish betwixt those who may be subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven in God's sight, and these whom he points out to us as proper visible subjects of gospel-ordinances. The argument from the apostles their baptizing whole houses, they answer, by shewing that these houses heard the word, believed, were comforted, and abounded in good works, Acts xvi, 32, 34, 40, and Acts xviii, 8, I Cor. xvi, 15, 16, and so could not be infants.

The mode or manner of baptism they affirm to be dipping or immersing the whole body in water. This they say is the primary and proper meaning of the original word Baptizo, to dip, immerse, or plunge. In support of this sense of the word, they produce other places in the New Testament where it is so rendered, as Mat. xxvi, 23, Luke xvi, 24, John xiii, 26, Rev. xix, 13, as also the circumstances of our Lord's baptism in Jordan, Mat. iii, 16, Mark i, 9, 10, and of the eunuch's, Acts viii, 38, 39, and the reason of John's baptizing in Enon, John iii, 23. Hence they affirm, that no other mode can be called baptism, or so fitly represent communion with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, which is expressly the design of baptism, Rom. vi, 3, 4, 5.

Great troubles were occasioned in Germany by some who professed this tenet; but of all places where they prevailed, none suffered so much by them as the town of Munster. The Anabaptists, however, of Holland and Frizland disapproved of their seditious behaviour: and at present (1771), though this sect still subsists, as well in Britain as abroad, yet they no longer pretend to be divinely inspired; they no longer oppose magistrates, nor preach up a community of goods. Those of them in England differ very little from the Protestant dissenters, except in rejecting infant-baptism; as appears from their confession of faith published 1689.

Within these four years, the Anabaptists have formed a congregation in Edinburgh, (Which is the first appearance they ever made in Scotland), and seem to be a serious inoffensive people. They pray for the king and all inferior magistrates, and subject themselves (in civil matters) to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake. They consider the Kingdom of Christ to be spiritual, and not of this world; and are strictly upon the congregational or independent plan, admitting of no jurisdiction or authority (in matters of religion) but that of the Great Lawgiver. Their church-officers are bishops (or elders) and deacons, and these they generally chuse from among themselves. They make the reading of the Scriptures a part of their public service, and eat the Lord's supper every Sabbath-day. Their disciples, before they are admitted into communion, are first baptized in the Water of Leith, which they do at all seasons of the year; and, on these occasions, they are generally attended by a great number of spectators * .

[1771 Encyclopedia Editor's annotation to this article]: * As we chuse to avoid every kind of misrepresentation, especially in matters of religious opinion; and as the most genuine and satisfactory account of the origin and principles of any sect is to be expected from themselves; we applied to the preachers of the Anabaptist congregation at Edinburgh, from whom we had the above account --- The same conduct will be observed with regard to every other sect of any note.

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