John Smyth was the first Englishman (of record) who declared himself dearly in favor of believer’s baptism and organized a church based on the implications of that principle. Smyth, a graduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge, made the pilgrimage from Anglican to Puritan through Separatist to a Baptist position. In 1608 Smyth and his Separatist congregation fled to Amsterdam where, with other exiled Englishmen, he began to work out his doctrine of the church. Early on he differed with the other Separatists, notably Richard Clifton on the issue of infant baptism, which Smyth held to be a fundamental error of the Church of England. In his book The Character of the Beastor The False Constitution of the Church (1609), Smyth traded arguments with Clifton on the issue of believer’s baptism. An excerpt from his “Reader’s Epistle” follows.

Be it known therefore to all the Separation that we account them in respect of their constitution to be as very an harlot as either her Mother England, or her grandmother Rome is, out of whose loins she came: and although once in our ignorance we have acknowledged her a true Church yet now being better informed we revoke that erroneous judgment and protest against her, as well for her false constitution, as for her false ministry, worship, and government: The true constitution of the Church is of a new creature baptized into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: The false constitution is of infants baptized: we profess therefore that all those Churches that baptize infants are of the same false constitution: and all those Churches that baptize the new creature, those that are made Disciples by teaching, men confessing their faith and their sins, are of one true constitution: and therefore the ...

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