Sabbath-Keepers in the Sixteenth Century
The judgment of the martyr Frith - The Reformation brings Sabbath-keepers to light in various countries - In Transylvania - In Bohemia - In Russia - In Germany - In Holland - In France - In England.
John Frith, an English reformer of considerable note and a martyr, was converted by the labors of Tyndale about 1525, and assisted him in the translation of the Bible. He was burned at Smithfield,
"The Jews have the word of God for their Saturday, sith [since] it is the seventh day, and they were commanded to keep the seventh day solemn. And we have not the word of God for us, but rather against us; for we keep not the seventh day, as the Jews do, but the first, which is not commanded by God''s law."2
When the Reformation had lifted the vail of darkness that covered the nations
"The prince received his first religious impressions under his chaplain,
Alexius, who was a Lutheran. On his removal he chose Francis Davidis to succeed
him, and by him was further informed of the principles of the Reformation.
Davidis was a native of that extremely populous and well-fortified town which
is called Coloswar by the natives, Clausenberg by the Germans, and by others,
Claudiopolis. He was a man of learning, address, and piety, and reasoned in
this part of his life more justly on the principles of the Reformation than
many of his contemporaries. In 1563 his highness invited several learned foreigners
to come into
"Several other foreigners, who had been persecuted elsewhere, sought refuge in this country, where persecution for religion was unknown. These refugees were Unitarian Baptists, and through their indefatigable industry and address, the prince, the greatest part of the senate, a great number of ministers, and a multitude of the people went heartily into their plan of Reformation.4
"In the end the Baptists became by far the most numerous party, and were put in possession of a printing office and an academy, and the cathedral was given to them for a place of worship. They obtained these without any violence, and while they formed their own churches according to the convictions of their members, they persecuted nobody, but allowed the same liberty to others, and great numbers of Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists resided in perfect freedom."5
Mr. Robinson further informs us that Davidis took extreme Unitarian ground
with respect to the worship of Christ, which seems to have been the only serious
error that can be laid to his charge. Davidis was a Unitarian Baptist minister,
intrusted by his brethren with the superintendency of the churches in
"He supposed the Jewish Sabbath not abrogated, and he therefore kept holy the seventh day. He believed also the doctrine of the millennium, and like an honest man, what he believed he taught. He was considered by the Transylvanian churches as an apostle, and had grown gray in their service; but the Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Calvinists, thought him a Turk, a blasphemer, and an atheist, and his Polish Baptist brethren said he was half a Jew. Had he been a whole Jew he ought not to have been imprisoned for his speculations.6
"By what means the Supreme Searcher of hearts only knows, but by some methods
till then unknown in
Mr. Robinson says that "many have been blamed" for the death of Davidis,
"but perhaps the secret springs of this event may never be known till the
Judge of the world maketh inquisition for blood." There were many Sabbatarians
"These, "says Robinson," were all of the same sentiments as Davidis, as
were many more of different ranks, who after his death in prison, defended
his opinion against Socinus. Palaeologus was of the same mind; he had fled
These persons must have been Sabbatarians. Moshiem, after saying that Davidis "left behind him disciples and friends, who strenuously maintained his sentiments," adds:
"The most eminent of these were Jacob Palaeologus, of the isle of Chio,
who was burned at
We have a further record of Sabbatarians in
"John Gerendi [was] head of the Sabbatarians, a people who did not keep Sunday but Saturday, and whose disciples took the name of Genoldists."10
Sabbath-keepers, also, were found in
"Now we hear that among the Bohemians a new kind of Jews has arisen called Sabbatarians, who observe the Sabbath with so much superstition, that if on that day anything falls into their eyes they will not remove it; as if the Lord''s day would not suffice for them instead of the Sabbath, which to the apostles also was sacred; or as if Christ had not sufficiently expressed how much should be allowed upon the Sabbath."11
We need say nothing relative to the alleged superstition of these Sabbath-keepers.
The statement sufficiently refutes itself, and indicates the bitter prejudice
of those who speak of them thus. But that Sabbath-keepers were found at this
"Hospinian of Zurich, in his treatise `Concerning the Feasts of the Jews and of the Gentiles,'' chapter iii. (Tiguri, 1592) replies to the arguments of these Sabbatarians."12
The existence of this body of Sabbatarians in
"Seleznevtschini. This sect are, in modern time, precisely what the Strigolniks
originally were. They are Jews in principle; maintain the divine obligation
of circumcision; observe the Jewish Sabbath, and the ceremonial law. There
are many of them about
The ancient Russian name of this people was Strigolniks. Dr. Murdock gives the following account of them:
"It is common to date the origin of sectarians in the Russian church, about the middle of the seventeenth century in the time of the patriarch Nikon. But according to the Russian annals, there existed schismatics in the Russian church two hundred years before the days of Nikon; and the disturbances which took place in his time, only proved the means of augmenting their numbers, and of bringing them forward into public view. The earliest of these schismatics first appeared in Novogorod, early in the fifteenth century, under the name of Strigolniks.
"A Jew named Horie preached a mixture of Judaism and Christianity; and proselyted two priests, Denis and Alexie, who gained a vast number of followers. This sect was so numerous, that a national council was called, towards the close of the fifteenth century, to oppose it. Soon afterwards, one Karp, an excommunicated deacon, joined the Strigolniks; and accused the higher clergy of selling the office of priesthood, and of so far corrupting the church, that the Holy Ghost was withdrawn from it. He was a very successful propagator of this sect."15
It is very customary with historians to speak of Sabbath-keeping Christians in one of the following ways: 1. To name their observance of the seventh day distinctly, but to represent them as turning from Christ to Moses and the ceremonial law; or, 2. To speak of their Sabbatarian principles in so vague a manner that the reader will not be likely to suspect them of being Sabbath-keepers. Pinkerton speaks of these Russian Sabbath-keepers after the first of these methods; Murdock, after the second. It is plain that Murdock did not regard these people as rejecting Christ, and it is certain from Pinkerton that the two writers are speaking of the same people.
What was the origin of these Russian Sabbath-keepers? Certainly it was not
from the Reformation of the sixteenth century; for they were in existence
at least one century before that event. We have seen that the Waldenses, during
the Dark Ages, were dispersed through many of the countries of
Mr. Maxson makes the following statement:
"We find that Sabbath-keepers appear in
Mr. Utter makes the following statement respecting Sabbath-keepers in
"Early in the sixteenth century there are traces of Sabbath-keepers in
We give her declaration of faith respecting Sundays and holy days:
"God has commanded us to rest on the seventh day. Beyond this she did not go: but with the help and grace of God she would persevere therein, and in death abide thereby; for it is the true faith, and the right way in Christ."20
Another martyr, Christina Tolingerin, is mentioned thus:
"Concerning holy days and Sundays, she said: `In six days the Lord made the world, on the seventh day he rested. The other holy days have been instituted by popes, cardinals, and archbishops.''"21
There were at this time Sabbath-keepers in
M. de la Roque is referred to by Dr. Wall in his famous history of infant baptism "as a learned man in other points," but in great error for asserting that "the primitive church did not baptize infants."23 It is worthy of notice that Sabbath-keepers are always observers of scriptural baptism - the burial of penitent believers in the watery grave. No people retaining infant baptism, or the sprinkling of believers, have observed the seventh day.24
The origin of the Sabbatarians of England cannot now be definitely ascertained.
Their observance of believers'' baptism and the keeping of the seventh day
as the Sabbath of the Lord, strongly attest their descent from the persecuted
heretics of the Dark Ages, rather than from the reformers of the sixteenth
century, who retained infant baptism and the festival of Sunday. That these
heretics had long been numerous in
"For in the time of William the Conqueror [A.D. 1070] and his son William Rufus, it appears that the Waldenses and their disciples out of France, Germany, and Holland, had their frequent recourse, and did abound in England. . . . The Beringarian, or Waldensian heresy, as the chronologer calls it, had, about A.D. 1080, generally corrupted all France, Italy, and England."25
Mr. Maxson says of the English Sabbatarians:
"In England we find Sabbath-keepers very early. Dr. Chambers says: `They arose in England in the sixteenth century,'' from which we understand that they then became a distinct denomination in that kingdom."26
Mr. Benedict speaks thus of the origin of English Sabbatarians:
"At what time the Seventh-day Baptists began to form churches in this kingdom does not appear; but probably it was at an early period; and although their churches have never been numerous, yet there have been among them almost for two hundred years past, some very eminent men."27
1 M''Clintock and Strong, vol. iii. p. 679; D''Aubigne''s Hist. Ref book xviii. pp. 672, 689, 706, 707; book xx. pp. 765, 766; Fox''s Acts and Monuments, book viii. pp. 524-527.
2 Frith''s works, p. 69, quoted in Hessey, p. 198.
3 Eccl. Researches, chap. xvi. p. 630.
5 Id. p. 631.
6 Eccl. Researches, chap. xvi. p. 636.
7 Id. pp. 636, 637.
8 Eccl. Researches, chap. xvi. p. 640.
9 Mosheim''s Hist. Church, book iv. cent. 16. sect. 3. part ii. chap. iv. par. 23.
10 Lamy''s History of Socinianiam p. 60.
11 "Nune audimus apud Bohemos exoriri novum Judaeorum genus Sabbatarios appellant, qui tanta superstitione servant Sabbatum, ut si quid eo die inciderit in oculum, nolint eximere: quasi non sufficiat eis pro Sabbato Dies Dominicus, qui Apostolis etiam erat sacer, aut quasi Christus non satis expresserit quantum tribuen dum sit Sabbato." De Atnabili Ecclesiae Concordia; Opera, tome 5, p. 506, Lugd. Bat. 1704; quoted in Cox''s Sabbath Literature, vol. ii. pp. 201, 202; Hessey, p. 374.
12 Cox, vol. ii. p. 202.
13 Such statements respecting the observers of the seventh day are very common. Even those who first commenced to keep the Sabbath in Newport were said to "have left Christ and gone to Moses in the observation of days, and times, and seasons, and such like." - Seventh-day Baptist Memorial, vol. i. p. 32. The pastor of the first-day Baptist church of Newport said to them: "I do judge you have and still do deny Christ." - Id. p. 37.
14 The Present State of the Greek Church in Russia, Appendix. p. 273, New York, 1815.
15 Murdock''s Mosheim, book iv. cent. xvii. sect. 2, part i. chap. ii. note 12.
16 See the twenty-first chapter of this work.
18 Maxson''s Hist. Sab. p. 41.
19 Manual of the Seventh-day Baptists, p. 16.
20 Martyrology of the Churches of Christ, commonly called Baptists, during the era of the Reformation. From the Dutch of T. J. van Braght, London, 1850, vol. i. pp. 113, 114.
21 Id. p. 113.
22 Manual of the S.D. Baptists, p. 16.
23 Wall''s History of Infant Baptism, vol. ii. p. 379, Oxford, 1835.
24 I know of no exception to this statement. If there be any it must be found in the cases of those observing both seventh and first days. Even here, there is certainly no such thing as sprinkling for baptism, but possibly there may be the baptism of young children.
25 Hist. English Baptists, vol. pref. pp. 43, 44.
26 Maxson''s Hist. Sab. p. 42.
27 Gen. Hist. Bapt. Denom. vol. ii. p. 414, ed. 1813.