Chapter 1. The Character of the Beast, 1609

John Smyth

TO EVERY ONE THAT LOVETH THE Truth in sincerity Salutations.

It may be thought most strange that a man should often times change his Religion. It cannot be accounted a commendable quality in any man to make many alterations and changes in such weighty matters, as are the cases of conscience….

This must be true, (and we confess it) if one condition is admitted, that the Religion which a man changed is the truth. Otherwise to change a false Religion is commendable, and to retain a false Religion is damnable. For a man of a Turk to become a Jew, of a Jew to become a Papist, of a Papist to become a Protestant are all commendable changes though they all befall one and the same person in one year, nay, if it were in one month. So that not to change Religion is simply evil. Therefore that we should fall from the profession of Puritanism to Brownism, and from Brownism to true Christian baptism, is not simply evil or reprovable in itself, unless it is proven that we have fallen from true Religion. If we, therefore, having been formerly deceived in the way of Pedobaptistry, now do embrace the truth in the true Christian Apostolic baptism, then let no man impute this as a fault unto us. This therefore is the question, whether the baptism of infants is lawful, yes or no and whether persons baptized as infants must not renounce that false baptism, and assume the true baptism of Christ which is to be administered upon persons confessing their faith and their sins? This is the controversy now between us and the Separation commonly called Brownists…. Let the indifferent reader judge the whole and give sentence without partiality and I do not doubt but he shall be constrained to give glory to God in acknowledging the error of baptizing infants, to have been a chief point of Antichristianism, and the very essence and constitution of the false Church, as is clearly discovered in this treatise….

Herein, therefore, we do acknowledge our error, that we retaining the baptism of England which gave us our constitution, did call our mother England a harlot, and upon a false ground made our Separation from her. Although it was necessary that we Separate from England, yet no man can Separate from England as from a false Church unless he also Separate from the baptism of England, which gives England her constitution. Whosoever retains the baptism of England does retain the constitution of England, and cannot without sin call England a harlot as we have done…. For if they retain the baptism of England, viz. the baptism of infants as true baptism, they cannot Separate from England as from a false Church though they may Separate for corruptions. Whosoever does Separate from England as from a false Church must Separate from the baptism of England, as from false baptism. The baptism of England cannot be true and be retained, and the Church of England false and be rejected. Neither can the Church of England possibly be false unless its baptism is false, unless a true constitution could be in a false Church, which is as impossible as for light to have fellowship with darkness….

But the Separation, they say England has a false constitution, and is a false Church and is to be Separated from. Yet they also say England has a true baptism (that is a true constitution) which is not to be Separated from. For a true constitution and true baptism are one and the same. So is a false constitution and a false baptism. So the speeches and actions of the Separation are contradictory in this particular.

Finally, they that defend the baptism of infants cannot with any truth or good conscience Separate from England as from a false Church though they may separate for corruptions. They that do Separate from England as from a false Church must out of necessity Separate from the baptism of England, and account the baptism of England false, and so account the baptism of infants a false baptism. Therefore the Separation must either go back to England or forward to true baptism and all that shall in time come to Separate from England must Separate from the baptism of England. If they will not Separate from the baptism of England there is no reason why they should separate from England as from a false church…. Now concerning this point of baptizing infants we do profess before the Lord and before all men in sincerity and truth that it seems to us the most unreasonable heresy of all Antichristianism. For considering what baptism is, an infant is no more capable of baptism than is any unreasonable or insensible creature. For Baptism is not washing with water, but it is the baptism of the Spirit, the confession of the mouth, and the washing with water….

Now that an infant cannot be baptized with the Spirit is plain, 1 Pet. 3:21 where the Apostle said that the baptism of the Spirit is the question of a good conscience into God, & Heb. 10:22, where the baptism which is inward is called the sprinkling of the heart from an evil conscience. Seeing, therefore, infants neither have an evil conscience, nor the question of a good conscience, nor the purging of the heart, for all these are proper to actual sinners. Hence it follows that infant baptism is folly and nothing….

Lo, we protest against them, to be a false Church falsely constituted in the baptism of infants and their own unbaptized estate. We protest against them to have a false worship of reading books. We protest against them to have a false government of a triformed Presbytery. We protest against them to have a false Ministry of Doctors or Teachers. Finally, we protest against them that seeing their constitution is false, therefore there is no one ordinance of the Lord true among them. These things we have published, and of these things we require an answer. For we proclaim against them as they proclaim against their own mother England. The Separation, the youngest and the fairest daughter of Rome, is a harlot. For as is the mother so is the daughter….

Briefly to conclude, let the Separation be advertised that whereas they do so confidently through their self love and self-conceit fill their mouths with heresy and heretics, as if thereby they would fear babes. Herein they tread in the steps of all the Antichristians their predecessors. Do not the Papists call the Protestants heretics and call for fire and fagot? Do not the Protestants proclaim the Separation Schismatics and Heretics and judge them worthy of the gibbet? Not the affirmation of men without proof, but the evidence of willful obstinacy in error makes men heretics. Let them take heed that they notwithstanding their Siren songs prove not to be cages full of the most ugly and deformed Antichristian Heretics. Thus desiring the Separation not to be wise in their own eyes through pride, but to become fools that they may be made wise through humility, and desiring the forwardest preachers and professors of the English nation to weigh well what is the true constitution of the Church, and what is the subject of true Christian baptism, and accordingly to measure a true and a false Church. I cease, wishing the light and love of the truth to everyone that Reads.

John Smyth

John Smyth, The Character of the Beast, or the False Constitution of the Church (1609); repr. W. T. Whitley, ed., The Works of John Smyth, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915), 2:564-74.