John Smyth

c.1565-1612. Father of English General Baptists. Born in E England, he studied theology at Cambridge, becoming fellow of Christ's College. His tutor was Francis Johnson, later Separatist pastor. Ordained by the bishop of Lincoln, Smyth became lecturer at Lincoln Cathedral (1600), only to be dismissed for “personal preaching” (1602). He served as pastor of a Brownist congregation in Gainsborough, but to escape persecution they went to Amsterdam (1607). He did not join existing Separatist groups because of differences of view on the church, but formed a new congregation. Among its members was Thomas Helwys,* a friend from Lincoln days. Smyth had come to a new understanding of the church as a company of believers, and of the necessity of believer's baptism. In 1608 he baptized himself (which led to his being called “Se-Baptist”), then Helwys and the others on confession of faith. For a meeting-house they acquired a bakehouse belonging to a Mennonite, Jan Munter. Becoming distrustful of his self-baptism, Smyth made overtures to the Waterlander Mennonite congregation. Helwys and about ten others held back, having misgivings about the Hofmannite Christology of the Mennonites. Smyth died before he could be received by the Waterlanders. His last book was a plea for full liberty of conscience in religion.

See W.T. Whitley (ed.), The Works of John Smyth (1915).