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Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1860
The Denominational Training of Our Children
By George W. Anderson
      The aspect of the times makes it desirable to call special attention to the necessity for a thorough denominational training of children: those in the families of Baptists, and others who are depending upon them for religious instruction. There is a growing disposition to quietly ignore, or to remove boldly, those ancient landmarks which have so long indicated the metes and bounds of our denominational territory. The increase of this disposition is greatly to be deplored; for the removal of those time-honored and scriptural landmarks has not, hitherto, been found to lure other settlers to our denominational domain: and it will be likely, in the future, only to cause our sons and daughters to forget the home of their fathers, and seek for themselves a dwelling in the closely guarded precincts of other denominations.

      The instances have not been very numerous, of children trained in Baptist families, who have sought in later years a home within the pale of other churches. Yet they are numerous enough to warn us to be faithful in training up the child in the way that he should go, that we may be spared the sadness of seeing him in later years separating from it. And they are sufficiently numerous to demand that we should point out carefully to the young those principles which constitute the solid foundations, and those truths which are built into the lofty walls of our beloved Zion.

      With no desire for vain self-gratulation, but in the humble and thankful spirit of the devout Hebrew of old, we may apply to our own favored Israel the words of the Lord: - “And what nation is so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous, as all this law which I set before you this day?” And with solemn fear we may

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listen to the admonition which He addressed to His ancient people: - “Only take heed to thyself and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them to thy sons, and thy sons' sons.”

      The work, as we studiously endeavor to comprehend its extent, swells into one of no ordinary magnitude and importance. According to reliable statistics, there are at the present time, no less than 400,000 children under the age of fifteen years, connected with the families of Baptists in the United States. A host in itself, whose proper training may well engage our serious thought, and call forth our most earnest efforts. If we add to these the number of those in our various congregations and Sunday-schools, who are dependent directly upon us for their theological culture, we shall have an aggregate of nearly one million of children, who look to us as their instructors in all that pertains to the kingdom of Christ. A momentous task has thus, in the good providence of God, been laid upon us; and momentous results depend on the faithfulness with which we perform it. From this vast multitude are to be raised up those who, a few short years hence, will constitute the rank and file, as well as the chosen and honored standard-bearers in our denominational army. Upon those taken from this host, it will devolve to maintain and propagate that system of truth which we devoutly love, and for whose defence we, as a denomination, are set.

      Let us now proceed to a more particular statement of what is meant by a Denominational Training of the Young.

      It is not merely religious training, such as may be secured in union schools; or may consistently be imparted upon union principles: a training which must necessarily confine itself to those facts of the biblical history, and to that limited circle of scriptural truths, in regard to which the views of all evangelical Christians coincide. These form a part, and a very important and glorious part of the teaching which our children should enjoy. And we would earnestly recommend that they should be kindly and faithfully inculcated; and that increased effort should be made to bring the young to sincere repentance toward God, and humble faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But they do not, by any means, comprehend the whole sum of religious instruction. The fulness and just proportion, and complete. harmony of that religious system which the wisdom of God originated, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed, can never be brought out by such partial and imperfect presentation of the facts

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and truths and duties of the sacred Scriptures. Repentance toward God, and faith in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, must ever occupy the centre of the canvass, when we attempt to depict the scheme of God's redeeming mercy. But there are various other important details which are necessary to fill out and complete the glorious picture. Repentance and faith must both be exhibited; but both as flowing from the sovereign grace of God. The calling of God, as well as the sinner's coming to him; the power of God, working in us to will and to do of his good pleasure, as well as our own obedience to him; baptism as well as faith, and after-faith; the following of Jesus as well as the trusting in him; the supreme authority of Christ, the Sovereign Lord, as well as the grace of Christ, the loving Redeemer, must all be presented, each in its proper order, and in its precise scriptural proportion, if we expect to see the young come at length, “in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;” that which the apostle contemplated as the aim of all religious teaching, as the goal of all Christian development.

      We may, moreover, remark that it is not left to our own option whether or not we give such training to our children; it is a sacred duty which we owe to them, and to neglect it is to be found unfaithful to the solemn trust which God has reposed in us. In no narrow sectarian spirit, therefore, would we inculcate a faithful performance of this work; we appeal to higher, purer, nobler considerations. The requirements of God, and the solemn sanctions of his authority, are the incentives which urge us to present to the young all that it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost to reveal and to enjoin upon us.

      The things that were written aforetime, were written for our instruction; and from the commands that God laid upon his ancient people, we may advance to a comprehension of the length and breadth of our own duty towards our children. The law that was laid down for the guidance of the Jew was clear and specific: “I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give thee to possess it. Ye shall observe to do, therefore, as the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” “And these words which

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I command thee this day shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.”

      The Jew was to hold carefully all the statutes and commandments of the Lord, and to keep them, turning aside neither to the right hand nor to the left. He was to speak of them everywhere, and always to make a bold and open manifestation of his adherence to them. He was not to fear the charge of narrowmindedness, nor to shrink from the imputation of being over-scrupulous or bigoted. At all times and in all places, he was so to deport himself that none need fail to recognize him for a Jew, an open, decided, steadfast Jew. And in addition to all this, he was to give all diligence to teach all these things to his children, and to make his sons and his sons' sons as firm, faithful, unflinching, uncompromising Jews as himself.

      The broad principle which underlies all of these requisitions is one of universal application; it is contained substantially in the words of the Apostle: “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” The principle is simply this, that whatsoever truth we have received it becomes us to hold with constancy and to teach with diligence. Of course, then, the obligation that rested upon the Jew to keep and to teach the commandments and statutes which he had received from Jehovah, binds with equal authority the Baptists to keep and to teach the doctrines and ordinances which the Lord has made known unto them. If a simple, faithful, loving adherence to the teachings and commands of our dying and ascended Lord, has led us into a Baptist church; then it becomes us to be steady, faithful, zealous Baptists. And, moreover, we shall come short in our reverence for the truths which we have received, and in our duty to the Lord who has committed them to us, if we do not give all diligence to make our children as firm, faithful, unflinching, uncompromising Baptists as ourselves.

      It is to be regretted that there should even arise a necessity for the repeated affirmation of truths, which seem so well-nigh self. evident. But the desirableness of Christian union has sometimes been dwelt upon with such exclusive attention, that the duty, which binds

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us to hold and to teach the truth, has been left entirely out of sight. Vague or erroneous ideas of Christian union have exerted no small influence in causing a neglect of that faithful denominational training of the young which we recommend. Christian union, such as the Lord contemplated in his solemn and affecting prayer, we love and long for, with our heart's deepest yearnings. To secure that glorious consummation, we are ready, as well as our fathers were, to labor and pray, to spend and to be spent. Such real Christian union, however, is possible only in so far as Christians are really united in the truth. Where union in the truth ends, there Christian union finds its necessary limit. There may, nevertheless, be perfect Christian affection where a perfect Christian union is utterly impossible. The heart that truly knows the love of Christ, of course, will hail in every other one that loves his gracious Lord, a brother and a friend. Many, however, at the present day, have made the palpable mistake of confounding Christian affection with Christian union - two things entirely distinct in their nature; and have, in consequence, unduly pressed the claims of Christian affection. For Christian affection, good and truly desirable as it is, transcends its proper limits when it demands that conscientious views of truth and duty, should be tampered or trifled with. Conscientious views, even when erroneous, should always be treated with profound respect. If the judgment errs, its various errors we may lawfully endeavor to correct; and all the power with which argument can be clothed may justly be called into our service, and brought to bear upon it. But to approach conscientious views by any other pathway than that which lies through the judgment, is a violence offered to the moral nature, which the lover of righteousness will never sanction, and which the God of righteousness must ever condemn. Every other kind of effort, then, however bland and plausible, to induce us to lay aside, or do despite to our honest and sober convictions, must be steadfastly resisted, if we would be found loyal to truth and holiness and to the God of holiness and truth. Christian union, properly understood, will lay no obstacle, then, in the way of the faithful training of our children in all that, as a denomination, we hold to be good and true. Christian union, however, misunderstood, falsely so called, will lay insidious snares for our feet; and will sadly hinder our progress in the pathway which our fathers, in the strength of the Lord, so patiently trod, with such honor to themselves and such lasting advantage so the cause of their Lord.

      Our fathers abounded in this work of instruction, and never more

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than in those darkest hours when their faith and patience were most severely tried. From the days of Luther and Zwingle even to the present moment, our brethren have had to endure trials and persecutions for the advocacy of the views which we now hold. Scarcely a land that has not been reddened with their blood; scarcely a hill-side or mountain-peak that has not echoed back the voice of their cry in the hour of their extremity. From their toils and sufferings, their faith and patience, as from precious seed, has sprung a goodly harvest, which we, their children, reap. Let us not fear to hold and to teach to our children and our children's children, the doctrines and practices for which they suffered and bled and died. They could not consent to hold in abeyance the truths they have left as our heritage, even when power was on the side of the oppressor, and the oppressor's words were cruel, and his rod heavy, and his sword sharp for execution. Nor let us, to whom this dearly-purchased heritage has come, consent to hold them in abeyance, because the honied tones of friendship or the cutting words of fraternal censors demand it.

      The denominational training of which we speak does not contemplate any Quixotic or offensive crusade for the spread of our peculiar views. It undertakes simply the humble and unexceptionable task of teaching to our sons and daughters the truth, and the whole truth, as Jesus held it forth and committed it to his disciples. It aims alone at such a full and faithful instruction as is demanded from us by our love to the Lord, whose doctrines and commands we have received, and by our love for those whose relation to ourselves calls forth our tenderest concern for their temporal and spiritual welfare. We ask for a training that is fully and fearlessly denominational, but, at the same time, for one that is rooted and grounded in love, and that in all its subsequent growth and development shall reflect the roseate tints of that heavenly grace.

      To the successful prosecution of this work there is needed the earnest co-operation of pastors, parents, Sunday-school teachers, and the press. When these all work in harmony, and all give to our denominational views that position and prominence which they hold in the Sacred Scriptures, then we may expect the most cheering results to crown their efforts.

      Let us give, in conclusion, a few brief hints as to the manner of performing the work that lies before us.

      The young can readily be interested in the thrilling facts that enter so largely into our denominational history. Their attention

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can easily be secured to a recital of our early trials and sufferings, and struggles and triumphs. And when their attention is thus aroused, and their interest excited, they will naturally ask why all these evils came upon our fathers. They may thus be brought to feel the correctness and importance of those principles which have nerved our arm in the long and fearful conflict which has been forced upon us, - a conflict whose joyful end, even yet, we only see from afar.

      The first principle which they will come to learn is that which Felix Mantz announced when charged by the Swiss reformers with baptizing believers and refusing baptism to infants, contrary to their decree; that which Peter and John announced when confronted with the Sacred Council of their nation. for speaking in the name of Jesus: We must obey God, rather than man. It will be a pleasing task to impress upon the mind of the child that the authority of God is supreme and absolute, - that it is only for us, as the creatures of his power, to hear and to obey. Let it be, by early instruction and by frequent reiteration, inwrought into the warp and woof of the thinking of our children, that, in all which pertains to religious duty, the will of Christ must over-ride, and bring into full subjection all personal desires and preferences whatsoever. Let us endeavor to make them perceive and feel that Christian character attains its fulness and perfection, and Christian joy its highest purity and sweetness, only when this fundamental lesson in the school of Christ is most fully mastered and most faithfully applied. Thus we shall neutralize the baleful influence of that insidious teaching, so prevalent in all times, which discourses learnedly and long of essentials and non-essentials in the commands of Christ; and which laboriously defends the authority of the Church to alter or amend His laws.

      When thus this broad foundation-stone is laid deep in their youthful minds, then we may advance to teach them that it is possible for us to know what each revealed doctrine means, and what is the precise and proper import of every command of our Lord; and that it is the duty of every humble seeker for the truth, to pause in his search, only when he knows that he has secured the object of his quest. If we are wise, we shall away at once with that only half-disguised skepticism which allows us to hold a multitude of vague, indefinite, doubtful notions and opinions, and to act upon them with timid, jealous hesitancy; but calls it unpardonable arrogance to cherish firm and clear and strong convictions of the truth, and to carry them frankly and fearlessly out in practice. If we

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wish our children to escape the abyss of skepticism towards which so many of the youth of our day are drifting, let us lay our hand upon the book of God, and tell them that here we have a revelation of truth and duty sent from Him; that it means something; that what it means we may and ought seek, until we learn with clearness and precision every doctrine which demands our faith, and every practice that requires our obedience.

      Then, with these fixed principles firmly settled in their minds, we may go pleasantly onward in our teaching, unfolding gradually to their view the whole of that sublime and heavenly system of truth and duty, which constitutes our denominational creed; looking up, meanwhile, with constant prayer to God, for the gift of his Holy Spirit to crown our lessons with success, to make them love the truths their fathers held, and walk with sacred pleasure in the path their father's feet have trod.


[From Philadelphia Baptist Association minutes, 1860, pp. 27-34; via U. of Chicago digital om-line documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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