Published by request of the Association — 1875
"Christ Jesus (says Paul) witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate." — 1 Tim., vi:13.
This confession is summarily included in his reply to Pilate's question: "Art thou the King of the Jews?" "Art thou a King then?"
"Jesus answered, my kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."
"Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice." -- John xviii:36, 37.
This confession related to himself, his kingdom, and his followers.
He said, "Thou sayest that I am a King," which is equivalent to the affirmation, I am a King.
Our revised version renders the expression: "Thou sayest it; because I am a King." So Lange and others render it. He confessed that he was a King; but that Pilate should not be misguided by the insinuation of his accusers, who said, "We have found this fellow perverting the nation and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying, that he himself is Christ a King," (Luke xxiii:2,) he simply answered the inquiry of Pilate, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" by the question, "Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?" "Pilate answered, am I a Jew?" He shared not their prejudices, "For he knew that for envy they had delivered him." -- Mat. xxvii:18. He knew that the meek and illustrious victim of their rage, who had published his doctrine "openly to the world," who "ever taught in the synagogues and in the temple whither the Jews always resort," (John, xviii:20,) could have no such seditious purpose of usurpation, and rivalry of Caesar.
Whatever Pilate may have thought of him as a King, he was evidently impressed with the purity of his life and the dignity of his character. He testified: "I find in him no fault at all." -- (John xviii:38) "And wrote a title (in Hebrew and Greek and Latin) and put it on the cross. And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." -- John xix:19.
His confession in relation to himself was, "I am a King." The King of Truth. "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth."
He confessed, "My kingdom is not of this world." Not of worldly origin. He ever spake of it as "The kingdom of heaven," "The kingdom of God." "But now is my kingdom not from hence."
It is not the conception of worldly wisdom, nor the prompting of worldly pride and ambition; not animated by a worldly spirit, nor upheld and vindicated by worldly alliances and worldly power. "If my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews."
He had repressed the natural temper and spirit of his disciples, as inconsistent with the spirit of his kingdom, and unresistingly had submitted himself to the will of his enemies.
The foundation of his kingdom, which had long been anticipated in the salvation of men, must needs be laid in his sacrificial death and his triumphant resurrection. And his kingdom, so diverse from the kingdoms of this world, was demonstrated to be like his own sovereign reign, one of grace, truth, and spirituality.
In relation to his followers, he confessed, "Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice."
To hear the voice of Jesus, is to heed, receive, and obey the truth spoken by him.
To be "of the truth" is to be begotten of the truth. -- James, i:18. "Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth."
To be morally cleansed by it -- John xv:3: "Now you are clean, through the word which I have spoken unto you."
To be made free by it -- John viii:32: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
In these significant words of confession, in relation to his disciples, Jesus showed that they should be assimilated to him, in their knowledge, love, and obedience to the truth, and in the ready spirit and fidelity with which they should bear wintess unto the truth; as those who rejoiced in, and should "stand fast in the liberty wherewith he had made them free." -- Gal., v:1.
It was indeed, a good and most comprehensive confession which the Lord Jesus "witnessed before Pontius Pilate."
The principles negatively stated and implied in this confession, are the essential principles of the Gospel. They are great governing and guiding principles. Under them the first disciples were united, and organized in a church state, after which model all the churches of Christ were subsequently organized.
To develop the principles involved in this confession, we shall institute the following propositions:
I. They are both radical and revolutionary.
II. They underlie the whole New Testament system of church building and extension.
III. They necessarily make Baptists of all who cordially and fully embrace them; make them the special advocates of religious liberty and the peculiar witnesses of Christ.
I. These great principles are both radical and revolutionary.
(1) They are radical.
They look to a thorough radical change in the moral condition of men. This is implied in two leading statements of the confession: "My kingdom is not of this world;" and "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."
Jesus spake of his disciples as "The children of the kingdom;" and affirmed of them, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." -- John, xvii:16.
To be "not of the world," and yet "of the truth," is in a high moral sense to be of another world; that is, of the heavenly kingdom. Accordingly, of such it is said, they "Have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come." -- Heb. vi:5.
This radical principle the Lord Jesus had often urged in the publication of his Gospel. In conversation with Nicodemus, only a few days previous to his trial before Pontius Pilate, he pleads its necessity, saying, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." -- John,iii:3. To have spiritual perceptions of the nature and principles of the kingdom, and an appreciative realization of its elements, which are "Righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," a man must undergo such a radical change in his moral nature as can only be adequately expressed by the extraordinary figure of a birth. He must be made anew; "a new creation;" after the moral image of God, "Created in righteousness and true holiness." The same radical principle is taught in the saying, "Verily, I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein." -- Luke xviii:17.
The sense of this expression is indicated by a similar declaration of our Lord: "Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." -Mat., xviii:3.
A principle of universal application is here avowed. The term converted is employed in its special scriptural sense, as implying the new birth. And regeneration, or a converted membership in the churches, is the radical principle urged by the Saviour.
Now the disciples of Jesus were associated together in the bonds of the Gospel, as his flock, over which he presided as "the good shepherd." "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." -- Luke, xii:32. They were associated together in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel, as his church, over which he presided as their king and head. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." -- Heb., ii:12, Ps., xxii:22.
This first church, which was designed to be the model of all the subsequent churches of Christ, was a body of true and real saints, having received the impress of the kingdom, were "not of the world," but "of the truth;" "called out," effectually separated from, and eternally divorced from the world.
There was no common ground upon which an alliance with the world could be formed. The very laws of her spiritual existence frobade it. She was bound alike in the individualities of her membership, and in her aggregated capacity as the church of Christ, to carry out the divine maxim of her king and head; "Rendering therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" -- Mat., xxii:21.
No truth was more clearly apprehended by the first disciples, than the radical principle of entire separation of the church from the world, comprised in the famous confession of our Lord before Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world."
But Jesus, in affirming that he was "a King," and in the authoritative and exclusive claim of a kingdom, enunciated a third great principle, equally radical with the former two, viz: his supreme headship of the church; and by consequence, the supreme allegiance due to him as the King of Zion.
He only reiterated the proof of Daniel's prophecy: "And the kingdom shall not be left to other people." He himself was "head of the body, the church," and the only Lord and lawgiver. This great truth, which lies at the foundation of all scriptural order and government in the churches, is everywhere taught and enforced throughout the Scriptures. It is generally conceded among Protestant Christians, though practically ignored wherever authortative legislation is assumed.
Another great principle which our Lord evolved in this "good confession" is the supremacy of His Word, indicated in the saying, "Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice." In which it is also implied that the very highest evidence that one "is of the truth" is, that he heeds the voice or word of Jesus, according to the command of the eternal Father, who said, "This is my beloved son, hear ye him." And we are given to understand that those who are begotten of the truth, who are cleansed, and made free by it, will receive as their supreme rule of faith and duty, the words of Christ in the New Testament, which comprise the whole truth of salvation, with every moral precept to be observed, and every positive duty to be performed. And this they will receive in contradistinction to the dicta of those "who teach for doctrine the commandments of men," and who "make void the law of God by their traditions."
There are, therefore, in this "good confession" which Christ Jesus "witnessed before Pontius Pilate," four great principles evolved, with their necessary and natural consequences.
First. Regeneration or conversion as requisite to church membership, necessitating a voluntary profession of faith.
Second. Entire separation of the churches from all State alliance, and worldly amalgamation. Forever excluding infant baptism.
Third. The headship of Christ over the churches, as the only Lord and lawgiver, to the exclusion of all priestly and clerical domination.
Fourth. The supremacy of His Word, as the rule of faith and pratice to his followers, to the utter exclusion of all mere traditions and commandments of men.
The direct tendency of these great principles is to beget and foster the love of relgious liberty; to urge and enforce church purity, and to labor for the exaltation of Christ.
They look to the very foundations of things in religion. They are essentially radical in their nature.
(2) They are revolutionary as well as radical.
The Jews hated the doctrine of Christ. It urged the necessity of personal holiness, of nonfellowship with the world, of self-abnegation, of a sense of childlike helplessness, in order to an entrance into, and participation in, the blessings of "the kingdom of heaven." It laid bare their sins, rebuked their self-righteous pride, and contravened all their false notions of the Messiah's kingdom. They misapprehended altogether the nature of his kingdom, and the principles which it evolved.
They truly perceived the revolutionary tendency of these principles, but shut their eyes to the fact that that tendency was purely moral and spiritual, having the highest happiness and best interests of the race in view; that it disclaimed all interference in the civil and political affairs of governments, and in no wise affected their existing status, except so far as they should be influenced by the enlightenment and moral enfranchisement of individuals, and the intellectual and moral progress of communities.
Perceiving, indeed, the revolutionary tendency of his doctrine, they seized upon the coveted occasions to compass his death. They accused him before Pilate of a seditious attempt to turn the hearts of the people, to supplant Caesar, and to establish himself on the throne as a King.
Christ Jesus was indeed a revolutionist. The principles of his kingdom were the most radically revolutionary ever enunciated to mankind. They offer no compromise with sin and error; no alliance with the powers of darkness.
They aim at revolutionizing mankind by individualities; delivering them from their slavish captivity to sin; transferring their allegiance from the Prince of Darkness to the King of Truth; and making them in all respects, "A peculiar people," "the Lord's freemen," "Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling."
Passing on from individuals, who have been "renewed in the spirit of their minds," and in whose hearts the principles of religious liberty and noncomformity to the world are implanted, these same revolutionizing elements affect, first of all, small communities, then more wide-spread, until States, Kingdoms, and Empires are influenced; and even forms of government radically changed, or materially modified.
The kingdom which "the God of heaven should set up," according to Daniel, "shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and stand forever." -- Dan., ii:44.
Its elements, though holy and spiritual, are necessarily [sic] aggressive. This fact is very plainly shown by our Lord, when setting forth its antagonism to the spirit and principles of the world. He said, "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." -- John, iii:19-20. He said also, "The world cannot hate you, but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil." -- John vii:7.
It was on the ground of the world's hatred of the holy doctrine and principles of the Gospel, the rebuke which these administered to the spirit, maxims, corrupt principles, and sinful lives of men; thereby awakening their opposition, that Jesus the Prince of Peace said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword." -- Mat., x:34. "I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished? Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you nay, but rather division." -- Luke, xii:49-50.
"The scriptures forseeing" that he himself, the advocate and representative of his doctrine, would fall a victim to the enmity and persecuting rage of the world, spake before by the prophet Zechariah, saying: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my and fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn my hand upon the little ones." -- Zech., xiii:7; Mat., xvi:31.
Jesus gave his disciples to understand that this would be true also of them. Said he: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me, before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." -- John, xv:18, 19. "And ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." -- Mat., xxiv:9.
There can be no surer proof of the revolutionary character of these principles, than the fact, that they arouse antagonistic forces wherever proclaimed.
They are essentially radical in their nature and revolutionary in their tendency.
II. They underlie the whole New Testament system of church building and extension..
For the advancement and enlargement of his kingdom, the Lord Jesus had made the wisest and best arrangement. He drew around him disciples who drank in his words, imbibed his spirit, and cherished his principles. Of them, he said in his prayer to the Father: "As thou hast sent me into the world; even so have I also sent them into the world." -- John xvii:18. And to the disciples, he said: "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." -- Acts, i:18.
Before finally leaving the world, he gave to them his authoritative command, which may well be regarded as the great statute law of his kingdom: providing for the promulgation of his Gospel, and for the planting and training of his churches.
Matthew gives an extended version of this great Law of the Gospel: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach (disciple) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you, alway, even unto the end of the world." -- Mat., xxviii:18-20.
Mark simply gives a condensed statement of this law: "And he said unto them, go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." -- Mark, xvi:15,16.
Under the plain and unmistakable sanctions of this divine law, the apostles and first ministers went forth to the great work of evangelization, assured of the presence of him who was able to execute all his purposes with regard to his kingdom.
Now the practical working of this law, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the labors of inspired men, is the true and infallible exposition of the principles of Christ's confession before Pilate, and shows their relation to the great work of church building and extension.
It provides, first, for the preaching of the Gospel, or the promulgation of those principles which are an essential part of the gospel. "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel," &c. When Philip "went down to the city of Samaria," he peached "the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ," -- Acts, viii:12.
It provides, second, that men shall be discipled; shall become believers before receiving baptism, and entering upon church membership: "Go ye, therefore, and disciple all nations," &c.
"He that believeth," according to Mark, is discipled; shall become believers before receiving baptism, and entering upon church membership: "Go ye, therefore, and disciple all nations," &c.
"He that believeth," according to Mark, is discipled. This necessarily implies the new birth. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to them that believe on his name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." -- John, i:12, 13. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God." 1 John, v:1. Exactly in harmony with the confession of Christ, it provides for regeneration, or a converted church membership.
It provides, in the third place, that believers, or the discipled, shall make a voluntary profession of their faith in baptism: "Disciple all nations, baptising them," &c. Believer's baptism alone is here enjoined. It is the divinely appointed way of making a public profession of Christianity. It marks the voluntary action of the believer. There is no place for the intervention of force, or coercive measures, in making a scriptural profession of religion. On the part of the believer, it marks his recognition and acknowledgement of Christ as supreme. Having been "baptized into Christ," "into his name," they have professionally "put on Christ," thereby acknowledging supreme allegiance to him as their representative head.
It marks the line of separation from the world. Being "baptized into Christ's death," "buried with him by baptism into death," they have not only professed their faith in the efficacy of his death, but their own death also, to sin and to the world; and rising up from their burial place in baptism, "through the faith of the operation of God," they professionally declare themselves forever separated unto the Lord, and from the world. And the great principles of union with Christ as supreme head of the church, and separation from the world, are both illustrated, and practically applied in the law of Christian baptism.
It provides, in the fourth and last place, that all believers shall yield their unreserved submission to the commands of Christ, and accept his word in the New Testament as the supreme rule of their faith and practice: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you," &c.
The apostles and first ministers in their work of evangelization, never departed from the provisions of this law. Under it, sinners "were pierced in their hearts;" "repented;" "through faith gladly received the word;" voluntarily "confessed Christ before men," and professed their faith in him, in baptism; were separated from the world, and set apart unto the Lord, as "saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus." Thence "continuing steadfast in the apostles' doctrine, in fellowship, and in prayer, the Lord added to the church daily, the saved." And thenceforward, under the operation of the same divine law, "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes, both of men and women."
Inspiration has happily furnished us with one of the most beautifully illustrative and instructive figures of church building, under the law of the Gospel. Paul and Peter both introduce this figure in their Epistles. Says Paul, "To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets; Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the spirit." -- Eph., ii:19-22.
Says Peter, addressing those whom he styles "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious; ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." -- 1 Pet., ii:4, 5.
It is clear that this inspired figure of the New Testament system of church building is alike illustrative of the practical working of the law given by Christ, and of the principles embodied in his "confession before Pontius Pilate."
These principles, therefore, evidently underlie the whole system.
III. They necessarily make Baptists of all who cordially and fully embrace them; they make them the special advocates of religious liberty, and the peculiar witnesses of Christ.
1.This was true of the Apostolic age.
The apostles and primitive churches held tenaciously, as we have seen, the distinguishing principles of a converted church membership, and of believer's baptism; which, according to Paul, was a burial of the body in water; and this to the utter exclusion of infant baptism, a thing unheard of in that age, as confessed by its most illustrious advocates. They held that the churches of Christ were bodies of true and real saints; called out and separated from the world, and hence ought to be kept pure therefrom; that Christ Jesus was King in Zion, the supreme and only head of the church; and that his word was the infallible standard by which all religious opinions were to be tried, and the exclusive rule of faith and practice to his followers.
In their distinguishing doctrinal principles and practices, they were to all intents and purposes Baptists, and would be so denominated were they present now.
They were the lovers, the persevering and unflinching advocates of religious liberty. They boldly asserted the rights of conscience, and maintained that no one had a right to usurp the place of Christ; that he was their sovereign Lord and Master, and that their allegiance to him, in all matters of conscience, was paramount to all other claims. From him they had learned the doctrine of soul liberty. And it was their boldness in exercising the rights of conscience, and freedom of speech, that caused their enemies to marvel, and take "knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." -- Acts, iv:13.
When commanded by the rulers "not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus," their bold and unhesitating reply was, "Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken to you, more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." -- Acts, iv:18,19, 20. This unwarrantable command of their enemies was countermanded by the angel of the Lord, who on liberating them from their unrighteous imprisonment, said: "Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." -- Acts, v:20.
When demanded of the rulers again, to know why they had not obeyed their commands, in ceasing "to teach in the name of Jesus," they replied, "We ought to obey God rather than men." -- Acts, v:29.
Jesus had made his disciples "free indeed;" "free from the law of sin and death;" "free from the superstition and idolatry of a blind ritualism, and from the enslaving shackles of all State religions; and they were charged to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith he had made them free."
Under the guidance of inspired teachers, his churches were free and independent communities of saints; united in the bonds of a common faith, and in their allegiance to their common Lord. To enjoy the liberty of worshiping and serving God, according to the teachings of his word, was with them a greatly coveted privilege. Nor could they forego or abandon this privilege without abandoning their principles, inverting their real character, and practically denying their Lord. There was but one alternative: To suffer for the rights of conscience; and this they nobly did, as the martyr-witnesses of Jesus. They rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." -- Acts, v:41. "In every place, bonds and imprisonments" awaited them. They were whipped, imprisoned, stoned to death, beheaded with the sword, banished, despoiled of their goods, and in every way cruelly and inhumanly dealt with; and all for maintaining the inalienable rights of conscience, and refusing to conform to the corrupt State religions, Judaism and Paganism.
2. The truth of this proposition is verified in the history of subsequent ages.
(1.) With the wonderful progress of the Gospel, came also the withering and benighting power of a corrupt Christianity. Through the second and third centuries Christianity spread over the whole Roman Empire. Multitudes of churches, maintained comparatively pure, the doctrine, the discipline and practice of the New Testament. All shared more or less in the terrible persecutions which followed in rapid succession, and many "were slain for the testimony of Jesus." By the middle of the third century, many corrupt doctrines and practices had obtained, particularly in the metropolitan churches of Rome, Alexandria, Carthage, and others, over which these exerted a commanding influence; against which there were many protests, from faithful ministers, and from purer and less pretentious churches. The dogma of baptismal regeneration, with its legitimate offspring, infant baptism, according to Neander began to obtain, and spread during this period, particularly among the churches of North Africa, and was supported by the powerful influence of the talented, yet corrupt and politic Cyprian.
Says Neander: "The error became more firmly established, that without external baptism, no one could be delivered from that inherent guilt; could be saved from the everlasting punishment that threatened him, or raised to eternal life; and when the notion of a magical influence, or charm connected with the sacraments, continually gained ground, the theory was finally evolved of the unconditional necessity of infant baptism. About the middle of the third century, this theory was already generally admitted in the North African church. The only question that remained was, whether the child ought to be baptized immediately after its birth, or not till eight days after, as in the case of the right [rite] of circumcision." -- Church His., vol. 1, p. 313.
According to the learned Baron Bunsen: "Pedobaptism in the more modern sense, meaning thereby the baptism of new-born infants, with the vicarious promises of parents and other sponsors, was utterly unknown to the early church, not only down to the end of the second, but indeed to the middle of the third century."--Taylor's Memorial series, No. 1, p. 33. x
Infant communion was also introduced in the time of Cyprian; and a multitude of superstitious corruptions began to accumulate around the prolific heresy of baptismal regeneration. As far as infant baptism prevailed, the great principle of a converted church membership was set aside, church authority supplanted the authority of Christ, tradition in a great measure took the place of His Word, and worldly power was coveted. The way was open when occasion offered, for the Union of Church and State, and for the establishment of Anti-Christ.
Accordingly, when Constantine ascended the throne of the Caesars, early in the fourth century, professed conversion, and offered to take Chrsitianity into alliance with State power, many ambitious and worldly-minded Bishops, with many corrupt churches, gladly seized the occasion, entered into the adulterous alliance, and by clerical arrogance and political intrigue -- controlling in a great measure the civil power -- became the most persistent and relentless persecutors of those who maintained the great principles of the kingdom of Christ.
This was the transition period with that corrupt body of Christians who merged into the darkness of Pagan and Papal superstition, under the pretentious title of "The Holy Catholic Apostolic Church."
(2.) Running parallel with the history of this corrupt body, we trace the footprints of a people who though designated at different times by different names, were always known by their advocacy of the principles confessed by Christ; by their love of religious liberty, and readiness to suffer for it. The Donatists of North Africa, whom Neander reckons "the most important and influential church division in this period," like the Novatianists in the latter part of the previous century, in Italy, opposed them any corruptions of doctrine and practice which had arisen.
But now for the first time the occasion was furnished for protesting against the union of Church and State; for reasserting the rights of conscience, and defending the claims of religious liberty against the wicked usurpations, and persecutions of the so-called Christian Church itself.
"That which distinguishes the present case (says Neander) is the reaction, proceeding out of the essence of the Christian church, and called forth in this instance by a peculiar occasion, against the confounding of the ecclesiastical and political elements; on which occasion, for the first time, the ideas which Christianity, as opposed to the Pagan religion of the State, had first made men distinctly conscious of, became an object of contention within the Christian church itself; the ideas concerning universal, inalienable human rights; concerning liberty of conscience; concerning the rights of free religious conviction." -- His., vol. 2, p. 182.
The great principles of Christ's confession were constantly reaffirmed by the Dontanists, and other dissenting bodies of Christians, in their controversies and conflicts with the dominant politico-religious party.
When the Catholic party sought the intervention of the Emperor in settling their disputes with the Donatists, and he in his imperial character undertook to reconcile them, the Donatists were wont to inquire, "What has the Emperor to do with the church? "What have Christians to do with Kings?" "Or what have Bishops to do at Court?" --Neander's Hist., vol. 2, p.193.; Also Jones, p. 223; Orchard, p. 88.
Says Neander: "The principle expressed in those words of Donatus, that Church and State should be kept wholly distinct from each other, had at that time, through the reaction which began to manifest itself against the dominant church party, become universally recognized among the Donatists." -- His., vol. 2, p. 195.
These Donatists, he considers, "the true historical origin of the sect" of the Waldenses. -- Ch. His., vol. 4, p. 605, with notes.
The Novationists, Donatists, and Paulicians, with other smaller dissenting communities, holding substantially the same great principles, were measurably at length, according to church historians, merged into the great Waldensian community.
Happily some fragmentary records of this renowned body of Christians have been rescued from destruction. In an ancient document ascribed to them, bearing the date A. D. 1120, in which they describe the inception, growth, and maturity of Anti-Christ, they say: "But growing up in his members, that is, in his blind and dissembling ministers, and in worldly subjects, he at length arrived at full maturity; when men, whose hearts were set upon this world, blind in the faith, multiplied in the church, and by the union of Church and State, got the power of both into their hands. Christ never had an enemy like this; so able to pervert the way of truth into falsehood; insomuch, that the true church, with her children, is trodden under foot. He teaches to baptize children into the faith, and attributes to this the work of regeneration; thus confounding the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration with the external rite of baptism; and on this foundation bestows orders, and indeed grounds all his Christianity. He hates, and persecutes, and searches after, and plunders, and destroys the members of Christ." -- Jones's Ch. His., p. 327, 328.
From these extracts, we learn that the Waldenses, long before the rise of the protestant Pedobaptist sects, denounced infant baptism, and the great heresy out of which it sprang (baptismal regeneration) as a doctrine and practice of Anti-Christ; and denounced the union of Church and State, as a measure of the great anti-christian party, for securing worldly power, and "treading under foot" the true churches of Christ; and that they held the distinguishing doctrine of "the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration," or of a converted church membership.
In a Confession of Faith of about the same date, A. D. 1120, they say: "We hold in abhorrence all human inventions, as proceeding from Anti-Christ, which produce distress, and are prejudicial to the liberty of the mind." "We consider the sacraments as signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper and even necessary, that believers use these symbols or visible forms when it can be done. Notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers may be saved without these signs, when they have neither place nor opportunity of observing them." "We acknowledge no sacraments (as of divine appointment) but baptism and the Lord's supper." "We honor the secular powers, with subjection, obedience, promptitude, and payment." -- Jones, p. 323, 324.
In another Confession of Faith, bearing [the] date A. D. 1544, they say concerning the church: "The Lord Jesus Christ is the head -- it is governed by his word, and guided by his spirit." Of baptism, they say: "We are received (by it) into the holy congregation of God's people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life." -- Jones, p. 326.
This passing glimpse at their distinguishing principles points in no equivocal manner to the denominational character of these ancient Christian communities. Their identity as Baptists, from their maintenance of the same great disitnguishing principles, is shown alike by the testimony of both friend and foe.
Reinerious Sacho, a distinguished Roman Catholic inquisitor, says: "Of all the sects that have risen against the Church of Rome, the Waldenses have been the most prejudicial and pernicious, inasmuch as their opposition has been of very long continuance. Add to which, that this sect has become very general, for there is scarcely a country to be found in which this heresy is not planted." --p. 339, 340.
Says Mosheim: "The origin of the sect, who have acquired the name of Anabaptists, but who also are denominated Mennonites, is hidden in the depths of antiquity." -- McClain's Trans. He further adds: "I believe the Mennonites are not altogether in the wrong when they boast of a descent from the Waldenses, Petrobrussians, and others, who are usually styled the witnesses the truth before Luther." -- Murdock's Trans., vol. 3, p. 200, 201.
Beza, the contemporary and colleague of Calvin, testifies: "As for the Waldenses, I may be permitted to call them the very seed of the primitive and pure Christian church. -- Jones, p. 343. The learned Limborch says: "To speak candidly what I think, of all the modern sects of Christians, the Dutch Baptists most resemble the Waldenses and Albigenses." -- Jones, p. 347.
Says Osiander: "Our modern Anabaptists were the same with the Donatists of old." -- Orchard, p. 87.
"Fuller, the English church historian, asserts that the Baptists in England, in his day, were the Donatists new dipt." -- Orchard, p. 87.
"The Donatists (says Robinson) were trinitarian Anabaptists; literally so, for there was no sprinkling then." -- His. Bap, p.
"The Baptists (says Sir Isaac Newton) are the only body of Christians that has not symbolized with the Church of Rome.." -- Taylor's Memo. Se., No., p. 6.
Let there be added to this the testimony of the learned historians of the Dutch Reformed Church, Drs. Ypeig and Dermont, who in their ecclesiastical researches, say:"We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and who have long in the history of the church received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community which has stood since the days of the Apostles, and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrines of the Gospel through all the ages." --Quoted by Haynes in Baptist Denomination, p. 25.
Thus it is seen that all along the track of time, down through the dreary ages, those great principles confessed by our Lord have necessarily made Baptists of those who fully embraced them. This fact is most fully recognized by Dr. Mosheim, the learned Lutheran historian. He says:"That principle which the Waldenses, the Wickliffites, and the Hussites maintained, (that the visible church is an assembly of holy persons, and ought therefore to be entirely free, not only from ungodly persons and sinners, but from all institutions of human device against ungodliness,) "was deeply rooted" in the minds of many, who "prior to the age of Luther lay concealed in almost every country of Europe, but especially in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland and Germany."He further adds: "This principle lay at the foundation, and was the source of all that was new and singular in their religion." -- Murdock's Trans., vol. 3, p. 200.
(3.) Their principles necessarily made them the lovers and advocates of religious liberty.
The special advocacy of this principle is not ascribed to superior learning or mental sagacity. In the general, the "common people" who have gladly received the Gospel, have been the genuine advocates and faithful custodians of religious liberty. It was a very just remark of Dr. Foote, the Presbyterian historian of the Virginia struggles, in speaking of religious liberty: "This liberty was not the offspring of mere greatness of mind, or of political sagacity. It was a child of principle, cradled in suffering and fed on tears." -- Religious Liberty and the Baptists, Bitting, p. 16.
The great English philosopher and metaphysician, John Locke, celebrated alike for his advocacy of religious and civil liberty, testifies, that "The Baptists were the first and only propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty." -- Bitting, p. 14.
This eminent man, during his exile in Holland, wrote his celebrated Letters on Toleration, in which he gives his idea of the true character of a Gospel church; which involves precisely the same principle as that ascribed by Mosheim to the Baptists; which, however, this Lutheran ecclesiastic stigmatizes as "anabaptistical, enthusiastical, seditious, tumultuous," and the like; which led the celebrated Robert Robinson of Cambridge to remark: "There is no hazard in saying, Mr. Locke understood liberty, and a British Baptist day-laborer understands it better than the learned Dr. Mosheim." -- His. Bap., p. 435.
It comes of principle, and is inwrought in the hearts of those who by the truth are made "free indeed."
The testimony of Bancroft is disinterested, for he was not a Baptist. In tracing the principles which led to the consummation of our liberties, in his History of the United States, he says: "Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first a trophy of the Baptists." His., vol. 2, p. 66-67.
The Baptists of Rhode Island, in their instructions to Roger Williams and John Clarke, while at the English court seeking a charter for their colony, said: "Plead our case in such sort as we may not be compelled to exercise any civil power over men's consciences; we do judge it no less than a point of absolute cruelty." --Ban. His., vol. 2, p. 61.
"It is much in our hearts, they urged in their petition to Charles II, to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil State may stand and best be maintained with a full liberty of religious concernments." -- Ban., vol. 2, p. 62.
It was about the year 1636 that the Baptists in the wilds of America, affirmed their convictions upon this great subject, and even addressed them to the British monarch.
Prior, however, to this, the English Baptists, in 1611, published a Confession of Faith, in which they say: "We believe that the magistrate is not to meddle with religion or matters of conscience, nor compel men to this or that form of religion, because Christ is the King and lawgiver of the church and conscience." -- Memorial Series, vol. 2, p. 32.
The first treatise on religious liberty in the English language was that published by Leonard Busher, a London Baptist, in 1614, entitled "Religious Peace, or a Plea for Liberty of Conscience," of which the following passage is a specimen of the views held by the Baptists of his day: "That it may be lawful for every person or persons, yea, Jews, Turks, Pagans, and Papists to write, dispute, confer and reason, print and publish any matter touching any religion, either for or against whomsoever." -- Memorial Series, vol. 2, p. 32.
Numerous other publications on the subject from English Baptists followed these, which led Dr. Featly, a distinguished prelate of the Church of England, to say, "the Baptists were laboring for the utmost freedom of the press and unlimited toleration;" "damnable doctrines," he adds, for which he would have them "exterminated [from] the Kingdom." -- Struggles and Triumphs of Virginia Baptists, Curry, p. 29. The principles advocated by them "were denounced by state[s]men as rebellion, and by grave divines as the most fearful heresy." --Curry, p. 29.
The first treatise on the subject in our own country was the famous publication of Roger Williams on "soul liberty," in 1644, entitled "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience." This was answered by John Cotton, a pedobaptist clergyman of Massachusetts, defending the right of the magistrate to enforce conformity. In which he says: "If men be found to walk in the way of the wicked their brethren may deprive them in some cases not only of the common air of the country by banishment, but even of the common air of the world by death, and yet hope to live with them eternally in the heavens." -- Memorial Series, No. 2, p. 36. To this¸ Williams replied in a second treatise, entitled "The Bloody Tenet yet More Bloody by Mr. Cotton's endeavor to Wash it White."
The controversy on this subject, both in England and in the Amercian colonies, during this period, waxed warm and animated, and the line of distinction between the contending parties was sharply defined. The despised Baptists, as in Paul's day, "the sect everywhere spoken against," were its only advocates, while every religious sect in Christendom, with all the governments of the world except the little Rhode Island colony, were its opposers.
The nearest approximation to religious liberty allowed by any religious sect was an interested and carefully defined measure of toleration, hedged about with pains and penalties. Baptists, however, have never been the advocates of mere toleration. The views held by them were well expressed in a declaration of principles drawn up in 1775, and presented in a memorial to the Virginia Convention. Among other things they affirm "that the mere toleration of religion by the civil government is insufficient; that no State religious establishment ought to exist; that all "religious denominations ought to stand on the same footing." -- Struggles and Triumphs, Curry, p. 42.
It is a fact patent on the page[s] of history and to the understanding of every well informed person on this subject, that the Baptists during all the ages of the past, even to the beginning of the last one hundred years in this country, were the only advocates of religious liberty. The aggresive power and leavening influence of their principles, may well account for its advocacy by others in the United States during the past hundred years.
As evidence of the fact alleged, we need only repeat the testimony of Mr. Locke, which will suffice for the British Islands and the Continent: "The Baptists (says he) were the first and only propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty."
The testimony of Bancroft will suffice for this country. Says this standard historian: "Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first a trophy of the Baptists."
It was the fruit of their principles.
(4.) The maintenance of these principles necessarily makes them the peculiar wintesses of Christ.
The word rendered witness means martyr. The faithful advocates of these principles have in every age been the peculiar -- that is --suffering witnesses of Jesus.
We have already noticed the sufferings of the first Christians for these principles, who were Baptists. We will now briefly scan the history of their sufferings in the subsequent ages.
The celebrated Cardinal Hosius, a leading prelate of the Catholic Church and President of the Council of Trent, A. D. 1560, says of the Baptists: "If the truth of religion were to be judged of by the readiness and cheerfulness of which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinion and persuasion of no sect can be truer and surer than that of Anabaptists, (Baptists,) since there have been none for these twel[v]e hundred years past, that have been more generally, or that have more cheerfully and steadfastly undergone and even offered themselves to the most cruel sorts of punishments than these people."
Mosheim says of them:"In almost all the countries of Europe an unspeakable number of those unhappy wretches preferred death in its worst forms to a retraction of their errors. Neither the view of the flames that were kindled to comsume them, nor the ignominy of the gibbet, nor the terrors of the sword, could shake their invincible but ill-placed constancy, or make them abandon tenets that seemed to them dearer than life and all its enjoyments." "Those who had no other marks of peculiarity than their administering baptism to adult persons only, and their excluding unrighteous persons from the external communion of the church, ought undoubtedly to have met with milder treatment than that which was given to seditious incendiaries." "Many Anabaptists suffered death, not on account of their being considered rebellious subjects, but merely because they were judged to be incorrigible heretics; for in this century (sixteenth) the error of limiting the administration of baptism to adult persons only, and the practice of rebaptising such as had received that sacrament in infancy, were looked upon as most flagitious and intolerable heresies." -- McClain, vo.2, p. 130.
In England, during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, "Bloody Mary," Protestant Elizabeth, and other monarchs, Baptist blood flowed freely; the fires of Smithfield were kindled to comsume them; and the dark filthy dungeons of Newgate prison wintessed their dreary sufferings.
During the last two preceding centuries, the Baptists of Massachusetts and other New England colonies, suffered greatly from "The Standing Order." They were fined, whipped, imprisoned, "deprived of the common air of the country, by banishment;" and judged worthy, in the language of John Cotton, of being deprived "of the common air of the world by death."
In Virginia, where the Church of England was established, the laws of the colony were especially discriminating against Baptists, because "of their averseness to the orthodox established religion," and "refusing to have their children baptized."
Whipping, fining, banishing, confiscating goods and imprisonment were the ordinary modes of punishment and persecution.
Says Dr. Hawks, the historian of the Episcopal Church of Virginia: "No dissenters in Virginia experienced for a time, harsher treatment that did the Baptists. They were beaten and imprisoned; and cruelty taxed its ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance." Strug. and Tri., Curry, p. 39.
In 1774, James Madison wrote to a friend in Pennsylvania, denouncing in unmeasured terms, the persecutions then raging against the Baptists of his immediate vicinity. He said:"That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some, and to their eternal infamy the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such purposes. There are, at this time, in the adjacent county, not less than five or six well meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which in the main, are very orthodox." Strug. and Tri., p. 38.
In the language of a Virginia Baptist,"Our ministers were fined, pelted, beaten, imprisoned, poisoned, and hunted with dogs; their congregations were assaulted and dispersed; the solemn ordinance of baptism was rudely interrupted, both administrators and candidates being plunged and held beneath the water till nearly dead; they suffered mock trials, and even in courts of justice were subjected to indignites, not unlike those inflicted by the infamous Jeffries. Nor were these cases few and confined to restricted localities, as some have seemed to think. The jails of Culpepper, Orange, Fredericksburg, Middlesex, King and Queen, Caroline, Chesterfield, and other counties, were honored with the presence of men imprisoned for the crime of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and sometimes for the crime of offering a prayer in a private house, and in other cases, for allowing their dwellings to be used for Baptist meetings."
Picket, and Ireland, and Harriss, and the three brothers Craig; John Waller, and Webber, and Greewood, and Barrow, and Weatherford, and Ware, and Wofford, and Tinsley, and perhaps a score of others, suffered such trials and indignites. Some of them were imprisoned several times. Some bore to their graves the scars of the beatings they received." Memo., Se., p. 9, 10.
The great principles for which the Baptists have so long and severely suffered, have at length triumphed in this country. The "child of principle, cradled in suffering, and fed on tears," has been enthroned in the minds and hearts of the people of a great nation. Millions to-day, in this favored land of ours, enjoy the rich boon of "absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty," which our Baptist ancestors a century ago longed for, and which they dared to cherish and advocate under pains, and penalties, and deepest obloquy. Then we were but a small, though intrepid band. Now after a century of freedom from oppresion and persecution, we are a host.
Well may we ask, "What hath God wrought for us?" And while we rejoice in the full measure of religious liberty, which has come to us as a fruit of the glorious principles which our Baptist fathers so nobly honored, let us ask ourselves again, "What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us?" Will we not as a token of our gratitude to him, renew our efforts for the dissemination of the great principles of the gospel more extensively in our own land, and throughout all others? And what more fitting memorial can we leave to our children, in this period of the triumph of our principles, of our enlargement and material prosperity, than to transmit to them our institutions of higher learning thoroughly endowed? Brethren, let us anticipate our incoming centennial year with one earnest, united, persistent and mighty effort under God, for the accomplishment of these ends. And let us make the prayer of "Moses, the servant of God," our prayer. "Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea the work of our hands establish thou it." Psalm 90:16, 17.
[From microfilm records at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Louisville, KY - North Bend Baptist Association, Minutes, 1875, pp. 5-24; Northbend is now known as the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association. This sermon had been delivered on several occasions to Baptist churches in Northern Kentucky in the year preceeding our country's centennial celebration, and was considered important, so it was ordered by the Association to be printed in its Minutes. - Jim Duvall]
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