Baptist History Homepage


The World's Debt to the Baptists
J. W. Porter, D.D.

      While we are not unmindful of the fact that the world is indebted, in large measure, to all Christian people, our present purpose is to consider the Baptist contribution to the spiritual welfare of mankind.

     First of all, and essential to all, is soul liberty, which, from the beginning, has been the trophy of the Baptists. That the right to worship God, according to the dictates of the individual conscience, is a debt that the world owes exclusively to the Baptists, is a closed question in all well-informed circles. A few quotations from an accredited historian will suffice in this connection:

     Bancroft says that "Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists."

     Judge Story writes: "In the code of laws celebrated by them in Rhode Island, we read for the first time since Christianity ascended the throne of the Csesars, the declaration that conscience shall be free, and that men should not be persecuted for worshiping in the way they believed right."

     Waddy writes: "Nowhere else in all the world (Rhode Island) were all men allowed equal rights."

     Savoyard declares: "What a great conservator of American character this church (Baptist) has been. A despotism could not exist where this church flourishes. Its church polity has for its foundation home rule."

      A corollary of soul liberty is the entire separation of church and state. For this Baptists have suffered through all the ages, and their tragic contention is traced through blood and tears. Mrs. Hutchinson, during the reign of Charles I, wrote of the persecuted Baptists:

      "O pitying skies, is there nowhere beneath your encircling dome a land where this agony can cease, because the soul is free?" It was in behalf of religious liberty that John Bunyan, one of the world's greatest and best Baptists, spent more than a decade in Bedford jail. It was for this cause that more than fifty thousand Anabaptists were tortured and murdered, surrendering their lives rather than principles. It was for this cause that Waller, Shackleford, Ware, Craig and countless others of whom the world was not worthy, were whipped and imprisoned, even counting their lives not dear, that they might give to the world its greatest blessing.

      The very government under which we live was formed and fashioned upon the model of a Baptist church. Thomas Jefferson frequently attended a Baptist church near Monticello, Va., of which the Rev. Andrew Tribble was pastor. Mr. Jefferson, who often witnessed the congregation transacting business, was much impressed with their democratic way of doing things, and concluded that their plan of government would be the best possible one for the American colonies. Mrs. James Madison says: "Mr. Jefferson did gather those views from a Baptist church."

      The world is under everlasting obligation to the Baptists for restoring the commission to its rightful place in the economy of gospel activities. It remained for William Carey, a Baptist, to institute the work of modern missions. Until Carey sailed for India, in 1793, there had not been a foreign missionary for centuries. Since then God has honored the Baptists by making them pioneers in this great work; should they not be more zealous and abounding than all other people? If God shall demand of us according as he has bestowed upon us - and he will - surely our obligation is great. The fields are white unto harvest, and God demands of us that we send laborers into the harvest. When a Baptist ceases to be a missionary, he ceases to be Baptist, and is, therefore, sailing under false colors. All of the wonderful efforts now being put forth to evangelize the world are solely due to Baptist initiative.

      To a Baptist, also, is due the Sunday school movement of our age. And just here it is well to correct an error that has been long prevalent, and which should have been long ago corrected. Rev. B. W. Spilman, of the Sunday School Board, has already pointed out that William Fox, a Baptist deacon, organized the first modern Sunday school, in the year 1783. It is generally claimed that Robert Raikes inaugurated the Sunday school movement, but in spite of this claim it is unquestionably true that the school that was started by Mr. Raikes was only a day school, in which the Bible was never taught, though the school met on Sunday. His school was solely secular in its character, and much after the order of our present public school, and perished without a successor. There is not the remotest suspicion of contemporary evidence that Robert Eaikes ever had anything whatever to do with a Sunday school.

      It is likewise worthy of note, in this connection, that the author of the "Uniform Series of International Lessons" was B. F. Jacobs, a Baptist. He was also chairman of the Executive Committee, and probably America's greatest Sunday school expert.

      Miss Dimmock, an elect Baptist lady, gave to the world the Cradle Roll, which has now become so important a factor in Sunday school work.

      Marshal Hudson, in 1890, organized a Baraca class at Syracuse, N. Y., and under the Baraca banner there are now enlisted well nigh a million men and women. Surely the world owes a debt of lasting gratitude to this Baptist brother for instituting a movement which has been of so great benefit to mankind.

      The Baptists have preserved to the world the New Testament idea of a church. They are the only people who through the ages have contended, or who are now contending, for a regenerated church membership. To be sure many of the churches preach regeneration, and have within their membership many regenerate members, but this in nowise affects our contention that a Baptist church is the only church that stands for a regenerated membership only. For example, all churches that practice infant baptism hold that the infants baptized have a vital relation to their churches, and in some real sense are church members. This fact, of itself, precludes the idea of a regenerate membership. Disciple churches, though holding to adult baptism, do not, according to the evangelical view, believe in regeneration, and therefore cannot believe in a regenerate membership. They also baptize people to save them, instead of baptizing saved people. We may add in this connection that we have positive proof that baptism will not save one, as we have baptized some whose last state was worse than their first. Indeed, we are quite sure that baptism has cost the souls of all who have ever trusted in it and not in the blood of Christ.

      It is worthy, too, of note that the largest gift ever made to the cause of education was given by a Baptist. This was a single gift by John D. Rockefeller of $31,000,000. Particularly in America, Baptists are, in influence, numbers and money, leaders in educational affairs. There are now nearly sixty thousand students in American! Baptist schools, colleges and universities.

      Baptists must be credited, too, with having demonstrated the truth of Christ's prophecy concerning the church. He predicated the perpetuity of his churches, and he has used the Baptists to verify his prophecy. It is not necessary to trace Baptiist succession through the ages, to demonstrates their continued existence from the days of Christ The same result may be reached by a simple process of cancellation. It is an easy task to ascertain the origin of all other churches, and to establish beyond question that the origin of each and all of them was at least several centuries this side of Calvary. No historian, though many have tried, has yet been able to find the beginnings of Baptist churches this side of the days of Christ. If, then, it can be proven, as commonly conceded, that all other churches are of human origin, and were not instituted by Christ while he was yet on the earth, it must follow that if there is a church with continued existence, that church must be a Baptist church, or else Christ's prophecy has failed.

      Speaking of Baptist succession, Alexander Campbell, in his debate with McCalla, said: "From the apostolic age to the present time the sentiments of Baptists and their practice of baptism have had a continued chain of advocates, and public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced."

      John A. Broadus, in his "Commentary on Matthew," says: "All earthly things go down through these dread gates, but Christ's church, for which he gave himself, will never cease to exist."

      James P. Boyce, speaking of the Baptists, says: "As the successors of a glorious spiritual ancestry, illustrated by heroic martyrdom, by the profession of noble principles, by the maintenance of true doctrines, as the church of Christ; which he has ever preserved as the witness for his truth, by which he has illustrated his wonderful ways, and shown that his promises are sure and steadfast." - Life of Boyce, by Broadus.

      Dr. T. T. Eaton: "Those who oppose Baptist succession have no logical ground to stand on in organizing a church out of material furnished by other churches, and with those baptized by regularly ordained Baptist ministers."

      It has been well said, "The past is safe, we can look back and see it; the present is safe, we can look about us and see, and the future is safe, though we may not see it; for

"Behind the dim unknown,
standeth God in the shadows,
Keeping watch above his own."

      Let us, then, in the name of what we have been, of what we are, and what we hope to he, earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
      Lexington, Ky.


[From The Baptist Message, SSB/SBC, 1911, pp. 110-118 (in Convention Teacher). This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More of The Baptist Message
More on J. W. Porter
Baptist History Homepage