Present and Future of the People called Baptists – 1.
By S. H. Ford
The Christian Repository, 1861
We are surrounded by a class of people, peculiar in their sentiments, independent in their organizations, and democratic in their government; a people whose presence is met with in the path of history, covered with reproach and stigmatized as fanatics, but who are now known by the current appellation of Baptists.
Of the past of this people we will say nothing now. The record is one of sorrow, of gloom, and of blood; yet over all shines a halo of glorious light, like the radiance which illumined the manger of Bethlehem. The only question we now ask of the past is, how have these people been preserved to the present? But to this no answer is heard, unless it be to the ear of faith there comes a whisper, God kept them.
For their peculiarities have ever been denounced as schism and bigotry. Hence, they have been reproached as marrow-minded, illiberal, and uncharitable. The men of liberal views, of worldly policy, and of bending principles, have turned from them with pity. They have, moreover, denied all clerical or priestly distinctions, and leveled all orders to the common rank of brotherhood. Hence, priesthood, and pride, and rank have detested their plebeian and degrading principles. They have, further, been distinguished in all times by a strictly democratic government, in which
every man's rights were respected, and every man's vote was equal. They have thus given a practical illustration of self-government, and rendered a practical protest against aristocratic and monarchical despotisms. Hence, they have been the objects of despotic hate and cruelty in every land.
But, in addition to all this, the independence of their churches, which acknowledged no control[l]ing or centralizing power in matters of doctrine or discipline, no statuary laws or uniform church creed which all must adopt, they have been exposed to all the evils to which this inherent weakness must subject them. They have, therefore, been separated, divided at times, and apparently on the verge of oblivion. But the independent, single-handed little republics, hated and persecuted, though they were weak, as men esteem weakness in their government; with no earthly head, nor strong central guiding power; trembling like reeds shaken by the wind - have stood till this hour. They have been kept by a power unseen from damning error, and are to-day recognized by all parties as orthodox Christians. - Episcopacy has departed from the principles proclaimed by Charnock, and Taylor, and the founders of the Protestant Episcopal church. With all the protection of bishops, and articles, and homilies, and statutes, the church of England has become corrupted to the core. The doctrines for which the great Luther plead, are ridiculed in that same church to-day, though guarded by synods and laws, ecclesiastical and secular. In the city of Calvin, in the very building where he preached, errors more deadly than those for which Servetus was burned have been proclaimed under the sheltering wings of Presbyterianism. The strong governments and well-defined symbás of faith, fenced around by statuary law, have not protected these organizations from the inundations of error; while the little, independent, and hated Baptist churches still stand erect, firm, and immovable in all that is known as orthodox. To the ministry of their churches no governmental endowments have given facilities for education. Neither Geneva, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, nor Wurtemberg have invited the unlettered Baptist preachers to enter the walks of learning. From all such privileges they have been disinherited - patronage, and wealth, and the protection of the great, who have turned from them with
contempt, or hurled at them their anathemas. Yet God has raised up among them men who have adorned the literature of the world, and whose names will last, as men of learning, while the world endures.
Such has been the preservation, such the guiding hand of God towards the people of whom we speak. Of the peculiarities of the Baptists we give a brief synopsis, as follows:
In addition to the fundamental truths held in common by nearly all societies known as evangelical (the divinity and the atonement of Christ; the depravity of man; the work of the Spirit in re generation; justification by faith; the perseverance of the saints; and the eternal awards of the final judgment), as Baptists, we hold:
I. That it is the duty of every believer to be immersed in water in obedience to the command of Christ.
II. That a New Testament ekklesia, or church, is a company of immersed believers, associated together for the worship of God and the observance of the ordinances of Christ.
III. That each church is invested with authority to execute the laws of Christ as given for her direction in his word.
IV. That each church is, by divine commission, the sole judge of the moral fitness of applicants for membership — Christ's law being the sole measure of that fitness.
V. That where there is no baptism there is no church; and that the associations of religious men who have never submitted to the ordinance of baptism cannot be recognized as gospel churches.
VI. That an unbaptized man has no co___ion [smear], in God's book, to administer baptism; that the ordination by the church belonging thereunto can be properly administered by none but the officer selected by the church to discharge that duty; and, therefore, the immersions performed by unbaptized men are unauthorized and informal.
VII. That the Lord's Supper is strictly a church ordinance, and should be restricted to the members of the church.
VIII. That each church has charge of her own pulpit, and can invite to its occupancy those in whose teaching and piety she can confide, independent of the dictation of another church.
IX. That an association is merely a companionship of churches for mutual edification and co-operation, based on mutual sympathy and fellowship, having no control whatever over the churches that compose it; that churches can withdraw from it, or be dropped by it, or it be abandoned altogether, without affecting the status of a church or churches.
These are the outlines of what have distinguished the people called Baptists in every age. They distinguish them still. And we ask, in all kindness and faithfulness, what is there in all that is held by the Baptists, as a people, to which any true man can reasonably object? What is there in their peculiarities, against which the charge of fatal or injurious errors can be brought? It is true that we are often charged with exclusiveness, with being extremists even with bigotry. But if we err, if we are extreme, do we not err on the safe side? Is there any thing that others - that any evangelical Christians - believe essential to salvation that we omit, ignore, or oppose? Do we not include in our faith and practice whatever is deemed cardinal and essential in the written or unwritten creeds of our Protestant antagonists?
We urge deep, pungent repentance towards God. We tell men that they are depraved, that they are miserable sinners, that they deserve eternal death. Others say that the disease is not so inveterate, and the condition is not so desperate; that the repentance need not be so deep, so contrite; that a change of purpose, and a determination to quit sin and serve God is all sufficient. But does not the prostration of the heart before God, the thorough and overwhelming sense [blurred] and heart-confession of unworthiness before God, which [blurred] on sinners as their essential duty - does not this embrace [__]ormation, the change of purpose, which some teach is all sufficient? The greater includes the less. The heart-broken sinner, who goes like the publican before God, smiting on his breast, and crying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner;" who cries, like David, from the depths of his guilt-stricken soul, "Against, thee, thee only, have I sinned. Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy tender mercies, and blot out my transgressions" - has changed his purpose, in addition to this penitential sorrow for sin.
If the latter is so essential, as we are convinced it is, those who
never urge it, and those who never have felt it, are in fatal error. But if the former is all that is essential, those who urge more, and those who have felt more, are safe. They err, surely, on the safe side.
We believe that faith is something more than the assent of the mind; something more than the admission, of a matter of fact, that the gospel is true. As we would urge on her who is asked to link her destiny on earth with a suitor, to enquire whether she feels something more towards him than the belief that he is honest and truthful, and is able to support her - that in addition to this she should feel in her heart that she can trust and love him, and be happy in his society; so we tell the penitent that Christ will not accept his hand without his heart, its full trust, its confiding love. Now, if mere belief in the mission and office of Christ is all that is essential, Baptists teach that, and none are received among them who have not that belief. But we urge more. The trusting love of the heart, which we hold is essential to faith, the faith which works by love and purifies the heart, includes that as sent of the mind which others plead for as all that is necessary. The greater in this, also, includes the less. If we are mistaken, we lose nothing, for we demand and profess that mental credence.
But if we are correct, if the trust and love of a penitent, broken heart be essential, ALL-ESSENTIAL, then those who profess and feel nothing of this are in a dangerous, ruinous error.
We tell those who ask us, “What shall I do to be saved?” to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." We teach men that they "are justified by faith, without the deeds of law." We tell them that the exercise of trusting, loving faith in the work of Christ is the test of pardon, or justification; that all who have not this are condemned; that all who have exercised it are justified from all things. But then we go further, and teach all such that they should follow Jesus in baptism. We command men to be baptized into the repentance they have experienced - that is, to be baptized into the profession of it. We urge them to be baptized into the faith they have exercised - that is, to be baptized into the profession of this faith, into the name of the Father. and Son, and the Holy Spirit. We teach them that it is their duty to be baptized into the remission of their sins - that is, into
the public profession of what in heart they have experienced. Now, if to such penitent, believing, trusting, loving hearts, there has been granted no pardon until they have risen from the baptismal waters, they nevertheless have it then. Their error is only one of time. If those who proclaim pardon in baptism only should be right, after all, what have we to lose who have obeyed in this ordinance, and who urge it on all believers? All that is plead for by such is included in the faith, and hope, and obedience we propose and observe.
But, on the other hand, if their views and exercises of repentance are essentially wrong; if their notion of faith is defective; if there is no such thing as actual remission in baptism - what becomes of their faith, their hopes, their souls? If we are right, they are ruined; if we are extreme or in error, we err on the safe side. Whatever virtue there may be in immersion is ours, on their own principles. All that they insist on as prerequisite to the ordinance must be professed by those to whom we administer it. If it is the change of state; if it is the transition step from darkness to light; if it is the act in the performance of which the baptized person comes in contact with the blood of Christ and obtains remission - we obtain in it all that others can, as we profess all that is deemed pre-requisite, and yield willing obedience to the divine ordinance.
We repeat, that if the creed of Reformers be the teaching of God's word; if belief of testimony, change of purpose and reformation, and immersion into the name of the Trinity, are all that is necessary in the formation of a true Christian character, then that character, with all its privileges, is attained by a true Baptist. Not a link in the chain is knowingly omitted; is in any known instance wanting in one whom we receive amongst us. If Campbellism is true, Baptists are safe, tested by Campbellism itself. Not a single demurrer can be entered by the most captious against our claim to the full Christian character, on the principles proclaimed by Reformers.
But, we again repeat, if our creed is the creed of God's book; if baptism is but a public profession into Christ, into remission - an expression, in form, of what has taken place in fact; a declaration of previously experienced faith, hope, life, and pardon - then
what must be the overwhelming ruin and confusion of him who has nothing but this form, without the fact - this declaration, without the thing declared? "Their rock is not as our rock, our enemies themselves being judges."
And we may add that, urging, as we do, repentance, faith, and obedience as the conscious exercise of individual minds and hearts - uninfluenced (so far as he or she is conscious of it at the time) by any extraneous power; if it shall be finally found that we are right in attributing all to the agency of the Holy Spirit, who begins, carries on, and perfects the work of personal sanctification and salvation, can such ascriptions be injurious, offensive, or insulting to the Deity, or ruinous to him who gives all the glory of the victory over self and sin to the Divine Spirit: If in all this we err, do we not again err on the safe side?
Surely, surely, a poor sinner cannot be wrong, either in being too sorry for sin, or too confiding in faith, or too obedient in works, or too grateful in ascribing the glory of his personal salvation to God's gracious Spirit! But, then, if it is God's truth that He does begin the good work in man, that, quickens him into life, gives to him repentance, is the author of faith, begets him by his own will, makes him a new creature, makes him to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, works in him to will and to do of his own good pleasure, and keeps him by the power of God through faith unto salvation, what must be the utter shame and ruin of those who deny the agency and direct operation of the Spirit as the first and final cause of all in man that is pleasing to God; who refuse to acknowledge that the Spirit convicts, converts, regenerates, and sanctifies - does for the saved all that saves him? Is not such error fatal?
We may here pause to enquire, What is there in the truth (as Baptists gather it from God's Book, and speak it and write it in the pulpit or in the church records) that any man can point out as defective, injurious, or fatal? Is there a single link, essential to the complete chain of saving truth, missing? Where, WHERE, IS THE MISSING LINK?
In our next we shall endeaver to show that all that is peculiar in our baptism, bears the same relation to the received baptism of
other organizations, which our repentance and faith do to what is received as such by the Reformation.
[From S. H. Ford, The Christian Repository, January, 1861, via on-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
The Second Essay is here.
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