By Robert Boyte C. Howell
Believing, as we do, that the subject of ministerial education is not understood by the Baptists of Tennessee, we propose somewhat at length, to discuss the subject, in the present number of the Baptist. Truth is our object, and a knowledge of it cannot be purchased at a price too high. We shall make no apology for the space we occupy on a topic of paramount importance.
The subjection of the world to the dominion of the gospel, is a work, the ultimate and complete accomplishment of which, is guaranteed by Almighty God. To effect this purpose he has ordained certain instrumentalities, among which the most efficient is the ministry of the word. To disseminate the knowledge of Jesus Christ, certain men, selected from his church, are required to labor, why, to fit them for this great work, must sustain a specific religious moral, and intellectual character. The nature and extent of these qualifications, as respects morals and religion, we shall not now examine. In these particulars, the great body of our ministry are not, perhaps, inferior to the clergy of any other denomination of christians. To consider the intellectual endowments requisite to the successful performance of the duties of the sacred office, is our object at present. That; as a whole, we are, in this respect, greatly deficient, is a truth which cannot be concealed, and need not be denied. We have, as is well known, numerous instances of profoundly learned men in the ranks of our clergy; and the church in all parts of our country feels a lively interest, and is beginning to put forth warm efforts, to increase their number. Our character, in this respect, is rapidly changing. As a body, however, it is still true, that we fall much below the standard of intellectual qualification prescribed in the word of God, and maintained by the church, until the middle of the last century. This is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest evils with which we are, at present, afflicted. It is the fruitful parent of nearly all the schisms and conflicts
which have, of late, agitated our Zion, and preyed to destructively upon her prosperity and happiness. It can, and must speedily be removed; but it will require our most zealous, united, persevering, and prayerful exertions.
It has been sometimes charged upon the system of religion which we have embraced, as a radical defect, that it encourages and promotes attainments in the ministry, inadequate to the high and responsible duties of their office. The condition of things now existing among us, in the United States, is the ground from which this conclusion is drawn. We deny that the opinion is correct; and will show that the present state of things, with regard to our clergy, was forced upon us by circumstances over which we could exercise no control, and in opposition to the immemorable usuage [sic] of the church. Before we do this, however, we will be indulged in a brief exposition of the doctrine and policy of the Baptist church in relation to the intellectual qualifications of her ministry.
It has ever been with her a settled principle, that the highest possible mental culture is essential to all who officiate in the sacred office. And because this end may be gained by various and dissimilar means, she has never prescribed a definite literary and scientific course, required to be accomplished by every one, whatever may be his character or circumstances, preparatory to his entrance upon the duties of his profession. For her conduct in this respect, she has other good reasons besides that which we have mentioned, and which we need not now stop to enumerate and explain. She has never educated men for the ministry, who were not, in her judgment, previously converted, and called of God to the work. This she will never do. - But she requires all who receive her approbation to be prepared for their arduous duties, by the possession, in the language of the Charleston Association, (session 1755), "of a competent share of learning.” To sustain the church in this important doctrine, she relies upon the precedents and instructions, contained in the word of God, and the principles of enlightened reason.
Some of the apostles, Paul for example, and perhaps some others, were learned men before they were called to the apostleship. Those of them who were not, Christ himself, unquestionably the greatest of all teachers; kept together,
and instructed personally in every thing pertaining to theology, during three years; a course which certainly cannot be considered very short. At the close of this period, on the memorable day of Pentecost, he endowed them miraculously, with a knowledge of literature and the sciences, to fit them for their holy employment. Should any one object to the assertion that the endowment of which we now speak embraced literary, as well as other similar qualifications, we would ask him whether literature is not the knowledge of languages? And was not languages, or "tongues," as our translation expresses it, one of the most prominent gifts of the Holy Spirit to the apostles? Their knowledge of the sciences and arts is evidenced by the elegant style, the lucid descriptions, and the powerful and conclusive arguments and appeals of their recorded sermons and epistles. It may, we think, be safely asserted that the apostles were the most learned body of men the world ever saw. We shall probably be asked why, if this be true, they were called (Acts 4: 13,) unlearned and ignorant men? Speaking of the trial of two of them before the Jewish Council, it is said: "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus."
We observe, in explanation of this passage, as may be seen by any man of ordinary intelligence, that the words (agrammatoi and idiotai) translated unlearned and ignorant, do not, in this connection, convey the same meaning which is attached to them in their popular acceptation. The pertinency, eloquence, and learning of the apostle were the qualities, their possession of which astonished the Council; the very attainments we have claimed for them, until they learned that they had been under the instruction of Jesus. The meaning of the passage is, that it was ascertained by their persecutors that the apostles had not been bred. to literary pursuits, and were destitute of influence and authority in the government. To use the language of Dr. Gill, (in loco,) which we the more readily adopt because his authority is not likely to be disputed in any quarter. “They had not been brought up at the feet of any of the great doctors, or in any of the schools and universities of the Jews; they were not trained up in, and conversant with, the
nice distinctions, subtle argumentations, and decisions of the learned doctors in the interpretations of the law of Moses, and the traditions of the elders. So we read in the Targums," he continues, (Comm. ut supra) “of Kings, and unlearned or ignorant men;" in other words, of kings, and private persons. The true meaning is, that the apostles, as we all know and admit, were not titled or distinguished men, but, like their master, in the eyes of the world, of no reputation. But we presume no one will suppose that, on this account, they were the less cultivated or profound , as christians and ministers of the gospel. Indeed, as we have already remarked; it was the possession of these powers in an extraordinary degree, which was the subject of astonishment with the Council.
If such profound learning had not been necessary for his ministers, is it reasonable to suppose that Christ would have wrought a miracle to confer it upon them? Miracles ceased with the apostles. Those who succeeded them in the ministry had no such endowment to expect, and the apostles instructed them accordingly. Some of them, Timothy and Titus for example, were already more profound Greek and Hebrew scholars, than many of our Theological Professors. Still they were admonished to study to show themselves approved unto God, as well as unto men, workmen that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth - to give themselves to reading to give themselves wholly to these things. What was the duty of Timothy and Titus, as regards the matter before us, was the duty of all the ministers contemporary with them. And it is evident, that the same qualifications and instructions are as necessary and applicable to us, and to our age, as to any former class of men, or period of the world. This is the light, as we shall presently see, in which this subject has, in all ages, been viewed and acted upon by the church with which it is our privilege to be connected.
All this is in perfect accordance with the principles of enlightened reason.
Ministers are teachers. The departments taught by them are experimental, practical, and doctrinal religion.
Experimental religion is a science which cannot be learned but by the operations of grace in the soul. It must, however, be explained, defended, and enforced, by the
pulpit. The Spirit of God which dwells in us, bears witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God. Upon this evidence is that faith founded by which, being justified, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, As the principal item in experimental religion is the regeneration of the soul, and as this is essential to salvation, no man should think of preaching without it; because, le can neither hope for salvation himself, nor teach others the whole truth as it is in Jesus. He who is unregenerated, by the Holy Ghost, is unfit to preach the gospel; and while he remains so, is incapable, by any possible moral, religious, or intellectual training, of being qualified for that sacred employment.
Practical and doctrinal religion are understood by other means. Grace in the heart imparts to us the desire of obedience, and consequently an earnest wish to obtain a correct knowledge of the doctrines and duties of the word of God. But whether we ascertain, embrace, or practise them, will depend much upon the teachings of the pulpit. Ministers do not understand these things by intuition. They cannot be expected to teach that which they do not understand. - “Because the preacher was wise,” says Solomon, "he still taught the people knowledge." But how do they gain the requisite wisdom? Undoubtedly by no other means than those common to other men, - persevering, laborious, and protracted study of the holy scriptures; - And they know more than other christians only in proportion as their mind may be more vigorous and less divided, their facilities more ample, and their time more exclusively and industriously devoted to the investigation of divine things. We have no reason to conclude that even the prophets, who, as it is well known, had their appropriate schools, or the apostles, who were instructed by the Great Teacher, any further than they were inspired, or miraculously endowed, gained a knowledge of these departments in religion by other means than those to which we are accustomed to resort.
We are aware that with some excellent, but ill-informed brethren, an impression has prevailed, that even in our day, ministers, who are called of God, are inspired with a knowledge of those truths which it becomes their duty to preach. If this be true, it follows that all that is said by such ministers is infallible; because it is not what
they say, but what the Holy Ghost says through them. All their sermons, etc. are scripture, and of the same authority with the espistles [sic] of Peter, Paul, or any other part of the New or Old Testament, because it is the Holy Ghost speaking in both instances, and God cannot lie, por contradict himself, and the merc circumstance of the instrument thro' which God speaks, whether it be Paul, or any man of our day, is a matter of indifference. What God says now, through one of us, is of equal authority with what he said formerly by Moses, Isaiah, Peter, or John. - The absurdities here involved are obvious. If this doctrine be true, we are not surprised that the Pope is believed when he claims for his bull the same authority with the epistle to the Romans, or any other epistle; the Episcopalians may be admitted to claim "the authority to decree to rites and ceremonies" in the church. Calvin was not mistaken when he maintained that the church has the right to change the form of the sacrements [sic].
We have, for the sake of the argument, for a moment, assumed it as granted that ministers are inspired. If so, it is by the Holy Ghost. In that case, the Holy Ghost would teach every one, or rather speak through him, on the same subject the same things. But some of them who claim to be inspired - teach one thing for truth, on a given subject; and others on the same subject, teach precisely the opposite things - thus forcing God to contradict himself! But it is unnecessary, in this enlight[en]ed age, seriously to set about a refutation of this preposterous dogma. All the information God ever has, or ever will communicate to us by way of inspiration, is contained in his most holy word. The idea of an inspiration separate from this is a delusion, from which the sooner they are delivered the better it will be, both for themselves and the cause of Christ.
We adverted to this matter, however, for the purpose of marking the effect it has had, in some places, to chain down the mind of ministers in perpetual darkness. They have made this supposed inspiration a substitute for knowlegde [sic] and study of the scriptures, for which they imagine that it is more than a compensation, and thus Christ has been wounded in the house of his friends.
We have referred to the schools among the prophets, and the instructions addressed by the apostles to their successors in the ministry. Is it not as necessary now, that
those whose business it is to teach, should avail themselves of the advantages of the schools - should read - should meditate upon these things - should studdy [sic] to show themselves approved, as it was in the prophetic age, and in pure gospel times? Extensive and minute knowledge of the subject of religion; power of thought to conceive it distinctly; and ability to convey their conceptions to their hearers perspicuously, were required of them. Less cannot now be demanded of us, because human nature, and the means by which it is overcome and brought into subjection to the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, always has been, and always will remain the same. But the mere circumstances of conversion and a call to the ministry does not give the requisite ability in any other department than experimental religion. What remains is to be sought diligently and prayerfully.
The doctrine that when God calls a man to the ministry he will qualify him for the work, has been some times objected to the efforts which we think it our duty to make to facilitate ministerial improvement. The doctrine is unquestionably true; but this inquiry arises - How does God qualify for the work those whom he calls to the ministry? It must either be by miraculous endowments, as in the case of the apostles, or by the use of appropriate means. God does nothing on earth that he does not effect by miracles, or by means. The day of miracles is now past. Who believes that miracles are now wrought for this, or any other purpose? No Baptist, surely. How, then, does he qualify his ministers to preach? By means, undoubtedly. Nor, on this account, is it any less the Lord's work than is, for ex: ample, the conversion of sinners. This we all believe to be peculiarly the work of God, and yet we all confess that in its accomplishment means are employed. Why should we object to the use of means in one case more than in the other? We evidently cannot. If we remove instrumentalities in the case of the qualifications of the ministry, we must, to be consistent, reject them in the conversion of sinners. We must cease to preach, and pray and exhort, because, if men embrace religion through the influence of such exertions, their conversion will not be the work of God.
Another inquiry here suggests itself: By what means does God qualify his ministers to preach? In reply, we observe, that they are of numerous characters, indicated by
the developments of Providence; the genius; the circum. stances, age, and pursuits of the individuals called. It may not be the duty of all to study the classics, nor for those who do, to take the same, course; but all are required to read, "to meditate upon these things," to "study” closely, and industriously. Among those instrumentalities which are most usual are the numerous schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries which God has put it into the hearts of his people to originate and endow, in connection with which may be secured, in the shortest time, the greatest possible amount of mental discipline. He has placed these facilities before those whom he has called; he has commanded them to study; and he has inclined the churches to sustain them in the mean time. What could he do more? Who can, mistake the design, in view of the teaching of his word, of providences so unequivocal? These are the most usual means, and that they are not new to the Baptists we shall presently have occasion to make fully appear.
Let it not be said that ministers who shut themselves up in colleges for years, while sinners are perishing around them, evince a coldness and indifference to their sacred profession. Sinners were perishing in the days of Christ as well as now; but he kept his disciples with him, after he had called them, for three years, while he was qualifying them for the field. During this whole period, their preaching was as much restricted as is that of young ministers at the present time who are pursuing a regular course of preparatory studies. The objection applies to Jesus Christ himself with the same force that it does to us, for in this particular, we follow strictly his holy example. We would remind our brethren that it is not seemly that, in the ebulitions of our zeal,' we should affect to feel more deeply interested in the salvation of sinners than the adorable Redeemer himself.' To all such Solomon would no doubt say, and with great appropriateness, “Be not righteous overmuch.”
These brief observations, which have touched but a few of the most prominent points, shall suffice as an exposition of the doctrines of the Baptist Church on the subject in question; and we will now be permitted to prove that she has pursued a corresponding policy from time immemorial.
To evince the literary and scientific attainments of our ministry in early times, we invite you to look at the best ancient
translations of the scriptures from the old Syriac, down to the time of the reformation. They are precisely such as we should now make, and they were evidently made by individuals, whatever might have been their denominational appellations, thoroughly Baptist in principle and practice.
The ancient Britons, now called Welsh, to whom we owe more than to any other nation or class of men, not even excepting the Waldenses, Albigenses, and kindred churches on the continent, for the preservation of our principles, and among whom, until near the seventh century, no other class of Christians but those who would now be called Baptists, existed encouraged learning among their ministers, as did the others whom we have mentioned, by all the means in their power.
Than[That] this, in the history of the Welsh Baptist Church, no fact is more prominent nor better established.
In England, our father-land, and the same remark is true of all Europe, and, we may add, of Asia and Africa, the Baptist clergy is not now, and never were, as a body, inferior to that of the most cultivated denomination. As a specimen of what our English brethren were accustomed to do in matters of this character hundreds of years ago, we will, for the sake of brevity, notice but one instance: (Rippon's Register apud [and?] Cross and Journal, vol. 4, No. 27.) - Soon after the accession of William and Mary to the British throne, the Baptists emerged from long and bitter persecutions, during the continuance of which many of their ministers had ended their days in prison, and many others, to escape a similar fate, had hid themselves in different parts of England, Germany, etc., etc. In 1689 - mark, if you please, the dates, and consider the lapse of years from that time to the present, in 1689 our brethren were emboldened to meet in a great Association, which was held in London. This meeting was attended by ministers and messengers from one hundred and seven churches, eight of which were in Wales and the remainder in England. Such were the time and character of the assembly.
Some few items of the business transacted, as shown by the minutes, (apud [and?] Register, ut supra,) were as follows: The first day "was spent in humbling themselves before the Lord," etc. On the second day they disclaimed all right to interfere with the liberty of the churches." On the third
day they resolved to raise a fund for three specific, but kindred, though distinct objects:1st. "To assist those churches that were not able to maintain their own ministry."As to the means by which this fund should be originated. and sustained, it was "Resolved, That it should be a freewill offering, that it was the duty of every member of the denomination in England to aid in the work as his ability should enable him, and that ministers should show a good example. It was also resolved, that an annual report should be made of the affairs and progress of this institution.
2ndly. "To send ministers to preach in the City, and. among the destitute, and to visit the churches."
3dly, And that which more directly interests us at present, to assist those members that are disposed to study, having an inviting gist, and sound in the faith, in obtaining the knowledge and understanding of the languages; Latin, Greek, and Hebrew."
Consider, if you please, the number of churches here engaged, the period, and the nature of the work proposed, and any commentary by us will be unnecessary.
Institutions, as is well known, have existed in England for many centuries, either immediately under the direction of the church, or of which she has availed herself for the purpose of ministerial education. The result has been what all would naturally anticipate. Many of the brightest stars in the constellation of European literature and science have been Baptists. Long shall we and the world have reason for the devoutest gratitude, to God for such men as Tyndal, Wickliffe, Bunyan, Milton, Howard, Gill, Gayle, Stennet, Ryland, Fuller, Hall, Carey, and many others of equal learning, piety, and usefulness, who were at once an ornament to their country, to science and to the church of Christ.
With these facts and considerations before us, derived from the Bible and from our history, who can doubt as to the doctrine and practice of our church in the old world in every age, with regard to the intellectual cultivation of her ministry?
With respect to our own beloved country, we remark, that notwithstanding some individuals, superficially in. formed, of our own and other denominations, have said and
written much to the contrary, it is still true that this policy of our transatlantic brethren, so obviously just and scriptural, was on the settlement of this continent, transferred here, and fully adopted by the American Church. This fact is susceptible of the clearest and most satisfactory demonstration, which we will be permitted now to lay before you.
In the North American colonies (says a writer, in substance, in the Christian Review, vol. 2, p. 262. etc.,) so late as 1700, as recorded by Mr. Backus in his interesting history of the early church in this country, but about 14 Baptist churches existed. Seven years after this period (1707) the Philadelphia Association was formed; and fourteen years from this time, (1721) by the munificence of Mr. Hollis, a wealthy gentleman of the English Baptist Church, residing in London, a professorship was founded in Harvard college, and other requisite arrangements made for the education there of our rising ministry. The manner in which this matter was conducted, and the readiness with which this opportunity was embraced by our brethren, which our present limits will not permit us here to detail, speak unequivocally in explanation of their principles. At the time in which these events occurred, let it be remembered, the whole denomination, with scarcely any exceptions, was united in one association, numbering, perhaps, not more than twenty churches. In their official capacity they deliberately gave their unanimous sanction to the doctrine which inculcates the importance and necessity of high intellectual cultivation for the ministerial office. They did more than this - they made preparations to carry out the principle into practice by an act recorded in their minutes for 1722, that is, one hundred and fifteen years ago, in these words: It is "recommended to the churches to make inquiry, and see if they have any young men hopeful for the ministry, and inclined to learning, and if they have, to give notice thereof to Mr. Abel Morgan, that he may recommend them to the college (Harvard) on Mr. Hollis' account."
The churches rapidly increased in number and population, and in 1756, thirty-five years after the transactions of the events recited, the Philadelphia Association resolved to originate and sustain an additional institution for ministerial education. “This school of the prophets (vide ibid. p. 262,
63,) was established at Hopewell, New Jersey, and Rev. Isaac Eaton, pastor of the Baptist church in the same place, was appointed a Theological Professor.” Here, then, we see, in effect, the whole denomination in North America, assembled by their representatives, originating an institution and taking measures to sustain it, with the express design of educating young ministers preparatory to their entering upon the more active duties of their profession, and appointing in their official capacity, pro forma, their theological professor. And this is the association which Benedict says (History of Bap., vol. 1, art. Phila., Assn.,) was the model, and gave doctrine, and even discipline, to all the others, especially South and West.
In a fraternal letter addressed by them to their brethren in London, a few years after this period, upon whom they had previously relied, for the most part, for properly qualified ministers, (vide Ch.[ristian] Rev.[iew], as above, they stated that some of their churches were destitute of pastors, but that they had A prospect of early supplies, partly by means of the Baptist institution at Hopewell.
In 1764, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) was chartered. This institution was the result of a vigorous and protracted effort made by the whole denomination in all the colonies, principally with the same motives and designs by which they were actuated in the other cases enumerated. At a very early date Hopewell was merged into this college. Ministers were educated not only at Harvard, at Hopewell, and at Rhode Island College, but Rev. Dr. Samuel Jones, who himself graduated at Pennsylvania University, presided in an institution at Lower Dublin, which continued for twenty-eight years, during which time he educated 14 young Baptist ministers.
To estimate properly these acts of the Philadelphia association, and to determine how far they are to be regarded as settling the policy of the whole denomination in North America, it is to be observed that during most of the time of which we speak, it embraced as its territory (Benedict's. Hist. Bapt. vol. 1, p. 595, etc.,) a part of the state of New York, the whole of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and, until the formation of the Charleston association, if we mistake not, South Carolina, and Georgia, Let it also be remembered that, at
the period of which we speak, these states embraced the whole territory west to the lakes and the Mississippi river. In its acts, therefore, there was a concurrence of all the churches contained in the vast region we have described which was the whole United States, Tennessee included, south and west of New England. When subsequently, for the convenience of assembling, other associations were formed, they all acted upon the same principles, and regarded as settled their policy in this respect, by the precedent of the great parent of all the American associations. To establish the truth of this statement, we might, did time permit, appeal to the history, and detail the acts of numerous associations; but, as their principles and practice were identical, the history of one would be, substantially, until within a few years past, the history of all. - The Charleston has been named. It is the oldest in the south, having been constituted in
1451, and has ever been amongst the most orthodox, intelligent, and influential. It shall serve as an example, of what our associations were accustomed to do before the noted Daniel Parker, of "two seed" memory, in the West, aided by a few kindred spirits in the Atlantic states, introduced those modern innovations called by their supporters "Old-schoolism."
"In 1755, four years only after its organization,” says Mr. Furman in his History of the Charleston Association, pp. 10, 11, “the expediency of raising a fund to furnish suitable candidates for the ministry with a competent share of learning, was taken into consideration; and it was recommended to the churches, generally, to collect money for this purpose. The members present engaged in behalf of their constituents, to furnish 133L, to begin the fund; and Messrs. Stephens, Hart, and Pelot, were chosen trustees.” The sessions of 1759 and 1762 were peculiarly interesting for measures adopted on this subject; but such decisions and recommendations, sanctioning the principle, and urging on the work of ministerial improvement, occur in the minutes and other public documents of the Charleston Association, the Warren, and other similar bodies, for almost every year, from that to the present time.
We have now proved, that, to require the highest intellectual, as well as moral and religious qualifications for the ministerial office, which the age and its opportunities would
allow, was a policy which marked the administration even of the Old Covenant; that it was especially in both his example and precept inculcated by Jesus Christ upon the gospel kingdom; and that it was fixed as the policy of the church in every age, by the teachings of the Holy Spirit, in the epistles, and administration of the apostles. We have, also seen, that this is in perfect accordance with enlightened reason, and by unquestionable evidence drawn from her history, shown that it has been held sacred by the Baptist church in all ages, and in every country. And, finally, we have had occasion to observe how fully the same principles and policy have been cherished by the fathers of the church in these United States; as is established beyond the power of successful controversy by all her official acts which in any way relate to the subject in question.
We now recur to the charge mentioned in the commencement of this article urged against the system of religion which we have embraced. It is held up as a radical defect in the Baptist Church, that it encourages and promotes attainments in the ministry inadequate to the high and responsible duties of the office. We have denied the correctness of this opinion, and the legitimacy of the premises from which it is deduced, But we are tauntingly asked, how it comes to pass, if our statements be true, that so large a majority of our ministry are now, and have been, during the seventy-five years last past, so destitute of literary and scientific attainments?
We confess that appearances are against us. We seem to be thrown by the argument hors de combat. It has deceived many of our own brethren and churches who should have been better informed. Multitudes have urged it us evidence, and with thousands in our own ranks it has been received as conclusive proof, that the Baptist denomination discountenance education, and regard it, especially for the ministry, as entirely useless, to say the least, if not absolutely injurious to the interests of religion!
To disprove this allegation we rely confidently upon the facts and arguments we have already adduced. - All that is needed in addition for our complete vindication, is an explanation of the causes which have placed us in the attitude we now occupy. The existing condition of things, we have said, has been forced upon us by circumstances over which
we could exercise no control; more particularly the peculiar political, social, and pecuniary condition of our country immediately preceding and accompanying our Revolutionary struggle, and since we were emancipated from the thraldom of colonial subjection. These, however, may be reduced to two principal causes, one is, the events growing out of the Revolutionary War; and the other is the circumstances attending the rapid population, principally suhsequent to that event, of an immense territory, requiring for the sparsely settled neighborhoods so large a number of pastors, as to render a supply with regularly educated men, even could we have commanded every college and university in the country, impossible; and how much more so was it at a time when all our institutions of learning were; as we shall presently see, entirely prostrate.
With regard to the former causes, a late writer observes, (vide Chris. Rev., vol. 2, No. 6, art. Ministerial Education,) "The period of the Revolutionary War forms an important era in the history of the Baptist denomination in the United States. As a people, they were eminently prepared, both by their principles and habits, to enter with much ardor into that struggle for independence. No class of the American people, it is believed, participated more universally in that conflict for national independence than did the Baptist denomination. Many of our most esteemed and most useful ministers entered the service as chaplains, while most of our members bore arms in their country's defence. The result was a universal dispersion, which, so to speak, broke up the local habitation of the denomination." Churches were scattered and destroyed, schools and seminaries ceased to exist, and college edifices, those of Brown, for example, were converted into barracks for the soldiery. “The tendency of all this was to well nigh destroy all those institutions formed and sustained by combination; and such were all their institutions of learning, and all their plans for the education of the ministry." - What, then, to preserve a high, or even medium standard of intellectual culture among our ministry, could we do? And this was the time, too, when we required increased numbers of ministers. There is one aspect, however, in these events exceedingly consolatory: - "These hurtful tendencies were, probably, more than compensated by a more universal dissemination of truth; for these pious
men, like those dispersed in primitive times by persecution went every where preaching the word, by which means the denomination went out on the length and breadth of the whole United States, and were exceedingly multiplied."
As respects the latter cause, we remark, that after the close of the memorable conflict, which made us at once a great and independent nation, the American people, poor, but vigorous and enterprising, and anxious to improve their worldly circumstances, turned their eye towards the vast and fertile, but uninhabited regions surrounding them in all directions, but especially in the west. Under these circumstances, and with these views and objects, they spread themselves over a wilderness of almost illimitable extent. The Baptists were among the most numerous classes in all these emigrating parties. Soon a vast multitude of little churches sprung up every where in convenient places; some were formed in the new countries, and others were constituted in the older settlements, and emigrated in a body. Still they were not sufficiently numerous to be in reach of all our brethren buried in the interminable forests. What was now to be done? To preserve the existence and health of all these churches, and to save the morals of the people in destitute regions, it was absolutely essential that they should be supplied with the ministry of the word. But where could such vast numbers of ministers, of the requisite attainments be obtained? No means of education; thousands of ministers required; what was to be done? The alternative offered us, and it was the only one, was either to abandon all these churches to destruction - leave their members and other brethren to wander like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd, exposed to devouring wolves, and cease to use any means for the moral improvement of the people; or admit to the sacred office, for the time being, such men as could be procured. We could not long hesitate what measures to adopt. Divine providence had already explained our duty; and the expedient employed was, undoubtedly, in its principal features, the best that could have been devised.
The churches in their respective neighborhoods, to supply their immediate necessities, selected from their own number the most pious individuals, and generally those who were the best informed, when such felt it to be their duty
to make the necessary sacrifices, and to take upon them the labor incident to the sacred profession. These, without other qualifications than piety, zeal, and a sense of duty, were ordained as evangelists and pastors to instruct the people, administer the sacrements [sic], and perform all the duties devolving on bishops. The churches were, in some instances, indiscreet in their selections. Incompetent, and sometime vicious men, were appointed and ordained to the ministry; but the cause has been much more frequently and deeply wounded by the errors and immoralities of the vicious than by the inabilities of the incompetent. The cases, however, of this description, taking into consideration the vast multitude of ministers which were called out by the necessities of the denomination, were much less numerous than might have been anticipated. The great majority of them have been, and are, excellent, devoted, and useful men. The Lord has abundantly blessed their labors. We cherish fondly the memory of those among them who have gone to their rest; and those who survive are loved by all good men *for their works' sake," and their christian integrity.
We are met, here, however, by an objector, to reply to whom we will stop for a single moment. If so much good has been done by the class of men described, he asks, why change your policy? Why not continue to disregard intellectual cultivation in your ordinations? We answer, because, in the first place, the circumstances that made the expedient which we adopted necessary, and useful, have now nearly or quite passed away. The condition of society has changed, and admonishes us that it is time to return to original principles. In the second place, it is unscriptural to pursue the course suggested by the objector. And in the third place, all the intelligent and useful among that class of ministers brought, as we have seen, by peculiar circumstances into the pulpit, agree with us entirely in the doctrine maintained in this article, and, consequently, are among the most active promoters of ministerial education. They understand the subject. Because they feel and deplore the want of mental training themselves, they are the more anxious that others shall enjoy it. They love the cause of Christ, in the promotion of which they have toiled and spent their best days and treasures; and they know that its defence requires the most cultivated powers. They are not,
as we fear but too many of the opposer of ministerial education are, jealous, lest some other star should arise and shine more brightly than they. No motives of pride or self-aggrandizement prompts them to resist the introduction of that light which is ready to burst forth. They desire that every minister shall preach, whether more eloquently and acceptably than themselves they ask not, but with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
These are the circumstances which brought into existence, and have so long perpetuated the state of things with regard to intellectual furniture by which the great body of the Baptist Ministry are characterized. It is not by any means the result of our system of religion. Our confession of faith, we flatter ourselves, embraces no article that gives the slightest encouragement to ignorance or vice in any of their forms. The temporary policy, providentially forced, upon us, which we have described, and which has been resorted to, to find matter of reproach against us, has proved itself to have been equally wise and benevolent. The abundant blessing of Almighty God by which it has been attended, is sufficient evidence that it met his holy approbation. In view of the whole administration characterising our history since the middle of the last century, we have little to lament, if we except the tenacity with which some brethren, among whom, if they are ill-formed, we trust there are excellent men, adhere to the temporary expedient, the nature and necessity of which we have explained, and insist that just the amount of intelligence which was accepted for the ministry in those times when learning could not be obtained, shall now be preferred, and that all attempts to improve those who have entered the field shall be put down as “a sacrilegious attempt to mend the Lord's work,” We ought also to add, as results to be deprecated, the acquirement, to some extent, of a taste, and the formation of habits averse to improvement, both among the ministry and churches. These evils, however, will, we doubt not, soon be overcome. Indeed, in some more favoured parts of our country, they are already surmounted. But all the disadvantages which have resulted, are not to be compared with the unspeakable amount of good the expedient, which we must consider a wise one, has achieved.
The time has now come when we are admonished to
return to original principles and usage. The same providence which diverted us for a while from the old paths, by the removal of the circumstances which called us away now invites us back. The signs of the times indicate this, and more. They plainly evince that we can no longer be indifferent to the work of ministerial improvement, without at the same time compromising the best interests of the Church and the world. That this impression prevails in our denomination generally, is sufficiently apparent from the numerous societies which have of late sprung into existence, and the seminaries, colleges, and academies which have been originated having this object primarily in view in almost every state in the Union. We rejoice to perceive that the whole church is waking up throughout the length and breadth of the land; and when the five hundred thousand communicants already connected with us shall have been fully aroused to action, what may not be expected from their united labors?
Whether the system of means which has been adopted is the best which could have been devised to effect [affect] the end in view, whether any changes should be made, and, if so, in what particulars they ought to consist, and what additional instrumentalities are needed to facilitate this great work; are subjects which we may discuss at another time, and will now satisfy ourselves by merely recommending them to your consideration, as worthy of your prayerful attention.
The word of God requires that those who preach the gospel shall possess the highest possible literary, as well as moral and religious cultivation. The nature, the responsibilities, and objects of the sacred office require it. The settled policy of the venerable church of which it is our honor to be members requires it, and not the less imperatively because of our departure, for a season, from the us age of our ancestors. But there are, in addition to all these considerations by which we are now surrounded, that render delay criminal in the highest degree, and feeble and vascillating action scarcely less so. The old veterans of the cross are rapidly disappearing from the walks of men, and their places are not supplied. Men destitute of intellectual culture, if we could command the services even of that class, are incompetent. The intelligence of our communities demands an enlightened, as well as a holy and
self-denyiag ministry. The cry is continually heard from all quarters of the west, and Tennessee particularly – “ministers of the right stamp;" we want ministers; where shall we obtain ministers? We have fully seen that God calls and qualifies ministers, as he does every thing else, by means. These means are confided to us, and are to be used with an humble reliance upon him for his blessing. There is, therefore, resting upon us an awful responsibility, and if we fail in our faithfulness, the curse must be upon our head.
The age in which we live is characterised by ceaseless activity, Revivals of religion sweep over the land, and bring their thousands and tens of thousands into the church, but “daring speculation, reckless innovation, and devious error," keep pace with them. Infidelity is waging a bold and rigorous warfare upon revelation. Learning, wit, and genius are taxed to the utmost, either to undermine and destroy the Bible, or to varnish the grossness and conceal the deformity of false religion, taking on the outward habiliments of Catholic or Protestant as may best suit the convenience of their advocates. The peculiar and distinguishing tenets of the Baptist Church are assailed with a formidable array of learning, and research, and numbers. How is this swollen torrent, which rolls its accumulated floods upon us like the mighty Father of Waters, to be resisted? How can we, as the conservators of pure religion, “defend the out works of Christianity, and attack with the sword of the spirit infidelity and error, fortified as they are by a false but subtle and specious philosophy?" How can we sanctify the fountains of literature, now too deeply tinctured with the spirit of licentiousness and scepticism, and cause them to send throughout the land a healthful and cheering influence? How can we meet “the man of sin” in that conflict which we apprehend is so near at hand, “strip him of all his tinselled ornaments, and expose his pride, and ambition, and sophistry, and falsehoods, and cruelties, and persecutions, to the scorn and aversion of an injured world?" How can we sustain our peculiar and cherished principles against the encroachments of tradition, ruinous expediency, and unauthorised inference? Where are the champions for this warfare? Where are the men thoroughly equipped with weapons, burnished in the armory of heaven, to lead on to victory “the sacramental hosts of God's elect!” The subject is of
appalling magnitude. The happiness and prosperity of the church; of our country; and the world, are at stake. Our duty in this crisis is so plain, that "he that runs may read." To remain longer inactive or indifferent will be to, betray the best interests of the human race, for time and for eternity.
We propose, in conclusion, that our brethren throughout the state, take into consideration the propriety of holding, at Nashville, during the coming summer, a meeting to consult as to what steps our duty requires us to take, in relation to this subject, and to determine upon the requisite instrumentalities. May we hope to hear the opinion of our friends at an early day.
[From Robert Boyte C. Howell, editor, The Baptist Journal, February, 1838, pp. 33-53; via Google Books On-line. [ ] show corrections to the document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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