THE CONSTITUTION OF THE BAPTIST CHURCHES,
ADAPTED TO PROMOTE THE PURITY AND EXTENSION OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST.
AN INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE ORDINATION OF A MINISTER,
By Joseph Ivimey, 1816
"Now I praise you, Brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them unto you." — Paul.
The subjoined Address, delivered at the public settlement of a respected brother in London, is not published on account of its containing any sentiments that are new; but because it is thought some persons belonging to our congregations may not be well informed respecting the principles upon which our churches are founded: For the instruction of such it is presented them from the Press; with an earnest hope that a divine blessing may accompany the attempt to produce in their minds the spirit and zeal by which our forefathers were influenced; when they "endured cruel mockings and scourgings: yea, moreover, bonds and imprisonment," rather than be compelled to surrender the right of private judgment, or prevented from worshipping God according to the dictates of "a pure conscience, and of faith unfeigned."
J[oseph]. I[vimey]. Harpur Street, London. Nov. 5, 1816.
THE CONSTITUTION OF BAPTIST CHURCHES, &c.'My kingdom,' said our Lord, 'is not of this world.' This divine axiom clearly describes the. Church of Christ, in its nature, origin, government, subjects, laws, and privileges. Whatever principles then are at variance with its spiritual nature; its divine origin; its government by Christ as the only head and lawgiver; its subjects as real believers; its laws as contained in the Scriptures alone, and its privileges as comprehending all the blessings of life and godliness, 'are according to the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.'
That real Christians are found in every section into which the Church is divided in the present world, is cheerfully admitted; but that every community of Christians is equally constituted and governed according to the divine pattern, cannot be granted. 'The princes of the Gentiles,' said our Lord, 'exercise authority, but it shall not be so among you.' — This single declaration, condemns all secular interference with the government of the Church ; and equally prohibits that ecclesiastical domination, which pervades the exercise of the rights of conscience, and a simple adherence to the ordinances of Christ. 'Call no man your master upon earth: one is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.' It is because some Christians have supposed, that the union of the civil and ecclesiastical
authorities in the Church is an invasion of Christ's prerogative, that they have dissented from the Papal, Episcopal and Presbyterian forms of Church government, whether existing in the established Churches of Rome, of England, or of Scotland. It is because they are of opinion, that every distinct Assembly of real believers composes a Church of Christ: possessing an unalienable right to choose their own ministers and officers; and to regulate all their own concerns, that they have formed themselves into congregational churches. Such an order of things they conceive best accords with the Scriptural accounts of the Apostolic Churches : and is best adapted to promote all the ends of spiritual edification. Such Churches they think existed for the first three centuries after Christ; even till the Church was corrupted by the mystery of iniquity, which at length produced ' the Man of Sin, who sat in the temple of God, shewing himself to be God.' Such is the constitution of the Church assembling here, and those which compose the Independent and Baptist Denominations of Protestant Dissenters.
Acting upon these principles — acknowledging no authority but that of Christ — claiming the right of private judgment, and rejecting every thing in religion, both as it relates to faith and practice, but what is found in the New Testament, the Church here have proceeded to the election of a pastor to take the oversight of them in the Lord; whose acceptance of that invitation is to be solemnly acknowledged and ratified in this service.
The principles now mentioned have been recognized by the statute laws of this kingdom for nearly 130 years, and we feel truly thankful that for almost the whole of that period, and especially from the time that the present royal family came to the throne, our Churches have enjoyed great quietness; 'sitting, under our own vine and fig-tree, none making us afraid,' we have been left at full liberty to act up to our principles, and to enjoy undisturbed our distinguished privileges.
The adaptation of the constitution of our Churches to promote the kingdom of Christ, and the manner m which these privileges have been improved for that purpose, are the topics which I propose briefly to discuss.
I. The ADAPTATION of the CONSTITUTION of our Churches to PROMOTE the kingdom of Christ.
If the kingdom of Christ be promoted, purity of doctrine and discipline must be preserved ; and in order to this, holy and evangelical ministers and deacons must be appointed to preside over our Churches — spiritual and upright persons must compose them ; and zealous scriptural measures must be adopted and employed to increase and perpetuate them. No peculiar forms and usages are important: but as they are adapted and improved to advance the interests of pure and undefiled religion. So far as the principles upon which our Churches are founded, are calculated to promote these ends, let them be zealously and scrupulously maintained; and whatever there is in them subversive of these, let it be for ever abandoned.
But what is there in the constitution of our churches to prevent us from 'contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints?'
We have no creeds, formularies, liturgies, or directories imposed upon us as the matter of faith. Our creed is the Bible, and the Bible alone! Our directory is the Scriptures, which are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be perfect; thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Our ministers are not imposed upon us by any patron or synod; they are the men of our voluntary choice; and if they do 'not hold the head' and preach the 'doctrines according to godliness,' and in their lives 'adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things,' our Churches have the authority respectfully to admonish them, and if they do not renounce their errors and reform their lives, to remove them from their office.
Our deacons are not self-appointed, but elected by the suffrages of the whole Church; and if these are ever chosen more on account of external circumstances of wealth and influence, than because of their spiritual endowments, or if they are continued in office after they have proved faithless to their solemn charge; these evils do not arise from the nature of the office, but from the carnality and negligence of those by whom they were chosen. Let the Churches say to their officers, whether ministers or deacons ' Take heed to the ministry that thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.'*
The members of whom our Churches are composed, are not admitted till they have given credible evidence of repentance towards God, and of faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and in general are not received till they have been solemnly and publicly baptized upon that profession.+ As then the sole right of admitting and rejecting members rests with the Church; if persons are received to communion who are not, as far as we can judge, ' spiritual stones,' prepared to ' build up a spiritual house,' or if any are continued in communion who have denied the fundamental principles of the Gospel, or who have violated its holy precepts, this is a shocking abuse of the power with which Christ has invested his Churches, which are commanded to put away from among them every wicked person. Further, if zealous measures are not employed to increase and perpetuate
* The congregational churches have been subject to much reproach, and at times not without reason, on account of the want of government manifested in the anarchy and confusion which have sometimes prevailed at the church-meetings. These things may, perhaps, be the necessary results of our republican form of government. But surely there was never even a republic without both its president and its council: nor should a congregational church be without regulations for its government of a similar description. If the pastor be able to fill the president's office, and the deacons unite in judgment with him in proposing whatever relates to the discipline of the church, in regard to the admission or rejection of members, &c. &c. there will be no great danger, but the whole body will "endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."
+ Some few of our Churches admit nonbaptised persons to communion at the Lord's table.
our churches, it does not arise from any external counteracting influence which fetters and cramps their united energies: but from a want of those internal dispositions, and of that cordial co-operation, which paralizes their exertions and divides their influence. From this glance it may be easily demonstrated, that if our churches do not keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, and 'strive together for the faith of the Gospel,' it arises not from any defect in their constitution, but in the abuse and misimprovement of the advantages which such an order of things affords for our abounding in every good word and work
II. Enquire — Whether the PRIVILEGES arising from the CONSTITUTION of our CHURCHES have been IMPROVED to the best advantage?
My object is to direct your attention to the period since the glorious revolution in 1688, and to contrast the present state of our churches with former periods.
Their history from 1640 to 1660 would demand too lengthened a discussion, but that with a few exceptions, was a glorious period of prosperity. The latter period to 1688 was nearly all a time of persecution. It is earnestly to be desired that the same holy simplicity and godly sincerity were universally apparent now, that was then so eminently displayed when the bush burnt with fire, yet unconsuraed. Such examples of suffering and patience as were afforded by our Stennetts, our Keachs, our Bunyans, our Delaunes, and our Giffords, might have been equalled by some of other denominations, but were surpassed by none.
Since the passing of the Act of Toleration, by which the hydra of persecution was deprived both of its teeth and claws, none will doubt but the privileges of our Churches have been increased; may we not then fairly conclude that their purity, prosperity, and numbers should have increased also in equal proportion? But has this been the case? Are our ministers in general so well instructed in evangelical truth, steering so exactly
between Antinomianism and Arminianism as did those founders of our Churches? Let Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and his Holy War, be taken as the standard of their theological sentiments! In avoiding Scylla he did not run upon Charybdis: he states the doctrines most practically and the precepts most evangelically. He sent his trumpeter to Ear gate to summon the town to surrender, without first sending a sergeant to see if it were opened to receive the Prince Immanuel. But though there are now many things in reference to doctrine to be lamented, let us however rejoice, that scarcely any of our Churches have sunk, as have many of the English Presbyterian, and General Baptists into the vortex of Socinianism.*
Have our Churches increased in spiritual prosperity? Is there as much, not to ask if there be more, of the simplicity of primitive Christianity? Are our children as well instructed, being taught the first principles of the oracles of God ? Are our families so regularly led to the family altar? Is there a discipline so rigidly observed in watching over each other, and in mutually exhorting each other to walk worthy of the Lord to all well pleasing? Is there as much self-denial, mortification to the world, and devotedness to God? It is impossible accurately to answer such questions; but I greatly fear we should not in general 'take so joyfully the spoiling of our goods' as did our fathers, and like them voluntarily sacrifice property, liberty, and life, rather than part with truth and a good conscience.
Is the number of our Churches increased in proportion to the opportunities afforded us of propagating our principles? According to Maitland's History of London, there were more Meeting-houses in the year 1738, belonging to our denomination, in London and
* After the debates that took place at the "Salter's Hall Conference" in 1719, a very few Baptist Churches in the west of England, were destroyed by that corrupt leaven.
Southwark, than there are at the present time, notwithstanding the population is so greatly increased.* What is the reason they have been diminished instead of increased? Probably because our ministers and our Churches, till within a few past years, were more concerned to keep up respectable congregations at home, than 'to preach the gospel in the regions beyond them.' The Spirit which led Andrew to go first to his own brother Simon; and the woman of Samaria to call her townsfolk to believe in the Saviour was but little expressed for many years, nor was this disposition fully manifest until the commencement of our Missionary Society; since that time exertions have been made to carry the gospel to the heathen, and the reaction of these attempts has been felt at home in our village preaching. In the country our Churches have by these means been considerably increased; and in London, though there are fewer places of worship, yet the size of some of our congregations, and the number of our members, have been for several years on the advance; to say nothing of those baptized persons who belong to congregations of other denominations, which is no inconsiderable number. Many congregations too have been raised in the vicinity, most of which are flourishing. But there is still abundant reason, both in town and country, for an increase of exertion in our ministers, and of benevolent co-operation on the part of our congregations. Let but the spirit of a Carey, a Fuller, and a Pearce, animate all our ministers, and deacons and members, and hearers, then our Churches will again 'look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.' — When every Minister shall be a Missionary, every Church a Missionary Society, and every member and hearer a weekly subscriber; — when
Sunday Schools to employ our youth in the education of our children, and other benevolent institutions shall engage the middle-aged and the old: then we shall find that there was nothing wanting in our Churches but the practical influence of our principles, to make them suitable societies to exist in the spiritual reign of Christ; and the axiom with which I commenced shall be fully exemplified, and the Church be recognised by all as "THE KINGDOM WHICH IS NOT OF THIS WORLD."
* As the correctness of this statement has been questioned, an appendix, containing the Meetings at both periods is subjoined. [Not available yet.]
[From Joseph Ivimey, A Brief History of the Dissenters, 1827; via Google Books. - Transcribed by Jim Duvall.]
British Circular Letters and History Index Page
Baptist History Homepage