The 26th day of March, 1880, marks the fiftieth anniversary, or jubilee year, of the organization of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Fifty years ago, on the 26th of March, our fathers assembled in the town of Greenville, Pitt County, N. C., for the purpose of laying a foundation upon which to build a great work for Christ's glory and the blessing of men. Perhaps the smallest Association in the State to-day would equal or exceed in numbers the first meeting of our State Convention at Greenville in the year 1830.
At that time there were no railroads, and but few colleges and schools in the State. Agriculture was undeveloped, churches were few as compared to the present time. Ministers for the State then would not surpass in numbers those who live now in a single county. Wake County, with its thirty-six Baptist churches and as many ministers, of to-day, would probably equal one-fifih of the number of churches and ministers in the entire State in the year 1830.
In 1880, the number of Baptists in the State will probably reach as high as 175,000, with a ministry of 1,000 persons, serving nearly twice that number of churches.
The almost prophetic eye of [Thomas] Meredith, the author of the address to the Baptists of 1830 in North Carolina, and founder of the Biblical Recorder, recently republished, did not reach even so far as the providence of God has brought our people. We are amazed at the growth and progress of Baptists and their principles throughout the world, and especially in our beloved Commonwealth.
Under the inspiration of gratitude and praise to the Lord of all for such amazing blessings the brethren throughout the State will hail the celebration of this jubilee year of the Baptists under their organized power, pointing to yet greater advancement in the future.
We must not cease our prayerful endeavors to become yet more and more fruitful in the vineyard of the Lord. If we "hold fast the form of sound words in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus," then we shall be able to "keep that good thing by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us."
We live in that period referred to by Paul when he wrote to Timothy, "That in the last days perilous times shall come," when all manner of evil shall befall men, "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." In other words, when the formality of Christians would be substituted for spirituality.
Very soon after Christianity was established, did the leaven referred to by Paul begin to work. Loss of sprituality soon emboldened the professed disciples of our Lord to take unto themselves the authority to change the two great rites or ceremonies which Christ instituted and commanded in inseparable connection with the preaching and believing of the gospel. "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth [the gospel] and is baptized shall be saved." If any comment on this is needed, take the practice of the Apostles, who baptized none save taught disciples.
On the day of Pentecost only those "who gladly received His word were baptized" among the Jews. Philip preached to the Samaritans, and "when they believed the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus, they were baptized, both men and women." And so the Eunuch was baptized on a profession of his faith.
When there were whole households baptized, the very narrative of the transaction proves that there were no infants among them; because the baptized heard the doctrine preached; had their hearts opened to attend and understand, and then, comforted as believers, rejoiced in God - none of which things are infants capable of doing.
Moral duties may be inferred from general principles. Not so with positive institutions, which stand upon positive law. If no good reason could be laid as the foundation for the two positive institutions of Christianity, even then the obligation would be universal for Christians to obey. If the Lord commanded them to be performed by all disciples, then to obey is right, and not to obey is wrong - is to transgress, and all transgression is sin.
But the Apostles in expounding Christ's will and intention do explain the reasons of the ordinances, what they as symbols teach, and they teach all the cardinal and indispensable doctrines of Christianity.
When Peter said, "repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins," he meant that "through Christ's name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." Baptism symbolizes and applies this promise, that all the sins of a believer are as really washed away in the blood of Christ as the body is washed in the water of baptism.
Another good reason for the command to be baptized, is the illustration by baptism of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and also the believer's fellowship with and conformity to him therein.
Paul says (Romans vi:34): "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life."
The same idea is expressed by Paul in Romans iv:25: "He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification."
Baptism also teaches the believer's spiritual conformity to Christ, or holiness of life. It represents the believer as putting off the old man with his deeds, or the mortification of sin; and also as putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness, or holiness of the truth, or a resurrection to a new spiritual life.
Hence, Paul asks the believers, "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" "Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body," and exhorts them to yield themselves unto God as those who are alive from the dead, and their members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
Again, baptism represents to believers their death, and resurrection to eternal life. Baptists are loosely defined by some as "those who believe in adult baptism by immersion." A better definition is, "Baptists are those who believe that the baptism of Christian believers is of universal obligation. They acknowledge no master but Christ, no rule of faith but His word, no baptism but that which is preceded and hallowed by personal piety, no church but that which is the body of Christ, pervaded, governed and animated by His Spirit, obedient to His commands, submitting to His ordinances," and thus, like the great Exemplar, fulfilling all righteousness. Like all other Christians, the Baptists refuse the Lord's Supper to all the unbaptized.
"These doctrines and principles, associated with and illustrated by the ordinances or rites of Christianity, the Baptists insist, were believed and practiced by the early Christians."
The Baptists think it no robbery to claim their origin from the ministry of Christ and His Apostles. Their principles, in the face of an open Bible, make good their claim. They further claim that "for the first two centuries after Christ all the Christian churches were founded and built on the principles they profess, in proof of which they appeal to the high critical authorities in church history, Mosheim, Neander, Hagenbach, Jacobi and Bunsen," none of whom were Baptists, and in later times may be added the name of Dean Stanley, of the Church of England, and others.
After the Roman Church became an hierarchy, about A. D. 600, these gospel churches were subjected to systematic persecution from the State and Church united, which forbid re-baptism under penalty of death. They suffered and died as witnesses of the truth, but never yielded nor acknowledged the authority of Rome or Constantinople over them.
It was the opinion of Sir Isaac Newton (as reported by Whiston) that "the Baptists are the only body of Christians that has not symbolized with the Church of Rome." "In the Reformation in Germany in the sixteenth century, instead of infamy the greatest honor is due their leading men and pious confessors and martyrs."
Our American historian, Mr. Bancroft, has summed up the matter in a few pregnant words: "With greater consistency than Luther, they applied the doctrines of the Reformation to the social positions of life, and threatened an end to kingcraft and priestcraft, spiritual dominations, titles, and vassalage."
"They were trodden under foot with foul reproaches and most arrogant scorn, and their history is written in the blood of thousands of the German peasantry; but their principles, secure in their immortality, escaped with Roger Williams to Providence, Rhode Island, and his colony is witness that naturally the paths of the Baptists are paths of freedom, pleasantness and peace."
"During the reformation in England from Henry the VIII. to William the III., a full century and a half, they struggled for liberty of conscience for all men, and in the time of Cromwell, but for the treason of Monk, they would have changed the entire system of Church and State. They never ceased to harangue the people and appeal to King and Parliament in behalf of soul liberty."
Mr. Locke has truly said, "The Baptists were from the beginning the friends of liberty; just and true liberty; equal and impartial liberty."
Dr. Williams says, "The share which the Baptists took in shoreing [sic] up the fallen liberties of England, in infusing new vigor and liberality into the constitution of that country, is not generally known; yet to this body English liberty owes a debt it can never acknowledge."
And how was it in this land? "Introduced into Rhode Island with Roger Williams and John Clark in 1638, their history for more than a century, in most of the colonies, is that of proscribed and banished men. Yet, persecuted themselves, it is their glory never to have persecuted others."
"In the code of laws established by them in Rhode Island," says Judge Story, "we read for the first time since Christianity ascended the throne of the Caesars, the declaration that conscience should be free, and men should not be punished for worshipping God in the way they were persuaded He requires." As Rhode Island led, so all the colonies followed, so far as the Baptists could influence those times. "And that influence was so potent that the article on 'Religious Liberty' in the amendments to the American Constitution was introduced into it by the united efforts of the Baptists in 1789."
Not quite a century has elapsed, and the Baptists of America have increased from a few thousands to millions. In 1762, there were but fifty-six Baptist churches in America; now there are 24,794. Then only about 6,000 members; now 2,133,044, with an attached population of 12,000,000, according to the usual estimate.
" Brethren of Christ, if such facts and many more that could be mentioned (see New American Cyclopaedia, article "Baptists") are not calculated to arouse the energies, subdue the wills, and fill the souls of the Baptists with humble, grateful praise to God and unfeigned love to His people and for all men, then what will do it?
In North Carolina, more than twelve times as many Baptists in 1880 than in 1830, and shall we do nothing, say nothing, think nothing about it?
Lord, hast thou done all this for us? What have we done for Thee? What can we do for Thee? What ought we to do for Thee? Lord, our lives are in Thy hands! Our lives are far spent. What we do, we must do quickly.
Let the Baptists remember especially this year, the fiftieth since the organization of their State Convention, by attempting greater things for the Master than ever before - let the work of the Lord advance all along the line, and when we . assemble at our next Convention, we may truly celebrate our jubilee year unto the Lord, with thanksgiving and praise to His holy name.
Our educational work, both male and female, needs attention, enlargement and fuller development. Wake Forest College, especially, should be made the bulwark of Baptist strength, as it is now the pride and hope of their hearts.
Our daughters must have equal advantages with our sons, and that the best for both that can possibly be secured.
Great destitution awaits our missionaries in many parts of the State. The work of our State Mission and Sunday-school Boards, has greatly advanced, and we do not expend one dollar in this department of labor where one hundred dollars could and should be spent. The Lord has gone ahead of us and lighted the fires in heathen lands, and the light and heat of the gospel are felt there by our influence. Still how little have we done in China, Africa and Europe. We ought to enlarge the work of our own Yates, the great missionary of the century. When will the Lord give the Baptists another like him in China? In Italy, the consecrated Taylor is fast paying the debt which that climate exacts of all strangers. Let us pray for the restoration of his health and the blessing of the Lord on him and the mission in Italy.
In another fifty years, it has been estimated, the gospel of the blessed God will occupy all lands and nations and peoples and tongues, if it progresses only at its present rate. Not that all men will become believers in the Lord Christ, but everywhere the civilization of the gospel, with its healing wings, will cover the whole earth. God keep the Baptists humble in spirit, active in labor, full of consecrated zeal in good works, that they may share their burden and responsibility in the conversion of the world to Christ.
With their historic ancestry, why need the Baptist feel ashamed to appear among the people of God? While a Baptist knows his prerogatives and dares maintain them, still he must never forget that peace and love should ever be found blending with his faith and hope.
With all men he should live peaceably, and especially with his own brethren. When he enters into combat for the defence of the truth, he must do so in love, not to subdue his opponent, but to convince and sanctify him by the truth. To do this well and always he needs grace, with education, learning and culture.
Perhaps, after all, the greatest danger to which the Baptists of the State are exposed is the spirit of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
A strong man fears nothing if he rests in his own strength, while a feeble, distrustful spirit is cautious, discreet, vigilant and active. The wiser and the safer is the weaker man oftentimes. We may be a giant in our strength, as a Christian people, and the giant may get to sleep. We must be awake, or we will be asleep. If not aggressive, we will be retrogressive; if not forward then backward will be our tendency. We need consecrated churches, liberal brethren; our more wealthy members should set examples to all by their cheerful gifts to Christ, in proportion to His gifts to them, and as faithful stewards. May God help us all to honor his Son here and to enter into His glory with Him and His saints, and then, under our Great Teacher, be instructed out of that great book which He only has power to break the seals thereof, calling forth from heaven's harpers higher and more melodious strains, and from heaven's choir sweeter and deeper swelling hallelujahs, exhausting eternity itself before the end be reached.
T. E. SKINNER,
C. E. TAYLOR,
N. B. COBB,
A. C DIXON,
F. H. IVEY.
[From Thomas E. Skinner, editor, Sermons, Addresses and Reminiscences: to which is appended Briefs, Sketches ..., 1894, pp. 252-260. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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