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For the Tennessee Baptist

Holly Springs, Aug. 5, 1847
      My Dear Brother:
      That the churches should be characterized by purity - purity in doctrine, in practice, in government, is most certain; and it is equally certain that the Bible is the standard, the only sure standard, of what is true in doctrine, holy in practice, and correct in government. Whither shall we go to learn the doctrines God has revealed, but to His Word? Where are his commands recorded but in the Scriptures? And as to the government of the church, shall we follow the dictates of erring men, or of infinite Wisdom?

      As to the doctrines of the gospel, and the commandments God has enjoined, and the principles of church government set forth in the Bible, we claim the privilege of following out our own convictions; most cheerfully recognizing the equal rights of all other denominations: not arrogantly condemning others, but plainly, calmly, affectionately, and with due earnestness, declaring what we consider the teachings of the Scriptures. They who differ from us are not responsible, for their belief and practice, to us; nor are we to them for ours. But both we and they are accountable to God. 'Twould be most unjust for them to impeach our motives, falsely to represent our views, and thus excite a popular odium against us; and it would be equally wrong in us to conduct thus towards them. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." To do wrong is not the way to advance his cause. He does not require the bad passions and crooked devices of men to promote his kingdom of righteousness and peace and truth and love.

      We ought to love truth too fervently, and desire its advancement too earnestly, to allow of our setting it forth and defending it with bitter zeal, with selfishness, pride or revenge. He who is under the influence of these bad passions is utterly unfit to set forth God's pure and lovely truth as it is; his wrong tempers discolor and distort it: he is unprepared properly and convincingly to present the arguments which prove it. And will even the truth, t h u s unfortunately exhibited, thus feebly supported - for wrong feelings are not favorable to strong argumentation - convince the errorist? No. His misconception of the truth will be increased, his prejudices will be strengthened; he will associate with the truth the imperfections and faults of its advocate; his evil passions aroused will increase the blindness of his mind. Thus will the advocate of truth strengthen and confirm the man in his errors.

      O, my brother, let us cherish such a love to the truth of God, and such desires that it may prevail, as shall guide us to set it forth aright, and always to defend it under the influence of that holy love which God approves, which his Spirit inspires, and which will, with his blessing, render our efforts successful. May we be filled with "the wisdom that is from above," which "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, with partiality and without hypocrisy." I return from this digression.

      It is not our purpose, in this correspondence, to dwell on the great points of christian doctrine, or to exhibit in detail the commandments which God has enjoined, though we may have occasion repeatedly to refer to both. I would just remark in passing, that to promote purity in doctrine, these things are requisite:

      1st. T h e y who preach must teach the great truths of the gospel, and defend them from the Bible. As teachers of the sacred word, what a responsibility rests on them! How diligently do they need to study that word, and with what deep solicitude, and protracted toil, and constant prayer for divine light! O shepherd of the flock who are looking to thee for instruction, how wilt thou answer the chief shepherd in the great day, if that time which should be devoted to thy work is spent in the pursuit of wealth? For this wast thou called to the ministry, to give to it a tithe of thy time and energies? Is this watching for souls as one that must give an account?

      2. But to secure purity in doctrine, the private members also must become familiar with the Bible. On this point the language of the Scripture is strong. How pointed a reproof did the Hebrew Christians receive, who, when for the time they ought to have been teachers, needed to be taught again the first principles of the oracles of God!

      3. To secure purity in doctrine, there must be an increase of personal piety. Holiness of heart is favorable to progress in religious knowledge, and is one of the greatest safeguards of the church against error. But on this topic we may have occasion to speak more fully in another place.

      4. Purity in doctrine is also to be maintained by separating from the church those who embrace cardinal errors. Yet how infinitely better is it, that the members be preserved from error, than, by our neglect of watch care and instruction, to be accessory to their fall, and thus to cause an awful evil, which can only in part be remedied by their exclusion.

      It is a vital point, its importance cannot indeed be overrated, that the members as well as the pastors should be holy persons. According to the proportion of such in a church, is its purity. Such not only assent to, they love and hold fast the great truths of the gospel, and live under their sanctifying power. Such not only understand, they obey the divine commands, and by such the great principles of church government and discipline will be not only admitted, but acted upon. A church consisting of such members is strong - it is "the temple of God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." These arc the gold, silver, precious stones: mere nominal professors are the wood, hay and stubble, which will not endure the scrutiny of the last day.

      We have now come to one of the most weighty topics connected with our subject:

The Admission of Individuals into the Church.

      Who are to be admitted? Not everyone who makes application. Not every one whose moral character is fair to the view of mankind. Not every one who professes to believe in the Saviour. For there is a faith - a mere assent to truth - which is not unto salvation. Those and those only are to be admitted, who give evidence that they have been born again. Of such material were the primitive churches composed. The church in Rome were "beloved of God" - "called of Jesus Christ" - "saints," or holy persons. The church in Corinth were "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, "and who called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church at Ephesus consisted of "the saints" and "the faithful in Christ Jesus." The letter to the Philippians is directed to the "saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons." The address to the Colossian church is like that to the Ephesians. "To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ." The language expresses the peculiar relation they sustain to the Father and the Son. The Hebrews were addressed as "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly culling." Those to whom Peter wrote are described us "being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible - by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever."

      If such was the character of the primitive churches, such ought to be the character of the churches now. None must be admitted to membership except such as give credible evidence that they are truly religious.

      But on whom rests the responsibility of receiving members? On the church. This is, in its nature, a voluntary society; and as such, it is for them to decide who shall be received: but of course they are to be governed in this matter by the will of the Great Head of the church as set forth in his Word. As He has made known what qualification is requisite for membership in his church, they must require that qualification in those who apply for admission, and receive those only who give good evidence of possessing that qualification. But an additional and special responsibility rests on the pastor. And how familiarly acquainted ought he to be with the gracious exercises peculiar to the renewed heart - with the essential difference between true piety, and the forms which bear some resemblance to it, but are not it - and moreover with all the evidences of conversion.

      The pastor and the church, we say, must decide who arc to be received, making up their decision from all the evidence that is laid before them. And here we see the propriety and importance of the individual's relating to the church his religious experience, and of his answering such questions as the pastor and brethren may propose. The object of the whole is to obtain all the evidence the case will admit, that the person has indeed been born of God. - We shall probably recur to these points again.

      From the Epistles we have seen what description of persons the primitive churches were composed of. On examining the Acts, we arrive at the same result. "They that gladly received his word were baptized." At Samaria, and at Corinth, they who believed were baptized. The jailor believed in God with all his house, and was baptized he and all his, straightway. What was this faith? this essential prerequisite to baptism? This question I will endeavor to answer in my next letter: and in a subsequent letter will advert to the immense evils caused by the admission of unworthy persons into the churches. But you ask - Can the churches judge with certainty who are regenerate, and who are not? No. But this is no reason, surely, why there should not be undue caution in the reception of members, and a very serious examination of all who offer themselves for baptism and admission into the church.
Affectionately, your brother.
T. B. Ripley
Rev. L. H. Millikin


[From the Tennessee Baptist, Nashville, August 21, 1847.]

For the Tennessee Baptist

Part 2
SOMMERVILLE, TEN., August 26, 1847

      Bro. Ripley: We have now reached the main subject to be discussed in this correspondence. - The purity of the Churches. Observation teaches us that they are not "righteous over much." It is manifest from the fitness of things that they should be holy. I wish the churches both to perceive this and to feel it. It is eminently fit that they be holy. Prosperity, moral obligation, the best interests of men require it. The church is the habitation of God through the Spirit. Ought not the dwelling-place of the Almighty to be holy? If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy. It is the family of God. Should not the family of God be pure? Purity, we say, is infinitely becoming the family of such an one. The good sense of every one is a demonstration of this assertion. Impurity is ineffably unbecoming and disgraceful. I utterly fail in every attempt to depict the sensations such a thought stirs within me. Impurity, unrighteousness and sin in the family-royal of heaven. What could be more unsuitable? I doubt whether a stronger instance can be found. Let the churches who, purchance, may read this communication, remember that they belong to this truly noble family; let them conduct themselves accordingly; I feel just now, very much in the spirit of exhorting them, and if I had them before me. I should drop my pen and begin the work; but we can reach them as things are, only through the Baptist, and alas, we can't reach them all in this way, for many of them don't read it, yet some noble spirits will hear whose hearts pulsate with ours on this vital subject. The church is styled in scripture the bride, the Lamb's wife. Should not the bride of such a bridegroom be unpolluted! The Lamb's wife, queen of heaven, defiled with sin! what could be more unsuitable? God is holy is "glorious in holiness." Such is the perfection of his holiness - such his immaculate purity, that he charges his angels with folly, and the heavens are not pure in his sight. If the angels who kept [not] their first estate be chargeable with folly, and the heavens to impure in the presence of his uncreated holiness; what shall we say of the church of Christ on earth? Truly It stands convicted of sin. Better for the quiet skies that hang in peerless magnificence above us, to be marred by a million blurs and blots; better for those ministering spirits about the throne to be obnoxious to the charge of folly, than that God's blood-bought family should be blackened with sin. "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, forever." - You doubtless feel the force and fitness of this tenet; I hope all may. It should me thinks be the motto of every church and of every church-member. It should be the subject of frequent discussion with the ministry and especially among pastors. Let us preach more on this matter bro. Ripley, and brethren all, and preach every sermon on this subject least twice - once in the pulpit, and again in our life. If we are likely to fail to preach it in either of the above places, by all means let it be in the former. Let our lives be vocal with it, though we be not able fully to discuss it in the pulpit. Such preachers and preaching are demanded by the present crisis, they are greatly needed.

      But I am not left to the fitness of things to establish my point. Holiness is enjoined in so many words in scripture. Let us hear it - let all the churches hear it, "BE YE HOLY." This precept cannot be misunderstood. Hear also the reason given: "For I am Holy." The churches should be holy because God is holy, and because he has commanded it. Let every church see to this matter. Our prosperity will be measured by our holiness; as large as is the measure of the church's holiness, so large and no larger, will the measure of her true prosperity be; I hope this will never be forgotten.

      I will now attempt briefly to point out wherein the holiness of the church consists. I think it is comprehended m these three things, doctrine, practice and government.

      1st. Doctrine. Sound doctrine is most evidently essential to moral purity. No man, I take it, can be holy before God whose doctrine on the great leading subjects of Christianity is radically defective; principle among all intelligent men controls practice. This remark is true in every department of action. I need not enlarge; whatever defects, therefore, exist in any man's principles will exist in his practice also, if he be consistent with himself. If the former be bad, how can the latter be otherwise? They will both be bad or good; they cannot be separated. The one is the fountain, the other is the stream. More than this - the heart as well as the life is like one's principles. I would as soon expect not to be burnt by putting fire in my bosom, as to entertain false doctrines and not be polluted by them. Can the vine throw its clinging tendrils about rottenness and not be defiled? Is not the whited sepulchre [sic] polluted by the cariousness and death within? So is the heart when it is filled with false doctrines. These remarks are as applicable to a church as to an individual - to twenty as to one. The bible and nothing else should be the judge in this matter. If our sentiments accord not with its sacred teachings, they are undoubtedly wrong, and should be abandoned without delay. The bible is the religion of Protestants. Tradition is the religion of Papists. It is an intelligible book. It is as easily understood perhaps more so as any other book of equal antiquity. That church then is pure whose doctrine is pure, id est [?], harmonizes with the holy scriptures. Let me say to the churches in Tennessee, and especially in the District, "search the scriptures." Hold only the doctrines which you there find. But this is a digression. I will return.

      2d. Practice. However orthodox the churches may be, unless this practice correspond, they cannot be pure. They must not only be hearers or even believers of the word, but doers of it. That church which will and does constantly hear the word, and is a doer of it, is beyond all dispute holy. O, that all our churches were of this character! But we should not expect too much of them; they, like ourselves, are dust. God remembers this, and we should not forget it. Yet we should urge them by all the motives which are furnished as in the bible, to strive to come up to the standard given us. They should aim to do their whole duty which is to fear God and to keep his commandments. That is man's whole duty. If we do what we are in the holy scriptures commanded to do, we do our whole duty; nothing is left undone. But where is the church that does it.

      3d. Government. Was any government established in the church by Christ and his apostles? We are only concerned at present to know this fact, without inquiring into the nature of the government. To suppose none was instituted, is absurd and cannot, therefore, be believed. Would Christ leave a matter of such vast moment to the everlasting notions of men? The unity, to say nothing about the uniformity of the church, could not be preserved without a settled government. Anarchy and oppression and all descriptions of misrule would prevail in that place Where all should be order and quietude.

      What churches then are according to this letter pure? Only such as are sound "in the faith," are doers of "the word," and have the government instituted by the great Head of the church. Does the Baptist Church stand up to this standard?

      But I will not pursue this train of thought any further at present. Let me notice briefly an enquiry of the Senior Editor of the Baptist. "What is the meaning of Acts 19:37." I answer: The word 'churches' in this denotes not the places where the disciples of Christ met to worship, but heathen temples, and should have been rendered '"robbers of temples." Will bro. Howell endorse the common reading.
Yours very respectfully, &c.


[From the Tennessee Baptist, Nashville, September 4, 1847. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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