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ORIGINAL SKETCH

The Columbian Star and Christian Index
July 11, 1829

Character of the Early American Baptist Preachers

Part II

In pursuing our remarks on this subject, we must briefly advert to a peculiarity in the manners of those good men of whom we are attempting a description. That sacerdotal mein, and cold reserve, which had been the policy of the clergy in the time of papal supremacy, and which the Reformation did not wholly abolish, was laid aside by them. Instead of appearing among the people in the strut and stiffness of professional distance and severity, they assumed a position at all times accessible. No factitious austerities encompassed them; no haughty airs marked their deportment. Familiar and affable to all, they stood among the people as one of themselves. It was their evident aim, to be, and to appear nothing more than humble members of the great human brotherhood, to be strictly identified with the common species, whose hopes and characters they designed to affect, and to shrink from no similarity of circumstances with the meanest individuals. Those clerical formalities which had been introduced from the mother country, were all rejected by these plain, unaffected men, who were determined to have their conversation in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity. Their plan led them to use every effort to break down the wall which separated the minister of the Gospel and his people, and to give effect to their ministry by all the acts of a winning affection and ardent charity. In the discharge of their functions, they did not wait until churches and congregations were formed and embodied into regular communities, capable of holding out to them the rewards of temporary emolument. Had they waited for such CALLS, they would have accomplished nothing. The state of society was too little advanced beyond its mere rudiments, to render practicable the regular settlement of ministers; and, accordingly, had the early heralds of our religion hesitated, until the forest had yielded to cultivation, until the march of the useful and refined arts had subdued the roughness of the scene of their labors, until refined society and polished life had invited their residence, the wilderness and the solitary place had never blossomed under their benignant charities. As an instance of their honest, intrepid, and simple devotion, and of the influence which the meekness of their wisdom exerted upon minds little susceptible of tender emotions, we quote an incident from the life of ELIJAH BAKER, a Virginian by birth. His persecutors threw him into prison, where they confined him for many days. Not satisfied with this, they mediated a still more vindictive course against him, seized him by a lawless power, put him in charge of a captain of a vessel then lying in the adjacent waters, with instructions to the captain, and a special contract, to make him work his passage over the seas, and then to leave him in some of the countries of Europe. "This," says the writer, "took place on Saturday night. He was immediately put to work, and kept at it until late at night. The next being Lord's day, he asked and obtained leave of the captain to sing and pray among the crew. The captain attended, was convinced that he was a good man, and without delay released him."

The growth of two Christian denominations in our land, has been distinguished by an uncommon and nearly equal rapidity. We now refer to the Baptists and Methodists. Other re1igious communities were established by powerful accessions made through the channel of emigration from European countries. The Congregationalists obtained an early prevalence in New-England, the Presbyterians in the middle States; and in most of the other States, the Church of England was the established religion. A feeble band of Baptists, partly from Great Britain, and partly from Holland and Germany, was occasionally found, weak and insulated, whilst the Methodists were not known. At present each of these is spread in large and flourishing churches over every part of our Union. The contrariety which may exist in their respective peculiarities, is not the present subject of discussion. One thing is evident; and that is, that how opposite soever they may be in their doctrinal sentiments, and modes of church government, there is common to both a remarkable tendency to success and enlargement. This facility for rapid extension, depends in a great degree upon the constitution of the ministry in both these bodies. By dispensing with classical and 1iterary attainments, as pre-requisites to the ministerial office, and by affording encouragement to such attainments as important helps to it, they have been able to bring into the immediate service of the cause the talent, piety, influence, an holy enterprise of a large body of men, who, otherwise, would have remained in private life. Such officers of the church, from the very circumstance now named, were exempted from that professional importance which can be contented with nothing short of pastoral, or other locations yielding a competent support.

But whilst a similarity existed betwixt these two denominations, in respect of qualifications for the sacred office, there was an obvious difference in the manners and social habits of their preachers. This difference was more obvious and definite about the close of the century, than at present; but may still be traced in lines sufficiently distinctive. In referring to it we intend no invidious comparisons, since it is well known that the moral and religious worth of men is not affected by their costume, or modes of social intercourse. Our illusion, therefore, is merely for the sake of illustration. In their dress and manners, the Baptist preachers were far removed from every semblance of singularity. Their habits of intercourse with others were a1most the reverse of stiffness and formality. Whilst they possessed that happy pliancy of temper, which enabled them to descend with the kindest fami1iarities to every state of man, many of them were qualified by education and habit for the more elevated conditions of society. On the other hand, we readily admit, that in the present state of refinement, many of them would appear coarse and uncouth. The brethren of the Methodist persuasion assumed a different deportment. Their very dress was unusual. Most of them had a stiff; lofty carriage, and rather repelled than invited familiar intercourse. They appeared to partake more of the austerity of the first Baptist, than did the Baptists themselves; and though bold and energetic in preaching, evidently courted solitude and reserve.

As an example of the ease and Christian affability of manners for which the more distinguished Baptist preachers were remarkable, we introduce the subjoined incident from the life of JOHN GANO:

"From this place be proceeded on towards North Carolina; having a young man with him, who chose to bear him company on the way. We arrived at a house just at dusk, the master of which gave us liberty to tarry. After we had conveyed our things into the house, he asked me if I was a trader; which I answered in the affirmative. He asked me if I found it to answer; to which I answered, 'not so well as I could wish.' He replied: 'Probably the goods did not suit.' I told him, 'No one complained of that.' He said I held them too high. I answered, 'Anyone, might have them below their own price.' He said he would trade on these terms; which, I said, I wou1d cheerfully comply with. I then asked him, 'If gold tried in the fire, yea, that which was better than the fine gold, wine and milk, durable riches and righteousness, without money and without price would not suit him ?' 'O,' said he, 'I believe you are a minister.' I told him I was, and had a right to proclaim free grace wherever, I went. This laid the foundation for the evening?s conversation; and I must acknowledge his kindness, though he was not very desirous of trading, after he discovered who I was."

"From hence I returned by the way of Ketockton, on Blue-Ridge, where the inhabitants are scattered. On my road, I observed a thunder-storm arising, and rode speedily for the first house. When I arrived, the man came running into the house, and seeing me, appeared much alarmed; there being at that time great demands for men and horses for Braddock's army. He said to me, 'Sir, are you a press-master?' I told him I was. 'But,' said he, 'you do not take married men?' I told him surely I did; and that the Master I wished him to serve was good, his character unimpeachable, the wages great, and that it would be fore the benefit of his wife and children, if he enlisted. He made many excuses, but I endeavored to answer them, and begged him to turn out a volunteer in the service of Christ. This calmed his fears, and I left him, and proceeded on my way to Ketockton, where I spent some time, and baptized Mr. Hail."

An active, revival spirit, breathed through all the labors of our earlier ministers. Of this fact no stronger evidence can be given than the powerful effects which their ministrations produced. Many of them caught the glowing fire of Whitfield, with whom they were cotemporary, and went forth in the demonstration of a spirit which roused the dormant feelings of vast multitudes. This was remarkably the case with the elder GANO, LUNSFORD, of Virginia, SILAS MERCER, and many others who exemplified a similar devotion to the cause of Christ. GANO was an uncommon man. In the character of an itinerant preacher his labors were extensively blessed. His fine, sonorous voice, his manly person, his empassioned confidence in the truths which be preached, the brilliant force of genius that gave point and energy to his preaching and conversation, all combined to make him a minister of the first distinction. His success was only inferior to that of Whitfield. LUNSFORD is thus eloquently described by SEMPLE, in his history of the Virginia Baptists. "In his best strains he was more like an angel, than a man. His countenance, lighted up by an inward flame, appeared to shed beams of light wherever he turned. His voice always harmonious, now seemed to be tuned by descending seraphs. His style and manner were so sublime and energetic, that he seemed indeed like an ambassador of the skies, sent down to command all men every whereto repent." The mind of MERCER was at once bold and discriminating. Wherever he stood forth in gospel panoply, the movements or a master-spirit were conspicuous, in sustaining the most effectual attacks upon the strong holds of sin and error. Few men ever executed with greater faithfulness and success, the grand provisions of the mighty commission under which he acted.

Such preachers, together with their zealous, and laborious co-adjutors, carried into all the regions that they visited a REVIVAL SPIRIT. They sounded an alarm which reached the ears of Zion's slumberers; by pungent truth they made their way to the consciences of the guilty; by powerful argument they confounded the unbelief of men; and by the affecting representations of the love of Christ, they were the honored instruments of attracting many souls to the standard of the Cross. The scenes of deep excitement, of which our fathers have told us, bore witness to the power of their masculine, unpretending eloquence.

Their doctrinal views were such as gave a just weight to their preaching. With few exceptions, they had embraced that scheme of scriptural truth, which humbles the sinner by the display of his total corruption and impotence, and which exalts the Saviour by making salvation to be wholly of grace. That species of Calvinism which asserts the obligation of all men to repent and believe the gospel, and which urges believers to the maintenance of a holy life, as the only visible criterion of their acceptance with God, was the doctrinal platform on which they stood. But all their views were pre-eminently practical. They gave no place to that balmy theology which leaves christians in a sort of antinomian inaction, and makes heaven the privilege of confident professors, rather than the home of the pure in heart. A holy strictness of life was inculcated in their preaching; ardent appeals to the conscience of men, bold reproofs, and cutting applications, were leading traits of their public performances. Their great success in building up the church and in extending the influence of the Baptist name, must be attributed, under the grace and blessing of God, to their firm and unwavering perseverance in asserting evangelical truths. They seemed not to glory, Save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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[Taken from Microfilm copies at Steeley Library, Northern Kentucky University, of The Columbian Star and Christian Index, W. T. Brantly, editor, Philadelphia, July 11, 1829, pages 17-19. jrd]

 
 
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