committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

BAPTIST THOROUGH REFORMERS

LECTURE VI

THE THIRD FEATURE, ETC. THE PROPAGATION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
AND THE RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE.

"Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him,
because he followeth not with us.And Jesus said, Forbid him not."
– LUKE ix. 49, 50.

 

       THE Gospel of Christ not only differs from all other systems of religion in the superior excellence of the truths it reveals, but also in the directions it gives for the propagation of its doctrines. Other systems seek to advance themselves by invoking the aid of the secular power, and by forcing men, against their convictions, to accept a theory repugnant to their views. They have thus succeeded in thronging their temples with hypocritical worshippers, bound to tlieir altars through fear and slavish dread. These systems, in order to maintain themselves, find it necessary to proscribe and persecute all who differ from them, either in their articles of belief or mode of worship. But the Gospel of Christ, though it is the infallible truth of God, expressly prohibits a resort to any such measures for its advancement. It not only teaches its adherents to utterly abandon the use of carnal weapons for its propagation, but it also charges them not to proscribe those who may differ in their views or mode of worship. This principle is directly expressed in the text and its connection. The teaching of the Saviour has been violated, however, even by his professed followers; and, in the name of the meek and lowly Jesus, men have gone forth with proscription, oppression, and persecution, to advance their own opinions, and crush out that liberty of thought, and those rights of conscience vouchsafed to man by his Maker, and the free exercise of which is alone compatible with his personal accountability. One body of Christians has always shunned this mode of procedure; and. in seeking to advance the truth, they have never engaged in persecution of any kind, though they have been themselves more bitterly persecuted than any others. I propose to prove that Baptists have always been the pioneers in the Propagation of Religious Liberty and the Rights of Conscience.

        I shall endeavor here to define what religious liberty is. The views of many Protestants, even in this land of liberty, are exceedingly imperfect, and in some instances surprisingly erroneous, on this subject. Many consider toleration as synonymous with religious liberty; but a moment's consideration will exhibit the vast difference between the two. Toleration is the allowance of that which is not wholly approved. As applied to religion, the term is objectionable; because it presupposes the existence of some mere human authority, which has power to grant to, or withhold from man the exercise of freedom in matters of religion – and this is Popery. Our Creator, however, has nowhere delegated such authority to king, or priest, or any human organization whatever; on the contrary, he has shown, by the very nature of the soul of man, and the Revelation given to him, that it is his inalienable right to exercise his judgment without restraint in religious matters, and give expression, freely and fully, to his religious convictions, without human dictation or interference.

        It is manifest, that if the right to tolerate exists in man, the right to prohihit, and to dictate to the conscience, must also exist with it; and thus toleration becomes merely another name for oppression. Toleration, therefore, is not religious liberty.

        Religious freedom recognizes in no human organization the right or the power to tolerate. It does not stoop – either to magistrate or minister, pope or priest – to humbly ask leave or beg permission to speak freely, or act out its convictions; but it speaks and acts, because, in the exercise of its own right, it chooses to do so. It simply asks, with Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and having ascertained God's will, it goes forth to do it, though a host of priests, or a thousand executioners, stand ready to execrate and slay it. It acknowledges no human authority competent to come between the conscience and its Maker in reference to his will and its duty. Religious liberty does not exist where there is no recognition and acknowledgment of this right – the right of every individual of the human race, to think, and choose, and act for himself in religious matters.

        Baptists have always strenuously contended for the acknowledgment of this principle, and have labored to propagate it. Nowhere, on the page of history, can an instance be found of Baptists depriving others of their religious liberties, or aiming to do so; but, wherever they ave found, even in tlie darkest ages of intolerance and persecution, they appear to be far in advance of those who surround them, on this important subject. This is simply owing to their adherence to the Gospel of Christ in its purity. Here religious liberty is taught in its fullest extent; and it was only when the Christian church departed from God's Word, that she sought to crush the rights of conscience; and only when she fully returns to it again, will she cease to cherish a desire to do so.

        The Reformation which took place in the sixteenth century, while it aimed to remove many of the abuses of Popery, still did not recognize religions liberty. "There is not a confession of faith, nor a creed," says Underhill, "framed by any of the Reformers, which does not give to the magistrate a coercive power in religion, and almost every one, at the same time, curses the resisting Baptist." "It was the crime of this persecuted people, that they rejected secular interference in the church of God; it was the boast and aim of the Reformers everywhere to employ it. The natural fruit of the one was persecution – of the other, liberty."[1] The Baptists stood entirely alone, as the defenders of the rights of conscience. All the Reformed communities agreed that it was right for the magistrate to punish those who did not worship according to the prescribed rule of their churches; and it was for opposition to this feature of religious oppression, in connection with their adherence to believer's baptiem, that brought upon the Baptists those severe persecutions which they were called to endure. They contended for religious liberty; the Reformed churches opposed it, and committed themselves to a course fatal to the rights of conscience. I again quote from Underhill:

"Honor, ease, and wealth flowed in upon the opposers of religious liberty, but tribulation unto death was the portion of those who ventured to advocate it. Most affectingly does the eminent Simmon Menno refer to this contrast: 'For eighteen years, with my poor feeble wife and little children, has it behooved me to bear great and various anxieties, sufferings, griefs, affictions, miseries, and persecutions, and in every place to find a bare existence, in fear and danger of my life. While some preachers are reclining on their soft bed and downy pillows, we are often hidden in the caves of the earth; while they are celebrating the nuptial or natal days of their children, and rejoicing with the timbrel and the harp, we are looking anxiously about, fearing lest persecutors should be suddenly at the door; while they are saluted by all around as doctors, masters, lords, we are compelled to hear ourselves called Anabaptists, ale-house preachers, seducers, heretics, and to be hailed in the devil's name. In a word, while they for their ministry are remunerated with annual stipends, our wages are the fire, the sword, the death."[2]

       Now, why was this? Did these Baptists deserve such treatment at the hands of their persecutors? Let a Catholic historian (Cardinal Hosius, President of the Council of Trent) reply: " If you behold their cheerfulness in suffering persecution, the Anabaptists run before all the heretics. If you have regard to the number, it is like that in multitude they would swarm above all others, if they were not grievously plagued and cut off with the knife of persecution. If you have an eye to the outward appearance of godliness, both the Lutherans and Zuinglians must needs grant that they far pass them. If you will be moved by the boasting of the Word of God, these be no less bold than Calvin to preach, and their doctrine must stand aloft above all the glory of the world, must stand invincible above all power, because it is not their word, but the Word of the living God."[3]

        It is evident, then, that the Baptists suffered merely because they maintained that they ought "to obey God rather than man." They found no direction in the Bible for the baptism of infants, and therefore they refused to observe the rite. The Reformed or Protestant churches sought to force them to do it, in opposition to their convictions. They maintained that this was also contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, and thus, in defence of the Bible, and the rights of conscience, they died.

        As a proof of this let me give you one among very many other instances which might be produced. Balthazar Hubmeyer of Friedburgh, Switzerland, who with his wife, suffered martyrdom in 1598, at the hands of the Protestant Reforrners, for the sin of being a Baptist, was originally a learned and eloquent Roman Catholic preacher, and while among them was called a Doctor of the Holy Scriptures. By the illumination of the Holy Spirit he was so convinced of the abominations of Popery, that following the counsel of God, he separated himself from it. He afterward rejected, among other Popish errors, infant baptism, and taught with all possible zeal, the immersion of believers according to the command of Christ. In company with one hundred and ten others, he was baptized by William Roubli, one of the earliest Swiss Baptists, and for some time a pastor at Basle. He himself baptized some three hundred persons in the few following months. He published a work on baptism, which brought, in the autumn, a virulent reply from Zuingle, the great Protestant Swiss Reformer. Some of the Baptists were cast into prison, and so cruel were the proceedings, that even the populace complained that injustice was done to them.

        Hubmeyer published a tract, in which he complains of Zuingle and his followers: That they had proceeded at one time so far as to throw, into a dark and miserable tower, twenty persons, both men and pregnant women, widows and young females, and to pronounce this sentence upon them – that thenceforward they should see neither sun nor moon for the remainder of their lives, and be fed till their days were ended with bread and water, and that they should remain in the dark tower together, both the living and the dead, surrounded with filth and putrefaction, until not a single survivor of the whole remained. "Oh, God!" writes this good man, "what a hard, severe, cruel sentence upon pious Christian people, of whom no one could speak evil, only that they had received water baptism in obedienee to the command of Christ." Hubmeyer courageously went to the stake, and was burned to death on the 10th of March, 1528. His wife was also the partner of his sufferings. She was comdemned to death by drowning, and in the river Danube found a watery grave.

        No matter whether Romanists or Protestants gained the ascendancy – the Baptists were presecuted by both alike. The reason of this was, that they claimed for the church of Christ, and the consciences of men, freedom from all human control. This was their distinguishing trait; and it was the assertion of this principle that brought them into collision with every form and ceremony of human invention in the worship of God, and every effort to bind the conscience to observe them. To worship God aright, the spirit must be free; for true worship is voluntary, and can only come from a willing heart.

        From what I have submitted, it will be seen that the Baptists stood alone, as the defenders of religious liberty, during the progress of the Reformation, and for many years after. It will also be seen, that their idea of the church, composed of none but believers, immersed on the profession of their faith, was the grand cause of the separation of the Baptists, as individuals and communities, from all the ecelesiastical organizations supported by the Reforrners and their successors. From the very natnre of the case, there could be no union between them; from the first they were opposites, and so they remained. The Baptiats occupied an independent and original position; they were neither Romanists nor Protestants, but thorough religious reformers, elevating their standard of religious liberty far above the most exalted ideas of Protestant toleration.

        And thus it continued to be, till the establishment of the American Republic. Other denominations contended for toleration; Baptists demanded for themselves, and all others, religious liberty – the right of every one to worship God as he might choose. Even the Puritans, who fled from persecution in England, had no idea of religious liberty. They came here to establish their own faith, and to exclude all others; hence they were more rigidly intolerant than the countries whence they had fled from persecution. "Intoleranee was a necessary condition of their enterprise. They feared and hated religious liberty."[4]

        All who did not conform t:o their views, were fined and imprisoned, and whipped and banished; and, as Baptists were especially opposed to religious oppression, the heaviest persecutions fell upon them. Hence, in 1644, a law was passed in Massachusetts against the Baptists, by which it was "ordered and agreed, that if any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptism of infants, or seduce others to do so, or leave the congregation during the adminstration of the rite, he shall be sentenced to banishment." The same year we accordingly find that a poor man was tied up and whipped for refusing to have his child sprinkled; and on July 30, 1651, Obadiah Holmes, John Clark, and John Crandall, Baptist ministers, were arrested near Lynn, Massachusetts, while preaching on the Lord's day, taken to the parish church in the afternoon, sent to the Boston jail, and subseqnently fined. The fines of Clark and Crandall were, after a while, paid, but Mr. Holmes was kept in Boston jail till September, when he was tied to the whipping-post and publicly whipped. His clothes were stripped off, and thirty lashes sunk into his naked flesh, which was so torn and cut that for weeks afterward he could only rest upon his hands and knees even in bed.

        This same spirit of persecution was manifested against Roger Williams. In 1639, he became a Baptist, and in 1643 went to England frorn New York, because he had been banished from Boston. In March, 1644, he obtained the charter for the colony of Rhode Island, with power for the colony to make its own laws; and in Septeinber, 1644, under that charter was estahlished the first government on earth that granted full religious liberty. It was the first spot the sun had ever shone upon where the rights of conscience were fully acknowledged, and it was founded by a Baptist; and it may be considered the germ of that religious liberty which all American citizens now enjoy, for up to the very dawning of the American Revolution, and even after that period, Baptists continued to struggle and suffer heroically for religious liberty.

        In Virginia, where the first permanent colony in America was established, the charter bearing date 1606, fourteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Baptists were bitterly perseeuted. By law, a fine of two thousand pounds of tobacco was imposed on "those who neglected to have their infants baptized." Baptist ministers were arrested and imprisoned as vagrants; some were pulled down from the stand as they were preaching, insulted and whipped, and many were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Elders John Waller, Lewis Craig, and James Childs were seized at a meeting, June 4, 1768, dragged before the magistrate, and imprisoned for forty-three days in Fredericksburg. Mr. Wofford was severely scourged, and carried the scars to his grave.

        Dr. Hawks, historian of the Episcopal Church of Virginia, says: " No dissenters in Virginia experienced harsher treatment than did the Baptists. They were beaten and imprisoned, and cruelty taxed its ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyanee."

        But the Baptists struggled on. On September 5, 1774, a Congress elected by the people of twelve colonies met at Philadelphia to consult for the general interests. The Warren Baptist Association of Rhode Island sent an agent – Rev. Isaac Backus, who with his mother, brother, and uncle, had suffered imprisonment for being Baptists – to Philadelphia, to join with the Philadelphia Baptist Association in presenting a memorial to Congress to secure religious liberty. But they met opposition; some even accusing the Baptists of trying to break up the Union, when they merely advocated universal religious liberty!

        The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, July 4, 1776. But the Declaration of Independence did not remove oppressive laws from colonial or State statute-books. In Virginia, for four years after the Declaration of Independence, marriages performed by Baptists were unlawful, their children declared illegitimate, and their inheritances lost. Not until 1785, was religious liberty fully established by law in Virginia– Thomas Jefferson, whose father was a Baptist, being the author of the bill. In 1809, writing to the members of the Baptist Church at Buck Mountain, whom he acknowledged as his coadjutors in the work, he says: "We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable revolution, and we have contributed, each in the line allotted us, our endeavors to render its issues a permanent blessing to our count,ry."[5]

        A National Constitution for the United States was adopted in 1787. Its provisions were satisfactory as far as they went, but religious liberty was not sufficiently guarded. The Baptist General Committee of Virginia, in 1788, expressed their disapproval of this important omission, and, after consultation with James Madison, this committee, in August, 1789, wrote to General Washington, then President of the United States, saying that they feared that liberty of conscience, dearer to them than property or life, was not sufficiently guarded. Washington gave them a kind and encouraging reply, in which occurs the following language: "While I recollect with satisfaction that the religious society of which you are members have been, throughout America, uniformly, and almost unanimnusly, the firm friends of civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of' our glorious Revolntion, I cannot hesitate to believe that they will be the faithful supporters of a free yet efficient general government."

        In the next month that immortal First Amendment to the Constitution was adopted by Congress: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishrnent of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances." Thus were Baptists the propagators of our religious liberty.

        Baptists have not changed since the Reformation, or the days of Washington. Their principles are still the same; and these principles bind them to the propagation of religious liberty. The very constitution of a Baptist church is cornpatible only with enjoyment of such liberty. It is composed of those who have exercised an intelligent choice, and who, in the possession of liberty to go elsewhere unmolested, have preferred to unite with it. Like true philanthropists they desire that all other's may enjoy equal freedom with themselves. They would use their liberty in endeavoring to liberate others. Infant baptism they regard as one great source of the destruction of religious liberty; in laboring therefore to lead its adherents to abandon it, they are seeking to effect a reform which will leave the conscieace free to act according to its own convictions of God's requirements, which Pedobaptism prevents it from doing.

        It is sometimes said that these persecutions of Baptists by Protestants, must be attributed to the age in which they lived. How then are we to account for Baptists being so much in advance of the age? In contrast with the spirit of Zuingle (p. 11), mark the sentiments expressed by Jeronimus Segerson, who with his wife suffred martyrdom in September, 1551, one by burning, and the other by drowning, for the sin of being Baptists. They were both in prison at the time, separated from each other. "We must likewise wrestle with enemies; that is, we must wrestle here in this world with emperors, with the powers and princes of this world. We must in this world suffer, for Paul has said, 'that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution.' We must completely conquer the world, sin, death, and the devil, not with material swords and spears, but with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and with the shield of faith, wherewith we must quench all sharp and fiery darts, and place on our heads the helmet of salvation, with the armor of righteousness, and our feet be shod with the preparation of the Gospel. Being thus strengthened with these weapons, we shall oppose and overcome all our enemies."

        The same spirit has ever been manifested by Baptists. While others clamored for liberty and toleration when they were oppressed, and then, as soon as they came into power, began to oppress others, Baptists have claimed religious liberty for all, and have heroically suffered that all men might be free. Not in the age, but in the error of infant baptism, lies the root of state churches and religious persecutions; and only as Baptist influence keeps these in cheek, will Pedobaptism be prevented from bringing forth its legitimate fruit in the destruction of religions liberty.

        Wherever Pedobaptism has had the opportunity to develop itself, it has always produced oppression and persecution, both in Romish and Protestant communities. Its direct tendency is to crush religious liberty, and destroy the rights of conscience. This is capable of proof, not merely from history, but from the very nature of the thing itself. Let me demonatrate this.

        By infant baptism a person is committed, while unconscious, to a certain church; he is made a member of that church. Now, unless that church is infallible, it has no right to make a person a member without his consent; for, it may commit him to an alliance with error, and to the defenee of it. But all churches are fallible, they may err; a person who is made a member of such a church in infancy, may discover an error in that church when he arrives at maturity. Without his own consent, he has been committed to that error; he was not left free to choose, where it is evident, from the nature of things, a choice might have been exercised. Pedobaptism is therefore inconsistent with liberty.

        This will more fully appear from the following: All Pedobaptists agree that there is more than one mode of baptism. They all teach, also, that baptism is to be administered but once to the same individual. It is evident, then, from their own admission, that a choice may be exercised as to the mode; but they administer baptism to a child, while in a state of unconsciousness, and, according to their own teaching that person is never to be baptized again, however much he may prefer another mode – which they all admit to be equally valid – when he is converted. Multitudes find themselves thus embarrassed on arriving at maturity, and on experiencing conversion. They feel that their liberty has been taken away; and that, according to the teaching of their church, they cannot exercise a choice, where that very church admits that a choice might be made, if they were free. In order to enjoy liberty, they must of necessity go to the Baptists.[6]

        If any should strenuously contend for only one mode of baptism, it should be Pedobaptists; for, they administer baptism when the subject knows nothing about it, and then maintain that it must not be repeated. They ought to be able, when the baptized child comes to years of understanding, to prove from the Word of God, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the mode adopted by them was the only correct one.

        These remarks apply with equal force to the subjects of baptism. Suppose a Pedobaptist child is conscientiously convinced that he should be baptized after repentance and faith? He must either leave the church of which he is a member, or continue with it while he violates its teachings, or give up his religions liberty, and neglect his known duty. Numerous instances might be given to prove this. I will relate one, which illustrates this point.

        Mrs. C., of Wethersfield, Connecticut, was sprinkled in infancy (neither of her parents being at the time professors of religion), by Rev. Dr. Chapin, pastor of a Pedobaptist church in that place. On arriving at maturity she experienced conversion, and desired to be resprinkled, but was refused. She then asked for her letter, which was also refused. After a long effort to persuade her to relinquish her purpose, she at length obtained her letter, and united with a Baptist church five miles distant.

        Further, Pedobaptism tends to crush religious liberty, because it leads parents to do violence to the consciences of their children. Baptized children, when they are converted, frequently become Baptists in sentiment; but they are often forced to unite with Pedobaptist churches against their choice, or remain without a public profession of faith, or join the church of their choice at great sacrifice, and with much opposition.

        Now Roman Catholics are far more consistent in this matter than Protestants who pursue such a course. They are taught that to leave the Romish church involves the certain loss of the soul; they are therefore bound, in order, as they suppose, to save their children from perdition, to keep them from becoming Protestants. But Protestants, generally, admit Baptists to be correct in all that is essential to salvation; if they oppose the union of their children with the Baptists, they exhibit more bigotry than the Romanist.

        Remember, religious liberty involves the right to think, examine, decide, and choose for ourselves in all matters between the conscience and its Maker. This, Baptists seek to propagate; and to this, Pedobaptism, both in the Romish and Protestant bodies, is opposed. In contending, then, for the baptisin of believers only, we contend for man's dearest rights – the rights of conseience.

        Let Baptist principles prevail, and there will be no forcing the conscience, no forestalling the judgment; but man, free to act intelligently and understandingly, according to the light he possesses, will render to God voluntary obedience, none desiring to "molest him or make him afraid."

 

[1] "Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty," p. 86.

[2] "Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty," p. 88.

[3] "Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty," p. 89.

[4] Dr. Ellis, Lecture before the New England Historical Society, March 11, 1860.

[5] Dr. Curry's Address, p. 54.

[6] It was thus with the author of these Lectures. He was sprinkled in infancy, and made a member of the Presbyterian Church. On arriving at "years of discretion," and on experiencing conversion, his mind was led to the investigation of the subjects and mode of baptism. He came to the conclusion that believers were the only subjects, and immersion the only- mode. But he found that, on account of his infant baptism, he could not be immersed, as a believer, in the Presbyterian Cliurch. For, their Confession of Faith teaches that baptism is not to be repeated to the same subject, and he could not ask any minister of that church to so far forget his own self-respect, as to deliberately violate his ordination vows, which bind him to sustain that Confession of Faith; neither would he have accepted immersion at the hands of such a one, had it been offered. But he saw at once that his liberty had been taken away. He looked at the children of Baptists, who, while they had been instructed just as religiously as himself, were not, trammelled by an act done for them when they could make no choice. He saw that they were free to act as their consciences, enlightened by the Word of God, might dictate. He therefore acted consistently, and united with that sect which is "everywhere spoken against." And the opposition of relatives, all of whom were Pedobaptiste, only quickened his steps toward the platform of religious liberty – a Baptist church.

 
 
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