A History of the Baptists
In the three periods of American history under survey in this treatise, there were no worldly inducements for a person to unite with the Baptists. Slanders of the most horrible character were circulated against them. It was alleged that they held the tenets of the Mad Men of Munster; and that their doctrines of liberty of conscience. were abominable and would work the ruin of Christianity. They were driven by persecution from province to province; they were imprisoned, whipped and ostracized. All through the Colonial. Period they were regarded as anarchists, and indignities were heaped upon them. They were denied the common rights of citizenship. For years after the American Revolution, on account of unjust state laws, they were compelled to pay taxes and suffer imprisonments on account of their opposition to the union of Church and State. The wonder is not that in numbers the Baptists increased slowly, but that they survived the shock of this terrible opposition. Men of wealth and position sought diligently to make them a stench in the nostrils of decent people.
They increased, in spite of persecutions, and in time became influential. The story of their accomplishments, under the conditions, is really marvelous. Roger Williams and John Clarke preached human liberty, which was regarded as fanaticism; but it became the great American principle of inalienable rights of man. Cotton Mather and his contemporaries burned witches; but William Milburne, a Baptist minister, opposed the measure by circulating petitions against the delusion, and Robert Calif, a member of the First Baptist Church in Boston, wrote the book which destroyed it. Obadiah Holmes was unmercifully whipped because he was a Baptist, but this led Henry Dunster, President of Harvard, to embrace Baptist principles. This was one of the most notable events in all Colonial history.
By the time of the American Revolution the Baptists had grown sufficiently in numbers and influence to command recognition. There were no Tories among the Baptists. Their men entered the American army and none were more patriotic. They gave of their money to the cause of the Colonists. Their ministers preached the gospel to the soldiers. They supported the adoption of the Constitution of the United States; and proposed the First Amendment to that Constitution in support of the liberty and rights of man.
The War of the Revolution practically broke up all of the existing Baptist centers. The Baptist church in New York City was reduced from a membership of some two hundred and fifty to less than fifty members. The same conditions prevailed in other churches. It had, however, the wholesome influence of scattering Baptist principles throughout all the States and Territories. Great numbers of Baptist ministers emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky, planted the cause in that section, and in turn became the pioneers in frontier Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri. The Baptists of North and South Carolina traveled west and planted churches in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee.
Many of the Baptist preachers of those days were unlearned men; but they were schooled in the hardy life of pioneers. They were unpaid for their services, often crude, but they preached a mighty gospel that met with a hearty response. Often missionaries were sent forth, who remained from home for months at a time. John Gano preached all the way from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
Nearly seventy years passed from the founding of the first Baptist church in this country to the organization of the Philadelphia Association, the first in the United States. It was one hundred and seventy-five years before they organized the first General Convention. This Triennial Convention, as it was generally called, was brought into existence by the conversion of Adoniram Judson to Baptist principles. This event was followed by the founding of missionary societies, colleges, newspapers, and indeed practically all of the general Baptist enterprises.
Unfortunately, no sooner was this movement inaugurated than opposition arose from two extremes. There had been much preaching on election and predestination. There had developed in some quarters a system of hyper-Calvinism which paralyzed all effort. This led to the anti-mission, or anti-effort secession. On the other hand there were many loose views of doctrine and practice prevalent. This led to the secession of Alexander Campbell and his followers. Not only was the denomination rent asunder by these factions; but there remained behind a spirit of controversy which did not always add to the spiritual life of the churches.
There were other factors at work which were equally serious. About the year 1836 began those political debates and animosities which were to occasion the Civil War. These factional differences were manifested in religious affairs. They ultimately led to the division of the Baptists of the North from those of the South.
It may, therefore, conservatively be said that up to the Civil War, and for some years following, the Baptists of the United States had no favorable opportunity of expansion. The periods under observation, in this volume, are rather a history of persecutions, hardships and trials. It is to the honor of the fathers that they heroically met these conditions and laid the foundation of future success.
The references contained in the body of this book will sufficiently attest the sources and authorities used. Every effort has been used for accuracy. It would be too much, however, in a survey covering as much as does this volume, to claim that no inaccuracies have crept in.
The origin of the Baptists in some States is not traced became they were lust, or their affairs were not sufficiently advanced to admit of definite treatment. The development of the history in such States necessarily falls under a later period.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved