committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 1

INTRODUCTION

We promised a series of articles on this subject, so soon as we could dispose of other matters claiming our attention. The time has come for us to begin to redeem that pledge. An elaborate discussion of the various points comprehended in our scheme must not be expected. We can attempt nothing beyond a brief and simple statement of Baptist principles, and the main arguments by which they are defended. Our statements or arguments may not be satisfactory to all our readers; but, in presenting them, we will endeavor to be candid, courteous, and fair. We shall earnestly aim so to write that, if any person should be offended, the fault shah be his, and not ours. We are so firmly convinced of the soundness of our principles that we can well afford to discuss them with calmness and good-will to all men.

Before we enter on an examination of the distinctive principles of Baptists, it is proper that the points regarding which they are in full and hearty accord with most Protestant Christians should be stated. The Baptists are united in the support of what is generally known as Evangelical Christianity. This system embraces the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures?their sufficiency as a rule of faith and practice; the existence of God in three persons?Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the perfection of the divine law in its precepts and in its penalty; the apostasy and guilt of man; his utter inability to attain to righteousness or justification by deeds of law or good works; the Incarnation, obedience, sufferings, and death of the Son of God; his resurrection, ascension, and assumption of universal empire; salvation by grace through his atoning blood; the necessity of the Holy Spirit?s influence in the regeneration of the soul; free justification by faith in Christ; the necessity of good works as the fruit and evidence of faith; the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust; the general judgment; the eternal blessedness of the redeemed and the eternal punishment of the wicked.

We have presented these points, not as exhaustive of the evangelical system, but as comprehending its main articles. These constitute the fundamental, vital, soul-saving facts and teachings of the gospel. In their support and diffusion, Baptists are happy to unite with Christians of every name and party. We rejoice that they are received by most Protestant sects, and that, wherever they are heartily embraced, they bring forth the fruits of righteousness. We are ready to concede, too, that these points are far more numerous and important than those concerning which we differ from them.

it may be proper to add that Baptists generally hold to what may be termed, for the sake of distinction, "moderate Calvinism." They are far from acknowledging Calvin as authority in matters of religion; but the system of doctrine which bears his name, as it has been modified by the study of the Scriptures, is now commonly accepted by Baptists. Fifty years ago, they mostly adhered to high Calvinism, as maintained by Dr. John Gill, of Landon. Since that time their views have been considerably changed, through the writings of Andrew Fuller and others. These differences of views, however, have not disturbed their harmony or hindered their co-operation, except with a small dissenting party, whose Antinomian views led them to proclaim their hostility to missions and to all liberal efforts for the diffusion of Christianity.

Before we enter on a discussion of Baptist principles, it may be proper to state them briefly, that the reader may see the ground which we propose to traverse. A spiritual church membership lies at the foundation of all Baptist peculiarities. In harmony with this principle, Baptists maintain that only believers, or regenerated persons, are proper subjects of baptism; that only immersion on a profession of faith is true baptism; that only baptized believers are entitled to the privileges of church membership, and consequently that only church members should be admitted to the Lord?s table. The last-named principle is held, not by all Baptists, but a large majority of them.

There are some principles held by Baptists in common with other Christian denominations, and to which Baptists give peculiar prominence. Among these may be mentioned the sufficiency of the Scriptures for guidance in religious matters, and the independence of the churches, under Christ, in the exercise of discipline. All Protestant sects, so far as we know, except those of rationalistic tendency, adopt the first of these principles, though many of them seem to us to -be sadly- swayed, in -the interpretation of the Scriptures, by tradition, creeds, and ecclesiastical relations. The second principle is held as firmly by the Independents of England, the Congregationalists of this country, and other minor sects, as by Baptists: though, perhaps, the latter give it greater prominence, and follow it more fully to its logical consequences than others do. These principles, however warmly they may be cherished by Baptists, cannot be classed among their distinctive views.

The peculiar principles of Baptists, while they do not constitute the main doctrines of Christianity, deeply affect the progress, and triumph of the kingdom of Christ. If these views are erroneous, Baptists are more profoundly interested than any other people to discover the error. If they are deceived, they are exerting?unintentionally, but most unfortunately?a disturbing influence among the disciples of Christ. As we do not claim to be infallible, we should cultivate a candid spirit, diligently search the Scriptures, earnestly pray for divine guidance, and be ready to sacrifice reputation for truth. If these views, however, are true, it is the solemn duty of those who receive them to expound, defend, and proclaim them in such manner as shall best secure their prevalence and final triumph. The differences between Baptists and Pedobaptists are not a mere question as to whether much or little water shall be used in baptism. They fundamentally affect church organization. They are all concentrated in this enquiry: Shall churches be composed only of believers, who profess their faith in the divinely appointed way, and prove their sincerity by lives in harmony with the gospel of Christ? To us, it seems that conformity to this method would free Christianity from more than half the evils by which it is brought into reproach and its progress and final triumph are hindered. It is clear that its adoption would deliver the world from all hierarchies, all connections between Church and State, except that created by mutual good-will, all pontiff s and lordly ecclesiastics, all persecution for conscience? sake, and all the immense expenditures lavished in support of the palaces and splendors of princely prelates; and the true friends of Christ would be left to support and extend his cause by the sanctity of their lives, the purity of their doctrine, the faithfulness of their labors, their liberal sacrifices, and the divine blessing on their efforts. Would not this be a gain?

It is to be lamented that Christians cannot discuss their differences with equanimity, fairness, and affection. They serve a common Lord, and he is the God of truth. He takes no pleasure in error, however plausibly it may be defended. They have a common interest to promote, and that is the extension of the kingdom and the manifestation of the glory of their Redeemer. It is only by the knowledge and the diffusion of divine truth that they can promote the end for which they were translated into the kingdom of God?s dear Son. It is vain, however, to hope that the discussion of controverted religious questions, except in rare instances, will be conducted with a simple desire to discover and to maintain truth. The pride of opinion, the desire of victory, sectarian zeal, the prejudices of education, and personal interests, are likely to give more or less inspiration and heat to religious controversy, by which its proper end is, in a great measure, defeated.

As our arguments will be based chiefly on the common version of the Scriptures, it is proper to notice a few things concerning it. It was made, not by Baptists, but by Pedobaptists. The translators were instructed by King James to retain the "old ecclesiastical words" found in the existing versions. Whether baptism belonged to this category, we need not decide. Certain it is that the translators did not render baptize and its derivatives into English, but merely gave them an English termination and spelt them with Latin letters. The English reader is left to infer their meaning from their connection and the circumstances of the act which they denote. The reader must perceive that a version made by Pedobaptist scholars, under such a restriction, can have no unfair leaning to Baptist principles; and yet we expect to show, by a proper use of it, their soundness.

 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved