committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 1

CHAPTER 15.

Obligation of Baptists to Their Principles.

 

These principles having been stated and briefly defended, need not be here repeated. If they are false, their prevalence is to be deplored, and none are so profoundly interested in their refutation as Baptists. We do not deprecate, but invite, their discussion. If they are unsound, we shall be deeply indebted to any polemic who can expose their rottenness and deliver us from our delusion. We, however, firmly believe them to be revealed in the Scriptures, and reason and conscience require that we should be governed by our belief. Accepting them as true, what obligations do they impose on us?

These principles, if divinely revealed, may be comparatively overestimated. All truth is precious, but all is not equally precious. The Saviour distinguished between the least and the greatest commandments (Matthew 5:19; 22:38). Some truths are vital. The knowledge of them is essential to salvation (John 17:3). Others are promotive of piety and usefulness, but they are not fundamental in the Christian system. The principles for which we are contending are important, but not supremely important. A spiritual church membership is a divine arrangement of great moment to the prosperity of the Redeemer?s kingdom; but one may be spiritual without belonging to any visible church. Immersion is important, but it is far less important than the resurrection of Christ and the regeneration of a soul, which it symbolizes. Whatever may be said in commendation of the Lord?s supper, its value is not to be compared to the atonement of Christ, which it sets forth, in our view, those who make baptism a regenerating ordinance misconceive its design, and assign to it an agency and an honor due only to the Holy Spirit; and those who make it a sin remitting institution mistake the symbol for the substance, and ascribe to the water what is due only to faith in the blood of Christ. It cannot be doubted by any intelligent and unbiased reader of history that great injury has been done to Christianity by the unscriptural and extravagant importance attached to its ordinances and to ecclesiastical authority and discipline. By multitudes the church has been substituted for Christ, and churchianity for Christianity.

On the other hand, Baptistic principles, if true, should not be undervalued. They are a part of a divine system, of transcendent importance, and are essential to its harmony and perfection. A church composed exclusively of spiritual members, or of persons who make a credible profession of piety, is the fittest symbol of heaven and the most suitable school in which to train the enjoyment of its bliss and glory. The change of immersion to sprinkling deprives the ordinance of its fitness to represent the death unto sin and the resurrection unto life, experienced by every proper subject of it, and of the copious measure of the Spirit in which the apostles and the early Christians were baptized. In short, these principles were, we think, designed, and are pre-eminently adapted, to prevent the union of the church and the world?one of the sorest curses under which mankind have groaned.

There is no cause to be ashamed of these principles. They are not congenial to the taste of the world. In most nations and in most communities they are unpopular. Immersion especially is held in undisguised contempt by many, particularly among the upper classes of Society. If, however, these principles are divine, they are wise, beneficent, and noble?worthy of our confidence and respect. Let men despise, if God approves them. It was through reproach and fierce opposition that the gospel gained its early and its most glorious triumphs. Our fathers maintained their principles amid scorn, persecution, and sufferings; and we should prove ourselves degenerate Sons, if we were ashamed of truths in which they gloried and for which they extorted respect from a gainsaying and reluctant world.

Believing these principles, Baptists are solemnly bound to defend them. They have always had, and probably to the dawn of the millennium will continue to have opponents. Learning, eloquence, wealth, fashion, taste the interests and influence of large and powerful Christian denominations, and the authority and resources of hierarchies venerable for age and renowned for their works, are arrayed against them in serried ranks; while their advocates are comparatively few, poor, and feeble. If these principles had not been indestructible, they had long ago perished. It is ordained by the God of truth that they who know it shall defend it. "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3) was an inspired direction to the primitive disciples?an injunction obligatory on Christians to the present day. They should contend, not harshly, inopportunely, or indiscreetly, but bravely, kindly, candidly, wisely, and persistently, for "the faith once delivered unto the saints"?for every article of it, with due regard to its comparative value.

Baptists are bound, not only to defend, but to disseminate their principles. Christianity is in its very nature aggressive. It is in essential antagonism with the maxims, customs, aims, and practices of the world. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The command of the risen Jesus to his apostles was: "Go, teach all nations." That law is of wide import. It requires that all mankind shall be instructed in the doctrine and precepts of Christianity; and in the faithful performance of this service, the inculcation of the important principles under consideration cannot be omitted. This is an abiding law of Christ. The gospel was given to the apostles, in trust for their successors?not their official successors, for they had none but their successors in faith, spirit, aims, labors, and usefulness?their true successors?"alway, even to the end of the world." Baptists should teach their distinctive principles in their families, in their Sunday schools, in their pulpits, and in the world?by pen, and by tongue, and by type, and by every means which Divine Providence may place within their reach.

Especially are Baptists bound to exemplify and commend their principles in their lives and in the discipline of their churches. The whole value of these principles lies in their power to make individual Christians more spiritual and churches more devout, liberal, and efficient if, tried by tests, they are found wanting, it is sad for those who boast of them. Baptists and Baptist churches are not what they ought to be, and not what, under better culture, we trust they will become; but their principles present an insuperable barrier to that blending of the church and the world, which abolishes all wholesome ecclesiastical discipline, secularizes the church, and converts it into an agency for the promotion of worldly ambition and the indulgence of intolerant bigotry. No hierarchy can be organized on Baptist principles. Those who have been immersed on a solemn profession of their death to sin and their resurrection to a new life should so walk, in sobriety, righteousness, and piety, as to prove the genuineness of their profession. A selfish, worldly, undevout Baptist is a disgrace to his name. Baptist churches should be careful to maintain a scriptural discipline, making due allowance for ignorance and infirmity, but by no means tolerating a persistence in sin. They should remember and put in force the solemn admonition of the apostle: "But I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" (1 Cor. 5:11.) This prohibition had reference to church fellowship, as appears by the limitation made to it in the context: "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators; yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:9, 10.) Christians should eschew ecclesiastical association with the ungodly, but cannot wholly avoid social intercourse with them.

What ground, it may be asked, is there to hope for the ultimate triumph of Baptist principles? None, if they be not true; but, if true, their final success is secured by the immutable purpose and the unfailing promise of the living God. Truth is mighty and will prevail. We are permitted, however, to see signs of their progress and of their increasing influence. Wherever there is an open Bible and religious toleration, there Baptist principles, to a greater or less extent, prevail. They are written, as with a sunbeam, by the Spirit of inspiration. By means of ingenious translations, learned commentaries, plausible arguments, and the force of early religious training, they may be concealed or perverted; but many who read the Scriptures with their own eyes, and with earnest prayer for divine guidance, will retch the conclusion that these principles are revealed in the Scriptures and are worthy of cordial acceptance.

Their prevalence among Pedobaptist denominations is a pleasing indication of their progressive power. Many intelligent and estimable members of Pedobaptist churches refuse to have their children baptized, and the supposed duty cannot be enforced by ecclesiastical authority. In spite of all the efforts made to cast odium on immersion, almost all Pedobaptist denominations are compelled to take their converts, to satisfy their consciences, to rivers, ponds, or Baptist fonts, for the administration of the ordinance. Nor is this tendency checked by an occasional instance of an irreverent and awkward administration of immersion, adapted, if not designed, to cast reproach on it. We think it a favorable indication of the progress of these principles that some Pedobaptists have run to the extreme of denying that immersion is baptism at all. It is an opinion contrary to the learning, history, and practice of the Christian world in all past ages, to which the advocates of pedorantism have been driven by their logical necessities. We decidedly prefer to combat the error on that line. It is a change of front, and indicative of conscious weakness on their part.

Our hope is, not that all the world will formally become Baptists but that the distinctive principles for which they plead will gradually permeate all Christian sects, and that there will be a universal return to apostolic principles in regard to Christian ordinances and church organization. Suppose all the evangelical sects were gradually to abandon infant baptism, return to the ancient practice of immersion, and adopt a discipline suited to spiritual churches?would it not be a great gain to the cause of truth? Many questions would doubtless arise in such a religious revolution that would perplex and trouble the most honest and earnest inquirers after truth and duty; but we need not discuss them now. All approximation to right principles and practices among the religious denominations should be hailed with delight, and receive due encouragement from the friends of an unadulterated Christianity.

Baptists should remain united, maintain their principles firmly and charitably, pray for the divine blessing on their efforts to advance his cause, and patiently wait for their dismission from the Master?s service.

 
 
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