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BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 2?CHAPTER 9.

Obligations of Baptists to Teach Their Principles.

BY REV. J. B. GAMBRELL, D. D.

 

Speaking of a Christian, an able writer says: "It is by the truths of the divine word that he is to expand and strengthen his intellect; it is these which he is to convert into principles, that are to form the substratum and basis of his character; that are to purify his heart and regulate his conduct."

These apt and forceful words furnish a good text for a discourse on the importance of exegetical preaching. It is the design of the Scriptures to furnish truths which will, if received, expand the intellect, enrich the heart, formulate doctrines, settle the foundations of life, regulate the conduct, and mould the character. Character is the end of the process, the ripe fruit of all teaching and all grace. It is a powerful proof of the divinity of the Bible that, amid the conflicts of the ages, even with all the indifferent handling of priests and partisans, it has steadily advanced every people who have given it a chance to elevate and guide them. The Bible is today the very core of the highest civilization the world knows. It is the fountain-head of all that is best in literature, in art, in song, in law, in sociology, in human life, whether in the palace or the cottage. It holds the same place in civilization given it by Burns in that noblest of all the poems in the English tongue, "The Cotter?s Saturday Night."

The burden of revelation is Jesus Christ. From the fall onward, the pages of the Bible are illuminated with promises, all pointing to the coming of the Restorer of all things. The scheme of restoration, evolved with more and more clearness through the ages, contemplates the elevation of man to kinship with God. This elevation was to come through the acceptance of truth, which is the world?s only liberator. But truth was to be evermore connected, not with the intellect only, but with the spirit also. God seeketh such to worship him as worship in spirit and truth. Not spirit alone, not truth alone, but both together, binding heart and mind to God.

A proper study of this divine method of delivering the race from the slavery of error into real liberty must deeply impress us with the necessity of spiritual preaching, as well as of the transcendent importance of doctrinal preaching. In some quarters there has grown up a strong and hindering prejudice against the preaching of "dry doctrine." The trouble does not lie in the doctrine, but in the dry preaching of it. Dry preachers have turned the very bread of heaven into stones, and not a few have found no better use for the stones after they are made than to cast at their theological adversaries. Much of the doctrinal preaching is not only distastefully dry, but distressingly gritty. We can scarcely wonder that hungry souls turn away from a ministry which preaches predestination without pathos, election without grace, baptism without its sublime spiritual meaning, communion without sensibility, and all duty without beauty.

A Deplorable Reaction

The reaction from what has just been described is no better, possibly some degrees worse. There be many who discredit doctrine entirely. They have gone away into the mists of mere sentimentalism. Feeling is everything, teaching nothing. This notion is at the bottom of modern revivalism of the sensational order. It abounds in clap-trap, and after a community has been swept by it, by-and-by, when the revivalist has gone, nothing substantial remains. There is no substratum of truth upon which the converts can stand. I do not undervalue evangelism.. The true evangelist is a gift from Christ, and two signs go with him?he preaches in the Spirit and he preaches God?s revealed truth. By these signs he may be known with infallible certainty. The cure for both evils named is a return to biblical preaching, both as to spirit and substance. And this it behooves Baptists to do, even more than other people; for Baptists are nothing without the Bible, and will go to nothing, if they have not the unifying and guiding power of the Spirit among them. They are committed unreservedly to the voluntary principle in religion. They have no human authority over them. Their only hope of unity is in the spirit and the truth.

Leading up to the main features of the discussion in hand, as a kind of background for what is to follow, I here enter a plea for doctrinal preaching in the spirit of Christ and the apostles. Perhaps it would be well to enter a plea for a return to such preaching, for many pulpits have followed the drivel of the age a long way from the solid teaching of the New Testament. In the first place, there needs to be created in many Baptist churches a spiritual hospitality for doctrinal teaching. There is in not a few churches a truce with surroundings. Alliances with peoples of defective and alien doctrinal views have become a real hindrance to honest, thorough-going New Testament teaching on doctrines about which there are differences of opinion. It has come to pass that some preachers are following public opinion. rather than teaching and leading it. There is scarcely a sorrier spectacle in the world than a man, with a commission from the King Eternal to herald his everlasting truth, secretly taking counsel of Mrs. Grundy as to what he shall say. It is preeminently the function of the pulpit to mould and lead thought, so that the thoughts of the people shall be God?s thoughts. Until people think right, they will not act right. As Baptist principles are peculiar to Baptists, every Baptist church, with all its appointments, from preacher to Sunday-school teacher, ought to stand, in the community where it holds forth the word, for something different from any other congregation. When a Baptist church thinks of itself as just one of the churches in a community, with no mission above others, it has become a very weak affair.

We may invigorate our faith and renew our courage by reflecting that divine power has always attended the preaching of doctrine, when done in the true spirit of preaching. Great revivals have accompanied the heroic preaching of the doctrines of grace, predestination; election, and that whole lofty mountain range of doctrines upon which Jehovah sits enthroned, sovereign in grace as in all things else. God honors the preaching that honors him. There is entirely too much milk-sop preaching nowadays, trying to cajole sinners to enter upon a trace with their Maker, quit sinning, and join the church. The situation does not call for a truce, but for a surrender. Let us bring out the heavy artillery of heaven, and thunder away at this stuck-up age as Whitfield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Paul did, and there will be many slain of the Lord raised up to walk in newness of life.

People, after all, want to hear preaching with substance in it. The truth was made for human hearts as certainly as bread was made for human mouths. A ministry strong and tender, true to the Word of God, will never be a slighted ministry. I am deeply convinced that there should be a return to doctrinal preaching, taking care to keep clear of the faults of the professional religious pugilist. This is true with respect to doctrine in general; it is specially true of doctrines which Baptists are peculiarly bound to hold aloft before the world.

Truth A Trust

Truth is a trust. Whoever has it has it, not for himself simply, but for the world. Paul regarded himself a trustee of the gospel. The whole world were beneficiaries of the trust. From his day till now there has been a succession in the trusteeship. The apostle, with a spiritual thrift and economy taught him by the Spirit of God, committed the truth to faithful men, with instructions for them, in their turn, to do likewise, that the truth might never fail among men to the end of time. Baptists are peculiarly in the succession of trusteeship. When they were few and despised, without papers, colleges, or even the common rights of men, they felt the solemn obligations of trusteeship. They saw, under the gloom of spiritual ignorance surrounding them, certain great principles taught in the Word of God, held them aloft amid the dust and smoke of mighty spiritual conflicts, and sealed their devotion to diem in martyr fires. These principles spring out of the New "Testament, and are for the guidance of the race to the highest destiny fixed in the mind of God.

All real progress in the world is along the line of these principles. They are intended and are suited to develop the highest type of manhood. They greaten the individual, by forming his character after that of Jesus Christ, who was the world?s one complete man, its most perfect gentleman, its truest and best citizen. Great States cannot be constructed of little people. A little man, narrow in his views of human rights and possibilities, narrow in his sympathies, without noble thoughts, can never make a great anything. And an aggregation of such people will make a State no better than the average of them. Herein lies the explanation of the differences between Catholic and Protestant countries. Nations have progressed as they have given hospitality to the great principles for which Baptists stand. That is only another way of saying that nations have risen in proportion as they have become genuinely Christian, and they have become Christian as they have accepted the teachings of the New Testament.

Rapid Progress

Within the last hundred years the world has made more progress than in 1,000 before. The century just closing has been preeminently a Baptist century. During this time, the principles for which they stand have had something like fair play, and have been widely, and in many cases unconsciously, accepted. They have, like leaven, worked a change in the thought of ail the leading nations of the earth. They have emancipated the minds of men and opened the door of knowledge to all mankind. They have put out the martyr fires over nearly the whole world. Those who do not yet accept them in full feel the passion of their power as they work their way to the seat of power everywhere?the conscience of the masses. That was a splendid tribute to the power of the masses, enlightened and blessed by the Word of God, the London Times inadvertently paid when it opposed taking President Kruger a prisoner. This exponent of public opinion and Tory politics said: "The Non-conformist conscience of England would revolt at the picture of President Kruger a prisoner, sitting with the Bible open on his knee." Keeping clear of the political aspects of the case, the Times is to be congratulated on its clearness of vision. That open Bible is properly associated with the whole history of human freedom. Before Luther or Calvin or Knox, before modern Protestantism was born, Baptists stood for the right of a man to have a Bible open on his knee, and for the further right to read it, and, looking to God for guidance, walk in its commandments, as he understood them. The right to read the Scriptures, the right to interpret them, the right to obey them, Baptists have always held to be inalienable rights, belonging to every human being alike. This doctrine lies at the fountain-head of all modern enlightenment and progress. It correlates with the principle of individualism in religion, and this principle has its application in many directions. It finds expression in the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees religious liberty to every one. It goes to the very, foundations of the vast superstructure of proxy religion, and is rapidly working the destruction of the whole vicious system. Individualism means that every one must read, think, and act for himself. Sponsors are passing away, with many other inventions of Rome. Infant baptism must and will go down before the great principle of individualism taught in the New Testament and held by Baptists; for, if it is the believer?s duty to be baptized, it is not somebody?s, business to have him baptized nolens volens, when he knows nothing. With the destruction of infant baptism, the corner-stone of popery disappears, and the religious life of humanity is rid of an enormous incubus.

Individualism and the Priesthood of Believers.

Individualism correlates with the priesthood of all believers. Let it be known that every man may for himself, at all times, anywhere, come to a throne of grace and find pardon, peace, and life eternal, and the whole vast system of priestcraft receives its death blow. Freedom to read God?s Word, freedom to worship God as he feels he should, freedom to act for himself in religious matters, freedom to go to God for himself for wisdom and all spiritual blessing without the intervention of a human priest or preacher, complete the disenthrallment of the man and put him in the shining way of all blessings.

The value of these principles goes further. The disappearance of the priest makes way for the preacher, whose business is to open the Scriptures to the minds and hearts of men. His work is to educate the conscience and move the heart to obey the commands of God. The preacher is the mightiest human force in the world. He is the forerunner of civilization. He is the most effective reformer known to men. His power lies in his message. The word of God, which is quick and powerful, he lays on the hearts of the people. When the priest, with all his flummery, retires, the preacher has an open field for his great work, and the priest has nothing to do, when the doctrine of individualism is accepted.

I will not go into other phases of the subject at any great length. The all-sufficiency of the Scriptures as a guide in religion is a cardinal principle with Baptists. This eliminates the authority of councils, popes, synods, conferences, bishops, etc. It gives no place to history as a supplement to the teaching of the Bible. It shuts the world up to take the law from the mouth of God. Here we stand, and on this principle will settle all questions. Baptists are immersionists, not for the sake of immersion, but because it is a command. They are close communionists, not because they do not love other people, but because the Scriptures fix the place and order of the table. They are congregationalists, because the Scriptures fix the nature and order of New Testament churches.

The world wants and sorely needs a center of unity. That center is the Word of God. The more it is preached in its fullness, the quicker will Christian union be realized.

I must not prolong the discussion. Our obligations to teach the principles long held by Baptists grow out of our obligation to God, and also to men. God has put His highest glory among men in his word. The first purpose of the gospel is to glorify God. The angels first sang "Glory to God in the highest." Every principle of the gospel reflects the glory of its author. If we would honor God, we must stand for his truth. As trustees of his truth, we are under every obligation known to the redeemed to see that the truth is faithfully preached.

Our obligations are to men, also. Their highest good is wrapped up in the principles of the gospel. The more truth one has, the richer he is. The more he walks in the truth, the happier and more useful he is. Error is not good enough for any one. We bless the world in proportion as we disseminate sound principles. To fail in this is to default in a trust.

The marvelous progress of Baptist principles during the last 100 years ought to inspire us to renewed faithfulness in proclaiming them. They have been largely accepted by other denominations, though they still maintain a separate line of policy, but with ever-increasing weakness. Few Methodists now will defend some of the early teachings of Wesley. The conservative Presbyterians, repudiate some of Calvin?s doctrines. Infant baptism is gradually passing away. The Romish reason for it, though strong traces of it are found in Pedobaptist standards, is now generally reprobated.

The great Baptist principle of religious liberty is taking the world, and its correlative, separation of Church and State, is following in its wake. Individualism in religion has made wonderful progress even in Catholic countries and in the Catholic communion, while it has nearly completed its conquest in some Protestant communions.

The work, so encouraging today, ought to be pressed to a finish. We live in tremendous times. The truth never had so fair a field for conquest. Baptists were never so well equipped to wage an aggressive campaign. In the language of another, "with malice toward none, with charity for all," let us complete the work we are in and fulfil our solemn obligations to God and to men.

 
 
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