Continuity of the Kingdom of Christ.
For the maintenance of the
inspiration of the prophets, as well as the divinity of Christ, the
Kingdom He set up must never be "broken to pieces," and
the church He built must have never been prevailed against by violence or
corruption?The true statement of what "Landmarkers"
mean by church succession, not "apostolic succession,"
nor the succession of any particular church or churches, etc.
"In the days of these kings
shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed;
neither shall it be given to another people; . . . it shall stand
forever" (Dan. 2:44).
"On this Rock will I
establish (Gr.) my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against
it" (Matt. 16:18).
receiving a kingdom that can not be moved," etc. (Heb. 12:28).
"The fall of a
kingdom is the disgrace of its founder."
Landmark Baptists very generally
believe that for the Word of the Living God to stand, and for the veracity of
Jesus Christ to vindicate itself, the kingdom which He set up "in the days
of John the Baptist," has had an unbroken continuity until now. I say
kingdom, instead of succession of churches, for the sake of perspicacity. Those
who oppose "church succession confuse the unthinking, by representing our
position to be, that the identical organization which Christ established?the
First Church of Judea?has had a continued existence until today; or, that the
identical churches planted by the apostles, or, at least, some one of
them, has continued until now, and that Baptist ministers are successors of the
apostles; in a word, that our position is the old Romish and Episcopal doctrine
of apostolic succession. I have, for full a quarter of a century, by pen and
voice, vehemently protested against these misrepresentations, as Baptists
have, for twice as many more, against the charge of teaching that no one can be
saved without immersion, an d quite as vainly; for those who oppose us seem
determined to misrepresent, and will not be corrected. We repudiate the doctrine
of apostolic succession; we do not believe they ever had a successor,
and, therefore, no one today is preaching under the apostolic commission any
more than under that which Christ first gave to John the Baptist. They are our
opposers who, in fact, hold to apostolic succession; for the majority do believe
that, if ministers, they are p reaching by the authority contained in that
commission! So much for this charge.
Nor have I, or any Landmarker
known to me, ever advocated the succession of any particular church or churches;
but my position is that Christ, in the very ?days of John the Baptist,"
did establish a visible kingdom on earth, and that this kingdom has never
yet been "broken in pieces," nor given to another class of
subjects?has never for a day "been moved," nor ceased from the
earth, and never will until Christ returns personally to reign over it; that the
organization He first set up, which John called "the Bride," and which
Christ called His church, constituted that visible kingdom, and today all His true
churches on earth constitute it; and, therefore, if His kingdom has
stood unchanged, and will to the end, He must always have had true and
uncorrupted churches, since His kingdom cannot exist without true churches.
The sense in which any existing
Baptist Church is the successor of the First Church of Judea?the model and
pattern of all?is the same as that existing between any regular organization
and the first such organization that was ever instituted. Ten thousand local
organizations of like nature may have existed and passed away, but this fact in
no wise affects the continuity of the organization. From the day that
organization was started, it has stood; and, though it may have decayed in some
places, it has flourished in others, and never has had but one beginning.
Thus it has been with that institution called the Kingdom of Christ; it has
had a continuous existence, or the words of Christ have failed; and, therefore,
there has been no need of originating it, de novo, and no
unbaptized man ever had any authority to originate baptism, or a church, de
novo. Nor can our opposers prove that a Baptist church exists today
started in this way. I understand that Christ?s declaration (Matthew 16:18),
and Paul?s statement (Heb. 12:28), are emphatic commentaries upon the prophecy
of Daniel (2:44).
We do not admit that it devolves
upon us more than upon every other lover of Jesus to prove, by uncontestable
historical facts, that this kingdom of the Messiah has stood from the day it was
set up by Him, unbroken and unmoved; to question it, is to doubt His sure word
of promise. To deny it, is to impeach His veracity, and leave the world without
a Bible or a Christ. We dare not do this. We believe that His kingdom has stood
unchanged as firmly as we believe in the divinity of the Son of God, and, when
we are forced to surrender the one faith, we can easily give up the other. If
Christ has not kept His promise concerning His church to keep it, how can
I trust Him concerning my salvation? If He has not the power to
save His church, He certainly has not the power to save me. For
Christians to admit that Christ has not preserved His kingdom unbroken, unmoved,
unchanged, and uncorrupted, is to surrender the whole ground to infidelity. I
deny that a man is a believer in the Bible who denies this.
Nor do we admit the claims of the
"Liberals" upon us, to prove the continuous existence of the church,
of which we are a member, or which baptized us, in order to prove our doctrine
of church succession, and that we have been scripturally baptized or ordained.
As well might the Infidel call upon me to prove every link of my descent from
Adam, before I am allowed to claim an interest in the redemptive work of Christ,
which was confined to the family of Adam! We point to the Word of God, and,
until the Infidel can destroy its authenticity, our hope is unshaken. In
like manner, we point the "Liberal" Baptist to the words of Christ,
and will he say they are not sufficient? When the Infidel can
prove, by uncontestable historical facts, that His kingdom has been
broken and removed one year, one day, or one hour from the earth, then we
surrender our Bible with our position.
The wire of the Atlantic Cable is
of peculiar formation, peculiarly insulated, and history informs us that several
years ago it was laid down across the entire ocean, from Valentia,
Ireland, to Newfoundland. I suppose there are persons who stoutly deny this as
quite improbable, if not impossible, and assert that I am foolish to believe it,
and even call upon me for proof of its continuity before they will
believe. I satisfy them that the wire cable that I trace from Valentia to
the ocean, and for a thousand miles along the plateau, where it
drops beyond my line, is the same with that which I find upon the plateau,
on this side of the deep soundings, and onward to the telegraph station at
Newfoundland. In addition, I satisfy them that the cipher of the message
started at Valentia is the same with that received at Newfoundland, on
this side, and that no other company on earth uses that peculiar cipher.
Furthermore, I convince them that the message received at this end of the
wire is precisely the same with that started at the other, and that there is no
other way conceivable by which the message could be transmitted. Still, those
persons refuse to believe unless I will trace the continuity of that wire
for the hundreds of miles of those almost soundless depths. What would the
candid world say of such a demand?
I can not forbear quoting a
paragraph from the reply of Bro. J. W. Smith to Albert Barnes: "Whatever is
found in the New Testament is as worthy as if you traced it there. It is
only a doubtful practice, whose thread must be traced thus carefully
through the labyrinth of history, with painful uncertainty, lest you reach its
end, while yet a century or two from Christ. Why, sir, if between us and the
apostolic age there yawned a fathomless abyss, into whose silent
darkness intervening history had fallen, with a Baptist Church on this side, and
a New Testament on the other, we should boldly bridge the gulf, and look for the
record of our birth among the hills of Galilee. But our history is not thus
lost. That work is in progress, which will link the Baptists of today
with the Baptists of Jerusalem" (p. 38).
I have no space to devote to the
historical argument to prove the continuity of the kingdom of Christ, but
assure the reader that, in our opinion, it is irrefragable. All that any
candid man could desire?and it is from Catholic and Protestant
sources?frankly admitting that churches, substantially like the Baptists of
this age have existed, and suffered the bitterest persecution from the earliest
age until now; and, indeed, they have been the only religious organizations that
have stood since the days of the apostles, and are older than the Roman Catholic
I am aware that such an opinion
has come to be scouted by our "Liberal" brethren in these days of
growing looseness and love of the praise of men, but I am sustained by standard
names among Baptists. J. Newton Brown, editor of Encyclopedia of Religious
Knowledge, a scholar who had given twenty-five years to the study of
history, maintained that "the ancient Waldenses, Cathari,
Paterines, and Donatists were our historical ancestors, and that a succession of
whom continued up to the Reformation."
Bro. Joseph Beleher says:
"It will be seen that the Baptists claim the high antiquity of the
commencement of the Christian church. They can trace a succession of those who
have believed the same doctrine, and administered the same ordinances, directly
up to the apostolic age" (Rel. Den. in Europe and America,
Bro. Howell says: "I assert
that from the days of the apostles to the present time, the true, legitimate
Baptist Church has ever been a missionary body" (Letters to Dr.
Watson, p. 3).
Benedict says: "The more I
study the subject, the stronger are my convictions that, if all the facts in the
case could be disclosed, a very good succession could be made out" (His.
Bap., p. 51).
I add to these Bra. W. R.
Williams, J. L. Waller, D. B. Ray, and Crump. Orchard has, beyond all question,
made out the succession, century by century, in various countries, in his
invaluable book, "A Chronological History of Baptist Churches."
"The Seven Churches of Revelation," in course of preparation by the
writer, will do this. Not those who affirm, but those who deny the
continuity of the kingdom of Christ, are to be pitied for their ignorance or
I quote, with pleasure, the
closing paragraph of that great national work, "The History of the Reformed
Church of the Netherlands," by Bro. J. J. Dermout, chaplain to the King of
Holland, and Professor Ypeig, Professor of Theology in the University of
Groningen?both distinguished Presbyterians. They certainly could
have no object, save fealty to the truth of history, to pen a line favorable to
Baptists, and no motive but scholarly honesty, to concede to Baptists a church
existence far anterior to their own, and that of the Catholic. They say:
"We have now seen that the
Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and, in later times, Mennonites,
were the original Waldenses and who, even from the most ancient times, have
received such well deserved homage. On this account, the Baptists may be
considered as of old?the only religious community which has continued from the
times of the apostles?as a Christian society which has kept pure, through all
ages, the evangelical doctrines of religion. The uncorrupted inward and outward
condition of the Baptist community affords proof of the truth, contested by the
Romish church, of the great necessity of a reformation of religion, such as that
which took place in the sixteenth century, and also, a refutation of the
erroneous notion of the Roman Catholics, that their denomination is the most
ancient" (Trans. by Prof. Tobey in South. B.
Review, vol. v, p. 20).
in his "History of the Voudois Church," i.e., those
who were the ancient Waldenses, says: "The Voudois church is a link that
unites them to the primitive church. By means of it they establish the anterior
existence of their constitution, doctrine, and worship to that of the papistical
idolatries and errors" (Bap. Suc., p. 547).
Theodore Beza, the successor of
Calvin, Presbyterian, says: "As for the Waldenses, I may be
permitted to call them the very seed of the primitive and purer Christian church,
since they are those that have been upheld, as is abundantly manifested,
by the wonderful providence of God; so that neither those endless storms
and tem pests, by which the whole Christian world has been shaken for so
many succeeding ages, and the western parts, at length so
miserably oppressed by the bishops of Rome, falsely so called, nor
those horrible persecutions, which have been expressly raised against
them, were ever able so far to prevail as to make them bend or yield
a voluntary subjection to the roman tyranny and idolatry" (Jones?
Church History, p. 353).
Whatever the enemies of Christ
may say ?and they are His real enemies, who disbelieve His plain
statements?His kingdom has stood unshaken, and will stand as a monument to His
faithfulness, His power, and His veracity until He comes again.
where are kings and empires now,
Of old, that went and came?
But, Lord, thy church is praying yet,
A thousand years the same.
not like kingdoms of this world,
Thy holy church, O God!
Though earthquake shocks are threat?ning her,
And tempests are abroad,
as eternal hills
Immovable she stands;
A mountain that shall fill the earth,?
A house not made with hands."
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