Fundamentals of the Faith
By William Dudley Nowlin, D.D., LL.D.
1922


CHAPTER V

INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

Every Normal Human Being Is Directly Responsible to God; has the Capacity for and the
Right of Spiritual Worship — None Coming Between God and Man Save the God-Man.

Individual responsibility to God is a New Testament fundamental. The genius of the whole system is such that this doctrine is inescapable, inexorable. The doctrine of “soul-liberty” is, on the other hand, destructive to any system and all systems of religion which fail to recognize individual responsibility to God.

The New Testament proceeds upon the principle that every normal human being has the capacity for and the right to spiritual worship and direct relations with God; and that no man has the right to come between a man and his God. These are Baptist Fundamentals. This, of course, is destructive to “proxy” religion, that is, religious acts performed by one person for another, whether it be baptism or other acts. The first New Testament Baptist preacher —John the Baptist— emphasized the doctrine of individualism when he said: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Parental goodness, even parental covenant relationship to God, is not sufficient; the relation to God must be individual and personal.

“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:9, 10). Perhaps John had never heard the old saying, “Every tub stands on its own bottom,” but he was teaching that principle, nevertheless. John’s statement is in harmony with these other New Testament statements, “To his own Master he standeth or falleth,” and “so then every one of us must give account of himself to God.

No recognition there of proxy religion!

Individual responsibility implies individual ability for where there is no ability there is no responsibility. This responsibility, too, implies freedom of choice in thought and in conduct; and that freedom of choice in conduct implies non-interference and non-coercion in matters of religion, for coercion destroys freedom of choice. This doctrine —individual responsibility— has made Baptists the inveterate opponents of union of church and state; has forbidden them to persecute people of different faith, and made them to contend for, to suffer for, to die for religious liberty throughout the Christian era.

The things that go to make up religion are individual matters. Repentance is individual, and the results of the act can accrue only to the individual who performs the act. Upon repentance momentous consequences hang, but the consequences of repentance are promised only to the person Who repents.

What is true of repentance is true of faith, and what is true of repentance and faith is true of baptism. There isn’t a case of proxy baptism in the New Testament, not even (1 Cor. 15: 29) where it says “baptized for the dead.” This does not teach that a living person was baptized in the place of a dead person who died without baptism, as shown in another chapter, but baptized with reference to the resurrection of the dead, as the connection in the argument clearly shows. Baptists contend as did Peter (Acts 5: 29), “We ought to obey God rather than men.” History is gory with the blood of Baptist martyrs because of a failure, on the part of the powers that be, to recognize the doctrine of “soul liberty” or individual responsibility to God. Many jails in Europe and America have been made historic because of Baptist persecutions.

Take the following from “The People Called Baptists” (page 49), for example: “Baptists contend that there can be no coercion in matters pertaining to conscience. God himself does not free men. Religion is purely voluntary. The civil power can make a nation of hypocrites and infidels, but not one Christian. What havoc has been wrought by a disregard of this principle! Calvin burned Servetus at the stake near Geneva and Melancthon approved the crime. Luther persecuted the Baptists of Germany. Louis X1V revoked the edict of Nantes, closed all the Protestant churches, and outlawed the Hugenots. No sooner had the Netherlands repelled Philip II and the Catholic persecution than the Protest ants turned upon each other. The Calvinists, led by Prince Maurice, executed the venerable John Barneveldt, and condemned to life imprisonment her greatest historian, Hugo Grotius, upon the charge that he supported religious toleration. England kept John Bunyan twelve years in prison because he would not conform to the established worship. The most shameful chapter of American history is that which records the persecutions of Baptists for conscience sake. In Massachusetts, Obadiah Holmes was whipped on Boston Common; Clark was imprisoned and Roger Williams was banished. In Connecticut the choicest lands of the Baptists were sold to build a church and support a ministry in which they did not believe. In Virginia they imprisoned Lewis Craig in Spotsylvania, Wi11iam Webber in Chesterfield, James Greenwood in King and Queen, John Shakleford in Essex, John Waller in Middlesex, and John Ireland at Culpeper for preaching the gospel. Yea, they confiscated the property of Baptists to support a worldly and profligate ministry of the (Episcopalian) establishment. The Baptists have ever fearlessly denounced the unholy union of Church and State and proclaimed the right of every man to worship God as he chooses. Their principles will not allow them to persecute. They have never shed any blood but their own, nor can they ever shed blood if they have the power. The moment one began to persecute, that moment he would cease to be a Baptist.’’

Baptists have a glorious history behind them, a glorious heritage about them, and a glorious opportunity before them. Will we, by God’s grace, prove worthy of our glorious past and equal to our promising future?