BAPTIST FAITH AND PRACTICE
By Rev. Thomas Armitage, D.D. , N.Y.
We desire to hear from thee with thou thinkest, for as
concerning this sect,
we know that everywhere it is spoken against Acts 28:22.
Paul had been brought to Rome, a prisoner in chains; he was poor and friendless, and charged with being a ring-leader in "the sect of the Nazarenes." His enemies had inveterate prejudices against him, because he was an abettor of the claims of Jesus. Still, knowing also his great intellectual power, his refinement of manner, purity of motive, and spotlessness of character, they professed it willingness to hear him plead the cause of Christ before they condemned it, or judged him. This seemed manly. There is an air of equality, fairness and candor about their words, "we desire to hear from thee," which commends the men who uttered them. And this was all that the Apostle asked. Give him an impartial hearing, in order to a right judgment in the matter, and then, if they rejected both him and his religion, he could do no more. A man of one religion pays poor compliment to a man of another, and a poorer to his own, when he cannot, or dare not, investigate the religion of his fellow man; but to refuse him a frank hearing, betrays conscious weakness.
The Christians held tenets and practices in wide distinction from both Jews and pagans, but what difference did that make to either of them? These "Nazarenes" injured no man, friend or foe, in his property, character or person. They were gentle in spirit, and harmless in life. They were not "fornicators, or covetous, or railers, or drunkards, or extortioners." They were poor but not morose, and instead of being dangerous, or even burdensome to the community, they went about doing good, and at the same time, "ministered to their own necessities" by hard labor. Why, then, were they " everywhere spoken against?" Could not calumny and reproach let them alone? Why should hate be stirred to its depths, because truth and its supremacy sanctified the heart and life of its disciples ? Certainly, there was no cause here for the hiss of proscription, and men reproached them, either in ignorance of their principles, or despite their better knowledge. In either case they were inexcusable. If they were ignorant, they could have had light by asking for it, and if they knew better, then they did violence to their own manhood. The fact is, that they were not so ignorant as they seemed to be, but the evidences of Christianity had silenced their reasoning, and overwhelmed them in shme; so that, in malice they came to berate that to which they could not reply. This trick was considerably older than themselves, and has long outlived them. Since the days of Paul, Christians are divided into sects quite as much us the Jews were in his day. These in some principles and practices, are wide apart. The lamentable consequence is, that alienations have sprung up, which subject, sometimes one sect and sometimes another, sometimes one doctrine and sometimes another, to denunciation. Then follows the unlovely and unlicensed charge of "bigot" and "fanatic," "heretic" and "schismatic." All this is followed in turn by the unmitigated evil of misrepresenting and distorting each other's views and positions; of subjecting each other to unfounded reports and misrepresentations of opinion and practice, descending sometimes, even to caricature, greatly to each other's prejudice, if not to the point of direct falsehood. In all charity, this renders it pretty evident that one body of Christians is content to remain wilfully ignorant of the tenets and practices of others, and of their reasons therefor. Indeed, it is a very rare thing to find a man of one sect, who could, if he honestly tried, write a formula of the faith of another sect, which his Christian neighbor would be willing to subscribe to, as a correct exhibit of his own principles and practices. Nor can you wonder at this, when you consider how few there are who can give an intelligent exposition of their own principles, and their reasons for cherishing them. So, then, I am sorry to say, most of the Christian denominations speak of each other, either in ignorance, or prejudice, in something, or somewhere. Now, is there any sense or manliness, not to say true religion, in this state of things? Can we not frankly, without ill-natured controversy, calmly, without disturbed passion, and freely, without restraint, explain to each other what we hold, and why? And then, if we fail to see alike, we shall mutually respect each other's convictions. Let me make an honest attempt to do this, on the Baptist side of the house. Of course it will be impossible for me to give you all the reasons for what we believe and do, in one address; this would require volumes. I must be content, therefore, with telling you what we believe and do, without giving the reasons.
You all know, to begin with, that as a sect we have the unenviable distinction of being " everywhere spoken against"; for we are not honored in one place, and subjected to obloquy in another-- the detraction is pretty evenly spread. Perhaps it does us no injury, as "a prophet has no honor in his own country," but that makes it no easier to bear; rather a little harder, because a Baptist prophet has none either there or anywhere else. This may be a true sign of prophethood; I do not deny that, but I do deny that we enjoy proscription because we find that it is refreshing. Even this prejudice makes us the more anxious to be understood by others, as we understand ourselves. We hold, then, to these three great foundation principles, namely:
1. That the book called the Bible is given by the inspiration of God, and is the only rule of Christian, faith and practice. The consequence is, that we have no creeds, nor catechisms, nor decretals, which bind us by their authority. We think a creed worth nothing, unless it is supported by Scriptural authority, and if the creed is founded on the word of God, we do not see why we should not rest on that word which props up the creed; we prefer to go back directly to the foundation itself and rest there alone. If it is able to sustain us, we need nothing else, and if it is not, then we cannot rest upon a creed to support us when that creed has no support for itself. Some of our churches have what they call " Declarations," or " Articles of Faith," which are mere statements of what they think that the Bible teaches, but they are not put forth by any theological or ecclesiastical authority, and therefore do not bind the consciences of the churches. Some of our churches have no such" Articles" or" Declarations," because they .find no need for them, and those who use them do not all use the same. Our churches hold that Jesus Christ is the only Law-giver, and the only King in Zion; that his law is laid down in the Scriptures, and is perfect: and, therefore, they refuse to follow all forms of tradition and ecclesiastical ordinations whatever, bowing only to the behests of Inspired precept, and the recorded practices of the apostolic churches, as their record is found in the Scriptures.
2. Baptists hold that God has given to every person the right to interpret the Scriptures for himself. As we cannot be Baptists without the Bible, we must know personally for ourselves, what order of obedience it requires at our hands. To give up one of these positions is to give up both. But do not mistake me here, as to what we mean by private judgment, as a divine right. We do not think that men are at liberty to think of the Bible or not, to obey it or not, just as they please. But we think that they are bound to use their judgment, and to govern it, by the facts and truths of the Bible. The liberty that we claim, is not to follow our own fancies, or predilections, in investigating the Bible, not merely to speculate upon it, and then diverge from its teachings if we choose to do so, because that would be criminal trifling. The right to investigate the truth does not carry with it the right to disobey it, or to doubt it,-that would convert the doctrine into rebellion against its author, which is an evil, and cannot become a right. God allows every man to interpret the Bible for himself, in order that he may discover its facts and truths, and then honestly follow them in obedience. Hence, no church, or class of men In the church, call stop in between the personal investigations of the man and the Bible, to interpret it for him by authority.
3. That is man is responsible to God, and to him only, for his faith and practice, so far its the infliction of any punishment for disobedience to God is concerned. Right here we deny the right of the civil magistrate, or the State, either to prescribe a form of religion for us, or to punish us for not following any religion they may prescribe. This we call soul-liberty, a freedom which we have obtained at a great price; the rack, the dungeon, the "bloody tenet," the stake and the gibbet. Baptists have ever resisted the right of the State to establish the church bylaw, to tolerate the conformists of that church, and put its nonconformists under pains and penalties-- or to interfere with the free exercise of a man's religion, be it what it may. We may regret that all men are not Christians, and wish that they were, and we may wish that they held Christian principles as we hold them, but we have no right to enforce our doctrines by law, and others have no right to force their doctrines upon us by human statute. We hold that if a man chooses to be a Mohammedan, a Jew, a Pagan, a Roman Catholic, a Protestant or an Infidel, he has a right to be that, so far as the civil law is concerned. Therefore, all persecution for the maintenance of this or that religion is radically wrong. And where Baptists have founded a State, or been the most numerous in a State, there has never been an act of persecution inflicted. The State of Rhode Island was founded by Baptists 240 years ago, and in that State no man has yet been persecuted for his religion by the civil power. And the same liberty which we claim for ourselves, we are bound to claim for others. For if their rights can be taken away, ours may be also. When a Baptist shall rob one man of soul-liberty, by statute, penalty and sword, he will cease to be a Baptist for that reason Baptists have even sealed this great doctrine of soul-liberty with their blood. Their bones are bleaching everywhere in the Alpine valleys, amongst the eternal snows ; their ashes have flitted over the pavements of Smithfield, on the winds for centuries. The sighs and sobbings of Baptist sufferers haunt the "coal hole " of Lambeth Palace, and the dungeons in Lollard's Tower to this day. In the long list of martyrs. Arnold of Bresica, the star of Italy, Jerome of Prague, the most accomplished man of his day, and Hubmeyer of Ratisbon, sealed this doctrine with their blood. And then there followed them men in humbler walks, the good Hans of Overdam, the beautiful young Dosie of Leeuwarden, and Richard Woodman, the sturdy yeoman; all these shed their blood as its witnesses. Baptist women also have sent up their shrill cry of martyrdom, till the blood of humanity has curdled at the heart. One sharp shriek after another comes, rending the air of the ages, from these brides of Christ, Maria of Monjou, Ann Askew, from the nobility of the British realm, Elizabeth Gaunt, a mother in Christian charity, and Joan Boucher, the heroine of Canterbury. Out of their very ashes, which crumbled at the stake, joint by joint and limb by limb, God has raised up modern Baptists, as from the dead, to re-assert the doctrine of soul-liberty.
You will readily see that out of these three great principles, spring up:
1. The doctrine of church independency. Hence, the Baptist denomination is not a church, but a body of churches. That is to say, each church or congregation is entirely independent of each other church or congregation, in all that relates to its government. Every separate Baptist church chooses its own minister and other officers, receives and dismisses its own members, makes its own rules and regulations, and is sovereign in its self-control throughout. Baptists have no legislative, judicial, nor executive body, known as a convocation, conference, council or synod. A body of churches voluntarily organize themselves into an association, but simply for fraternal and missionary purposes. Associations have no power over the churches, each church governing itself on democratic principles, and being as free from outside interference as so many private families, in this or any other city. The next result of these principles is:
2. A regenerated church membership. No person can become a member of a Baptist church, till he professes to have found the remission of his sins, by faith in the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many fall into the mistake that, in some way or other, we are sacramentarians; that is, that we associate the moral renovation of the soul with baptism and the Lord's Supper. This is a sad mistake. We believe that man cannot be" born from above, or made a new creature," excepting by the sovereign influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart, leading the sinner to accept the benefits of Christ's atonement, by faith, to the free justification of his soul. Then, when he is regenerated, or as the word means, generated again, we accept him as a fit subject for baptism. In that act, he professes his faith in Christ as his present Saviour. So far from baptizing a man, in order that his soul may be regenerated thereby, we administer it to him because he is already regenerated by the Spirit of God. We say to him, "You have no right to baptism till you are ` born again,' till you have a new heart, and are made a temple of the Holy Spirit. All the waters on the globe, and all the religious services that may be used in connection with water, cannot cleanse your soul of one stain or blot which sin has left. But now that you are regenerated from above, it is your duty to be baptized, and your privilege to be baptized, and by that act to declare that you are already a renewed man. And because you are now `dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto righteousness,' you 'must be buried with Christ in baptism:' just as Christ was first buried in the waters of the Jordan, and then in the tomb of Joseph; that like as ho was raised again by the glory of the father, even so should ye walk in newness of life." This is the doctrine of baptism as Paul preaches it in the sixth chapter of Romans, and this is the reason that we immerse men, because when men are "buried," they are covered in the tomb. This is what we understand by burying a believer " with Christ in baptism." You will see therefore, that we must
3. Reject infant baptism. An infant, we think, cannot be brought to the Lord's baptism, any more properly than it can be brought to the Lord's supper. It cannot discern the import of the Lord's baptism, any more than it can discern the Lord's body, therefore, it cannot show forth the significancy of one, any more than it can the significancy of the other. [t is a subject for neither ordinance. On this point the North British Review exactly expresses our views when it says: "Scripture knows nothing of the baptism of infants. There is absolutely not a single trace of it to be found in the New Testament. The recognized baptism of the ancient church was that of adults." But we do not rest there, on this subject. Professor Lange, of Jena, who is not a Baptist, expresses our views more fully, when he says : " Would the Protestant church fulfill and attain to its final destiny, the baptism of infants must of necessity be abolished." Now this learned man thinks that infant baptism should be abolished, if Protestantism would reach its "final destiny." But he does not give us his reasons for thinking so. Our own views on the same subject are these:-It seems to us that infant baptism is in conflict with the great doctrine of the atonement of Christ. We believe that if an infant dies, it is saved by the virtue of Christ's blood-shedding, and not by a few drops of water, nor an ocean full. It looks to us, therefore, to be laying a great stress on water in salvation, to be christening the child in death, as well as to foster superstition ; as if the death of Jesus were not enough to save it, whereas in heaven, the ransomed babe will sing glory, and ascribe salvation "unto him who has washed us in his blood," and not to him who christened us. Then we think that infant baptism is a great evil and should be "abolished," because, if the christened child lives, his christening has introduced him into the visible church, and thereby corrupted the gospel simplicity of the church relation. The whole of the State churches of Europe are made up of persons who were christened as infants. No wonder that they are corrupt churches. When infant baptism makes all the population members of the church, that act blots out all lines of distinction between a converted church, and an unconverted world. But in those churches which are not established by law, but who still think that "the church is composed of believers and their baptized children," infant baptism corrupts the church relation. They do not pretend that the christening so renewed the child's moral nature as to make him a saint. But they do claim that it introduced him into the church. Yet, he is not under church obligations and discipline, and lie does not share church privileges, such as the Lord's slipper. So that infant baptism, as we see it, corrupts the church by introducing another sort of members into its fellowship, beside those who are converted to Christ. Then we hold that the christening of a child inflicts a serious injury upon him. It leaves the impression upon him, as he grows up, that in some way, he cannot tell how, he is sealed in a covenant to Christ, as other children are not; whereas, he finds himself just as wicked as other children. And then, if he ever wishes to make a profession of religion himself, it robs him of the right to that religious freedom, by which he can follow his own convictions of personal duty in baptism, without violating the covenant which his parents made for him, by repudiating their act of infant baptism. These principles lead us to put forth the ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper
4. Just where the Lord Jesus left them. There is no point on which we are more grievously misrepresented, and on which we are more severely spoken against, than that of the supper. Scarcely any form of denunciation against us, on this subject, seems to be thought too severe, even by otherwise lovely Christian people. And we are sure that these same persons would treat us very differently if we could get them to listen long enough to our views to understand us. At any rate, they would respect both our integrity and self-consistency in the matter, whether they adopted our views or not.
What are our views on this point?
1. The same as those of all regenerated churches, namely: that the supper is to be received only by those who have been converted and baptized. This is exactly our ground in common with them. But what they call baptism, we call a substitute for it, unless it be the burial of a believer upon his own confession of faith.
2. We hold that the eternal salvation of a man depends no more on the supper than on baptism. Bread and wine, taken in the supper, can bring no blessing to the soul that water in baptism fails to bring, and neither of them has anything to do with the bestowment of special grace from God. They are both of equal authority, both of equal solemnity, both of equal benefit, both symbolical acts, and nothing more. The first preaches Christ's burial and resurrection, the second "shows" his death till he comes. As we obey him in submitting to the first, so we preach him in partaking of the second They are monuments of Christ's great work, but not renovators of' the soul. Only the blood of the Lamb, and the Holy Spirit, can do that, and neither of the ordinances has anything to do with it-they are both for other purposes. The thief on the cross was saved without either baptism or the supper.
3. We hold that regeneration is the test of Christian character, and that that proves the unity of the real people of God, and not a place together at the Lord's table. No man could do a Baptist greater injustice, than to say that he unchristianizes all those with whom he cannot sit down at the table. A true Baptist believes that thousands and millions of his brethren, who belong to other churches, are holy in heart and life, nay, may be better than he is, in that respect. But he finds nothing in the Scriptures making a common seat at the table either a a proof of love amongst brethren, or a test of Christian character. There have been thousands, from the days of Judas Iscariot down, who have taken a seat at the table, without either love to Christ or his people, or the possession of Christian character. If I believed that the supper was intended to be a test of Christian fellowship between regenerated men, then I would go to the table with any converted man, whether ho had been baptized or not. But I believe nothing of the sort. So far from it, I neither regard it as a duty or privilege to sit down at the supper table with any other Baptist church, but that under whose watch-care I live. If we held the Lord's table to be what other Christian brethren who are not Baptists seem to regard it, we should practice what they do in regard to its observance, but we do not believe as they do about the question. As we understand the matter, we neither Christianize those that we sit down with, nor unchristianize those that we do not sit down with; but we simply preach Christ's death by a symbolical act, as a church, just as an individual would preach Christ verbally. Christian unity is shown when believers come to the "unity of the faith," not the table. When they are baptized into one body;" and called in "one hope of their calling" -- by regeneration, which adopts them into the family of God-or as Paul puts it, when they become members of Christ, "of his flesh, and of his bones "-and not when they sit side by side, and partake of bread from a harvest field, and wine from a vineyard. That is a very easy way of showing your love to each other. Two strangers may sit side by side, at the table, who never saw each other before, and never pass a word to each other, and will never meet again on earth. But what love have they shown to each other? That is a very cheap sort of love, I think. But the Christian love that the Bible talks about, as the test of Christian character and fellowship, is, according to James, to feed and clothe "a destitute brother or sister"; according to Paul, "to distribute to the necessities of saints, and in honor to prefer one another," for the strong to "bear the infirmity of the weak," "to bear each other's burdens," and so fulfill the law of Christ, -- to "pray for each other," "to forgive each other," "to edify each other," "to weep with them that weep, and rejoice with them that rejoice"-in a word, to "do good of every sort to them who are of the household of faith." John puts the test even higher than that, when he claims that we "ought to lay down our lives for the brethren," if need be. When a man can push these divine truths aside, and measure his love to Christians by his willingness to take a sip of wine and a morsel of bread with them, it seems to be worth his while to ask on his knees, whether it is setting up Christ's standard of discipleship and fellowship, or his own.
These are the views that Baptists hold. What is there in all this to justify men in speaking against us everywhere? L put that question to you in candor. I am happy to say to you, that there are some men who do not speak against its, and they are not Baptists. John Locke ought to know what lie was talking about, when he said, " The Baptists were from the beginning, the firm advocates of absolute liberty-just and trite liberty, equal and impartial liberty." Sir James McIntosh says, " The Baptists suffered more than any other, under CharIes II, because they professed the principles of religious liberty." Jeremy Taylor says, "Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists." Our own Washington used words just as affectionate; and in August, 1789, at the request of the Baptists, he recommended to Congress that amendment to the Constitution which says that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof." Bancroft, our great historian, and Judge Story, our great jurist, speak of us in the same manner. I can assure you that we never blush, when we remember that Milton and Bunyan, Sir Harry Vane and John Hampden, and Roger Williams, were all Baptist laymen. Nor when we think that John Gill and Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson and William Carey, Robert Hall and Charles Spurgeon, Horatio Hackett and Thomas Conant, were Baptist missionaries, scholars and ministers. And as to other denominations; I only wish that we used the Bible more in public, worship, as Episcopalians do; that we had as learned a ministry as our Presbyterian brethren have-as much pathos and zeal as our Methodist brethren-as much simplicity as the Society of Friends-and as much self-sacrifice as the Roman Catholics -- and a good deal more heart-felt religion than either we or they have at present. God knows I love them all, and if they would stop scolding us, and pray for us twice where they speak unkindly of us once, they would be happier and we should be better. God bless them all, I say, Amen.