Founders Journal 63 · Winter 2006 · pp. 6-19
Denominational Idolatry Reproved
The Introductory Sermon preached before the Georgia Baptist Convention at Columbus, Georgia
April 22, 1859
THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen (1 John 5:21).
Our text consists of three parts—a precious epithet, an important command and an emphatic prayer. We have the precious epithet in two words, little children; the important command in four words, keep yourselves from idols; and what we may regard as substantially an emphatic prayer in one word, Amen. Let us dwell somewhat on these three particulars.
I. A precious epithet:
This is a term which beautifully describes what Christians should be, and what indeed they really are, just as far as they deserve the name. Christ, in one of His last, tender, affectionate interviews with His disciples addresses them by this endearing term little children. “Little children,” said He, “yet a little while I am with you” (John 8:33). And John, the beloved disciple, who partook so abundantly of the tender spirit of his blessed Lord, found in this term something peculiarly congenial with his affectionate heart; hence, the aged disciple uses it no less than five times in the epistle from which our text is selected. Little children. How sweetly does the expression drop from the lips of the venerable apostle! The saints of God should ever be as little children; and as far as they are influenced by a right spirit, they are truly little children. The Savior enforces some of His most important instructions, by referring to the well-known peculiarities of children. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” was once the inquiry of His disciples. Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them; and said, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And as He proceeds to designate the truly great in His spiritual kingdom, He adds, “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” At another time, when little children were brought to Him that he might bless them, He takes occasion to remind His complaining disciples that the kingdom of heaven is composed of childlike characters “for of such,” says He, “is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein.” The Savior would have us learn from these instructions, that the humble, teachable, guileless, confiding spirit, which we naturally expect to see in little children, should ever characterize His disciples. Pride, and arrogance, and vaulting ambition, may find favor with the foolish aspirants for earthly glory; but the special nobility of Christ’s kingdom are the meek and lowly in heart. As little children should we receive the doctrines and laws of Christ; as little children should we bow to the corrections of Divine Providence; as little children should we meekly seek the gracious guidance, and confide in the faithful promises, of our Heavenly Father. With a gentle, guileless spirit, should we reprove the errors of our brethren. Nothing would do more to heal our present disorders, as a denomination, than a deep, experimental appreciation of the doctrine couched in these two precious words little children.
It is a primitive term. Baptists profess to be a primitive people; and of all people on earth they should feel bound to cultivate and exhibit the meek and gentle spirit of children. And on occasions like the present, we should strive to think, and feel, and speak and act like little children, keeping in view the just limitation of an inspired apostle: “In malice, be ye children, but in understanding, be men.” Should we, through the operation of the Divine Spirit, be enabled to wait upon the Lord in our Conventional duties, with hearts deeply pervaded with the gentle, childlike spirit inculcated by the gospel of Jesus, what a sweetness would it give to our Christian intercourse; what a holy unction would it impart to our devotional exercises; what a conservative influence would it infuse into our discussions; what a protection would it afford against fatal mistakes; what a precious assurance would it give of the Savior’s presence and blessing! We now come to our second point:
II. We have before us an important command:
Keep yourselves from Idols
Alas, alas, for our fallen humanity! When our first parents violated the law of God in Eden, they became essentially idolaters, and entailed the spirit of idolatry upon all the millions of their race. That exercise of our affections, which displaces God from his proper place in our hearts, is idolatry. Any object, interest, or pursuit, however innocent or worthy in itself, which is unduly loved, or reverenced, becomes an idol to the soul. One great source of idolatry has been the perversion of the religious sentiments. Human nature has ever had an irresistible bent to worship its own imaginings to serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. How sadly were the chosen tribes contaminated with the idolatries of Egypt!
After their wonderful escape from bondage, as they were feeding upon the miraculous manna, and gazing upon the mystic cloud, that was guiding them through the wilderness, and standing before blazing, thundering Sinai, they made a golden calf and shouted, “These are thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” When settled in Canaan by Jehovah’s strong hand and outstretched arm, at length the idolatries of the heathen poured in upon them like a flood, and it required ages of terrible chastisement to cure the guilty nation, even of the grosser forms of idolatrous worship. And under the light and glory of gospel truth, how hard was it for many of the early converts to renounce wholly and forever their idolatrous practices! They would sometimes eat and drink things offered to idols. It became necessary for Paul to say to some of his brethren, “Neither be ye idolaters, flee from idolatry;” and John, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was compelled to say, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” And this stands for our instruction today. We would not worship a beast, or a piece of wood, or an onion; but in the best instructed regions of Christendom, idolatry sits enthroned in the carnal heart; and even in the churches of Christ it is not wholly extinct. Sacred things may be so perverted, in our mistaken judgment, and affections, as to become idols to the soul, and thus trespass upon the just rights of God.
But idolatry is not alone the perversion of our religious sentiments; any affection or sentiment may be so perverted as to lead us into that which is idolatry in the sight of God. We may make an idol of almost anything. Covetousness is idolatry. We may make idols of our follies, our plans, our persons, our successes, our sons, and our daughters.
Our dearest joys, our nearest friends,
The partners of our blood,
How they divide our wavering minds
And leave but half for God!
In what further I have to say under this head, that I may the better adapt myself to the present occasion, I shall confine my remarks to what may be called Denominational Idolatry. Is there not evidently amongst men such a kind of idolatry as this? I think so; and Baptists, unfortunately, come in for their share. Through the influence of the remaining corruptions of our hearts, a kind of denominational pride and self-glorying often springs up, which is not right in the sight of God, and which involves in it the sin of idolatry. This I call denominational idolatry. And with reference to this kind of idolatry, as well as every other, the Saviour speaks to us through his servant John, Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1. We must not make an idol of our denominational sentiments. All scriptural truth is of vast importance. Every single principle inculcated in the word of God has its own appropriate work to do in sanctifying the hearts of men, demolishing the strongholds of error, and laying the foundation, and carrying up the superstructure, of the Redeemer’s kingdom on earth. None but God himself can properly estimate the absolute value of any one single truth communicated in his blessed word. If, therefore, Baptists, in the providence of God, are put in charge of the advocacy and defense of certain truths which either are wholly rejected, or slightly held by other religious denominations, God has certainly put upon them peculiar honors, and invested them with the most mighty responsibilities. They must be faithful to their trust. The pulpit and the press must speak out through them in intelligible, affectionate, and earnest accents. They must not be ashamed of their sentiments. Neither through sinful timidity, nor an equally sinful man-pleasing spirit, must they fail to set forth to all the world those peculiar, important views as to the ordinances of Christ, as to the order of God’s house, which the Lawgiver of Zion has committed to their keeping. But they must be careful that their sacred principles be not allowed, through the deceitfulness of sin, to minister to the idolatrous tendencies of the human heart. In an abstract absolute sense, we cannot value too highly our denominational principles: but, in the comparative view which we take of the various doctrines and duties of the Christian system, we may unconsciously give them a prominence unauthorized by the word of God. In our denominational zeal we may break the just proportion of things. We may so dwell on the peculiarities of our order, as to create an impression on our own minds that we are better Christians than we really are that so we are thoroughly, profoundly baptistic, we have attained to the main thing. We must never forget that there are other great and important truths which demand our reverence and our zeal; and in the general, aggregate instructions which we give, we must see to it that every one receive his portion of meat in due season. Whenever our denominational peculiarities so absorb our affections and our zeal as to crowd from their due position other portions of the divine testimony, they are made to assume in our hearts, as it were, the character of idols; and in this perverted shape, by being forced to break the due proportion and boundaries of divine truth, they invade unwittingly the just rights of God, and are the occasion of dishonor to his cause. All this is wrong. This is a service which God does not require at our hands. But, in making these remarks, I do not wish to be understood as forgetting, that there may be times when God providentially calls for the special and bold discussion of our denominational doctrines; and that God sometimes raises up men whose duty it seems to be to devote a large portion of their lives and labors to the defense of these peculiar views. But in such cases, that wisdom which is from above, will teach us to be careful not to lift the Baptist element out of its true scriptural position, and that the perversion of which I have been speaking be properly guarded against by a due recognition of the other teachings of God’s holy oracles.
There is another way in which our denominational sentiments may be made the occasion of nourishing the idolatrous tendency of our deceitful hearts. In contending for them, we may be, to a greater or less extent, sinfully forgetful that they are God’s truth. We may somewhat lose sight of the precious, golden link, which binds them to the throne of Jehovah. We may fight for them as our truth, our dogmas, rather than as the teachings of the Saviour. We may contend for personal victory. We may become, through the deceitfulness of the heart, intensely sectarian. We may so identify our own little mighty selves with the theme which we defend, that, to a greater or less extent, we fall to loving Baptist truth, and glorying in the Baptist cause, because these are such capital things with which to fight ourselves—Nebuchadnezzar-like—into a little notoriety in the religious world. Baptists must keep their hearts with all diligence as well as other people. The very best of them are sanctified but in part; they are still exposed to the assaults of pride and vainglory. In contending for our sacred principles, we must not unlink them from God’s theme, and make an idol of them; but, keeping them firmly bound to that throne, we must set them forth with the spirit of holy boldness, arid childlike humility, that Christ, our King, may be duly honored. As far as a mere partisan, sectarian glorying in our principles animates our zeal, and makes us forgetful of God’s glory, and the inherent majesty of truth, so far the very truth itself is crucified into an occasion for displeasing God, and ministering to the flesh; and thereby we fall into the error of a certain people of old, who paid a selfish and mistaken honor to their nets and their drags, that brought them advantage. “Therefore, they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag, because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.” Habakkuk 1:16. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
2. We must not make an idol of our denominational gifts. As we are not to burden and dishonor God’s precious truth with selfish glorying, so we must not vainly and selfishly glory in men, however wise and excellent they may be. The eminently wise and pious are to be highly esteemed for their goodness’ sake for their works’ sake; this is a Christian duty. A spirit of envy and detraction is opposed to the spirit of the gospel. Render to all their dues—honor to whom honor—tribute to whom tribute; thus speaks the word of God. Opposite to narrow-minded complaining jealousy, is another evil which the gospel equally condemns; a glorying in men—a disposition to call men our masters—a blind partisan zeal for bold-spirited leaders—a cringing subserviency to the authority of great names—an idolatrous reverence for those who, from whatever cause, may have risen to some peculiar denominational distinction. Man-worship has ever been a prominent sin amongst poor erring mortals. It was this which, amongst the heathen, lifted men to gods, and with such deities peopled the heavens. It was this spirit of heathenism that flowed over into the Christian churches when their piety became sickly, and tended to aggravate and complete their corruptions. Instead of a Juno, we soon find a deified Mary; instead of a Hercules, a feat-performing St. Patrick; instead of a Jupiter, the Thunderer, a more than Christian Jupiter, a piece of frail mortality lifted up to become Christ’s vicegerent on earth, exalting himself above all that is called God sitting in the temple of God—showing himself that he is God. All this we protest against with the deepest abhorrence. And yet a little sprinkling of this heathenish, popish spirit may possibly fall now and then upon the hearts of zealous immersionists. The Baptists of Corinth had more than a sprinkling; I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Cephas, was the loud cry; and it was this glorying in men that brought upon the church much sore distress. Baptists, by their principles, are sacredly bound to resist the intrusions of such a spirit: Christ is their Lawgiver, and all the saints are brethren. God has raised up amongst them many honored names: we thank God for this. We thank God for a Bunyan, and a Keach; a Gale, and a Gill; an Abram Booth, and an Andrew Fuller; a Carey, and a Carson; a Rice, and a Judson; a Baldwin, a Semple, a Furman, and a Mercer. These were burning and shining lights; and it is little better than sacrilege not to praise the King of Zion for such precious gifts. And, if we were permitted to speak of the living, we might point to a large number of eminent men whose names we delight to honor. But the departed great were but men; and the living great are but men. “We must faithfully test their instructions by the word of God, and follow them no farther than they follow Christ. A blind reverence for human authority, turns us aside from the proper study of the word of God; and the spirit that deifies mortals, deifies the errors and absurdities of mortals. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
3. We must not make an idol of our denominational successes. For the spreading triumphs of our principles, we have a right to bless God; nay, it is our duty to do so; yet, we must be careful that for these things we are not puffed up with a vain and fleshly mind. God has greatly blessed us as a people. Let us dwell for a moment on this topic. We claim the Apostolic churches as our denominational prototypes. Church history has made a pretty fair showing that in all ages, even the darkest, there has been a people holding substantially the faith and practice which we profess. The progress of our sentiments in these latter days has been remarkable, especially in these United States. In the early settlement of the American colonies, there were but a few scattering Baptists. In 1644, two hundred and fifteen years ago, there were but two Baptist churches in America, viz., Providence and Newport. In 1750, more than a century later, Benedict informs us that there were some 58 churches. In 1764, there were about 60 churches, and 5000 members. Thus, before our Revolutionary struggle, when strong government patronage was extended to popular sects, the Baptists increased but slowly; since that auspicious period, their progress has been rapid. In 1790, the indefatigable John Aspland reports 872 churches, including 4 in Nova Scotia; 1171 ordained and licentiate preachers, and about 65,000 members. In 1812, probable estimates run up to 2433 churches, 1922 ministers, and about 190,000 members. In 1832, there are reported 5322 churches, 3647 ministers, and about 385,000 communicants. The regular, orthodox Baptists in the United States, now number about 12,000 churches, between 8000 and 9000 ministers, and 1,000,000 of communicants. During the last ten years (from 1848 to 1858), the increase has been upwards of 255,000. What may be called the Baptist population of our country, may be put down, by a very moderate estimate, at 5,000,000. In the State of Georgia, the progress of Baptist principles has been not a little remarkable. The first Baptist church (Kiskee) was constituted in 1772, 87 years ago. In 1792 (twenty years later), there were in the state about 60 churches, 79 ministers, and something over 3000 members. In 1832, there were not far from 509 churches, say 255 ministers, and about 38,382 communicants. At the present time, the Baptists of Georgia have about 1300 churches, 900 ministers, and 90,000 communicants, about as many as the whole number of Baptists in the United States 60 years ago. But, in estimating the progress of Baptist strength, we must look beyond our mere numerical increase. In promoting the cause of general education, the Baptists are performing a noble work. They have, on the whole, a pious, able, and efficient ministry. They have a learned and vigorous denominational literature. They have reared up more than 30 colleges, 12 theological schools, and are publishing about 50 periodicals. They are taking a leading part in the benevolent operations of the day. “Their missions are planted in Canada, Oregon, California, New Mexico;” the Indian territory, “Hayti; in France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway; in Western and Central Africa; in Southern India, Assam, Burmah, Siam, and China. The number of conversions from their colportage and missions last year, exceeded 4000. Total number in the mission churches, over 25,000.” Income to the leading benevolent societies of the denomination in 1857, $300,000. But this is not the only evidence of the progress of our denominational influence in our country. There is a strong Baptistic under-current which, with a steady, progressive, resistless power, is moving on through other denominations, and sweeping away their paedo-baptist peculiarities. This they see, acknowledge, and bemoan. Large numbers of their ministry and private members are coming over to the Baptist standard. In many of their churches infant-baptism is dying out. Some time since a Boston writer speaks as follows through the columns of the New York Journal of Commerce: “In our congregational churches we fear that there is considerable indifference and neglect in reference to infant-baptism. In one of our oldest churches in this state there had not been, a few years since, an instance of infant-baptism for the seven preceding years. Last year there were seventy congregational churches in New Hampshire that reported no infant-baptism. This year ninety-six churches, or about one-half in the state, report none. If this indifference continues, the ordinance will become extinct in the congregational churches.” To such facts as these, let it be added that the number who admit the correctness of our baptism as to the mode, or action, as well as the subjects, is constantly increasing, and what a common thing it is at the present day for persons to demand immersion as an essential condition of remaining quietly with their paedo-baptist friends.
In many foreign lands the Baptist cause is steadily progressing. In translating the Scriptures into the languages of the East, the Baptists have accomplished more than any other denomination. Our American missionaries have given the Scriptures to the Burmans, the Karens, and the Siamese. In India, Carey, and Marshman, and Ward, and Yates, with their coadjutors, performed a work in the translation of the Scriptures, unequaled perhaps in the whole history of missions; and where the translations of our foreign missionaries go, the Bible speaks out in a clear voice the true meaning of the great baptismal word. In Europe, the Baptist cause is prosperous. Wales is a Baptist Beehive. Our brethren there are industrious, firm, fond of the honey of primitive truth, and have sent out many a precious swarm to other lands. In England, the Baptists are a strong, intelligent, pious, progressive band, though less strong than they might be, from the inter mixture of open communion clay with the iron of New Testament truth. Upon the accession of William and Mary to the British throne, there were about 100 Baptist churches in Great Britain and Ireland; now, after a lapse of something more than a century and a half, in spite of all the opposition with which they have been compelled to struggle, the Baptists have reached the number of 2000 churches, and over 100,000 communicants, and have accomplished a mighty work in the spread of the gospel amongst the heathen. It is said they are now growing faster than any other religious body in England. On the European continent, Baptist truth is going forth in strength to overhaul and finish out the work which Luther left so incomplete. Amongst the Protestants in France Anti-paedo-baptist sentiments are rapidly spreading. In 1834, Onkur, with six other pious Baptists, commenced their apostolic work at Hamburg, and in the short space of 25 years, the fruits of this little beginning have extended surprisingly through central and northern Europe. In Germany, the Baptists now have about 500 missionary stations, some 80 churches, and about 8000 communicants. Discussions have been aroused upon the principles of church government and religious liberty, which are shaking to their very foundations the structures of a carnal, secularized Christianity. And in Sweden, behold what the Lord is doing. In the face of bigoted, fierce intolerance, Baptist colporteurs are traversing the land, and in a few short years, great multitudes have been converted by their instrumentality, and some 3000 probably have openly embraced the sentiments that distinguish us as a people.
In these things it is our privilege, our duty, to rejoice. But, beloved brethren, let our rejoicing be in the Lord. When we listen to the rehearsal of our denominational successes, our carnal pride is perhaps sometimes awakened, and we think to ourselves, what a great people we Baptists are getting to be! All this is wrong; it is grieving to the Spirit of God; it is making an idol of our denominational prosperity. And it may be that God allows many humiliating things to befall us as a people, that our pride may be humbled, and we may learn more profoundly the great lesson of inspiration “Not by might, nor by power; but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
4. We must not make an idol of our denominational anticipations. The Baptists, strong in their convictions as to the correctness of their sentiments, and the power of divine truth, thought and said, long before the sentiment was uttered by a celebrated German professor, that there was for them a future. It is true that other denominations naturally think the same for themselves, but not always probably with the same unshaken confidence, and certainly not, in our apprehension, with the same good reason. To us as Baptists, the language of prophecy holds forth the most delightful encouragement. It assures us that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” And have we so little confidence in the strength of Baptist truth as not strongly to believe that it shall everywhere mingle with that overflowing tide? We look for a time when the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold: in that day of sevenfold light and glory, will not our sacred sentiments be clearly recognized in every land? Prophecy assures us that when the Lord shall bring again Zion, her watchmen shall see eye to eye, and with the voice together shall they sing; in accordance with prophecy is the memorable intercession of Christ that his people may be one; and we verily believe that this harmony and oneness will be sufficiently extensive and complete as everywhere to embrace those sacred principles for which, as a people, we have so earnestly contended. And then we have confidence in the power and majesty of truth, and that the great, emphatic testimony borne to the Savior’s burial and resurrection in the baptismal rite, is finally to awe the nations.
And further, our peculiar denominational exposition of the word of God strikes the common mind. Can this be denied? Facts already stated, show that there is a deep, widening movement among the masses. The plain, unsophisticated mind, readily embraces our views as to the ordinance of baptism. They are simple and intelligible. Our unlettered servants comprehend readily the meaning of God’s word as to these things, from the simple perusal of the Scriptures in their hearing. I will mention one single case which, no doubt, represents thousands of other similar cases. A female servant of mine, now in Dougherty county, was once a member of a paedo-baptist church. On a certain occasion her pastor had occasion to sprinkle some individuals: he used water from a pitcher. In connection with the ceremony, he read the third chapter of Matthew, or some parallel passage containing an account of the Savior’s baptism in Jordan. She went home and said to her mistress, “I must be baptized; for if Christ was baptized in a river, we ought not to be baptized out of a pitcher.” She soon acted out the conviction impressed on her mind by the simple reading of the Scriptures, and was buried with Christ in baptism. More than thirty years ago an eminent paedo-baptist minister said to me in substance, that if he had been brought up in the woods, ignorant of the baptismal controversy, and a New Testament had been placed in his hands, he would naturally have understood its teachings as do the Baptists. “But,” added he, “these things are only the husks of religion.” Well, upon his own ground, he should have remembered that husks are very important in their place, to shield and cherish the growing, ripening corn. If, then, our teachings are true, and strike with such directness and force the common mind, when the Bible shall be universally circulated, and impartially read and studied, and that blessed Spirit which indited its heavenly truths shall everywhere be poured out abundantly from on high, we may expect our denominational views everywhere to triumph. We look for the time when all national churches, and lordly hierarchies, and organizations, that can review and overrule the decisions of individual churches, shall crumble to the dust; when plain, simple, independent, New Testament churches shall everywhere be reared up; when believers’ immersion shall in all lands proclaim in symbol a buried and risen Saviour; and in symbol proclaim the washing away of sin from the conscience by the meritorious and all-powerful blood of the Lamb.
But, O, the proud Baptist heart! How hard not to make an idol of all this! “Are we not a wonderful people? and are we not to be far more wonderfully great by and by?” Ten to one, if like little children we do not lie meekly at the foot of the cross, our poor hearts will steal away into future ages, and, surveying the nations as they will then walk in the order of the New Testament Jerusalem, will exclaim, with something of the spirit of an infatuated monarch of old, “Is not this great Babylon that we have built?” Down, down in the dust, my beloved brethren; that is the place for us unworthy, blood-ransomed sinners. We may hope with strong assurance for the future triumphs of truth; and we may bless God that this bright and holy day shall assuredly come. But it will be God’s work, and not ours. We should be humbled to the dust that God should condescend to use us as instruments for hasting on this glorious period. But for his sovereign, almighty grace, which will accomplish its purposes in spite of all our follies and sins, we might well despair. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. And now,
III. In the third place, we come to the short, emphatic prayer:
By this expression the Apostle would, I suppose, set his seal to the whole of the foregoing epistle. Be it all so; let everything said in this inspired communication have its due effect. Especially may we suppose that he wishes well to his last appeal Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Brethren, our hearts must yield a sincere amen to the teachings of the text. These things must not be held as matters of idle, superficial speculation; but our hearty amen must go with them. Is there any heavenly doctrine in the words little children? Amen to this. Be it so. Let us cultivate the spirit of little children. Is there divine force in the command, keep yourselves from idols? Amen, a loud, a heart-felt amen to this also. Let it be so. Let the divine injunction fall deep into our souls, into the hearts of all the people of God. Let us exalt God and truth; let us abase ourselves. Let us beware that we do not mount the stilts of denominational pride. A poor fool-hardy creature recently walked across the Niagara river, on slender iron stilts, a few hundred yards above the falls; he was successful, and got the proffered wager from the gazing crowd. We may mount our stilts, and try the flood; this we can do; but let us not, in our presumptuous vanity, look for success. The current will prove too strong for us; God’s displeasure will sweep us over the precipice; and in confusion and shame shall we bemoan the fleshly vaunting of our hearts. In contending for those sacred principles committed to our keeping, let us beware that we do not sacrifice to a mere denominational net; and burn incense to a mere denominational drag. Let us love and defend the truth for Christ’s sake, with an humble, self-forgetful spirit, merging all in the glory of God. If there is to be any strife, let it be that we may surpass others in the pure love of truth; in love for souls; in a gentle, child-like, holy walk. Holiness must be our great strength. If we have with us more truth than others, let our more consecrated lives, let our more free and abundant sacrifices for the spread of the truth amongst all nations, prove the sincerity of our professions, and the superior sanctifying power of a superior faith. This will excite the attention of all thoughtful people. They will respect and honor us. Respecting us for our zeal and piety, they will inquire into our principles. And as they inquire into these things, they will see more and more of their New Testament simplicity; they will join us in our struggles for Zion’s enlargement, and in our orderly gospel walk to heaven. It is in this way, more than in any other, that Baptists are to prosper. They must cast away all their idols. They must conquer themselves; their pride, their self-glorying, their passions, their covetousness; and by the example thus afforded of the power of truth, and the triumphs of grace, they will win and conquer the hearts of thousands all around them. Little children, keep yourselves from Idols. Amen.
1A believer, the only scriptural subject for baptism; immersion, a scriptural essential to the ordinance; and a regenerate church membership, a fundamental requirement of the New Testament, are principles for which Baptists have ever contended with uncompromising firmness. To this may be added, they have ever adhered, with unwavering zeal, to the great principle of church independency; and by American Baptists especially, restricted, or close communion, i e, that the privilege of partaking of the Lord’s Supper is restricted by the word of God to orderly, immersed believers, has ever been regarded as a matter of great importance to the protection and prosperity of the churches.
2As specimens of what Pseudo-baptist historians are pleased to say of us, one or two short extracts are here introduced. MOSHEIM, as translated by Maclain, says: “The true origin of that sect which acquired the name of Anabaptists, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is consequently extremely difficult to be ascertained.” [A peep into the New Testament, however, removes this difficulty.]
A few years ago, Dr. Dermont, chaplain to the King of Holland, and Dr. Ypeij, theological professor at Groningen, received a royal commission to prepare a history of the Reformed Dutch Church. Listen to their testimony concerning the Baptists: “We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and have long, in the history of the church, received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the Apostles, and as a Christian society, which has preserved pure the doctrines of the gospel through all ages.”
3The above estimate, it will be noticed, has special reference to what we call regular, or orthodox Baptists. There are various sects who hold to believers’ immersion, that on some points differ among themselves, and from the regular Baptists. If the number of such be added, the whole number of immersionists in the United States at this time will be found to be not much less than a million and a half.
4Whoever wishes to pursue this topic more extensively would do well to consult Prof. Curtis’s invaluable work on “The Progress of Baptist Principles in the Last hundred years.” It is worthy of the careful perusal of every thoughtful Baptist and Paedo-baptist in the land. Prof. Curtis is of opinion that the decrease of paedo-baptism is greater amongst the Methodists than in any other denomination. It is evident to all who have given much thought to the subject, that a very large portion of their members refuse, or neglect, to have their children sprinkled. Prof. C. makes a pretty strong showing that amongst the Presbyterians of the United States, infant-baptism has decreased about one-half in twenty years. In our country infant-baptism is now the exception, where it used to be the rule. Out of twelve infants born in the United States, eleven probably go unbaptized. One hundred years ago the proportions were nearer the reverse. The Baptist element, with other causes, has then, as to infant-baptism, eaten up eleven parts out of twelve; in fifty years more, if things go on at this rate, this unauthorized practice will make but a poor showing. The truth is, it has not the least particle of Scripture for its support, and its grasp upon the consciences of men is getting more and more feeble.
5In making out the above sketch, the author has been much assisted by consulting the American Baptist Register for 1852; the American Baptist Almanac for 1859; and the Baptist Family Magazine.