Truth compelled us to be

When Ann Judson reached the conclusion that the New Testament gave no warrant for infant baptism but instead taught by command, example, and true covenantal continuity that baptism, immersion, is of believers only, it came as a result of careful study of Scripture and a deep-seated commitment to self-denial for the sake of conformity to revealed truth. This did not conform to her immediate desires, the instruction of trusted and faithful counselors in her past, the practice of her entire circle of friends, or the prospects for future usefulness. She wrote to her parents, explaining the events that led to the change in her view of baptism and exclaimed, “Thus, my dear parents and sisters, we are both confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be but because truth compelled us to be.” She went on to say that “a renunciation of our former sentiments has caused us more pain, than any thing which ever happened to us through our lives.”

Ann JudsonIn realization of the loss of status among other “painful sacrifices,” indeed “inexpressibly painful,” she wrote a friend in Bradford, “Can you, my dear Nancy, still love me, still desire to hear from me, when I tell you I have become a Baptist?” In her diary, August 1812, she had described the ardors of the study of this subject and expressed to her own conscience and to God, “I intend to persevere in examining the subject, and hope that I shall be disposed to embrace the truth, whatever it may be.” In addition, she contemplated with pure candor, “It is painfully mortifying to my natural feelings, to think seriously of renouncing a system which I have been taught from infancy to believe and respect.”

She was certainly not of the mindset that dominates many professing Christians today, in what Ross Douthat has identified as “Bad Religion,” that considers the present perception of optimal happiness as the final test for discerning the will of God (even when it involves a violation of a direct command of Scripture). On September 1, the newly-named Mrs. Judson wrote that, contrary to her prejudices and wishes, she was “compelled to believe, that believers’ baptism alone is found in Scripture.” She had used the same language in narrating her husband’s study in saying that through his examinations and comparisons of the evidence he “was compelled from a conviction of the truth, to embrace those of “the Baptists.” In thus reviewing all the kind providence of God, on December 22, she put this painful change in the context of God’s special provisions, protections, and mercies to her during the past year. He had given her the name of one that “loves the cause of Christ, and makes the promotion of it the business of his life,” and in a variety of ways had blessed them in the massive displacement geographically and culturally, and “has led us to examine the truths of his word, and given us clearer views, than ever before, of the ordinances of his house.”

When she acknowledged, confessedly with pain, the compelling nature of truth in this matter, her capitulation did not come from a mere passing and shallow grasp of the text of Scripture or its many inter-relationships and contextual demands on the interpreter. “If ever,” she emphasized, “I gave myself to the inspired word, I have done so during this investigation.” As she expressed in the emotion-ridden letter to her friend Nancy, “this alteration hath not been the work of an hour, a day, or a month. The subject has been maturely, candidly, and, I hope, prayerfully examined for months.”

Before this most surprising and painful development, she had written a friend (while still on board ship), without any reference to the issue of baptism, “I have spent most of my time, since on the water, in reading. I knew I needed a more intimate acquaintance with the sacred Scriptures; consequently, I have confined my attention almost exclusively to them. I have read the New Testament once through in course, two volumes of Scott’s Commentary on the Old, Paley, Trumbull, and Dick, on the Inspiration of the Scriptures, together with Faber and Smith on the Prophecies. I have been much interested in reading these authors on inspiration, on account of my almost total ignorance of the evidences of the divinity of the Scriptures, and I gained fresh evidence of the reality of the Christian religion. . . . How much enjoyment Christians lose by neglecting to study the Bible. The more we are conversant with it, the more we shall partake of the spirit of its author, and the more we shall feel that this world is not our home, and that we are rapidly hastening to another.”

Her Bible-centered, truth-centered vision of life arose from the dominant God-centeredness that had saturated her affections at the point of her conversion. When comparing Sir William Jones with Phillip Doddridge she remarked that the goal of one was the applause of man and of the other the approbation of God. When she discerned her own heart stray from God to seek happiness in other objects, she resolved to be “more watchful over the sins of our hearts, and make greater efforts to live devoted to God.” Though she found profound happiness and even spiritual satisfaction in her relationship with her new husband, she resolved, “May even that one tie which still binds me to earth, though so strong and endearing, not hold my heart, my thoughts from Him, who alone is worthy of my supreme regard.”

Every disciple of Christ looks to experience this kind of Christ-saturated, truth-submissive life intent on the glory of God and devoted to the goodness of His sovereign prerogatives. We find, however, another spirit often pressing us, not only from indwelling sin, but from a theology that interprets Christianity in more world-centered, man-centered, happy-now-centered terms. This change did not occur overnight, but gradually, and we hope to isolate in the next few blogs the theological revolution that paved the way for this shift.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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