SECTION I.–EXPEDIENCE OF THE SCRIPTURAL CHURCH ORDER
Our obligation to observe the positive precepts of religion is dependent entirely on the revealed will of the Lawgiver. It does not follow, however, that they are without reason, but only that the reason for them is beyond the discovery of human wisdom. After the divine wisdom has instituted them, we may be able to discover their fitness to accomplish the purpose for which they were designed, and may become sensible that they are necessary to the order and harmony of God’s arrangements. In this manner the expedience of obeying positive precepts may sometimes be clearly seen by the intelligent student of God’s will; but where we are unable to walk by sight, we ought to walk by faith in the way of God’s commandments, and to feel assured, in every instance, that to obey God in all things is always most expedient.
Throughout the preceding discussions, we have endeavored to fix our eyes steadily on the divine precepts, and to strengthen ourselves in the purpose of obeying implicitly, even when no reason for the requirement is discoverable; but now, at the close of our investigations, it will be profitable to take another view of the church order which we have deduced from the Holy Scriptures in respect of its expedience.
A fundamental doctrine, in the system of church order which we have deduced from the Scriptures, is, that genuine piety is necessary to church membership. If this doctrine had been steadfastly maintained from the times of the apostles, the corruption which overspread the churches would have been prevented, and the papal apostasy would never have occurred. The admission of unconverted members opened the door to every evil, and ultimately subjected the churches to the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience. The reformation by Luther corrected many abuses, but this chief inlet of mischief it did not close. Hence the reformed churches do not exhibit the purity, devotion, and zeal which characterized the churches of primitive times. We need a more thorough reformation. We need to have the axe laid at the root of the trees, and this is done when none are admitted to church-membership but persons truly converted. The doctrine which excludes all others establishes the value and necessity of vital religion, and it is therefore of the utmost importance to the interests of the church, and of the world.
Immense mischief has resulted from the ambition of the clergy. This raised the Roman pontiff to his high seat of power, and his adherents are actuated by the same spirit. To counteract its influence, Christ commanded his disciples, “Be ye not called Rabbi, for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”(1) The doctrine of equality among the ministers of Christ is at war with clerical ambition, and a steadfast maintenance of it would have effectually barred out the Man of Sin, and it would now demolish the Roman hierarchy, and teach haughty prelates the need of Christian humility.
The ambition of the clergy needs a combination of the churches to sustain it. The doctrine that every church is an independent body, and that no combination of the churches is authorized by Christ, opposes their schemes for ecclesiastical preferment. It makes the pastors or bishops equal, and allows no other preference than that which is due to superior piety and usefulness.
The independence of the churches, and the democratic form of church government, appeal strongly to individual responsibility, and have, therefore, a powerful tendency to promote holiness among the lay members. Every man feels that the cause of Christ is in some measure committed to him. The church is not a body intermediate between him and Christ, and charged with the exclusive responsibility of glorifying Christ; but he himself is in part the church, and to him belongs the obligation of honoring his divine Master. This doctrine of individual responsibility unites with the doctrine of a converted church-membership, to render the churches the glory of Christ.
Enough has been said to direct the view of the thoughtful reader to the excellence of the Scriptural church order. In what remains of this section we shall consider some objections against the doctrine of church independence.
Objection 1.–The independent form of church government does not allow sufficient influence to the ministerial office. Learned divines may be outvoted by ignorant laymen; and pastors, who ought to rule their flocks, may have their peace and reputation destroyed by their churches, without any right of appeal.
The objection supposes some other than moral power to be needful for ministers. A man whose piety and call of God to the ministry are unquestionable; who gives full proof to those among whom he ministers that he seeks their highest good, and who serves a people that esteem him highly for his work sake; has an influence over them which is almost unbounded. He comes to them in the name of God, and they perceive that his instruction and precepts are drawn from the word of God. He addresses them with reference to the eternal world; and they realize that he and they are soon to stand together before God. The authority of God, and the momentous interests of the eternal world, give weight to every word which he utters; the powers of their minds bend under its influence. Such a minister as this has so swayed the hearts of Christian men, that martyrdom has had no terrors for them. They have defied the cruel rage of tyrants; and have faced popular fury undaunted. Is not this influence great enough for any minister to wield? Would the objection substitute for it a part of the tyrant’s power which it has overcome? The apostles, on the day of Pentecost, were endued with power from on high; but it was not the power of coercion. God’s truth, and a holy life, have rendered the ministry invincible; and the minister who asks for other power, mistakes the nature of his office.
It is alleged, that a learned divine may be outvoted by ignorant laymen; and what then? Do truth and holiness lose their power, by being outvoted? The learned divine may be in the wrong; or he may arrogantly claim a deference to which he is not entitled. In this case, to give him governing power would be a sad remedy for the supposed evil. Perhaps he is in the right, and possesses the meekness and gentleness of Christ. In this case, he will teach us how to answer the objection now before us. He will choose in meekness to instruct those that oppose themselves, rather than prevail over them by authority. It may be that they mean well, but need information. The remedy is, to give them the information needed. This is far better, than to deny them the power of thinking and acting. Possibly they may be evil and designing men. If so, they ought not to be in the church. It is certainly not wise to retain them in the church, and seek to render them harmless by depriving them of influence in the church; especially if we are obliged, at the same time, to make all the good lay members of the church equally powerless.
Among the relations in human society, that of a godly pastor to the flock of his charge, is one of the most prolific in blessings. While he points to heaven in his instructions, and leads them in the way by his example, they listen with reverence, and imitate with the affection of children. It is not enough to say, that his happiness and reputation are safe in their hands. They are a wall of defence around him; and a source of purest and sweetest enjoyment. But the benefits of this relation result from the moral tie that binds the parties. They spring out of brotherly love, which flows spontaneously from renewed hearts, and unites them in the service of their common Lord. Substitute for this the mere tie of official relation, and the garden of the Lord becomes a parched desert. When a pastor seeks defence from his people, by entrenching himself in official authority, or appealing to a higher tribunal, there is a radical evil which needs some other remedy.
We concede that the independent form of church government is not adapted to ungodly pastors, and unconverted church-members. It is suited to those only, who are bound together in brotherly love, and are striving together to glorify God, and advance the cause of truth and righteousness. For such persons Christ instituted it; and all the objections to which it is liable, find their occasion in the depravity of men. Church government was never designed to be a remedy for human depravity. It was designed for men whom the Holy Spirit has sanctified; and the wisdom which would adapt it to men of a different character, is not from above.
Objection 2.–Designing men have it in their power to mislead the people; and the evil which results cannot be prevented, if there is no high tribunal to which demagogues are amenable.
The prevention and cure of this evil are not to be sought in the establishment of a high ecclesiastical court; but in the illumination and sanctification of the people. Wisdom and benevolence unite in recommending, that men’s minds be fortified against seducers, by being well instructed in the truth; and the expedient of restraining the seducer by high ecclesiastical authority, does not secure the highest possible good. Besides, we have no assurance that the tribunal will be uncorrupt. The same power that claims to restrain a seducer, may restrain a reformer whom God has raised up to bring men back to the right way. It is far better to oppose error with the truth and the demonstration of the Spirit, than with ecclesiastical authority.
Objection 3.–The independent churches have no bond of union and strength; and no means of preventing division.
Love is the bond of perfectness, which unites true members of Christ. When this golden bond is wanting, a band of iron, forged by ecclesiastical authority, may fasten men to each other; but it will not be in the fellowship of the gospel. A want of fellowship in a church, is a disease preying on the spiritual strength of the body; and it is better that it should be seen and felt, until the proper remedy is applied, than that it should be concealed by an outward covering of ecclesiastical forms. When mere organization supplies the union and strength on which we rely, we shall cease to cultivate the unity of the Spirit, and to trust the power of truth. The objection, therefore, is unfounded. What it accounts a fault, is in reality a high excellence of the church order taught in the Scripture, and demonstrates that it originated in the wisdom of God.
SECTION II.–FELLOWSHIP BETWEEN CHURCHES
A happy intercourse might subsist between the churches, if they were all walking in the Spirit, sound in faith, correct in order, and careful in discipline. Such a state of things existed, to a great extent, in apostolic times. Christian men passed from one country to another, and found, in every place, that those who professed the name of Christ were of one heart and one soul. The members of one local church were, in general, welcomed to the fellowship of every other church.
But the relation between different local churches, is not such as to bind each church to receive the ministers and members of every other church. This obligation was not felt even in the days of the apostles. John commanded, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house; neither bid him God speed.”(2) These teachers of false doctrine were probably members of some local church, which, like the church at Pergamos, tolerated error;(3) but their membership did not entitle them to universal respect and confidence. Some have regarded each local church, as acting for the whole body of the faithful; and have inferred that its acts are binding on every other church. But this opinion is inconsistent with the true doctrine of church independence, and with the separate responsibility of individuals and churches. When churches do their duty, the recommendation of a minister or member from one church will, like the recommendation given to Apollos,(4) introduce him to the affections and confidence of other churches; but no recommendation of an unworthy person can bind the consciences of those who know his true character. Free intercourse and mutual confidence between the churches is very desirable, and every one should labor to promote it; but purity of doctrine and practice should never be sacrificed to effect it.
For the promotion of Christian fellowship, every one should require more of himself than of his brother. We may lawfully tolerate in others what we cannot tolerate in ourselves, or cannot approve. Some degree of toleration must be exercised, if imperfect Christians dwell together harmoniously in the fellowship of a local church. Such toleration the local churches are bound to exercise towards each other. Some things in the discipline of one church may not be approved by a neighboring church; but it does not follow, that their kind intercourse with each other must be disturbed. Each must act for itself, and not claim to bind the other. But when a church becomes corrupt in faith or practice, neighboring churches are bound to withdraw their fellowship.
SECTION III.–IMPOSITION OF HANDS
The laying on of hands is sometimes mentioned in Scripture, when something is intended different from mere form or ceremony. Hands were laid on Queen Athaliah, that she might be put to death.(5) Nehemiah threatened to lay hands on those who violated the sabbath;(6) and in the same sense, it is said when they sought to lay hands on Jesus, they feared the multitude.(7) But imposition of hands is also mentioned as a significant form or ceremony. It was used: 1. To represent the transfer of guilt to the victims which were offered in sacrifice.(8) 2. To represent the transfer of authority, as from Moses to Joshua.(9) 3. As a form of benediction, sometimes accompanied with prayer.(10) 4. To confer the Holy Spirit;(11) and 5. To ordain to the ministerial office.(12)
The practice has prevailed in many churches, for the pastor to lay his hands on those who have been recently baptized, accompanying the act with prayer to God on their behalf. No command of Scripture enjoins this ceremony. Hands were laid on those who had been baptized in the times of the apostles, to impart the Holy Spirit; but this was done by the apostles only; and when Cornelius, and they who were with him, had received the Holy Spirit previous to their baptism, the apostle Peter omitted to lay hands on them afterwards.
In solemn consecration to ministerial service, other hands than those of apostles were sometimes laid on the persons ordained. In the case which occurred at Antioch,(13) the only apostle present was one of the persons on whom hands were laid. It follows that this was not done to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit, which appears to have been conferred by the apostles only. In the ordination of Timothy, other persons besides Paul, who are called “the presbytery,” were concerned in the imposition of hands. These facts justify the conclusion, that the imposition of hands by ordinary ministers is, according to primitive usage, a proper ceremony in ordination to the ministerial office.
The meaning of the injunction to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man,”(14) is not perfectly clear. It is not probable that it refers to literal force. As directing the use of a significant form, its most probable reference is to ministerial ordination. So understood, the injunction furnishes strongly corroborative proof, that imposition of hands was the proper ceremony for setting apart to the sacred office.
MAY BE NECESSARY
A believer who has, at some time, received sprinkling for baptism, is not freed from the obligation to be immersed, in obedience to Christ’s command. In this case the immersion cannot, with propriety, be called rebaptism. But if an individual should be immersed in infancy, according to the usage of the Greek Church, this fact would not release him from the obligation to be re-immersed, on his becoming a believer in Christ. On the cases which have been mentioned, no doubt or diversity of practice exists among those who adhere strictly to the precepts of Christ.
But other cases occasionally present themselves, the decision of which is attended with difficulty. The most common are the following: 1. Men who were once baptized on profession of faith, and afterwards turned away from Christ, sometimes return with proofs of recent conversion. 2. Men who have been immersed by Pedobaptist ministers, or by unworthy Baptist ministers, sometimes present themselves for rebaptism, or for admission into a church. On these two cases, the question arises, is rebaptism necessary according to the Holy Scriptures?
WHO MUST DECIDE
In deciding the question, the first responsibility devolves on the candidate. He is bound to make a baptismal profession of faith, according to the revealed will of Christ; and if he has not properly complied with his duty, the obligation to obey rests on him
A responsibility is brought on the administrator, to whom the candidate may apply for rebaptism. It is clear from the Scriptures, that, in ordinary cases, baptism was designed to be administered but once; and the administrator, as a servant of Christ, is bound to decide, in the fear of God, whether the case before him justifies a repetition of the rite.
Besides the two parties that have been named, and that have the immediate responsibility in the case, the church to which an individual of doubtful baptism may apply for membership, has the responsibility of judging whether his baptism has fulfilled the divine command. If baptism is a prerequisite to membership, the church is not at liberty to throw the entire responsibility of the question on the candidate or the administrator.
It has sometimes happened, that ministers have differed in their views; and a candidate, whom one minister has refused to rebaptize, has been rebaptized by another. In such cases, no breach of fellowship between the ministers occurs; nor ought it to be allowed. In like manner, a difference of opinion may exist between churches; and one church may admit without rebaptism, when another church would require it. This difference should not disturb the kind intercourse between the churches. But if the individual who has been received without rebaptism, should seek to remove his membership to the church that deems rebaptism necessary, the latter church has authority, as an independent body, to reject him.
Though some difference of opinion on these questions does exist, and ought to be tolerated, yet every one should strive to learn his duty respecting them, by a diligent study of the Holy Scriptures. The directions of the inspired word are clear, so long as men keep in the prescribed way; but when they have wandered from it, no surprise should be felt if the method of return is not so clearly pointed out. Hence it arises that men who interpret the express precepts of Christ alike, may, in applying them to perplexing cases, differ in their judgment. In what follows I shall give my views, with deference to those whose investigations have led them to a different conclusion.
The first case supposes that there was in the previous baptism a mistake respecting the qualifications of the candidate.
Baptism was designed to be the ceremony of Christian profession. If, in the first baptism, the candidate believed himself to be a Christian, and received baptism on a credible profession of faith in Christ, no higher qualification can be obtained for a second baptism. They to whom the administration of the rite has been committed, do not possess the power to search the heart. A credible profession of faith, sincerely made, is all that fallible men can expect; and, since the ordinance has been committed to fallible men, it is duly administered on sincere and credible profession.
Some confirmation of this view may be derived from the case of Simon the sorcerer. Though baptized on profession of faith, it was afterwards discovered that his heart was not right in the sight of God. On making the discovery, Peter did not command him to repent and be baptized, as he commanded the unbaptized on the day of Pentecost: but his address was, “Repent, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”
This address, by containing no command respecting baptism, favors the opinion that rebaptism in this case would not have been required.
The second case supposes that there was in the first baptism a want of due qualification in the administrator.
In the discussion of this question we should guard against improper notions respecting the validity of baptism. The rite has no sacramental efficacy, dependent on its validity, as the possession of an estate depends on the validity of the title. Were it so, it might be a matter of great importance to be able to trace the flow of the mysterious virtue through a continuous line of authorized administrators from the days of the apostles. But the validity of baptism means nothing more than that the duty has been performed. If performed, there is no necessity of repeating it.
The question, then, is whether the candidate has done his duty. The responsibility of deciding this question begins with him; but it does not end with him. The church of which he wishes to become a member, must exercise judgment on the case. If the candidate’s satisfaction with his baptism would suffice, persons baptized in infancy might obtain admission into our churches without other baptism. The church is bound to judge, and to regulate its judgment by the will of God.
From the investigations in the preceding part of this work, we have learned that a candidate has no right to baptize himself, or select his own administrator, without regard to his being duly qualified according to the divine will. The proper administrators are persons called of God to the ministerial office, and introduced into it according to the order established by the apostles. To such persons the candidate was bound to apply; and, if he received the ordinance from any other, it was as if he had selected the administrator at his own will, or had immersed himself.
The possibility that a state of things may have at some time existed, in which a regular administrator could not be obtained, does not militate against the conclusion just drawn. This subject has been considered in Chap. VIII. 3. Because when church order has been destroyed, something unusual may be done to restore it, we are not, on this account, justified in neglecting the regular order when it does exist. Every church is bound to respect this order, and a candidate who has failed to respect it in a former baptism, may, with a good conscience, proceed anew to obey the Lord’s command, in exact conformity to the divine requirement.
In order to the proper performance of baptism, a willing candidate and a willing administrator are necessary, both of whom should render the service in obedience to Christ. By a wise provision the social tendency of Christianity is shown at the very beginning of the Christian profession. The candidate cannot obey alone, but he must seek an administrator to unite with him in the act of obedience, and by this arrangement Christian fellowship begins with Christian profession. But that two may walk together in this act of obedience, it is necessary that they should be agreed. If the administrator and candidate differ widely in their views respecting the nature and design of the ordinance, they cannot have fellowship with each other in the service. Some Pedobaptist ministers will administer immersion reluctantly, believing it to be an ineligible mode of baptism, scarcely consistent with refinement and decency. How can a candidate, who conscientiously believes that there is no other baptism, have fellowship in the service with such an administrator? But this is not all. Pedobaptist ministers do not, in general, administer the rite as an emblem of Christ’s burial and resurrection. This important part of its design they entirely overlook. If an administrator of the Lord’s supper, mistaking the design of the ceremony, should break bread and distribute wine in commemoration, not of Christ, but of the deliverance from Egyptian bondage under Moses, what Christian could receive the elements at his hands? So, when an administrator mistakes the design of baptism, and overlooks its chief symbolical signification, every enlightened and conscientious candidate, who understands the nature and design of the ceremony, may well doubt the propriety of uniting with such a minister in a service about which they are so little agreed.
The odium which has been attached to anabaptism deters many from a repetition of the ceremony; but the Scriptures nowhere brand it with reproach. He who would find an anathema against it, need not search for it in the Bible. The holy book furnishes satisfactory proof that when the rite has been once duly performed, there is no necessity to repeat it; but it furnishes no proof that God will be displeased, if one who has failed to come up to the full measure of his duty, should seek another opportunity to obey the divine command with scrupulous exactness.
SECTION V.–TREATMENT OF UNBAPTIZED MINISTERS
In a tract, “An Old Landmark Reset. By Elder J. M. Pendleton, A. M., Union University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee,” the author maintains that Baptists ought not to recognise Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers. This tract has been circulated extensively, and its doctrine is embraced by many. The discussions on the subject may sometimes have produced temporary evil, but where the parties have a sincere desire to know the truth, and a willingness to follow wherever it may lead, the final result must be good. Parties who agree with each other in their views of Christian doctrine and ordinances, and whose only difference respects the mode of treating those who are in error, ought not to fall out with each other on this question. Each one must act in the matter on his own responsibility; and discussions to ascertain the right mode of acting ought to be conducted in the spirit of kindness, meekness, and gentleness. Discussions so conducted will tend to develop truth; and if they do not bring us to the conclusions of the Landmark, may enable us to correct the premises from which those conclusions are drawn.
The question is not one of mere taste, about which persons may innocently differ; but it involves moral obligation. This is implied in the word ought. “Baptists ought not,” &c. Whatever is morally wrong ought to be avoided as offensive to God. If we have sinned in this matter, through ignorance and unbelief, though God may have graciously pardoned our sin, we should not persevere in the wrong. Our attention is now called to the subject as a question of duty, and we are bound to examine it in the fear of God, and so act hereafter as God will approve.
Baptists are not the only persons concerned to know what duty is. If Baptists ought not to recognise Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers, can other persons recognise them blamelessly? If the thing is right for others, why not for Baptists? If the act is wrong in itself, no one can perform it without some degree of guilt. For Baptists to practice it may involve peculiar inconsistency, and a higher degree of guilt. But if the act is in itself one which God disapproves, all men should be warned not to commit it.
On searching the Landmark to find why Baptists ought not to recognise Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers, we soon discover that the reason has no exclusive relation to Baptists. The doctrine is, that Pedobaptist preachers are not gospel ministers; and, if this doctrine is true, other persons are bound to receive it, and act on it, as well as Baptists. Nor does the doctrine refer to a few Pedobaptist ministers only, who may be less worthy of esteem and confidence than the rest; but it refers to all. Not one of them is a gospel minister; and not one of them ought to be recognised as such.
The honor of Christ is deeply concerned in his ministry. If some messengers sent by the churches were called by Paul “the glory of Christ,”(15) the same may be affirmed emphatically of the messengers sent by Christ himself into the world, to preach his gospel to mankind. He has promised to be with them, they speak by his authority, and in his stead. They bear in earthen vessels an inestimable treasure which he has committed to them; and with which he designs to enrich the world. For men whom Christ has never sent to claim that they bear this treasure, and are authorized to dispense it; that they have a commission from him to address mankind in his name, and have his presence with them, and his approbation of their labors;–for men whom Christ has not sent to claim all this, is an evil of no small magnitude. Their presumption must be high]y offensive to him; and all who recognise them as his ministers must oppose his will in a matter which he has greatly at heart. The question, therefore, is one of tremendous magnitude. Have all those offended Christ who have recognised as his ministers, Whitfield, Edwards, Davies, Payson, and other such men from whom they have supposed that they received the word of Christ, and by whose ministry they have thought that they were brought to know Christ? If Baptists ought not to recognise such men as gospel ministers, no one ought; and the respect which they have received from men as ministers of the gospel, must be offensive to Christ.
We do not affirm that all these consequences are stated in the Landmark. But if the doctrine of the tract has not led the author thus far, will it not legitimately conduct us to these conclusions, if we adopt and consistently maintain it? But we seem to have the author’s approbation in making this application of his principles. He says, “If it is not too absurd to suppose such a thing, let it be supposed that there were persons in apostolic times corresponding to modern Pedobaptists. Can any Baptist believe that Paul, beholding the practices of such persons–seeing the sprinkling of infants substituted for the immersion of believers–would have recognised the ministers of such sects as ministers of Christ, acting according to the gospel? Surely not. Paul would have protested against such a caricature of the Christian system. He would have said to such ministers, ‘Will ye not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?'”(16)
Conclusions so unfavorable to the entire Pedobaptist ministry are revolting to the minds of multitudes. They see in many of these ministers proofs of humble piety, sincere devotion to the cause of Christ, and deep concern for the salvation of souls. To these manifestations of the proper spirit for the gospel ministry, are added a high degree of Scripture knowledge, and a talent for imparting instruction. When such men are seen devoting their lives to arduous toil for the conversion of souls, and when God appears to crown their labors with abundant success, it is difficult to resist the conviction that they are truly ministers of the gospel, acting with Divine authority and approbation. But the Landmark teaches that these men are not gospel ministers; and its arguments in support of this opinion need a careful examination.
From what premises does the Landmark draw its conclusion? The author informs us in his letter to Dr. Hill. He says, “By a reference to what I have written you will see that Dr. Griffin, a celebrated Pedobaptist, has furnished the premises from which my conclusion is drawn.”(17)
He does not profess to have derived them directly from the Scriptures. The tract does not contain a single quotation from the Scriptures, designed to sustain them. Whatever may be the weight of Pedobaptist authority in an argument with Pedobaptists, when Baptists are laboring in the fear of God to ascertain their duty, they ought to seek information from a higher source.
In the quotations made from Dr. Griffin we find the following statements: “Baptism is the initiatory ordinance which introduces us into the visible church; of course, where there is no baptism, there are no visible churches….We ought not to commune with those who are not baptized, and, of course, are not church-members, even if we regard them as Christians….I have no right to send the sacred elements out of the church.”(18)
These are the premises from which the Landmark draws its conclusion. Is the principle here laid down a doctrine of the Holy Scriptures? If so, we are bound to receive it with every consequence which can be legitimately drawn from it.
In Chapter III. we have investigated the Scripture doctrine concerning the church universal. If we have not mistaken the divine teaching on the subject, every man who is born of the Spirit is a member of this church. Regeneration, not baptism, introduces him into it. The dogma that baptism initiates into the church, and that those who are not baptized are not church-members, even if they are Christians, denies the existence of this spiritual church, and substitutes for it the visible church catholic of theologians. The evils resulting from this unscriptural substitution, have been shown on pp. 132, 133. They are sufficient to deter us from an inconsiderate admission of the dogma from which they proceed.
Dr. Gill called infant baptism “a part and pillar of popery,” and we may justly call the dogma of Dr. Griffin a part and pillar of infant baptism. If the true universal church is spiritual, comprising all the regenerate and no others; and if local churches are temporary associations of persons belonging to the universal church, no place is found in either for unregenerate infants. But when baptism is made the door of entrance, instead of regeneration, a way of entrance is opened for infants. Pedobaptism began in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and this doctrine, in some form, is necessary to its support. The regenerating power first attributed to baptism; appears to have been understood to be the conferring of the new relation constituting membership in the church. A spiritual church, with a spiritual door of entrance, did not suit the carnal tendency which was rapidly leading men to Romanism. The substitution of the visible church catholic for the spiritual church of Christ, and of baptism for regeneration, led to infant baptism, a corrupt church-membership, and all the evils of popery.
This dogma now efficiently sustains the cause of Pedobaptism. That Dr. Mason considered it a chief pillar of infant baptism, fully appears in his Essays on the Church. Its practical effect is clearly exemplified in the case of the late Dr. Alexander. That excellent man, with two other distinguished Presbyterian ministers of Virginia, became dissatisfied with the proofs of infant baptism on which they had relied. One of them for a time became a Baptist, and the others were strongly inclined to follow him. But all these men settled down at last in the belief of Pedobaptism: and the process of reasoning which satisfied Dr. Alexander’s mind, and probably the minds of the rest, is given in his biography. Two considerations kept him back from joining the Baptists. The first was, that the prevalence of infant baptism as early as the fourth and fifth centuries, appeared to him unaccountable on the supposition that no such practice existed in the time of the apostles. The other was his inference that if the Baptists are right, they are the only Christian church on earth, and all other denominations are out of the visible church. He had perceived the corrupting tendency of infant baptism: but the dogma of a visible church catholic with a baptismal boundary, assisted to hold his noble mind fast fettered in error. Shall Baptists receive this dogma with all its consequences?
How thoroughly this Pedobaptist doctrine enters into the reasonings of the Landmark, appears in such passages as the following: “Who can be a minister of Christ according to the gospel, without belonging to the church?”(19) “Now, if Pedobaptist preachers do not belong to the church of Christ, they ought not to be recognised as ministers of Christ.”(20) “Our refusal to commune with the Pedobaptists grows out of the fact that they are unbaptized, and out of the church.”(21) In these passages, the Landmark uses the phrase, “the church,” in apparent conformity to the common doctrine of the visible church catholic; since none are members of it, but baptized persons. But another passage in the pamphlet sets forth a different doctrine: “There is no universal visible church; and if the universal invisible church, composed of all the saved, has what Dr. E. calls ‘form,’ it is impossible to know what it is. We have no idea of ‘form’ apart from visibility.”(22) According to this, the true and only universal church is “composed of all the saved.” How can this be reconciled with the preceding quotations, which represent all unbaptized persons as out of “the church?” How can it be reconciled with the premises adopted from Dr. Griffin, that “those who are not baptized are not church-members, even if we regard them as Christians?” A church composed of “all the saved,” must contain some unbaptized persons, unless all the unbaptized are unsaved; and if we may account any unbaptized persons members of “the church,” we abandon the premises of the Landmark. I do not find evidence, that the pamphlet adopts Mr. Courtney’s theory of the church generic; but whether it uses the phrase “the church” generically or collectively, the result is the same. In some way, its signification extends beyond the bounds of a single local church; and yet it is not the true universal church, “composed of all the saved.” But “the church” which appears in the premises and reasonings of the Landmark is, at best, only a Baptist modification of the visible church catholic, the church that has given Pedobaptism and Popery to the world. Many able Baptist writers have fallen into this Pedobaptist error respecting the church; but the discussions to which the Landmark has given occasion, will tend, we may hope, to establish a sounder theology.
The Landmark inquires for the authority on which Pedobaptist preachers act. “If Pedobaptist societies are not churches of Christ, whence do their ministers derive their authority to preach? Is there any scriptural authority to preach which does not come through a church of Christ? And if Pedobaptist ministers are not in Christian churches, have they any right to preach? that is to say, have they any authority according to the gospel? They are doubtless authorized by the forms and regulations of their respective societies. But do they act under evangelical authority? It is perfectly evident to the writer, that they do not.”(23) We answer, that, if the Holy Spirit has qualified men to preach the gospel, they preach it with divine authority. The Holy Spirit, who divides to every man severally as he will, does not give the necessary qualifications for the gospel ministry, without designing that they shall be used; and since he only can give these qualifications, we are sure that every man who possesses them, is bound, by the authority of God, to use them to the end for which they are bestowed. We arrive at this conclusion, aside from all reasoning about ceremonies and churches; and the proof brings irresistible conviction. Here is a landmark of truth, which must not be deserted, however much we may be perplexed with reasonings about outward forms.
We have maintained, in Chapter VIII., that ministers of the word, as such, are officers of the universal church; and that their call to the ministry by the Holy Spirit, is complete in itself, without the addition of outward ceremony. The person called fails to do his duty, if he neglects the divinely appointed method by which he should enter on the work to which he is called; and this failure tends to obscure the evidence of his divine call. But when, through the obscurity, evidence of his call presents itself with convincing force, we act against reason and against Scripture if we reject it. The seal of divine authority is affixed to that minister who brings into his work qualifications which God only can bestow.
While we maintain that Pedobaptist preachers, who give proof that they have been called to their work by the Holy Spirit, ought to be regarded as gospel ministers, we do not insist that Baptists ought to invite all such to occupy their pulpits. This is a different matter. When the Holy Spirit calls, he makes it the duty of the called to study the Holy Scriptures, and to preach what is there taught. His call does not render ministers infallible, or pledge the divine approbation to whatever they may teach; and it therefore does not bind any one to surrender the right of private judgment, and receive with implicit faith whatever may be preached. Much error is sometimes inculcated by preachers, whose divine call to the ministry we cannot question. Even baptism and ordination, however regular, do not make a minister sound in doctrine, and worthy to occupy any and every pulpit. The responsibility of inviting ministers into the pulpit, ought to be exercised with a conscientious regard to the glory of God, and the interests of souls.
An argument for excluding Pedobaptist preachers from our pulpits is drawn by the Landmark from our close communion:–” It is often said by Pedobaptists that Baptists act inconsistently in inviting their ministers to preach with them, while they fail to bid them welcome at the Lord’s table. I acknowledge the inconsistency. It is a flagrant inconsistency. No one ought to deny it.”(24)
This Pedobaptist objection is endorsed not only by the Landmark, but also by Baptists who practice open communion. All these maintain that we are inconsistent in admitting ministers into the pulpit, when we deny them a seat at the communion table. But a charge of inconsistency made against us by persons who are in error on the very point, ought not to surprise or disquiet us. Let our procedure, in each case, be regulated by the word of God, and we may be sure that, in the end, we shall be found consistent, even if we cannot at once make our consistency apparent to all. The insidious tendency to substitute ceremony for spirituality meets us everywhere, and lies, I apprehend, at the foundation of this charge. If communion at the Lord’s table is “a principal spiritual function,” as affirmed by Mr. Hall, and if, as is done in this objection of the Landmark, it may be classed with the preaching of the word, as a thing of like character, the charge of inconsistency in requiring a ceremonial qualification for one, and not for the other, will have a show of justness. But if the Lord’s supper is a ceremony, a ceremonial qualification for it may be necessary, which may not be indispensable to the ministry of the word. And it may be the duty of Baptists, both by theory and practice, to teach their erring brethren the important distinction too often overlooked, between spiritual service to God and that which is ceremonial.
The lawfulness of inviting Pedobaptist preachers into the pulpit, has been defended on the ground that any Christian has the right to talk of Christ and his great salvation. Our Landmark brethren admit that all have a right to make known the gospel privately, but deny that any have the right to proclaim it publicly, except those who have been regularly inducted into the ministerial office. The distinction between talking of Christ privately and proclaiming his gospel publicly, appears to me to respect obligation rather than right. If a Christian has a right to tell of Christ to a fellow man who sits by his side, or walks in the highway with him, he has the same right to address two in like manner, and, so far as I can see, he has an equal right to address ten, a hundred, or a thousand. The obligation to exercise this right is limited only by his ability to do good, and the opportunity which Providence presents of using such talents as he possesses to the glory of God and the benefit of immortal souls. A divine call to the work of the ministry being always accompanied with qualifications for public usefulness, creates obligation rather than confers right, as wealth creates obligation rather than confers right, to relieve the poor. Now, to defend the lawfulness of inviting a Pedobaptist preacher into the pulpit, it has been deemed sufficient to maintain that the person so invited has a right to talk of Christ to perishing men, and recommend his salvation to their acceptance. The argument appears to me to be valid; but I have chosen to take higher ground, and to maintain that many Pedobaptist ministers give convincing proof that the Holy Spirit has called and qualified them to preach the gospel, and that it is therefore not only their right, but their duty, to fulfil the ministry which God has committed to them.
We have supposed that an undoubted divine call of any one to the gospel ministry, would command the respect of all who revere the authority of the Most High; but on this point the Landmark holds the following remarkable language:–“I go farther and say, that if God were, with an audible voice, as loud as heaven’s mightiest thunder, to call a Pedobaptist to preach, we would not be justified in departing from the Scriptures, unless we were divinely told the utterances of that voice were intended to supersede the teachings of the New Testament. Such information would intimate the beginning of a new economy, and I am writing of the present dispensation.”(25)
To this we know not what to say. We have no argument to offer. If God’s voice from heaven cannot prevail, all our arguments must be ineffectual, for we have nothing more forcible to urge than the word of the King Supreme. For ourselves, were the undoubted voice of God from heaven to fall on our ears, we have nothing to oppose to his authority. We reverence the Scriptures, but all our reasonings from the Scriptures are as nothing when God speaks. We claim no right to demand explanations respecting his dispensations as a condition of receiving his word. What if God’s voice from heaven ushers in a new economy, we want no higher authority than his mere announcement, even if unaccompanied with any explanation; and we may be well assured that all our reasonings about economies, church order, and similar topics, are erroneous, if they lead us to reject the voice of God speaking from heaven.
But how does a divine call of the unbaptized to preach the gospel, constitute a new economy? John the Baptist, who preached by divine authority, at the beginning of the present dispensation, was unbaptized; and, after the dispensation had been established by the exaltation of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Saul of Tarsus was called to preach the gospel while unbaptized. Cases now occur in which persons who undergo examination in order to ordination, refer their convictions of duty with reference to the ministry, to a period anterior to their baptism; and no ordaining presbytery would be justified in denying the possibility of a call by the Holy Spirit, while the subject of it was unbaptized. He who calls the unbaptized to repentance and faith, has the power and right to call them to the ministry also, if it is his pleasure. God has never bound himself in any manner to require none but baptized persons to preach his word; and we have no right to limit the Holy One of Israel. In our view, the bestowment of ministerial grace and qualifications by the Holy Spirit, indicates the divine will: if not as certainly as it would be indicated by a voice from heaven, yet we cannot resist the conviction which it brings to our minds. When God speaks from heaven, or otherwise clearly indicates his will, we know nothing but reverence and submission.
It has been argued that Baptists ought not to invite Pedobaptist ministers into their pulpits, while they would exclude, both from their communion and their pulpits, a Baptist minister who should inculcate Pedobaptist doctrine. This argument also is a mere appeal to consistency. Such argument ought never to be used when better can be had. If there is any established usage among Baptists with which the invitation of Pedobaptist ministers is inconsistent, the usage may need to be changed. Then the present argument will fall to the ground. But, so far as I know, men who have left the Baptist ministry for the ministry in a Pedobaptist denomination, are, other things being equal, regarded and treated like other Pedobaptist ministers, each case being judged according to its merit. If a false-hearted Baptist minister should retain his connection with a Baptist church, and avail himself of it to disseminate Pedobaptist error, he would deserve to be excluded both from the communion and the pulpit. But if a Baptist minister should become a Pedobaptist, and leave behind him, in the minds of his Baptist brethren, a full conviction that in so doing he acted honestly and conscientiously, I am not aware that he would be viewed less favorably than other Pedobaptist ministers. I remember a case which will illustrate this point. A young Baptist brother, of fervent piety and distinguished talent, was licensed by his church and entered on a course of study to prepare himself for usefulness in the ministry. In prosecuting his studies, his mind came under Pedobaptist influence, and he announced to his church a change of his views, and a desire to connect himself with Pedobaptists. The church separated him from their communion; but the very men who voted this separation, invited him afterwards into their pulpit. They had licensed him because they believed him called of God to the work of the ministry. Their full belief of this remained; and they invited him to preach, not as a Pedobaptist, but as a minister of Christ, whom, as such, they loved. In their view, it was improper for him to remain in a Baptist church and partake of its communion; but they believed it to be right for him to fulfil the ministry to which he had been divinely called. In their view, the exclusion from the communion, and the admission to the pulpit, were perfectly consistent. If others think differently, they will still admit that there was no principle violated in this case, merely because of his having been once a Baptist. This admission will nullify the present argument, and leave the question to be settled on other grounds.
If we admit a Pedobaptist minister into our pulpits, do we not countenance his errors? We do, if we expect him to inculcate these errors, or if we permit him to inculcate them without correction. But this is equally true with respect to Baptist ministers. The responsibility of inviting generally devolves on the pastor of a church, who is bound to instruct the people of his charge in truth and righteousness, and to guard them, as much as possible, from all error. He is, therefore, under obligation, when he invites others to occupy his pulpit, to exercise prudent caution; and this caution is needed with respect to Baptists as well as Pedobaptists. On various occasions I have invited Pedobaptist ministers to preach, where I have been accustomed to officiate; and, in every case, I have been able to approve the doctrine which they preached. In a single case, it happened, that a minister invited to occupy the pulpit, preached doctrine so erroneous, that I deemed it my duty to correct it in a discourse subsequently delivered; but the preacher of this error was a Baptist. If this experience is of any practical value, I would infer from it, not that the Baptist ministry is less orthodox than the Pedobaptist, but that caution is needed where we least suspect danger; and that the inviting of Pedobaptist ministers does not necessarily introduce unsound preaching. If a pastor invites into his pulpit a Pedobaptist minister, whom he sincerely believes to be called of God to the ministry, and who, he believes, will, in his preaching, know nothing but Christ, and him crucified; that pastor may enjoy a pure conscience towards God, undisturbed by any errors of his Pedobaptist brother which he has never approved.
But it will be said, that, although the pastor does not design his invitation of the Pedobaptist minister to be an approval of his errors, it will be so understood by the minister himself, and by others. This, I think, is a mistake. If the pastor has taken due pains to make the truth known, and has clearly defined his own position, and maintained it with firmness and consistency, there will be little danger that his act, in this case, will be misconstrued. What we have maintained is, that the invitation of a Pedobaptist minister to preach in a Baptist pulpit, is not in itself unlawful; but whether it is expedient in any particular case, must depend on the circumstances of the case. If a Baptist pastor is conscious that he has failed to set forth the truth clearly and fully, the objection which we are considering may justly embarrass him; but the proper mode of escape from it, is, to declare the whole counsel of God habitually and unreservedly.
If we were under no obligation with respect to Pedobaptist ministers, we might, as a safe course, decline to have any connection with them. But our Divine Master has commanded us to love ail who are born of God. Many of these men manifest strong love to Christ; and we are bound to love them for Christ’s sake. They are laboring zealously and faithfully, to honor Christ, and save the souls of men; and the proof that they are called of God to this work, compels us to admit, that they are fellow-laborers with us in the glorious cause, notwithstanding the irregularity of their entrance into it. Can we turn away from such men; and proclaim to the world, that they are not God’s ministers? It is surely not necessary, in discountenancing their irregularities, to discountenance their entire ministry. We may approve all that they do right, and rejoice in it, without approving the wrong. This is the simple mode of solving the whole difficulty; and, if people do not at once understand the solution, let us act upon it, conscientiously, and in the fear of God, till men do understand it. In this way we shall give the most effectual recommendation of the truth.
1. Matt. xxiii. 8.
2. 2 John 10.
3. Rev. ii. 14, 15.
4. Acts xviii. 27.
5. 2 Chron. xxiii. 15.
6. Neh. xiii. 21.
7. Matt. xxi. 46.
8. Lev. iv. 4; xvi. 21.
9. Num. xxvii. 18-20.
10. Gen. xlviii. 14; Mark x. 16.
11. Acts xix. 6.
12. Acts xiii. 3.
13. Acts xiii. 1, 2.
14. 1 Tim. v. 22.
15. 2 Cor. viii. 23.
16. P. 14.
17. P. 53.
18. P. 4
19. P. 12.
20. P. 13.
21. P. 16.
22. P. 42.
23. P. 11.
24. P. 16.
25. P. 48.