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and, above all, the overthrow of that climax of folly and wickedness, the doctrine of apostolic grace brought dowi through physical conductors, distilled from hands the most polluted, on heads the most empty, which surmounted hearts the most depraved, would constitute an illustrious era in the moral and spiritual history of our race. A spiritual, would be established for a worldly organization. A Church Polity drawn from the scriptures, would take the place of an arrangement of human invention.
This is not the place to exhibit the proof that the Baptist Church Polity is purely scriptural. In common with all Baptists we believe it to be so; if it is not, we would gladly unite with any honest, judicious effort, to conform it more exactly to the scriptural model. If it is scriptural in all its essential principles, it is of universal obligation. No additional argument, derived from the decisions of councils, the opinions of the Fathers, or church usages venerable by antiquity, can increase or diminish its authority. If the principles of our church order are from God, they are therefore the best that can be devised. We are bound to be governed by them, not simply because we perceive their superior utility compared with others, but because they are divinely revealed.
Nevertheless we are willing to submit them to the test of experience, to be judged by their fruits. If it can be shown that these principles from their nature cannot, and in actual practice do not work well, in the hands of wise and good men, our confidence in their scriptural origin must be shaken. The opinions of men on all subjects are influenced by comparison as well as by investigation and induction; and we wish to show that our Church Polity, taught as we believe in the scriptures, does also in practice, commend itself to enlightened judgment.
It is no disparagement to these principles, that they have been perverted by ignorant or wicked men. The best forms of civil government have suffered tlie same reproach. Liberty has attractions for the bad as well as the good, for the reckless lovers of change, as well as for the wise and thoughtful. When Roger Williams proclaimed freedom to the human conscience, he attracted to his standard those who ardently desired spiritual freedom, and those who hated all restraint. When David fied from the persecutions of Saul, some noble spirits rallied under his banner, fully resolved to share his fortunes or his fate. But another and a very different class came also.
“Every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them." Yet this fact did not prove that the principles on which he acted were erroneous, nor shut from him the tokens of the divine favor.
Nor should it be forgotten that from the period when Christianity became a state religion, those who have held these principles have been unceasingly persecuted. They have been compelled, by unjust laws, to support religious institutions which they did not approve, in addition to their own. They have suffered the spoiling of their goods, fines, scourging, imprisonment, and death, in perhaps every country of nominal Christendom. In some of them they are still subject to the same evils. Their healthy increase has been obstructed by violence and contumely, their intelligence has been crushed, and fanaticism, which is always found among the persecuted, has been driven into their ranks.
We appeal, therefore, from partial and unfair inductions drawn from history written by our foes. By impartial history, if it can be found, we are willing that the fruits of our system should be tested. If its workings are to be compared with those of other systems of church polity, justice requires that the comparison be restricted to countries and times in which they have stood on equal ground. But where can such be found ? Nowhere, unless in the United States, nor here but for a few years past. And for these few
and their influence have been glorious, although they have, even here, been embarrassed and restrained by governments, and society, and institutions of learning, moulded by the influence of other systems.
The advantages of these principles may be shown, both from their nature, and their fruits. The first great purpose of religion-its doctrines, ordinances, church order, and government-is to convert, to enlighten, to sanctify, and to save men,-individual men. It is proper, therefore, that these principles should be tested, and their practical value ascertained, by their influence on the characters and prospects of individuals, by their general influence on society at large, and by their efficiency in promoting the kingdom of Christ and the salvation of the world.
I. The huinan race is divided into two classes-believers and unbelievers, regenerate and unregenerate, children of God and children of the wicked one, the heirs of heaven or of hell. The mission of Christianity is to translate sinners from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Any system of church polity is valuable so far as it is in harmony with this grand design, or as it is adapted to illustrate the doctrines and duties of religion, and to impress them on individual minds. There is a divine harmony established between the doctrines, the ordinances, and the social polity of the Christian religion, which is all important to its success. That this unity of moral influence is preserved in churches constituted according to the principles before advocated, may be shown,
1. Because this system, and this only, of all the forms of church government in existence, draws the line practically and distinctly, between converted and unconverted men. In other ecclesiastical communities, children are understood to be born into the church when they are born into the world, or to be initiated in infancy, by virtue of their parents' faith. The distinction between believers and unbelievers is thus confounded. These principles, on the contrary, practically recognize the great truth, that all alike are born in sin, and all need alike, repentance, faith, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, before they can sustain any relation to the church of Christ. They illustrate to all beholders the solemn truth that, except they are born of water and of the Spirit, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God; of which every church is an emblem. This church polity, from its very nature, proclaims to the world, "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." “Repent and be baptized every one of you, for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Can this be said of any other system? Is it not obvious that every system which declares churches to be territo
rial, which claims ecclesiastical catholicism, or includes the children of believers, while yet unconverted, practically confounds these solemn truths ? Common sense, as well as scripture, teaches that the church, the "household of God," is for sanctified persons, in distinction from the unbelieving world. But how often do we hear of persons who were born in the church" of England or of Rome, yet giving no evidence of being " born again.” Every Pædobaptist system confuses the distinction between the converted and the unconverted, by assuring both classes that they are in the church. Thus its moral influence over the latter class is lost. One system says,
6 believe and be baptized," the other, “ believe, because you have been baptized”—one says,
your sins to God that you may enter the church," the other, “turn, because you are in the church.” Our principles, therefore, are in harmony with the teachings of scripture, by keeping before every unconverted person his true condition. The superiority of these principles is also shown,
2. In promoting a proper feeling of personal responsibility. Every church is formed of converts, all of whom have voluntarily taken the first steps in religion. Members are all volunteers, acting on their personal accountability to God, by the very terms of their profession. Could a church be coëxtensive with a nation, or a state, the feeling of responsibility would be lost in the mass. The individual would consider the church as responsible for him, rather than he for the church. And especially when his membership was not his voluntary act, but the act of his parents, or the accident of his birth, the ordinary incentives to individuality of feeling and action are removed. Moreover, this individual responsibility and the wide distribution of influence and power essential to these principles, strongly tend,
3. To promote religious knowledge among all the members. These principles admit, yea, they court and encourage, the freest theological inquiries and research. Baptists never have recognized any standard of truth and duty but the Bible,—the Bible in the hands of all the Christian people. Their cardinal principle is,-believe and practice all that is taught in the Bible-reject all else. Some churches have no written articles; those that have, make them very brief, comprehending only the elementary principles of revealed truth, and use them only as a convenient way of setting forth their belief for general information. In the admission of church members, in choosing and consecrating the ministry, in constituting and organizing churches, they go to the scriptures alone for direction, that all may judge whether they do in truth keep the ordinances as they were delivered.
The ministry go directly to the scriptures, untrammelled by human creeds, with full liberty to preach all the truth which they find there revealed. It is by this freedom of theological inquiry that the Bible sheds a brighter and clearer light on every succeeding age. Encouraged by these principles, the giant intellect of Fuller scattered the hosts of error, and built on many a disputed field the impregnable fortresses of truth; the glowing spirit of Hall threw beauty and dignity before unknown, around the productions of the pulpit; the incomparable Carey led off the Christian world to new conquests of truth and love among the heathen.
To the freedom of individual conscience and the church independence which are peculiar to these principles, the world is deeply indebted for the advancement of theological knowledge. The objection that this freedom from human creeds is the parent of heresies, and leads to infidelity, is founded in error. Those spring from the depravity of the human heart, and must be overcome by the Spirit of God, working in the free spirits of his chosen servants. What but this freedom has enabled the New England mind to awaken the religious energies of the world, and to bring about a new era in theological research ? * The men who have done most to unfold the
* The excellent John Robinson of Leyden, in his farewell address to the first Puritan company which sailed for New England, said, “I charge you before God and the blessed angels, to follow me no farther than you have seen me follow Christ; if God shall reveal any thing to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am verily, persuaded that he hath more truth yet to break forth out of his holy word."' Baptists, therefore, who have rejected one or two of the practices which those honored Puritans brought “out of such thick anti-Christian darkness," from which, Mr. Robinson said shortly after in the same address, they had “just emerged," may well plead this permission, yet retaining all the principles of the system, may lay equal claim to its peculiar honors. All that is liberal in the system of Congregationalism-all that encourages and fosters independence of thought or action, is embraced in the Baptist system, which rejects only what is destructive of true Congregationalism, as opening the door to disorder, heresy, and corruption.