January 16, 2018

Worthy Examples

by David L. Cummins

This article first appeared in FrontLine • July/August 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Modern-day believers do well from time to time to meditate upon heroes from yesteryear, and then pause to consider that, in some small way by God’s grace, we might become miniature heroes for a future generation. Recently I have been reflecting upon some historical friends who surely could well wear the title of “worthy examples.” In meditating upon some of those worthy heroes, I could not help being amazed to observe a reluctance on the part of some today to identify themselves as “Baptists.” A few have gone so far as to drop the name “Baptist” as though they are ashamed of their spiritual ancestry and heritage. Others attempt to “soften” the name in advertisements. Rather than this approach, we ought gladly to bear the world’s reproach and thank God for our worthy ancestors.

Surely Baptists can rejoice in their heritage, for they possess an ancient and Scriptural origin. Though one cannot trace the name “Baptist” to the first century, surely the principles of fundamental, Bible-believing Baptists today are as old as Christianity. Baptists can thus acknowledge no founder but Christ.

As we consider “worthy examples,” we have but to look back at our history. In Cromwell’s Irish garrisons in 1755, there were 12 Baptist governors of cities, ten colonels, three lieutenant-colonels, ten majors, and 43 company officers. In the War of the Commonwealth in England and the War of the Revolution in the United States, Baptists were known as patriots.

It is well that our youth realize the contributions of Baptists in American history. President Washington paid Baptists the following tribute: “I recollect with satisfaction that the religious societies of which you are a member have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friend to civil liberty, and the preserving promoters of our glorious revolution.”

And what can one say concerning Dr. John Clarke, a pronounced Baptist of New England? He led the way in exposing Puritan intolerance and secured the Charter of 1643 which made Rhode Island a free democratic state with full provision for freedom of conscience. Baptists have from the first championed civil and religious liberty. Thus the Baptists of Rhode Island led the way in granting complete religious liberty in the young American colonies.

The first amendment of our national constitution was granted only at the insistence of Baptists from Virginia, led by John Leland, the outstanding Baptist evangelist and preacher.

And what of the “worthy examples” in the modern-day missionary movement?

Baptists Andrew Fuller and William Carey opened the door to missions in 1792. In 40 years Carey and his fellow- laborers had translated the Word of God into 34 languages, making it accessible to a third of the people of the world. As Carey became known as the “father of modern- day missions,” Adoniram Judson, Baptist missionary to Burma, became the foremost name in the annals of American missions.

The first president of Harvard College was Henry Dunster, who ultimately espoused Baptist convictions. For adopting Baptist convictions and refusing to allow his infant son to be baptized, he was disenfranchised and removed from the presidency. Even in the face of that action, the largest early benefactors of Harvard College were Baptists Thomas Hollis and his descendants.

Bible societies were organized first by a Baptist, John Hughes. Robert Raikes had formed educational institutions that met on Sundays, but the credit for establishing the first Sunday school founded to teach the Bible belongs to a Baptist deacon, Mr. William Fox, in 1785. The first Sunday school paper for young people in the United States, The Young Reaper, was printed by Baptists.

Among the world’s greatest preachers we would mention Baptist men from Great Britain such as Alexander Maclaren, the great English expositor; F. B. Meyer, whose books on Bible characters are still in demand; Robert Hall, whose elegant diction was unsurpassed by any English orator; Christmas Evans, whose eloquence was used of the Lord in the salvation of multitudes; and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, perhaps the best-known preacher of all time. Time and room would fail us to catalogue just a cursory listing of such Baptist preachers from the United States.

The literary world has been enriched by Baptist writers. Let me mention only a few well-known authors from England. Daniel Defoe, famed writer of Robinson Crusoe; John Foster, the great essayist; John Milton, the great epic poet and statesman; and John Bunyan, whose Pilgrim’s Progress stands next to the Bible in extent of its circulation, are merely representative of many famed authors. Mr. Spurgeon rightly said, “It is the chief glory of Baptists that, suffering all martyrdom themselves, they never yet have persecuted others.”

I am thankful that we have such a glorious heritage, and as I reflect upon these “worthy examples,” it fills my heart with praise for such a glorious family. Change my name? Never! Let the interlopers take unto themselves any aliases that they may choose, but I am pleased to stand in the line of those who faithfully transformed that which was intended to be a name of shame to one of fame.

What a challenge our history places upon us. It is incumbent upon fundamental, Bible-believing Baptists to so live that those who follow us will be able to consider us as “worthy examples” of righteousness for our Lord’s honor and praise.

When this article was first published, the late Dr. David L. Cummins was Deputation Director of Baptist World Mission in Decatur, Alabama.

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