December 12, 2017

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (2)

Thomas Jefferson Villers, D. D., LL. D.

Pastor First Baptist Church, Detroit, Mich.

Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.

Our current offering comes in two parts, with commentary the next day. Part One covered a fairly typical recitation of Baptist martyrology, a topic that reminds of the sacrifice made in behalf of the heritage of soul-liberty, which blesses men of all beliefs with freedom of religion where the principles are enshrined into law. Today’s offering, Part Two, rehearses the heritage of a spiritual membership, and cultural achievements, along with an evangelistic fervor which make faithful Baptist views worth striving for.

With our heritage of soul-liberty has come that of a spiritual church. Our fathers bequeathed to us the conviction that the church is a body of believers called out from the world, that the membership is a regenerate membership, consisting of such only as have been renewed by God’s Spirit and are by faith vitally joined to Christ. They could not, therefore, accept the Westminster Confession, which affirms that the church includes all those throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children. Nor could they assent to the Book of Common Prayer, from which the minister, at the christening of an unconscious babe, reads, saying, “This child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s church.” Our fathers held that the reason for our denominational existence is not baptism as a mode, but the church as a spiritual organism. They practised immersion not simply because Christ was buried beneath the yielding wave, but because immersion is “our Lord’s appointed sign of his death and resurrection, and of the believer’s entrance into communion therewith.” They rejected infant baptism not simply because it has no scriptural warrant, but because it admits to the church such as do not know and cannot know aught of the new birth. They opposed sprinkling or pouring in the case of adults not simply because no such method was known in apostolic days, but because the ordinance when thus administered does not symbolize that dying and rising with Christ which is essential to admission into a New Testament church.

A glance at history reveals the fact that when formalism was substituted for spirituality, and devotion to externals supplanted personal faith, the regenerate church became a degenerate church, gross darkness covered the people, and the martyr-fires were kindled. The church in the world and the world in the church are two very different things. So long as the church was a separated church, it gave proof of its divine origin and supernatural power. But when the world was taken into the church’s bosom, the church was not only shorn of strength but became a public scandal. Take an illustration from Virginia. Preachers there, we are told, wore black coats, babbled in the pulpits, roared in the taverns, and by their exactions and dissoluteness destroyed rather than led the people. The clergy, Bishop Meade informs us, were sometimes a gambling, swearing, horse-racing, cockfighting, and drunken set. One of them, a noted pugilist, getting into trouble with his vestrymen, knocked them down severally, then dragged them out more or less collectively, and the next Sunday celebrated his victory by preaching from the words of Nehemiah, “I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair.”

In Massachusetts, where citizenship and church-membership were nearly identical terms, a number of ministers, with a view to extending the franchise, met at Boston in 1657 and adopted what is known as the Half-way Covenant. This covenant provided that all persons of sober life and correct sentiments might become members of the church without being examined as to a change of heart. Persons baptized in infancy were to be regarded as belonging to the church of their parents. Such persons, in turn, if not guilty of heresy or scandalous conduct, could have their children baptized. Thus the unregenerate were granted baptism, but were as yet denied communion. It was not long, however, before the bread and wine were declared to carry converting grace and then all were admitted to the Lord’s Supper. And so the sluice-gates were flung open, and worldliness, with its consequent dearth and deadness, poured in. Against this inrushing flood

Baptists stood almost alone, with here and there a mighty helper like Jonathan Edwards, who for his insistence on a spiritual church was driven from his pastorate at Northampton. History calls loudly to us to be true to the Baptist idea — true to it, not simply because it is an inherited idea, but because it is the New Testament idea; true to it because God has honored and blessed us in proportion as we have cherished and practised it; true to it because while other churches advocating a mixed membership have become decadent, our growth has furnished conspicuous evidence of divine approval.

The Advance, of Chicago, commenting on the decline of Congregational churches in some of the western States, several years ago said:

It is significant that this has occurred at a time when it is easier than ever before to get into a Congregational church, excepting the period of the Half-way Covenant. In many of the churches the doors are as wide open as hinges and posts will admit. A Chicago gentleman of liberal proclivities was constrained to protest that his church could not go any further without removing the whole front end of the building. No teaching in the New Testament [the Advance declared] is clearer than this, that for spiritual work and spiritual results there must be spiritual power. The churches, however, are more or less under the influence of an opposite kind of teaching. We have imbibed just enough of the evolution theory to turn our heads from the upward look of the apostles to the downward look of the naturalist. We do not openly admit it, except in radical cases, but unconsciously we act out the theory that the forces of religion are all in man. With this conviction comes indifference to prayer, and a feeling unfavorable to revivals. What the churches need is a return to the upward look.

It is this upward look that has made the Baptist church so potent, and the Baptist heritage so precious. What memories throng us as we mention the church of our fathers? We think of Pentecost, the birthday of the church; the army of martyrs who stand by the throne and gaze into the face that made glorious their own. We think of the romance and heroism of modern missions; of childhood days and the Sabbath chime of bells, when we joined the well-appareled crowd that went together to the house of God, where the gray saint just on the edge of heaven and the little child just taught to close the lash of its blue eye the while in prayer — knelt in attitude of worship; then the hymn sincere in its old-fashioned melody, and then the tremulous accents of the preacher who lent Isaiah’s fire to the truth of revelation. We think of father and mother and many loved ones. Part have crossed the flood, and part are crossing now. We loved them, and they taught us to love God. We followed them, and they taught us to follow Christ. We think of the barrenness and joylessness and hopelessness which might have been our curse had we not known the church. We think of the inspiration which the church has breathed into us, of the safeguards which the church has thrown round us, of the hope with which the church has anchored us to things within the veil. The church has been to us a Bethel, where in our stony griefs we have seen the angel-crowded ladder; a Peniel, where through the long watches of the night God has wrestled with us, withered the sinew that resisted him, and then, as we hung on him pleadingly, showed us his face. The church has been to us a Patmos, where being in the Spirit we have looked right through heaven’s gorgeous roof, and have caught visions of the land that is fairer than day. So we sing:

I love thy church, O God,
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.
Fidelity to our Baptist Heritage
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.

We may also be justly proud of our educational inheritance — a goodly heritage of culture. Many imagine that our forebears, like the conies, were a feeble folk, whose feebleness was equaled only by their ignorance. But a study of beginnings and developments furnishes quite a different story. Among the earliest friends and promoters of the free public schools in America was a Baptist, Dr. John Clarke, of Rhode Island. It was a Baptist, Henry Dunster, who served as first President of Harvard, the oldest American college. That he might put the struggling institution on a solid financial basis he obtained large gifts of money and gave one hundred acres of land himself. With masterful hand he shaped Harvard’s early life, till after fourteen years of remarkable service he was indicted by the grand jury for disturbing the ordinance of infant baptism, and was compelled to resign. It was a Baptist university, begun as “A Seminary of Polite Literature” which under Francis Wayland emphasized scientific training and early introduced the elective system thereby helping to blaze the way which other colleges now almost universally honor. It was Matthew Vassar, a Baptist, who founded here the first distinctively woman’s college, “thoroughly Christian, frankly feminine.” It is the Baptists of this country whose sixty-eight educational plants have reached the enormous money total of $80,000,000. To this total we are now planning to add $28,000,000 more; but we are not willing that a penny of it shall go to any institution that would pluck the crown of Deity from the brow of Jesus.

At the great world-courts, it has long been held that education must be coextensive with sovereignty. Here, therefore, where all are sovereigns, education ought to be coextensive with the people — especially with Baptist people, since our principles encourage the freest investigation, and our mission demands the best equipment. The intellectual graces which adorned our fathers and mothers are urgent calls to further culture in us — a practical culture, like that of Martin Brewer Anderson, who as an educator had a passion for practicalness; whose education did not make him an impractical dreamer; who was preeminently a man of affairs; who knew as much about poultry as about poetry; who was as familiar with calluses on men’s hands as with calluses on men’s brains; whose advice was eagerly sought in matters ranging from the pettiest details of commonplace lives to the most complicated questions of public policy; who studied history and science and theology that he might be the better able to help his fellow men; who appealed to scholars to bring themselves into contact with humanity at the point of need; who criticized unsparingly literary recluses, that peep out from their loopholes of retreat, finding the pleasure of their life and the end of their being in the accumulation of mental wealth, which they never make available for any good purpose beyond their own enjoyment.

In his “Fragments of Science,” Tyndall speaks of certain crystals in the mineral world, certain forms of fluor-spar, which have lain darkly in the earth for ages, but which nevertheless have a potency of light locked up within them. In their case the potential has never become actual, the light being held back by a molecular detent. When these crystals are warmed, the detent is lifted, and an outflow of light immediately begins. This is the work of Baptist parents and teachers and preachers — to warm the living crystals in our homes and schools and churches; to convert the potential into the actual; to lift the detent from the minds of our children and young people; to cause these future workers and leaders to become conscious of light within themselves, and sources of light to others; to teach them that our heads ought to be as full of light as our hearts are of devout heat; that there need be no antagonism between a luminous intellect and a devotional spirit; that knowledge ought to

Grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster.

As a final bequest, may I briefly mention our heritage of evangelism. One Sunday afternoon, in a little churchyard of Kettering, England, I stood with bowed head at the grave of Andrew Fuller, the man who held the ropes while Carey descended into the mines of India. A few minutes later I was standing at the old home of Mrs. Beeby Wallis, then occupied by Mr. Stockburn, president of the city magistrates. I knocked with the old-fashioned knocker, and was admitted. Mrs. Stockburn, an aged lady, graciously ushered me into the famous back parlor, where I found not twelve men planning missions, but two young couples busily courting. As my funds were running low after a long trip to the Orient, I was strongly inclined to suggest that if as a minister I could be of any service, I should be glad to render such service at half price. But other and more serious thoughts possessed me. It was in that room that a few humble Baptists organized a movement which is now girdling the whole earth. I thought of October 2, 1792 — the birthday of the modern foreign missionary enterprise; and of the world-issues that were wrapped up in that little meeting. I thought of Carey, ridiculed as a tinker and tub-preacher; denounced as a fool and madman; and yet he it was who revolutionized the agricultural, social, and religious condition of a vast empire; who put out the heathen fires that burned widows alive; who started the first Sunday School in India, and the first school for native children in Hindustan; who translated the New Testament into Bengali, the first version of modern times in any heathen tongue; who by making and helping to make twenty-eight such versions, put the sacred Scriptures within reach of one-third of the human race; who saw twenty-six gospel churches planted among the heathen; and who, aided by Marshman and Ward, gave to missions out of his own earnings nearly half a million dollars, and dying poor said, “I might have had large possessions, but I have given my all.”

Time would fail me to tell of Judson, the first modern herald to an absolutely heathen nation. When he set foot in Burma, there was not even the semblance of a civilized government and he found that the tender mercies of the king were cruel. We have punctuated with tears the pages of his life, as we have read of his awful sufferings while undergoing the remnant of Christ’s woe. Seventeen months he was in chains. To his dying day he bore in his body the branding-marks of Jesus. When seized and hurried off to prison, his precious manuscript, which he had hidden in an old pillow, was thrown away as a worthless piece of cotton. But God preserved the pillow, and that manuscript now forms part of the first Burmese Bible.

It was a Baptist, Joshua Marshman, who first translated the Bible into the Chinese language. It was a Baptist, Francis Mason, who gave the Karens their first version. It was a Baptist, Nathan Brown, to whom Assam and Japan are alike indebted for their complete translation. It was a Baptist, Lyman Jewett, who rendered a similar service to the Telugus. It was a Baptist, William Carey, who at Serampore, with a view to printing the New Testament in seven of the Indian languages, organized the first Bible Society, anticipating by a few months the British and Foreign Bible Society, which itself was originated by a Baptist Minister, Joseph Hughes.

In the missionary conquest of America also, our forefathers were among the pioneers. Take a single instance. Napoleon, while attending the Easter service at the Notre Dame Cathedral, suddenly determined to sell our government the heart of the American continent. Such an opportunity had never occurred to Jefferson. He was trying merely to secure at New Orleans such rights as would permit our free navigation of the Mississippi. Seeking a humble foothold in a city, he was surprised to find an empire for sale. The purchase was bitterly opposed by such men as Fisher Ames, who declared that by adding an unmeasurable world, we should rush like a comet into infinite space. In our wild career, even if we did not jostle some other world out of its orbit, he was of the opinion that we should in any event quench the light of our own. Jefferson admitted that he stretched his presidential power till it cracked; but he persisted, and closed one of the biggest real estate deals on record. In all that vast territory, larger by fifty-five thousand square miles than the original thirteen States, there was not a single Protestant church. The first missionary to enter the Louisiana purchase was John Clark, a Baptist, who four years before the date of purchase paddled down the Mississippi in a little canoe and settled in St. Louis County; and it was a Baptist Thomas Musick, who organized the first church within the limits of that purchased empire, that old Baptist church being now the mother of forty thousand Protestant churches between the Mississippi and the Pacific.

Possessed of such an inheritance, bequeathed to us by men and women now among the saints in light; commissioned by the Son of God, whose pierced hand is pointing us to every nation; impelled by the world’s need, two-thirds of the human race, after nineteen centuries, still unevangelized; inspired by the example of Carey, whose blood-earnestness aroused a slumbering church, and made him obedient to our Lord’s last and unrepealed command; mellowed by the sufferings of Judson, who, conducting an embassy in chains, was reduced to beggary; emboldened by the prayers of Jewett and Murdock and Barbour and Gordon, who “prayed mission stations into being and missionaries into faith, prayed open the hearts of the rich and gold from the most distant lands”; quickened by the zeal of Peck and Going and Bolles and Morgan, by the sacrifice of Chivers and the statesmanship of Morehouse, who, seeing the destitution of the home field, resolved to lend efficient aid with promptitude; increased in goods and amply able to plant and equip and maintain new stations and schools and churches; encouraged by our gospel triumphs in such fields as Porto Rico, where Delfino Muler, once a policeman, now an evangelist, testifies to the people, “You all know me, you know what I was; you see what Christ has done for me”; and in the Philippines, where Si Loy, our first Baptist deacon, mobbed and beaten, cries, “I can’t strike back, for there is a great love in my heart”; and in Africa, where Lutate, surnamed Barnabas, son of consolation, with shining face and melodious heart, tells Richards, “I do believe Jesus has taken away my sins; I do feel that he has saved me, and I do feel so happy”; and in Siam, where Thang Kan, the Garo, declines a lucrative government position, saying, “The official might bid me go north when the Lord Jesus was bidding me go south”; and in Burma, where Henry Parke Cochrane tells us old U Po Hline, returning from a mission into the hill-country, sank with exhaustion again and again, yet each time he fell in the hot road, putting his hands together and praying, “Lord Jesus, I have been away doing thy work; I have tried to be faithful; give me strength to get home”; and in India, where Krishnu Pal, black-skinned, white-souled, sings,

O thou my soul, forget no more
The Friend who all thy sorrows bore;

while Keshub Chunder Sen exclaims, “None but Jesus, none but Jesus, none but Jesus is worthy to wear the diadem of India, and he shall have it” — possessed of such an inheritance and encouraged by such conquests,

Is this the time, O Baptist hosts, to sound
Retreat? To arm with weapons cheap and blunt
The men and women who have borne the brunt
Of truth’s fierce strife, and nobly hold their ground?
Is this the time to halt, when all around
Horizons lift, new destinies confront,
Stern duties wait our people, never wont
To play the laggard, when God’s will was found?
No, rather strengthen stakes, and lengthen cords.
Enlarge your plans and gifts, O ye elect,
And to the kingdom come for such a time.
The earth with all its fulness is the Lord’s.
Great things attempt for him, great things expect,
Whose love imperial is, whose power sublime.

Baptist Fundamentals series:


Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Historic Baptist Principles? … or the seed of defeat in the soil of revival

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (1)

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