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churches, whatever their name or character, laid no claim to supremacy. They were men and women, one in Christ Jesus, who had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, who had repented of their sins, and who believed in Christ. Hence, according to the record, "a great number believed and turned to the Lord: a multitude of both Jews and Greeks believed," "and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” To such churches Paul wrote, According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” And such were said to be “built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, in him fitly framed together, and growing up unto a holy temple in the Lord. They were built together for a habitation of God, through the Spirit.” Thus from the record of these churches, and from the letters addressed to them, we plainly see what an apostolic church was.
2. It will confirm the view thus presented, and also increase our admiration of the wisdom and strength on which the apostolic church was founded, when we examine its relation to the truth. Christ is the foundation of the church. He is called “The Chief Corner-stone." All the materials of its glorious superstructure, whether “pillars," as the apostles were called, or of less prominence in the divine building, have a vital, spiritual relation to him. They are those who have been cleansed by his blood, and baptized in his name.
The relation of an apostolic church is, with the foundation, doctrinally and savingly; and with the superstructure, harmoniously and practically.
The relation doctrinally, is the undoubted admission of the divinity of Christ. With authority Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “For other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And to Timothy, under a deep solicitude for his own faithfulness as a minister, " that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” To which, with a grand master stroke of his inspired pen, he adds, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” An apostolic church held a vital relation to the truth of Christ's divinity. They were all laid on that foundation. Hence, on such a rock their safety. The gates of hell could not prevail against them.
Another great doctrinal truth is the atonement. An apostolic church has a vital relation to this doctrine. It is well known to every reader of church history, that wherever the Gospel has been
faithfully preached, the divinity and the atonement of Christ have provoked the bitterest scorn and the fiercest opposition. And in the contest, the cross has wore its grandest victories. To the inquiry, sincere, or sceptical, why was God manifest in the flesh ?-the cross replies, “That he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Paul charges the elders of the church in Ephesus “to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."
How intimate, vital, wonderful is the relation of an apostolic church to this fundamental truth or doctrine—the atonement.
In close and vital connection with the doctrine of the atonement, is the doctrine of faith. To every one who sought admission to an apostolic church, was the invariable challenge, “Believest thou in the Lord Jesus Christ?" Hence the record, “a multitude of both Jews and Greeks believed.” It was the soul's hearty assent to his divine Messiahship and reliance on his atoning merits for salvation. It was the oath of its allegiance.
Apostolic churches were formed where the fiercest Jewish opposition prevailed, and where the corruption, scorn of idolized heathenism abounded in splendid courts and temples, yet faith in Christ crucified, was the battle cry from Jerusalem to Rome. Temple, synagogue, street and forum echoed it. It rose above the rattle of Roman chains and the clang of iron prison-doors. It challenged sceptred greatness and power, and passed the guarded thresholds of kingly palaces. It saluted Roman legions, and flung out its banner where the brazen eagles of proud emperors led mighty hosts in grand battle array. Its fearless and aggressive march from city to city, from nation to nation, was attended with wonderful results. Above the flame of
, every fiery persecution, rose the glory of the cross. The venerated temple in Jerusalem and the splendid temples of Ephesus and Corinth were deserted, and churches of Christ were formed of those who blindly and with indecent rites once worshipped within their walls, resplendent with gold and decorated with the highest achievements of art.
3. While thus an apostolic church rested on Christ doctrinally, in relation to its inner life, there was an outward, visible development, of a practical character, and harmonious with its fundamental doctrines. Hence arose what is called the “great commission," and the .
, ordinances. The Divine mandate is, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
The ordinances attendant on the commission are as divine and
imperative as the commission. One can no more be changed or abrogated than the other. As long as the commission is in force, so long will the ordinances be in force.
As the divinity and atonement of Christ are fundamental doctrines of an apostolic church, and “Go ye therefore and teach all nations" a positive command it is bound to carry out, so is a perfect obedience to the ordinances imperative and binding. They are a part of the superstructive, and stand or fall together. They are also in harmony with the fundamental doctrines. Both speak one language. The ordinances in the plan of salvation, become the interpreters of the doctrines. The forms and elements they use are lucid and plain expositions of mysterious and sublime truths.
They make them intelligible to the humblest order of mind. A child's faith can
Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome, says:
Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.
To change or annul, therefore, the divine ordinances of the church, is to hide or blot out the doctrines they illustrate or symbolize. Observed in apostolic simplicity, they harmonize with the truth, and impressively enforce it.
The two ordinances commanded to be ooserved by apostolic churches, are baptism and the Lord's Supper. From the Acts of the apostles, and from letters to these churches, we find the evidence that believers in Christ were the proper subjects of baptism, and none others. That this rite was administered by the total immersion of the body in water, and preceded admission to the Lord's Supper,
This Scriptural position, as a Baptist denomination, we have always maintained, with unwavering consciousness that it is a foundation of truth. Taking the New Testament as our authority and guide,
. we honestly and firmly hold those ordinances as we believe they were held and practiced by Christ and his apostles. Hence our honest claim to be in our church organization, rites and order apostolic.
4. There are objections to our position. One is, that it provokes the charge of exclusiveness and illiberality. But we honestly ask, was there ever a stand taken for truth and righteousness, in any period of the church's history, that did not provoke this charge? Does
not truth everywhere stand out by itself, like an orb of light, distinct and uncompromising ? Shall it be shorn of its divine glory, that it may harmonize with the noxious fogs of ignorance and the darkness of error that surround it, to save itself from the charge of singularity or bigotry? It must be itself. It must maintain its divine and holy character.
Truth is honorably, and from necessity, sensitive. 'It can permit nothing to dim its glory. It will not allow that hoary pretender, Tradition, clad in the imposing robes of ecclesiastical dignity, his train borne by popes and bishops, his sceptre gilded with the power of senates, his crown jeweled by earthly monarchs, with wealth and learning supporting his pretensions, to put a single mote of error on its fair and radiant brow. Like beauty, truth, when unadorned, is adorned the most. To attempt its adornment is an insult to its divine perfection. To take away a single ray of glory, or to veil a single charm, wounds its immaculate honor and divinity.
Such a position excites persecution. We know it. From necessity we have been intimate with this great enemy to truth. Our history is written with the blood of martyrs. Its first page is a crimson one. The gory head of the first Baptist graced a tyrant's charger, as the price and penalty of faithfulness to truth. And that glorious head, which this forerunner laid beneath the baptismal waves of Jordan, on which the glory of the opening heavens shone, was lifted to the bloody cross, crowned with thorns, planted by the hand of relentless persecution. Persecution! Yes. We have testified our love to Christ and his church in seas of blood. In a light that cannot be hid, we have reflected it far and wide in the flames it has kindled. It burnt John Rogers; it imprisoned John Bunyan; it whipped Obadiah Holmes; it banished Roger Williams. We will not boast, but we can say, in truthfulness and honest pride, we were persecuted for truth's sake. The ground of our offence, as of our faith, was the Bible. Let the most careful historian examine our whole denominational history, and he will not find a single record of persecuting others for their religious belief. Our standard has always been an open Bible; and our fearless, honorable challenge to hoar heathenism with its juggernaut, to Papacy with its relics and inquisition horrors, to formalism with its imposing ceremonies and secular aggrandizement, is the Bible! We say to the world, Papal, Infidel, Gentile, Jewish, Mohammedan, with this book we meet you; and if victory shall be ours, it is by the Word of God, and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In all our bannered host--from the mother with her child at her knee, the Sabbath-school teacher with his class, to the ablest preacher of the gospel and the profoundest instructor in theology-not an individual dare occupy any other ground. Loyalty to Christ and to the truth ingrains the material of our entire history, and has given us the prosperity and character in which we now stand before the world.
But we have many counsellors as well as opposers. We are advised to relax from the firmness of our position and principles, because it would do no hurt. Allowing all the sincerity claimed in the advice given, and the widest charity for the motive which prompts it, we cannot admit the principle. History warns us of its falsity. Down the centuries comes the warning voice of the chiefest of the apostles, “Beware!” And the corruption and overthrow of the churches he warned re-echo it with startling emphasis.
In the erection of a building or ship, is it ever true that the introduction of unsound material is no injury, especially if it contains in its own defection the power of extending decay through the whole mass ? History furnishes us with abundant evidence that the corruption of Christian churches and fatal lapses from the faith were brought about in this very manner.
“It can do no hurt,” says some apologist, “to bow to an image, to adore the wafer, to anoint the dying, to confess to a priest, to pray to the Virgin, to sprinkle an infant.” No hurt! Behold the sad results of these errors in the world. How many thousands they blind to the truth, and shut out of heaven. Is it no injury to place tradition above the Scriptures, to destroy the spirituality and vital godliness of evangelical religion, to substitute forms for faith, penance for penitence, works of the law for the doctrines of grace?
We need not go back to antiquity for warning. There was a time when evangelical religion was almost extinct in New England. And what was the cause? We quote from history:
In Massachusetts colony no man could become a voter, or was eligible to office, who was not a member of a Congregational church. Hence arose a strong desire on the part of many of the children of the first settlers, men not themselves professing personal piety, to become members. To accommodate them, an act was passed in 1663 which recognized all persons spinkled in infancy as members of the church, and their children as entitled to baptism, even when the parents, making no profession of personal faith, were not admitted to the communion. A few years later another step invariably followed, and such persons were invited to the table of the Lord, because they were already churchmembers.
Thus unregenerate persons became members of the church in vast numbers. The natural consequence was a great falling away in