Address to the Baptists
To the Editor of the Baptist Magazine.
Published in 1809
As a real friend to the Baptist Denomination will you allow me to avail myself of the opportunity your Magazine affords of freely addressing my brethren on some points which appear to me essential to their prosperity and honour, for both of which I feel deeply concerned.
You are, my dear brethren, not only distinguished from the world at large by a profession of the religion of Jesus Christ, but also from many of his professed followers by your sentiments and practice in respect to the article of Christian Baptism. In this particular you do not, I am persuaded, aim at singularity, but at a greater conformity to the will of your divine Lord; a motive truly honourable, and which, if duly regarded by our brethren who differ from us in this point, would at least prevail upon them to give us an attentive hearing. Allow me then to suggest to you some pieces of advice relative to what is not only of great importance in itself, but what may serve to render our motives and views clear and evident.
1. Let it be our first concern to cultivate true religion in general.–To maintain an habitual intercourse with the great God, through Jesus Christ the mediator, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to exhibit such a conduct in the church, the family, and the world, as may render us blessings to society and ornaments to the christian name.
As this religion is the true glory of our rational nature, the genuine impression of the gospel upon our hearts, and the only pledge of future complete felicity, so if we are destitute of it, however correct our sentiments on any one point of doctrine or worship, we shall be disapproved of God, and, to use the words of the apostle, be like sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal. Or tho’ we may not be wholly destitute of those graces and virtues which constitute true piety, yet if they shine with a fainter lustre in us than in our brethren of a different persuasion, we shall not only ourselves sustain an irreparable loss, but become the occasion of additional prejudice in them against our particular views, and so sink the credit of our denomination in general. Men will scarcely believe us sincere in those things which to them appear, at best doubtful, while they think they perceive manifest traces of indifference to what is by all allowed to be of the greatest and most indisputable obligation and importance.
And yet, evident as this is, we may be in danger of abating in our zeal for the attainments of religion in general, by paying eager attention to some one particular point, especially if that point be frequently and sternly opposed, and so call forth much of our energy in its defence. Such is adult baptism. It is the leading feature of our denomination as a distinct body of professing christians; it has been frequently opposed; and is what we have often been necessitated to defend, and may probably be obliged to do so again. On this account we may be imperceptibly led to pay such a disproportioned attention to it as is inconsistent with the regards necessary to the cultivation of the various other branches of evangelical piety. Of this, brethren, let us continually beware. Let us remember that whatever importance we may attach to the subject of baptism, or any other point, if other point there be, in which we differ from our fellow christians, that faith and love, that prayer to God, and benevolence to Men, that the various duties of social and civil life, are of such importance that they can, on no account whatever, be at any time dispensed with, without the greatest injury to our souls, and the greatest dishonour to our profession.
2. Let us strictly adhere to evangelical truth.–to the doctrines of scripture which we believe to be very properly represented in the confession of faith set forth by our brethren in London in the year 1689, to which the conductors of this Magazine have so frankly avowed their attachment, and which in the main correspond with the principles of the reformed churches in general.
To these doctrines let us brethren, adhere, fully satisfied that they are the doctrines of God our Saviour. Let us adhere to them firmly, and not waver in our assent to them tho’ they be assailed with violence or ridicule. The more they are opposed the clearer will their evidence appear, and the more the opposition to them is examined the weaker will it grow. God has set his seal to these doctrines, by rendering the preaching of them effectual to the conversion and salvation of millions. But let our adherence be extensive and proportionate. Do not let us select a few favourite topics to the neglect of the rest, but pay a due regard to them all. And above all let us regard them not as matters of debate or speculation, but as doctrines intended and highly calculated to affect our hearts and regulate our lives. Let them not only be inserted in our creed, not only be echoed with zeal and affection from our pulpits, but let them reign in our hearts, and from thence diffuse their vital and holy influence over all our actions.
As we do most sincerely believed these doctrines to be the spring and support of experimental and practical religion, so we can entertain little hopes of that religion prevailing amongst us, if they be either gainsayed or wholly or partially deserted, or held as matters of angry debate or cold speculation. Nor is it less evident that our paedobaptist Brethren, by many of whom these sacred truths have been ably stated, and zealously and successfully propagated, will entertain very unfavourable apprehensions of us in case we depart from them. Christ is the author and substance of all truth, as well as the great Law-giver in his church, and if we disregard him in the former capacity, we shall hardly be able to persuade them, if we can indeed satisfy ourselves that we revere him in the latter.
3. Let us labour to convert sinners to God. Believing as we do that adult Baptism by immersion is the only Baptism approved by Jesus Christ, we cannot be thought indifferent to its interest. On the contrary we wish its more extensive spread, we wish all the Lord’s people were Baptists, as we verily believe they will be in the latter Day. Nor can we think our Brethren who differ from us on this point will be surprised or offended at such frank and unequivocal assertions. They cannot think it unkind in us to wish them more conformed to their great Master’s will, which we really think would be the case in respect to baptism, did they but see and practice as we do. And for the same reason we cannot think ourselves to blame, nor can they consistently blame us, for using just and honourable means for bringing others over to our views and practices.
Still however, let me be allowed to say, that this should be only a secondary object. Our first and most zealous attempt should be on a thoughtless and perishing world, in order to turn its inhabitants from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. For this purpose was the Gospel sent into the world, and the gospel ministry instituted, and no particular circumstance of professing Christians can excuse them in the neglect of it. Our being Baptists by no means exempts us from obligations to obey our Lord’s command.–“Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” As far as we are successful in the execution of this his commission, so far we do the most substantial good; we are instrumental in saving souls from death, and hiding a multitude of sins; we in the most important sense enlarge the kingdom of our redeemer, whether the fruits of our labor fall in with our views of Baptism or not. But of this we have little reason to doubt. They will be open to conviction, and unbiased by previous opinions, will clearly perceive the meaning of their Lord’s injunctions, and under the sweet energetic influence of divine love, so generally felt in that early period of their experience, will cheerfully obey them. Thus while we are most zealously intent on the first object, we shall more easily and effectually accomplish the second; and that too with this additional advantage of enlarging our Churches by converts from the world, and not by detaching Members from other Christian Communities; a circumstance, tho’ sometimes necessary, in order that such persons may follow the dictates of their own consciences, is always to a feeling mind accompanied with some degree of regret. But should we on the other hand bend our attention chiefly to the extending of our particular views, we should not only, most likely in a great measure fail to accomplish our object, but in case we are successful, should only obtain a secondary good. i.e. we should in one instance improve the sentiments and practice of those whom we believed were already in a state of salvation: we should only hew and polish stones which others had dug out of the quarry.
It cannot fail to afford great satisfaction to every friend of our denomination, to reflect that the spirit of zealous exertion here recommended has prevailed of late to a good degree among us. The Mission to India is one very remarkable and happy instance of it; so are many towns and villages in our own Land into which the Gospel has been successfully introduced by our Ministers and Friends; as also many Churches of considerable standing which have been within a few years greatly replenished with Members coming directly from a thoughtless, guilty world, the fruits of the labours of their Pastors, which labours are still directed to the same important object. But let us not, my Brethren, rest here; on the contrary let our past successes be so many stimuluses to future exertions, till all who take knowledge of Baptists be compelled to own, that they are a people not merely zealous for their own particular tenets, but solicitous for the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom in the World at large.
4. Let us exercise a spirit of genuine candour. I say, genuine candour, in distinction from that affected indifference to sentiment which is sometimes honoured with the name of candour, but which if it be more than mere affectation, may be more properly denominated cowardice, or at least an unwarrantable compliance with the authority of others, bordering on a relinquishment of the authority of God. There is, however, such a virtue as candour, which arises from undissembled love, and consists in entertaining the most favourable sentiments of men’s characters, principles and conduct, that truth and uprightness will admit. This virtue it becomes us as Baptists, to possess and exercise in an eminent degree. We differ from our brethren of other persuasions, it is true, in respect to the article of Baptism, and it may be from some of them in other points; but is that any just reason for prejudice against those excellent labours of theirs, on almost every subject of divine truth, and every branch of evangelical piety, which the past ages or the present have produced? Should we not be unjust to the dead and to the living, as well as deprive ourselves of one of the greatest advantages for religious improvement, if we neglect the elaborate performances of Owen and Flavel, of Watts and Doddridge, of Romaine, of Robinson, of Bogue, and many others I might name, who by their writings, as well as their preaching, have rendered the most essential service to the cause of Christ? We cannot, it is allowed, wish success to the cause of Paedo-baptism as such, but should we not justly be charged with a want of candour were we not to wish success to the efforts of our Paedo-baptist Brethren, in promoting the spread of the Gospel, and converting Sinners to God? Much more if we regarded such efforts with a jealous eye, or imputed them to a spirit of party, or attempted, directly or indirectly, to throw obstructions in their way?
It is admitted, we think our brethren act contrary to the command and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, in administering Baptism to babes, and administering it by any other mode than that of Immersion. But should we not violate the laws of Candour if we openly avow or secretly insinuate that they themselves view the subject in such a light? Ought we to impute such unworthy motives to men who have given in every other instance, the most decided proofs of sincerity and disinterestedness, as to suppose that in this instance they practice contrary to what they believe to be true and scriptural? Surely no. Whatever difficulty we feel in accounting for their conduct, we ought not to account for it in such a way as this. Rather let us leave it unaccounted for, among the secrets, on which it is his prerogative alone to decide, who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins, and who will shortly call both them and us to his bar.
Forgive me, Brethren, for detaining your attention so long. I speak out of the fulness of my heart, ardently desiring the prosperity of that denomination to which I have the honour to belong, to whose advantage this publication is more immediately devoted. May we all drink into the spirit breathed in the concluding lines of the Poem with which the first number of this work is introduced, to which, whatever may be his sentiment of the former stanzas, every real Christian will with heartfelt pleasure subscribe.
Nor let the bason or the flood,
Divide the purchase of that blood,
Where all must plunge–or die.
[ Ed. Note: W.S. is probably William Steadman (1764-1837), an important minister who served several English Baptist churches ]