This interesting piece was published in the 1832 issue of the Baptist Magazine, page 187 ff. It addresses the question of the importance of an open declaration of the essential beliefs we hold. It is signed by “Iota,” whose identity is undetermined.
A respected correspondent of the Magazine asks, “Ought an Association of Churches to print the doctrines they hold?” The reasons he assigns for proposing this question are, “The Association, of which I am a member, has always printed the formula in general use, at the head of its Circular Letters, viz., ‘Believing in three equal persons in the Godhead; eternal and personal election; particular redemption,’ etc. etc. etc. Thus the views of divine truth being published, all who read them could instantly judge to what particular class of professing Christians the churches belonged. This system has worked well for these many years, but younger men have risen up in our churches, who, keeping pace with the march of intellect, exclaim, ‘We will have no tests, no printed doctrines.’”
The reader will observe, that our excellent friend gives no intimation, that the all-important doctrines mentioned above, are not cordially believed by the churches or their pastors; nor, that there is any decline in zeal in preaching and defending them.
The simple question is, adopting the language of the evangelist Luke, whether these associated churches ought still to “set forth in order, a declaration of those things, which are must surely believed among them.” Luke i.1.
1. It is fair to presume, for “Charity hopeth all things and is kind,” that churches which “hold the truth,” and speak the truth in love, would be solicitous to avoid furnishing those who are destitute of the truth, with any ground of suspicion; lest such churches had lost the “love of the truth,” and had resolved no longer to “strive together for the faith once delivered to the saints.” The apostle, on a similar subject, when charged with improper sentiments and conduct, acted upon this principle of prudence, by publicly stating the grounds of his conduct, and that for the express purpose of exposing in their true colours “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves in the apostles of Christ. But what I do that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion.”
2. Nor is it to be doubted, that these associated churches would feel distress on reflection, if, by discontinuing the general publication of the doctrines they maintained they should violate the precept “that no one put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” The subject to which this is referred by the apostle, was certainly in many respects inferior in importance to that of churches “setting forth in order a declaration” of their faith; and yet he enforces his argument, by adding “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died: let not then your good be evil spoken of.” Will it then, it may be asked, be “charitable,” or kind, towards those “brethren” who may thus be caused “to stumble, or be offended, or be made weak,” to “put such a stumbling-block in their way?” Will this be to “follow after the things which make for peace and things where one may edify another?”
3. If it can be shewn that the New Testament contains any “form of doctrine;” or “form of sound words;” or “a proportion,” or analogy of faith [footnote: Dr. Gill, quoting from a Latin work which he says had been lately published, gives this definition: “The analogy of faith our divines call the sum of heavenly doctrine, concerning articles of faith, taken out of such passages of Scripture, whereas in their proper places, they are treated of in clear and plain words.” — Introduction to the Body of Divinity.]; these having been “delivered” to the churches in the inspired epistles for the purpose of being read to all the brethren, that they might be held fast, that all might “strive earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints;” is not this tantamount to the printing, for the purpose of making them generally known, the doctrines, which our churches believe to be according to the analogy of faith as taught in the Scriptures? Now does not the apostle Paul supply such a formula, Heb. vi. 1, 2, “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” And is not what has been called, “the glorious chain of salvation,” another such pattern, Rom. viii. 30, “Moreover, whom he did predestinate them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Dr. Gill remarks, “It seems no ways incongruous with the sacred writings, but perfectly agreeable to them, that articles or heads of faith, or as a summary of Gospel truths may be collected from them, to declare explicitly our belief of them, to strengthen the faith of others in them, to shew our agreement with other Christians in the principal parts of them, and to distinguish ourselves from those who oppose the faith once delivered to the saints.”
4. If it would have any weight, as I think it ought to have, the practice of our associated churches for the last 150 years may be pleaded. The phrase “the wisdom of our ancestors,” has, it is true, been often pleaded, as if proceedings which were adopted by our progenitors must have been necessarily according to wisdom: but, we know that “great men are not always wise, neither do the aged [always] understand judgment.” At the same time we know also, that the kingdom of Israel went eventually into apostasy and ruin, because Rehoboam “forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him!” In the “General Assembly of 107 churches, which met in London in 1689, they adopted as the distinguishing articles of their faith, holding the doctrines of personal election, and final perseverance.” This was declaring to the world, that they were neither Arminians, as were the “General Baptists,” nor of those churches which held what they denominated “the foundation principles of the Six Articles, in Heb. vi. 1, 2,” but who would not unite either with the Arminian or the Calvinistic churches.
This simple declaration was found to be sufficient to inform the world that our churches were, what they have since been called, “Particular Baptists.” But after the Arian doctrines had been introduced among the Presbyterians at Exeter in 1719; and where many of the London dissenting ministers had objected at the “Salters’-hall Synod” in the same year, to subscribe a declaration as to their faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, or of “Three equal persons in the Godhead;” they found it necessary, and therefore concluded it would be right, to distinguish themselves from Arians and Socinians, by adding to the former principles that which has ever since taken the precedence at the head of our Association letters. And will any one assign another or a better reason for the remarkable fact, that while all the Presbyterian churches, at that time “the glory of the land,” have sunk into their present semi-infidel and skeleton condition; the Particular Baptist churches, with scarcely an exception, have been preserved in possession of the faith and hope of the Gospel. This fully justifies our correspondent in saying, that the system has “worked well,” and will, I hope, secure me from the charge of rudeness, if I say with earnestness, as my good brother expresses himself, that “I tremble for the consequences of the proposed alteration.” What possible advantage, my younger brethren, can you anticipate from the change as regards either the peace, the purity, the prosperity, or perpetuity of the Particular* [see endnote] Baptist churches, in which your own happiness and usefulness are involved; compared with the tremendous risk which you run should your designs be accomplished, which, in my opinion, will necessarily tend to ruin their peace, corrupt their purity, interrupt their prosperity, and destroy their perpetuity! Remember Him, “whose you are and whom you serve!” “Recollect that He still stands in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Listen to his address to the seven churches of Asia; and especially to that to the congregation at Thyatira, Rev. ii. 19, 25. “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first: but that which ye have already hold fast till I come.” Take heed, my younger brethren, I most affectionately entreat you, lest by an apparent indifference respecting the great and fundamental doctrines of the Gospel you give offence to Him, “whose eyes are as a flame of fire–in whose right hand the seven stars are held, and out of whose mouth goeth the sharp two-edged sword.” You can have no possible apprehension, I am fully assured, that for the associated churches to continue to do honour to the truth of his Gospel by “printing the doctrine,” they believe, as the “test” of evangelical sentiments for the purpose of their being not subscribed, but merely confessed, will be to “sin against Christ;” and I have too good an opinion of your piety and prudence to believe you will persist in your intention at the risk of confirming gainsayers in their errors; of stumbling your weaker brethren; and of violating the principles and destroying the model of the primitive churches! “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, Amen.”
London, April 7, 1832. Iota.
[*at this point in the text, an asterisk points to this footnote: “To shew the impropriety of removing the term “particular,” as I understand some of our brethren propose to do, when used as a prefix either to the “Doctrine of Redemption,” or to the “Baptist Denomination;” let it be considered what would be the effect of doing this as regards the title of the “Particular Baptist Missionary Society?” If it were simply called the Baptist Missionary Society, it would be impossible to know whether a legacy left for the Baptist Missionary Society belonged to us or to our brethren the General Baptists, who also have a Missionary Society. Even the Missionary Society has found it necessary to prefix the epithet [London] or they, notwithstanding their greatness, would have been lost in the mass of other Missionary Societies.”]