“Baptists should be a pre-eminently devoted people. Our profession and practice are peculiar. We deem it our special mission to plead for personal obedience to the will of the Lord. For this we have always contended. We reject hereditary membership, holding that men are not born Christians, but that they become Christians when they are born again, and that, until then, they have no right to Christian ordinances, because they cannot enjoy Christian blessings. We deny sacramental power, maintaining that the soul is renewed and sanctified, not by any outward act performed upon us or by us, but by the truth of the gospel and the grace of the Holy Spirit. We gather from the teachings of the apostles that a man should be a Christian before he avows himself to be one; and, in full accordance, as we believe, with the instructions of the New Testament, we admit none to our fellowship without a profession of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Their baptism is at the same time a declaration of their sole reliance on the Saviour, and a symbol of their union with him in his death and his resurrection—a spiritual, vital union. Our churches, so constituted, profess to be societies of believers, congregations of saints.
“Membership in Baptist churches, therefore, implies piety. The object of our union is to nurture godliness in each other, and to diffuse it abroad to the greatest extent possible. Abjuring all attempts at mere outward attraction, our efforts tend exclusively to the advancement of personal religion. We invite men to the faith and holiness of the primitive churches. Our desire is first to call them to God, and then to train them for heaven by a course of spiritual education. All this cannot be accomplished but by a truly spiritual community, nor can such efforts be long sustained unless there be a continued spiritual progress. Orthodoxy is necessary, and order is necessary; but neither orthodoxy nor order will ensure prosperity without a living likeness to Christ. How earnestly should we aspire after that blessing! How diligently should we labor to obtain it, and in increasing measure! With what ardor should we adopt all scriptural means to promote communion with the Redeemer, and to enkindle sympathy and love among his servants! The extent and saving efficacy of our influence must depend on the amount of our spiritual attainments. There are sects which can prosper without those attainments, because of the worldliness, that is inherent in their constitutions, and the connection of church privileges with natural descent; but the Baptists depend altogether for success and enlargement on the prevalence of true godliness among their members. Our churches will be fit asylums for those who shall escape from the perils of cold and torpid formality only as they shall exemplify the “work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope,” by which the early followers of the Lord were distinguished. If these be wanting or notably deficient, inquirers will go where there is more power, though the form and order maybe less agreeable to the apostolic pattern, and our “future” will be darkened by clouds of disgrace and failure.
“With what eagerness, then, should we engage in all endeavors by which earnest Christian piety and zeal may be promoted among us! How closely should we cling to evangelical truth, watching against all tendency to lower the standard or to substitute the elegant essay for biblical teaching and fervent appeal! How carefully should the spirit of the gospel be cherished! How diligently should all opportunities for furthering mutual progress in piety be improved! How numerous and well sustained should be the efforts of benevolence and zeal, thus establish the connection between Christian activity and spiritual-mindedness, and “proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” And with what vigilant observance should the laws of discipline be honored, so that, the purity of the churches being maintained, their members may be “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” If by these methods a vigorous and fruitful godliness becomes characteristic of our denomination, the force of the attraction will be felt by all around us; union with our churches will be regarded as not merely a duty, but a privilege, and thousands will say, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” Men will perceive that our profession of adherence to primitive simplicity and purity is warranted by fact—that our devotedness to the Saviour’s cause is not impulsive, but habitual—and that in joining our ranks they will not only obey the dictates of scriptural conscientiousness, but also secure a large measure of Christian enjoyment, and a fuller unfolding of the Christian life.
“‘There is a future for the Baptist,’ and it is our duty to prepare for it. Thousands of souls, just looking out of obscurity and “feeling after God,” ask our guidance in the search for truth and life. Freedom, outraged and down-trodden by earthly tyrants, calls upon us to assert the rights of conscience and its entire immunity from human control; and, while it beckons us to the holy war, reminds us that it is our glory—a glory in which most Protestant communities have no share—to wield the sword of the Spirit with hands that have never been reddened by a brother’s blood. Our martyrs—burnt, beheaded, strangled, or drowned, in every European country at the era of the Reformation, and as yet unknown to fame, although their Christian heroism was right noble—expect us, in the diffusion and defence of the truths for which they suffered, to display a zeal befitting the privileges we enjoy. A great work is before us, both at home and abroad, demanding ardent love, enterprising boldness, and indomitable perseverance.”
J. M. Cramp