THE plan of this work, in the form of Decades, or periods of ten years each, so far as their running narratives are concerned, has already been stated in the preface.
The first decade I begin with events which happened fifty years ago; the second with those of forty; the third with those of thirty; the fourth with those of twenty; the fifth embraces all the remaining time to the present period. But remembering the advice of an old English writer, “not to follow time too close on its heels, lest you get now and then a kick,” I have said but little concerning very late events; particularly, respecting some of our more recently formed institutions, with the doings of which I have not been very closely identified.
In the first decade I give a general view of the Baptist cause in our whole country, fifty years ago, which was before the rise of any of our institutions for benevolent objects, except a few female mite societies; of my early efforts in the business of Baptist history; and of various matters peculiar to that age.
The second decade begins with the rise of the Foreign Mission cause among the American Baptists; with the account of the conversion of Rice and Judson to the Baptist faith; the formation of the Triennial Convention, and its early history; with the new phases in the Baptist creed, from the writings of Andrew Fuller; my investigations of the Unitarian system; and on changes of various kinds.
In the third decade, the age of excitements, and their effects, are described, as are, also, the unpleasant affairs in connection with the agency of Mr. Rice. The Home Mission Society is next noticed, and the late Dr. Going is favorably mentioned in connection with it.
In the fourth decade mention is made of the change of this name of the Triennial Convention to that of Missionary Union; of the Southern Baptist Convention, and approving remarks of this measure.
The fifth decade is a good deal occupied with my experience in authorship, in Sunday Schools, and on miscellaneous matters pertaining to Baptist affairs in general, through all the decades, or the whole fifty years of my life, in connection with the denomination. I close my narratives with some general remarks on the late troubles in the management of the Foreign Mission cause, which I have not meddled with atall. These remarks are intended to pacify, rather than to irritate, the minds of all who have been identified with them. And, finally, I mention the sadness which I have experienced in the news of the death of many of my old friends and associates and correspondents, in the whole range of our wide-spread country.
The second part of this work, under the name of an Appendix, contains the substance of my observations on, and researches into, all things that pertain to the organization of the primitive churches, their principles, officers and doings of all kinds; on the deaconship; on preachers, preaching and pulpits; on church discipline, both formative edifying and corrective; with a concise view of what may be termed a model church and a model pastor.
I advance no different ideas from our writers generally, on this whole subject, except that I mention the theory, that the first Christian churches copied, in substance, after the model of the
Jewish synagogues. And the more I have studied this matter, the more fully am I confirmed in this belief. But still I shall not contend with those who maintain a different opinion, as I formerly did; and who still, on this subject, prefer obscurity to light from a Jewish source.
Either view of the matter does not affect our own modus operandi in this business.
My main object is to give some probable account of the manner in which the first churches arose, in the absence of any information in the Scriptures on this subject.
It is true, as a correspondent has suggested, that the temple was often resorted to by those who were near it; but here they were outside worshipers, and could not join in the sacrificial and other services of the old economy, while they were much at home in the synagogues, where no sacrifices were offered, but where the services consisted principally in reading and hearing the law and the prophets, in exhortation and prayer, in all of which the Christians could join without violating the principles of the gospel, which they could not do in the temple service.
I have also advanced some new ideas on the deaconship, and have proposed a remedy for some of the evils of our present system, namely, limited appointments to this office instead of for life. I sustain the position of seven being the standard number for a full-grown church, from its being fixed upon by the apostles when the first deacons were appointed. And that this became a standing order among the early Christians may be inferred from the fact, that about thirty years later, Philip is called "one of the seven," in the same way as the apostles were called "the twelve," without naming their office.
I have said that I have heard and read of complaints from many quarters, against our deaconship, the substance of which
may be thus expressed: Many of our officers of this class are incompetent and unfaithful; custom has given them too much power, and they are too independent of the churches.
Dr. Howell, in his work on the subject, to which reference has already been made, has given a most gloomy picture of the condition of the deaconship, as a whole, in his region, and indeed throughout the country; and at the close he repeats a common inquiry, "Is there no remedy? Can such officers never, by any scriptural process, be displaced, and succeeded by others?" *
In my article I have said in the language of another, "I never knew of a deacon being dismissed from office," and Howell says, "he never knew of any one being deposed, or even impeached, for want of fidelity and efficiency in it." From time immemorial, we may presume, such has been the impunity of the Baptist diaconate. Immorality or heresy have been the only causes of the removal of our deacons, while our pastors are removed for almost any cause.
To the question, "Is there no remedy?" my ready answer is, none at all, under life appointments, and while the deaconship holds its present independent, and irresponsible position.
------------------------------------- * "Look into the condition of the church," says Dr. H., "whose deacons are not faithful to their trust, and what do you see? Every interest is languishing. Her financial affairs become deranged and ruined; the poor and miserable weep unpitied and unrelieved; the sick are unvisited, the pastor is discouraged; * * * the congregations fall off; * * * and the genius of desolation broods over the whole scene! Is this picture overdrawn? Would to God it were. On the contrary, its reality may at this moment be found in a thousand places all over our broad land. * * *
"Delinquent lay members may be easily subjected to church rule, and be either reformed or excluded; unfaithful pastors may be readily removed; but deacons remain in office for life, however unfaithful they may be." — pp. 148, 150.
But some may say, let the deacons be more fully instructed in their duty. That would be well, but how little would it do towards so great a reform as we need in this business? Thousands of good homilies on this subject have already gone out from the pulpit and the press. They have been approved by everybody, but nobody minds them.
As to the propriety of limited appointments, that is a matter which rests with the church alone to settle. But as deacons are only servants as the name imports, it is hardly to be expected they will assume any dictation in the business. It is only for them to accept, or not, on the terms proposed. If they decline, that ends the matter for them. If they accept, they know when their time will be out.*
This is the best, if not the only remedy, I can discover for the present evils, of our deaconship.
In speaking of the many changes which, in the course of fifty years, I have witnessed among the American Baptists, I have given a passing notice of the variations which have occurred in the style and conveniences of their religious sanctuaries, which in my early day were generally uncostly and very plain. I have also referred to the disposition which has appeared of late years among this people, in some places, to go to the other extreme, in vying with their neighbors in costliness and splendor.
I am never well pleased to see high figures in accounts of new church edifices with us, as, I at once conclude, that many worthy members of the congregation will not be able to obtain good sittings in them, and will be obliged to go elsewhere.
--------------------------------- * I never knew of any government appointments being declined on account of the four years’ limit. Instead of that, multitudes scramble for all offices, for that period, with the certain knowledge that no courtesy is due them, when their time expires.
I agree with Dr. Wayland, in the main, in his Notes on Baptist Affairs, and go with him against churches of aristocratic style and cost for Baptist use, but still I have some doubts about insisting, in all cases, and in all locations, on holding on to the Puritan plainness, too strictly.
My great concern for a long time past has been about comfortable and respectable sittings in costly houses for that numerous and generally attentive class of church goers among us, who have no estates, but whose chief dependence in pecuniary concerns is on the result of their daily toil. I am much afraid that the high tariff of our costly churches* will induce them to seek accommodations with other communities, unless our costly church builders are more active and liberal than they have hitherto been, in get-ring up what, of old, were called Chapels of Ease.
I have stated in my narratives, that I have seen the rise of all benevolent institutions among the Baptists in this country, and I have also been somewhat familiar with the doings of those which arose in earlier years, and with the troubles which some of them have encountered, but have carefully avoided participating in the discussion of the matter of these troubles, either in the pulpit, on the platform, or in the public journals; but according to my information, the sentiments of the whole denomination
------------------------------------ * I use the term church instead of meeting house, in conformity to custom with many of the present time, who are not Episcopalians. Fifty years ago, the term church applied to a building, conveyed, in New England, almost exclusively, an Episcopal idea, which is not the case now. The principal objection, I believe, to this term is, that it is applied both to the people and their sanctuary; but so it was with the Jews of old. A synagogue might mean either an assembly of worshipers, or the building in which they worshiped. Chapel is a good term and in point of euphony is preferable to meeting house. But the term is immaterial when all understand its meaning.
respecting them may be summed up in the following brief sentences: "Most of our troubles in our public doings have originated with a few men, as inside managers, or outside actors; and that the body at large has suffered injurious agitations about minor things to go on too long. This matter is well handled in the note below.+
"Too many have meddled with these troubles, uncalled for, to the annoyance of the peaceably disposed.*f50
----------------------------------------- * "What! has it indeed come to this, that the whole Baptist denomination, for seven long years, stops on her march as the host of God to fulfill his bidding? Seven long years stooping and wilting over a question of policy? Allowing herself to be pushed, swayed this way and that, when, with her own heart, at a single impulse, she should have brushed away the difficulty, as a cobweb. Seven years over this business of mending this tinkling tin kettle, and the whole army stopped to see it done! Where are we? What are we doing? Whose business are we engaged in? Oh, God l how shall we answer to the responsibility of this miserable trifling I Oh, will not the people of God return and take up the cross of Christ, forget their organizations, and feel and bleed for the cause of the Saviour? Has not the Baptist denomination power, by the help of God, to make for itself a constitution, by which it can carry on the work of missions? Is it indeed too weak and vacillating to have a voice of its own? The whole people of God should be on their feet. The work is worthy of it. He who has commanded it, is worthy of it. If God should choose to utter his voice in thunder, rather than entreaty, the burning curse of Meroz might smite our guilty indolence, and make us feel that we had better be on our feet.
"It is quite unreasonable that the churches have waited so long without setting themselves right on the policy of foreign missions; but is it less unreasonable that all, young and old, learned and unlearned, should feel it a good excuse for sitting still — the young to hear the elders talk, and the elders to hear themselves?" — Extract from a letter from a missionary in the East. * There was a very keen, good-natured hit on our debating men, at the late anniversary in New York, when, in the midst of conflicting arguments, a member pleasantly said, “I wish, when the speaker has done, the assembly would sing,
"'From whence doth this union arise?'"
"There has been too much managing in some cases, and too much positivity in some managers.
"Discussion has gone far enough; now let it cease. Let bygones be by-gones, and let all true Baptists come together, and work together, for Christ and his cause, at home and abroad, even if some of their favorite plans do not go on all fours.
"Union and harmony in public operations, is what the Baptist public intensely desires."
This is a specimen of the sentiments I have heard expressed by some of our strong men, who are not platform speakers, on matters of difficulty; and some of them even stay away from meetings where they are to be discussed, or else attend these meetings with reluctance.
Of the comparative merits of Baptist institutions, I shall not here give an opinion. Nor shall I say any thing on the plan of reducing their number, only; that with Baptists; it is sometimes difficult to make measures sit easy on their minds, which grow out of conventional rules.
I am inclined to think that it is a pretty general belief, among the supporters of these institutions, that too much of their money is spent at intermediate stations, and that too little of it arrives at the points of destination. But the modus operandi of remedying this evil, I shall not attempt to prescribe, as it is my province to tell of things that are past, rather than plan for the future. But thus much I will say, I can not tolerate the idea of the perpetuity of our present agency system. Instead of this, in my judgment, all our institutions had better curtail their appropriations within
the bounds of voluntary contributions, and take a new start on this plan. But a better way would be, for the churches to follow out, at all times, their doings on the dollar system, which went on with so much ease. If pastors were all of the right stamp, they would not need agents to act for them, pro tem., among their people.
Relative to fields of labor for our people, in benevolent undertakings, America, in my sober judgment, is the best field in the whole world, and promises the most speedy and important results, not excepting Burmah and the Karens, which are now the most promising fields we have in other lands.
"Westward the course of empire takes its way."
Westward the gospel is destined to spread.
Here we are not met at every step with strong ancestral, and often insurmountable prejudices, in all classes of people, in favor of ruinous, antiquated errors.
Here no State vetoes stand in our way, as they do in all other lands.
Never since the introduction of Christianity, did Christians of our profession find such a free country for the propagation of the gospel, according to their views of its principles and ordinances.
For the first three centuries, Pagan rulers harassed and destroyed them; and ever since, they have everywhere been beset by State churches and prelatical power; and the best safeguard against these evils in this country for us, and all who agree with us, on the subject of freedom, civil and religious, is, as fast,and as far as possible to spread this salutary doctrine broad-cast all over the land an ounce of prevention now, may be worth a pound of cure hereafter.
In broad America, of more than Roman amplitude,* there is
----------------------------------- * The United States has about double the amount of territory of the Roman empire in its greatest enlargement.
ample room for the Home Mission, the Free Mission, the Bible, the Bible Union, the Publication, and even the Foreign Mission Institutions, East and West, North and South, with all the missionaries, and all the colporteurs they may employ, without interfering with any coadjutors in the business of American evangelization.
I see no impropriety in our foreign department lending a helping hand in American missions, as was done in early times.
Since I retired from the pastorship and became a minister in ordinary, I have heard a great variety of preaching, and among the principal deficiencies of it I would name the want, more or less, of intellectuality, vivacity, distinctness and brevity.
The old Romans required of public declaimers, in their language, that they should speak, ore rotundo et ab imo pectore, with a full voice, and from the bottom of the heart.
How often have I wondered that men who can converse naturally and fluently and with animation, should speak so poorly in the pulpit.
Long sermons, and dull at that, with a paucity of striking ideas, and long prayers* have caused me many a tiresome sitting on ordinary occasions. Thirty minutes was Wesley’s rule for his preachers in their common discourses. Sermons of this length can be endured if they are not very engaging. Many ministers are apt to be long, not only in the pulpit, but also in the lecture room, and at funerals.
ON MINISTERIAL EDUCATION. In my few remarks on this subject I have spoken in favor of having our theological schools on the ground of our collegiate institutions, for graduates at least, instead of being in separate locations.
-------------------------------- * How much is said against long prayers in the New Testament, yet how many of them do we hear both in the pulpit and elsewhere.
I have also commended, in some cases, such schools as we had in my early years, where students, and even preachers who wished to qualify themselves for greater usefulness in the ministry, were accustomed to resort and study as much as they were able. And I have regretted that these schools of the prophets, so useful to us then, are not still kept up in new and remoter regions within our wide-spread community.*
On Lecture Rooms
Which are improperly called Vestries, and which, as a general thing, are very badly constructed. Most of those which I have seen are partly underground, and of course are gloomy and unhealthy.+ The best way for these rooms, which are so much used among the Baptists, is to have them in separate buildings where there is ground enough for it.
On Congregational Singng
Much has been said of late in some places in favor of restoring this good old custom, but it is an up-hill work, if artistic leaders are opposed to it, and give out tunes with which the congregation are not familiar.
On the Communion Question
How often have I most heartily wished that much less was said on the question, on all sides; and, no doubt, there would be,
-------------------------------------- * In reply to Professor Turney, relative to a new theological seminary for the West, I have said, if he will get up one of the above description, which will be open for all classes of students, I will favor it with a good donation of books.
+ "Don’t you think," said John Leland, "brother G. put me in his collar kitchen, to preach for him at night."
were it not for that everlasting clamor which, evidently, for party effect, is kept up by other people, and which seems to call for replies. But men of candor avoid this clamor.
"I do not blame your people for their rule of communion," said the late Bishop Griswold; "they have a right to adopt it." "And I do not blame your people for their pulpit rule," was my reply; "all societies have a right to their own rules."
"Our church would soon cease to exist in some places, if our church service was omitted," continued the bishop.
"We should not be consistent with ourselves to fellowship any other baptism," said I, on my side.*
Thus ended our conversation on this subject.
On Church Debts
Ever since the Baptists went so deeply into the business of building their church houses on credit, this unwise policy has been the bane of many, and the ruin of some of our flourishing communities; and others, which have survived their disastrous effects, have long been sadly embarrassed in their operations by them. But I am glad to see a commendable zeal in many quarters to wipe them off, and I trust all our churches will be careful to avoid them for the future.
I have lived to see a great increase of our people, and I see a bright prospect for them for the future, if they mind Joseph's advice to his brethren: See that ye fall not out by the way. Baptists
--------------------------------- * Bishop Griswold often preached in my pulpit before a church of his own order was erected in the place.
Baptists also often preached in his pulpit in Bristol, Rhode Island, after the church service was performed, by himself, or others.
can not well disagree about their primordial principles which are so scriptural and plain; nor will they be likely to fall out about any thing, while they nourish the mild principles of the gospel. While they should not be in haste to leave the old paths of their fathers, yet they should not without due consideration eschew all progress, as Robinson, the father of the Pilgrims, said was done, by many in his day.*f56
------------------------------- * "The Lutherans could not be drawn a step beyond what Luther saw, and you see the Calvinists stick where he left them. If God shall reveal any thing to you by any other instrument, be ready to receive it, * * * for I am very confident there are more truths and light to break forth out of his holy word." — Robinson's letter to his Flock in Holland, 1620.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 425-437. -- jrd]