As the inquiries of both of these correspondents relate to about the same things, we will reply to them both in this one article.
We do not know of any reliable history of the Baptists from the apostles’ days down to the present. Of all the books which have been published on ecclesiastical history that have come under our observation, we have seen none that traces our history from the organization of the Primitive Baptist church on the day of Pentecost to the present time. All that we have read, after tracing the church a few centuries and basing their account on very doubtful data, become confused, and leaving the track of the true church, give us account of the nominal church, which usurped the name when the true church was driven by persecution into the wilderness, and there hidden from sight of her enemies for a time, and times, and half a time (Revelation 12:14). From the flight of the church into the wilderness, all the popular historians have lost her track, and have given us instead some historical account of the anti-Christian beasts (papal and Protestant) which had assumed her name. The most that we can glean from historical records is an occasional allusion made by them to a people, answering to some extent our description, despised, persecuted and derided by all other classes of religionists. This persecuted people described by popular historians as non-conformists to the decrees of Popes, councils or monarchs, in religious things, and holding the doctrine of the Bible, practicing baptism of believers only, by immersion, and repudiating all popish perversions of that ordinance; a people that could not be exterminated by all the violence of persecution. This is about as much as can be gathered of the history of the church of God, by any of the uninspired histories of which we have any knowledge.
When we consider that during the dark ages of papal persecution, all the records and writings of nonconformists were seized and, with their authors, were committed to the flames, we shall not be surprised that no direct authentic history can be found.
Let us suppose that even at the present time the world should write a history of the Baptist church to transmit to succeeding ages. Would they not all of them, like that of Benedict and others, represent the popular Missionary Baptists as the true church, and only allude to the Old School Baptists as a mere off-shoot from the true church, and as a people opposed to every thing that is good? Woe unto us when the world shall speak well of us. We have good reason to believe that God has not designed that the true church should be manifested to the world by uninspired history. “Except a man be born again he cannot see it.” It cometh not by observation, nor can it be traced by observation. The sun that shines in the natural heavens was never seen by any other than its own light. No light of history or of nature can reveal the church of the living God. The Lord God himself, and the Lamb, is the light of it, and until God and the Lamb are revealed in our hearts, the kingdom of Christ is invisible to us.
The true and faithful history of the church is given in the Scriptures of truth by him who has declared the end from the beginning. Prophecy records all that is necessary for the saints to know of her history, and if we would know whence she is, revelation informs us she is from heaven. If we ask where she is, we are told she is in Christ Jesus, her Lord. All that we require to know of her is found in the inspired record which God has given. John was instructed, and commanded to arise and measure the temple (or church of God), and the altar, and them that worship therein, and for that purpose there was given him a reed like unto a rod (Revelation 11:1). If we would know all the proportions of the church of Christ, the Scriptures are the rule by which we are to ascertain what are her peculiar characteristics, for her height, depth, length and breadth are equal. And all that comes not within the measurement of Scripture rule is given to the heathen, and is not to be measured by any Scripture rule, nor recognized as belonging to the temple, altar or people of our God.
As to the church in the United States, the first regular Old School or Primitive church in America, that we have any knowledge of, was constituted and organized in Wales, and embarked in a ship from the old country, with pastor, deacons, and members, and in a body landed in Philadelphia, in the early settlement of Pennsylvania, and purchased land and settled near that city. Welsh Tract Church, in Delaware, and many other churches in that and neighboring States, were branches of this Welsh church.
Roger Williams came to Massachusetts a member of the Puritan church and state establishment; he became dissatisfied with and protested against the puritanic persecutions, was expelled and banished by them; went to England and obtained a charter for the Providence Plantations, which now comprise the State of Rhode Island, effected a treaty with the Indians, and proclaimed full liberty of conscience to all who wished to settle there, to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Subsequently, he professed to be a Baptist, but there is much disputation as to the manner and validity of his baptism.
On the grounds of difference which led to the separation of the New School, or Missionary, Baptists from the old apostolic order, we know of no record extant that will give a more full account than that contained in the first book of Editorials, recently published by B. L. Beebe, which contain the statements of both parties, and give the arguments used by both parties from and embracing the separation for ten years thereafter.
We have no disposition to dispute with the New School as to whether they left us, or we left them. It is fully conceded that we are separated, and hold no fellowship for each other. Of our respective claims to antiquity, or to be of the old apostolic order of Baptists, nothing can be settled by a discussion of the time, or manner, of the division. The principal grounds of difference on which we separated were, first, that they embraced the doctrine of Andrew Fuller, and we protested against it as heresy. Secondly, they embraced the popular religious institutions, such as Theological Schools, Sunday Schools, Missionary, Bible and Tract Societies, and other modern inventions for the professed object of converting the heathen, and evangelizing the world and ushering in the millennium. We refused to recognize or fellowship any of these new institutions. And after long forbearance and expostulations with them, we, in the year 1832, declared a withdrawal of fellowship with them. Thus the division took place, and we have from that time been separated from each other.
Now every honest inquirer who desires to know who, if any, of us are entitled to be distinguished as apostolic Baptists, should use the “reed which is like unto a rod.” Or, in other words, search the Scriptures, and if it can be found that the old apostles taught Fullerism, and founded Theological Seminaries, or instituted Sabbath Schools, and infant or Bible classes, or Missionary Societies, or any other religious societies except the church of God, then it will be clear that the Missionary Baptists (so called) are apostolic Baptists, and we anti-mission, or Old School (so called) are schismatics.
But if it be found that we hold, contend for, and practice all the apostolic church held, taught, and practiced, and protest against every innovation on or departure from the primitive faith and practice according to the New Testament, it must follow that we are right, and all who differ from us are wrong.
“To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20).”
September 15, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 262 – 265