A few years ago a book entitled "History of the Rise of the Anti-Mission Baptists" by Byron Cecil Lambert came into our hand. In it we learned much of the history of our people which was unknown to us before. One thing which surprised us greatly was that there were many anti-mission papers before Daniel Parker's "Church Advocate" or Gilbert Beebe's "Signs of the Times". The foremost of these papers was "The Reformer" edited by T. R. Gates. Through the grace of God we have been able to obtain a few volumes of "The Reformer". God willing, we hope to offer some reprints of articles as timely now as when they were written.
We present the following extract from "The Reformer" of 1824. It is not known who "A Virginian" was, but he is believed to be a Baptist. We see from his article he was taught of God and not man. How much more in this day do we see the same things he describes? It shows the more things change, the more they stay the same. At this time the scourge of the "Yankee Clergy" (for the most part Presbyterian or Congregationalist) was attempting to gain control of the government. Today, we have the Fundamentalists doing the same things) and groups calling themselves "Baptists" (what they are, God knoweth) join with them in their subterfuge. Religion is between a person and his God; no man has the right to bind the conscience of another. The shameful situation shown in this old article is repeated a thousand times over today with priestcraft a thousand times more terrible.
If we were to suppose a total stranger to the Christian religion, and yet a man of understanding and reflection, was suddenly to appear in what is called a Christian land, he must needs conclude, from what he saw and heard in it, that the religion of Jesus could not be propagated without a learned and pompous priesthood, and that the sanction of human authority was indispensably necessary to give it validity. He would conclude also, from the established usages of the country, that the worship of the Divine Being must be acquired by strict square, and rule, and compass, at a great expense of time and money, in order to perform it with address, and appear well; which must be by learning to sing and play music well, pray well, and dress well. He must conclude further, that it was a system in-vented and fabricated to subserve all the purposes of ambition, pride, and avarice - and that the Scriptures could not be understood and expounded by any other than a few privileged men, peculiarly favoured by nature and opportunities to attain the gifts of heaven, by which they might be qualified to dispense the gospel to others in proportion only as their temporal means would enable them to contribute money, and purchase, at public auction, a seat, denied to the poor and ignorant, in one of those splendid edifices, where the Divine Being must be worshipped with all that pomp and pageantry which tend to delight wicked and fallible men. By the pretended homage offered up to a Being of infinite power and wisdom, he would think that it was directed to one of carnal and sordid passions, susceptible of being variously wrought on and gratified according to the vain and capricious passions of all descriptions of men.
On a further acquaintance with professing Christendom he would learn that the Catholic mass book, the Episcopal church service, and other creeds and formulas of worship had been prepared and arranged, with almost infinite labour, by a proud and aspiring hierarchy, to serve all the wicked purposes of men, and to beguile and deceive the multitude; and that they had got so diffused and riveted into their habits and affections through successive generations, that each succeeding one had only to inherit the religion of their forefathers. He would likewise suppose that the path of duty was so clearly pointed out to them by a pensioned priesthood, that a moderate portion of their money and income, paid to a hireling clergyman, was all that would be necessary to carry them through triumphantly, by a round of duties, into heaven. He would also perceive that a rich and distinguishing attire, in a priest, was necessary to impose on the credulity of his adherents; and from his seclusion and reserve he would be induced to think he maintained a secret intercourse with the Divine Being, in consequence of which he became so initiated into the mysteries of his religion, that he would be able and disposed to impart a portion of his spiritual gifts to those who would be ready and able to pay him the best price for them; and as an additional reward for his labour and devotion to his hearers, he would see that he enjoyed more honor and distinction than they do in this world, and was to be exalted to greater glory and happiness in another. He would find the popular clergy we are speaking of, would venture no further to expose and reprove the errors and corruptions of their hearers, or rather employers, than would comport with the security and maintenance of their dignity, place, and income; and that, as religion was estimated by the measure of their liberality, and accommodated to all their wants and purposes, those should receive the most of it who would be the most liberal in their pecuniary contributions to it. In order to insure the attention and support of their blind admirers, he would suppose that one portion of time, the Sabbath, was consecrated, solely for the benefit of the clergy, to assemble the people to pay homage to them in all the gaiety of fashion and dress, to hear their pompous prayers and sermons, and to increase the number of their adherents -while feast and fast days were appointed and promulgated under their influence, to show their dominion over the minds and consciences of the community.
By seeing the clergy employed at the baptism of infants, at sickbeds, at burials and marriages, at the execution of criminals and the consecration of churches, at the installation and dismission of priests, at meetings of Bible, tract and missionary societies, in armies and ships of war to animate soldiers to victory, and to return thanks to God for battles won, he would suppose the exercise of clerical power and influence necessary on all occasions, and that they would sanctify almost everything. He would hear of extraordinary awakenings and of great revivals of religion, particularly in the universities and colleges where the clergy are moulded and formed, and in places where bountiful supplies of money are expended. He would hear of Christ's kingdom being constantly enlarged by the addition of rich converts to it, and by munificent donations from the most respectable individuals. He would see the gifts and charities of these devotees published on the house tops, and circulated through all parts of the country in public prints in order to cement and extend the power and influence of church and state combined. On the whole, he would conclude that the Christian system was so well organized and adapted to serve all the carnal purposes of man, that it would inspire the hero in the field of battle, tolerate and justify a system of swindling, give license to every unsanctified passion, and afford consolation in the hour of death.
But in contrasting this picture, what would the reverse of it be to the same person when he should retire by himself and study the Holy Scriptures, sincerely and carefully, unawed and uninfluenced by the menaces of power or the hope of worldly interest? Would he not say he found they treat of a different kingdom than the one we have been speaking of, and entirely opposed to it, which is not of this world, whose promises are not founded on money or temporal prospects of any kind? Would he not say he found that because the Messiah did not establish a splendid kingdom (such as the clergy have now erected) to gratify the high-wrought expectations of the Jews, he must be treated as an imposter and crucified? Would he not say he found that as Christianity derives none of its power and influence from human authority, therefore none of its sanctions can give it validity? That the whole tenor and spirit of the New Testament go to bear down and oppose that very pride, avarice and self-love which the general practices of the clergy tend to justify and encourage? That, instead of imitating that disinterested benevolence which the gospel inculcates, the clergy, by a general concert, seem to be converting the gospel into a system of traffick, when it ought to be preached and propagated freely and for nothing? That, instead of imitating the labours of the Apostles, not as men-pleasers, those of the modern clergy are directed to flatter and please the corrupt passions of men, to deceive the hearts of the simple and to deprive them of their money?
Would he not say he found from the New Testament that while its principles and precepts breathed nothing but peace on earth and good will to men, he saw a grand confederacy of kings, priests, and distinguished individuals, who, at the same time they are forming Bible and tract societies, and distributing Bibles and religious sectarian tracts throughout the world, are also employed in forming "holy alliances" and plans to destroy the rights and liberties of mankind? Would he not say he found the gospel condemned this order of men, the clergy, for that air of self-importance which they have assumed? That while it enjoined meekness and philanthropy, and opposed ambition and pride, these pretended followers of the gospel are erecting numerous Theological Seminaries to secure worldly patronage, and delight in titles of distinction like the Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites of former times? Would he not say he found that Christ's kingdom discarded all connection with the kingdoms of this world, and could not be brought under the jurisdiction of any? Would he not wonder how so much form, and rule, and ceremony should be used to worship God, when to do it in sincerity and truth none of these things are wanted or required? Would he not say that an attentive examination of the Scriptures, with a recollection of historical research and events, enabled him to see that there has ever been a strong affinity between the order of a hireling priesthood of all receding ages, to tyrannize over the minds and consciences of mankind, and to rob them of their money? That the pretended power of the clergy to preach the gospel appeared to be wholly derived from human authority, and could be supported by no other, and that their lives and conduct furnish a practical illustration of the fact, that it is founded in error and corruption? Would he not, in fine, conclude, as kings and priests, and legislators generally help to create and support each other, hence it results that from the origin of civil government to the present day, almost every nation under heaven has been, more or less, a prey to regal power, political intrigue, and clerical delusion?
July - August 1988