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admitted that our case fails. There is no evidence, at least, that Milton ever was immersed as a believer, or admitted to a Baptist Church. In fact, he belonged to a class of Christian people who are often attacked in our “denominational ” organs as only “ Baptists in principle.” For the fact I do not presume to account. It may be that the slight comparative esteem in which, as he afterwards shows, he held all outward ordinances, made him somewhat careless in the matter of their observance. Perhaps, however, the cause lay deeper; and he refrained from presenting himself for baptism because when he attained his full convictions upon the subject the proper time of initiation was past. The ordinance is, as he shows, for “babes in Christ;" but he is a babe in Christ no longer. It was omitted at the right time, can it be performed now with the same meaning ? There is a difference among us on this point. Most perhaps hold that the duty remains obligatory until it has been performed, so that if the consistent Christian of half a century's standing, discover at the close of this term that he ought to have been initiated by baptism, he must now comply with the command. Others think that the initiatory rite ceases to be significant when the period of initiation has gone by; and therefore, although Baptists in principle, they quite logically remain unbaptized. It is very possible that Milton belonged to this latter class. If it seems an anomaly it is one which has a multitude of parallels in the present day-Baptists, unbaptized,* and not members of the Baptist denomination.
I have said so much about the case of Milton, as it will be found to suggest much which explains our denominational weakness, and which shows also why notwithstanding good-humoured rebukes and “scolding articles in newspapers," such weakness threatens to increase. For the poet's position could not for a moment be justified, excepting on the principle that baptism is not an indispensable requisite for recognition and fellowship as a Christian. That this also was Milton's belief, there is every reason to presume. But, if admitted, does it not fairly raise the question whether there is any sufficient reason for the Baptist denomination at all ?
A few words about first principles inay here be convenient. Any body of Christian people that resolves to live and act apart from other churches, must be prepared to justify the separation. Unnecessary division is schism. What then makes a division inevitable ? Clearly not special theological views of every sort. In all church organization there are and must be differing
* i.e. in the only sense which any consistent Baptist can give to the word, though without any thought of offenee to other Christians.
views of the will of God on many topics. If Christians are not to unite in church fellowship, excepting on the condition of all thinking alike on all points of Divine truth, we shall soon have “Every man his own Denomination.” In two cases, and only two, as it seems to me, it is necessary that division should take place. The first is when vital truth is concerned. If a Christian man, or a number of Christian people are convinced that any. article of belief is essential to a saving faith, whether the conviction be right or wrong, it becomes a necessity to uphold it by making it the basis of communion. The other case is, where special views of ecclesiastical constitution and order are held as a matter of Divine revelation. Thus the jure divino Congregationalist must dwell apart from the jure divino Presbyterian : and the believer in the divine ordination of Episcopacy must seek his religious fellowship in a circle outside of both.
Now, those convictions of the Divine will which have led to the segregation of Baptist from other Congregational churches, plainly belong to the latter class. The early Baptists concurred with nearly all Christian people of all ages in holding that baptism to be an appointed condition of entrance into the visible church of Christ, and believing further that there was no valid baptism but immersion as an attestation of the candidate's personal faith, it became necessary to constitute separate churches on this basis. Should the consequent exclusion of other Christians from fellowship seem illiberal, it must be remembered that Baptists do but herein apply a principle which, so far as ecclesiastical history shows, was never contradicted in the Church until the days of John Bunyan.
The doctrine of the glorious dreamer, that "water baptism ” has really nothing to do with church-fellowship, would have startled all Christendom, had it in reality penetrated beyond the limits of the Baptist churches. As it was, no others cared to take it up,* since the question was scarcely a practical one where infants were, as a matter of course, baptized. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether Pædobaptists, who applaud Bunyan and Robert Hall as the champions of “free communion," have to any great extent understood or estimated the ground on which their championship rests. Many Baptists themselves do not know it. I, at least, have often heard communion with unbaptized Christians maintained on the ground “They think themselves baptized," as though that made any difference to the argument! Mr. Hall, like Bunyan before him, distinctly denies baptism to
* “ I had not meddled with the controversy at all," says Mr, Kiffin, in his reply to Bunyan, “had I found any of parts that would divert them- , selves to take notice of you."
be essential to church membership, and accepts brother-believers to fellowship, not as supposing themselves to be baptized, but as recognised Christians though unbaptized. In this the free communionist places himself in antagonism with nearly all churches, whether Catholic or Protestant; and I very much question if the majority of Independents would admit his premises, however disposed to praise his conclusion.
- It is unnecessary to say that the last two generations have witnessed among the Baptists of England the very general acceptance of Hall and Bunyan's doctrine. In a multitude of cases baptism has ceased to be recognised as a condition of fellowship. Many Baptists are in communion with Independent churches : in some cases are among their most active members. Many Pædo-baptists are in communion with Baptist churches, mostly by way of “occasional” fellowship, as it is called; that is, by an amusing kind of inconsistency, admitted to the Lord's table, while forbidden, perhaps by a trust-deed, perhaps by a lingering desire to preserve the unity of the denomination, to become members of the church. In a growing number of cases, however, especially in the metropolis and the larger towns, where new churches are founded by the denomination, the membership is entirely open, without reference to baptism at all. In these “Union” churches the seed at length bears fruit sown by Bunyan long ago in Bedford Gaol. Some unions again go farther, and provide for absolute neutrality. The pulpit also is to be unrestricted : a Baptist or a Pædo-baptist may be pastor, as the Church may decide : and while a baptistery is excavated at one end of the place of worship, a font appears at the other.
I do not wish to say a word of praise or of blame respecting all these ecclesiastical arrangements. It may be, as many good Baptists allege, that the largest comprehension will prove in the end the most favourable to the dissemination of their belief. But in any case the bearing of these facts on the prosperity of the Baptists, as a denomination, can scarcely be doubted. Church union and denominational separation cannot long co-exist. In giving up baptism as a badge of membership, the Baptist body has in fact lost its raison d'être. Churches formed upon the basis of a recognised Christianity, and nothing more, are in fact Independent churches, to all intents and purposes. For what is the difference between a “ Baptist” church with many Pædobaptist members and a “Pædo-baptist” church with many Baptist members. As surely as x + y = y + x, so surely do the two ecclesiastical organizations amount to the same thing. I may suppose a case, by no means unlikely or extreme. There are two churches in a town, of 200 members each. In one of them there is a Baptist minister, as required by Trust-deed, with
100 baptized members, the other 100 having been sprinkled in infancy, or not holding the ordinance to be essential. In the other, there is a Pædo-baptist minister, as required also by Trustdeed, with 100 members who bring their infant children to the font, and 100 who have been immersed on a profession of their faith. Now, these churches are in constitution exactly alike. The pastoral teaching only differs. Yet one of them belongs to the Congregational Union, and supports all Pædo-baptist Institutions; the other sent delegates last year to the Birmingham meeting, and collects for the Baptist Missionary Society. The churches, in fact, belong to different "denominations !”
Between these churches, and others in a more or less analogous position, there is undoubtedly this difference, that the teaching on the subject of baptism differs. So far then the denominational distinction will be permanently maintained. But then it may fairly be asked, why place a restriction on the pulpit unknown to the pew? Why should not the pastor be as free as the people? I know that the ready, practical answer to these questions, will be found in the provisions of the trust-deed: and the law will compel adherence to conditions which are irksome to all parties. That, where possible, these conditions will be gladly abjured is apparent from the growth of those “ Union” churches which leave baptism an absolutely open question: and though I have heard more than once of late that the system does not seem to answer very well, is it not a logical necessity where baptism has been once removed from among the conditions of church membership ? Then, if what I hear on the subject be true, it cannot practically matter very much whether the pastor of such a church be Baptist or Pædo-baptist. His congregation are not likely to be troubled with frequent discussion of a topic on which half his hearers will dissent from his views. So every one is left to be “fully persuaded in his own mind” without much help or hindrance from the preacher.
From a survey of all these facts, sir, I gather that the Baptist Denomination is in a transition state, accounting very largely for the slow and hesitating progress of which your last number speaks. There is a want of "the old enthusiasm,” because there is no longer the old conviction that churches distinctively Baptist ought everywhere to be established. Many of our most excellent men are quite content to remain in fellowship with Independent churches—not a few, as I can testify, are busy with schemes of congregational church-extension; and as Christinas, I am fully persuaded Baptists are doing at least their part in the promotion of Christ's kingdom.
Do they not then care for their denominational peculiarity ? I will not affirm this of them. They do care for it very much,
ual, come really small in, comes will
in some instances, as an individual matter, and they zealously instruct their children in it. Only, they have been led to regard it as a wrong basis of church organization; and in this aspect, therefore, they do not care for it at all. I suppose they reason somewhat thus:-“If we may commune with Christians who do not see this ordinance as we do, we are bound to hold such fellowship. The question is one not of our Divine Master's permission, but of His will. Between 'may' and 'must' there is, therefore, no alternative; and it cannot, therefore, greatly matter whether I commune with them in a 'Congregational,' or they with me in a ‘Baptist,' or both together in a ‘Union' church.” Thus, it becomes more evident every year that it is one thing to be a Baptist, and quite another to be an upholder of the Baptist denomination.
What will be the issue of the present state of things can be only partially guessed. If I may be allowed to forecast the future, I would say that there will probably be before long a new and closer drawing together of those among us who still hold the ancient doctrine that baptism is the formal, as faith is the spiritual, condition of entrance into the church. Baptist churches that are really such will rally together; and though their numbers may be small in comparison with those of the present motley “ denomination,” they will make up in energy and concentration for the loss.
At the same time, those who have rejected baptism from among the preliminary conditions of membership will give new force to their convictions by fraternizing more thoroughly with other Congregationalists, where they can. I add this saving clause because I shrewdly suspect that the chief objection here will come from the “Congregational” side. Our brethren are already more denominational by far than we. I say this without the slightest offence, but the fact is patent. They are attaining every year a more systematic organization, are acting better together, and in fact are becoming not an aggregation of individuals and churches, but an ecclesiastical “Body.” Against this tendency, however, there is a steady resistance on the part of not a few ministers and churches. Toward these, and not to the consolidated mass, will Baptists most probably be drawn. I do not indeed imagine, with the writer in your last number, that under any circumstances the Baptists would be swallowed, absorbed, "digested” by the Pædo-baptist body. But I do anticipate that many of them will assert their equal claim to the titles “ Congregationalist” and “Independent," and that, dropping the term Baptist as the symbol of a denomination, they will be content with the wider appellation. It remains to be seen how many churches on the other side will be content to drop the