« PreviousContinue »
steady and gradual service; the spiritual overmasters, transfuses and fashions that which is merely natural, by successive advances, -bringing thought, affection, plan, purpose and effort into willing, grateful and harmonious subjection to the law of Christ. And this process is sanctification, and its end a full redemption.
ELECTION, PERSEVERANCE, ETC.
But the question whether Christ shall work this work of regeneration and sanctification in a human soul depends on the free and responsible choice of man, rather than on the arbitrary determination and sovereign election of God. He gives the power to obey him, sends the aiding influences to the soul, earn estly calls upon it to accept and be saved by them, and pledges eternal redemption to all who will receive him as Master and Lord. But he coërces no will in order to give life ; leaves no part of the race to perish without sympathy; fashions no souls as simple vessels of wrath doomed to destruction by his decree, and leaves none to such a fate by cordially consenting that they should perish.
He would have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Nor, even in the case of those who really receive an infusion of divine life in regeneration, does God compel a continued obedience, nor secure them against final failure by the work wrought at the beginning. The soulis free after as before regeneration ; and nothing but the exercise of the same spirit which won the divine influence at the first, can retain it, or reach the redemption which it comes to secure. However God's approval may have been given to a soul when it entered the true way of life, if it afterward draw back he has no longer pleasure in it. Only they who endure to the end find themselves fully partakers of eternal life.
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
Freewill Baptist Church polity differs only in some of its details from that of other Bodies which hold and maintain the principle of Independency, in opposition to Popery, Episcopacy and Presbyterianism. They hold that Churches are companies of Christian disciples, banded together for Christian purposes, with
full power to manage all the interior affairs of the Body, and amenable for its exercise chiefly to Christ. They may not only claim exemption from any foreign dictation, but they are disallowed by Christ to transfer or delegate their responsibility to other hands. They, however, recognize the usefulness of ecclesiastical associations for mutual edification, for promoting purity of doctrine, and adding to their power in carrying forward the objects of the gospel. The ecclesiastical organization is such as to combine the advantages of both Independency and Presbyterianism,—without the isolation which sometimes pertains to the one, and free from the graduated legislation, the friction resulting from a reversal of decisions reached in the lower judicatories, and the subversion of Christian equality, which attend the other. The Quarterly Meeting, Yearly Meeting and General Conference have each their own offices, functions and spheres, and neither needs to trench upon the proper prerogatives of the other. Doing their legitimate work, the thorough independence of the churches remains intact, while the wisest counsels of the highest body are properly appropriated by the members of the feeblest church.
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP, ETC.
Actual Christian disciples and believers are alone regarded as propier persons to be admitted to membership in the church. It is freely conceded that the church is a school for the training of souls; but it is claimed that its Great Founder authorized none to be admitted fully as its pupils till they have taken the attitude of learners at his feet. Baptism is held to be the immersion of Christian believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Hence, sprinkling and pouring are discarded, as failing to involve the central idea of Baptism; Infant Baptism is rejected, as wholly inadmissible on account of the absence of true Christian faith in the subject; and unconverted children are not admitted to church membership, on the ground of lacking the essential element of discipleship. The point may be thus stated : The practice of sprinkling overlooks the central idea of Baptism; the administration of it to children virtually abolishes what Christ has instituted as an ordinance; and the admission of unregenerate persons to the church substitutes a human ecclesiasticism for the New Testament method.
The Lord's Supper is regularly observed as a divinely appointed ordinance, and is prized for its high spiritual uses. No supernatural nor sacramental claim is set up in its behalf, and it is not regarded as a privilege guarantied exclusively to the members of the particular church or denomination with which it is celebrated. It is deemed a fitting service for the culture and expression of Christian fellowship, as well as for the quickening of religious affection by recalling, through its symbols, the grace and mercy and condescension and faithfulness of Christ. Hence, all who truly love and are faithfully endeavoring to serve Christ, as his disciples, are usually invited to share in the service. The feast is regarded as having been spread for the whole body of true disciples, and hence they are bidden welcome to the board.
THE MINISTRY, ETC. The ministers of the denomination constitute no independent element of power, and have no organic unity or function. They are members, generally, of the churches to which they minister, and ordinarily preside at the meetings of business; but they have only a single vote on any question, and no influence beyond that of any other member of the church, except as they may acquire it by superior talent, tact, or character. They are set apart to their work by prayer and the imposition of hands; and fill their pastorates, through a mutual arrangement to which themselves and the churches are parties; or occupy themselves in travelling from place to place and preaching the word as evangelists, where opportunities are offered.
The Freewill Baptist Denomination, as a separate ecclesiastical body, came into existence as a natural and needful reaction from the High Calvinism, the unspiritual ministry, and the ceremonial routine of the New England churches, near the close of the last century. Hence, there has ever been a high appreciation of fervor in manner and depth in experience, during the entire period covered by its life. There has also been a strong and general demand for a ministry that undertook the sacred offices and functions from the highest sense of duty to God and to the world. And no single point in theology has been more constantly and earnestly. insisted on, than that which asserts man's moral freedom to accept the gospel's offer of salvation, which it is claimed is made in good faith to every human being that hears the message. Human responsibility is asserted always in the strongest and most unequivocal terms, and God is exonerated from the charge of giving over any part of the race to helplessness and a predestinated destruction.
As might readily be inferred, the proper sphere for Christian teaching and principle is regarded as wide as the world. Freewill Baptists have ever insisted that religion was meant to be a practical thing. They have believed eminently in faith and works. A correct creed, a devout Sabbath worship, a scrupulous attention to religious forms, have been regarded as proper, but still incomplete expressions of the Christian life. They have insisted that the law of God was meant for the whole domain of conduct, as well as the truth of God for the whole domain of faith. Hence, they have refused to endorse any civil statute which manifestly contravenes the Decalogue, and have condemned every social institution which puts the Sermon on the Mount out of the way. They have opposed Intemperance as a barrier to the work of the gospel, which calls for purity and selfdenial; and they have protested against Slavery as a practical and violent denial of the most sacred rights of the individual soul. They have asserted the legitimate and indefeasible right of Christianity to rule in the market-place as well as in the church, and have pointed out the moral mischief of recklessness in politics as well as of heresy in the pulpit. The doctrine of equality before the law they deduce from the doctrine of equality before God; and Christ's claim to supremacy they interpret as a claim to be the Lord of all human life. And, hence, they have ever been known, so far as known at all, as earnest
to have a true Christian reform go through society, as well as a true Christian experience go through the Church.
The grim theology against which the denomination rose to protest, has greatly relaxed during the present century; the piety which the Freewill Baptist Fathers demanded for the pulpit and carried there, is now generally demanded as a necessity, and generally found ; a vital experience, such as they insisted on, is now almost everywhere set above the correct creed which once had the supremacy; and the cry for social and civil reform which they swelled when they had few supporters, is now taken up and echoed all along the line of the Christian host. It may not be immodest for Freewill Baptists to believe that they have really contributed something to produce these changes ; and they are sure of baving the right to rejoice in what seems to them proofs that truth is mastering error, that moral principle is acknowledged to be the true guide where political expediency once led the nation on the downward road almost unchallenged, and that men are recognizing the awful sanctities of manhood where once they saw only the stamp of merchandise. ideas once contended for amid reproach, are now blazoned on the banners of every marshalled host that wins the faith of the people, or marches to a noble victory. It is no time to withdraw confidence, or abate zeal, or fritter away our peculiarities in deference to a false courtesy, or compromise them in the hope of outward gain. Whether or not the denomination may remain and grow to give them a special and fuller embodiment, we may be certain that whatever in them is valuable and vital will survive all outward changes, give the heart of humanity a higher throb, and aid in bringing in with more haste and glory the final victory of the Messiah.