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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Rev. Thomas Armitage D. D.
Taken from a book, Baptist Doctrine, 1892
Baptists hold to these three great foundation principles, namely:
1. That the book called the Bible is given by the inspiration of God, and is the only rule of Christian faith and practice. The consequence is, that we have no creeds, nor catechisms, nor decretals, which bind us by their authority. We think a creed worth nothing, unless it is supported by Scriptural authority, and if the creed is founded on the Word of God, we do not see why we should not rest on that word which props up the creed; we prefer to go back directly to the foundation itself and rest there alone.
If it is able to sustain us, we need nothing else, and if it is not, then we cannot rest upon a creed to support us when that creed has no support for itself. Some of our churches have what they call “Declarations,” or “Articles of Faith,” which are mere statements of what they think that the Bible teaches, but they are not put forth by any theological or ecclesiastical authority, and therefore do not bind the conscience of the churches.
Some of our churches have no such “Articles” or “Declarations,” because they find no need for them, and those who use them do not all use the same. Our churches hold that Jesus Christ is the only Law-giver, and the only King in Zion; that his law is laid down in the Scriptures, and is perfect: and, therefore, they refuse to follow all forms of tradition and ecclesiastical ordinations whatever, bowing only to the behests of inspired precept, and the recorded practices of the apostolic churches, as their record is found in the Scriptures.
2. Baptists hold that God has given to every person the right to interpret the Scripture for himself. As we cannot be Baptists without the Bible, we must know personally for ourselves, what order of obedience it requires at our hands. To give up one of these positions is to give up both. But do not mistake me here, as to what we mean by private judgment, as a divine right. We do not think that men are at liberty to think of the Bible or not, to obey it or not, just as they please. But we think that they are bound to use judgment, and to govern it, by the facts and truths of the Bible.
The liberty that we claim, is not to follow our own fancies, or predilections, in investigating the Bible, not merely to speculate upon it, and then diverge from its teachings if we choose to do so, because that would be criminal trifling. The right to investigate the truth does not carry with it the right to disobey it, or to doubt it,—that would convert the doctrine into rebellion against its author, which is evil, and cannot become a right.
God allows every man to interpret the Bible for himself, in order that he may discover its fact and truths, and then honestly follow them in obedience. Hence, no church, or class of men in the church, can step in between the personal investigation of the man and the Bible, to interpret it for him by authority.
3. That a man is responsible to God, and to him only, for his faith and practice, so far as the infliction of any punishment for disobedience to God is concerned. Right here we deny the right of the civil magistrate, of the State, either to prescribe a form of religion for us, or to punish us for not following any religion they may prescribe. This we call soul-liberty, a freedom which we have obtained at a great price; the rack, the dungeon, the “bloody tenet,” the stake and the gibbet.
Baptist have ever resisted the right of the State to establish the church by law, to tolerate the conformists of that church, and put its nonconformists under pains and penalties—or to interfere with the free exercise of a man’s religion, be it as it may.
We may regret that all men are not Christians, and wish that they were, and we may wish that they held Christian principles as we hold them, but we have no right to force their doctrines by law, and others have no right to force their doctrines upon us by human statute.
We hold that if a man chooses to be a Mohammedan, a Jew, a Pagan, a Roman Catholic, a Protestant or an Infidel, he has a right to be that, so far as the civil law is concerned. Therefore, all persecution for the maintenance of this or that religion is radically wrong.
And where Baptists have founded a State, or been the most numerous in a State, there has never been an act of persecution inflicted. The State of Rhode Island was founded by Baptists 240 years ago, and in that State no man has yet been persecuted for his religion by the civil power. And the same which we claim for ourselves, we are bound to claim for others, for if their rights can be taken away, ours may be also.
When a Baptist shall rob one man of soul-liberty, by statute, penalty or sword, he will cease to be a Baptist for that reason. Baptists have even sealed this great doctrine of soul-liberty with their blood. Their bones are bleaching everywhere in the Alpine valleys, amongst the eternal snows; their ashes have flitted over the pavements of Smithfield, on the winds for centuries.
The sighs and sobbings of Baptist sufferers haunt the “coal hole” of Lambeth Palace, and the dungeons in Lollard’s Tower to this day. In the long list of martyrs Arnold of Brescia, the star of Italy, Jerome of Prague, the most accomplished man of his day, and Hubmeyer of Ratisbon, sealed this doctrine with their blood. And then there followed them, men in humbler walks, the good Hans of Overdam, the beautiful young Doise of Leeuwarden, and Richard Woodman, the sturdy yeoman; all these shed their blood as its witnesses.
Baptist women also have sent up their shrill cry of martyrdom, till the blood of humanity has curdled at the heart. One sharp shriek after another comes, rending the air of the ages, from these brides of Christ, Maria of Monjou Ann Askew, from the nobility of the British realm, Elizabeth Gaunt, a mother in Christian charity, and Joan Boucher, the heroine of Canterbury. Out of their very ashes, which crumbled at the stake, joint by joint and limb by limb, God raised up modern Baptists, as from the dead, to re-assert the doctrine of soul-liberty.
These are the views that Baptists hold. What is there in all this to justify men speaking against us everywhere? I put that question to you in candor. I am happy to say to you, that there are some men who do not speak against us, and they are not Baptist.
John Locke ought to know what he was talking about, when he said, “The Baptists were from the beginning, the firm advocates of absolute liberty—just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.”
Sir James McIntosh says, “The Baptists suffered more than any other, under Charles II, because they professed the principles of religious liberty.”
Jeremy Taylor says, “Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first trophy of the Baptists.”
Our own Washington used the words just as affectionate: and in August, 1789, at the request of the Baptists, he recommended to Congress that amendments to the Constitution which says that, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof.”
Bancroft, our great historian, and Judge Story, our great jurist, speak of us in the same manner.