Among The Baptist
ON THE POPULAR PREJUDICES AGAINST THE BAPTISTS IN FORMER TIMES. — THEIR
UNWISE POLICY IN SOME THINGS. — BAPTIST PUBLISHERS. — NO BAPTIST PRESS. —
OLD-FASHIONED PULPITS. — MODERN PLATFORMS.
THE further back we go into antiquity, the more fully we
see the prejudices against our people developed by their opponents, and the
less willing they were to allow them a place in the brotherhood of
Christians. Pedobaptism of all classes were down upon them for their
criminal neglect of their duty towards their offspring, according to the
popular sentiments of their adversaries; and the supporters of the church
and state policy were equally severe against them for opposing any dictation
or compulsion in the concerns of the gospel. So generally, in my early life,
did the idea prevail that children should be christened, as the phrase was,
especially among the Episcopalians, among whom I belonged, for their
spiritual benefit, that the neglect of the rite ought not to be tolerated
among Christian people. And to leave all men free to adopt their own
religious creed, to hear what ministers they preferred, to attend what
churches they chose, or none at all, and to act in all things concerning
religion, and in the business of ministerial support, according to their own
wills — all these principles and practices were then regarded as having a
tendency to undermine the foundation of the Christian religion. "Poor
heathen" was a term of reproach often applied to the children of Baptist
parents, while "levelers of the gospel system" was the designation of all
the advocates of the Baptist creed.
In the time of the severe persecutions of the old
Waldenses the Catholic priests got up a story that their children were born
with black throats, that they were hairy and had four rows of teeth, with
one eye, and that placed in the middle of their foreheads.
In this country I never heard of any location where
prejudices against this people were carried so far, but in the easy part of
my ministry a very honest and candid old lady, who had never been far from
her retired home, said to me in a very sober tone, "Your society are much
more like other folks now than they were when I was young. Then there was a
company of them in the back part of our town, and an outlandish set of
people they certainly were. You yourself would say so, if you had seen them.
As it was told to me, you could hardly find one among them but what was
deformed in some way or other. Some of them were hair-lipped, others were
blear-eyed, or hump-backed, or bow-legged, or clump-footed; hardly any of
them looked like other people. But they were all strong for plunging, and let
their poor ignorant children run wild, and never had the seal of the
covenant put on them."
In the age here alluded to, close communion, so
called, was the most available argument with the opponents of our
denomination, not only with the ministers but with the whole of their lay
membership. This was a theme so continually harped upon, that many members
of Baptist families had a hard struggle to surmount a stumbling block so
continually thrown in their way; and in some cases persons of this
description were actually taken from the society of their relatives and
carried over to the Pedobaptist side.
The Munster affair never failed of being held up to the
public by all writers of the Pedobaptist class and many of their preachers
On the whole, such was the strength of public opinion
against our obnoxious sect, that had its existence depended on the good will
of a large class, of leading men on the other side, all their churches no
doubt would have been scattered and dissolved. At that time the exchange of
pulpits between the advocates and the opponents of infant baptism was a
thing of very rare occurrence, except in a few of the more distinguished
churches in the northern States. Indeed, the doctrine of non-intercourse, so
far as ministerial services were concerned, almost universally prevailed
between Baptists and Pedobaptists.
I will here recount a few of the examples of unwise
policy and objectionable customs of our brethren in times of old.
1. In the location of their
houses of worship.
Then for Baptists to plant their churches in market
streets, or in central and conspicuous locations, was a circumstance of rare
occurrence. Instead of this, their more common practice was to fix on some
remote and obscure situation. In country places, as a matter of courtesy,
they would often go near to some influential family; and as their church
buildings, for the most part, were neither costly nor durable, when new ones
were called for, a stronger influence would be exerted in another direction;
and then would come up the perplexing question about the burying ground,
whether a new one should be opened, or the old one should continue in use.
About a matter of this kind two old deacons had a discussion of a rather
singular nature, which may be thus reported:
Deacon A. — I stick to the
old burying ground as my final resting place.
Deacon B. — I shall go to
the new ground.
Deacon A. — Well, you may
all go there that want to, but I’ll never be buried there as long as I
Deacon B. — Nor I neither,
was the quick reply; as long as I live I don’t want to be buried anywhere.
But when I am dead I am willing my friends should place me in the new
In towns and villages Baptist meeting houses, for the
most part, were located on their outskirts, because some brother, or friend
would give the society a lot there, either as an act of benevolence or to
increase the value of other land.
And not a few of our old preachers, conscious of their
deficiencies as public speakers, would encourage rather than dissuade the
people from fixing on such remote and obscure locations where the townsmen
would not be very likely to come.
2. In licensing to preach,
some who could talk very well on their own ground and within their own
bounds, but were not suitable to be sent out as ministers at large.
"Liberty to improve their gifts wherever Providence shall
open a door,” was the usual form of licenses in times when lay and local
preachers were much more numerous than now, especially in old churches,
particularly in the South and West. Many of these men, while operating in
domestic circles, were very useful. There their deficiencies in education
and talents were easily overlooked, which was not always the case when they
went out into the world.
A portion of the men under consideration, possessed in a
high degree the powers of imagination and invention, to which many modern
preachers of literary training can make but small pretensions. They valued
themselves on their skill in managing knotty texts. Figures and metaphors
were their favorite themes, and, by some means or other, they would make all
things about them plain. As for parables, they would never leave one till
they made it go on all fours; and so fond were they of allegories, that you
would think they had been taught in the school of Origen, that everlasting
These curious preachers would often astonish many of
their hearers with the ingenuity of their expositions, which, for the most
part, however, were as good as many which are found in the writings of some
of the Fathers.
3. In their extreme caution
in avoiding the faults, real or supposed, of other denominations.
Our old Baptists were so much disgusted with many things
around them, that in some cases they would be too cautious in their doings,
particularly in the business of ministerial support, the evils of which
still remain among us. They had suffered so much in some parts of New
England, and in Virginia, from taxation and legal coercion from the dominant
parties, for the support of ministers, whom they had disowned, that they
stood aloof from all systematic measures in favor of their own preachers.
Many of them went so far as to refuse to lend their names for the support of
ministers, or for any other object. "If I have any thing to give, I will
give it, and be done with it," was the laconic reply of these men to all who
sought their aid.
"Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,"
was a favorite passage with this kind of people.
"Yes," said one, "some members have no trouble in
Following that rule, for neither hand does any thing for the support of
The clergy of the standing order, so called, were
generally men of collegiate training, and as the Baptists had often been
grievously oppressed for their support, ministerial education itself, by
many, was lightly esteemed. This came from the incorrect reasoning of our
people. But there were other things which caused a strong dislike, on their
part, of the ministers of the old order, among which we may mention their
sacerdotal airs — the dullness of their performances — their cold, and in
some cases, their contemptuous treatment of all without their pale, whether
Baptists or others — all these things combined to produce in the minds of
our old-fashioned members a settled aversion of the whole Pedobaptist
concern, its priesthood, lay membership and all. And the urgent need of
college learning for ministers they decidedly denied; and this sentiment was
strengthened by observing the less formal, more animated, and, to them, more
edifying preaching of their own uneducated ministers.
4. In the want of a
progressive spirit in forming new churches, by sending out colonies from old
One church in a place was enough, according to the old
Baptist policy, and seldom did a second one arise, in an entirely peaceable
manner. The idea of colonizing for the general good of the denomination and
the cause of religion, was but little thought of among our people in my
younger years. Our old pastors were, indeed, always pleased with large
churches; yet they could never afford to part with enough of their members
to form a new and strong interest near them. And strong men, who were well
satisfied with their spiritual homes, never thought of leaving them for the
public good. Disaffection was generally at the bottom of all the new
movements now under consideration. The first examples of getting up new
churches in large and growing places by colonizing, if I am not mistaken,
were set by our Boston brethren, many years since.
The old fogyism, above alluded to, among our ministers
and people, in former times, has often hindered the growth of the
denomination in this expanding country, in which our sentiments are viewed
with so much favor now; and well would it be for us, if less of its
paralyzing influences were felt in some locations at the present time.
5. In having their churches
too large, or too small.
We had a few ministers, in former years, who were famous
evangelists in large districts around them. They were men of ardent piety
and zeal, and many flocked to their standards; and wherever they collected
converts sufficient for the purpose, they would unite them into an informal
church, under the name of a branch. It was the settled policy of
these successful preachers to retain all their converts under their pastoral
care, however widely they were scattered around them; and the converts
themselves felt in duty bound to continue their membership where they first
joined, whatever changes might take place in their locations.
Dr. Shepard, of Brentwood, New Hampshire, was a famous
pastor of one of the great churches now under consideration.
This good old Baptist elder, whom I visited in one of my
early journeys for historical purposes, was both a preacher and a physician,
and was highly esteemed
* I once said to a pastor of a large church, from which,
against his wishes, a new interest was about to be formed, that if they had
five acres of members, in the language of politicians at their mass
meetings, they would not be willing to spare enough for a new body, which
could go alone at first.
In both capacities in a wide circuit around his residence, which he owned,
and which had the appearance of the premises of a good thriving farmer. His
pastoral relation was a fixed fact, as was the case with many of our farmer
ministers of that age. His church might with propriety be called a
bishopric, over which he presided with a mild Episcopal sway, having under
him a number of able preachers, who, in his absence, officiated in his room,
in the different branches of his wide-spread charge. One of these preachers
became a governor of the State.
Another church of this description arose near New Lebanon
Springs, New York, in the latter part of the last century, under the
ministry of Elder Jacob Drake. Others of a similar character might be named.
These extensive churches were so unwieldy and so difficult to manage, that
but a few of our ministers were disposed to encourage their formation or
For small churches the Baptists in this country have at
all times been peculiarly distinguished, and it is probable that now, no
large denomination in the land has such a large proportion of feeble and
pastorless communities under the name of church organizations as are found
on our lists.
Baptierst Publishs and the Baptist Press
These terms, now so familiar with our people, were but
little known among them in my early acquaintance with their affairs.
Fifty years ago the
publishing houses of Manning & Loring, and Lincoln & Edmonds, of Boston,
were the only ones of much extent in their operations among the American
Baptists. Teibout, of New York, and Dobson, of Philadelphia, were both
Baptists, but their doings had not much respect to the concerns of the
The newspaper press, half a century since, was almost
wholly in the hands of men of different creeds from our own, and was
altogether secular in its character. A few papers admitted notices of
religious meetings and brief details of religious concerns, which, however,
were not infrequently accompanied with some sneering remarks, especially if
there was any thing in the articles pertaining to the foreign mission cause,
which was then exceedingly unpopular with many men of the type. The plan of
sending men and money out of the country for the purpose of attempting the
conversion of the heathen in foreign lands, in the view of these men was a
most preposterous one, a project, as they said, not only visionary in its
design, but impracticable in its nature.
* "I am of the Baptist persuasion, but not of the Baptist
connection," said the then aged Dobson to me while conversing on our
He was, through a long life, the pastor of a small church of Scotch people,
With a flippant editor of this class I had a newspaper
war of long continuance; the proprietors of the paper being my personal
friends decided that I should not be denied the use of its columns,
according to the wishes of the editor. My opponent gave out that he felt in
duty bound to oppose the foreign mission scheme as a waste of money, which
would be much more useful at home, and that he should continue his
opposition till he put it down. To this argument of my opponent I replied,
that if he fully believed it was his duty to put down the cause of foreign
missions, I as fully believed that he would die without performing it.
In the course of my defense of this then obnoxious
undertaking, I predicted that the time would come, when the missionaries to
foreign lands, who were then so lightly esteemed by many, and especially
those of literary pretensions, would become literary pioneers in distant
regions, in matters pertaining to the geography, the history, the languages,
laws, customs, etc., of the distant countries to which they were sent; and
that literary men, instead of treating them with disrespect, would honor
them as the friends of science and the promoters of useful knowledge. In my
arguments in favor of my position, I observed that missionaries, as a
general thing, were then, and must always be, men of intelligence, industry
and enterprise; and that by residing in remote regions hitherto wholly or
but partially explored, and mingling freely with the inhabitants, would be
enabled to be much more accurate in all that pertains to them than passing
travelers can possibly be.
It is now about forty years since these predictions were
made, and how often have I since been highly gratified in seeing them so
literally fulfilled by our own men and those of other communities, and yet I
am inclined to think that the contributions to general knowledge, by the aid
of missionaries, in connection with their professional labors in the future,
will greatly increase.
Baptist Councils in Former Times
As far back as the time of the active life of Backus, as
I find from some of his old papers, he had much to do in assisting churches
to adjust difficulties among their members. "Call a council," seems to have
been the first idea in the minds of many church members in early times when
troubles arose among them, which they could not easily settle; and very
small affairs at times were the occasion of these meetings, which in more
modern times are seldom known, the churches having learned how to manage
their own affairs without troubling their neighbors with them.
* In the course of one of my early journeys for historical
purposes, in a new region in a northern State, I fell in with one of the
kind of councils above described, which was called simply to adjust a
difficulty which had arisen between two church members; and singularly
enough these members were a husband and his wife, and more singular still,
the difficulty originated in a disagreement about the management of the
dairy of the farm. The woman would skim the milk too much for the
good of the cheese, and this dispute ran off into other matters.
Although they made me the clerk of the council, yet at this distance of time
I can not report its doings; but as near as I can recollect, the meeting
leaned to the husband's view, as more correct in theory and as promising a
better article for market.
Councils or presbyteries, as
they are termed by our brethren South and West, in former times invariably
met in the morning for the examination of the candidates, and in the
afternoon for the public services. In the interval a sumptuous dinner was
partaken of, either at a public house or at the residence of a wealthy
member. This was a wide departure from the custom of primitive times, when
they fasted and prayed before they engaged in the work of ordination.
The extra efforts for style and abundance at ordination
dinners, I suppose, came down to the Baptists from their Puritan ancestors,
who in some cases encountered heavy expenses in the settlement of their
ministers.* The evenings after ordination, by the young
people were devoted to amusement.+
* Something over a century ago, in a country town not far
from Boston, Massachusetts, the cost of an ordination of a Pedobaptist
minister was between two and three hundred dollars. The bill for the ardent
article was not small.
+ Ordination balls were among these amusements. On
consulting a minister of that order as to the truth of these reports, he
observed, that although such balls were sometimes had, yet he did not think
they had been common. I never heard of any thing of the kind amongst the
Baptists, and my impression is that they have seldom occurred among the old
order, of late years.
A very good practice has latterly been adopted by our
people, in some places, namely, of having a meeting of the ordainers
beforehand, to examine candidates and see if matters are all right, so as to
guard against the unpleasant delays which sometimes occur on such occasions.
The installation of ministers, by which term is
meant the settling again those who have been ordained, is seldom heard of
among the Baptists, at the present time. Formerly, the thing was quite
common among the Pedobaptists, and, in rare cases, it was practiced by our
If this harmless custom would help to keep ministers
longer in their stations, it might be well for us to revive it.
Old-Fashioned Pulpits among the Baptists
In their construction, no uniformity was apparent, but,
as a general thing, they were of small dimensions, a good deal elevated in
their positions; and a sounding board overhead, and a pulpit window, were
regarded as indispensable fixtures.
Dr. Stillman's pulpit in Boston looked strange to me when
I first saw it, as it had no window in common style. On inquiry, I learned
it had been closed by the Doctor's request, to avoid a current of air on his
back, from a large tide-water millpond in the rear of the house. This pond
was long since filled up and built over.
The pulpit in which Calvin preached, is said to have been
thirty feet high. From his time, preaching stands have gradually declined in
height, till they are nearly on a level with the people.
I will here repeat a few remarks on the proper form of a
pulpit, made to me lately by a young preacher, who had left the law for the
ministry. "When," said he, "I used to address a jury, I wanted a clear space
between us, that I might watch their eyes and their countenances, to see
what effect my arguments had on their minds; and now, when I address the
people, I want but a simple platform, and nothing in front of it; then, with
brief in hand, or with none at all, I feel at home, as I can move about, and
talk to my hearers, as lawyers do to juries."
Fifty years ago, and at a
somewhat later period, I was generally sorry to hear of the conversion of
ministers of distinction of other creeds, to our side; and the reason was,
that they might become disappointed and discontented, and go back with evil
reports of our land, and especially of the parsimony of our people, in most
cases, in the support of ministers, and in their doings generally in aid of
benevolent undertakings. About that time we had some unpleasant cases of the
kind to which I now allude.