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Such an array of numbers calling themselves Christians, and such organized instrumentalities for the furtherance of their views among men, can but impress the pious of all denominations with the importance of praying for us, that we become not corrupt in doctrine or practice, but maintain the true faith, and continue, with them, that Christlike spirit of co-operation in opposing the kingdom of sin and error, and establishing in all lands the empire of our common Emanuel.
For this may we pray, and to this end may we labour, until the period shall arrive when the relationship of different denominations and official or organized agencies in the church below, shall be absorbed in the adoring views which we shall then enjoy of Him whose fulness filleth all in all.
FREE WILL BAPTISTS.
BY THE REV. PORTER S. BURBANK; A. M., HAMPTON, N. H.
From the early period in this country's history when Baptists came to be a distinct branch of the Christian Church in America, at the banishment of Roger Williams from the Massachusetts Colony, and his settlement in Rhode Island, different views of the Atonement and Christian Theology generally, have obtained among them; some inclining to Calvinistic, others to Arminian, sentiments. The first Baptist Church in America was of general views, and the Baptists in several of the states were Arminian long before the Freewill Baptist Connexion arose, while others were Calvinistic. As Calvinism became more and more introduced, some churches of general sentiment went down, others went over; others still, were inclined to the Arminian side, but co-operated with those churches which were Calvinistic; and generally there was but one denomination of Baptists in America till the origin of the Freewill Baptists, a little more than sixty years ago. This article on the “ Freewill Baptists" will embrace summary sketches of their origin and history, doctrine and usages, and present statistics.
I. ORIGIN AND HISTORY.
The Freewill Baptist Connexion in North America commenced A. D., 1780, in which year its first church was organized. ELDER BENJAMIN Randall, more than any other man, in the providence of God, may be regarded the founder of this denomination. He was born in Newcastle, N. H., in 1749, where he lived until of age, during which time he obtained a good mercantile and English education. From a child he was much accustomed to serious meditation and deep religious impressions. He did not, however, experience a change of heart until his 22d year, when the distinguished George Whitefield was the instrument, under God, of his awakening and conversion. It was not long before he became convinced, in spite of his early education, that believers, and they only, were the proper subjects for Christian baptism, and that immersion was the only scriptural mode. He was baptized in 1776, and united with the Calvinistic Baptist Church in Berwick. Very soon after this he commenced preaching; and within the first year he saw quite a revival under his preaching, in his own native town. It will be proper here to remark, that Mr. Randall possessed strong and brilliant powers of mind; and though he was not liberally nor classically instructed, yet with a good English education to set out with, by close application and untiring diligence, in a few years he came to be well informed in general knowledge, and especially in biblical literature and practical theology; to which may be added a clear knowledge of human nature, and deep and fervent spirituality. His soul also drank deeply into the doctrine of a full and free salvation. From Newcastle and adjoining towns, where he both met with violent opposition and saw many souls converted, he extended his labours more into the country, and himself soon removed to New Durham. There a great revival commenced under his labours. The work spread also into adjacent towns. About this time Mr. Randall was several times called to account for his errors, that is, Anti-Calvin sentiments. In one of these public meetings, held July 1779, at the close of the discussions, it was publicly announced by the leading minister, that he had “no fellowship with Brother Randall in his principles.” To which Mr. Randall immediately responded : “ It makes no difference to me, who disowns me, so long as I know that the Lord owns me: and now let that God be God, who answers by fire; and that people be God's people, whom He owneth and blesseth.” In this way was Mr. Randall pushed out, and forced to stand by himself alone. The same year the church in Loudon and Canterbury, with its minister, and the church in Strafford and minister, protested against Calvinism and stood independent, until at an early period they came into the new connexion. By these ministers Mr. Randall was ordained, in March, 1780; and on 30th June, same year, he organized, in New Durham, the first Freewill Baptist Church. “This,” in his own words, “is the beginning of the now large and extensive connexion called Freewill Baptists."
The gospel which Elder Randall preached was one of a free and full salvation; and he seemed to preach it with a holy unction, in demonstration of the spirit and in power. He believed that men possessed minds free to will and to act, and that God's exercise of pardoning grace was always compatible with man's free volition; that the gospel invitations were to all men; that the Holy Spirit enlightens and strives with all, and in a general rather than a partial atonement; that Christ invites all freely to come to him for life, and that God
commands all men every where to repent. Such were the views of this man of God, such are the Freewill Baptist sentiments now. In the true spirit of a faithful ambassador for Christ, commissioned of God rather than by men, he went forth into the great gospel vineyard, preaching to and praying his fellow-men to be reconciled to God; and the Lord abundantly sealed his ministry. For a while he went on to baptize, adding the converts to the New Durham Church; but soon there were several churches associated with this. It will be proper here to remark, that at the time of the origin of the Freewill Baptists, evangelical piety and the life and power of godliness were at a very low ebb in the two leading denominations in this section of the country. In the Calvin Baptist—we speak generally—there was much of real Antinomianism; much was preached of unconditional election and reprobation, and but little to the impenitent upon immediate repentance and seeking religion ;-and in the Congregationalist, experimental religion, in many cases, was scarcely considered a prerequisite to church-membership or to entering the ministry. Churches were in a lax state of discipline, and much of the preaching was little else than dull moral essays, or prosy disquisitions on abstract doctrines. Any reader, at all acquainted with the history of the Church at the period of which mention is here made, will admit the full truth of our statement; while, on the other hand, we take much pleasure in informing the reader that these remarks, in our opinion, have no application whatever, at the present time, to these now truly evangelical and pious denominations. Such then being much of the preaching of the times, it was to have been expected that the preaching of Elder Randall and the other pioneers with him in the cause of free salvation, should occasion much excitement; their sentiments and measures be the subjects of frequent discussion and various opinions; that some would fall in with them, while others would oppose and deride. All these results actually followed. Publishing a full atonement, and gospel salvation free for all to embrace, and exhorting their hearers immediately to turn to God, the Lord working with them: many accepted the glad tidings and embraced religion. Revivals spread. Several ministers and some churches came out from other denominations and united with the new connexion; other ministers were raised up and churches organized, as the reformation extended. One of the first four ministers was liberally and theologically educated. The new sect was every where spoken against; fanaticism, delusion, wildfire, was the cry; and by their enemies they were variously styled, Randallites, General Provisioners, New-Lights, Freewillers, etc. Elder Randall had already established large churches in Tamworth and in Strafford, in addition to those above named. The little vine soon ran over the wall-and in less than two years several churches were organized in the State of Maine, and their whole number was nine, In the fall of 1781, he made an eastern tour, and preached in several towns west of, and on, the Kennebec river, in most of which places he saw revivals commence, having in thirty-seven days preached forty-seven times, and travelled four hundred miles. Churches and ministers continuing to multiply—for the purposes of preserving unanimity of views and co-operation of efforts, and for mutual edification, a quarterly meeting was organized in four years from the first church organization. The quarterly meeting was held four times a year, in places which would best accommodate the churches, and its sessions continued two or three days. At these meetings the churches all represented themselves both by letters and delegates, all the ministers usually attending and many of the private brethren. In these sessions the state of the churches was ascertained every three months, the business of the denomination was harmoniously transacted, and several sermons preached before full assemblies. They were almost always the means of religious awakenings. In connexion with the quarterly meeting a ministers' conference was held, in which doctrinal views were compared, Scriptures explained, and good instruction imparted to the younger portion of the ministry. Printed circulars were sent out to the churches, stirring them up to gospel holiness and active piety. These associations were found to be a rich blessing to the Freewill Baptist interest, and they have always been continued, until, instead of one, there are now ninetyfive quarterly meetings.
Although the early ministers in the Freewill Baptist denomination had the pastoral care of some church in particular, their services were not wholly given to their particular charge; many effectual doors were opened to receive the gospel, numerous Macedonian cries for help were heard, and many of them travelled much. Elder Randall travelled extensively, and preached continually. At one place in his diary he says, “ I have travelled this year more than twelve hundred miles in the service of truth, and attended above three hundred meetings.” Stinchfield, Buzzell, and others also, itinerated extensively. In the first twelve years of the connexion, Freewill Baptists had come to be quite numerous in New Hampshire and Maine, had extended into Vermont, and soon after Rhode Island and several other States. Several quarterly meetings were already constituted, distinct, yet acting in concert by messengers and cor