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Written by William Fristoe   

Of the disagreeable name of Regular and Separate Baptists, in use in the early times of the Association.

THESE different names for a considerable while kept the parties at a distance from, and shy of each other. The regular Baptists were jealous of the separate Baptists, because, as yet, they never formed nor adopted any system of doctrine, or made any confession of their faith, more than verbally; and it was thought unreasonable, that if they differed from all other denominations, why they should nut in a fair, open and candid manner, make known their principles to the world, and in so doing, act as children of the light; and on the other hand, the separate Baptists supposed the adopting a confession of faith would only shackle them; that it would lead to formality and deadness, and divert them from the Bible; but upon a more intimate acquaintance, the imaginary conjectures were in some measure removed, and their hearts softened with affection towards each other; for upon close conversation and frequently hearing each other preach, it was found that they agreed in sentiment, held forth the same important doctrines, and administered the gospel ordinances in the same manner, and of course children of the same family, the difference being only in name. For these reasons the parties (especially the better informed) wished for a removal of all differences, and an union to take place. In order to bring about this union, letters and messengers were sent at different times from the one to the other, and propositions made for the accommodation of the differences between them; but not with that success that was desired, until the year 1787, at Dover Meeting-House, on James River, at which time the messengers from the several district associations agreed to adopt the regular Baptist Confession of Faith, in the manner following.

After a good deal of deliberating respecting the utility of a confession of faith, we do agree to adopt the regular Baptist confession of faith; but to prevent its usurping a tyrannical power over the consciences of any, we do not mean that every person is to be bound to the strict observance of everything therein contained, yet that it holds forth the essential truths of the gospel and the doctrine of salvation by Christ, and free unmerited grace alone, which ought to be believed by every Christian, and maintained by every minister of the Gospel; and that from henceforth the word Regular and Separate, be buried in oblivion, and that we be known in future by the United Baptist Church of Christ, in Virginia. This was signed by the Moderator and Clerk, and confirmed by the different associations, at the return of their messengers.

The reader may observe, that the term Separate Baptist did not arise from their withdrawing from any society of Baptists; but the way it originated was from some old men to the Eastward, or Northern States, who were Presbyterians by profession, and who hearing some lively, heart-affecting preachers, got, as they hoped, converted, and withdrew themselves from the Presbyterians, because they deemed the Presbyterians to be fallen into a lukewarm and lifeless state -and inasmuch as they withdrew they were called Separates. Some of them came and lived some time on the frontiers of Virginia, where they became satisfied of the right of believers to baptism, and that of immersion. After some time they removed to the Carolinas, still retaining the name separate, with this difference - they were formerly separate Presbyterians, but now separate Baptists. When settled to the South, they began to advocate the cause of religion, to spread the interest of the Redeemer, and like Elijah's cloud, though small in its beginning, soon spread over the Heavens and afforded flooded torrents. So these few, feeble, and despised followers of Christ, began zealously to exhort and preach, and employ their gifts in the most profitable manner. I n a little time superior gifts were raised up, and souls in great numbers converted to Christ. By these means the Southern States have enjoyed the light of the Gospel, and the bright rising of the great Illuminator of the spiritual world. How wonderful are the judgments of God and the dispensation of His providence, together with the mode of communicating His grace, past finding out.


The Constitution and Order of Churches belonging to this Association.

FOR the convenience of public worship and direction of discipline of the Lord's house, it is thought necessary that independent congregational churches should be constituted, being consistent with, and founded upon apostolic custom in primitive times. When a number of persons having been baptized according to the institution of Christ, upon profession of their faith in Christ, who lie remote from, and inconveniences preventing their assembling with or forming in with a church of Christ, it makes it necessary that they should form into a distinct and separate society, for the purposes aforesaid.

It has been customary where individual baptized persons have labored under inconveniences as before stated, to propose a constitution, if their number be sufficient. Should they have joined any church, a regular dismission is necessary; when that is obtained, a day is then appointed, which is observed as a day of fasting and prayer, ministers being called upon to attend. On meeting together for this very solemn and important purpose, on the day and place appointed, enquiry is generally made by the preachers present respecting their religious sentiments -whether an agreement in sentiment, (as it appears necessary they should be agreed in order to walk together;) whether each of them do purpose in his heart to live in obedience to the word of God, and aim to fill his place in the church of Christ. -Sometimes there is a short written covenant, expressive of the principles on which they unite, which they severally subscribe.

This being done, they are publicly acknowledged and declared by the minister or ministers present, to be a church of Christ, and the right hand of fellowship given to each of them, accompanied with prayer to God for the prosperity and growth of his Zion, and that his dwelling may be in this temple, raised up for his name.

A church being thus formed, has certain rights granted her by the great Law-giver and Head of the church, which no power civil of ecclesiastic has a right to deprive her of, without a gross insult offered to the bride, the Lamb's wife; she hath a right to search and peruse the holy scriptures, as the unerring rule of faith and practice, and sufficient in every instance to furnish Zion's citizens with every good work.

The several members have a right to assemble and meet together for the purpose of divine worship, and go up to the Lord's house to be taught of His ways, and that they may walk in His paths, seeing the law goeth forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem:

That she hath a right to the choice of her own officers, as was the case of the first officers chosen in the church by the direction of the apostles:

That she hath a right to judge of the qualification of such as sue for admission into her communion; if qualified according to scripture, she receives such -if not so qualified, she rejects them:

That she has a right to look into and make diligent search among the members of her body, lest any thing erroneous in doctrine or immoral in practice should be imbibed by any of them, and to reprove such, and endeavor to reclaim them if possible; but if such offending members cannot be reclaimed, then to exclude them from the church, that in so doing she may purge out the old leaven of wickedness, and so be a new lump.

Her privileges are many, her dignity is great; she is the ground and pillar of truth, the object of Christ's complacency, and all ministers of the Gospel and other officers in the church, are nothing more than her servants.

The manner of Conduct in administering the Ordinance of Baptism.

BAPTISM is considered, in this association, an ordinance of the New Testament, submitted to by the Lord Jesus, and enjoined on those whom He sent to preach the Gospel, to continue it to the end of the world; but as there is such a variety of sentiments, found in what is called the Christian world, it will be the more necessary to be particular in our statement here.

It is holden by this association, that believers exclusively have a right to baptism, and the mode by immersion is a conclusion drawn from the New Testament; because, when application was made for baptism, the person so applying, confessed their sins and were taught to believe in the Lord Jesus. When commission was given to the apostles, they were first to teach, and then baptize. It appears these first preachers well understood the mind of their Lord and Master -and therefore, those that received the word under their preaching, were baptized, both men and women.

It appears clearly, that when a request was made for to be baptized, that faith was required as a prerequisite and necessary qualification; and it is the language of holy writ, that without faith it is impossible to please God. Upon reading the New Testament and comparing its several parts, and, finding that those that were baptized were receivers of the word, were rejoicers, were confessors, penitent believers, the conclusion is, that believers' baptism is established on gospel premises, and whatever is opposed to it is an invention of men.

As to the mode, it is sufficiently clear that it was by immersion; because they, in order to comply with that duty, went where there was much water - went into the water, were baptized in the water, and came up out of the water; beside, according to the scriptures, a death, burial and resurrection is represented in a striking figure when a believer is immersed in baptism and raised up again; for thereby a death to sin and a resurrection to newness of life is represented, and the shadow and the substance ought always to bear a resemblance.

It is expected, that the person that applies for baptism, will come from a conviction on his mind, that it is an incumbent duty on believers, and that if they act in obedience to the injunction of Christ in His word, they ought not to omit the compliance with it.

It is required by the Baptists, that the person coming forward, should give satisfaction of their new birth and faith in the Lord Jesus -not the answering a few doctrinal questions, or head knowledge of externals that will be satisfactory, though that is valuable in its place; for it is beyond question, that a person possessing a good genius and retentive memory, may acquire a very extensive knowledge of the doctrines the scriptures inculcate, and speak in a refined manner fluently on them, and yet destitute of the grace of God, and in a state of  nature. It is necessary, therefore, that as clear evidence as the case will admit, of an internal change of heart; for in this change the heart of stone is taken away and an heart of flesh is given, and that the candidate should give an account of the deepest sense of the corruption of his nature, the weighty burthen of guilt pressing his soul down, and for which the Almighty might cut him off by death and send him to utter destruction; that he is sensible his duties and performances are mixed with sin and imperfection; that he found himself unable by all his exertions and endeavors to extricate himself from that wretched state of guilt and condemnation; and that an Almighty must effect a deliverance, and give rest to his weary and heavy-ladened soul; that he could not come up to that perfection the law required, and that he stood in need of a better righteousness, a righteousness wrought out by the obedient life and rich atoning death of the Son of God; that his hope is that an application of the blood of Christ hath been made to his soul, purging his conscience from dead works, and the robe of the Saviour's righteousness put upon him, through which he expects to be justified and rendered acceptable before God, and that in the Lord alone he hath  righteousness and strength; his confidence is in Almighty power to preserve him, meet, qualify and preserve him for an inheritance with the saints in light, and at last bring him to the fruition and enjoyment of that glory that is reserved for all the followers of the Lamb.

It is customary for the above relation to be given to the minister, the church being present, (if there be a church in the place,) though it is the preacher's province to teach and baptize, and of course the proper judge of the qualifications of the candidate; and frequently when ministers have been in remote places and distant from any constituted church they have separated from, and without the church, receive experience and baptized, on the strength of their commission, (baptism not being a church ordinance,) but is administered and complied with in order to church membership, and does not appear that any were admitted into the church of Christ, in primitive times, without this prerequisite; but as it is in common the intention of persons baptized to give themselves members of some gospel church, it appears more convenient, where there is a church, to bring both under one, and the person proposing to join, to give in his experience at the bar of the church; for in so doing, satisfaction is given to the minister that is to baptize him, and the church with whom he intends to join, and is likely to keep up a good understanding between the minister and his brethren. The candidate having given a satisfactory account of his faith in Christ, enquiry is made respecting the strictness of his morals, and if common report recommend his manner of life, he or she is considered a proper subject for baptism. The minister and such person or persons repair to the water, sometimes with singing an hymn or psalm. When come to the water the minister says something suitable on the occasion, followed with prayer. The minister then takes the subject by the hand and walks down into the water, where the whole body of the person is immersed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Upon coming up out of the water, another hymn is generally sung, after which those present are dismissed. Should enquiry be made, whether we do not make baptism essential to salvation, and that a person cannot be saved without it, the answer is ready -we do not; or a person must, according to our principles, be in state of salvation prior to baptism, and of course, were they to die, would be received into Heaven, though they were never baptized. It is surprising that an accusation of this sort should arise from certain quarters, or from some societies who call themselves Christian; and one would suppose that persons so apt to find fault and reflect on others, would blush when examining the principles of their own church, and hearing their ministers after sprinkling little children, thank God that such children were regenerate and born again by the mystical washing away of sin. When such children are grown capable of being taught, they are instructed and taught that they were made children of God and heirs of the kingdom of Heaven in their baptism. Others say and write, that they did not sin away the grace they received in infant baptism, until they were ten years old! This is in very strong terms allowing great things to be done by the external rite of baptism, which the Baptists entirely disown, and practice it as a duty enjoined by Christ, as a badge to distinguish His followers from the rest of the world, and do not view that their title to the heavenly inheritance is in any way secured to them by their compliance with this gospel ordinance, or any other external performance of theirs, salvation being procured by the obedience and death of Christ, revealed in the Gospel and applied by the Holy Spirit; and that which meet them for the kingdom of Heaven, is the internal sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit of the living God.

The Mode in practice among the Baptists of initiating their Ministers into sacred Office.

IT has been considered by the Baptists, that the preaching of the Gospel is the greatest work in this world, and that ministers have the highest office conferred on them of any others upon earth; therefore it requires due caution lest persons should be introduced into this work, of whom the Lord never required it.

Sometimes persons designed for public usefulness, have manifested it to their fellow members by a gift in prayer above usual, and in their lively exhortations to the church of God, and to others that might resort with them, and by their apparent knowledge of divine things, discovered in their conversation, accompanied with an upright walk and concern for the prosperity and success of the Gospel of Christ.

Sometimes, persons who have become eminent, have laid in obscurity for a considerable while, and gifts and qualifications unknown to the church to which they belonged; in this case, before the church can act upon it, the person signifies to his brethren that he is impressed in his own mind with a sense of the duty of exercising his gift in preaching the Gospel publicly. In either of the cases above stated, the church proceeds, in a church capacity, to call such members to the exercise of their gifts; but it has been thought advisable that it should be done under certain limitations, confining them within the bounds of the church and under the care, in the presence and hearing of the members, who are the proper judges of his public performances.

According as the young candidate improves and appears useful, he meets with encouragement, his limits are enlarged, and sometimes licensed, recommending him to favor and respect. When the church is fully satisfied with his gifts and qualifications for public preaching, the church form a council, and enquiry is made whether the young candidate answers the character and possesses those good qualities, at least in some good degree, as laid down in God's word; for such a person must be found in the faith -full confidence is placed by him in what the Bible reports, his mind being enlightened from above to understand the scriptures, and a knowledge of the connection of the various doctrines contained therein; that such an one is apt to teach; inclines to be engaged in opening and explaining the word of the Lord in his private conversation, and in his public ministry as much as possible, diffusing divine knowledge and administering grace to all that hear him; sober minded, not flighty and fickle, but firm and steady, persevering in the ways of God, without wavering. He is likewise to support a life of sobriety, not given to much wine, or subject to intoxication, but sober, just, temperate, holding forth the word of life; not self-willed, sensible of his own weakness, and that he may possibly err: he therefore ought to be open to conviction, and to receive instruction; not a novice, not a person of a weak mind, for such are generally very conceited; not a person lately converted, for such have not had time to experience their own weakness and the force of temptation, it being a time of Christ's love to them, and their enjoying the rays of the sun of righteousness: were such put forward and encouraged, they might be puffed up and fall into sin, and of course into the condemnation of the Devil; for a proud preacher as much resembles a fallen angel as it is possible for a human creature to do; not soon angry, meet persecution with fortitude, and bear insult for the sake of the Gospel with a becoming patience, as a legacy assigned him; encounter opposition, when contending for the faith, with calmness and composure: he is by found words to convince gainsayers, words expressive of good sense, words consistent with and drawn from the word of God, and by well founded arguments and weighty reasoning, detect and confute those that oppose the truth; no striker, not tyrannical in governing, nor harsh in conversation, so as to wound the feelings of others, but gentle as a nurse in the family of Christ -nor use his bodily strength in wounding or hurting the bodies of men: One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection, (if he has any) guards their morals, prevents reveling and wantonness, and thereby fits himself the better to rule the church of God; faithful as the steward of God, (he being the vessel in which the rich treasure of Gospel truth is deposited) in dealing out the doctrines of the word of God, feeding Christ's servants and handmaidens on the fat things prepared in his holy mountain, in which he is to labor and use all diligence at all times and seasons, being willing to spend and be spent in the good cause. He is to take heed to himself and to the doctrine; guard well his conduct and manner of life, lest he should disgrace his high calling, his acquaintance and hearers lose confidence in him, and be disgusted at his conduct, by which he may be (in his ministerial character) a castaway; he is to preach the truth in its purity and simplicity, without partiality or respect of persons, aiming to shun everything erroneous or absurd, and well support what is advanced with a thus saith the Lord; of good report among those that are without; that he supports an honest character among those that are not members of the church, and that they are led to believe that he goes forth to preach from good motives, and with an aim to be useful.

Although all the rare qualifications may not be possessed in an eminent degree by all that are sent to labor in Christ's vineyard, yet where they do not possess them in some moderate degree, it follows it will disqualify them for the discharge of the important duties enjoined on a Gospel minister. Should such unqualified persons be set forward, they will prove a dead weight on the church, and be a preventative to their being better supplied; and it has appeared among us in this association, (especially to those of better discernment) where a person lacks those talents so essentially necessary to the Gospel ministry, and his judgment so weak that he is not able to teach ethers, that the church under his care and her several members will remain in a state of childhood, or continue to be dwarfs.

After due enquiry being made, and finding the person proposed for the work of the ministry possesses in some good degree these necessary qualifications, the conclusion is, that such an one be set apart for the work of the ministry, in the way and manner following:

A day is appointed by the church for his solemn ordination. Some neighboring ministers of the same community are requested to attend in conjunction with, and aid to the church. The proposed person for ordination being informed of the intention of the meeting, and his attendance requested. The church, the ministers and the candidate being met at the place and time appointed, the church signifies to the ministers present their call of a certain individual member of their body to the work of the ministry, and that they are satisfied with his gifts, his knowledge of divine truth, and the goodness of his moral conduct, of which they have satisfactory trial, and that in their judgment such an one promises public usefulness, and as such they desire the ministers, according to divine precedent and primitive example, to set him apart or appoint him to the work to which he hath been called.

The ministers then proceed in concurrence with the church, first, to enquire of the young preacher respecting a work of grace in his soul, and what evidence he enjoys of his new birth, and whether he ever exercised faith in the Son of God, embracing the Saviour as his all in all; looking to Him as his righteousness and strength, and the only foundation on which his hopes rest for eternal life. If satisfaction be given respecting an internal change, they proceed in asking questions concerning some doctrinal points, such as the being of the one living and true God -of His existence and perfections -of the Holy Trinity -of the incarnation of God's dear Son, and the great work of salvation accomplished by His mediation -of particular election and particular redemption -of the fallen and degenerate state of Adam's progeny -of effectual calling by unfrusterable grace -justification by imputed righteousness -protection of the saints and their certain perseverance in grace, their everlasting rest in ultimate glory, and the entire ruin of the wicked in everlasting destruction.

Proof being given of the soundness of his faith and his knowledge of the doctrines of the Gospel, the next enquiry is made into the motives that induced him to enter into the work of the ministry; whether a deep sense is impressed on his mind that it is a duty enjoined on him to preach the Gospel and that disquietude and guilt would lie on his conscience was he to decline the work; whether he has well considered the importance of declaring the whole council of God; whether he is sensible of his own weakness and the need of an Almighty arm to support and bear him up; whether he has counted the cost; whether he is willing to meet insult and persecution, withstand temptations, lay aside the world and self-interesting views, and yield up body, soul, time and talents, and count the office of a Bishop a goodly work under every circumstance, be it ever so trying.

The answer to the above questions being satisfactorily given, the subject for ordination kneels down and the ministers impose their hands on his head, expressing words something like the following:

"In the name of the Lord Jesus, we lay hands on thee our Brother, whereby thou art openly declared and appointed a minister of Jesus Christ, vested with full authority to preach the Gospel, administer the ordinances thereof, to walk in and comply with every duty Christ hath enjoined on His servants or ministers of His word."

They then withdraw their hands, prayer being made before hands were laid. Often when hands are withdrawn, prayer is again made, after which the right hand of fellowship is given to the newly ordained person, by the ministers present, and he welcomed into the Lord's vineyard, rejoicing that one more is brought into the help of the Lord against the mighty. They then, according to custom, in few words, give him his charge:

"Brother -It is an important work you are called unto -try to magnify your office -you are entrusted with the gospel; give attendance to reading and close study of the holy scriptures; be instant in preaching the word, whenever opportunity offers; feed, take care of, and nourish Christ's sheep and lambs, for they are precious in His sight; labor in birth for souls, it is the laborer that will meet with a recommendation; in your public preaching, give each of your hearers their portion in due season, as a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth; steadily look to the chief shepherd for increase of strength, for warmth of heart, and that He may give you high and sublime ideas in great variety, making your mind a treasury to contain useful knowledge, out of which things may be brought forth, both new and old: -It is a great, a good and profitable thing to be an able Minister of the New Testament, and may you be made as a polished shaft in God's quiver, and the fruits of your labor be in abundance, that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive a crown of life, and shine as the stars for ever and ever in the kingdom of our Father, and dwell in the light of God and the Lamb."

But some may be surprised, that among the many qualifications necessary for a Gospel Minister, that that of a liberal education and acquaintance with the original languages is not included; school learning is highly esteemed among the Baptists, and those who have been called to, and exercised public offices, have very sensibly felt the inconvenience they had to labor under for want of it; but it is not considered essentially necessary -and that without a person cannot be a Gospel Minister. Where the author of nature has endowed a person with strong intellects, and formed the mind with a superior capacity, capable of taking in high and sublime ideas, of digesting mysterious and intricate subjects, and of acquiring great things; in addition to nature the God of Grace has renewed him in the spirit of his mind, and drawn the divine image on his heart, and given him to know God and His dear Son, whom to know is life eternal. In addition to all this, His gifts and talents are conspicuous, and shine with lustre -and give clear evidence that they were bestowed by Him who ascended on high and gave gifts unto men.

For a person of this description, forever to remain in silence, merely for the want of a school education, would be a pity: -It would be like a beautiful flower blooming in a desert, unnoticed but by few and enjoyed by none, sending forth its fragrant perfume, and godly favor, then fade, withers and die; so where distinguished talents are confined in obscurity and never make a public appearance, it proves a great and unspeakable loss to mankind.

Men of great learning, and able divines, candidly say that all their learning never helps them to one spiritual idea.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 November 2006 )
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