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“The Old Paths” Again PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sylvester Hassell   
The Gospel Messenger--June 1890

Some of my brethren, whom I love and esteem as much abler and better than myself, seem to infer that I have in my article on “The Old Paths” set the old London Baptist Confession of Faith above the Scriptures. If I used in that article expressions at all justifying such an inference, I certainly did not mean so to do; and I take this occasion to beg my fair-minded and intelligent brethren and sister to read carefully the 5th, 7th, 13th, 14th and 15th pages of “The Old Paths,” and pages iii , iv., vii., viii., 659, 660, 663, and 664 of the Church history, and then to decide whether, with such sentiments as I have there expressed. I could ever prefer any human document to the only inspired and infallible standard of Divine truth, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Incomparably do I prefer the Scriptures, not only to all human Confessions of Faith, but even to all the original and brilliant speculations and theories of my own brethren of the present century. My only reason why I prefer the London Confession to these modern peculations and to other uninspired enunciations of religious views, is because the London Confession seems to me to follow the Scriptures more fully, faithfully, and wisely than any other uninspired production; and, in “The Old Paths,” I have urged my brethren “especially to study the Scriptures cited in the London Confession and to compare their teachings with those of all the other Scriptures,” and I have added, “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” (Rom. iii. 4.) In the preface of the Church History, pp. vii. and viii., I have said: “The best of the interpretations of the Bible are but the interpretations of fallible men. The right and duty of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures is also a fundamental Baptist and Protestant doctrine; such rights I not only claim for myself, but I willingly allow to every other human being—only let each one remember and admit that no person and no set of persons now on earth are infallible. Papacy is equally offensive to reason and to faith. He who claims infallibility for himself or for any other man since the Apostolic Age, ceases to that extent to be a Baptist, or a Protestant, or a follower of Christ, and renounces those precious principles of religious liberty, in defense of which have flowed rivers of the best blood on earth. A proper knowledge of genuine church history delivers us from the tyranny of both ancient and modern popes of every name, and directs us to the Bible as the only authoritative standard of faith and practice. Old School, Primitive, or Bible Baptists, should be the last people in the world to have a pope or popes among them. No book, no pamphlet, no periodical, no document of any kind, must be taken as a substitute for the Bible; and no author, no editor, no preacher, no teacher, no writer, and no body of men must he substituted for Christ, who is the only Prophet, Priest, and King of His people.” And, in the foot-note on pp. 663 and 664 of the Church History, I have remarked, in connection with the London Confession of Faith itself: “All people, whether professors of religion or not, have some kind of religious belief—that is some kind of creed either written or unwritten. A creed is a convenient summary of the religious belief of a particular people at a particular time; and may he useful as a bond of union between those who profess to believe it, as an aid to the understanding of the Scriptures, and as a safe-guard against false doctrine and practice. But let it never be forgotten that it is both the Baptist and the Protestant doctrine that the Bible is the only authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, and that each individual has the inalienable right, necessitated by his inalienable personal responsibility, to interpret the Bible for him self. Only the Greek and Roman Catholic so-called Churches and Romanizing Protestants put their creeds on a level with the Bible, and claim for them equal authority and infallibility. All increase of spiritual knowledge of course improves a creed, and makes it approximate more close to the Bible.”

The Bible contains a great deal of matter; few people have read it all; and no one remembers and understands, or can remember or understand it all. All professing Christian denominations claim to get their principles, no matter how different and even opposite they may be, from the Bible: “this is the book where each his dogma seeks, and this the book where each his dogma finds,” or professes to find. Hence Bible Baptists have always heretofore maintained the great value and importance of orthodox Church Articles or Confessions of Faith, for presenting a “comprehensive summary of the statements of God’s work, for exhibiting the unity of the truth, for guiding the thoughts of inquirers, and for testing soundness in the faith.”

On the 5th page of “The Old Paths,” I have quoted, from the 837th page of the Church History, the following language of my father:

“Primitive Baptists stand by their Articles; they read them, they believe them to be true, and they preach the doctrine contained in them; and hope that themselves and their successors will continue to do so even to the end of the world. And this they do with great pleasure, though well aware that such a course is disapproved by nearly all other professed Christians in America. While some denominations have creeds more or less orthodox, yet it is lamentably true that they are almost universally disregarded by the ministers and members of nearly all the religious sects and societies in the land. In this awful day of degeneracy, Baptists should adhere more steadfast to the apostles’ doctrine, which induces to fellowship in Christ, to communion and prayers, in order that the distinction between the Church and the world might appear greater than ever before, if possible.”

Nothing is more common today, in both the religious and the irreligious world, in their pulpits, periodicals, and books, than the denunciation of Creeds or Confessions of Faith, the declaration that they are useless, outgrown, false, and abominable— especially that all Calvinistic or Predestinarian Confessions of Faith are hideous, intolerant, and intolerable nightmares that should be relegated to the Dark Ages; that all denominations can unite on the broad platform of the Bible, and that it does not matter what a person believes, if be will join the “Church,” and help on the good and grand work of the evangelization of the world.

Now I should be sorry to believe that this false spirit of modern liberalism, latitudinarianism, and indifferentism has invaded the Old School or Primitive Baptist Church, which I regard as the true Church of Christ. And yet a stranger might reasonably so infer from the unguarded remarks of the brethren to whom I have referred in the first sentence of this article. Still nothing, I believe, would be further from the truth than such an inference. I cannot think that these brethren are prepared to advise their own Churches to throw overboard their Articles of Faith as worthless rubbish and to fraternize with all the religious denominations of the world; or prepared to advise our religious periodicals to abandon, as useless lumber, the settled principles announced in their prospectuses. No, indeed! these brethren would be among the last in the Primitive Baptist Church to advise such a course. They themselves have the most rigid and uncompromising doctrinal views; and, if human nature is the same in all men, they are disposed to think that those who differ with them in these views are not entirely sound. Like all other men, they have a creed of their own—a creed, too, not unwritten, but abundantly set forth in their writings—a creed which seems to me, at least in some respects, far more procrustean or unbending than the old London Confession of Faith—a creed to which its authors and advocates seem to me to ascribe something of papal infallibility. However unsound or heretical these brethren may think me to be, I repeat with emphasis, what I said in “The Old Paths,” that I think more scriptural, and therefore I prefer, the Old London Baptist Confession of Faith—the Confession adopted by all the oldest Baptist Associations in the world, including my own Association, the Kehukee, and the same in substance of doctrine as the Articles of Faith, today, of my own Church, Skewarkey, and of the most of other Primitive Baptist Churches—that I prefer, as more scriptural, this old Baptist Confession to all the fine-spun speculations of my brethren of the nineteenth century upon the Trinity, Predestination, the Law, Regeneration, the Resurrection, and the General Judgment.

A semblance of a proposition at the last session of the Kehukee Association, to change some words in the first two lines of the Fourth of our old Articles of Faith (Church History, page 699,) reading thus, “We believe that, when God made man at first, be was perfect, holy and upright, able to keep the law, but liable to fall,” was, as graphically described by one of our oldest ministers, “speedily thrown under the table among other rubbish,” by the oldest Primitive Baptist Association in the world. We want no change whatever in our old Articles of Faith; if changes are ever begun to be made, there will be no end to them, and we shall be imitating the religious societies of the world, and like them may plunge into infidelity. In regard to the proposition just referred to, we do not for a moment believe, no matter what any uninspired man may say, that an infinitely holy, just, and merciful God compels any of his creatures to sin, and much less that he compelled the federal head and representative of the human race, His unfallen and upright creature, Adam, made in His own holy image and likeness, to sin, and thus involve billions of his descend ants in everlasting wickedness and misery. Others may think they believe this monstrous assertion; but the old Kehukee Association, I am rejoiced to say, totally repudiates it, as altogether unscriptural and blasphemous. Like Paul before Felix, we “confess that after the way which they call heresy, so worship we the God of our fathers,” (Acts xxiv. 14), and in the manner in which our fathers worshipped Him. While we believe that, in each believer and in the Church, light is increasing and grace is growing, we do not believe that that light is darkness (Matt. vi. 23; Eph. v. 8; 1 John i. 5) nor that growth a monstrosity (2 Pet. iii. 18; Psalm xcii. 12.15; Hos. xiv. 5; Mal. iv. 2; Eph. ii. 19-22; iv. 15, 16;) We do not believe that the Spirit of God teaches His people now lessons that are directly contradictory of what He has taught them in the past. God is unchangeable; and His truth is equally unchangeable and eternal.
Divine truth, as rev in the Scriptures, is one, symmetrical and perfect body, as perfect as the mystical body of Christ, which holds that truth (Church history, p. 512, last foot-note); and, in no other human document, have I seen that truth so fully and correctly presented, without excrescence and without mutilation, (Rev. xxii. 18, 19,) as in the old London Baptist Confession of Faith. It sets forth what I and the great majority of Primitive Baptists of the United States believe to be “the apostles’ doctrine;” and, like the apostolic churches, it is only by “continuing steadfastly in this doctrine,” that we can continue also “in fellowship, and in, breaking of bread, and in prayer. “—Acts ii. 42.  I could not, in conscientiousness and faithfulness, receive or retain, as a member of my own Church, any person who believed this doctrine, as set forth in our Articles of Faith, to be a lie. How “can two walk together, except they be agreed?”—Amos iii. 3; 2 Cor. vi. 14, 15. Every Baptist Church is of course independent in its reception and retention of members.

In conclusion I desire to say, what I have said on the 621st page of the Church History, that “I am satisfied that the differences between Primitive Baptists are mainly wars of words, and that they would disappear if the parties could meet in person and in the right spirit.” From what I have read and heard of the brethren alluded to in the first sentence of this article, I believe that their faith is essentially the same as mine; that they have been made by the Divine Spirit able and useful ministers of the New Testament and that the differences between us are chiefly strifes of words; but, not before nor on an equality with, but next after the Scriptures, I prefer “the form of sound words” in our oldest Baptists Confessions to all modern theories.—2 Tim. i. 13; Eph. iv. 11-16. In that perfect World of Light, and Peace, and Love, to which the saints are hastening, the mists that now envelope the mysteries of Divine Revelation will be dissipated by the unclouded beams of the Sun of Righteousness, our verbal differences will vanish, and in answer to the prayer of our great High Priest, all the redeemed family of God—all the members of His Mystical Body shall be perfectly one, even as the Father and the Son are one—John xvii. 20-23.


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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.