A Sermon on Church History

By Elder W. C. Arnold

  Preached  at  the  Primitive  Baptist  Church Crossville, Illinois

M a y   1 9 ,   1 9 0 7

This beautiful Sabbath morning finds us  pleasantly seated  in  the  Lord's  house,  and  I  trust  we   all appreciate such a sweet privilege, and humbly pray  that we  may be blessed with the spirit of true  service  and humble devotion. As  I  look  into  the  faces  of  this  large  and intelligent  congregation, I must adopt the language  of the  eminent apostle when he stood before  King  Agrippa and said, "I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall  answer for myself this day before thee,  touching the  things whereof I am accused of the Jews."   It  has not  always  been the happy privilege of  my  people  to answer  publicly  for  themselves, to  set  aside  false charges  and answer accusations made against  them.   It has  been publicly stated in this town that we  are not the Primitive Baptists, and that our origin is of recent date.   I deny the truthfulness of these statements  and propose under the blessing of God's Holy Spirit to  show this  people  that such loose statements come  from  men ignorant  of  the history of the church of God,  or  are made with malicious intent.  I have nothing to say about any religious body today, except the Baptists. You   know   of  the  origin   of   the   different denominations  of  this country; hence I  shall  inquire into  the  origin  of  that  people  everywhere   spoken against,  and by the public press, at  times,  slandered and abused.

    The  church of God has been known by various  names in the different ages, often being called by the name of the  man  who  most ably set forth  and  defended  their faith.  Names amount to but little, but principles never change.   If  I should call Brother Jerry Brown  by  the name  of John Smith, it would not change the  person  of Brother  Brown, neither would it change his  appearance. If  we  should  change  the name  of  our  village  from Crossville  to  Smithfield this  would  not  necessarily change our form of government.  So with the church.   We will find the following appellations given to the church at   various  times,  viz.,   Novatianists,   Waldenses, Mennonites, Lollards, Paulicians, Donatists, etc., etc., yet their principles and government have never changed. The apostle John died in about A. D. 100.  Polycarp was "one of the apostolic fathers, for more than  eighty years  pastor of the church at Smyrna, to which  he  was recommended by the apostle John,"  Brown's Encyclopedia, page  950.  Polycarp died in A. D. 166; sixty-six  years after the death of John.  He must have been of the  same faith with John, or else John would not have recommended him to the church at Smyrna as her pastor.  

    Tertullian, contemporary  with Polycarp, died A. D. 220;  fifty-four years after the death of Polycarp. Now  I  want  the  attention  of  everyone  to  the following historical statement.  Listen!   "Tertullian's writings  proved  that he, as a Baptist,  stood  between contending parties,"  Orchard, p. 32, 33.  Now,  notice, "Tertullian,"   says  the  learned  historian,  "was   a Baptist."  He and Polycarp were of the same faith;  John recommended Polycarp to the church at Smyrna,  therefore the apostle John was a Baptist. Hear  the same historian again:  "During the  first three  centuries  Christian churches all over  the  East subsisted  in separate, independent bodies,  unsupported by  government,  and consequently  without  any  secular power over one another.  All this time they were Baptist churches."  Orchard, p. 36.  Remember, my friends,  that during  the  first three centuries,  the  churches  were Baptist  churches,  according to the  statement  of  the learned Orchard. It  is not our object today to prove that  we   have been  scriptural in doctrine and practice at all  times, but  to show that we have existed as a church since  the days of the apostles.  The first division in the  church occurred  in A. D. 251.  The leaders of  the  contending parties  at  this  time  were  Cornelius  and  Novatian. Cornelius  was a very slack disciplinarian.  In fact,  I suspect  he was very much opposed to "putting  up  bars" against  anything.  No doubt he thought one thing  could be  as  much  the  church  as  another,  regardless   of practice.   I am sure that all the Corneliuses  are  not dead  yet.  Novatian strongly opposed the  practices  of Cornelius--and no doubt Cornelius thought him very cruel and  unkind  to  differ with a man of  such  "piety  and learning"--and the result was the division in A. D. 251. Concerning Novatian, we have the following:   "They say  that  Novatian was the first anti-pope;  yet  there was,  at that time, no pope in the modern sense  of  the word  'pope.'   They called Novatian the author  of  the heresy of Puritanism; yet they know that Tertullian  had quitted  the church, nearly fifty years before, for  the same reason."  Robinson, p. 126; Jones, p. 181. 

    I  call the special attention of this people to the evidence  of these two historians.  They say that Tertullian quit the church  for  the same reason that Novatian  did.   Hence Novatian  was agreed with Tertullian, whom we have  seen was,  as  a  Baptist, identical with  Polycarp  and  the apostle  John.  This establishes the fact that  Novatian was  a  Baptist in direct succession  from  the  apostle John. When historians speak of Novatian withdrawing  from the  church,  they  simply refer to the  action  of  the minority  under  his leadership, coming out  from  among them  and  being  separate,  according  to  the   divine command.  These persecuted people, under the  leadership of  this noble, God-fearing man were  called  Novatians. Concerning   them  Robinson  says,  "Novatianists   were Trinitarian  Baptists,"  see History, p. 19, 20.   "They were  distinguished  by  a  variety  of  names,  and   a succession  of  them continued  till  the  Reformation," Brown's Encyclopedia, p. 878.  J. Newton Brown was not a Baptist,  neither  did he publish  his  Encyclopedia  of Religious  Knowledge for our special benefit;  hence  he could  not  be called a sympathizer, neither can  it  be truthfully  said  that he was prejudiced in  our  favor. And he says the Novatians--who were identical with  John the apostle--had succession till the Reformation.   That these  people  were peculiar in their views  is  evident from  the following:  "They declared their community  to be the only true church, and required such as come  over to them from other sects to be baptized anew,"   Brown's Encyclopedia, p. 877.  What did they do?  Why, sir, they baptized  all  that  came  to  them  from  other  sects, although  they  had been  baptized  (so-called)  before. Now, my friends, I want you to observe this  peculiarity of  this  ancient people, and answer  me  one  question: Where  do  you see their photograph?  The  answer  comes from  as  many tongues as there are people  here  today, saying,  the Old Baptists, who are  slanderously  called "Hardshells,"  and  them  alone.   Thank  God  for   the similarity!

    These Novatianists contended that the church was an executive body only, and as such could only enforce  the laws given her by the head of the church, Jesus  Christ. This,  my  friends,  has been a  peculiar  mark  of  the Baptists  in every age of the gospel  dispensation.   We deny  that  the church has any scriptural  authority  to legislate.   Cornelius, or the Catholic party,  affirmed the right of legislation, hence the many auxiliaries  of the  Protestant world today.  These things are  borrowed from  the  Roman Catholics, but  nowhere  sanctioned  by divine revelation.  God abhors it all. "In the fourth Lateran Council canons were made  to banish them as heretics; and their canons were supported by  an  edict in A. D. 413, declaring that  all  persons  rebaptized  and the rebaptizers both should be  punished with death."  Orchard, p. 60.  O, how thankful we should be  today  for the God-given  privilege  of  worshipping according to the dictates of our own consciences, and in harmony with the Holy Scriptures.  This privilege  would not be ours if the world had its desire.  The spirit  of persecution  is not dead, but only under the control  of God-given law.  For the defense I make in your  presence this day, my feet would be made fast in the stocks,  and shackles  would  bind these hands, were it not  for  the flag  which  waves--emblem  of freedom  of  thought  and liberty of speech.

    But  I must proceed.  On account of baptizing  anew all who came to them from other sects, the  Novatianists were called "Ana-baptists."  Hear what is said of  them: "The rigid Ana-baptists enjoin it as an obligation  upon their  disciples  and members ... to wash  the  feet  of their guests as a token of brotherly love and affection, and  in obedience to the example of Christ,  which  they suppose  in this case to have the effect of  a  positive command."  Mosheim, p. 137.  This great historian was  a member  of the Lutheran church, and was an avowed  enemy to the doctrine of the Baptists, yet his honor as a  man of  learning compelled him to speak the truth,  even  of those with whom he differed.  Would that all men were as honorable! 

    Mosheim says the Ana-baptists of the  first centuries believed the example of feet washing, given by Jesus Christ, had the force of a positive command.   You that were here in our meeting yesterday evening and  saw the members of this church engaging in this heaven-given service,  by  humbly  washing  each  other's  feet,  are witnesses  as to the similarity of our people  with  the ancient Ana-baptists. "The  true  origin  of this sect  ...  called  Ana- baptists, ... is hidden in the depths of antiquity,  and it  is,  of  consequence,  extremely  difficult  to   be ascertained,"  Mosheim, vol 2., p. 127.  Notwithstanding such  statements  from  men of  learning,  it  has  been publicly  stated  in this town that our  origin  was  of recent  date,  so  I am informed.  I  want  you  all  to remember we are not quoting from Baptist historians.  

    I wish now to introduce the evidence of two more witnesses who  were  members  of the  Dutch  Reformed  Church,  of Holland,  and  were  appointed by the king  to  write  a history of their church in 1819. These men could not be biased towards the Baptists. "We  have now seen that the Baptists, who were  formerly called Ana-baptists ... were the original Waldenses; ... on  this account the Baptists may be considered  as  the only Christian community which has stood since the  days of  the apostles, and as a Christian society,  preserved pure the doctrines of the gospel through all the  ages," Dr. Ypeij and Rev. Dermont, vol. 1, p. 148. I  have not finished my argument; however, I  claim that my proposition is sustained.  Hear the testimony of three unbiased witnesses, neither of them Baptists,  but all  men  of great learning.  J. Newton Brown  says,  "A succession  of  the  Novatianists  continued  till   the Reformation."   Dr. Ypeij and Rev. Dermont  says,  "They are  the only Christian community which has stood  since the  days of the apostles."  The unimpeachable  evidence of  these  witnesses, with the evidence of  the  learned Mosheim, forever establishes our claim. But  I proceed.  "The Donatists held  that  baptism conferred out of the church, that is, out of their sect, was  null, and accordingly rebaptized those  who  joined their  party  from  other  churches.   They,  also,  re- ordained  their  ministers,"  Brown's  Encyclopedia,  p. 472.   They remained a separate body till the  close  of this, the sixth century,"  Brown's Encycl., p. 472.   We have traced the church through the first five  centuries under various names, and here we find them in the  sixth century practicing the same things. Speaking of the Paulicians, Brown says they were "a numerous body ... in the sixth and following  centuries, so  called  on  account  of  their  attachment  to   the doctrines  of  the apostle Paul, when  all  was  corrupt around  them."  "In the seventh century one  Constantine revived this drooping body, which had suffered much from the violence of its adversaries,"  See Encycl., p.  916. "The  Paulicians  were  the genuine  successors  of  the Christians of the first two centuries,"  William  Jones. See  Hassell's  History, p. 418.   This  statement  from Jones coincides with the above statement of Brown,  that these people were attached to the doctrine of Paul.  For we have seen that the Christians of the first  centuries were  identical  with the apostle John, and it  is  very evident  that Paul  and John were of  the  same  faith; hence,  these Paulicians of the seventh century were  in love with the same doctrine that John and the Christians of the first century advocated. "In about 817, Claudius (or Claud) began to preach, and  against much persecution nobly persevered till  allPiedmont   was  filled  with  his  doctrine,"    Brown's Encycl., p. 382.  "Piedmont was the jailer of this class of  Christians called Waldenses,"  Brown's  Encycl.,  p. 1148.  From these two historical statements I deduce the following   argument:   In  817  Claudius  preached   in Piedmont till it was filled with his doctrine.  Piedmont was  the home of the Waldenses, who were identical  with the apostles, and were Baptists.  Therefore Claudius was a  Waldensian  Baptist.  "During the ninth  century  ... exquisite  tortures were inflicted upon the  Paulicians, ...  in 845, one hundred thousand being put  to  death," Hassell, p. 424. Bishop  Usher  complains of  the  Waldenses  heresy corrupting all France, Italy and England, in A. D. 1080. "During  the  tenth century the  Paulicians  ...  spread themselves through every province of Europe,"   Hassell, p.  427.   In the eleventh century many  persons  called Cathari  (the  pure)  appeared  in  Italy,  Germany  and France,  who entertained similar sentiments to those  of the  Paulicians,"  Hassell, p. 433.  We have  seen  that the  Paulicians  embraced the faith of  Paul  and  John, which  was contended for during the first two  centuries by  Polycarp, Novatian and others; hence, here  we  find the  same faith defended in the eleventh  century.   "In the  latter  part of the twelfth century the  popes  and councils  pronounced repeated  excommunications  against the Waldenses and affirmed the right of the 'church'  to banish them, confiscate their property, and put them  to death,"   Hassell, p. 441.  "The scriptural, simple  and upright Waldenses in northern Italy were  providentially protected  during  the 13th, 14th  and  15th  centuries, until  1487."  Hassell, p. 450.  "In about A.  D.  1315, Walter  Lollard  ...  a man of great  renown  among  the Waldenses, came to England,"  Jarrell, p. 319.  "Special laws  were  made  in  1400 for  the  punishment  of  the Lollards  by  death,  during the  reign  of  Henry  IV," Benedict, p. 309.  Now, as Walter Lollard was "a man  of great  renown  among the Waldenses,"   these  statements from  Jarrell  and Benedict prove the existence  of  the Waldensian  Baptists in A. D. 1300 and 1400.  "In A.  D. 1236,  the National clergy met ... and declared  against the  sentiment of the Baptists."  "In 1538 a  commission was  given to burn their books."  "In 1547 a  commission was issued to search for Baptists; under this commission Joan of Kent was burned, May 2, A. D. 1549,"   Benedict, p. 303. "There  is  no record of the Baptists  ever  having become  nonexistent in England,"  Jarrell, p.  318.  

    In 1643, seven churches in London published a confession of faith.    This confession was readopted in 1689, and  is today the confession of faith upon which we as Primitive Baptists stand. Now, my friends, I have traced the old church  from the apostles down to the present date.  I have shown you her  footprints  in every century.  Many have  been  her struggles  as  she  has  unfurled  the  old  banner   of sovereign grace, under which she has marched through the ages past, leaving her trail by the blood she has  shed. But  God was her protector and preserver, and still  she stands  as  an everlasting monument of  his  power,  and shall  stand through all future ages as a  hiding  place or  the tempest-tossed and tried pilgrims of  earth,  a sweet home for the weary and heavy laden.  Come, O, come ye  poor and hungry, and eat and drink at  our  Master's table. The   quotations   we  have  given   from   Baptist historians  perfectly coincide with those we have  given from others who were never Baptists, hence we claim  our position is sustained beyond all doubt. Bear  with me a little longer and then I  am  done. The question:  "Who are the Primitive Baptists?" is  yet undecided  in  this  investigation.  I  propose  now  to answer  the question.  Until A. D. 1832,  this  question was  not agitated.  It has been stated from a pulpit  in this town that the people known as Missionaries are  the Primitives;  and stated by a man who could have  nothing in  view  but the injury of my people, as he  is  not  a Baptist  of any kind.  I purpose to settle the  question by  Missionary Baptist authors themselves.   "The  first Baptist church in America was constituted at Newport, R. I.,  in 1639, by Elder John Clark, M. D.," - D. B.  Ray, M. B.  "The first Missionary society among Baptists  was formed at Kettering, England, October 3, 1792." - R.  B. Cook,  D. D.  Now, notice, my friends, Cook, who  was  a Missionary,  says  the FIRST  Missionary  society  among Baptists  was formed in 1792.  This was 154 years  after the  organization  of the church in America,  and  about 1700  years after the death of the apostle John.  I  ask were  the apostles Baptists?  If so, then  according  to this  learned  Missionary,  Cook, they  had  no  mission societies,  for  he  says  1792  was  the  first  "among Baptists.

    "The  word  "Primitive" means first.  Hence,  to  be Primitive Baptists we must be like the first.  The first Baptists   had   no  mission  societies.    We,   as   a denomination,   have  none  today.   Therefore  we   are Primitive.   In  1860 David Benedict wrote  as  follows: "Fifty  years ago not an agent for collecting funds  ... was to be seen in the whole Baptist field."  Fifty  from 1860   would  leave  1810.   Hence,  according  to   Mr. Benedict,  a missionary of renown, in 1820 the  Baptists had   no  collecting  agents.   We  have   none   today. Therefore we are Primitive. Mission societies "have had a place among  Baptists at  least  since 1802,"  W. P.  Throgmorton.   Here  Mr. Throgmorton  admits,  while  in  discussion  with  Elder Lemuel Potter, that mission societies have "had a  place among  Baptists  in America since 1802."  This  was  164 years  after  the first church was  organized  by  Elder Clark.   I wonder how the church got along here in  this new and wilderness country for these 164 years!  She had no  auxiliaries, no societies, no side shows,  in  fact, nothing  but  the plain, simple, apostolic  service  of Christ, and yet she lived and thrived. I have now shown by Missionary Baptist authors, and could produce many more if time would permit, that prior to A. D. 1792, the church had no societies, and in fact, was,  as  Novatian argued, an executive body  only.  

    We remain  the same today, and are therefore the  Primitive Baptists, our enemies being judges.  I have shown you by unbiased  and  learned historians that we are  the  only Christian society which has stood in every age since the apostles.  Jesus said that the gates of hell should  not prevail against the church he established while here  on earth;  and as the old prophet, with  prophetic  vision, viewed  the  same glorious kingdom, he  said  it  should never   be   destroyed,  but   should   stand   forever. Therefore,  the  Primitive Baptists are  the  church  of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said this kingdom is like the seeds which  grow,  we  know  not how.   Our  death  has  been prophesied from time immemorial, but yet we live and the world   knows  not  how.   Borrowed  from  us  are   the principles  of  this  grand government  which  gives  us rights our fathers had not. Religious  freedom,  thou art a gift from  God  our wise creator, benefactor and preserver!  Thou infinitely gracious  God,  thou hast heard the cries of  thine  own dear  people, and through thine own rich, abounding  and overwhelming  providence  hast given them a  land  where they can worship unmolested in thine own appointed way! O,  my  brethren, let us adore  and  reverence  his precious  name; let us continue faithful unto  the  end, ever  thanking  the  dear Lord for the  high  and  sweet privilege  of being Old Baptists.  Let us  stand  united against  every form of heresy and keep the unity of  the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Let us tell our  neighbors and our own dear children of the glorious majesty of the kingdom  of God and invite all His little lambs to  come with  us and under the banner of Immanuel.  I  see  some here today who are longing for a place at the banqueting table of Jesus, and yet they stay away.

    Dear  children, come home; come in, ye blessed of the Lord, why standest thou  without?  You say you are not fit.  I am glad  you have  found  it out, but in the name of  Jesus  you  may come.   You  say you are poor, Jesus  said  the  kingdom belongs  to the poor, therefore the  blessed  invitation comes to you, saying, Come; your tears flow from a heart of  flesh and not from a hard and stony heart.  God  has given you this heart of flesh, and now you should  honor His precious name by walking in his footprints.

    "Time is winging us away

    To our eternal home;

    Life is but a winter's day,

    A journey to the tomb."

    O, my friends, let us spend our short lives in  the sweet  service of Jesus.  He is so good and kind  to  us all.   A few more days here and then, O, then, we  shall all be gathered home--  Where we shall see Him face to face, And tell the story, Saved by grace." 

    God bless you all.  Amen.