What Is It?
The Continuity of the Kingdom of Christ.
For the maintenance of the inspiration of the prophets, as well as the divinity of Christ, the Kingdom He set up must never be "broken to pieces," and the church He built must have never been prevailed against by violence or corruption—The true statement of what "Landmarkers" mean by church succession, not "apostolic succession," nor the succession of any particular church or churches, etc.
"In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed; neither shall it be given to another people; . . . it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44).
"On this Rock will I establish (Gr.) my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).
"We, therefore, receiving a kingdom that can not be moved," etc. (Heb. 12:28).
"The fall of a kingdom is the disgrace of its founder."
Landmark Baptists very generally believe that for the Word of the Living God to stand, and for the veracity of Jesus Christ to vindicate itself, the kingdom which He set up "in the days of John the Baptist," has had an unbroken continuity until now. I say kingdom, instead of succession of churches, for the sake of perspicacity. Those who oppose "church succession confuse the unthinking, by representing our position to be, that the identical organization which Christ established—the First Church of Judea—has had a continued existence until today; or, that the identical churches planted by the apostles, or, at least, some one of them, has continued until now, and that Baptist ministers are successors of the apostles; in a word, that our position is the old Romish and Episcopal doctrine of apostolic succession. I have, for full a quarter of a century, by pen and voice, vehemently protested against these misrepresentations, as Baptists have, for twice as many more, against the charge of teaching that no one can be saved without immersion, an d quite as vainly; for those who oppose us seem determined to misrepresent, and will not be corrected. We repudiate the doctrine of apostolic succession; we do not believe they ever had a successor, and, therefore, no one today is preaching under the apostolic commission any more than under that which Christ first gave to John the Baptist. They are our opposers who, in fact, hold to apostolic succession; for the majority do believe that, if ministers, they are p reaching by the authority contained in that commission! So much for this charge.
Nor have I, or any Landmarker known to me, ever advocated the succession of any particular church or churches; but my position is that Christ, in the very ‘days of John the Baptist," did establish a visible kingdom on earth, and that this kingdom has never yet been "broken in pieces," nor given to another class of subjects—has never for a day "been moved," nor ceased from the earth, and never will until Christ returns personally to reign over it; that the organization He first set up, which John called "the Bride," and which Christ called His church, constituted that visible kingdom, and today all His true churches on earth constitute it; and, therefore, if His kingdom has stood unchanged, and will to the end, He must always have had true and uncorrupted churches, since His kingdom cannot exist without true churches.
The sense in which any existing Baptist Church is the successor of the First Church of Judea—the model and pattern of all—is the same as that existing between any regular organization and the first such organization that was ever instituted. Ten thousand local organizations of like nature may have existed and passed away, but this fact in no wise affects the continuity of the organization. From the day that organization was started, it has stood; and, though it may have decayed in some places, it has flourished in others, and never has had but one beginning. Thus it has been with that institution called the Kingdom of Christ; it has had a continuous existence, or the words of Christ have failed; and, therefore, there has been no need of originating it, de novo, and no unbaptized man ever had any authority to originate baptism, or a church, de novo. Nor can our opposers prove that a Baptist church exists today started in this way. I understand that Christ’s declaration (Matthew 16:18), and Paul’s statement (Heb. 12:28), are emphatic commentaries upon the prophecy of Daniel (2:44).
We do not admit that it devolves upon us more than upon every other lover of Jesus to prove, by uncontestable historical facts, that this kingdom of the Messiah has stood from the day it was set up by Him, unbroken and unmoved; to question it, is to doubt His sure word of promise. To deny it, is to impeach His veracity, and leave the world without a Bible or a Christ. We dare not do this. We believe that His kingdom has stood unchanged as firmly as we believe in the divinity of the Son of God, and, when we are forced to surrender the one faith, we can easily give up the other. If Christ has not kept His promise concerning His church to keep it, how can I trust Him concerning my salvation? If He has not the power to save His church, He certainly has not the power to save me. For Christians to admit that Christ has not preserved His kingdom unbroken, unmoved, unchanged, and uncorrupted, is to surrender the whole ground to infidelity. I deny that a man is a believer in the Bible who denies this.
Nor do we admit the claims of the "Liberals" upon us, to prove the continuous existence of the church, of which we are a member, or which baptized us, in order to prove our doctrine of church succession, and that we have been scripturally baptized or ordained. As well might the Infidel call upon me to prove every link of my descent from Adam, before I am allowed to claim an interest in the redemptive work of Christ, which was confined to the family of Adam! We point to the Word of God, and, until the Infidel can destroy its authenticity, our hope is unshaken. In like manner, we point the "Liberal" Baptist to the words of Christ, and will he say they are not sufficient? When the Infidel can prove, by uncontestable historical facts, that His kingdom has been broken and removed one year, one day, or one hour from the earth, then we surrender our Bible with our position.
The wire of the Atlantic Cable is of peculiar formation, peculiarly insulated, and history informs us that several years ago it was laid down across the entire ocean, from Valentia, Ireland, to Newfoundland. I suppose there are persons who stoutly deny this as quite improbable, if not impossible, and assert that I am foolish to believe it, and even call upon me for proof of its continuity before they will believe. I satisfy them that the wire cable that I trace from Valentia to the ocean, and for a thousand miles along the plateau, where it drops beyond my line, is the same with that which I find upon the plateau, on this side of the deep soundings, and onward to the telegraph station at Newfoundland. In addition, I satisfy them that the cipher of the message started at Valentia is the same with that received at Newfoundland, on this side, and that no other company on earth uses that peculiar cipher. Furthermore, I convince them that the message received at this end of the wire is precisely the same with that started at the other, and that there is no other way conceivable by which the message could be transmitted. Still, those persons refuse to believe unless I will trace the continuity of that wire for the hundreds of miles of those almost soundless depths. What would the candid world say of such a demand?
I can not forbear quoting a paragraph from the reply of Bro. J. W. Smith to Albert Barnes: "Whatever is found in the New Testament is as worthy as if you traced it there. It is only a doubtful practice, whose thread must be traced thus carefully through the labyrinth of history, with painful uncertainty, lest you reach its end, while yet a century or two from Christ. Why, sir, if between us and the apostolic age there yawned a fathomless abyss, into whose silent darkness intervening history had fallen, with a Baptist Church on this side, and a New Testament on the other, we should boldly bridge the gulf, and look for the record of our birth among the hills of Galilee. But our history is not thus lost. That work is in progress, which will link the Baptists of today with the Baptists of Jerusalem" (p. 38).
I have no space to devote to the historical argument to prove the continuity of the kingdom of Christ, but assure the reader that, in our opinion, it is irrefragable. All that any candid man could desire—and it is from Catholic and Protestant sources—frankly admitting that churches, substantially like the Baptists of this age have existed, and suffered the bitterest persecution from the earliest age until now; and, indeed, they have been the only religious organizations that have stood since the days of the apostles, and are older than the Roman Catholic Church itself.
I am aware that such an opinion has come to be scouted by our "Liberal" brethren in these days of growing looseness and love of the praise of men, but I am sustained by standard names among Baptists. J. Newton Brown, editor of Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, a scholar who had given twenty-five years to the study of history, maintained that "the ancient Waldenses, Cathari, Paterines, and Donatists were our historical ancestors, and that a succession of whom continued up to the Reformation."
Bro. Joseph Beleher says: "It will be seen that the Baptists claim the high antiquity of the commencement of the Christian church. They can trace a succession of those who have believed the same doctrine, and administered the same ordinances, directly up to the apostolic age" (Rel. Den. in Europe and America, p. 53).
Bro. Howell says: "I assert that from the days of the apostles to the present time, the true, legitimate Baptist Church has ever been a missionary body" (Letters to Dr. Watson, p. 3).
Benedict says: "The more I study the subject, the stronger are my convictions that, if all the facts in the case could be disclosed, a very good succession could be made out" (His. Bap., p. 51).
I add to these Bra. W. R. Williams, J. L. Waller, D. B. Ray, and Crump. Orchard has, beyond all question, made out the succession, century by century, in various countries, in his invaluable book, "A Chronological History of Baptist Churches." "The Seven Churches of Revelation," in course of preparation by the writer, will do this. Not those who affirm, but those who deny the continuity of the kingdom of Christ, are to be pitied for their ignorance or their prejudice.
I quote, with pleasure, the closing paragraph of that great national work, "The History of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands," by Bro. J. J. Dermout, chaplain to the King of Holland, and Professor Ypeig, Professor of Theology in the University of Groningen—both distinguished Presbyterians. They certainly could have no object, save fealty to the truth of history, to pen a line favorable to Baptists, and no motive but scholarly honesty, to concede to Baptists a church existence far anterior to their own, and that of the Catholic. They say:
"We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and, in later times, Mennonites, were the original Waldenses and who, even from the most ancient times, have received such well deserved homage. On this account, the Baptists may be considered as of old—the only religious community which has continued from the times of the apostles—as a Christian society which has kept pure, through all ages, the evangelical doctrines of religion. The uncorrupted inward and outward condition of the Baptist community affords proof of the truth, contested by the Romish church, of the great necessity of a reformation of religion, such as that which took place in the sixteenth century, and also, a refutation of the erroneous notion of the Roman Catholics, that their denomination is the most ancient" (Trans. by Prof. Tobey in South. B. Review, vol. v, p. 20).
Monastic,; in his "History of the Voudois Church," i.e., those who were the ancient Waldenses, says: "The Voudois church is a link that unites them to the primitive church. By means of it they establish the anterior existence of their constitution, doctrine, and worship to that of the papistical idolatries and errors" (Bap. Suc., p. 547).
Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin, Presbyterian, says: "As for the Waldenses, I may be permitted to call them the very seed of the primitive and purer Christian church, since they are those that have been upheld, as is abundantly manifested, by the wonderful providence of God; so that neither those endless storms and tem pests, by which the whole Christian world has been shaken for so many succeeding ages, and the western parts, at length so miserably oppressed by the bishops of Rome, falsely so called, nor those horrible persecutions, which have been expressly raised against them, were ever able so far to prevail as to make them bend or yield a voluntary subjection to the roman tyranny and idolatry" (Jones’ Church History, p. 353).
Whatever the enemies of Christ may say —and they are His real enemies, who disbelieve His plain statements—His kingdom has stood unshaken, and will stand as a monument to His faithfulness, His power, and His veracity until He comes again.
"Oh, where are kings and empires now,
Of old, that went and came?
But, Lord, thy church is praying yet,
A thousand years the same.
"For, not like kingdoms of this world,
Thy holy church, O God!
Though earthquake shocks are threat’ning her,
And tempests are abroad,
"Unshaken as eternal hills
Immovable she stands;
A mountain that shall fill the earth,—
A house not made with hands."