What Is It?
Were the fathers of Virginia Baptists "Old Landmarkers?" —Did they, like too many of their descendants, receive, as valid, the immersions of Pedobaptists, and recognize them as evangelical churches?
"For the leaders of this people cause them to err" (Isa. 9:16).
It is for the "Landmarks" of the fathers of Virginia Baptists—those men who planted the first churches upon the soil o the Old Dominion—that I inquire, and not for the opinions of their children, who "have stumbled from the ancient paths, to walk in a way the Lord certainly hath not cast up."
As I said of the first Baptists of New England, I can say of our Virginia fathers, they could not have affiliated with the state church—the Episcopalians—if they would, and they would not if they could: 1. Because they did not regard it a church of Christ; and, 2. They were unrelentingly oppressed and persecuted by it, from the planting of the first Baptist Church in 1714, until the final overthrow of the Episcopalians in 1798.
No one has ever intimated that there was the least recognition of this "church" or its ministry by Baptists, by any act, ministerial or ecclesiastical, during this period or since. This much is settled, Presbyterians stood side by side with the Baptists in influencing the state to divorce itself from the Episcopal church, and from this very fact a kindly sympathy originated by a common oppression, and a common struggle for freedom sprang up, which disposed our brethren more to affiliation in Virginia than in New England or any other States, and the influence remains until this day. That many Associations have invited Pedobaptist ministers to seats in their Associations in the last fifty years, and that very man y churches under the misleading influence of their late teachers, have received, and do now receive, the immersions of Campbellites and Pedobaptists as valid, we well know, but this was not the practice of the "fathers" of Virginia Baptists.
1. The ministers who organized all the first Baptist Churches in Virginia, came either from New England, or were members of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, whose position will shortly be noticed. These preachers were Shubal Stearnes, Daniel Marshall, who came from New England, and David Thomas, John Garrard, John Corbley, J. Marks, P. P. Vanhorn, Miller and John Gano; and we must believe that they impressed the churches they planted with their own personal convictions, which were those of the Baptists of those sections whence they came. Then some of these churches belonged to the Philadelphia Association, and all the first Associations in Virginia, were in correspondence with it, and must have been influenced by its views.
I have Semple’s History of Virginia Baptists before me, and from it I gather the following facts. Speaking about affairs in the Roanoke Association A.D. 1789, the historian says: "About this time, H. Pattillo, a Presbyterian preacher of distinction, had preached several times in favor of Infant Baptism, in which he had degraded the Baptists in the most scurrilous manner. The Association, in order to rebut his calumny, appointed John Williams to answer him on a certain day; which day they determined should be a day of fasting and prayer. Accordingly Mr. Williams fulfilled the appointment to the general satisfaction of the Baptists and their friends, and to the annoyance of their enemies (p. 234).
There was little affiliation at this time, for Baptists regarded Presbyterians as the enemies of the cross of Christ.
A.D. 1794, I find this in history of New River Association: "It appears that the Baptist interest prevails more than that of any other religious society, there being only two or three Presbyterian congregations in the district, and but few Methodist classes [it appears they do not presume to call either churches]. Between these and the Baptists a good understanding subsisted; insomuch that a considerable party [which has yearly increased] were of opinion in the Association, that they ought to invite the Presbyterian and Methodist ministers to sit with them in their Association as counselors; but not to vote. This subject underwent lengthy investigation, and finally was decided against inviting" (p. 262).
The reasons given would preclude the idea that they could affiliate ministerially or ecclesiastically, viz.— "1. Because it might tend to confusion. 2. Because it would probably rather interrupt than promote friendship—seeing, in most cases, as it respects the intercourse between man and man, too much familiarity often ends in strife. We should be more likely to continue in peace with a neighbor, whom we treated with the distant respect due a neighbor, than if we were to introduce him to our private domestic concerns" (pp. 268-9).
Not a word is intimated about these people being "brethren in Christ," or "evangelical churches" —not a word of it— while the plain, square truth is withheld which should have been spoken.
A.D. 1792, I find this concerning Baptist interests on the eastern shore: "The established church here, as well as in most other places in Virginia, declined rapidly after the rise of the Baptists. Of late they have other opponents that are much more successful. For many years past the Methodists have been a very increasing people on the eastern shore. Whether their prosperity is only temporary until the set time to favor Zion shall arrive; or whether, for some cause, God is disposed to permit his people to be led into captivity, and to become subservient to the neighboring nations, we can not determine" (p. 283).
This language leaves us in no doubt but that they regarded Methodists, in common with the other Pedobaptist organizations of that day, as the antitypical nations that harassed and attempted to corrupt and lead into their false religions the Jews, God’s chosen and separated people of old. This is "Old Landmark" doctrine.
But a case came up before the Ketocton Association, A.D. 1791, which determined the position the Baptists of that day occupied.
One Mr. Hutchinson came from Georgia as a Baptist minister, and held meetings in London, and baptized many converts. It was ascertained that he had been received, by some church in Georgia, upon his Methodist immersion. This brought the question before the Association, and it decided that he was unbaptized, and advised against any church receiving those he had immersed. The result was, he and his converts submitted to a proper baptism. They reasoned thus:
"1. If such baptism was sanctioned, every thing like ordination might be dispensed with. But that ordination was not only expedient but an institution of the Bible, and, therefore, indispensable. 2. That such proceedings, if allowed, might go to great lengths, and ultimately produce confusion."
Whatever laxity prevailed in after years, I have shown in what light the fathers of Virginia Baptists, without exception, regarded and treated Pedobaptists and their immersions.
Bro. Jeter received his loose Baptist ideas from the Baptists who constituted the Portsmouth Association, and who came from England, and belonged to the General Baptists. Semple says: "Their manner of gathering churches was very loose indeed; or, at least, was very adverse to the method now prevalent among Baptists in Virginia. They required no experience of grace or account of their conversion. But they baptized all who asked it, and professed to believe in the doctrine of baptism by immersion."
These arc the kind of baptisms which Bro. Jeter holds and teaches are scriptural and valid today. He indorses a Campbellite immersion as valid, which is just like the above, for "no experience of grace, or account of conversion" is required by the Campbellites. It is this destructive looseness, and perversion of the ordinances, and subversion of the gospel, that Old Landmarkers are opposing, and from the dire effects of which we are trying to save the churches of this age.
Whether we are traveling in the "old paths" in this respect, let ‘the candid reader judge. It was not until the preachers of Virginia and the United States, desirous of popularity, commenced to "burn incense to vanity," that they caused themselves to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, and to walk in a way not cast up.