Chapter XVII


What Is It?


What were the Landmarks set by the "fathers" of the Philadelphia Association, the oldest in America—Decisions concerning alien immersion—The testimony of the venerable Bro. Spencer H. Cone—Conclusion of the argument.

"Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set" (Prov. 22:28).

"Some remove the old landmarks" (Job 24:2).

The Philadelphia Association was organized, A.D. 1707, and is, therefore, the oldest upon the American continent. Its territory originally embraced all the Middle States and some churches in Virginia. Her correspondence reached to every association on the continent, and from her, as a mother body, advice was widely sought. It was by missionaries sent out from her and from New England, that the first churches in Virginia and North Carolina were formed. Her doctrinal sentiments and denominational policy, were stamped upon the entire denomination in America. In determining her general policy, with respect to Pedobaptist societies, and the views and practices of her Ancients, we must conclusively decide the truth or falsity of the charge made against us by our liberal brethren—viz., that we are attempting to bring in a heresy, and a new departure, in opposing the reception of alien immersion, and the recognition of Pedobaptist societies as evangelical churches. The reader will see who are laboring to establish, and who are trying to "remove, the ancient landmarks which the fathers have set."

It would seem strange indeed to us for the most liberal of our would-be "undenorninational" brethren, to claim that it could be even probable for the Baptists of 1700, to seek, or to countenance, affiliations and inter-religious communion with Pedobaptist sects, which sought by law to force all men, irrespective of regeneration, into their bodies, and united themselves to the state. and used it as an engine of oppression against them, eating up their substance by taxes levied to support a venal ministry, who consigned them to midwinter prisons; who whipped them, without mercy at the post, and drove them from their own hearth-stones into the wilderness among the wild beasts of winter, because they refused to accept their doctrines and sprinkle their infants to insure their salvation. The great fact stands out in bold relief upon the pages of their history, that they did not regard these sects as churches of Christ, or their ministers as ministers of Christ, and scripturally authorized to preach and administer the ordinances of the church; and, therefore, they regarded their ordinances—even immersion at their hands—as null and void. This fact can not be truthfully denied. From the minutes of this Association, covering the first century of its existence, the question touching the validity of immersions by unbaptized and unauthorized administrators—i.e., by men who had no ordinations; since Pedobaptist sects could not ordain, not being churches—came up before the body six times, and was unanimously voted down.

When discussed in 1788, and negatived, these reasons, among others, were given:

"First, because a person—that has not been baptized must be disqualified to administer baptism to others, and especially if he be unordained.

"Second, because to admit such baptism as valid, would make void the ordinances of Christ; throw contempt on His authority, and tend to confusion—for if baptism be not necessary for an administrator of it, neither can it be for church communion, which is an inferior act; and if such baptism be valid, then ordination is unnecessary, contrary to Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5; and our Confession of Faith, Chapter 27."

While indorsing these arguments as solid, I would rather emphasize the more conclusive one, that as those human societies are not scriptural churches, they have no power to authorize a man to preach— i.e., ordain a minister—or to administer the ordinances, and consequently all their ecclesiastical acts and ordinances are null and void; for if we recognize their ordinances as valid, or their preachers as gospel ministers, we thereby recognize their societies as true churches of Christ. The Baptists of America from 1707-1807, did not regard Pedobaptist societies as scriptural churches, or their ministers as baptized or ordained.

I conclude the discussion of the question of "old" Baptist usage, with a letter from Bro. Spencer Cone, for many years the pastor of the First Baptist Church, New York City. His statements of facts will be received, and his opinion, as a sound Bap. tist, should certainly be regarded:

"Dear Brethren:

"The question you ask was presented to me in July by Brother J. Tripp, Jr., of your church. I replied that, in my opinion, valid baptism could only be administered by a duly authorized minister; and stated my impression also that the ‘regular Baptist Churches of England and the United States’ had long held the same sentiments. I wrote in the midst of numerous calls, and without dreaming that the hasty line was to appear in print, but make no complaint. My Baptist sentiments are public property, for in things pertaining to faith and practice I have no secrets.

"First, then, what has been the sentiment of ‘regular Baptist Churches’ in England and the United States upon this subject? The ministers and messengers of more than one hundred baptized congregations of England and Wales (denying Arminianism) met in London, July 3-11, A.D. 1689, and published what they call ‘The Confession of our Faith,’ and recommended its perusal not only to the members of our churches, but to all other Christians who differ from us. Among these ministers you have the names of Knollys, Kiffin, Keach, Collins, Harris, Gifford, Vaux, Price, Finch and a host of others, whose praise was in all the regular Baptist Churches—viz., such as was opposed to ‘general redemption and open communion.’ Under the head of baptism, among other things, they stated that ‘it is to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called.’

"The Philadelphia Association was formed in 1708, and adopted, with alteration, the London Confession of 1689; so that in this country it has gone by the name of the ‘Philadelphia Confession of Faith;’ and since that period most of the Associations in the Middle States have been formed upon the same platform. The New York Association, organized in 1791, has always held the views I advocate. In 1821, the particular point before us was discussed and settled, in answer to a ‘query’ from one of the churches similar to that contained in your letter. Mr. Parkinson was appointed to write a circular letter on baptism, in which he maintained the immersion of professing believers, by a baptized minister, as essential to gospel baptism.’

"After the adoption of this circular, a resolution was passed, stating that although they considered the query sufficiently answered in the circular, nevertheless they record the opinion of the Association, that Baptist Churches had better never receive persons, either as members, or even as transient communicants upon such baptism—viz., by unimmersed administrators. Many reasons are embodied in the resolution to sustain the opinion given, as ‘the disunion, inconvenience, uneasiness, etc., which have always arisen in churches receiving such members.’ But the basis of their opinion is thus set down in plain words—‘Pedobaptist administrators, as far as we can see, are unknown in the Holy Scriptures.’ And that is just as far as I can see, and no farther.

"The First Baptist Church in this city, of which I am pastor, was founded in 1745, and as the Bible has not changed, she still adheres to her original confession of faith. The article on baptism closes thus: ‘That nothing is a scriptural administration of baptism, but a total immersion of the subject in water in the name of the Holy Trinity, by a man duly authorized to administer gospel ordinances’ (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 2:40-42). The action of this church for one hundred years has been to reject as invalid baptism administered by an ‘unimmersed administrator.’ During my residence in Maryland and Virginia, the Baltimore, Columbia, and Ketocton Associations (which I attended for eight or ten years, and was personally acquainted with every minister belonging to them) held the same sentiment. The subject was called up in the Associations while I was pastor of the Alexandria Baptist Church, D.C.—thus: a Mr. Plummer, from down East, a Free-will Baptist or ‘Christian,’ as he called himself, immersed a number of persons in Virginia, and formed a Baptist Church. He baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet denied the divinity of the Son. In a year or two he departed from our borders — his disciples were scattered. Some of them were really converted, and wished to unite with some Baptist Church in the vicinity. The church and pastor in Alexandria being satisfied with the Christian experience and deportment of two of them, I baptized them into the name of our God, Father, Son, and Spirit—coequal and coeternal—and we no more considered their baptism by Plummer as Christian, than we should if they had been dipped by a Mohammedan into the name of his prophet. These Associations, then, held that valid baptism must be administered, not only by an immersed minister, but also one in good standing in our denomination.

"In the early part of my ministry I was intimately acquainted with Gano, Baldwin, Holcombe, Staughton, Williams, Richards, Fristoe, Mercer and many others, now gone to glory; and I never heard one of them drop a hint, that baptism by a Pedobaptist minister opened the door into a regular Baptist Church. Indispensable engagements compel me to close. That there are now many pastors and churches opposed to my views, I know—painfully know—but all this does not convince me that our fathers were wrong in this matter. I must be made over again before I count that to be valid baptism’ when neither the administrator nor those who ordained him, believed immersion of believers any part of their commission, and never submitted to it themselves in obedience to the command of the King in Zion. Affectionately, your brother in gospel bonds,


NEW YORK, September 30, 1845.

I once more call upon the candid reader to decide if I have made out my case—viz., that "our fathers," as a body, and as a general thing, were not Old Landmarkers in their views and practice; and if the recognition of Pedobaptists, as evangelical and valid, is not a new thing, and a departure from the "old paths?" Reader, will you take the old, or the new way that men and not God has cast up?


I claim that I have demonstrated, by the plain teachings of the Scriptures and the history of our denominational ancestors, the following facts—viz.:

1. It is a fact that the churches of the New Testament, covering the entire apostolic age, were instructed to hold the doctrines, and observe the policy now denominated "Old Landmarkism." The Christians of the first century, then, were "Old Landmarkers."

2. It is a fact that all those churches, by whatever name called, which were the recognized witnesses of the truth and the preservers of the gospel during all the subsequent ages until the Reformation, were strictly "Old Landmark" Baptists, in faith and practice, and were called Anabaptists.

3. It is a fact that the genuine Baptists, from the rise of Protestantism onward, for centuries following, were "Old Landmarkers" in the strictest acceptation of the term, according to the testimony of Bullinger, Mosheim and Owen.

4. It is a fact that the Baptists of England and Wales, from the time churches were planted in those countries until a late day, were Anabaptists who refused in any way to recognize the Pedobaptist persecuting sects of that day, as churches of Christ, and were, therefore, "Old Landmarkers."

5. It is a fact that the first Baptist Church planted in America at Newport. Rhode Island, in 1638: and its pastors, Clark and Holmes, were "Old Landmarkers," and for this were imprisoned, and the latter cruelly whipped upon Boston Common.

6. It is a fact that the Baptist Churches of America, from 1707-1807, according to the published minutes of the Philadelphia Association, were "Old Landmarkers."

7. It is a fact, according to the testimony of Bro. Spencer H. Cone, that from the earliest planting of Baptist Churches in New York, until 1845, the general sentiment and practice of the churches and all the leading ministers was strictly Old Landmark; and, that only in the latter part of his ministry did a looser sentiment and practice commence to prevail through the influence of those ministers, who loved the praise of men more than that of God—which pained the heart of Bro. Cone. The voice of that venerable man. though he sleeps in Jesus, should be heard today.

8. It is a fact that the venerable Oncken, and all the churches he has planted in Germany, and Prussia, and Russia, comprising tens of thousands of Baptists, are Old Landmark to the core, unless Bro. Oncken and his people have radically changed since I conversed with him, during his last visit to this country.

9. It is a fact that the oldest churches and Associations in Mississippi were Old Landmark, and never affiliated, and do not until this day, with human societies, or their ministers, or accept their ordinances.

10. It is a fact that the oldest and most successful Baptist minis-ten in Tennessee, as the venerable James Whitsett,[1] and George Young, deceased, and Joseph H. Borum, now living, for forty years a pastor in West Tennessee, never affiliated with Pedobaptists or Campbellites, and they testify that affiliation is a new practice, and the forerunner of open communion.

11. It is a fact that the attempt of the few influential and. would-be popular ministers, of the early past and of this present time, to carry the denomination into affiliations and alliances of various kinds with Pedobaptists, and to influence it to recognize their societies as evangelical churches, by accepting their immersions, and their preachers as evangelical ministers, by ministerial associations with them, has caused all the strifes, angry discussions and alienations that have afflicted us as a people in this and other states. And finally—

12. It is a sad fact that in Christ’s last revelation through John, of what would take place toward the close of the present gospel dispensation, and previous to His second advent. He foretold that laxity of views and practices, general indifferentism and lukewarmness, a state which He denominated as "neither cold nor hot," would characterize a large number in His churches; and these, He declared, unless they repented and turned from their loose ways, He would spew out of His mouth: but the faithful and zealous few would be approved and presented as the "Bride," without spot, before the Father.

It is my deepest conviction that "this day is this Scripture being fulfilled in our ears and before our eyes!" Reader, where do you stand? Where would you stand—among the faithful few, or the most popular among the lukewarm many?


[1] (The grandfather of Bro. Win. Whitsett, of the Louisville Theo­logical Seminary, who died at an advanced age, left an able paper with me upon this question, which he prepared the last year of his life. His eighth objection is: “We object to receive the baptism of Pedobaptists, because we think it a dangerous innovation. We have no recollection that the history of the Baptists furnishes an example of the kind, and we are well assured that the common sense and piety of the Baptists were as strong one hundred years ago as they are now. This ques­tion we have before us must be a new-comer. We hope it will not be very obtrusive [in this he mistook the ministers of this age] . . . We say again, we think this is a dangerous innovation”  (South Bapt. Rev., vol. 5, p. 388).