WHY BAPTIST AND NOT ROMAN CATHOLIC

imgresBy Henry McDonald, D. V.
Pastor Second Baptist Church.
Atlanta, Georgia

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. – Sam. 16:17.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. – Matt. 5:20.
God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. – John 4:24.

REASONS FOR LEAVING THE CATHOLICS
AND BECOMING A PROTESTANT AND BAPTIST.*

[admin note:  I must take exception to the authors belief that Baptists are “Protestant.” Baptist did not leave the Catholic church nor are we ‘protesting’ against the Catholic church.]

I HAVE no sympathy with the spirit too often shown by those that abandon a church or reject a religious … system. Many seem to think that their appreciation of a recently accepted truth must be measured by the virulence with which they denounce those from whom they have separated. If the object be to justify the change to the judgment of others, bitterness shows weakness rather than strength of conviction; if it be to win opponents to the examination of a purer faith, arguments are enfeebled by a rancorous spirit, or unheeded when expressed in intemperate words. Candor and fairness are never more essential than in the discussion of religious themes. Their absence works injustice to others and blinds the mind to the perception of truth. The spirit of the gladiator is far different from that which we should bring to the investigation and the statement of truth.

Unhappily for the interest of the truth, religious controversy has been too often conducted so as neither to gain adherents for its support nor even secure the respect of those that dissent from it. Especially is this true in the long-continued and sadly embittered controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

While we condemn and deplore this prevalent spirit, we must be careful to reject, as alike alien to truth, the indifference which refuses to investigate, or the cowardice which fails to state kindly but earnestly ”the reason for the hope that is in us.”

Prompted by the desire to do good and encouraged by the judgment of judicious brethren I write this record of my religious experience-an experience which differs mainly from that of other Christians in that I was led from an inherited faith in the Roman Catholic church to a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If it shall, in any measure, strengthen the faith and love of a single Christian for the truth as it is in Jesus, I therein will rejoice. If it shall in the providence of God, fall into the hands of Roman Catholics, ”judge ye what I say.” And now, Spirit of light and love, guide these thoughts and words to the glory of Him who is the head over all things to the church.

I shall give only the reasons which influenced my own mind, and led to my conversion, and shall not, therefore, cover as Wide a field of discussion as would be expected in a controversial treatise.

References to authorities shall be few, as I hope to state doctrines so fairly that an opponent would be compelled to admit the truth of a statement though he reject the conclusion. In doing this, I naturally shrink from the recital of what is so intensely personal, and ask the indulgence of the reader of what is unavoidable in the narrative-the presentation of personal views and feelings.

Born in the county of Antrim, in the north of Ireland, of Roman Catholic parents, with an ancestry of the same faith, as was the supposed duty of my honored parents, I was in due time, whereof my memory runneth not to the contrary, placed in the Catholic fold by Baptism. I learned in lisping childhood the ”Our Father,” and ”Hail! Mary,” from my mother’s lips. The earliest memories of my life are when she took my hand and led me to the church to kneel with her before the altar of her cherished faith. How vividly do I remember the reverence and awe with which I stood in boyhood before the mitred bishop for confirmation, and the still greater awe as I knelt in the confessional or received the communion from priestly hands. The presence of a large Protestant population in the north of Ireland provoked in an unwonted degree the spirit of religious controversy; so that from my early years, it was my delight to study such works as most thoroughly maintained my faith in the sharp conflicts which were so prevalent in such a community. In no class was this controversy more rife than among fellow students of different religious beliefs.

I read with special interest Milner’s End of Religious Controversy, and the debates of the celebrated Father torn Maguire, the champion of the church in many a well-fought field. From these, youthful disputants would equip themselves with the weapons which had been wielded by older hands and in more renowned arenas. I held to the antiquity, unity and apostolicity of the church, the power and purity of her priesthood, the grace and efficacy of her sacraments. With the joy of conscious triumph would the question be asked, Where was your church before the days of Luther, Calvin and Henry the Eighth ? From whom did your ministers receive ordination whence the efficacy of your sacraments? These and similar questions were considered sufficient answers to all the advocates of these base-born systems which dared to wage horrid war against the Lord and His Anointed. I mention these things that some just estimate may be formed of the struggle in after years-a struggle no longer waged in boyhood’s wordy war, but in the solitude and anguish of my own soul.

I was prosecuting my studies in Dublin in 1848, one of the many memorable years in which the plans of ill-judging but honest patriotism were doomed to ignominious failure. The men who sought to arouse the people with the hope of throwing off the hated yoke of England were scattered; some fled to other lands, and some, through forms of law, were transported to penal colonies. The attempt appears to me now as weakness wooing destruction. My enthusiasm for the popular cause was not the less because of my youth. My despair at failure was only equaled by the ardor of my desire for success. My grief for the disappointed and law-hunted leaders was most sincere and poignant. Probably with more of youthful fervor than judgment, I resolved to embark for the United States, choosing rather to live in a strange land under any conditions than in my native land under an alien’s dominion. Confessing to the priest and receiving the communion, I was ready for the sad and bitter departure.

As I looked through the night at the receding shore, the despairing words came to my lips:

”With thee, my bark, I’ll swiftly go,
Athwart the foaming brine,
Nor care what land thou bear’st me to,
So not again to mine.
Welcome, Welcome, ye dark blue waves,
And when ye fail my sight,
Welcome ye deserts and ye caves,
My native land-good night.”

These feelings may seem jejune and extravagant, but the ties of home and kindred can not be broken without pain. The bitterness of that hour haunts me even now as an unforgotten wail for the dead. But enough. It is past. God was in it, though I knew it not.

After a tedious voyage, New Orleans was reached in the spring of 1849, and Kentucky in the course of a few weeks became my home. The religious sentiments and life of the people were as new and as fresh to me as the natural scenery of my adopted country.

I remember the surprise akin to horror which I felt when I found people which were not members in any church.

Accustomed to see every person from infancy a member of some church, I was amazed at the difference which was seen on every side in American life.

Was there no provision for church life? Did neglect of all religions universally prevail ?

These were the first questions which presented themselves to my mind.

On further observation I found for the first time churches distinct from the world, and character, not birth the condition of their fellowship.

Men and women professed to love and serve God, the spirit and tenor of whose lives seemed to be pure, yet they were adjudged heretics by every principle which had been instilled into my mind. I had ample opportunity, by close and intimate association, for observing and estimating their religious life and character. Their lives were independent of the church. Her divinely appointed priests and sacraments had nothing to do in the formation of their character. Nay, their character was formed not only in the absence of the true church, but in the avowed disbelief and rejection of her teachings.

Frankly do I now say that it was this quiet and unlocked for testimony outside of the Roman Catholic church which awakened my mind to thought on this subject.

Are these people heretics? Does heresy bear such fruit?

These inquiries arose in my mind as the first streaks of the morning faintly touch the darkness of the night.

In the presence of this new phase of life, the questions slowly arose in my mind: Am I right? How did I become a Catholic?

As soon as I found myself, I found myself a Catholic. Loving hearts and hands had made me one; but previous examination, conviction, personal faith had not. The indestructible sense of individual accountability was mine. Accountability gave the right and enforced the duty of thought. The right to examine not only my own decisions, but the judgments and decisions of others, was felt to be inalienable. The allegiance of mind and heart was due to God. In a few years, I knew not how few, I must appear before God for myself. In view of such responsibility, I was afraid to leave the whole subject of my relationship to God in this world and that which is to come, to be determined by others, however wise or loving they might be. I had, or ought to have, more interest in it than in any other human being. Environed by ancestral beliefs, I fled to this last retreat, the right to think. This necessarily involved the liberty of approving or rejecting what was presented to my mind. Separated from the church and sacraments, the conviction was forced upon me that my religious life was wholly dependent upon the priesthood of the church. The clearly announced faith of the Catholic church is that the grace of salvation is from God through the church by its constituted agents administering the sacraments which are ordained unto eternal life.

I have said that I was separated in distance from the communion with the church. If sin troubled my conscience, there was no confessional; if death came there was no priest as the only authorized dispenser of his mercy and the almoner of his grace.

If so, I thought that it was at least illy adapted to meet the exigencies of my spiritual condition, as no priest lived within any convenient distance.

These questionings, begotten by the circumstances of my life, broke like ripples upon the hitherto calm assurance of my soul. Yet, while all this passed within, and doubts were gathering darkly around me, pride sealed my lips. I spoke no doubt to human ear.

In the quiet of retirement, I ventured to kneel before God, and often in troubled words breathed the doubter’s prayer:

”If I am right, thy grace impart
Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, O teach my heart
To find the better way!”

I felt if, on examination, the teachings of the church are true, I shall hold them by a double tenure; if they are untrue, then I ought not to hold them, however learned or by whomsoever taught.

The old confidence and assurance were so displaced by doubt and fear as that examination was felt to be not only a right but a duty.

The circumstances of my life made me painfully realize my dependence upon the sacraments of the church, and naturally led me to consider the power of the priesthood as the divinely appointed medium through which God bestows the grace of eternal life. I do not remember that I read any Protestant books on the Catholic controversy. My conviction was the result of thought upon the well known and accepted doctrines of the church, as they came before my mind in the following order:

a. The power of the priest is plainly asserted in baptism.

I had asked myself the question, How had I become a Catholic? I was made so in baptism and taught to believe, as I repeated the catechism, that, ”therein I was washed from original sin, made a child of God and an heir of the kingdom of heaven.” The unbaptized child because unbaptized, was doomed never to enter the heaven of the baptized child. In view of this dread penalty, the church, in cases of necessity, permits others than the priests to baptize; but in the established order, the priest is the official administrator.

It is clearly held that God has committed to the priest the power of administering an ordinance which is recognized as indispensable to salvation. I well remembered the anxiety of Roman Catholic parents for an unbaptized child and with what eager haste, when sickness threatened the infant, the priest was sent for to bestow regenerating grace in order to its salvation. That the act of the priest should determine the salvation of an unconscious infant startled me in two ways -first, that infants should be so imperiled; and, secondly, that priests should be so empowered.

b. The sacrament of confirmation ascribed to the priesthood.

It is a sacrament by which, through the imposition of the bishop’s hands, unction and prayer, baptized persons receive the Holy Ghost. So that grace, in its first and every subsequent bestowment, is wholly dependent upon priestly act and will.

c. The priests, and the priests alone, are the divinely authorized agents by which the forgiveness of sin is secured.

Notwithstanding the alleged grace conferred in baptism and confirmation, the child has grown up a sinner and needs forgiveness. How is this to be obtained ? The font and the chrism of confirmation are followed by the confessional. If it be said that the priest merely declares forgiveness upon evidence of penitence, then, I thought, why does not the penitence, which God sees and knows, secure forgiveness without the priest? The truth is that this ”tremendous power” of forgiving sin, as it is styled by Archbishop Gibbons, is exercised wholly and only by the priests. This prerogative is entirely theirs. So far as the ordinary and divinely appointed method of forgiveness is concerned, God has limited his mercy to the act of the priest. Well may it be called a ”tremendous power” which invests men-no matter whether good or bad-with the authority of blotting out the dark records of a sinful life and cleansing the conscience from guilt. I knew that such power was claimed by the priest in the confessional, and had often sought its exercise. The power of the confessional does not consist in the spiritual advice and consolation supposed to be imparted by it, but in the belief that sins therein are really forgiven.

I shall allow myself the privilege of showing that I was not mistaken in my earlier opinions upon this subject by quoting from ”The Faith of our Father,” by Archbishop Gibbons, of Baltimore:

”I have seen the man whose conscience was weighed down by the accumulated sins of twenty winters; upon whose face were branded guilt and shame, remorse and confusion. There he stood by the confessional with a downcast countenance, ashamed like the publican to look up to heaven.

And he glided into the little mercy seat

But during the few moments spent in the confessional a resurrection occurred, more miraculous than the raising of Lazarus from the tomb-it was the resurrection of a soul, that had lain wormeaten, from the grave of sin. And when he came out there was quickness in his step, and joy on his countenance, and a new light in his eye. And had you asked him why, he would have answered, because I was lost and am found; having been dead, I am come to life again.”

d. The same power is claimed in the sacrament and sacrifice of the mass.

The church doctrine is that the mass is not only a sacrament but a sacrifice; that Christ is really present in this ordinance, and that the bread and wine are changed by the mighty power of God, through the priest, into real body and blood and soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. That as Christ changed the water into wine at the feast in Cana of Galilee, so the bread and wine become by the consecration as completely and identically the sacrifice of Christ as when he offered himself to God on the cross. The pious Catholic is as sincere and profound in his worship of the bread and wine-to him no longer bread and wine as he is of Christ on the throne of his glory. Without question, none but a priest can perform the service of mass. It seemed to me that it invested the priest with the power to work miracles more marvelous than any performed by Christ or his apostles, and more remarkable even than the incarnation itself.

e. The power of the priest is asserted over souls in the next world.

Life soon ends. The child whose lips were trained to say ”I am an heir of the kingdom of heaven,” is an old man now, and waits for the rending of the veil to enter the unseen world. And there bending over him is the priest, to receive his confession and prepare him, by extreme unction, for eternity. If God has given help or hope to his soul in life or death, it has been only through the priest. But when the eye is closed and the heart’s last throb is over, surely his minority is passed and he is enfranchised by the act of God. More valued now than health or wealth, than home or friends, is the presence and help of the priest. From the cradle to the coffin he has followed the priest and been followed by him. The priestly power claims even more than its wonted sway over the disembodied spirit. Purgatory, as if in mockery of the grace conferred in life, kindles its fires and adds a fresh and fearful glory to the power of the priest. Masses are said and abundant prayers are offered to aid in preparing the departed soul to escape the purifying and punitive fires. Is it any longer a wonder that the hard earnings of poverty and the wealth of the rich are freely poured into the church’s treasury to remunerate, if not to secure, such aid? The soul at last, through the good offices of the church, has reached heaven. Strange as it may appear to those unacquainted with the claims of the church, the same power asserts itself over the ransomed and rejoicing soul in the very home and presence of God. The church by a formal act at Rome claims to elevate, even in heaven, those whom she judges worthy to places of superior influence, making and declaring them to be saints, and henceforth enrolled in the calendar of her intercessors for the faithful. This is canonization.

The announcement of such an event is made by the booming of cannon, calling upon the people to rejoice that another intercessor has been added to the number of those whose prayers and superabundant merits avail with God, on behalf of those for whom they are offered. But has God, indeed, clothed men with such sovereign power? If so, we must submit; but have we not a right to expect that the title to such authority shall be plain and unequivocal?

f. The right to read and interpret the word of God is withheld from the laity and is the prerogative of the priests as its authorised expositors.

The church acknowledges a divine revelation in the written form of the Bible and in the unwritten traditions of the church. May I be permitted to read this revelation which clothes the church with such ”tremendous power?” The church replies, ”I am the custodian and the interpreter of this revelation. In compassion to the weakness of understandings, darkened by ignorance and sin, the right to read and interpret the word of God has not been given to men; but only to official organs of the church.” I knew that the church resents as untrue the charge that she withholds the Scriptures from the laity. But what does she mean by this ? Simply that she allows the right to read, but positively forbids any interpretation other than that she has given. She gives that right to read, but withholds the right to decideon the meaning of what has been read. This is to seal the book of God. Few men will dare to read with a sword of more dreadful doom than that of Damocles suspended over their soul. This restriction closes the record as to any examination of the claims of the church, save only as we receive the interpretations of the very men who claim to be endowed with supernatural power. They are the only judges of their own authority.

Books have been written and freely circulated in support of the claims of the Roman Catholic church. The faithful and the unbelieving, Catholics as well as Protestants, are alike urged to read these books. Why, I asked, are we encouraged to read them, while yet a practical interdict is placed upon the book of God ? It is alleged that in this there are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned wrest to their destruction; but are their books plain and easily understood? Is the book of God darkness and their’s light? It is claimed that tradition precedes the written word, and being of prior authority, is its interpreter. If so, why has God given the written word ? Why disturb the unbroken current of traditional revelation by a book which is of no special value either in the production of faith or the guidance of our lives?

Without revelation we are ignorant of the truths most important for us to know. God has graciously met this necessity by a revelation of the truth we so much need. Have I the right to know what is taught therein? Is it the peoples’ right or the priest’s prerogative to study its teaching?

A well remembered incident may fairly illustrate the two answers to this question. I had not heard from my early home for three years. Many sad thoughts and forebodings filled the mind. Do my father and mother still live ? One day as I called at the postoffice, a letter was handed me, and I saw at a glance that it was from home. The familiar name of the office from which it was mailed, and the well remembered subscription told of news from those most dearly loved. In the ecstacy of the moment, I pressed it to my lips, and with tears of joy broke the seal. I shall never forget how eagerly every word was read. Suppose some clerk in the office had told me, ”There is a letter for you from across the sea, but you may not-be able to understand it, or there may be portions not intended for you to read. I claim the right to hold it and interpret it for you. It shall remain under my control.” Ought I not to have indignantly resented such official impertinence and intermeddling? Have I not the right to hear the voice of God and with my own eyes to trace the grace of his heart in every word to his wandering, and sinful yet still loved child?

But suppose that men of perverse wills refuse to admit these ghostly claims and array themselves against the church, with what power is she to enforce her demands?

g. The church exercises her disciplinary powers in the suppression and punishment of heretics.

I do not mean to say that the members of the Catholic hierarchy are cruel. Many of them have been fair and noble minded men. I do not say that the masses of Roman Catholic communicants, especially in the United States believe that their church system has any germs that could possibly grow into religious persecution. I have nothing but condemnation for persecutions waged at any time or in any country by Protestants against Catholics. I will not plead either in justification or mitigation that their mother trained them in the cruel art. There is truth in the charges which Protestants and Catholics make against each other in this respect. The Catholic offsets the cruelties of Queen Mary by the intolerance of Elizabeth, the fires of Smithfield by the atrocities at Tyburn, the burning of Huss by that of Servetus. True Christianity condemns both parties. The moment the magistrate prescribes or enforces religion, that moment the spirit of the religion of Christ is disregarded. Equally violated is the principle of soul-liberty, when the civil power executes spiritual decrees and ecclesiastical censures.

The advocates of the church of Rome indignantly deny that, as a church, she has ever persecuted. The defense is that she only arraigns the heretic and pronounces him guilty, trying to win him to a better mind. If he is incorrigible, the church withdraws in sorrow and lets the civil law do its work in carrying out the sentences. But, by all her divinely invested power, she enjoins kings to do her bidding under penalties which threaten the sceptre and peace of their kingdom as well as the safety of their own souls. The spirit of the church guided cabinets, dictated to sovereigns, and framed the statutes against heresy which are found in the records of every Catholic country in the world. The power she claims secures unlimited submission from all who recognize her authority and demands universal obedience from the world. Her voice is the voice of God. Dissent from her views is the deadliest sin. Heresy is treason against the divine government. Therefore, in mercy, not in wrath, the church is to secure the overthrow and destruction of any person or power which opposes her influence or lessens her opportunity in dispensing God’s grace to the world.

Thus, step by step, did I advance in the examination of the claims of the power of the priesthood. At each succeeding step the conviction was increased that sovereignty over the conscience was regarded as theirs by divine gift. It avails not to say as Catholics do say, that this power is not inherent in priests, as men, but that God has invested them with supreme and divine functions. It was this very assertion of official power which awakened my fears and confirmed my doubts.

That my construction of the power of the priesthood was not the immature conclusion of youthful judgment, is abundantly sustained by the Catholic writers of the highest authority. The present Archbishop of Baltimore says: ”The apostles were clothed with the power of Jesus Christ. The priest, as the successor of the apostles, is clothed with their power. This fact reveals to us the eminent dignity of the priestly character. To the carnal eye the priest looks like other men, but to the eye of faith he is exalted above the angels, because he exercises power not given to the angels. As far as heaven is above the earth, as eternity is above time, and the soul is above the body, so are the prerogatives vested in God’s ministers higher than those of an earthly potentate. An earthly prince can cast into prison or release therefrom. But his power is over the body. But the minister of God can release the soul from the prison of sin and restore it to the liberty of a child of God.”

This is not a figurative description, but the literal statement of the claim of priestly power. This is the corner stone of the Roman Catholic church. This is the secret of her power over the consciences and lives of men. If these doctrines are true, the parish priest is the beginner and finisher of salvation. Man without the priest is without God in this world and in that which is to come. There is no access to the sinful or sorrowing heart but through him. In every period of the soul’s life there is the bondage of an ever lengthening chain. It binds in heaven even as on earth; a chain, always held by priestly hands. Such an assumption of power seemed to me to be incompatible with my intuitive, direct accountability to God, destructive of liberty of thought, and inconsistent with human freedom. Salvation was not only independent of my will but equally independent of the will of God, save only as it is expressed by the will of the priest. The whole system exalts the priest, but dishonors God; magnifies the sacraments but lowers Christ; multiplies its outward anointments, but rejects the work of the Holy Spirit; commends the rosary, but closes the Bible. It promises salvation upon every new act of priestly power, only to hold the soul in an everlasting suspense, which demands fresh grace from the priests. It thus makes provision for the perpetuity of their office.

I have not attempted to reproduce the discussion of these and allied doctrines, as they were severally examined by me. I have imperfectly sketched what is the life and spirit of them all the absolute and ceaseless power of the priest over the soul, not only in this world, but in that which is to come. I began the examination in doubt, but the doubt fled. I did rebel in every faculty of my being against such sacerdotal power. Whatever else might take its place, the old faith was gone. Need I say that the struggle was a painful one? Bitter as was my departure from my native land, it did not fill my heart with anguish as did the death throes of my early faith. It was my mother’s faith. The form of her, from whose lips I learned it, seemed to be at my side and cast on me reproachful looks of wounded love. I shall carry these sad memories to the grave. But I was free.Living or dying I shall never cease to thank God that the thrall of this priestly power was broken – broken forever.

Having rejected the distinctive doctrines of the church in which I had been trained, what was left? My faith in God and the Bible as His revelation was unshaken. I am grateful to Him that I was not driven into the abysmal depths of infidelity, as is often the case with those who are swept away from the moorings of an ancestral faith. It was not enough to abandon the Catholic church; such a revolt was not regeneration. I was conscious of the sinfulness of my nature and felt the need of pardon, purity and peace. My faith in the church was gone. Sacramentalism was dead; I dared not trust the merits of saints in their fancied intercession. The question of my salvation was far more important than any other. The antiquity of the church, the primacy of the Roman See, and apostolic succession, once so full of interest to me, gave way before an honest conviction for sin and an earnest desire to escape its penalty and power. After much doubt and perplexity, I was led by the Holy Spirit to commit myself to the Lord Jesus Christ. Well do I remember such gracious, helpful words as these: ”God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life;” ”Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give thee rest.” As a guilty, undeserving sinner, I sought and, I trust obtained reconciliation with God through him who is the way, the truth and the life.” These truths were specially impressive at the time of my conversion:the all-sufficiency and willingness of Christ to save all who come to God by him. His all sufficiency was now seen as never before. His work, as his person, was perfect. His sacrifice needed not to be continually made, as if to bring sin to remembrance rather than to pat it away. His priesthood superseded every other and rendered the introduction of any other not only useless, but antagonistic. His work needs not men, nor saints, nor angels to add to its efficacy or fullness; these but obscure its glory and hide its grace from a needy and sinful world. His willingness was as conspicuous as his all-sufficiency. For myself I can safely say that the intervention of priests and the invocation of saints made the impression that God reluctantly bestowed salvation. The favorite illustration of Catholic writers, that the more friends a man has at court the better, certainly strengthens this impression. Catholic art embodies this dishonoring idea in the representation of Christ with the avenging thunderbolts poised in his hand for the world’s doom, stayed by the interposition of Mary, the Queen of Heaven.

Oh! strange blindness to the love and grace of him who laid down his life for the guilty and who now watches and waits for the return of sinners! Surely darkness still rests on Gethsemane and Calvary, or their glories could not be so concealed. Various feelings have entered into the experiences of sinners as they have found Christ. There have been the raptures of pardon as a clear faith received him; again there is the quiet peace that steals into the soul, as the shining light, while many a saved sinner begins to bear the cross in doubts and fears. The dominant feeling with me was the sense of a large freedom. It was the joy of a Red Sea deliverance. My soul had escaped as a bird from the snare of a fowler; the snare was broken and I was released. I shall never forget the joy which came with the truth that I could go to Christ by myself and for myself. Nobody between me and Christ. This was the Gospel. This brought peace and freedom. Many a soul-trouble has been endured since that time, but my heart treasures as its sweetest memory in life, the liberty wherewith Christ made me free.

The leading truths which I found in the teachings of our Lord and His apostles in the New Testament, and which controlled my church membership.

Recognizing the supreme authority of God’s word, I readily and earnestly determined to be guided by its teachings. Sincerely desiring to know what it required, and humbly resolved to obey its precepts, I sought the help of God in understanding His will. The following truths seem to be clearly taught in His word:

Salvation is by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This was seen to be a cardinal doctrine of the New Testament, never more clearly and emphatically taught than by our Lord himself.

It forms the substance of the apostolic ministry. Its perversion or corruption has done more to conceal the truth of the Gospel than any other cause. In the Roman Catholic church, salvation is promised to the unconscious infant in baptism. In many of the Reformed churches the scriptural teaching of personal repentance and faith has been obscured by theories which promise spiritual blessings, not through faith in Christ, but through natural fleshly descent. This theory has filled the churches of Europe with the unconverted. It was this practice in the Protestant, as well as in the Catholic church, which made the religious life of America seem so strange to me. That religion is personal, that repentance and faith are essential to salvation, should be as prominent and fundamental in the organization of churches as they are distinctly taught by Christ and his apostles. An avowed faith in Jesus Christ was indispensable to church fellowship. It was the organific principle of church life as faith itself was the condition and medium of spiritual life.

The New Testament churches were spiritual congregations, composed of confessed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I had been accustomed to see everybody, whether Catholic or Protestant in some church. Birth, not regeneration, was the condition of church membership. Of course there was no church distinct from the world. I remember the vividness and force of the thought when I found the New Testament idea of a church to be a congregation of believers in Christ, ”which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” An examination of the churches of Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and of the whole New Testament period, assured me that there was not a trace of any other law of membership. The disregard of this prime feature in the apostolic churches laid the foundation of the Papal power, as its continual disregard is its chief support. A burnt child dreads the fire.

I am unwilling that any soul should be placed in a similar bondage to that from which I have been delivered.

The ordinances appointed are obligatory on believers only.

I had been told that I was baptized in infancy in the Roman Catholic church. By the grace of God I was led to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to the salvation of my soul. Was it my duty now as a believer to be baptized in obedience to the command of Christ? The law of baptism seemed to require faith as a condition for its right observance. The practice, uniform and unbroken, of the apostles and their fellow laborers, confirmed this interpretation. Repentance and faith were exercises of the soul. A man could not repent or believe for another. Was not baptism a commandment of Christ, demanding also personal obedience? Unquestionably do the Scriptures teach its obligation upon every disciple. The substitution of another order than Christ’s, putting baptism before and without faith, is utterly unwarranted by anything, either of precept or example, in the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Rejecting most earnestly Rome’s reason for the practice to secure salvation of infants there was nothing left to do with it but to let it die. So far as I was concerned, it was plainly my duty to be baptized with the baptism of Christ. Taking the records of the New Testament, it was not only clearly proper, but safe, to follow the example of him who was baptized of John in Jordan.

The ordinance of the Lord’s supper follows baptism in order, and strengthens our faith in Him who gave himself for our sins and was raised for our justification.

The policy of the New Testament churches was clearly that of fraternal equality.

The whole machinery of an elaborate ecclesiasticism is as foreign to the New Testament churches as can well be conceived. The whole array of a clerical hierarchy is in strange contrast with the simple gathering of believers for the worship of Christ and the exercise of discipline. These churches were local, independent, and selfgoverning bodies, wisely adapted by their Head for the exigencies of his people in their checkered and long-suffering career. The domination of clergy and the arrogance of ecclesiastical tribunals and courts are not found in the New Testament.

These views, learned from the word of God, guided me in my union with the church of Christ. It is hardly necessary to say that I found these doctrines in Baptist churches with a distinctness and completeness which can be found nowhere else.

Humbled and grateful, I can say: ”By the grace of God, I am what I am.” As I have reviewed and recorded the facts leading to my conversion from Catholicism to Christ, many memories have been stirred afresh. I am deeply sensible of the gracious providence which has thus far led me, and if, through the riches of His grace, I shall reach His heavenly home, no redeemed soul can have a larger debt of gratitude than I shall have.

CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS

My whole experience has impressed me with the power of kindness to members of the Roman Catholic church. They readily imagine that Protestants hate them, when they only oppose their system. Let us be the more careful when we represent their views that our statements shall be so fair and just that no intelligent Catholic can have any true ground of offense. Harsh epithets and testy words do not dispose the mind to a calm listening. Roman Catholics are what they are, in belief and practice, by circumstances not altogether under their control. For myself, I must cherish through life an unutterable sympathy and compassion for the masses of them.

As this tract may reach the hands of a Roman Catholic, may I have a kind word with you. Soon you and I must meet God in judgment. What we need now is to have a good hope of meeting him there in peace. I pray, ask yourself seriously what is the foundation of your hope; is it the church or Christ? Have you examined the grounds of your faith? Have you looked on both sides? Is it too much to ask that you review the whole question? Your soul’s life and peace may depend upon it.

I think I am as free from prejudice on this subject as one well can be. I stood once where you now stand. I thought and felt as you now do. I have not written a word which, if it gave unnecessary offense, I would not blot out with a tear. My prayer is that you may be led to the Lord Jesus Christ, the only name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved. ”Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

I commend all to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified.


*A personal experience told in an address before the Southern Baptist Convention at Nashville, Tennessee-1878, and requested by that body for publication in tract form. That request having failed it appeared in the Religious Herald, Richmond, Va.
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