« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
rule, at ordinary times. And as to Bunyan's capital argument, which is, God hath received them, therefore we ought to; it was observed that his example is often inimitable by us, but as far as it is imitable, it is always in the truth. Hence truth is never to be violated for any one, no, not to save natural life, which all lawful means should be used to preserve. And truth so clearly requires baptism before the supper, that Pedobaptists do never come to the table with any but such as are baptized in their esteem. Neither could we understandingly act in being buried in baptism, until we were convinced that what was done to us in infancy was not gospel baptism; therefore to commune at the Lord's table with any who were only sprinkled in infancy, is parting with truth, by practically saying they are baptized, when we do not believe they are. I since find that the learned and pious Dr. Watts in his · Rational foundation of the Christian church,' allows this argument to be just, though many still wrangle against it.'
Upon this conviction, that truth limits church communion to believers baptized upon a profession of their own faith, and that into the Christian church neither natural birth, nor the doings of others, can rightly bring any one soul, without their own consent; a church was constituted at Titicut, (known as the first Baptist church in Middleborough,) January 26, 1756, and by assistance from Boston and Rehoboth, the subject of this memoir was publicly recognised as their pastor in July following. This was the first Baptist church constituted in Plymouth county, and at the time was the only one in an extent of country above a hundred miles long, from Bellingham to Cape Cod, and near fifty miles wide, from Boston to Rehoboth.
In this place, and as the faithful and endeared pastor of this flock, Mr. Backus spent sixty years of his useful life. In 1749 he was married to Susanna Mason of Rehoboth, with whom he lived in the greatest harmony more than half a century. According to his own words, “She was the greatest earthly blessing which God ever gave him." They reared up a somewhat numerous family of
MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR.
children, of high respectability : and though never very amply supported by the people to whom he ministered, they were enabled, by the blessing of Providence, and their own industry and frugality, to accumulate an estate of considerable value.
The church over which he was the spiritual watchman was small for many years. But they had some additions from time to time, until the blessed revival which begun in 1779, and increased their number in three years from fifty-nine members to one hundred and thirty-eight. This church was also the germ of several other Baptist churches, and the nursing mother of several distinguished ministers of the gospel. In little more than a quarter of a century after its constitution, there were seventeen churches within the wide limits above described.
Besides the labours of Mr. Backus as a Christian pastor, he was eminently distinguished as the noble defender of religious liberty and the rights of conscience, and as an ecclesiastical historian. The part which he took, and the service he performed, in both these spheres, for the general welfare of the Baptist churches, furnish a number of incidents which ought to be perpetuated, and also serve to illustrate the excellences of his character. He early imbibed a settled aversion to civil coercion in religious concerns. He was taught its iniquity both by experience and observation, having been himself taxed and seized as a prisoner to coerce payment, to support à minister on whom he never attended, and indeed at a time when he was pastor, and regularly officiated to another church. His members, too, were sometimes imprisoned for similar causes; nor would he be likely to forget the horror early produced in his mind by the imprisonment of his widowed mother. Few men have exerted themselves more than he did in the support of the equal rights of Christians, to worship God unmolested. In 1772 he was chosen an agent for the Baptist churches in Massachusetts, in the room of Mr. Davis, formerly pastor of the second church in Boston, then lately deceased. The duties of this agency, which was merely of a civil character, were executed by him with fidelity, intrepidity,
and some degree of success. Members of Baptist and
When the disputes came on, which terminated in the revolutionary war and the independence of the United States, the Baptists vigorously united with their fellowcitizens-in resisting the arbitrary claims of Great Britain ; but it seemed to them unreasonable that they should be called upon to contend for civil liberty, if, after it was gained, they should still be exposed to oppression in religious concerns. When, therefore, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, the Warren Association, viewing it as the highest civil resort, agreed to send Mr. Backus as their agent to that convention, “ there to follow the best advice he could obtain, to procure some influence from thence in their favour.” When he arrived in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Baptist Association appointed a large committee, of whom Dr. Samuel Jones was one, to assist their New England brethren. • But our endea. vours," says Dr. Jones, “ availed us nothing. One of them told us, that if we meant to effect a change in their measures respecting religion, we might as well attempt to change the course of the sun in the heavens.”
Mr. Backus failing of success at Philadelphia, on his return met the Baptist committee at Boston, by whose advice a memorial of their grievances was drawn up, and laid before the next Congress at Cambridge, near Boston, to which the following answer was returned :“In Provincial Congress, Cambridge, Dec. 9, 1774.
“On reading the memorial of the Rev. Isaac Backus, agent to the Baptist churches in this government:
“ Resolved, That the establishment of civil and reli.
MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR.
gious liberty, to each denomination in the province, is the sincere wish of this Congress; but being by no means vested with powers of civil government, whereby they can redress the grievances of any person whatever; they therefore recommend to the Baptist churches, that when a General Assembly shall be convened in this colony, they lay the real grievances of said churches before the same, when and where their petition will most certainly meet with all that attention due to the memorial of a denomination of Christians, so well disposed to the public weal of their country.
“ By order of the Congress,
John “ A true extract from the Minutes, " John LINCOLN, Secretary."
Such an Assembly as is here mentioned, convened at Watertown, July, 1775, to which our brethren presented another memorial, in which they said, “ Our real grievances are, that we, as well as our fathers, have from time to time been taxed on religious accounts where we were not represented; and when we have sued for our rights, our causes have been tried by interested judges. That the representatives in former Assemblies, as well as the present, were elected by virtue only of civil and worldly qualifications, is a truth so evident, that we presume it need not be proved to this Assembly; and for a civil legislature to impose religious taxes, is, we conceive, a power which their constituents never had to give, and is, therefore, going entirely out of their jurisdiction. Under the legal dispensation, where God himself prescribed the exact proportion of what the people were to give, yet none but persons of the worst characters ever attempted to take it by force. How daring then must it be for any to do it for Christ's ministers, who says, My kingdom is not of this world! We beseech this honourable Assembly to take these matters into their wise and serious consideration before Him, who has said, With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. Is not
all America now appealing to Heaven, against the injustice of being taxed where we are not represented, and against being judged by men, who are interested in getting away our money? And will Heaven approve of your doing the same thing to your fellow-servants ! No, surely. We have no desire of representing this government as the worst of any who have imposed religious taxes ; we fully believe the contrary. Yet, as we are persuaded that an entire freedom from being taxed by civil rulers to religious worship, is not a mere favour, from any man or men in the world, but a right and property granted us by God, who commands us to stand fast in it, we have not only the same reason to refuse an acknowledgment of such a taxing power here, as America has the abovesaid power, but also, according to our present light, we should wrong our consciences in allowing that power to men, which we believe belongs only to God.”
This memorial was read in the Assembly, and after lying a week on the table, was read again, debated upon, and referred to a committee, who reported favourably. A bill was finally broughtin,in favour of the petitioners, read once, and a time set for its second reading ; but other business crowded in, and nothing more was done about it. In this manner have the Baptists frequently been shuffled out of their rights. After this, they made a number of attempts to get some security for their freedom from religious oppression, but none was formally given them. They had many fair promises, which were never fulfilled; and when the State Constitution was formed, the Bill of Rights was made to look one way,
but priests and constables have gone another. The first article of the Bill of Rights declares • All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights,” &c. The second declares, “No subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own science,” &c.
But notwithstanding all these declarations, many have