Book Reviewed – Baptists Thorough Reformers
Author – John Quincy Adams (not the 6th President John Quincy Adams)
Copyright – Reprint edition 1982
Publishing Company – Backus Book Publishers
Reviewed by Pastor Tim Crockett
I don’t remember exactly where I picked this book up; most likely it was a gift which is a big part of the reason why my library is growing. Between church members, family, and pastor friends who are downsizing their libraries, it’s no wonder. The challenge is finding the time to read them all.
While there are many subjects I like reading up on I have always enjoyed church history, particularly histories relating to Baptists. For me, it was always their fight for religious freedom that caught my attention. Sometimes I am asked why I am Baptist and what makes them special, I respond religious liberty.
The book under review –Baptists Thorough Reformers – hits upon that very subject.
It’s an easy read, chapters flow evenly and with purpose. There is enough meat, so if you wanted you could build on it and teach it in a classroom setting. It was noted on the back cover that Spurgeon upon meeting Mr. Adams informed him that he had used “Baptists Thorough Reformers” as a textbook in his pastor’s college, regarding it as the best manual of Baptist principles he had met.”
The basis for this book comes from a series of lectures the author, John Quincy Adams – (1825-1881), gave while at a Baptist Church in Caldwell N.J. They were given from “meager” notes and not intended to go public. It was at the urging of those who heard the lectures that he went ahead and printed them out in book form in 1853.
One thing to note was that Mr. Adams began as a Pedobaptist it was when he began to study the issue biblically and practically that his views changed he became a Credobaptist.
The matter of Believer’s Baptism versus infant Baptism seems to be of less importance today than it did then and in the earlier centuries of church history. Such was the animus between camps that Baptists would risk life and security for Believer’s Baptism. The author states that “Baptists were bold enough not only to teach believer’s baptism by immersion but to refuse to comply with the holdover Romanist doctrine of pedobaptism practice by other Protestants. The courage to stand on the Bible alone cost some of them their lives.” Pg iii
Baptists were principled people and they were not about to change for anyone especially regarding Believer’s Baptism.
Adams shows that while Protestants advocated for Sola Scriptura when it came to their traditions particularly that of infant baptism they would not allow that to be challenged. The hostility towards them was great as a result.
Ten lectures comprise this little work and for this review, I will be covering what in my opinion are the three salient lectures.
LECTURE I – The Aim, the Reproach, and the Triumph of the Religious Reformer
As this lecture goes the question is rightly asked, what is the aim of the religious reformer? A good question with notable importance, especially when one considers the state of modern Christianity? There has been a shift doctrinally and historically away from our historical roots, opening doors for compromise in doctrine and practice that our forebears suffered much for.
The early church, as noted in Acts and throughout church history, would turn the world upside down for the truth. It seems other, inconsequential things; have taken the forefront in church matters. Compromise seems to be the favored course in many circles.
Adams, in talking about a Religious Reformer, states that the “Reformer seeks to remove abuses which have crept into an organization and community, or one who boldly enters a field where an error has held undisputed sway, and fearlessly wields, amid great powers of opposition, the weapons of truth.” Pg14
In other words, the great object or goal of the Baptist Reformer is truth and will not stop until error is exposed and removed. It is the conviction and practice of the Religious Reformer not to entertain compromise, but rather hold rigidly to established truths and practices. Adams stated the Baptist Reformers were solely focused on truth. This was one of the reasons Baptist Reformers drew a lot of flack. As reforms begin to take the attacks against him grew in intensity. They not only counted the cost they were willing to pay for it with their lives.
Adams points out that because the Religious Reformer refuses to compromise he will endure reproach being called, “illiberal, uncharitable, bigoted, and narrow-minded.” Pg 19 Some of these very same reproaches are heard today.
Adams points out that while Baptist Reformers were being persecuted and opposed on many fronts he states they triumphed still. They preached Christ and his kingdom. The Baptist Reformer understands and accepts the challenges before him; he faces adversity with dignity and grit, for in his heart of hearts he believes the victory is already his. Adam’s stated succinctly that the reformers – “Duty is to perform – results are in God’s control”
I’ll close out this section with one last statement from this section that I know to ring true today, “The world is wrong; it is morally wrong side up; it needs to be revolutionized, and primitive Christianity can do it.” Pg22
Lecture IV – The First Feature of the Reform at which Baptists Aim- The Exaltation of the Word of God above Tradition
In the opening section of this chapter a brief definition of reform – “reform is not the introduction of a new system of religion, but rather the revival of the old system, and the assertion of its supremacy over the innovations of men.” Pg51
Adams intends to focus on a right view or perspective on the word of God.
This is what Adams referred to as a “distinguishing feature” among Baptists – THE SCRIPTURE ABOVE TRADITION! He argues that while the mode of Baptism, which is certainly important; it is that the word of God is to be exalted or to have a preeminent place ABOVE tradition.
He goes on to tie tradition and infant Baptist together. He reasons that infant baptism isn’t found in scripture and that it is purely something spawned from the imaginations of men. Scripture has no support for infant sprinkling. In other words, infant baptism is a tradition of men.
In talking about the Church of Rome and her traditions, Adams states, “Tradition after tradition has been received until it becomes dangerous to the interests of that church to permit her deluded members to read God’s Word – so directly are her traditions opposed to that Word.” Pg55
Adams reasons that the Roman Catholic Church and certain of the Protestant churches, elevated tradition above that of the word. When Baptist Reformers exposed this and stood against it they were severely persecuted.
In covering both the Protestant (some) and Roman Catholic churches it was reiterated throughout that infant baptism is not found in scripture therefore of necessity tradition would override the authority of God’s word.
Tradition, as he states, is liable to perversion while the word remains undefiled and pure. Without the word of God held in high esteem, there is no combating error and as little hope of maintaining purity in the church.
Lecture VI – The Third Feature – The Propagation of Religious Liberty and the Rights of the Conscience
If I was, to sum up, this section it would be with this quote, “Other systems seek to advance themselves by invoking the aid of the secular power, and by forcing men, against their convictions, to accept a theory repugnant to their views.” Pg 87
Religious liberty or as it is sometimes called liberty of conscience, has been the Baptist pulse and heartbeat throughout their existence.
This lecture’s goal was to show or rather “prove” that “Baptists have always been the pioneers in the propagation of religious liberty and the rights of conscience.”
He goes on to list several examples in regards to the persecution Baptists endured at the hands of the Protestants and Roman Catholics.
He stresses the difference between toleration and true religious liberty. I believe these two terms are used interchangeably today. In my opinion, this is a mistake and undermines the progress made by Baptists in the past.
He defines the two by stating that, TOLERATION is the allowance of something although it is not wholly approved. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM recognizes in no human organization the right or power to tolerate. He reasons that the one who is tolerating the other holds control or power over those being tolerated; religious liberty means just that, the conscience is free to worship God without any oppression. Baptists believe that all have a right to religious liberty.
Adams states succinctly that, “Religious liberty involves the right to think, examine, decide and choose for ourselves in all matters between conscience and its maker.” Pg110
Adams highlights the fact that because Baptists refused to baptize their children they suffered horrible consequences and this served as motivation to stay in the fight for religious freedom. This is a historical fact with plenty of academic support.
He mentions Massachusetts (my home state) with Roger Williams, John Clark (who petitioned King Charles for a charter for the right to worship freely), and Obadiah Holmes who was well whipped for gathering in a home for a service that wasn’t allowed by the state.
He goes on to mention that president James Madison made an amendment to the Constitution to grant religious freedom. I was surprised Adams didn’t mention Elder Leland.
Church history is replete with religious oppression. Baptists on the other hand have always led the way against it. They truly had a mind and heart for religious liberty not just for themselves but for all.
Baptists have historically advocated for religious liberty for all. If we are not careful and consistent we will lose sight of our past and the ordinances which were once held dear will be a thing of the past. It would seem to me that more than just world history is being rewritten, but church history as well. I suppose you can’t change one without the other since they go hand in hand. I went a little longer than I would have liked on this so I will end it here.