Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches

Book Reviewed – Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches

Author – Francis Wayland

Copyright – Reprint edition 1988

Publishing Company – Baptist Heritage Press

Pgs. 336

Reviewed by Pastor Tim Crockett

The book, which is a compilation of his lectures on the subject, was originally published in 1857 by Sheldon Blakeman and Company and later reprinted by Baptist Heritage Press. The lectures were originally supposed to be eight but because of requests concerning other aspects of Baptist faith and practices grew to be fifty-two lectures.

I had first heard about Francis Wayland through Dr. Laurence Vance. He speaks very highly of him and that piqued my interest and the fact that Wayland was a Baptist. Dr. Vance has a site called the Francis Wayland Institute. I am grateful for my contemporaries who keep the history of our forebears alive through their journals, reviews, books, and honorable mentions. So much is lost today because we have forgotten where we came from.  

Francis Wayland (1796 – 1865) was the son of a Baptist preacher. Wayland graduated from Union College and studied medicine before transitioning his studies to that of ministry. He held pastorates here in Boston at First Baptist Church and in Providence Rhode Island where Roger Williams pastored. His tenure as President of Brown University lasted from 1827-1855. It is said he led sternly leaving no place for foolishness but also opened the door for increased learning and established new helpful standards for those wishing to study there.

He held strongly to Baptistic principles and was absolute in his convictions that the Bible was to be the only authority for life and practice and was an advocate for liberty. He advocated for temperance and was anti-slavery making his life and ministry well worth digging into.

While I have only read one of his books so far two others came with high praise, The Elements of Political Economy published in 1837, and Elements of Moral Science published in 1835 and republished by Harvard University in 1963. I can’t at this time speak to these two volumes, but they are on my to-read list.

We learn from the preface that the lectures were meant to present those views that are popular (distinctive beliefs) of the Baptists and to “urge upon his brethren a practice in harmony with their profession.” May the Lord help us find our way back in this regard.

The review is a bit different in its format given some of the others I have done. The lectures do move along and are easy to grasp. No deep philosophy or theology, just practical points on what Baptists have historically believed.

My aim will be to briefly highlight some of what I believe to be the more salient lectures, with just a simple overview of each.

Lecture IBaptists Have no Authoritative Confessions of Faith… 

Lecture one considers the relevance of creeds/confessions and the Baptists. I have often heard the question what are your beliefs, what standards of doctrine and church polity do you go by? Baptists typically don’t use creeds or confessions.  The standard answer given when asked about their creed is, “Our rule of faith and practice is the New Testament.”  I typically reply the Bible is our rule of practice and faith, not JUST the New Testament.

There were no other creeds or confessions which they held. Wayland’s main point is that we don’t have a right to impose or make confessions/creeds an authority that is binding on anyone or the church in general.

The concern over protection from heresies and divisions Wayland asks, “have they any power either to create or to preserve unity?”   The answer of course would be no but their use from a historical and doctrinal perspective should be considered.   

Lecture IIBaptist Views of the Trinity, The Law, Human Depravity, the Atonement, Particular and Standard.

Wayland starts this lecture off with – “The theological tenets of the Baptists, both in England and America are emphatically the doctrines of the Reformation and have been held with singular unanimity and consistency.”

He then goes on to highlight some of the key points of doctrine.

  1. They were Trinitarian – They uphold without reservation that there is only one living and true God, and is revealed to as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  A doctrine still held tenaciously today and, in my opinion, more vigilance in defending as I have seen some aspects of modalism in some circles.
  2. The Views on the Law – They believed the Law required perfect obedience and without which no one could be saved. They believed all have broken the law and the whole world is guilty before God.
  3. Human Depravity – Depravity was the result of Adam’s sin and rebellion before God. Baptists believed without question in universal guilt and condemnation. They held to know distinction all were condemned apart from the grace of God.
  4. The Atonement, Particular and General – The views on salvation are consistent with many of today’s Baptist churches and that salvation is impossible through works, the only hope of eternal life rest solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Wayland correctly states that “justification by works is absolutely impossible, and the whole world is guilty before God.”

As far as the extent of the Atonement in Particular and General terms I think his approach here was thoughtful. He states that at one point Gill’s Divinity was the standard and those who followed Gill were referred to as Hyper-Calvinists then a shift happened when Fuller’s work Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation came out. This would become almost the norm amongst the brethren. It is said of Fuller’s Calvinism that he was moderate.  I have yet to research this in more detail.

Wayland observes that while there were differences in their convictions on the extent of the Atonement the men whose hearts were set on fire with the love of God preached Christ and had heartfelt burdens for lost souls they were gracious towards each other.

Lecture III expands on this a bit more including regeneration as well.

Lecture XVIBaptist Acknowledge the Sole Authority of the New Testament…the Mode of Administering this Ordinance which we Consider Obligatory. 

According to Wayland a fundamental difference from other denominations is the mode in which a candidate is baptized. Baptists have historically held to the biblical view, which is baptism by full immersion.

In keeping with his convictions and the convictions of Baptists throughout church history, Wayland states, “Whatever we find there [New Testament] we esteem binding upon the conscience. What is not there commanded, is not binding.” His point is that Baptists ask for divine authority as a guide, not tradition or the doctrines and commandments of men, and will “disavow” anything that teaches differently.

The candidates for baptism include those who have submitted themselves to God through Christ renouncing the world and sin and following Jesus and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

His defense of this ordinance is consistent with Baptists throughout church history.

Lecture XVIIThe Subjects of Baptism

Can just anyone get baptized, should infants be baptized, and who is considered a candidate for baptism?

Historically Baptists held to Believer’s baptism this in turn limited who the candidates could be and considered infant baptism as a non-baptism.

The mode of baptism covered in the previous lecture sets the stage for who is eligible for baptism. One of the distinct marks of Baptists is their insistence and consistency in maintaining that “Believer’s Baptism” is for those who submitted themselves to God through Christ in other words they have been born-again and testimony that bears witness to that experience.

Wayland argues that there is no command in the New Testament to baptize infants.

Examples of his reasoning are as follows:

  1. There are no examples of children being baptized and therefore should not be practiced nor imposed on others to do likewise.
  2. If infants were to be baptized, then it would have been mentioned by the Lord and apostles. In his words, “it could not have escaped mention either in Acts of the Apostles or Epistles.”
  3. Baptism is restricted to those who have been taught also mentioning disciples. Infants could not exercise themselves spiritually nor could they make anything known spiritually.
  4. The references to those who were baptized in the New Testament were born-again.  Certainly, an infant cannot be born-again
  5. Using baptism for children in place of circumcision he replies there is “no ground for such an inference.”

Wayland addresses other arguments used in an attempt to justify infant baptism and at the close of the chapter emphasizes that Baptism is an ordinance/command of the Lord and should be obeyed and practiced according to the New Testament.

Overall, I enjoyed the book! My short review doesn’t do it justice. Covering several other subjects including soul liberty, preaching, preparation, and delivery among many others.

It was an easy read, and the lectures were relatively short and informative, with enough information to encourage further review and study.

Above and beyond learning about what made Francis Wayland a great Baptist we get to learn about the man himself, his character, convictions, and testimony.

There is a debt of gratitude to those who republish the old writings, keeping the historic beliefs alive and the men who upheld them.