Friday, August 19, 2016

"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 4

It is clear that religious liberty is being lost in America. As such, I want to pass along a number of helpful resources of previous generations defending and promoting religious liberty from noted Christians. To begin, let us look at Isaac Backus essay An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppression of the Present Day published in 1773.


"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part1
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 2
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 3
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 4

Section III

A brief account of what the baptists have suffered under this constitution, and of their reasons for refusing any active compliance with it.
 
Many are ready to say, the baptists are exempted from ministerial taxes, therefore why do they complain? Answer, We would be far from forgetting or undervaluing of our privileges: but are willing thankfully to acknowledge, that our honored rulers do protect our societies, so as not to allow them to be interrupted in their worship; and as the taking cognizance of marriage belongs to them, we take it as a favour that they grant our ministers power to administer it, so that we may have marriage solemnized among ourselves. Many other liberties we also enjoy under the government that is set over us, for which we desire to be thankful, both to the author, and to the instruments of them. Yet if our opponents could once put themselves into our place, we doubt not but they would think it was high time, to seek for more full liberty than we have hitherto enjoyed, a short view of but a little part of what we have met with, may be sufficient to evince this.
 
Our charter, as before observed, gives us equal religious liberty with other christians: yet the pedobaptists being the greatest party, they soon made a perpetual law to support their own way, but did nothing of that nature to exempt our denomination from it, for 36 years; and since that time, what they have done in that respect has only been by temporary acts, which have been so often changed, that many times their own officers have hardly known what the law was, that was in force; and as an exact conformity to the letter of their laws is much insisted upon in their executive courts, while those acts have never been enforced with penalties upon their own people, they have often broken them, and we have had but little chance to get them punished for so doing. For in all their acts till the last, they have imposed a name upon us, that signifies re-baptizers; which we cannot understandingly own. In many acts the words "belonging thereto" were inserted so ambiguously, as to leave it disputable, whether a being church members or only a belonging to the congregation or worshipping assembly were intended; and in the case of Haverhill, where their certificate was otherways compleat, and the case had been determined in the baptists favor, in that which both parties had agreed should be the final trial, yet another hearing was obtained in which the want of them ambiguous words in the certificate, was made, the main plea by which an action was turned against us, of near three hundred dollars. All their latter acts have required a list or lists of our societies, to be given in annually, by a certain day, signed by three principal members, and the minister if there be any; and because one of our churches of above 50 members (and which is now a church in good credit) happened one year to have such a difficulty with their minister, as prevented the giving in of said list, they were taxed to pedobaptist ministers; and tho' some of the society were advised to apply to their county court for relief, yet instead of obtaining any, the court took away 20 dollars more from them. Another church gave in their list by the direction of a noted lawyer, yet they were all taxed to the pedobaptist worship, and one of the principal members of the baptist church, which the law directed to sign the list, was strained upon; and both the inferior and superior court turned the case against him, because he was a party concerned.
 
Here note, the inhabitants of our mother-country are not more of a party concerned, in imposing taxes upon us without our consent, than they have been in this land who have made and executed laws, to tax us to uphold their worship. This party influence has appeared in a much larger number of instances than we are willing to trouble the public with at this time but one instance more will set our case in such a striking light, that we must ask for a very serious attention to it; we mean that of Ashfield, formerly called Hunts-town in the county of Hampshire. One of the conditions on which that plantation was granted by our legislature, was their settling a learned orthodox minister, and building a meeting-house. Now in the year 1761, full two thirds of the inhabitants called and settled a minister, who they believed was taught of God and truly orthodox. But not being of the same mode with the court (for they were baptists) other people were prompted on, before this society could get up a meeting-house, to settle another minister, and to tax the first minister with all his people to support their way. This burden the baptists bore for a number of years, till in 1768, they presented a petition to our general court for relief; who ordered that they should serve the town and proprietors of Ashfield with a copy of the petition, that they might shew cause, if any they had, at the next session of the court why it should not be granted, and that a further collection of taxes from the petitioners should be suspended in the mean time. Yet in the same session of the court, a law was made which cut the baptists in that place, off from any exemption from ministerial taxes at all. In consequence of which several hundred acres of their lands were sold at public auction, for but a small part of their real value; of which ten acres belonged to the baptist minister. And after five or six journies of above an hundred miles to seek relief, and long waiting without success, their messenger was at last plainly told, by a number of our representatives, "That they had a right to make that law, and to keep the baptists under it as long as they saw fit." Hereupon notice was given in some Boston papers, of a design among our churches of joining to seek redress from another quarter.
Accordingly at an association or general meeting of our churches at Bellingham, in September, 1770, these things were considered, and it was unanimously agreed upon to apply to his majesty for help, if it could not speedily be obtained here; and a committee and agents were chosen for that purpose. When news hereof was spread, our committee were urged by leading men both in church and state, to apply again to our general court; which therefore they did in October following. In the mean time a piece dated from Cambridge, where the court was then sitting, was published in all the Boston news-papers, wherein it was represented that, "All possible care had been taken to prevent our suffering the least disadvantage from our religious sentiments"; and we were challenged to shew the contrary if we could.
 
Upon this the pious and learned Mr. John Davis, who from Pennsylvania had not long before been ordained pastor of the second baptist church in Boston, and who was clerk of our committee, called them together to consider of this matter. And though they were far from desiring to enter into a news-paper controversy, yet they advised him to make some reply to that challenge: He did so; and on Dec. 27, published a brief and plain view of the case of Ashfield: but instead of any fair and manly treatment upon it, he in the Evening-Post of Jan. 7, 1771, was not only insulted with the names of, "A little upstart gentleman; enthusiastical biggot; and, this stripling highfliar"; but had it also insinuated that he was employed "by the enemies of America to defame and blacken the colonies, and this town in particular." And they had the impudence to pretend to the world, that all this was wrote by a catholic baptist . And they inflamed the populace so against Mr. Davis, that his most judicious friends were afraid of his being mobbed. But can it be in the power of others to blacken any people so much, as by this treatment of a worthy stranger (now at rest) they have blackened themselves! Instead of honestly coming to the light (which our Lord gives as the criterion to know him that doth truth, John 3. 21.) how do they hover in the works of darkness.
 
The first article in our committee's petition to the legislature, being for Ashfield, they were ordered to notify the proprietors thereof: They did so; and in the spring session of the assembly, they came with a long address against us, in which they begin, with saying more generally of the baptists in that part of the province,
 
"The proprietors conceive it to be a duty they owe to God and their country, not to be dispensed with, to lay open the characters, and real springs of action of some of these people."
 
Then they go on to say,
 
"The rule the petitioners have set up and on which alone they seem to ground their claim of exemption, is falsly applied, and therefore all arguments bottomed on it must be inconclusive. Natural rights, as the respondents humbly conceive, are in this province wholly superceded in this case by civil obligation, and in matters of taxation individuals cannot with the least propriety plead them."
 
Having thus denied us any claim from natural rights, they resume what they call an indispensible duty, viz, an attempt to lay before our honored legislature the baptists character, and the springs of their actions; and after a number of mean reflections without any proof at all, they sum up the springs of the actions of most of them to be "Pride, vanity, prejudice, impurity and uncharitableness." Very dreadful indeed if it could be proved! but that is referred to a hereafter, and they say, "At present we shall content ourselves with assuring your excellency and honors, that the foregoing account is not exaggerated."
 
From this they proceed to observe, that as it belongs to rulers to "protect and support all regular religious societies of protestants," so they say, "Whenever any religion or profession wears an ill aspect to the state, it is become a proper object of attention to the legislature. And this is the religion of the people whom we have been describing." How much does this resemble the language of him who said, It is not for the king-s profit to suffer them! or theirs who cried, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend!
 
After thus representing that the religion of the baptists that way, wears an ill aspect to the state, they go on to speak of the conditions upon which Ashfield was granted; and then try to prove that Mr. Ebenezer Smith, pastor of the baptist church there, "is not a minister in law," because he has neither an accademical degree, nor a testimonial in his favor from the majority of the ministers of that county. And to give an idea of the smallness of his ability for teaching, they say,
 
"Taking occasion in one of his discourses upon that passage of scripture, in which mention is made of the thick bosses of God's buckler; instead of buckler , he gave his hearers the word butler. Being interrogated by one occasionally present as to his meaning, he explained himself so as clearly shewed, he meant to connect the other part of the sentence with the word butler, in the commonly received sense of the word."
 
The clearest light we have gained in the matter is this. After Mr. Smith had been preaching in a neighbouring town some years ago, a minister who was present asked him what a butler was? he readily replied, Pharoah's cup-bearer. After a little more talk, said minister asserted, that Mr. Smith used the word butler instead of buckler in his sermon. He did not remember that he had; but if he did so, how injurious is the above representation? is it not the evil which we read of in Isa. 29. 20, 21? Having made this reflection upon Mr. Smith, they say, "He has none of the qualifications of a minister according to the laws of Christ, or of this province, unless those of simplicity and orthodoxy." We wish his accusers were so well qualified. 2 Cor. 1. 12. and 4. 2.
 
In April, 1771, the address we have made a few remarks upon was referred to a committee of both houses of our general court, who reported that, "Your committee find, that in the sale of those lands there was no unfairness, but every thing was quite fair, quite neighbourly, and quite legal." And as to our plea for exemption from ministerial taxes they say, "There is an essential difference between persons being taxed where they are not represented, therefore against their wills, and being taxed when represented." So they advised the court to dismiss our petition as unreasonable; and though the honorable house of representatives did not accept that advice, but voted to repeal the Ashfield law; yet the council refused to concur with them therein; so that if his gracious majesty in council had not disannuled said law for us, our brethren of Ashfield must, for ought that appeared to the contrary, have been entirely stripped of the inheritances, which they had purchased, and subdued at the peril of their lives, because of the sword of the wilderness.
 
It may be remembered that the pedobaptist proprietors of Ashfield, represented that the baptists there were not worthy of the protection of our legislature. The following narrative may help to explain what they meant by it. The news of what our king had done for them, arrived and was published in Boston the latter end of October, 1771, at which their oppressors discovered great uneasiness; and on the 8th of November came two officers with numerous attendants, to the house of Mr. Smith, father of the baptist minister in Ashfield (and very much of a father to that society), with a warrant from the chief judge of that county, to seize his person, and to search his house and shop for bad money: and it was said they had a like warrant for the minister, but he happened to be then absent on a journey. His father was made a prisoner before he was out of his bed in the morning, and though he promised the use of his keys, and desired that no lock might be broken, yet while he was at prayer with his family, for which he obtained leave of one officer, the other broke open his shop, and did considerable damage there; and after searching both that and his house as much as they pleased, they carried him before the aforesaid judge and others; where it plainly appeared that the complaint was entered against Mr. Smith from a report, that he had put off a counterfeit dollar; which report was then proved to be a false one. Yet the old gentleman was not released, but was kept a prisoner through a cold night, in circumstances that greatly injured his health, and next day was bro't on further examination, when even his frequent retirement for secret devotion, which he had practised for above forty years; was catched hold of to raise a suspicion of his being guilty: and he was bound over with two sureties to the next superior court in that county. Hereupon the following men who had been called as witnesses against him, gave him their testimony in writing, declaring that they were ready to make oath to it, in the following terms, viz.
 
Ashfield, Nov. 11, 1771
 
We the subscribers, who have been summoned to prove an indictment against Chileab Smith, of his coining and putting off bad money, do testify and say, that we did not, nor cannot understandingly attest to one tittle of the indictment, nor of any circumstance tending to prove the same. And we never saw nor heard any thing in him that gave the least ground to mistrust, that he kept a shop of secrecy, or did any thing there that he was afraid should be known; and do believe the reports to the contrary are entirely false. As neither did we in our judgments hear any of the said indictment in any measure proved by any of the rest of the evidences; as witness our hands,
 
Ebenezer Sprague,
Nathaniel Harvey,
Jonathan Sprague,
Nathan Chapin,
Moses Smith. 2d.
Chileab Smith, jun.
Nehemiah Sprague.
 
Also Leonard Pike, to whom the report was that Mr. Smith had put off a bad dollar, gave from under his hand that said report had no truth in it. These are eight of the ten witnesses that were summoned against Mr. Smith; & tho' much pains was taken to procure evidence against him at the superior court, yet he was entirely acquitted; and the law was open for him to come back for damages, for a malicious prosecution; but they had contrived to have the complaint against him entered by a bankrupt, so that no recompence might be obtained by him. Are these the goodly fruits of having a particular mode of worship established by law, and their ministers supported by force!
 
Though we are often accused of complaining without reason, yet no longer ago than the 26th of last January, three men of good credit, belonging to a numerous and regular baptist society in Chelmsford, were seized for ministerial rates (notwithstanding they had given in a list according to law) and though one of them was above four score years old, another very infirm in body, while the third had no man at home, able to take care of the out-door affairs of his numerous family, yet they, in that cold season, were all carried prisoners to Concord gaol.
 
These accounts we have received from good authority, and have taken great pains to have them stated as exactly and truly as possible; and if any can point out the least mistake in what has been now related, we shall be glad to correct it. At the same time we are far from charging all the evils we complain of, upon the whole congregational denomination without distinction; for we believe there are many among them in various stations, who are sorely grieved at these oppressions. We are willing also to make all the allowance that is reasonable, for the influence of old customs, education and other prejudices, in those who have injured their neighbours in these affairs; but is it not high time now to awake, and seek for a more thorough reformation! We agree with the committee of our honored legislature in saying, there is an essential difference between persons being taxed where they are represented, and being taxed where they are not so; therefore the whole matter very much turns upon this point, viz. Whether our civil legislature are in truth our representatives in religious affairs, or not? As God has always claimed it as his prerogative, to appoint who shall be his ministers, and how they shall be supported, so under the gospel, the peoples communications to Christ's ministers and members, are called sacrifices with which God is well-pleased. Phil. 4. 18. Heb. 13, 16-18. And what government on earth ever had, or ever can have any power to make or execute any laws to appoint and enforce sacrifices to God!
 
In civil states the power of the whole collective body is vested in a few hands, that they may with better advantage defend themselves against injuries from abroad, and correct abuses at home, for which end a few have a right to judge for the whole society; but in religion each one has an equal right to judge for himself; for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done (not what any earthly representative hath done for him) 2 Cor. 5. 10. And we freely confess that we can find no more warrant from divine truth, for any people on earth to constitute any men their representatives, to make laws to impose religious taxes, than they have to appoint Peter or the Virgin Mary to represent them before the throne above. We are therefore brought to a stop about paying so much regard to such laws, as to give in annual certificates to the other denomination, as we have formerly done.
 
1. Because the very nature of such a practice implies an acknowledgment, that the civil power has a right to set one religious sect up above another, else why need we give certificates to them any more than they to us? It is a tacit allowance that they have a right to make laws about such things, which we believe in our consciences they have not. For,
 
2. By the foregoing address to our legislature, and their committees report thereon, it is evident, that they claim a right to tax us from civil obligation, as being the representatives of the people. But how came a civil community by any ecclesiastical power? how came the kingdoms of this world to have a right to govern in Christ's kingdom which is not of this world!
 
3. That constitution not only emboldens people to judge the liberty of other mens consciences, and has carried them so far as to tell our general assembly, that they conceived it to be a duty they owed to God and their country, not to be dispensed with, to lay before them the springs of their neighbours actions; but it also requires something of the same nature from us. Their laws require us annually to certify to them, what our belief is concerning the conscience of every person that assembles with us, as the condition of their being exempted from taxes to other's worship. And only because our brethren in Bellingham, left that clause about the conscience out of their certificates last year, a number of their society who live at Mendon were taxed, and lately suffered the spoiling of their goods to uphold pedobaptist worship.
 
4. The scheme we oppose evidently tends to destroy the purity and life of religion; for the inspired apostle assures us, that the church is espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ, and is obliged to be subject to him in every thing, as a true wife is to her husband. Now the most chaste domestic obedience, does not at all interfere with any lawful subjection to civil authority; but for a woman to admit the highest ruler in a nation into her husband's place, would be adultery or whoredom; and how often are mens inventions about worship so called in the sacred oracles? And does it not greatly concern us all, earnestly to search out and put away such evils, as we would desire to escape the awful judgments that such wickedness has brought on other nations! Especially if we consider that not only the purity, but also the very life and being of religion among us is concerned therein; for 'tis evident that Christ has given as plain laws to determine what the duty of people is to his ministers, as he has the duty of ministers to his people; and most certainly he is as able to enforce the one as the other. The common plea of our opponents is, that people will not do their duty if rulers do not enforce it; but does not the whole book of God clearly shew, that ministers as often fail of doing their duty as the people do? And where is the care of rulers to punish ministers for their unfaithfulness? They often talk about equality in these affairs, but where does it appear! As Christ is the head of all principality and power; so the not holding the head, from which all the body by joints and hands having nourishment ministred, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God, but bringing in an earthly power between Christ and his people, has been the grand source of anti-christian abominations, and of settling men down in a form of godliness , while they deny the power thereof Has not this earthly scheme prevailed so far in our land, as to cause many ministers, instead of taking heed to the ministry received from the Lord; and instead of watching for souls as those who must give an account, rather to act as if they were not accountable to any higher power, than that of the men who support them? and on the other hand, how do many people behave as if they were more afraid of the collector's warrant, and of an earthly prison, than of Him who sends his ministers to preach his gospel, and says, He that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me; but declares, That it shall he more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom, than for those who receive them not? Yea, as if they were more afraid of an earthly power than of our great King and Judge, who can this night require the soul of him that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God; and will sentence all either to heaven or hell, according as they have treated Him well or ill, in his ministers and members.
 
5. The custom which they want us to countenance, is very hurtful to civil society: for by the law of Christ every man, is not only allowed, but also required, to judge for himself, concerning the circumstantials as well as the essentials, of religion, and to act according to the full persuasion of his own mind ; and he contracts guilt to his soul if he does the contrary. Rom. 14. 5, 23. What a temptation then does it lay for men to contract such guilt, when temporal advantages are annexed to one persuasion, and disadvantages laid upon another? i.e. in plain terms, how does it tend to hypocrisy and lying? than which, what can be worse to human society! Not only so, but coercive measures about religion also tend to provoke to emulation, wrath and contention, and who can describe all the mischiefs of this nature, that such measures have produced in our land! But where each person, and each society, are equally protected from being injured by others, all enjoying equal liberty, to attend and support the worship which they believe is right, having no more striving for mastery or superiority than little children (which we must all come to, or not enter into the kingdom of heaven) how happy are it's effects in civil society? In the town of Boston they enjoy something of these blessings, and why may not the country have the same liberty? The ministers who have had the chief hand in stirring up rulers to treat us as they have done, yet have sometimes been forced to commend the liberty we plead for. When they wanted to get footing in the town of Providence, they wrote to governor Jencks and other rulers there, in the following words, viz.
"Honorable gentlemen,
 
"How pleasing to almighty God and our glorious Redeemer, and how conducible to the public tranquility and safety, an hearty union and good affection of all pious protestants whatsoever particular denomination of account of some differences in opinion would be, by the divine blessing, yourselves as well as we, are not insensible: and with what peace and love societies of different modes of worship have generally entertained one another in your government, we cannot think of it without admiration: and we suppose under God, 'tis owing to the choice liberty granted to protestants of all perswasions in the royal charter graciously given you; and to the wise and prudent conduct of gentlemen that have been improved as governors & justices in your colony."
 
And after more of this nature, they close with saving.
 
"We hope and pray, that ancient matters (that had acrimony unhappily in them) may be buried in oblivion; and that grace and peace and holiness and glory may dwell in every part of New-England; and that the several provinces and colonies in it, may love one another with a pure heart fervently. We take leave to subscribe ourselves, your friends and servants,
 
"Dated Oct. 27. 1721. Peter Thatcher,
 
"John Danforth,
 
"Joseph Beicher,
 
"Committee of the Association."
 
The town of Providence wrote them an answer the next February, in which they say,
 
"We take notice how you praise the love and peace that dissenters of all ranks entertain one another with in this government. We answer, this happiness principally consists in their not allowing societies any superiority one over another; but each society support their own ministry of their own free will, and not by constraint or force upon any man's person or estate. But the contrary that takes any man's estate by force to maintain their own or any other ministry, it serves for nothing but to provoke to wrath, envy and strife, and this wisdom cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual and devilish. And since you wrote this letter, the constable of Attleborough has been taking away the estates of our dear friends, and pious dissenters to maintain their minister; the like hath been done in the town of Mendon. Is this the way of peace? Is this the fruit of your love? Why do you hug the iniquity of Eli's sons, and walk in the steps of the false prophets, to bite with the teeth, and cry peace; but no longer than men put into your mouths than you prepare war against them. Since you admire our love and peace, we pray you to use the same methods, and write after our copy and for the future never let us hear of your pillaging conscientious dissenters to maintain your ministers. You desire that all former injury done by you to us may be buried in oblivion. We say, far be it from us to revenge ourselves; or to deal to you as you have dealt to us, but rather say, Father forgive them, they know not what they do. But if you mean that we should not speak of former actions, done hurtfully to any man's person, we say, God never called for that, nor suffered it to be hid, as witness Cain, Joab and Judas, are kept on record to deter other men from doing the like."
 
Here the public may take notice, how desirous pedobaptists ministers are to have odious things on their side buried out of sight, but how contrary has their practice ever been toward us? Even to this day they can hardly preach a sermon, or write a pamphlet for infant-baptism, without having something to say about the mad men of Munster, who they tell us rebelled against their civil rulers: Whereas in truth we never had the least concern with them, any more than our opponents have with the pope or Turk. Indeed they often assert, that those mad men were the first that ever renounced infant-baptism; but there is proof enough from their own historians, that this story which they have so often told from their pulpits, is as absolute a falshood as ever was uttered by man. And though one learned and pious president of Cambridge college, was brought to embrace our sentiments, and to bear his testimony in the pulpit there, "against the administration of baptism to any infant whatsoever"; for which he suffered considerable abuse with much of a christian temper: While his successor, another "very learned and godly man" (who therefore must have been well acquainted with the original), held that "baptism ought only to be by dipping or plunging the whole body under water["]: yet these and other honorable examples in our favor have been passed over, and every scandalous thing that could he pick'd up, has been spread, to prejudice people's minds against our profession in general. And let it be remembred, that when pedobaptist ministers wanted to be favored in Providence, they declared, that they could not think of the peace and love which societies of different modes of worship have generally entertained one another with in that government without admiration; and they experienced so much of this from the baptists in Providence, that when some others made a difficulty about admitting Mr. Josiah Cotton (the first minister of the pedobaptists there) as an inhabitant in the town, Col. Nicholas Powers (a leading member of the baptist church) became his bondsman to the town: therefore we hope that our honorable rulers and others, will be cautious about giving credit to stories of a contrary nature, when they are told to procure or to justify the use of force in supporting ministers; especially since ministers refuse to share in the reproach of such proceedings. For a minister who has exerted himself very much of late, to support the cause of those called standing churches, yet says,
 
"It is wholly out of rule, and quite injurious, to charge the churches or their ministers with sending men to gaol for rates, for these proceedings are evidently the acts of the civil state, done for it's own utility. The doings of the civil authority, and of that alone."
 
Where are the rulers that will stand alone in that practice, without either ministers or truth to support them!
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