Our Baptist Heritage

Our Baptist Heritage

April 26th, 1964 @ 10:50 AM

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
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Isaiah 51:1-12 

4-26-64     10:50 a.m. 




On radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled Our Baptist Heritage.  

There was announced a moment ago a revival meeting beginning at 7:30 o’clock Friday, continuing through Saturday and closing out on Sunday, dedicated to our teenagers and their homes and parents.  About two or three weeks ago we had a revival meeting in Millie Kohn’s Junior Division, and it was announced as a Jubilee Revival.  I felt when the announcement was made that our people had no idea what a Jubilee Revival referred to, much less what it was about.  And I have an increasing persuasion that our people know practically nothing of the great heritage of our churches, of our martyrs, “Out of the rock from whence we were hewn, and the hole of the pit out of which we were digged” [Isaiah 51:1]. 

And if our own people know that little, those beyond our membership know practically nothing.  So, I have decided, with God’s help, to address myself for these few Sundays immediate to prepare sermons, addresses, on the rock out of which we were hewn, and the hole of the pit out of which we were digged [Isaiah 51:1]. 

Now that Jubilee, this is the Jubilee Year of the organization of our Baptist Conventions in the United States of America.  This coming May, next month in Atlantic City, New Jersey, there will be a Diamond Jubilee convocation of all of our Baptist conventions on the North American continent.  It represents the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the organization of the Triennial Convention under the statesmanship of Luther Rice, from which has come all of these other convention groups on the North American continent. 

I feel that I follow, not only an admonition of the Word of God by doing this, but I am following the example of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.  In Isaiah fifty-one, the great court preacher in the first and second verse of his prophecy wrote:


Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.  Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you.  

[Isaiah 51:1-2] 


The old prophet was calling to remembrance the whole Hebrew nation, their forefathers, their history, their destiny as children of Abraham and servants of the High Lord.  

The Book of Acts has no formal conclusion.  It stops in the middle, in the midst of the story of the propagation of the gospel of the Son of God.  It leaves Paul in prison in Rome and then stops like a man would cut off a current, chop a tree into; it is just cut off like that [Acts 28:16-31].  Why is there no formal conclusion to the Book of Acts?  Simply because the Book of Acts of the Spirit of God does not cease until finally the redeemed of all ages are gathered before the throne of the glory of God.  

We are in it now.  The same Lord God that wrought powerfully yesterday works today and shall to the consummation of the age.  So in listening to the voice of the prophet, to hearken back in memory to our forefathers, their sacrifices and their martyrdom [Isaiah 51:1-2], we are doing nothing other than following through the story of the grace of God in the acts of the Spirit, through the centuries to this present day and by prophecy to the consummation of the age.  

So we begin.  There are some things that first must be realized ere we start.  And I point them out as briefly as I know how.  One is this.  We are not following the history of a generation or a race or a nation or even of an organization, but we are tracing the story of a people who were dedicated to apostolic principles and New Testament practices.  

It is difficult to do.  Sometimes they were drowned in their own blood.  Sometimes they were buried beneath the flood of paganism and coercive statism.  Sometimes they lost their identity in the flame and the fire.  But wherever they died, here and yonder, and by whatever name they were called, over there and still again, they were raised apparently from the dead.  And men of like faith and like conviction and like dedication were raised up to carry on the faith once for all delivered to the saints [Jude 1:3]. 

Another thing, the word Baptist is comparatively a recent designation.  We have not been called by that name except for the last several hundreds of years.  Before that, in the centuries proceeding, we were called Anabaptists, and before that by other names.  Most of the times they were nicknames given to our faithful martyrs by the people who saw them die, like the Baptist, John, an epithet given to him by the people; his name by the Holy Spirit was John [Luke 1:13], but the people called him John ho baptistēs, “John the one who baptizes,” John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1].  So the name Christian, at Antioch; it was given by scornful, cynic, pagan populace; Christians [Acts 11:26], a derisive term, Christian.  So the name the sect of the Nazarenes. When Tertullus the great Roman orator stood before Felix, the procurator of Judea, to accuse the apostle Paul as being a seditionist, he referred to him as a leader of the sect of the Nazarenes [Acts 24:1-5].  So through the centuries these different names were used, practically all of them created and invented by the pagan populace, who stood and saw God’s faithful witnesses die. 

So as we begin this story, we are not to be persuaded that the life of a New Testament church is to be judged by its continuity of historical succession.  Nor is it to be judged by a name it assumes.  For a New Testament church is not a continuity of historical succession, nor is it a name.  But it is an organized body of Christ dedicated to the great truth as it is revealed here in the Word of God. 

Let me illustrate that.  We could found a church today in a far off isle of the Pacific Ocean.  And if it were constituted according to the Word of God it would be a New Testament church.  A New Testament church is judged by its dedication to the great truth of the revelation in this holy and immutable and unchanging Word.  

Now through these centuries, those New Testament churches can be designated and described and delineated and traced by their devotion and dedication to five great principles.  And these five great principles will always characterize a true New Testament church. 

One: its dedication to the Holy Scriptures as the only rule for faith and practice.  In the beginning the word was oral, in a set form.  The word of the gospel was spoken by mouth to mouth.  Then Mark wrote it down; then Matthew and Luke wrote it down, and finally John wrote it down. Then when the apostles wrote their epistles, they were accepted by the churches as authoritative from God.  They were soon collected in one volume and they became the immutable and eternal revelation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Any New Testament church, first of all, receives the Holy Scriptures as its only rule, and norm, and authority for its faith and its practice [2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. 

Second: the great second principle of a New Testament church is the priesthood of the believer.  Every man can go to God for himself.  He needs no intermediary.  He needs no mediator.  He needs no priest.  Any man anywhere can call on the name of God for himself, and he can receive an answer from the throne of grace in his own soul and in his own heart.  Every man is his own priest, and every man can come boldly to the throne of grace and speak to God face to face, the priesthood of the believer [Hebrews 4:14-16]. 

The third great principle that characterizes these New Testament churches is the kind of an organization the church is itself.  It is an organized ekklēsia, dedicated, called out for the propagation of the gospel, the preaching of the grace of the Son of God, for the holding inviolate the ordinances of our Lord, and for the great evangelization of the world.  It is composed of regenerate baptized believers [Matthew 28:19-20].  That is the third great principle of these New Testament churches. 

The fourth lies in the character of its orders and its ordinances.  According to the New Testament the orders are two.  One, a poimēn, a presbuteros, an episkopos, the three Greek words are used to refer to the same office [Acts 20:17, 28].  A poimēn is a shepherd, translated a pastor.  A presbuteros, he is an elder.  An episkopos, he is a bishop.  Those are the three New Testament terms that are translated into our English language as pastor, elder, and bishop, all three of them in the Bible referring to the same office, the holy office that this undershepherd shares in the grace of God with you. 

The other holy order in the church is a diakonos, a deacon, the simple word for servant, a servant of the church, another preacher ordained of God to help the pastor do his work [Acts 6:3].  

The two ordinances are the initial ordinance of baptism [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5], and the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29].  Any New Testament church has those two orders and observes faithfully those two ordinances.

Then the last, the fifth of the great characteristics of a New Testament church is its freedom and its independence from the coercive power of the state.  It is unthinkable to a true man of God; it is unbelievable in the story of the church that the grace of God should ever look to the coercive power of taxation or of the sword to propagate or to enforce its faith.  It is a free church in a free state.  And that characteristic of the true churches of Jesus Christ has never failed to be emblazoned on every escutcheon that the warriors of Jesus have ever borne. 

I repeat them, the five distinct principles and characteristics of a New Testament church: one, the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, its only authority and foundation for faith and practice.  Two, the priesthood of every believer.  Every man can go to God for himself.  Every man can read the Word of God for himself.  Third, a regenerate church membership.  Fourth, the orders of pastor and deacon and the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  And fifth, its freedom from the coercive power of the state by sword, by taxation.  These characterize the dignity and the purity and the apostolic authority and inspiration of the true churches of Jesus. 

Now we begin.  I have said, I repeat, their story is difficult to trace out.  It is drowned in their own blood.  It is washed and bathed in their own tears, difficult to trace out because they destroyed their own documents themselves, lest in discovery they would be open to greater calamity.  

Second, their documents were destroyed by those who wasted and persecuted them.  Don’t ever forget that the hand that carried the sword to smite these people also carried the torch to burn their bodies and their literature.  The ashes of our martyrs were mixed with the very literature that was used in burning their witness and their testimony.  Consequently what we know of our forefathers in the centuries past is mostly gained from their enemies who calumniated them, who cursed them, who murdered them, who burned them at the stake, who drowned them in the flood, who witnessed their cries and their agony. 

The story begins with the great first Baptist who stands at the head of all of the Baptist martyrs; God’s messenger called John [Mark 1:2-3].  This man’s life and this man’s testimony and this man’s martyrdom is typical of the story through the centuries and the ages that was to follow.  He stood in the midst of the children of Israel and cried saying, “It is not by birth and it is not by inheritance, but it is by a man’s personal repentance and faith in the Messiah that he becomes a child of God” [John 1:29].  He had one great testimony, Jesus, Jesus.  “Behold the Lamb of God” [John 1:29].  That will be the title of the pastor’s sermon at 7:30 o’clock tonight.  He was born to say one sentence.  Behold, behold, introducing the Lord Jesus to the world.  And God gave him from heaven an ordinance [John 1:33].  The first time a man ever took another man and washed him, bathed him, immersed him, was when John did it in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:5-6, 11; Mark 1:4-5]. 

So he gained that name, Iōannēs ho baptistēs, John the one who baptizes.  Buried and dead to the world, raised to walk in the newness of life in Christ [Romans 6:3-5]; his heavenly ordinance, and he sealed his testimony with his blood [Matthew 14:1-12].  Under the hands of cruel Herod Antipas in Machaerus, the dreary castle on the east side of the Dead Sea, Herod imprisoned him.  At the instigation of a royal family that thirsted after his life his head was severed from his body, brought to the feast on a platter, and his trunk to lie in its own blood [Mark 6:17-28].  This is the testimony of the first Baptist. 

And the one to whom he gave testimony, Christ the Son of God, was first baptized in the waters of the Jordan River [Matthew 3:13-17].  Then he was baptized in his own tears and in his own blood [Luke 19:41, 23-33].  And that same Lord Christ who was crucified and lifted between the earth and the sky [Matthew 27:32-50], He said to His disciples, the two who asked to be placed on His right and on His left, “Can you drink of the cup I drink of?  Can you be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?”  And they said, “We can” [Mark 10:37-39].  

And the Lord said, “You shall indeed drink of the cup I drink of.  You shall be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized” [Matthew 20:23, Mark 10:39-40].  

And the church was lost in blood, and in tears, and in agony, and in the storm and trial of a fierce sea, ocean, illimitable of paganism and heathenism and violent opposition. 

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs names ten imperial Roman persecutions.  In preaching through the Book of the Revelation, do you remember when I preached on the martyred church at Smyrna, which represents this age?  The martyred church of Smyrna.  The Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus said to the martyred church at Smyrna, “Thou shall suffer tribulation ten days, ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” [Revelation 2:10].  Ten days.  I was amazed in picking up Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to read of this Smyrna period in the church.  He said ten great imperial persecutions.  

I name just five of them, the Neronian, the Domitian, the Trajan, the Decian and the Diocletian.  Nero, Nero the last of the Caesars, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, Caligula Caesar, Claudius Caesar, and then Nero, the last [54-68 AD].  He was the fiercest and the most dissolute and the most depraved of them all.  Nero had an ambition to build a golden palace beyond anything the world had ever seen in the heart of Rome.  But Rome had no room for such grounds and palace.  

Suddenly the city was engulfed in flames and where the flames ate and destroyed there  did Nero build his far famed an announced palace.  But the people who lost their lives and their homes, their families and kinspeople and the whole Roman populace began to point the finger at Nero.  He did it.  He did it!  And in order to avert suspicion from himself, Nero said, “They did it, these despised Christianoi.”  They were burned, made torches, and as their bodies flamed at night Nero drove his chariot furiously up and down the streets of the city of Rome in the light of their flaming bodies. 

And it was in the Neronian persecution that the apostle Paul was beheaded, being a Roman citizen couldn’t be burned, the apostle Paul was beheaded on the Appian Way, the road between Rome and the sea on the Tiber River.  He was beheaded, a Roman citizen.  Somewhere in some part of the world, according to the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, Simon Peter was crucified, died with his hands outstretched, nailed to a tree [John 21:18-19]

The second great persecution was under Domitian.  Domitian was the emperor from 81 to 96 AD.  And Domitian persecuted the Christians as atheists.  They worshipped no outward symbol of God.  They had no altar.  They had no image, and they were described as atheists and enemies of the state.  And it was under Domitian that the apostle John was exiled to Patmos, on which island he saw the glorious visions of our coming Lord [Revelation 1:9-20].  

Then in 98 AD through 117, Trajan, one of the great and able emperors of the Roman Empire, held sway over the civilized world.  And in the days of Trajan, the Christian churches grew furiously.  By 100 there were five hundred thousand of them, and four hundred churches.  So prolific did they become and so mighty was their impact upon the Roman Empire that Pliny, who was the proconsul of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan saying that the sacrifices are neglected and the temples are deserted.  And Trajan wrote back an interdiction against the Christians who had emptied the pagans of their faith and of their idolatry. 

And then Pliny wrote back and said, “This is the way that I detect them.  I have a suspect brought before me and I ask him, ‘Are you a Christian?’  And if he denies it then I say, ‘Will you take this incense and burn it before the image of the god?’  If he does it,” Pliny said, “I dismiss him.  But if he refuses to do it I execute him on the spot.”  It was as simple as that.  

It was in the days of Trajan that we have the great apostolic fathers, those who were born in the days of the apostles.  There were four of them.  Clement of Rome was pastor of the church from about 91 to 100.  He was born in the days of Christ in about 30.  Ignatius of Antioch, he was born about 30 and was martyred in about 105.  Clement of Rome wrote one of the most beautiful letters of all time addressed to the church at Corinth.  Ignatius wrote beautiful letters to the churches of the Mediterranean world, several of them.   

When Trajan visited Antioch, he saw the whole city given to the Christian faith.  And he called the pastor of the church before him.  His successor was Chrysostom, Ignatius.  In that church at Antioch he had a hundred thousand members.  Just think of the largeness of this church, it is as nothing compared to the tremendous church at Antioch.  And Trajan condemned Ignatius to die and was sent to Rome and exposed there to wild beasts and died in the Roman Coliseum. 

The third great father apostolic was Polycarp.  He was born in about 65; he was martyred in about 155.  He was pastor of the church at Smyrna.  In the address of the letters of the Book of the Revelation, the angel of the church of Smyrna, that was Polycarp [Revelation 2:8].  He was burned at the stake under Aurelius.  He gave that famous answer; when the emperor asked him to deny the Lord, he said, “Eighty and six years have I served Him.” 

The fourth one was Papias.  He was the pastor of the church at Heliopolis which is right across the Lycus River from Laodicea.  These four, Polycarp wrote the beautiful letter to the church at Philippi.  We have fragments of Papias.  These I have in a volume at home.  They are some of the finest, most devout, most ably written of all the literature in the world.  Justin Martyr, born in 120 in Samaria, a Roman citizen, and Irenaeus born about 120 in Smyrna under Polycarp, these are the fathers of the church who carried on the story of the Book of the Acts beyond the days and martyrdom of the apostles.  

Then beyond Trajan was the fierce and cruel persecution under Decius. That was the first time that the entire energies of the empire were dedicated to the extirpation once and for all of the Christian faith, the fiercest the world up until then had ever known.  That was about 250.  

And then in 300 to 303 was the last persecution under Diocletian.  Diocletian’s persecution was based upon a word of a Roman jurist that is beyond anything you could ever read in human history.  Caecilius, a Roman jurist wrote as authentic in 150 AD this word, and I quote,  


An infant covered over with meal that it may deceive the unwary is placed before the neophytes, the new Christians.  This infant is slain by the young pupil with dark and secret wounds, he being urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal.  Thirstily, oh horror, they lick up its blood.  Eagerly they divide its limbs.  By this victim they are pledged together and with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted together in mutual violence. 

[from “Octavius,” Marcus Minucius Felix, c. AD 200]


And that was the universal verdict and judgment upon the Christian world upon the Christian faith in the entire Roman world.  They ate blood.  They ate human sacrifice.  They were human cannibals.  And we have heard them say “Except ye eat his flesh and drink His blood you have no life in you” [John 6:53].  And the bitterness of the Roman civilized world against these cannibals called Christians was indescribable.  One hundred forty-four thousand of them, under Diocletian were martyred in Egypt alone.  More than eight hundred thousand of them perished in the mines and other public works.  And they numbered sacrifices unto God by the uncounted hundreds of thousands. 

Then in 324, in 324 there was an affliction, there was an affliction cast upon the Christian people from which it has never survived.  In 324 AD Constantine, the emperor of the civilized world, Constantine made it the state religion.  In 325 he called together the pastors of the churches in the Council of Nicaea.  They came from the ends of the empire.  They came out of that terrible and unbelievable Diocletian persecution. 

They had their eyes gouged out.  They had their hands burnt off.  They had their tongues cut out.  They were maimed and crippled by the awful fires of the Diocletian persecution.  And Constantine came in to preside, to preside over that body of holy pastors.  He walked in, in his purple robes.  He ascended a golden throne.  And he made it the edict that there should be one religion in the Roman Empire, the religion of the state church, which was to be enforced by the power of the Roman government. 

In order to make it more palatable to the vast world of paganism, Constantine and those who worshipped with him took the embellishments and the accouterments of the pagan religion and foisted them on and amalgamated them with the religion of Jesus Christ.  So they baptized and hallowed and sanctified all the pagan images and their altars and their priests and their vestments and their rituals, and out of it they made this new state religion in the name of Christ, bowing before images, bowing before rituals, bowing before altars, bowing before priests with gorgeous vestments and lavish services.  It was a new and amazing development, forced by the power of the sword. 

And in the year about 400, Augustine who was one of the greatest intellects of all time, but descended from one colossal apostasy to the other, Augustine promulgated the doctrine that a child that died unbaptized went immediately to the fires of hell and eternity.  Such a monstrous doctrine was taken by the state, and the edict was made that every child in the empire should be baptized in order to save it from eternal damnation if it should die as an infant. 

And then Emperor Justinian finally made the final edict that every parent with their children who had been unbaptized must come immediately to be baptized or suffer the consequences of death by the sword.  And the great state church was wrought under the coercive power of the Roman government. 

In those days there was a bishop at Rome who vied for the leadership of the world.  There was a bishop from Alexandria who vied for the leadership of the world.  There was a bishop at Jerusalem who vied for the leadership of the world. There was a bishop at Antioch, there was one at Ephesus, there was one at Constantinople and all of those bishops vied for the leadership of the world under the aegis of the Roman Emperor. 

But in 632 AD there arose out of the sands of the Arabian desert a man by the name of Mohammed, and he felt called of God to destroy idolatry!  And to him idolatry was the Christian church.  They went into the house of the Lord and saw it filled with images and with idols, and Mohammed felt called of God by the sword to destroy idolatry. 

So the Mohammedan Saracen; destroyed the church in Alexandria, destroyed the church in Caesarea, destroyed the church in Jerusalem, destroyed the church in Antioch, destroyed the church in Ephesus.  And the Mohammedan Turks destroyed the church in Constantinople.  And that left the bishop of Rome unchallenged and without peer in the earth.  And thereafter, thereafter there has never been a bath of blood as is witnessed and recorded in the lives of the saints who were burned and martyred and drowned and slain under the awful persecution of those terrible and tragic days. 

I have to cease this story at this point.  I had an all together different ending to this message.  But I found at the 8:15 o’clock service I have not time to present it.  We shall begin there the next message, and we shall hear the cries of those who died.  We shall listen to their witness sealed in blood.  We shall read somewhat of what they had to say, a little fragment preserved by the Holy Spirit here, a little incident kept by the grace of God there.  These, these who kept alive and true the flaming truth of the Word of God that is never bowed, that is never burned, that is never destroyed, and that cannot die [Isaiah 40:8]. 

O Lord, as I pour through the musty pages of these old musty books, and as I read of the testimony of these martyrs, and as I listen to their cries and their pleas, as I watch the destruction of their homes and their children, I bow my head over those old books.  I close my eyes.  O God was it from such hands and was it from such sacrifice that we enjoy the incomparable blessings that enrich our lives today? 

How could we forget?  And how could we be indifferent to so great a heritage?  


The Son of God goes forth to war, 

A Kingly Crown to gain;  

His blood-red banners stream afar, 

Who follows in His train?  


A noble army, men and boy,  

The matron and the maid,  

Around the Savior’s Throne rejoice,  

In robes of light arrayed.  


They climbed the steep ascent of Heaven, 

Through peril, toil and pain; 

O God, to us may grace be given 

To follow in their train!   

[“The Son of God Goes Forth to War,“ by Reginald Heber] 


While we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you to give your heart in trust and in faith to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], a family you to come into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], one somebody, a couple somebody as God shall say the word, lead the way, open the door, make it now, make it this morning, come.  In the balcony round, there is time and to spare, come.  On the lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I give you my hand.  I give my heart to God.”  Make it now.  Make it now; while we stand and while we sing.