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Book Review: Compendium of Baptist History

J. A. Shackelford 1892
Click the following link to order: Local Church Bible Publishers

J. A. Shackelford, in his 316 page summary of the history and general principles of the Baptists and their persecutors, provides a great reference work which may be used by the “ordinary reader” to “take the place of many volumes to which” he does not have usual access. The book is an “easy read” and, therefore, a great resource for one who does not have the time to pour over the vast amount of historical material needed to prepare one to “meet and vanquish the adversaries of truth.” The reviewer has done, and continues to do, considerable reading and research into the matters dealt with in the book, and finds that Mr. Shackelford is accurate in his very astute and well organized presentation of historical facts.

This book shows the state of Christianity and the character of the clergy when State and church are combined. An integral part of that story is the history of the martyrs. These martyrs preferred death at the stake, being burned alive, drowned, imprisoned, unspeakable torture, poverty or any other evil which could be imagined and administered against them rather than life at the price of their religious liberty. It is estimated 50 million were slaughtered by Catholics since Catholicism came into existence, an average of nearly 40,000 a year (at the time of the publication of this book).

Beginning with the infant churches in the New Testament, the author traces the history of those churches who, by principle, can be classified as New Testament (“Baptist”) churches and the persecutions they endured. They were not always called “Baptist,” but their main principles were always consistent with the literal teachings of the Bible. Mr. Shackelford gives examples of how careful historic Baptists, unlike many of their modern descendants, have always been to guard against any irregularities, and to keep the ordinances as they were first delivered to the church. These historic churches would never have permitted the extreme biblical irregularities in church ordinances and doctrines which are common in most contemporary “Fundamental” Baptist churches. For example, variations from the scriptural teachings on baptism and the Lord’s supper and the ordination of pastors were not practiced or tolerated, nor was any form of union of church and state.

Or course, to be complete, this history includes the history of the accompanying heresies within the churches. Heresies came early and the apostles learned that untiring vigilance is necessary to preserve the churches in purity of doctrine and discipline. Mr. Shackelford traces the history from the beginning of, the principle players in, and the reasons for those heresies. Of course, as Mr. Shackelford explains, the ultimate heresies which were developed by the Catholic church resulted in what were so-called “Christians” torturing and killing other Christians in their unsuccessful attempts to stamp out all vestiges of what they deemed to be heresies and the practice thereof. “Our enemies have, for us, preserved our history …, and it can be traced only by the blood-stained footprints of a people of whom ‘the world is not worthy’” (p. 183; all quotes are from the book). The brutal outrages described pierce the heart of anyone whose conscience has not been seared, but they were authorized by the highest authority of the Catholic church, honored by all therein, and carried out by a cold hearted civil authority, for the most part. They were done in the name of Christianity, and by the authority of the [Catholic “church” and the popes] (185). This history is masterfully summarized in this book.

Sadly, most fundamental Baptists are ignorant of their history and the importance of knowing it. “If anyone thinks that such acts of cruelty should not be recorded upon the pages of history, let him remember that only in this way can the people be educated, and that in religious, as well as political matters, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’” (188). History repeats itself, and it is the boast of Rome that she never changes. The Catholics have declared their purpose, when they come into power, to put religious liberty to an end in this country. Should they ever possess the power, scenes like those here recorded will be repeated. Let the alarm be sounded now, and let the people watch with a jealous eye for every encroachment upon their religious privileges” (188; see also, 192-3).


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