Baptists, Free-Will, a section of Baptists which commenced in North America June 30,1780. The first church was organized at New Durham, N. H., by Benjamin Randall, who in his twenty-second year was a convert of George Whitfield. In 1784 the first quarterly meeting was organized; in 1792, the first yearly meeting, consisting of delegates of the quarterly meetings. The most successful minister of this denomination was John Colby, who entered the ministry in 1809, and died in 1817. In 1827 a general conference was formed, which was at first annual, then biennial, and is now triennial, and is composed of delegates appointed by the yearly meetings. In 1841, nearly the whole body of another Baptist denomination, the Free Communion Baptists, united with them, while, on the other hand, they withdrew, a few years ago, connection from 4000 members in North Carolina on account of their being slaveholders. On the same principle, they refused to receive into the connection some 12,000 from Kentucky and vicinity, who sent deputies to the general conference for that purpose. They are Arminians, and agree in doctrine almost wholly with the New Connection of General Baptists in England, except that they are open communionists, while the English New Connection generally hold to strict communion. At the fifth general conference, held at Wilton, Me., in October, 1831, the subject of "Washing the Saints' Feet," which had produced no small excitement among this denomination, was discussed, and it was agreed that the churches of the denomination should be at full liberty to retain the ordinance or not. It is now not generally practiced, though not entirely in desuetude. The ecclesiastical bodies among Free-will Baptists are, the church, the quarterly meeting conference, the annual meeting, and the general conference. The officers in the church are two — elders and deacons. Each church elects its own pastor, and exercises discipline over its own members; but, as a church, it is accountable to the yearly meeting. Also ministers are accountable to the quarterly meetings to which they belong, and not to the churches over which they are pastors. A council from the quarterly meeting organizes churches and ordains ministers. The quarterly meetings consist of ministers and such brethren as the churches may select. The general conference meets every three years, and consists of delegates chosen from the annual conferences.
Confession of Faith.
1. The Scriptures. — The Holy Scriptures, embracing the Old and New Testaments, were given by inspiration of God, and constitute the Christian's perfect rule of faith and practice.
2. God. — There is only one true and living God, who is a spirit, self- existent, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, independent, good, wise, just, and merciful; the creator, preserver, and governor of the universe; the redeemer, savior, sanctifier, and judge of men; and the only proper object of divine worship. He exists in three persons, offices, distinctions, and relations — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which mode of existence is above the understanding of finite men.
3. Christ — The Son of God possesses all divine perfections, which is proven from his titles: true God, great God, mighty God, God over all, etc.; his attributes: eternal, unchangeable, omniscient, etc., and from his works. He is the only incarnation of the Divine Being.
4. The Holy Spirit. — He has the attributes of God ascribed to him in the Scriptures; is the sanctifier of the souls of men, and is the third person in the Godhead.
5. Creation. — God created the world and all it contains for his own glory, and the enjoyment of his creatures; and the angels, to glorify and obey him.
6. Man's Primitive State, and his Full. — Our first parents were created in the image of God, holy, and upright, and free; but, by yielding to temptation, fell from that state, find all their posterity with them, they then being in Adam's loins; and the whole human family became exposed to temporal and eternal death.
7. The Atonement. — As sin cannot be pardoned without a sacrifice, and the blood of beasts could never actually wash away sin, Christ gave himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and thus made salvation possible for all men. Through the redemption of Christ man is placed on a second state of trial; this second state so far differing from the first, that now men are naturally inclined to transgress the commands of God, and will not regain the image of God in holiness but through the atonement by the operation of the Holy Spirit. All who die short of the age of accountability are rendered sure of eternal life. Through the provisions of the atonement all are abilitated to repent of their sins and yield to God; the Gospel call is to all, the Spirit enlightens all, and men are agents capable of choosing or refusing.
8. Regeneration is an instantaneous renovation of the soul by the Spirit of God, whereby the penitent sinner, believing in and giving up all for Christ, receives new life, and becomes a child of God. This change is preceded by true conviction, repentance of and penitent sorrow for sin; it is called in Scripture being born again, born of the Spirit, passing from death unto life. The soul is then justified with God.
9. Sanctification is a setting apart the soul and body for holy service, an entire consecration of all our ransomed powers to God; believers are to strive for this with all diligence.
10. Perseverance. — As the regenerate are placed in a state of trial during life, their future obedience and final salvation are neither determined nor certain; it is, however, their duty and privilege to be steadfast in the truth, to grow in grace, persevere in holiness, and make their election sure.
11. Immediately after death men enter into a state of happiness or misery, according to their character. At some future period, known only to God, there will be a resurrection both of the righteous and the wicked, when there will be a general judgment, when all will be judged according to the deeds done in the body; the righteous be admitted into eternal happiness, and the wicked assigned to eternal misery.
12. The Church. — A Christian church is an assembly of persons who believe in Christ, and worship the true God agreeably to his word. In a more general sense, it signifies the whole body of real Christians throughout the world. The church being the body of Christ, none but the regenerate, who obey the Gospel, are its real members. Believers are received into a particular church on their giving evidence of faith, covenanting to walk according to the Christian rule, and being baptized.
13. Baptism. — Baptism is an immersion of the candidate in water, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; the only proper candidate being one who gives evidence of a change of heart.
14. Communion. — Communion is a solemn partaking of bread and wine, in commemoration of the death and sufferings of Christ. — American Christian Record.
The denomination has a printing establishment at Dover, N. H.; two colleges — Bates, at Lewiston, Me., with 48 students, and Hillsdale, Mich., with 600 students; two theological institutions — one at New Hampton, N. H., with 16 students, the other at Hillsdale, Mich., with 21 students (1867). In 1888 the following statistics were reported: Yearly meetings, 31; quarterly meetings, 147; ordained preachers, 1686, besides many licensed preachers; churches, 1942; total membership, 114,774. The Foreign Missionary Society has a mission at Orissa, India; they have also a Home Miss. Society and an Education Society. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia they have several thousand members, and a journal, the Religious Intelligencer, published at St. John's, N. B. See Stewart, History of Free-will Baptists, Dover, 1862, vol. 1, from 1780 to 1830; (Winebrenner) History of Denominations in the United States; Belcher, Religious Denominations; Cox, The Baptists (in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana); Schem, Ecclesiastical Year-book; Free-will Baptist Register.