Thirty-four years ago (1859) the Baptist Church Directory was published as an ecclesiastical manual for use among Baptists. It met with immediate and hearty approval by both pastors and members of the churches, and was welcomed at once by a large circulation. That such a book is still needed is proven by the fact that after a constant and uninterrupted use for an entire generation, it is in as great demand as ever. This, for a book of the kind, is declared by the publishers to be a case "altogether phenomenal." Since its first issue, within its field of denominational literature, probably a dozen different books treating of some departments of Baptist Church polity have appeared, had a brief run, then disappeared. The Directory, by its general plan, method of treatment, and exposition of principles, has so commended itself to the denomination as to be declared as nearly a " standard" on the subjects of which it treats, as anything short of the New Testament can be. About sixty thousand copies have been circulated in this country, while it has been translated more or less fully into at least seven different languages, by our missionaries in foreign lands, for use among the native churches. For such signal service rendered to Gospel truth and our distinctive faith, the author is devoutly thankful.
Since the first appearance of the Directory the author has published several other manuals, mostly smaller, designed to meet the needs of specific departments in our Church life, usage, and order. In all, there are now nine of these manuals, the combined circulation of which, in this country, so far as can be ascertained, is not less than one hundred and sixty thousand copies. The Standard Manual has been translated into Spanish, for use in our churches in Mexico, Cuba, and elsewhere, among Spanish speaking peoples.
The present work, though constructed on the same general plan as the Directory, is an entirely new book, much more comprehensive, and contains more than double the amount of matter. It is entirely in harmony with previous manuals, as to Baptist polity, and neither abrogates nor antagonizes any of the fundamental principles announced or advocated in those previous issues. During the past quarter of a century the author has been written to repeatedly, asking his opinion and advice as to perplexing cases in Church order and discipline, such as will frequently arise, and which no prescriptive rules can possibly anticipate. This work is intended, so far as possible, to meet such cases, by more extended explanations of general principles. The arrangement of subjects and matter is lucid, the style is plain and simple, and the arguments are believed to be convincing. The book, it is confidently expected, will commend itself to the people as a careful and sound exposition of Baptist Church polity and practice.
When the Directory was issued in 1859. American Baptists numbered less than one million Church members. Now they have about three and one half millions. Many thousands of young people, and persons from other denominations and from families without religious instruction, are yearly gathered into our churches. These recruits came among us with all the rights of franc ' e, but with little or no previous instruction as to their exercise. They need to be taught as to the nature, duties and privileges of membership in the Church of Christ if mission is to be made a blessing. . Our Church members also, both young and old, need instruction as to our distinctive principles, and the reasons for them If there be reason for the – maintenance of a distinct denominational existence, there is special urgency for the declaration and the defence of those reasons. The principles on which this. Manual is constructed are drawn from the New Testament and never in our history was there so much need of such an eposition and guide for members in our Church fellowship, as there is today. Let the necessity be recognized and met.
May the favor of our gracious Heavenly Father attend this, as it has sanctioned previous efforts in the same direction, and make it a means of furtherance to the unity, harmony, spiritual vitality and efficency of the churches, resulting in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the salvation of souls and the edification of the saints, is the sincere and prayerful desire of the writer: E. T. H.