Issac Backus is one of my spiritual heroes. He was a Baptist in America at a time when it wasn’t popular. And he is remembered today as a champion of religious freedom.
Though he suffered persecution and imprisonment, Backus was committed to religious freedom because of his belief that a person’s faith was a matter of conscience–something which no government has the right to infringe upon. In this quote, you can see the theological convictions that drove him to become such an ardent defender of religious liberty captured in only a few words:
Christ will have no pressed soldiers in his army.
The quote is short and powerful. One of the reasons Baptists believe in regenerate church membership is because we believe that faith is inherently personal, not hereditary or compulsory. No government, church, or person can compel a person to believe.
As the Apostle Paul said, faith is the free gift (Rom. 6:23). It must be freely accepted. And this is why religious freedom has been a key distinctive for Baptists throughout our history. Baptist believe that Christ calls us to faith in him as individuals, and we reject any arrangement in civil society–whether it be the church, the state, or some combination of the two–that would seek to compel or coerce a person to believe.
To do so is folly. As the quote from Backus shows, such attempts neither please Christ nor yield true conversions. And this is because the family of God is not forged through earthly power. Instead, sinners are converted through the power of the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
Government need not enforce religion; protecting religious freedom is enough. Christ will have no pressed soldiers, indeed.