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Believers the Only Subjects of Baptism.


If, as we have shown, the churches of Christ were composed exclusively of believers who had been voluntarily baptized, we may reasonably expect to find the ordinance restricted to believers. Our knowledge on the subject must be derived wholly from the New Testament. As the rite is peculiar to the new dispensation, the Scriptures of the Old Testament contain no allusion to it. Let us come, then, to the common version of the New Testament, and examine it honestly and carefully, that we may learn what it teaches concerning the subjects of baptism.

That the baptism of John was restricted to the penitent is, so far as we know, unquestioned. "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." In our opinion, the differences between the baptism of John and that of the apostles, after the ascension of Jesus, were circumstantial, and not fundamental. The discussion of this question, however, would lead us too far from our purpose, and it is not necessary for its accomplishment. We have introduced the subject to make a single remark. If John?s baptism and the baptism of Christ?s disciples, before his crucifixion, were limited to penitent believers, and the apostolic baptism, after his resurrection from the dead, was extended to the unconverted children of baptized believers, is it not strange and inexplicable that so radical a change should have taken place in the administration of the ordinance without any distinct mention of it, or even a slight reference to it? If there was no such change, the omission is easily understood.

Baptism is a positive or legal institution. It is of no obligation except from the divine will, and as that will is revealed to us. The question concerning it should be?not, What thinkest thou? but, How readest thou? It is what God wills it to be?nothing more and nothing less. Let us turn, then, to the law of Christian baptism? (Matthew 28:19, 20): "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." All positive laws must be strictly construed. The command to make disciples and baptize them differs widely from the command to baptize persons and then make disciples of them. How did the apostles understand their grand commission? "Teach all nations, baptizing them"?not nations in the gross, good, bad, and indifferent, but the taught, disciples; "teaching them"?the baptized disciples?"to observe all things," &c. This was the plain construction of the language. How would the training of the apostles lead them to understand it? They were not ignorant on the subject of baptism. They had attended on the ministrations of John and seen that his baptisms were limited penitents, who brought forth the fruits of repentance. Some of them certainly, probably all of them, had received baptism at his hands (John 1:37, 40). They and their fellow-laborers had baptized more disciples than John. They knew nothing of any baptism except the baptism of disciples. How is it possible, then, that they should have understood their commission except in its plain sense? it changed the formula, but not the subjects of the rite!

The interpretation which the apostles put on the language of their commission we may learn clearly and certainly from their practice. They proceeded, in a few days, under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the execution of their sacred trust. On the day of Pentecost?the most memorable day in the history of Christian churches?only those were baptized who "gladly received his (Peter?s) word"; that is, who heartily embraced the gospel (Acts 2:41).

In every subsequent account of the administration of baptism (except in the cases of household baptisms, which will receive timely consideration), it is clear that the rite was limited to believers. Philip was the first evangelist who carried the Gospel beyond the limits of Judea. He went down to Samaria and preached Christ with great success. "The people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake." "There was great joy in that city" Now surely we shall learn how the Apostles and their fellow-disciples understood the law of baptism. The evangelist followed the example of the pentecostian laborers. "When they (the Samaritans) believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12).

It is not necessary to mention at length the baptism of the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:36-38), of Saul of Tarsus (9:18), of Cornelius and his friends, the first Gentile converts (10:47), and the Corinthians (18:8), who, according to the terms of the commission and the practice of the apostles, before and after the resurrection of Jesus, were all baptized after they were made disciples.

We will close this argument with the statement of an interesting event illustrative of it. Rev. Luther Rice was one of the most clear-headed men that we have ever known. He was sent by the Congregationalists as a missionary to India. It was his lot to make the voyage in company with two English Baptist missionaries. With one of them, a man of some learning and acuteness, he frequently discussed the subject of baptism. Rice found no difficulty in replying to his arguments, and took great pleasure in perplexing him by questions. One evening, at the close of a protracted discussion, the other Baptist missionary, a plain, sensible man, who had listened silently to the debate, said: "If a man had never heard of infant baptism, he might read through the New Testament without ever thinking of it." Rice hastily thought of the Scriptures relating to baptism, but felt a little disconcerted at his inability to remember a text that certainly had reference to the practice. The remark haunted him. He resolved to examine the Scriptures more carefully on the subject. The more he searched them, the more painfully he was convinced of their silence concerning infant baptism. He had no doubt but that they taught it; but just where or how he could not perceive. He had great confidence in the learning and astuteness of Judson, who had preceded him in the voyage to India. He resolved to postpone the investigation of the subject until he could have the aid of his able fellow-missionary.

On reaching his destination and meeting Judson, he proceeded at length and very carefully to state his difficulties regarding infant baptism. Judson, having heard him patiently, quietly replied that his objections were unanswerable. Rice was confounded at the concession, and greatly grieved to find that .Judson was on the point of being immersed on a profession of his faith.

Rice resolved at once to dismiss the subject from his mind. He had been sent out by the Congregationalists, and was dependent on them for support. His defection would hinder the success of the mission, or might even destroy it. Whatever might be true in regard to baptism, it would be unwise to pursue a course fraught with so many evil consequences. Thus he reasoned; but his conscience was truer than his head. Meditation and prayer brought him to the conclusion that it is better to please God than men, and that the way to be useful is to do right. So soon as he was willing to follow the convictions of his conscience, his doubts and difficulties were all dissipated. The path of duty was straight and plain before him. He was baptized, returned to the United States, awakened the Baptist denomination on the subject of missions and of education, and contributed more than any man, dead or living, to their prosperity, growth, influence, and usefulness.

Let us not lose sight of the argument in our interest in the story. If infant baptism is a divine ordinance, it is obligatory on all Christian parents. The Scriptures were written for their instruction in righteousness. Is it not strange that they should contain no clear information concerning the rite? The duty of the Israelitish parents to circumcise their children, and of all believers to be baptized, is plain enough?a child may see it written as with a sunbeam; but the duty of parents to have their children baptized can be found only by diligent search and ingenious interpretations of Scripture, and multitudes cannot find it at all.

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