BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET
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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