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Believers the Only Subjects of Baptism.


Pedobaptists are not agreed as to the reasons for baptizing infants. Some baptize them because they are holy and worthy to receive it, and others because they are sinful and need its influence. Some derive their right to the ordinance from household baptisms, and others from the Abrahamic covenant and circumcision. Many, admitting that it is not of divine authority, practice it because it is a beautiful, appropriate, and useful ceremony. We must notice some of these pleas for the rite.

Before entering on an examination of the baptized households, we must offer a few general remarks. First, then, all families do not contain children, and particularly young children. In every neighborhood, houses may be found in which there are no infants. To base a positive Christian institution on the possibility or probability?for certainty there cannot be?that there were little children in the three or four families of whose baptism we read in the Scriptures, and that these children were baptized, is quite adventurous. Statute law is specific and positive, not inferential, and surely leaves no place fur conjecture. Moreover, families are frequently spoken of in distinction from infants or without regard to them. If it is affirmed that a man has an intelligent or a pious family, nobody concludes that he has no infants in his household, or that they are intelligent or pious. The remark is naturally and universally supposed to refer to that part of the family of whom intelligence or piety may be reasonably predicated. The person who should infer from the statement that the family contained infants, and that they were distinguished for their knowledge or godliness, would prove himself to be a sophist, or something more unfortunate.

How would the baptism of households be understood by the primitive Christians? The command was to baptize disciples, and all the early baptisms, if household baptisms be excepted, were in harmony with the command. How natural, then, was it for them to understand by household baptisms the baptism of such members of the families as were capable of complying with the prescribed conditions of the ordinance?such as had been instructed, and, under the influence of instruction, had repented and believed the gospel. They could hardly have imagined that these baptisms set aside the divine law of baptism and disregarded the example of the apostles, given under circumstances of so great solemnity in Jerusalem and Caesarea. Surely nothing short of inspired testimony could have convinced them that household baptisms differed so widely from baptisms administered by the apostles under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, and on occasions of the most profound interest.

Let us now examine the household baptisms in detail, that we may see what light they shed on infant baptism. We have an account of the baptism of four households in the New Testament?those of Cornelius, Stephanas, the Jailer, and Lydia. We will notice them in the order in which we have named them.

The baptism of the family of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, is not definitely mentioned; but the fact is unquestionable. By divine direction, lie sent to Joppa for Peter, to learn what he ought to do. Cornelius waited for the apostle in Caesarea, and "called together his kinsmen and near friends" to hear him. Peter preached to them the gospel. It was the first sermon delivered to the Gentiles, and God accompanied it with an extraordinary demonstration of his favor. "The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word," and they spake "with tongues and did magnify God;" and the apostle "commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." That the family of Cornelius were all included among the converts, there is no ground to question. They would surely have been called with his other kindred to hear so important a message, under circumstances of such thrilling interest; especially as we are informed that the centurion "feared God, with all his house." This household baptism offers no support to infant baptism, but is in perfect harmony with the law of baptism and the apostolic practice on the day of Pentecost. Cornelius was the head of a family that reverenced the true God, heard the gospel, received the gift of the Holy Ghost, glorified God, and were baptized in the name of Jesus. We are decidedly in favor of the baptism of all such households (Acts 10:2, 24, 44, 46-48).

"I baptized," said Paul, "the household of Stephanas" (1 Cor. 1:16). The apostle visited Corinth about A. D. 54 or 55, where he remained "a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18:11). During this time, he baptized Stephanas and his family. In the year A. D. 59, or thereabouts, he wrote his first letter to "the church of God" in that city. In the epistle he makes special reference to the house of Stephanas. "I beseech you, brethren," said he, "(ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that ye submit yourselves unto such," &c. (1 Cor. 16:15, 16). Several points are worthy of notice in this text. The family of Stephanas were "the first fruits of Achaia." This term is applied to the regenerate. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures" (Jam. 1:18. See, also, Rev. 14:4). The word is never used, so far as we know, to denote unconscious or unregenerate infants. This family, in four or five years after their baptism, devoted "themselves to the ministry of the saints," whether in preaching the word or supplying the wants of the poor, we do not know. It was a benevolent, noble service, commended by the Spirit of inspiration. If they were infants baptized by Paul, four or five years previously, they were the most precocious children that we have read of. Nor is this all. The apostle besought the Corinthian saints, renowned throughout the world for their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:7), to "submit" themselves "unto such" as "the house of Stephanas." They were not only the benefactors of the church, but fitted to bear rule in it. They were not infants, not children; nor were they at the time of their baptism. It ought in fairness to be conceded that the baptism of the house of Stephanas yields no support to infant baptism, but lends its full weight to the exclusive baptism of believers.

We must now notice the baptism of the household of the Philippian jailer, recorded in Acts 16:24-34. Paul, divinely guided, passed for the first time into Europe, and commenced his ministrations at a Roman post called Philippi. Here several persons were converted and baptized, and a great persecution was commenced against Paul and Silas. They were arrested, scourged, and committed to the hands of the jailer, under strict charge to keep them safely. He cast them into the dungeon and made their feet fast in the stocks. They were delivered from their bondage by divine interposition, and the jailer was saved from suicide by the friendly counsel of Paul. We shall notice the narrative only so far as it relates to the point under discussion. The jailer brought Paul and Silas into his house, and "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house" (v. 32). We might infer, from the excitement and importance of the occasion, that all the jailer?s family were present; but there is no room left for conjecture. The historian tells us positively that the word was preached "to all that were in the house." What was the result of this instruction? The jailer, in the "same hour of the night, . . . was baptized, he and all his, straightway" (v. 33). That there might be no possible plea for infant baptism found in this narrative, the inspired writer adds: "He (the jailer) brought them (Paul and Silas) into his house, . . . and rejoiced, believing in God, with all his house" (v. 34). It is incomprehensible to us that any man of intelligence and candor should doubt that the jailer?s family were converts to Christianity. There is precisely the same evidence of their conversion that there is of his. Did he hear the word of the Lord? So did they. Did he believe in Christ? So did they. Was he baptized? So were they. The whole narrative corresponds with the apostolic commission and practice in Jerusalem and Caesarea. The order observed was instruction, faith, baptism. The ingenious reasoner who can derive authority for infant baptism from this narrative can find it anywhere.

Only the baptism of Lydia?s household remains to be considered (Acts 16:14, 15): "A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household," &c. Were there infants in Lydia?s family? The burden of proof lies on the advocates of pedobaptism, who would derive authority for their practice from this passage. We have shown incontrovertibly, as it seems to us, that in three baptized households there were no children, or that they were not included among the baptized. Does not this fact create a strong presumption that there were none in Lydia?s house? We will perform, however, a work of supererogation. While we cannot positively prove that Lydia had no infant children, we can show the extreme improbability that she had any. She was a dealer in purple goods, of the city of Thyatira, in the province of Asia, several hundred miles distant from Philippi. She was probably an adventurer, with no permanent home. She, it is likely, had no husband. She said to Paul and Silas, "Come into my house and abide." If she had a husband, he seems to have been of no importance in the family. If she were married, there is no proof that she had children; and if she had children, there is no evidence that they were infants or minors. Her family probably consisted of the servants and helpers in her mercantile shop. When Paul and Silas were released from prison, and forced hastily to leave the city, they "entered into the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them and departed" (v. 40). Who were these brethren in Lydia?s house? They were not infants or young children, but persons capable of receiving religious consolation and encouragement. If there were nothing to bias the mind, it would be almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that the brethren referred to were Lydia?s baptized household. If infant baptism has no better foundation than the probability that there were infants in the family of Lydia, and that they were baptized, it ought to be abandoned.

Let us test the strength of the argument drawn from the baptism of households in support of infant baptism by a parallel case. There were believing as well as baptized households. Of the nobleman of Cana it is said: "Himself believed, and his whole house" (John 4:53). We read: "Crispus the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord, with all his house" (Acts 18:8). What would we think of the acumen of a logician who should reason after this manner: We read in the Scriptures of believing families; infants are found in most families; therefore, in the apostolic times, infants believed the gospel. The conclusion is a manifest absurdity, and consequently nobody reasons in that way; but the argument is quite as logical and the inference quite as conclusive as that which attempts to deduce infant baptism from the baptism of households.

The argument in favor of infant baptism derived from household baptisms proves quite too much for those who employ it. If families are to be baptized on the faith of their parents, why should the baptisms be limited to infants? Are not adult children, as well as servants, as often found in families as infants? If families are to he baptized, why not baptize the whole of them? By what authority the ordinance limited to infants and little children? The jailer "was baptized?he and all his." If family connection is a plea for baptism, why should it not avail for adults as well as infants?

Perhaps it will be said that faith is required of adults, in order to their baptism. Certainly it is, of those who act on their own responsibility; but households, according to the Pedobaptist theory, are baptized on the faith and by the authority of the parents. If households are to be baptized in virtue of their relation to their pious heads, why should any portion of the family be excluded from the privilege? The Israelites were required to circumcise all the males in their families, free and bond, at the age of eight days; but if, from any cause, the rite was neglected, it was proper to perform it at any period of life (Gen. 17:13; Josh. 5:8). Circumcision was a family institution, and all its male members were entitled to its benefits. Baptism is supposed by the advocates of the infant rite to be a substitute for circumcision. By what plea, then, do they limit the baptism of households to the baptism of infants? That is not household baptism. It is the baptism of a part, usually a small part, and that, too, the least important part, of the family; and the discrimination, so far as we can discern, is arbitrarily made.

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