committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 1

CHAPTER 5.

Believers the Only Subjects of Baptism.

 

A popular argument in support of infant baptism is drawn from the Abrahamic covenant and the rite of circumcision. It is said: God entered into covenant with Abraham, and required him to have his male children circumcised as a sign or token of the covenant; that it is still in force; that baptism, under the new dispensation, is the sign of the covenant, as circumcision formerly was; that the sign should be applied to the children of believers, as circumcision was applied to Abraham and his descendants; and that baptism should be administered to female as well as male children, because the ordinance is suited to both sexes.

Let us examine this subject. When Abram was ninety years old, God entered into a covenant with him. Among its provisions, on God?s part, Abraham was to have a numerous progeny?to be "a father of many nations;" kings were to come of him; the covenant was to be established with his seed, to be "an everlasting covenant;" the land of Canaan, in which he was a stranger, was to be given to him and to his seed "for an everlasting possession," and that God would be their God. Abram?whose name was then changed to Abraham?was, on his part, bound to walk before God and be perfect, and, in token of the covenant, to circumcise every male child, eight days old, born in his house or bought with his money (Gen. 17:1-14). This sign or seal was to be perpetuated in the family of Abraham. It was a visible, enduring mark in the flesh, testifying what God had promised to the patriarch, and what he required of him and his posterity. Is baptism a token of this covenant? Does it certify that Abraham should have a numerous progeny? that kings should descend from him? that his posterity should possess the land of Canaan? If we did not know that pious and intelligent men have insisted that baptism is a token of this covenant, we should suppose that the opinion did not come within the range of human credulity.

Let us consider this matter further, Moses incorporated circumcision among the statutes that he gave to Israel (Lev. 12:3). The rite has been observed by the descendants of Israel, in the line of Judah?that is, the Jews?down to the present time. it is maintained by them as a family distinction, and a token that they worship the God of Abraham. Is baptism a substitute for this family or national rite? The Scriptures give us no intimation of the substitution. No Jew was admitted to Christian privileges in virtue of his circumcision. There are great and irreconcilable differences between circumcision and baptism. Their subjects are different. Circumcision was administered only to the male descendants of Abraham and to the male slaves born in their families or bought with their money; baptism was administered to penitent believers, of all nations and of both sexes. The time of their administration differed. Circumcision was administered to infants, by express command, when eight days old; baptism was administered to its subjects at any age and when convenience permitted (Acts 8:36, 38). Circumcision was administered, not officially by priests, but by parents or masters; baptism was administered, not by parents, but by apostles or ministers of the gospel. No moral quality was required in order to circumcision (Josh. 5:1, 2); repentance and faith were the invariable prerequisites of baptism (Matthew 3:7, 9). The design of the two rites was entirely different. Circumcision was a token in the flesh of the covenant in which God promised to Abraham and his posterity both temporal and spiritual blessings, on condition of their devotion to his service; baptism is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ and of the remission of sins (Rom. 6:4; Acts 22:16). In short, circumcision belonged to the ceremonial dispensation, and passed away with its various sacrifices and bloody rites; and baptism is a gospel ordinance, to be perpetuated to the end of time (Matthew 28:19, 20).

That there may be resemblances traced between circumcision and baptism, need not be denied. There are not two things in nature which do not bear a likeness to each other. There are no two rites in all the systems of religion,, true or false, which do not have a resemblance to each other. But what of that? Water and fire resemble each other; but one cannot be substituted for the other. Various resemblances may be pointed out between circumcision and baptism; but the latter differs so widely from the former in all its essential characteristics that, to infer the subjects of baptism from those of circumcision, is illogical and fallacious.

The onus probandi lies on those who affirm that baptism is a substitute for circumcision. We are not required to prove a negative. We will, however, in this case, come as near to doing it as possible to miss it. No subject caused the early churches so much perplexity and trouble as the introduction of Gentile converts into them without circumcision. The Jewish Christians were very zealous in support of the rite. They had received it from the fathers, it was incorporated among their national ceremonies, and was held in the highest estimation by all the Israelites. The introduction of Gentiles into the churches without this sacred and venerated rite seemed to these Jewish Christians to be a desecration and an outrage. They taught that, except men were circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved. Repentance, faith, baptism, holy lives, could avail them nothing, without circumcision. There was dissension and disputation among the brethren on this subject. A council was called in the city of Jerusalem to consider the matter and give their opinion concerning it, for the guidance of the churches. The convention consisted of the apostles, and elders, and the whole church. The believing Pharisees maintained "that it was needful to circumcise" the Gentile converts, "and to command them to keep the law of Moses." The subject underwent a full discussion, in which Peter (the apostle, not Pope), Barnabas, Paul, and James participated. The council reached the conclusion that circumcision was not obligatory on Gentile believers. It was a burden which God had not laid upon them.

The discussion and the decision of the council contained not the slightest reference to the substitution of baptism for circumcision. We will not affirm that, admitting the substitution was divinely required, it was impossible that the discussion should have occurred without an allusion to it. We know not the limit of possibilities. We will, however, say that, under the circumstances, it seems to us extremely improbable, conceding the divine authority of the substitution, that it was not mentioned as an important element in the settlement of the matter. Consider the facts of the case. The question was whether it was necessary to circumcise the Gentile converts. They had been baptized, and, if baptism was a substitute for circumcision, they had been virtually circumcised. This explanation would have satisfied the Gentiles, and, at least, have silenced the Pharisees. Indeed, it was absolutely necessary to an understanding of the matter in debate. is it reasonable to suppose, does it come within the scope of credibility, that Peter and Barnabas, Paul and James, should have publicly discussed this perplexing subject without the slightest reference to the principle that would have freed it from all difficulty? We do not believe that they did. The matter is all plain when we suppose that the council, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, knew nothing of the substitution of baptism for circumcision. They could not have learned it from the Scriptures, and, if they learned it from direct inspiration, they failed to record it for the benefit of future generations.

Several passages of Scripture have been quoted in support of infant baptism, which we need not examine. A careful attention to their contexts will show their irrelevancy to the subject; or an examination of the comments of candid and learned Pedobaptists will usually disclose the same truth. These texts do not mention infant baptism, or refer to it, or reveal any principle which can logically lead to it.

Infant baptism seems to be a harmless rite. It appeals strongly to parental affection, is invested with poetic charms, and refers for its support to a venerable antiquity, and to the number, learning, and respectability of its advocates. What harm, it is asked, can a rite so simple, appropriate, and beautiful do to the child or its parents? The influence of pedobaptism, in this country, has been greatly modified by the prevalence of Baptist views. in many places and some religious sects it has fallen greatly into desuetude. If the rite is not neglected, it is observed as an empty ceremony. It has no regenerating and no sin-cleansing efficacy. In four-fifths of the Christian world, however, infant baptism is viewed in a very different light. It is held and practiced as a regenerating, sin-purifying ordinance. This doctrine is taught without equivocation and without reservation. Infants, born in sin, are supposed to be renewed in nature and delivered from guilt by the application of a few drops of water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by a duly qualified priest, or, in cases of necessity, by parents, physicians, or nurses. The regenerated child is made a member of the mystical body of Christ and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. He grows up in the church. His membership is perpetuated by the rite of confirmation.

To this system we have grave and weighty objections. It finds no countenance in the oracles of God. We read, indeed, in a book containing many excellent truths and precepts, that by baptism infants are regenerated, made members of the mystical body of Christ, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven; but we find no such teaching in the Scriptures. The tendency of this doctrine has been, in all ages and in all countries, to obliterate the distinction between the church and the world. In almost every land where pedobaptism has enjoyed uncontrolled sway, the limits of the church and the world have been coextensive. All the infidelity, corruption, and blasphemy of the people have been within the church. Its discipline has been overthrown, or exercised only in regard to those who have questioned its authority. The Romish and Grecian hierarchies, wherever they have been established, have confirmed these statements; and Protestant hierarchies, though restrained by the influence of dissent in their tendency, have quite clearly exemplified the same remarks.

The influence of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is even worse on individuals than on communities. Persons who grow up under the persuasion that they are regenerated, children of God, and inheritors of his kingdom, are laboring under a perilous delusion. They misconceive the plan of human redemption. They cherish a hope that neither Scripture nor reason can sanction. They vainly imagine that they have some claim to divine mercy, some advantages for securing salvation, that others have not. Will not this persuasion inevitably beget a false peace, inspire a deceptive hope, and tend to prevent repentance unto life? Parents, too, must have less solicitude for the salvation of their children, as they have been placed within the limit of the covenant and made heirs of the heavenly kingdom.

 
 
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