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BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 3

CHAPTER 2.

Why I Became A Baptist.

BY MADISON C. PETERS, D. D., OF NEW YORK.

 

[In the year 1900, Dr. Madison C. Peters, of New York, one of the most popular and prominent Pedobaptist preachers in that great city, resigned his flourishing pastorate and announced his purpose to unite with the Baptists. This he promptly did, and was duly baptized by Dr. R. S. MacArthur. Shortly afterwards, a representative of the Religious Herald sought him out and secured from him the following interview, which was printed in the Herald of June 7, 1900. As setting forth the views and opinions of a trained Pedobaptist preacher on whom the light has broken, the paper is of unique and remarkable value. ?R. H. Pitt.]

Question: How long were you in the Presbyterian and Reformed ministry?

Answer: I entered the ministry of the Reformed church in Indiana when twenty years of age, preaching in both the English and German languages. After two years, I concluded that I could be more useful if I gave myself to preaching to an entirely English congregation. I determined, therefore, to leave a church of over 1,000 members, and entered the Presbyterian ministry at Terre Haute, Ind., starting a new enterprise in an abandoned Methodist church. I may say that going from the Reformed to the Presbyterian church can hardly be called a denominational change, as in all matters of faith and practice they are essentially one, and ministers transfer from one to the other as though they were one and the same. In about six months we had perfected an organization, known as the Greenwood Presbyterian church, now known as the Washington Avenue Presbyterian church. I came to this church as a "supply," and when the organization was complete and the church ready to call a minister, feeling that I might be more useful somewhere else, Rev. Thomas Parry, now of Pittsburgh, called my attention to the Presbyterian church at Ottawa, Ill., a church which had been closed for several years, and which had long been considered a forlorn hope. The very desperateness of the condition attracted me. There were just twenty-seven people left in the membership, and these seemed only too glad to give me a chance. I shall never forget the look on Mr. S. S. Scott's face, the elder of the church, and one of the leading merchants of the city. My enthusiasm seemed to take his breath away. I began to preach, after the steps of the church, which had rotted away, were repaired. The. city had a population of about 10,000. I at once began a systematic canvass of the town, and before long I had shaken hands with nearly all the men and women in the town, and was on good terms with the babies. The audiences began to gather, and during the fifteen months of my ministry 143 joined the church. One of my printed sermons fell into the hands of an old minister in Philadelphia, who handed it to one of the elders of the old First Northern Liberties Presbyterian church, Philadelphia. An invitation to preach followed. A call was extended. This old down-town church had long been given up as a forlorn hope. Hotels, boarding-houses, schools, and colleges abounded in the neighborhood. I studied by day and visited by night. The crowds began to gather, and before long I was compelled to preach to overflowing meetings in the basement. Five hundred joined the church in five years. At twenty-nine, I received a call to the Bloomingdale Reformed church, Broadway and Sixty-eighth street, New York. This church had been in the slough of despond. A congregational meeting was called to elect a minister. Eleven gathered, and I am pleased to say that I received all the eleven votes. Inherited wealth enabled a small congregation to build one of the handsomest church edifices in this city, with a fifty-feet-front parsonage adjoining on Broadway.

Question: What was the character of the congregation you gathered in New York?

Answer: The Reformed church in New York has a small constituency. She has enormous wealth in what is known as the Collegiate church. I found, after a thorough canvass of my section of the city, that there were not more than two or three families who were Dutch Reformed, either by birth or education. To build up a church along denominational lines wan, therefore, out of the question. Beginning with sixty-four members, composed of various denominations, a congregation of less than 100, and a Sunday school of twenty-one, I had at the time of my resignation a communicant membership of 600, a Sunday school of 650, and a congregation crowding our large auditorium. For no one thing am I more grateful than that I was permitted to bring God's truth to such various minds and souls as constantly gathered to hear me. My membership was composed of eleven different denominations of Protestants, while scores of Jews and Catholics were in constant attendance upon my ministry.

Question: What led you to become interested in the matter of "infant baptism"?

Answer: The superstitious regard with which Pedobaptists hold infant baptism was always repulsive to me. That repulsiveness grew until I became filled with insufferable disgust. In eleven years in New York, I never preached on baptism, and practiced infant baptism in public ones, only. I never did

and I know very few Presbyterian ministers who do

use the prescribed form, which declares that baptism is not only a "sign," but a "seed of engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins." "The Reformed church declares that the christened baby is "sanctified in Christ."

Question: What is the basis of the remark sometimes made that there are many ministers, not Baptists, who do not believe in infant baptism?

Answer: For fully three months before I became a Baptist I talked with scores of my brethren on infant baptism, and nearly all of them declared that they looked upon it as a dedication, a consecration of both the child and the parents. I believe that the majority of baby-sprinklers do not in their hearts consider it baptism; very few, except the Episcopalians, use the prescribed form.

Question: Is infant baptism lessening its hold on the minds of persons not connected with Baptist churches?

Answer: Infant baptism is undoubtedly dying out among intelligent Christians. It is now practiced almost exclusively by the ignorant and superstitious. I have had women to drag their weary frames to my house hundreds of times, with babes from ten to fourteen days old, "to get them christened," for "fear they wouldn't have any luck." It may not be known that "baby-christening" is a source of revenue. Many German preachers derive a large part of their income from "infant baptism." It may be that Pedobaptist preachers fight so hard against "infant baptism" dying out because "it pays."

Question: Did you have any experiences in connection with infant baptism which produced a crisis in your attitude towards it?

Answer: About two years ago, one of my Episcopalian parishioners asked me to "baptize" her baby, and requested that I use the Episcopal service. When I got to that part in the Book of Common Prayer which reads, "Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ?s church," I began to sweat. I stood condemned a hypocrite and liar. I knew different; every sensible man does. I was handed a splendid fee for the performance of the "rite," as is the custom. I went home feeling that the whole thing was a farce, a fraud perpetrated on am innocent babe. Infant baptism got its death knell with me on that day.

Question: Why did it take so long for you to reach your present convictions?

Answer: There is a difference between a man having a conviction and the conviction having the man.

Question: What does it cost a man in his feelings and prospects and ideals to make such a change?

Answer: I can assure you it is not a comfortable position to take, in which you not only confess to thousands, who have for eleven years believed all you told them about divine things, that yon have been wrong ail your life, and also pronounce thereby an unwilling judgment upon others, who remain where you have been. I had a happy pastorate

a people whose kindly counsel and generous support made my work among them delightful. It was a position of power and influence, and, taken all in all, one which ought to have filled the cup of any man's ambition. I had a life position, a palatial home, a good salary, and perquisites galore. For months I passed sleepless nights, debating whether I should stand by people who for eleven years had stood by me, and go on smothering my convictions, or be an honest man and preach what I could practice and practice what I could preach, and, though the saddest day of my life, it was the happiest, when I made answer of "a good conscience toward God;" resigned my church, and went down into the baptismal waters and was baptized in Christ's appointed way. And now at forty, I start life over again, ready to begin once more at the bottom.

Question: What were the Scripture reasons for rejecting "infant baptism"?

Answer: I am glad you say "Scripture reasons" for "rejecting," as there are none for practicing "infant baptism." Our Lord baptized disciples. He blessed babies. The Lord's great commission enjoins baptism only on those who believe. Peter baptized those who "gladly received his word." The Samaritans were baptized "when they believed." It was when the Ethiopian could say that he "believed in Christ with all his heart" that he was baptized. Not until Paul had been "filled with the Holy Ghost" was he baptized. It was not until they were "taught" and "believed" and "received the Holy Ghost" that Cornelius and his friends were baptized. It was when Crispus and his house "believed in the Lord" that they were baptized. Paul tells us that those only are fit subjects for baptism who are ready to bury the old sinful life and lead a new and holy life. Peter tells us that baptism is "the answer of a good conscience towards God." On all occasions in the New Testament the apostles required repentance before baptism. There is not a single instance in the New Testament but baptism was a matter of choice by those who were baptized.

Question: How do you get around the households mentioned in Scripture as having been baptized?

Answer: 1. That of the Philippian jailer; but to his household the word was first spoken, and all of them, we are told, were believing in God. 2. That of Stephanus, of whose household it is said that they "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints." 3. That of Lydia. To prove infant baptism by Lydia and her household, you must prove three things: (1) That Lydia had a husband; (2) that she had children; (3) that the children were babies. It would seem from the story that Lydia was a single woman at the head of a household, and her household were her servants, who helped her in the dyeing business. I rejected infant baptism because it was unscriptural, because it implies a libel on God

it implies that baptism is a saving ordinance, and most people who have their babies baptized, it they do not believe in the horrible doctrine of infant damnation, yet secretly fear that without "baptism" their darling babe might be lost. "Infant baptism" nourishes the idea in people that something has been performed towards their salvation, and that somehow they will be saved because they are within the church.

 
 
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