CHRISTIANITY is preeminently a spiritual religion. Its germination and growth in the heart are dependent upon the influence of the Holy Ghost. The external means of grace possess no intrinsic efficacy, but derive their tendency to confirm and strengthen the saints solely from the appointment of God. None of them are invested with the agency of an opus operatum, a power to convey grace by their inherent efficiency. This is particularly true of the Christian ordinances. They sustain no direct relation to the salvation of the soul; since the great transformation of character which is necessary to qualify for the bliss of heaven, must have been experienced before an individual is prepared to receive them. They are not saving ordinances; they can be approached by those only who are among the number of "such as shall be saved."
The New Testament contains traces of only two Christian ordinances. These are Baptism and the Lord?s Supper. Of the two, the latter alone is strictly a Church ordinance. A Church is composed of baptized believers. Baptism is indispensable to their admission into it, but it does not make them Church members. The ordinance itself will now claim our attention.
In the prosecution of this inquiry, it will be necessary to determine what is baptism, and who are the subjects of the ordinance.
I. To a devout mind, it cannot be a matter of trivial interest, that the ordinances of the gospel not only derive their validity from the appointment of the great Head of the Church, but are hallowed and commended to our imitation by his own example. It would seem, therefore, that the sole object of a conscientious inquirer, would be to ascertain what was the form of the ordinance which was sanctioned by Christ himself. This having been determined, no other inquiries need supervene. The path of duty is plain. Having clearly discerned the footprints of his divine Exemplar, the Christian should wait for no additional incentives to "follow his steps." That Christ was baptized only in one way, is an obvious inference from the fact that he was baptized only once. This way it is important to ascertain. A serious and careful examination of the subject is demanded by the highest considerations; and the temper of indifference which passes it over as a matter of little moment, can claim no fellowship with the spirit of Him who has taught us by his own example, to "fulfil all righteousness.??
There is another aspect of this subject which claims our most profound consideration. Baptism is a positive institution. "Moral precepts," says Bishop Butler,169 "are precepts, the reason of which we see; positive precepts, are precepts, the reason of which we do not see. Moral duties arise out of the nature of the case itself, prior to external command; positive duties do not arise out of the nature of the case, but from external command; nor would they be duties at all, were it not for such command, received from Him whose creatures and subjects we are." The obligation to obedience, in either case, is the same; but the grounds upon which it rests are different. It is, moreover, the peculiarity of a moral precept, that it may be obeyed, when only the spirit of it is complied with. But in reference to a positive precept, no such distinction exists. Positive institutions derive their validity solely from the authority of the law-giver. They are obligatory, because he has made them so; and they are valid only in the form in which he has thought fit to appoint them. To mutilate or abridge them, is not simply to modify, but to subvert them.
If, therefore, the ordinance of baptism is a positive institution, resting upon the supreme will of the Head of the Church, and that will is expressed in positive commands, the obligation to a strict compliance with them cannot be denied. To alter the ordinance, or substitute any thing else in its place, is not to obey the command of Christ; and such a procedure involves either a reflection upon his wisdom, or a contempt of his authority. It is universally conceded, that the use of water is essential to Christian baptism. Immersion in any other liquid, although impregnated with the costliest perfumes, and rolling, like the fabled Pactolus, over a bed of gold, would not be Christian baptism. But in a positive ordinance, such as this, we have as little right to change one part as another, to determine the quantity as the quality of the liquid to be employed in its administration. It is manifest, therefore, that there cannot be several modes of baptism. Baptism is itself a mode; the word defines the ordinance; and in making a profession of religion, the use of water in any other mode than immersion, is a counterfeit of man?s devising, and not a Christian institution.170
That immersion alone is baptism, is proved,
1. By the primary and ordinary meaning of the term. The founder of a system of religion, in communicating it to mankind, would doubtless select a medium of communication sufficiently clear and explicit to convey his meaning to those for whom that system was designed; and as the Greek language is the chosen medium for the communication of the Christian revelation, it is proper to inquire whether, upon the supposition that immersion is baptism, this language contains a word that conveys distinctly and clearly that meaning. The copiousness of the Greek tongue, and its wonderful adaptation to the expression of the minutest shades of thought, have often excited the admiration of the scholar. It would, therefore, be exceedingly strange if it lacked a term for the expression of so simple an idea as immersion. This, however, is not the fact.
There is a Greek verb, the primary and usual import of which, is to dip or immerse; and the corresponding noun signifies immersion. Of this fact we have evidence the most abundant and conclusive. I proceed to adduce some portion of it, confining myself to those who are not baptists in practice.
Robinson Lex. N. T. Baptizo, to immerse, to sink.
Donnegan Greek Lex. Baptizo, to immerse, submerge.
To the same effect is the testimony of Leigh, Schoettgen, Parkhurst, Stephanus, Pasor, Scapula, Hedericus, Wall, Bretschneider, and other Greek lexicographers.
Booth and other writers have collected together a cloud of witnesses on this point. I shall cite only a few of them, adding some others which I have met with in my own reading.
Witsius. It cannot be denied that the native signification of the word baptizo, is to plunge or dip. Econ. Foed. IV.: 16, 13.
Salmasius. Baptism is immersion, and was administered, in ancient times, according to the force and meaning of the word. Now it is only rhantism, or sprinkling; not immersion, or dipping.
Prof. Stuart. Bapto and baptizo, mean to dip, plunge, or immerge, into any thing liquid. All lexicographers and critics of any note agree in this. Bibl. Repos. 3; p. 298.
Gomar. Baptismos and baptisma, signify the act of baptizing; that is, either plunging alone, or immersion and the consequent washing.
Buddeus. The words baptizo and baptismos, are not to be interpreted of aspersion, but always of immersion.
Vitringa. The act of baptising, is the immersion of believers in water. This expresses the force of the word.
Hospinian. Christ commanded us to be baptized; by which word it is certain immersion is signified.
Casaubon. This was the rite of baptizing, that persons were plunged into the water, which the very word baptize signifies.
Bossuet. To baptize, signifies to plunge, as is granted by all the world.
Turretin. Baptizo, to baptize; to dip into, to immerse.171
Bland. The metaphor of baptism, or immersion in water, or being put under floods, is familiar in Scripture, to signify a person overwhelmed with calamities. Annot. on Matt. I.; p. 43. Cambridge. 1828.
Elsley. Immersion in waters, or under floods; called here (Matt. 20: 22) baptism. Annot. p. 193. Oxford. 1844.
It is thus apparent, that the primary and ordinary meaning of baptizo, is to immerse. This being the case, the burden of proof is shifted upon those who affirm that it means something else; since it is an acknowledged principle of interpretation, as laid down by Ernesti, that "the literal meaning is not to be deserted without reason or necessity." This necessity must be plain and imperative; and even if cases could be cited in which the word, in its secondary meaning, is susceptible of a different interpretation, this fact would not invalidate the evidence which sustains its primary and usual import. This remark is peculiarly applicable to those cases in which the word is employed in a figurative sense. The figure is to be explained by the meaning of the word, and not the meaning of the word by the figure.172
But the advocates of immersion take a higher position than is implied in the suppositions which have just been made. Dr. Carson has proved by an array of facts and a conclusiveness of argument, not to be resisted, that "baptizo not only signifies to dip or immerse, but that it never has any other meaning."173 In this position he is sustained by Prof. Stuart.174
2. Circumstances attending Baptism.
A consideration of the circumstances attending the administration of this ordinance, confirms the opinion which has been expressed with respect to the import of baptizo. They are such as comport most naturally and fully with the idea of immersion. No necessity exists for departing from the original and proper meaning of the word. Let us consider some of them.
Matt. 3: 16. Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water. The most obvious import of the phrase here employed is, that Jesus came up out of the water into which he had descended for the purpose of being baptized.
John 3: 23. John was baptizing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came and were baptized.
That the phrase "much water," is equivalent to an abundance, or large body of water, and not to many rivulets, is evident from the usage of John, in other portions of his writings. Examine Rev. 1: 15; 14: 2; 19: 6. It is obvious, that in these passages the sacred writer had reference to an abundant mass of water. Compare Rev. 17: 1, 15. On this point, a learned Episcopalian remarks, "That the baptism of John was by plunging the body, seems to appear from what is related of him; namely, that he baptized in Jordan: that he baptized in Enon, because there was much water there; and that Christ being baptized came up out of the water; to which that seems to be parallel. Acts 8: 38. Philip and the eunuch went down, &c."175
The case of the Ethiopian eunuch is equally decisive, in reference to the external act of baptism. Acts 8: 36-39. "They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch." For what purpose Philip went down into the water, unless to immerse the eunuch, it does not appear. The obvious and natural interpretation of the entire transaction coincides with the idea of immersion.
I might proceed to the examination of all the cases in the New Testament, in which the circumstances attending the rite are detailed. But it is not necessary. If baptizo means to immerse, and is never used in any other sense, an actual immersion must have taken place in all the cases in reference to which it is used. I have cited the instances above, merely to show that the circumstances connected with the rite, harmonize most naturally and clearly with the meaning which is invariably ascribed to the word by the highest authorities in Greek philology and criticism. For a more extensive discussion of the subject, the reader is referred to the works mentioned in the margin.176
3. By the meaning of the ordinance.
Baptism is symbolical. It is expressive of certain great facts or truths which are essential to the Christian system; and so beautifully and appropriately does it represent the sublime central fact of our religion, the resurrection of the Redeemer, and its cardinal doctrine, the spiritual renovation of man, that even in the absence of any inspired teaching on the subject, the mind would naturally associate it with these fundamental truths. But the Scriptures have not left us to conjecture on this point. They furnish plain and explicit intimations that such is the design of this significant hieroglyphic of the Christian economy. They teach us that baptism is an emblem of the resurrection of Christ, involving, of course, its immediate antecedents, his death and burial; and of that moral death and resurrection which defines the character of his true followers. This is clearly the import of Rom. 6: 4; Col. 2: 12; 1 Pet. 3: 21.
A few modern interpreters, among whom are Hodge and Stuart, deny that there is any allusion to the external act of baptism in Rom. 6: 4; but in this they are at variance with the great body of commentators, as well as with the manifest import of the passage itself.
Macknight. He [Christ] submitted to be baptized, that is, to be buried under the water by John, and to be raised out of it again, as an emblem of his future death and resurrection. In like manner, the baptism of believers is emblematical of their death, burial, and resurrection.
Bloomfield. There is a plain allusion to the ancient custom of baptism by immersion.
Leighton. Where the dipping into the water is referred to, as representing our dying with Christ and the return thence, as expressive of our rising with him. Comm. on 1 Pet. 3: 21.
Hammond. It is a thing that every Christian knows, that the immersion in baptism refers to the death of Christ. The putting of the person into the water, denotes and proclaims the death and burial of Christ.
Hoadlay. If baptism had been then performed as it is now amongst us, [the Church of England] we should never have so much as heard of this form of expression, of dying and rising again in this rite.177
The practice of immersion is commended to the disciples of Christ, by the symbolical exhibition which it makes of his own sublime and consummating act of grace. With inarticulate, yet expressive and touching power, it speaks of Him "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." It is sad to reflect that Christian hands have mutilated and disfigured this beautiful ordinance, and deprived it of its emblematic import; so that in our efforts to reinstate it in its original honor, and restore it to its primitive form, we have to contend, not with the enemies, but the friends of our common Lord. I would ask every pious, unimmersed reader who may peruse these pages, to pause, and ask himself, whether he is not lending his influence to overthrow one of the most significant monuments of the Saviour?s resurrection. If immersion be emblematic of a truth so dear to the believer; if it so truthfully represents his own "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost," shed on him "abundantly by Jesus Christ, our Saviour;" and if, moreover, as Dr. Wall concedes, "it was, in all probability, the way by which our blessed Saviour, and for certain was the most usual and ordinary way by which the ancient Christians did receive their baptism," what should prevent all the friends of Christ from uniting their suffrages in its behalf, and combining to uphold and perpetuate this noble institution of our common Christianity? It affords matter of devout gratitude to God, that recent events present cheering indications of a return to scriptural baptism. The affusion of adults has become an exceedingly rare occurrence; they almost invariably demand immersion; and if infant baptism?which, by forestalling inquiry, perpetuates error?were abolished, this emblematic rite of the New Testament would stand forth in its primitive symmetry and beauty.178
4. Practice of the Primitive Churches.
The earliest uninspired records of ecclesiastical history, labor under the disadvantage of being justly suspected to be, to some extent, spurious, corrupt, and interpolated. Their evidence, therefore, is to be received with caution. It is clear to all who have examined the writings of the apostolic fathers, in connection with the productions of the evangelists and apostles, that their views of Christian truth are entitled to very little consideration. But the allusions which their writings contain to the ordinance of baptism, where the genuineness of the passages themselves is admitted, may be safely credited; for as baptism is an external act, appealing to the senses, the testimony of an honest and unsuspected spectator of the ordinance, is all that we require or have a right to demand. It is on this principle, that we unhesitatingly reject the notions of the fathers, with reference to the efficacy of baptism; while we yield our unsuspecting assent to their testimony, with respect to the external act. The following passages disclose to us the practice of the early Churches:
Barnabas. Ep. ch. 11. We descend into the water, and come out of it.
Hermas. Pastor, 3. Men descend into the water, but ascend out of it.179 Vid. also, Herm. Simil. IX. 16. Iren. III. 17, 2.
The testimony of later writers is equally explicit, and is moreover free from all suspicion.
Justin Martyr, ( 164) towards the conclusion of his, so-called, Second Apology, thus alludes to the administration of the ordinance: "Those who believe and are persuaded that the things we teach and inculcate are true, and who profess ability thus to live, are directed to pray, with fasting, and to ask of God the forgiveness of their former sins, we also fasting and praying with them. Then we conduct to a place where there is water; and they are regenerated [baptized] in the manner in which we have been regenerated [baptized;] for they receive a washing with water, in the name of the Father." &c.180
Tertullian ( 220.) We are immersed in water. Adv. Prax. 26. De cor. mil. 3.
Cone. Tolet. V., (A.D. 633.) The immersion, in water is, as it were, the descent to Hades, and the emersion from the water, the resurrection.
It is thus clear that the practice of immersion continued in the Churches, from the age of Justin Martyr down to that of the Council of Toledo. It would be easy to cite other intervening witnesses, such as Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil, Gregory Nyssen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, Ambrose, &c.; but the above are sufficient to establish the general custom. During this period, immersion was the universal practice, except in cases of dangerous sickness. In such circumstances, pouring or sprinkling was tolerated by some of the Churches; but neither of these was ever supported on the ground of tradition or apostolic practice. Cyprian, the great advocate and apologist of affusion, as the substitute of baptism, never pretended to place it upon the only ground upon which it could securely rest?primitive practice?but attempted to justify it by the "pressing necessity" of the case. In his judgment, baptism was necessary to salvation, and hence, he concluded that "God?s indulgence" would permit an abridgment of the ordinance, in the cases of those whom sickness prevented from submitting to it in the usual form.181
This position is maintained by the most learned and impartial historians. Eusebius informs us that when Novatian received baptism, by pouring, he was "attacked by an obstinate disease, and supposed to be at the point of death;"182 and that his ordination "was opposed by all the clergy, and many of the laity, as unlawful, because of his clinic perfusion." Gieseler, Ch. Hist. I. ?68. It was often necessary to baptize the sick, and in that case sprinkling was substituted for the usual rite.
Munscher. (Von Coln) I. ?199. Only with the sick was baptism administered by aspersion; and, it was deemed necessary to salvation, unless its place was supplied by the baptism of blood, i. e. martyrdom.
Fleury. Moeurs des Chretiens, ?5, p. 192. Baptism was usually performed by immersion: yet aspersion was deemed sufficient in cases of necessity, as for the sick.
King. Prim. Ch. P. II, ch. 4, ??5, 6. Their usual custom was to immerse or dip the whole body. Perfusion, or sprinkling, was not accounted unlawful; but, in cases of necessity, that was used, as in clinic baptism.
To the same effect is the testimony of many other writers, who nevertheless practise sprinkling, Salmasius, Pamelius, Grotius, Rheinwald, Neander, Stroth, Du Fresne, Burnet, Towerson, Wall. It is worthy of remark that the same principle is now recognized in the Church of England, although the practice is very different, the Rubric requiring that the "priest dip the child, unless it be certified that it be weakly."
The primitive practice of immersion is so clearly sustained by ecclesiastical history, that it is conceded by every candid inquirer. The few among those who are not Baptists, who sometimes venture to deny it, are soon overwhelmed by the multitude of witnesses, that appear in their own ranks. Some of these will now be brought forward.
Dr. Wall. Their [the primitive Christians] general and ordinary way was to baptize by immersion, or dipping the person, whether it were an infant, or grown man or woman, into the water. This is so plain and clear by an infinite number of passages, that as one cannot but pity the weak endeavors of such pedobaptists as would maintain the negative of it; so also we ought to disown and show a dislike of the profane scoffs which some people give to the English anti-pedobaptists, merely for their use of dipping. It was, in all probability, the way by which our blessed Saviour, and for certain was the most usual and ordinary way by which the ancient Christians did receive their baptism.183
John Wesley. Mary Wesh, aged eleven days, was baptized according to the custom of the first Church, and the rule of the Church of England, by immersion.184
Bossuet. We are able to make it appear, by the acts of councils, and by the ancient rituals, that for thirteen hundred years, baptism was thus administered throughout the whole Church, as far as possible.185
Von Coln. Immersion in water was general until the thirteenth century; among the Latins it was then displaced by sprinkling, but retained by Greeks.186
Munscher. Baptism was generally performed by immersion. The baptism of the sick, which was performed by aspersion, is mentioned for the first time, in the third century.187
Usteri. The rite of baptism, by which the persons baptized were entirely immersed in water. Such is the testimony of the ancient witnesses.188
Klee, Roman Catholic Professor of Theology in the University at Bonn. Immersion was the mode of baptism ordinarily observed in the primitive age, in connection with which baptism by aspersion occurs as an exception to the rule.189
Prof, Stuart. "It is," says Augusti, "a thing made out," viz. the ancient practice of immersion. So indeed all the writers who have thoroughly investigated the subject. I know of no one usage of ancient times, which seems to be more clearly and certainly made out. I cannot see how it is possible for any candid man who examines the subject to deny this.190
Penny Cyclopedia. The manner in which it [baptism] was performed, appears to have been at first by complete immersion. John baptized in the Jordan; and in Enon, because there was much water there. The Ethiopian eunuch went down into the water to receive baptism from Philip. The words baptism and to baptize are Greek terms, which imply, in their ordinary acceptation, washing, or dipping. It was the practice of the English Church from the beginning, to immerse the whole body.191
Kitto?s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature. The whole body was immersed in water.192
The views which have been submitted, with reference to the nature of the external act of baptism, derive strong confirmation from the universal and invariable practice of the Greek Church. It is to be supposed that the members of that communion are acquainted with their own language; and therefore their mode of administering the rite of baptism affords a very satisfactory explanation of the meaning of the word. This has uniformly been immersion. Neudecker informs us, on the authority of the Orthodox Confession of the Greek church, Metrophanes Critopulus, Stourdza, and others, that this is their present practice.193 This church has always strenuously asserted the necessity of immersion to the validity of the ordinance; and has, in consequence, condemned and rejected the affusions of the Latin Church. An effort was made to unite the Oriental and Western Churches, at the session of the Council of Florence, a.d. 1439; and the Roman pontiff employed rewards, threats, and promises, to induce the Greeks to accede to his terms of accommodation. Mark of Ephesus, who was present at this council, maintained, in an encyclical letter addressed to all the Greek bishops and churches, the absolute impossibility of such a union, and that, too, upon the ground that the baptism of the Latins was an entirely different thing from that of the Greeks.194
It is a fatal objection to that perversion of the ordinance of baptism, which has become so common in western Christendom, that it is utterly destitute of support from apostolic or primitive practice, is at variance with the general practice of the Latins, for thirteen hundred years, and the uniform practice of the Greeks, down to the present day. Affusion was first tolerated in the third century, on the plea of necessity, a necessity founded on a most unscriptural and portentous error. This error, the alleged necessity of the rite to salvation, gave rise, as I shall presently show, to infant baptism; thus nullifying the ordinance, both in its mode and its subjects, and evincing the intimate connection which subsists between corruption in doctrine and error in practice.195
II. Subjects of Baptism
The genius of Christianity is peculiar. Recognizing no proxies or representatives between the sinner and the Saviour, it urges its claims upon each individual of the race to whom it is sent, and its ultimate issues are suspended upon the personal reception or rejection of its gracious provisions. Salvation is found only in connection with the actual existence of the conditions which it demands in those upon whom the blessing is conferred. The commands of Christ must be obeyed in person, or not at all. That one individual should be baptized for another is absurd, as is universally conceded; but that one should perform for another the conditions on which alone the ordinance possesses any significance or value, although not so generally admitted, is equally opposed to the dictates of reason and conscience. The principle of substitution is, indeed, the grandest feature of the Christian scheme; but it relates solely to the vicarious work of the man Christ Jesus, the substitution of the innocent for the guilty; it does not affect the relations of the guilty among themselves. No moral being can do for another that which God requires at his own hands; and if repentance and faith are required of every individual to whom the message of the gospel comes, it is manifest that the existence of these graces in one can exert no direct influence upon another, nor change the relation in which he stands to God. Christianity, from its very nature, excludes all human mediators, proxies, or sponsors.
Such being the genius of the Christian revelation, if we proceed to examine the character of those upon whom its duties are imposed, we may justly expect to find in them those qualifications which define and constitute a moral agent. If any individuals of our race are destitute of these qualifications, we may fairly conclude that the gospel is not addressed to them. Infants and idiots are not moral agents; Christianity therefore demands nothing at their hands. They may, we believe they do, share in its benefits; but they do not come within the sphere of its requisitions. No Christian duty is enjoined upon them, for the obvious reason that they can perform none. The gospel does not require a natural and physical impossibility.
Baptism is a Christian duty, and is obligatory only on moral agents. Believers are the only proper subjects. This position is sustained:
1. By the evidence of the Scriptures.
The commission which imparts validity and force to this ordinance was given in the following words: "Go ye unto all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned." Mark 16: 15, 16 ; cf. Matt. 28: 19. Here baptism is subsequent to faith, and is contemplated as the duty only of one that believeth. When this commission was given, the ordinance was already in existence and was familiar to the disciples. It is, therefore, relevant to revert to its previous history, to ascertain the meaning which they must have attached to the commission. Going back to "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ," the baptism of John, we find that he preached repentance, and the people were baptized of him, "confessing their sins." Such is the testimony of Josephus, who affirms that John?s baptism was administered on the supposition that "the soul was purified before by righteousness."196 "Adult Jews," says Scott, in his comment on this passage of Mark, "were the only persons, so far as we can find, whom John admitted to baptism." We search the gospels in vain for any instance of infant baptism. Children were brought to Jesus. They were blessed, but not baptized; for it is expressly said that Jesus baptized not. John 4: 2.
Such was the state of the case when the apostles received the commission. The practice of baptism was settled, so that even if that commission had been given in general terms?if it had embraced simply the command to baptize, they could have had no hesitation with respect to the subjects of baptism. But the commission is not general nor ambiguous; it is specific and plain. The direction to baptize is limited, in its application, to believers.
The efforts which are made to evade the obvious import of the commission are more plausible than forcible. Thus it is alleged, by a writer who assumes that infant baptism was already in use in the time of the apostles, that "in giving directions, or issuing a command, certain things are always taken for granted as being well known, and we only aim to be explicit enough to be clearly understood. For instance, a messenger is sent to the post-office. The order issued is, ?go and bring my papers,? or simply ?go to the post-office.? The messenger goes and brings letters, newspapers, and pamphlets, and he acts in accordance with the intention of him who sent him."197 A command issued in terms so loose as these may suit the case which has been suggested; but it could never find its way into any human statute, much less would it be incorporated in the great law of baptism, enacted by the Head of the Church, for all nations and for all times. The case is not a parallel one. To make it correspond with the commission, the order must be issued thus:?"Go and bring my letters; those that are post-paid and addressed to me, bring; those that are not post-paid, leave at the office." If the messenger were required not only to execute this commission, but to make it known for the benefit of his employer?s correspondents, it would certainly be his duty to assure them that these terms are imperative, that a letter which was not post-paid, even if addressed to his employer, would not be received. Baptism is the ordinance by which an individual is addressed to Christ, indicated to be his; but unless the other condition be fulfilled, unless faith be exercised, he will not be received. If the letter be not post-paid the address will not carry it to its destination. Whether some other arrangement may not have been made by his employer, by which those who cannot pay may secure the reception of their letters, is another question, which is not embraced in the terms of his commission. So also, whether provision has been made for the salvation of those who cannot believe, is a distinct question, not dependent for its solution upon the commission of the Redeemer, with reference to the conditions of baptism. "This explication affords a satisfactory reply to the argument which affirms that if, according to the commission, infants cannot be baptized, they cannot be saved. The commission has no reference to infants, and therefore does not determine the conditions of their salvation. It is addressed only to such as may be taught and may become disciples.
That the commission was so understood by the apostles is evident from their own subsequent practice. On the day of Pentecost Peter preached; many of his hearers were converted: "then they that gladly received the word were baptized, and the same day were added to them about three thousand souls. And they continued in the apostles? doctrine and fellowship," &c. Acts 2: 41. Here the ordinance is restricted to those who "gladly received the word."
The next account of baptism occurs in Acts 8: 12. "When they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus, they were baptized, both men and women." Nothing can be more expressive of the extent and limitation of the ordinance. The specific mention of men and women excludes the supposition that children were also baptized.
An argument in favor of infant baptism has been derived from the baptism of households. But it is founded upon the unwarrantable assumption that infants are necessarily included in a household. The baptism of entire households, upon a profession of faith, has become so common an occurrence that this argument has lost all its force. "There were eight baptized families belonging to the Karen Baptist Mission before it was as old as the apostolic mission, when the family of Lydia was baptized. The Christian Watchman of Jan. 29, 1841, presents authentic proof of the existence, at that time, of upwards of fifty baptized households, connected with Baptist churches?every member of whom was baptized on profession of faith, and added to the Church."198 Such were probably the constituents of the households mentioned in the New Testament. Cornelius was "a devout man and one that feared God with all his house." Acts 10: 2. Peter himself testifies that they had "received the Holy Ghost," before he "commanded them to be baptized." In Acts 18: 8, we are informed: " Crispus the chief ruler of the synagogue believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized." The household of Stephanus, baptized by Paul, "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints," and could not therefore have been infants.
Even admitting that these households embraced infants, the fact proves nothing in favor of infant baptism. The apostles had no authority to baptize them, and therefore could not have done it. The nature of the case excludes them. It is required of a bishop that he be "one that ruleth well his own house." But this requisition cannot apply to newly-born infants, who are incapable of government. The nature of the case restricts it to adults, or at least to children who are old enough to be ruled. "There is," says Carson, "no axiom in mathematics more clear, than that the households are nothing to the purpose of infant baptism. If the term household does not necessarily imply infants, then there is no evidence from the term that there were infants in those households. Again, as such phraseology is, in daily conversation, used with exceptions, so, though infants had been in those households, the known limitations of the commission would exclude them."199
The fallacy of this argument has been fully exposed by a pedobaptist writer of great logical acumen, who candidly admits "that (historically considered) there exists no sufficient positive evidence that the baptism of infants was instituted by the apostles, in the practice of the apostolic age. I have, I confess, no eye for these smoke-like wreaths of inference, this ever-widening spiral ergo from the narrow aperture of perhaps a single text; or rather an interpretation forced into it by construing an idiomatic phrase in an artless narrative with the same absoluteness as if it had formed part of a mathematical problem. I start back from these inverted pyramids, where the apex is the base. If I should inform any one that I had called at a friend?s house, but had found nobody at home, the family having all gone to the play; and if he, on the strength of this information, should take occasion to asperse my friend?s wife for unmotherly conduct, in taking an infant, six months old, to a crowded theatre, would you allow him to press on the words nobody and all the family, in justification of the slander? Would you not tell him that the words were to be interpreted by the nature of the subject, the purpose of the speaker, and their ordinary acceptation? and that he must or might have known that infants of that age would not be admitted into the theatre? Exactly so with regard to the words, ?he and all his household.? Had baptism of infants at that early period of the gospel been a known practice, or had this been previously demonstrated, then, indeed, the argument that in all probability there was one or more infants or young children in so large a family, would be no otherwise objectionable than as being superfluous, and a sort of anti-climax in logic. But if the words are cited as the proof, it would be a clear petitio principii, though there had been nothing else against it. But when we turn back to the Scriptures preceding the narrative, and find repentance and belief demanded as the terms and indispensable conditions of baptism?then the case above imagined applies in its full force. Equally vain is the pretended analogy from circumcision, which was no sacrament at all, but the means and mark of national distinction."200
The scriptural argument in proof of our position is corroborated by the account which the apostles give of the meaning or spiritual design of baptism. "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism, into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Rom. 6: 3. cf. Col. 2: 12. Those who are baptized, are baptized into Christ?s death, as dying with him, and as rising with him to a new life. Baptism is symbolical of a change, of which infants are incapable. Equally expressive is the language of Gal. 3: 27. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Here baptism implies a putting on of Christ, a fact which can be affirmed only of believers.
If the apostolic commission, the import of the rite, and the practice of the apostles clearly evince that baptism is to be administered only to those who profess faith in the Redeemer, no respect is due to the objections which have been urged against this position on the ground that certain passages in the New Testament imply the baptism of infants; such as Matt. 19: 13?15201; Acts 2: 38, 39; 1 Cor. 7: 12?14. All these passages are susceptible of an explanation which entirely accords with the baptism of believers.202
2. The testimony of ecclesiastical antiquity.
There exists no evidence in favor of the existence of infant baptism in the first century, but there is conclusive evidence against it. Justin Martyr, A.D.140, thus describes the rite of baptism: "They who are persuaded and do believe that these things which are taught by us are true, and do promise to live according to them, are directed first to pray, and ask of God, with fasting, the forgiveness of their former sins; and we also pray and fast together with them. Then we bring them to some place where there is water, and they are regenerated by the same way of regeneration by which we were regenerated; for they are washed with water in the name of God the Father and Lord of all things, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost."203
There is another passage in Justin, which is pressed into the service of infant baptism. "There are many persons among us of both sexes, of sixty and seventy years of age, who were made disciples of Christ from their childhood."204 But to employ the passage in this manner is not only to make the writer contradict the Scriptures, but contradict himself; for he has informed us, in the passage quoted above, that disciples are such as are "persuaded and do believe."
With just as little reason is the celebrated passage of Irenaeus205 alleged in support of this practice. It is too equivocal to constitute the basis of either argument or inference. Many of the most judicious and impartial critics, among pedobaptists, acknowledge that it affords no support for infant baptism.
Baumgarten Crusius says: "The celebrated passage in Irenaeus, is not to be applied to infant baptism."206
The earliest allusion to the practice of infant baptism occurs in Tertullian, a.d. 200, and he opposes it.207 A highly respectable writer in defence of infant baptism, has failed to appreciate the testimony of this Father, in consequence of following Wall, who himself confesses that he does not understand Tertullian.208 "He had adopted," says this writer, "the strange notion that baptism washed away all previous sin, whether actual or original, and hence, the longer delayed, the better, when there appeared no immediate danger of death." This strange notion was by no means peculiar to Tertullian; and, moreover, it was not the point from which he argued against infant baptism. Had Dr. Wall, and those who have followed in his footsteps, studied the theological system of Tertullian, they would have been better able to appreciate his position on this subject. He had to contend with two opposite parties, the one holding that all persons, even infants, must be baptized in order to be saved, and the other, that baptism is not necessary at all, if one has sufficient faith. Against the former, he contends in the well-known passage referred to by Wall. His fundamental principle on the subject of baptism, as stated by himself, is: "Baptism is the seal of faith. We are not baptized in order to cease from sin, but be-cause our hearts are already cleansed."209 And he opposes infant baptism because it violates this principle, by placing baptism before faith. He, therefore, insists that the baptism of children should be delayed until they are old enough to "know Christ." He does not insist, as Wall and Mr. Hodges understood him, upon a mere delay of infant baptism, but on the postponement of baptism until the subjects of it should cease to be infants. But his opponents confronted him with the passage, "Suffer little children," &c. From this we learn that infant baptism was a subject of controversy; and yet that no tradition or divine command was pleaded by Tertullian?s opponents. Indeed, it deserves particular notice, that in all the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian, both of whom treat of the subject as a matter of controversy, there is no allusion whatever to an apostolical tradition in favor of the practice. Is it possible that these fathers of tradition could have overlooked so important a point? As Tertullian devised the method of meeting the heretics with the authority of tradition, would his opponents have spared him, if these weapons of his own could have been employed against him? His judicious reply to the passage of Scripture above quoted, was, "Let them come when they are grown up,?let them come when they understand and are taught whither they come,?let them become Christians, when they are capable of knowing Christ." He undoubtedly carried his caution too far in regard to virgins and widows; still the principle was a sound one, which required good evidence of piety before baptism.210
3. The judgment of critics and historians.
In accordance with the principle which I have assumed as my guide in these inquiries, that the Scriptures constitute the only rule of faith and practice, it is pertinent to show that, even in the judgment of a large number of the abettors of infant baptism, it finds no support in the Word of God, and receives no countenance from the practice of those to whom the word of God was delivered, or of their immediate successors.
An eminent German writer, who has examined this subject with equal learning and candor, remarks: "Infant baptism was not yet customary in the first two centuries. The proofs which are alledged for its existence in the apostolic age, from the mention in Acts, of the baptism of whole families, and in the second century, from a passage in Irenaeus, in which he speaks of the regeneration of children, are not satisfactory. Tertullian declared himself, most explicitly, against it, upon the ground that it imposed too heavy a responsibility upon the sponsors, and would be more beneficial to the children themselves, when they had arrived at an age in which they could know Christ, and appreciate the importance of baptism. In the time of Origen, however, infant baptism was already customary in the Church, at least, in the Egyptian portion of it, and was deemed an ordinance of the apostles. Origen vindicated its necessity on the same ground as that subsequently alledged by Augustine, viz.: that baptism was represented in the New Testament, as, in general, necessary to salvation; and, therefore, children ought to be baptized.211
The celebrated philologist Koraes, one of the first Greek scholars of modern times, says: "Infant baptism seems to have been introduced in the third century; at first only in Africa, subsequently by degrees also in other countries. Not venturing to decide upon this matter we would only say, that even supposing infants to have been baptized in the apostolic times or shortly afterwards, the practice was neither uniformly adopted, nor always nor everywhere observed. This is evident from numerous instances of persons living in or about the fourth century, who were not baptized until after they had reached the age of manhood. Such was the case with Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory; and among the emperors with Constantine, Constantius, Valentinian, Gratian, Theodosius, and with innumerable other persons. The discourses addressed by many of the Fathers of the same century to persons deferring baptism, prove the same thing. It is further confirmed by the canons of several councils, and also by the well-known anecdote of Athanasius the Great, who, when a boy, on a certain occasion whilst at play, catechised and baptized his play-fellows, who, until then, had remained unbaptized. The time when infant baptism was generally introduced cannot easily be determined."212
"All the earlier traces of infant baptism are very doubtful. Tertullian is the first who refers to it; and he censures it. Origen and Cyprian, on the contrary, defend it. In the fourth century its validity was generally acknowledged, although the church Fathers often found it necessary to warn against the delay of baptism. Even Pelagius did not dare to call the correctness of it in question. Augustine pointed out the removal of original sin, and the sins of the children, as its definite object and through his representations was its universal diffusion promoted."213
"As baptism signified an entrance into fellowship with Christ, it readily followed from the nature of the case, that a profession of faith in Jesus as the Redeemer, should be made by the candidate at the time. Since baptism was thus immediately connected with a conscious and voluntary accession to the Christian fellowship, and faith and baptism were always united, it is highly probable that the custom of infant baptism was not practised in this age. From the example of the baptism of whole families we can by no means infer the existence of infant baptism. One passage, 1 Cor. 16: 15, shows the incorrectness of such an inference; for it thence appears that the whole family of Stephanus, who all received baptism from Paul, was composed of adult members.214
"Commands or plain and certain examples, in the New Testament, relating to it, I do not find."215
"There is no express command for infant baptism found in the New Testament."216
If infant baptism be thus destitute of support in the word of God, an inquiry naturally arises as to its origin, and the reasons for its introduction. To this the observations of a learned living historian furnish a satisfactory reply. "The first public recognition of infant baptism was a.d. 250. It may be supposed to have existed anterior to that period, and to have been gradually working its way into the church, along with other corruptions. But the grand error, under sanction of which it obtained prevalence, was that baptism and regeneration was one and the same thing. So soon as that came to be a general belief, it was deemed necessary, in order to insure the spiritual illumination of infants, to have them baptized."217
It thus appears that the changes which have been introduced since the age of the Apostles, with reference both to the subjects and the mode of baptism, were founded upon a portentous error, the identity of baptism and regeneration, and, therefore, the necessity of the rite to salvation. In immediate connection with this, we find another error of equal magnitude. The great patron of affusion and infant baptism, Cyprian, furnishes the first distinct allusion to a practice, the existence of which would scarcely be deemed credible, were it not most amply attested, the communion of infants at the Lord?s supper. This practice was coextensive with infant baptism, and rested upon the same grounds, the necessity of the rite to salvation. "It was common in Africa in Cyprian?s time, i. e. in the third century, to give the sacramental elements even to children; and this custom was gradually introduced into other churches. But in the twelfth century this practice fell into disuse in the West; although in the East it continues to the present day."218
Infant baptism and infant communion rest on the same foundation, the authority of the Fathers of the third century.
III. Efficacy of Baptism
On this point, professors of Christianity are divided into three great parties, the first of which regards baptism as an act of obedience to Christ, and a symbol, or sign of certain truths implied in the ordinance; the second, as a seal or pledge of spiritual blessings; while the third exalts it to the dignity of an efficacious instrument of grace, some ascribing to it a physical, and others only a hyperphysical, or moral efficacy.219 Of these various theories, the second and third are unscriptural, and besides, are encumbered with other serious objections; so that an elucidation of the grounds upon which the first is sustained, will furnish their appropriate refutation.
The Scriptures no where ascribe to baptism any peculiar efficacy, physical or moral, essential or accidental. It is simply the appointed method of professing faith in the Redeemer; and if, in some places, a preeminence is given to it over other acts of obedience, it is because it is the first of a series which are incumbent on the believer. "That baptism and the Lord?s Supper are seals of the covenant, is a doctrine so common, and a phraseology so established, that it is received without question as a first principle. They who measure truth by the attainments of our ancestors, look upon the questioning of this dogma as a kind of impiety and heresy; and even the modern Independents, who have professed to be guided solely by the Bible, have very generally continued to speak in the same language. While I highly respect and value the ancient writers who speak in this manner, I strongly protest against it as unscriptural, and as laying a foundation for receiving other things on the authority of man. Is there any Jewish tradition more void of scriptural authority, than that which designates baptism and the Lord?s Supper seals of the New Covenant? There is not in the New Testament any single portion that can bear such a meaning. And what can the wisest of men know about these things, but what God has told us? He has not said that baptism is a seal. Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of the faith of Abraham. This was God?s seal to that truth, till the letter was abolished. The spirit of the truth is the seal, and the circumcision of the heart by him, is the thing signified by circumcision in the flesh. The circumcised nation was typical of the Church of Christ; for the apostle says "we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit;" and "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter." The circumcision of the Jews was the letter, of which the circumcision of the heart in Christians is the spirit. The Christian, then, has a more exalted seal than circumcision. He has the Spirit of God, "whereby he is sealed unto the day of redemption." Eph. 4: 30. When sinners believe in Christ, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the "earnest of their inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." Eph. 1: 13. The seal, then, that comes in the room of circumcision, is the seal of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit himself, in the heart of the believer, is the seal of God?s truth, there is no need of any other seal. Baptism represents the belief of the truth in a figure, and takes it for granted that they are believers to whom it is applied; but it is no seal of this. They may appear to be Christians to-day, and therefore ought to be baptized; to-morrow they may prove the contrary, and therefore they cannot have been sealed by baptism. He that is once sealed by the Spirit, is secured to eternity."220
This theory, although unscriptural, is, except in its application to infant baptism, comparatively harmless, since it supposes the existence of such spiritual qualifications in the baptized, as are connected with the enjoyment of spiritual blessings. But the third theory is open to more serious objections; for, although various representations of it are given by its different advocates, it involves, as its distinctive principle, the assumption that baptism sustains a direct relation to the germination and growth of the divine life in the soul; and is, therefore, in general, necessary to salvation. Whether this ordinance be described as the laver of regeneration, the bath in which original sin is washed away, or the medium through which forgiveness of sin, and the influences of the Spirit are imparted, the radical idea of the theory is the same. It makes the acceptance of a sinner with God, in some way dependent upon his reception of baptism. But if the Scriptures furnish us with such a statement of the ground of a sinner?s acceptance as excludes baptism, as well as all other works, the entire theory is false. That this is the case, I shall endeavor to show.
With respect to the plan of salvation, the Scriptures are sufficiently explicit. They teach that the ground of a sinner?s acceptance with God, is not any thing done by him, or in him, but is the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the substitute of guilty man, he has met all the claims of the divine government against him, has obeyed the law, and suffered its penalty; and has thus brought in an everlasting righteousness, which is imputed to the believer for justification. As soon as a sinner truly believes, he is justified, accepted, and his final salvation secured. Faith sustains this peculiar relation to justification, that it appropriates Him who is our righteousness. It is, therefore, essential to our acceptance with God; but nothing else is. To make baptism thus essential, which is not the act by which we trust in Christ, but simply an act of obedience rendered by one already justified, is to confound the consequent with the antecedent; to mistake the symbolical expression of a believer?s love to Christ on account of the remission of sin?a love which manifests itself effectually by keeping his commandments?for the medium through which that remission is conferred.
That this is the teaching of the Scriptures on this subject, is evinced by the following, among many passages: "He that believeth hath everlasting life." John 5: 24; 3: 16, 36. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." Rom. 10: 10. By grace are ye saved through faith." Eph. 2: 8. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom. 5: 1. "They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Gal. 3: 7. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
1 John 1: 8. "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ." Gal. 3: 26. cf. John 5: 24; Acts 13: 39; Rom. 3: 21, 22, 25, 26; 4: 6; 10 : 4; Phil. 3: 8?10; John 1: 12; Acts 10: 42; John 3: 14?18, 40; 20: 31; Rom. 10:9.
The case of the Philippian jailer is decisive on this point. His inquiry had distinct reference to the plan of salvation. He came, a convicted sinner, to Paul and Silas, and sought direction. "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Had they omitted in their reply anything essential, they would have misled the inquiring jailer. The circumstances of the case demanded that they should comprehend in their instructions all that was necessary to salvation. But they simply say: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Acts 16: 31. The absence of any reference to baptism here shows that, in the judgment of the apostles, it has no reference to that primary act of faith, by which a penitent obtains the forgiveness of sin.
From these considerations, and others which will be adduced, it is evident that the theory which suspends the remission of sin upon the reception of baptism, is contrary to the first principle of the Gospel of Christ.
Another fatal objection to this theory, is found in the fact that cases occur, in the New Testament, of persons who received the assurance of forgiveness prior to baptism. Among these, are the woman who was a sinner, the sick of the palsy, and the dying malefactor.221 Moreover, it is contradicted by Christian experience. Every converted man knows that the assurance of forgiveness is obtained by faith in Christ. Thousands of such have been brought to the knowledge of the truth, have rejoiced in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and afterwards put on Christ in baptism, not to obtain remission of sin, but because they had already been assured of possessing that blessing, and without which they would not have ventured to approach the emblematic grave. They were conscious of being constrained to do this by love to the Redeemer; and they rejoiced in the consolation that "every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God," and "whosoever is born of God overcometh the world."222 In addition to this it is worthy of remark, that a large portion of the most conscientious and devoted servants of God, in every part of the world, are, in the judgment of some of the most strenuous advocates of this theory, yet unbaptized, and, therefore, must remain unpardoned. They are yet in their sins. They have no hope in Christ, no assurance of acceptance with God, and dying in this state, they must encounter his wrath in the world to come. A theory which involves such shocking sentiments, as its legitimate consequences, which comes so directly in conflict with Christian consciousness, must be a false and unwarrantable assumption.
If any thing further were necessary to expose the falsity of this theory, we might refer to Paul?s view of the relative importance of baptism. As a preacher of the Gospel, he exulted in his mission; for the gospel is the power of God to salvation, to every one that believeth. Rom. 1: 16. In 1 Cor. 1: 17, he says: "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." But in Acts 26: 17, 18, he affirms that "Christ sent him to the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God;" in other words, to accomplish their salvation. If baptism sustains the relation to salvation which is ascribed to it by this theory, the manner in which the apostle underrates it, is utterly unaccountable. If the ordinance were indispensable, in general, to secure remission of sin, he could not have affirmed that Christ sent him not to baptize; for upon that supposition the preaching of the gospel, without baptism, would be a nullity. It would fail to accomplish the great end for which the Son of God was exalted as a Prince and a Saviour. Acts 5: 31.
Although this theory is thus subversive of the terms of acceptance with God, and opposed to Christian consciousness, its abettors labor to sustain it from the word of God, referring to several passages in its support. Before examining them, it may be well to make the general remark, that if they inculcated the error in question, the interpreter would find it impossible to reconcile them with other portions, as well as with the general tenor of the Scriptures. Unless, therefore, he would place divine truth in conflict with itself, he must resort to some other interpretation of these passages. It would be better to leave them unexplained than to elicit from them a sentiment so essentially at war with the whole Christian system. But these passages, so far from presenting any real difficulty, are susceptible, most easily and naturally, of an interpretation which keeps them in harmony with the doctrine of the apostles.
These passages will now be adduced.
Mark 16: 16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
The nature of these restrictions will be sufficiently clear, if we consider that faith, implying of course regeneration, is the first development of spiritual life in the soul, and baptism is its first outward manifestation. As soon as a sinner believes, he is to confess Christ in this ordinance. This is his first act of obedience. It is therefore perfectly natural that baptism should be selected from the various Christian duties, as the representative of the whole. The meaning of the passage, therefore, is, he that believes and acts accordingly?who possesses that genuine faith which works by love, and purifies the heart?shall be saved. The language of the commission, when properly explained, attaches no more importance to baptism than to any other Christian duty. It is the spirit of obedience which it demands; and baptism is indicated as the expression of that spirit, because it stands first in the series of Christian duties. In perfect accordance with these sentiments is the teaching of Paul, in Rom. 10: 10. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness [justification], and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." The apostle in this portion of the epistle contrasts the method of justification on which the Jews insisted, which was legal, and, when properly understood, perfectly impracticable, with the gospel method of salvation, which prescribes no such severe terms, but simply requires cordial faith and open profession. Confession is the fruit and external evidence of faith, assuring us of its vitality and power, as wrought by the Spirit of God. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." 1 Cor. 12: 3. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God." 1 John 4: 15. Hence the necessity of a public confession of Christ unto salvation is asserted in the Scriptures. Matt. 10: 32. Luke 12: 8. It is certain that he who deliberately refuses to confess Christ will be lost, because this refusal proves that he possesses no genuine faith; but this confession may be made fully and clearly prior to baptism, and, as in the case of dying penitents, without the intervention of baptism at all. "Though faith and confession are both necessary" observes an able expositor, "they are not necessary on the same grounds, nor to the same degree. The former is necessary as a means to an end, as without faith we can have no part in the justifying righteousness of Christ; the latter as a duty, the performance of which circumstances, may, render impracticable. In like manner Christ declares baptism, as the appointed means of confession, to be necessary; not however as a sine qua non, but as a command, the obligation of which providential dispensations may remove; as in the case of the thief on the cross."223
John 3: 5. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Nothing but an invincible necessity would authorize such an interpretation of this passage as would elicit from it the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. This necessity does not exist. Many of the most learned and judicious commentators interpret the expression water and the spirit, by hendiadis, spiritual water. This mode of expression is common in the New Testament. Comp. Matt. 4: 16. In the region and shadow of death, i. e. the region of the shadow of death. 1 Cor. 2: 4. In the demonstration of the powerful spirit. Col. 2: 8. Acts, 17: 25.224 This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that our Lord, in contrasting spiritual with natural regeneration, in the next verse, does not mention water at all, but merely opposes the spirit to the flesh, as the original principles of these different kinds of birth. If, however, Christ be supposed to refer to baptism, it must be under the same restrictions that are found in the apostolic commission, which has already been explained.
Acts, 2: 38. Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins, [or, literally, unto the remission.]
This clause is easily understood by comparing it with others of similar construction. John says, in Matt. 3: 11, "I baptize you with water unto repentance." He did not mean that repentance was procured, but was professed, in baptism; for he demanded of those who approached the baptismal stream "fruits meet for repentance," the evidence that they had already repented. But Peter has given us his own views, in Acts 3: 19. "Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out," &c. If baptism is as inseparable from forgiveness as repentance is, the apostle is guilty of an unpardonable omission. If he has made no omission, but has stated fully the conditions of pardon, the dogma in question receives no support from his authority.
Acts 22: 16. Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord.
As baptism is symbolical of the purification of the soul, it is perfectly natural, because in accordance with a very common mode of speech, that the symbol should be put for the reality. Paul may be said to have washed away his sins in baptism, because in that sacred rite he made a public declaration of the fact. If this passage stood alone, it might occasion some difficulty, but taken in connection with the uniform teaching of the word of God, which suspends forgiveness of sin upon the exercise of faith in the Redeemer, it affords no countenance to the dogma of baptismal regeneration.225
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