By Elder J.H. Oliphant
It is universally agreed that adult believers are proper subjects of baptism. The Pedobaptists insist that infants should be baptized. Mr. Porter, in his history of Methodism, p. 286, says that infant baptism “takes the place of circumcision.” On page 287 he says: “The Abrahamic and Christian covenants are one in their nature and object. Under the first, children were brought into covenant with God by circumcision, the baptism of that dispensation, * * and why should they be left out under the second?”
It is well known that this is the foundation of infant baptism as practiced by Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. That as circumcision was a seal of the interest the children of Abraham had in the covenant made with Abraham, so baptism is to be administered to infants as a seal of their interest in the covenant of grace. Therefore it is common for them to observe that “baptism came in the room of circumcision.” Buck, in his Dictionary, gives this as their argument. They think that if baptism under the gospel is what circumcision was under the law, that the point is clearly made that infants should be baptized. That as God is unchangeable, and did direct that infants should be circumcised, which was the sealing ordinance, so he now requires that infants shall receive the sealing ordinance.
Baptism did not take the place of circumcision
I will now try to answer this argument. Buck invites our attention to Genesis 17:12, where circumcision is enjoined. By reading the first twelve verses of that chapter you will see that God made a covenant with Abraham in which he promised to him and his seed the land that he was then in, and he required Abraham to maintain circumcision as a token (Genesis 17:11) of that covenant.
It was not circumcision that gave the land to Abraham and his seed, but it was a token to them of their interest in the promise. This land was not given to the children of Abraham “by faith,” but to his seed according to the flesh. The promise did not embrace spiritual things, but natural. There is a great difference between this covenant and that of grace, as much as there is between things “temporal” and things “eternal,” or between a shadow and its substance.
Here God made a promise to Abraham that his seed should have the land which he was then in, which the subsequent history of his children shows to have been fulfilled, when they were brought out of Egypt and led to that promised land.” But the fact that his seed was interested in that promise does not show that they were interested in the “promise of eternal life.”—Hebrews 9:12. In speaking of the true Israel, Paul says, “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.”—Romans 9:8; i.e., although one may be the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and interested in the covenant sealed by circumcision, yet he may not be interested in the second.
Jews outwardly and Jews inwardly
Agreeably to this we read, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly,” etc.—Romans 2:28-29. So we see that there were some who were not entitled to the promise of eternal life who were interested in the Abrahamic covenant, and others of the gentiles who had no interest in the first who were interested in the second.
The seed of Abraham, according to the flesh, were embraced in the one; these are Jews outwardly, and these have an outward circumcision in the flesh; but they who are Jews inwardly and who are circumcised in heart, both of the Jews and gentiles, are embraced in the second.
In determining who should be circumcised, they looked to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, for to them was the promise made; but in determining who are embraced in the covenant of grace, we look to those who are Jews inwardly. Now, as circumcision belonged to every one interested in the covenant made with Abraham, so baptism belongs to every one who is embraced in spiritual Israel; circumcision to those who are Jews outwardly, as a token of their interest in the promise of God to Abraham, and baptism to those who are Jews inwardly, as a token of their interest in the promise of eternal life.
It was a natural birth (of the flesh) that entitled a Jew to the promise of God to Abraham, and to circumcision; but the birth of the spirit alone fits us to lay claim to the promise of eternal life.
The difference between the two covenants
We must mark the difference between the two covenants. The one confers temporal blessings to a nation of people, the other eternal life to the great family of God spiritually. With the one, circumcision is an outward sign of an interest in the promise of temporal blessings, and with the other, baptism (I grant) is an outward sign of an interest in the promise of eternal things.
With regard to infants, all parties agree that they are saved that die in infancy. We deny, however, that they are saved because of their natural goodness. We deny that they are by the natural birth fitted for heaven. We believe (or I do) that they who die in infancy are born of the spirit of God, and thus made spiritual, incorruptible, and prepared to enjoy the company of God. Their happy death, or happiness after death, is not the result of anything they received in their natural birth, or for anything they are by nature, but of God’s divine power in regeneration.
Generation and regeneration
It is a great mistake that regenerated parents will produce regenerated children. In our first birth we are but generated, and while, among the Jews, this would entitle one to God’s promise to Abraham, it does not entitle us to the promise of eternal life. Paul, in Romans 6:3-4, puts regeneration before baptism, and it is upon this promise that baptism is an intelligent service.
Also Colossians 2:11-12, he makes the same point, that the body of our sins is taken away by the circumcision of heart, and as a consequence we are buried in baptism. Circumcision belongs to the generated Jew, and baptism to the regenerated, who are Jews inwardly.
The evidence that infants are regenerated is entirely wanting, and as they grow up we are confronted with clear evidences that they are not regenerated. So if it be true that baptism in the gospel takes the place of circumcision under the law, it is not true that a flesh birth gives one the blessings of the gospel, although it did give him an interest in the Abrahamic covenant; and while we grant that circumcision did belong to those who were “Jews outwardly,” yet we insist that baptism belongs to those who are “Jews inwardly.”
A mighty poor argument
2d. There were whole households baptized, and from this it is argued that there must have been infants baptized. This is a very common argument, which seems to me to be of very little value to their cause. In Acts 16:33, we read that the jailer and all his were baptized. Now, if we had any way of proving that there were any babes in his household, this would be an argument, but in Acts 16:34 we learn that he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house,” so those who were baptized were capable of rejoicing and believing in God.
From this we are sure there were no babes there, and the fact that men like Wesley, Porter, Buck, and many others, resort to this argument betrays the weakness of their cause, and so the case of Lydia, Acts 16:15. She was far from home on business of a mercantile kind, and it is by no means safe to build the practice of infant sprinkling on the bare supposition that there was an infant in her house. The business she was engaged in and the distance she was from home, would tend to raise the presumption that she had no helpless babes with her.
Cornelius feared God with all his house
Also, the house of Cornelius, Acts 10: He is declared to have been a “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house.” The angel told him to send for Peter, “who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved,” and “the Holy Ghost fell on them. Those baptized here feared God, Acts 18:8.
“Crispus believed on the Lord with all his house.” Here those baptized “believed on God,” which contradicts the idea that there were any infants there. “And I baptized also the household of Stephanus,”—I Corinthians 1:16. Here is another household baptized, but in I Corinthians 16:15, we read of this same household that they “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.”
I have now mentioned all the places where there were households baptized, and we find something said of each one that forbids the idea that there were infants, except that of Lydia. In every other case they were said to “fear God” or “believe God” or “minister to the saints,” showing that every member of each household was of sufficient age to have understanding.
And in the case of Lydia, her business and distance from home would rather raise the inference that there were no babes in her house. Besides this, it is not an uncommon thing to see whole families with no babes in their midst. Reader, let your mind run over your own acquaintances and think how many families there are without infants. I know of several whole households that belong to the Baptist church.
Now, I repeat that the fact that the wisest advocates of infant baptism have used this as an argument in its favor, justly raises the suspicion that it is a practice without divine authority.
He blessed them; he did not baptize them
In Matthew 19:13, we read, “Then were there brought unto him little children that he should put his hands on them and pray.” Also Mark 10:16, “And he took them up in his arms, puts his hands on them, and blessed them.” These passages are frequently quoted to sustain the practice, but unfortunately for the practice, the passages say nothing about baptism. We learn that “he put his hands on them and prayed,” but nothing is said about baptizing them.
All parties admit that there is no plain example in the New Testament for it; that it is nowhere commanded by the Savior. It seems to me that if the Savior and the disciples had practiced it, that there would have been much of their time spent in administering the ordinance, and the fact that there is nothing said about it in all their letters, nor in the Acts of the Apostles, is pretty clear evidence that it was not done.
Baptizing babies cannot secure their regeneration
A careful reading of the Methodist Discipline will lead you to the conclusion that it is practiced by them with the understanding that it secures regeneration to the child, and not only the Methodists, but the Catholics; and, I may say, all who practice it do it with the impression that it is a saving ordinance, which, if true, it involves the possibility of infant damnation.
It has been common for our people to be charged with preaching that infants go to hell; but if I had time and space I could show that the advocates of infant baptism have virtually taught the doctrine themselves. We love our children as dearly as others, and feel anxious about them, but we have never believed that the Lord requires us to join them to our church without their knowledge or consent.
We have not been able to see that the children who were baptized in infancy are any better by practice than others. We know that it is not required by the Bible, and therefore we do not practice it. Its tendency is to unite the church and the world. It is a sort of feeder of formalism in the church. It tends to destroy all distinction between the Church of Christ and the world, and therefore we have ever opposed it.
Believe first, then be baptized
The believer in Christ is the only character who is entitled to baptism. “And Philip said, if thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,”—Acts 8:37. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,”—Mark 15:16. These passages show that none but believers were considered suitable subjects for baptism. A believer is one who has been born of God. He is spiritual, and therefore can understand the things of the Spirit. He is a Jew inwardly, has been “circumcised without hands,” and “passed from death unto life.” I John 5:1, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Also I John 4:2, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”
These passages prove that the believer is born of God, and is in possession of his Spirit. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God,” I John 4:5. The believer dwells in God, and God dwells in him. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” The man in whom God dwells is “free from sin;” he is born again, and therefore should be baptized. John 5:24, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
Baptism does not pass him from death unto life, but he “is passed from death unto life.” So the believer is born of God; God dwells in him and he in God. “He that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father.” This man has been born again, not of corruptible, but of incorruptible seed, even by the word (Logos) of God, which liveth and abideth forever. “Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Such a person should be baptized; he should receive the “outward sign of an inward work.” He is now “dead to sin” and should be “Buried with Christ by baptism.”
Fruits meet for repentance
John denied baptism to the multitude for the lack of this inward grace; he demanded fruits meet for repentance. Baptism to an impenitent person is of no value to him. Baptism is not a part of the remedial system by which the new birth is effected; it is the peculiar privilege of the believer who is already “passed from death unto life,” and “is born of God.” It is the act of the obedient child of God in which he puts on Christ before the world and vows to live in his service.
Peter, at the house of Cornelius, recognized that they had received the Holy Ghost, and upon this fact he baptized them. The Holy Spirit owned our Savior in the ordinance. He owned Philip when he was baptized, “and he went on his way rejoicing.”
The great Savior has promised that all who take his yoke upon them shall find rest. There is a rest to the saint in following Christ. He is made to rejoice in the Lord. In receiving members into the church we want evidence that they have been born of God. “The sow that was washed returned to her wallow in the mire.”
Outward reformation will not qualify one for the service of God. The new birth will produce a suitable reformation, and hence we want an evidence that the applicant has been born again. To tell a long experience is not essential, but to give evidence that you have repented of your sins is necessary; it is necessary that you love the brethren, and that in heart you love the Savior. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” says the Redeemer. We want evidence that you love the Lord Jesus, for if you do, his service will not be a task to you. Every person contemplating baptism should seriously examine his own heart.
Dear reader, do you love the Savior? If so, he commands you to observe his ordinances; and if you look rightly at his service, you feel that it is a solemn engagement to enter into his service. “Amos I prepared in heart?” is a suitable question for you to ponder well. “It is said that if any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things have passed away, and all things are become new.” Do you know anything of such an experience? Is your heart set as much on this world as formerly?
Do you delight in sin as much as ever? If you are prepared in heart for God’s service, sin to you has “become exceeding sinful.” “You are dead to sin,” and can not, with delight, “live any longer therein.” God’s people are allied to Christ and his cause. You will, if you are a Christian, find that you have undergone a change in your thoughts of God and his Word.
Paul experienced a conviction for his sin, and that before baptism; and you, if you are a fit subject for baptism, have had deep trouble about sin, and even now you understand the words, “when I would do good, evil is present with me,” in a way you did not formerly. You are a weak thing. You once felt strong and able to keep your heart when you got ready; but now you sensibly feel that your sin is more than a match for your strength.
Although you have vowed, and vowed again, to do better, yet you feel the force of the words, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” When you compare yourself as you are, with what you are sure that you should be, you think it can hardly be that you are a Christian. You are not fit for baptism. The service is too holy for so unholy a being as you are. The church is composed of good people, and you are not good. You would be a spot in their feasts, and you feel unfit for God’s notice. You can understand how God can notice others; how he can care for the hosts of heaven and the saints on earth, but you can’t understand how he can care for you as the very apple of his eye. You crave such care, but feel that it is too much to claim. You think, “Oh, how can the great Eternal One, who knows my every imperfection, love me as a tender parent, and delight in me as a bride. How can it be that I, so like a sinner, should be beloved so.”
Your heart’s desire is to do right, and if you felt sure that you were prepared for a place in his house, you would at once go into his service. You are interested in the church, you rejoice to see others follow the Savior, you would be glad to see whole nations fall at his feet “and crown him Lord of all,” you would adore and exalt the name of Jesus if you could. Oh, how encouraging to many of us that God’s people are not described as a strong people.
Our Savior said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This kind of preaching gets down to you. Oh, think you, does he bless the poor in spirit? Then I am that; he has come to me with his blessing; I am poor in spirit, I am bankrupt and penniless, I am naked and starving; if I can’t claim the good things of the gospel, I can claim that I need them, and am ruined without them.
The centurion felt unworthy that Christ should come under his roof, and you feel unworthy to go into his service, or claim a place among his people. Christ said of the centurion, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” It is faith that fills us with low opinions of self and high ones of God. Oh, dear reader, have you thus discovered the corruption of your own nature and the great worth of Christ? Have you been made to love him and his precious cause? If so, you should keep his commandments. Unite with his people in their efforts to maintain his cause in the world. I would exhort you by the mercies of God, that you present your body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in his sight, which is your reasonable service. The low opinion you have of self prepares you to walk humbly in his sight you ought not to confer with self, but by an obedient life prove your love to Christ.
Note.—The subject of re-baptism, or alien baptism, has been one of deep interest among us. Persons join other churches and then become dissatisfied and wish to unite with us. Whether we should receive them on their baptism, has been a question of serious inquiry. It is well known that Baptists believe the doctrine of church succession; that the church first organized by Christ has existed in all ages of the world to the present, and we claim to be in that succession. The various churches around us are of recent and human origin. Most of them originally came out of the Catholics. Whatever authority they have to administer the ordinances of God’s house, they received from Catholicism. Our people hold that these are institutions of men, and are unauthorized to administer the ordinances of the Lord’s house.
What is known as the “branch system,” we oppose. Those who hold it, say that “the general church is made up of the various denominations; each one is a branch of the church, and all together make the true church.” If Baptists believed this theory they could consistently receive baptism from other orders, but as long as we hold the doctrine of Church Succession we cannot consistently receive baptism from any save our own people. Let us examine these branches that are supposed to make up the general church. One immerses and others pour or sprinkle; some teach the doctrine of apostasy, and all teach that salvation is conditional. No two agree in all things, and all of them agree in opposing the doctrine of grace. Does one branch of a tree bear gourds, and another apples, another potatoes, and so on? No; this is confusion, or Babylon.
We do not belong to that tree; we are no part of it; and never were connected with it, and we cannot receive its work without virtually accepting the “branch system.” Those who believe the “branch system” can afford to receive each other’s work and commune with each other, but we cannot afford to do it. If we lay claim to the doctrine of Church Succession we must be a separate people and administer our own ordinances.
It is well known that the Campbellite Church sprang from A. Campbell, and that he was excluded from the Old Baptists in Virginia. Is there any reason in excluding a man from our church and still allow him to administer our ordinances? We think not. We think it very inconsistent to exclude a minister and deny communion with him and still receive his work. It is often the case that preachers are excluded from our body, who step off and set up for themselves, and we think that to receive their work is very inconsistent. The fact that the Campbellite Church has become strong and numerous is no reason why we should receive their work.
Besides, they administer the right in order to the forgiveness of sins, as a condition of salvation, and we have ever regarded this as a gross heresy. To receive baptism from their hands is to recognize their authority, and in a degree to tolerate their false views of baptism. If a person is satisfied with their baptism we think he ought to be satisfied with them. If he has become dissatisfied with them as a church, and believes their preaching to be generally false, he should not desire to bring to us the baptism he has received from those people he now renounces. If he renounces them, he should also renounce their work. Other orders, that practice sprinkling and pouring, sometimes immerse persons when it is contrary to their own faith. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” We think it inconsistent to receive their work when they performed it without faith. It is very unwise for any person who desires to be immersed to go to those who practice sprinkling for it. They should go to one who believes that God requires it, and when he lifts up his hand towards heaven and says, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father,” etc, he will be sincere, and it will be a work of faith with him.
It is argued that if the person’s conscience is satisfied, we ought to be. To this we reply, if their conscience is satisfied with the baptism, they ought to remain with the people who baptized them; besides, the proper administration of the laws of the Lord, does not depend on men’s consciences altogether.
Does the Bible teach that the church of Christ has existed in all ages? And are we that church? This is the foundation of our course in this matter. If we are the church, then those institutions organized by Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Campbell and others, are not the church, but rival institutions, and we can no more receive their work than our fathers could the baptism of Catholics. As before said, if we lay down the claim of succession we can receive alien baptism. The question of communion and baptism seem to be bounded by the same line.
If we can receive baptism from other orders, why not commune with them? There is no more sacredness in the ordinance of baptism than there is in the communion, and when we become willing to receive baptism from other orders we should be willing to commune with them. If we would preserve our history as a church we must be a separate people. And where persons ask for membership on their baptism received from other orders, it is better to reject them, reason with them, show them the inconsistency of such a thing, and if they are reasonable and sincere they will see the point that it is reasonable. They will be glad afterwards, and love you for your faithfulness.
I have had persons urge upon me that they were satisfied with their baptism, and wished to unite with us. In such cases I have urged them to stay where they were until they were convinced that our course was right. I urged that we wanted to be a separate people, and that we could not give up our practice in this matter without surrendering a vital principle of our faith. The intelligent reader will readily see that we cannot receive baptism from any other order without sacrificing our claim to Church Succession. Reasonable people will respect us for having sincerity enough to dare to be consistent.
We know that it tends to make our members few, but we are anxious to pursue a consistent course. We are trying to maintain the order of the house of God. We are more anxious to do this than to have the applause of men. It is the only safe course we can pursue.