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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
W. T. Beeby
From The Anabaptists of the 16th Century, 183
All authentic historical accounts agree in showing that the spirit of Antichrist manifested itself soon after the second century, and that various corruptions began then to appear among the churches, particularly in the dominant church of Rome.
Wherever the baneful influence of that church existed, corrupt principles and practice followed, either gradually or suddenly through persecution.
It will have been observed by the reader from what has been stated, that so long as the first Christians in England were left to themselves, they had not departed from the primitive practice and spiritual meaning of the initiatory ordinance of Baptism; but when the church of Rome sent forth its emissaries accompanied by brute force, the ordinance was corrupted, as respects the subjects and the import; the mode of baptism however was still retained; for neither pouring nor sprinkling appear to have become a common practice (not even in the Roman church) until after the Reformation.
It is therefore to the reformed churches, that the honour of this further corruption is to be mainly ascribed! And what is most remarkable, it is now contended for by a church that in its prescribed public service, ordered by the King, its head, and authorised by the Parliament, makes no mention of sprinkling, but commands its priests to dip the subjects; excepting only in cases where 'weakness will not admit, and then to pour the water over them; neither of which commands do any of its priests now observe!
May we not with propriety ask, can any reasonable conscientious Christian require any further argument to convince him who is right and who is wrong, who is consistent, and who is inconsistent, the Baptist or the Pædobaptist?
It is worthy the reader's particular notice that when the church of Rome extinguished to a considerable degree the light of truth in Britain in the sixth century, the Almighty Ruler of the universe in his Divine Providence caused that truth to be kept alive by a people, a remnant "of whom the world was not worthy," and of whom some account has been given in the early pages of this pamphlet ; who, like the British Christians, having followed, the examples of the apostles, were in consequence about the same period persecuted by the Romish church.
The learned Dr. Allix, in his History of the Churches of Piedmont, gives this account:
"For 300 years or more, the bishop of Rome attempted to subjugate the church of Milan under his jurisdiction; and at last the interest of Rome grew too potent for the church of Milan, planted by one of the disciples, insomuch that the bishop and the people, rather than own their jurisdiction, retired to the valleys of Lucerne and Angrogne, and thence were called Vallenses, Wallenses, or the people in the valleys."
In this spot and neighbourhood they continued for several centuries.
"In 1200, these people, in the province of Albigeois, in Languedoc, from whence they were called Albigenses, stood upon their defence. Upon which Philip Augustus, warring against them, drove them into Bohemia and Savoy; and several fled into England. The crusade against them is said to consist of 500,000 men." (Note in Rapin's Hist. of England)
Walter Lollard, an eminent. Waldensian, came to England, A.D. 1315, where he and John Wickliffe had numerous followers, known by the name of Wickliffites and Lollards; these revived the light of truth in Britain, having the same sentiments with respect to baptism as the Waldenses, the first British Christians, and the successors of the apostles. Some of these "began to separate from the Church of Rome as early as the year 1389, (consequently preceded Luther in the struggle for reform) and to appoint priests from amongst themselves to perform divine service after their way." (Ivimey's History of the English Baptists, 1 vol. p. 59 and 68)
In 1617, Luther first opposed the Pope, and after a long struggle; the Reformation was established in many parts of Germany, in Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Scotland, and England; in the last, during the reign of Henry the Eighth. This state of things, no doubt, stirred up the wrath of the Papal power, and the Waldenses were about this time most cruelly persecuted, and nearly exterminated by massacre.
Even after this period, it is well known, that the Papal influence was so great in England, that there was a long struggle between Papists and Protestants, and that in consequence, the latter, when ascendant, were so impregnated with the same spirit of intolerance, that nonconformists suffered much.
Considerable numbers holding the sentiments of the Baptists, continued, however, to exist in England from the period mentioned; and in 1689, it appears, had several meetinghouses in London and other places; and as the insurrection of the German Anabaptists took place shortly before this, those whom it has suited have ascribed their origin to that sect, not taking the trouble to trace their history further back.
Having thus given a brief sketch of the history of the Baptists, it is unnecessary for the purposes contemplated by this tract, to continue the account further forward, as those who may now be interested in knowing more about Baptists, will find much more ample information in the works enumerated at the end.
But what has been stated, it is hoped, may serve to show that the Baptists of the nineteenth century have the authority of Scripture, the example of the apostles, and of their faithful followers, for their principles and practice, in a much stronger sense than many (and we might without presumption say, any) other Christian churches. For what church, holding different principles, and following a different practice, can produce the same historical evidence, like learned authors' opinions, and above all, Scripture, to warrant their practice or their doctrines with equally clear demonstration?
The circumstance of infant baptism, or sprinkling, having been practised within a few hundred years after Christ, cannot reasonably be admitted as an evidence of equal weight, in opposition to the acknowledged fact, that adults only are mentioned in Scripture, and can be proved to have been the subjects of baptism previous to the period up to which the sprinkling or baptism of children can be traced; the more especially, since the spiritual meaning of the emblem of baptism is only discernible in a believer.
The fact also of the rise of popery, and many other corruptions in the Christian church, about the same period as that of the introduction of the practice of baptizing children, might be sufficient to arouse the attention of any sincere Christian to the possible impropriety and inconsistency of such a custom.
EUSEBIUS, the bishop of Cæsarea, the great historian of ecclesiastical antiquity, referring to the Christians of the age which immediately preceded his own, thus describes their lamentable state: "Through too much liberty they grew negligent and slothful, envying and reproaching one another; waging, as it were, civil wars among themselves, bishops quarrelling with bishops, and the people divided into parties.
Hypocrisy and deceit were grown to the highest pitch of wickedness. They were become so insensible as not so much as to think of appeasing the divine anger, but like Atheists, they thought the world destitute of any providential government or care, and thus added one crime to another. The bishops themselves had thrown off all concern about religion; were perpetually contending with one another, and did nothing but quarrel with and threaten, and envy, and hate one another; they were full of ambition, and tyrannically used their power."
CYPRIAN, afterwards bishop of Carthage, drew a similar picture of the state of the church, when the persecution broke out under Decius, in the year 249. "It must be owned and confessed," says he, "that the outrageous and heavy calamity, which hath almost devoured our flock, and continues to devour it to this day, hath happened to us because of our sins, since we keep not the way of the Lord, nor observe his heavenly commands, which were designed to lead us to salvation. Christ our Lord fulfilled the will of the Father; but we neglect the will of Christ. Our principal study is to get money and estates. We follow after pride. We are at leisure for nothing but emulation and quarrelling, and have neglected the simplicity of the faith. We have renounced this world in words only, and not in deed. Every one studies to please himself and to displease others."
Here then is evidence of the corrupt state of the Christian church at the very period when the first mention of infant baptism is made; a deviation from the apostles' practice, the more easily accounted for, since, as Cyprian says, "they kept not the way of the Lord, nor observed his heavenly commands, which were designed to lead to salvation," and that the same state of things continued and increased is obvious from the history of the subsequent times; for:
“When Constantine the Roman emperor declared himself a Christian, early in the fourth century, he lavished his imperial treasure on the bishop of the then predominant sect, and exercised his power against their opponents. The consequences of these proceedings were such as might be expected.
“Worldly men coveted and obtained the highest offices in the Christian church, and regulated its doctrine and its worship by worldly principles. To make Christianity more palatable to pagan neighbours, many of their customs were borrowed as Christian rites. Judaism having much in it adapted to dazzle the imagination, many Levitical institutions were incorporated with the simple religion of Jesus."
And to this period we may perhaps be able to trace the argument, that because children by the old law were commanded to be circumcised, it is therefore maintained that they ought to be baptized; though the new law expressly showeth that it is not the outward ceremony of baptism or washing of the body, nor the mere circumcision of the flesh, but the circumcision and purification of the heart from inherent as well as wilful sin that is necessary.
Because the Jews imagined that on account of the observance of the outward form of circumcision, they thereby entitled themselves to be not only considered but actually admitted into the covenant as the seed of faithful Abraham, for this reason (with others) therefore, that they might not deceive themselves, was the baptism of believers ordained. For the clear scriptural requisite for baptism is, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." (Acts 8:37)
From the historic evidences adduced, the reader will have observed that:
1. The baptism of persons professing to believe the gospel of Christ has divine authority, and is supported by every example of this ordinance recorded in Scripture, where the persons baptized are described.
2. There is no intimation of any infant baptism, either by John or the apostles of Christ, nor any trace of the practice having begun to be introduced, until the third century, but clear evidence that believers were the subjects, and immersion the mode of baptism during the time of, also immediately and for a considerable period after, the apostles.
3. That infant baptism is first mentioned (and then as an innovation upon the practice of the apostles) at the very time when, as history records, the Roman churches had become, in various respects, most corrupt and worldly.
4. That those Christian communities which were beyond the influence of the Roman church (as the English and the Waldenses), adhered to the primitive practice for many centuries after the Roman churches had departed from the simplicity of the Christian faith.
5. What the Scriptures teach respecting the spiritual design of baptism, is incompatible and irreconcilable with the administration of it to infants, and hence infant baptism is incompatible with the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom.
6. All the evidence the Scriptures afford, in reference to the mode of baptism, as in the sense of the command, the places of administration, the circumstances attending it, and the allusion to it in the apostolic epistles all go to establish the practice of immersion.
7. Immersion was, by known historical fact, the general practice of all Christendom for full thirteen hundred years after Christ.
Before closing these pages, I cannot refrain from saying a word or two to those who still practise infant baptism, or sprinkling.
I know that there are some who candidly admit—and I have reason to think there are others who, although they do not avow, do believe that the Baptists "are right," but they consider the mode, the time, and indeed the ordinance itself, as non-essential.
To which I say, if non-essential, why not omit the observance, rather than deviate from that which is right? The same reason might be assigned for any corruption in or for the non-observance of the other ordinance. The latter might be made an occasion for feasting, as in the time of the apostles, but you would not certainly countenance such a corruption because the ordinance itself is not essential to salvation.
If the one is an institution that should be kept strictly and purely as an emblem of the broken body, sufferings, and death of our Redeemer, so ought the other, which is equally an emblem of his burial and resurrection; as also of our death unto sin, and rising anew unto righteousness. If we may, by our practice, obscure and nullify the intention of the one, so may we also that of the other with equal propriety, and no more guilt.
I would ask, what was the intention of these ordinances, but to keep up the remembrance in our minds, and the impression upon our hearts, of those great events, those important facts? If, then, we destroy the emblematical figure of these ordinances, we assist in effacing the recollection and the impression that was intended to be kept alive.
Suppose that a large portion of the members of your community were now to attempt to bring about an immediate alteration in the manner of observing the ordinance of the Lord's Supper—say to administer it to infants only—who is there that would not be indignant at the very idea—that would not see at once that it was a profanation, a subversion of the original intention of a sacred institution—the pure observance of which was a moral obligation—and that such an alteration would, in effect, deprive those of a spiritual benefit for whom it was intended, because they only could understand its meaning; and would render it an useless unmeaning ceremony to those unconscious beings to whom it was administered?
This would be quite as consistent, quite as proper, as the other, for this is precisely the perversion, the desecration that has taken place in the ordinance of baptism, and the only reason its equal profanity does not strike the conscience as vividly is because the prejudices of education and habit have accustomed the mind of many to regard the one ordinance as less sacred, and therefore less imperative than the other.
One body of Christians generally (for as might be expected, where there is error all are not of one mind) regards the ceremony of sprinkling infants in the light of a dedicatory act on the part of the parents; they disclaim all pretension to any spiritual influence in consequence, or to the child's participating in the ceremony, or deriving any direct immediate benefit or privilege therefrom; and yet this is called baptism!
Some say they consider the ceremony as simply a symbol of the necessity of regeneration—of a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness. Others regard it as a sign or seal of the child's admission into the new covenant, and as the offspring of Christian parents to the immunities and privileges attending such connection. (But what are these? Where are they described in Scripture?)
To Pædobaptists entertaining the first notion, I would say, who required this at your hands? Do you find any instance of such a dedication in the New Testament? Are you Jews, or are you Christians? Are you under the old or under the new dispensation? Do you find that baptism was administered to unconscious and unaccountable infants for the benefit of the parents that they might become more sensible of the duties that devolve upon them—or, with the view to a remote benefit accruing to the children from the discharge of those duties?
Of the second, I would ask, where is the resemblance between your ceremony and that of Christ's baptism? How does sprinkling a few drops of water on a child's face typify the necessity of regeneration in an accountable being? An unconscious infant is not better for the purpose than would be an inanimate figure.
And if such a construction could be in your opinion deduced from such a ceremony, can you at the same time show that the examples of baptism and language relating thereto of Scripture, bear you out in that construction? If such was the mode, the intention, the construction, the practice of Christ and his apostles, is it not extraordinary that there should be no examples of infants being then so baptized for the benefit of the spectators? For such a baptism, not being for the benefit of the parents, as such, or of the unconscious child, can only be attended to (and query at whose instance?) for the benefit of any persons who perchance may be present!
If such was the intention of the appointment, it is most marvellous that there is not a single instance of a similar observance recorded in Scripture, as having taken place for the benefit of the multitudes to whom the gospel was preached.
If you regard it as a sign or seal of the admission of the child into the new covenant, what do you mean by such declaration? Do you disclaim all pretension to any divine influence upon the child as the result of this ceremony, and yet say, at the same time, that it is a sign or symbol of its initiation, introduction, or reception into the visible church of Christ? If so, allow me to ask upon what ground? Where is your example, your authority, for the introduction of an unbeliever into the Christian church?
Luke 18:16, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," and other passages mentioning the baptism of households, are often quoted as warrants for the observance; but it is hardly necessary to say, that these very passages, instead of justifying, afford evidence that the practice is unjustifiable.
With respect to the passage quoted, no mention is made of baptism, but in the preceding verse it is stated, that the children were brought to Jesus, that he might simply "touch" them, for which those who brought them were rebuked by the disciples; thus affording them satisfactory proof that these were not brought to be baptized, and that it was not the practice of our Saviour to baptize little children. Otherwise the disciples, instead of rebuking, would have encouraged their approach.
As to the term “households,” three are mentioned as being baptized; one of those households, it is stated, believed in God; and another, that they "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints;" and of the third, that of Lydia, since no mention is made of her having either infant children or a husband, it must be concluded that she was a single woman at the head of a business, and that her servants formed her household; for it is stated, that Paul and Silas "entered into the house of Lydia, and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed." (Acts 16:40) Now surely none of these could be considered sufficient authority for a practice which has nothing better to support it.
If then you have no example in Scripture, and can point out no similarity between your outward ceremony and its spiritual meaning, and that of the ordinance as prescribed by our Saviour, and practised by his apostles, you surely have some reason to fear that you are not fulfilling your Lord's commands. "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:19, 20)
Other Pædobaptists declare in their creed that any act of worship without faith is sin, but since baptism is professedly with them the act of, and for the immediate benefit of, the unconscious babe, they get someone to believe for it! And when this is done, the minister declares, "This child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's church!" It is quite unnecessary to ask those who know anything of the Scriptures, where there is an example for such a proceeding—for such a declaration—for such a conclusion? Or, where is the resemblance between such a baptism and that instituted by our Lord?
It is worthy of observation, how those who diverge from the straight path of truth become involved in difficulty, for it is strange that two bodies of Christians, observing the same practice, should have such opposite notions of the fundamental principle intended to be inculcated by, and the parts the persons engaged are to perform in, the ceremony. One sees that baptism is intended for the benefit of the subject baptized, upon a profession of faith; for "whatever is not of faith is sin;" but as an infant cannot exercise faith, it is evident therefore that infant baptism is wrong; to endeavour therefore to appear consistent, and make that which is wrong look as though it were right, the more inconsistent practice of faith by proxy is added to the other.
The other, seeing the inconsistency of such a proceeding, discards the idea of participation or consciousness on the part of the subject baptized. Also, the benefit intended to be conveyed by the founder of the institution to the baptized person, by his admission to the privileges of his visible church, on a profession of faith in his merits, therefore substitutes an equally erroneous and more unmeaning ceremony, viz, instead of baptism, (that is, immersion) on a profession of faith from the subject, it is unwillingly sprinkled, without any profession, said to be baptized, and to have received the sign or seal of its forcible (because it is unconsenting) admission into—what?—not the Church of Christ because it does not and cannot partake of its privileges.
I would therefore entreat those who practice Infant Baptism to consider seriously whether they are not adhering to and countenancing a profanation of what is most sacred, which, if true, they cannot hope will be regarded with indifference by Him who instituted the ordinance; not only on account of their non-fulfilment of his commands, but because this erroneous substitute for it tends to mislead and eternally ruin immortal souls.
For such a practice one a very real sense induces them to believe something has been done for them, which has made them heirs of heaven; thereby tempting them to neglect seeking their own salvation, leading them to believe they are already regenerate. And, on the other hand, it causes them to regard his holy ordinance, which was instituted to elucidate and impress upon their minds the necessity of a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, as a non-essential, unimportant, unmeaning ceremony.
Surely this was not the intention of the infinitely wise, and holy, and gracious Founder of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. And it would be well for themselves, and well for others, if all who practise Infant Baptism, would seriously, devoutly, and uninfluenced by prejudice, (pride, or false shame, in acknowledging they have been so long in error, or have so long neglected to look into the matter) examine the subject by the standard of Divine truth, the Word of God that they may satisfy themselves that they are not aiding the great adversary of souls, by mystifying and darkening an important doctrine of the Gospel.
The simple questions necessary to arrive at a right judgment appear to be these:
1. Were not the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper instituted to impress upon our minds, and keep alive the great doctrines of the Gospel? Viz:
I. The necessity of repentance, or a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, in newness of life.
II. Salvation through the merits and sufferings of Christ, on whom we live, and to whom we look for the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, to create within us new hearts and right minds.
2. Which mode of observing these ordinances, now in practice, typifies most clearly these doctrines, and is best supported by the examples and spiritual instruction of Scripture?
3. Ought we to shut our eyes to that which bears in it both external and internal evidence of being right, to seek for some forced resemblance to a practice in fashion, in order to uphold it.
Let it not be supposed that because the inquiry has been made, by what authority you assume to yourselves the power and right of admitting unbelievers to the blessings of the new covenant? And because it is maintained that there is no example for the admission of infants (who necessarily are unbelievers) to the privileges of the Christian church that therefore, Baptists think infants dying such are eternally lost. Far from it!
The writer is certain that every Baptist would consider it to be defamatory of the rich, the free, the infinite love and mercy of God to imagine such a thing; the language of Scripture throughout is opposed to such an idea. For although our children are by nature born in sin and shaped in iniquity, yet such is the fulness of, and the rich provision made in the Gospel through the merits and the atonement of the blessed Redeemer that we may confidently rely, that his blood has paid the penalty of original sin for all those who have not wilfully transgressed; for where there is not the knowledge of the law there can be no transgression, "for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4)
We may therefore trust in the declaration of the Lord, by his prophet Ezekiel, that "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son;" (Ezek. 18:20) and of our Saviour as to little children, that "for of such is the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:14) To believe that salvation depends upon infant baptism (as do some), is to believe that myriads of infant souls from the beginning to the end of the gospel dispensation have been left by an infinitely wise and merciful God to be saved or lost by the act or neglect of man in sprinkling a little water upon them, which they call baptism - a most erroneous papistical doctrine, derogatory to the character of the Almighty, and ruinously injurious to the human race!
Finally, It is often remarked, and with some appearance of vexation, that "the Baptists are so bigoted that they think none can be saved but themselves, therefore they are always bringing forward the subject of Baptism." The first is an ungracious and an untrue assertion, for Baptists do not think so, and in reply to the second assertion, it may be asked, why is offence taken at the subject being agitated if the Baptists are wrong? Do not those who complain betray their own fears, and the weakness of their own case?
The Baptists do not urge the consideration for the sake of making converts to their own opinions as such, but, knowing their principles and practice are right, and will bear the strictest examination, they do not fear to bring them forward, and, as advocating the truth, believe it to be their duty, sincerely desiring that all real Christians, whom they esteem, may unite with them in that which is truth, that they may all, with one heart and one mind, glorify God.