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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
John Quincy Adams
Taken from the book, Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers, 1854 (Lecture IV)
“Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." — Matthew 15 6.
Every Reform in religion, presupposes the existence of errors, evil in their tendencies and results, which have gradually crept into ecclesiastical organizations, and which, need to be removed in order that such organizations may become pure and scriptural. A Reform is not the introduction of a new system of religion, but rather the revival of the old system, and the assertion of its supremacy over the innovations of men. It is not a movement based on the pretended reception of a new revelation, conflicting with previous ones from an unchanging Jehovah, but it is the enforcement of the commands and precepts which have already been revealed, but which have been obscured, and invalidated, and made of none effect by human tradition.
Thus it was with the Great Reform introduced by Jesus Christ. He declared that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. In the prosecution of his mission, he utterly disregarded the religious rites which owed their origin to mere human invention, and, by a studied non-observance of the traditions of the Jewish rabbis, he constantly exhibited his disapprobation of them. At the same time, he taught principles, which, if carried out, would restore the supremacy of God's law, and effectually remove every vestige of this usurpation of authority by man.
This course brought down upon him the displeasure of those who were wedded to the rites of tradition, while they neglected the more important commands of God. They therefore came to expostulate with him in reference to the course pursued by him, saying, "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?" But Jesus, in reply, asked them a far more pertinent and weighty question: "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition ?" and then, after citing a case in point, he charged them, in the words of the text, with making void the law of God, by substituting their unscriptural observances for His divine commands:— "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."
There exists to-day a body of Christians, who are laboring to affect the same kind of reform as was engaged, more than eighteen hundred years ago. That body, though designated since the days of Christ by various names, is known, at the present time, by the name of Baptists. The theme of this, and several succeeding Lectures will be, The Distinguishing Features of That Reform in Which Baptists Are Engaged.
Many persons suppose, that the only difference between Baptists and other evangelical denominations, is respecting the mode and subjects of baptism. This is, indeed, the principal external difference: but this difference exhibits the adherence, on the part of Baptists, to a great and important principle, which is involved in their action, and which they believe to be violated by those who differ from them in this matter.
An illustration of their position is found in the text and its connection. The washing of a person's hands before eating, was, in itself, a small matter; but it involved, in this instance, a sinful obtruding of human tradition in the place of divine commands. This is just the principle that is involved in the practice of infant sprinkling. We announce, then, as the first feature of the Reform in which Baptists are engaged,
The Exaltation of the Word of God above Tradition, in all Matters of Religious Duty
There has always been a conflict between Divine revelation and human tradition; and yet the advocates of the latter have almost invariably endeavored to reconcile it with the former, and thus the Word of God is often distorted in vain efforts to make it support that which is of merely human origin. The ultimate effect of these efforts is to divide the Bible against itself, and to cause it to be utterly disregarded as the standard of appeal in matters of religious duty.
It was thus with the traditions of the Jewish elders. Those who followed them, and practised their rites, ceased to regard the Scriptures which they possessed as the standard of duty; they became a dead letter, and the tradition of the elders—not the Scriptures—was the authority they cited for their support. "For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother; and he that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."
The same result followed, when the disciples listened to the voice of tradition. On one occasion Christ said, in reference to John, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” Tradition immediately distorted the question into an assertion: "Then went that saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die.” (John 21:22, 23) Here Tradition uttered a falsehood, and taught, as usual, a lie.
It is thus, also, in reference to the Church of Rome. Tradition after tradition has been received; human invention after human invention has been adopted, until it becomes dangerous to the interests of that church to permit her deluded members to read God's Word—so directly are lifer traditions opposed to that Word. And, in order to sustain herself, she vainly arrogates to herself infallibility, and exalts herself above the Bible, and makes the commandment of God of none effect by her tradition.
The will of the Pope, and the decisions of councils, are made the standards of appeal, and the Bible is a dead letter. And yet this same church, in all her corruption, endeavors to reconcile her traditions, in some instances, with the Bible; but, in order to do it, she distorts and invents Scripture to suit herself. As an evidence, look at the following question and answer from a Catechism, recently introduced into Catholic schools, as a substitute for the Bible:
"Q. Can the souls in purgatory be relieved by our prayers and other good works?
"A. Yes; being the children of God, and still members of the church, they share in the communion of the saints; and the Scripture says: ‘It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.'"
On what does the Papacy rest to support its penances, and image-worship, and prayers to the saints, and priestly absolutions, and, in short, its very existence? I reply in one word, Tradition. Let the Bible become her standard, and she would cease to exist. She has made almost every, commandment of God of none effect by her tradition.
Thus it is, also, with Protestant Pedobaptist churches. Tradition is the basis on which infant sprinkling rests. We look in vain for any command in reference to it in the Bible; the Scriptures utter not a word in support of it. The most able Pedobaptists have themselves admitted this. Says Dr. Woods, an eminent Pedobaptist:
"Whatever may have been the precepts of Christ or his apostles, to those who enjoyed their personal instructions, it is plain there is no express precept respecting infant baptism in our sacred writings. The proof, then, that infant baptism is a divine institution, must be made out some other way." He says further, "The want of an express, positive command of Scripture that infants should be baptized, is not to be considered as a valid objection against infant baptism."
It is here plainly admitted that there is no command for infant baptism in the Word of God. But we do not need these admissions to substantiate our assertion. We simply appeal to the Bible itself if it was there, we could see it for ourselves. We ask anyone to show us the first instance of the sprinkling of an infant, or any command to administer baptism to infants. It cannot be found. Thousands of dollars have been offered for the production of a single text, authorizing the practice; but these premiums have never been claimed.
On what, then, does it rest? I reply on Tradition. Dr. Woods says that authority for it "may be afforded particularly by an unwritten tradition." It is a human invention, having no higher authority than that of man. It is one of the traditions which the Protestant Reformers brought from Rome. It is the main “pillar" on which Popery rests; for, if you take away the baptism of infants, Rome would soon fall; Its defence necessitates Romish arguments; sad instances are not wanting where Pedobaptists, in combatting Romanists, have either been compelled to use arguments fatal to their own practices, or else be defeated.
And it is a matter of history, that Protestant arguments against Baptists have often been used by Romanists against Protestants themselves. Says the President of the famous Council of Trent—a Roman Catholic Pope—speaking of the Baptists: "And surely, how many soever have written against this heresy, whether they were Catholics or Reformers, they were able to overthrow it, not so much by the testimony of the Scriptures, as by the authority of the Church."
And Bayle, in his Critical Dictionary, says that the Protestants were obliged to meet the Baptists with arguments which were turned against them by the papists. Dr. Woods furnishes us an illustration of this assertion. He says:
"It is unquestionable, that the knowledge of some extraordinary events of providence, or of some divine injunctions, may be as truly and as certainly communicated in this way, [by an unwritten tradition] as in others; and we should, in many cases, consider a man, who should refuse to admit the truth and authority of a tradition, to be as unreasonable, as if he should refuse to admit the authority of written or printed records."' (Lectures on Infant Baptism, p. 17)
Now I ask if this is not giving up to Rome all she claim. "We should consider a man who should refuse to admit the authority of tradition, to be as unreasonable as if he should refuse to admit the authority of written or printed records!" Will not Archbishop Hughes say "Amen" to that?
And, on what kind of traditionary authority does infant sprinkling rest? Why, upon the same as every other corruption of Rome; and if Romish tradition be followed in this case, why not in all others? Thus, we have clearly shown that infant sprinkling requires Romish arguments. Now the simple reason of this is that, like the other rites of Popery, it is founded in tradition.
Further, the commandment of God is made of none effect by this tradition. God has given express and plain commands, in reference to every duty and ordinance. He has commanded believers to be baptized; he has extended the command to none others. Those baptized in infancy, in the majority of cases, grow up in unbelief, and never become believers. But where they do become converts, they are taught, by the tradition of the church, that their infant baptism is sufficient, and they are not expected to be baptized after believing. And even when persons sprinkled in infancy are led, by the study of the Bible, to desire baptism after they have believed, strong efforts are always made to dissuade them from it, and they are often compelled to go to the Baptists in order to be baptized. These things are of such common occurrence, that it is unnecessary to relate instances in proof Thus the Word of God is made of no effect.
Again, Pedobaptists, like the Jewish elders, endeavor to reconcile their tradition with the Word of God. Look at their reasoning: "Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free." Pedobaptists say: " If any person be sprinkled in infamy, and be not baptized after they believe, it is sufficient." There is an exact parallel. Here you perceive the reasonings of men, in both instances, though opposed to the express command of God, are made the standard, instead of His Word. Would it not sound strange to hear a Pedobaptist minister urge his people to simply follow the teaching and example of Christ, in reference to baptism? Yet this is right; but this comes directly in contact with their tradition.
Now Baptists are opposed to tradition, anywhere and everywhere; whether they find it in the Church of Rome, or in Protestant churches, they aim to elevate the Word of God above tradition, as the standard of duty in all places. It is professedly the grand doctrine of Protestantism—which Protestants themselves have abandoned - that Baptists steadily maintain. They aim to bring all to this standard. They, themselves, have always adhered to the Bible. Did anyone ever hear of Baptists being charged with following tradition? The charge would be ridiculously absurd; for they have always opposed tradition as a guide in matters of religious duty.
From these remarks it will be perceived, that while the subjects and mode of baptism is the external ground of difference between Baptists and others, that difference involves a great principle; and the primary question, is not, Shall infants be baptized, but whether God's Word or Tradition shall be our guide. God has uttered His will in the matter. That will we follow, as we find it in his Word. Those who oppose us, by their own showing, follow tradition. We are laboring to affect a Reform. In doing so, we refer all to the Bible. We assert its supremacy above all human teaching, our own, as well as that of others. This, then, is a prominent feature of the Reform in which Baptists are engaged. And, I observe, it is most important and necessary. Especially is it necessary:
1. In combating error. If tradition be allowed in one particular, who will prohibit it in another? Romanism is gaining ground in this country; it is a religion of tradition. Who will oppose it? Those who are themselves trammeled by tradition? To every argument they can retort, as they have done, "Where do you get your infant sprinkling?" The most staunch Romanist asks nothing more than the adoption of the principle, contained in the language already quoted, of a Protestant Pedobaptist in support of infant sprinkling; "We should consider a man who should refuse to admit the truth and authority of tradition, to be as unreasonable as if he should refuse to admit the truth of written or printed records."
No Pedobaptist can consistently oppose Romanism. There is no consistent position between the Romish and the Baptist church. Tradition leads to the one—the Word of God to the other.
Infidelity and Rationalism, also, are rearing their heads in our midst, and who shall meet them? Their cry is, "Priestcraft, and ministerial dictation!" Who shall meet them? Those who suffer their ministers to tell them what to believe, and to dictate whether they shall investigate a subject or not? No, but those who are prepared, by an independent investigation, and a manly appeal to the Bible, to show the falsity of their charges. This feature of Reform is necessary
2. To the purity of the Church. No organization can be pure, without a pure standard. Tradition is liable to perversion; there is no certainty about it. To-day it assumes one position, tomorrow an opposite one. Thus it has ever been. The Church of Rome, though claiming infallibility, has constantly changed her ground of action, because governed by the variable standard of Tradition. This is no less true of Protestant Pedobaptism. To-day, infants are sprinkled on one ground; tomorrow that ground is abandoned, and another, directly opposite to it, is urged, as a reason for administering the rite. Anon, both these are abandoned, and a new position, with a new set of arguments, is introduced. Can the church be pure with such a contradictory guide as Tradition? Never!
Finally, I inquire, does the charge of the text lie against any of my Christian brethren? If you have neglected baptism since you believed, because you were sprinkled in infancy, it most assuredly does. Your sprinkling rests on Tradition. The Bible says, "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." "Repent and be baptized, every one of you." If, because sprinkled in infancy, you refuse now to obey Christ, we say to you, in His own truthful language, "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition!”