Mr. Bridgman: “The Baptist minister who will shew me the plain unequivocal command for the immersion in water of a believer, as constituting water baptism, either as commanded by Christ, or his apostles under his authority, I tell him this, that in my own chapel, at my own expense I will have a pool made, and he shall be my baptizer—will you accept the challenge?”
In reply to this paragraph, I shall state some things that appear quite plain to me on the subject of believers’ baptism, but I shall not pretend to a successful execution of the challenge, because that which may be laid down as a truth and proved so beyond any fair disputation by one person, may not be at all effective in another’s sight, and the point in hand is not only to be established on the ground of undeniable truth, but it is to be shown, and here lies the difficulty; because I have not only to make my exhibition, but to secure admitted sight thereof in the same sense in which the point in hand is exhibited. And when any man can see sufficiently clear for practice under the name of an institution of God, what has not one single text, direct nor indirect, in precept or precedent in the Word of God, it is hardly to be expected that he can by any human effort, be brought to see what is plainly written and practiced out in the Word of God. There is but one cause for a man’s seeing all the parts of truth’s system in their native order, but there are a vast many reasons for his not seeing, as there are also for his seeing that to be truly divine that has no relation whatever to divinity.
In my stating how believers’ baptism is to me so plain on the text of the New Testament, let it be fully understood that I believe the Scriptures to be the infallible word of God, that there is no deficiency about them, nor superfluity in them; that they contain no self-contradiction, and that nothing that is commanded is by us to be reckoned indifferent; that they are sufficiently pointed and plain to the purpose of every subject intended, and that where one part may seem inexpressive, it is that we should associate some other part therewith, that so by comparing Scripture with Scripture we may come at the mind of the Spirit; that the greater or less acceptation of a word is to be taken from the association in which it stands, and that the current practice of immediately inspired men is infallible comment on, and explanation of, the mind and will of God, for our obedient and practical observance; and that, according to these rules, I shall, by the merciful kindness of our God, now endeavor to proceed. And,
1. Our Lord’s commission to his apostles stands in as positive command of baptism as it does of preaching the gospel. And the mode and subjects are as positively determined by command, as the whole commission itself was of God. And the apostles as well knew what was to be required of candidates, and that that prerequisite is indispensable, and what mode was signified, as they knew from the mouth of the Lord what gospel they were to preach. And they knew that any other subject or mode to what the Lord, had commanded, was no more the same institution than another gospel was the very same the Lord had commanded. And they solemnly knew that it was no more for them to have two distinct and altogether irrelative ordinances in either subject or mode, or both, for God’s own one institution, than it was for them to set up two or more distinct gospels for the one commissioned glorious gospel of the blessed God; the apostles’ uniform practice demonstrates this as undeniable fact. They were to preach the gospel where so ever they went into all the world, and to baptize all them that believed upon such a confession as with which they were satisfied, and not otherwise; saying, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. The apostles were to teach, and the believing subjects of such teaching in the gospel, were the only subjects for baptism, and them the apostles were to teach to observe all things whatever the Lord had commanded them. And if they had not positively and pointedly understood the Lord’s command as plain and unequivocal, they could not have taught others whatsoever he commanded them; and had they not have had such a command, they, as apostles, would not have done as they did. All their teaching and doing as standing matters in the church of Christ, were distinctly and positively what they received by command of the Lord, and all other matters of question among the saints for which they had no command, they gave as their circumstantial opinion, and noted them as such. 2 Cor. 8:8. And as the apostles received the Lord’s immediate will in positive command, their apostolical practice is an unequivocal explanation of the Lord’s will, and a positive handing down of his commandment to us, with a Lo, I am with you always to the end of the world, in the observance thereof.
2. Should it be said, that our Lord’s commission to his apostles, does not appear to express an immediate definement of the only subjects, and mode of baptism, I would observe, that these the apostle’s well knew, and were quite familiar with them both from John’s baptizing. For the distinguishing character of his subjects (Christ himself excepted) was one only, and his mode of baptizing most evidently was one only; and had our Lord gone into any particular definement of these more than his words now contain, when the apostles already knew them so well, and that by their own baptism too, it might then have been supposed that something in them both in future, was to be observed different to what John did. John’s commission to preach and baptize, was as absolutely divine as the commission our Lord gave to the apostles was; for he was the Man that was sent from God whose name was John, John 1:6, and he was sent to baptize with water, ver. 33, and the qualification to be required of the subjects of baptism, together with the mode, were as unequivocally defined to John by Him that sent him to baptize, as the subject matter of his preaching was, or he would have been sent to do, he neither knew what nor how. The ordinance of baptism therefore, as a standing institution in the gospel and spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, had from God, its origin, its complete and final framing in the commission and ministry of John. And I believe it impossible to prove from the Word of God that the apostles in any one instance deviated in either subject or mode, in ministering that ordinance, from the one complete and determinate model which the Lord set up and declared by the ministry of John, and who consequently with design, for as long as the New Testament shall stand upon the earth, is peculiarly styled John the Baptist. The only subjects that John received for baptism and baptized, were those who penitently received his ministry, repented toward God, and humbly confessed their sins, or so professed to do, that he received them in that character only; and all others were rejected, and none were received from relation by blood or nation, Mat. 3:6, 7, 8, 9. And it is in this way I do most simply and confidently understand the apostles to have acted, as in obedience to the perfect will of the Lord, by positive and unequivocal command delivered unto them, and as plainly understood by them, as the following instances can be made honestly to do no other wise than plainly and fully declare.
1. When Peter and the other apostles were asked by the already pricked to the heart, what they should do, the order of the answer was, Repent and be baptized; and they that gladly received the Word were baptized; all of them, and no one else that we can hear anything of in the text, Acts 2.
2. Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them, Acts 8:5; this was as the Lord had commanded. And when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women, ver. 12. This was according to divine commission, and which shows as plain as any subject needs to be, how they understood the Lord’s will in those days; for here were none baptized till they believed, or so professed faith that Philip was satisfied with their testimony, and he had no commission to search hearts; and men and women are here particularized too, and not one word about infants.
3. Then Philip opened his mouth and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus, ver. 35. And as they went on their way they came to a certain water, and the Eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? ver. 36. And Philip said, if thou believe with all thine heart thou may. This is plain enough I think, both in sound and sense, if all the weight of eternal life hung upon its meaning; and what is its most unquestionable meaning? but that Philip must not by any means baptize him, neither must he be baptized in the name of the Lord unless he believed in the truth of God, which Philip had preached; and we know he could not believe with all his heart, without repentance, neither can any sinner repent in heart toward God, without so believing his truth, where one of these is expressed, both are included. And Philip could not baptize anyone in the Lord’s name, as by any Divine authority whatever, without a satisfactory testimony of these, even to an exact unvarying accordance with John, who rejected the Pharisees and Sadducees, not because they had been Pharisees and Sadducees, but because they were still so, and could not bring forth the evidence required of repentance toward God. And the Eunuch answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and Philip baptized him, ver. 37, 38. Now, when you take an infant in your arms for sprinkling, put the like enquiry to it, and wait for the like answer, and never either sprinkle or baptize it until it gives you such an answer to your satisfaction in truth; for if you do, you will be doing what Philip dared not to do, and I should think his authority was as large as yours, and that wider or different authority has since been given to no man than was then given. And acting without such evidence you declare by your acts, that your Gentile infants, are now altogether qualified for baptism without repentance, although neither Jew nor Gentile, young or old, were so in the days of John, our Lord Jesus Christ, or his apostles and evangelists.
4. When the Lord sent Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, he went and said unto him, Brother Saul, arise and be baptized, Acts 22:16; and this was a direct command from the Lord, ver. 12; chap. 9:6; and is a clear case to the point in hand; for Behold he prays, ver. 11; and therefore he was converted to God, and bore evidence that he was a chosen vessel of God, and that consequently it was his given right, and filial duty, to walk in all the New Testament ordinances of God, and upon such evidence only, the Lord commanded, and Ananias acted, and baptized him. And go you and do likewise, and then you will be able to give as good reasons for your doing as for your hope in the name of the Lord, and you will have a good conscience, and plain text on your side.
5. While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the Word. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, Acts 10:44-48. In the case of the Eunuch baptism was demanded, and here it is commanded, but the administration is in both instances alike founded on vital qualification by the grace of God. And both Philip and Peter were such water Baptists, that in neither of these very first sermons to those poor strangers, could they forbear preaching and enforcing that ordinance of God; in the truth of it, and administration of it on the grace formed character of right to it. And this is water baptism by apostolical command, and that of all those who had received the Holy Ghost sufficiently to give evidence that they belonged to the chosen household of God, and had obtained repentance unto life, chap 11:18; and of no one else young or old. Their baptism did not precede such a testimony of their right to it, nor did their receiving of the Holy Ghost supersede their baptism, but qualified them for it, and without such evidence of qualification it would have certainly been forbidden, if by any means it had once been hinted at in any shape; but such a thing was unknown, and so never named, for the apostle did not ask whether he might minister baptism to graceless subjects, but whether the brethren present were not all satisfied that those in the house were the subjects of the grace of God, and so qualified to walk in the distinguishing ordinances of that grace. And if the apostle could not act out the Lord’s command in this one instance, but by such a rule, pray tell me in what other instance and place he could and did as the Lord’s servant so act. And, if he as the Lord’s immediate apostle could not minister baptism but upon the testimony of grace, first imparted to the candidate as the only creation of right to it, pray tell me where, and when other men, by no means apostles, obtained divine authority to act contrary to what the apostle could here dare to act, and to set aside with scorn the only way in which the apostle did here and elsewhere act. For this is not a solitary act of the apostle’s, but is in perfect accordance with his own conduct in Acts ii., with that of Philip with the Eunuch, and of John at Jordan, and with the statement in all places where any description is given of the characters baptized. And this plainly tells us how all the apostles and first ministers of the New Testament understood the command and commission of the Lord, each one for themselves, so as all to act but as one man, and all their several acts to be but as one act for agreement on the point.
6. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God heard us; who’s heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, if ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us, Acts 16:14, 15. This text, so far as it gives any definite statement of the order of occurrences at all relating to baptism, is to the same purpose as the above quoted, and cannot be made to imply, not even indirectly, anything to render the subject less plain than the above declare it, but as baptism is not a cardinal point of statement or of argument in the text, or at which the text aims, it is merely mentioned in the passing on in order to the statement of other things for which this history is more immediately given. The woman, however, was baptized after her heart was divinely opened in the fear and faith of God; and so upon the very same evidence only that was required in all stated cases of character, as the only one uniform warrant from God, either of admission or of ministration. This household has been much resorted to in support of unconscious infant sprinkling, because there is no particular and detailed account of the persons composing it; but it must be a most miserable shift to fly to the partial silence of one text to support a sentiment that affects the whole public character and order of the Church of Christ, in direct opposition to what is elsewhere so plainly written, and also to other parts of the same text. Attempts to make so much out of silence in one place, shows an awful disregard of what is so plainly written elsewhere-through the New Testament, in regard to what was so evidently required by all the Lord’s servants as a qualification of persons for baptism; and it shews also that if silence in one small part of one text, can by art be converted into but a seeming obscurity over what is elsewhere so plainly written, it is a most welcome convenience, and all for the entire want of support by the voice of the Lord, even by one text from the mouth of his inspired servants. There is not one word about this household that can be turned into any fair question against the right of believers only to baptism on the profession of their faith; for whether it consisted of young or old is of no consequence, since they are all Christian brethren at the fortieth verse, and so were all qualified and worthy of baptism at the fifteenth.
7. And was baptized, he and all his straightway, Acts 16:33. Here is another family baptized, we see; and now, if here can be found any children, or a child baptized in this family without the required profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it shall be admitted that there were as many such as you please in Lydia’s household. When the arrows of God reached the poor jailor’s heart, he did as all must do in like circumstances, said, What must I do to be saved? ver. 30. And Paul and Silas said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house, ver. 31. And they spoke unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house, ver. 32. And he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house, verse 34. Here the jailor and all his house had the word of the Lord spoken to them, and they all rejoiced, believing in God, and they all had the sure declaration of salvation upon such evidence, and the very same all, upon such evidence were baptized, and no one else, that we are any way told of; and why? but because no other were baptized, and that no other by the commandment of God should be.
8. And 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, Acts 18:8. Here is another man and all his house baptized, but they are all declared to have first believed in the Lord. And many of the Corinthians were baptized, but they too are all declared to have first believed. Many individuals, or a whole family together being baptized, makes no difference, for they were all believers; and the Holy Spirit has not set this down so particularly without a meaning; for here is no baptism of unbelievers, young or old, stated, known, or thought of, as ever intended in the Lord’s will, word, and commission to his servants.
9. The household of Stephanus, 1 Cor. 1:16, has been referred to in favor of infant sprinkling, with a “perhaps there might be some little children in the family.” But this is but a poor lame shift to evade truth for a fleshly purpose, in a manner that every honest man ought to be ashamed of; for so far as the divine text goes, and there is no authority to go any further, it is evident that this whole household is included among the many Corinthians who believed. For it is particularly written of this house, “Ye know the house of Stephanus, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,” 1 Cor. 16:15. This testimony is divine and can only apply to believers and lovers of Christianity, without affording the least plea for infants, or any one, to be baptized without the faith of Christ; and with all the ado and noise that has been made about whole households being baptized, as a plea for infant sprinkling, it is not a little remarkable that the Holy Spirit has been so particular in stating that they were all believers, that the greatest violence must be done to divine testimony to include any one but believers in any one of the households described; for all the statements are in too exact accordance with, If thou believe with all thine heart thou may, Acts 8:37, to admit of a reasonable supposition to the contrary; but prove that my conclusions on the sacred texts are forced, unfair, and unjust, and I will yield, but until then I feel it my duty to defend.
10. The testimony recorded that John baptized all Judea, and all the regions round about, has been referred to and taken up as an argument to support infant sprinkling, ” because,” say they, “if John baptized all, then infants must be included.” But all individually are neither stated nor intended, but all sorts of characters, high and low, from all stations in life, places, and parts of Jerusalem, Judea, and the regions round about. For the Pharisees and Sadducees were not included, and they were a part of the individual all; and the nature of a Pharisee or of a Sadducee is as fit, without the grace of God, for the ordinances of God’s house as the nature of a child is without grace ; or if not, pray tell me wherein lies the difference. And if a child without the quickening and enlightening grace of God in the heart, be a proper subject for “the immediate ordinances of God’s spiritual kingdom, what graceless character is there upon the whole earth that is not so? But if the Pharisees and Sadducees could not be admitted by this great and perfect modeler of baptism, immediately sent from God, without the testimony of repentance towards God, how and by what authority is it that infants are now to be admitted without it? Unless you mean to say that infants are proper subjects while infants, but that if not baptized then, and they live and grow up, they are not then to be baptized unless they repent. And if this be your meaning, say so; but do be so kind as to bring us, your authority from the Holy Scriptures. Some people have considered there to be a preferable difference in the infants of believers, and that they, exclusive of other infants, are proper subjects for baptism; but whatever may be the secret will of God concerning them, yet as infants in the flesh they are no more scripture subjects for baptism than the infants of the untamed savages. For the sanctification and holiness mentioned in 1 Cor. 7:14, are merely matrimonial and of filial legitimacy in moral regard to society, and not spiritual in regard to the kingdom of God, by the regenerating work and sanctifying power and grace of the Holy Spirit; for that which is born of the flesh is flesh, be it of whose ever flesh it may; and graceless, faithless, and unregenerate flesh and blood, without new-creature-ship in Christ Jesus, cannot inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. 15:50 ; having no qualification for it, nor consequently for those ordinances which rightfully and alone belong to the heaven-born subjects of that kingdom, whereby for them openly to declare their separation and call by the effectual grace of God unto that kingdom, their hopeful attachment in heart and soul to the King on the throne of that kingdom, and their allegiant submission to his government and laws; and, therefore, that there went out unto John all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him, is no argument for the baptizing of any unbeliever, and so not for infants without the manifest grace of God; because it is added, confessing their sins; so that the all does as much apply to the confessing, as to the baptizing, as there were none baptized without it.
And further, if John baptized all individually and numerally, pray where did our Lord get his subjects within the space of three years and a half, or in less time, in the very same neighborhood? because Jesus made, and his ministering disciples baptized more disciples than John. John 4:1, 2. On this we may observe two or three things, and 1. Here is nothing intimated of a difference of baptism, but an oneness is fairly implied; for as full proof of this, Christ and his disciples were preaching and baptizing in Judea, at one and the same time that John was baptizing in Enon, John 3:22, 23, and which shews that it was one and the same ordinance, and in the very same way ministered in both cases without a jar. And this is also very evident from the tale that was brought to John, saying, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness, behold, the same baptizes, and all come to him; for had there been any difference, that would most surely have been observed. Ver. 26. 2. That it was water baptism, with our Lord, as well as with John, is most evident; because Jesus baptized not, but his disciples did all that was done in this baptizing, and they never had the power nor authority to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Ghost was not yet in that way given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:39. 3. However, many were baptized by the disciples in the presence of their Lord, their being all made disciples, is very plainly set down as preceding their baptism. 4. And, as it is said, more disciples than John, and none are here baptized but disciples; it is another intimation as plain as a declaration to any unprejudiced mind, that they were all disciples, who answered in substance alike to the requirement which John first made of those whom he afterward upon satisfaction baptized. And when you find a repenting, truth-believing disciple in the person of an infant, baptize it, my brother, according to the Scriptures, and we will hail the act, and bid you God speed.
11. While some have tried to make out a plea for infant sprinkling by the all that John baptized, others have clearly seen that the baptism of believers or penitents only, has so much undeniable countenance in John’s baptizing, and that it could by no way or art be turned about as anything in favor of infant sprinkling, they have declared and tried to prove that John’s baptism and Christian baptism are two distinct and very dissimilar things; and then detaching our Lord’s commission to his apostles from anything previous on baptism, they have argued that that commission in itself is too inconclusive to exclude the sincerity of different opinions, and that, therefore, infants may justly be included by those who think them proper subjects. But if the account of John’s baptizing, was from Heaven, now ordered to be cut out of the Scriptures, and out of our minds, as no longer of any account, even then it would be sufficiently plain to any impartial mind, that the baptism of believers only, as a profession of faith in Christ, their reliance on him, and attachment to him as their only hope and Savior, and their distinction from what they once were, and from the world that now lies in wickedness, by the power and constraint of sovereign saving grace on their hearts, is the only baptismal ordinance of God in the New Testament. Believers in Christ only, are really Christians, either for the Church of God or for the kingdom of Heaven, and baptism is theirs only as such, whether in filial duty or in household privilege. And if our Lord have not spoken plain enough in his commission to his apostles for our Anti-Baptist brethren to understand the very thing commanded, or that anything definite was at all positively commanded on the point, the apostles’ united and uniform practice is plain enough to prove how they understood the Lord. He gave them the law, and they so plainly and with one heart practiced out its meaning, as to make it an unaccountable difficulty for many of our opposing brethren to find art, cunning, and evasion enough to keep themselves ignorant of it; or to persuade other people that they are so. While we can read the apostles’ practice and espouse the good plain sense of what we read, with peace and good comfort, without any such difficulty; and if asked, can give a plain reason, on the authority of divine text, for our belief and our practice.
However, it would be as easy to prove that a thing is not itself, as to prove from the sacred Scriptures that John’s baptism is not God’s own immediately instituted ordinance of baptism for the whole of the New Testament dispensation of his Church on earth, without leave or license to drop it, or alter it, in either subject or mode. For it is written, All the prophets prophesied until John. Mat. 11:13. And, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Mark 1:1, starts with and fully includes the ministry and baptism ministered by John, as the beginning and as an inseparable part of the gospel dispensation of Christ to his Church. And it is also said in confirmation of this, that John was sent to turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord, Luke 1:17; and which, as the Lord’s servant, in the power of his master, he did, in the calling and baptizing in particular, most of the apostles of our Lord. John 1. 3d, and downward.
And although more divine light on the deeper subjects and extent of the kingdom of our Lord, was to follow, and did follow, by the peculiar gifts and communications of the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Christ, in the ministry of the apostles, than preceded it in the ministry of John, yet the matter was the same in its different measures. John was in the dawn of day, and they were in the beam, but of the same day. John was the Lord’s burning and shining light in the land of Judea and in the regions there round about, and they were the Lord’s light and voice to the ends of the earth. Mat. 5:14. Rom. 10:18. The very sort of applicants that John refused, the apostles would not dare to receive; and the very sort of candidates that John would receive, the apostles would readily admit. But if infants be proper subjects for baptism, then there are no improper ones, for one part of fallen, sin-contaminated, faithless, and unregenerate nature, as such without grace, had as much right as another, and the scrupulous discrimination of character for baptism, both by John and the apostles, on such ground, must be pronounced frivolous, unimportant, without divine authority, and worthless of our regard; but we might as well at once declare there to be no king in Israel, nor law for the Church of God, and that every man is right, that is but right in his own eyes, as to lightly esteem what in this matter is recorded on the sacred page. Neither John nor the apostles ever received any one that can be found written in the Word of God, but upon their own personal testimony of faith and repentance, and which I have before sufficiently shown, and proved too, unless you shall be able to disprove the evidence with the plain text of God’s Word; and which we shall expect you will do if you can, and if you do not do it, we shall conclude it is because you cannot; and that your pretensions to any scripture authority for infant sprinkling, or right to baptism, and of sacred text, against exclusive believers’ baptism, are all vain, for vain purposes.
12. Some of ” the weak-minded,” supposing that John’s baptism was something different from baptism as ministered by the apostles, have considered that the Apostle Paul baptized at least twelve of John’s disciples again, to bring them into Christian baptism, in Acts 19:5, 7. But no such thing is declared or intended in the text; and if he had done so, it would have merely raised a systematic question; but the text would say nothing in favor of infant baptism, because they were all believers, ver. 2; and Paul asked them whether they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed; meaning, (there can be no doubt,) the extraordinary gifts and endowments of the Holy Ghost, for the greater dissemination of the name of Jesus, because their faith was of the Spirit’s ordinary operations.
But they not having received the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and living afar off at Ephesus, they had not heard, and so were not at all informed of what the Lord was doing in that way, or had done; and they said in regard to this, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” And Paul asked them, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” And they said, “Unto John’s baptism,” 5:3. Then said Paul, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5:4. When they heard they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and had satisfied Paul that they now rightly understood the subject so, according to what the apostles preached of that name, and the power of it by the Holy Spirit, Paul laid his hands upon them in the faith and power of that name, “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them;” and to shew that this was in gifts and endowments, it is added, ” And they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” 5:6. So that they were not baptized again, but were instructed on their baptism, and understood it more perfectly in the name of Jesus Christ, by Paul’s explanation, and then they were endowed with gifts. Neither is there anything in this text to shew that John’s baptism was different in either mode or subject from that ministered by the apostles, but direct to the contrary. The pronoun This in 5:5, which so much affects the true sense of the reading, belongs to the translator’s additions, and not to the text, and is best thrown out, as it never had any business in. Having now stated how the matter is as plain to me as the fact of my own existence, that believers are the only Bible subjects for the ordinance of baptism, I shall now proceed to shew how it appears equally plain to my fullest confidence, that immersion is the only mode, or really baptism; and that sprinkling a few drops of water on either infant or adult, is no baptism at all, nor anything else, in the truth of the New Testament religion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am satisfied that the New Testament institution of baptism, is to immerse the whole body of the believer in water, and will state my reasons by the Word of God plainly considered for this satisfaction. Many of the most learned men have admitted that we have the best sense of the word used, but as there has been much caviling on the original word to make it mean anything, in order that it should properly mean nothing decisively, and as I am a plain man, and believe there is no danger in going by the plain word of God as we have it, that the Lord’s called people are generally a plain people, who need not to be puzzled with critical and endless disputations on a word in a language which it never was the gift of God they should understand, and as I write for the plain New Testament defense of soul sentiments of truth before God, I shall leave such disputations to abler hands, and to those that can make them answer some good purpose, and come to recorded evidence on the subject in hand; and if that evidence, or my conclusions thereon, can with divine text be overturned, I shall be most happy to be corrected; for the Lord is my witness that I only wish to be right; to believe right, to live right, and to die right, according to the word of God. And,’
1st. Observe the local evidence; for the places where John baptized are not named by the Holy Spirit of all truth without a meaning, at once adapted to establish the ordinance in the church of God according to divine will, commission, and command; and as so to stand until revoked by the mouth of the Lord. And it is said of John, that the people were baptized of him in Jordan confessing their sins. Mat. 3:6. And were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan confessing their sins, Mark 1:5. Now it is not said, By, or Near to, nor with water out of the river, but In the river of Jordan. I cannot see how it can be possible to get all this into a basin, so as to make a dry footed baptism of it, or a baptism of those who are too young to talk. And John’s baptizing in Enon, because there was much water there, John 3., will not with any fair or sound reason, hold good with the idea that he chose that place for the purpose of sprinkling or pouring, when but a few gallons of water would have been sufficient to sprinkle or pour upon more thousands of people than he ever baptized in all his life. But to evade this evidence for immersion, it has been said that Enon was only a place of small rivulets, and that John chose that place for the convenience of camels, and other travelling cattle of the comers to his baptism. But such an objection is too futile in itself, and too degrading to the sacred text, to deserve an observation, although for want of better, the opponents of believers’ baptism may receive it as forcible reasoning; for there was no occasion for John to go to such a distance from the people to preach, so as for them to want to take out their thirsty cattle in such a manner; but suppose there was such an occasion from the peoples coming from many miles round to hear him, they could have carried water with them on their camels, as was usual in travelling through those parts where water was scarce. But the objection is too trifling for the dignity of the solemn word of God. And besides, John’s preaching here is not even named, but his baptizing, and because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized.
2d. The practical evidence. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went straightway up out of the water, Mat. 3:16. This shows that our Great Baptist Leader, Head, and Lord, was baptized by his high commissioned servant John, in, and not merely with water; for his coming straightway up out of the water, shews that he first went down into the water, and there is no evidence that he was baptized in a different way to all the other candidates, so that they all went down into, and were baptized in, and not merely with water. And that they should go down into the water simply for the purpose of having a little sprinkled, or even poured upon them, is too unmeaning and senseless for the dignity of holy inspiration. And although our translators have been careful to give us with water, wherever they could, instead of in water, yet the subject is practically too plain to admit a reasonable doubt. And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, &c, Acts 8:38, 39. This is exactly in accordance with our Lord’s baptism, and that of all John’s candidates, as before shewn; and which is evidence as clear, and unequivocal as evidence need to be, that the will of God on the mode of baptism, is immersion, and was clearly understood so by the inspired servants of God, and that they all understood it perfectly alike, and that that mode was but one, and was that of going down into, and of baptizing in water, in a manner most self-consistent with the minister and the candidates, going both down into the water for the only right and proper ministration of it; and which practice must most naturally carry out the sense of the word used, to the fullest acceptation of, to dip, or immerse. And I will undertake to say that there is not one opponent to believers’ immersion in this whole kingdom, but who would consider that the utmost violence was done to reason, the letter of common law, the spirit of equity, and the clearest analogy of things, if his right to an estate was disputed on no better grounds, than can be found against evidence so good as this is for immersion; and wherever interest, or disinterest, are any guide to a conclusion, truth is disregarded; and interest sought at the expense of truth is best never had; for God is true, and truth only will stand in his sight.
3rd. The evidence of Figurative representation. And, 1. Our Lord compares his sufferings and death to baptism, saying, I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Luke 12:50. He was more than sprinkled and sprayed with afflictions, misery, and death; for he was enveloped, immersed, overwhelmed, surrounded, and wholly covered with sorrows and woes; to magnify the holy but every way violated law, to honor and satisfy the even way insulted justice of God, and to redeem and purify an every way ruined and sin-contaminated church; that he might bottom the counsels of hell, and all the works and powers of darkness, with complete defeat, overthrow, and destruction; and the counsels, purposes, and promises of heaven, with perfect fulfilment, faithfulness and honor; to the glory of God the Father, the full establishment of the Holy Spirit’s inspired witness of him, to his own eternal praise, and to the peace, safety, and final advancement into heaven and endless life, all the chosen in Him. He was baptized in reproaches, Luke 23:35, 36, saying, Because for thy sake I have borne reproach: shame hath covered my face, Psalm 69:7. He was baptized in sorrow, saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” Mark, 14:34. ” Deep calls unto deep at the noise of thy water spouts; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over, me,” Psalm 42:7. ” I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me,” Psalm 69:2. He was baptized in bloody sweat, “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” Luke 22:44. The ground was sprinkled but he was immersed, saying, ” I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels,” Psalm 22:14. He was baptized in darkness, “And there was a darkness over all the earth; and the sun was darkened,” Luke 23:44, 45. “And lie cried with a loud voice saying, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mat. 27:46. He was baptized in death, and in the tomb, saying, ” Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Psalm, 16:10. ” And having said this, he gave up the ghost,” Luke 24:46, “and he was laid in a sepulcher, wherein never man before was laid;” 5:53; “and he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” 1 Cor. 15:3.
The above are not so many baptisms, but the vast association comprised in our Lord’s great baptism, which he endured, to spoil, founder, and for ever to sink the powers of darkness and of death, to establish righteousness in the vindication of the legal and equitable rights of the throne of heaven, and to fit out, and float in full sail, all his beloved church, above wreck and danger, on the broad rivers and streams of salvation, safe for final and endless harborage in God, life, love, and rest. Isa. 23:21.
Our Lord called his sufferings and death a baptism, in allusion to his baptism in the river of Jordan, and doubtless, that was because there was that in the mode and process of water-baptism that stood as a fair figure and representation of his overwhelming sufferings and death; and that these latter answered to the former as the substance to its own true shadow and sign. In Scripture baptism there is a going down into, and a coming up out of; and our Lord went down into his great redeeming baptism as one made sin for us, and came up out of it as the Lord our righteousness. He went down into his baptism as a poor subject, paying a small tax, and came up out of it as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He went down into his baptism as one made under the law, and came up out of it as the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes. He went down into his baptism as one subject to the covenant of works and ministration of death, and came up out of it as the surety of the better covenant of life and peace, and as the high priest forever in the ministration of life. He went down into his baptism as a bondsman involved, and came up out of it as one made perfect through suffering, to the honorable cancellation of all hand- writing against us. He went down into his baptism as one laden with the mortality of millions, and came up out of it as a quickening spirit having immortality for millions. He went down into his baptism as a son of Adam, and came up out of it as the Son of God, with power in truth and love. He went down into his baptism as one so weak, so feeble, and so poor, as homeless, weary, and not having where to lay his head, and came up out of it as one having all power and majesty of heaven and earth, in grace and glory, judgment and salvation, whom death could not detain, nor hell withstand, nor heaven deny; the brightest beam of heaven’s beauty, and the Father’s glory; the living fullness of the Holy Spirit’s saving testimony; the Bible’s soul; the Gospel’s life and charm; the strength of Israel’s hope; the saint’s sweetest way of full delight in a Triune God; the devil’s awe; the angel’s mysterious, but pleasing, wonder;—the all, and in all— and over all—and far above all—the perfection of heaven’s bliss forever and forever to his ransomed millions redeemed eternally unto God.
Now, as our Lord did set forth this in his water baptism, as by an intended and most properly adapted figure, even so his walking in that ordinance himself, sealed it as a standing institution of religious worship to his believing people, to be observed by them in the same manner as ministered and observed in his baptism; and until there can be some reasonable doubt about what his water baptism, as the pattern, was as to mode, there can be no reasonable doubt as to what Scripture baptism now is as a true copy of that example. And as the apostles had this example so clearly and so largely before them, and ministered it after the same order in the presence of their Master, even to a greater extent than ever John did, it was no more necessary, for the making of the subject of baptism beyond all doubt plain and unequivocal, as to subject and mode, for our Lord to be more explicit in his last commission to them on their baptizing’s, than it was necessary for him to particularize every doctrine and truth in the gospel, to render unequivocal what the gospel was, when he gave them his last final commission to preach. For it was not a commission for them to do what they had never seen nor heard, nor was it a commission for them to do and say contrary to what they had seen and heard, nor was it a commission for them to begin to baptize any more than it was a commission for them to begin to preach, for they had now been doing both. And therefore it was that they should continue in the same preaching and baptizing, and carry their whole ministry in both as to matter, subject, and mode, into all the world; waiting first at Jerusalem, for power from heaven by the Holy Ghost to be able to do so. And if you cannot find plain authority for infant sprinkling from John’s baptizing, our Lord’s baptism, and the Apostles baptizing in the presence of our Lord, I am sure you will find no divine authority elsewhere, for the apostles never afterwards practiced anything contrary.
2. Baptism is set forth under the figure of a death, burial, and resurrection. Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into his death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Rom. 6:3-5.
Every unregenerate soul is dead in trespasses and sins, and is as one dead to all vital and true godliness; but when the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, is put forth upon the heart, the sinner dies to sin, as to his love of it, the dominion of it over his affections, and the un- relented pleasurable practice of it; so that wherein it was his element, it now becomes his pain; and like one dead to them, he must leave his wicked companions, his wicked and prayer-less course, and all his self-righteous, Christ less, carnal hopes. And now, while guilt lies heavy on his heart, with the terrors of a righteous God before his eyes, with no peace in his soul, no hope of life, no Christ in view ; and, unable to associate one pleasing consideration with his sad secluded heart, he is like a body that is dead and buried, having no connection with society on the one or on the other side of the grave; until like the voice that bid Lazarus come forth, some almighty power of saving goodness reaches the heart in the Holy Spirit’s testimony of Jesus, and when some light begins to break forth, and some discovery begins to be made of the great mystery of salvation by Christ and him crucified. And now as Christ becomes so apprehended, the heart becomes more dead to sin by the melting charms of his once bleeding but now reigning love, than before by the death portending terrors of the law; and leaving the dark abstraction of guilt and woe, the soul sinks into glad nothingness by faith in the death of Christ for his redemption; and his very soul’s affections become entombed within the rent veil of the now-endeared Redeemer’s flesh, while he rises into newness of life, and into the hope of eternal life by the power of the Savior’s resurrection and glory, under the sanctifying influence of the great Comforter of souls and glorifier of Jesus; to the glory of God the Father, who hath in covenant arrangement thus made the soul meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. Thus the soul is divinely led through a humbling, regenerating, and renewing course, in a greater or less degree of experience, as a member of the mystical body of Christ, in some distinguishing and conforming way of correspondence to the manner and meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ as the mediatorial and living Head of the whole body the Church. And now the whole hope of the soul is in Christ, as his entire destroyer of sin and death, his resurrection to life, his deliverer from all wrath to come, and his happy expectation of heaven and the glory of the heaven expected. Vital godliness is now possessed, Christ is formed in the heart the hope of glory, the love of God is now shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, the word of life is now gladly received, the gracious will of God is now declared in the soul’s forgiveness and salvation, the soul is now created anew in Christ Jesus, and formed for the Lord, to shew forth his praise, to live forever, to keep his statutes, and to walk obediently in the way of his commands, to confess him scripturally before men, according to the great change wrought in the heart, the matter, manner, and object of faith and hope, and as expressive of the deepest obligation to live to God by the mercy obtained at his hand, in the gift of a new heart, a new life, with faith, hope, comfort, blissful prospect, and all things new, by the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord. For when the soul is quickened into the life of faith, it is called unto the obedience of faith, made light in the Lord, to walk in the light of the Lord; and the truth of the Lord is the light of godliness, and his written word only is the divine rule of obedience. God’s ordinances in his Church are an external and visible drawing of the hidden, spiritual principles and mystery of godliness; and do as truly resemble as shadows to their own bodies and as figures to their true substances; and thus the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to the life of righteousness by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is set forth in believers’ baptism, and as there is no other destruction of death and sure seal of eternal life, either for or in the soul but Christ, dying and rising as the surety of the covenant of life and peace, this is set forth, and faith in the truth of it is declared by baptism j and as the ordinances of God are institutions of worship, so, in baptism the Lord is externally confessed and worshipped according to the hidden truth of God in Christ Jesus, and in the soul’s state by grace. And all this the apostle with sufficient plainness sets forth in our text, saying, We are buried with him by baptism.
Now as to the mode, sprinkling will in no shape whatever agree with the representations by baptism in this text, while nothing is more happily adapted with ease, and without subtlety or cunning evasion, than immersion, as a figure or sign, to express the plain truth of things signified. And as to the subjects, they are addressed as the subjects of personal godliness, dead to sin and risen to newness of life; and no infant can be known to answer to this character, nor is it presumed that they do. And thousands of sprinkled babes grow up, live and die in their sins, ignorant of God and haters of all true godliness, and are never known to be the subjects of the quickening, distinguishing and saving grace of God. In Christian baptism the subject is planted together in the likeness of Christ’s death; but there is nothing in the sprinkling of infants that can justly be made a sign and profession of this. And so by what authority on the face of this text they can be sprinkled or baptized any way, I cannot conceive; and what it can mean as to any tiling of religion when it is done, I cannot make out by any one text in the whole Word of God; for it cannot ,on the part of the subject, be a confession of sin, or a profession of faith in Christ, or be any act of worship and obedience, or any outward declaration of inward attachment to the name and cause of Christ in the hope of eternal life, by the power and witness of adoption by the Holy Spirit on the heart, as the meaning and intent of scripture baptism is. It makes no change in the child either at the time or ever after; it qualifies for nothing of godliness, it entitles to nothing, it forms no vital union or connection with anything spiritual, it excludes no evil, it secures no good, it can be no key of after instruction in righteousness, by any one text in the Bible; the child never knows anything of it unless afterwards told, and when told of it, it commonly cares nothing about it, or if it think anything of it, then it reckons it a something for heaven, without faith in the name of Christ, by the renewing and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, and without that all forms are nothing. To me sprinkling or the baptism of any one without a confession of sins or profession of faith in Christ and of the life of godliness in the soul, appears to be altogether a perversion of God’s institution, and an invention of man, graceless and textless, and without God being without hope. And although we cannot search hearts, yet my confidence from the sacred Scriptures on the point is, that no minister has any Bible authority to baptize any person, young or old, but as he is satisfied for himself from the candidate’s personal confession, that the life of godliness is divinely implanted in his heart.
Our brother Joseph Irons several years ago in the pulpit of Shouldham-street chapel, said on our text, “This is not water baptism, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” He could not in these few words try in this way to destroy the undeniable allusion of the text, without at once confounding his own system, for he denies baptism being a figure of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a representation of faith therein; and contends that it refers as a figure to the coming and work of the Holy Spirit, and has laughed at baptismal burial as being most absurd; while to get rid of scripture baptism, he was obliged to have the work of the Holy Spirit compared to a burial; and in doing so he at once struck a dart through the liver of his own sprinkling system, because sprinkling is as contrary to any figure of a burial in the Holy Spirit’s work, as it is of a burial in regard to Christ. But left to themselves some men will say anything, or no man would ever dare to say in the name of the Lord, that the ordinance of baptism is not immediately alluded to in the figures of this text.
Nor would our brother Irons have ever dared to say that the very same text from the mouth of the Lord, recorded by two different writers, and by them worded a little different, have a direct opposite meaning. But he does say that the sense of Matt, 28:19, is to make all nations disciples by baptizing them, (meaning sprinkling them), and then says, “Now I would ask, are infants a part of all nations?” while he says on the very same text from the mouth of the Lord, being the very same commission to the apostles, Mark 16:16. “One would think it impossible for any man in his senses, to imagine it could mean water baptism.” And he adds, “For here, baptism is as essential to salvation as believing.” But this I deny as false and forced, for when our Lord stated the negative of salvation, he said not a word about the not baptized. And he gives the following as the meaning in Mark, saying, “The true meaning of the text is this; he that believeth, so as to prove that he is baptized of the Holy Ghost, shall be saved.” Jazer Vindicated, page 18, 19. This is a daring rush through all the fair boundaries of sense, reason, and revelation; and is no more what the text intends to say on baptism, than it is that Lucifer is King of saints. Infidels have often reproached the word of God on the ground of the difference of the statement of the same affair by the different Evangelists; and we have contended that the difference is only in the form of wording, but according to the above, our brother Joseph gives them the very ground they seek to occupy. Because on Matthew he makes our Lord’s commission to be that of making all nations disciples by baptizing, or rather sprinkling them with water, saying, “Who shall dare to limit the extensive command of our Lord?” And on Mark, he makes the same commission to be delivered without one word about water baptism, or the least meaning of any such a thing, at the peril of a man’s trembling at saying it has. And in bringing 1 Peter 3:21, to this place, in order to get over believers’ baptism in that text, he reduces the work of the Holy Spirit to a mere figure, or figurative salvation, and not the putting away of the filth of the flesh. And what he says in the above place on Matthew, that all nations are to be made disciples by water baptism including all infants, with a “Who shall dare to limit the extensive command?” is by himself limited to believers in Jesus and their infant seed only, in his True Church. Page 48. But the above is not more out of the way than his saying, “I must have a thus saith the Lord for all I receive as a matter of faith,” and then adds, “I earnestly contend for infant baptism,” without one text to support it, although he has found appropriate scriptures generally through his book to other points. When I look at his work on infant sprinkling, and consider his otherwise noble sentiments on the great gospel doctrines of distinguishing and eternal truth, he appears to me in the comparison, to be the worst writer on infant sprinkling I ever met with; except it be yourself, my brother, so far as you have made any reference to the word of God on the point; but I would have made no reference to our brother Irons on these papers, if you had not brought him forward in your letter.
3. The apostle further speaks in allusion to baptism as a burial and rising with Christ, in Col. 2:12, saying, Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. Here the headship, death, and resurrection of Christ for his church, and the believing soul’s death to sin, and his rising into spiritual life, by the faith of the operation of God, is set forth by baptism, as by a fit and proper figure; and for which reason only the word is used in the text. And there is nothing in either sprinkling or pouring that forms the least resemblance, or that can in any way constitute such a figure, or that can be alluded to as illustrative of the matter intended; for you know that sprinkling a few particles of dust literally is no burial, nor can it with any true meaning be so called; while immersion is a very plain and well adapted figure of burial and resurrection. And here is also, as in the last text, a personal association with Christ in the matter, but into which it is impossible for you to find an infant brought in its sprinkling, for it is written Buried with, and risen with him. And which comes directly to the point that I have before noticed, and shall again and again have to notice, namely, that baptism on the subject’s part, is a worshipful act of obedience to God, a kind of whole profession of faith and of the religion of Christ altogether; a public declaration of detachment from the world as it lies in wickedness, and of soul attachment in the humble hope of eternal life, to the revealed system of mercy and salvation through Jesus Christ crucified.
4. Baptism is set forth as a being baptized for the dead. For the apostle in contending for the truth of the final resurrection of the body, and the reality of that endless futurity of which the word of God so fully assures us, and which so deeply concerns the whole of our religion, our faith and our hope, but which some of the Corinthians had denied, 1 Cor. 15:12, 13, 14, he says, “But now is Christ risen from the dead,” 5:20, adding at 5:29, Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
Various have been the opinions of different persons on this text, but as a plain man I shall for myself set down my own plain thoughts upon it. And, 1. The ordinance of baptism is here set down as having an immediate reference to the resurrection from the dead, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and therefore it must be such as to have some resemblance thereof in the mode and process of it. 2. That there is a mental and moral engagement and exercise of the subject’s own mind in regard to the resurrection as being really set forth in the ordinance of baptism; for to that the apostle makes his appeal. And that there is a profession made, of faith in the resurrection by the subject in his baptism; and which is that which gives weight and clearness to the apostle’s appeal. And that to deny the resurrection, must be to deny the very mode, figure, and design of baptism, and the personal profession of faith thereof, made in their being baptized. And that no person can be a self-consistent Baptist to deny the resurrection, because in his baptism, that is the very thing that he professes and declares, by such a figure, to believe, and that baptism has no true signification in anything else without it. And that the Corinthians were baptized on a consistent profession of faith, and were still firm in baptism; and the apostle reasons with them as such, because, while they denied the resurrection, and held baptism, they denied in substance on the one hand, what they held fast in figure on the other.
If their baptism had been only infant sprinkling, and not a figure of the resurrection, nor any profession of faith in the resurrection, the apostle never could have appealed to it to raise an argument from it; in defense of the resurrection upon their own profession. And had they been sprinkled only when they were infants, the apostle could never have swept them off their legs by their baptism, making it so self- contradictory to be Baptists, and at the same time deny the resurrection; because they might have pleaded an excuse, and said, that it was never done by their consent, nor even by their knowledge; but that it was imposed upon them by other people; and that as it was not done as an act of their own profession, so they were under no obligation thereby; and that as it is without benefit in either sign or substance, and without godly fear by any command, so it is a mockery to meaning, and consequently can never be any scripture plea or argument for anything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Relative to the seeming difficulty in the reading of this text, I am satisfied for myself to believe that the apostle here expressed himself in no other way, nor with any other allusion, than according to the analogy of faith, and uniform sense of the holy Word of God, both on the doctrine of the resurrection, and on baptism, by which it is signified, represented in figure, and professed. And that his saying, “they,” when he meant the very people he was speaking to, was but a kind of side-reflection, more keenly censuring their error, and chastising them for their folly, than a more direct form of address, after the manner in which our Lord often treated the proud and foolish scribes and Pharisees in his parables. And wherein they are said to be baptized for the dead, it is not instead of the dead, but first, for Christ, as for his sake who died and rose again, to whom they professed to give and surrender themselves in their baptism as his property, and not their own; his purchase, his right, and his care unto their everlasting life by the merit of his death and the power of his resurrection; and unto whom, as such, they professed in their baptism to bow in obedient hope, for the honor of his name, his praise, and his glory in the earth, and for the declaration of their faith in his name, as their once dead, but now risen, Lord and Savior. But in all which they must be acting the part of very fools, if there were not, as they denied, any truth in the doctrine of the resurrection; and that they could do nothing with their profession in general, and more particularly so with their baptism, if the doctrine of the resurrection were not a truth. And, secondly, they were baptized for the dead in regard to themselves; that as baptism figures out a death and burial, prior to, but in immediate prospect of, and respect unto a resurrection from the dead, so they therein professed for Christ’s sake to be dead to the wicked, vain, foolish, and perishing elements of this world, in hope of resurrection to a more holy, happy, and better world to come, according to the gospel promises of God. And as they had signified this by their baptism as a figure, they must again contradict it all, and declare their baptism to be but in false profession, and themselves to be still in their sins, if, as they had said, there be no truth in the resurrection. Therefore, whatever may be said upon this text, it appears impossible to deny that baptism herein stands as a pointed figure of and profession of faith in the resurrection; and that for that reason only the apostle uses it as he does, upon their profession, as an argument in defense of that doctrine.
5. Baptism is compared to a washing, as it is written, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins; calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts, 23:16. Natural water of itself, much or little, can never take away sin, nor do anything towards it; but it is that element that is most simply adapted to set forth that which can and does. Sin has spread its uncleanness all over the soul, and to be saved from wrath to come, the soul must be all over washed from sin. And for this purpose, in the abundant mercy of our God, a fountain is opened for sin and uncleanness to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Zec. 13:1. Triune love agreed on the plan, and the fountain was opened with a sword, (ver. 7,) and in the sin-atoning person, sufferings, agonies, and death of our redeeming Christ, is where this wide, deep, perpetual, and, for us, happy opening of the perfectly cleansing fountain was made, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. 1 John. 1:7. Now, this is more than a basin, out of which partially to wash, or to sprinkle either the face, the hands, or the feet,—washing no part at all; for it is a fountain in which to wash all over, and be savingly clean, every whit John 13:10. For as far as sin has extended over the soul, sufferings for the rights of justice must be endured, and the fountain must, for the faith of the promise, the honor of Christ, and the life of his church, extend, cover, wash, cleanse, and make all clean forever, or be of no avail at all for the kingdom of heaven, as no unclean thing or uncleanness can enter there; so that the Poet rightly sung—”Wash me, Savior, or I die!” And as sin has spread its dire contagion all over the soul, every way, the flaming sword turns every way in the claims of justice against it; so that for the wicked devices of our heads the Redeemer’s head was crowned with tormenting thorns; for the lusts of our eyes he was blindfolded with contempt; for the sinful words of our mouths he was smitten on the mouth; for the pride of our countenance he was smitten on the cheekbone; for the presumption of our lives he was dressed in a purple robe of derision and scorn; for our far and wild wanderings, his feet were fastened with nails to the tree of death; for our unclean doings his hands were pierced through; for our nature’s uncleanness he was thrust to the heart;—he gave himself up to all this for his church, his sheep,—the people whom he loves; he poured out his soul unto death, and was more marred than any man :—
“Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,—
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.”
The curse for sin was borne, atonement was made, death was destroyed, the legal rights of inflexible holiness were vindicated, and thus the fountain for sin and uncleanness to the whole house of David, the mercy vessels of the whole election of grace, was righteously and mercifully opened in the blood-sweat and death of death sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And next follows the turning of the almighty hand of faithfulness, love, and life upon the little ones; Zec. 13:7; that Jesus may see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, Isa. 53:11, and that the redeemed of all nations and tongues may come and see the glory of the Lord in their salvation. Chap. 66:18. And when the Holy Spirit of all truth enters the heart, he convinces of sin, the proud soul is rebuked, and his beauty fades as a leaf; the voice of the Lord in his majesty is heard, and rottenness enters the sinner’s bones; Hab. 3:16; weakness before the Almighty is felt to be in every part; all human righteousness is discovered to be rags and filthiness only, and sin to be exceeding all human thought sinful; and that to escape from the hands of the law is now found to be impossible; the heart is now broken; the righteousness of God’s judgment is now admitted; the sinner’s mouth is stopped with guilt; the soul is hedged in and undone; and now is the day of salvation,—free grace is now to be magnified; peace and good-will to man on the earth, and glory to God in the highest, is now to be attested, and the Lord alone to be exalted. “Woe is me, for I am undone,” says the soul: “Look unto me and be ye saved,” says the Lord. “Whither shall I flee,” says the soul. “Come unto me,” says the Lord. “What shall I do,” says the soul. “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” says the Lord. “Mine iniquity is great,” says the soul. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” says the Lord. And at length, weeping for the mercy and favor proclaimed, discovered, and in a measure obtained, “Lord, unite my heart to fear thy name; Lord, teach me thy way; Lord, what wilt thou have me to do,” cries the soul. “Arise, and be baptized,” says the Lord.
No power of grace, nor virtue of atoning blood depend upon ordinances, but it hath pleased the God of all grace to institute ordinances to represent the methods and matters of his grace, and thereby also to be confessed and worshipped. And thus baptism is God’s institution to represent the opened fountain of soul-washing from all uncleanness; and for that reason and with such meaning, baptism is called a washing in that text. And in the act done in truth, there is, 1. A confession of the entire overspread of sin that requires a fountain that will all over wash it away. 2. A public acknowledgment of that fountain which God hath opened, and an embracing it too. 3. A declaration of faith in this fountain, as the only one that hath virtue to wash away sins, and that it so stands as the only appointed way to cleanness, to life eternal, and to God. 4. A public declaration of soul hope of eternal life, by the abundant all-sufficiency of this fountain alone to cleanse and purify. 5. A grateful and obedient submission to the divine will, declared in instituted ordinances, to be observed by the children of his grace, to the declarative honor of his name, as the king and lawgiver of his Church, and as the God of salvation.
To take this text at all according to its plain and most legitimate sense, believers only can be the proper subjects, and immersion only can be the proper mode of representation. For you know that you cannot intelligently and with sound reason, say to an infant, arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord; and yet there is not one text that I have treated on in these lines, that carries less in it on the subject than this; and where you will find others in God s Word, which at all belong to the point that do, we cannot see, and therefore it will be your duty to shew us. And you know that sprinkling is not washing, and can neither stand for it, nor represent it. For if your laundress were but once, only to sprinkle your linen, instead of washing it, and bring it home so, you would not pay her for washing it, or if she obtained your money before you saw it, you would consider, that in her calling that washing, she had spoken a plain falsehood, that she had insulted your reason, and deceived, cheated, and robbed you; for that in that case, sprinkling and washing would be so very dissimilar, as by no means to be one and the same thing, nor possibly capable of standing for each other, or of expressing or representing the same thing. And why should we force a meaning upon God’s most holy word that we should take as a burlesque upon our reason, to be put upon ours? Let us herein act towards God by the most plain sense of his word, as we at least expect others to act towards us, by the common and contradicted sense of our words. Our baptism came from heaven in the ministry of John by direct commission, with its evident order of subject, mode, and sense, plainly enough practiced out, as I have observed; and why should we dance about all over the Old Testament, and twist the Scriptures into all manner of artful shapes, to get rid of that sense? as has been done even to the triumph of infidels, who have said, “These theologians can turn their Bible about all ways, and make it speak anything to carry a favorite opinion, and therefore, they cannot surely themselves believe the book to be divine.” Our Lord has beautifully shewn the difference between the use of the basin, in the exercise of brotherly love, tenderness, forgiveness, and humility, as he commands among his saints, for their peace and good comfort one with another, and that of the fountain of himself, his blood, and his death, in which they are all over vitally washed and made clean every whit for the kingdom of God. For besides commanding them to wash one another’s feet, he says, if I wash thee not thou hast no part with me. John xiii. So that water without grace in the heart is nothing to any one; no, the Word of God authorizes no other order than, first grace possessed, and then the water of representation observed; first grace, by blood and righteousness for life, and then the ordinance of water by and with the Word of God, for the obedience of faith in Christ, as the only true fountain of all washing for salvation represented.
We do not receive for truth all we hear, and sometimes the greater the words, the more proud flesh there is in them; for it has been said that, “It is grossly absurd to suppose that baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, for then we should have two ordinances to represent one leading feature of the scheme of redemption.” Jazer, page 95. But let it be kept in mind that our text does by baptism pointedly represent the washing away of sin, and as all fullness dwells in Christ, so the fullness of washing and purifying is in him; he is the only covenant and mercy fountain revealed, and his blood only cleanses from sin, and he says, “If I wash thee not thou hast no part with me,” and as the Spirit speaks not of himself, but testifies of Christ, John 15:26, 16:13, we consider it opposing a great truth of God, to deny our Lord Jesus Christ the headship honor of representation in the baptism of his believing members. The same Christ, but not the same thing of Christ, is represented by the two standing ordinances of representation. For a fountain will not make a feast, nor is it at all a proper figure for the staff and whole stay of life; nor will bread and wine make or represent a fountain, nor are they proper figures for washing and cleansing. And, therefore, observe first, all that appertains to washing, cleansing, and sanctifying by the blood, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the soul’s having passed from death unto life, from darkness to light, from self to Christ, from the law, as a ministration of death, to the gospel as the ministration of life, from legal works to free grace, from the world to the church, and from the dominion of sin and Satan into the kingdom of Christ, with newness of creature-ship, life, and hope in him, to the glory of God the Father, by the regenerating, enlightening, and leading power, love, and unction of the Eternal Spirit, are set forth, declared, and professed in the believer’s baptism; as an act of grateful worship, in faith and godly fear -, and as a worshipful sign of the belief and apprehension of such realities by the candidate; and not as a prefiguration set up on a faithless, thoughtless, unconscious subject, of what we have no pledge will ever take place, and of what in thousands of instances, we never do see take place. And, therefore, to sprinkle a few drops of water on an infant as a sign of the Spirit’s work, when we have no promise that that work will ever be performed on that child, is worse than childish; it is sure to please carnal nature, because it is her own invention, but as it is without scripture text, so it is without scripture meaning. And secondly, all which appertains to the fullness of stay, staff, support, and comfort of spiritual life in Christ Jesus our Lord, without fail to the dependent believing soul, as the bread of life, the true bread, the bread from heaven, the living bread, the bread of God, the meat indeed, and the drink indeed, and the only soul eating and drinking by faith, the Bible knows, or that God has given for the believer’s present and eternal salvation; life is represented, figured out, and set forth to the believer, and professed by the believer, in the ordinance of bread and wine. And both these are the Lord’s own ordinances of worship, and neither of them are less, and neither of them are more, having both alike the same authority, and both alike to be observed by persons within the pale of a profession of faith and godliness therein only. And according to the Scriptures, those persons who are worthy by the qualifications of grace for the one, are qualified for the other; and those who are not qualified for both, are qualified for neither. For if an unbeliever be unworthy to eat at the Lord’s table, he not discerning the Lord’s body, as the bread of life, nor worshipping him as such therein; even so also any unbeliever is unworthy of baptism, he not discerning the Lord crucified as the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, nor worshipping him therein, by any newness of life through the power of the Holy Spirit, he being still a child in old nature’s lap only.
6. The ordinance of baptism is called, The baptism of repentance, Mark 1:4, and Baptism unto repentance. Matt. 3:11. This shews very plainly, together with the characters that John refused, that the only proper candidates, were the subjects of repentance for their sins. And as this is a whole and overwhelming work of God’s hand on the heart, as forgiving love also is when made known to the soul, so it is most properly and consistently expressed, signified, and confessed, by going down into, being overwhelmed in, and coming up quite out of the water in baptism, as God’s own appointed ordinance of representation. And unto repentance; that is, unto that course of newness of life, that is a continual evidence of the soul having repented for and out of sin and impenitence, and which, to be declared and represented by the ordinance of baptism, it must be most consistent for that to be in that way that is properly adapted, solemnly to set forth and profess with godly fear, so great, so important, and so whole life affecting a change. And for this, a few drops of water sprinkled on the face, can form no representation, while immersion though despised is a just figure.
7. Baptism is called a putting on of Christ, For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Col. 3:27. Here the ordinance of baptism is evidently alluded to and spoken of as the external, professional, god-fearing, and declarative garment of internal godliness. Their souls were baptized into the saving love, grace, blood, and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the hope of eternal life; and by the ordinance of water baptism, as the Lord’s own appointed institution of distinction and discrimination for his believing people, their persons were visibly baptized into his gospel name, truth, cause, and system, in devoted obedience, and public profession of belonging to him; according to the true intent of that ordinance. So that to be what they professed to be in their baptism, they were the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus. And they were so baptized into him, as that their interest in him, their belonging to him, and their obedient obligation and devotedness to him, were professed and signified by their baptism, which properly so signifying, must be by the immersion of their whole persons, in his name. And indeed the whole mystery of their becoming Christians and the reality of their being so, is set forth in this ordinance, while the supper represents Christ as the whole sustenance of the life of faith. It may be objected that water baptism is not intended in this text at all, but it is not to be excluded because so much more than that is intended; for wherever the word is used through the whole of the New Testament, it is in immediate allusion to that ordinance, as a proper figure and representation of the mystery, the matter and grace intended; and the word is never used but in allusion to that ordinance as its representation, and but for that ordinance, the word baptism would want some visible representation to give it intelligibleness in spiritual things; and the greater the matter signified in the text under that figure, the more needful it is that baptism as a figure, and discriminating ordinance be what we contend it is, namely, the immersion of the whole person ; for less could be no just representation of the great matters expressed by that figure.
But there are two or three things more that claim our notice in this text, and 1. As they are said to have put on Christ in their baptism, it shows that in scripture baptism, there is the consent, approbation, and profession of the candidate’s own mind with understanding, because it is stated to be his own act of so putting on Christ; but an infant cannot be known to answer to this character, and therefore the sprinkling it cannot have any relation to the baptism alluded to in this text. 2. Christ is said to be put on, but an infant cannot be said, as to any gospel repentance, faith, hope, love, or profession, to put on Christ in any external figure of internal grace; and yet such is the baptism alluded to in this text. And the figure of putting on, is that of a dress, as an enlisted soldier putting on the king’s livery, and wearing it in sign that he belongs to his majesty, and may be said to have put on the king, by having put on the king’s appointed figure. And the figure may be seen in the inmates of a charitable institution, where the founder has willed a certain figure and make of dress to be worn; the inmates may be said to have put on the founder, by putting on his appointments, and wearing his will in their garment. But infant sprinkling is more like shaking a few unconnected shreds and clippings on the head, than the putting on a complete covering as a garment, as the figure is in scripture baptism. 3. As such dress is to signify that such persons belong to such king or such institution, so scripture baptism is to signify that the baptized belong to Him, and to his interest and establishment in whose Name they are baptized; and there is no given right of ministration to be found in the scriptures, but upon this principle. For the unvaried rule of scripture is, If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest, and he that believeth shall be saved, being of the Lord’s household of faith. We cannot account for hypocrites, deceivers, and false professors, nor are we accountable, but it is only on the principle of this interest satisfactorily professed, that the right of ministering baptism stands in the scriptures as an ordinance of God. If I am herein wrong, according to sacred text, scourge me with a whip of small cords; and if not, submit.
8. Scripture baptism is the answer of a good conscience. The like figure whereunto, baptism, doth also now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 3:21. The apostle in the preceding verse speaks of the ark, wherein eight souls were saved by water. And this he represents as a figure, and a similar one to baptism, or that baptism is a like figure; for their going into the ark and being shut in there, was to the world, and to the order of things in which they had lived therein, as though they were dead and buried; and their coming out of it, into the new state of things, no more to unite with the old world, in the old order of things, was as a resurrection from the dead in a figure; as the apostle Paul also treats on baptism, Rom. 6:3, 4, 5. No infant sprinkling, nor unregenerate baptism, can possibly in any way compare with this figure. And stated as baptism is in this text, any man must be as willfully hard as iron, to say that, “It is grossly absurd to suppose that baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and that “The only design of water baptism is, to represent and prefigure the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” For the apostle Peter says, The like figure whereunto, baptism, doth also now save us, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ; as all the rest of the verse is a parenthesis of explanation, of how and in what sense salvation is by baptism; shewing that baptism here meant, is not enough for the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, because it is but a figure, and that it is too much for infants, because it is the answer of a good conscience. But observe, 1. A good conscience, for this describes the proper subjects for baptism. A good conscience before God, is the fruit of saving grace in the soul, and is the peculiar property of the heaven-born blest man of God. It is an enlightened, humbled, tender, cleansed, sober, honest, hopeful, peaceful, obedient conscience; by a heart-felt sense of the power, goodness, promise, and blessing of the grace of God; in the person, righteousness, death, resurrection, and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the perceptive will of God as the God of all grace, declared by his revealed institutions, is an appeal to such good conscience; and as baptism is one of the Lord’s perceptively enjoined institutions, a practical observance thereof is the obedient answer of a good conscience towards God thereby. 2. We are said to be saved by baptism, but this is only in a figure of and in regard to, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For water, not taking away the filth of the flesh, represents it done by the death of Christ, and points out also our hopeful way of resurrection to life eternal, by his resurrection, as the gloriously risen and living Head of Zion; and in which sense only salvation is here attributed to baptism. But, 3. The utmost violence must be done to the common sense of words to affirm that the apostle doth not here set down baptism as representing, pointing to, and having immediate regard to the resurrection of Christ, and as standing so as a figure to the believer; and that so, less than immersion cannot be a like figure to the ark, nor a proper representation of the things signified. 4. That the ordinance of water baptism is here intended, is evident, because it is said to be a figure, that doth not put away the filth of the flesh, and the work and influence of the Holy Spirit is more than a figure, in every point of operation on the heart, and takes away the filth of the flesh too, by an application of the precious blood of Christ to the conscience. 5. This Baptism is with the candidate’s own good conscience, and therefore it is too much for infants to express, or ministers to require of them, or of any but a believer. 6. Nor is this a baptism of the minister’s speculation, to prefigure what possibly may be, and equally what possibly may never be, and for which there is no personal evidence that it ever will be, namely, the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, and that the subject may have a good conscience; for this is the answer of a good conscience; and therefore a good conscience precedes baptism, as a qualification for it, whereby to give such an answer in it. 7. The apostle here speaks of baptism in round and impartial terms, without the least sign of any note of restriction to signify that merely in some instances, baptism is the answer of a good conscience, while in other instances, it is allowable, and is equally a scriptural and right observance of this institution of the Lord, and that the designed ends thereof are equally answered, when it is anything but the answer of a good conscience towards God; there being on the part of the subject, no conscience whatever concerned in the matter; nor even a possibility of it that we know of. Here is no applying water to the infant seed for baptism; no, here is no place in this text for that popery, and universal contradiction to the distinguishing character of the New Testament, new birth, new creature-ship, and personal religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, alone by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the chosen and sanctified in Him. Infant sprinkling has no relation, connection, or acquaintance here at all; but is altogether a stranger and unknown; and must remain so till the unconscious can act out the answer of a good conscience towards God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
9. The truth of the first believers in the New Testament dispensation being immersed in water, and that nothing less than that was their baptism, has been too plain and evident to be denied by some, who have nevertheless followed the practice of infant sprinkling; and to reconcile this contradiction, they have considered that immersion was then necessary, and very evidently most proper, and that for two reasons. First, because it was the introduction of the new dispensation. But baptism is not the mere sign of a new dispensation, but of personal newness of heart towards God by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit into newness of life by faith in Christ Jesus. Baptism is a New Testament ordinance to the end of time, and there is no authority from the Lord to make less of it at any time, than was made of it at the first, any more than there was of the Old Testament ordinances of God, until the death of Christ. And so much was made of baptism at the first as an ordinance of public and distinguishing profession of godliness, that the whole of personal religion and reception of the truth of God was characterized by it, in distinction from those who were despisers of the truth, and so were not baptized. And all the people that heard, and the publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. Luke 7:29, 30. Water baptism will never make an infidel a believer, nor an enemy a lover of divine truth; but this text shews that those who are the proper subjects for baptism, are such only, as grace in the heart has prepared to receive and love the truth of God after their baptism, and to justify God, as wisdom’s children do. A baptized stranger to vital godliness in the heart, is a hypocrisy and cheat among men; there being no such warrant or design in that institution of God. That which is a standing ordinance to one part of the New Testament Church of God, must be so, both in mode and matter, to the whole; for there is no partial line drawn, and the Church is one. For there is one body, and one spirit, by which that one body is animated into spiritual life; one calling, by which that one body is called unto the fellowship of the gospel; one hope of eternal life, which God hath promised; one Lord, as, head, husband, and lawgiver, in whom the whole body is united, and to whom the whole body is subject; one faith, in which, and by which the one whole body stands; and one baptism, by which that one union, that one life in calling, that one hope of the promise, that one faith, in the one Lord, are all publicly declared and professed, to the glory and honor of the one God and Father, by the one Spirit of life, truth, love, and power. And our Lord’s own baptism as Head, is example of this to his whole quickened and living body the Church to the end of time. Eph. 1:22, 23. Chap. 4:4, 5, 6.
And the second reason assigned is, because many of the first Christians were converted from Heathenism. But there can be no soundness in this idea, because natural circumstances can make no difference to the personal state of a sinner dead in sin before God, be of what nation or name he may, civil or savage. A Pharisee is as far off from God as a Heathen man is; a Jew is as much without God and without hope as an Egyptian; and an educated Englishman, although sprinkled when an infant, is as far off from God as a wild African, without the regenerating work and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. For I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone to the place of the holy. Ecc. 8:10. And though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished. Pro. 11:21; chap. 16:5. Forms of religion put upon either infant or adult, without the love and power of godliness within, is but a mockery of that vital personal godliness that is only of God, entirely begins with new creature-ship in Christ Jesus, and which only is for the kingdom of Heaven.
I have now written how it is that exclusive believers’ baptism, by immersion only, is as plain to my mind as any one truth in the whole revealed gospel of God my Savior; and that no other subject and mode is known in the New Testament, as the baptismal ordinance of God, and that baptism is an ordinance of confession, profession, obedience, and conscientious worship, on the part of the subject; and that none have any right to walk in it but such persons as are by grace qualified to attend to it in such a way; and that none but penitent persons were ever intentionally baptized by either John or the apostles of our Lord. And I do most solemnly declare that the commission, the command, the word, and the will of God, on exclusive believers’ baptism, by immersion only, is as plain to my mind, as those directions are for the building of the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple; and the living God be Judge between thy soul and mine, on your deadly accusation that I said in the pulpit, What I Knew To Be Not The Truth. Having a few things more to say unto you, I shall now proceed to other sections of your letter.
John Foreman (1792-1872) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hill Street Chapel, Marylebone, serving this position for close to forty years.