William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)

Article 20 – Baptism Should Be Preceded By Confession

Articles Of The Faith And Order Of A Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptist Church Of The Lord Jesus Christ, Based On The Declaration Of Faith And Practice Of John Gill, D. D., 1720

XX. Baptism should be Preceded by Confession.

We believe that, inasmuch as Baptism is rightly adminstered to spiritual believers only, a Church should be assured of the godliness of all who desire it, as a prelude to membership; and we hold that a personal confession of Faith should be made by all such in the presence of the Church, before they are received in the Lord’s name.


Ps 66:16; Lk 8:47; Acts 2:41; 8:36-38; Rom 10:10; 1 Tim 6:12; Heb 4:14; 10:23; 1 Pet 3:21


Note 1.—Christians who restrict Baptism to saved sinners, and plead for Immersion as its only scriptural mode, practise the Ordinance on two classes of their fellow-believers.

Those who belong to a Church of another Denomination which they have no intention of quitting; or Christians who are not enrolled members of any religious community. And those who wish to be baptised as a pre-requisite to their joining the Church, by whose Pastor or other person duly appointed by its Members, they are thus immersed.

An instance of the first is the Baptism of the Eunuch by Philip, (Acts 8:36-39.) Of the three branches of the baptismal command, the Evangelist was here called to observe the first two only. He, therefore, (instrumentally by his instruction, efficiently by God’s grace) made the man a disciple; and then he baptised him. Duty led him no further; and the work of “teaching him to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded” was left to others in the future.

We submit, however, that before baptising such persons, we should ascertain that they have spiritual life; that their motive is pure; that Faith and loyalty to Christ actuate them; that their views of Divine truth, though perhaps, dim and imperfect, accord with the Bible; and that their general conduct adorns the gospel. Were the account of what occurred given in verse 37 authentic, its value would be great. We have, however, conceded that its authority is doubtful; but our note, page 84, is worthy of attention.

The majority of persons whom we baptise, however, receive the ordinance as a prelude and pre-requisite to their associating in fellowship with a particular Church.[1] To these our Article exclusively refers. Indisputably such should make an open confession of faith before receiving Baptism at our hands.

Confession before Baptism.

Note 2.—The practice of Free Churches as to the Admission of Members differs greatly. Some are content to receive all persons, who in an often hurried interview with the Minister or other official, express their wish to join. Others require applicants to satisfy their Minister only, orally or by letter, that they have been made partakers of grace. Some delegate the inquiry to Messengers, who privately examine the candidate, and report their impressions to the Church assembled as such.

It is our contention, as Strict and Particular Baptists, that neither of these methods fully complies with the requirements of the New Testament; and that a person desiring to join a Church should, before Baptism, be privately interviewed by (at least) two members, who, if satisfied, with his (or her) testimony, should introduce and commend him (or her) to the whole Church when convened for this purpose. The Candidate is then expected, in a clear and audible voice, to express his (or her) personal Faith in the Lord Jesus, and his (or her) motives for wishing to become a member of this particular Christian Community.

In support of this, it may be urged that it harmonises with the practice of the Churches of God delineated in the New Testament. We do not contend that there is a direct text in support of every custom observed in our Assemblies. “All things” are to “be done decently (becomingly) and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:40; see page 9.) This is the principle. Its exemplification is left to the collective conscience of each spiritual Congregation. And we, following the precedent set by our Fathers, deem this practice to be becoming to the ideal Church which ours should as far as possible resemble.

It accords with several portions which (it is admitted) do not expressly inculcate it. Psa. 66:16: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God; and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Psa. 119:74: “They that fear Thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in Thy word.” etc. Our practice is supported by definite and decisive texts. The Baptism of John was preceded by oral confession of sin. Matt. 3:6. The Baptisms recorded in Acts 2:41, and 8:36-38, were administered after vocal avowal of Faith in Christ. (See note, page 84.) Rom. 10:10: “With the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The salvation which has been realised through the belief of the heart ought to be confessed with the mouth—that is vocally or orally—by an open public act. 1 Tim. 6:12: “Thou…hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”—better, “thou didst (once and for all, definitely and finally) confess the good confession before many witnesses, even as “Christ witnessed the good confession,” verse 13. 1 Pet. 3:21, enforces (page 158) that they only, in Peter’s time, were baptised who had been questioned, and had satisfactorily replied as to their religion.[2]

1 Cor. 15:34: “For some have not the knowledge of God (or, have ignorance of God); I speak this to (or, in order to) your shame”—to excite you to shame. Some had been baptised, and received into the Church at Corinth, who were ignorant of God and His truth. They had not previously been duly examined, but accepted in a careless and cursory manner. This was a scandal, for which Paul desired the Corinthian Christians might be ashamed.

Objections Answered.

To this practice, objections have been raised.

It is pleaded that it is unseemly for persons, especially females, thus to parade before a number of people, many of whom are strangers, the most private and delicate secrets of their hearts.

It is again urged that by our insisting on so trying an ordeal, we keep many out of the church who otherwise would gladly join.

In reply, we plead that As a matter of fact, experience shows that there is nothing unbecoming in a Christian’s giving a review of his (or her) Christian life, in confidence, before an assembly of spiritually minded and sympathetic persons.

It is to be questioned whether the ordeal is so formidable as our opponents represent it.[3] If it, however, were, Christians declining to join the Church in the way the Master ordains, are not worthy to be received, and had better, till more grace is given them, remain without.

The practice is fraught with benefits.

It is most profitable to those who hear the testimony. We have, not infrequently, seen brethren and sisters moved to tears by the broken words to which they were listening, whom pathetic sermons often failed to touch.

It is profitable to those who publicly confess their Faith. It surely tends to overcome their natural timidity. It arouses kindly interest in those whom they address, and prevents the too common complaint that though they are members of the Church, no one knows them, and no one speaks to them. Confession before admission is their formal introduction to their future friends.

The practice tends to prevent Baptism from becoming a hollow form. Baptism is the outward and visible expression of an inward and spiritual fact; and how can we with confidence express a fact of which we are not assured.

Baptism is a burial (Rom. 6:4, page 165.) Nothing is more tragic and gruesome than the burial of living persons, which all precautions are taken to prevent. How terrible, however, is it symbolically to bury a man as if he were dead in Christ, to the law, and to the world, (Rom. 6:8-17) when he is really alive to them, and finds his most congenial pleasures in what is wholly out of touch and sympathy with the Master and spiritual things. See John 15:18,19; James 4:4.

Such, too often, draw “back unto perdition,” proving the most abandoned characters; so that their “last state becometh worse than the first,” Matt. 12:43-45. (See a Sermon on this text by Thomas Adams. Works:—Nichol’s Puritan Divines, vol. ii., page 36.)

Advantages Realised.

An open confession of experience and Faith is a most profit­ able preparation for giving “to every man,” that asks for it, “a reason for the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear.” 1 Pet. 3:15. Its prayerful anticipation is a means of grace. The fact that we have to tell our life-story before others, clarities, thought, quickens memory, and induces reflection and meditation. The question, “What can I truthfully say?” stirs the conscience; and the solicitude which is sure to be aroused, though perhaps painful, is fraught with blessing.

Thus, in spite of objections, we maintain a practice which has so evidently the sanction and smile of God. 

Suffolk’s Weighty Testimony.

In their Circular Letter for 1862 (written by Charles Hill, and “approved and adopted” by all the Ministers and Messengers present,) “The Suffolk and Norfolk Association of Particular Baptist Churches,” thus deliver their judgment on this subject.

“It is the duty of Churches to ascertain as fully as they can the moral character and spiritual qualifications of those who propose themselves for fellowship. We deem the government and discipline exceedingly lax, when Churehes are satisfied with a simple and unattested profession of Christianity as all sufficient for such an end.

The union is to be formed with the entire Church, meeting and worshipping in a given place. The entire Church has, therefore, a right to require and to receive, in connection with a Candidate’s profession of faith, a recital of the work of the Lord in his soul—the means employed in his reclamation from the ways of sin and death—the motives by which he is actuated—and the object he seeks to accomplish in being united with a Church of the Lord.

“Such information can be furnished by the individual himself only, and it is but just that he should appear before the Church and testify to what God has done for him.

“It is false charity—a spurious pretension of affection—which would dispense with this ancient mode of receiving members, and substitute for it a Statement by letter, or from the lips of the parties who were deputed to visit and confer with the candidate. This is merging the right of the entire Body in a few privileged individuals, on whose judgment and Report the whole Church acts in one of the most important matters entrusted to it in administering the laws of the House.

“The religion which declines to be publicly confessed, may fairly be questioned. However feeble a person’s faith and love are, if love to God and to His people be a living principle in his heart, it must inspire him with the desire to be found walking in all the Master’s commandments blameless, and also to render to all “a reason for the hope that is in him,” and to bear witness to the grace that is come unto him.

“If it be alleged that we have no scriptural authority to demand an oral confession of Faith, it will suffice in reply to ask where the New Testament gives authority to receive mem­ bers from the world, by letter or by proxy.

“It is easy, as a rule, for individuals with designing minds, and for hypocrites to concoct such statements, or to gather them from the recorded experiences of others. It would, how­ ever, prove difficult for such to appear before a Church with “a lie in their right hand,” (Isa. 44:20) and, without detection, relate matters with which they were unacquainted.

“The custom referred to, therefore, becomes a means of safety to a Church as a preventative to the introduction of those who can do it no good, but must prove “roots of bitterness” within it. (Heb. 12:15.)” John Hazelton’s Conviction.

“From my heart, I believe,” says John Hazelton, “in the expediency of oral confession on the part of those that wish to join a Church. Their Membership will mean communion, and there can be no communion without union, and no union with­ out knowledge. A good confession before the Church imparts the knowledge which is the basis of the union, and from which the communion springs.”


[1] It should be remembered that when a Church is convened for the admission of Members from the world, or from a Denomination which does not baptise believers by immersion, its business is two-fold. First, assurance should be sought and obtained, that the candidates are spiritual persons, truly trusting in the Son of God as a personal Saviour; and therefore eligible for Baptism. Secondly, That their views of Divine truth are in sufficient accord with the principles of the Church as to admit of their cordially uniting in all its acts of worship and work, and hold­ ing loving and unrestrained communion with the rest. In a word, such should be sincere believers, and in heart, according to their measure of light, Particular and Strict Baptists.

[2] The word eperdtema rendered “the [or an] answer” of a good conscience, is the cognate noun to the verb, eperotad, to “ask a question,” Matt. 22:35, or “questions,” verse 46. “It is spoken of a question, or rather of the whole series of questions put to a convert at his Baptism, and his answers.”—Barnes’s Notes, m loco.

[3] The positions of this Article are finely illustrated in the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It is admitted that the Palace Beautiful stands for a visible Church of Christ on earth. (Cheever’s Lectures on the Life and Times of Bunyan, No. IX.) The Porter, Watchful, is its faithful and affectionate Pastor. Piety, Prudence, and Charity are the Members, collectively considered, with their varying gifts of grace, judgment and love; and their questioning Christian and receiving his replies, answer to our requiring and receiving the “good confession” for which we are pleading. The “two lions in the way” which at first filled him with fear, but which, being chained, did him no harm, represent what often seem so formidable, giving testimony before the Church only, and being baptised publicly in the presence of the whole congregation. Two trials—two lions. Why placed where they were? “For trial of faith, and for discovery of those that have none.”

William Styles (1842-1914) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”.

William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)
William Styles, A Memoir of John Hazelton (Complete)