Editor's note: In this Circular Letter, Pastor Cone wrote concerning Acts 1:21-22: "Here we learn that Peter and his brethren began their Christian profession at the baptism of John, and hence the inference is irresistible, that there were none but Baptists with our Lord when he gave them the bread and cup, and said, Do this in remembrance of me. . . ." - [p. 415].
TERMS OF COMMUNION
(Circular Letter of the Hudson River Association)
By Spencer H. Cone, Pastor
First Baptist Church, NYC
DEARLY BELOVED BRETHREN: - In accordance with a resolution passed at our last annual meeting, "the terms of communion" will claim your attention, as the subject of our present circular address. It is to be regretted that the signs of the times should ever indicate the expediency of presenting this subject to your consideration, in a controversial shape; but since necessity is laid upon us, we desire to enter upon its investigation with all that alacrity which the love of revealed truth, and supreme regard for Zion's King, and unyielding attachment to the order of his house, are calculated to inspire.
The phrase "communion," or "fellowship," is used in different senses in the sacred writings. It frequently denotes that holy enjoyment of the divine presence, and that soul comforting participation of the Redeemer's fulness, which it is the privilege of believers to realize. The saints are joined to the Lord by one Spirit; they draw water out of the wells of salvation; God is their dwelling-place in all generations; and it is therefore said, Truly their fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. This fellowship does not necessarily stand connected with church government or relationship; it is neither confined to time nor place, nor does it bend to the control of earthly circumstances. It is felt by Jacob with a stone for his pillow; it drives away the fears and pains of the thief upon the cross; it cheers the hearts of Paul and Silas, though beaten with many stripes and thrust into the inner prison; and it converts the desolate isle of Patmos into a paradise of heavenly rapture. The terms of this communion, all centre in the rich and distinguishing grace of God.
The expression is sometimes used in a large and comprehensive sense, to describe that fraternal affection and spiritual intercourse, which all those who love our Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth may righteously maintain with each other. Individuals attached to the different denominations of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Quakers, &c. may have good reason to entertain a favorable opinion of each other's Christian exercises; they may unite their efforts to multiply and distribute copies of the Bible, and send the gospel of salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth; they may take sweet counsel together, and be mutual helpers of each others' joy; and their communion will be proportioned to the evidence which the parties furnish, of maintaining a close walk with God. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another. But as this fellowship in the gospel is enjoyed by individual believers who never unite with a particular church; as it exists in different degrees, according to the strength of their confidence that God has begun a good work in the heart, without any reference to the ordinances or regulations of his house, it is an entirely different thing from church fellowship, and is by no means to be confounded therewith.
In modern phraseology the word "communion," is employed, by common consent, as expressive of that fellowship which experimental Christians have with the Saviour of sinners, and with one another, in the ordinance of the Lord's supper; and this use of the phrase seems to be justified by the apostle's language, 1 Corinthians x. 16, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? The single point, therefore, which we have now before us is, to answer the inquiry, What are the indispensable terms of this communion? or, in other words, what prerequisites
of admission to the Lord's supper are marked out, in the New Testament, for the observance of the churches of Christ to the end of the world? To this inquiry we reply, regeneration, baptism and a conversion such as becometh the gospel of Christ; and in proof of the correctness of this reply, we appeal to the law and to the testimony.
The children of God are bound to give thanks always to their Heavenly Father, because he hath from the beginning chosen them to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth, whereunto they are called by the gospel; and then, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; and to manifest their attachment to the laws, doctrines and ordinances, once delivered to the saints. The primitive churches, constituted under the immediate direction of the inspired apostles, were composed of self-condemned sinners, were by nature children of wrath even as others; but being pricked in their hearts and quickened by the Spirit of God, fled for refuge to the hope set before them in the Gospel. They believed the testimony given of God's dear Son, and having gladly received the truth, were baptized both men and women. To the first Gospel church in Jerusalem it is said, "The Lord added daily such as should be saved, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." The church at Corinth consisted of those who were "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, and who called upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. The members of the church at Colosse, had "put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him;" and the brethren at Rome, were "the called of Jesus Christ, beloved of God, called to be saints." Now if these apostolic churches were erected upon correct principles, (and who [is] so contumacious or schismatic as to deny it?) they are certainly to us infallible guides, and present us with a perfect pattern. If they received only such as professed to be born of God, and gave evidence that they were begotten again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we should imitate their example; "and if there come any unto us and bring not this doctrine," we are commanded "not to receive him into our house, neither bid him God speed;" for he that biddeth him God speed, that is, he that welcometh to the privileges of the church, "him that abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, is partaker of his evil deeds." It is therefore an established principle in Baptist churches to require of all candidates for admission, a declaration of what God hath done for their souls; and when satisfactory evidence of a "change of heart" is exhibited, the first scriptural term of communion, is elicited by the church. Should this fundamental principle ever be abandoned, we hesitate not to say, the fine gold will become dim, the glory will depart from us, and the vengeance of him who walketh in the midst of the golden candlesticks may be justly apprehended.
That baptism is a "term of communion," is manifest from the design and order of that ordinance, as well as from the uniform practice of the apostles.
It is the design of baptism, among other important particulars, to exhibit the existence of a new relationship, and to declare to all around, the interesting fact that the individual baptized has come out from the world and enlisted under the banner of Christ. In this view of the subject, it is not merely the answer of a good conscience towards God, but it also a grateful and public recognition of that grand line of distinction which the Redeemer has established between the "kingdom of darkness," and that "kingdom which is not of this world. For as many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Galatians iii. 27. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ wads raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Romans vi. 4. As it is evident that a man must enter into the kingdom, before he can be entitled to the immunities of a subject; that he must be received into the fellowship of a particular church, before he can enjoy the privileges of that church; even so, it is equally plain, that baptism, upon profession of faith in the Messiah, must remain an indispensable term of communion until it can be proved that unbaptized persons were added to the churches planted by the apostles in different parts of the world. And this will appear yet more abundantly if we consider,
The order which is uniformly observed in the New Testament, with reference to Baptism and the Lord's supper. When the Great Head of the church sent forth his ministering servants to build up his kingdom in our ruined world, he gave them commission in the following words; Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you. The language is lucid and definite. It directed them first to teach, or, as it is elsewhere expressed, to preach the Gospel to every creature. When the word preached was accompanied by an unction from the Holy One, men were made wise unto salvation; they were effectually taught; they were made disciples; and then, and not till then, were the apostles commanded
to baptize them. After this, they were to instruct them to observe all things enjoined upon them by the Saviour; and among the all things, who dare deny to the Lord's supper a place? Since the Redeemer has sufficient wisdom to devise the most suitable ordinances, either for the comfort of his people, or as a test of their obedience; and since all power is given him to make laws in Zion, and fix the order of their observance; to his authority all Christians should certainly submit. But it is plain that baptism must precede the communion, not only because the Lord Christ hath so decreed, but because this order is necessary in the very nature of things, if there be an adaptation of the sign to the thing signified. We must first be made alive, before we need bread to sustain life; and in like manner, the ordinance which shadows forth the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, must of necessity, go before that which holds out to us in a figure the bread which came down from heaven, whereof if a man eat, he shall live for ever.
That this statement is correct, we most assuredly gather from the unvarying practice of the apostles themselves.
The preaching of Peter, upon a certain notable occasion, produced such an astonishing effect that thousands cried out, Men and brethren what shall we do to be saved 1 The preacher promptly replies, Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins. What follows? They that gladly receive the word WERE BAPTIZED. After baptism they were added to the church in Jerusalem, and then, participated in the communion, or the breaking of bread.
The conduct of Paul was precisely similar to that of his brother Peter. He came to Corinth, and taught the word of God among its inhabitants. Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized. These baptized believers were then constituted into a gospel church, and kept the ordinance of the Lord's Supper as delivered to them by the apostle. Acts xviii. 1 Corinthians ii. 2. If therefore, the uniform practice of the apostles justly challenges our imitation, we must inviolably adhere to the order which they have established.
The last term of church communion we have named, is a godly walk and conversation; and this position is easily maintained, both upon the principles of reason and revelation. The children of God are holy brethren; a royal priesthood - a peculiar people, zealous of good works. This description of them is given by one who cannot err; and it would certainly be incongruous and unnatural for such persons to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. How can two walk together except they be agreed? What communion hath light with darkness and what fellowship hath Christ with Belial? are questions which need no comment; - they answer themselves. In extending the right hand of fellowship, therefore, a church must be satisfied that the individual soliciting admission has scriptural views of himself, and of God, and of the way of salvation by Christ alone, and of the work of the Spirit, and of the holy tendency of divine truth; and hence we are directed to mark and avoid those whose erroneous sentiments cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which we have learned. Romans xvi. Moreover the candidate for church communion must not only converse about the things of God in a proper manner, but his deportment must correspond with his holy profession. If any man that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, we must not keep company with such an one, no not to eat. 1 Corinthians v. 11. and that course of conduct which cuts off from the church one who is already a member, must be, by parity of reasoning, an unsurmountable obstacle against admission to its privileges.
Our sentiments with reference, to the terms of communion, have, in different ages and countries, occasioned the opprobrious epithets of "bigoted, uncharitable, self-righteous," &c. to be heaped upon us with an unsparing hand; but these are weak and powerless weapons when employed against those who are armed with the sword of the Spirit, in defence of a divine institution. We shall close this epistle by replying briefly to some of the most plausible objections which are constantly urged against the sentiments we have advanced.
First objection. "You lay too much stress upon baptism by making it an indispensable term of communion.
To this we reply; We pay no greater regard to it, nor do we give it a higher place in our system, than the Lord Christ hath enjoined, or the apostles and primitive Christians, by their example, have warranted. And here we may ask, why should more stress be laid upon the Lord's supper than upon baptism; and why should many professing Christians so earnestly advocate the observance of the former, while they pervert, or entirely neglect the latter? Were not both ordinances instituted by the same Lord, and do they not, therefore, come to us clothed with the same authority? We know that Paedobaptists are in he habit of calling baptism a nonessential; an external rite; a mere ceremony; &c. If this be true, we would inquire, what more is the supper? Is it a Saviour? But if these sacred institutions, be indeed as we
believe, signs of important and essential truths, baptism is unquestionably as significative as the breaking of bread, and exhibits, emblematically, a large proportion of the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel. Upon an investigation of the New Testament, we find that baptism, of the two, is much the more frequently mentioned, and baptized believers are affectionately and repeatedly exhorted, so to walk in Christ Jesus their Lord, as in that ordinance they have put him on. Taking then the Holy Book as our only and all sufficient rule of faith and practice, we have the highest authority for saying, We give to baptism, which Christ appointed as the first gospel institute, as a test of his children's obedience, and a lively emblem of their renewal by the Holy Ghost, exactly the situation which the master of the house has designated; and with a thus saith the Lord, sounding in our ears and penetrating our hearts, it is not possible that we should listen to the doctrines or commandments of men.
A second objection, charges us with causing a separation between the children of the same Heavenly Father.
Suppose we grant that baptism is an in superable barrier in the way of our communing, in church capacity, with unbaptized persons; does it necessarily result from this concession, that the blame righteously attaches itself to the skirts of our garment? Shall those who understand and keep the ordinances, in their nature, order, and design, as they were originally delivered to the churches, be condemned? and those who depart from them, and embrace a "figment of their own imagination," be justified? God forbid! We hesitate not to say, most implicitly, that baptism is a separating line, but it is one of the Lord's own making, and we endeavor constantly, both by preaching and example, to enlighten the minds of our Paedobaptist friends on the subject. We warn them of their errors; we hold up to them the truth; we point them definitely to chapter and verse; and we exhort every believer among them, quite as often as they wish to hear us, to arise and be baptized and wash away their sins, (in a figure,) calling upon the name of the Lord. We are honest and sincere in these declarations, and in making them thus plainly, it must be evident to the candid and judicious, that we cannot have any by-ends, or measures of mere expediency to promote. We wish the truth, and the truth alone as it is in Jesus, every where to prevail; and we are grieved in heart, that those whom we respect and love on so many other accounts, should, in this particular, persist in treading the pathway of disobedience, boldly rejecting the counsel of God in not being baptized according to his commandment . If our veracity and Christian affection, touching this whole matter, be unjustly called in question, we are permitted to adopt the language of a Baptist, and say: Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to youward. 2 Corinthians i. 12.
A third objection states, that it is the Lord's table, and therefore we have no right to hinder those who wish to approach it.
That it is the Lord's table, is the appropriate and sufficient answer to this objection. Were it ours, we might cheerfully admit to it the objector and his friends; but since it is confessedly the Lord's table, we dare welcome to it only such as HE invites. The disciples were baptized before Christ instituted and administered to them the supper. John the Baptist was sent to prepare a people for the Lord, and the disciples were evidently among the number of those who justify God; and if so, they must have been necessarily baptized with the baptism of John; otherwise they could not have been obedient hearers and doers of the word, and imitators of the example of their Lord and master. Luke vii. 29. Matthew iii. 23, 17. 1 Peter, ii. 21. In perfect conformity with this view of the subject, are the words of Peter: "Wherefore of these men which have companied with us, all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from THE BAPTISM OF JOHN, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection." Acts i. 21, 22. Here we learn that Peter and his brethren began their Christian profession at the baptism of John, and hence the inference is irresistable, that there were none but Baptists with our Lord when he gave them the bread and cup, and said, Do this in remembrance of me. As the sacred oracles, therefore, uniformly teach that Christians, in the apostles' days, were baptized before they came together in one place for the breaking of bread, we are confirmed in the sentiment, that the only guests invited to partake of this feast are such as have been, upon profession of their faith, buried with Christ in baptism; nor can we approach the table with the unbaptized, without acting in direct opposition to the precept and example of Him, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
A fourth objection is presented in this shape: We conscientiously believe ourselves to be baptized; you are not the judge; to our own master we stand or fall.
This objection brings us at once to the question, What is Christian Baptism? Is it sprinkling, or is it pouring? With the
New Testament in our hands, we most confidently and unhesitatingly answer, neither. It is immersion in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And here we cannot but say to our cavelling friend, when were you baptized? "In infancy." Are unconscious babes, or the unbelieving, unprofessing seed of pious parents proper subjects of baptism? Whether men will hear or whether they will forbear, upon the testimony of God we are obliged to answer no. These things were not so in the beginning; for it is written, "Then they that gladly received the word were baptized;" Acts 2. And the Jailer was baptized, he and all his, straightway, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." Acts xvi. Consequently those who believe and rejoice in Christ Jesus are, according to the scriptures, the only persons to whom we authorized to administer the ordinance of baptism. But we are told that whether Paedobaptists have PERVERTED Christian baptism, both in its design and subjects, or not, we have no right to judge. This is equivalent to saying that an individual ought to be ought to be admitted to church fellowship because he thinks himself entitled to that privilege, without reference to the opinion which the church may entertain upon the subject. It requires no argument to prove the obscurity of this position. To adopt it would speedily ultimate in the dissolution of any society. That there must be an agreement in sentiment between a church and a candidate for admission to its privileges; and that the church must necessarily judge of the candidate's qualifications, are both self-evident and scriptural truths. Since Christ then has commanded us to hold fast till he come, and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, we are under the most sacred obligations to exhort one another daily; to warn the unruly, to look diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; and to be very careful, not only to venerate his institutions ourselves, but also that they be observed to their purity, by all such as solicit communion with us at the table of the Lord.
A fifth objection, viz: that the saints will all commune together in Heaven, and ought therefore to do so on earth, is thought to a very strong one, but really we are not able to perceive its force. We rejoice in the anticipation of that perfect union and uninterrupted fellowship which the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in Heaven, shall, to all eternity enjoy; but whatever may be the terms of communion in the world of glory, we are fully persuaded that while here, the revealed will of Christ, and not what shall take place after death, should be the only man of our counsel, a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path; and we are equally certain, that when we see Jesus as he is, and love him as we ought, the least of his commandments will not be esteemed either trifling or nonessential.
The last objection which our limits will allow us to notice supposes that strict communion is inconsistent with brotherly love and Christian forbearance.
By adverting to the distinction made in the commencement of this letter, between communion with God, our fellow-Christians and a particular church, this objection will stripped of all its difficulties. It will there be seen that real believers may hold converse with the Deity, and love each other as brethren in then Lord, without walking together in church relationship. The Baptists differ from all others in their views of a Gospel Church, and the scriptural qualifications for the admission to its privileges; but these views we believe to be coincidental with the directions of the Saviour, and the example of apostles and primitive Christians and having maintained them in the face of persecution, danger and death, from the days of Paul to the present moment, we cannot abandon them, until convinced that we have hitherto misapprehended altogether the language of the New Testament. Nor can this course of conduct be righteously construed into a breach of brotherly love and Christian forbearance, until it can be proved that we ought to love men more than we love God, and that the charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, requires us to disregard the commandments and dispense with the ordinances of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Finally, brethren, Farewell! Adhere steadfastly to the doctrines and ordinances of Christ, as he hath delivered them to us; and as there is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, so we beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lovliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord be with you all, Amen.
[From Charles G. Sommers, W. R. Williams and L. Hill, editors, The Baptist Library: a Republication of Standard Baptist Works, 1843, Volume 3, pp. 412-416. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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