Present and Future of the People Called Baptists – No II
By S. H. Ford,
The Christian Repository, 1861
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the received teachings of Baptists which can be esteemed heretical or fatally erroneous. As in our pleadings with Universalists, we can truthfully say, if your denial of future rewards and punishments shall be found, at last, correct, we are safe, and will be saved. But if our affirmation of future rewards and punishments be found, finally, eternal realities, you are fatally ruined. So we can say to him who denies the need of heart-broken repentance, the operation of the Spirit in conversion, justification by faith alone, and immersion as a profession of all that, if you are right, we lose nothing. We profess and demand all that is included in his creed - reformation, belief, immersion. We now affirm that the action of baptism and the subjects of baptism, in other denominations, bear a similar relation to what we regard as a proper subject and as essential to the ordinance, that our views of repentance and faith do to the reformation and belief of Reformers [Campbellites]. We hold that baptism is an act of obedience. This no one can deny who reads in Christ's Word the command to be baptized. The man who voluntarily complies with that command will be admitted by all to have obeyed. That there are instances of such baptism in the New Testament has never been denied. Adult baptism is most certainly mentioned there. About all this there is no discussion. Now baptism in infancy may be regarded, and is, doubtless, by thousands whose convictions we are bound to respect, as a beautiful and scriptural ceremony. We argue not the question here. We drop no word offensive to such. But should this article fall under the eye of those over whose infant form that ceremony was observed, we ask, could it be more than a personal and voluntary obedience to a divine command? Could he or she, those dedicated to God in childhood, have done more in that ceremony than obey for themselves, consciously, voluntarily, and from love felt to Jesus Christ? It could not have been more than that. But was it
as much? Did you obey for yourself? Was it a voluntary act of obedience on your part? Can you place your hand on your heart and look up to Christ, and say, “Jesus, I have personally, cheerfully, and knowingly obeyed thee; of my own accord, and in love to thee, my Saviour.” You cannot do this, because you know you had no choice in the matter, and were unconscious of the observance. Now the question is, not can that be obedience on the part of him or her who had no voluntary agency in it, for this no man would affirm, but, can that be baptism at all where there is no such obedience? We believe that there cannot be. We are convinced that you have never, for yourself and of yourself, obeyed Christ's command to be baptized. -
Now the question is a serious one. Can any thing be accepted by Christ in which there has been no choice? Can that be obedience, concerning which there was no knowledge, no desire, no voluntary submission? Is not religion a voluntary thing? Are not its acts of obedience essentially voluntary? Can that be an act of obedience in which you had no part whatever? But, if baptism be an act commanded to individuals, and if choice be essential to obedience, can you affirm before God that you have ever obeyed it - that you are baptized? Is it not, at least, surrounded with doubt and uncertainty?
On the other hand, you acknowledge that one who knowingly and voluntarily has submitted to this ordinance as a personal duty commanded by Christ, and because he commanded it, has obeyed. Of this there can be no doubt, and has never been a controversy. Now if you are right, if infant dedication is the personal obedience of the child to the divine command, we too have obeyed; we have consciously and willingly submitted to the ordinance. No man believing the Bible was ever known to affirm that because one was baptized for himself, and in adult age, it was not baptism.
The fact, then, is patent, that adult is scriptural. Were it certain that there was not a man living who had been baptized in infancy, if every professor of the gospel on earth had been baptized upon his own application at an adult age, no sane man would assert, therefore, that baptism was lost. The greatest sticklers for infant baptism must allow, and do allow, that adult baptism is sufficient and scriptural.
Nor would the piety or orthodoxy of the great body of believers be impaired in the estimation of the strongest advocates for infant baptism because they were all baptized in adult age. Who ever refused Christian confidence or fellowship to any one upon the ground that he or she had believed before baptism? Who can doubt but that there would be as much vital godliness, zeal, and benevolence in the world as there now is, if all had been baptized when adults, and none in infancy? It is certain, therefore, that infant baptism might be lost, and baptism retained inviolate; that infant baptism might fall into entire disuse, and Christianity flourish in all its vitality and beauty. Now Baptists insist on a believer's baptism, and no other. In this, therefore, they ask nothing that can, according to the admissions of Pedobaptists themselves, possibly affect the validity of the ordinance, destroy its existence, or impair the vitality or efficiency of Christianity. Were the principles of Baptists in regard to the subject of baptism reduced to universal practice all over the world, none would dare affirm that baptism was lost or invalidated because all persons were baptized from voluntary choice, in conscious obedience to Christ's commands. Three things must be admitted by those who differ from us on the subject of baptism: I. There are examples in the Bible of believers being baptized. II. To baptize none but believers would not invalidate the ordinance. - III. The baptism of believers, if universally adopted, could not destroy church status, or undermine vital godliness. The only possible reservation of Pedobaptists to such sweeping admissions is, that the universality of believer's baptism might interfere with the religious culture of the unbaptized children. Yet no consistent man can suppose that a converted parent would neglect or deny his obligations to his children simply because they were not baptized in infancy. Such an excuse would prove that he was not a true believer, but would prove nothing against believer's baptism. But, reversing the question, if we are right, if baptism is an act of obedience, if nothing is obedience but what has been rendered to God consciously and voluntarily; if such conscious freedom of
choice, resulting from faith and love, is essential to this, as to every other act of obedience, then those who have not thus rendered it are in disobedience - have never been baptized. The fact that consciousness and choice are essential to obedience, if once admitted, flings a doubt over the validity of every one baptized in infancy sufficient to disturb his quiet and awaken him to enquiry. He has that without which baptism would be valid. He has been subjected, unconsciously, to a ceremony which, if it were banished from the face of Christendom, would leave, according to his own admission, the ordinance of baptism unimpaired. He rests in a baptism which might be universally laid aside without destroying the scriptural standing of a single church, or affecting its vital godliness. If his baptism should at last be found correct, he has nothing that is not comprehended in believer's baptism. While, if the latter - which he admits has examples in the Bible, which he admits might be universally adopted without affecting fellowship or church-hood - if it is the one baptism and the only baptism, he is outside of the church, and has no right to its privileges. We say, then, to every Pedobaptist, feeling the rock of truth beneath our feet, if we err, we err on the safe side. We know that we have obeyed, have been baptized. Our baptism includes whatever there is in yours. But if you are in error, you are unbaptized, are in disobedience to the commands of Christ. Pouring and sprinkling you have esteemed baptism. Suppose it be so. Does not immersion include these? Will any one say that because one has been immersed, on account of the incorrect ness of that action, he is unbaptized? Has the man (worth speaking of) ever been found who had the recklessness to assert that the action of immersion INVALIDATES the ordinance? Never! We are aware that of late years a few have asserted, in debate, that immersion is not “a scriptural mode of baptism.” But it is a significant fact that a professedly Christian society does not exist, Catholic or Protestant, which authoritatively affirms that the action of immersion invalidates baptism. No Presbyterian dare re-baptize a believer because he had been previously immersed instead of being sprinkled. Some other cause must be assigned, or he would be visited with the censures of his church. The same is true of all denominations. ALL admit that the immersion of a
other ceremony altogether; and have banished the memorial rite from the domains of anti-Baptist churches. If Baptists hold the truth, Pedobaptists have perverted the design of that significant ordinance. They are not gospel churches, and are in injurious error. Clear as the sunlight is it to us that if there be a green spot on earth, where the full, clear shining of God's truth emerges and radiates, it is a Baptist church living and walking consistently with her avowed principles. Look at her. Walk about her. Tell the towers thereof. Examine the vital, saving truths; behold penitence, faith, love, regeneration, pardon, perseverance; and, through all, and in all, and above all, the personal and gracious work of the Holy Spirit, originating, supporting, and consummating all; her outer ensigns, personal consecration, voluntary fellowship, equal authority and privilege, personal obedience, baptism unto death by a symbolic burial, including all that is plead for by every party or sect believing God's word. Where but here can all Christians unite and be one, without the possibility of plunging into a single injurious or fatal error? Where else but in a Baptist church, on Baptist principles, can it be done? The missing link, where is it? The defective point in faith or obedience in what we teach, who can point it out.
[From S. H. Ford, The Christian Repository, February, 1861, via on-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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