To consider religion rather as a method of escaping punishment, than of obtaining a knowledge of God, a conformity with his will, and a fitness for the enjoyment of his Holy Presence, is an exhibition of fallen human nature, by no means peculiar to those who are confessedly "the children of this world."
We suspect this pernicious error insidiously influences a large number of those who profess to be "the children of light," and induces a laxity of doctrine and discipline, extremely inconsistent with the unity which ought to prevail in the church of Christ.
This, perhaps, is the remote cause of that injudicious application of the terms essential and non-essential, which has often led "the followers of the Lamb" to mistake for liberality of sentiment, that criminal indifference to the import of his precepts and commands, that would extend benevolence towards opponents into tenderness for erroneous opinions. Whilst, therefore, avoiding "all bitterness and wrath," we would on the one hand, promote feelings of brotherly kindness for those who differ from us " for conscience sake," we would not on the other, suffer agreement in "weightier matters," to exclude from our regard those subjects which, though of inferior importance, have still, from the authority of God, a peremptory claim to our assent and obedience.
Among these minor points of controversy, baptism occupies a conspicuous place; and, perhaps, no one has occasioned so much " envy, hatred, and uncharitableness." The virulence of paedobaptist writers has produced in too many instances, a re-action of intemperate zeal which has seduced the advocates of "Believer's Baptism by Immersion," into a fierceness of defence hardly consistent with the operation of that Spirit which "approves" itself "by kindness and by love unfeigned" as well as "by the word of truth and by the power of God;" and in the fury of polemical dispute the beautiful appropriateness, and the moral consequences of the ordinances of the Redeemer have been too much neglected.
Entertaining these sentiments, and also believing not only the divine authority, but the high importance of this interesting rite, we cannot but welcome this enlarged edition of a work we have formerly had occasion to commend, which while it exhibits with clearness and precision, the true nature and influence of baptism, is to be admired for
its temper of expression, and its freedom from the rancour of personal attack. The author observes in his preface that —"His object in presenting the present edition to the public, is not to excite a contentious spirit about that which some may denominate the mere shibboleth of a party, nor to weaken any bond of charity that unites the church of Christ, hut to support a divine institution, by exhibiting it in its primitive purity, and to lead men back to the observance of the ordinances as they were first delivered to the saints:"— and he has accomplished his purpose well.
We will venture to assert, though nothing totally new can be said upon this often contested subject, that there has not any where been so much done to strip off extraneous matter, and present a luminous, methodical, and condensed view of this solemn institution.
The work is divided into six chapters: The first is on the nature, the second on the mode, and the third on the subjects of baptism. The fourth chapter is an examination of the theory of paedobaptism as to its origin and moral tendency; in the fifth the various grounds on which the paedobaptists have endeavoured to defend their hypothesis are investigated; and in the sixth the design of baptism is fully discussed. In the first chapters Mr. G. passes through the various historical, critical, and philological objections of his opponents in a learned and able manner, fairly encountering and skilfully removing them in his progress.
Having met his antagonists at every point, and defeated them chiefly with their own weapons, our author, leaving the defensive attitude, advances to attack their whole system both in its origin, its principles, and its moral and civil consequences. After citing an assertion of Dr. Williams, (p. 137) that on the principles of Infant sprinkling, "it may be some time before a nation be discipled; but on the principles of the Baptists, no nation ever can be." We have the following powerful animadversions:"The men who hold these sentiments cannot in justice to their principles stop here: following the natural coarse of their own reasoning, and regulating their practice as paedobaptists by it, they must ultimately arrive at that very point where both papists and episcopalians have taken their stand; that very point whence sprung the hierarchy itself, the heaviest scourge that ever afflicted the church of God." p. 139.Mr. G. in a very clever note, adduces the Rev. Edward Irving's late pastoral letter as an instance of the hierarchical bias of paedobaptism to claim a right of ecclesiastical property in its subjects; and the gloomy intolerance and crude inconsistency of that gentleman's theological notions, is very powerfully exposed and censured.
"A ceremony that transfers to the clergy a privilege which Christ conferred on the members of his church, can never be viewed in any other light than an episcopal innovation, and a most dangerous one too; since, by concentrating the power in the hands of a particular class of men, it must necessarily abridge, if not ultimately destroy, the liberties of the whole community. The men who thus saw that they had the power of making churches, would readily conceive that they had the right to govern them, and that the office of legislation rested solely with themselves, both in the enactment of laws, and in the appointment of teachers. Here, then, we trace the rise of the hierarchy itself, the very first principle in the constitution of which is infant baptism. This rite is every way suited to the spirit and policy of a church, which is more ambitious to acquire dominion than to propagate the truth, and to live in affluence rather than to exemplify the self-denying virtues of Christianity; inasmuch as it tends to exalt her priesthood, to increase her revenues, and to maintain that predominating influence which for ages she has acquired over the nations of the earth." p. 142.
The episcopal origin and peculiar fitness of infant baptism for the purposes of ecclesiastical usurpation, and the evil consequences which have followed, and must continue to follow its practice, are forcibly and distinctly shewn; and in exhibiting this view of the subject, our author displays considerable ability. We are presented with an awful sketch of the early corruption of Christianity, through the evil designs and ambitious pretensions of its false teachers and vicious professors; after which we have the following pertinent remarks, pp. 222, 223: —
p. 113"Such is the dark picture of the state of religion, only about 150 years after the death of the apostles. And yet it is to this period, 'as the first and purest age of the Christian, church. 'that the paedobaptists refer us for their evidence in support of the divine authenticity of infant baptism. But may we not justly apprehend, that those bishops, who did not scruple at any means of enriching themselves, had multiplied the rites and ceremonies of the church in order to increase the amount of their revenues; and that paedobaptism itself was one of the many innovations introduced for this very purpose; especially since Dupin informs us, that certain fees were exacted of all who were baptized, and that a law was passed in the council of Elvira, A.D. 305. "prohibiting the baptized from putting any more money into the boxes or basins after their baptism, as was commonly done, lest it should be thought that the priests gave for money that which they had freely received."We next come to "the tendency of paedobaptism," which, as we believe it to be the perversion of a divine command, has always appeared to us pregnant with evil to the church of Christ; and we fear that many who affect to treat the administration of this ordinance as a matter of very inferior moment, do so from a culpable inattention to its nature, and are chargeable with inexcusable ignorance. To persons of this description we recommend the following observations: —
"There are other consequences connected with infant baptism which are overlooked by the Calvinist paedobaptist, and which are at variance with the whole of his religious system. It destroys the distinction between the church and the world, maintained in the Scriptures, it practically denies the doctrines of personal election and particular redemption, for there can be no election to a particular benefit of which all are partakers. This universality of grace is strongly implied in the administration of infant baptism, and it is the prominent doctrine of those national establishments which pronounce every subject of their spiritual jurisdiction a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Thus it is we find personal election, particular redemption, and justification by faith, denied by the Romish and episcopalian clergy in general — for how can they hold doctrines so subversive of the opinion that every child is made a subject of grace by baptism? The fact is, that infant baptism, traced to its source, and followed to its legitimate consequences, will be found to arise out of the most subtle system of Arminian policy ever devised; and to be the most powerful practical expedient for supporting and propagating the doctrines of universal grace and general redemption, within the compass of human agency. It proceeds upon the general principle, not only that all men are alike eligible to salvation, but that grace, of which baptism is the outward sign and seal, is conferred upon all men." pp. 240, 241."Men are more apt to detect and ready to expose a fallacious interpretation of a fundamental truth, than they are to trace the bearings of a misapplied ordinance in all its consequences on the moral state of society. This is the point to which we wish to direct the attention of the reader, inasmuch as we fear that, that destitution of religious principle in connexion with a formal profession of Christianity on the one hand, and that profligacy of manners combined with a spirit of the most determined infidelity on the other, which are the awful signs of the times in which we live, may be attributed in no inconsiderable degree to the substitution of infant baptism as a universal rite, in the room of that special ordinance which Christ instituted as a public expression of our faith in him. That our fears on this point are not altogether groundless, must be manifest to those who will be at the trouble to consider the nature of the rite itself, the arguments adduced in its support, the opposition of sentiment which prevails among its advocates, and the influence it has upon the minds of those who have been taught to regard it as a mean of grace and salvation." p. 227.(continued)
Resuming our notice of this excellent work, we observe, that what principally enhance its value in our esteem, are the acuteness with which Mr. Gibbs follows paedobaptism to its ultimate consequences, and the boldness with which he exhibits the evils that must necessarily arise to Christianity, from the substitution of any human device for the ordinance of Jesus Christ, however unimportant it may appear to those who are accustomed to look only at the "outward appearance." The tendency of paedobaptism to lessen the importance of the Christian dispensation, from its frequent appeals to Old Testament authority, and the contrariety and unattainableness of the arguments advanced in its support, to those who are unacquainted with the technicalities of theological dispute, are objections very powerfully urged against the validity of infant sprinkling; but Mr. Gibbs brings forward charges of a graver import. From the inconnexion of infant baptism with the possession of personal religion, and the involuntary mode of its application, its indispensable necessity to the constitution of a national church, and its intimate affinity to Arminian principles, are very forcibly pointed out: —"The theory of paedobaptism," says Mr. G. "is only adapted to the constitution of a national church; it has a manifest tendency to unite the church and the world, and is therefore necessarily opposed to the spirit and principles of dissent. Why do we dissent from the church of England? because it is an ecclesiastical political institution, which in its constitution and government is diverse from that kingdom which is not of this world. We believe that the church of Christ is congregational, composed of persons professing faith in his name; that its laws are derived from the sacred canon of the New Testament; that its jurisdiction is spiritual ; and that the Lord Jesus is its head: hut not so a national church — she records as her members, all the subjects of the realm, the greater part of whom are strangers to God, and enemies to true religion; her Christianity is political; her dominion is secular; tier laws emanate from some worldly prince or ambitious pontiff, who is constituted her head; his sceptre is the organ of government; his creed the standard of her faith.To such a church, Paedobaptism is an appropriate, nay an essential appendage. It is that mystic rite by which the king and the
subject, the saint and the infidel, are incorporated into one body, and are alike pronounced children of God, members of Christ, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven! It is the charm, whose magic spell holds in unison these remote and jarring elements; it is the seal of priestly dominion over the consciences of men; the mark by which they are recognized as belonging to that chartered ecclesiastical corporation, which denounces all who dare to question her infallibility as schismatics, heretics, and apostates; as wortby of pains, penalties, and death!" pp. 232, 3.
To those of our Paedobaptist brethren who profess a conscientious attachment to Calvinistic tenets, we recommend the following quotation: —"There are other consequences connected with Infant Baptism which are overlooked by the Calvinistic Paedobaptist, and which are at variance with the whole of his religious system. It destroys the distinction between the church and the world maintained in the Scriptures. It practically denies the doctrines of personal election and particular redemption, for there can be no election to a particular benefit of which all are partakers: this universality of grace is strongly implied in the administration of Infant Baptism, and it is the prominent doctrine of those national establishments which pronounce every subject of their spiritual jurisdiction, a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Thus it is we find personal election, particular redemption, and justification by faith, denied by the Romish and episcopalian clergy in general — for how can they hold doctrines so subversive of the opinion that every child is made a subject of grace by baptism? The fact is, that Infant Baptism, traced to its source, and followed to its legitimate consequences, will be found to arise out of the most subtle system of Arminian policy ever devised; and to be the most powerful practical expedient for supporting and propagating the doctrines of universal grace and general redemption, within the compass of human agency. It proceeds upon the general principle, not only that all men are alike eligible to salvation, but that grace, of which baptism is the outward sign and seal, is conferred upon all men." p. 240.This is a startling view of the consequences of paedobaptism, and one which ought to make those who sincerely desire to "follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth," pause before they pronounce either upon the unimportance of the baptismal rite, or upon the validity of infant sprinkling. Mr. G. after thus exhibiting the ultimate influence of paedobaptism, proceeds to examine the various arguments by which its advocates have endeavoured to support their system. The analogical deductions from the Jewish proselyte baptism, the Abrahamic covenant, and the rite of circumcision, are fully examined and refuted; but as there is of necessity in this part of our author's book, somewhat of " a thrice slaying of the slain," we shall content ourselves with the following extract in reference to that lately erected strong hold of his opponents, the Abrahamic covenant: —
"Should the Calvinistic Paedobaptist, who sees the connection between the practice of Infant Baptism and the two grand points of Arminian theology, assert, that he does not admit the baptismal regeneration of the church of England, nor yet the baptismal covenant relation so zealously maintained by the Independents, hut that be regards the ordinance as affording an opportunity of addressing parents on the duties of their parental character — then we declare that the application of water to the infant for such a purpose merely, is not infant baptism; it is a service, called indeed by that name, hut not practised till of late by any body of professing Christians in any age or country. It is the mere act of sprinkling a child's face: it is a ceremony .mi generis, differing in its nature, use, and design, from that general system of paedobaptism which is a rite instituted as 'an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace;' and not to teach parents their duties in relation to their children!" p. 341."We are willing to go the whole length of our Independent brethren in acknowledging, that this was a most glorious discovery of God's purposes of grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, which were to be accomplished in the fulness of the times; hut we deny the truth of their position, that it was the covenant of grace established and ratified with Abraham and the whole of his natural posterity; and this we do for the following obvious reasons. First: The new covenant was to embrace both Jews and Gentiles, and was to be acted upon agreeably to this its intended latitude immediately it was ratified by that sacrifice which was to establish its authority, and perpetuate its efficacy. Now the covenant which was fulfilled with the Jews as the children of Abraham did not extend to the Gentiles, and therefore could not be that covenant of grace which was
p. 156by a divine appointment, to include both in its special blessings. Secondly: The new covenant was to be introduced and established among men by the death of Jesus Christ, and not by a sacrifice of birds and of beasts as was that which Abraham offered before God. It is upon this grand and acknowledged principle, that it is spoken of as founded in the blood of Christ; and the blood of Christ is, on this account, styled the blood of the new covenant; bat the propriety of such language might be justly disputed, if it be affirmed that the dispensation under which we live was in full and active operation among the Jews; for what consistency could there be in the Apostles telling us that the new covenant came in with the death of Christ, when according to the principles laid down by our opponents, it had been established with a whole nation nearly 2000 years before in the blood of an animal sacrifice. Thirdly: This notion, "that the Abrahamic covenant was the covenant of grace, the same under which we live," introduces confusion into the revealed order of the divine operations, and renders all that the Prophets and Apostles have said respecting the distinct nature of the two dispensations contradictory and unintelligible; and this is the real cause, we believe, why so much confusion exists in some men's minds on this subject." pp. 300—2.The remaining part of the volume is devoted to an exposition of the design of baptism, as a solemn profession of faith in the triune Jehovah, and as a typical exhibition of the great truths of the gospel revelation, and so much have we been gratified by the perusal of the whole, that we cannot refrain from adding to our already copious quotations, one more extract from Mr. G.'s concluding observations: —"Does this ordinance evince our faith in the triune Jehovah—does it set forth the work of the Spirit and the purifying efficacy of the blood of Christ—does it illustrate his hitter sufferings, deep humiliation, and complete triumph over sin and death — does it enforce a spiritual conformity to his example — does it prefigure our death, and direct our hopes to that blissful period, when these bodies shall rise to immortality in the perfect likeness of their Redeemer? What manner of persons then ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness, who profess to believe these truths, to enjoy these privileges, and to anticipate this blessedness?" p. 358.Mr. Gibbs has, throughout, conducted his "Defence" in a very able manner. His style is clear, correct, and manly. Avoiding all matters that do not immediately relate to his subject, he has produced a work which contains a refutation of almost every thing that can be advanced in support of the various species of paedobaptism. A book like this, which embraces in a small compass all that directly bears upon this much contested point, and in which is condensed the subject-matter of many volumes, cannot fail to be an acceptable offering to those of our brethren who desire "to be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh them a reason."
Powers like those of Mr. Gibbs cannot, we think, long remain unemployed; and taking our leave of him for the present, we indulge a hope that we shall ere long be called to the perusal of some other work which may fully establish the reputation he has already acquired.
[From The Baptist Magazine, 1829, pp. 111-13; 154-156. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage