Assuming the correctness of the commonly received opinion that there are two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper, the question I propose briefly considering is, How they should be kept, or observed.
The Corinthian church was made the subject of apostolic praise because she had kept the ordinances as delivered unto them. This fact furnishes us with the general rule to be observed in ordinance keeping. The direction is a general one, but yet sufficiently definite to guide the people of God to correct practice in this regard. In every issue that may arise among them respecting what is essential, and what, if anything, may be excluded from these institutions, we have but to recur to the original pattern, and when we have kept them as they were delivered, obligation ceases, and not till then. The deliverer of the ordinances was Jesus Christ. The time of it was during his own personal ministry in the world above eighteen centuries age. The record of this deliverance is made, if anywhere, in the New Testament Scriptures. The form of the ordinances (they certainly have some form) is revealed in the command and personal example of their Divine Founder. The subjects of these ordinances are immutably defined by the command of Christ, and the revealed character of those who were considered worthy to receive them. And here I would observe, as there seems to be but one law of baptism, it must have respect to but one class of subjects, as two classes would require two laws, made require two laws, made in adaptation to the causes that classified the subjects. Thus if unconscious babes are indicated as subjects of the law of baptism, then adult believers are not obligated to observe it, and vice versa.
Whoever heard of a government claiming the respect of mankind confounding the distinctions of infancy and adult age, administering its provisions without discrimination to the one and to the other!
The design of these institutions is clearly revealed in the book that records their ordination, and it may be safely assumed that while they may reflect the glory of their Founder in symbolizing great facts in his life and work, yet they can never legitimately claim to be the receivers and distributers of his virtue, and the means whereby he ordinarily regenerates and saves. They may be witnesses, but not saviors.
The administrators of the ordinances are evidently those to whom they are delivered – that is, the churches of Jesus Christ, through their regularly appointed agents. In other words, the ordinances of the gospel were delivered by certain authority, to certain people, to be administered to certain people, for certain ends, and if any of these certain elements are left out, the caricature may be something, but it is no Christian ordinance. Men may like it quite as well, and even better than they like Christ’s own institutions, and that fact may prove the weakness and folly of man, but it does not prove the defective to be genuine. The ordinances must be kept, not imitated or reformed. They must be kept as delivered, not as we think best, nor as human folly would improve and amend them. They who thus keep the ordinances should be the subjects of praise, not abuse, slander and persecution. What say you to these things? Is my platform sound?
[From The Baptist, Memphis, January 8, 1870, p. 2. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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