Scriptural Apostolic Baptism 1
"For the first thirteen centuries, the almost universal practice of baptism was that of which we read in the New Testament, and which is the very meaning of the word 'baptize,' that those who were baptized were plunged, submerged, immersed into the water. That practice is still continued in Eastern churches. In the Western church it still lingers among Roman Catholics in the solitary instance of the cathedral at Milan, among Proetestants in the austere sect of the Baptists. It lasted long into the Middle Ages. Even the Icelanders, who at first shrank from the water of their freezing lakes, were reconciled when they found they could use the warm water of geysers, and the cold climate of Russia has not been found an obstacle to its continuance throughout that vast empire. Even in the Church of England it is still observed in theory. Elizabeth and Edward the Sixth were both immersed. The rubric, in the Public Baptism of Infants, enjoins that, enless for special
1 By Dr. Arthur P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster Abbey, from "Fortnightly Review," October, 1879.
cases, they are to be dipped, not sprinkled. But in practice it gave way since the beginning of the seventh century.
"With the few exceptions just mentioned, the whole of the Western churches have now substituted for the ancient bath the ceremony of sprinkling a few drops of water on the face. The reason for the change is obvious. The practice of immersion, apostolic and primitive as it was, was peculiarly suitable to the Southern and Eastern countries for which it was designed, and peculiarly unsuitable to the taste, the convenience, and the feelings of the countries of the North and West. Not by any decrees of Council or Parliament, but by the general sentiment of Christian liberty, this great change was effected. Not beginning till the thirteenth century, it has gradually driven the ancient Catholic usage out of the whole of Europe. There is no one who would now wish to go back to the old practice. It had no doubt the sanction of the apostles and of their Master. It had the sanction of the venerable churches of the early ages and of the sacred countries of the East. Baptism by sprinkling was rejected by the whole ancient church, except in the rare case of deathbeds or extreme necessity, as no baptism at all. Almost the first exception was the heretic Novatian. It still has the sanction of the powerful religious community which numbers among its
members such noble characters as John Bunyan, Robert Hall, and Havelock.
"In a version of the Bible which the Baptist church has compiled for its own use in America, where it exceeds in numbers all but the Methodists, it is thought necessary - on philological grounds it is quite correct - to translate John the Baptist by John the Immerser. It has even been defended on sanitary grounds. Sir John Floyer dated the prevalence of consumption to the discontinuance of baptism by immersion. But, speaking generally, the Christian civilized world has decided against it. It is a striking example of the triumph of common sense and convenience over the bondage of form and custom. Perhaps no greater change has ever taken place in the outward form of Christian ceremony with such general agreement. It is a greater change even than that which the Roman Catholic Church has made in administering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the bread without the wine. For that was a change which did not affect the thing that was signified; whereas the change from immersion to sprinkling has set aside the larger part of the apostolic language regarding baptism and has altered the very meaning of the word. But whereas the withholding of the cup produced the long and sanguinary war of Bohemia, and has been one of the standing grievances of the Protestants against the
Roman Catholic Church, the withdrawal of the ancient rite of immersion, decided by the whole of the ancient church to be essential to the sacrament of baptism, has been, with the exception of the insurrection of the Anabaptists of Munster, adopted almost without a struggle. It shows the wisdom of not imposing the customs of other regions and other climates on those to whom they are not congenial. It shows how the spirit which lives and moves in human society can override even the most sacred ordinances. It remains an instructive example of the facility and silence with which, in matters of form, even the greatest changes can be effected without any serious loss to Christian truth and with great advantage to Christian solemnity and edification. The substitution of sprinkling for immersion must, to many at the time, as to Baptists now, have seemed the greatest and most dangerous innovation. Now, by all Catholics and by most Protestants, it is regarded almost as a second nature.
"Another change is not so complete, but is perhaps more important. In the apostolic age, and in the centuries which followed, it is evident that, as a general rule, those who came to baptism, came in full age, of their own deliberate choice. We find a few cases of baptism of children; in the third century we find one case of the baptism of infants. Even among Christian households the
instances of Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Ephrem of Edessa, Augustine, Ambrose, are decisive proofs that it was not only not obligatory but not usual. They had Christian parents, and yet they were not baptized till they reached maturity. The liturgical service of baptism was framed entirely for full-grown converts, and is only by considerable adaptation applied to the case of infants.
"Gradually, however, the practice spread, and after the fifth century the whole Christian world, East and West, Catholic and Protestant, Episcopal, and Presbyterian (with the single exception of the sect of Baptists before mentioned), have baptized children in their infancy. Whereas, in the early ages adult baptism was the rule and infant baptism the exception, in later times infant baptism is the rule and adult baptism the exception. What is the justification of this almost universal departure from the primitive usage? There may have been many reasons, some bad, some good. One, no doubt, was the superstitious feeling, already mentioned, which regarded baptism as a charm, indispensable to salvation, and which insisted on imparting it to every human being who could be touched with water, however unconscious. Hence the eagerness with which
of the primitive or Protestant practice of previous preparation. Hence the capture of children for baptism without the consent of their parents, as in the celebrated case of the Jewish boy Mortara. Hence the curious decision of the Sorbonne quoted in 'Tristram Shandy.' Hence in the early centuries, and still in the Eastern churches, co-extensive with infant baptism, the practice of infant communion, both justified on the same grounds, and both based on the mechanical application of biblical texts to cases which by their very nature were not contemplated in the apostolic age.
"But there is a better side to the growth of this practice which, even if it did not mingle in its origin, is at least the cause of its continuance. It lay deep in early Christian feeling that the fact of belonging to a Christian household consecrated every member of it. Whether baptized or not, the apostle urged that, because the parents were holy, therefore the children were holy. They were not to be treated as outcasts; they were not to be treated as heathen; they were to be recognized as part of the chosen people. This passage, whilst it is conclusive against the practice of infant baptism in the apostolic age, is a recognition of the legitimate reason and permanent principle on which it is founded. It is the acknowledgment of the Christian saintliness and union of family life. The goodness, the holiness, the purity of a Christian fireside,
of a good death-bed, extends to all those who come within its reach. As we arc all drawn nearer to each other by the natural bonds of affection, so we are drawn still nearer when these bonds of affection are cemented by Christianity. Every gathering, therefore, for the christening of a little child, is truly a family gathering. It teaches us how closely we are members one of another. It teaches parents how deeply responsible they are for the growth of that little creature throughout its future education. It teaches brothers and sisters how by them is formed the atmosphere, good or bad, in which the soul of their little new-born brother or sister is trained to good or to evil. It teaches us the value of the purity of those domestic relations in which from childhood to old age all our best thoughts are fostered and encouraged. It also surmounts and avoids the difficulties which encompass adult baptism in any country or society already impregnated with Christian influences. If the New Testament has no example of infant baptism, neither has it any example of adult Christian baptism; that is, of the baptism of those who had been already born and bred Christians. The artificial formality of a baptismal service for those who in our time have grown up as Christians is precluded by the administration of the rite at the commencement of their natural life.
"But there is a further reason to be found in the
character of children. This is contained in the gospel which is read in the baptismal service of infants throughout the Western church. In the early ages there probably were those who doubted whether children could be regarded worthy to be dedicated to God or to Christ. The answer is very simple. If our divine Master did not think them unfit to be taken in his arms and receive his own gracious blessing when he was actually here in bodily presence, we need not fear to ask his blessing upon them now.
"Infant baptism is thus a recognition of the good which there is in every human soul. It declares that in every child of Adam, whilst there is much evil, there is more good; whilst there is much which needs to be purified and elevated, there is much also which in itself shows a capacity for purity and virtue. In those little children of Galilee, all unbaptized as they were, not yet even within the reach of a Christian family, Jesus Christ saw the likeness of the kingdom of heaven merely because they were little children, merely because they were innocent human beings, he saw in them the objects, not of divine malediction, but of divine benediction. Lord Palmerston was once severely attacked for having said "children are born good." But he, in fact, only said what Chrysostom had said before him, and Chrysostom said only what in the Gospels had been already said of the natural state
of the unbaptized Galilean children - "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
"The substitution of infant baptism for adult baptism, like the change from immersion to sprinkling, is thus a triumph of Christian charity. It exemplifies at the first beginning of life that divine grace which hopes all things, believes all things, endures all tilings. In each such little child our Saviour saw, and we may see, the promise of a glorious future. In those little hands, folded in unconscious repose, in those bright eyes first awakening to the outer world, in that soft forehead unfurrowed by the slightest ruffle of care, he saw, and we may see, the undeveloped rudimental instruments of the labor and intelligence and energy of a whole life. And not only so - not only in hope, but in actual reality, does the blessing on little children, whether as expressed in the gospel story or as implied in infant baptism, acknowledge the excellency and the value of the childlike soul. Not once only in his life, but again and again, he held them up to his disciples as the best corrective of the sins and passions of mankind. He exhorted all men to follow their innocency, their unconsciousness, their guilelessness, their truthfulness, their purity. He saw in them the regenerating, sanctifying element of every family, of every household, of every nation. He saw, and we may see, in their natural, unaffected, simple, unconstrained acts and words the
best antidote to the artificial, fantastic, exclusive spirit which beset the Pharisees of his own time, and must beset the Pharisees, whether of the religious or of the unreligious world, in all times. Infant baptism thus is the standing testimony to the truth, the value, the eternal significance of what is called 'natural religion,' of what Butler calls the constitution of human nature. It is also in a more special sense still the glorification of children. It is the outward expression of their proper place in the Christian church and in the instincts of the civilized world. It teaches us how much we all have to learn from children, how much to enjoy, how much to imitate. It is the response to all that poetry of children which in our days has been specially consecrated by Wordsworth and Keble.
" When we think of what a child is - how helpless, how trusting, how hopeful - the most hardened of men must be softened by its presence and feel the reverence due to its tender conscience as to its tender limbs. When we remember that before their innocent faces the demons of ambition, and impurity, and worldliness, and uncharitableness are put to flight; that for their innocent souls there is a place in a better world, though they are now and will be for months and years ignorant of those theological problems which rend their elders asunder, it may possibly teach us that it is not 'before all things necessary' to know the differences
which divide the churches of the East or West, or the churches of the North or South. When we think of the sweet repose of a child as it lies in the arms of its nurse or its pastor at the font, it may recall to us the true attitude of humble trust and confidence which most befits the human soul, whether of saint or philosopher. 'Like as a weaned child on its mother's breast, my soul is even as a weaned child.' When we meditate on the imperfect knowledge of a child, it is the best picture to us of our imperfect knowledge in this mortal state. 'I am but a little child,' said Sir Isaac Newton, 'picking up pebbles on the shore of the vast ocean of truth.' 'When I was a child, when I was an infant,' said St. Paul, 'I spake as an "infant," I thought as an "infant"; but when I became a man, the thoughts and the spirit of an "infant" were done away.' It is the pledge to us of a perpetual progress. The baptism of an infant, as the birth of an infant, would be nothing were it not that it includes within it the hope and the assurance of all that is to follow after. In those feeble cries, in those unconscious movements, there is the first stirring of the giant within; the first dawn of that reasonable soul which will never die; the first budding of
The seminal form which in the deeps
Of that little chaos sleeps.
" The investment of this first beginning with a
religious and solemn character teaches us that, as we must grow from infancy to manhood, so also we must grow from the infancy, the limited perceptions, the narrow faith, the stunted hope, the imperfect knowledge, the straitened affections of the infancy of this mortal state to the full-grown manhood of our immortal life. It suggests that we have to pass from the momentary baptism of unconscious infants through the transforming baptism of fire and the Spirit - that is, of experience and character - which is wrought out through the many vicissitudes of life and the great change of death.
"There are many other changes consequent on the substitution of infant for adult baptism. The whole institution of sponsors is of a later date. In the early centuries the answers were made for the child as a general rule by the parents. The creation of a new series of spiritual affinities was the result of transferring to a child the dramatic form which had been originally used for grown-up converts. This modern system of sponsors doubtless has its social and moral advantages, but it was with a view of meeting the obvious difficulties which so complex an arrangement awakens in the minds at least of the uneducated that the late Royal Commissioners on the Rubrics on one occasion recommended that the whole of that part of the baptismal service should be made optional. This, with many
other sensible proposals, was rejected by the Lower House of the Southern Convocation.
" The connection of the Christian name with baptism is also a result of the change. Properly speaking, the name is not given in baptism, but having been already given, the person baptized is then publicly recognized as the bearer of the name which stamps his personality. In the case of the adult baptism of the early ages this was obvious. Flavius Constantinus had always been Flavius Constantinus and Aurelius Augustinus always Aurelius Augustinus. It was only when the time of the name giving and of the baptism, as in the case of infants, so nearly coincided, that the two came to be confounded.
" Confirmation, which once formed a part of baptism, has been separated from it and turned into a new ordinance, which in the Roman Catholic Church has been made into another sacrament. Along with this disruption between confirmation and baptism has taken place another change - the absolute prohibition throughout the Western Church of infant communion, which in the early church was, as it still is in the East, the inseparable accompaniment of infant baptism. In early ages, as in the Eastern Church, confirmation was the title given to the unction which accompanied baptism. In the later Roman Church and in most Protestant churches it is the title given to the open adoption of the Christian faith and life in mature years.
"Another curious series of changes has taken place in regard to the persons who administered baptism. In the early centuries it was only the bishop, and this is probably the origin of the retention by the episcopal order of that part of the old baptism which, as we have just said, was what we now call confirmation. Thus, as the episcopate became more separate from the presbyterate, as the belief in the paramount necessity of baptism became stronger, as the population of Christendom increased, the right was extended to presbyters, then to deacons, and at last to laymen, and, in defiance of all early usage, to women. And thus it has happened, by one of those curious introversions of sentiment which are so instructive in ecclesiastical history, that whilst in Protestant churches which lay least stress on the outward rite, the administration is virtually confined to the clergy, in the Roman Catholic Church, which lays most stress on the rite, the administration is extended to the laity and to the female sex. It is a formidable breach in the usual theories concerning the indispensable necessity of the clerical order for the administration of the sacramental rights, and it is difficult to see what is the difference in principle in the Roman church which has rendered the practice with regard to one sacrament exceedingly lax, with regard to the other so exceedingly rigid.
"Such are some of the general reflections suggested
by the revolutions through which the oldest ordinance of the church has come down to our day. They may possibly make that ordinance more intelligible both to those who adopt and to those who have not adopted it. They may also serve to show in one instance the transformations both of letter and spirit which have taken place in many other examples."
The foregoing clear and emphatic statement of the learned dignitary of the Protestant Episcopal Church of England: First, the apostles and the early churches immersed, that the change from immersion to sprinkling has set aside a large part of the apostolic language; and, second, that infant baptism was not instituted by the Lord Jesus or his apostles, is just what Baptists have announced and suffered for through the so-called Christian ages. But he says:
1. That men have a right to change the ordinance instituted by the Lord to suit their case or convenience.
2. That the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles and the apostles' Epistles are no standards for Christians or churches. The inspired word, he acknowledges, enjoins the immersion of believers. It matters not, he considers the change from infant to adult baptism and from immersion to sprinkling "a triumph." Yes, over God's truth, as the Lord
commanded. "But ye are my friends," said the Lord, "if ye do whatsoever I command you."
3. The ritual always repeated in the Episcopal churches, "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be," is false. In the beginning of the Gospel, John and the Lord's disciples immersed believers, so says the learned dean. Not that they sprinkled infants. It is not now as in the beginning, and the repeated ritual is a false utterance, according to Episcopalians' own authority.
4. As baptism was the immersion of believers in the beginning, it is immersion now, and hence Pedobaptists are not baptized; according to their own confession and admission they are not a church and have no right to the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. How can they complain of Baptists because Baptists refuse to admit them to the one when they refuse to comply with the other.
[Samuel H. Ford, Baptist Waymarks, ABPS, 1903. The document was provided by Pastor Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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