A GRAND RAPIDS CONTROVERSY, WITH INTERNATIONAL IMPLICATIONS[A Gracious Exchange with a Paedo-Baptist Fellow Christian]
A pamphlet entitled “Why I am Not a Baptist” has come into our hands. It is not a love for controversy which induces us to notice it, especially when we remember that there are subjects of greater moment, the discussion of which, perhaps, are more important to the household of faith. But for the sake of what we deem to be the truth, and lest we should be regarded as dumb dogs that cannot bark, we venture to give our reply. We cannot of course, pry into the heart of the writer of the pamphlet but, rightly or wrongly, we have formed the opinion that the contents of the pamphlet are directed against the Faith and Order of the Strict Baptist Church in this city of Grand Rapids, of which I have the privilege of being pastor.
Our reply may bring us into conflict with well-meaning – but in our view mistaken brethren in Christ, but to them I have already extended, and would continue to extend the right hand of friendship and say, Friends we agree in the fountainhead main-springs of vital godliness and in the life and power of real religion, and if we cannot see with each other on this matter, then we will agree to differ. I will respect your views and I trust you will respect mine until, in God’s good time and through His grace, we reach that glorious place where Zion shall see eye to eye.
The writer of the above-mentioned pamphlet emphasises his desire to explain why he is not a Baptist. But why he should be so anxious to circulate the pamphlet among the Baptists, including members of my church and congregation, is a little difficult to understand. I could understand it better had I been guilty of proselytising people to my cause, but this I have not done. It will not be irrelevant for me to give here an extract from the first sermon I preached in my church on November 20th, 1960 – it is a quotation from J. C. Philpot:-
“In standing up in this pulpit, or in any other where the Lord’s providence calls me, I have in my right mind one, but one object; not to make proselytes to my creed . . . but to contend for the power of vital godliness so far as I am acquainted with it. So far as I am under divine teaching, my desire and aim is not to deceive souls by flattery, not to please any party, not to minister to any man’s pride or presumption, but simply and sincerely with an eye to God’s glory, with His fear working in my heart, to speak to the edification of His people, to do the work of an evangelist, and to commend myself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
I may say that, depending upon the Lord for help, I have endeavoured to keep that resolve.
Whether or not the views expressed in the pamphlet are intended to be the writer’s private views only or those of the church to which he belongs, I do not know. They should be the same, of course, but I am not quite certain that they are. Neither past nor present theologians agree in their views on infant baptism and, in my personal discussions with some who hold and practise it, I have proved the truth of the words of an old writer, “When men dispute against the truth, what one of them builds up is presently pulled down by another.”
Now to refer to the pamphlet. To begin with, it is a decided disadvantage to be obliged to use an unscriptural title. I do not want to make a man an offender for a word, or take any unfair advantage, seeing that there are many who go under the name of Baptist with whom I cannot agree or find fellowship; but it is a fact recorded in Scripture, that the Holy Ghost gave the name of Baptist to one named John. In other words, John was a Baptist, and the writer of the pamphlet purports to tell us, in effect, why he differs from godly John. However, that he does differ I little doubt, for John never sprinkled infants but, as Thomas Boston says, “He baptized none but those who confessed their sins.” “John the Dipper” was the name given him by godly Hollanders of the Reformed Churches in bygone days. Accordingly it is not surprising that some of us, together with John, should be called Dippers. The example of our Lord is not unimportant and very few paedo-baptists will deny that He was baptised by immersion in the river Jordan.
In the second paragraph of the pamphlet we read: “Though I have no desire to stir up trouble for anyone, I do have a desire to explain why I am NOT a Baptist, though I can live with sound Baptists, provided they speak not sneeringly of infant baptism, ridiculing what they do not understand. I also desire to warn those who, with invocation of the Lord were baptized in infancy in the name of a Triune God, receiving the sign and seal of the Covenant, not to ask for a second sign, but rather seek that which was signified and sealed by water-baptism, viz., the baptism of the Spirit.”
To begin with, I do not like these kinds of warnings; this is not the first time I have encountered such – in another context. They are in the nature of threats invoking divine vengeance upon those who do not take heed. Let us by all means warn those who walk contrary to God that they will find God to walk contrary to them; that those who continue to walk in the ways of sin may look for the wages of sin: that disobedience will most certainly receive its just reward; – but let us beware of substituting tradition for truth, man’s word and practice for Christ’s example, and then condemning all who do not see eye to eye with us, warning them that they may look for divine retribution if they take not heed. I will not speak sneeringly of infant baptism as the writer tells us some do – I have far too great a regard for some who hold and practise it – but the simple fact is that Strict Baptists do not consider that being sprinkled as an unconscious infant fulfils the conditions of Scriptural baptism. It is not the act and deed of the person concerned. We believe that Christ requires us to be buried with Him in baptism in the exercise of voluntary and personal consecration and faith. Hence we regard infant sprinkling as a perversion of the ordinance as instituted by Christ. All who seek membership of Strict Baptist churches are expected to give an account of their faith by the confession of the mouth or, as Scripture expresses it, “give a reason of the hope that is in them with meekness and fear,” and then be baptized by immersion. This we believe to be Scriptural. In reply to the warning that those who were “baptized in infancy should not ask for a second sign,” I can only say that we do not regard baptism as a sign or seal of the New Covenant, but only as a sign and seal of the baptized person’s own personal interest in the Covenant – something which, in infancy, is an unknown factor and can only be presumptive. We look upon baptism by immersion as a badge of discipleship and the Scriptural door of entrance to the Lord’s Supper. This warning of adults who ask for baptism by immersion after having been sprinkled as infants, is in the nature of intimidation, and it entirely rejects the fact that many have been constrained to do so by the Holy Spirit of God. I realise that this is a big pill for our opposers to swallow and I want to bear with them as much as I can; but I must solemnly testify that there have been those in bygone days, and some still living today who in the tender fear of God can relate how, after having been sprinkled as infants, they have been led to see and submit to baptism by immersion. J.C.Philpot, who is highly esteemed by the writer and his fellow members, was no hypocrite, and he is a bold man who will say that his turning away from paedo-baptism to believers’ baptism was not of God. But I do not want to bring in personalities. It is a poor religion that takes poor, fallen man as a guide whoever that man may be. We will follow man as far as we believe he follows Christ. A graciously exercised soul will give heed to the words of our Lord to Peter, “What is that to thee? follow thou Me.”
The writer of the pamphlet gives us eight reasons why he is not a Baptist. Let us deal with them as numbered in the pamphlet. He writes:-
“1. Baptists allow that the Lord included the children of the Jews in the ministration of the Covenant. In the Old Testament days that ministration was confined to one nation. After the day of Pentecost the ministration of the Covenant was to be extended to all the nations, but, say the Baptists, now the Lord excluded the children from it. Is there ONE text in the whole Bible where it is stated that the Lord made such a change? And if not, who gives the Baptists the right to exclude children from the ministration of the Covenant, if the Lord does not do it? Likely there were some of the same mistaken notion even among Christ’s disciples who rebuked those that brought young children to Him; see in Mark 10:13, 14, how much it displeased Him. And it is plainly taught in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of believers are, with their parents, in a covenant relation.”
In this first point the writer is assuming that the “ministration” of the Covenant in the Old Testament and New Testament are the same. But the Westminster Confession of Faith correctly states, “This Covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel” (ch. 7; sect. 5 and 6). I agree that the Covenant of Grace is essentially the same in both the Old and New Testaments, but if the ministration of it is supposed to be the same, there are three pertinent questions I would ask:
(I) Why is baptism administered to female infants? Circumcision was administered to males only in the old dispensation. (2) Why are not servants baptized as well as children? They were circumcised in the old dispensation. (3) Why is not the Lord’s Supper observed by the whole household as the Passover was in the old dispensation?
The writer also assumes that the Church of the Old Testament was the same as the Church of the New Testament, and because the infant children of the Israelites were included in the former, therefore all the infant children of believers have a right to be included in the latter. The fact is, however, there never was any organised body of believers in the Old Testament dispensation which exactly corresponded to the Christian Church; and in no essential outward manifestation can it be said that the Commonwealth of Israel is the same as the Church of the New Testament,
It will be seen that the writer draws an unscriptural and unwarranted analogy between the covenant of circumcision and what he calls the “ministration” of the Covenant of grace, and in doing this he confounds and confuses things that differ. Simply stated, the position of infants in regard to the Covenant of grace has always been the same from the time the Covenant was made until now; they are wholly out of it in the same way as adults are, that is, they are either elect or non-elect. The view that there is a New Testament “ministration of the Covenant” wherein non-elect people, infants or otherwise, are admitted, we reject as unscriptural. Taking the whole tenor of the writer’s arguments, we are asked to ‘believe, so it appears, that there is something in the nature of two phases or stages in the Covenant of grace; the first possessing certain undefined privileges falling a little way short of the salvation of those who are in it; the second, that which finally secures their salvation. Several advocates of infant baptism have spoken to me about this and they all argue differently. Candidly, I have yet to find a mere three people in the church to which this writer belongs, who will argue the same and give any semblance of agreement among themselves. Even their ministers do not agree among themselves. I take it that this sort of “external sphere” of the Covenant is the same as the “ministration” of it; some have spoken of the “scope” of it. We Strict Baptists do not believe that there is such a thing as a Covenant with a kind of outer court wherein the baptized infants (whether elect or non-elect) of believing parents receive privileges denied to infants not so baptized. I do not want to be unduly personal, much less unkind, or use any unfair argument in contending for what I believe to be the truth, but I cannot forbear considering the case of my own dear children. If it were possible, how gladly would I present them to the writer of “Why I am not a Baptist.” I would invite him to question them on their upbringing, their parents’ discipline (which I am sure they would remember), the form and mode of worship taught them; and finally ask them to “give a reason of the hope that is in them.” And then, as they stood before him with their God-given husbands and God-given children – none of them baptized as infants – I would say to him, “Now friend, pray come and, in all honesty before God, tell me what these dear children lack in comparison with those whom you say are within the ministration of the Covenant.” However, it may be that the great covenant privilege which baptized infants are supposed to possess is that, if they die before coming to years of discretion, they are saved. But how is it – O will someone please tell me! – how is it that if they live to reach the years of discretion and become “covenant-breakers” they are irretrievably lost?
It will be noted also that in this paragraph the writer tells us that it is plainly taught in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of believers are, with their parents, in a covenant relation. I could readily name and quote many paedo-baptist divines who emphatically disagree with this premise. If we look at the context in Scripture, we find that, in the Corinthian church, there were Christian wives who, at the time of their conversion, found themselves married to pagan husbands; and Christian husbands who were married to pagan wives. This led the believing Corinthians to ask, “Is it lawful for us to continue to live with our unbelieving spouses?” In verses 12 and 13 Paul gives them his advice and says, “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your children unclean; but now they are holy.” This cannot mean that an unbelieving wife or husband possessed spiritual holiness; for in that case, a person could be spiritually holy and yet remain an infidel or heathen at the same time. The words “sanctified” and “holy” must be understood in a relative sense, and Paul says that, in spite of the unbelief of one of the parties, their matrimony was lawful; that they were sanctified or set apart to each other as husband and wife, and that their being together in this relationship was pleasing to God. ‘If it were not so,’ Paul seems to teach, ‘if you were unclean to each other, that is, not fit to associate together as husband and wife, your children would be also unclean to you, and you would have to put them away; but now they are holy, that is to say, legitimate and clean to you, so that you may retain them in your homes as objects of your affection and care.’
In this passage there is not one word about baptism, nor even an allusion to it; nor does the argument bear upon it. In fact, the more the passage is studied, the more readily may we conclude that at the time the apostle writes, infant-baptism was unknown in the Corinthian church. Had it been otherwise, the apostle would have inferred the holiness of children from their baptism instead of from their having a Christian father or mother.
Let us now look at the second reason given for rejecting the Baptist position. It reads as follows:-
“2. I’ll not take time to count how often Scripture is stressing the solidarity of the family, frequently expressed with the words, their and thy seed. In the little pamphlet ‘Some Thoughts on Infant Baptism’ I have proved from Scripture with numerous quotations that the Lord deals with a family as a whole, not only in the Old Testament times, but also in the days of the New Testament. Even in the first sermon that was preached after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit you hear Peter say, ‘The promise is unto you and to your children.’ When the Baptists say, ‘The promise is unto you, believers,’ omitting the words, ‘and to your children,’ they remind me of that man that for the third time was hailed into court for stealing. When the judge pointed out to him that he should not persist in stealing, the thief said, ‘You see, your honour, the Bible says, “Let him that stole, steal.”‘ ‘O no,’ said the judge, ‘the Bible says, “Let him that stole, steal no more.”‘ To that the criminal replied, ‘I know it, I know it, your honour, but you see. I have no use for these two words.’
“Have you observed how often people in quoting Scripture take only that part of the text that suits them or their case, omitting the part for which they have no use? . . . And do the Baptists dare to say, We have no use for these words, ‘and thy seed’ or ‘and to your children?'”
My answer to this is that I have certainly observed how often people omit those parts of a text which does not suit their way of things, and there is a very glaring case of it now before our eyes. I raise an accusing but well-meaning finger at our friend the writer of the pamphlet and say. “Thou are the guilty man!” We do not say, as it is alleged we do, “The promise is unto you believers” omitting the words “and to your children” We prefer to keep closely to the word of God both in quoting and practising it, and we quote the verse in question in its entirety without curtailing it as the criminal did to suit his ends, and as our friend has done to suit his. In his quoting the verse, it seems that the criminal had no use for two words, but what has our friend done with the ten, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call?” Evidentially he has no use for them, but we have, for we do not like to rend asunder what God has joined together. Every unprejudiced person will agree that the words the writer has omitted do, in fact, qualify all the characters referred to as coming within the scope of the promise. The promise is unto “as many as the Lord our God shall call” from among “you and your children,” that is, your posterity; meaning such of them as had been or should be effectually called by grace; and to “as many as the Lord our God shall call” from among “all that are afar off.” My experience is that very few paedo-baptists will advance this verse in proof of their views, and I note that several eminent paedo-baptist divines state categorically that the verse should not be adduced to establish the propriety of infant baptism.
I will give here an extract from a sermon I preached on April 9th, 1961 on Matthew 28:19-20, – one of the few occasions when I spoke at length on the ordinance of believers’ baptism:
“Peter said, ‘For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.’ Firstly, “the promise.” This appears to be that referred to in verses 16-21 of the same chapter, where the apostle, quoting from the prophecy of Joel, speaks of the time when the Spirit of God should be poured out upon ‘all flesh,’ all men without distinction. Secondly, the characters; ‘The promise is unto you.’ What greater crime than that of crucifying the holy Son of God? What unutterable anguish of spirit must they have experienced when convicted of their sin and guilt! But the promise gives them hope. It is ‘unto you.’ Thirdly, ‘and to your children,’ that is, to your posterity. The Jews well knew the word of the Lord spoken through Moses to their forefathers; how that God would by no means clear the guilty and would visit ‘the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation’ (Exodus 34:7). But see the great and condescending love and mercy of the Lord here: ‘the promise is unto you and to your children.’ Only a parent can realise what this reference to their posterity meant to them. Then again, the Jews had most solemnly invoked the curse of God upon their children as well as upon themselves, ‘His blood be upon us and on our children.’ In mercy, therefore the promise is extended to include all who were under that terrible curse. Then the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter, says that the promise is ‘to all them that are afar off’; not merely geographically, but as regards time also; some not born and some, I trust living in the year 1961. Then, as if to gather up the different characters in terms which are incontrovertible, we read, ‘even as many as the Lord our God shall call.’ See how beautifully the Holy Ghost gathers up the remnant according to the election of grace. Here are the people and here is the number of them, all those, each and everyone, whom the Lord our God shall call.”
The third reason given by the writer of the pamphlet reads as follows:
“3. Baptists insist that the order of the words ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:16) unmistakably indicates that no one should be baptised who cannot give an account of his saving faith. But the order of the words does not necessarily determine the sequence of the things meant by the words; ‘and’ is a copulative, and I could mention dozens of scriptures that make it plain that frequently the word ‘and’ simply means ‘both of them’.”
In reply, we are being told that in Mark 16:16 the word ‘and’ is a copulative. That may be so, but it does so happen that the Holy Ghost and not man has put ‘believing’ before ‘baptizing’ in that context. To do otherwise would be contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture. In the same sense that we Strict Baptists use this verse to show that no one should be baptized without first believing and making a confession of faith, the church to which the anti-Baptist writer belongs uses it to show why a confession should be made by all adult persons, without exception, who are going to be baptized. The wording in their ‘Form for the Administration of Baptism’ is as follows:-
‘It is not lawful to baptize those who are come to years of discretion, except they first be sensible of their sins, and make confession of both their repentance and faith in Christ. For this cause did not only John the Baptist preach (according to the command of God) the baptism of repentance, and baptized for the remission of sins, those who confessed their sins (Mark 1 and Luke 3); but our Lord Jesus Christ also commanded His disciples to teach all nations, and then to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28; Mark 16), adding this promise, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” According to which rule, the apostle, as appeareth from Acts 2,10 and 16, baptized none who were of years of discretion, but such as made confession of their faith and repentance. Therefore it is not lawful now to baptize any other adult person, than such as have been taught the mysteries of holy baptism, by the preaching of the gospel, and are able to give an account of their faith by the confession of the mouth.”
That is the wording of their form for the administration of baptism, however, I am in some difficulty to know what our opponent does believe on this point as I understand that, in practice, some adults are admitted to his church without making a confession of their faith and repentance.
Let us now consider the fourth reason:-
“4. But, say the Baptists, there is no specific command to baptise infants. Why should there be? If the Baptists say, ‘If the Lord wanted infants to be baptized, He would have given a command to do so, or at least, have given a record in Scripture of cases in which children were baptized. But there is no command and no proof that it happened in the days of the apostles.’ Following the same line of arguing, women should not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper. When the Lord’s Supper was instituted, there were no women present. The Lord never gave a specific command that women should partake of it, and you cannot find in Scripture instances to prove that women actually did partake of it. But again I ask, Why should there be a specific command? In the Old Testament dispensation the women were not excluded from partaking of the Passover; if, in the New Testament dispensation the Lord wanted women to be excluded from the Lord’s Supper, He would have given a special command; but there was no such change in the ministration of the Covenant, so there was no need of a specific command. The same with the children: they were included in the ministration of the Covenant; they are not to be excluded now, else there would be a special command to that effect.”
Here the above writer asks why there should be a specific command to baptize infants. To Strict Baptists the silence of Scripture is significant. I am tempted to ask a few further questions emphasizing this silence: Why are the Scriptures absolutely silent over the necessary accompaniments and results of infant baptism? Where can directions be found about the sponsorship for the infants? Not in the Word of God! And for their subsequent profession of personal faith? Not in the Word of God! And the manner of their admission to full church membership on reaching the age of responsibility? Not in the Word of God! On all these points the Scriptures are silent as they are upon infant baptism itself, or even upon the baptism of an adult son or daughter of a Christian household. The reason why the Word of God makes no allusion to infant baptism is because it was altogether unknown in the apostolic age. History shows it to be an ecclesiastical institution rather than an apostolic institution.
The inference that women should not be allowed to partake of the Supper is an exaggeration in the lie of argument. The commission of our Lord to His disciples was, “Go ye therefore, and teach (that is, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Now, in the light of such a word as that, on what grounds should women be excluded from discipleship? Women were found among Christ’s dearest friends; they were found nearest to the cross; they were the first at the sepulchre, and it was to a woman that He first revealed Himself after His resurrection. And yet we are asked to believe that there is as much warrant for a clear command for these godly women to partake of the Lord’s Supper as there is for a helpless infant to be baptized! Those women were true disciples. Partakers of the Supper are designated in Scripture as disciples, and believing women are as much disciples as believing men. Paul’s narration of the observance of the Supper as recorded in I Corinthians 11:23 is addressed to ‘the church of God which is at Corinth.’ In 1 Corinthians 14: 34, 35 we are expressly informed that females were in that church.
The fifth reason our friend opposes the Baptist conviction reads as follows:
“5. Baptists want you to believe that judging from cases that are mentioned in Scripture, in the days after Pentecost the Holy Spirit worked effectually only in households where there were no young children. Lydia and her household is mentioned; Cornelius and all his house; the household of Stephanas; and the jailor at Philippi who in that remarkable night was baptized, he and all his, straightway. If you say, it is probable that there were young children in one or more of these families; the Baptists say, No. If you ask, Isn’t it possible? Their answer is no. They don’t want to concede the possibility because then they would have to admit that in the apostolic days children were baptized, for in each of the cases mentioned it says plainly in Scripture that all of the household were baptized.”
Here the writer of the above says that we Baptists contend that, in the days after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit worked effectually only in households where there were no young children. But that is not correct, Taking the day of Pentecost first; I have no doubt that out of the 3000 who were added to the church many belonged to families where there were infants, but we do not read of any household baptisms on that day, nor of any infant baptisms. But we do read, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). That expression certainly excludes infants. As far as the household baptisms after Pentecost are concerned, according to Scripture the members of the households were not only baptized but were capable of exercising faith, which infants, generally, are not able to do.
The writer also mentions the case of Cornelius. If we look at the narrative as recorded in Scripture we read, “the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard the word” (Acts l0:44) – no infants there. In verse 46 we have the same ‘them’ speaking with tongues – no infants there. And in verse 48 the same ‘them’ being baptized – why assume infants there?
The Philippian jailor is mentioned, but in Acts 16:34 we read that he “rejoiced believing in God with all his house.” Such young folk as were there were evidently capable of rejoicing and believing.
Taking the house of Stephanas. This was the “first fruits of Achaia” (I Corinthians 16:15), that is, the first Achaian converts.
The case of Lydia is also mentioned. Here again, many paedo-baptist divines testify that the inspired narrative affords no evidence of infants being baptized; indeed that Lydia had any children, or even that she was married. I am reminded of a narrative I have read concerning a ministerial conference some years ago when there was a little innocent banter between the ministers taking part. In the course of a conversation on baptism, some of the younger Presbyterian ministers became very emphatic in their assertion that the apostles practised infant-baptism. “Of course they did,” said one, ‘for we read that they baptized five households, and some of those households must have contained infants.” As the Baptist ministers who were present made no reply, the genial host asked them if they had nothing to say. “Yes,” answered a venerable Baptist, in a subdued voice, “I am prepared to assert that every member of those five households was over 20 years of age.” This remark was greeted with good-natured laughter, and from several lips there came the question, “How can you prove it?” “Oh,” replied the aged Baptist, “I said nothing about proving; I was simply asserting. Infected by your example, I was just indulging a little in the pleasant occupation of guessing. I admire your style of argument. It saves such a lot of trouble to take for granted the very point in dispute. I admire also the liveliness of your imagination which can descry infants where they were non-existent, and which can invent them where the inspired penman informs us of none. Perhaps you can tell us what was the exact number of infants which these households contained, and what were their names and ages; also how many of them were boys and how many were girls . . .”
Here I will take the opportunity of mentioning a few other cases which, in our view, prove that only believers were baptized. There is the case of Philip and the eunuch, “If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest” (Acts 8:37), drawing forth the reply’, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Note also how they “went down both into the water”; and after the baptizing came “up out of the water.” Commenting on this verse, John Calvin, a paedo-baptist says, “Here we see how the rite of baptism was carried out by the men of long ago: they immersed the whole body in the water” (“Calvin’s Commentaries, The Acts of the Apostles 1-13,” Saint Andrew Press, p.254).
In the same chapter we have the case of Philip baptizing the Samaritans who had “believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” and in that particular case there is a specific mention or “both men and women.”
There is also the case of Crispus and other Corinthians “hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Such a statement does not normally refer to infants. We do not believe, therefore, that any in those families were baptized other than those capable of exercising faith.
Let us now deal with the sixth reason given in the pamphlet. It reads as follows:-
“6. Baptists want you to believe that when the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, then the hearts of all the members of her household were opened too (though Scripture is silent on this point) for according to the Baptists none should be baptized that cannot give an account of his personal interest in the Saviour, and . . . all of Lydia’s household were baptised. And you must believe the same simultaneous conversions of all the members of the other households. But read the conversion of Lydia and of the jailor with an unprejudiced mind and then, when the Baptists say, All of Lydia’s household and all of the jailor’s family were converted, and at the same time brought out of the state of misery into the state of grace, is it then out of place to ask, Why is Scripture silent on such a miracle of grace?”
I find it difficult to follow the line of reasoning of the above here. Scripture is not silent on these cases as may be gathered from the cases mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Look again at Acts 18:8, “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house”; that is, he and all his house believed. What language more plain than that? A miracle indeed! And why is it alleged that Scripture is silent respecting the Philippian jailor? We read that he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” Surely that is telling us that all his house believed and were baptized! The household of Stephanas was evidently comprised of converted people for reasons I have already given. The case of Lydia speaks for itself for it is clear that only believers were baptized.
The seventh reason reads as follows:-‘
“7. The silliest remark made by some Baptists is this one: Infants should not be baptized for they do not understand a thing of it. Such a remark in reality casts a reflection on the Most High, for He commanded that the sons of the Jews should be circumcised on the eighth day. What did these infants understand of it?”
This light criticism on the part of the writer of the pamphlet shows that he has not given the Baptists’ position serious thought. The statement that infants should not be baptized because they know nothing of it is, at least, consistent with Baptist views We hold that believers’ baptism is the only valid water-baptism; that it is a step taken in faith, without which “it is impossible to please God.” We do not recognize, therefore, any rite of baptism performed in the case of unbelievers or infants incapable of believing. For the sake of brevity, I have refrained from quoting from the works of others, but here I cannot forbear quoting from two well – known paedo-baptists. John Calvin writes, “Because Christ requires teaching before baptizing, and will have believers only admitted to baptism, baptism does not seem to be rightly administered, except faith precede it.” Tertullian says, “Let them come to baptism when they are grown up; when they can understand; when they are taught whither they are to come. Let them become Christians when they can know Christ.”
The reference to infants being circumcised and knowing nothing about it, we regard as quite irrelevant, for we do not accept the view that baptism supersedes circumcision. In our opinion, their institution, nature and intent differ so considerably that arguments drawn from the supposed analogy are groundless. I will mention but one of the many reasons which may be adduced in support. If baptism had been instituted in the place of circumcision, then why, in Acts chapter 15, do we read of the dissension over circumcision? Why a special deputation to the elders at Jerusalem to resolve the difficulty which had arisen? And why did not the elders reply saying, ‘Circumcision is now superseded by baptism; in the future you should baptize your children instead of circumcising them?’ We might also note that the qualification for baptism in John the Baptist’s day was not, “we have Abraham to our father” as some fondly wished, but “bring forth fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8& 9).
The eighth and last reason is as follows:-
“8. The Strict Baptists insist that those who were baptized in infancy must be re-baptized before they can be accepted as church members. Infant baptism does not convey grace; but neither does adult baptism. Both are no more than a sign and seal of the Covenant. Without baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, the sign or seal leaves the person in the state of nature, whether he received baptism as an infant or as an adult. Why then should the sign that was once received in infancy be repeated? The seal of the Covenant should be received only once; the value of it will be experienced when the baptized person receives saving faith, an indubitable evidence that the Holy Spirit works that which was signified by water baptism.”
Much of what I have already written covers the point raised here. We do not recognize as valid any rite of baptism of unbelievers or of believers who have been sprinkled as opposed to immersed, which latter we regard as the Scriptural, and therefore correct, mode of administration. Again I would emphasize, we do not regard baptism as a sign or seal of the Covenant of grace, but as a badge of discipleship. If it is a sign or seal, then it means that one can be in possession of the sign and seal of something they do not possess. The writer tells us that “the seal of the Covenant should be received only once; the value of it will be experienced when the baptized person receives saving faith, an indubitable evidence that the Holy Spirit works that which was signified by water baptism.” But we cannot forbear asking, What if the baptized person never receives saving faith? It means that he has had the sign and seal without the substance – the seal of something he never possessed! That which is said to be of value, now proves to be of no value whatsoever! The only seal we recognize is the sealing of the believer’s interest in the covenant of grace; the oath of the Father and the blood of the Son, applied to our hearts by the Holy Ghost; given, not in the hope that we might later receive the substance, but in the certainty that we already possess it.
In the concluding paragraph of the pamphlet, the writer deplores the fact that infant baptism has been brought into disrepute by those who are said to abuse or misinterpret it, and he adds, “these things are sad indeed.” Here is a remarkable admission that confusion exists in his camp. I believe it and have known it for some time. I am still looking for just three – no more – who will come and argue on unanimity on the Scripturalness of infant baptism.
I have looked into the “Form for the Administration of Baptism” which is used in the church to which the writer of the pamphlet belongs, but I really cannot believe that he we find there. When I read the three “principal parts of the doctrine,” I form the opinion that, even were I a believer in the baptism of infants, I certainly could not subscribe to such language. My views are confirmed when reading further I come across the expression, “therefore infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant” And then to my amazement, in the “Thanksgiving” I read, “We thank and praise Thee, that Thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism”. If this language does not convey the idea of presumptive regeneration, then words have no meaning! Upon enquiry, we are told that these expressions are not intended to mean what they obviously do, but the Form, having been comprised by godly men of a bygone age, cannot be altered!
In conclusion, I am going to express my complete disagreement with the views of the writer of “Why I am not a Baptist.” But I will not be disagreeable. He should not forget that Philpot, Warburton, Kershaw, Covell and others whose sermons are eagerly sought and publicly read in the churches to which he belongs, were Strict Baptists. A few are still living today who are not ashamed to follow in their footsteps, worship in their churches, preach in their pulpits and uphold the same Faith and Order as they. But we will try to respect the views of those who oppose us and hope that they will try to respect ours. There will come a time when Zion shall see eye to eye. No sighs or tears can enter heaven, but if they could perhaps it would be upon reflection that those enjoying the bliss of heaven should have lived in such disunity whilst here upon earth. Let us practise the well-known maxim, “In things essential unity; in things indifferent, tolerance; but in all things, charity,” and take heed to the word of the apostle James, “Grudge not against one another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9).
Ebenezer J. Knight
Ebenezer John Knight ministered for twenty-five years in Wiltshire in the West of England preaching amongst Gospel Standard churches. In 1960 the outward course of his life changed by a call to Zion Gospel Standard Strict Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He laid down the work there in 1976 and returned to Wiltshire, England. He made the same theological pilgrimage as his friend Bernard Honeysett which eventually resulted in his name also being removed from the list of Gospel Standard Churches. He died at the end of 1990 and Bernard Honeysett recorded, “I lost a dear brother with whom I had long walked in the closest fellowship and union with Christ. His funeral was on 4 January 1991 and I will never forget the singing of the doxology at his graveside in Colerne churchyard.” Details about his life are found in Bernard Honeysett’s “The Sound of His Name” (Banner of Truth, 1995).