to Baptism WITH Water. London: Snow. 1845.

We do not think that the cases are so frequent in the present day, as they have been in times past ;--but still they must, even now, not unfrequently occur; in which the clergy are made to suffer the disappointment of seeing young persons, on whose spiritual growth they had looked with pleasure, suddenly warped and drawn aside, by the temptation of greater apparent earnestness, or zeal, or obedience to scripture commands, on the part of some sect which accuses the church of worldliness or disobedience; and which keeps up its own existence chiefly by seducing away the rising members of her congregations. We do not, we repeat, believe that these secessions are so frequent in the present day as in times past;

but still they do occur, and we are induced to notice this clever and attractive little volume, because it furnishes a weapon of defence against a sect which, though small, is much given to proselyting

Many lamentable cases have occurred in the course of the last century, (of which the life of Mr. Scott the commentator furnished one noted example) in which zealous young converts have been caught, at the commencement of their spiritual career, by the greater apparent conformity of the Baptist-system to the words of scripture; and by the argument, (which is incontrovertible,) that the Christian's duty is, without cavil or scruple, to follow his Lord's commands in the plain and obvious sense which attaches to their every word. Admitting this then, the common texts adduced by Baptists,—" He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,”_"Buried with him in baptism,"-" Then they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him,"—are very apt to catch the unwary convert, who receives a strong impression and a decided bias, almost before he is aware of the progress he is making.

In such instances of perversion as these, the present volume, if offered to the notice of the person in danger, is very likely to produce a salutary effect. Although it is thrown into the form of fiction, there is the strongest internal evidence that the conversations, sermons, letters, &c., given in it, are matters of fact. We very

much inclined to believe, that the whole history, as it is given, is a true one ; in which names and dates are concealed for peace' sake.

The convert, who here tells his own story, was brought up 1845.


4 X

among the Baptists, and of course becomes acquainted with their weak side, as well as their strong one. The book consists of a series of conversations, incidents, and correspondence, ending, as the title prepares us to expect, in his finally declining to join the Baptist Church to which his parents belonged. It opens by presenting him to the reader in a state of hesitation and doubt. Soon after the commencement of the story, the following incident is related :

The conversation had turned upon the case of a young lady in the neighbourhood, who, it was supposed, sympathized with baptist views, but had recently joined the independent church. This led to some general and very strong remarks against pædo-baptists, and their disregard of God's ordinance, which could only have been justifiable upon the supposition, that they were doing this wilfully. I had often heard such observations before, but having that morning been reading the life of Philip Henry, whose views on the subject of infant baptism were so decided, and so influential, the revolting thought crossed my mind, that if Mr. B.'s remarks were well-founded, this most eminent man, and many others who, though dead, are yet speaking by their writings and their works, must be utterly unworthy of that high place in the records and regard of the church, in which their character and memory have been long enshrined. Under this impression, I ventured to ask Mr. B. whether a Christian man, who, after an honest, searching, and prayerful esamination of the scriptures, had come to the conclusion that it was his duty to dedicate his children to God by baptism, ought to disregard this conviction, or to follow it? At first, he attempted, as I thought, to evade the question, and expressed some doubt whether just such a case could happen as I had supposed; but when I mentioned the names of Owen, Baxter, Howe, Charnock, Watts, Doddridge, Whitfield, Wesley, and the Henrys, and referred to some of our independent neighbours, whose praise was in all the surrounding churches, he rather shrunk from his uncharitable surmise, and said that it was not for him to sit in judgment upon them, and that to their own master they must stand or fall. Not satisfied with this reply, I pressed my point, when he acknowledged that they must do what they deemed best

. Well, then,' I added, “if they entertain the solemn conviction, that God requires them thus to dedicate their children, is not this to observe the divine ordinance, to do that which is both good and acceptable,-in a word, to obey the baptismal command?'. Without a moment's hesitation he answered in the negative. "Tell me, then, I added, 'what is that in the service, which constitutes its essence, and which God chiefly regards? Is it the mode in which it is done, or the spirit?' He paused, for a moment, and then began to speak about the signification of the original term. That, sir,' I replied, ' is a point in dispute between Baptists and other Christian bodies, who, with at least equal integrity, ability and learning, maintain that the word does not mean to immerse, just as confidently as you contend that it does. Upon this question I cannot pronounce; but one thing appears to me perfectly plain, that whether the Greek word signifies dip, or sprinkle, or any thing else, a correct conclusion respecting the meaning of a disputed term is a matter of very inferior importance to that upon which we were conversing. Can you believe,' I added, "that a mere verbal mistake (supposing it to be one) would vitiate a service, most sincerely performed in accordance with what is verily believed to be the appointment of God? Do you think, that the religious use of water, in the name of the Trinity, and in the spirit of obedience, is not regarded by the Saviour as the observance of his institute, simply and solely because the element is not employed in sufficient quantity, or applied in the most expressive mode? Can a slight error or informality neutralize, and render nugatory, what in all other respects would constitute a sacrifice, such as must be well-pleasing to God?'

“In this strain I continued to speak with considerable warmth and fluency for some time, and the good minister sat gazing at me with mute amazement. At the close of my appeal, he simply said, 'Ah! you are young yet, and you will, I hope, take a more scriptural view of the subject, as you grow older;' and then he introduced another topic. I heard afterwards, that, on the following morning, he remarked to my father's clerk, a prim and puritanical old gentleman, and a very straight-laced member of the Church, that I was not half a Baptist,' and that he feared I had been among the Independents.'-(pp. 7–9.)

Another circumstance very naturally augments the narrator's doubts and perplexities :

" Amongst the attendants at our chapel, there were two very intelligent and devout young ladies, who had three years before left the Establishment, in which they were brought up, because they could not profit by the preaching which they heard there. As their hearts and their income were large, and their habits inexpensive, their liberality was felt by a great number of the poor, and at public collections their contribution generally exceeded that of others. But their health was extremely delicate; and by most they were considered as destined to an early grave. One of them suffered from an affection of the spine, and serious apprehensions were entertained that consumption had commenced its fatal course in the other. By the perusal of books in favour of immersion, with which they had been copiously supplied, together with the earnest persuasives of Mr. B., the sisters were brought to believe, that it became them, in this way, to profess the gospel. As their diffidence, however, amounted almost to a disease, and they secluded themselves much from society, they suffered a long and severe mental conflict, before they could so far control their feelings as to submit to a ceremonial, which would expose them to what they deemed a most distressing publicity. But they were still more powerfully influenced by a fear that the service in their case might prove as perilous as it was painful. Yet strong as these objections seemed, they had at length been silenced, partly by the confident manner in which they were assured by our minister that God would preserve them from all evil in the observance of his own ordinance; but principally by the conviction that this was a part of the cross which the Christian was commanded to carry. Although, therefore, their repugnance and apprehensions remained, a sense of duty preponderated.

“But their feelings were spared, and their consciences satisfied, by a striking, though, I believe, by no means a singular occurrence. About a month prior to their decision, a baptismal service had been performed at a small town a few miles from us, and amongst the immersed, there was a young woman, at the time in apparently sound health, who caught a severe cold in the service, which speedily ran on to fever, delirium, and death. The cause was so evident, and the whole case so clear, that even the most contracted Baptists in our congregation (and there were those who seemed to think that God would actually work a miracle to counteract, what, in some constitutions, would be the certain consequence of immersion) were confounded; whilst others confessed' that it was a most mysterious providence.' This circumstance came to the ears of the two sisters, and it affected them deeply. Their first step was to send for Mr. B.; but as he still assured them of their safety, without assigning, as they sought, any reason for such assurance, or producing a divine warrant to that effect, they were not satisfied; and, therefore, they wisely resolved to do, what they now perceived ought to have been done before, viz. to consult their medical attendant on the subject. His judgment was very strong. He said it would be perilous in the extreme, and that he knew scarcely any cause more calculated to quicken incipient

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

disease, and accelerate death. This decided them. Convinced that he who desireth mercy and not sacrifice, could not require them in such a way to hazard their lives, they wisely declined the service. As their case had created considerable interest, and their expected accession to the Church was deemed of much importance, their withdrawment caused more commotion than even my delay.

" What might have been the effect of this occurrence upon others I cannot state, but it suggested to my own mind a train of reflections which strengthened my previous suspicion, that immersion could not be the only proper mode of baptism. As far as I can now recal them, my thoughts ran in some such train as this. Christianity is a universal system. It is designed for the world. One of its distinguishing features, which is also one of the clearest evidences of its divine origin, is the exact and entire adaptation of its revela tions and requirements to every community, class, and creature under heaven. To say the least, each of its doctrines, and promises, and injunetions, and institutes, is perfectly fitted to men of every clime, character, and condition. Whether they dwell in Iceland or Ethiopia, in the city or the wilderness, amidst the sands of the desert, or the springs of the valley, it ordains no service, and requires no observance which may not be readily performed. It is not a religion of sacred places, set seasons, and costly saerifices. Its ritual is simple, not severe-suited not to the healthy and robust alone, but also to the delicate woman, and the man of gray hairs. And this interesting peculiarity of the whole seheme evidently belonged to the baptismal rite as practised in the primitive age. It could be administered in any place, or at any time. Wherever the apostles preached, there and then they could baptize. In the city or the desert, the house or the prison, it was cqually and always easy. There was no difficulty, no delay, no exemption. Age caused no hesitation; health constituted no barrier. Friends were not alarmed; physicians were not consulted. The gloom of midnight was as favourable for its performance as the brightness of noon. Families could observe the rite on the very first hour of their hearing the gospel; and thousands, apparently without difficulty, on the very day, and probably in the very place of their conviction. All this appeared to me to agree well with the general adaptation of Christianity to man's changing circumstances, and with the opinion that baptism was administered by the

simple and easy method of sprinkling; but how to harmonize the views of Immersionists with either the genius of the gospel, or the practice of the primitive age, I could not discover."-(pp. 1620.)

A ludicrous case or two of downright absurdity, which we entirely acquit the author of having fabricated for the purpose, carries the convert forward some way further in his escape :

Meeting one of our old church members—a weak but worthy individual -he thus accosted me : Well, young man, I am sorry to hear that you shrink from the water; but ah!' I remember doing the same thing myself, for a long time, and I thought that there was nothing at all in the Bible about dipping; but I'll tell you how I learned the truth. One day, when I was walking by a river, these words came to me, just as if any person was speaking into my ear-Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom ;'-and I said to myself: "Now this little flock must be the Baptists!” fór in our town there was no flock so small as they

I am sure then that they must be right, and I won't resist the truth any longer. So I went to the Baptist minister and asked him about it, and he said it was quite correct, and that I ought to go under the water.'"-(pp. 43, 44.)

Of the service itself I shall say but little. To some such an exhibition inay seem decent, wise, significant, and even solemn; but with such impres


[ocr errors]


sions I have no sympathy. While I looked at the young women, standing on the margin of the pool, decked out in decorated caps, and white vestments, far more tastily arranged than simple convenience required, and marked the manner in which they were severally plunged by the minister, and then, as my eye followed each of them, drenched and dripping (a spectacle anything but impressive) from the baptistry to the vestry, where I knew that the very necessary, but very unapostolical luxuries of brandy, fire, and changes of raiment awaited them, I said to myself: Can this be Christianity?'"-(p. 45.)

The news of the convert's doubts and difficulties having got abroad, he is soon beset by arguments and entreaties from all quarters. Minister and elders all proffer their counsel. The “devout and honourable women” come about him, with wonder and amazement:

"The worthy matron turned again to me, and said, “ But, Mr. George, wasn't the Eunuch baptized ?', 'Certainly, ma'am,' I replied. But wasn't he immersed, I mean?' 'I do not know that he was. ‘Dear me! Mr. George, why doesn't it say so?' 'Not that I am aware of, ma'am." Well, she added, with uplifted eyes and hands, 'I am surprised. Why, doesn't it say that he went down into the water, and came up out of the water,' and is not that just the same as if it was said that he was immersed ?' 'Not exaetly so, Mrs. B.; for you may remember it is stated that both Philip and the Eunuch went down into and came up out of the water, and you do not,

presume, believe that Philip baptized himself as well as the Éthiopian? Why no, to be sure. Well, I declare, I never thought of that, now.' And then, recovering a little from her surprise, she added, "But, perhaps, he did after all: why not? It might have been so, you know; and as it says that they both went down into the water, it was so, of course. Well, Mrs. B.,' I observed, you are the most consistent Baptist I ever met with, and you are even wiser than your husband; for though I have often heard him lay much stress upon the same words to prove that one of the persons to whom they refer were immersed, he will not, as fairly as you have done, allow that this was also the case with the other.' 'Thank you for your compliment, Mr. George,' rejoined the worthy wife, but I dare say my husband is right, for he never goes farther than the Bible.' 'I beg your pardon,' I added, but I am pretty sure that both he and other Baptists do so, whenever they use these words, which simply mean that they went down from the chariot to some water by the way-side, and then went up again, as a proof that either of them was immersed. You know that yesterday Mr. R. came down from the pulpit, and stood at the edge of the baptistry, while Mr. B. was baptizing; but was be immersed? Yet he went down to the water just as much as Philip and the Eunuch. Perhaps,' I added, you may remember, when I called at your house last week, that you opened the door yourself, and apologised to me for doing so, by saying that your servant had just gone down to the brook at the bottom of your garden to fetch some water. Now I am sure that you did not intend me to understand from your words that Betsy had been baptized.' 'Oh! Mr. George,' said the good lady, ‘now you are joking.' 'Not so, ma'am, I assure you; I merely mention these cases because the language applicable to them conveys exactły the same idea and no other, as the words upon which Mr. R. dwelt so long, which you have just quoted as a clear proof of immersion, and which form the most efficacious means of making Baptist converts.'

“Just at this point of the conversation, the eldest daughter interposed the remark, that the words were not going down ‘to' and coming up from,' but going down into' and coming up out of' the water. I allowed that there was some apparent force in her remark, but requested that, on her return

« VorigeDoorgaan »