(1) A Historical Survey.
The subject of Baptism has provoked more unkind feelings and acrid words than probably any other Scripture question has, and yet if people realised its significance the strife of tongues would cease. It is an individual exercice and not a responsibility of a local Christian company. There is only one Baptism as one Lord and one Faith (Eph. 4:5). It may be well to mention that on the subject of the Baptism of the Spirit there is little or no difference of view amongst real Scripture students. "By one Spirit we (the Christians) are baptised into one body." With that matter water baptism is not directly connected. The fracas is over water baptism. Christendom has been divided into two great opposing camps according as the individuals favour one or other of two views:- (1) Believers' baptism, (2) Household or paedobaptism, (from paidion, Greek word for child).
In the first place we shall take a brief survey of the history of the subject in the last nineteen centuries. The first mention of baptism is in connection with John the Baptist's mission. His baptism had the result of establishing a confessedly repentant and separate remnant in Judaism. The result of his preaching and action was to prepare a company who would ultimately receive the Lord. His baptism was to the life of Christ while here and thus is quite distinct from baptism in the Christian era, the significance of which is to the death of Christ. However, they were on the same principle relative to their surroundings. Moreover, that remnant became the nucleus of the Christian company after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and the consequent coming of the Holy Ghost to earth. The subject of baptism receives 25 citations in the Book of Acts, , eight of them referring to John's baptism. There were instances of believers who only knew John's baptism, e.g., (1) Apollos (Acts 18:25), (2) twelve disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:3). The bearing of the subject formed a very important element in the preaching of the Apostles.
Early in the second century of the Christian era the wholly unscriptural doctrine of regeneration by water baptism had obtained many adherents. So it was only a step to obtain security for heaven as early as possible in the life of the person. Hence the ritualist has ever since had his children baptised in view of the danger of their dying before the rite could be performed and thus they would be shut out of heaven. On the contrary, Scripture shows that baptism only relates to earth and to people living thereon. The first condemnation of the practice of infant baptism recorded was by Tertullian in 197 A.D. Pelagius, a contemporary of Augustine about 400 A.D. denied the validity of baptismal regeneration but said that baptism only introduced the child into the Kingdom of God where it had the opportunity of receiving salvation. Columba and the simple monks of Iona in the sixth century are credited with being the first who are mentioned as deferring baptism until a profession of faith was practicable, but sometime later, in the next century, they were crushed by papal edict. Somewhat later, the Armenians contended that baptism should be by request of the individual, so as to be a confession of faith. They insisted that the practice of infant baptism had brought "the world" into the Christian profession. The persecuted Waldenses (1200-1500 A.D.) seemed to have arrived gradually at the same conclusion as the persecution grew. In the Reformation of the 16th century, Luther, founding a great national church, was unable to curb the general custom of infant baptism and the current doctrines founded thereon. Similarly, Zuingli failed in Switzerland! About the same time, the Anabaptist ("baptised again") movement sprang up in Germany and Switzerland, etc. (It was really the emergence to public view of a river which had been flowing underground for a thousand years; the obscure martyrs had carried on the testimony throughout the centuries). Unfortunately the Anabaptists were confounded with a communist parallel movement and thus they were persecuted both on political and ecclesiastical grounds. Many were put to death by Romanists and Protestants alike!
Towards the end of the 16th century there sprang up in England two classes of congregations:(a) Independents who baptised infants, one of whose parents was a believer, (b) Baptists who baptised believers only. The 17th century witnessed the rise of the Society of Friends who in spite of intense persecution bore unflinching testimony to the Holy Spirit's indwelling of believers and oral ministry thereby. But in pressing that truth they became lop-sided in dispensing with all ordinances including Baptism. Although a Baptist, John Bunyan declined to make Baptist views a ground of fellowship. In the first half of the 19th century, the early Brethren were not agreed as to the practice of baptism. J. N. Darby taught that baptism introduced a Christian's child into a place of privilege, but he condemned the Anglican theory of baptismal regeneration. At first he had only a small minority of his associates who shared his views. Many others of his associates were strong advocates of deferring baptism until a confession of faith was possible. Prominent amongst these were G. V. Wigram, William Kelly and C. H. Mackintosh. We shall make quotations from their writings later.
From an analysis of the historical development of the subject one is forced to the conclusion that a strong element in the practice of believers' baptism was originally developed as a protest against the abuse which had been made of the paedobaptists' contention.
2. The General Bearing of Baptism.
The doctrine of baptism is conclusively stated in Rom. 6:3-4, "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death? Therefore, we are baptised with Him by baptism into death." The preposition in the A.V. text translated "into" really bears the construction of "unto the significance of" His death. The eunuch in Acts 8, clearly apprehended the implication of Philip's preaching and the bearing of the prophetic teaching of Isaiah 53, concluding with the statement "His life is taken from the earth." He saw that if the only One who had a perfect title to live here had His life taken from the earth it was time for him to be associated with that One in the place of death and burial symbolically set forth by baptism. That would close the record of his life as a man of the world. Moreover, it should be noted that the eunuch was a man of marked distinction in the world's affairs. Baptism for him would imply that he could not again be recognised as one of the world's grandees! That is no less incumbent on all others who follow the same course, hence the sequel for every baptised person is to be true to the implication of his or her baptism. We should not be found striving for a place in the world which cast out our Lord.
(The scriptural mode of baptism was undoubtedly immersion in water). Some hold that baptism appertains to the Jew and does not apply to the Gentile urging that the commission in Matt. 28, was given as an antecedent to the Kingdom to be instituted. But in the Acts, the Apostles preached and enacted baptism repeatedly; indeed it is one of the fundamental principles in the initial stages of the Christian era. So that anyone ignoring baptism is not really on Christian ground. He may be right for heaven, but he is not right for earth!
The theory of baptismal regeneration enunciated in the early Christian era is an untenable fiction. Water baptism has nothing whatever to do with heaven, its sole concern is for earth. No mere ordinance can put one right for heaven! Baptism by the Spirit is into the one body which has the issue of heaven in view.
The Baptist View.
The Baptist view is that baptism is the sequel to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is maintained that (1) it is an act of obedience to a command of the Lord, proving to the public the honesty of our belief. (2) It is a figure of what has taken place in God's reckoning in relation to the Christian as soon as he believes. (3) It is the answer of a good conscience. (4) It is a public confession of faith, that in scriptural language the individual has put on Christ. He has adopted a new profession with the privileges and responsabilities thereof, i.e., henceforth he is on the Lord's side against the world. The illustration is sometimes given that just as immediately on the death of a king his successor becomes ruler although his coronation may be deferred for some time when he will be declared officially king before the world at large. The believer is baptised in the name of the Trinity and of the Lord Jesus.
Baptism is not only a figure of association in death but also of burial. We are buried with Him by baptism. A further thought is impressed in baptism being a figure of resurrection because Rom. 6:4, goes on to say, "That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Again "buried with Him in baptism wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). The alternative translation of "wherein" as "in whom" is rejected by this contention. So by coupling both ideas of death and resurrection in the thought of baptism it would be untenable to baptise infants since obviously they could not walk in newness of life. Christian baptism would thus be the door into the sphere of Christ's righteousness and life (Many baptists would probably demur to the last rendering of their view since they would admit that baptism has no subjective import).
Baptists having baptised one who makes an unfounded profession of faith and subsequently believes do not as a rule baptise that individual again. (If they did it would be without meaning). On the negative side the Old Testament incidents which are adduced by the paedo-baptist in support of his view, viz., Noah and the flood, Abraham and circumcision, Moses preserved in the ark among the bulrushes, the passage of the Red Sea, Hannah's presentation of Samuel for service in the House of God, etc., are all capable of diverse expositions and prove nothing conclusively. Then as to the three households baptised relative to the apostle Paul's ministry, viz., those of Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and Stephanas, there is no reference to the constitution of these and the inclusion of unconscious infants therein would be a speculative hypothesis On the positive side of the argument action is taken on "he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). In Peter's initial ministry at Pentecost his instruction is direct and unequivocal, "repent and be baptised every on of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins"; also "they that received his word were baptised"(Acts 2:41). Again in the Cornelius incident "can any man forbid water that these should not be baptised who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we" (Acts 10:47). Since the Holy Ghost had fallen on them all, there could not be any question about their baptism. Believing, repentance and baptism are indissolubly joined together in the Acts, To the argument that children of believing parents are holy (or set apart) and thus suitable for baptism (1 Cor. 7:14), the answer is given that they are holy because of relation with their believing parents and baptism would not make them less or more sanctified. It is denied that there is any sphere of divine favour instituted through baptism. The baptist views infant baptism as valueless just as John's baptism was invalid after the death of Christ. Thus would be like having paid a debt in counterfeit coin. The debt would still require to be discharged. So the individual would still need to be baptised and that would not reckoned "baptising again" in any real sense. (Unfortunately the majority of writings on the subject of baptist views are largely occupied with pouring ridicule on the views of various opponents and but little doctrinal evidence is offered. So from the mass of verbiage it is often difficult to extract thoughts of value in the argument).
"I can only say that I have for 32 years been asking in vain for a single line of Scripture for baptising any save believers or those who profess to believe. Reasoning I have had, but of direct Scripture authority, not one tittle. It is always with extreme reluctance I touch on the subject of baptism. There is such a difference of judgment amongst those whom I love and honour that it is not for profit to discuss it. All enquirers should take the N.T. and study carefully and prayerfully, and if they cannot find anything how can they act without clear divine authority." C.H.M.
Though baptised myself as a believer, I cannot sympathise with such or ignore scriptural light on baptism. On the other hand, who can fairly say that paedo-baptism has been shown to be an article of faith. Tracts have been published, but we are far from having that warrant of Holy Writ which we justly look for before we accept any doctrine as Christian. Intelligent men on all sides admit that the households of Scripture decide nothing as to this. There may have been no infants or the household might be said to be baptised without including them, because of the nature of the case. Never do we hear of Peter or any other proceeding to baptise in the first place but to preach, then those who received the word were baptised, but it was the receiving and confessing the name of the Lord, not the baptism which constituted them disciples, however certainly the initiator rite followed their confession. The word of God is too wise to insinuate that He (the Philippian jailer) was baptised before he believed because it is afterwards said that he rejoiced believing in God with all his house. It is remarkable while his joy is given in the aorist, his faith is described as implying the present or continuing result of what is past. Nothing can be more palpably erroneous than saying that "Baptism is a subjective thing," such indeed is the notion of the Baptists who reduce baptism to signify the state of the baptised, whether there is any subjective reality depends on the faith of the recipients." W.K.
The above are fair examples of the views of C. H. Mackintosh and W. Kelly on the subject. Although G. V. Wigram had definite baptist views they formed little or no part of his ministry or writings. It is narrated that a pert lady once said to Mr Darby "What does Mr Wigram hold on baptism?" She was unprepared for the cutting rejoinder "Madam, he holds his tongue." If we realised how little we were true to the significance of our baptism, we, too, would seek to emulate G.V.W.'s practice.
Household or Paedo-Baptist View.
The name in which baptism is enacted is more important than the mode, amount of water, period of life, or the person performing the rite. The usual "Believers baptist" standpoint is apt to be in collision with Scripture! The outstanding stumbling block is that the Apostle Paul baptised households. At once the critic asserts that the constituents were all converted. Scripture does not say so. In making the statement unconsciously he gives away his ground to the other side, who maintain that the trend of Scripture doctrine would justify household baptism. The Baptist is very upset when asked if his family of small children will go to heaven if the Lord came immediately. He will reply, "Yes, certainly"! On being asked for scriptural warrant for the statement he will probably make irrelevant remarks. He accepts the value of the death of Christ assuring a place in heaven for his children without Scripture, and denies them (with Scripture) a place on earth in the external sphere connected with the House of God where God dwells. We are quite sure that his young children will have a place in heaven due to the sovereign grace of God, but there is no specific Scripture saying so. The Baptist's great contention is that his opponent has no Scripture evidence for his action, but he cannot have his argument both ways!
In Acts 2 Peter abjured his hearers to repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost followed, which is the reverse order from the Baptist's theory. The promise was to the Jews and their children whom he exhorted to save themselves from that untoward generation. (There was no longer salvation in Judaism, the best circle of the world.) The Jew was to dissociate himself from the world! Before the crucifixion the Jew said, "His blood be on us and on our children," the Holy Spirit said, "The promise is to such." Peter opened the door to let the repentant Jews and their children into the kingdom of heaven. Then Saul of Tarsus was told by Ananias "arise and be baptised and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Obviously the washing away of sins could not be relevant to eternal matters). In a governmental way he was to dissociate himself from the sins and the place to which they attached. He had to clear himself of identification with his guilt as a Jew and enemy of Christ. He was to lead a new kind of life under the authority of the Lord. His was a business to be henceforth run under new management!
In Acts 16, Lydia's heart was opened, she and her house were baptised. (No reference was made to their hearts being opened). They were brought into Christian association in consequence of her faithfulness. In v. 32 the Apostle spoke the word of the Lord to all that were in the jailer's house (a wider term than in v. 31), v. 33 says he was baptised, and all his straight way, i.e., his house, viz., those under his direct responsibility. The Christian does not advocate baptising all children but only those who are his! In v. 34 the structure of the sentence in the original implies "he, believing in God, rejoiced with all his house." "Believing" is in the singular, but his house partook of his joy. Conversion made a revolution in the house of the erstwhile brutal ruffian! Conversion is not worth much if the onlookers do not recognise a great change. Then as to the household of Stephanas, the Apostle did not remember having baptised any other, so that no responsibility attached to either baptiser or baptised else he would have remembered. "Children obey in the Lord your parents" (Eph. 6:1 ). The literal rendering puts emphasis on "obedience in the Lord." They teach their children the truth, which laid hold of will spoil them for the world!
1 Cor.7:14, is in perfect accord showing that the House is a place of privilege. Under the Law, the Jew put away strange wives as unsanctified, but in grace the "believing" sanctifies the "unbelieving" element in the marriage bond which was declared valid and the children legitimate so that they could enter the outer court of the temple. In 1 Peter 3:21, baptism is the figure of the Noah incident of v. 20, "which now saves you," (obviously as to earth only). The Noah type of the Lord's death did not indicate the atoning value (of which only the blood could be witness) but the separating result of His death condemning the world-system for the Christian household. The Jewish Christians' good conscience demanded why they were enduring suffering, while under the old Jewish order, from which they had been dissociated, obeying God gave earthly blessing. That question is answered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. the consequence of His death. Its significance separated the Christian from the course of the world and saved him from the world and its principles. Baptism puts a person under the authority of the Lord, but eternal salvation is in Christ! Baptism is only relative to life on earth. The erstwhile malefactor who died with Christ was not baptised. He had forfeited the right to live. (So there is no sense in baptising a dying person). But of all the blood-bought throng he will be the only one who can say, "I was crucified with Christ." The Apostle said, "I am crucified with Christ." That was a spiritual apprehension which led him to be true to his baptism!
The Baptist's view was due to a revulsion of feeling against the age-old gross abuse of the Scriptural ordinance. But the abuse does not render invalid the significance of the ordinance! Hence of much greater consequence is that we subject ourselves to scrutiny as to how far we are true to the significance of our baptism. The Christian baptises his children in view of their living on earth confessedly separating them from the world to Christ by baptism and he is responsible to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If the parent is separate in heart from the world, he will not train his children for it!
There is not any command to be baptised! The Lord instructed his Apostles in Matt. 28, but that was not a universal injunction. Moreover, it is not a public confession. It simply introduces to the outward privileges of christianity which are no mean advantage in the mercy of God. Baptism is not a symbol of being dead and risen with Christ. "We are buried with Him by baptism unto death" (Rom. 6.). Baptism is putting on Christ (Gal. 3:27). To the eye they were identified with Christ thereby hence there was no sense in seeking to put on Moses (the Law). Baptism is not a sign that they had put on Christ previously! Israel (men, women and children) were baptised to Moses in the cloud and in the sea thus separating to him under his authority. Whether they had faith or not was tested by the wilderness journey. A soldier may wear a uniform and be a traitor, nevertheless, he is responsible in a very different way than a civilian is! Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house (Heb. 11:7). (In baptism, salvation and not forgiveness of sins or conversion is in view). Noah's sons and their wives shared his salvation, although they had no direct dealings with God.
It is evident that immersion was the proper Scriptural procedure but sprinkling has become common and christian profession is recognised thereby. The water (much or little) signifies association with the death of Christ. Baptism has no reference to a subjective state in the soul. Baptism does not confer any virtue, it is purely objective. In the Cornelius incident of Acts 10, the Spirit came first because of the natural prejudice of the Jews. There are only two things in Christianity, evident to the eye, viz., Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The former is initial and non-recurrent, but the Lord's Supper is recurrent. "As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death, till He come" (1 Cor. 11:26). I did not baptise myself, but in partaking of the Supper, I have the privilege of confirming my baptism. Every time I put my hand to the cup I am symbolically taking the Lord's side against the world!
Extracts of Letters from J. N. Darby.
I would as much avoid being an antibaptist as a baptist. If you can offer to persons means of appreciating truth and prevent souls from falling into sectarian spirit I desire no better (Vol. 1:244). They have been harassed by ardent baptists; such a display I have rarely witnessed, it was deplorable. I decline controversy and sought only liberty of conscience. The whole Baptist principle is nothing more than conscientious want of light. I occupy them rather with Christ for half the evil is being occupied with ordinances, whatever side may be taken (1:309). Reference to John's baptism, as far as it went, would have hindered His (Christ's) being put to death. I see a command to baptise, none to be baptised (1:363). We purge ourselves from evil in a great baptised mass. But there has been much confusion and abuse that one must have patience with those thrown on these ordinance ways of correcting them (1:444).
I never have pressed any to baptise their children. While recognising it as a christian ordinance I think it is in scripture purposely left in the background, while eternal life and union with Christ are fixed in Him. Ordering of all on earth is provisional. I have no doubt as to infant baptism of the children of a Christian. But I feel that Christ did not send me to baptise. I leave to others activities on either side. With Peter it is everywhere to repent and be baptised for the remission of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. He does not go to our death with Christ or resurrection with Him (2:55-66). I fear in being occupied with the manner (of baptism) Christ should become less the only object of the heart (2:176). Peter said, "Repent and be baptised for the remission of sins" not "because your sins are remitted." "Be baptised" means "become a christian." It was profession they came into. If true faith and repentance were there they got the actual administered remission and received the gift of the Holy Ghost … My thought has always been to connect baptism ecclesiastically with the house (one of the two characters of the assembly), not with the kingdom. Baptism is the formal entrance into the place of privilege (2:494). The mischief is occupying people with an ordinance. If a person has not been baptised, he ought to be. I should not rebaptise a person sprinkled in infancy, though I do not like the form … I have no wish to enter controversy with you on baptism.
I dread a sectarian tendency. It blots out the House of God, where God's blessings and presence are found. But I have no wish to persuade anyone on these points (2:536, 569).
Baptism is to death; no hint in scripture of giving life. The English service gives forgiveness of sins to an infant who has never committed any and has no real forgiveness by redemption at all (3:242). If one makes it a sect it is a very great evil; baptism becomes the centre of union instead of Christ. The Holy Spirit has never been received by baptism of water. As to baptism of infants I have never tried to persuade anybody; I believe everyone must act according to his own conscience. The children of believers are relatively holy. 1 Cor. 7:14 has precisely that bearing. I deny this is a matter of obedience, those who treat it so upset christianity in its first principles. (The doctrine of remission of sins and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by baptism comes from the enemy) (3:328-329). A person who never has been baptised ought to be before breaking bread. The only commission to baptise was to the twelve to baptise Gentiles (not Jews). Baptism has nothing to do with the unity of the body, but admission by a form which expresses Christ's death (3:495). A great mistake Baptists make is not seeing that there is a place of blessing set up by God besides the fact of individual conversion (3:557). I am baptised to His death, not because I have died! I wash away my sins, not because my sins are washed away. It is a formal entrance into the privileges, not a witness that I have received them. I have never sought to convince anyone. If they are content to follow their conscience I have nothing to say, but I am sure if scripture be right their views are wrong (3:560).
Baptised for the Dead.
The Greek preposition huper in conjunction with the genitive case is translated in the A.V. 113 times "for," 8 times "of," 6 times "instead of" or "on behalf of," once "concerning," J.N.D. in one place renders it "in view of" or "with reference to." Other scholars concur in translating the word in this instance as "concerning" or "relating to," and reject the superstitious theory of baptising a living person for a dead one who had not been baptised. The par. (v.v., 20-28) is parenthetic while v. 29 is connected with the subject of v. 19, where the denial of the resurrection from the dead is shown to involve that Christ was not raised and if so all were plunged in hopeless gloom. Because in that case it would be absurd to spoil one's prospects for this life by being baptised; since baptism formally dissociates us from the old manner of life. We would be identifying ourselves with the death of one who was reckoned by the world to be unfit to live any longer, and there would be no further prospect beyond the grave. Hence the argument would be to enjoy all that we can of this life. But death is not the goal; resurrection opens a new sphere of endless blessing! At the time, persecution was rampant and many were dying as martyrs, but baptised persons were stepping into the places of the dead, just like fresh soldiers stepping forward to fill the blanks in an army due to casualties.
We have illustrated the subject by reference to a historical incident. The first half of the 18th century was marked by Jacobite turbulence in the Scottish Highlands. In 1757, the thought occurred to William Pitt, (the elder), that the warlike character of the Highlanders could be used to better purpose against the King's enemies. So he invited the Highland chiefs to form territorial regiments. As a result, Cameron of Lochiel raised 1100 Cameron men who measured more from shoulder to shoulder than any other 1100 men in the British Isles. In the following years, they performed doughty deeds of valour. During the two centuries which have elapsed since the initiation of the regiment, successive waves of recruits have filled the depleted ranks. But it is safe to say that never since its initiation has the regiment presented such magnificent men as at first. Yet although these have passed away, the Cameron Highlanders continue; and at every juncture since, they have sought to maintain the honour of the regiment. So we may not compare favourably with the faithfulness of the early Christians, but we are responsible to maintain the Christian traditions as presented in the scriptures, in the same way as they did, and to the best of our ability, with the same magnificent outlook relative to the Coming and the Judgment Seat of Christ. T. OLIVER.