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Let me ask again, is it possible to suppose that none of these myriads consisted of such as had been baptized by John ? Were they all, without exception, of that impious class which uniformly held his mission in contempt ? It is impossible to suppose it; it is contradicted by the express testimony of scripture, which affirms two of the apostles to have been his disciples and companions. * But if such as professed their faith in Christ, under the ministry of the apostles, were baptized on that profession, without any consideration of their having been previously immersed by John, or not, what stronger proof can be desired, that the institutes in question were totally distinct? Were we satisfied with an argumentum ad hominem, with the sort of proof sufficient to silence our opponents, here the matter might safely rest. But, independent of their concession, I must add that it is manifest from the whole tenour of the Acts, that the baptismal rite was universally administered to the converts to christianity subsequent to the day of Pentecost. “Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you :" it is added, almost immediately, “ Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.”
It will possibly be asked, if the rite which the forerunner of our Lord administered is not to be considered as a christian institute, to what dispensation are we to assign it, since it is manifestly no part of the economy of Moses. We reply, that it
* John i. 35–37.
was the symbol of a peculiar dispensation, which was neither entirely legal nor evangelical, but occupied an intermediate station, possessing something of the character and attributes of both; a kind of twilight, equally removed from the obscurity of the first, and the splendour of the last and perfect economy of religion. The law and the prophets were till John; his mission constituted a distinct æra, and placed the nation, to which he was sent, in circumstances materially different from its preceding or subsequent state. It was the æra of preparation ; it was a voice which, breaking through a long silence, announced the immediate approach of the desire of all nations, the messenger of the covenant, in whom they delighted. In announcing this event as at hand, and establishing a rite unknown to the law, expressive of that purity of heart, and reformation of life, which were the only suitable preparations for his reception, he stood alone, equally severed from the choir of the prophets, and the company of the apostles: and the light which he emitted, though it greatly surpassed every preceding illumination, was of short duration, being soon eclipsed and extinguished by that ineffable effulgence, before which nothing can retain its splendour.
The wisdom of God in the arrangement of successive dispensations, seems averse to sudden and violent innovations, rarely introducing new rites, without incorporating something of the old. As by the introduction of the Mosaic, the simple ritual
of the patriarchal dispensation was not so properly abolished, as amplified and extended into a regular system of prefigurations of good things to come, in which the worship by sacrifices, and the distinction of animals into clean and unclean, reappeared under a new form; so the æra of immediate preparation was distinguished by a ceremony not entirely new, but derived from the purifications of the law, applied to a special purpose.*
Our Lord incorporated the same rite into his religion, newly modified, and adapted to the peculiar views and objects of the christian economy, in conjunction with another positive institution, the rudiments of which are perceptible in the passover. It seemed suitable to his wisdom, by such gentle gradations to conduct his church from an infantine state, to a state of maturity and perfection.
Before I dismiss this part of the subject, which has perhaps already detained the reader too long, I must beg leave to hazard one conjecture. Since it is manifest that the baptism of John did not supersede the christian ordinance, they being perfectly distinct, it is natural to inquire who baptized the apostles, and the hundred and twenty disciples assembled with them at the day of Pentecost. My deliberate opinion is, that, in the christian sense of the term, they were not baptized at all. From the total silence of scripture, and from other circumstances which might be adduced, it is difficult to
* The principal part of these consisted in bathing the body in water.
suppose they submitted to that rite after our Saviour's resurrection; and previous to it, it has been sufficiently proved that it was not in force. It is almost certain that some, probably most of them, had been baptized by John, but for reasons which have been already amply assigned, this will not account for their not submitting to the christian ordinance. The true account seems to be, that the precept of baptism had no retrospective bearing ; and that, consequently, its obligation extended only to such as were converted to christianity subsequently to the time of its promulgation. Such as had professed their faith in Christ from the period of his first manifestation, could not, without palpable incongruity, recommence that profession, which would have been to cancel and annul their former religious pretensions. With what propriety could the apostles of the Lord, who had continued with him in his temptations, place themselves on a level with that multitude, which however penitent at present, had recently demanded his blood with clamorous importunity ? not to insist that they had already received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, of which the sacramental use of water was but a figure. They were not converted to the christian religion subsequently to their Lord's resurrection, nor did the avowal of their attachment to the Messiah commence from that period; and therefore they were not comprehended under the baptismal law, which was propounded for the regulation of the
conduct of persons in essentially different circumstances. When St. Paul says, “ As many of us as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” his language seems to intimate that there were a class of christians to whom this argument did not apply. *
Having proved, I trust to the satisfaction of the candid reader, that baptism, considered as a christian institution, had no existence during the personal ministry of our Saviour, the plea of our opponents, founded on the supposed priority of that ordinance to the Lord's supper, is completely overruled; whatever weight it might possess, supposing it were valid, must be wholly transferred to the opposite side, and it must be acknowledged, either that they have reasoned inconclusively, or have produced a demonstration in our favour. It now appears that the original communicants at the Lord's table, at the time they partook of it, were, with respect to the christian baptism, precisely in the same situation with the persons they exclude.
The Argument for Strict Communion, from the
Order of Words in the Apostolic Commission, considered.
The commission which the apostles received after our Lord's resurrection, was in the following
* Rom. vi. 3.