صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

data; it appears to assume that water-baptism, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, are the same; or that the latter invariably followed the former. It will no doubt be regarded as a remarkable incident, that in the midst of a zealous effort to separate between what is substantially the same, an attempt should be made to identify what is essentially different."*

After describing the baptism of the Holy Ghost as an effect which ordinarily accompanied immersion in the name of Christ, it will be deemed much more remarkable that the author should be accused of confounding them, or that he should be affirmed to have identified two things which stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. If it be a fact that the communication of the Spirit usually accompanied the administration of baptism in the apostolic age, while no such communication was annexed to the ceremony of John, the author's position is correct. In proof of this fact, we have only to consult the Acts of the Apostles, which record the history of the first promulgation of the gospel. We there perceive that St. Peter held out the promise of the Spirit to the people, as a principal inducement to submit to the baptismal sacrament; and that when St. Paul found certain disciples at Ephesus, who, though baptized, had not heard of those supernatural endowments, he expressed his surprise, saying, “ Into what then were ye baptized ?" a question totally irrelevant, but upon the supposition that the reception of miraculous gifts was the stated appendage to that ordinance.

The only inquiry which can possibly arise on this subject is, whether John, in foretelling that the Messiah should baptize with the Holy Ghost, intended to allude to the sacramental water, or whether his attention was directed solely to the effusion of the Spirit, without reference to the external rite. This question, however, admits of easy decision, when we recollect that the corporeal rite was the usual preparative for the reception of spiritual gifts ; that they were announced in immediate connexion with the act of baptizing ; and that though the ancient Prophets almost universally foretold the abundant effusion of spiritual gifts and graces, which succeeded the advent of the Messiah, none before John made use of a figure, which, viewed apart from the visible action with which it was associated, would have been scarcely intelligible. His suppression of the mention of water is in perfect accordance with the genius of oriental speech, which in the exhibition of a complex object

, is wont to represent it only by its boldest and most impressive feature.

It is not necessary to the support of this reasoning, to assert that the communication of miraculous gifts invariably accompanied baptism ; it is quite sufficient to account for the language of John, as well as to sustain the inference deduced from it, that such was the stated order. The instance of the Samaritans, recorded in the eighth of the Acts, is urged as an exception, but when attentively examined, it is none. We are informed, indeed, that though they were already baptized, the Holy Ghost was fallen upon none of them; not, however, because the gift of the Spirit did not usually accompany the administration of that rite, but because the Apostles, to whom alone the power of conferring it belonged, were not present. The case of the Apostles themselves, and of Cornelius, it is admitted, may be considered as exceptions. In the former instance the outward ceremony was superseded, as we apprehend, partly by the previous baptism of the Spirit, and partly by their having been converted to Christianity before the institution of that rite. In the latter, there was merely an inversion of the usual order; the Spirit was given prior to the administration of baptism, instead of succeeding it; but still they were closely conjoined in point of time, and sufficiently connected to justify the language of John.

* Plea for Primitive Communion, p. 29.

To relieve the tediousness of the present discussion, let me here present the reader with a sample of the author's logic ; “ If these supernatural effects," he triumphantly remarks,“ are invariably to follow immersion in water, in order to demonstrate that this is really Christian baptism, how is it that they were copiously enjoyed by some who are supposed never to have received this institution »* By an argument precisely similar, it were easy to demonstrate that the possession of reason is no essential ingredient in the constitution of human nature. For it might with equal propriety be urged, if such a principle enters necessarily into the definition of human nature, how is it that it is copiously enjoyed by beings (angels for example) who are supposed never to have received such a nature? This reply may be deemed amply sufficient for such a mode of reasoning ; but in addition to this, let it be observed, that it was neither asserted nor insinuated, that miraculous gifts are invariably requisite to constitute Christian baptism; but simply that the fact of their accompanying it, when performed by the Apostles, was held up by John as a striking feature in the new dispensation. And where is the absurdity of admitting that, without contending for its perpetuity, miraculous gifts sufficiently marked the transition from one economy to another? or that it is a peculiarity worthy of mention among the characteristics of a period, denominated in distinction from every preceding one, the dispensation of the Spirit ?

* Plea for Primitive Communion, p. 30.

V. Apprehensive of fatiguing the attention of the reader, we hasten to the last particular connected with this branch of the controversy, which is the decisive proof of the truth of my hypothesis, resulting from the fact, that the disciples of John were baptized by St. Paul. As the author of the Plea, however, finds it necessary to contradict it, it will be proper to quote the whole passage, as it stands in the common translation, the accuracy of which no critic has impeached ; “ And it came to pass while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus, and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said he, John vérily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:1–6.) In examining this passage, with a view to the inquiry whether these men were baptized by St. Paul, or not, it is the fifth verse which especially claims our attention. The question turns entirely on the interpretation of the following words "When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” These words must be understood either as the language of St. Paul, or of Luke the historian. Our opponents contend that they are to be understood as a continuance of St. Paul's address, in which he describes the nature and effects of John's baptism. Upon this interpretation, the passage last quoted has no relation to the disciples at Ephesus, except as it was intended for their instruction; it is descriptive not of what befel those disciples, but of the general submission of the Jewish people to the rite administered by John. And as it is asserted in the next verse that St. Paul laid his hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, we are led to a most extraordinary paradox, the assertion that St. Paul actually laid his hands not on the persons mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph, but on that part of the Jewish people at large, who had been baptized by John, to whom he also communicated prophetic gifts. But as this proposition is too hard even for the powerful digestion of our opponents, they are compelled to adopt another expedient, which is to separate the relative pronouns in the last verse, and refer them, not to their immediate antecedent, but to a very remote one, at the distance of several verses. The only apology they make for this strange perversion of the language of inspiration is, that such interruptions of continuity are not uncommon; whereas we challenge them to produce a single instance of such a construction, not merely in the New Testament, but in the whole compass of Greek literature. Examples may possibly be adduced, where the relative pronoun is connected with an antecedent equally remote, but none most assuredly where its relation to an immediate antecedent is so obvious and so natural, that the true interpretation, in opposition to that which presents itself at first sight, becomes a perfect enigma. Were there difficulties arising on each side, we might be induced to acquiesce in a construction, which however unnatural, or unusual, suggested the only consistent sense; but to have recourse to such a contrivance, merely to avoid that construction which is recommended by every rule of grammar, and against which not a shadow of objection lies, except its repugnance to hypothesis, is a proceeding at which liberal criticism must blush. If such a mode of expounding Scripture were adopted on other occasions, it is difficult to say what absurdity might not be obtruded on the sacred volume. The manner in which the author of the Plea criticises the passage, is such as might be expected from the advocate of so hopeless a cause. He neither ventures to quote it, nor to make the slightest remark on its principal clauses; but contents himself with putting a speech into the mouth of St. Paul, in which every thing runs perfectly smooth and easy; and since it is much easier to make speeches than to elucidate difficulties, or establish paradoxes, we commend his policy. His only remaining effort is confined to the introduction of a parallel passage ; but unfortunately it turns out that his pretended parallel affords an example of as plain and obvious a construction of words as is to be found in the sacred pages. It is a passage which instead of presenting a choice of difficulties, difficulties of his kind I mean, where grammar is on one side, and hypothesis on the other, suggests a sense in which all mankind have acquiesced—a sense which no degree of stupidity can miss, or artifice evade.* The only resemblance it bears to the portion of history under consideration is, that it relates a similar incident, where certain persons who had been baptized had not yet received the gifts of the Holy Ghost. To attempt the defence of a most unnatural interpretation of Greek words, not by an appeal

This wonder-working passage is as follows :-"Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John; who, when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost. For as yet he was fallen upon none of thein; only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." Acts 8: 14-17.

to a passage which exhibits a similar peculiarity of construction, but merely a similarity of occurrence, is egregious trifling.

To the argument founded on the extreme improbability that none of the numerous converts on the day of Pentecost were previously disciples of John, no reply is attempted.

I cannot dismiss this subject without noticing the extreme deficiency of information respecting the history of religious opinions this author evinces, when he stigmatizes the sentiments advanced, as a modern theory. They are so far from meriting that reproach, that they boast the suffrages of all the Fathers without exception, who have touched upon the subject; nor would it be easy to discover a single divine previous to the Reformation, by whom they were not embraced ; and since that period they have received the sanction of a Grotius, a Hammond, a Whitby, a Doddridge, a Chillingworth, and a multitude of other names of nearly equal celebrity. On an accurate inquiry, it will probably be found that the absurd interpretation of the passage we have just been considering, which is so necessary to the support of the opposite hypothesis, originated in the horror excited at the conduct of the Anabaptists at Munster, by which certain divines of the Reformation felt themselves strongly disposed to shun whatever might bear the semblance or color of Anabaptism; that, in short, the doctrine here advanced is the revival of an ancient, rather than the invention of a new opinion.

To the sincere inquirer the antiquity or the novelty of a doctrine will appear a consideration of little moment, compared to the evidence by which it is supported; yet as a natural prejudice exists against violent departures from the ancient course of interpretation, it is but just to endeavor as much as possible to disengage the cause of truth from this incumbrance.

The author of the Plea expresses a sort of horror at the thought of a plurality of baptisms, forgetting, it should seem, that the doctrine of baptisms in the plural number is placed by St. Paul amongst the first principles of the oracles of God. It is difficult to conceive to what baptisms he could refer, except those which are the subject of the present discussion; the baptism of the Spirit, which was the highest gift of God, could with little propriety be termed a doctrine, much less enumerated amongst the first principles of Christianity ; and the Jewish washings constituted no part of that system.

Having presented the reasons on which the baptism of John was affirmed to be essentially distinct from the Christian ordinance at so much length, it is high time to relieve the attention of the reader, by dismissing the subject.

There is one more observation, and one only, to which the au

« السابقةمتابعة »