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AN objection to the hypothesis which assigns the origin of Christian baptism to the commission which the Apostles received at our Lord's resurrection, may possibly be urged from the baptisms performed by his disciples during his personal ministry; and as no notice is taken of that circumstance in the body of the work, I beg leave to submit the following observations to the reader. We are informed by one of the evangelists, that Christ, by the instrumentality of his disciples, at one period "made and baptized more disciples than John." (John iv. 1.) The following remarks may possibly cast some light on this subject.
1. A divine commission was given to the son of Zechariah, to announce the speedy manifestation of the Messiah; or which is equivalent, to declare that "the Kingdom of God was at hand;" with an injunction solemnly to immerse in water as many, as, in consequence of that intelligence, professed repentance and reformation of life; and as he was the only person who had been known to initiate his disciples by that rite, it was natural for him to be distinguished by the appellation of the Baptist, or the Immerser. The Scriptures are totally silent respecting any commission to baptize apart from his. It is by no means certain, however, that he was the only person who performed that ceremony; indeed, when we consider the prodigious multitudes who flocked to him, the "inhabitants of Jerusalem, Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan," it seems scarcely practicable; he most probably employed coadjutors, though the practice having originated with him, it was foreign to the purpose of the evangelists to notice that circumstance.
2. Our Lord, who had already evinced the profoundest respect to his mission, by receiving baptism at his hands, was, in consequence of his being the Messiah, undoubtedly authorized personally to perform any religious rite or office which was at that time in force, as well as to delegate to others the power of performing it; and as immersion in token of repentance and preparation for the Kingdom of God, then at hand, was an important branch of the religion then obligatory, it was with the greatest propriety that he not only submitted to it himself, but authorized his disciples to perform it. This, however, is by no means sufficient to constitute a distinct rite or ordinance; and since it was not accompanied with
a distinct confession of faith, nor possessed any distinct signification, it could not be considered as originating a new institution, but as a mere co-operation with his forerunner in one and the same work.
3. We have already shewn at large, that the principal difference betwixt John's baptism, and that which the Apostles were commissioned to perform after our Saviour's ascension, consisted in the former not being celebrated in the name of Jesus. But there is just as much difficulty in supposing it performed by his disciples in that name, during his abode on earth, as by his forerunner. It would have equally defeated the purpose of that caution which he uniformly maintained; and it is absurd to suppose, that he would strictly charge his disciples to tell no man that he was the Christ, while he authorized them to disclose that very secret to the mixed multitude, as often as they baptized; nor could the use of his name, in that ordinance, be separated from such a disclosure.
4. In addition to this, it must be remembered, that John, and our Lord (by the hands of his disciples) both baptized at the same period; their ministry was contemporary. Now if we assert, that our Lord enjoined one confession of faith in baptism, and John another, we shall have different dispensations of religion subsisting at the same time, and must suppose the people were under an obligation to believe one thing, as the disciples of John, and another, as the disciples of Christ. But this it is impossible to admit. There is unquestionably at all seasons, a perfect harmony in the economies of religion, so that two different ones are never in force at one and the same time. The first ceases when the next succeeds, just as Judaism was abolished by Christianity, and the Patriarchal dispensation superseded by Judaism. Unless we are prepared to assert, that the dispensations of religion are not obligatory, one light in which they must be considered, is that of different laws, or codes of law; but it is essential to the nature of laws, that the new one, except it be merely declaratory, invariably repeals the old. In whatever particular it differs, it necessarily abolishes or annuls the former. But as John continued to baptize by divine authority, at the same time with the disciples of our Saviour, it is evident, his institution was not superseded. Consequently, it was of such a nature, that it could subsist in conjunction with the baptisms performed by our Lord, through the hands of his Apostles. But for the reason already alleged, this could not have been the case, unless it had been one and the same thing. The inference I wish to deduce from the whole, is, that the baptisms celebrated by Christ's disciples during his personal ministry, in no respect differed from John's either in the action itself, or in the import, but were merely a joint execution of the same work; agreeably to
which, we find a perfect identity in the language which our Saviour enjoined his disciples to use, and in the preaching of John; Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Whatever information our Lord imparted to his disciples, beyond that which was communicated by his forerunner, (which we all know was much) was given in detached portions, at distinct intervals, and was never embodied or incorporated with any positive institution, till after his ascension, which may be considered as the commencement of the Christian dispensation in its strictest sense.
BAPTISM OF JOHN
MORE FULLY STATED AND CONFIRMED;
IN REPLY TO A PAMPHLET, ENTITLED,
"A PLEA FOR PRIMITIVE COMMUNION."