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Again, the spiritual import of Christian baptism, as asserted by St. Paul, transcends incomparably the measure of religious knowledge possessed during the ministry of John. “ Know ye not,” is his appeal to Christians, “ that so many of you as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death; therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, 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.” (Romans vi. 4.) We have here an appeal to the conscience of all baptized persons respecting the spiritual signification of that ordinance, the views which it embraced, and the obligations resulting from thence to a holy and heavenly life. What is the meaning of the words baptized into his death? Whatever else it may comprehend, it unquestionably means the being baptized into a belief of his death. But at the time that John was fulfilling his course, this belief was so far from possessing the minds of his converts, that even the Apostles were not only ignorant of that event, but impatient of its mention; and with respect to his resurrection we find these same Apostles after the transfiguration inquiring among themselves " what the rising from the dead could mean ;” (Mark ix. 10.) while from the expectation of the Jews at large, nothing was more abhorrent than the death and crucifixion of their Messiah. While they were thus unacquainted with the principal fact it is designed to exhibit, how could they possibly comprehend the import of Christian baptism? In all probability they regarded the consecrated use of water merely as an emblem of purification, of that reformation of manners to which they were summoned; for to such a use of it they had long been accustomed ; but for the sublime mysteries of the Christian sacrament, connected with events of which they were ignorant, and with truths which were veiled from their eyes, they were utterly unprepared. It is impossible to evade the force of this argument, by distinguishing betwixt the disciples of John, and those who were converted to the Christian faith at a subsequent period. The language of St. Paul precludes the possibility of such a distinction. “ As many of us,” says he, “as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death ;” which is surely equivalent to affirming that whoever were not baptized into his death, were not baptized into Christ. But the disciples of John were not baptized into the belief of) his death. Therefore they were not baptized into Christ.
We have already remarked, in a former treatise, that as the ministry of John commenced previously to that of the Messiah, which succeeded his baptism, no rite celebrated at that time is entitled to a place amongst Christian sacraments, since they did not commence with the Christian dispensation, nor issue from the authority of Christ as Head of the Church. The sacraments properly Christian, undoubtedly belong to the kingdom of God, a phrase which is constantly employed in Scripture to denote that state of things which is placed under the avowed administration of the Messiah, and which consequently could not precede his personal appearance. But during his residence on earth, until his resurrection, this kingdom is uniformly represented as future, though near at hand. Even after John's imprisonment, the language which he held respecting that object is the same; “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel ;" (Mark 1: 15.) which is also the precise intelligence he commanded the seventy disciples to proclaim, (Luke 10: 11.) a little before his decease. He was inaugurated into his office at his baptism, till which period he remained in the obscurity of private life, at the utmost remove from assuming a legislative character.
An attention to the general history of the period to which these transactions refer, will conduct us to the same conclusion. When we consider the great popularity attached to the ministry of the forerunner, and the general submission of the Jewish people to his doctrine, it is in the highest degree improbable, that of the three thousand who were added by St. Peter to the church on one day, there were none who had been previously his disciples ; this incredible supposition is reduced to an impossibility, when we recollect that of the twelve Apostles, two are actually affirmed by an Evangelist to have been of that number. But as it is universally admitted that they who were savingly convinced of the truth of Christianity after the Pentecost, were baptized on that occasion, what conclusion can be more inevitable, than that the rite administered by the harbinger of our Lord, was essentially distinct from the Christian ordinance ?
To conclude this branch of the subject, the Acts of the Apostles furnish us with a decisive instance of an Apostle's rebaptizing certain disciples of John at Ephesus; but as we shall have occasion hereafter to examine that incident more fully, in reply to the evasions of the author of the Plea, I shall content myself at present with barely referring to it.
Such are the principal grounds on which we have ventured to assert the fundamental disparity betwixt the baptism of John, and the Christian institute.
We now proceed to notice the manner in which the author of the Plea for Primitive Communion attempts to evade these arguments.
I. He endeavors to invalidate the assertion that John's commission did not originate in the command of Christ, or that he on any occasion ascribes his mission to the Father, in distinction from
the Son. The author of Terms of Communion is charged with representing “ John as uniformly doing that of which there is no decisive evidence he ever did at all, that is, ascribe his commission to the Father, in distinction from the Son.” (Plea for Prim. Com. p. 21.)
We should have supposed that when the origin of a certain proceeding is constantly assigned to one agent, and no notice is taken of another, there is no impropriety in affirming that the proceeding in question is ascribed to him who is mentioned, in distinction from him who is not. But let the Scripture speak for itself, and let the reader judge whether John did, or did not, ascribe his commission to the Father, in distinction from any other person. “He who sent me to baptize," said he, “ the same said unto me, He on whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding on him, He it is who shall baptize in the Holy Ghost, and in fire." (John 1: 33.) Here the personage speaking distinguishes himself from the Messiah, as clearly as words can distinguish him, for he speaks of Christ in the third person, while he himself is denoted by the first; and so uniform is the language of Scripture on this subject, that not a syllable is to be found in which the mission of John is ascribed to any other person than the Father.
But to ascribe any operation whatever to the Father in distinction from the Son, this writer contends, is inconsistent with the belief of the ineffable union which subsists betwixt those divine personages. (Pl. for Prim. Com. p. 21.) “ Will those," he asks, “ who believe the ineffable union of the Father and the Son, be disposed to conclude from this text that John derived his authority from the Father, to the exclusion of the Son?" To which I reply, that believing firmly as himsell, that there is such a union subsisting betwixt the personages in the blessed Godhead as constitutes them one living and true God, instead of inferring from thence the impropriety of distinguishing their operations, it has always appeared to me, that the chief advantage resulting from the doctrine of the Trinity is, that it facilitates our conception of the plan of redemption, in which each of these glorious persons is represented as assuming distinct, though harmonious offices and functions; the Father originating, so to speak, the Son executing, and the Spirit applying the several parts of that stupendous scheme. The Father accordingly is uniformly asserted to have sent the Son, the Son to have assumed the office of Mediator, and the Spirit to be imparted by both, to enlighten and sanctify the elect people of God. If we suffer ourselves to lose sight of such an application of the doctrine, it subsides into barren and useless speculation. And are we to be told that such is the ineffable union betwixt the Father and the Son, that the distinct exercise of these functions is an impossibility? We should have supposed that the act of sending, at least, might be safely ascribed to the Father, in distinction from the Son ; unless perhaps this author in the plenitude of his subtlety, has discovered a method by which a person may send himself. In spite of attempts to bewilder the plain reader by unmeaning obstructions, it will remain a palpable fact, that John's commission is ascribed to the Father, and to Him alone; and that having originated before our Saviour assumed the legislative function, it is in no respect entitled to be considered as a Christian institute. In addition to which we have only to remark, that to insist upon deriving John's mission from our Lord, is to implicate him in the charge of employing a collusive mode of reasoning. In reproving the unbelief of the Jews, he observes that he did not bear witness of himself,” for had he done so,“ his witness had not been true,” in other words, not entitled to credit ; but he adds, " there is another that beareth witness of me, and I know that which he witnesseth of me is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bore witness to the truth.” (John 5:31–33.) But if the person to whose testimony he appeals in proof of his mission, was sent by himself, where is the force of this reasoning? or what difference in point of credibility is there betwixt his bearing witness of himself, and his prompting another to do it for him ?
II. The author of the Plea next endeavors to show the identity of the qualifications demanded by the forerunner of our Lord, with those which were demanded by his Apostles after the day of Pentecost. After objecting to the accuracy of my statement on that article, without attempting to point out in what its incorrectness consists, he proceeds to remark, that allowing it to be unexceptionably just, it will prove that the requisitions which were supposed to be different, coalesce into one and the same thing. The reason he adduces is the following: “As both John and the Apostles are described as demanding faith, so that faith is to have the same object, and to be connected with the same facts in relation to that object; only some of these facts John's disciples were to view as approaching ; while the faith of those baptized by the Apostles, embraced them as having actually occurred; for the great events respecting the Messiah, as boldly' appealed to faith, when only occupying the prophetic page, as they do now they are become interesting details in the evangelical history.” (Pl. for Prim. Com. p. 23.)
It will be freely admitted that the Saviour of the world is in every period, and under every economy, the sole object of saving faith; but to infer from hence, that the profession which John demanded was an appendage of the dispensation introduced on the day of Pentecost would equally demonstrate the Levitical ceremo
nies to belong to it, and would thus carry back the Christian dispensation to the time of Moses. The next assertion, “ that the belief of the same facts was required in the former instance as in the latter," is palpably absurd, as well as the reason assigned, which is, that they were foretold by the ancient Prophets, and " that prophecy as boldly appealed to faith as the narrative of an Evangelist.” 'Every one must perceive, that if there is any force in this argument, it will prove that whatever was predicted of the Messiah, must have been distinctly understood and firmly embraced by the disciples of the forerunner, as an essential prerequisite to the reception of baptism, since whatever was thus predicted was unquestionably presented as the object of faith ; the place of his birth, his vicarious sufferings, his resurrection, the spiritual nature of his kingdom, his rejection by the Jews, and the triumphant progress of the gospel amongst the Gentiles, with an infinite number of other particulars, were attested by the Prophets. But will this author contend that all these circumstances were understood by John's converts, at a time when the immediate disciples of our Lord were intoxicated with the hopes of an earthly kingdom, and totally unapprised of their Master's death? Or will he condescend to inform us on what principle so much more was requisite to constitute a disciple of John, than an Apostle of the Lord? Had it been a question of duty, instead of an inquiry into matter of fact, no difficulty would have been felt in acknowledging the justice of the rebuke which the Apostles received for their hardness of heart, in not opening their minds more freely to the true interpretation of Scripture; a cloud of carnal prejudices undoubtedly eclipsed a considerable portion of revealed truth, though with the best dispositions much must have remained obscure till the ancient prophecies were fulfilled. Previous to that period, if we listen to the inspired writers, instead of the author of the Plea, neither the Prophets understood their own predictions, nor the Apostles their true interpretation. To apply revelation in its utmost extent, without the smallest allowance for the inevitable involutions of prophecy, as a criterion of the portion of knowledge actually possessed by the successive generations of the faithful is a mode of reasoning peculiar to this writer. We possess in the Apocalypse, a series of prophecies extending to the consumma: tion of all things, a large portion of which is confessedly involved in obscurity ; but what opinion should we entertain of the sagacity of him, who at a period subsequent to their accomplishment, should contend that we of this age must necessarily have been apprised of the events which they foretold, solely on the ground of their being the subject of prophecy ? Such a reasoner will be the properest person to write a sequel to the Plea for Primitive Communion.